How I Saved $1200 on a Roundtrip Ticket

Last week, I needed to book a roundtrip flight from Salt Lake City (SLC) to Washington, DC (IAD) in a big hurry and airfares were through the roof:  $1297 on United Airlines to be precise.

No way, Jose!  Instead, I purchased the “economy” class ticket for 37,500 United Mileage Plus miles, a $7.50 fee, and a $75 close-in booking charge.

I “earned” the miles by opening a United Mileage Plus credit card with Chase Bank, by   accumulating some frequent flyer miles from a few long-distance flights.

Dulles International Airport Image by Metropolitan Washington  Airport Authority
Dulles International Airport
Image by Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority

While round-trip domestic saver awards on United are supposed to be available for 25K miles, in my experience, these seats are hard to come by, especially for popular travel days like Mondays and weekends.  I was happy to find availability for 37K miles on such short notice.

I  see great value in being able to pay for domestic economy fares with miles.  For one, it gives me flexibility to make travel plans for my family on short notice.  Secondly, domestic travel has become so expensive.  I rely on points and miles to supplement our travel budget, and indeed to enable visits with family.

If this trip were an isolated incident, it might not be a big deal.  But our family is making this trip on a monthly basis.  In fact, two of us travelled for free in July — one fare was booked with Southwest Rapid Reward points, and the second fare was booked with a United Airlines voucher earned from getting bumped.  See:  Romancing the Triple Bump.  In June there was a free trip booked with Delta Skymiles.  Our family has five more one-way flights scheduled for August, all booked with points.   And, that’s just the beginning of the free trips we have taken.

Frequent flyer miles earned by opening travel rewards credit cards can garner you thousands of dollars in free domestic travel.  The fact is, busy families like ours don’t have the luxury of booking trips in advance.  We are bound to school schedules and limited vacation time.  We don’t have the flexibility to alter our departure or destination points.  Yet we can still find great value in using frequent flier points to book air travel.

Here’s a tally of some the airline credit cards we have opened in the last 18 months.

Husband:

  • Southwest –50 K miles bonus
  • United – 50 K miles bonus
  • Delta – 50 K miles bonus

Self:

  • Southwest – 50 K bonus
  • Southwest Business – 50 K bonus
  • Delta – 50 K bonus
  • Delta Business – 35 K bonus
  • United – 50 K bonus

You can easily see how we got nine round-trips out of this collection of miles.

In addition, we used vouchers earned from bumps to pay for five more roundtrip tickets in coach.

Of course the big banks are not in the business of giving away money.  They make plenty of dough from swipe fees, prohibitive monthly interest payments, and other fees.  Don’t even think about getting in this game unless you are scrupulous about paying your bills in full and on time every month, or you will end up paying the banks.  But if you are careful with your finances like I am, you may find that travel rewards credit cards are quite lucrative.

Be sure to do your homework before jumping in!

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10 thoughts on “How I Saved $1200 on a Roundtrip Ticket

  1. I don’t travel much, so I use my Costco AmEx card, which gives me 2% cash back every year. We put all our spending on that card instead of using our checking account. Getting those cheap air tickets is way more of a bargain–thousands of dollars more; but for those who hardly fly, at least get SOMETHING out of your credit card.

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