Accommodation and flights are the two most expensive costs of travel. But if you read my post on cheap/free accommodation hacks you can save thousands of dollars. And by using frequent flyer miles strategically and knowing how to travel hack (ie: reading this post!), you can save even more money and even fly for free… in business class.
Maybe you’ve already got a credit card that earns points, but you are wondering if there’s more you could do to hack your way to free flights.
Managing frequent flyer miles (a.k.a. airline miles) can feel overwhelming and complex; by knowing the basics and with a little help from the right resources, you’ll be a travel hacking ninja in no time.
In this guide, I’m going to help you get started by going over the basics of frequent flyer miles, and then reviewing the tools available to help you level up your game.
Table of Contents:
Frequent Flyer Miles for Beginners: An Overview
The deeper you delve into frequent flyer mile accumulation, management, and redemption strategies, the more confusing it can get. Transferring between accounts, valuating miles, managing multiple programs, and ultimately – strategizing for your next free flight – can be a lot of work.
But once you are familiar with the territory and have systems in place, it doesn’t have to be difficult.
In this chapter, you’ll get an overview of how the whole process works so you can start earning your own miles without getting lost and confused.
Getting Started with Frequent Flyer Miles
Before you start collecting frequent flyer miles randomly through the plethora of programs and offers available, you’ll want to acquaint yourself with the major airline alliances, and which frequent flyer programs will serve your travel goals best.
It’s often recommended to choose an airline from each major alliance and focus most of your efforts on them.
Understanding Airline Alliances
The first thing you need to learn about to conquer frequent flyer miles is airline alliances.
Most major airlines belong to an alliance, which is a group of different airlines that have agreed to allow the accumulation and redemption of each others’ miles.
Basically, you can earn miles with Lufthansa and then redeem them with United Airlines. Or you can earn miles by flying American Airlines, and then use them on a British Airways ticket.
Experts usually suggest choosing one airline from each alliance as your focus point for accumulation. That way you won’t be scattering your efforts too much.
Setting Travel Goals
Before getting into the nitty gritty of frequent flyer miles, it’s important to decide what your end game is. Having a reason to earn miles and a particular goal in mind is much more effective than randomly collecting miles for the sake of collecting miles.
This goal-oriented approach will help you be more targeted and effective in your accumulation strategies. Which in turn, will help you choose the programs that can work best to make that goal a reality.
I started collecting frequent flyer miles long before I began traveling full-time; my goal was a return ticket from Canada to Hawaii, and my strategy was to passively earn miles for every dollar I spent using a frequent flyer miles credit card featuring a rewards program that had an especially attractive redemption rate for Hawaii in particular. I also maximized earning opportunities by shopping at retailers that awarded points to the same airline program (and I “double-dipped” by charging those expenses to my credit card that also earned me points.) When I eventually reached my goal and flew to Hawaii, it felt so good!
Collecting Universal Points
If you don’t have any specific travel goals (and even if you do), it’s beneficial to use a program with “universal” points, that allow you to convert to multiple programs at a 1:1 ratio.
There are a handful of these and they give you great flexibility to transfer your points across multiple alliances, which we’ll discuss later.
Pretty amazing, right??
Accumulating Frequent Flyer Miles
Accumulation strategies abound, from little social media promotions, to frequent flyer mile credit cards, retail bonus deals, online shopping portals, and of course, flying.
Here are some general ways to earn miles. You can use one of these strategies, or better yet: combine them to get even more miles!
Get a Credit Card (or Two, or Three)
The right credit cards are excellent tools to accumulate miles on everything you buy.
When you sign up for a frequent flyer miles card, choose one that has a great sign-up bonus and a program that focuses on one of your chosen goals.
If you want to take the credit card game to another level, you can utilize the “churning” strategy, which involves signing up for credit cards solely for the plush sign-up bonuses, canceling them shortly after getting the miles, and sometimes reapplying after a certain amount of time passes.
Be careful with this strategy, as it can get you into hot water in terms of credit, debt, and your credit score unless you’re disciplined about spending and monitor your credit score and activity carefully. That said, it can also earn you a ton of miles when done successfully.
