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How to Fly for Free with Sky Miles

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You can work for the bank, or you can make the bank work for you. After spending a few years getting my personal finances in order, I was finally able to make the bank work for me by playing the sky miles game.

Since I pay my credit cards off in full each month, sky miles are essentially “free money” for me. In fact, not taking advantage of sky mills is leaving money on the table for no good reason.

I also don’t use any advanced tricks. My approach is simple: Get a credit card, meet the minimum spend, get a new credit card, repeat. Other people treat using miles like a serious hobby. Different strokes for different folks.

If you play the game right, you’ll fly for free. If you slip up, the math gets complicated. (You may still receive some free travel, but you won’t max out your winnings.)

Before playing the sky miles game, remember the First Rule of Sky Club: The bank wants you to screw up. Rule 2 of Sky Club: If you do not screw up, the bank will try screwing you up.

Flying for free is relaxing.

Mike-Cernovich-hot-tub

How the Sky Miles Game is Played.

To trick you into screwing up your personal finances, credit card companies offer you a lavish amount of free airline travel for signing up for a credit card and meeting their minimum spending requirements.

For example, Chase Bank will give you $800 in free travel if you sign up for a SouthWest Rapid Rewards credit card and spend $2,500 within the first three months of having the card.

You also receive sky miles for every dollar you put on your credit card. You may receive anywhere from 1 to 3 miles per dollar you spend, depending on how the bank offers the deal to you.

The banks are not your friends. The bank wants you to forget to make a payment. When you miss a payment, the bank will charge you interest and fees and also rise your annual percentage rate (APR) on the card. Always make you payments in full and on time.

Even if you don’t miss a payment, there may be a “glitch” from the bank causing you to miss a payment. Keep track of your personal finances to avoid being unjustly charged a late fee.

How I Avoid Paying Late Fees.

When I receive a new credit card in the mail, I immediately go online to set the card up for auto-payment. I pay the balance in full.

Mint.com flags any late fees that hit any of my accounts. (I’m a huge fan of Mint.com and credit it with turning my personal finances around.)

Occasionally (see Rule 2) the bank will claim you missed a payment. Mint.com will sent you an e-mail alert, you contact the bank, and they correct the mistake.

How I Earned my 2014 Sky Miles.

I played the game intelligently. I would take out one credit card at a time, meet the minimum spend requirement for that card, and then open a new credit card. I took out around 8 credit cards in 2014.

The credit card sign-up bonuses included Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, and British Airways.

I racked up 150,000 Southwest miles by obtaining two credit cards for myself and two for my business. At the time (rules may have changed), Southwest would give a companion pass to anyone who acquired 100,000 miles in a fiscal year.

A companion pass allowed me to take someone with me for free whenever I travelled.

I travelled a lot in 2014.

2014 Trips / Travel Using Sky Miles.

I fly with Shauna each time. Shauna flew for free on Southwest, as I earned enough sky miles to get the coveted companion pass.

Southwest:

  • Los Angeles to Las Vegas (three times)
  • Los Angles to Chicago
  • Los Angeles to New York (one way)
  • Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles (one way)
  • Los Angeles to Denver (I paid for my ticket; Shauna flew for free)

Southwest mileage balance – 45,000 miles.

Chicago is my kind of town.

Mike-Cernovich-Chicago-Skyline

Vegas has great night life.

Mike-Cernovich-Girlfriend

Vegas also has world-class dining.

Las-Vegas-Dining-Out

American Airlines:

  • Los Angeles to New York (two first-class tickets; one way)
  • Miami to Los Angeles (Michael only; one way)

Americans Airlines mileage balance – 90,000 miles.

You can split your trips up into legs to take advantage of sky miles.

We flew to New York on sky miles and paid for tickets from JFK/NYC to St. John, Virgin Islands.

Trunk-Bay-St-John-Virgin-Islands

British Airways:

  • New York to London (paid for 1/2 of trip, or one full ticket, with BA Avios/sky miles)

From London we flew into Rome, Italy. As I noted, above, you can use sky miles for one leg of the trip while paying out of pocket for the next leg of your flight.

British Airways mileage balance – 45,000.

How Much Do Sky Miles Cost?

The sky miles cost as much as the mileage bonus and sky miles you earn from purchases are worth less the annual fees you paid. Although I haven’t done the math, in 2014 I received several thousands of dollars in “free” flights.

In addition, I have over 250,000 unused sky miles.

Annual fees paid in 2014 – $1,170.

How to Learn More About Sky Miles?

