How I Got $5 Flights to Rio for the World Cup

Posted By Trav


The world’s most popular sport.

Its biggest tournament.

And its most passionate country.

Add it all up, and you’ve got a nonstop party.

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.

Conversation over.

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:

$5 tickets to Rio

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.

Airline Alliances

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 Oneworld Alliance, 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.

Final Word(s)

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!


  1. MoneyMateKate says:

    Well that definitely alleviates the pain of a $160 visa fee – Nice!

    1. Trav says:

      @MoneyMateKate- Yep, sure does!

  2. Anonymous says:

    A little misleading to say you flew for $5, which ignores the actual cost of the miles, the opportunity cost of your time involved in earning the miles etc. Even ‘free’ miles from a credit card signup offer have a cost.

    1. Trav says:

      @Anonymous- Yes, everything in life has an opportunity cost. That’s an inherent part of doing any activity. For me, collecting frequent flyer miles is actually FUN, and so really, maybe I should say it’s less since it’s a pleasure to get the miles? The total outlay to fly there is $5 in cold, hard cash, and that’s quite a steal!

  3. What is the best way to find and book American Airlines flights with avios?

    1. Trav says:

      @paddleboardhtx- I’d use AA.com to find availability since they will show you a whole calendar view. Once you find the date you want, then I’d go to BA.com and try to recreate it. You should be able to. If for some reason you can’t, then you’ll have to call.

  4. CanesLawMarty says:

    Not to be glib, Travis, but I’m not sure how you came up with a cost of $5 “in cold, hard, cash” unless you’re just trying to come up with a catchy headline. Your article leaves out the fact you need to pay the taxes as well, which come to $53.57. Not a huge deal in this case, but I replicated a booking from JFK-GIG for later this year in AA economy and for every date that was the total. And it was the exact same on AA.com as well so your point about BA having the lowest fees/costs rings hollow as well. Your post is also misleading and incorrect in that not every airline opens their schedule 330 days out. For example, AA does, BA, Qantas, Cathay Pacific and others are 365 days.

    1. Trav says:

      @CanesLawMarty- Every ticket I looked at was $2.50 in taxes to fly from JFK-GIG on BA.com, and that was the total I paid (see the picture in the post).

      I’m not sure why yours was coming up $53.57, but I’ve never seen that price.

      You’re right, some airlines do open up 365 days in advance, but most North American airlines that people have miles with follow the 330 day rule, which is the main target of this post.

  5. Leenor says:

    What a crock of a headline. Here’s one for you. How I got a $10 Starbucks card for $5

    1. Trav says:

      @Leenor- No idea what you mean, seeing as I actually did pay $2.50 per ticket, and provided proof in the post. I’m sure Heather would love you if you got her $10 Starbucks cards for $5. Tell me more!

      1. I never understand why people leave such negative comments. But, if Heather is looking for a $10 Starbucks giftcard for $5, Groupon just had one! And great score, by the way! I love your posts!

        1. Trav says:

          @emilyfaye3579- Thanks, glad you love the podcasts. Also not sure why people leave negative comments, but hey, many, many more people enjoy the podcasts and posts than dislike them, so that’s all that matters. I’ll tell Heather now!

  6. tycoondon says:

    Awesome post man. Don’t understand the hate coming from certain quarters. I travel every other week (Thursday to Sunday Pittsburgh to/from Dallas) and have been doing so for nearly 2 years. I use my miles to book one way tickets as soon as I get them (American still allows this but may not for long) in order to essentially “discount” the ongoing expense of my airline budget. I get a free one way for roughly every five one way segments that I pay for meaning that my total travel budget is reduced by 20%. I’ve hit gold status by March and platinum by August each of the last 2 years. And even with all that flight activity, I had never heard of the 330 day rule. So don’t let these people who want to quibble over the dollars you paid get to you. Most of those who are reading will appreciate you even if they don’t say so like I am. I mean, NY to RIo ANYTIME for even $53 (as one poster is asserting) is DIRT CHEAP! I can’t fly from Dallas to Houston for $53.