A note about nationalities: Americans have hands-down the largest selection of air miles credit cards to choose from. Next up is Canada, with a decent handful of cards. Although I (as a Canadian) have 3-4 travel credit cards at any time, my personal favourite is the Scotiabank PassportTM Visa Infinite. It’s one of the only Canadian credit cards to feature 0% foreign transaction/currency fees (a huge money-saver abroad!), along with free Priority Pass lounge access, travel insurance, concierge service, the equivalent of $250 in travel rewards on signup, and double the points accumulation on everyday purchases. Seriously, this card is the bomb, and the annual fee more than pays for itself. (I will receive a small commission if you apply for this card using the link above. Thank you in advance for your support!)
For more Canada-specific credit card suggestions along with expert strategies to accumulate points in an accelerated manner, check out Best Canadian Credit Cards: Travel Hacker Guide.
Go Shopping (With Your Miles Card)
Of course, I don’t mean go on a crazy shopping spree, but if there’s something you need, make sure you’re earning for it.
This could be anything from a new mattress to the gas in your car. Some frequent flyer mile credit cards award extra points for regular/daily purchases like gas and groceries.
If you like online shopping, some programs have online shopping portals, where you can earn extra points if you click through their portal to the site you were planning on buying from anyway.
Because I belong to a few frequent flyer mile programs, I like to use Cashback Monitor to see at a glance which airline program will offer me the most miles for my intended purchases.
Keep all this in mind and make sure you get a card that matches your lifestyle so you can get the most points possible.
Sometimes there’s somewhere you have to fly and you just don’t have the miles to do it. In other cases, the cost of the flight is cheap enough that it makes more sense to pay for it with cash and accumulate miles (instead of redeeming them).
In these cases, make sure you go with an airline that helps you earn miles towards your goals and the program you’re most focused on.
Remember: sometimes it’s worth it to pay a little more for the flight/airline in your program and accumulate points (and even elite status) than to get a slightly cheaper flight that doesn’t earn you anything.
You can also look into taking a flight just because a particular route is offering a special mileage deal. These are sometimes called “mileage runs” and are a key part of many travel hacker strategies. To stay abreast advanced accumulation strategies like this, I recommend lurking the extensive forums at FlyerTalk.
Don’t Forget Hotel Points
Did you know that some hotel loyalty points are transferable to airline miles (at a 1:1 ratio)?
SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest) has been the darling of the frequent flyer mile world for years, offering points on hotel stays, branded credit cards for additional accumulation opportunities, the ability to buy the points you need at a good rate, and a vast array of airline programs you can transfer your points to (with a bonus for every 20,000 points transferred no less). Recently though, SPG has merged with Marriott, and although promises have been made that the merger will allow access to even more airlines and travel opportunities, it remains to be seen how easy the program will be to use in practice. Most frequent flyer mile experts agree that it’s still a solid program.
And, let’s not forget that hotel points can also be used for hotel stays, and to open up special hotel-related perks such as free WiFi and upgraded rooms. If you’re going to stay at a hotel when you travel, it pays to choose a brand and remain loyal to it so you can accumulate points and enjoy loyalty perks.
Get a Travel Hacking Membership Subscription
You can try to keep all this in mind while living your day-to-day life, and spend time researching points programs, bonus opportunities, and deals, but I bet you have better things to do. (I know I do).
Thankfully, there are several different travel hacking membership/subscription programs available that you can join. These will regularly let you know of deals and opportunities as they come up, so that you don’t have to go searching for them.
Many of these also teach you about frequent flyer miles in-depth to give you a knowledge base, including advanced strategies.
I’ve reviewed some of these in my time as a traveler, and offer my experiences and opinions in the below section.
Frequent Flyer Mile Management
Because you’ll probably be overseeing points in multiple loyalty programs, and they will have varying rules and limitations among them, managing your frequent flyer miles can be an onerous task.
Although you can use a few different sites to track your miles (covered in a below section), you’ll also need to manually monitor and track the attribution of miles to your accounts. Why? Because sometimes (more often than you’d like to think), the points don’t end up in your account and you need to follow up.
It’s a lot of work, but it definitely pays off in the end, especially when you’re enjoying business class for a fraction of the price of economy on the same flight.
In this section, let’s go over some key things to pay attention to as you manage your various sources of points.
Get Organized With a Spreadsheet
The very first thing you’ll want to do to get your miles organized is make a spreadsheet, because once you really get rolling with different strategies, you’ll have more on the go than you can track in your head.
