How to Fly for Free with Credit Card Airline Mile Bonuses

By Ethan Maurice | October 27, 2015

Flights can be one of the most expensive parts of traveling. Plane tickets cost hundreds, even thousands of dollars. Little do most people know, there's a resource to cover the cost of flights—credit card airline mileage bonuses.

For a couple years, I shied away from these bonuses. Credit cards are full of fees if you don't use them right and I prefer not to owe money. Who wants to mess around with a 22.9% interest rate, right?

Then, I ran into a website called The Art of Non-Conformity (one of now my favorite websites). The author, Chris Guillebeau, is a "travel hacking" extraordinaire and has set foot in every country on Earth. After reading about the millions of airline miles he earns each year, I decided to give it a try.

My first attempt was a success. I flew round trip from Phoenix to the Big Island of Hawaii using a Mastercard with 35,000 Hawaiian Airlines bonus miles (earned once I spent $1,000 on the card). It was a bit sloppy. There was an initial $89 yearly fee and it didn't cover the entire cost of both flights, but in all, I paid $210 for a $726 flight, never incurring a cent of interest while earning my miles.

I canceled that Hawaiian Airlines Mastercard and have since opened up a Capital One Venture Card. There's no annual fee for the first year and 40,000 bonus airline miles for spending $3,000 in the first 90 days after activation. I don't have enough expenses to reach $3,000 of spending in 90 days, so I used a technique called manufactured spending, buying $500 gift cards with the credit card, which are used pay off the credit card. In summary though, I spent $36 in gift card fees to earn 46,000 airline miles.

If you play your cards right, you can fly all over the world for discounts so steep, it's essentially free.

Play by these rules:

1. When you make a purchase with your credit card, pay it off immediately. This way you'll never risk incurring interest. Some have trouble controlling their spending. If you can't abide by this rule, than you probably shouldn't have a credit card.

2. Keep a spreadsheet for your cards so you don't forget about fees:

spread sheet

3. Look at your spreadsheet periodically, make sure you're not going to run into unnecessary yearly fees.

4. Once you're done with a card, cancel it. *Some cards take away your miles once you cancel, so make sure you've spent or transferred that mileage to another account.

Can This Backfire on You?

Everyone's healthily concerned about what applying for all these credit cards will do for their credit score. The answer: it's minimal. Check out this article, in which previously mentioned Chris Guillebeau chronicled successfully applying to and acquiring 13 credit cards in five weeks. It temporarily dropped his credit score four percent. If you apply for one or a couple cards, the drop should be nearly undetectable.

Essentially, there are only two way this can backfire. One, you don't pay off your balance on time and have to pay back more money. Two, you don't pay attention to yearly fees and get charged to keep the card active for another year.

If you immediately pay off your balance and cancel the card before the yearly fee comes around, it's all benefits.

Here's two websites I've used to help you find the right card: Cards for Travel and NerdWallet

Happy travels! Send me a postcard.




Resonate with this? If so, I ask you to press one of the share buttons on your screen! I also invite you to connect with me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.