Back of plane seats with TV monitors.

In late 2017, I took the trip of a lifetime: eight weeks along the Mediterranean with nothing but my suitcase, my laptop, and an eye for adventure. I started out in a month in Barcelona, enjoying endless plates of Jamón Ibérico and Manchego cheese washed down with Catalonia’s plentiful red wine.

Fortunately, good eats are cheap in Spain; I rarely spent more than five euros on a meal. But I also had plenty of wiggle room in my travel budget, because I all but wiped out one of the biggest expenses: airfare.

I was able to fly from Tampa, Florida to Barcelona, Spain for a grand total of — I kid you not — $6. And that was just to cover a random fee that wasn’t eligible to be paid for with miles. 

I used a travel rewards credit card for every single purchase I’d made for over a year, making sure to pay it off in full each month to avoid interest. By the end, I had enough miles to get me halfway across the world. Pretty awesome, right?

Want to Fly For (Almost) Free? Here’s How

Although credit card rewards are powerful, using them is only one way to ensure you get the very best price on airfare every single time. 

Here are some of the cleverest ways to globetrot without spending a fortune.

Apps and Websites

With the popularity of travel these days, there’s a huge market for apps, websites, and other programs to help consumers pay less on their airfare (and other related expenses). And although they might not get you airfare for free, per se, they can knock a substantial chunk off the total.

For instance, Skiplagged works by scanning available flights for loopholes like hidden-city itineraries, wherein you’d get off at the layover rather than the final destination. Here’s the example they give in their FAQ.

Here’s a description from their website:

A flight from New York to Orlando might be $250, but a similar flight from New York to Dallas with a layover in Orlando might be $130. If you’re going to Orlando, we’ll show you both flights. If you choose the cheaper one, you get off the plane at the layover (Orlando) rather than going to the final ticketed destination (Dallas).

However, if you take a hidden-city route, you’ll want to be sure you’re bringing a small carry-on only… if your bag gets gate-checked, it’ll end up at the final destination city without you!

Hopper is another great app, which works by helping users nail down the exact right timing to book their flights and hotel rooms. A few weeks (or sometimes even a few days) can be a difference of several hundred dollars when it comes to airfare, so that’s no small service — according to Hopper’s site, it can save you up to 40%.

Newsletters

If you’ve got flexibility in your schedule and a whole list of bucket list destinations, low-cost airfare newsletters can be a great way to get where you’re going on the cheap. You’ll get travel deals delivered directly to your inbox on a regular basis, often customized to your preferred airports of origin and most-desired destination cities.

There are several of these to choose from, and in our opinion, signing up for as many as possible is the best way to reap the benefits. For instance, Airfarewatchdog is a Tripadvisor-run newsletter that collates deals scoured manually by a dedicated team — and which also offers a live search engine to help you find your dream trip in real-time.

Scott’s Cheap Flights is another excellent resource, offering both a free and premium newsletter service. Premium runs $49 per year but gets you special premium-only deals as well as mistake fares and peak season flights, so it can easily pay for itself if you’re a devoted traveler.

Earning Credit Card Miles: How to Do it Right

Finally, if you are thinking about doing the credit card miles thing, keep in mind that there are some rules to follow if you want to do it right. For example, if you rack up a bunch of credit card debt and end up carrying a revolving balance, the amount you’ll pay in interest will easily eclipse whatever savings you might make in airfare miles.

It starts with choosing the right travel rewards card; there are dozens of these kinds of cards available. For instance, you might get one through your preferred airline, or a financial institution. They range in reward levels and fee schedules, but all of them have one thing in common: you earn miles, or points, which are redeemable for travel vouchers, every time you spend money on your card.

For beginners, we suggest looking out for a card that carries no annual fee — because some of the best-known travel rewards cards do come at a hefty membership cost. Do your research about the travel cards out there. 

When in doubt, math it out: if you’re sure you can earn enough rewards to make the annual fee pay for itself, by all means, go ahead.

Travel is easily one of the most rewarding and enriching experiences available to us. But it’s not free—and airfare can easily make a tempting destination unreachable. We hope these miles-earning tactics help you create your own unforgettable adventures… or at least put extra money in your pocket to enjoy the journey.

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About The Author

Jamie Cattanach is a full-time freelance writer whose work has been featured at Fodor’s, Yahoo, SELF, The Huffington Post and other outlets. Having done a fair amount of international travel, these days she wanders around the U.S. in a 17-foot Casita travel trailer she calls home. Head to www.jamiecattanach.com to learn more.

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