Beginner’s Guide to Flying Free

One question I am frequently asked is how I afford to travel so much. My first answer is….my full time job! My second answer is more detailed and boring and is stuff nobody wants to hear about like having a small apartment, having an inexpensive car, not buying Christian Louboutin shoes, saving money, yada, yada, yada.  One thing that people do seem to want to hear about is how to work the system to their advantage. I don’t claim to be an expert at this and there are multiple sites out there for this. My method may not work for everyone but this is my guide to flying free!

Which Airline is Your Boo?

Find out what airlines are the ones you fly or want to fly the most. You can do this by researching flights for trips you’d like to take and see what airlines are making those voyages. What airline has a hub in or near your city? In my case this is American Airlines. Once you figure out which airline is your one and only, make a commitment to them, kind of like a new relationship. Date just that one for awhile and only cheat on them when they really piss you off or aren’t available. Ok, I’m going too far with this analogy and I do not condone cheating, just to be clear, but you get the point.


Once you figure out the airline most useful to you, join their membership program. Join many. Pay attention to who is partners with who so you don’t accidentally miss out on potential miles. All this takes is a few minutes on the internet filling out your name and email and voila…you’re a card carrying member with an ID number. Put all of your airline account numbers in a file on your smartphone. Trust me. Enter them into whatever travel site you use to book trips whether it be Expedia or Travelocity. This will save you some trouble later. Example:  I’m in some random country flying their random airline and I ask who the partners are, and low and behold, one of them is United. If I only had my United Mileage Plus number handy on check-in I could have the flight credited to my account.


Get Some Plastic

Look for a credit card associated with that airline. Citibank has a relationship with American Airlines. Chase Bank has a relationship with United Airlines. America Express has Delta SkyMiles cards. There are tons of offers out there. Literally google the airline name followed by the word “credit card”.  Many cards have 0% interest and no membership fee the first year. I recently bought the Chase Explorer card and if I spent $1000 in first 3 months, I received 30,000 United miles. I did this prior to my recent Vietnam trip and was able to upgrade to First Class! Not too shabby for 20 + hours of flying, I promptly paid it off and cancelled it since I don’t fly United often. Thanks Chase!

Oh hey there, yes I WOULD like some champagne immediately
Oh hey there, yes I WOULD like some champagne immediately

Many American Express cards offer $100 towards Global Entry, an added perk. Many give you free baggage check -in, priority boarding and access to the private lounges. This is all great free stuff. Just be responsible and pay these cards off.  Many can have high fees, so be careful. If you have good credit and aren’t applying for a major loan anytime soon,  you can pay off a card, cancel, then run off to the next hot deal, like a serial monogamist (sorry I can’t resist this dating analogy).

Priority boarding....because I need to get my carry on in there asap before it gets full!
Priority boarding….because I need to get my carry on in there asap before it gets full!

You Don’t Have to Commit to Only One Airline

Another option if your airline isn’t all you thought it would be is to cheat on it and get a card that simply gives you points that can be used for any airline or other things. Many American Express cards do this as does the Capital One Venture Card. This card gives you 2 points per dollar spent. There are no blackout dates and it is very straightforward. You pick your flight and they provide the points. For example a $400 plane ticket will be 40,000 points. They give you 40,000 mile bonus if you spend $3000 in first 3 months. No sweat, right? I like this card because they provide a purchase eraser which is super fun to use. You choose from a list of travel related purchases including hotels, taxis,  Lyft and Uber rides, then click to erase them from your balance (provided you have enough points).  Every month I’m able to erase several Uber and Lyft rides. Hey, every little bit helps!


One other way to earn miles is through shopping and dining. Yes, you heard me. American and United, and I’m sure others I don’t know about, have restaurants in your area where if you use your associated credit card, those dollars spent translate to extra miles. United even has an app called MileageX where you can choose to buy all sorts of things to get more miles including gift cards to places such as

Spend Spend Spend. Yes, You Heard Me

Lets say you do what I did and get that ultra bonus card, the Citi Executive card which enticed me with 75,000 American Miles for spending $7500 in 3 months. Seems like a lot. Yes, it is, but I was planning a large purchase and waited until the card arrived and bam! After said purchase, I simply paid for EVERYTHING with that card. Phone bills, electric bills, car payment, gas, groceries, etc. I encouraged friends to give me cash and let me get the bill. I bought tons of gift cards for things I was going to eventually buy anyway; Amazon, Best Buy, Publix, even plain old American Express gift cards that work like cash. Kind of like buying money for yourself in the form of gift cards that you better not lose!! This sounds strange but it works.

Hopefully this is helpful.  I have been traveling all my life and I do not have unlimited funds. Therefore figuring these things out has helped immensely. I take several free flights every year by following this advice myself.


Good luck and keep flying my friends. Keep flying.

Disclaimer. Although I do use affiliate links on some posts, this one does not have any. I have added links for convenience and as always, opinions are my own!


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About The Author

Cherene Saradar

Cherene is a travel expert with 30 years of experience in over 100 countries and 7 continents. She has traveled solo to over 50 countries. She is also a nurse anesthesiologist with over 20 years of healthcare experience. Her passions include wildlife travel and visiting wine regions of the world.


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  3. Marilyn Tenekjian | 2nd Apr 16

    Hi Cherene, I just read this as I was pondering which of my cards to give up and which to buy or upgrade. I figured you would be the expert.
    Wonderfully informative and humorous too! Thanks!!

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