How I Paid $38 for My Plane Ticket
October 2016: Because of travel hacking, I haven't paid for a plane ticket abroad in three years. My plane tickets to Thailand ($1000) and Belize ($350) were paid with points from my Barclay card. My one-way ticket to Australia ($850) was paid with points from my Chase Sapphire card.
Since booking my flight to Thailand two months ago, I’ve gotten a ton of questions from friends and family members. Most of the questions are related to their own travel plans, whether they have already booked the flight or are simply trying to figure out the first step in making the trip happen.
I want to use this blog as an opportunity to not only share my Thailand adventures, but to also share my travel tips and advice. Everyone’s travel and financial situations are different, but my hope is that you can take bits and pieces of what worked for me and adapt them to make your travel dreams a reality.
Sooo, to cross the first question off the list… How did I afford this trip?
I am 24. I live downtown in an apartment that I pay too much for. I work for a nonprofit. I pay student loans for a degree from a private college. I pay utilities, electricity, internet, and a gym membership. I just took out more student loans for a Master’s degree.
My financial situation does not differ that much from other recent college grads, but travel is a priority for me and I've known that for a long time. I took three steps to make this trip as affordable as possible:
- I used miles to purchase my plane ticket, saving myself $1000.
- I saved money over 3 months, allowing me to tighten expenses a little at a time.
- I was flexible in my travel location and dates, choosing a destination that is notoriously cheap and traveling during its low season.
I want to cover the first step, which was a game changer when it came to saving money: My plane ticket was essentially free. How?
Travel hacking. Very, very basic travel hacking. If you’ve ever seen the movie Up In The Air with George Clooney, that is extreme travel hacking. I’m talking about basic travel hacking for the average person who has several credit cards and daily spending costs. Travel hacking is about making your dollar go further and getting more bang for your buck. At first, I was a total nonbeliever in earning miles for dollars I was already spending. It would take too long. I don't understand how the points system works. This only works for people who already fly a ton anyways. There are a million travel credit cards... I don't even know how to choose the best one.
But 6 months after graduating college, I knew the travel bug would never leave me. I had to figure out how to travel with a full time job I loved and with a modest salary. So I decided to open a travel credit card and play the travel hacking game.
After pouring over numerous blog posts about the best travel credit card options, I opened the Barclay Arrival Plus (BAP) in December 2013. Most travel credit cards come with a signing bonus, with the BAP having one of the best offers: if I spent $3,000 in 3 months, I would earn 40,000 miles (the equivalent of $400). Why is a signing bonus important? Because it would take an average person almost a year to earn 40,000 miles with daily spending; a good signing bonus gives you that amount of miles in 3 months or less, allowing you to really get a jumpstart on earning miles.
I moved my spending from my debit card to credit card. Everything from my LASIK surgery to my bills to my groceries to my Christmas shopping went on this credit card. I carefully tracked all finances to ensure I was not overspending. I earned the $400 travel bonus in 2 months. $400 is enough to get me from Chicago to New York, LA, Montreal, Miami, Mexico City, or San Jose, Puerto Rico -- for free. For the next 12 months, the majority of my spending was on my credit card. I racked up 100,000 miles in 14 months, by spending money that I would have spent anyways. But this time, I was getting something in return: frequent flier miles. That 100,000 miles = $1,000 towards any flight or hotel stay. That was my golden ticket to Thailand and I was ready to take advantage of it.
I bought my plane ticket to Thailand on March 16 for $1,038 on my BAP. The following day, when the purchase showed up under transactions, I followed an easy, 3-step process that allowed me to redeem my $1,000 in miles towards that purchase. A few days later, $1,000 was credited to my credit card statement, bringing the final price of my plane ticket to $38. Even better, the BAP gives you back 10% of the miles you spent, so I got $100 worth of miles back to be redeemed at any time towards another travel purchase.
Now I only have 2,200 miles on my Barclay Arrival Plus (equivalent to $22). It takes a long time to rack up miles once you’ve used the bonus miles, so I now use my BAP for work expenses and have shifted my daily spending to my Chase Sapphire, another excellent rewards credit card.
Travel hacking, at this level, is not difficult. I had read about travel hacking on different travel blogs, but I never thought it was worth it and I didn’t totally understand that points/redeeming process. However, with patience, the rewards are huge and well worth it for a $38 plane ticket.