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How To Fly for Almost Free

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This post originally appeared on Quora.
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Post by Charles Zhang, social ecommerce @ checkya.com

Next week, I will be flying on United Airlines from Austin, TX to Edinburgh, Scotland, then coming back from London.
The retail price of this trip: $1249. The price I paid: $167. The $167 was mostly due to European airport fees. Last year, I flew from Austin to Shanghai and back on AA for just $60.
How is this possible? The answer is credit card miles. Not just any credit card where you earn a mile for every dollar spend, but a credit card that gives you at least 25,000 bonus miles just for signing up.
The number of airline miles need to go to Europe on United is 60,000. Here is the exact steps I took to "earn" 60k miles in less than 3 months.

1. I signed up for the United MileagePlus: Explorer  Card. With my first purchase, I immediately got 25k miles.

2. Now this card offers an additional 5k miles for adding an "authorize user". For that, you don't need to get a card for another person, all you really need to do is to add an additional user with any other name. Your second user can be McLovin. Total mileage so far: 30k which is enough for a round trip from Texas to California.

3. Signed up for the United MileagePlus: Business Card, after I spent $1k within 3 months I got another 30K miles. You may ask what if you don't have a business? Many people run a business under their name as a sole proprietor. A business does not need to have a tax id. To apply to this card a as business just use your social security number. Total miles earned: 60k. Make sure to link both cards under one United mileage account.

Recently I found a alternative for those who don't want to signup for the MileagePlus Business card. The Chase Sapphire Card will give you 40k points if you spend $3k within 3 months. You can transfer the points to United or many other participating airlines.

One thing you have to make sure to do is to cancel you card before the one year period is up unless you really like the card. This is because the card will charge ~$85 fee on the second year of its opening.
What I just showed you is just one example. There are many ways to hack credit card miles. The best places to find good CC mileage deals is on Flyer Talk Forums. Last year, I found a link on the flyer talk forum that gave 75k bonus miles on American Airlines. All I had to do is apply for one card to be able to fly round trip to China. I hope that you will be able to take advantage of some great deals. Happy Travels!

Update
This is actually an old post I did in summer of 2012. What changed between now and then is that the Chase United MileagePlus Explorer Card (personal) gives you 30k miles if you spend $1k over 3 month which is really easy to do. Plus it gives you 5k for adding a authorized user for a total of 35k. I think it is a better deal than before.

Notes About Responsible Credit Card Usage
Credit cards are extremely useful or a nightmare if you are not careful with it. Credit cards give you much better protection from fraud than debit cards (money stolen straight from your bank account is scary), earns you rewards, and gives cash flow leverage (ex.0% interest credit cards). If used irresponsibly, you can be faced with hefty late fees, interests, and cancellation of your rewards.

There is one feature you can use to avoid 95% of all troubles with credit card. That is Auto-Pay. The first thing I do when opening a new credit card is set up the auto-pay. I would never use a credit card without it.
Many of you may worry that opening too many credit cards may ruin your credit score. The short answer is no. In fact more credit cards mean more available credit. A high credit used / available credit ratio will improve your credit score. I've opened at least 15 credit cards (closed around half of them) in the last 4 years, and my credit score is well above 700. (I certainly had my fair share of late payments due to carelessness). It may be so when a bank make a credit score inquiry when processing your credit card application your score may take a one point hit, but who cares. Personally, I find our society's obsession with credit scores absolutely insane. Credit scores are just numbers the corporations conjure up to trick people to make giant purchases they can't afford. It can be easily repaired, and it doesn't define your financial status whatsoever.

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