Before miles and points, I thought travel was “free” as a concept of, you are free to roam where you like. I’ve pontificated on why travel really is free in great depth. You can bike or walk somewhere if you really wanted to.
Then over night, “transport” became free as well. Airline tickets fell from the sky it seemed. We had earned over a million miles before ever booking an award flight.
Still, I’ve gotten a lot of slack from people who’ve dropped tons of money in fees, and from… well running out of points and using cash. Or using a cash and points option. But in my opinion, this is only necessary is you are more concerned about luxury and don’t know basics like fuel surcharges.
Don’t think travel is “Luxury”
But from day 1 I avoided airline “fuel surcharge” fees. Why use your AA miles on a flight with someone like British Airways that does have fuel surcharges, instead of using them on AA or Air Berlin? It makes no sense to me. That is, unless you want business class on the specific airline of your choice.
It’s incredible, people drop 50,000 points a night for a week of entire vacation instead of a way cheaper option in town. Then pay for the second week with cash. Why? Luxury or wanting your way “just so” can cost money. Sometimes it doesn’t, but being flexible on a 3 star hotel instead of a luxury 5 star hotel, can save you points and money.
Your ego is not your amigo.
“Did he just suggest a 3 star hotel? I’m hitting the back button!”
No, ok, wait. Let me actually give some practical tips.
Always choose no fuel surcharges
If I’m using airline miles that do pass on fuel surcharges, I will not use them on airlines that have fuel surcharges… ever.
If you’re not quite familiar with all this let me explain this real quick. You have an airline’s miles, and those miles can be redeemed for any airline within the same alliance.
Some airline miles pass on “fuel surcharges”. This is a mysterious fee that airlines build into the price-determining algorithm. The funny thing is that it has nothing to do with the price of fuel it’s just a base fee on every ticket for that airline. For whatever reason, many airlines pass on this fuel surcharge when using their miles.
However, a number of airlines do not pass on fuel surcharges. For example:
United, US Airways, and American (except when redeeming on British Airways).
But some airlines don’t have fuel surcharges to even pass on in the first place.
- In Star Alliance, the following airlines do not have fuel surcharges to pass on:
Air New Zealand, Avianca, TACA, TAM, United (within the Americas), and US Airways
- In OneWorld, the following airlines do not have fuel surcharges to pass on:
Air Berlin, American Airlines (within the Americas), and LAN
- In SkyTeam, the following airlines do not have fuel surcharges to pass on:
AeroMexico, and Saudia
Therefore, when you aren’t using United, AA or US Airways miles (the mileage programs that don’t pass on fuel surcharges), you need to book on one of these airlines (the airlines that don’t have fuel surcharges to pass on).
For example, if you are using British Airways miles (aka Avios) and use those miles on a British Airways flight, you end up paying $516+ in fuel surcharges. Instead use your BA miles on an Air Berlin flight.
I take this so far as to say that I will never use my Avios internationally on any of the airlines that pass on fuel surcharges. That limits me to domestic usage, or Air Berlin or LAN. Really, if I’m planning a trip to Asia, I’d use other miles, like AA miles.
There is really no reason for me to use my BA miles to Asia and my AA miles to Europe. It’s completely backwards if you think about it. It’s the one route BA miles can’t avoid fuel surcharges, and with AA miles, Europe is the one route that could possibly have fuel surcharges.
Although, I should clarify, AA miles to Europe is a great use, just not on British Airways.
Actually get a good Cash Back card
It’s something I was too pretentious to recommend earlier but I was convinced of the value of the Barclay World Arrival card by my friend Jason recently.
The concept is simply, if you only care about extreme luxury, it’s a terrible card. But if you care about saving money, it’s a great card. Simply put, this card will reimburse travel expenses.
Because even when airline miles don’t pass on fuel surcharges, they still pass on taxes. Okay, for a US flight, that’s $2.50 or something. But for a flight out of some European airports, that can be $100!
As you may know, I only write about things I’d actually use. Thus, I don’t alert my readers about every deal to buy miles at “only” 2 cents a mile “so you can get a business class ticket for only $2,000” (instead of economy for free). Thus I’ve shunned many Discover cards and cash back cards.
So why the Barclay World Arrival Card?
First of all, the bonus is 40,000 points or $400 toward travel. Nowadays, that’s a fair sized bonus. And the spend requirement is $3,000 in 90 days… and nowadays that’s a low requirement.
(You can click here to use my link and sign up for the card).
And the other thing about this card is that it earns 2 points per dollar. My friend is stocking up on these points for his next big trip. His plan is to pay for hotels with these points. And if you combine that with some of the Hotel Site Best Rate Guarantees, that’s a killer deal. You get a free night, and earn credit.
The downside is that you could get a card that gives Chase Ultimate Rewards, transfer to United and book a Caribbean Hopper ticket for the same bonus. But I guess I’d recommend this card after my top 8 Travel Credit Cards.
But at some point, it’s just a way to cover fees and get free rooms. And those rooms earn more rooms.
Look it’s basically a way to cover the expenses you would have anyways. I’m sure there are other good cash back cards that I could push, but honestly, I don’t use them so I wouldn’t know.
Learn some other skills
Signing up for the right credit card is good, but having other skills is better. Here are some readings/tips:
- Know the hotel Best Rate Guarantees for every hotel chain! Then use Kayak or another source to search by brand.
- Once you have the right credit card, figure out how to maximize spending. The number 1 way to learn to do this is hands down, by reading Frequent Miler’s blog.
- Read my Top United Posts of 2013 on United Miles.
- Read my 7 best posts of 2013.
- Read Earning IHG Rewards Points on Steroids.
And the number one thing you can do to up your skills is sign up for the newsletter. Simply put.
Free ain’t always easy, but it’s completely possible. It’s totally about priorities.
One time I got two different comments on two different posts. The one guy commented how annoying it was claiming that travel was free, ignoring fees (which you can get reimbursed) and fuel surcharges (which I never ever pay).
Then this other guy commented on a post saying how ridiculous it is that I tell people to sometimes pay for flights and hotels. He commented on how he makes profit every month on his “spends”. And it’s true, some people make thousands a month in profit, just maximizing rewards. I know these people personally.
It’s not my thing, but good for them. But it goes to show; where there’s a will/skill, there’s a way.