Hello! Today, I have a great guest post to share from Lyn Mettler. Lyn is sharing how her family of 4 flies for free. You can also download her free “How to Earn the Southwest Companion Pass” eBook.
My family just got back from Kauai.
This is our second spring break in a row flying free to Hawaii. Last year, we scored an amazing deal to fly all 4 of us to Maui, and this year, we decided to return to check out the “Garden Isle” of Kauai.
But that’s only one of 4 trips we’ve taken by plane in the last 7 months. Add to the list Miami, Universal Studios Orlando and Disney World.
This is how my family rolls these days. We’ve been flying all 4 of us free 6 times a year since I learned about travel rewards back in 2015.
Back then, air travel was not even something I considered. Pay to fly 4 of us anywhere? Not in the budget, because there was no money to spare on anything besides bills.
If we got lucky, my in-laws would pay for us to meet them at Disney World every few years, and a couple times, my husband and I dipped into our credit cards to take a couples’ trip to a condo my family owned in Colorado (so no hotel expense!). Otherwise, no travel for my family.
But everything changed in 2015.
As a longtime travel writer for outlets like US News & World Report, the TODAY Show and USA Today’s 10Best, I frequently interviewed travel experts, and one day I was pitched a story about a couple who was flying around the world FREE using frequent flyer miles, but they weren’t earning their miles by flying. This blew my mind, because I thought to earn “frequent” flyer miles, you had to frequently fly, right? This is how my dad, a longtime business traveler, earned his miles, at least.
But no. They were earning travel rewards in other ways, never paying for a flight AT ALL.
I was intrigued and determined to learn everything I could about how to do this. It awakened the couponer in me who loved nothing better than to score 10 boxes of toothpaste for pennies, but this… this was collecting miles instead of coupons and trading them for FREE trips. I was in!
Once I dove in, I spent several years learning the ins and outs of how this worked. Collecting miles with travel cards, shopping in airline portals, earning points when we ate at restaurants and even by purchasing cheap subscriptions to things like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times — all in the interest of piling up enough miles and points to fly my family free.
I made mistakes, like signing up for an American Airlines card whose miles I could not effectively use, learned about AMAZING deals like the Southwest Companion Pass, which lets one person fly with you as many times as they want for the life of the pass, and ended up developing my own process that allowed my family to fly 6 times every year throughout the US, Caribbean and Europe for minimal effort.
We’ve done things like attend ComicCon in San Diego, hike the National Parks in Utah, bike through California wine country, attend a Pearl Jam concert in Telluride, Colorado, swim with sea turtles in Maui and stingrays in Grand Cayman, see the Mona Lisa in Paris and the Pieta in Rome, gaze up at the magnificent Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, spend Thanksgiving at Disney World, attend the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York and so much more.
How Did I Learn How To Fly For Free?
I’ve come up with a very simple process that works not just for my family of 4. I’ve helped families as large as 9 successfully fly the whole crew free.
And the good news is that it doesn’t take much time once you learn it.
If you Google travel rewards, you’ll find a wealth of information online, but no one tells you a specific process to follow, only all the millions of cards and airlines and hotel chains and loyalty programs you can use. No one tells you WHICH ones or what to do in what order.
Online, you’ll also find a plethora of single folks flying in first class with in-plane showers and lay-back seats, staying in penthouses at the top of the Ritz and holding 40 credit cards to make it all work. That’s not how we roll.
I show people how to collect and use travel rewards in the most efficient way possible that works to take whole families along for the ride. But you’ll have to forgo first class and the penthouse if you want to fly free with a family…
Flying Southwest Airlines
My system focuses on Southwest Airlines in the US and the Caribbean, which is hands down the best airline if you want to fly a lot of places and bring a lot of people with you free. Step number one for most people is to secure the Southwest Companion Pass, so one member of your family never pays any miles or points EVER. Only the $5.60 mandatory security fee per way.
To earn this pass, you need to accumulate 125,000 points with Southwest in one calendar year, and if you can do that, you’re rewarded with a pass that’s good through the end of the following year, as well as 125,000 points you can use to book everyone ELSE in your family on flights.
So if I earn a pass right now, it will be good through December of NEXT year. And, turns out, you can keep earning this sucker over and over again, so one person ALWAYS flies free. That is a deal you just cannot beat in the world of travel. It’s literally a buy one, get one!
The easiest way to earn this pass, and the 125,000 points needed, is to sign up for two of Southwest’s cards that are offering a big bonus of Southwest points after you meet a minimum spend of $1000 to $5000 in the first three months of holding each card. Then, you can meet that minimum spend through your everyday expenses and set those cards aside. You’ll have to spend no more than $6000 of your everyday expenses to secure a Companion Pass and 125,000 points worth almost $2000.
Note: You can apply for the Southwest credit card here.
While the Southwest Companion Pass is one of the best reasons to fly Southwest Airlines, there are plenty of other reasons too. When booked in points, you can change or cancel a Southwest flight up to 10 minutes prior to departure with no penalty, which gives families ultimate peace of mind that they can cancel a flight or change things around if something comes up like a kiddo getting sick or any other range of issues.
Lastly, Southwest lets you bring two checked bags free, also handy for families, and they are always a pleasant bunch to deal with (unlike some other discount airlines).
After Companion Pass, the real lynchpin in my system is choosing the correct card to use for your everyday spending.
First, you want to say goodbye to your bank debit card. You’re not earning anything on your spending by putting it on a debit card.
Instead, choose a travel card for your everyday spend that allows you to earn travel rewards that you can use to book free flights or accommodations. I like to pay the balance every day so it’s no different than using my debit card. The amount still comes out of my checking account daily so I’m not surprised with a big bill at the end of the month and not enough money in my checking account to cover it.
