I travel a lot more than most people in my rural area of Oklahoma, and even my other home of Acapulco, Mexico, so I get asked alot by some of my friends and acquaintances how I travel so much. For a while I found it an invasive and a somewhat tacky question and I just brushed it off, but after thinking about it, I realized many people genuinely want to know. I started this blog almost a year ago and as you can see I really have done very little with it, although I have really wanted to. I decided this blog is the perfect venue for the explanation. I wasnt sure which direction I wanted to go with this blog, being that there are so many , very good travel blogs out there, but I think I now know.. I will try to explain how I do the travel I do and hopefully help or inspire others to travel more! Bear with me as I have to admit I am not a very good writer, which is one of the reasons I havent done much with this blog.
Now to the Nitty gritty!
I have been accused of many things, from being rich, a flight attendant, even running drugs .. I assure you, NONE of these things are even remotely true. This is how I actually do travel, on a limited budget.
Travel is not actually as expensive or prohibitive people think it is. Sometimes it’s actually cheaper than driving or other forms of transportation. I would say about 60% of my travel is actually just simply paid for. Now with that said, I only pay for it (unless it’s an emergency) if it’s a great deal. I follow several blogs , travel sites, and bloggers to get alerts on error fares , deal alerts, and cheap fares. a few of these are The Flight Deal , Secret Flying, and The Points Guy (TPG). There are others, many actually, but these are the ones I use the most. I prefer The Flight Deal. I follow all these on Twitter and get text alerts when they post so I know immediately about good deals. My friends get a kick out of me always checking a text and telling them “oh it’s just xx amount to go to xyz..” I used these services for the Etihad Airlines error sale christmas 2015 from Dallas to Abu Dhabi for just over $500 round trip (see here). Etihad is one of my favorite airlines and it was a great deal. Even if you don’t travel too much but might if the deal was good enough I would sign up for text alerts from one or all of these that I listed and you never know what may come across one day.
Now, if I know where I want to go, or if I know I want to go somewhere a particular weekend or whatever, I use almost exclusively Google Flights . I love this site, and yes its by google. You can put in your home airport and destination airport, then click on the departure date and a calendar pops up with the prices for months and months in advance. Furthermore you can put your departure city, and date, and click the explore destination map and prices pop of for destinations around the words as you zoom in on that area. So if you want to go somewhere you can look whats cheap. There are many things you can do with this site and you can book directly (Most of the time) after you select the flights, either with the airline or another travel site like Travelocity or Expedia. Google flights don’t always have all the mistakes or sales instantly but I find it is helpful to me most of the time. Google also has another booking site / tool ITA Matrix which is even more advanced and you can do so much, although I have to admit I have not taken the time to master it. It’s a raw tool that with a little learning you can do so many advanced search options, by fare class, etc. Its worth looking into if you are technical, but if you’re not you may stay with Google Flights, it’s very easy.
Above are a few of the ways I found good deals when paying cash for flights. A lot of times its preferable to pay cash for a cheaper flight than using miles, etc, because you actually earn miles and work on building status, which brings me to my next section.
Using Miles / Points
For my trip in 2015 to Paris, Athens and Istanbul (I paid cash for the Istanbul leg) I used US Airways miles. Us Airways merged with American Airlines now but for this purpose it doesn’t matter. You earn miles in so many ways, and are considered a form of currency by many people. People like The Points Guy actually give you the value of the various Airlines and Hotel mile/point value. Over the last year or so many airlines and hotels have devalued their currency where miles/points are worth less , harder to get or more complicated. Used to you earned miles based on the miles you actually flew and you got bonus miles for the class of service if business or first, and bonus miles for your status with that airline. Now the big 3 U.S. carriers (American Airlines, United, Delta) give you miles based on the price you pay for the ticket, plus extra for booking class in some instances and extra if you hold elite status with them. So as you can imagine its much harder to earn miles actually flying unless you are flying business or first class, and have status and even then most of the time you earn fewer miles. With that said, it’s still worth it to sign up for the airlines Frequent flyer program and credit the miles. They eventually add up.
