No, that’s not a typo. I really did fly from Colorado to Japan & Hawaii and then back again for $86. Not bad, right?
Let me first say I’m no expert at collecting or using miles. I just happen to earn a decent amount of miles on my credit card spending what I was going to spend anyway, and then use my miles towards flights.
There are people, though, like Chris Guillebeau @ The Art of Nonconformity and Jason Steele who know far more than I do about this sort of thing. You might want to check them out if you want to dig a bit deeper.
I do, however, know enough to at least fly internationally for less than $100, and I’ve flown to Japan, Australia, New Zealand, China, Argentina and Europe using only my miles. It’s pretty fun not having to shell out $1000+ for a ticket.
Let me show you how the cost of my ticket to Japan & Hawaii breaks down.
$60.50 (taxes and fees)
$25.00 (booking the ticket over the phone with an airline agent)
$85.50 (total ticket price)
65,000 (for a Round-trip Saver Award on United)
And that’s it!
A Few Tips on How to Fly Internationally Using Miles
Again, I know there’s probably lots of information I’m missing here, but here are a few things I’ve learned that have served me well over the years. Hopefully you’ll find something that you can use, too.
I love free stopovers. They totally rock.
A stopover is when you spend more than 24 hours in a city along your route (as opposed to a layover which is less than 24 hours).
For example, when we flew back to Denver from Japan, we “stopped over” in Hawaii for a week, and this didn’t cost us anything extra. Who doesn’t want to spend a week in Hawaii?
Check with your airline to see if they allow free stopovers (either to or from your primary destination) and you may just find yourself enjoying an additional stop along your itinerary (perhaps Hawaii for you, too? :).
Ooo, this is a good one, too.
“Open Jaw” is when you fly into one city, but fly out of another.
For example, the last time we flew to Europe, we flew from Denver to Newark (Newark was our stopover), continued from Newark onto Milan, Italy, and then finally flew from London, England, back to the US, all on the same ticket. (Did I just totally confuse you with that one…?)
You may find Open Jaws super handy if, for example, you want to tour around Europe by rail and not go all the way back to the city you started in simply to fly home.
Hold Your Itinerary
This was a lifesaver. Ok, maybe it wasn’t that dramatic, but it at least saved us some money.
When we visited Japan this year, we were going to be meeting my father-in-law there. My husband and I were using United miles from Denver and he was using Alaska Airlines miles from Anchorage.
Logistically, it was a bit of a pain to find and secure United awards tickets for both my husband & myself while finding similar tickets for my father-in-law on Alaska Airlines. It seems there aren’t many awards tickets available in general, so making sure we all flew in and out of Japan around the same time was tricky.
Luckily, United allows for a 72-hour courtesy hold so I was able to reserve our tickets, call Alaska to see what their availability was, and then go back and book our United tickets once the Alaska ones were confirmed.
Not all airlines offer courtesy holds (Alaska charged something like $100 at the time), so you may want to check and see if this is an option for you.
Search on a Partner Airline’s Website
In the past, we could utilize Continental.com instead of United.com to find reward tickets. But now that they’ve officially become one entity, this option is gone.
But some airlines may still have two different portals you can search on, so keep that in mind when you’re looking for your ticket.
Book Online to Save Money
If your itinerary is straightforward, booking online is for sure the way to go.
The airlines seem to be improving their online search capabilities and it was can save both time and money.
Book Over the Phone to Save Hassle
We discovered Alaska Airlines is not the airline to have miles with when you need to book a ticket overseas. For one thing, they don’t even give you the option to book online. And for another, as I mentioned above, they don’t offer a courtesy hold. Major bummer.
It’s times like these, or when my itinerary is too messy, when I’ve found it’s easier to just pick up the phone and call an agent.
Sometimes $25 isn’t a bad deal when it allows you to speak with someone who can check availability easier than you can online.
And That’s Just the Beginning
There’s a bazillion things to know about collecting and booking mileage tickets, but these few things have allowed me to do pretty much all of my overseas trips using miles alone. This saves thousands of dollars on airfare.
Do you have a tip I missed? Do you have a question about how I did it? Please feel free to comment below.