Friday, September 27, 2013

Flying for Free

Maui Airport
I learned a new word today: churner. Apparently, what I've been doing for the past 5 years to earn free flights is called "churning". What is a churner? A churner is a person who applies for numerous credit cards for the main benefit of earning as many reward points as possible and then cancelling the cards usually within the first year of getting their sign up promotional points. Some churners are so successful, they've earned over 1,000,000 points which translates into an impressive amount of free flights. I have yet to earn a million points, but in the past 5 years, I have managed to earn enough miles to circumnavigate the earth for free about a half dozen times.

What amazes me is how resistant most people are to churning. The greatest misconception is that this practice will ruin their credit scores. I can only say from personal experience, my credit score has not been affected in the slightest.

By carefully managing your cards and choosing the best offers, you can fly to Thailand for free or anywhere that your points allow you to go. I mainly flew back and forth to Thailand, since my husband Eric and I have been living in both the US and Thailand for the past 5 years. Not only was I getting free travel, Eric was also flying for free.

If you plan carefully, you can also book two trips in one by taking advantage of free stopovers. One year we routed our trip on United Airlines from Denver to Switzerland, staying for 5 days in Geneva and then continuing onward to Bangkok. The next year, we routed our trip from Denver to Hawaii, staying for a week in the islands and then onward to Bangkok.

An important point to remember is that both you and your spouse can earn points by applying individually for the same card deals. There are plenty of great websites that explain the process and will keep you updated on the best deals out there.

My favorite one is The Points Guy at If this strategy is completely new to you, I recommend that you start by reading his Beginner's Guide. He will walk you through the process with an easy to follow step by step guide.

Some points to remember to be a successful churner:

1. I always pay off my cards to avoid paying any finance charges.

2. Almost all cards offer a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, which is why I cancel the cards within the first year before being charged with the normal annual fee.
3. It's best to sign up for the mileage program first and then apply for the credit card. Delta Airline's mileage program is especially advantageous because your miles never expire. The downside however is that you need more miles to earn your award tickets than with United Airline's award program. Hawaiian Miles is definitely worth applying for, but their award travel can sometimes be a bit nuts. My craziest experience with them happened earlier this year. We were in Maui and had a ticket from Maui to Denver, but since our return ticket to Denver originated on the Big Island, we were routed from Maui to Honolulu, to the Big Island and then back to Maui to catch our plane to Denver! Confused? So were we.

4. I usually only apply for cards that offer more than 30,000 sign up bonus points. On a few occasions, I have been offered 60,000 sign up bonus points. Most airlines offer a free round trip ticket internationally for 65,000 points. 

Flying for free isn't nearly as complicated as many people believe. In fact, now that I have accumulated all of these award miles, what I need is free time to actually use them. Any tips on how to accumulate free time?

Blog Quote of the Day: Only in our dreams are we free. The rest of the time we need wages.” ~ Terry Pratchett ~

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