Tips for Traveling on a Budget: How to Get Free Flights
Learn about the best travel rewards programs and other ways to get discounted and free flights.
December 21, 2022
If you've been envious of your friends' free flights to exotic locations, you'll be excited to learn that there are many ways to acquire cheap or free flights, including travel rewards cards.
First, plan your destination and decide on your airline of choice. After that, investigate credit card welcome bonuses and other opportunities to rack up miles. You can build up travel rewards over time and earn free or virtually free plane tickets by using your credit card for everyday purchases.
This guide will share all the best travel tips for getting discounted and free airline tickets.
Use travel rewards credit cards to get free flights
You've likely heard of a wide range of travel rewards credit cards. Essentially, airlines work with banks to offer airline credit cards that give you miles or points whenever you make a purchase. Although, some credit card issuers are not connected with an airline, and let you transfer points, which can be the most flexible way to get money back for travel. You can use the points in many ways, like by transferring them to certain airline partners.
Here are nine travel rewards credit cards to help maximize your travel savings:
Chase Sapphire Reserve: The Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card is a good choice for people who travel often because it has a sign-up bonus, rewards for spending on eating out and travel, hundreds of dollars in annual credits and other perks. If you spend at least $4,000 within three months of opening your account, you can get 80,000 bonus points. On your card's first anniversary, you'll get $300 back for travel purchases you made with the card during the year.
Capital One VentureOne Rewards: The Capital One VentureOne Rewards card has no annual fee or fees for transactions made outside the U.S. It also lets you transfer travel reward miles to over 15 travel loyalty programs. If you open a VentureOne account and spend $400 on purchases in the first three months, you'll get a bonus of 20,000 miles. Capital One VentureOne gives you 1.25 miles for every dollar you spend.
American Express Gold Card: With the American Express Gold Card, you'll earn 60,000 membership rewards points after you spend your first $4,000. You'll earn three times the points when booking flights and round-trip tickets with amextravel.com or directly with your airline. You also get four times more points when you eat out or buy groceries. AmEx has more transfer partners than any other major loyalty program in the U.S.
Citi Premier Card: The Citi Premier Card offers 80,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in purchases within three months of opening your account. There are no foreign transaction fees, however, the card has a $95 annual fee. With your Citi Premier Card, you'll earn three times the points at restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, airlines and hotels. You can get free or reduced price flights faster by transferring your points to participating airline loyalty programs.
American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Card: With the American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Card, there is no annual fee, and after three months of account ownership, you get 10,000 bonus miles and a $50 statement credit after spending $500. You'll also get two miles for every dollar you spend at grocery stores. Using this card on American Airlines flights can save you 25% on food and drinks served on board.
Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card: The Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card has a $0 annual fee introductory offer. After the first year, the annual fee is $99. If you spend at least $2,000 within the first six months, you’ll earn 60,000 bonus miles. You’ll also earn two times the miles on dining out, groceries and purchases directly with Delta. If you spend over $10,000 in a calendar year, you’ll receive a $100 credit for your next Delta flight. If you want more flexibility, you can deduct $50 off the cost of a flight booked with delta.com each time you redeem 5,000 miles. Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card has no foreign transaction fees.
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards: With the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards card, you'll earn 3% cash back for the first year on every purchase. After the first year, you’ll earn 1.5% cash back. For the first 15 months, there is an introductory APR of 0% on purchases and balance transfers. Quicksilver from Capital One has a $0 annual fee and six months of complimentary Uber One membership. There are no foreign transaction fees, and rewards don’t expire. If you book a flight for the recommended price and that price drops within ten days of making your flight reservation, you’ll receive a $50 travel credit.
Chase Freedom Flex: The Chase Freedom Flex Credit Card has a new card member incentive, offering a $200 sign-up bonus and a 5% grocery store offer for up to $800 total in cash back. If you book your flight with Ultimate Rewards travel bookings, you'll earn 5% cash back for each $1 spent on travel.
Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card: Bank of America’s Travel Rewards Credit Card offers 25,000 bonus points (a $250 value) if you spend at least $1,000 within the first 90 days. It has no annual fee or foreign transaction fees, and gives 1.5 points for every $1 spent. The card's introductory APR is 0% for 18 months, which also applies to balance transfers completed within 60 days of account setup. You can use points to pay for flights, rental cars, hotels, baggage fees and restaurants. Reward points don’t expire.
How to make the most of your rewards card
Using travel rewards credit cards is a great way to earn free or discounted airline flights. However, it’s important to be responsible with credit card spending.
Learn how to manage your credit cards to safeguard against too much credit card debt:
Pay your credit card bill in full each month: If you’re earning points and miles on your card but also paying interest charges, they could end up canceling each other out. You can avoid added interest and maximize the benefits of your card by paying your bill in full each month by the due date.
