Unfortunately, for those looking to sample a little joga bonito as well as a Carnaval atmosphere, you’ve also got one of the most difficult to get and most expensive plane tickets in the world.
So how did I score 2 direct flight plane tickets from New York to Rio for $2.50 each?
By following a system that is simple but unknown to most of the general public.
It’s the “secret” that is the key to allowing you to travel anywhere in the world for under $100, whether it be Brazil or Budapest--a secret I’ve used to travel to over 25 countries for less than two tanks of gas!
Earn Frequent Flyer Miles…WITHOUT FLYING
When people hear “frequent flyer miles,” most tune out the rest.
“Frequent flyer miles are only for people who fly all the time. I don’t fly enough, and so I’ll never earn a free ticket.”
Sadly, most people believe that they can only earn frequent flyer miles through flying.
Because of this, they wrongfully assume they’ll never earn enough for a free flight, and never pursue the idea.
Dreams of free travel dashed.
There are actually tons of ways to earn frequent flyer miles without flying.
In fact, I’ve earned over 2 million frequent flyer miles in the last 3 years, and less than 1% (yes, 1%) of them have been from flying.
The quickest way to earn a large number of frequent flyer miles is to get a good travel credit card.
If you’re responsible with your credit, you can take advantage of the perks by getting the large sign-up bonuses that credit cards offer!
By getting just one card, you could have enough miles for a round-trip ticket to Europe or South America.
Skeptical? Here’s the proof:
Understanding Which Miles to Earn
Not all miles are created equal, and so it’s important to figure out which miles are best for getting you where you want to go.
If you want a general overview of which miles are the best, check out my rankings here.
For flying to South America, I knew that British Airways miles were great to use. So while I could have used American Airlines miles or United miles to go to Brazil, I chose BA because they charged the lowest fees.
Understanding the Rules of Using Miles
After you’ve collected the miles, it’s important to know a few basics about using them. This is the spot where most people give up, but in reality, a few simple rules go a long way.
A common misconception is that you can only use an airline’s miles to fly with that specific airline.
For example, most people believe that if they have British Airways miles, they can only fly with British Airways.
Because of an awesome thing called airline alliances, it is actually much better than that.
British Airways is part of the OneworldAlliance, meaning that you can use BA miles to fly on any of the other 15 airlines in the Oneworld alliance.
To get to Brazil, I flew on AA, which is a Oneworld partner that has direct flights between New York and Rio.
With airline alliances (the other major one is Star Alliance), you can use your miles to fly practically anywhere in the world.
The 330 Day Rule
When you use frequent flyer miles to book a ticket, there is less availability than if you were to purchase that ticket.
If a plane has roughly 300 seats, they may open up 1/3 of them for people who wish to book award tickets (tickets “bought” with miles).
This means that knowing when to book is imperative.
Airlines will open their seats up for availability 330 days in advance.
If you’re trying to get a seat during a busy time, such as Christmas or the World Cup, you NEED to look as early as possible.
Knowing this, I got online exactly 330 days before the date I wanted to travel (June 12, 2014) and booked my tickets from New York to Rio.
When I checked later that evening all the tickets were already sold out!
The 6 Week Rule
If you miss out on an early ticket, more will get released sporadically, so keep checking.
However, the biggest number of seats get released about 6 weeks before the flight date.
This is when airlines look at their flight, realize most people have already bought a ticket if they want one, and release the remaining seats for people using miles.
Keep a close eye on tickets around the 6 week window. You’ll most likely see more seats open up, even for major events like the World Cup.
Where to Look and How to Book
Because the airline industry operates in the Stone Age, you may not always be able to see availability online.
For flights to Brazil, I was able to book the ticket online, but if you search online and don’t see anything, don’t give up.
Instead, call up the airline whose miles you are using and have the agents check availability for you. They often see things you aren’t able to search for online.
A great tool that is a bit more complicated but incredibly handy is Award Nexus. This is the weapon of choice of most frequent flyer experts for finding hidden availability.
If you have yet to start using frequent flyer miles, now is the time to start. You can literally fly anywhere in the world for less than $100.
Start by getting a good travel credit card (click here for my recommendations). Once you earn the miles, make sure to look for seats 330 days out, if possible.
