A thrifty globetrotter is bringing a whole new meaning to ‘travelling light’. American reporter Scott Keyes is about to embark on a two-month, round-the-world trip that involves 21 flights –without spending a single penny. The 28-year-old writer for political blog Think Progress has become a connoisseur in scoring airmile offers through credit cards and frequent flyer deals. Keyes’ prize for outsmarting the airline reward system is a planned 32,000-km voyage to 13 countries. Metro speaks to Keyes on his secrets to free travel.
Q: For how long have you been travelling for free?
– I’ve been to over 30 countries in the past six years. During that time I've flown around 360,000 miles (579,360 km). My favourite experiences have been snorkeling in the Galapagos Islands, watching the northern lights in Norway, sleeping in the Sahara Desert, and skiing by the Matterhorn in Italy.
Q: So, what’s your secret?
– Most of my free flights come from using frequent flyer miles. I've generated millions in the last five years through a number of different tactics, like strategically opening credit cards, taking advantage of promotions, and other avenues. I also keep my eyes peeled for “mistake fares”. This helped me fly from New York City to Milan for just $65.
Q: Are these promotions hard to find?
– It's not hard, anybody can do it. In fact, that's why I wrote my two ebooks, “How To Fly For Free” and “How To Find Cheap Flights”, to give everyday people a step-by-step guide on how to travel for cheap. But just because it's not hard doesn't mean it doesn't take any effort. If it were super easy, everyone would already know how to do it.
Q: Could be a tedious process…
– But who likes paying for flights? I love being able to travel, but I'm not a rich man. I don't have unlimited funds. Since necessity is the mother of invention, I had to try to figure out how to take flights for less. The main point of it is to see the world, of course, and to still save enough money in the process so I can be financially secure, not cashing out my retirement, etc.
Q: Do you eat for free, too?
– Sometimes. Many airport and hotel lounges I get into while I travel offer free food and drinks, which is always great. However, I'm a big fan of street food everywhere I go, and there's no frequent flyer miles for those. I’m always happy to spend the money I save flying for free and use it on food.
Q: And you’re staying in a tent, I guess…
– When I travel to big cities, I usually stay for free in hotels. I generate hotel points through many of the same strategies as I use to get frequent flyer miles. This includes credit cards, taking advantage of temporary promotions, etc. I camp on occasion, but usually I like to have a bed and a hot shower.
Q: Why advice would you give to wannabe free-travellers like yourself?
– A few quick tips for finding cheap flights: be flexible with your dates and airports. Often, a Friday-Monday flight will be cheaper than a Thursday-Sunday, for instance, even though it's the same number of days. If you want the cheapest flights, chase the fare, not the destination. In other words, rather than picking a destination and then looking for the cheapest way to get there, start out by looking where there are cheap flights, and then decide among those where you'd like to go.
If you're taking a trans-oceanic flight, try to find the cheapest city to fly to, then search separately for a flight from there to your destination. For example, if you want to fly to Washington DC from Europe, search not only for flights to Washington DC, but also flights to New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Charlotte. Often times this will save you a ton of money, and it's not tough to get a cheap separate ticket from one of those cities to DC.