I’m not in the credit card business. In theory I could sign up for credit card affiliate offers. I’d tell you about the benefits of a credit card, you’d sign up using my affiliate link, and I’d profit.

Since I don’t have any affiliate agreement with anyone, I’ll direct you to the site where I learned the game. Check out Million Mile Secrets.

You can also check out MileValue for more advanced tips. I don’t go into the sky miles stuff hardcore. I simply get a credit card, meet the minimum spend, and then get another credit card.

There are a lot more advanced tricks you can use.

(I do not have any affiliate arrangement with any bank, Mint.com, or the Million Mile Secrets or MileValue guys. I’m just sharing my approach, which is pretty simple and doesn’t take a lot of time. If you like this post so much that you want to thank me, go buy my juicing ebooks.)

How to Improve Your Credit.

If you’re not able to put the banks to work for you, check out my article on personal finance.

I started off with bad credit, built my credit up, and now the bank is my sugar mommy.

As always, there’s a way to game the system. Finding out how to game the system is one of my hobbies.

Are you a Sky Miles Junkie?

If so, what are your best tricks and tips for using sky miles? Post a comment or question below!

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7 Comments
  • Well Done Mike! With good credit, gaming the system is much easier. I’ve just checked my FICO scores and both Equifax and TransUnion have them above 780. Looking to do something similar but with business/personal loans (I’ll work on travel miles a little bit later). They seem incredibly easy to get. Or maybe should I use a credit card? Karma is suggesting that I apply for the AmEx Everyday card. Not sure which way is better. Either way, I’m going to have to take a risk (I can actually feel the pit of my stomach thinking about it).

    • Check out one of those advanced sites to find out what the best deal is. The best deal changes all of the time, as sign-up bonuses vary.

      Congrats on your excellent credit score!

  • Eric

    When I open an mileage rewards card, I put a reminder in my Google calendar to cancel before the annual fee comes due a year later. Every time I’ve done this (4 times to date)- the bank has offered to downgrade me to a less generous mileage rewards plan rather than cancel the credit line. So I don’t earn as many miles from new spending on the card, but keep all existing miles. However, not earning as many miles on an old card doesn’t matter to me because I’m mainly looking to cash in on sign-up bonuses from new cards I open. My credit score obviously doesn’t take a hit because the credit line remains open.

    So far this has allowed me to accrue all the benefits from the sign-up bonuses, but not pay a single annual fee.

    • Great tip, thanks Eric!

      • Eric

        No Mike, thank you man – it didn’t look into this stuff until I saw a tweet from you over a year ago that said something along the lines of “if you have good credit, flights are basically free”. Now I’ve taken several free or almost-free trips, including my first solo travel trip to Peru. Glad to see you covering the topic again, I’m long overdue on finding a new sign-up bonus.

  • Hi, I’m Jeff and I’m a sky miles junkie. I agree with all your recommendations like Mint.com and Million Mile Secrets as I’ve been using them for years. My tip is to use AwardWallet.com to organize all your points balances into one place. They will alert you when your balances change so you can confirm when you get the sign up bonus. They also let you know when you’re miles will expire so you don’t lose out on all that hard work. Nice job on getting the SW Companion Pass, that’s a real good thing to have.

Travel

Unwinding on the Island of Koh Samui, Thailand

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As much as I enjoy the busy streets of Saigon, my mind requires large open spaces. I do my best work near the ocean or mountains (ideally both). Koh Samui, an island in Thailand, was just what I needed to relax and unwind.

Like all of Thailand, Koh Samui is hot. Heat has pros and cons. I love swimming in the ocean, but the oceans in Los Angeles are frigid.

In Thailand the water is warm, even first thing in the morning.

Mike Cernovich Thailand Koh Samui Sunset

The sunrise was, well, see for yourself.

Koh Samui Thailand sunrise ocean

In Thailand, keep applying that sunscreen. Even if you think you’ve applied it frequently enough, you likely haven’t.

My face and arms were too red for me to go outside swimming the next day.

Does Mike Cernovich have a girlfriend

Koh Samui has excellent local cuisine, with a lot of places offer an Italian-Thai fusion.

Koh Samui thai food

You can also grab a burger.

Koh Samui food

Or some sashimi.

sashimi in Thailand Koh Samui

Koh Samui is home to several temples, including the Big Buddha Temple.

I hopped on the motobike and took the drive to check it out.

Koh Samui temple

I found a dog meditating. Who, after all, understands more about gratitude and getting into the moment than dogs?

