You might wonder how I can afford to travel so often internationally. I've been to Italy three times in the last year, and I've paid very little for those three flights. In fact, I have flown business class on American Airlines for half of those journeys!
How do I do it? I'm going to share my secret with you.
Step 1: Be Loyal to One Airline
I used to travel on whatever airline offered the cheapest fare, but I've since changed my strategy. Now I fly nearly exclusively on American Airlines. It's not that American is so much better than any other airline (I also like United and Delta), but they fly places I want to go and their prices are decent.
The biggest reason to pick one airline is that you will rack up airline miles. That's the first secret to flying for free! But in reality, I don't fly so much that I have millions of miles racked up. That's why I recommend the next step...
Step 2: Get a Travel Credit Card
I am actually using two travel cards right now:
Generally, I'd advise you to use one card so you maximize the points you rack up, but because I'm moving to Italy, I'm not sure that American will be the airline I fly to the US, so I got a second card.
If you're unfamiliar with travel credit cards, you receive points for every purchase you make using them. Some categories offer more points, like booking a flight with that airline or making an in-flight purchase. These cards may also offer checked bags for free or access to airport lounges.
But the biggest reason I recommend getting cards like this is that they always offer a major perk for signing up. With the AAdvantage Aviator card, you can get 60,000 AAdvantage bonus miles when you make your first purchase. There's no minimum amount for that purchase, so by buying a cup of coffee, you then end up with enough miles to travel round-trip to tons of places in Europe!
Venture X offers 75,000 points when you spend $4,000, which can also get you to Europe.
Step 3: Use the Card for EVERYTHING
I'll admit, this was challenging for me at first. I have a carefully-defined budget for my monthly spending, and I worried that by charging things and paying them off, I wouldn't be able to track my budget categories. It's a bit of a pain because I have to note what a purchase was (restaurant, auto), but I was amazed at how quickly I racked up points and miles on these cards.
So my tip here: charge everything, but pay it back immediately because these cards usually have high interest and you don't want to pay more for a purchase than it cost.
Step 4: Start Traveling
I felt like I'd cheated the system the first time I flew on my credit card miles (to Hawaii, actually). By purchasing things I already needed and using my card, I got to fly for free.
Here's where business class comes in: I NEVER sleep on a plane and always feel pretty cruddy after being cramped in coach next to other people for 10+ hours. So I decided to treat myself to business class. Because I wanted to conserve my American Airlines miles, I purchased an affordable premium class ticket and then used my miles to upgrade to a lay-flat business class seat.
Ya'll, I can never go back to coach!
Oh, bonus: I used my American Airlines card to buy the ticket so I got 2x the miles for that purchase. With this combined strategy of buying a ticket and upgrading with miles, I'll extend the life of my miles (rather than using them all at once for a single business class flight). If you don't travel in the heat of summer, flights to Europe (specifically Italy) can be under $800.
If you use this upgrade with miles strategy PLEASE NOTE: only certain classes of flights can be upgraded. I made the mistake of not noticing this and paying extra to upgrade with money on top of points.
The Argument in Favor of Paying for a Travel Card
For a long time, I used the Citi AAdvantage card, which doesn't have an annual fee. But as I started traveling to Italy more and more, I began to look at cards with annual fees.
I took a big leap this year and got the Venture X card, which has a whopping $400 a year fee. But wait. Hear me out. It also comes with a $100 Airbnb credit, which I've already used. A $100 credit toward your Global Entry. Access to airport lounges, which run about $60-80 a day (already used this twice). No foreign transaction fees. Hertz President Circle status. Even more.
When I weighed the benefits against the cost, this made sense for me as a frequent traveler.
Venture X's travel booking system ties to a system I've loved for years called Hopper, which will track a flight and tell you the best time to book. You can use your miles to cover a travel purchase on any airline, which is why I'm transitioning from American.
So if you want to travel for free, or do what I do and upgrade to business class, get a travel card. If you use this link, I'll get some extra miles: Venture X. AAdvantage Aviator didn't have an affiliate link, but you should also check it out.