My round-trip flights to Copenhagen, Belize, and Iceland each cost me only airport taxes and fees of well under $100. The airline tickets were free. How? Through the art of travel hacking: collecting frequent flyer points and miles to get free flights, hotels, tours, and more. I flew on United, Southwest, and Delta Airlines using rewards points I earned from bonus offers on three credit cards; the most satisfying hack was using points for my Iceland flights on Delta when I wasn’t even a member of their frequent flyer program.

Copenhagen on United Airlines

My trip to Copenhagen was a spontaneous decision to visit my daughter while she was studying abroad. I had over 100,000 Ultimate Reward points in my account earned from Chase credit card bonuses deals: 50,000 from Sapphire Preferred and 60,000 from Business Ink Plus. Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer 1:1 to United Airlines. The trip to Europe was 60,000 United points and might have been fewer had I not booked so close to my departure date.img_2625

Credit Card Bonus deals involve spending a minimum amount on the card the first three months after opening the account. This amount varies and for some deals can be too exorbitant for my budget. I met the minimum spending requirement on the Chase Sapphire Preferred personal card without changing my budget. I charged every living expense on the card: groceries (with two teenage boys living at home), cat food, coffee, clothing, parking, books, gas, and more. Good thing the card is made of metal!

Similarly, all my operating expenses for my physical therapy practice were charged on the Business Ink Plus card.  It was a stretch to reach the minimum spending requirement through my business, so I had to be creative. I found that I could pay my office rent using my credit card through Plastiq so I used them two months to boost my spending enough to score the bonus.

Belize on Southwest Airlines

When Southwest Airlines opened a route to Belize in 2016, winter was looming in Colorado, so my friend and I jumped on a the “wanna-get-away” rate of around 32,000 points round-trip plus nominal taxes and fees. My points were acquired from a 50,000-point bonus offer on the Southwest Premier card.img_0037

When I began collecting frequent flyer miles in 2013, Chase Southwest Airline bonus offers had the least intimidating requirements. I followed the guidance of Million Mile Secrets to earn 50,000 points on both the business and personal versions of their travel rewards card, spent two extra months charging enough purchases to add 6,000 points and qualified for a companion pass. After that, I was hooked on travel hacking. One of my kids could fly with me for free on Southwest to any where I flew over the time span of a year and a half. I am currently on track to earn a new companion pass from Southwest using the same strategy after waiting the required 24 months to reapply.

Iceland on Delta Airlines

My trip to Iceland was another spontaneous decision; my friend invited me to join him during his one-week layover on his way to Europe. Iceland Air offered the lowest fares from my home base in Denver. However, at the time, Iceland Air was not a partner with any of my frequent flyer programs. By now I had become accustomed to flying for free and was determined to use my travel points.  Here is how it worked: KLM and Air France offered flights from Denver to Iceland; KLM and Air France are part of Flying Blue; Flying Blue had recently become partners with Chase Ultimate Rewards so I booked my flights through the Ultimate Rewards reservation portal using points. Delta is a partner with Air France and flew my route to Iceland.img_20160828_102056417_hdr

The Ultimate Rewards program has an extensive list of partners and points can be redeemed for flights on any Star Alliance partner and rooms in five-star hotels. The versatility of Ultimate Rewards makes them my favorite. When I am not spending to score a bonus on a different card, I use one of my Chase cards that earns Ultimate Rewards. Every living expense get charged – a dollar charged equals a point earned and sometimes 5 points depending on the card and type of expense.

Advice on how to choose the best credit card bonus deals for your travel goals and how to follow the rules of the programs is available online from numerous travel hacking experts. Following these websites through their email subscriptions has given me invaluable tips that make my travels affordable:


2 thoughts on “How I Flew 3 Trips Abroad for almost Free

  1. Excellent work – good call! When I was in the building business I assiduously charged every nail to my Mileage Plus card; after finishing a house there was a free trip anywhere; upon returning I’d be ready to start another house. But I’ve fallen off the wagon – this is a good reminder I should get back in the game.

    Here’s a few things I still do:

    1) Never use Award Miles for Domestic – flights are cheap; I buy them. Always use them for International – that’s where the airlines make their money.

    2) If available (not often on UAL), use as many Miles as it takes for Business or First Class. On a long haul like Down Under, the upgrade is totally worth it. 6 years ago on a First Class flight to Sidney, they had to pry me out of my seat – I didn’t want to get off!

    3) United has a hub in Denver and flies everywhere, but is one of the worst International carriers. However, Air New Zealand, Lufthansa, and All Nippon Airways are very good and Star Alliance members, so if possible I use them instead.

    4) They’re insanely expensive, but Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones are worth it. I’ll put them on as early as taking the Airporter – cuts out all the cacophony. On a long haul, switch to noise-cancelling and you’re golden. Plus you can watch in-flight movies and actually hear what they’re saying.


  2. Awesome advice! When I changed jobs, my corporate travel ended, and I wondered how I’d fuel my world adventure habit. Following your frugal footsteps, I’m back in the globetrotting saddle. Bravo and big thanks.


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