Spending lots of money without getting any tangible pleasures in return isn’t fun, no matter how important a purchase might be. Nobody likes saving and then subsequently dropping thousands of dollars to, say, repair the roof. A leaky ceiling sure is problematic, and you’d save a bit on heating costs in the long run, but no one is getting hyped about buying new shingles. That necessary investment can’t compare to the thrill of driving a luxury car straight off the lot, or better yet, flying around the world in first class.
Purchasing either of those isn’t feasibly affordable for many — a Lamborghini and a premium airfare on Emirates both have exorbitantly high sticker prices — and it seems like only the wealthiest can indulge in such high levels of luxury. After all, a thousand dollars — a sizable amount by any means — can usually only buy a cramped seat in economy class and a room in an uninspiring budget hotel, let alone a first class suite. Then you have to account for the nasty fees, restrictions, and other “surprises” that come too. Travel isn’t cheap!
But those assumptions of exclusivity may be misplaced; you don’t actually have to spend all that much to enjoy the best. There are a number of resources available to everyday consumers, and if you know how to maximize them, you can greatly improve the quality of your travel without paying any more than what you otherwise would. Here are 10 ways to stretch the value of your dollar on your next adventure, or as I like to call it: “fly higher!”
1. Set goals and be persistent
It’s simple: if you know where you want to go, how you want to get there, and where you’d like to stay, the following nine points become much easier to implement. Having a preliminary target is the crucial first step to getting your “higher flyer” adventure started. You’ll be far more likely to save money when you’re making plans, as you’ll be able to direct your attention to the various resources that can help you accomplish that goal for cheap.
Once you’ve picked out your destination, you might initially find it be a little bit too expensive. The sticker price can be a bit shocking, especially for more “prestigious” places like Western Europe and the South Pacific. Don’t worry though, that’s to be expected. You’ll have a baseline price to start at, and from there you can work towards lowering your bottom line. The key to success is not giving up and settling for something less than what you want, while also looking for other possible ways to make your goal more tenable and affordable. The rest of this list provides ideas on how to do just that.
Finally making it to that “someday” destination is all the more meaningful after you’ve put in the work to get there, as cliche as that may sound.
2. Leverage award points and loyalty programs
A lot of people dream of flying in first class to an overwater bungalow right off the coast of a tropical island… and justifiably so! It’s paradise in every sense of the word: warm water and white sand in every direction, kind hospitality and delicious (sea)food, and memorable adventures to be had in some of the most stunning geographical locales. You can’t go wrong!
There are so many choices, but I’m partial to the St. Regis in the Maldives. Despite opening relatively recently in November 2016, it’s already considered to be one of the most luxurious hotels in the world. Its suites have earned international acclaim, and you’d be hard pressed to find more impressive accommodations elsewhere.
…Too bad the privilege of using that bathtub doesn’t come cheap…
A rate like that (~$6,200 with taxes) excludes pretty much everyone from staying at this St. Regis, myself included. A week-long stay costs more than a new car, and only a few people can afford to spend that kind of money so frivolously. But don’t give up hope! The privilege of staying in that room for a week isn’t $42,000 away. You can pay with frequent flyer miles and award points instead, which could then reduce your cash expenses to nil!
You should, by all means, use award points to complement your travels. If you know where you want to go, you can immediately start collecting the requisite number of points that will help you reach your goal. Anything is possible, including something as opulent as the St. Regis Vommuli, for anyone.
If you’re a novice and have questions, click below to…
- Read the “THF Beginner’s Guide”, which is a good place to get started. It’s a comprehensive overview of the tips and tricks of the trade.
- Send me an email!
- Go to THF Consulting for professional help and advice.
3. Find and use the best travel credit cards
When cash rates are far too high, it’s the award points and frequent flyer miles that will get you in to the first class seats and penthouse suites. And if you’re going to leverage points to help you live your dreams, you obviously need to have some at your disposal. Traveling a lot is a fantastic way to accrue some miles, obviously, but far too many people overlook the usefulness of credit cards; they too can make you rich with points!
