How to Take Free Trips Using Miles and Points
These types of trips include international Business Class flights in lie-flat seats, luxury resorts, and high-end hotels in big cities.
These flights can easyly run $10,000, but with miles, you can get them for almost nothing. The best hotels can be $500 to $1,500 a night, but free to people who know how to maximize their points.
My family took a trip a year ago to Mauritius, flying business class and staying at the brand new St. Regis Mauritius resort; the trip would have cost $60,000 if we had paid for it!
Or, if luxury trips are not your style, miles and points can be used to fund a lot of lower cost flights and hotel stays.
I get asked about this topic a lot, and wanted to address it in the form of a basic overview. There are a lot (like, too many) blogs already dedicated to this specific topic, and we don’t want this to be the focus of our blog. However, if this interests you, I encourage you to start researching and reading other blogs that focus on miles and points.
How Airline Programs Work
Each major airline in the US has a loyalty program, and also belongs to a global alliance of other airlines. The way it breaks down is:
- Delta is part of the SkyTeam Alliance and their currency is “Skymiles””
- United is part of the Star Alliance, and their loyalty program is “Mileage Plus””
- American Airlines has the AAdvantage program, and US Airways has “Dividend Miles”. Both are part of the Oneworld Alliance.
A traveler can build up their airline currency (I fly Delta, so for me, it’s SkyMiles) and then use those miles to book flights. The miles can be used to book award flights on almost all of the airlines within the alliance. This can give you a lot of flexibility in where you go, since you’re not limited to just the places your one airline flies.
Using Miles for Free Flights
This is what a lot of people don’t know:
- You can build up points a lot faster by strategically using points earning credit cards
- There are some very attainable and amazing flights you can take with less points than you’d probably think
- You can get enough miles for amazing flights without flying at all
- By sticking with one airline, you can get Elite status, which comes with many perks like first class upgrades, free bags, better seats, free flight changes, and priority security lines
With this hobby, the goal is to maximize the value you get from your points and take trips that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford. Amanda and I used our Delta Skymiles to book round-trip fights in Business class from Detroit to India earlier this year. Instead of paying $1500 to be cramped in a tiny seat for 18 hours each way, we paid 120,000 miles and sipped champagne, got served great meals, and slept in our lie-flat seats.
All of this was attainable because we had saved up miles.
Because airlines are part of an alliance, you can use your miles on all of the airlines within the alliance. On our way to India, we took 3 flight segements with Delta, KLM, and Air France, all part of the SkyTeam alliance and all on the same award.
How Hotel Programs Work
Hotel programs are somehwat similar to airline programs. Most of the major hotel chains are part of a group:
- Starwood Preferred Guest: Westin, Sheraton, W, St. Regis, Aloft, and others
- Marriott: All Flavors of Marriott, Ritz Carlton, Springhill Suites, Fairfiled, Residence Inn and others
- Hilton HHonors: Hiltons, Waldorf Astoria, Conrad, Hampton Inn, Homewood Suites, and others
- Hyatt Gold Passport: All flavors of Hyatt properties
- Club Carlson: Radisson, Park Inn, Park Plaza, and others
There are more, but these are the major ones. These hotel chains are worldwide, and many of them have luxury properties in gorgeous locations, all which can be reserved with points.
You can get points by staying at hotel within a particular group, but you can also get points through strategic use of credit cards.
Getting free hotel stays
I stay in Starwood hotels whenever I travel for work – generally at Sheratons, Westins, or lower-end properties like the Aloft hotels. Using the SPG credit card, I rack up enough points to occasionally stay at a St. Regis, my favorite hotel. Room at a St. Regis often come with butler service and can cost $700 to $1500 a night. That is more than I could ever afford, but saving up points makes it possible.
What people don’t know:
- All of these hotel chains have credit cards that allow you to earn points on every day purchases as well as hotel stays
- Many of the credit cards have huge points bonuses just for signing up
- Some of the credit cards have cool benefits, like a couple of free nights every year, or a free night on every points stay
What it Takes
The concept of earning miles and points, and then redeeming them for free travel is pretty simple, but there are a lot of details around actually making it work. You get out what you put into it.
The best flights and the lowest point level can be hard to find and require a lot of research. Things change constantly with regard to earning points and redeeming awards, and the rules can often be hard to find or understand. This is definitely a hobby that you can devote many hours to. However, it pays off very handsomly when you book that once-in-a-lifetime trip for free.
Often times when I explain the details of this hobby to people who want to do what I do, their eyes glaze over within a few minutes. It’s not for them.
What everyone can do, however, is get a credit card that allows you to save points or miles, whether it’s for your favorite airline or hotel, programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards or AMEX Membership Rewards that allow you to transfer points to a wide variety of ariline and hotel programs.
If you’re interested in finding ways to travel for free, I highly recommend further research. There are a lot of bloggers who specialize in this topic:
- Travel Summary’s Beginners Guide to Earning Points
- The Points Guy Beginner’s Guide
- The Frequent Miler
- Flyertalk (forum)
- Milepoint (forum)
There is no shortage of blogs out there, so if you’re looking for more info, a Google search will turn up plenty of them.
If you just want to take the first step, start with one or more of these tasks:
- Get a credit card for your airline and hotel of choice and just start using them
- Get a credit card in either the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, or the AMEX Membership Rewards program to earn versatile points that can be used with many hotels and airlines.
- Stick with one airline and hotel chain to maximize points earning opportunities and the chance to obtain Elite Status
- Start reading blogs and forums to get an idea of the things you can do with your points
Other Notes on Free Trips with Miles and Points
- This hobby is all about research. It can be very time consuming and is definitely not for everyone
- Pay off your credit cards every single month – if you can’t do that, it’s not worth it. It’s also not worth going into debt over.
- If you do decide to take up the hobby, the payoff is amazing!