Continuously check back for availability, and be aware that a large bunch of tickets may appear 6 weeks prior to the departure date.
And lastly, make sure to use all the tools at your disposal to find availability. Check online, call if you need to, and dig in to Award Nexus.
Start now and we’ll both be flying to Brazil on $5 tickets for the 2016 Olympics!
Want to travel to your dream destination for under $100? Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter and you’ll be in the air in no time!
Has anyone else been able to use miles to get amazing deals to major world events? Let us know your biggest score in the comments below!
As I’ve mentioned many times before BA points can be incredibly valuable, but ONLY if you used in very specific circumstances.
Therefore, it is even more important with BA than with other airlines to know which circumstances give you the best bang for your buck because if you use them wrong, you could end up paying HUGE fuel surcharges…and nobody wants that!
If you’ve already got a nice stash of BA Avios points, great!
Using Avios points for short haul domestic flights can offer some incredible value. Because of the distance-based award chart, you can get flights that are as low as 4,500 points one-way if the distance flown is below 650 miles.
Only 4,500 points? That’s crazy, considering that the same flight would cost you almost 3x as much if you were flying with AA, United, or USAirways!
This works best for people who live near American Airline US hubs, which are Dallas/Forth Worth (DFW), New York (JFK), Los Angeles (LAX), Chicago (ORD), and Miami (MIA).
There are tons of flights that fly out of these 5 hubs to places all over the United States, so if you live near one of the hubs, you can really make out like a bandit!
If you don’t start your journey at one of the hub cities, you won’t have as many options, and depending on where you are flying, you may have to pay for the leg from your home airport to the hub airport (minimum of 4,500 miles) and then pay for the leg from the hub to your destination.
This isn’t the end of the world, and can still be less than a regular airline would charge for a domestic flight, but its not the amazing deal that those lucky people near hub cities can get.
Examples (all examples in this post are for a roundtrip ticket in economy)
New York-Chicago Using Avios Points: 15,000 Using regular carriers (AA, United, USAirways, Delta): All 25,000
New York-Miami Using Avios Points: 15,000 Using regular carriers: All 25,000
Boston (non hub)-Miami Using Avios Points: 21,000 (4,500 for BOS-JFK, 7,500 for JFK-MIA x 2) Using regular carriers: 25,000
2. From the West Coast to Hawaii
Again, since the rewards chart is distance-based, it doesn’t matter that Hawaii is normally considered a different zone than the rest of North America by other airlines. All that matters is how many miles you are flying.
This means that by going to Hawaii from somewhere on the West Coast you can get a suuuweeettt deal!
If you are flying American Airlines, anywhere you fly from on that side of the country will route you through the main hub in Los Angeles, so if you can start in Los Angeles, you won’t have to pay for that extra leg to get there.
However, don’t forget that British Airways also partners with Alaska Airlines, meaning that you can also fly direct from Anchorage, Bellingham (WA), Seattle, Portland, Oakland, San Diego or San Jose to Honolulu using your Avios points.
Each route is under 3,000 miles, which means you’ll only pay 12,500 one-way or 25,000 roundtrip! Hello, hula!
(huge thanks to reader planodude for pointing that out in the comments of last post…that’s why I love you guys; always helping each other, and me, out!)
Los Angeles-Honolulu Using Avios Points: 25,000 AA 35,000 (off-peak) AA 45,000 (peak) Delta, USAirways, United: 40,000
San Francisco (non-hub)-Honolulu Using Avios Points: 34,000 Using regular carriers: AA 35,000 (off-peak) AA 45,000 (peak) Delta, USAirways, United: 40,000
3. Boston to Ireland (Dublin or Shannon)
This is a very specific circumstance, but if you are able to make it work, this is the best deal out there for Avios points, even better than domestic short haul flights. Why? Two reasons:
1. Boston and Dublin are 2,993 miles apart, which puts it just below the 3,000 mile threshold in the Avios award chart, meaning you’ll only be paying 12,500 Avios points each way!
8 measly more miles and it’d be bumped up to category 5 (and cost 20,000 Avios points). Talk about cutting it close.
