How to Earn Free Flights Doing Everyday Things: Credit Cards

As a traveler, one of the first factors that we consider when planning a trip is airfare (sure, there’s bus fare, train fare, cruise fare (?), and gas cost, but we’ll focus on flying). We’re actually kind of lucky because we  live in a time abundant with cheap airfare. Still, it would be nice to fly for free, right? More budget for souvenirs or the next trip!

Here’s where miles programs by airlines come in. Earn miles to exchange for free flights. The most common way to earn miles is to fly with that airline or their airline partners. You all know this.

Earning air miles through credit cards is also pretty  common. It’s actually one of my motivations in choosing my card. It’s like hitting two birds with one stone: you do your shopping, pay bills – things  you have to do anyway, and get something back – rewards points – that  could take you a step closer to that dream vacation. One of the best ideas of credit card providers, right?

But as with everything, not all cards are created equal. There are cards co-branded with airlines specifically for the purpose of earning miles faster. There are elite cards (diamond, platinum, titanium, or whatever else precious metal they use) that have really low points-to-miles requirements, which would let you earn miles without having to collect points for years, but they require a ginormous yearly income to be approved. There are the gold cards, kind of like the middle class of credit cards. Then, there are the “classic” cards – the ones that have the lowest credit limit, yearly income requirement, and highest spend-to-points ratio. Well, supposedly. I was surprised with the findings of this study I made.

What study, you ask? Well, I compiled information about all the partner credit cards by the three most prevalent air miles programs available in the Philippines: PAL Mabuhay Miles, Cebu Pacific GetGo, and AirAsia Big.

PAL and CEBPac are local airlines, so they  have the most partnerships with PH-issued credit cards as well as other non-card partners. They’re pretty much the easiest to earn miles for. AirAsia PH have limited partners compared to the other two, but as a low cost carrier (LCC), they have one of the lowest points-to-miles and miles-per-flight-redeemable requirement, that’s why they’re included in the study.

To make your life infinitely easier, my fellow travelers, you  can download the 10-page PDF of my study below. 🙂

PROCESS

Variables considered in the study:

  • Peso-to-point: how much one has to spend to earn 1 credit card point
  • Points-to-miles: how many points needed to redeem 1 mile
  • Peso-per-mile: a product of the first two variables, this shows basically how much one has to spend to earn 1 mile
  • Minimum points: how many points one needs to earn before one can start redeeming for mile
  • Peso spend for MNL-HK: how much one has to spend in total to earn enough miles for a MNL-HK flight
  • MNL-HK: this one-way, economy class, standard rate  flight is used to illustrate how much one would need to spend using the credit card to earn enough points for a free flight

An extensive comparison table detailing these variables is made. I hope that it helps some of you decide which card to get, or what the card you already have is capable of, or if it’s time to change cards. It’s also to help people from the other parts of the world know how to do cards comparisons. Of course, to apply for these cards, there are certain financial capabilities required, but I left that for you guys to research. You all pretty much have an idea that you need  to be earning so much more if you want a platinum card vs. a gold or a classic, right?

Lily Escapes Reality: Credit Card Comparison Table
Click to view full res

FINDINGS

Out of these 3 airlines, Philippine Airlines (PAL) is the only non-budget airline (not considering PAL express). One would think that it would take more points to redeem a PAL flight, but it turns out that PAL Mabuhay Miles is the best airline to redeem for using credit cards because it has the most number of card partners. Basically any card you’re using can be used to earn points redeemable to Mabuhay Miles. Also, it requires the least peso-spend-for-MNL-HK, because PAL only needs 9,500 miles for MNL-HK one-way, vs. Airasia with 10,500 and CEB with 16,500.

Cebu Pacific is our homegrown LCC, so they are the next best when it comes to number and diversity of partner establishments. It’s pretty easy to earn GetGo points,  but their high miles-per-flight requirement makes them so expensive to earn for, unless you’re using the right card. However, they’re fantastic with earning through non-credit card rewards programs, which is the topic of my next post.

AirAsia sadly only accepts BPI credit cards, which puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to credit card points to miles earning. Still, their peso-spend-for-MNL-HK is lower than CEB’s. AirAsia Big also wins when it comes to non-credit card miles earning, but that’s for later.

Foreign banks like Citibank and Standard Chartered are the best for earning free flights. For local banks, it’s BDO, PNB, Metrobank, and (this came as a surprise to me) Unionbank.

One thing that bothered me though was the fact that elite cards require much less peso-to-mile spend than gold or classic cards. I mean, gold and classic card holders have limited income, that’s why they can’t have platinums. Why would card companies and even miles programs require them to spend more just to earn free flights? Wouldn’t it make sense to charge elite card holders more since they obviously have more money, hence getting approved for high-yearly-income cards? Only EastWest Bank requires higher points-to-miles ratio for their elite cards. Still, the peso-to-point is double on the gold and classic, which still makes the peso-spend so much higher.

CONCLUSION

There are so many ways to earn free flights, and through credit cards is probably the easiest. You just have to be persistent about doing so, like knowing your card’s rewards points program, monitoring points, sales (sometimes airlines decrease required miles per flight, like recently with AirAsia’s “final call” – MNL-ICN for only 4500 miles!), airline merchant partners, and others. The best and cheapest way to earn miles is still through flights. So please DON’T SPEND USING YOUR CARD JUST  BECAUSE YOU WANT TO EARN MILES. This is the most nonsensical thing to do. It’s fine to put your recurring bills into one card and use that for all the things you need like grocery shopping or gas to concentrate the points earning, because these are things you have to pay for anyway, with or without earning miles. But to buy things you don’t need and justify it as “earning miles” is just poor financial planning. Please don’t do it. As you can see in the photo above, you’d need at least a few hundred thousand pesos (more than US$8,000) just to earn enough miles for a one-way MNL-HK flight, which can be bought at Php2,500 (~US$50) or less. You could’ve gone around Europe with a few hundred thousand pesos.

By the way, this is the first time ever that I’ve made an e-book, so please bear with the color issues (if there happens to be one). I viewed the pdf using a different computer from the one I made it with, and the color looks different. Sorry. 🙁

Download the whole e-book here: Lily Escapes Reality – Credit Card Points to Air Miles

*This study is made using cards issued by Philippine banks and the most  affordable and most prevalent air miles programs of PH-owned airlines.


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