How I got $16,000 in airfare for $300

That title kind of gets your attention, doesn’t it?  Truth be told, I have been waiting for 6 months to write this post, purely out of superstition.  In short, I wanted to complete the trip (which had been booked months ago) for which that title (and breathtaking picture) above pertain before writing about it, lest I jinx the trip.
I have been reading frequent flyer / point blogs for over a year now, and what I have learned still boggles my own mind.  After cashing in numerous times on what I have learned, I decided it would be a great addition to the site since it can certainly help people do more travel for less money…whether it is to Orlando or somewhere else.

So, let’s talk about this mystical-sounding $16,000 in airfare.  What kind of trip would cost that much?

Marci and I had talked for years about going to the islands of Greece.  She had been there over 20 years ago, and I had been to Greece three times, but only on the mainland.  We wanted to do Santorini as a second honeymoon. When I first started looking into it, I was pretty sobered by the prices for airfare alone.  Add on hotels, meals, ground transportation, and an unfavorable currency exchange rate, and it got even worse.  I had some Delta frequent flyer miles, but a) there were not enough to get us to Greece and b) Delta is not the best airline for getting there anyway.  What to do.

I started reading the frequent flyer blogs again, only this time I started thinking in more specific terms: how can I get from Atlanta to Greece.  Right away, something jumped out at me that I had taken advantage of before, but not nearly to the extent that I could have: credit card signup bonuses.  We’ve all seen them on television or even received them in the mail.  Spend X dollars in Y months and receive an extra Z points/miles.  I had thrown 99% of these offers in the garbage, but as I read the numerous articles on the various blogs, I started to understand how I could make our trip happen using that garbage…well, the right garbage.

Now, I don’t want to tease this too much, so let me cut to the chase, and then I will start diving into the details with a six part series (it’s not rocket science, but it’s not kindergarten either).  Since this was a second honeymoon, I decided that at least once in my life, I wanted to travel in business class instead of coach on an international trip.  Great food, royal treatment service, and most importantly, the ability to sleep during my flight.  As a result, I needed 200,000 frequent flyer miles with United to book the trip from Atlanta to Athens for two in business class.  Once I got to Athens, the airfare between Athens and Santorini was manageable using my own funds.  Note: since I booked my trip, the 200,000 requirement for the flights we took has jumped drastically, but that can happen.  Now, I do not fly for my job very often, so where could I get 200,000 miles?  Answer: Credit card signups.  More specifically, though, I needed to sign up for the right cards and do it in such a way as to not damage my credit.  Mission accomplished.  We got the 200,000 miles over the course of 6 months using three different signup bonuses and then tacking on additional miles through ordinary spending.  I cannot stress enough that we did not spend a nickel that we would not have ordinarily spent.  And the cost of the tickets without using miles?  it would have been over $8000 apiece.  Our cost?  The aforementioned 200,000 miles plus $300 in fees.  Pretty astonishing, really.  Later on, I will also explain why I chose United as I am sure that is a question for many of you.

Now, this article will be the first (part 0 actually) in a series I will be posting over the next several days.  In the series, I will pass along the information I used to make my big trip happen.  It takes time, effort, a strong credit rating, and the ability to pay off your bill each month.  I must emphasize that last point because the interest rates on the best rewards cards are very high and would more than wipe out any substantial savings you would achieve through the points you accrue.  So, here is what to expect over the next several days:

  1. Getting Your Credit In Order
  2. What Is the Actual Rate of Return on a Card?
  3. The Different Types of Credit Cards: Cash Back, Fixed Value, and Flexible Point
  4. Why Signup Bonuses Are the Key to Free Travel
  5. What Are the Right Cards For Your Desired Trip?
  6. What Are App-o-Ramas?

So, I hope you are excited to read more about the amazing world of heavily discounted (or even free) travel through the power of reward-oriented credit cards and their sign up bonuses.  I look forward to taking you through it.

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