For example, you’ll want to track all the frequent flyer mile accounts and programs you belong to (along with the relevant account info like membership numbers and passwords). Why have so many accounts? While it’s advisable to focus your main accumulation strategies on just a few programs, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t sign up for that Jet Blue account if you’re flying Jet Blue anyway (for example). Even if you have no intention of accumulating big points in that program, sometimes an opportunity will come up for you to transfer the miles to another program, or otherwise make use of the points. So don’t be afraid to sign up for a bunch of miles programs.
You’ll also want to note your accumulation activities (eg: taking a flight, or shopping at an online portal featuring a mileage bonus promo), so you can monitor when the related points land in your account. That way you can see at a glance which miles programs you’re waiting for points to land in, and you can follow up if they don’t arrive…..which happens, a lot.
This may already sound like a lot of work, and it can be (especially if you’re doing all the research yourself). But it will be totally worth it if you stay organized, and the humble spreadsheet is a great way to do so.
Rewards Management Sites
These types of sites are handy ways to get an overview of your various programs, even though they can’t fully substitute your overall spreadsheet. They can also help you find deals and transfer miles between programs.
I go more in depth on Mile Tracking Sites in the below section.
Beware of Losing Point Valuation
When you’re transferring points between accounts (especially if you use one of the miles tracking sites like Points.com), it’s important to be aware of the transfer rate. If you’re not careful, you could lose too much value per mile for the transfer to be worthwhile.
Keep an Eye on Expiration Dates
You also want to watch for expiration dates. Some programs will kill your miles if you leave your account alone for too long. It’s easy to top these up with a simple $1 purchase online to earn miles on that program.
Other programs will impose a 90-day limit for depositing your miles to your account (after which you can’t request missing miles). And it’s easy to forget about in the meantime. If you monitor the miles due to you (hooray for the spreadsheet!), mistakes (which happen) can be easily fixed with a phone call.
Track Your Strategies
I’ve already mentioned this a few times, but it bears repeating. It’s vital to double check that the miles you’re owed are actually deposited into your account.
To ensure that the correct amount of miles are attributed, you may need to contact the rewards program. They’re usually pretty nice on the phone.
Mistakes happen. (Like, a lot; for me, about 30-40% of the time I have to chase down miles not attributed properly to my account). Don’t assume that all transactions will process correctly. Keep an eye on them and be ready to reinforce your rights.
Frequent Flyer Mile Redemption
Now it’s time to reap the hard work of accumulation and management. Frequent flyer mile redemption, however, isn’t exactly a walk in the park either. Let’s go over some basics to keep in mind.
What to Look For When Booking with Miles
You’ll have to find the airline/alliance that offers the best deal/routing for your trip, then book with the frequent flyer mile program you’ve been accumulating with.
This isn’t quite as easy as it sounds, especially if you’re accumulating miles with multiple airlines in the same alliance. For example, you may get better value using your American Airlines points on flights with British Airways than you would using British Airways points on the same flight.
Getting available seats is the next trick, since flights offer limited rewards seats. You’ll have the best luck by booking early – consider different routes if there’s nothing available.
Although you can do a certain amount of research and booking online, don’t be afraid to call customer service; sometimes the agents can search itineraries and routes you hadn’t considered – as happened to me recently when I flew on points in business class from Melbourne to New York through Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific; which isn’t a route that comes up when you search online.
Being flexible with both your dates and your itinerary will help you get the best rewards ticket available.
And remember – “free” flights aren’t actually free. When you book a rewards ticket, you’re still on the hook for airport taxes and airline fees – which can be hefty. Some airlines/airport fees and taxes are notoriously bad; you can lower your costs by looking at alternate routes/airports.
Remember Hotels (again)
While you may think you should only use miles for flights, sometimes using them for accommodation can be lucrative.
It depends on where you’re going and the underlying cost of accommodation; have a look at the cash price to stay in that hotel vs. the miles required so you can calculate the cost-per-mile to stay there.
Paying With Miles + Cash
Sometimes, you found the perfect flight, but you don’t have enough miles to cover the whole cost. Some airlines (and hotels for that matter) will let you pay partly with miles and partly with cash.
Just keep an eye on the valuation per mile; in my experience miles + cash deals aren’t the best value. Sometimes it might be better to pay all cash and earn more miles instead.
An alternate strategy is to buy the remaining miles you need to pay for the whole transaction with miles.
This is usually a better deal than miles + cash, especially if there is a mileage discount promotion, which many big frequent flyer mile programs feature regularly.