The credit card market, particularly in the United States, has become quite competitive in recent years, featuring a number of lending banks vying to get shares of customers’ wallets. In order to attract spenders, they have created their own proprietary systems of incentives, which are better known as award points. There are a number of different schemes, but most common is one point earned with every one dollar spent. What you earn in points can then be converted into some sort of prize, as determined/offered by the issuer.
Now, not all credit cards are created equal, and some are much better than others when it comes to the purpose of higher flying. Cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the American Express Platinum award multiple points per dollar spent on various expenses, such as travel (including gas), groceries and dining out, entertainment (like event tickets), and everyday charges. In practice, this means that if you reserve a $100 hotel room and a $200 airfare and charge both to the appropriate card (in this case, your American Express Platinum), you’ll earn 1,500 award points. Add in weekly grocery and gas expenses, plus other purchases, you’ll soon have a huge balance of points that can be used for first class tickets or rooms at the St. Regis Vommuli or something entirely different. Many cards also offer huge sign up bonuses too; both the Chase Sapphire Preferred and American Express Platinum offer at least 50,000 points to new customers. That’s a terrific starting point!
So, to accomplish your travel goal, decide where you want to go, and if you don’t have a travel credit card, apply for one and then start racking up the points! You’ll have a much easier time affording what it is you want.
If you’re interested, click below to learn more about…
- Different types of points
- The best banks and travel credit cards for higher flying
- Boosting your credit score, for those not sure it’s high enough.
- Building a credit score, for those who don’t have one at all.
4. Get smart
Accruing award points and then redeeming them for travel experiences is much easier said than done. Otherwise, everyone would be traveling for free. A lot of people however continue to neglect points as means to fund their adventures, and instead pay way too much cash for what they’re getting in return. Don’t be that kind of customer!
On the other side of the equation, airlines, hotels, and lending banks count on the majority of their clients not knowing the rights and privileges afforded to them. That’s not right, but such practices and assumptions have paid dividends for the corporations. Billions of miles go unredeemed each year and then they subsequently expire. Don’t let that happen to you; you would, in effect, be leaving your own money on the table.
The wary, diligent travelers who devote time to studying the terms and conditions and quirks of a particular company’s award point scheme are the same ones who are rewarded with opportunities to fly higher. If you’ve built a reserve of points/frequent flyer miles and know what you can do with them, you’ll have greater success actually using them. It’s in your own interest to get smart on the possibilities available to you, especially if there’s a particular destination you want to go to.
There’s obviously a lot to learn — the travel industry is huge — but be patient and disciplined. Having a tangible goal can help focus and direct your research towards a particular airline and/or hotel and/or bank. That in turn makes you a more efficient higher flyer.
That said, click below to learn more about…
- A number of different airlines, hotels, lending banks, and the opportunities they present to customers
- Some of the jargon
- How a consultant can help you navigate the challenges of a complex industry
5. Don’t settle…
To be a successful higher flyer, you have to be your own advocate throughout the entirety of the traveling process: in the initial planning stages, during the actual trip itself, and even a few weeks after you’ve returned home. Neither airlines, hotels, or banks are your friends, and certainly none of them are looking to help you score a good deal with award points. They merely want to milk as much money as possible out of you, and if you’re letting points expire by not redeeming them, you are doing the company a favor by ultimately saving it money in the long run. Don’t do that!
It falls to you to get exactly what it is you dream of, and you’re by all means entitled to do that… and you should! Working to exercise every right that you have as a consumer is a key part of higher flying. Familiarity with an airline’s/hotel’s/bank’s terms and conditions makes that much easier, and I can’t emphasize it enough: you have to know what you’re doing — and also what’s motivating you — in order to be the most successful.
You’ll be faced with a number of frustrating restrictions like blackout dates and limited redemption opportunities — hassles like these may make you want to give up entirely — and that’s by design. In fact, there are a number of predatory practices in place that, at best, confuse customers, and at worst, cheat them. One example: after a flight, it’s far too common to see an airline “forget” to issue frequent flyer miles, and then you have a maximum of 45 days or so to fill out a lengthy petition online or call customer service to retrieve them. Is that annoying? Absolutely, especially because it’s such shameful behavior. You should be accruing them automatically! But when you fight for what you are entitled to, you’re increasing your opportunities to leverage award points as well as condemning shady, manipulative tactics. That’s a win for you!
