How to Fly for Free with Sky Miles

You can work for the bank, or you can make the bank work for you. After spending a few years getting my personal finances in order, I was finally able to make the bank work for me by playing the sky miles game.

Since I pay my credit cards off in full each month, sky miles are essentially “free money” for me. In fact, not taking advantage of sky mills is leaving money on the table for no good reason.

I also don’t use any advanced tricks. My approach is simple: Get a credit card, meet the minimum spend, get a new credit card, repeat. Other people treat using miles like a serious hobby. Different strokes for different folks.

If you play the game right, you’ll fly for free. If you slip up, the math gets complicated. (You may still receive some free travel, but you won’t max out your winnings.)

Before playing the sky miles game, remember the First Rule of Sky Club: The bank wants you to screw up. Rule 2 of Sky Club: If you do not screw up, the bank will try screwing you up.

Flying for free is relaxing.

Mike-Cernovich-hot-tub

How the Sky Miles Game is Played.

To trick you into screwing up your personal finances, credit card companies offer you a lavish amount of free airline travel for signing up for a credit card and meeting their minimum spending requirements.

For example, Chase Bank will give you $800 in free travel if you sign up for a SouthWest Rapid Rewards credit card and spend $2,500 within the first three months of having the card.

You also receive sky miles for every dollar you put on your credit card. You may receive anywhere from 1 to 3 miles per dollar you spend, depending on how the bank offers the deal to you.

The banks are not your friends. The bank wants you to forget to make a payment. When you miss a payment, the bank will charge you interest and fees and also rise your annual percentage rate (APR) on the card. Always make you payments in full and on time.

Even if you don’t miss a payment, there may be a “glitch” from the bank causing you to miss a payment. Keep track of your personal finances to avoid being unjustly charged a late fee.

How I Avoid Paying Late Fees.

When I receive a new credit card in the mail, I immediately go online to set the card up for auto-payment. I pay the balance in full.

Mint.com flags any late fees that hit any of my accounts. (I’m a huge fan of Mint.com and credit it with turning my personal finances around.)

Occasionally (see Rule 2) the bank will claim you missed a payment. Mint.com will sent you an e-mail alert, you contact the bank, and they correct the mistake.

How I Earned my 2014 Sky Miles.

I played the game intelligently. I would take out one credit card at a time, meet the minimum spend requirement for that card, and then open a new credit card. I took out around 8 credit cards in 2014.

The credit card sign-up bonuses included Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, and British Airways.

I racked up 150,000 Southwest miles by obtaining two credit cards for myself and two for my business. At the time (rules may have changed), Southwest would give a companion pass to anyone who acquired 100,000 miles in a fiscal year.

A companion pass allowed me to take someone with me for free whenever I travelled.

I travelled a lot in 2014.

2014 Trips / Travel Using Sky Miles.

I fly with Shauna each time. Shauna flew for free on Southwest, as I earned enough sky miles to get the coveted companion pass.

Southwest:

  • Los Angeles to Las Vegas (three times)
  • Los Angles to Chicago
  • Los Angeles to New York (one way)
  • Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles (one way)
  • Los Angeles to Denver (I paid for my ticket; Shauna flew for free)

Southwest mileage balance – 45,000 miles.

Chicago is my kind of town.

Mike-Cernovich-Chicago-Skyline

Vegas has great night life.

Mike-Cernovich-Girlfriend

Vegas also has world-class dining.

Las-Vegas-Dining-Out

American Airlines:

  • Los Angeles to New York (two first-class tickets; one way)
  • Miami to Los Angeles (Michael only; one way)

Americans Airlines mileage balance – 90,000 miles.

You can split your trips up into legs to take advantage of sky miles.

We flew to New York on sky miles and paid for tickets from JFK/NYC to St. John, Virgin Islands.