This route, from BOS to either Dublin or Shannon, is the only route that BA or it’s partners operate from the United States to Europe that falls under the 3,000 mile mark.
2. The route is flown by Aer Lingus, which for reasons unbeknowst to me, imposes only a small fuel surcharge ($150ish) when using BA Avios points and flying on their planes.
BA and every other one of its partners that fly between North America and Europe have huge fuel surcharges (think $400-600) when you use BA Avios points.
This makes it pointless to redeem Avios points on them, seeing as you could buy a ticket outright for the same price. For whatever reason, Aer Lingus has been spared (for now) so take advantage of it while you can.
Aer Lingus also flies to Dublin from New York and Chicago, but those tickets will cost you 40,000 Avios points instead of the 25,000 from Boston because they fall in category 5 on the Avios award chart. Still a really good deal, especially for people who wouldn’t be able to easily get to Boston.
If you’re looking to stretch your Avios points and save your dollars (and who isn’t) and can make your way to Boston (or even New York or Chicago) fairly easily, jump on this amazing deal to Dublin for only 25,000 Avios points roundtrip.
This isn’t just for people wanting to visit the Emerald Isle. If you want to continue on to the rest of Europe, down a quick pint of Guiness and then fly from Dublin to wherever else you want to go in Europe using a budget airline like Ryanair.
Boston-Dublin Using Avios Points: 25,000 AA: 40k (off-peak), 60k (peak) USAirways: 35k (off-peak), 60k (peak) United and Delta: 60k
New York or Chicago-Dublin Using Avios Points: 40k AA: 40k (off-peak), 60k (peak) USAirways: 35k (off-peak), 60k (peak) United and Delta: 60k
4. Flying to Central or South America
Sometimes the actual amount of Avios points required will be less than the amount of miles other airlines charge because the distance is fairly short (like Miami to Bogota, Colombio in the examples below).
If this is the case, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that you are getting great value.
Since you’ll never pay a fuel surcharge when using Avios points to fly LAN or for the AA flights that fly to Central or South America, this is a no-brainer if you are flying from somewhere pretty far south already (Miami, Dallas) or if you are flying to the northern part of South America (Bogota, Caracas, etc.)
However, even if the amount of points required isn’t less than other airlines, I still consider using Avios points to go to South America a good value.
If you ask me whether I’d rather use 25k Avios points or 25k United miles to get to Buenos Aires, I’ll pick the Avios points each time!
Any time you can get a flight using BA Avios points and not pay a fuel surcharge, take it, because they are few and far between.
Many of you may be unfamiliar with, so to give you a brief overview, LAN flies from Los Angeles, Miami, New York (JFK), San Francisco and Orlando in the United States and Toronto in Canada and flies to a ton of destinations in Central and South America.
Direct flights on LAN from North American include:
New York (JFK) to Santiago and Lima Los Angeles to Lima Miami to Bogota, Caracas, Santiago, Punta Cana San Francisco to Lima
Of course, you can always fly in to one of these cities and then continue on from there, so your options are basically limitless.
In addition, AA operates a good amount of flights to Central and South America as well, hitting a bunch of cities in Central America and all the major ones in South America as well, including Buenos Aires and Rio. Did someone say Carnaval?
Miami to Bogota Using Avios Points: 20,000 AA: 30k (off-peak), 35k (peak) United: 40k USAirways: 60k Delta: 45k
New York to Santiago, Chile or Buenos Aires, Argentina Using Avios Points: 50,000 Using AA: 40k (off-peak), 60k (peak) United, USAirways, Delta: 60k
5. Flying to the Caribbean from the East Coast
Much of what was written about Central and South America holds true for flying to the Caribbean as well. If you are flying from somewhere pretty far south, such as Miami, you can get roundtrip tickets for as little as 15k Avios points to most places in the Caribbean (some are just a touch too far and cost 20k).
Amazingly, even coming from New York you can get tickets to places like the Dominican Republic for only 20k roundtrip!
Even the most generous of award charts, such as USAirways off-peak special of 25k roundtrip to the Caribbean, can’t match that!
Of course, if you are flying from further away, such as Los Angeles, you’ll be paying much more because its distance based. Still, at 40k roundtrip to a lot of the Caribbean, the value isn’t that bad. You West Coasters have cheap flights to Hawaii, us East Coasters can have the Caribbean!
