Before the business leg of the trip, I’ll be spending a month in Vietnam exploring the country, drinking coffee, and eating everything.
The best part is I’m doing all this for $65.
I’m telling you this not to brag but to show you how do the same thing.
In this post, I’ll outline how I used Flightfox to find the flights and how I earned enough airlines miles to fly to Asia for less than the cost of my bus pass.
First, I tried booking my trip using American Airlines miles on Cathay Pacific (partners in the One World alliance). But I could only find award seats on outbound flights. I couldn’t get back home using miles.
Despite all of my traveling, I haven’t booked many flights using miles. When I have, I’ve done it through Virgin America’s simple interface. I quickly learned that getting a free flight from a major airline was going to be harder.
I turned to Flightfox’s travel hacking experts for help.
The Old Flightfox
We initially recommended Flightfox months ago for booking complex trips.
In the first version of Flightfox, you described your trip and set the amount of money that you would pay for the “prize”. Then Flightfox’s travel hacking experts submitted itineraries. Finally, you chose your preferred itinerary, and the winning expert collected the prize money.
How the New Flightfox Works
The new version of Flightfox (as of January 2014) is even simpler. Every itinerary costs $49. Instead of choosing from many (probably similar) itineraries, you work one-on-one with an expert in real time.
Flightfox has improved the process of choosing flights by simplifying the options, just like Hipmunk did.
Flightfox’s believes that the new format better aligns experts’ incentives and user’s needs.
1. Describe Your Trip
To start, describe your trip in as much detail as possible. Include your destinations, dates, preferences, and how flexible you can be on all of these points. Here’s what I wrote:
2. Discuss Your Trip with a Flightfox Expert
Flightfox then matches you with an expert in real time.
Make sure that you have time to answer your experts’ questions and make your booking. I made the mistake of submitting my trip request before leaving my apartment for the day, which delayed the process.
Don’t submit your request until you’re ready to book. Of course, you aren’t obligated to book anything. However, if you wait to book your itinerary, prices could change or flights could sell out.
Once you’re matched with your expert, you are redirected to a private chat room. Here, your expert will ask a few clarifying questions before getting started with your flight search.
Matt, the expert who helped me, came back with a suggested itinerary within the hour. After answering his initial questions, I was very excited to see this message pop up:
I’ve got the whole thing for USD$49 and miles for you.
We discussed a few alternatives, but I ultimately settled on Matt’s initial suggestion.
3. Book Your Flights
Once you’ve chosen your itinerary, your expert will send booking instructions. Matt’s instructions were very clear and easy to follow, even for a novice awards-booker like me.
NOTE: Contrary to the screenshot, I booked #3 with United Miles per Matt’s first suggestion.
Once I booked the flights, I told Matt, and he closed out the project within Flightfox. Done.
For trips with a similar scope, you could easily book your trip within 1-2 hours of submitting your request. More complex trips may take longer for the expert to research.
Here is my final itinerary and costs in miles and dollars:
San Francisco to Ho Chi Minh City via Manila: 49,450 Capital One points
Hanoi to Hong Kong via Bangkok: 12,500 United Airlines miles + $16
Hong Kong to San Francisco: 32,500 United Airlines miles + 3,300 Capital One points
Total: 52,750 Capital One points + 45,000 UA miles + $16 (taxes and fees) + $49 (Flightfox) = 97,750 points + $65
How I Earned The Miles
I was surprised to see that Matt booked my trip without using the points that I’ve been hoarding most recently (Starwood) or my biggest stock of miles (American Airlines). Thanks, Matt!
Instead, he booked two of the three legs of my trip using the United Airlines miles that I’ve accrued through trips to the east coast. I didn’t even know how many UA miles I had until I checked when submitting my request.
The easiest way to track all of your miles and credit card points in one place is to use AwardWallet. Connect your frequent flyer and credit card accounts to see a list of each program’s status, point balance, and expiration date.
I earned the United miles flying SFO-PIT (where I’m from) for Christmas every year and SFO-CLT for a family vacation. Other UA points were from my SFO-PSP flight for Coachella last year and my SFO-EWR-YYZ trip to New York (for work) and Toronto (for TBEX).
The lesson here is to always be earning. Even when you aren’t saving miles for anything specific. Even when you’re just taking a routine flight. Even when you don’t think you’ll ever earn enough points for a free flight.
All the little trips add up and pay off. Signing up for credit cards is the quickest way to get big lump sums of points, but you can still earn free flights the old fashioned way: by flying.
The first leg of my trip (SFO-MNL-SGN) was booked through Kayak with my Capital One Venture Card. However, once the charge shows up on my account, I’ll use Capital One’s Purchase Eraser to remove it. This features lets you use points to “erase” travel-related charges from your card.
To erase a charge, you will need 100x the dollar amount of the purchase. In my case, a $494.50 purchase can be removed by redeeming 49,450 points. I will also use Capital One points to erase the $33 in taxes and fees for the HKG-SFO leg of the trip.
I earned the points on my Capital One card through the sign up bonus (currently 20,000 points) and by using it as my everyday card (2 points/dollar spent).
Why You Should Use Flightfox
I know that this post sounds like I’m shilling for Flightfox. I’m not. I had a genuinely great experience with the company.
As an inexperienced award flight booker trying to take a complicated trip, the $49 fee was a no-brainer.
Without Flightfox, I would have gone down a rabbit hole of endless research. Spending $49 saved me hours, and time is money.
The next time you’re booking a complicated trip, consider Flightfox. The time and hassle that you’ll save are worth it.
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