How To Travel The World Using Frequent Flyer Miles – Explained!

It was only half way through my own Gap Year and RTW Flight that it dawned on me that I had missed out on a bunch Frequent Flyer Miles. I eventually did set it up and managed to return home with another frequent flyer miles to fly two people from London to Rome. Pretty sweet huh? Well I now know that is small time compared to what some of the Frequent Flyer Ninjas are doing out there. We caught up with Travis from Extra Pack of Peanuts to dish the dirt, spill some secrets and explain why he loves doing this.

1) What got you into travelling in the first place?

The first real trip I ever took was the summer after I graduated from high school, when I was 18 and a buddy of mine and I drove all the way from Philadelphia down to the Florida Keys to drop some stuff off for my twin sister, who was starting college.

To this day, that trip remains one of my favorites of all time, which is funny because it’s not really even that far. But it was the first time I was truly on my own traveling without my family and the freedom we felt and the energy we had was amazing. Who knew stopping at a Sonic in South Carolina and sleeping in a car off the highway could be so glorious!

Interestingly enough, doing that trip didn’t really spur me towards international travel at all, and it wasn’t until I was 21 and my parent’s basically forced me to go on a trip to Paris to help refurbish a community center that I actually set foot outside the US (Canada doesn’t count).

The main reason for not wanting to go was because, believe it or not, I absolutely hated flying. I would get sick on planes, and I avoided them at all costs. I felt that the 8 hour trip to Paris was literally going to kill me (luckily, it didn’t).

After I knew I could handle the flying, with the help of a little bit of Dramamine and a lot of “manning up”, I started to see the world differently.

But what really, really hooked me on traveling was when I lived in Switzerland for four months while doing an internship (side note: Living on a pauper’s salary in Switzerland is not easy).

It was there that I realized that I didn’t want to make travel just some “let’s go on a vacation every few years” but instead make it part of my lifestyle and a focal point of my life.

I’m a true believer that floating on your back in in the crystal clear waters of Lake Geneva while gazing up at the Alps will make anyone feel that way.

2) What’s the best place you’ve ever travelled to?

Whenever I ask most people who travel a lot that question, I hate when they answer “that’s too hard, everywhere is great.” So while I think there is some validity to that statement, I definitely won’t cop out and not answer, but I will change it up a little bit.

The most freeing travel experience ever: my roadtrip to Florida when I was 18.

My favorite singular monument or place I’ve seen: Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and it’s not even close.

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The most beautiful place I’ve ever been: Switzerland, in particular Interlaken and the small surrounding towns like Gimmelwald (a Rick Steve’s fave).

The place I’ve been before that I’d most like to live in for 3 months: Thailand. So fun, so cheap, so carefree, so awesome.

The hardest traveling I’ve ever done: India. A wise man once said “there’s two types of travelers- those who have been to India, and those who haven’t.” So, so true.

The one thing I knew I’d love but exceeded even my own expectations: Oktoberfest in Munich. Never have I seen more people just loving life and having fun. Oh, and the chicken is as good as the beer!

The place everyone said I’d love but I didn’t: Penang, Malaysia. To be fair, it was the last stop on a backpacking trip and it didn’t rain the whole time, but…

The next place I really want to go: Buenos Aires.

3) So, frequent flyer miles- are they just something you earn by flying a lot?

Ha….nice leading question there! Absolutely, 100% NO! This is by far the biggest misconception about frequent flyer miles.

Take myself for example. I have earned over 1 million frequent flyer miles in the last two years. Take a guess how many were earned from actually flying?

If you guessed, eight thousand, congrats! A Gap Year Escape star for you! That’s 8,000 out of 1,000,000 that I earned from flying, less than 1%.

You can earn frequent flyer miles in a variety of ways, from credit card sign ups to online shopping to special promotions.

The most lucrative, but certainly not the only way, is through credit card sign ups. Many cards will offer sign up bonuses up to 100,000 miles for opening up a card!

The problem that most people have is that they earn these miles from opening up a card, don’t understand how them, and then never use them. And that’s when the credit card companies win, and why they can keep offering these huge bonuses, because most never get redeemed.

However, if you just take a little bit of time to learn how they work, you can turn the tables in your favor and literally fly anywhere in the world for free.

Even after you get the sign up bonus, every time you use your card you’ll earn miles for using it. Usually, every $1 you spend will earn you 1 mile.

So while I never advocate spending more than you would anyway, I also swipe my credit card when buying stuff instead of paying for cash because I’m earning miles for it. Then, I just pay my card off, and I’m on my way towards free travel!

4) So how does it work- 1 mile for every mile you fly?

So, you can actually earn miles when you do fly. I call these “butt in seat miles”. Every time you purchase a ticket, you’ll earn 1 frequent flyer mile for every 1 mile you fly. So if you fly from New York to Los Angeles, a distance of about 3,000 miles, you’ll earn 3, 000 miles for that flight. All you have to do is sign up for that airline’s frequent flyer program before you fly with them, which is 100% free, and then give them your member number when flying. The miles will automatically go in to your account.

As you can see, earning miles this way can take a loooooong time unless you fly a ton. That’s why earning 50,000 miles for a signing up for a credit card or earning 1,000 miles for purchasing a new tv on your credit card instead of paying cash is so important. You can earn free trips much, much faster this way.

