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Saturday, June 9, 2018

How to Travel More On a Budget


If there’s something that all budget travelers should know about, it’s frequent flyer miles. They can be the key to saving tons on your trips if you know all the ways to accrue them and how to use them to book rewards seats. Just think how much cheaper your vacations would be if you didn’t have to pay for airfare! 

travel more on a budget

Now, you won’t magically have a million miles in your account with little effort. If it were that easy, everyone would be flying everywhere for nothing and the airlines would go out of business. Earning miles is not hard, but it may seem like all the little things you do will take forever to earn anything. A few miles here and there will eventually add up to enough to garner you a rewards seat. It’s still faster than waiting for all your miles in the air to become a free ticket.

Not sure how to make the most of your frequent flyer account and earn 25K or more miles to get you that coveted rewards seat? There are many ways to do it and even if you just do one or two of them, your mileage account will bulk up a lot faster.

Become a mileage member

You can’t earn miles if you don’t open a frequent flyer account. Sign up with your favorite airlines, focusing on just a few, so you don’t end up with a few miles on a bunch of programs. It will take you much longer to get free flights that way. Obviously, you aren’t limited to flying on just the couple airlines you’ve signed up with. 

Remember that you can also gain miles for your preferred airlines through their codeshare partners. For example, American Airlines and Alaska Air are partners. If I have all my miles on American, but can only find an affordable flight for where I want to go when I want to go on Alaska, I can input my American mileage number when I book my flight through Alaska and gain miles that way. The same goes for when I want to use my miles to book a reward seat.
  

Earn on the ground

It would probably take a really long time to earn enough miles for a free flight if you only added up the miles you got by flying. Of course, if you travel for business, those extra miles can help you get there faster. If you don’t and only go on one or two trips a year, you have to learn how to maximize your opportunities, so you get more than one free flight a decade. There are, in fact, tons of ways to earn while not on vacation:
  • Get a credit card that earns miles – Maybe your debit card already has this feature or it is available as an add-on through your bank. If not, there are a ton of other cards out there to choose from. Why not get miles for things you buy every day? Gas, groceries and all those other things you pay for add up quickly. If you use a credit card, pay the balance off at the end of the month if you would normally use your bank account for such purchases and save on interest.
  • Rent a car – Drive miles to earn miles. When booking your rental car reservation, make sure you enter your mileage member number. Some companies may charge you per day to do this, but it is generally a very minimal fee of less than a dollar. Make sure you read the fine print if this is a problem for you, but the fee generally is offset by the amount of miles you can earn, especially if you get in on a bonus deal which can multiply your miles received by up to five. Watch out for these sales when you receive your airfare emails that tell you about new flight and package discounts.
  • Stay in a hotel – Just like with a rental car, you can gain miles by sleeping in most chain accommodations. When you book online, make sure you look for the box that lets you enter your membership number and input your frequent flyer number there. You will earn a set number of miles per dollar spent, so the longer you stay, the more you bulk up your mileage account.
  • Eat out – Most airlines participate in a dining program. You can go online to sign up for it and register up to three credit cards for them to monitor. When you eat at the venues that are listed on the program and use one of those cards, the appropriate amount of miles are deposited into your account. There aren’t just sit-down restaurants that take part in the program, but also fast food establishments. You’ll be earning miles for doing what you normally do anyway!
  • Buy stuff online – Buy items from travel merchants through your airline’s retail site to maximize your points. As with the dining program, you sign up with the shopping program. When you want to make a purchase, you go to the special site and find out if the merchant is a participant. If it is, click through and make your purchase. You earn miles for each dollar spent and this is an easy way to get miles for gifts you buy and floral arrangements you send.

Combine the above into one program

Another great site that helps you earn miles for a wide variety of things is ThanksAgain. At first it was meant to enable you to accrue miles while on your trips. Many of us shop, dine and park at the airport and ThanksAgain rewards you for that by depositing miles into your account for each thing you do at participating airport merchants. 

Portland International, my home airport, has signs up in every establishment that is part of the program. If you use a credit card you have registered with ThanksAgain, you will automatically get miles for frequenting them. Now, the website has expanded to include tons of off-site merchants. Use those same credit cards on- and offline and watch your mileage total grow!

Get bonus miles

Many times you will see that you can receive extra miles when you purchase them online. This is a great way to get you those few hundred miles you need to get you to the next rewards seat. If you have a friend who travels a lot – or wants to – miles are a fantastic gift…and your cash will go further, because they will get more than you paid for. Who doesn’t like a little bit more for nothing?

As you can see, it’s not a complete mystery how frequent flyer miles work, they just require you to make a little more effort in figuring out how to get the most miles without spending more than you planned. When you trade in your points for a free ticket, remember that you will have to pay a fee. If you are flying domestic, that fee is almost nothing – around five dollars. If you are flying international, you will be required to pay for taxes and that same booking fee. Depending on where you are going, the taxes can be high, but you would have to pay these anyway, so you are still saving a ton on your trip.


Rewards seats aren’t always easy to find, but if you start searching early you will have a better chance. Other ways to increase your chances include:
  • Fly in the off-season – Summer is generally the season to avoid, but summer can also come at a different time of year in other places. The northern and southern hemispheres have opposite seasons, so you may encounter a high amount of tourists or kids out of school if you are traveling in the winter here to a country where it is summer. Unfortunately, our summer is also a time when there are more travelers vacationing everywhere, so rewards seats may be impossible to find.
  • Fly early in the day – Aside from business travelers, you won’t find too many people clamoring to get on the earliest flights of the day. Nobody wants to wake up while it’s still dark outside to get to the airport when they could still be at home sleeping. Guess what? You can breeze through security and nap when you get on the plane if you book one of these flights.
  • Fly on less-desirable days – These exist! Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday are the least popular days to fly. Everyone wants to be at their destination on a weekend and more people want to make the most of their Friday through Sunday trip, so you will see the most overbooked flights on the days that include Friday and Saturday stays.

Now that you know how to gain miles, how to use them and when to redeem them, you can start racking them up! Once you set your plan in motion the only thing you have left to do is decide where you will go with your free flight. 

Have you ever used frequent flyer miles to fly for free?

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