Since posting about how Maria and I are each receiving a free American Airlines Explorer Award to fly around the world, we have been swamped with questions from people wanting to know exactly how we get our flights for free. Today, we will explain, step by step, how you can earn enough airline miles to fly anywhere for free, without ever boarding an airplane.
So you have a dream destination in mind? Take a moment and think about where you would go if you could fly anywhere for free. Dream big, exotic, and amazing. Got it? Ok, let’s make it happen.
Step 1: Understand The Flight Options
Now that you know your goal, you have to understand what options there are to get there. For example purposes, let’s plan to take a two week trip for two from Chicago to Sydney.
Step 2: Compare The Cost of Each Option
Now that we know American and United are both good options, let’s check and see how much those flights will cost. If we pay cash, each ticket on United will cost $1975 and American will cost $2342 (as of the writing of this article). That’s expensive! Let’s see how much that will cost in airline miles.
A search on aa.com shows that the same American Airlines ticket costs 75,000 AAdvantage miles. A search of united.com shows that the United flight options cost 80,000 United Mileage Plus miles. Due to higher award availability, the American Airlines tickets for 75,000 miles each appear to be the best available option for our example trip.
Step 3: Find The Right Credit Card(s)
Now that we have a set goal of earning 150,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles in order to purchase two FREE round trip tickets from Chicago to Sydney, let’s get into the details of how to easily earn the miles you need. All of the airlines offer many different ways to earn miles, but unless you travel for work, the only quick and cost effective way to earn miles is through credit card sign-up bonuses. For American Airlines, the following credit cards all offer AAdvantage miles as a sign-up bonus:
- Citi Platinum Personal AAdvantage Mastercard
- Citi American Airlines Business AAdvantage Mastercard
Both the Platinum Personal and Business versions of the American Airlines credit cards offer a sign-up bonus of 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles after you complete $3,000 in spending in the first 3 months. They also have the $95 annual fee waived for the first year. Keep in mind that even if you do not have a business, you can still qualify for the Business version of this card. With just these two cards, each person can earn 100,000 American Airlines miles in a matter of months!
When looking for the right credit card to meet our goals, we like to use the following pages to research current credit card offers:
In addition to cards offered by American Airlines, points can often be earned through partners of the airline. American Airlines has agreements with many other companies, such as Starwood Hotels, and points can be converted from these partners to AAdvantage miles. Once you have identified the cards that will get you to your goal, proceed with the application. For our example, each one of us would each apply for one Citi Platinum Personal AAdvantage Mastercard and one Citi American Airlines Business AAdvantage Mastercard.
Step 4: Meet The Minimum Spending
The next critical step is to meet the minimum spending for the credit cards. This step often causes confusion, so we will examine this in detail. There are many ways to meet the minimum spending requirements, but it is important to keep two rules in mind. First, never spend money on unnecessary items just to meet the minimum spending requirement. Maintain your budget discipline and only use the credit card for regular purchases. Second, and most important, always pay the credit card on-time and in full every month. Failing to fully pay the credit card each month will not only result in interest charges and late payment fees, but most credit cards can and will withhold rewards points if you have a late payment.
Now that we are clear on what not to do, let’s look at ways to meet the spending requirement. Most people have regular budget spending of a few thousand dollars each month, and these items are great to use your new credit card for, but they may not be enough to quickly meet the spending requirement if you apply for more than one card at once since you only have 3 months to meet your spending requirements from the date you get approved.
In order to more quickly meet the minimum spending requirement for multiple cards at the same time, we use what we call “The Bluebird Method.” The Bluebird Method utilizes an online checking account from American Express called a Bluebird account. It is a checking account that has zero fees, allows you to make online bill payments, and provides free online transfers to external banking accounts. It can even be used to make mortgage or rent payments. You can apply for free at www.bluebird.com or go to Walmart and pay $5.00 for it. Where the Bluebird account distinguishes itself from other checking accounts is that the funds are loaded using a prepaid card known as a Vanilla Reload Card.
What is a Vanilla Reload Card?
Vanilla cards are sold at most CVS stores and can be loaded with up to $500. We recommend only purchasing two Vanilla cards per visit to CVS as purchasing large quantities will likely trigger the fraud department to lock your credit card. When you are paying for them at the register ask the cashier to load $500.00 on each Vanilla card. They might give you a weird look or even call their manager if they have never done it. Don’t freak out! You are not doing anything shady. Just like some people like to use coupons to pay for stuff, we like to use our credit cards to get big Miles & Points. Next, they will scan your ID and then you can complete the purchase using the credit card that you are trying to fulfill the minimum spending for (for this example, we would use the AA Platinum Personal credit card). Finish by selecting the “credit” option on the keypad and you are done!! There are multiple products at the gift card stand at CVS that are labeled Vanilla cards, but ONLY this little baby below is the Vanilla card that will work without any issues.
The Vanilla cards have a $3.95 fee each. So if you do the quick math, it would require 6 vanilla cards (6 x $500 = $3,000) to complete the minimum spending requirement for each of the American Airlines credit cards. With a fee of $3.95 each, it would cost a total of $23.70 (6 x $3.95 = $23.70) to complete the minimum spending requirement for each card. For our example above, for four credit cards, The Bluebird Method would cost a total of $94.80 to complete the minimum spending for all four cards. In order to load the money from the Vanilla Reload Card into the Bluebird checking account, you must go to www.myvainillareloadcard.com.
To recap our current example, a couple applies for one Platinum Personal AAdvantage card and one Business AAdvantage card each. Over a few weeks, each person would buy six Vanilla Reload Cards at CVS for each credit card in order satisfy the minimum spending requirement. Then load your Vanilla cards into your Bluebird account. From your Bluebird account, you can pay your mortgage, rent, and bills or transfer the money back to your regular checking account (Be careful of not transferring the money back to your checking account too soon. There are reports online of people being somewhat red-flagged). Lastly, pay the credit card in full at the end of the month and you will be credited with 50,000 AAdvantage miles for each of the four credit cards for a total of 200,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles at the end of the statement period.
Our travel savvy example couple now has more than enough miles to get two free round trip tickets from Chicago to Sydney! By using The Bluebird Method, this couple spent a total of $94.80 in order to each receive a $2342 round trip ticket for free (plus applicable taxes). This couple saved over $4,000 on the their airfare for this trip! You are probably now even wondering if there is catch. There is not! Over the last year, Maria and I have used this trick to accumulate hundreds of thousands of free miles and points from airlines, hotels, and bank reward programs. During that time, using the cards with the strict rules outlined above, our credit scores even went up by 30 points each.
The last thing to remember is that most of these rewards cards will have an annual fee that is waived for the first year. To avoid paying that fee in the future, make sure to cancel the credit card before the one year anniversary date.
Step 5: Enjoy Your Free Trip!
With this powerful knowledge, you now have the ability to fly anywhere for free! Whether your dream is to pursue an RTW adventure like us, or if you want to take one great vacation each year, this tip will help you achieve it faster and cheaper. Where do you plan to fly with your free tickets?