Since 2006, I have flown to Italy, France, Spain, and the UK –– 12 flights in total –– and each flight has cost less than $100. I paid for them with miles earned by purchasing everyday necessities like groceries, toiletries, and gasoline, with an airline credit card that earns miles for every dollar spent.
While many people abhor using credit cards to pay for daily purchases, using them to accumulate miles that become airline tickets, to Italy for instance, is an excellent reason. I’ve been doing it for over 10 years.
Here’s How It Works
Many banks such as Chase, Citibank, and Capital One offer credit cards with an airline rewards program. When you sign up for the credit card, you usually receive bonus miles, often enough for a round-trip flight within the United States. Simultaneously, you begin to acquire miles for purchases. Since the miles start to add up pretty quickly, I usually save the bonus miles until I’ve accumulated enough for a flight to Europe.
In most cases, you have to spend a minimum amount within a specified time period to obtain the bonus miles. Don’t worry though, if you’re buying all your groceries and paying your bills on your card, it will be easy to achieve the minimum spend.
Pro Tip: The only time I pay for a flight is if it’s within the United States. I look for deals on flights to destinations within the U.S. and territories like Puerto Rico, and I pay for those with my credit card. Those flights earn miles both for flying and for using the card. You should also know that you do not earn miles for flights paid for with points. Sometimes life is just not fair.
How Do You Decide Which Card Is Right For You
Before you take the plunge and sign up for a new credit card, consider which airport you normally depart from before deciding which credit card is best for you. I live in Dallas, Texas, a hub for American Airlines. Therefore, the best card for me is the Citibank Aadvantage Platinum Select. It allows me to acquire miles on American Airlines. I’ve also used the Chase Sapphire Preferred card with the option to choose my airline.
Here’s another example: let’s say you live in Atlanta. The major airline flying out of Atlanta is Delta. If you live in Atlanta, a Citibank Aadvantage Platinum Select card probably isn’t the best choice.
Pro Tip: I also like to keep a balance of miles in my account in case of an emergency. If I’m traveling and I suddenly need to change my flight, I can usually do so with miles and save a big out-of-pocket expense.
More Reasons To Use Miles To Pay For Flights
Another good reason to book your airline ticket with miles is the option to change your ticket without penalties… sometimes. There are some exceptions and things have changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some airlines charge a fee to change the ticket, some don’t. Since the pandemic, many don’t, for now. As long as you do not change your arrival or departure point, you can normally change dates and times with no penalty.
You can also cancel and use the ticket later, usually within 1 year, or you can opt to put the miles back into your account for future use. Again, each airline has different rules for this. Before you make changes, be sure that you know the rules. I’ve had some nasty surprises in the past. Most recently, I booked some reward tickets with British Airways that I had to cancel. British Airways is one airline that charges a penalty to put the miles back into your reward account.
There are other worthwhile benefits to using an airline miles card with a specific airline and its partners: You usually get at least one free checked bag; you’ll board just after first class and business class; purchases made while traveling are covered for theft or damage; there are many other perks, just be sure to read the fine print.
One caveat, you do have to pay the bill before the miles appear in your account. Keep in mind, if you don’t pay the balance in full each month, you’ll have to pay interest on your card.
I’ve just returned from a trip to Portugal and Spain, which I booked with miles of course. I paid less than 100 dollars for taxes on the tickets. If used carefully, you can easily rack up enough miles for a free flight every year. So, when are you going to open an account and start traveling for almost free?