Because the travel industry is flush with competitors all vying for customers, there is almost always another way to accomplish a goal you might have. Correspondingly, you should never take no for answer, and then move on to plan B (or plan C, or D, or E…) if necessary. If companies are going to try and cheat you out of your points, you are well within your rights to use them as you see fit. Again, don’t settle!
6. …But know when to compromise
While the industry offers so many opportunities to travelers — The Higher Flyer is dedicated to helping its readers take advantage of everything available — know that there are some things that are simply untouchable. It’s going to be near impossible to find affordable flights between North America and Europe during the summer; that’s peak tourist season and with greater demand comes higher prices and more restricting limitations… Likewise for some of the more luxurious/prominent hotels. A hotel in New York’s Times Square is going to be a lot cheaper during some weekend in February than on New Year’s Eve. That’s just how the game goes.
By all means, point #5 on this list is still valid — Don’t settle for less! — but there are times when it may be better to make compromises on your goal. Say you want to fly first class on Emirates to the St. Regis Vommuli.
That’d be a lot of fun, but actually accomplishing that might be difficult. Emirates doesn’t make it particularly easy to redeem for premium seats. Etihad Airlines on the other hand, which is based in Abu Dhabi just south of Emirates’s Dubai hub, features an equally excellent (if not better) first class product, complete with a shower as well!
You’ll have pretty similar experiences on both carriers (which is to say unforgettable ones), and you’ll get to where it is you want to go via a major city in the United Arab Emirates. The big difference? A first class redemption on Etihad costs far less than on Emirates. Seriously, it’s usually a difference of tens of thousands of points!
The same theory applies to airports as well; some are better for higher flying than others. Say you live in Baltimore, Maryland, just north of Washington and just south of Philadelphia and New York. Baltimore’s own BWI Thurgood Marshall International is a relatively small market, and correspondingly, there are fewer available opportunities for using miles. Although it’d be a minor inconvenience to travel to the other cities, you’ll likely have far better luck accomplishing your goal without too much compromise.
Either way, small tweaks like these are far superior to settling for something far too expensive or far too uncomfortable… or worst of all, giving up and never leaving home!
7. Look for cheap cash options
Points, for as lucrative as they are in the higher flyer sense, can be terrible values otherwise. While they can ensure that you never have to rely on actual money to fund your travel (yay!), redeeming them might also seriously diminish your purchasing power as a consumer (gah!). Overpaying for something without spending a single cent is a real possibility, and in those cases, it might behoove you to just bite the bullet and use cash instead. Redemption prices are fairly static throughout the year (meaning that something consistently costs a specific amount of points), whereas cash prices are far more dynamic (meaning that they’re frequently changing depending on various factors, like seasonal demand). Sometimes, there are huge discrepancies in price, and you should consider those before booking something.
Flying Delta One between New York and Los Angeles is a higher flyer experience, complete with lie flat seats, improved dining service, and other on-the-ground perks like lounge access and priority access through security. It’s nice!
But ooof, the cost…
…115,000 SkyMiles is really expensive, especially for something that amounts to a single six hour flight. As a point of comparison, 70,000 SkyMiles can get you from North America to Europe in similar style. Anyway, a quick look at Google Flights yields interesting results…
No matter how you look at it, $585 is far cheaper than 115,000 SkyMiles. Even if you value one mile at one cent, then the award redemption cost is equivalent to $1,150, which is nearly 200 percent more expensive! That’s a terrible deal, and cash is the better alternative, especially if maximizing your purchasing power is one of your end goals.
8. Use internet resources to your benefit
There’s an internet community of so-called “hackers” who devote time and energy to helping others get more out of their cash, miles, and points with the goal of flying higher. Like with any other hobby, there’s a lot to learn in order to be the most successful, but thankfully, these thousands of travel-minded individuals are willing and eager to support their peers on their journeys. Dozens of prominent writers and bloggers, with Brian Kelly and his crew at The Points Guy and Ben Schlappig at One Mile At A Time being among the most famous, all offer valuable insights into a variety of industry-related issues. These websites are excellent reference points for both novices and veterans.