I’ve been in debt before, and never want to be again, so this is an easy way to avoid that pitfall if you find you’re prone to it. We never advise buying anything you weren’t already planning to purchase and always ensure you have money in the bank to cover what you’re charging.
Lastly, you don’t even have to spend that much on the card to earn enough travel rewards. We find that your everyday spend is sufficient whether you’re a retired couple on a limited budget or a family of 9 paying for groceries, gas, clothes, sports, etc.
The key is to pick the correct card for your travel goals and spending habits that will net you the most travel rewards for your purchases and then use that card for everything. We don’t recommend spending on an airline or hotel-branded card, such as Southwest, Delta or Marriott. Instead, we prefer flexible travel cards like Chase Sapphire Preferred, Capital One Venture X or American Express Platinum that earn flexible points that can be used in many different ways and typically offer more points per dollar for your spending than an airline or hotel card.
If you choose the right card, you’ll keep your points balance continually replenished even as you spend it down booking free flights. This strategy has worked for my family since 2015: Southwest Companion Pass + the right card for everyday spending.
Paying Fewer Points Per Flight
One last component of successfully flying a family free is to understand how to pay fewer points for every flight you book.
On most US airlines, you’ll pay a flat points amount on the order of 26,000 points roundtrip per person to book any flight beyond driving distance. The points price doesn’t change with the cash price. For a family of 4 to accumulate 100,000 points every time they want to take a trip is daunting.
Southwest, however, offers variable points pricing tied to the cash price of the fare. When the cash price goes up, the points price goes up; when the cash price goes down, such as during a sale or a fare ware, the points price goes down too.
What’s more, on Southwest if the points price goes down AFTER you purchase the flight, Southwest will give you the difference back — if you check and ask for it. You can’t do this on any other airline! Their points never expire, so you can use them at any time in the future. We save tens of thousands of points, enough for our family to take a whole other trip, just using this one trick alone.
There are also many hacks that change continually that we use inside the Families Fly Free membership to save even more points on every flight we book.
Here are some example of points prices per person that my family has paid on Southwest over the last few years (and keep in mind that one of us always flies free using the Companion Pass):
- 3,500 points roundtrip from Denver to Bozeman, MT
- 4,200 points roundtrip from Ft. Lauderdale to Grand Cayman
- 5,000 points roundtrip from Chicago to Las Vegas and San Diego
- 5,000 points roundtrip from Indianapolis to Orlando, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Ft. Myers and Denver
- 7,500 points roundtrip from Indianapolis to New York City
- 8,000 points roundtrip from Indianapolis to Los Angeles
- 10,000 points roundtrip from Chicago to Maui
And I’ve seen members score deals as low as 1,800 points roundtrip. It sure beats 26,000 miles every time you want to take a flight!
Understanding when to buy and how to score a deal on points is a key part of flying free. You don’t just have to collect the points; you need to understand the most efficient way to redeem them as well.
Flying Free to Europe
My family doesn’t fly to Europe 6 times a year, but we do try to work in a trip about every other year. So far we’ve been to Dublin, Paris, Provence, Rome, Tuscany, Bologna and Barcelona with so many more places on our list!
I remember a time where I thought a trip to Europe would simply never be a possibility for us because of the cost. Yet, in 2017, I flew all 4 of us to Europe for the first time entirely on miles. It was truly glorious!
While Southwest doesn’t fly to Europe, other airlines do, of course. Flying free to Europe is not as simple as flying Southwest, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it in just a few steps.
We have several methods that we’ve employed over the years to get all of us to Europe on miles, including flying Ireland’s airline Aer Lingus for 26,000 miles round-trip and using cards like Chase Sapphire Preferred or Capital One Venture X to redeem points to book various airlines.
How Can You Start Flying Free?
If you’d like to fast-track your family to flying free with help along the way, I invite you to join hundreds of other families in my Families Fly Free membership.
As a member, you get personal help implementing my simple Fly Free Formula for families with a plan tailored to your family’s travel goals. Inside the membership, we also have weekly live webinars on travel saving topics and destinations, and you have access to hundreds of hours of video content on those topics, as well as tools, off-the-shelf destination itineraries and more.
Members receive personal support via Zoom, a dedicated member email manned by my team 24/7 and the opportunity to attend monthly Zoom Q&A sessions where I answer questions live. You’ll also have access to our Families Fly Free community where you can get feedback and tips from other members.
Our members are saving thousands of dollars within just a few months of joining, and you can hear their stories on our YouTube channel. Carlos, a firefighter in LA with a family of 7, reports $4,000+ in savings in just the first 6 months, while Mike took his extended family of 7 on a big trip to Hawaii, saving $4,500 on that trip alone. Cheryl, who has a family of 5, has already booked 5 trips in her first year with a total savings of $5,000 on trips she would not have taken otherwise.
We also offer a guarantee that if you don’t save double the cost of membership in travel savings by following our recommendations and minimum program participation requirements (including completing our New Member course and following your personalized plan) then you can request a refund. We know how much we are able to save our members and so we are confident in our guarantee.
Ready to make more travel memories with your family? Don’t put it off any longer. Come join us inside Families Fly Free and make more travel a reality for your family this year.
Author bio: Lyn Mettler is a longtime travel journalist for outlets like US News & World Report, the TODAY Show and USA Today’s 10Best who figured out a simple way for her family of 4 to always be able to fly free. She now teaches hundreds of families her simple process inside her Families Fly Free membership.
How much do you spend on travel each year? Do you use travel rewards?