Business Class vs. Economy / Long-Haul vs. Domestic: Valuating Miles
Evaluating your cost-per-mile is imperative when researching how to best use your miles. Generally speaking, flying in business class will get you better valuation per mile.
When I tried this for the first time, I was hooked (I’ll tell you about my experience with business class in the next section).
The same valuation hack is true of long-haul vs. domestic flights. If you’re flying halfway around the world, you’ll get better bang for your miles than if you are only flying across the country – in which case it’s often better to pay for the flight with cash and accumulate more miles.
There various are formulas for calculating your value per mile on redemptions (the formula differs depending on the redemption at hand), and the value can range from less than a cent to over 10 cents per mile. As a very broad average estimate, you want to get at least 1.2 cents per mile.
Don’t get Sidetracked
Some rewards programs let you use your points for things other than travel, like goods, services, and gift cards.
Honestly? Save the miles for your trip.
The value per mile on these side deals is usually terrible, and you usually end up paying more for the goods than if you’d paid cash.
My (1st) Experience in Business Class Using Miles, Thanks to Frequent Flyer Master
As a full-time traveler, I take a lot of flights. And since my travels are financially sustainable between my writing income and creative attempts at accommodation, I won’t pay the big bucks to fly business class.
Luckily I read Chris Guillebeau’s ebook Frequent Flyer Master and decided to give travel hacking a whirl.
In this section, I walk you through my first real attempt at advanced travel hacking (back in 2009), from earning the points to redeeming them, and the business class experience I got as a result. (Spoiler alert: it rocked.)
Earning the Miles
Thanks to the updates I received from Chris Guillebeau after reading Frequent Flyer Master, I got wind of a US Airways promotion that promised big bonus miles, but also required a big spend of about $1,200. While most of the stuff I bought was useful, the premise of this promotion was that the value of the miles received alone could justify the expenditure.
As this was my first miles “sting”, I was nervous that US Airways wouldn’t credit the miles, or that I’d somehow screw up the purchases without recourse, or that the airline would devalue the miles.
But none of that happened!
A pretty sum of 150,000 miles posted themselves neatly to my account three months later, US Airways didn’t devalue the miles, and I could use them for any Star Alliance airline flight.
Redeeming the Miles
One of Chris’s tips on redeeming miles is that long-haul business class flights offer the most bang for your miles.
So when it came to plan out the next year of travel, my frequent flyer miles came in handy. My $1,200 purchase resulted in two long-haul business class flights (from New Zealand to Europe and back), as well as one return economy flight between New Zealand and Australia.
I had to pay booking fees and taxes on both sets of tickets, which amounted to a total of $300, increasing my total out-of-pocket expenditure to $1,500.
To have purchased the same four flights at full price would have cost over $5,800.
I’d say that was worth it.
The actual experience of 45 hours of business class definitely proved me right.
Let’s go through it:
Business Class Before Boarding
The business class experience starts long before you get on the plane.
From surpassing the long check-in lineups with special business class ticket counters, to circumventing passport control and security lineups with dedicated lanes, to special airport lounges with free WiFi, all you can eat and drink, and sometimes showers and nap rooms, I was in airport bliss long before I set foot on the first of three flights.
The Air New Zealand lounge in Auckland was lovely, and set the stage beautifully for my business class travels. Although my flights were booked with Thai Airways (another Star Alliance carrier), I had use of the Air NZ lounge since there wasn’t a Thai Airways lounge in Auckland.
Leg One: New Zealand to Bangkok in Thai Airways Business Class
My flight to Bangkok was on a 777, and the business class seats (and service) was about as luxurious as I had hoped. The massive pod-like seats reclined to an almost flat position, which made sleep quite easy. (Note: I’ve since traveled in business class with lie-flat seats, which are my preference when available).
Entertainment on demand was delivered through the large screens in front of each seat, and there was never any worry about the seat in front reclining into my lap, since the seat backs were fixed; instead each entire chair slid forward to recline.
The meals were spectacular. A menu revealed one 5-course meal and one 3-course meal, served on linen “tablecloths” with real cutlery and silver service. And of course, all the alcohol I could drink (which wasn’t very much). The service was attentive and the attendants were spectacularly dressed in customary Thai silk garb.
Business Class Layover in the Thai Airways Royal Silk Lounge
I was a touch nervous about some violent turmoil in Thailand (at that time), so I decided to endure my 15-hour overnight layover in the airport. However it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had expected it would be.
