Let's Go Places! (photo from Wikimedia)

Let’s Go Places! (photo from Wikimedia)

There is an abundance of (seemingly) free crap in the world. Free latte! (just fill out this survey!) Free phone! (with two year contract.) Free whatchamacallit junk (just pay shipping and handling.) Free puppies! (take two!)

But sometimes, there are some real gems to be had. In our old apartment, most of our high end furniture was free. We’ve had several free nights in hotels and numerous free meals. And most recently, we will fly to Mexico for free

A free flight to Mexico?!  How?

The nice people over at Chase and United offer some great signup bonuses with the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card. The bonuses seem to be targeted and thus vary, but what we received was:

  • 50,000 miles when spending $1000 in the first 3 months
  • 5,000 miles with an authorized user
  • $50 in statement credit
  • 2 single use passes to the United Club lounge
  • Free checked bag per trip
  • No annual fee for the 1st year (then $95 each year)
  • Miles don’t expire as long as you have the card

With the above signup bonuses and no foreign transaction fees as of June 2013, it is a card we added to our financial management tools. (I was even a little worried because this was the first credit card application I made with my occupation as “retired”, but it all worked out.)

With the miles, we booked two 1-way tickets to Mexico for 35,000 miles.  The market price of these tickets was nearly $800.  About $50 in taxes were due, but this was offset by the $50 statement credit.

We will have a 4-hour layover in LA, which will be a great place to use the lounge access passes.  It will be a nice place to pass the time with a complimentary glass of wine (or two)

The remaining bonus miles will be added to the miles I built up over years of work travel, enabling us to get more free flights in the future.

It’s always nice when you can get something that you are going to buy anyway, for free.

Using frequent flyer miles effectively is a topic for a different post, but I would like to clarify one item

In July, we flew from Cancun to Seattle on United for $604.  Why didn’t we use miles?  Since we didn’t plan this trip in advance, the frequent flier tickets available were limited and more expensive.

Instead of 35,000 miles for two Saver Award tickets, it would have been 70,000 for Standard Award tickets.  Each ticket had taxes and fees of $42, and United has a policy of charging an extra $75 per award ticket if the flight is booked less than 21 days before departure.

We would have had to pay 70,000 miles plus $234, and we would have had to make two stops.  All of this for a total savings of $370 wasn’t a good trade, not when the same number of miles would save over $1000 on a flight to Europe or Asia at some point in the future.

With a little planning ahead and a simple credit card application, we were able to get free flights and save $800.  Perhaps this will work out for you as well, which is definitely better than a free puppy

Happy travels

Looking for a free trip to anywhere? Check out how we saved $10k on travel to Europe or how we get free trips to Hawaii and beyond.