I recently paid $8.71 for a grande vanilla latte with almond milk and a piece of pumpkin loaf at Starbucks. That’s $3.11 more than I paid for my flight to Argentina. “What?!” Yeah, you read that right! I paid $5.60 to fly from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Buenos Aires, Argentina, a flight that would have otherwise cost about $1,500. Talk about Value Travel! I know what you’re thinking: “Rik, I hear what you’re saying, but it just can’t be right. Tell me how you did it! I have to know.” Okay, just relax. I’ll feed you, baby bird.
Some savvy travelers out there probably already know this incredible deal was accomplished through airline rewards points. Whether you’re familiar with how travel rewards programs work or not, sit down, take a sip of your joe, and I’ll show you how giving up one of those cups of liquid energy could take you halfway around the world!
While we’ll be using a number of travel rewards credit cards to purchase flights this year, the British Airways Signature card helped me book the flight to Argentina for basically nothing.
British Airways Signature Card
When I first got the British Airways credit card, the introductory offer was 50,000 Avios points for spending $3,000 in the first three months. (NOTE: The introductory offer has changed since I opened my card, but the same general strategy still applies. Check the website for details on the current offer.) The nice thing about the Avios frequent flyer program is that you can use the points on partner airlines such as American Airlines.
From the moment I activated my card, all my purchases went on it. That included groceries, meals out, gas, entertainment, etc. The idea with this strategy isn’t to spend a ton of extra money in order to rack up airline points. The key is to move all your normal spending to the credit card for the length of the introductory period or until you hit the spending amount, whichever comes first. As long as you’re paying off your credit card bill each month, the amount you’re spending on monthly expenses shouldn’t change. The only difference you’ll see with this strategy is that you’ll be getting paid for your efforts with sweet, sweet travel rewards!
If you’re able to put your rent, mortgage payment, or utility bills on a credit card, you can throw those on there for a couple of months to help you reach the spending amount faster. Just be sure there isn’t an additional fee for paying those expenses with a credit card rather than linking a bank account.
Additionally, if you know you are going to be spending more than usual in the next few months, now is a great time to apply for a card. For example, we opened a new card when we were preparing to move across the country. All expenses associated with the move, from cardboard boxes and packing tape to movers and the U-haul rental, went on the card. You may also consider opening a card around the holidays or before making big, one-time purchases like appliances or a new mattress (fun fact: you spend a third of your life on a mattress; might be time to upgrade!).
Using this strategy, I earned the 50,000 Avios points and then some (you continue to earn points with every dollar spent). The points don’t expire as long as you earn or use at least one point every 36 months. By the time we booked our flight to Argentina, I had already used some of my points, but I had just over 46,500 points remaining and the flight cost 32,500 points. And that’s how I got a free flight!
“Rik, where does the $5.60 come in?”
Great question. When you use rewards points to book a flight, taxes and fees are not included. Some routes have higher taxes and fees than others. For example, some rewards flights to Europe cost so much in taxes and fees that it would actually be cheaper to just buy the ticket rather than use the points. In this case, however, the taxes and fees came out to $5.60 per person. This is the lowest we’ve seen, so we knew we had to take advantage!
By planning ahead and taking advantage of a good introductory offer, I was able to rack up airline points without changing my monthly budget. We all have to spend money each month to survive, so we might as well get rewarded for it! You can use this strategy to earn points for your next adventure, too. Stay tuned for a post on picking the right travel rewards card for you.
Questions about this strategy? Drop them in the comments below!