So what advice would I give someone who wanted to fly for free?
Well, last week one reader emailed me this question:
My name is Dave I have been following your travel escapades on Instagram for the past few months. I’m saving hard for an overseas trip next year and found your post ‘How I Travelled for 18 Months Without Bankrupting Myself’ helpful. I’m trying to travel as cheap as possible so was really interested in the travel hacking part. I’m based in Brissie…any further info you could share about flights would be great!
– from Brisbane
Thanks for the email and great to hear about your upcoming trip.
I can certainly answer this question for you because I use Australian airlines reward programs, as well as other airlines programs, to fly for free.
What It Takes to Fly for Free
So how exactly do I fly for free?
Well not by having a friend whos a pilot (does that even work anyway?) or even that holds a senior position at an airline. I fly for free using reward points.
In the post ‘How I Travelled for 18 Months Without Bankrupting Myself’ I briefly touched on the subject of travel hacking. The emphasis of travel hacking is to get things like flights, hotels and upgrades, all for – you guessed it, free!
Just to recap for those who didn’t read the blog post here’s some of what I said…
For free flights you:
- Sign up for an airline reward program. I’m a member of Etihad, Singapore Airlines, Virgin Australia, Virgin Atlantic and Air Asia.
- Sign up for a credit card affiliated with the airline. For example, I have American Express and Visa cards.
- Use the credit card for your NORMAL living costs. How much you spend each month will turn into points for upgrades.
- Browse the airlines’ website and see if they are affiliated with companies you already use. For example, Virgin Velocity is affiliated brands I already shop with like eBay and Agoda. Bookings will now be paid for with the airline credit card to receive additional points.
- Sign up to emails and check offers to see what bonus offer they have. I changed my internet and electricity provider (while renting an apartment in Australia) and these two alone earned me over 20,000 in points, as well as being cheaper than what I was already paying at the time.
Over time, the points will accumulate then eventually you can redeem them for a free flight online or over the phone.
Can It Work for the Average Person?
I’m not going to tell you I fly around the world 1st class, earn 5 million airline miles a year and never pay for a flight – that’s just not true. I do pay for flights (usually with budget airlines), but I also receive free flights each year from my reward miles I’ve cashed in.
How many free flights exactly?
Well, this year there have been 4 so far, and I’ve still got enough points left over for the same again.
My daily spending isn’t more than the average persons, and I believe it’s possible that others can get the same perks as me. It just takes a change of mindset on how you go about spending money.
After this change, it’s just a case of maintaining the habits and watching the points build up.
I spend a lot of time in Australia and earn most of my points with Australian reward programs. Travel hacking down under is perfect for collecting points, probably lacking just a bit behind the UK and the US regarding bonus deals available.TraveI Hacking: It just takes a change of mindset on how you go about spending your money Click To Tweet
Airline Reward Points
Now down to the nitty-gritty, most of my airline reward points are earnt through Virgin Australia. I’m a big fan of Virgin and do believe they go above and beyond for their customers. I could write a blog post on how their staff outperform all other airlines in Australia, but I will save that for another day. It’s not just based on one experience either.
Although I’m a member of Virgin Australia’s loyalty program Virgin Velocity, you might be surprised to read that I don’t earn the majority of my points by booking flights with them.
That’s right, most of the points earnt are through my reward credit cards and using companies linked to their rewards program.
Rewards Credit Cards
I use an American Express Red Velocity (no yearly fee) card that earns 1 reward points per dollar spent. For faster earning they also have a black card ($375 annual fee) that can receive 2.5 points per $1 spent.
I use the cheaper no-fee card but if my spending increased I would condenser taking the black card if the free benefits outweighed the yearly fee.
There is also a Global Wallet travel Visa card linked to my Virgin Velocity membership account that I use regularly. The travel Visa card earns 2 velocity rewards points per dollar spent outside Australia and saves on foreign transaction fees.
In addition to my reward credit cards, I have a Flybys Rewards card linked to my Virgin Velocity account that earns points during grocery shopping at Coles supermarkets. It’s relatively easy to obtain points this way due to food (mostly) being a necessary purchase and Coles supermarkets being widespread across Australia.
Did I mention that the Coles supermarket bill is paid using my American Express rewards card?
Other ways I earn points quickly are by booking accommodation stays through Agoda and making purchases on eBay. Also I occasionally complete market research surveys, book airport parking, reserve restaurants through OpenTable and the list go one…
Most earn 1 or 2, with some receiving as much as 10 points per AUD spent.
There are plenty of ways to earn extra points such as booking a car rental for my trip to Lake Tyrell. I always use affiliated Europcar over other similar priced car rental brands to earn more Velocity points.
And guess what?
I pay the bill again using my Velocity American Express rewards card.
Redeeming Points for Flights
How many points do you need to fly for free?
Well, it all depends on the type of seat you want. If you don’t have enough points, there’s also the option to pay part points, part cash.
The Virgin Velocity rewards points structure for the below airlines is:
So let’s say the flight distance from Melbourne International Airport (MEL) to Ngurah Rai (Bali) International Airport (DPS) is around 2726 miles. To fly this route for free, you would need exchange 22,300 Velocity miles for a one-way economy reward seat.
So in a Nutshell
I fly for free by earning airline reward points, which are collected every day just going about my daily business making regular purchases. Earning points by shopping at the supermarket, buying stuff from eBay, booking hotels, hostels, car rentals and so on.
All are paid with my Virgin Velocity American Express rewards card unless the seller does not accept Amex. If they charge some ridiculous fee I use my Visa rewards card.
The reward points in my Velocity account will stay there until I want to use them. Once I’m ready I can use my points with airlines such as Virgin Australia, Virgin Atlantic, Etihad, or other affiliated carriers.
Available routes and the airline used for free flights will depend on my departing airport and final destination.
It’s great to fly for free but remember:
- You only really fly for free if you haven’t spent more than you would otherwise have. If you just buy things to earn points then just purchase the ticket!
- Spend some time browsing the airlines’ website and figure out how to get extra points. I was surprised upon signing up with Virgin Australia by how many companies affiliated with them I already used.
- Make sure you understand the rules of how your program works, how long are the points are valid for, are there any exceptions on earning points or extra fees. For example, not everyone accepts American Express, and some vendors charge 3 or 3.2% in Australia.
Virgin Velocity does the job for me, but you could consider the Qantas Frequent Flyer program as well. I only just joined recently so don’t have as much experience using them, but they do fly some routes that Virgin don’t.
The downside of the Qantas program is they do charge $89.50AUD to join up.
This joining fee will be off-putting for some, especially considering joining Virgin Velocity is free.
Whatever program you choose to join start by taking your time, study the offer’s, then go about your daily spend and start earning points. Eventually, they will build up to a level where you can exchange them for free flights and hotels.