How to Fly Internationally for Less Than $50

Would you like to get round trip international flights for under $50 for you and your family?

If so, read on.

That’s exactly what we did a few weeks ago. We’ll be traveling to Colombia in the summer 🙂 . You see, my daughter is now over 2 years old, so she doesn’t fly for free anymore. This was the first international trip where we needed to purchase 3 tickets instead of 2. They grow up so fast.

Planning to return here in a few months!

Luckily for us, we had a decent arsenal of travel miles and points from credit cards. For this particular trip we would end up using Citi ThankYou Points, Southwest Rapid Rewards, and Barclays Bonus Miles. Before we get to how we booked the flights, let’s look at how we accumulated the points.

  • We used the Barclaycard Arrival Plus to get 70,000 miles
  • We used the Citi Thank You Premier to get 60,000 ThankYou points
  • We used the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus to get 120,000 Rapid Rewards points (60,000 each). Unfortunately, you can no longer open both of these cards at the same time. However, you probably don’t need to. We only spent a fraction of the points above. More on that later.

There are no direct flights from Raleigh (RDU) to Bogota (BOG). So we usually need to go through Atlanta, Orlando, Miami or Fort Lauderdale. There are many other airports in the U.S. with direct flights to Bogota, but those are the ones that make the most sense from Raleigh. I’ll cover the international part of the trip first, and then we can tackle the domestic one.

Orlando (MCO) to Bogota (BOG) – $225.99

After doing some research, it became clear that Orlando and JetBlue were the winning combination in terms of price and timing between the flights. Once we narrowed down the airline, it was a matter of choosing the travel rewards we wanted to use. We decided to use Citi ThankYou points over Chase Ultimate Rewards points (CUR) since CUR points are more flexible and we can probably use them more efficiently later. Both of these reward points transfer to JetBlue at a 1:1 ratio.

To find how many points we would need, we just searched on the JetBlue website and checked the “Use TrueBlue points” button.

After entering all the information, we knew exactly how many points and cash the 3 flights were going to cost.

Cost for 3 round trip tickets.

The next step was to transfer the exact number of points from our City Thank You Premier account to our JetBlue account. 31,500 in this case. This is about half of the points we earned via the sign up bonus so we still have enough points on this card for another family trip.

What About the $225.99?

When redeeming miles or points for flights like this, you still have to use cash to pay for certain taxes and fees. These are usually more expensive for international flights. While this not ideal, it is much cheaper than paying full price for the entire ticket, which would have been $774.09.

Price without using any points

As you can see, the savings so far are $548 (774.09 – 225.99). So it’s not unrealistic to say that the 60,000 sign up bonus on the City Thank You Premier is worth around $1,000.

I would have been happy with this savings alone, but we are just getting started 🙂

Using Miles to Pay for Taxes and Fees – Bringing the Price Down to Zero

Thanks to the Barclaycard Arrival Plus that I mentioned earlier, we were able to “erase” the taxes and fees via a statement credit. Cards like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus are known as fixed value cards. This means that once you have miles in your account, you can use them to reimburse yourself for expenses that are categorized as “travel”. Since we paid the taxes and fees with this card, we were then able to “delete” the expense with our miles.

Paying for the taxes and fees from my Barclays online account using miles instead of dollars

Yes, please.

Redemption completed!

By this point, the total cost of our three MCO to BOG round trip tickets is ZERO! Gotta love free travel. The remaining 58,734 miles can be used to pay ourselves back for another $587.34 of future travel expenses.

Total savings for the MCO to BOG flights = $744.09

Flying from Raleigh (RDU) to Orlando (MCO)

Since we have a Southwest Companion Pass (pay for one flight, bring a companion for free), this is usually our airline of choice when flying domestically. We also have a bunch of Southwest points from when we earned the Companion Pass. To recap, we earned it as follows*:

The process of booking the flight is very similar as with JetBlue. Look-up the dates and destinations you want, and then perform the search on “points” rather than on “dollars”. We ended up paying with 25,448 Southwest points (12,724 each for my wife and daughter, mine was free as I’m the “companion” 🙂 )

Cost in points per person

In addition to the points, we each had to pay $11.20, for a grand total of $33.60. This is all we paid for our flights.

Cost in dollars per person

The same Southwest tickets would have cost $611.88 if paid fully in cash. So the total savings from using the Southwest points are $578.28 (611.88 – 33.60).

Total savings = $1,322.37 (578.28 from Southwest + $744.09 from JetBlue)

Adventure awaits!

Conclusion and Takeaways

We are very exited about our upcoming trip! It will be awesome to spend time with friends and family we haven’t seen in a while. Being able to buy our plane tickets for $33.60 makes the whole experience even better. I’m not saying any of this to brag, but simply to show you that using miles and points is a great way to save a lot of money on travel. The best part, anyone can do it.

Here is are the credit cards we used for this particular trip if you want to consider doing something similar:

I hope the example above can help you plan and execute your own travel adventures for pennies on the dollar. If you have any questions or want to share your travel rewards experiences, let us know in the comments below!

*By earning more than 110,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points on the same calendar year, we earned the Southwest Companion Pass. Which means when my wife purchases a Southwest ticket (with points or cash) she can bring along a companion (A.K.A. me) for free. Having the companion pass helps us keep more of our Southwest points. The companion pass has gotten a little more difficult to earn. You can no longer do it through 2 Southwest personal credit cards. One workaround for this is to use one personal card and one business card. You can Google “how to earn Southwest Companion Pass” for more info.

5 thoughts on “How to Fly Internationally for Less Than $50”

  1. Wow! That’s amazing. I never thought of using the “fixed value” points to pay for the taxes and fees like that. I usually save them for Airbnb since those can’t be hacked any other way, can they?

    • Hey Jack! Using the fixed value card to pay for Airbnbs is a great option.
      I’m not aware of any other way to reduce Airbnb costs via credit cards. One other strategy people use to make Airbnb somewhat cheaper is to buy discounted gift cards.

  2. Nice travel hack.

    I have lots of points on my chase sapphire preferred card. Any good suggestions on how to maximize the pay out of the points on that card when it comes to booking international and domestic flights?

    • Thank you for stopping by!
      I love the Chase Sapphire Preferred!
      I haven’t used my Chase Ultimate Rewards (CUR) points on airfare yet. I have found a solid and easy way to redeem these point is to transfer them to Hyatt for hotel stays.
      Since I have had the Southwest Companion Pass and a bunch of delta points, those have been my main airline points.

      I have heard of great redemption values by transferring CUR to United Airlines, but those might also be a bit more complicated. As long as I’m getting more than 1.25 cents per point (what you would get by redeeming through the Chase travel portal), that’s good enough for me. So I suppose I could have used CUR to transfer to Jet Blue for this trip and those would have had a value of 1.74 cents per point ($548/31,500). A decent value. Hope that helps!

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