Airline rewards cards and travel credit cards allow you to earn free flights, sometimes much faster than you can with a simple cash back credit card. Using miles to pay for your flights can make budgeting for your dream vacation much easier.
You can earn credit card rewards to get free flights in the following ways:
- Earning cash back on purchases with cash back credit cards.
- Earning miles on purchases with travel credit cards.
- Earning points on purchases with credit cards that allow you to transfer points to airline partner programs.
- Earning miles on purchases with airline credit cards.
- Earning cash back, miles or points with credit card sign-up bonuses.
- Earning miles through special programs or promotions.
Earning Rewards With Your Purchases
To book a free flight, you need to earn the points or miles required to pay for the flight. You can earn airline miles for the purchases you make every day, such as 1 mile for every dollar you spend, by using a credit card that offers miles for the airline of your choice, says Stephanie Hammell, wealth advisor at LPL Financial.
“I believe with thorough planning, the strategy of using reward points on credit cards for travel is completely effective,” she says.
The number of miles you earn per dollar spent varies based on the credit card and maybe on the category of your purchase. For example, you might earn 3 miles per dollar on airline purchases with a specific airline, 2 miles per dollar for restaurants and hotel accommodations, and 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases. It could take a lot of time for miles to add up to enough for a free flight if you’re only relying on the miles you earn on your purchases, says Hammell. Thankfully, you can earn miles in other ways, too.
Earning Points With Sign-Up Bonuses
If you want to earn airline miles quickly, a sign-up bonus could accelerate earnings. Credit card sign-up bonuses can be worth tens of thousands of points. It’s not uncommon to see cards that offer 60,000 miles or more for signing up and then spending a few thousand dollars with them in the first few months. That would take $30,000 of spending to achieve if you were earning 2 miles per dollar on purchases.
With a sign-up bonus, you can earn the same number of miles with a fraction of the spending. “Whichever cards you choose to sign up for, be sure that you know of the spending requirements required in order to earn the maximum bonus,” says David Bakke, writer and contributor at personal finance website Money Crashers.
If you don’t spend the required amount within the allotted time frame, you get nothing other than the points you earned for your purchases. For example, if your card offers 2 miles per dollar and a 50,000-mile bonus when you spend $3,000 within the first three months, you’ll earn 5,000 miles if you spend only $2,500 during the bonus period. But if you spend $3,000, you’ll earn 56,000 miles between the bonus and regular miles earning.
Even so, Bakke says you shouldn’t make purchases beyond your usual spending to qualify for a sign-up bonus. If you do, the extra money you spend may end up outweighing the benefit of the sign-up bonus.
If there are multiple adults in your household, a sign-up bonus doesn’t have to be a one-time bonus. Hammell says, “I also had my significant other get the same credit cards. This can basically double the amount of points you’re getting.” This strategy can help you build up enough miles to pay for flights much faster than only getting one card per couple.
How to Redeem Credit Card Rewards for Free Flights
Each credit card and airline may have its own points or miles redemption options.
If your credit card earns airline miles or allows you to transfer points to an airline miles program, you usually redeem your rewards through the airline’s booking system. Each airline has its own way of calculating how many miles you need for a flight. Some airlines base the number of miles needed on the cost of the flight. Others use the distance your flight travels or the zones your flight travels between to determine the cost in miles. You can learn more about the specifics of how miles work in U.S. News’ airline miles guide.
Another option is a travel rewards credit card that allows you to earn miles you can then redeem for a travel statement credit. The travel statement credit can offset the cost of booking your flight. Credit cards that focus on travel statement credits tend to offer about the same value as the top cash back credit cards. Technically, you can use a cash back credit card to book free flights, too. Simply save the cash back you earn until you have enough to pay for your flight.
Even though understanding how to get a free flight is more straightforward with cash back cards, it usually takes longer to earn flights with them than with an airline co-branded card. Additionally, you don’t get to take advantage of unique pricing opportunities that boost the value of your airline miles.
For example, a round-trip business class Delta flight from Seattle to Tokyo could cost 120,000 miles plus taxes and fees, roughly the equivalent of a $1,200 value. If the same round-trip flight costs $4,586 plus taxes and fees, that’s a major savings if you’re able to pay with miles instead of money……..Read More>>