Use your card for budgeted expenses: This can make it easier to pay your bill in full. If you only use your credit card for budgeted expenses, you can avoid impulse spending, which can lead to a credit card balance you can’t afford.
Earn free trips through airline loyalty programs
Airline loyalty programs or frequent flyer programs are incentives designed to reward passengers and develop traveler loyalty. The more a person flies, the more points or airline miles they earn and the more perks they receive, such as free plane tickets.
Here are nine airline rewards programs to help you earn points for free flights, companion tickets and other travel benefits:
SkyMiles (Delta Airlines): The SkyMiles loyalty program from Delta Airlines allows you to earn miles when you fly and when you make everyday purchases. You can use miles to travel on Delta Air Lines, Delta Connection carriers and more than 30 partner airlines and to pay for perks like flying first class. Or you can put your earned miles toward a Delta Vacations package.
Mileage Plus (United Airlines): MileagePlus from United Airlines offers miles that never expire. Members will get five base miles per dollar spent on eligible flights. Miles can be redeemed based on the price of the fare minus surcharges, taxes and fees. Members can earn up to 75,000 miles per ticket, not including purchases or bonuses from promotions.
AAdvantage (American Airlines): AAdvantage members earn points on American and over 1,000 other airlines. You can use your miles to book flights to 1,100 locations, or to pay for upgrades, vacation packages, car rentals and hotels. Earn miles when renting a car, staying in a hotel, eating out or ordering in. Every AAdvantage credit card purchase earns one loyalty point.
Mileage Plan (Alaska Airlines): Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan lets members earn points for seat upgrades, hotel stays and flights to over 900 locations. Start collecting rewards at 5,000 miles, and points never expire. There’s a limited time online bonus of 50,000 miles. Alaska's MVP members earn miles quicker with no minimum spending criteria and two free checked bags, priority boarding and preferential seats on Alaska flights.
Hawaiian Miles (Hawaiian Airlines): Hawaiian Miles from Hawaiian Airlines allows members to earn 60,000 in bonus miles after spending $2,000 within the first 60 days. This program comes with a good number of perks, such as two checked bags free, three times the award miles on eligible Hawaiian Airlines purchases and a $100 annual companion voucher. There is a $99 yearly membership fee.
Rapid Rewards (Southwest Airlines): With the Southwest Rapid Rewards Card, you can earn points that have no restrictions on dates or seats. You'll also get extra miles on every anniversary date. Rapid Rewards Credit Cardmembers accumulate points they can spend on international flights, rental cars and hotel stays through the More Rewards program. You can book flights to more than 99 U.S., Mexico and Caribbean locations.
Free Spirit (Spirit Airlines): Spirit Airlines' frequent flyer program, Free Spirit, serves the U.S., Central America, South America and the Caribbean. Spirit Airlines members get one point for every dollar spent, and new members get 500 free points. Use your points to fly to 90-plus destinations. With 2,500 points, you can buy any flight ticket. Free Spirit Silver and Gold members get more for every dollar spent.
TrueBlue (JetBlue Airlines): TrueBlue is JetBlue's loyalty program, where customers can earn miles on travel and purchases. TrueBlue members earn three points for each dollar spent on any JetBlue flight. JetBlue has no blackout dates, and points never expire. In addition, JetBlue allows families to pool points. You can earn six points for every $1 you spend for JetBlue purchases, two points at restaurants and grocery stores, and one point on all other transactions with the JetBlue Plus Card. Spend $1,000 and pay the yearly fee in full during the first 90 days to receive 80,000 bonus points. Every year after that, you'll get 5,000 bonus points. The annual fee is $99.
Frontier Miles (Frontier Airlines): With Frontier Miles, you get one mile for every mile you fly. Domestic one-way award flights only cost 10,000 Frontier Miles. With the Frontier Airlines World Mastercard, you get five miles for every dollar you spend on eligible Frontier Airlines purchases and three miles for every dollar you spend at restaurants. Qualifying purchases earn you 50,000 bonus miles and a $100 flight voucher for a limited time.
Make your travel dreams come true
Even if you’re on a budget, you can make your travel dreams a reality. By strategically using rewards credit cards and frequent flyer programs, you can earn discounted or free flights.
Do you have credit card debt that you want to pay off? Check out the Tally† credit card debt repayment app. It can help by combining your higher-interest credit card balances into a lower-interest line of credit.
†To get the benefits of a Tally line of credit, you must qualify for and accept a Tally line of credit. The APR (which is the same as your interest rate) will be between 7.90% and 29.99% per year and will be based on your credit history. The APR will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Annual fees range from $0 - $300.