5) What is the cheapest and easiest way of earning miles?

Well, usually earning miles won’t actually cost anything, it’s just changing around your spending habits. Like I said, I never pay cash for anything, but instead use a credit card to earn miles. If I spend $1,000 each month on my credit card, that’s 12,000 miles I’ve earned by the end of the year.

Another great way to earn miles is through online shopping. I actually hate going to the store anyway, so for me it is perfect. If you go through a company’s online shopping portal, you can earn tons of bonus miles. For example, the other day Nike offered 10 miles for every $1 spent if I simply routed through Chase’s online shopping portal before going to Nike.com. I bought $100 worth of Nike shoes, and just like that, I earned 1,000 extra miles.

If it sounds confusing, I assure you, it really isn’t. I’ve even made a video that shows you how to do it in less than 3 minutes.

Basically, the best and easiest way to earn miles is simply start getting them for things you are already doing, such as shopping. All it takes is a little tweak to what your regular routine.

What is the best tip you can give when it comes to frequent flyer points?

Don’t write them off or be afraid to start learning about them. This is probably one of the few things in the world that you can take a few hours to start learning about and reap the rewards almost instantly.

If you’re reading this, your obviously sold on the benefits and joys of traveling, so the next step is figuring out how you can do more of it and spend less. Enter, frequent flyer miles.

I could get on a plane tomorrow and fly anywhere in the world for free, and that isn’t meant to sound cocky. Instead, it’s to motivate people to take a few hours, and really, that is all it takes, to understand frequent flyer miles and reap the rewards. My goal is to help everyone turn their dream destinations in to a reality, but I can only help the people who are willing to put forth a tiny bit of effort.

The most common excuse for why people don’t travel is money. Well, if I can take money out of the equation, then guess what?

You’ll be on a plane, getting ready to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef or eat pan au chocolate under the Eiffel Tower in no time!

6) Are there any airlines you’d particularly avoid or recommend?

To avoid flying, no. There are definitely some that are amazing, like Singapore Air, but really, I’ve been on all types of airlines, from budget airlines like Air Asia, RyanAir, and random ones in India to regular carriers like Qantas, American Airlines, and USAirways, and all are fine. I’m not really picky though, but honestly, if it gets me from point A to point B without much hassle, its ok.

I will say that Singapore Air is the best airline I’ve ever flown with. They make people in economy class feel like they are in first class, so I can only imagine what their first class is like (actually, it’s like this).

Also, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with my budget airline experiences. People complain that they make you pay extra for checking bags and all, but you know that going in, and duh, that’s why your ticket cost you $5 (I personally hate checking bags anyway, but that’s another story). But the actual flying experience and service, with Air Asia in particular, has been splendid, and in fact, much better than with many regular carriers based in the US, such as AA or United.

A general rule of thumb regarding the quality of the airlines:

Asian airlines > European Airlines > North American Airlines

As far as earning frequent flyer miles, I’d definitely stay away from earning them with Delta because they never have availability. If you are US-based, focus on earning miles with United or American Airlines, two far superior options.

7) What are useful resources for people who want to get started on earning miles?

If you want the best resource for going from a total frequent flyer newbie to a pro in the shortest amount of time, grab the Ultimate Guide to Frequent Flyer Miles. It’s easy to understand, packed with information, and super convenient. You won’t have to sift through the entire internet to get answers. Heck, it even comes with 9 video tutorials embedded in the guide itself to show you how to do it!

Of course, you can head over to my website as well at Extra Pack of Peanuts (check out the first podcast episode to hear the story behind the name!) and if you are really brave, you can try to decipher the crazy frequent flyer speak at the two main forums, Flyertalk and Milepoint. They are an endless treasure trove of knowledge but will probably seem like a foreign language to you for the first few months.

8) Have you got a great travel story you can share with us?

One great travel story? Honestly, I’ve been lucky enough to have tons of them, and it’s all because I’ve learned how to “travel hack” and travel for free.

I’ve been able to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef, ride camels through the desert in northwest India, ride motorbikes all up and down beautiful islands in Thailand, eat the best food of my life in Cambodia, explore the amazing rice fields of Ubud, and cruise around through Spain and Portugal and none of that would have happened had I not learned how to earn and maximize frequent flyer miles.

Trust me, I’m a completely regular guy who doesn’t have a trust fund or any secret stash of money. But because I don’t have to pay for plane tickets, I can afford to do all those things and go to all those places…and you can too.

So don’t hesitate…start exploring the world with me, and doing it on a budget anyone can afford!

Travis is the author of the Ultimate Guide to Frequent Flyer Miles and spends his days helping others realize their travel dreams. When he’s able harness his wanderlust for a few hours, he writes at Extra Pack of Peanuts and interviews travel experts on the Extra Pack of Peanuts Travel Podcast. Make his day by saying hi on Twitter @PackofPeanuts.

2 Comments

  • MightyTravels

    March 19, 2014

    Welcome to the club mate!

  • Adventurous Andrea

    April 29, 2014

    Doing the frequent flier miles is definitely something I need to master. I typically just opt for the cheapest flight, but I know it’d be a lot more beneficial in the long run to get a more expensive flight, but also get the miles!

    P.S. I don’t think I knew you lived in Switz too! What part?

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