For the average traveler, flying first class is not in the budget - unless, perhaps, your company is footing the bill. But if you’ve ever taken a long, international flight, it’s not hard to see how a lie-flat seat, three-course meals, and unlimited movies could make those 14 hours in the air a much better experience.

Is it worth the money?

A growing number of people are not shelling out thousands of dollars but they're still taking advantage of that luxury. Instead, they’re paying with miles and points. You may be surprised to learn that they’re not all frequent flyers either.

Jedd and Michelle of have paid for all of their long-term international flights with miles over the past two years. This has allowed them to fly round-trip to Jamaica, Europe (twice), Japan, Ecuador, and S.E. Asia - sometimes in First or Business class - which they otherwise could never afford.

Michelle and Jedd use the following rules of thumb to help choose when it’s worth the extra miles for first class:

  • Flights longer than 8 hours, or an overnight flight
  • When you have little time to get over jet lag or it’s important to feel more rested coming off the plane
  • When you also have long lay-overs and your first class ticket will grant you access to airport lounges where you can eat, rest, work, and even shower

"Travel hacking” is the term for the hobby of amassing lots of miles and points to use for travel. It’s done most quickly by signing up for credit card bonuses, though there are other non-flying methods for earning points as well.

Because credit is involved, it goes without saying that this hobby should only be pursued by those who are responsible and disciplined with their money. In case you’re worried: know that there is nothing illegal about these practices, and when done properly, most people actually see an increase in their credit score.

The process does take some time and effort. Here is a basic outline of the steps to earn free first class tickets:

  1. Decide where you want to go and find out which airline could get you there
  2. Open a frequent flyer account for the major U.S. carrier that's in an alliance with that airline (i.e.: American, United, Delta, etc.)
  3. Research the best credit card bonuses that can earn miles for that major airline
  4. Meet the minimum spend for the credit cards to earn the bonus miles
  5. Accumulate more miles through online shopping portals and other special promotions
  6. When you have enough miles in your account, use the airline's online portal to search award tickets (Best availability is often 6-9 months in advance)

As you can see, there’s more involved than just signing up for a credit card and booking a flight. To learn the ropes and ensure that your credit score stays safe, it’s important to do your research. Or better yet, find a guide that can show you the step by step and give you all the background information you need to know. If you’re looking for one-stop, online resources for travel hacking, try: Upgrade Unlocked e-guide or the Make Your Dream Trip A Reality 30-day course.

If you're willing to put in the work, travel hacking can pay off with some big rewards!

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  • Michelle Chang