In my previous post, I talked about how it’s possible to fly for free if you know how to “work the system”. In this post I’ll share with you the exact steps we took to take our family of 5 on two nice vacations and not have to worry about the cost of airfare.
We chose Southwest Airlines for our first mileage earning spree for several reasons:
- Here in Dallas, they fly out of a smaller, less-congested airport.
- They don’t charge anything to check 2 bags.
- For where we wanted to go, their rates are competitive with other airlines.
But for us, the best part about Southwest was their Companion Pass. If you earn 110,000 frequent fliers miles in a single year, Southwest gives you a Companion Pass, which allows a companion to fly free with you for the remainder of that year PLUS the next year. It doesn’t matter whether you pay for the flight or book it with miles, they still fly free. That allowed the two of us to take a bunch of weekend getaways, plus when booking our family trips we only needed enough points for 4 tickets, not 5.
So here are the steps we used to earn both the Companion Pass and 10 “free” round-trip flights. (I put free in quotes since you technically have to pay $2.50 per flight when redeeming miles, but I can live with that!)
1) Enroll In Southwest Rapid Rewards–This should be pretty obvious – if you want to earn rewards, you have to be a member of their frequent flier program! You can go here to enroll. If you enroll and sign up for their newsletters, you’ll get 750 bonus miles.
2) Sign Up For 2 Southwest Rewards Credit Cards (Together Or At Different Times)–Chase offers 4 different Southwest credit cards – two personal and two business. It’s very easy to apply for the business cards, even if you don’t think you qualify… do you sell stuff on eBay? Then you’re a business! You can find links to all the cards here.
Each of these cards offers some sort of bonus if you spend $1000-$3000 within the first three months; the trick is to submit your applications at a time when they are offering 50,000 bonus miles. If you get the bonus from two Chase cards, then you’re only 4,000 miles away from earning the Companion Pass ($3000 spent on each card equals 6000 miles, plus the two 50,000 miles bonuses equals 106,000 miles). The bonus amounts will vary — if you’re reading this at a time when they are offering less than 50,000 miles, just hold out, keep checking the links above, and wait until the bonus is back up there.
Now, these cards do have an annual fee ($69 for the Plus card and $99 for the Premier) that is not waived the first year, but Southwest gives you bonus miles every time they charge you the fee which just about balance this out. You could also just cancel the cards once you have the miles needed.
So, once you’ve got your card(s), how do you spend the minimum amount without buying unecessary things? Just buy everything with the card and pay it off immediately. As I mentioned in Part 1, the best thing to do is to link your credit card to your bank account (you can do this on the Chase web site) so that as soon as a charge hits the card, you can pay it off. This works basically the same as if you were using a debit card, there’s just that one extra step involved. If you’re paying for gas, groceries, household items, plus all your utility bills on the card, it’s pretty easy to hit the $3000 in three month requirement.
If you’re able to pay your mortgage or car payment via credit card, it’s even easier to hit that minimum requirement. Unfortunately, most companies don’t take plastic, but there are ways around this, which I’ll talk about in Part 3.
Now you’ve got 106,750 miles, how do you get the other 3,250 miles needed for the Companion Pass?
3) Sign Up For The Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining Program–Like most frequent flier programs, Southwest has a dining rewards program. You just register one or more of your credit card numbers on their site, and when you eat at one of the restaurants on their list and pay using that card, you get 3 miles for every dollar you spend. Plus, you get 300 bonus miles at the first restaurant, and another 10 miles for writing a review (it can be really short). So if you spend $30 eating somewhere, you’ll have 400 miles after your bonus!
I took advantage of this program at work – once in a while we order Chinese food delivered for the whole department, and a nearby restaurant just happens to be on Southwest’s list. I volunteer to take everyone’s orders and do all the ordering (a task no one else ever wants to do…), and then just submit the receipt for reimbursement. That’s about 500 miles each time!
You can sign up for the Dining Program here.
4) Sign Up For Surveys And Advertising–A way to earn miles without spending anything is to sign up for online surveys and advertising promotions. There are several companies that will email you survey invitations or online ads every few days; each one might be worth anywhere from 5 – 100+ miles. 5 miles may not seem like much, but if it only takes a few seconds to complete it adds up fast.
After you’ve been a member of Southwest’s Rapid Rewards for a little while, they will probably send you an invitation to join e-Rewards. This is a survey site that is invitation only, but has a great rewards program.
A similar program is e-Miles–this site sends you promotional emails every now and then that are worth 5 points just for clicking on a link to open a web page for one of their advertisers. You can close the new page immediately.
5) Shopping Portal–Again, like most other frequent flier programs, Southwest has a shopping portal where you can earn anywhere from 2 to 10 (or more!) miles per dollar you spend at their partner web sites. There are many things that you can buy cheaper at Amazon, so the bonus miles may not be worth it, but many stores have comparable prices. For example, we bought a $50 backpack through eBags, and got 15 miles per dollar, so that was 750 miles! We’ve also done our taxes through TurboTax for 1000 miles, bought stuff at Lowe’s and Home Depot, etc.
6) Hotels & Car Rentals–You can also book hotels and car rentals through Southwest for around 750 – 1000 bonus miles. They list just about all of the major car rental companies and hotel chains, and their prices are comparable to other web sites like Expedia, so you might as well grab the extra miles on your next trip.
There is a new hotel booking site called Rocketmiles that we haven’t had the chance to try for ourselves, but looks like it could have potential for a good amount of bonus miles, at least on your first use. They offer 1000 miles (on any airline, not just Southwest) for a hotel booking, but there are catches. From what I’ve seen, they only offer some of the nicer hotels – for example, when I checked for a recent trip, their prices started at around $110 per night, where Southwest had hotels for $80 per night and up. But they offer a bonus of up to 3000 miles the first time you use them, so it might be worth it to book a room for one night with them just to get the bonus miles. You can find them here.
7) Electricity & Other Stuff–Southwest has partnerships with certain electrical companies in a few states, and if you switch from your current carrier you’ll not only receive miles for every dollar you’re charged for electrical service, you can get around 5,000 bonus miles for switching. This is on top of what you earn by using the Southwest credit card to pay your bill every month.
You can also watch for promotional emails from Southwest offering big bonuses. For example, they are currently offering 12,500 miles for subscribing to DirectTV. If that’s something you were thinking about doing anyway, that’s half a round trip ticket!
Using all of these methods, we earned about 160,000 miles our first year. That got us the Companion Pass, plus 8 round trip tickets (each one “cost” us about 20,000 miles). That took our family to Orlando for a Disney World trip last year, and is taking us to Puerto Rico this fall! I got both of the credit cards in my name, so when our Companion Pass expires at the end of this year we’ll start the whole process over with two cards in Jennifer’s name, and (hopefully…) get 10 more tickets! After that, our next project will be earning 5 tickets to Europe!
In Part 3 of this series, I’ll talk about some “advanced” techniques for earning miles, earning with other airlines, getting free hotel stays, and more!