I recently read an article called “Inefficiency and luxury” in which the author stated that he has never tried to get any frequent flyer rewards, and in fact doesn’t even have a frequent flyer number. This statement left me a bit confused when I first read it. I’m not one who likes to leave money lying on the table. Then he said this, and it all became clear: “I utterly hate keeping track of frequent flier miles, tracking numbers, or dealing with rotating credit cards. Spending my time doing that will actually cause me to have a decrease in level of happiness.”
I realized that I would also be unhappy spending time doing those things. Yet I have been getting free flights for years and never did any of that. I realized that busy people want efficiency, so I thought I would share how I get free flights the easy way, without the hassle DocG was conveying. Here is how to travel hack flights the easy way.
I started using a frequent flier program after my residency. One key is to be a loyal customer to just one airline. We live in a small town, at the time we started accumulating frequent flyer miles there were only two airlines flying in and out of our nearest airport. I chose the biggest airline, which was United Airlines and started my travel hacking decades before travel hacking was a thing.
When you primarily fly on one airline, all the flights get concentrated in one rewards system. Every now and then I need to fly on a different airline for convenience sake, so I miss out on getting rewards points for those flights. Tracking multiple rewards programs would be a hassle for me, so I just use one.
To increase my frequent flier miles even faster, we got a credit card that accumulated frequent flier miles for United with each purchase. We started using this card for all our purchases. Having all our purchases on one card also made tracking our expenses easy, as almost everything I spent was listed in the monthly credit card bill.
With the acquisition and management of our 64 rental units, we began using this same card for all the purchases needed for our rentals. Every carpet, stove, refrigerator, and dishwasher went on the card. I paid all my contractors with that card: electricians, plumbers, and painters.
With all my expenses on one card, not only was my financial life more convenient, but I was racking up a ton of frequent flyer miles. One mile for every dollar spent. We were spending more than $120,000 a year on that card.
I book my travel online. When I need to fly somewhere on business, I pay for those tickets with my frequent flyer credit card and get reimbursed for those deductible miles. Then I get frequent flyer miles for the distance of the flight and miles for charging it on my card. I reserve the free flying for personal trips, ones that are not deductible.
When it is time to book a flight for a personal trip, I log onto the United website and look at their flights first. I almost always can book with them. One round trip in the continental United States usually requires 25,000 frequent flyer miles. Sometimes they are on sale for 20,000 miles.
I simply click on the flight and print my ticket. Lately, the ticket just shows up on my United App.
While I was managing my rentals, I was accumulating approximately five free flights each year without any hassle.
There was a period when my kids said they didn’t want to go on any more vacations; they wanted to stay home and play with their friends. So, we cut way back on traveling during that period. My frequent flyer account grew to over 800,000 points. That is 32 free flights accumulated with no effort.
When the boys were both in college, my wife and I began traveling again. I have rarely paid for an Airline ticket in the last nine years.
The United website has become very user-friendly. I can now see all the flights at once and decide which days have the cheapest tickets. Sometimes I have to pay 50,000 points for a ticket if the 25,000 point option is already sold out. Paying double when the price is zero is still a free flight. There are no blackout days to contend with at the 50,000 point price. It is only the 25,000 point flights that have limited availability. So if I book early, which I usually do, I almost always have the 25,000 point option available.
It is important to note that the best deal is traveling in the continental United States. When you switch to overseas, the number of points you need doubles. But remember, doubling $0 is still $0. I used frequent flyer miles for our recent flight to Europe to walk the 450 mile Camino de Santiago. That saved me a couple of thousand dollars.
To sum up:
1. Choose only one airline that serves your airport with the best flight options.
2. Get their rewards card and use it for everything you buy. (Remember to always pay it off every month since paying interest would negate all the value of the free flight.)
3. Use points first for every flight you take, when it is convenient to do so.
I hope that is simple enough for even the busiest professional. I don’t like to leave free money on the table if I can pick it up with minimal effort. I think this is very minimal effort. To save even more time you can pay a travel agent to book the flights for you. Just give them access to your rewards account, and they will do all the work and create even less effort on your part. I think it only costs about $25 for them to do the work.
Cory Fawcett is a general surgeon and can be reached at his self-titled site, Dr. Cory S. Fawcett. He is the author of The Doctors Guide to Starting Your Practice Right, The Doctors Guide to Eliminating Debt, and The Doctors Guide to Smart Career Alternatives and Retirement.
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