People have two huge misconceptions of how to travel the world for free. 1) Free travel means camping, hitchhiking, couchsurfing, and living like a homeless hippy. 2) The only way to earn frequent flyer miles is by flying. Let me blow your mind for a second if you believed either one of those things. Completely free travel is possible.
I’m 27 and broke and yet my wife and I have been all around the world… multiple times. We’ve flown in suites with beds and have stayed in many of the nicest hotels in the world, including the Ritz Carlton on Central Park, and the cost came out to $0.00. Free!
Often in luxury hotels, especially ones in farflung places, we’re probably the poorest guests in the hotel, but I only care that we actually get to go. To give an idea, here are a few places we’ve flown to using miles (we earned for free) and where we stayed in luxury hotels: Fiji, Aruba, Venice, Vienna, Paris, London, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Sydney, New Zealand, South Africa, Mumbai, Kiev, NYC, Puerto Rico, Bali, and on and on and on… No end in sight so far.
If you’re interested in this crazy hobby of earning and burning miles to see the world too, then here are 9 ways you could travel for free as well.
1) Credit Card Rewards
Get miles from credit card bonuses and spending.
Anyone with a good credit score can sign up for credit cards, and even one bonus could be enough for free travel. And via this method alone, we’ve probably earned millions of miles over the last few years.
For perspective, a oneway to Europe is only 30,000 miles with AA miles, United miles (a transfer partner of Chase) and many others. Yet, many sign-up bonuses are 50,000 miles. Further more people don’t realize how many miles they would earn if they just put all their expenses on one card. Just with being a savvy consumer about what credit cards we sign up for, we’ve been able to earn millions of miles! Tons of free flights. Tons.
If you’re interested in which card to get and which frequent flyer miles to go after, you need to read the Complete Guide to Earning Miles From Credit Cards. It’s completely free when you signup below.
2) Mistake Fares
These aren’t just good deals on flights and hotels…
This isn’t a joke or a myth – mistake fares happen all the time. And yet, it seems it’s always the same people getting in on them. Simply put, errors for pricing happen and tickets for $5 happen. Decimals get swapped, currencies get swapped, or we joke that the pricer has “fat fingers”. Recently it was all over the news; there was the error on United.com and another United error (via a Norwegian website) to Europe.
We’ve booked tickets to Europe for $148, tickets to Oman and Kenya for $210 roundtrip each, (not to mention a bunch of our friends joined us for the Kenya flight).
Actually recently we paid the most we’ve ever paid for a plane ticket, $448 for DC to Beijing roundtrip. BUT, it was in business class and it earned us 36,266 Alaska Miles. Less than 4,000 miles short of a roundtrip to Europe. Think about it. We paid $448 for a business class flight to China and back, and that gave us almost enough miles for a roundtrip to Europe.
And the same is true with hotels. 6 of us recently stayed at a 4 star resort (with club lounge access + breakfast) with an ocean view balcony for $18 a night (instead of $180).
My best advice for finding them would be to get involved in the frequent flyer community. The other suggestion seems self-serving, but it’s true, follow me on social media. We’ve shared many mistake fares, including a recent flight for just over $100 to Europe and Asia. My other advice is book quick! If it’s cancelable, don’t even think. Just book and see if the dates work later, as these things get pulled fast.
Admittedly, no mistake fare is actually free. I’ve seen hotels for pennies and flights for $10. For an airline to honor a mistake fare, your credit card has to have been charged, so instead of free, it’s the next best thing to free- insanely cheap.
3) Best Rate Guarantees
We’ve gotten completely free nights at many luxury hotels by filling out a form!
Hear me out on this. Recently I stayed in a hotel that cost me about $350 for one single night. It came with lounge access (free food and booze for the stay) and was super fancy.
A month later I got a check in the mail from the hotel chain refunding me the full amount plus a little extra in case I incurred fees (which I didn’t). Check was about $370. Yes, you read correctly, I made a profit on that free night that came with free food.
Hotels offer some stellar best rate guarantees. Some include a free night each stay (even if it’s only one night), $50 off, $100 gift card, 50% off, etc… This is kind of my secret weapon.
When I’m looking for a Hilton, I look for the cheapest one and try to file a best rate guarantee to get $50 off. Recently I found it for $50 and got the room completely free. Similarly, for their BRG, IHG says your first night of a stay is free. So for one night I’ve stayed at the InterContinental Vienna, the InterContinental Budapest, InterContinental Nairobi and other hotels completely free. Obviously staying in hotels for free is nice, and staying in 5 star hotels for free is nicer.
My tip is to only book cancelable rates as when you are learning, you’ll get denied! The terms and conditions of the rates being compared have to be the same for all details, even down to the hour of allowed cancellation for each compared rate.
4) Getting Bumped from Flights
Flexible with your flights? Get paid to fly later.
My friend Jason just got $3,000 for taking later flights on his way home from Madrid. Him and his wife volunteered to give up their original flight for a later one. And when they showed up for that flight, they needed people to take later flights again. They agreed to wait another day for another $1,500. He said the hardest thing was that AGAIN the next day they needed volunteers but he couldn’t do it a third time because he had to get back to work. He speculates that it was largely students getting back to school.
