Several months ago, I wrote a blog post about how my dad traveled to Europe for $95. It wasn't an error fare and it wasn't due to an airline compensation. It was airline points; 40,000 of them.
To this day, that continues to be one of my all-time favorite blog posts, not only because my dad is a cool cat who is always worth writing and reading about but also because it's one of the most helpful posts I've written on how to make travel happen.
But here's the thing: my dad isn't special. I mean, he is special because he's my dad, but when it comes to using miles to travel, he's just one of many, many people who do this. And yet, there are still plenty of people out there who DON'T. It genuinely blows my mind.
Another thing that blows my mind? Not taking advantage of the many amazing resources out there that help you see the world. I cover a few of these great resources on this site but there are others that I'm always discovering with excitement (and perhaps obsession).
So I thought I would share some thoughts — practical tips, I guess you could call them — on the things that enable travel. I've written about this a few times, but this is my personal account of what I actually do to travel more. So, it's safe to say I'm not recommending or preaching advice that I haven't taken myself.
Tip #1: Get Real-Time Updates from The Flight Deal, Secret Flying and The Points Guy
I know I'm giving away some of the secret sauce here, but if you really want to stay in-the-know about travel deals, you need to follow these deals in real time. I've written before about how much I love these sites, and I often recommend people sign up for their newsletters and follow them on social media. That said, if you really want to go the extra mile, you need to get alerts as they become available. How do I do this? First I go to the settings on my smartphone and make sure that I'm allowing notifications for Twitter (actually, before that, you should download the Twitter app). I don't like sounds for any of my phone notifications, so I select "Show in Notification Center," "Show on Lock Screen" and "Alerts."
Then, I go to my Twitter app, log in (you need a Twitter account for this!) and follow their accounts. I then go to the settings for each account (the gear icon) and select "Turn on notifications" at the top (see screenshot below). You can double check that you're following them by going to your Twitter profile then going to Settings > Notifications > Mobile notifications > Tweets. The Twitter help center has more detailed information on this.
I realize this probably sounds like overkill, and depending on your level of tolerance for getting mobile notifications, this may drive you a little crazy. But here's the thing: so many of the really, really good travel deals don't last long. They're there one minute and gone the next. Case in point: earlier this year, I was on my way to work when I saw a notification from one of the accounts I follow alerting me to roundtrip airfare from New York to several European cities for $250 roundtrip, and not on a discount airline like Norwegian or WOW. So what did I do? I immediately went to Google Flights and started rapidly (and perhaps I bit frantically) searching for my preferred dates, and then I booked the flight. Actually, several flights. Less than an hour later, the fares were gone. Anyone who's serious about finding a great travel deal knows that when a deal pops up, book first and then ask questions later (assuming it's a U.S. airline, which allows for 24-hour free cancellation). Such is the nature of the beast. The great thing about this is that it has completely changed how much I pay to travel. Sometimes you need to be patient and sometimes you need to just bite the bullet; either way, it's worth it.
Tip #2: Strategically sign up for credit card bonuses to rapidly gain airline points
This is a game changer. This is what helped my dad fly to Europe for $95. It's also what has helped me fly to several countries in Europe, Australia, Hong Kong, Jamaica, Mexico and a few states in the U.S. for very little money.
Airline points. It's all about earning those airline points. However, with changes to how you earn these points when you fly (you earn less these days), your best bet is to gain points through credit cards. As I detail in the blog post about my dad, it's all about waiting for the credit card sign up bonus. An example of this would be if a credit card offered 50,000 bonus points and a waived card fee for the first year if you sign up and spend $2,000 in the first three months. That's a deal worth considering, BUT (there's always a but or two) there are a few things to consider first:
- What's your credit score and is getting a new credit card feasible?
- Do you think you'll spend that amount anyway and can you pay it off without any problems?
- Will these airline points take you where you want to go? For example, if you want to visit Italy next summer, which airline points are the best for getting there?
Once you've considered all of the above, start looking strategically at what makes the most sense and follow The Points Guy. He and his team of writers are the airline point gurus, dropping pearls of point wisdom regularly on their site.
Tip #3: Be flexible about the location or time for the best deals
Unless you plan to use airline points or pay the full airfare, it's hard to get a great deal when you have a specific location AND a specific time in mind, especially if it's the high season. For example, if you absolutely must go to London in July, then you should plan to either book way in advance, hope for a good deal to come along or use airline points. It's entirely possible a great, or even amazing, fare can pop up, but if you don't want to take the chance, it's best to book months in advance or book using points (which should also be booked in advance).
When you're flexible with your time, you may be able to get a deal to London that's half the price. Or, if you know you want to travel in May but you're flexible with the location, then you can keep an eye out for any deals that pop up in May. It ultimately comes down to the question of whether you want to go somewhere specific or travel at a specific time. Being flexible about the location or time has helped me travel much more over the years.
Tip #4: If you work full-time, look into remote work opportunities
This is another game changer for me, particularly since I started a new job in late 2015, so my vacation days are more limited this year. Fortunately, in my current role, I have opportunities to work remotely, which has helped me tremendously with my travels. Over the last several months, I have worked remotely from Florida, Charleston, Italy and Chicago.
For those who work full-time, look to see if your job offers remote work opportunities, or try proposing a remote work trial to your boss to see if the setup works for you and your situation. It can sometimes have its challenges in terms of finding a conducive work space, but if you are someone who can stay focused and do your job outside of the office, then it's an ideal scenario.
Hopefully these tips are helpful and inspire you to follow deal sites on Twitter in real-time, sign up for a credit card with a good bonus offer, be flexible about your location OR time and look into remote work opportunities.