Below are a few tips that have worked for me when booking trips on my various travels.
1. Use Miles or Points
It goes without saying that using reward points is the one of the easiest ways to obtain free travel. If you don’t have miles or points, the quick hack is to apply for a credit card. Most travel credit cards come with lucrative sign up bonuses in order to entice you spend on the card frequently (make money from transaction fees) and pay it off after the month end (make money from interest charges and fees). IF you are responsible enough to pay off the card either in full or make the minimum payment each month, thereby allowing you to have a good credit score, you should be approved. Credit score needed is typically 700+ for a good travel card.
The best two travel cards I have found are the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Capital One Venture Rewards Cards.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve card allows you to earn 3 points per dollar on travel and 1 point per dollar on everything else. The points in turn can either be transferred 1:1 to any of a multitude of travel partners. OR, they can used through their portal at 1.5x spend value on travel. I have found booking rental cars and airlines through the portal to work well. This essentially gives you 4.5% travel cash back, plus great flexibility to transfer to travel partners like United and Southwest airlines. The sign up bonus, if you use the following link, is currently 50,000 points once you spend $3,000 on the card. This is the equivalent of $750 travel dollars through their portal or a free flight on an airline, etc. This card does come with an annual fee of $500, but also carries with it a $300 travel credit. This means the first $300 you spend on travel with the card gets reimbursed. So if you’re traveling and spending that $300 anyway, then the annual fee is really more like $200.
The Capital One Venture Rewards card gives you 2x miles on every purchase and 10x on every purchase at hotels.com, which can be then used to purchase flights through their portal. Redeeming the miles is through their portal and miles carry a fixed rate of redemption of 100 points per dollar so 1,000 points = $10 or 100 points = $1. Since you get 2 miles for every $1 you spend, it is the equivalent of 2% cash back in travel money on every purchase. Unlike the Chase Sapphire Reserve card which is 4.5% on travel and 1.5% on everything else, this card is a fixed 2% back on everything. If you don’t spend much on travel, then this card is likely better for you. Right now, if you click through my link, the sign up bonus is 50,000 miles or $500 dollars after spending $3,000.
2. Flexibility – Check out Skyscanner
Look at the To box above. See the blue ‘Can’t decide where?’ drop down box? I use this box all the time to check out destinations that could work in my budget. If you find a good deal on miles for example, then check this tool to see if any good places might be available to go from there. If you are flexible, and open to exploring different destinations, then this is a tool you need to use.
3. ‘Free’ stopovers
A number of airlines promote stopovers at no additional charge. For example, Turkish Airlines will pay for a hotel night and give you a free tour if you stop by Istanbul on a stopover. I’ve used this benefit twice to explore the city on the way back from trips. WoW airways and Iceland Airways continue to promote Iceland with their stopover package, so you can explore Reykjavik on the top to or from Europe. Norwegian airlines has also promoted trips through Oslo.
Check out the following article from the WSJ on the topic. They list the following five airline benefits that may be worth looking into.
- Lisbon – TAP Portugal – Offer stopovers of up to 72 hours, sweetening the deal with a free domestic flight to the wine hub of Porto.
- Helsinki – Finnair – Finnair allows a 5 night stopover. For around $150, you can also get a two-day, one-night hotel and sightseeing package, saunas and airport transfers included. Up that to around $1,000 and hang around for the three-day package, which includes a side trip to the Arctic Circle.
- Reykjavik – Both Iceland Air and WoW Airways give free stopovers to passengers connecting through Iceland on flights from U.S. cities to European destinations.
- Abu Dhabi and Dubai – Etihad Airways and Emirates – With Etihad you can spend up to two nights in Abu Dhabi on flights from the U.S. With Emirates, spend up to 96 hours in Dubai on flights before leaving the country.
- Singapore – Singapore Airways – Passengers can get two unlimited-stay stopovers on each ticket as well as hotel discounts.
4. Open-Jaw tickets
I’ve technically only used this trick once. It is a bit tricky.
An “open jaw” ticket is a round-trip ticket where you leave a different airport than you originally arrived.
For example: New York to London Heathrow followed by Madrid to New York.
The best bet for using this type of ticket is on miles, but the reason it is world mentioning is simply for the fact that is is often cheaper, sometimes much cheaper to return to your departure city from another city than your original destination. Especially in Europe. So, check one ways back to your original departure before booking that round trip. I do every time. Booking miles round-trip does not offer any discounts, that I know of anywhere, so it is the same price to book two one-ways as it is to book a round-trip.