And we’re off!
If you read my last post you’ll know that Sharkman and I winging our way westward around the world, a bucket list adventure to circle the globe through 6 countries, 6 weeks, and a lifetime of adventure. What you may not know is that for us to circumnavigate the globe this winter, it cost us each a mere $78.00 and 65,000 miles. To simply cross the USA it often costs upwards of 50,000 miles. How did we do it????
Read on, we’re about to spill the beans on how to travel practically free!
A few basics of travel planning to understand. First, the three US major carriers are all aligned with partner airlines across the world. So if you plan a trip outside of the US, you will most likely be flying on several different airlines. You can’t book this online because most of the majors don’t have all the partner airlines in their online booking engines yet, you’ll need to call.
American Airlines/US Airways is part of the One World Alliance
United/Continental is part of the Star Alliance
Delta/NW is part of the Sky Team Alliance
Which Alliance is Best?
At one point I had long conversations with all three airlines to determine the lengthy rules and regulations of an RTW (around the world) ticket. It’s quite confusing and in the end I ditched the whole RTW ticket idea and simply built our own which was much less time consuming and in the end a whole lot cheaper. But you must be flexible to tweek when needed.
However, I did find that United and American were considerably cheaper than Delta even though I’ve been loyal to Delta for years. Today, we are traveling with United on a Star Alliance ticket.
You will also need to find out which alliance has partners that travel to the countries you want to fly.
How Did We Earn the Miles?
There are a couple of key ways to earn miles.
1. You can fly. Over time this is an expensive way to earn miles unless you fly for business and your company gives you the miles. So do, some don’t.
2. You can use your credit card to accumulate miles by purchasing. This is a common way to build up your mileage account and there are endless tactics to accrue including shopping through mileage malls, buying for your friends, getting cards that pay double, triple or even five times the miles for different types of purchases. Unless you are a big spender, it takes time to build up your mileage accounts.
3. Our strategy was to pounce on credit cards that pay a lump sum for getting the card. Usually there is a minimum spend. For example, if you spend $3000 in the first 3 months you can earn 30,000 miles. This will get you almost halfway to the ticket we purchased. A couple of things to consider. Most of these cards waive the annual fee the first year. Unless you really want to keep the card, make a note when it’s time to call and cancel to avoid the fee. Also, you MUST pay off the balance of your card each month or else you end up simply paying for the miles through monthly charges.
I’ll be honest. It helps that we have our own business. We waited until American Express offered a Gold Business card. The deal was 75,000 miles accrued when you spend $10,000 in the first four months. For us, this was fairly easy. In fact, we were getting ready to deposit for a dive group we were leading and we simply placed a $10,000 deposit on the resort and instantly had 75,000 miles which earned us one entire RTW ticket! You might need to think a little outside the box on this but there are ways to make this doable.
We then repeated the process with Sharkman applying for the card for another business and voila, 150,000 miles.
Really? An RTW ticket for 65,000 miles?
The next step was to spend time building the ticket we wanted and being flexible on dates and routes. Work with an agent, tell them where you want to go and that you are flexible and you want to spend the least amount of miles.
In our case, I was actually able to find a ticket online at United.com that took us to Thailand and the Philippines and then back home for 65,000 miles.
But the agents can help you sort it all out. And if you don’t get a good agent willing to help, thank them, hang up and call back. All agents are NOT considered equal.
At that time we weren’t thinking about an RTW ticket. But when Eureka struck and we realized we could do it, I called back and spoke with the agent. I explained that we wanted to keep traveling west and change our ticket to an RTW. So I asked them to simply find a route that didn’t cost any more miles. We worked back and forth. I keep reiterating this but it’s crucial to be flexible with dates and routes.
The first thing we did was to check on the number of allowed stopovers for the ticket at 65,000 miles. We needed to play within the rules. We were told we could have three and since we already had Thailand and the Philippines, we knew we could stop one more time.
The agent told me we could route via Singapore, Frankfurt and Toronto on the way home and since we have relatives in Toronto we opted for a two day stopover to see family.
As we made the ticket changes more than 21 days out, there was no charge to change them (other airlines vary on this, ask about the rules).
The total taxes we paid were $78 each person.
At this point we are still winging our way. According to the inflight map we are over Alaska at 34,000ft on the way to Seoul, doing a great circle route with an overnight stop on the way to Phuket. We just finished a delicious meal complete with an ice cream sandwich for dessert (you have to love Singapore Air, a United Star Alliance partner) and some complimentary wine. We have our feet stretched out in the emergency bulkhead row with a mere eight hours left to complete this post and a movie marathon!
Life is good. Go get you some miles and hit the road!!
What are some strategies you use to travel for free? Share them below!
See you in Seoul!