It sounds like a fairy tale, akin to a free lunch. Free travel? Yeah, sure. However, this is no fable. With a few simple strategies, you can be off on your dream vacation for little to no money out of your pocket. Here is how I made it all the way to Singapore without paying more than taxes.
One of my dreams was to show one of my closest friends my favorite city in the world, Singapore. A simple search on Google Flights with random dates plugged in told me which airlines flew between my home in Los Angeles and Singapore, and the places I would have to stop along the way to change planes.
I could fly Japan Airlines through Tokyo, Air China through Beijing, EVA Air through Taipei, or any number of other options. I chose Singapore Airlines, one of the world’s nicest airlines and one I’ve flown before and the service was so good that it seemed like all I had to do was think about something I might want and a flight attendant was there to fulfill my wish. These things are especially important to me on a long transoceanic flight. Plus the food is amazing.
If you aren’t prepared to pay cash for a flight, another travel currency they accept is miles. Every airline charges different amounts of miles for different flights. Finding how many miles you need is as easy as Googling “Singapore Airlines award chart” and pulling it up.
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I found that for 76,000 KrisFlyer (Singapore Airlines’ award program) miles and less than $50 in taxes, I could fly round-trip in economy from Los Angeles to Singapore and spend some time in Seoul along the way. Now to get the miles.
At that time, the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card was brand new on the market and was offering 100,000 Ultimate Rewards Points (Chase’s travel currency) as a sign-up bonus for new users who spend $5,000 on the card in the first three months.
I easily spend about $2,000 per month on my credit card on normal expenses, so this wasn’t hard to do. Once those points hit my account, I was able to call Chase to transfer 76,000 of them to my new KrisFlyer account (Chase has more than 10 transfer partners, and Singapore Air is one of them) and then use those miles to book my flight over the phone!
Transferrable points like Ultimate Rewards Points are one of my favorite tools for planning free travel. While each airline offers miles, you can only use United or Delta miles to book flights with United or Delta. Transferrable points like Chase Ultimate Rewards points, Citi ThankYou points, and American Express Membership Rewards points can be used on a variety of airlines, making more itineraries possible.
If this seems like a complicated way to make a trip happen, even for free, here is the single most important tip I can give you, and one on which everything in this column will be based: have a plan in mind with specific goals. Know where you want to go, how many miles it will take to get there and then figure out how to get those miles.
Some of these points will be easy to acquire via a credit card signup bonus. Others will be harder and may take a more focused long-term strategy. For instance, flying in first class to and from Europe on American Airlines will require 170,000 AAdvantage miles (American Airlines’ reward currency), whereas an off-peak economy round-trip ticket can be had for 45,000, or peak travel for 60,000. Keep your early goals attainable.
Just this little amount of organization will enable you to be in a great place to book your first free trip!