WHY YOU SHOULD PLAN
Successful ecotourism trips are a bit more complicated than the usual trip to Hawaii or Europe so it is best to plan them well in advance. In most cases, you will be going to a much more remote area and way off the beaten track. Eco-lodges are small and can only take a certain number of guests so it can be very risky to just grab a last-minute fare to Brazil, Australia or Bolivia if you can’t also book your lodge. The best lodges book up well in advance. And if you are relying on frequent flyer miles to get there, it can be hard to get availability so you are better off booking as soon as possible after flights open up their award seats. In most cases, this will be at 330-335 days depending on your airline’s program and when the partner airlines make their flights available.
Before you can even book the flights, you need to know you will have enough miles on hand. Long-haul trips such as USA to/from Australia, Australia to/from Central and South America and North America to/from Asia can be costly even in miles and it may take you several years to save up enough depending on how you source your miles. If you want truly free trips, you need to source your miles from re-directing your everyday spending through credit cards and shops that give you miles but take care not to buy things you don’t need or overspend on your credit cards to the point where you can’t pay the bill in full each month.
WAYS TO SOURCE FREQUENT FLYER MILES
- Credit card sign-up bonuses can be very lucrative but mind the annual fees and minimum spending requirements.
- Spending on credit cards, even better if you can use a category bonus (office supply stores, restaurants, etc) for increased bonuses. An example of this is buying a gift card at an office supply store that gives you 5 x bonus miles and using the gift card to buy your groceries.
- Manufactured spending such as using a miles earning credit card to buy reload cards (Vanilla, Green Dot, etc) that can be loaded on a card where you can access the funds via an ATM or withdrawal to a bank account. These methods do have their risks so I would study them carefully in FlyerTalk.
- Surveys such as E-Miles and E-rewards, also some are available on MyPoints. They can be slow going, but if you are saving for a major trip, they do all add up. In the past, E-Rewards required an emailed invitation but now you can get a link to join in the “Earn Miles” section of your frequent flyer program.
- Use the click-through link from your frequent flyer program to buy flowers. They often give 30 miles per $ on special occasions like Mother’s Day, Christmas and Valentines Day.
- Transfer extra hotel points to your frequent flyer program.
- Take advantage of promos. In the past, US Airways Grand Slam and Club Carlson’s Free Night Giveaway gave huge bonuses. Follow this blog by rss feed or email subscription as I will blog about any good promos that come up.
- BIS (butt in seat) miles. If you are lucky enough to fly for work and have it paid by your employer, that’s free miles that also earn status!
- Half-price buy miles promos. US Airways and Avianca Lifemiles are pretty good about offering promos where you double the miles you get when you buy them through their portal.
MAKE A WISH LIST AND TRACK HOW MANY MILES YOU NEED
I use an Excel spreadsheet to track my personal wish list. It contains too much personal data to post it here but basically it is something like:
- Indonesia – Using Virgin Australia miles sourced from credit card spend. Need 110,000 miles for 2 people. Economy. Booked
- Central America – Using US Airways miles sourced from past Grand Slam. Need 240,000 miles for 2 people business class. Booked
- Western Australia – Using AA miles sourced from credit card signup. Need 40,000 miles for 2 people economy class. Acheived.
- Spain – Using US Airways miles sourced from past Grand Slam. Need 240,000 miles for 2 people business. Achieved.
- India/Sri Lanka – Using US Airways miles from past Grand Slam and US Mastercard. Need 180,000 miles. Have 165,000 so 15,000 miles outstanding. I know I will get another 10,000 from the anniversary bonus on the credit card so I need around 5000 more miles. Easily achieved with a couple flower purchases and E-Rewards.
- Caribbean Islands – Could do one way on United (90,000 economy) and one way on American (125,000 business for the return). Need to work on this one so now I know which credit cards I need to concentrate on next. Citibank AA cards, Chase United Explorer and SPG will serve my purpose.
DON’T HOARD MILES, ENJOY THEM!
I have seen a lot of people get caught up in the excitement of the “chase” or pursuit of status so they go overboard on gift card schemes, buy miles they don’t have a plan for or just keep collecting miles without spending them. We never know what life has in store for us. We may be fit and healthy (and alive) now but who knows what will happen in the future. Airlines could go out of business like Ansett, SpanAir and Mexicana. Don’t be the person who ends up with a million miles in their account they can’t use because their health worsened, they lost their job or whatever. And you don’t get brownies points in heaven if you have left over miles. Earn ‘em burn ‘em and most of all enjoy ‘em!