I passed the first few hours at a restaurant, enjoying some sticky rice and mango with coconut milk (one of my favourite Thai desserts) while charging my computer and reading.
By this time it was 11:30pm, and I was so tired from my 15 hours of travel and time changes thus far that I felt nauseated. I was pleasantly surprised to find a quiet corner of the airport however, where I could lay out a blanket in relative peace (along with what accumulated to about a dozen other travelers with the same motive) and get some fitful sleep for almost six hours. Sleeping on the floor after being catered to in business class style was a strange contrast! But who am I to argue a bit of irony in the context of travel.
Around 5:30am I got up to see if I could check in for my next flight – due to leave at 12:45pm.
Bingo! I checked my bag and was given a pass to the Thai Airways Royal Silk Lounge. I spent the next six hours in relative bliss, surfing WiFi, enjoying free Thai cuisine and beverages, and even receiving a complimentary Thai foot and leg massage at the Royal Orchid Spa. Heaven!
Leg Two: Bangkok to Frankfurt with Thai Airways
My second flight (also almost 12 hours) was on a 747, and for the first time, I got to see what happens on the second floor of a 747!
I was slightly disappointed to discover there was no dance party, spa, or swimming pool, but equally pleased to find a relatively intimate collection of business class seats.
Again the service was wonderful, the seats reclined, the entertainment selection was great, and the multi-course meals made me thankful for the long walks I took in the airport and enroute to the gate.
Business Class Shower in the Lufthansa Lounge
By the time I landed in Frankfurt, I had been flying (or laying over) for almost 40 hours.
Although I caught some sleep on each flight and in the airport, I was starting to feel some deep fatigue, and the increase in temperature and daylight (not to mention the time changes) was disorienting.
I hurried to the Lufthansa Lounge, hoping to enjoy some of the relaxing space and quiet solitude I had found in my previous two lounge experiences.
Unfortunately though, this lounge was packed to the hilt, and (gasp) didn’t even offer free WiFi.
I did, however, manage to sweet talk the shower attendant into squeezing me in front of the queue for a quick shower before my next flight, which made a world of difference.
Leg Three: Frankfurt to Madrid in Lufthansa Business Class
I had been looking forward to experiencing Lufthansa’s business class services, but was mildly disappointed, compared to my experience on Thai Airways.
Thankfully I had some prior notice that Lufthansa’s business class short-haul flights weren’t worth the accompanying price tag, so I was even more thankful I hadn’t actually paid the accompanying price.
So although the service was lovely (attentive in an almost over-compensating manner), the food appeared to be the same as that served to other passengers (except with real cutlery), the seats weren’t any roomier (except the middle seat in every row of three was free), and the offer of free alcohol was lost on my tired body.
This was when I learned that domestic business class flights are almost never worth paying for with points.
What I Learned
After experiencing long-haul business class travel, I now do everything I can to avoid flying in economy (long-haul).
I learned that using miles to fly long-haul in business class is the best value – not only on a value-per-mile basis, but also in the value of arriving refreshed, well-rested, and well-fed. It truly transforms the experience of flying.
I also learned that if you’re flying in economy, it’s often worth it to buy a pass to the business class lounge, especially during a long layover. For about the same cost as a crappy meal at an airport restaurant, you can spend hours at a lounge that not only offers free food, but also comfortable seating, WiFi, and a variety of perks from showers and nap rooms to free spa services.
With the help of the strategies I learned in Frequent Flyer Master and the regular updates that come with it, I expect to keep the miles flowing, and the business class flights coming.
Note: I received a free copy of Frequent Flyer Master for review purposes and I will receive a commission if you buy Frequent Flyer Master (which I wholeheartedly endorse) through the links provided here. Thank you in advance for supporting The Professional Hobo!
How to Use Travel Hacking Subscriptions to Fly For Free
In order to really become a travel hacker and strategically earn and redeem miles, you’ll need to take advantage of the various special deals that hit the market – like the US Airways promotion I described in the previous chapter.
The trouble is, most of us don’t have time to scour the internet looking for the best miles deals out there.
So what do we do?
Join a travel hacking membership.
As I mentioned in the overview section, these are subscriptions that alert you to the best deals available to earn points and miles. Many also include educational elements that teach you advanced strategies and techniques to really level up your travel hacking.
