Last week, I shared how we paid $360 for a 7-night hotel stay and 8-day rental car for our upcoming Walt Disney World vacation. I had hinted that I’d scored another screaming deal on airfare.
Today I’m going to share you how I did that, but I feel the need to put a disclaimer up before I share and state that this is not a good idea for everyone. It involves credit cards, and if you are staunchly anti-credit card and/or about to apply for a major loan soon and/or struggle paying off credit cards, please just skip this post. As with anything I share here on the blog, not every post is going to apply for every person. Get it? Got it? Good. Moving along.
Earlier this year, my husband and I were pining for a Disney trip. Heck, ANY trip. But like most people, we were frustrated by the ridiculous price involved to fly our family anywhere. Even for a good deal of about $200 round-trip to LAX from SEA becomes rather spendy when you multiply that times 4. So my curiosity was piqued when I heard someone in an online forum suggest the blog Million Mile Secrets. Over the following week, my husband and I devoured this dude’s blog. The blogger, Daraius, has earned and redeemed millions of miles for virtually free airfare and hotel stays. After some discussion, we decided to give some of his methods a try.
Now there is a lot of information out there regarding points credit cards and it can be really overwhelming! But as a newbie to the points world, here are the biggest takeaways I’ve learned:
- The secret to racking up big airline miles is sign on bonuses. NOT ongoing purchases.
- Sign up for a card (or two) that will ultimately get you the rewards YOU want to go.
I’ll break this down a bit more by sharing what card we ultimately went with, and why.
How we Earned 100,000 Southwest Air Miles + A Companion Pass in about 6 Months
What surprised me is that you can earn enough miles rather quickly for airfare by paying more attention to the sign on bonuses than the $1 spend = 1 point business. So when selecting a card, pay attention to the bonuses involved!
After weighing our options, Terry & I decided to go for the Chase Southwest Visa. It was offering a generous 50,000 miles when you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months. While $2,000 may sound like a lot – it’s really about $670 per month. Consider your monthly bills and expenses – could you funnel those through your credit card instead? (And then just pay off the credit card with the cash you have sitting in your checking account?) Or maybe you have an expense you’ve budgeted for (such as a deck repair or car work) that could help get you to your $2,000.
You might have seen this offer before. While it says 50,000 points for 2 roundtrip flights, note what you’ll actually receive is just 50,000 points, however you choose to divvy them up.
What can Southwest points get you? Here are a few examples from a quick search today:
- ~47,000 points would fly a family of 4 round-trip from Seattle to Los Angeles
- ~32,000 points would fly you and your spouse round-trip from Seattle to Las Vegas or New York City
- ~40,000 points would fly you and your spouse round-trip from Seattle to Chicago
These are just a few ideas and not an exact promise of what you’ll find. Points required per trip may change due to a number of factors.
The Southwest card made a LOT of sense to us. We’ve flown Southwest before and love them. We also knew that Southwest flew to the destination we were looking at (Disney). And finally, when we realized the sign on bonus for this one card would be enough to fly us round-trip, we went for it.
But it gets better. I was also able to open up a Chase Southwest Business card that yielded me an additional 50,000 bonus miles. So within a couple of months, I’d accrued 100,000 airline miles – enough for a couple family trips!
BUT IT GETS BETTER. See, Southwest has this thing called the Companion Pass. And when you earn 110,000 miles in a year? You get one. The valuable pass means you can choose a companion to fly free with you for two years, wherever you fly! After a few more months, we’d earned enough to trigger the Companion Pass, so now my husband flies free with me wherever I go through the end of 2014. The benefit of pass is that we can now stretch our points even further! (Note: Technically the bonuses you earn from the credit cards aren’t supposed to qualify for the pass. However, it definitely triggered it for us and has for many others, too. This may well change at any time so YMMV.)
These are the Southwest Chase cards I applied for (and got approved for!). Please note that this is NOT an affiliate link, so I’m not getting any sort of kickback from Chase for sharing this offer with you.
