July 4, 2015

5 Steps to a (Nearly) Free Trip: Have a Goal

Each time I return from a trip, I get a dozen questions from friends, colleagues, neighbors, etc... about how I was able to put the trip together with points and miles.  While I always write about the planning process for each individual trip, (recent trips to Europe & Asia) I've yet to write a more comprehensive series about how to easily "pay" for a trip with points and miles.  So here it goes.

Step One:    Have a Goal
Step Two:    Craft a Strategy
Step Three:  Point Accumulation
Step Four:    Search for Award Availability
Step Five:    Book Flights & Hotels

If you don't know where you're going, it's much harder to get there.  So think about your travel goals and personal situation.  Do you want to go to Europe in first class or do you want to visit family in Florida in economy?  Do you have a family and require a suite?  Are you a luxury traveler or are you good with more economical accommodations?

Burj Al Arab Dubai - is this your traveling style?

Knowing a bit about your travel habits will be incredibly helpful here.

For example, I know that we prefer to sit upfront whenever possible (makes the trip more fun and given this hobby is accessible) and stay in luxury+ hotels.  We are fine going on a shorter trip knowing that if we like a destination, we go go back.

It's also helpful to have a timeframe in mind and be flexible with dates.  That's not always possible due to demanding work schedules, school, family commitments, etc...But it's always easier to book an award when your attitude is more "I'd like to go to Mexico in the Spring" vs. "I need to stay at this resort on these dates."

For purposes of this series, let's assume that it's just you and your spouse.  The good news is you know your goal.  You want to fly to Europe next summer in business class.  You're flexible on the timing and the destination.  You want to stay in decent hotels for a week.  You currently have a great credit score, payoff your balance each month, and spend about $3,000 per month as a couple.  And you want to minimize your cash outlay for the trip.  The bad news is that you currently have 0 points and miles.

Not to worry - over the next four posts, I'll walk you through the process of making that trip to Europe (or whatever your goal is) a reality.  It really is pretty simple.  For me (and my family) it's been an extremely rewarding hobby/use of time.

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