For years I dreamed of visiting New Zealand. I wanted to hike across real-life Middle Earth and be overwhelmed by the geography. Last summer I finally visited for four weeks and it was transformative. The best part? Knowing United Airlines paid for two tickets which would have otherwise cost thousands.
I don’t know what your dream trip is (though I would love to hear about it in the comments section). But no matter how far, or how remote, I am going to show you one concrete way of getting there for free. I have personally used this method to visit Italy, New Zealand, Egypt, and France and found it the easiest way to earn free flights.
Understanding the Rules
How can I get you to Bangkok, Oslo, Cairo, or Buenos Aires for free? Two credit cards and United’s economy saver tickets. I admit others have far more experience using credit cards to earn free travel. If you want to go down that rabbit hole and compare every travel card or maximize every purchase, I recommend visiting www.thepointsguy.com or www.10xtravel.com. If, however, you want just one article explaining exactly how to fly anywhere for free, read on.
My plan involves two credit cards (possibly only one), the Chase Sapphire Preferred card and the United MileagePlus Explorer card.You will be using these to accrue miles on United Airlines and buy economy saver tickets. Why United? Because it is a member of the Star Alliance, the largest airline alliance in the world, and gives you the most travel options.
The Sapphire Preferred card is the golden goose in this process. It will get you 60,000 points/miles, enough for a free flight to most places. By spending $4,000 in the first three months, you accrue 50,000 points transferable to six different airlines for miles on a 1:1 basis (you will be using the United Mileage Plus program). You can then add an authorized user to get an additional 5,000 points/miles. Finally, every dollar spent earns one point/mile except purchases made for travel and dining which earn double points/miles. Plan to spend $5,000 on this card to get the 60,000 miles/points (you may spend less if you make many dining/travel purchases). Also, this card charges no foreign transaction fees and is great to use abroad!
If you need more than 60,000 miles/points, the United MileagePlus Explorer card is the solution. Here, you only need to spend $1,000 in the first three months to earn 30,000 bonus miles on United. You can then add an authorized user for 5,000 additional bonus miles. Between the two cards this totals 95,000 United miles. Planned far enough in advance, this will get you a free flight anywhere using economy saver tickets.
To see how many miles you will need for your flight, use the following resources:
- www.united.com – Check the box that says “search for award travel” to research how many miles you will need and if saver award tickets are available. Keep in mind United’s website lists miles needed per flight. If your flight to Tokyo costs 35,000 miles, you will need 70,000 miles total.
- https://www.united.com/web/en-US/apps/mileageplus/awards/travel/awardTravel.aspx An interactive tool giving a general idea of miles needed to travel from one continent to another.
- https://www.united.com/web/format/pdf/United-Award-Chart-02-01-14.pdf A printable chart showing how many miles travelers need for saver award or standard award tickets.
Generally, the earlier you book, the less miles it costs. To maximize this method you should purchase an economy saver ticket (coach seat) on United’s website. At most, these require 85,000 miles, but sell out quickly. Miles can be used on other types of tickets (first class), but they cost more miles (avoid at all costs).
50,000 (Sapphire Preferred signup bonus after $4,000 spent in three months)
+ 5,000 (add authorized user on Sapphire Preferred),
+ 5,000 (spend $5,000 total on Sapphire Preferred)
+ 30,000 (United MileagePlus Explorer signup bonus after $1,000 spent in three months)
+ 5,000 (add authorized user on United MileagePlus Explorer)
= 95,000 United miles!
Playing the Game
The first thing you must do is choose your destination and research how many miles you will need. Use the resources above to do this.
Once you have a clear travel goal, create a MileagePlus account with United. This is where all points/miles will be deposited. Head to united.com, click “mileageplus sign in or join,” and then “join now.” Once registered, you will be given an account number you must provide when applying for each credit card. Fail to do this and you will not be able to accrue miles!
Next, get the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. Follow these steps to earn your 60,000 United miles:
- Head to https://creditcards.chase.com/credit-cards/sapphire-preferred-card.aspx and click “Apply now.”
- Complete the application online. Once approved, you should receive the card in a few weeks.
- Call, or go online, to add an authorized user (5,000 points).
- Spend $4,000 in three months (50,000 sign up bonus + 4,000 for purchases).
- Spend an additional $1,000 (1,000 points).
- Your 60,000 points will appear in your Chase Ultimate Rewards account and have to be transferred to United for miles.
- Points will not appear until the end of the billing cycle. Once they have been deposited, log in to chase.com, click the Ultimate Rewards link, click “use points” and select “transfer to travel partners” to move the points to your United MileagePlus account. You will need your MileagePlus account number to do this.
If your trip requires more than 60,000 miles, follow these steps for an additional 35,000 miles from the United MileagePlus Explorer card.
- Head to https://creditcards.chase.com/credit-cards/united-airlines-credit-card.aspx and click “Apply now.”
- Complete the application online. Make sure you provide your MileagePlus number! Once approved, you should receive the card in a few weeks.
- Call, or go online, to add an authorized user (5,000 points).
- Spend $1,000 in three months (30,000 sign up bonus + 1,000 for purchases).
- Your 30,000 miles will be deposited into your MileagePlus account at the end of the billing cycle. They do not need to be transferred like Sapphire Plus points.
Once all miles have been deposited in your MileagePlus account, head to united.com, click “search for award travel,” and book your flight. Don’t use travel sites like Expedia to book the flight. It won’t work.
It very important you choose your travel destination long before you plan to fly. You will need to spend time researching when economy saver tickets are available and how far in advance they sell out.
Understand this is a lengthy process and will take several months to get these miles (especially if you need both cards). Sorry, but flying for free does take time.
Moreover, please only do this if the required purchases fit into your budget and you can pay them off in full. A free flight is moot if you are paying insane interest rates on a credit card balance.
A final word of warning, free international travel is amazing. If you’re not careful, you may become a travel addict like me.