“I Don’t Actually Pay For Airfare”

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I was speaking with one of my cousins last week on my trip to Israel.    They are actually living in South America, and had flown all the way to Israel for the same reason as me, to visit with family.    At one point, they were inviting me to visit them in South America and giving me an idea of what the airfare would cost, and I found myself interrupting to say, in a rather matter of fact manner; “I Don’t Actually Pay For Airfare.”

How I Got Here

Of course, I was in Israel, due to my rapid accumulation of Delta SkyMiles when they had a short lived promotion some time back.   Later, I took to churning American Airlines credit cards.    I was then quickly able to earn miles for trips to St. Thomas and Brazil later this year.    I even took advantage of a 40,000 mile sign up bonus for Frontier Airlines credit cards, for which I hope to redeem for a visit with family in Atlanta later this year.    Finally, I went all in on TrackItBack during the US Airways holiday promotion.    I am hoping to use those miles to visit my cousins in South America in the next year or so, or perhaps for my next “falafel run” to Israel in a couple years.    Either way, I am not concerned with the actual price of the trip, since I am not paying for it with dollars, at least not directly.

I Do Pay For Airfare

I collect frequent flier miles without flying.   Credit card sign up bonuses and spending are a big part, but so are promotions.     Ultimately, there is a cost.    With the US Airways promotion, the cost works out to about .5 cents per mile.   I am not flying for free,  but my South America trip might end up costing me $300 each if we fly in coach, or $500 each if flown in business class.   In terms of miles earned through credit cards spending,  there is an opportunity cost of the cash I am forgoing by not using a cash back card.   Throw in the ubiquitous “taxes and fees” and it is clear that there is no longer such a thing as a free ticket, if there ever was.

What I am getting is an airline ticket at a vastly reduced price.    There is no way to argue that $500plus maybe $100 in taxes and fees is a great price for a business class ticket to South America.   Frankly, you would be lucky to find a coach ticket for double that.  To say “I Fly Business Class for Half the Price of Coach” is more accurate, if a bit convoluted.

What I Lose

For me, travel is about as spontaneous as having a baby, as I am now planning trips almost a year out, and sometimes more.    For example, I came across the US Airways promotion in early December of 2009.    They won’t give the miles out until the end of February of 2010.   Only then might I be able to start looking for a ticket for January 2011, but I might even look further beyond if I want the best availability.    Frankly I miss, booking a trip 3 weeks out.    Trips are never as good as you imagine when you have 10 months to contemplate them.   Worse, the airlines will change your schedule several times between the time you book your ticket and when you actually go somewhere.

What is the Pattern?

In each case, I followed the travel blogs closely, along with various forums on FlyerTalk.   There are a lot of smart people out there looking for loopholes, promotions, and other legitimate ways to come up with lots of miles for little or no money.     Almost all of the deals I described are no longer available.  Had you been reading this blog, you would have known about each and every one of them as they arose.   The good news is, that there are still plenty of good deals out there.     For example, Chase Bank/British Airways card is still available with a 100,000 mile sign up bonus and a companion ticket after $30,000 annual spend.     That will get two tickets to Europe in Business class, but you will have a few hundred dollars in fuel charges.   Go in on it with your spouse, and you could both end up in First Class to Africa or the Far East!

Another great deal that just came out today is from United.   You know that this is a good deal if I am recommending something on United, my least favorite airline in the world.    Unfortunately, this deal is for Colorado residents only.    We lucky few can purchase a roundtrip ticket on United to be flown in the next few weeks, say between Denver and Colorado Springs, and receive a free, round trip ticket to any North American destination, including Hawaii and the Caribbean.      They also throw in a couple of upgrade certificates as well.   So $284 ticket and get a free ticket to Hawaii, and possibly upgraded as well.

The point is not to make you non-Coloradans jealous, but to show how there are always good deals out there for those willing to find them.   BTW, it really is nice to live here, deal or no deal.

http://www.askmrcreditcard.com/creditcardblog/delta-makes-good-on-its-promotion-but/

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