How to Use Airline Miles and Save $1000 on a Flight Abroad

Travel can be expensive. A round-trip ticket to Europe from the U.S., will usually cost you around $700-$1500 (depending on the season, and where in the U.S. you’re flying from). A round trip ticket from the U.S. to Asia will cost between $1000-$1500, sometimes more. As backpackers, we are trying to travel as cheaply as possible, and we all know that travel costs eat up a lot of our budget. That’s where airline miles can be very useful!

You really can get practially a free flight abroad using airline miles. Personally, I was able to book a round- trip flight from the East Coast U.S. to Asia for only 75 bucks!

Pretty sweet deal, wouldn’t you say? I was amazed I was able to do that. The best part is that it actually isn’t that difficult at all. Thanks to airline miles, I’m getting ready to go on a 3 week backpacking trip through China and Japan!

I was able to save more than $1000 dollars by using miles. Personally, I would much rather spend that money on the cities I visit, not on the 18+ hour flight there and back! I’m sure many of you would also agree.

How I Bought a Round-Trip Flight From the U.S. to Asia for Only $75:

  • I Used Airline Miles

No, I didn’t have an account full of miles to begin with, and no, I wasn’t given the miles as a gift.

  • How Did I Get The Miles?

I applied for credit cards with airline mile rewards, got approved, spent “X” amount of dollars, and was then awarded with airline miles that afforded me a trip to Asia, for next to nothing.

If you’re not familiar with how this works, you’re in the same boat I was. I had no idea this was actually possible. It seemed to good to be true. Well, it isn’t. It’s really quite simple.

1. Find a credit card that offers an airline miles bonus.

Usually credit card companies advertise it as, if you spend “X” amount in 3 months, then you’ll be rewarded with 30,000 or 40,000 airline miles.

(The credit cards I used were from Citi Bank, which gives American Airline Rewards. You can check their offers here.)

  • 1a. Sign up for the Airline Rewards program. You don’t need to be approved for the credit card to do this. It’s free to sign up. It will let you view how many miles are needed for a flight. For American Airlines, you actually don’t even need to sign up for their rewards program to view how many miles you need for a particular flight. However, you will need to sign up to view how much the taxes and fees are.

2. Apply for the card

  • 2a. Usually you need to have Excellent Credit to be approved. You also need to have a credit history, so don’t apply for it if this is your first credit card. If you’ve never had a credit card before, apply for one at a company that doesn’t offer airline mile rewards, such as USAA. The reason for this, is that most companies only give out the airline mile rewards to first time customers. So you don’t want to waste your chance to earn miles!
  • 2b. VERY IMPORTANT: Apply for multiple cards at the same time, and earn more miles! For instance Citi offers airline mile rewards for the Mastercard, VISA, American Express, and Citi Gold VISA. If you apply for all of the cards at the same time, (on different tabs or web browsers) you could potentially earn 110,000 miles if you’re able to meet the required spending.

    3. Once approved, spend the required amount.

    I applied for, and was approved for the Citi Mastercard and VISA card, which each required me to spend $1000 in 3 months in order to earn 30,000 miles for both cards. So all together, I earned 60,000 miles from Citi. I used the credit card, just like a debit card. I used it for my rent, gas, and groceries, and pretty quickly I had reached the required amount.

    4. After the miles post, search for ways to spend your miles!

    American Airlines Reward Chart:
    (Click here for the full chart)

    As you can see from the chart above, you can get a round trip ticket from the US to Europe for 60,000 miles, from the US to China for 70,000 miles, and from the US to Japan for 65,000 miles. When you use miles, you will still have to pay for the taxes and fees. That can range from a few bucks to a few hundred bucks. (That’s why step 1a. comes in handy. So you can know ahead of time.) Flights that are booked well in advance tend to have cheaper taxes & fees. (I booked my flight 6 months in advance.)

    • 4a. Still short a couple thousand miles? Well, just wait and spend money how you normally would, using the reward credit cards. (Try to pay the credit card off every month!) For every dollar you spend, you receive 1 mile. Depending on how much you typically spend each month, you’ll eventually accrue enough to equal the flight you need!

