Thursday, March 2, 2017

how to fly for free as a family of 5 (or pretty darn close to it)

All five of us are flying to Atlanta in the fall for a wedding. I did some preliminary research and I'm guessing airfare would be somewhere on the order of $600-$1000 for the five of us. When you're on a budget, that's not a trivial sum.

I quickly decided to go the Southwest "Wanna Get Away" fare route. From my research, departing/arriving to the airports we need, Southwest is hands down the most affordable. This particular level of fare is so cheap because it is non-refundable. It's also about $200 cheaper per person each way than the refundable fares, so either way we'd be down a lot of money if we couldn't fly. I'm willing to take the chance that we will be able to and save that money up front. I digress.

Then I remembered an old coworker of mine who relocated from Ohio to Colorado for work a few years back. He mentioned to me how he had taken out a Southwest credit card with Chase for his moving expenses and that netted him a bunch of Southwest reward points which would give him a few free flights. Since we don't typically travel--especially not somewhere that would require flying--that was the last I paid it any thought.

I decided to do some research and found out the deal my coworker had mentioned a few years ago was still valid. Essentially, if you use the credit card and charge $2000 within the first 3 months you have it, you will get 50,000 bonus Southwest reward points (in addition to the 1 point per dollar you charge to it). These points never expire if you keep your credit card open. The Wanna Get Away fares (at least from Cleveland to Atlanta and back) seem to range from 5,000-9,000 points per person per way depending on how many connecting flights and the time/date you want to travel. If you use points to pay for your fare all you have to pay for is taxes (around $40-$50). There is also an annual $69 fee for the credit card itself to be aware of.
So if I chose the cheapest fare for each day we needed to fly, I'd be looking at a total of around 55,800 points for the five of us (technically the four of us since Etta is a lap child and free) and $44.80 in taxes. Since we'd have a minimum of 52,000 rewards points just within the first three months (and we switched all of our necessary spending to this card - any utilities, groceries, gas, etc.) we will easily hit the 55,800 by June 1. So to fly the five of us to Atlanta, it will cost $44.80+$69... $113.80 round trip. We do have flexibility with the dates/times we fly, so I am hoping to get the fares for even less (fares aren't posted yet for October). Our plan is ultimately to close the credit card once we use the points so that we don't continue to accrue the annual fee and we likely won't have any reward points left after our trip, but if we traveled frequently I think this is absolutely a card worth keeping despite the annual fee.

If you want to use this card to travel, here are a few tips I have:
1. Do a preliminary Southwest fare search to see how many points your trip would require.
2. Plan on taking the card out no more than a year before your trip to give you lots of time to accrue points (but to avoid the second annual $69 charge). This is also important because the rewards only post to your account once per month so it'll take at least 2 months for your bonus points to be credited to you and available for use.

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