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If you’re an American with decent to good credit, you probably have a credit card.
There are a number of different types of cards, and if you travel then you may have already looked at some of the best airline credit cards, as well as the best rewards credit cards that can be redeemed towards flights.
While many card programs earn miles, it can be difficult to get a free flight—unless you know some of the tricks the travel reward gurus use.
Credit Card Sign-Up Bonuses and Spending
Oddly enough, simply flying with a miles card isn’t the fastest way to earn miles toward free flights. In fact, it’s the single slowest way to do it. If you have good credit, sign-up bonuses are one of the best ways to rack up miles. Many cards have a bonus from 25,000 to 50,000 miles just for signing up and using the card to make a set amount of purchases in the first few months.
Speaking of spending, put away your cash and debit card. Use your miles card for regular purchases like groceries, dining out, or trips to top up your gas tank. In fact, some cards even offer bonus rewards for doing so—which will only get you to the goal faster. You can also use your credit card to pay your monthly bills.
The most important thing to remember, however, is that when it comes to using credit cards to get free flights, you’ll need to be able to pay the card off in full every month. Otherwise, you’ll be paying interest on the balance—and carrying a large enough balance will increase your credit utilization ratio, which could work against you on your credit report. That means you won’t be able to get other sign-up bonuses, effectively defeating your goal of getting free flights with credit cards.
Of the Credit Cards That Offer Free Flights, is One Better Than the Rest?
There are many different miles and rewards cards, but you’ll want to first look at cards that are affiliated with a specific airline—preferably the one you fly with most often.
For instance, American Express credit cards that are partnered with Delta Airlines, offer miles that are good on Delta Airlines flights and their approved partners in the SkyTeam Alliance. Citi, however, is partnered with American Airlines, so you can use those miles on American and any of their partners in the Oneworld Alliance.
Other airline-branded cards include:
- United Airlines cards through Chase Bank
- Southwest Airlines cards, also through Chase Bank
- Alaska Airlines cards, branded through Bank of America
Each card offers specific bonuses and benefits for the airline they’re affiliated with—and only for that airline. Therefore, if you have a favorite airline it makes sense to use their credit card to get free flights. If you’re more interested in getting a free flight to a specific destination and don’t care what airline gets you there then you could use a non-airline credit card.
Non-airline credit cards are those that aren’t affiliated with a particular airline, but still offer miles and reward points you can use toward getting free flights. The American Express Platinum Card, for instance, offers points that can be redeemed for flights when you book your travel through the American Airlines Travel portal. You don’t need to use American Airlines for the flight, either; as part of the Oneworld Alliance, you can book on a number of domestic and international carriers that partner with American.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card is also hailed as one of the best travel credit cards, and everyday spending can rack up travel rewards fast. Those points can then be traded at a 1:1 ratio for miles on a number of leading airlines—which means free flights for you. In fact, the Chase Sapphire Preferred even offers double the points on dining and travel purchases to get you to that free flight faster.
A Drawback of Using Credit Cards to Earn Free Flights
While using your card for everyday spending is a great way to get free flights from your favorite airline, it’s not without a bit of risk. Paying interest defeats the purpose of the entire exercise; if you’re going to pay interest you might as well just pay for the flight with your debit card.
In order to get a flight truly free, you’ll need to make sure you can pay off the card, in full, every single month. Not only will it keep money in your pocket in the long run, but it’ll boost your credit—making it possible for you get the best credit cards with better perks and more rewards.
Getting a free flight can seem like an overwhelming prospect, but it is completely doable if you work smart, use the right cards for your situation, and manage your spending to pay them off. Using the tricks in this article will ensure you’ll be flying for free in no time.
Author: Jeff Gitlen
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