There are other ways to earn miles for airlines and hotel providers such as shopping portals. Basically almost anything you buy online you can earn miles for. here are the portals for the big 3 Airlines and a general site I use to check them all, although it’s not always up to date
And this one I check to see who is paying the most points if I am not specifically trying to get points for a special program or another. Keep in mind it’s not always accurate so double-check directly with the shopping portal the amount of points. ALSO always remember login to the portal before you buy something even if it shows your logged in.. just a tip I learned.
Anyone that knows me, knows I am a status freak. I carry Platinum Status with American, United, Delta and Copa Airlines. I also have Platinum with SPG, Marriott, Diamond with Hyatt and Hilton, and Spire elite with IHG Hotels. I earned these status’ in many different ways, some earned the hard way others by promotion and others by a challenge or match. The point is not to simply have status but it’s VERY beneficial ! You almost always earn extra points or miles if you have status. You get upgrades when flying to First class or at least better seats, and upgraded to better room or Suite when staying at hotels. Having status also , in many instances, when flying, gives you access to Club lounges at airports which is an awesome benefits if you have a long layover. Status at hotels include breakfast in many instances. My point to all this is Status is important if you want to travel any amount at all. It makes travel more valuable and comfortable! So when people ask how I got a $3,000 suite at the St. Regis in NYC or the Park Hyatt NYC, this is how. Here are a few links to sign up for a few of the main ones:
All the major Airlines and Hotel Chains have co-branded credit cards. With most of these its simple, you get points or miles for everything you buy and in some cases you get bonus points and miles for shopping directly with them. There are also cards that are not branded, meaning they are just from Chase or Citibank or Amex , ETC, that you can earn points and transfer to partner airlines or hotels. I will explain more about this in another post , but I have earned many miles from credit card sign up bonus and spend . My favorite card is the SPG American Express because you earn SPG points which are the most valuable of the Hotel / Airlines “Currency” and you can transfer SPG points to certain partner airlines , for every 20,000 SPG points you get a free 5,000 miles bonus. and most of the time its a 1 to 1 transfer.
Alot of airlines and hotels have several promotions going on all the time so you have to stay on top of it and keep checking the sites and your email. A great way to rack up extra points. I wrote a post about IHG promo earlier this year that netted me almost 100,000 points just by sending in post cards, but usually it requires registering and staying certain places or two nights etc. I will write more about promos in another post later on.
There are many other ways to earn points / miles which I will delve into at a later time but I give you the basics here.
I will for SURE write a post about this, but a little teaser is I am taking a trip in December for the entire month, and its going to paid for 85% or so on points/ miles, and let me tell you so far I am getting great redemptions.. Like First class on Etihad Airways going over, and Business class on Qatar coming home, and Turkish airlines business class between India to Egypt ,30 nights in hotels, including St. Regis and Ritz Carlton (thanks to SPG-Marriott merger), all with points.. I will not pay for one single hotel room. and for over $20,000 USD in airfare or more, I only paid 185,000 AA miles, and 35,000 United miles, apx. plus about $180 dollars out-of-pocket. For the Hotels I have spent about 120,000 SPG points, 75,000 IHG points, and 10,000 Hyatt points and ZERO dollars. So watch for the post, just letting you know its very possible to travel very well on points and miles.
Just to wrap up this post, I want to add that some people choose to go to bars every weekend and spend hundreds, some people smoke, and other gamble a lot. Pretty much all my extra money goes to travel. This what I do. Id rather travel then go out most of the time. Yes it isn’t cheap, but if you work at it and do good planning and positioning, you can do it too. To me Travel is my passion , and it’s what I do. I guess we all have things we spend money on, Travel is just mine, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world as in my opinion travel opens the mind and grows it. Try it out!
I apologise for my poor writing, I am not a blogger, but I want to blog if that makes sense. I will try to get better , but please understand I am just doing this blog to try to help people know how to travel for cheap like I do.. I am and probably always will be an armature so be kind and understand please. thanks for reading!