In this section, I review three of these subscriptions that I have personally test-driven (disclosure: I received free subscriptions for review purposes), and I give you my honest opinions.
In some cases below I have used affiliate links which earn me a commission if you purchase. It doesn’t affect your cost to purchase, and it helps me keep The Professional Hobo going. Thank you in advance for your support!
The Travel Hacking Cartel is a membership program that comes from the same author who wrote the e-book (Frequent Flyer Master) that introduced me to travel hacking in the first place: Chris Guillebeau.
Chris is a veritable travel hacker who succeeded in his mission to visit every country in the world. He reached his goal (without going broke), due to applying strategies that earned him over one million frequent flyer miles per year. He is also the brainchild behind The Art of Non-Conformity and a number of informative e-books and inspirational membership programs.
If you haven’t already guessed, I’m a fan.
Travel Hacking Cartel vs. Frequent Flyer Master
The Travel Hacking Cartel goes beyond what Frequent Flyer Master offers in that it is a monthly membership program that will continuously assist you to earn massive amounts of frequent flyer miles (often without flying!), and then help you redeem those miles for trips that get you the most bang for your buck (er….mile).
In fact, Travel Hacking Cartel members are absolutely guaranteed to earn enough frequent flyer miles for at least four (domestic) flights per year – that’s 100,000 miles – simply by following the Deal Alerts and spending at least 30 minutes per month applying the tips provided.
Membership to the Travel Hacking Cartel costs between $12-32 per month, depending on the membership option you choose.
Travel Hacking Cartel Program Details
The main feature of the program is a series of Deal Alerts that are sent to you via email or text message.
These Deal Alerts advise you of new promotions and spell out exactly what you need to do to earn miles.
Although you could hack your own way through these promotions by lurking frequent flyer mile message boards and blogs and figuring it all out yourself, the Cartel is for people who don’t have the time or wherewithal to do this grunt work.
The member dashboard is pretty useful. You can browse frequent flyer mile deals and learn how to take advantage of them, how much each strategy costs, etc. Each deal is also rated by Chris for its effectiveness, and there’s a rating system for Cartel members to weigh in their own two cents as well.
Members also have access to tutorials about redeeming miles and effectively hacking your way to free travel and travel-related perks like hotels and gift certificates.
Membership Pays for Itself
Although Chris is far from the first person ever to hack his way to frequent flyer mile stardom, what he has done with the Travel Hacking Cartel is made it accessible to anybody who wants to easily replicate his success.
And if you are serious about traveling and earning free flights, the cost of membership ends up being negligible.
Case in point: Chris once used his miles to book $4,500 in business class flights to the Middle East and back for a whopping total of $84 in taxes. And frequent flyer miles are good for more than flights too; enroute, Chris did a layover in Heathrow and stayed at the Sheraton airport hotel (airport hotels are convenient but notoriously high-priced). But he’s not sweating it: his $220 room was free with his Starwood points.
Can International Members Benefit?
Most frequent flyer mile programs, promotions, and deals are specific to the U.S. market. So unfortunately, those of us who aren’t U.S. residents/citizens won’t benefit as much from the program and deal alerts.
Canadians are the next-best-positioned to take advantage of the promotions (but stay tuned, fellow Canucks, I have something for you below!), and it’s a crap shoot for other international citizens as to how many deals will be applicable.
Chris figures about 50% of the deals that come out are applicable to non-U.S. residents. Some are bigger than others, so all it takes is one great promotion to net you enough miles for a big trip (like I did with the U.S. Airways promotion that got me almost $6,000 in flights for $1,200).
But regardless of where you live, the guarantee applies: if you spend 30 minutes per month on the program and don’t manage to earn at least 25,000 frequent flyer miles per quarter, the onus is on the Travel Hacking Cartel to deliver.
Want to try it out? They have a $1 Trial!
Sign up for the Travel Hacking Cartel (using my fancy schmancy affiliate link, please!), and you can sample the program for two weeks for just $1. This gives you access to all the tutorials and information, and you can upgrade, downgrade, or cancel at any time.
Honestly, it’s a great program, and I’ve adored being a member myself. Sign up, and perhaps I’ll see you in the skies somewhere, in business class!
First Class Flyer is a monthly newsletter (with regular e-mail updates) specifically geared towards deals and strategies that enable subscribers to find the best deals on first class (and business class) airline tickets.