    1. Trav says:

      @tycoondon- Appreciate the support, and you’re 100% right. And you’re right on the money with how you’re able to score the free one-ways. Well done, seems like you’ve got a pretty good system going on. Let’s hope AA continues to allow one-way award tickets in the future (fingers crossed)!

  7. Yuhao says:

    Interesting that the infamous BA YQ wasn’t imposed. The AA flight to Brazil must not have had a YQ component?

    1. Trav says:

      @Yuhao- Right, flying to South America does not have the BA YQ charged, one of the major ways to really make out when using BA points. Here’s the best ways to use BA points: http://www.extrapackofpeanuts.com/the-top-5-ways-to-use-british-airways-avios-points/

  8. David says:

    Cool site!

    But 2 million points in 3 years on cards? I’m I the same boat, but even with sign up bonuses, shopping etc .. I’d still probably need to spend a million dollars as most points are 1:1 and the 5:1 etc opportunities aren’t typical for everyday spending.

    1. Trav says:

      @David- I’ve opened up about 40 cards in the past 3-4 years. If most cards are 50k, that’s 2 million points. Put on top of that the fact that some cards are 75k or 100k, and getting big bonuses for online shopping, regular shopping, etc and you’re looking at a bit over 2 million.

      1. JoshNicolaus says:

        Great post! You said you opened 40+ cards in the past couple years, did you cancel any of them after the year mark? Or are you paying the $95-$150 annual service fee on 40 different cards? (im looking for insight, im not judging, haha)

        1. Trav says:

          @JoshNicolaus- I make sure to keep a 50/50 split between opening and closing. You can see all the info about which ones I open and close at this post.

  9. Martine says:

    What if you have AA miles and want to go to south america using BA? Can you do that?

    1. Trav says:

      @Martine- Yep, of course. They are partner airlines, so you can use AA miles on BA flights, or BA miles on AA flights.

  10. Alexandra Koeneke says:

    In regards to the 6 weeks rule, I am looking at flights using the Off peak Economy award with AA. The flight I want is unavailable unless I spend the regular Ecomony miles price on it. When the 6 weeks date comes for my trip and they release more tickets, does that mean some will be released for the off peak price? Or just more become available for the regular Economy? Thanks Trav!

    1. Trav says:

      @Alexandra Koeneke- It will release at the off-peak price since the off-peak price has to do with the dates you selected. Basically, if your dates fall in the off-peak time, then those “saver” awards will always be off-peak prices.

  11. Katy says:

    Definitely don’t understand why people are upset over tips for $5 flights! Always appreciate your guys’ advice and have quickly become obsessed with your podcast. I’ve just started dipping my toes into travel but have always been a fan of planning my trips myself and sticking to a budget so your advice is always so helpful.

    1. Trav says:

      @Katy- Thanks, really appreciate it. Glad you like the podcast too, and like you, I don’t understand why some people like to troll around on the internet. Luckily, it’s such a small percentage…why worry? Especially when we can help awesome people like you travel for cheaper!

  12. selphur says:

    Huge thanks for the guide, I’ve almost never traveled by planes (avoided them whenever possible pretty much), ’cause I never thought they could be so affordable. Might rethink now.

    1. Trav says:

      @selphur- Definitely much easier to do when you barely have to pay!

  13. Tom says:

    Hi, Trav,
    I have about 97,000kms on LANTAM that are due to expire in June 2016 if I don’t take a flight before them. I don’t plan any flights. Any suggestions to keep them from expiring?
    Thanks for your blog,
    Tom T

    1. Trav says:

      @Tom- Not sure if this is the case for LANTAM, but for most airlines, your points won’t expire if you have activity. So all you have to do is generate activity on your account. One easy way to do this is to use some of those points for something other than a plane ticket, something small like a magazine subscription that might cost 1,000 points.

      Look in to how else you can use LANTAM points other than that, and do that.

  14. Laura says:

    Hi, I just started listening to the podcast and I’m hooked! Any tips for Canadians? The deals just don’t seem to be as valuable here in Canada. Thanks!

    1. Trav says:

      @Laura – Glad you like it! The deals aren’t quite as valuable in Canada, but…you can still find them. I’d definitely start at RewardsCanada.ca. Good starting point to find a Canadian credit card.

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