Miami to Santo Domingo Using Avios points: 15,000 USAirways: 25,000 (off-peak on USAirway flights), 35,000 (peak and on partner airlines) AA, Delta, United: 35,000
New York to St. Thomas
Using Avios points: 40,000 USAirways: 25,000 (off-peak on USAirway flights), 35,000 (peak and on partner airlines) AA, Delta, United: 35,000
As you can see, it’s not all bad news when it comes to the British Airways Avios program. When used properly, Avios points can be much, much cheaper than other airlines (I’m still shaking my head at Miami to the Caribbean for 15k roundtrip!).
Just remember that you must use them in very specific situations.
Obviously, it’s best to use them if you can for shorter flights (since the chart is distance-based) but more importantly, only use them on routes that don’t impose a fuel surcharge, which are the ones above.
Do that, and you’ll be singing a different tune than the ol’ doom and gloom that typically accompanies Avios!
If the above trips sound enticing, go and grab the Chase British Airways card and start planning your trip!
When British Airways totally revamped their frequent flyer program last year, rebranding it as Avios and calling their new currency Avios points, many people bemoaned the changes, and rightfully so.
Overall, the program is worse than it was before, with British Airways Avios points much less valuable now than they were a year ago.
However, that doesn’t mean that you should write BA off completely. Earning miles in many different programs is always a good idea, as it gives you great flexibility when trying to book flights and travel for free.
And BA is one of the easiest airlines to earn miles with.
Most airlines have a zone-based award chart, meaning that it will cost you a set amount of miles to fly from one zone to another.
For example, with American Airlines, it would cost you the same to fly from New York to London (North America zone to Europe zone) as it would to fly from Los Angeles to Budapest (again, North America zone to Europe zone).
With BA Avios there are no zones and the amount of Avios points you pay is based on the distance that you fly.
Anything that falls under 3,000 miles will cost you 12,500 Avios points, regardless of whether you cross oceans or continental lines. Boston to Dublin will cost you 12,500, same as New York to Los Angeles, because both routes fall in category 4.
You can find out how many Avios points you’ll need for a trip 1 of 3 ways (warning: it isn’t always easy).
For easy itineraries:
1. Use the Avios Points Calculator on BA’s website. This is an incredibly non-intuitive system and will only work if you are plugging in really easy routes (such as direct flights or sometimes routes with only one connection).
2. Use milez.biz. Enter the two cities you are flying between and select the British Airways program. If the itinerary isn’t too complex, this should spit you out the number of points it will cost.
For more complex itineraries:
3. Find out the amount of miles each leg of your trip will cost by using Milecalc.com. Once you have the mileage for each leg, use the Avios award chart to tell you how many Avios points each leg will be. Then, add them all together to get your final amount.
2. You pay for each leg of the trip separately, even if you are just laying over.
This is by far one of the most annoying aspects of the Avios program for people who don’t live near a hub city (which are New York-JFK, Dallas/Fort Worth, Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles in the USA).
Let’s look at an example. If you want to fly from San Francisco to Honolulu, you’ll have to first stop over in Los Angeles as there are no direct flights. For each leg, you’d have to figure out the mileage and pay accordingly.
San Francisco to Los Angeles is 500 miles and so it would fall under category 1 and cost you 4,500 Avios points.
Los Angeles to Honolulu is 2556 miles and so it would fall under category 4 and cost you 12,500 Avios points.
You’d then add these two legs together to get your total, which would be 17,000 Avios points one-way or 34,000 Avios points roundtrip.
If you live near a hub then this won’t bother you much, since you’ll never be paying for that extra leg, but for many unfortunate souls, this Avios rule can really add points on to your trip fast, especially if you have more than one layover before arriving at your destination!
3. BA charges huge fuel surcharges on MOST of their flights, but not all.
One of the major, major downsides to Avios points if you use them on most partners (or BA itself) is that you’ll get crushed with a huge fuel surcharge.
Most of the time, the fuel surcharge is so large ($400-600) that it makes no sense at all to even use your Avios points since you could buy a paid ticket for almost the same price.