Nothing throws a massive wrench into your vacation plans like a hefty ticket price. Most people know that they can earn air miles from a particular airline by becoming a loyal customer, but with the right strategy, it is possible to accrue miles faster and redeem them for flights. While technically airlines don't let you didn’t fly entirely for free (taxes are always paid separately), I earned enough miles to fund up to 90% of my ticket!
Here I’ve broken down the strategy I used to earn my first free flight to help set you on the same track.
Step 1: Enroll in an airline’s loyalty programs
If you’re a true-blue customer of an airline, you should already be enrolled in their loyalty program to earn air miles. My program of choice is Emirates Airline’s Skywards Program, which is also the official loyalty program of flydubai.
I joined the program when I booked a flight to Phuket, Thailand, and I immediately gained 2,100 Skyward miles and an equal number of Tier miles on the cheapest fare.
An excellent tip to remember is that even if you purchase a ticket without mentioning your membership number, it is still possible to claim miles from previous flights as long as you register it within a specific timeframe.
Step 2: Apply for a credit card with an air miles program
This is the most common and obvious hack most frequent flyers rely on to score great deals on flights. Majority of international and local banks offer co-branded credit cards tied to one or more airlines that allow the user to accrue a certain number of air miles based on their spending. The miles earned can be used to upgrade tickets or, depending on the number of points, even score a ticket for a tiny fraction of the full price (factoring in the airport tax and carrier fees).
Keep in mind that each specific credit card has requirements that the holder must meet to obtain the card, and not all cards are made equal. For example, those who want an HSBC Black Credit Card must have a minimum salary of AED 50,000 per month. I applied for a Citibank Ultima card for which I met the requirements, and that automatically earned me 25,000 Skyward miles.
Step 3: Plan your spending to maximize your points
Savvy credit card users aim to use their card for most of their expenses to earn as many points as possible—obviously very responsibly and within their budget.
With the right program and regular use, many end up with a substantial number of air miles by merely spending as they usually would. By using my credit card for a year, I earned 27,100 miles just by using it for all my expenses (shopping, utility bills, etc) and paying off the bill on time every month. Note the rate of earning offered on the card too, as for the type of card I have international currency spend is 1.5x the local spend.
Step 4: Find the airline's loyalty partners
Many airlines have a list of partners, ranging from restaurants to health care centers, where you can earn and spend miles—and there are more out there than you think. If you’ve committed to one airline, conduct quick research on their list of partners and see if there’s a way to incorporate them into your life. These partners can also include other airlines, and you could be able to transfer miles.
Before going on my trip to Thailand, I used Rocketmiles to find a hotel booking that would will me to earn Skywards miles—and I didn’t only get to stay at a fantastic resort, I also got 12,000 miles for it. Emirates Airlines’ Skyward program is also connected to organizations such as Careem, Damas, and Emaar Malls. A couple of shopping trips to Dubai Mall and frequent Careem rides added 1,100 miles to my Skywards account.
Step 5: The free ticket!
In the end, I acquired 67,300 Skyward miles within a year, and the options were broad. For 61,250 miles, I booked a round-trip economy ticket to Paris, France and just had to add AED 1,715 to cover tax and carrier charges. If you rather not pay that much out of pocket, Skyward miles can also be redeemed for flydubai flights, and a ticket to Georgia is a mere 25,000 miles and AED 375 in fees. And the cycle starts again for the new free flight!
Dedication pays off, and you certainly need it to accumulate enough miles to score a free trip. It is important to stay committed to the programs you chose because the rewards increase exponentially over time. Airline loyalty programs often have multiple tiers their customers can move between to unlock more points and perks. Depending on the amount they fly and the types of tickets they purchase (economy, business, or first), flyers can grow their point earning power. For example, an Emirates Skywards members start out with a Blue card, but with regular use, they can level up to the Silver, Gold, or Platinum cards and end up earning up to 75% more points at the highest tier.
By following a few or all of these steps, you should be well on your way to a free flight and hopefully enjoy many other perks along the way. The best part is that these programs do not require you to spend beyond your means because they can become part of your regular activities and lifestyle choices. They can also give you a chance to discover and explore new restaurants, hotels, and boutiques while still contributing to your next vacation.
Now is the time to start racking up those miles!