In their words, First Class Flyer is aimed at two kinds of people:
Those who take a big trip once a year and want to do it in Business or First Class.
Those who fly Business and First Class already, but want to do it for a lot less money, and a lot less time.
The daily email updates summarize the latest deals revealed in the member-only online First Class Flyer Newsroom, detailing regular updates about reward seat availabilities and special fares that might be of interest.
It’s all very timely information, and (similar to the beefy monthly newsletters), it’s full of opportunities for committed first class flyers.
The monthly newsletters are jam-packed with sophisticated strategies, tips, and up-to-date airline info to help land you in the lap of airline luxury.
For example, in one issue alone, there was an article which dissected various ways to fly from New York City to London (as always, with an aim to be in first class). The same issue also explored strategies for transferring frequent flyer miles, upgrading tickets, and ticket timing.
I learned about concepts like “Super Currency”, which are rewards programs that allow conversion of their points to multiple airline programs. Other tips include which frequent flyer programs/alliances are best to use for which types of flights.
With airlines often changing their mileage valuations, opportunities can arise; for example playing award chart discrepancies to your favour by capitalizing on the difference between programs that value trips by flight distance versus zones.
Just recently, thanks to First Class Flyer, I learned about (and capitalized on) an opportunity to transfer American Express Rewards points to British Airways at a 1:1 ratio plus a 30% bonus, and then to use those British Airways miles to book a flight (for two people) on American Airlines. I’d never have known about this roundabout/creative way to book flights, which ended up in my getting $1,500 in flights for an effective price of just over $100.
While in the above case the outline on First Class Flyer was all about doing the transaction in business class (which is admittedly an even better deal for the miles), I was able to apply the same strategy to economy and still get a screaming deal. So despite the name of the program, the information can be applied on a wider scale.
Although there’s a goodly amount of attention paid to frequent flyer mile strategies, First Class Flyer is not exclusively a frequent flyer mile publication; it lives up to its name by focusing on any and all strategies that get you your own little piece of airline heaven.
I find the newsletters a bit overwhelming; the multi-column format leaves me cross-eyed half-way through, after which I realize I’m only absent-mindedly scrolling through a lot of useful tips and tricks, unable to absorb the (sometimes complicated) schemes.
So if you’re committed to the idea, it’s best to digest these newsletters (especially in the beginning) slowly and in bite-sized pieces.
Free Trial Offer & Guarantee
Your 14-day free trial will give you a flavour of First Class Flyer along with a ton of free reports. Even if you continue on to a paid plan, you’ve got 90 days to get your money back if you’re not satisfied. And as with most membership programs, you can cancel any time.
First Class Ain’t Cheap
Budget travelers will waiver between moments of travel-hacking inspiration, and moments of frustration at reading how a certain first class flight is “only” $4,000 with the latest deal. Yes, the original ticket price might be $11,000, but both numbers are well out of most budget travelers’ repertoires.
However, as I said (and did) earlier, you can apply some of the strategies to economy flights too. And lately, First Class Flyer has been providing some pretty slick reviews of and deals for Premium Economy flights.
At $8-25/month, Frequent Flyer Master costs a bit less than the Travel Hacking Cartel, but I also believe the target audience is different; membership to First Class Flyer is largely predicated on having the cash (and desire) to fly first class, even independent of frequent flyer miles.
But First Class Flyer has been around for over 20 years, and has garnered international recognition for being a reputable resource, so it certainly has an attentive audience.
Although our neighbours to the south offer the most opportunities for accumulating frequent flyer miles, Canada is next in line with some heavy-hitters (retailers, hotels, and airlines) in the rewards programs industry.
Also known as Free Flyer Bootcamp, Canadian Free Flyers is similar to the Travel Hacking Cartel, except it’s purely geared towards Canadians, featuring deals and exploring strategies just for Canucks. This includes international programs that Canadians have access to.
The program option you choose will dictate what you receive.
- Economy includes educational modules that give you access to videos and written tutorials teaching you the basics on Getting Started, Earning Miles, and Redeeming Miles.
- Economy Plus includes the above plus modules on Accommodation Hacking, VIP Bonuses, access to a Private Facebook Group, and Real-Time Deal Alerts for specific promotions that will earn you miles and points right away.
- First Class includes the above plus a detailed Personalized Maximization Plan and a 30-Minute Skype Call.
