As I write this, it's been exactly one year to the day since I started here at Thrifty Traveler. I've covered Southwest's historic meltdown, problems getting passports, and all the tips and tricks travelers need to travel more for less.
But while helping travelers over this past year, I've changed how I travel, too.
I've put what I've learned from my Thrifty Traveler colleagues into action, traveling more – for much less – than ever before in 2023. I've booked flights on airlines I'd never even heard of, used new tips to save on airfare, learned how to get far more value out of my credit card points and airline miles, and flew business class for the first time … but not at business class prices.
As I sit here, ready to turn the calendar to 2024, I've got another great year of travel already ironed out for next year. Here are four things you can learn from me to do the same.
Transferring My Points to Save on Flights
I was no stranger to using points and miles. For years, I'd been racking up points and miles from my everyday spending on my *chase sapphire preferred* and *venture x* and redeeming them for flights through their respective travel portals. It's without a doubt the easiest way to fly for free (or nearly free).
This year, though, I haven't used my bank's travel portal once. Instead, I've been booking my flights for fewer points by taking advantage of the banks' airline transfer partners, sending those points to airline programs to book flights for even less.
In March, I'm taking a weekend trip to Chicago … but Delta was charging more than $400 or 39,000 SkyMiles for a roundtrip flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Chicago-O'Hare (ORD). Seems high, right? Especially for a two-day trip. I knew I could do better.
Before forking over any SkyMiles (or cash), now I always check to see if I can get a better deal booking my Delta flights through Virgin Atlantic instead. Because while I can't transfer my Chase or Capital One points to Delta, I can send both straight to Virgin Atlantic.
Even after a recent award rate hike, I could still book these Delta flights for just 15,000 Virgin Atlantic points roundtrip. That's less than half of what Delta was charging!
I easily transferred 15,000 Capital One Venture Miles to Virgin Atlantic and booked these flights.
While the flights I want might not always be available to book through an airline partner, it's always worth at least checking to see if I can save myself some points and miles.
Booking (& Rebooking) Business Class Flights for Fewer Points
Prior to this year, I (like most people, probably) had never flown international business class. Next year, I already have several business class flights on the books – all booked with points and miles.
I was focused on saving up my hard-earned points and miles to take more trips – I didn't care about flying in the front of the plane. And I still don't … for the most part. But over the last year, I've found it's possible to use fewer points booking business class seats than economy. Now there's a sentence I never thought I would write.
If you haven't already heard, I'm planning a trip to see Taylor Swift's The Eras Tour in Europe next summer. Flights are usually pretty pricey during that time just for economy, so I was on high alert for business class award deals that line up with my travel dates. First, I saw this:
These Aer Lingus business class seats to Dublin (DUB) were 60,000 Avios each way during the peak summer season. Thanks to a killer 30% transfer bonus from Chase to Aer Lingus at the time, I only needed to transfer 93,000 Ultimate Rewards points to book these one-way flights for myself and my fiancé. It was an easy choice: We would be starting our Euro-trip flying lie-flat to the Emerald Isle.
We were booked, but I was still keeping my options open in case an even better deal came around. That's because I learned another valuable lesson this year: booking flights with points and miles offers a lot more flexibility than booking with cash. Many airlines allow you to easily change an award flight, or even cancel it completely and get all your points and miles back.
So when this Thrifty Travel Premium flight deal hit my inbox, alarm bells went off.
Just last month, Qatar Airways added the ability to book JetBlue flights using its Avios mileage program. And for a brief window, you could use it to book flights to Dublin (DUB) in JetBlue Mint Suites for as low as 30,000 points each way!
After a quick call phone call to Aer Lingus to cancel my existing flights, I had all those Aer Lingus Avios back in my account. But because Aer Lingus and Qatar are both part of the Avios mileage program, you can transfer points from one airline to the other. It took a few extra steps, but I was able to transfer those Avios over to British Airways, then again to Qatar.
Flying across the ocean in JetBlue's fantastic business class … for just 38,750 points each? It doesn't get better – or cheaper – than that. And because I acted fast, I booked them before these rates doubled!
A year ago, that kind of points and miles redemption seemed far too complicated to pull off – and maybe it still would have been if I had to find the award availability on my own.
But armed with a combination of Thrifty Traveler Premium alerts, handy guides from my colleagues, and my newfound knowledge of airline transfer partners, I had our new, cheaper flights booked in less than 30 minutes – and more than 42,000 miles to put toward the next trip.
Letting the Flight Deal Determine My Trip
For years, my travel planning process looked like many travelers': Choose a destination, travel dates, then search for and book flights. Whether I knew it or not, that almost always locked me into overpaying for flights.
But 2023 was different. It took me on one of my favorite trips – a place that wasn't originally in my travel plans – because I followed the Flight First Rule.
Here's how it works: Book the cheap flight first, then put the other pieces in place. Being flexible with my travel dates and waiting for a flight deal to come to me saved me a ton on airfare this year – one of the biggest costs of travel.
When this Thrifty Traveler Premium deal popped up in my inbox in May, I immediately sent it to my friend with the message “Should we…?” The two of us had studied in Santiago, Chile in college, but I hadn't considered going back there any time soon.
But this flight deal forced my hand. Long-haul flights to Chile typically cost well over $1,000, but with this deal, I could get down to South America for nearly half the price. After using Google Flights to zero in on the cheapest dates, we quickly had a weeklong trip on the books for mid-November.
To top it off, American offered me the option to upgrade from my middle economy seat in the back of the plane to business class on the way home … for just $300. It was a no-brainer: I took the money I saved on the original flights and bought myself a lie-flat seat on the 10-hour, overnight flight back to the states.
Paying More for Main Cabin Fares … to Save More!
While I almost always avoid budget airlines (as a Minneapolis-based traveler, I'm a loyal Delta girlie), I've always been tempted by the cheapest basic economy fares. Who cares if I can't pick my seat or change my flight for free?
Well, now I do. Here's why: If prices eventually drop on your flight, you can rebook and pocket an airline credit for the difference. That's not an option with basic economy fares, at least not without forfeiting $99 or more of what you paid. With a main cabin fare, that flexibility is free.
For a trip to Portland this past summer, I booked a nonstop, roundtrip Delta flight…for $628. It was painful, but I didn't have much of a choice since I was flying there for a race and my dates were set in stone. But I paid a bit more to book a main cabin ticket – and set a Google Flights price alert to keep tracking my flights in case prices dropped.
Lo and behold, a few weeks later, I got this email alert.
Since I had booked a main cabin fare, I quickly canceled my original flight, got a Delta eCredit, used that eCredit to rebook my flight at the lower fare, and pocketed the difference. While I didn't get my money back, per se, I did get a credit for the difference that I can use for another trip down the line – saving myself a little money on future travel.
Sometimes it makes sense to book a basic economy fare. But now, I almost always book at least a main cabin flight.
From learning how to transfer my credit card points to airline partners to booking flights for less to flipping my process for planning trips, I've changed the way I travel since I started at Thrifty Traveler one year ago.
And thanks to these tips and tricks, I've already got bigger travel plans for 2024.