We devote thousands of hours of research to help you get Big Travel with Small Money. You support us by signing-up for credit cards through partner links which earn us a commission. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.
Update: One or more card offers in this post are no longer available. Check our Hot Deals for the latest offers.
Lyn writes about how to travel cheap on her GotoTravelGal.com blog and recently told us how her family of 4 saved ~$5,600 by taking 8 one-way flights almost free this summer. That’s truly Big Travel With Small Money! We asked her to share how she did it…so you can, too!
Lyn: We traveled the WHOLE summer and were only home for 2 weeks. And we did it inexpensively, using miles and points!
Our travels took us on our first family trip to Europe, visiting Dublin, Paris, Tuscany and Bologna, Italy over 3 weeks; to Beaver Creek and Telluride, Colorado, via Denver; and finally to Comic-Con in San Diego, a bucket-list experience long on our list. I’ll share with you how we did it and on which airlines.
I also want to extend to Million Mile Secrets readers a special discount for my brand new FRUGAL FLYER online course that walks you step by step through how to completely and easily eliminate the cost of airfare for your U.S. travels across most major US airlines, so you can start traveling just like we do! Through August 20, 2017, ONLY, take 20% off the price of any level of the course using code “MMS20”. Sign-up now before you forget! 🙂
How My Family of 4 Took 8 Nearly-Free Flights This Summer
When it comes to miles and points, I always look for the simplest ways to accomplish free flights. For our summer travel we flew Southwest for our domestic flights and Aer Lingus for our overseas flights.
1. Free Flights on Southwest Airlines
For me, the Southwest Companion Pass is key to my strategy for flying free in the U.S., because it allows 1 person to fly free with you (aside from the mandatory ~$6 government security fee each way) for up to 2 years.
By continuing to hold a Companion Pass, one of my family members ALWAYS flies free, which saves me having to spend cash or points to book their ticket. That really helps me stretch my Southwest points as far as possible and is incredibly simple to achieve by signing-up for just 2 credit cards and then earning some additional Southwest points. You can download my free guide that show you exactly how to earn the Southwest Companion Pass.
To earn Southwest points for our free travel, I used a combination of:
- Spending on the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier personal and business credit cards
- Spending on Chase Sapphire Preferred, which I transferred to Southwest points
- Referral points for referring others to the Southwest credit cards
- Points accrued from shopping in the Southwest Rapid Rewards Shopping Portal
Here is what we spent in points for our Southwest flights:
- Indianapolis to Denver round-trip – 36,066 Southwest points for 3 of us, 4th person using the Southwest Companion Pass
- Indianapolis to San Diego round-trip – 51,714 Southwest points for 3 of us, 4th person using the Southwest Companion Pass
To stretch my points, I always look for flights that cost the least amount of points by purchasing them during Southwest sales, traveling on slower days and even flying late at night. Our kids are old enough to weather a 1:00 AM arrival. And those flights tend to cost the fewest points.
2. How to See If Southwest Flies From Your Home Airport
A lot of people overlook Southwest Airlines as a no-frills discount airline not worth a second glance. Not so! I wouldn’t trade Southwest for any other American airline. And in fact, there are several I absolutely will not fly – no matter the cost – because of their service issues.
Southwest is a fantastic airline that provides excellent service and it’s super easy to earn and redeem points for nearly free flights. The major drawback is passengers cannot select their seats in advance. But that’s easily mastered by learning Southwest’s check-in procedures.
To see if Southwest flies from your airport, visit the Southwest Route Map. Each city with a red-orange dot is a city in which Southwest operates. If you want to see where Southwest flies from your home city, hover your mouse over your city on the Southwest website to display available routes. The red-orange lines indicate a nonstop route. And the blue lines indicate a connecting flight.
Using Miles to Fly to Europe
To accomplish our 3-week long family trip to Europe, which required 5 one-way flights, again I went for the simplest solution. My husband applied for Chase Sapphire Reserve when it was offering a 100,000-point sign-up bonus (this bonus is no longer available).
By flying during Aer Lingus’ off-peak times, we could fly from many US cities to Dublin for fewer points. We were able to book 4 tickets from Chicago (just a two-hour drive from Indianapolis where we live) using British Airways Avios transferred to Aer Lingus Avios for just over 100,000 points.
Read complete details of how we booked these flights to Dublin.
From Dublin, we flew Aer Lingus using British Airways Avios points to Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport. And then a week later flew on to Bologna, Italy, on Ryanair, for ~$300 in cash for all of us. Read my review of Ryanair. After a few days in Bologna, we rented a car and drove to Tuscany, spending time in San Gimignano, Florence, Siena, and several other Tuscan hilltowns over the course of a week.
Finally, we drove back to Bologna and took an Aer Lingus flight, also booked using British Airways Avios points, back to Dublin where we took our final flight back to Chicago (and then drove our car back to Indianapolis).
To accumulate the Avios needed to book our 2 flights within Europe (Dublin to Paris and Bologna to Dublin), I used a combination of points earned through:
- Spending on Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Spending on Chase Sapphire Preferred
- Transfers from Starwood, which gives you 5,000 bonus miles when transferring at least 20,000 points
While I always look for the simplest solution, the Europe trip definitely took the most work and planning, but it was well worth it. I’m already trying to plan how we can start our next summer again with a trip to Europe. I’m thinking Rome, Lake Como, and Switzerland perhaps…we’ll see! 😉
Want More Southwest Points?
- Link: Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card
- Link: Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
- Link: Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card
If you have a small business, you can earn 60,000 Southwest points after meeting the minimum spending requirement for the Chase Southwest Premier small business card. Here’s how to fill out a Chase business card application.
And don’t forget about these 10 unusual ways to earn even more Southwest points!
We managed 8 nearly free flights and 1 paid, enjoying some of our country’s – and the world’s – most beautiful sites from the Rocky Mountains and the beaches of San Diego to the Tuscan countryside and gorgeous Paris. Don’t forget to check out my FRUGAL FLYER course, which is 20% off for Million Mile Secrets readers through August 20th, 2017, for a step-by-step online tutorial of how you can do the same. Use code “MMS20” to get this deal!