This is called getting “bumped” and it’s a lost art. Certain routes, flights, times and airlines often oversell flights. They book 110% assuming 10% of business flyers back out. But when they don’t, someone has to take a later flight. Those people who volunteer get paid in flight vouchers. I even had a friend who got home sooner than he would’ve on his original ticket because the later flight was the more direct one that cost extra. But I won’t get your hopes up. You can let them know you’re flexible ahead of time but if they ask for volunteers on your next flight, go up and volunteer. They will let you know the time of the next available flight and payment. It can’t hurt to find out what those two things are! United is very good about having nicely priced vouchers, but all airlines do it. And it gets better. 1) You can get bumped from an award flight. In other words you are on a free flight and then get offered a voucher for another flight. and 2) The flight you book with the voucher earns miles. It’s a great time to be alive folks.
5) Manufacture Spending
Rack up millions of miles via gift cards.
Manufacture Spend (MS) is when you spend on your credit card for miles and try to get all/most of your money back. Basically it’s spending your credit on something that can be turned back into cash, all for the sake of earning points.
A few years ago you might have heard of the $1 coin thing. It’s dead now, but it’s a great introduction. It was the glory days of most frequent flyers. You could buy $1,000 in $1 coins from the US Mint for $1,000. Then you could take the coins to the bank and pay off the very card that you bought them on. Essentially your card gets charged $1k and then paid off and thus nothing happens except you keep the miles. (My wife hated lugging those heavy coins to the bank).
Nowadays you can do the same thing with “Debit” gift cards. Instead of buying money in dollar-coin form, you’re buying it in the form of a “debit” gift card. And instead of taking it straight to the bank, you load it onto a bank-alternative card like Bluebird or Redcard. Those cards have bill-pay features so they’ll serve as a middle-man for paying off the card you originally spent with.
6) House Sitting
Not a slob? You may be a house sitting candidate.
This is one thing we’ve yet to try but is certainly on the to-do list. My eyes have finally been opened. And for a long term traveler it seems near unbeatable. Basically you create a profile on a site like TrustedHousitters.com and apply for house-sitting gigs. The idea is that you get a free place to stay, and the other person gets a free pet-sitter or house-sitter.
Extra Pack of Peanuts has done a lot of this and it seems like a great way to do the nomadic life thing. If you’re interested in testing out the house-sitting platform, consider using our trusted house sitters link.
Awards tickets can have extra crazy stops for no extra price.
If you are a traveler and are into the miles and points game, you should understand this: routing rules for award tickets are much more loose than revenue tickets! With United in particular, you are allowed one stopover and two open-jaws per round trip. The most important part to know for now is that this stopover means that you can stay as long as you want at a second location. Again, the routing rules are loose. For 65,000 miles you can go to Bali roundtrip. Or you could “stopover” in Paris for as long as you want on the way to Bali. Also for 65,000 miles. It’s incredible to say the least. This can go way further.
We’ve booked some crazy tickets. Including one for 40,000 miles that was completely in business class from Guam, on to see Singapore, New Zealand, Rarotonga, Sydney and Tokyo on one ticket.
Check out our InfoGraphic: Airline Stopovers
8) The Biggest Promotions
Like that promo that gave a free night for creating a free account.
There are big promotions from hotels, much bigger than airlines. Sometimes much easier too. We’ve seen a number of big promos this year, but I’ll give one recent example.
Earlier there was a “promotion code” on Orbitz that gave $100 off a stay of $100 or more. Well Carrie and I booked multiple back to back reservations at $100 a night hotels in the center of Old Town Prague and other great destinations in Europe. I think the most we paid for a hotel, with those coupons, was like $13.
Really, it’s everywhere. I’ve seen $1 tickets on everything from Megabus tickets to AirAsia flights. Same with points too, Melia Rewards (a hotel program) just randomly gives me 10,000 points every once in a while.
9) Refer-A-Friend Bonuses
If you signup for an Uber account with my refer a friend bonus, you’ll get $20 for signing up. A lot of people already know that, but there are a ton of other companies that give bonuses for signing up. Here are a few examples:
- Silvercar rentals: Use promocode DMACOMBER1 when signing up.
- Ebates (free money (same with other rebate sites).
There are just so many things that it would be a pain to list every site that offered a sign up bonus. And a lot of these are available to you at least per person. So a husband and wife each with a phone could get the free Uber rides. And then do Lyft. And other things like Sidecar (apparently, but I haven’t used that one).
Then there’s the opportunity on the referring end (like I’m doing above). Actually, you could be the one referring your spouse or friend. Yes, you have to have an account already. But once you have one, grab that referral code and create your spouse’s, significant other’s, or friend’s account via that referral link.
The biggest rewards are from simple things, like credit cards. Using the right credit cards is simply huge. Travel Is Free is all about how to earn miles and how to use miles to see a ton of places! If you want to read more about this crazy miles and points hobby and dive deeper, my recommendation for you is to sign up for the newsletter.
Why are things kept top secret?
Some promotions and opportunities are very volatile and shouldn’t get too much attention or be publicly displayed, this is the concept of the newsletter. It’s original content that comes out once a month. If you’re looking to leave the newbie zone, that’s where you should go next.