While instrumental in informing and inspiring readers, the sites cannot compare to some of the grassroots forums located throughout the internet. If you haven’t been on Flyer Talk yet, you need to! In addition to being an authoritative source of higher flyer news, Flyer Talk hosts a series of forums in which users can discuss and share all things miles and points, as well as other tips that can help reduce the overall cost of travel. There is so much to read there, and while the sheer amount of content can be a bit overwhelming at times, you will always leave a message board having learned something new.
There are a few Facebook communities — many of which have membership numbers in the tens of thousands — comprised of higher flyers. Perhaps one of the most popular ones, Award Travel 101, functions quite similarly to Flyer Talk in terms of topics covered as well as offering a kind, supportive atmosphere for discussion. Posters usually ask for travel-related advice, and then dozens of peers answer with varied suggestions within a few minutes.
Any and all of these internet resources are great for bolstering your knowledge of higher flying. Take advantage of them to have your questions answered, get ideas for your next dream destination, and become aware of points earning opportunities… in other words, participation guarantees that you’ll learn new methods to help increase your purchasing power as a traveler. If you’re interested, click below to learn more about…
- Different websites devoted to higher flying
- Various Facebook community forums
- Professional consulting services
9. Talk around for advice and insight too
While there’s a lot of useful information throughout the internet, there’s no substitution for one-on-one conversations in person. Award Travel 101 frequently organizes meet up events in a number of metropolitan areas throughout the United States. If you can attend one (or many), by all means, you should. They’re always a lot of fun, you’ll be able to trade ideas with fellow higher flyers, and best of all, they’re free.
Those who have a little bit more experience in the world of higher flying might take interest in the Frequent Traveler University conferences. While these aren’t free — if you buy early enough, you can attend a weekend’s worth of workshops for about $250 — you’ll have an unforgettable time in which you gain brand new perspectives on the travel industry. You can count on experts in the field to help you realize your dream, show you the ropes, and then inspire you with new ways to fly higher.
Going to events like these will take your skills to the next level; participating in internet forums makes you competent, and then actual conversations turn you in to an expert! You’ll have even more success increasing your purchasing power if you cooperate with the like-minded friends you meet. You’ll find that when you keep a look out for special deals and offers, and then share them, others always return the favor. Use the information and insight you gain to help make any goal you have affordable.
10. Have fun with the process
Planning a trip is best thought of as a challenging puzzle, and when you add in the additional techniques to reduce your expenses, completing it becomes quite the time commitment. In order to make sure that you get the best value out of the money you spend, you should look at the project as something fun and worthwhile. The end (your dream destination) should very much justify the means (these ten steps). Be sure to keep that in mind, and stay focused on your goal.
Remember, it always pays to travel. It doesn’t matter if you’re going to the beach, the mountains, the city, or somewhere else, you can always count on a memorable, fulfilling experience.
There will be frustrating times for sure, but in the long run, they’re nothing but small prices to pay. If you’re smart and disciplined, you’ll be successful in getting what it is you’re after…likely at a steep discount too. Enjoy, be persistent, and fly higher!
While the above list is loaded with tips and tricks and travel hacks that will help you get more out of your money on your next trip, it is far from exhaustive. There are many other ways to fly higher. The key to success ultimately comes to having a set goal, and then devoting your energy to taking advantage of every relevant opportunity. Utilizing available resources on The Higher Flyer and throughout the internet is a good starting point, but if you need more help, don’t be afraid to ask for help, or maybe consider hiring a consultant to guide you through every step of the journey. Either way, remember to have fun with it all — there’s no better investment than exploring the world!
What did I miss? Do you have your own tips and tricks that help you fly higher?
Some of the hyperlinks in this post connect to THF Consulting, which is a companion to the site you’re reading now. There, you can sign up for consulting services that will help you achieve your own higher flyer ambitions. You’ll receive expert advice and support throughout the entirety of your trip — during the planning stages, when you’re on the road, and until after you’ve reached your final destination — at a single set rate. You’ll be able to count on reliable service that’s practical too; destination brainstorming and research, airfare/hotel reservation booking, point accrual and redemption strategies, industry analysis, and more. An all-inclusive package costs $125, subscriptions for unlimited consultations start at $1,800 annually, and solutions for small-to-medium-sized businesses are offered too. Click here to learn more!