My RT Ticket to Asia:

FloridaChicago – Hong Kong: 35,000 miles

Tokyo – Boston: 32,500 miles

Total Miles Used: 67,500

Taxes & Fees Round Trip: $49.40

Calling AA to book*: $25.00

Total RT flight to Asia: $74.40

*Usually you can book online. However, I wasn’t able to with my flight, so I was forced to call to book. They charged a $25 booking fee over the phone. (Can’t really complain too much about that.)

So, that’s all there is to it. Like I said, Travel CAN be expensive, but it doesn’t have to!

Now you really have no excuse for not traveling abroad!

Also, make sure to check out thepointsguy.com to learn all about which credit cards are currently the best, how to accrue miles, and which flights to use different miles on, in order to get the most out of them. He has tons of information. Learn as much as you can! It was save you loads of money!

Fire away with questions below!

Check out other helpful Europe Backpacking posts:

Best Backpack for Traveling Europe!

3 Week Backpacking Route for First Time in Europe!

My 2 Months Backpacking Europe Route!

How to Plan Your Ideal Backpacking Route in 6 Simple Steps!

How to Use Airline Miles to Get Practically a Free Trip Abroad!

About Devon Nicole

Hey! My name is Devon. I'm a 20-something girl from the sunny state of Florida, USA. In 2012, I made the scary decision to backpack Europe SOLO. Now it's 3 years later and I've traveled to over 30 countries in North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia! I created this blog to inspire other young women to travel abroad solo too. There's a whole world out there just waiting to be explored!

7 Comments

  1. Hi, I was wondering what Visa card you got with Citi, I’m applying for the Mastercard now but I can’t seem to figure out which visa card you got that has airline rewards. thanks

    • Hey! One of the cards I got was “Citi® Platinum Select® / AAdvantage® World MasterCard®”. You spend $1000 in 3 months and get 30,000 American Airlines miles. I also got the Visa version of the same thing, but I can’t find that one now. It will probably be offered later on. There’s another card that I didn’t get, but would also be good. It’s the “Citi® Gold / AAdvantage® World MasterCard®”. You spend $750 in 3 months and get 25,000 American airline miles. I think together that’s almost enough for a round trip ticket to Europe during the summer! How awesome is that?!

  2. Pingback: 3 Week Backpacking Europe Route

  3. Devon, I posted on your initial site and have found your other links just as informative. I do have one piece of caution in your advice as it applies to applying for multiple credit cards. You mentioned you need almost perfect credit which is spot on for the majority of the reward cards. The thing to note is that every time you apply for credit a hard credit inquiry is posted to your credit report indicating that you are shopping for credit. Each credit inquiry is an attribute used to calculate your credit score. A high number of inquiries in a short window of time could be viewed as a predictor of risk and therefore will negatively impact your credit score for a period of time. I won’t go in to the details behind they why, but can tell you that having been in the industry for a long time this is insight from the inside looking out.

    Just thought I would contribute since you are helping others.

    Bill

    • Hi Bill,

      You are absolutely right! Thanks for mentioning it. I did a bit of research about that before I started applying for reward credit cards a couple years ago, and I have avoided applying for too many credit cards at one time for that exact reason! Since then, I’ve applied, and have been approved for, about 1-3 cards every 6 months or so. Paying the balances every month, and having a very good debt usage percentage (the ratio of the credit card balances to the credit card credit limits, for those who don’t know), plus all the other factors that go into determining credit scores, has actually helped in raising my score. You’re right that people should NOT apply for a lot of cards all at once, or in a short period time. I appreciate you taking the time to point this out!

      -Devon

  4. Actually, your ticket that only cost $35.00 really cost you the required $1000 needed to get the miles per card plus the finance fees tacked on for those charges. If you had decent credit, the average interest rate is around 8-10%. If you had to max out the full $1000 to get the miles, you would’ve paid $100 more dollars the first month and then an additional 10% for the remaining two months until you paid the card off. Considering the original ticket was only an average of $800.00, you’ve actually spent a lot more what the original ticket would’ve cost.

    • Well, actually I met the required $1000 by paying two of my rents (which I had to regardless) with the credit card. I then immediately paid off the entire balance both times. You’re right that there was a $17 charge to pay by credit card each time, which I didn’t take account for. So that was an additional $34. Still a bargain, I think. Thanks for pointing that out.

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