Five years is a long time. And things change. They certainly did for me.
I vaguely recall what my trips were before. There would be a destination, some way of getting there and back, and some accommodation for the duration of the stay. Being based in the UK during the onset of the cheap airlines (PC term these days is “low-cost airlines”) any overseas travel involved either EasyJet or Ryanair. Except going to France which usually involved Eurostar (train) or Eurotunnel (also train but you sit in your own car). Flights were obviously limited-service (extra charge for luggage, good onboard, etc) and accommodation was commonly via booking.com
Fast forward to my current strategy. I am no longer based in the UK – I call Australia home. This is far, very far from anywhere (even New Zealand is 3 hours away by air; North America is 15 hrs away and the UK is over 20 hrs away). Flights are mostly one-way segments and flown on full-service airlines. Short-haul flights, anything under 4 hours, are in Economy. Anything longer than that and/or overnight is flown in Business, sometimes First. Stays are booked with hotels chains earning loyalty points and elite status except if it out in the wilderness in which case I opt for hotels.com (getting 10% rebate toward future bookings). If we need a car rental it is done via autoslash.com unless there is some fabulous promo from one of the major players (Hertz, Avis, National, Europcar) in which case I would still use auto slash.com to track my booking in case the rate gets better.
How did this change come about?
Well, I have (re-)discovered loyalty programs. It used to be that you would hold a frequent flyer card with a particular airline and you would only ever earn a free flight only by flying with this particular airline. And flying a lot too! Then came the airline alliances and you could suddenly fly with various airlines but credit to one loyalty program. In the process you would also earn elite status which would define your chances of getting a free upgrade. More recently airlines started selling their miles for cash. Yes, instead of earning the miles by flying you can buy miles outright. As crazy as it may sound you can fly in Business for not much more than the cost of Economy.
Similar changes have take place in the hotel loyalty programs. And some of the hotel points (which you can buy outright as well) are extremely useful for redeeming for flights.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you can get airline miles or hotel points by signifying up for specific credit cards. After a minimum expenditure over a period of time you get a large miles/points bonus. Now, that’s as close as you get to free travel.
In future posts I’ll deal with using the loyalty programs to fund travel. And I will explain how to leverage your credit rating to get free miles and points. I will tell you about status matches, hidden city airfares, and many other tricks which will help you travel better.