How to use rewards points to fly free- the best method to find the right flights and programs to fly free! How to use airline rewards points for the best value!
When we recently started ramping up our travel plans, friends started asking how we could afford all the trips.
Travel is expensive- I get why people were flummoxed, knowing we aren't particularly wealthy. Our secret? My husband and I often travel totally free!
And it's actually pretty easy to do!
By now in my How I Fly Free series, you've heard all about how we leverage our favorite rewards programs to fly and stay free when traveling- but we haven't actually talked about the booking process!
Today we'll take some mystery out of finding free flights and being one step closer to free travels!
This post contains affiliate links. While I do get a small payment when people signup though these links, this is the exact method I use and I believe in the products I'm linking to- your trust is worth more to me!
Be sure to really dive in through my posts in this series:
How To Use Rewards Points To Fly Free
This is a pretty easy one to understand- the earlier you start looking for the right flight, the better deal you're going to get.
If you want to book a business class saver ticket, you really need to look over three months out for domestic travel and up to six months for international travel.
This can be easier said than done in practice-- but if you have a reasonably flexible schedule, you can get some amazing deals including business class upgrades at rock bottom prices.
Sometimes you can get in on a great deal by just shifting your travel days slightly - being flexible helps! (If your airline or program you're using points through has a calendar showing rates based by day, use it! You can find great deals that way.)
It also helps to have a flexible card for this- so you're not locked into one airline's schedule. My favorite is the Chase Sapphire card for it's ability to transfer points to most airlines. View Additional Airline & Frequent Flyer Credit Card Offers Here for the best picks!
-Don't use your rewards for all flights!
If you want to travel free with your family, or you want to take a trip internationally, you really need to bank a lot of points. This also means you don't want to SPEND a lot of points willy nilly. My husband and I both travel quite a bit- and we are very careful to determine if a trip is worth using points on or not since traveling internationally, with our kids, is our priority.
With that in mind, if a flight is under $300, we pay for it instead of using points. Of course, we're sure to use a card that gets us double (or triple) rewards for booking the flight- but we don't use up precious points on less expensive flights.
For example, a flight from Denver Kansas City can sometimes cost as many points as a flight from Denver to Ireland (based on trips I am booking for this summer)- even though it is waaaay cheaper to just pay for the Kansas City flight.
This is another place it helps to have a few different cards with different airlines- so you can save some points for international trips, and some for domestic trips with much lower point requirements. View Additional Airline & Frequent Flyer Credit Card Offers Here for some great additional cards you should have in your wallet.
-Watch for Mixed Cabin flights.
Often when looking through an airline's reward availability, you'll see seemingly less expensive itineraries labeled "mixed cabin". This means not all of your trip is in business or first class and some of it might be in economy. When you see this, just be very sure you know which flight segment is upgraded, and which isn't, before blowing points on a flight you might not care if it is upgraded or not.
I once almost paid a huge premium for a business class reward- an extra 30,000 miles- for an upgrade on only the shortest plane ride from a long itinerary!
It might look like a good deal for a business upgrade, but you might just be upgrading a small part of your itinerary- save the big points for cheap long haul upgrades, and always be sure you know which flights are upgraded and which aren't when looking at mixed cabin flights.
-Call the airline or travel company.
Don't assume you're seeing all eligible flights when searching online- I always call in to see if I can get a better deal. Ask them to look through routes, on different days, or in nearby airports.
Additional tips to get the most out of your points:
-Consider lesser used routes.
By flying into Shannon, Ireland this summer instead of Dublin, my family and I saved over 100,000 points on our United flights. That is MASSIVE - and since we were going to the west coast of Ireland right away when we landed anyways, it made zero difference to our itinerary.
Changing to the smaller airport didn't increase our travel time and fit into our plans anyways, so it helped to be flexible with airports in our case.
If you can specify a city instead of a specific airport, search that way. You might miss out on great deals if you only look into one airport! Cities with numerous airports within an hour of your destination give you a lot more flexibility when booking- so don't limit yourself to one airport.
-Don't go to popular cities in busy seasons.
Flying to Western Europe in the middle of summer is NEVER going to be the most economical, period.
Flying into Tbilisi Georgia in April? It was way cheaper for my husband and I than flying to Paris (we were dreaming when looking for our trip last year and looked into a few cities we wanted to visit while there), even though it is so, so much further and involved more flights.
Going to Ireland this July was not the most economical (we didn't have flexibility on our timing since we're tagging along with my parents who will be there for a conference for my dad's work), and would have been easier to book in the fall or winter.
Obviously, popular places in high months are popular for a reason- that is usually when the weather is the best, or there is more on offer. If you're ok with a little rain or cooler temperatures- and less crowds- your points can go much further by traveling in a less crowded time.
When booking, consider the time of day and the day of the week- and look for times and dates that are less expensive. You can snag some amazing deals, even in business class, that way!
Want to get more out of your frequent flier awards program? Be sure to really dive in through my posts in this series, and bookmark this series or save it to facebook for future use!
Next up: -How to Get Even More Rweards Points