There’s no such thing as a free flight
You might hear some people say they flew for free. Well, I’d question that. You still likely have to pay taxes, and don’t forget the time and effort involved. Here is what it cost us to earn those miles and the Companion Pass:
- A $99 annual-fee paid up front on BOTH the personal and business cards: $198
- Time spent learning how to navigate points, applying for the cards, managing statements, etc.
- Risk involved assuming new open revolving credit (as we recently refinanced our mortgage and have no plans for car or other loans, we were willing to assume this risk)
- Taxes on airfare booked (between $5-$10 per ticket)
While this definitely took some effort and work to set up, I can tell you it did work for us! Last week was my first opportunity to redeem some of those air miles. Here’s what I did:
- Booked round-trip airfare for me to go to Denver for an affiliate marketing conference. Points used: 10,561. Used companion pass at no point cost for my husband to fly. Paid $10 in taxes in fees.
- Booked round-trip airfare for me + the kids to go to Orlando for a Disney World vacation. Points used: 53,640. Used companion pass at no point cost for my husband to fly. Paid $40 in taxes and fees.
While it’s tempting to label this post “how we paid $40 to fly to Orlando,” I hope I’ve made it clear there were annual fees associated with the credit cards as well as the time involved. Another obvious point, but worth mentioning is that in order for this to work to your advantage, you’re going to need to pay off the balance in full every month. Otherwise, the interest you pay will start eating into the flight benefits.
Is this still even worth it? As a point of comparison, if I were to book the same trip to Orlando, I’d pay $349 per ticket now, or $1,396 for our family of four. Even with the $198 I paid in up-front annual credit card fees, I still come out way ahead with the points paying a total cost of $238 (so $1,158 saved). Not to mention that we’re also doing the short Denver trip and I have about 40,000 airline miles leftover that will probably be used to take our family to NYC next year…or wherever strikes our fancy at the time that Southwest flies to. (Here’s hoping they get some Hawaii routes open!)
Interested to Learn More?
Admittedly, I’m new to points cards and am by NO means an expert! There is a LOT I’m still learning and I hesitated sharing this with you until I’d successfully managed to do it myself. My feeling is if you have the smarts to navigate couponing and deal shopping, you could apply them to points earning. I did it!
There are a lot of points blogs out there that can help you make sense of the available programs and how to navigate them. I’d definitely recommend Million Mile Secrets – he’s got good, clear information and we basically followed this Southwest Chase post to earn what we did. Another one I’d recommend is Mommy Points. What sets her apart is that she’s earning points for family-friendly travel. So you’ll find a lot of information geared towards families with young children that you won’t on other points blogs. I’d bookmark both of those. Start by reading the “getting started” and “new here” sections of their blog.
You might want to take a look at CreditCards.com too – head to the Travel section to see what offers they currently have available. Remember to consider the end goal first. If you’re planning on racking up miles for a trip to Paris, the Southwest Air Chase card doesn’t make a lot of sense as they fly domestically. If you have air miles already, perhaps consider the Citi Hilton card where you can earn 2 weekend night stays at select Hilton hotels. And so on. Just make sure you can easily meet the minimum spend in the amount of time required in order to earn the stated bonus.
Finally, I’d like to reiterate that this isn’t for everyone. I even hesitated sharing this information with you at all as I know many are huge Dave Ramsey supporters and credit cards are a no-no with him. However, I believe that if one is motivated, organized, and willing to assume some risk – this could make a dream trip possible that wouldn’t have been otherwise.
To sum up, here’s what we’ve spent on our Walt Disney World vacation so far in the past week:
Airfare x 4: $40
Hotel x 7 nights: $360 (I explained how in this Disney post)
Rental Car x 8 days: $100 (I explained how in this Disney post)
Unofficial Disney Guide: $20 (not on sale…DOH… cheaper right now on Amazon for $13.98)
Not bad, eh?
Would you like me to continue to share more of our frugal Walt Disney World trip planning with you? I’d love to hear your experience with airfare credit cards if you have something to add!
Disclosure: I’m not a financial adviser in any way and the purpose of my post was to merely share my experience earning points with you. As always, use good judgment when it comes to your money and in particular, opening loans. Take particular care with opening credit cards if you foresee the need to open a major loan within a few months.