Prices range from $47-$197 (one time fees), and you can upgrade at any time. You can also sign up for free to get a taste of what Canadian Free Flyers has to offer in the form of some email tips.
Satisfaction is Guaranteed in the form of a 30-day money-back guarantee, as well as a “one free flight” guarantee that promises to deliver enough deals and opportunities for you to earn one at least free flight per year.
The Bottom Line
Canadian Free Flyers is not a monthly/annual subscription like the Travel Hacking Cartel and First Class Flyer, and as such you pay more money up front, but will save more in the long-run.
And with its laser focus on accumulation strategies just for Canadians, it’s good value – if you like to travel and are committed to employing multiple accumulation strategies.
It’s even better value with a discount! For readers of The Professional Hobo only, get 20% off any package with the code “nora20”. Enjoy!
Are you on a mission to accumulate frequent flyer miles, and don’t want to get distracted by hotel rewards programs? Well then, you’ve got two options: Rocketmiles, and PointsHound. Both give you an opportunity to earn thousands of frequent flyer miles with a variety of airlines for every hotel stay.
How It Works
Both programs operate similarly. First and foremost, Rocketmiles and PointsHound are hotel booking sites. The difference is, you will earn a minimum of 500 frequent flyer miles per night – up to 10,000 per night! – of your stay.
Miles are attributed to your frequent flyer mile account after you check out, within two to six weeks.
Although some hotels will allow you to exercise your hotel reward program elite status for perks during your stay, generally speaking you can’t earn hotel miles in addition to the Rocketmiles/PointsHound deal.
Which program gives you more frequent flyer miles? It depends, and it’s worth your time to search both sites for both the best prices as well as the best frequent flyer mile deal. Rocketmiles will give you a 1,000-3,000 mile bonus with your first stay if you use this link. But PointsHound rewards long stays and repeat business with incrementally higher rewards levels, up to the almighty 10,000 miles per night. The choice….is yours!
How to Use Frequent Flyer Mile Tracking Sites to Stay Organized
As I mentioned in the overview section, it’s important to stay organized as you become a frequent flyer miles ninja.
What with all the different airline programs, hotel programs, miles credit cards, and others that you’ll be signing up for and earning points towards, you’ll need to know how many points are where, which programs they are transferable to, and more.
Enter frequent flyer mile tracking sites.
While not a complete solution (you should still keep a simple trusty spreadsheet), these will make certain aspects of staying organized much much easier.
Points is probably the most popular of the awards sites, and is often used by air miles programs to broker miles purchase and transfer promotions.
One of the big advantages of Points over the others is the ability to transfer points from one program into another, and to perform trades with other users. However from a value-per-mile perspective, it’s rarely worthwhile.
And despite its popularity, of the three programs listed here, Points accommodates the smallest number of frequent flyer mile programs.
The UsingMiles.com dashboard is much easier on the eyes, and there is a wider range of awards programs you can enter into the system – right down to grocery store points.
You’ll receive monthly e-Statements of your balances, you can search for flights and hotels (revealing results that include your mileage program options), set up alerts for expiring miles, and even receive alerts for bonus deals and discounts. Admittedly, their bonus deal alerts pale in comparison to the subscription programs from above, but hey – it’s free.
I’ve not used Award Wallet myself, but I have colleagues who love it. They feature a massive selection of mileage programs including air, hotel, car rental, credit cards, etc.
You can see all your balances at a glance, get notifications when balances change (which is handy when you’re waiting for the miles to post from your last flight or mileage shopping promotion), and you’ll get notice if points are due to expire.
Regardless of which program you choose, I believe it’s good to manage your miles with one of these services, for a bird’s eye view of what you have, since frequent flyer mile accumulation usually means membership to numerous programs.
All three are free to sign up, but if you use the link below, you will receive a free Lifetime Premier Membership to Using Miles (value $29.99/year):
So there you have it! Everything you need to get started travel hacking with frequent flyer miles.
Now I’d love to hear from you: What’s your favorite miles hacking strategy? Is there something about frequent flyer miles you’d like to learn more about?
Let me know in the comments below!
Hungry for some more air miles related musings?
How I Gave U.S. Airways $1,700 for Nothing – Not Even Flights – While this is largely a rant about a failed attempt to book a mileage reward to Australia, I also learned a lot and thus I provide a series of “Rules” and guidance for booking rewards tickets (ideally with more success than I).