Koh Samui dog meditating at temple

The sign says:

Buddhist monks are for
Bidden to look upon
The Exposed Bodies of Women!!!
Please Respect These Holy Men

Thankfully I’m not a monk…

Koh Samui monks temple

I told you the food was good!

Koh Samui curry Thailand food

The hotel offered an ocean view.

Koh Samui hotel view

The pool was also relaxing.

Koh Samui hotel pool

Ordinarily an airport would be of no notice. Yet the Koh Samui airport was more comfortable and spacious than many luxury hotels.

Koh Samui airport

This is an airport?

Koh Samui greenage

Now I’m back in Saigon

Mike Cernovich Cigar Aficionado

You can read some of my other travel entries here:

Enjoying the Beaches of Hoi An, Vietnam – Riding Motos Down the Coast of Vietnam – Exploring the Caves of Phong Nha

 

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Travel

A Day in Chiang Mai, Thailand: Temples and Waterfalls

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I’ve been taking some time to relax, contemplate life, and catch up with my good friend Nic Gabriel in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Nic has spent months at a time in Chiang Mai, and I can see why. He’s also been showing me around, and today we took motor-bike rides up into the mountains to check out the Doi Suthep temple.

When traveling I enjoy doing cardio rather than weight lifting. Lifting weights is too taxing. Cardio gets blood flowing and helps sweat out the bloat we acquire from flying on planes and eating.

I did a 30-minute hotel workout.

how to exercise at a hotel gym

Hey there handsome.

Nic Gabriel BJJ

The ride was uphill into the mountains with a lot of twists and turns. I’ll risk my life for a great pic, but not until I know the terrain.

There’s a temple on the way towards Doi Suthep.

Chian Mai temple buddha

A dragon guards the temple.

dragon Chaing Mai temple

The gorilla was permitted to enter, after promising to pay proper respects.

Chiang Mai temple Mike Cernovich

Onward to Doi Suthep.

Doi Suthep temple entrance

There are small shrines throughout the Doi Suthep temple.

Doi Suthep shrine

Please ring bell for meditation.

Doi Suthep meditation bells

There were small gardens everywhere.

Doi Suthep gardens

The view from the top. Even ancient temples are often under construction, as evidenced by this re-bar.

View from top of Doi Suthep

It’s hard to appreciate how detailed the engravings are.

Doi Suthep engravings column Chaing Mai

Each engraving tells a story.

Chiang Mai doi suthep wood engravings temple

Your soul needs to be watered and cared for, as with any plant.

flower garden doi suthep chiang mai

I did some meditation. There were pillows available to sit on.

meditation Chiang Mai temple doi suthep

After a long contemplative walk, where I considered the future of me and those in my life, it was time to leave.

I was hungry and these fried eggs/fried coconut things looked delicious.

food in Thailand Chaing mai

Still hungry, I had some coconut-fried chicken, which was splendid.

coconut friend chicken street food chiang mai thailand

On the way down I stopped by the national park to cool down at the waterfall.

waterfall meditation chiang mai

Open your heart and mind up to new possibilities, let the water flow through you.

chiang mai waterfall

My life is pretty great right now, but that’s not how it all started. To find out how you can live the live you dreamed of, read this.

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Living Vietnam

A Day (and Night) in the Life of Saigon

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I’ve travelled enough to not get goo-goo eyes for each new city. We all know the type, “OMG! THIS PLACE IS AMAZING I AM GOING TO LIVE HERE.”

Well. Oh my.

Saigon is amazing. I. Live. Here.

Saigon has a vibe as all cities do.

Saigon has a fair amount of chaos and disarray, which excites me. I approach each new day without expectations.

Here are some photographs of Saigon I’ve taken.

Enjoy!

Saigon is humanity.

Light traffic in Saigon

Saigon is narrow streets.

Saigon street

Saigon is work.

Coffe shop and cafe in Saigon

Saigon is a lot of coffee.

Vietnamese coffee Saigon

Saigon is traffic.

Moto in Saigon

Saigon is new games.

Chinese chess

Saigon is walking.

Saigon streets

Saigon is riding.

shark moto bike saigon

Saigon is good food.

pho in Saigon Vietnam

Saigon is service.

The Saigon Cigar Club

Saigon is open air.

Tran Hung Dao statue Saigon

Saigon is water.

Saigon river at sunset

Saigon is a city.

Saigon sunset city skyline

Saigon is life.

Saigon is whatever you want it to be.

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