I'm taking over $12,000 worth of flights in 2019, but I paid less than $2,500 — here's how.

Courtesy of Caroline LupiniCaroline Lupini at Machu Picchu in August 2019.
  • I fly 80,000 miles per year on average, and the costs of all of those flights can add up
  • With some simple strategies, I’m taking $US12,154 worth of flights in 2019 but I’m only paying $US2,477.
  • I take advantage of flight deals to save money, and use points and miles to cover the cost of flights when cash prices are high.
  • Credit cards like the American Express® Gold Card earn me valuable points that I can use to cut down on out-of-pocket spending on flights.

I love to travel, and I’ve gotten really good at finding deals and maximizing my points and miles balances so they work for me. While I still spend a fair amount of money on flights due to how much I fly, I get so much value out of my money, points, and miles by being strategic about how I use them.

Here are the three simple ways I’m stretching my dollars further so that I can take over $US12,000 worth of flights for less than $US2,500 in one year.

1. I look for great flight deals

I often don’t decide where I’m travelling based on where I really want to go, but rather based on where I can find a good deal. For example, in early 2019 I flew to Bangkok and spent two weeks in Thailand because there was a round-trip airfare deal on Hong Kong Airlines for only $US633 in business class! Yes, you read that right – I flew to Bangkok in business class for less than it would normally cost to fly there in economy.

Some of my favourite sites to find good deals include:

Flight deals are also regularly shared on Twitter (and I try to share good ones when I see them too) and on various forums including Reddit and FlyerTalk. I generally find that the best deals get picked up by the three sites I listed above and that forums take too much time to check regularly for the very occasional great deal that isn’t picked up elsewhere.


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2. I use frequent flyer miles when cash prices are high

Sometimes I do need to get to a specific destination, and when that happens I always check flight prices first. When cash prices are high, I like to use my frequent flyer miles. I also generally use my miles when I have a long flight that I want to fly in business or first class. My goal is to always get 2 cents per mile or more in value if I’m going to redeem my miles and points.

This year, I’ve redeemed American Airlines miles, Iberia miles, JetBlue miles, and United miles, but I’m always considering which airlines offer the best deals before I book. I know a lot of award prices off the top of my head, but when I’m not sure I’ll generally use Travel Codex’s Award Maximizer tool to see which airline charges the least number of miles.

This year, I needed to get from Georgetown, Guyana to Cusco, Peru. Flight prices were really high, so I knew I wanted to use miles. Unfortunately, the cheapest mileage redemption I could find was still 40,000 miles. Instead, I decided to buy some cheap cash flights and visit Trinidad and Tobago and Curacao, and then I was able to get a cheaper mileage ticket for only 12,500 miles to Cusco.


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3. I use points as cash, or just pay cash, when flight prices are low

Sometimes a cash flight price is too low to justify using miles, and that’s where using points as cash can come in. I have a Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card that earns points that are worth 1 cent each when redeemed for travel. It’s not a card that I use very often, but I still have some of the points that I earned when I opened the card. That card alone has helped me offset around $US400 of flight expenses this year.

Other cards offer similar types of points, and even points earned from the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, American Express Gold Card, and Citi Premier℠ Card can be used in this way (though it’s usually not the best option for transferable points currencies).

And when I don’t have enough points that I want to use as cash, that’s when it’s time to just pay outright with cash – which is how I ended up spending about $US2,500 for my flights this year.

Bottom line

Flight prices can really add up, but there are some great strategies out there to help you save on flights. First, look for deals. Second, consider how much value you’ll get if you use your frequent flyer miles. Third, pay cash and earn more miles when flight prices are low.


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Curious about which cards I use and why? Here are a few of my favourites:

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve, because it offers great rewards on travel and built-in travel insurance for when things don’t go as planned. It also offers great rewards on dining (3x points).
  • Chase Freedom Unlimited, because it offers 1.5% cash back (1.5x Ultimate Rewards points) on all purchases. It’s my top pick for purchases that don’t earn a bonus with another card.
  • Chase Freedom, thanks to its quarterly rotating categories that earn 5% cash back (5x points) on up to $US1,500 in purchases each quarter you activate. A great way to rack up some serious points!
  • The Platinum Card® from American Express, because it gets me access to American Express’ wonderful Centurion Lounges and credit for Uber rides each month.
  • IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card, mostly for the one free night at IHG hotels every year (up to 40,000 points) just for paying the annual fee.

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