Here’s everything you need to know to get the ball rolling on traveling free!
Let’s start with the basics…
How are we going to travel free?
By collecting and redeeming airline miles and points for free flights. Keep in mind, you will always have to pay a mandatory government security fee of $5.60 per person per way. There is no getting rid of this fee. This is where part of the term flying “nearly free” comes from.
Where will we get the miles and points?
- Signing up for credit cards that earn high bonuses (this is not the ONLY way, but the FASTEST way)
- Online shopping through airline shopping portals (only things we’d already be purchasing)
- Eating at restaurants
- Paying everyday expenses
- Buying cheap newspaper and magazine subscriptions
- Booking hotels through airline portals
- Earning credit card referral points
- Securing the Southwest Companion Pass
How is this easy, again?
Trust me, it’s easy. Follow along with me, and I’ll show you how. I don’t get overly concerned with the value of a point, complicated math or making you spend hours on this every week.
Timewise, you can expect to:
- Go to the airline online shopping portal and make purchases
- Read my blog at least weekly
- Check the Southwest website for flights (ideally once weekly IF you’re flying Southwest)
- Use your travel credit cards to make everyday — and travel — purchases
Is this totally free to travel using miles and points?
Almost, but not quite. Here’s what you’ll be spending:
- $5.60 per person per one-way flight
- Annual fees for credit cards (not all have annual fees, but most do). These range from $69 to $450 (but these higher annual fee cards are for more advanced travel hackers and almost always come with a $300 travel credit and other benefits to offset the cost).
- Everyday spending you’d be doing anyway for online shopping, dining out and booking hotels
- Some cheap subscriptions ranging from $1-$19 to get MAJOR points
1. Set Travel Goals
This part involves thinking about where you’d like to travel free. Maybe it’s to see a relative a few states over, maybe it’s traveling to a National Park, maybe it’s a trip to Disney World or maybe it’s a trip to Hawaii.
Start with 1onetravel goal, knock that one out and then you can pick up the pace once you’ve got some experience under your belt :).
2. Pick Your Airline
If it’s somewhere Southwest travels and Southwest flies from your home airport, I’m going to advise you to pick them, because they are BY FAR the cheapest airline to fly using points. It will be a much easier first goal to accomplish.
If it’s a trip to Europe, I’d advise Aer Lingus, as I have a guide that shows you how to fly up to FOUR to Europe on miles.
3. Sign up for Airline Loyalty Accounts
Before you can collect miles and points, you’ll need to have a loyalty account with that airline.
To sign up for Southwest Rapid Rewards, visit the link below and click ENROLL on the top right of the screen:
Good job! First step DONE!
4. Learn About the Southwest Companion Pass
If you’re going to be flying Southwest, you can stretch your points so much further by earning the Southwest Companion Pass, which allows one person to fly free with you (aside from the security fees) for up to TWO years, or the length of the pass.
You’ll need 125,000 points to earn the pass, which sounds like a lot, but it’s actually really EASY to earn. I walk you through it step by step in my online course.
Or, if you’d rather not spend the time going through the course, you can purchase a personalized Southwest Companion Pass plan created by yours truly that is tailored EXACTLY to your situation. It’s your personal map to a Companion Pass as quickly as possible!
You can also download this freebie that shares 10 things you MUST know to earn your Southwest Companion Pass.
Download Your FREE Guide & Start Flying FREE on Southwest!
By earning the Southwest Companion Pass, you’ll COMPLETELY ELIMINATE having to pay either points or cash/credit for ONE member in your party. This is a HUGE savings that cannot be beat by any other airline. Couponers, this is a BOGO (buy one, get one ;-))!
So I advise making earning the Southwest Companion Pass a No. 1 goal alongside earning points for your first destination. You can earn Southwest points that both qualify for the Companion Pass AND can be used for FREE FLIGHTS, so these goals can easily be done at the same time.
5. Determine how many miles or points you need to reach your travel goal
Most other airlines, including American and United, have a set number of points to get to a destination beyond driving distance within the U.S. This is usually about 25,000 miles round-trip per person, though some have begun to reduce the cost during flash sales like Delta.
Southwest, however, varies its points prices ALL the time. You’ll need to start checking Southwest.com and viewing the Low Fare Calendar to begin getting an idea of the average cost of a Southwest flight in points to your destination.
To give you ONE example, my family of four (using the Companion Pass) flew to New York City from Indianapolis for ~21,000 points TOTAL. All four of us for less than the cost of ONE ticket on American or United. I’ll take Southwest, thanks.
If you are willing to fly on a Tuesday or Wednesday, during off times (early or late) or take a connecting flight, you may be able to score a lower points price. This is how we stretch our points so far.
You should also buy during a Southwest Sale (this link always has the most updated Southwest sale) when prices drop and continue to check and see if the price has dropped, as Southwest will refund your points instantly if you paid in points or issue you a 12-month credit if you paid in cash and they charge NO CHANGE OR CANCELLATION FEE.
When you are subscribed to the Go to Travel Gal email, I’ll also keep you updated on Southwest sales, and you should join the Go to Travel Gal private Cheap Southwest Fares Facebook Group (only for Go to Travel Gal email subscribers) to stay abreast of great deals shared only by our members.
6. Develop a plan to earn those miles and points
OK, so how are you going to earn those miles and points?
Follow the Southwest Companion Pass course above for EXACTLY how to earn those points. You can also check out my blog post here to get started. At the end, you’ll have 125,000 points that you can ALSO use for FREE Flights.
After that, I recommend applying for this card:
This is my FAVORITE travel credit card, and it gets you another 60,000 points good for travel on Southwest just with its minimum spend bonus with an affordable annual fee of $95. So why wouldn’t you?
Also, be sure to stay tuned to the BEST Rapid Rewards Shopping Deals, which I post weekly here, and take advantage of booking hotels on SouthwestHotels.com and everyday spending on your travel credit cards (ideally Chase Sapphire, which earns double points on travel and dining).
7. Apply for your first travel credit card
Once you have your plan, apply for your first travel credit card! If you’re going after the Southwest Companion Pass, that will be one of the personal Southwest cards.
Be sure not to apply for more than one card every 30 days, as Chase limits you to that number, and you want to make sure you can meet the minimum spend on each card responsibly without causing you to carry any debt.
We’re trying to keep it simple, so don’t get overwhelmed and do too much too fast.
I also recommend at this point purchasing my Get Organized: Miles & Points Toolkit to keep everything organized. It’s only $7 and provides spreadsheets to keep track of loyalty programs, credit cards, Rapid Rewards and other airline portal shopping, minimum spend progress and more. You’ll be glad you did this early and don’t have a mess to clean up later.
8. Meet the minimum spend requirement
Meet the required minimum spend within three months to be sure you get your bonus points.
Make sure you do not overextend yourself and go into debt. ALWAYS pay your balance in full every month, if not every few days.
Here are creative ideas to help you easily and responsibly meet your minimum spend:
9. Get your points, book your trip
The points will likely be credited to your account AFTER the closing date AFTER you complete the minimum spend. Sometimes they show up earlier.
Once there, log into your loyalty account of choice and book that trip! It will feel SO good knowing you spent next to nothing for this amazing trip you’re about to go on!
10. Rinse and repeat 🙂
It’s time to set travel goal No. 2 and get started again!