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How to travel for (almost) free!

How to travel for almost free

“Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey.” –Fitzhugh Mullan

When preparing for travel, one of the biggest roadblocks is money. To be fair, travel can be expensive!! But it doesn’t have to be. In planning for my trip, I’ve come across a few ways to drastically cut down my expenditures, and I want to share them with you.

Getting there

Miles + Credit Cards The most important thing about credit cards is to pay them off monthly. If you’ve got 700,000 miles saved up and $50,000 in debt, you’re not going anywhere. 

Citi/ AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard— A few years ago, I opened this card to earn points for flying. Since then, I’ve accumulated more than a 100,000 points and was able to book my first flight to Spain for $5.60.

If you would like use this card to earn points, here’s how you can earn lots of points quickly:

50,000 mile bonus: to earn this reward, you must spend $2,500 in the first 3 months.

Here’s why this card is great:

  • Get the first eligible bag checked free for you and up to 4 travel companions.
  • Enjoy boarding privileges and use the extra time to prepare for your flight.
  • Earn AAdvantage® miles for using AAdvantage® miles. Earn 10% of your redeemed AAdvantage® miles back — up to 10,000 AAdvantage® miles each calendar year.
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 you spend on eligible American Airlines and US Airways purchases. Earn 1 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on other purchases.
  • Receive 25% savings on in-flight food and beverage purchases on American Airlines and US Airways flights when you use your Citi® / AAdvantage® card.
  • Fly using fewer AAdvantage® miles with reduced mileage awards!
  • Travel with ease and enjoy global acceptance with your Citi chip credit card.

The annual fee is $95, but it’s waived for the first 12 months.

BankAmericard Travel Rewards— When I learned that the Citi/ AAdvantage Platinum card charges foreign transaction fees, I decided that it probably wasn’t going to be the card that came with me overseas. So I did some research and found that the BankAmericard Travel Rewards card offers a no fee solution! I opened it a couple months ago, and I’ve already been able to apply a $219.50 credit on a $575 ticket from Italy to Bangkok… making that flight $355.50. (Plus, I booked the flights so I had overnight flights, earning me a full day in Dubai and saving on two nights’ accommodation.)

Here’s why the Bank of America Travel Rewards card is awesome:

  • Earn unlimited 1.5 points for every $1 you spend on all purchases everywhere, every time.
  • Points don’t expire and there’s no limit to the total number of points you can earn.
  • No annual fee or foreign transaction fees.
  • Use your card to book your trip how and where you want—you’re not limited to specific websites with blackout dates or restrictions.
  • Redeem points for a statement credit to pay for flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars or baggage fees.
  • Chip technology offers enhanced security and protection when making purchases at chip-enabled terminals in over 130 countries.

And if you apply online, you can get 10,000 bonus points when you spend $500 in the first 90 days!

Buying Miles

I recently purchased a flight to Nashville for $60.60 on Southwest. It was listed at $118, and I was around 1,500 miles short. Southwest (and many other airlines) offer a chance to buy points, and it makes sense financially if you’re short a small amount. I was able to buy 2,000 miles for $55, and booking with miles cost $5.60.

Earning Miles

Many companies offer miles simply for paying your bills. 

Staying there

Work exchanges— Work exchanges vary by host and the kind of work, but you typically work for 4-5 hours a day in exchange for a place to stay and sometimes food. 

Workaway If we’re judging solely on looks and usability, Workaway is the best! It’s easy to search and as you look at different profiles, other recommended opportunities show up for that specific country.

In my experience, though, Workaway had the lowest rate of return emails. Of my 11 emails sent to Workaway hosts, I’ve received 4 responses stating that they were already booked (even up to 5 months in advance), and have booked zero opportunities. That’s not to say there aren’t active hosts and great opportunities, I just haven’t been lucky enough to snag one. I have received several invitations from Workaway hosts, but most were outside of the timeframe when I was traveling to that area.

HelpX I’ve had good luck with HelpX. Of all the email applications I sent, I’ve received more feedback from HelpX than the others. I’ve also received many invitations from HelpX hosts inviting me to come and help. I’m looking forward to my first HelpX near Granada, Spain in one month!

WWOOF— If you’re planning on spending an extended time in one place, a WWOOF membership is a good option. It’s country-specific, so if you hope to WWOOF in multiple places, you’d need to pay membership fees for each country.

I knew that I wanted to spend 2-3 months in Italy, so I spent 35 euros for the year-long membership, which gave me access to 650 farms and weekly updates on WWOOF opportunities in Italy. It definitely paid off, because my grape and olive harvests are both WWOOF farms.

Every country has volunteer opportunities that you can find on Google… the trick is finding the ones that don’t cost anything. I had the best experience in Spain with Diverbo’s Pueblo Ingles program.

Peace of mind

It’s really priceless… but I’m paying less than $2 per day for my travel insurance, Safety Wing. I’ve made claims, and received $$ back that has more than made up what I’ve spend on the policy. 

I know that I’ll learn more money-saving tips along the way, and I promise to share them with you as I go! Do you have any miles-earning, money-saving hacks? Leave a comment!




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