Trunk-Bay-St-John-Virgin-Islands

British Airways:

  • New York to London (paid for 1/2 of trip, or one full ticket, with BA Avios/sky miles)

From London we flew into Rome, Italy. As I noted, above, you can use sky miles for one leg of the trip while paying out of pocket for the next leg of your flight.

British Airways mileage balance – 45,000.

How Much Do Sky Miles Cost?

The sky miles cost as much as the mileage bonus and sky miles you earn from purchases are worth less the annual fees you paid. Although I haven’t done the math, in 2014 I received several thousands of dollars in “free” flights.

In addition, I have over 250,000 unused sky miles.

Annual fees paid in 2014 – $1,170.

How to Learn More About Sky Miles?

I’m not in the credit card business. In theory I could sign up for credit card affiliate offers. I’d tell you about the benefits of a credit card, you’d sign up using my affiliate link, and I’d profit.

Since I don’t have any affiliate agreement with anyone, I’ll direct you to the site where I learned the game. Check out Million Mile Secrets.

You can also check out MileValue for more advanced tips. I don’t go into the sky miles stuff hardcore. I simply get a credit card, meet the minimum spend, and then get another credit card.

There are a lot more advanced tricks you can use.

How to Improve Your Credit.

If you’re not able to put the banks to work for you, check out my article on personal finance.

I started off with bad credit, built my credit up, and now the bank is my sugar mommy.

As always, there’s a way to game the system. Finding out how to game the system is one of my hobbies.

Are you a Sky Miles Junkie?

If so, what are your best tricks and tips for using sky miles? Post a comment or question below!

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8 thoughts on “How to Fly for Free with Sky Miles

  1. Well Done Mike! With good credit, gaming the system is much easier. I’ve just checked my FICO scores and both Equifax and TransUnion have them above 780. Looking to do something similar but with business/personal loans (I’ll work on travel miles a little bit later). They seem incredibly easy to get. Or maybe should I use a credit card? Karma is suggesting that I apply for the AmEx Everyday card. Not sure which way is better. Either way, I’m going to have to take a risk (I can actually feel the pit of my stomach thinking about it).

    1. Check out one of those advanced sites to find out what the best deal is. The best deal changes all of the time, as sign-up bonuses vary.

      Congrats on your excellent credit score!

  2. When I open an mileage rewards card, I put a reminder in my Google calendar to cancel before the annual fee comes due a year later. Every time I’ve done this (4 times to date)- the bank has offered to downgrade me to a less generous mileage rewards plan rather than cancel the credit line. So I don’t earn as many miles from new spending on the card, but keep all existing miles. However, not earning as many miles on an old card doesn’t matter to me because I’m mainly looking to cash in on sign-up bonuses from new cards I open. My credit score obviously doesn’t take a hit because the credit line remains open.

    So far this has allowed me to accrue all the benefits from the sign-up bonuses, but not pay a single annual fee.

      1. No Mike, thank you man – it didn’t look into this stuff until I saw a tweet from you over a year ago that said something along the lines of “if you have good credit, flights are basically free”. Now I’ve taken several free or almost-free trips, including my first solo travel trip to Peru. Glad to see you covering the topic again, I’m long overdue on finding a new sign-up bonus.

  3. Hi, I’m Jeff and I’m a sky miles junkie. I agree with all your recommendations like Mint.com and Million Mile Secrets as I’ve been using them for years. My tip is to use AwardWallet.com to organize all your points balances into one place. They will alert you when your balances change so you can confirm when you get the sign up bonus. They also let you know when you’re miles will expire so you don’t lose out on all that hard work. Nice job on getting the SW Companion Pass, that’s a real good thing to have.

  4. Mike, this is super helpful stuff.

    -Does canceling a card ding your credit score?

    -My plan: Open a free card. Use it some, but mostly just leave it open forever. Establish a solid credit history. Then after six months ish, start playing the credit card game like you are.

    I just don’t want to be opening lots of cards at once. Or canceling them and dinging my score.

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