A few weeks back, I mentioned booking a pair of flights to Los Angeles for my wife and I using rewards points as a way to save money on our vacation. At the time, I indicated I would follow up with more details on exactly how we did it and, although it took a little longer than expected, here are said details:
What Would These Flights Normally Cost?
Before I go into all the details about the rewards points, you should first know the stakes. How much exactly would the flights have cost us if we were to have booked them through regular means without spending many hours hunting down a once in a lifetime seat sale?
Well, seeing as this is pretty much a coast to coast flight across North America, these tickets do not come cheap. Comparable seats were going for $856.50 per person including all taxes and fees. For both of us, that works out to be $1713.00 – clearly a lot of money!
How Much Money Did We Save By Using Airline Miles?
Most people know that booking reward flights is not 100% free. There are always taxes, fees, and the odd surcharge that has to be paid on top of the actual fare for the ticket. Also, when dealing with rewards points, there may be some costs associated with obtaining the rewards. I’m not talking about spending money you would have spent anyway to earn rewards on your credit card, but instead additional costs associated with obtaining the reward miles or points.
In this particular instance, I calculated the final cost of our flights including all taxes, fees, surcharges, and rewards acquisition costs to be $323.76, which is a savings of 81.2%.
What Steps Were Taken To Make These Cheap Flights Possible?
Now that you know how much we saved, you’d probably like to know exactly how we made it happen. Although there could potentially be many ways to score a cheap flight with rewards miles, this particular scenario was primarily thanks to the MBNA Alaska Airlines MasterCard. Here are the necessary steps:
Create An Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Rewards Account
Anyone can have a frequent flyer rewards account for almost any airline, regardless of if you have ever purchased a ticket on that airline in the past or plan to ever pay full fare for a ticket in the future. This makes the term “frequent flyer” a bit of a misnomer, but I digress. At the time we did this, there was a 3,000 Mileage Plan bonus simply for creating an account so before really doing anything we were already well on our way to earning our almost free flight. Of course, two accounts were created – one for my wife and one for myself giving us a total of 6,000 miles.
You can create your own Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan account right here.
Sign Up For An MBNA Alaska Airlines MasterCard
Next up, getting the additional 22,000 miles needed per person to book a reward flight anywhere in North America quickly and easily. The MBNA Alaska Airlines MasterCard is the solution! When we both applied for this credit card there was a 20,000 mile bonus attached to it getting us both very close to our 25,000 mile goal, which is the number of miles required to book a reward flight anywhere in North America.
You may be wondering if there is a catch here. Well, there is no big catch per se. As long as you are eligible for the card, meet the minimum income requirements, and are deemed credit worthy then the points will be credited to your Mileage Plan account quickly and with no hassle. The only thing you need to keep in mind is that if a person were to apply for too many credit cards in a short period of time, it can lower your credit score. However, applying for one or two cards a year won’t have any significant impact as long as your total available credit isn’t too large (hint: having 10+ credit cards open in your name all at once may not be a good idea).
The only other thing to be aware of is the relatively small $75 annual fee that comes with this card, which was included in the cost calculations above. Most Canadian travel rewards credit cards come with much heftier annual fees of $120 or more. If you don’t wish to pay the annual fee in the second year, immediately put a reminder in your calendar to cancel the card just before your first year is up!
Use The Credit Card To Accrue The Remaining Points
We actually earned these points years ago now and are just getting around to using them, but since then the sign up bonus has actually increased to 25,000 miles so you will actually have enough miles for a free flight right out of the gate. For us, we had to spend an additional $2,000 on each of the credit cards to get the remaining 4,000 miles that we needed for our pair of tickets. That was pretty easy to do because we put every expense humanly possible on our credit cards.
Use A Partner Airline To Book The Reward
Some people may be scratching their heads wondering how it is possible to fly coast to coast on Alaska Airlines when they only operate on the west coast of Canada and the USA. This can be achieved by using one of Alaska Airline’s partners. When dealing with partners, the rules may sometimes change and the amount of miles required for a flight can also increase or decrease. Fortunately, with Alaska Airlines and the partner we chose, American Airlines, the number of miles required to book a flight are identical. So the final step for us was to book the flight on America Airlines using the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan online booking system.
I did call in to speak to an agent during the process because I was having trouble finding availability but after I got that sorted out I completed the transaction online to save the additional booking fee that is paid when booking via a live agent. You can refer to this list of Alaska Airlines partners to find out which of their partner airlines operate in your region.
One word of caution. Using reward points to book flights can be a tricky business because each flight has a limited supply of reward seats and they often sell out quickly. Booking 6 months in advance is advisable, especially on popular routes. You may be able to get away booking much later, but you will often have an increased number of connections, long layovers, or find yourself stuck with no availability whatsoever!
So, I’m curious, is this type of thing something you have done yourself in the past? Did you know that it was even possible outside of Air Canada and Aeroplan? If you haven’t done something similar, would you consider trying it yourself after having read this?