Fly for free. Believe it or not, that’s what we frequently do. Flights can be the most expensive part of a getaway, so finding great deals, or flying for free when you can, is the most effective way to travel further, more frequently, and in style on a budget. On our most recent getaway to Portland, one of us flew for free while we paid half price for the other ticket. In total, airfare cost us $101.90—for two people, flying roundtrip from SFO to PDX. Here’s how we did it.
We’re loyal Virgin America jet-setters, and when we began researching how to reduce our airfare costs so that we could travel more often and to new places, we focused our search on Virgin America discounts. So…
Step 1: Pick your favorite airline.
Pretty simple so far, right? We’re fans of Virgin America, but you can also look at other airlines, like United, American Airlines, and Delta. We recommend picking an airline that flies domestically and internationally. (Our accounts with Virgin America also work with Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia, and Virgin partners with international airlines like Singapore Airlines.)
Step 2: Join your favorite airline’s frequent flyer program.
It’s free to join any airline’s frequent flyer program—you don’t even have to book a flight to do it. Set up an account with the airline of your choice, and keep your frequent flyer number with you so you can…
Step 3: Earn points even when you’re not flying.
Virgin America’s Elevate program is pretty awesome and Virgin America frequently offers opportunities to earn Elevate points in ways other than flying. For example, simply sign up for Uber and you can take a ride to earn 800 points.
You can also check in at the Virgin America terminal when you take off and land with Foursquare to earn 50 Elevate points from Topguest.
And be sure to like Virgin America’s Facebook page to take advantage of periodic opportunities to earn 500 Elevate points simply by entering to win awesome prizes.
Step 4: Earn points with your credit card.
Still with me? All right! This next step requires some careful thought and may not be right for everyone. Most airlines partner with a credit card company to offer a Visa or MasterCard that earns you points as you use it for everyday items, like groceries. Virgin America offers the Virgin America Visa Signature card (August 3rd, 2013 Update: The Virgin America Visa Signature card is currently relaxing on a beach somewhere. We’re not sure when Virgin America will bring this offer back.), which earns the holder 1 Elevate point for every $1 spent with the card and 3 Elevate points for every $1 spent with the card on Virgin America purchases. Card holders also earn a $150 discount for a companion ticket annually. That’s a pretty sweet deal!
But again, this may not be for everyone. Take some time to read the rules carefully and be sure to fully understand the impact that opening a new credit card will have on your credit score (Google is your friend here). Also, be sure to calculate the monetary value of incentives. For example, card holders currently receive 10,000 Elevate points when they sign up for the Virgin America Visa Signature card. Calculating the monetary value of an Elevate point by comparing airfare prices versus points for the same itinerary on Virgin America’s website reveals that 1 Elevate point is worth approximately $0.022844, which makes the incentive worth $228.44. Now do the same for other airline credit cards you might be considering and pick the one that makes the most sense to you.
Step 5: Book a flight and get away!
Earning points is pretty easy. In the past two months we’ve earned more than 30,000 Elevate points by checking into Foursquare when we fly, using our Virgin America credit card for airline purchases (our last minute getaway in March bagged us a healthy chunk of points), and through various other activities. So when it came time to book tickets for our getaway to Portland, we used a combination of points and a free roundtrip discount code (thanks to the Virgin America Visa Signature card). And our upcoming getaway to Disneyland? You guessed it. We booked four roundtrip tickets with our points and paid a grand total of $20 in taxes.
What tips do you have for flying? Have you found new ways to earn airline points? Share your insights in the comments below!