Subj: How to Travel for Free
As I write this I am sitting outside a small café in the center of Pamplona known as Café Iruña. As the locals tell me it was once a favorite of Ernest Hemmingway’s when he visited Spain. A quick look around the interior and this claim isn’t hard to believe. The café has a distinctly old fashioned décor. A combination of the checker tiled floors, glass bulb lamps, and ornately detailed beams make it feel like something straight out of one of Hemmingway’s novels.
I am here for the annual Fiesta de San Fermin, more commonly known around the world as the Running of the Bulls.
Out of all the cafés and restaurants in Pamplona, it is appropriate that I happened into this one, as it was Mr. Hemingway himself who first introduced this formerly obscure Spanish festival to the world in his 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises.
Looking down at the bumps and scrapes I received just a few hours earlier I suddenly feel overjoyed. I have just accomplished something that has been high on my bucket list for many years.
Running with the bulls has become something of a bucket list cliché. Each year over a million people invade this small Spanish city to take part in the ancient festival of San Fermin, and out of those million most are foreigners; myself among them.
I try to travel at least once a year, whether it’s visiting Egypt to see the pyramids, going on an archaeological dig in Jerusalem, or just visiting London for a few weeks. I feel travel is important. Not only because it increases your understanding of the world, but because it feeds the innate human drive to explore.
But we all know traveling can be expensive, and there is one aspect of travel which is sure to cost you a substantial chunk of change… Plane tickets.
It is that cost alone which stops many people from traveling.
Most travelers, especially younger ones, would be perfectly willing to save money on their trips by roughing it in a cheap hotel room while living off sparse provisions for a week or two, but when it comes to plane tickets it seems there really is no way around it. If you can’t walk, drive, or sail somewhere, you need to take a plane.
Luckily I know a couple travel hacks which will allow you to get flights overseas either completely free of charge or at severely discounted prices. And I’m about to share them with you.
Method #1 – Apply for an American Express Gold Card or Club Carlson Visa Card
This first method is probably the best if you want to travel for free. If you get an American Express Gold card you will receive 50,000 points for spending $1000 within the first three months. That’s enough for a free round-trip ticket from New York to Paris. $1000 over three months equals just $83 a week. I’m pretty sure everyone reading this spends at least $83 a week in rent, gas, or groceries.
The card is free for the first year and what’s even better is that after using the points you can simply cancel the card, then wait six months to apply again and get another 50,000 points.
You can repeat this process indefinitely to literally get FREE FLIGHTS FOREVER!
Alternately you could apply for a Club Carlson Visa card. Once you are accepted you automatically get 50,000 points after your first purchase just for signing up.
You can also get an extra 35,000 points if you spend $2,500 within the first ninety days. That’s a total of 85,000 points for just $208 a week. Enough for a free round-trip ticket from San Francisco to Paris.
Again, once you have the points, you can simply cancel the card then wait another six months to apply again.
I would recommend alternating between these two cards. Apply for one, get the points, cancel it, and then apply for the second card. Once you get the points for the second card, enough time will have passed that you can cancel it and re-apply for the first card.
Method #2 – Take Hidden-City Flights
Another option you can use to travel the world without breaking the bank is to use a travel hacking technique known as Hidden-City Flights.
The concept is simple. Let’s say you live in San Francisco and you want to fly to New York. Traditionally you would purchase a direct flight from San Francisco to New York for around $300.
However using the Hidden-City technique you would book a flight from San Francisco to a less popular city such as Minneapolis which has a layover in New York. This flight may only be $150 due to the fact that tickets to Minneapolis are less in demand.
Once you arrive in New York on your layover, just get off the plane. Voila! You’re in New York for half the price.
This technique can be used for any major city. Just purchase a ticket to an unpopular city which has a layover in the city you really want to go to.
The company Skiplagged specializes in finding these Hidden-City flights. Use them next time you’re booking a flight and you can save a ton of money.
Just make sure all your bags are carry-on rather than checked otherwise your bags will end up going to the plane’s final destination without you.
Method #3 – Get Mistake Fares
It is possible to take advantage of so-called “mistake fares” which occur when airlines accidently misprice their tickets.
A miscalculation or a misplaced decimal point can mean that a flight which would have normally cost $1,854 may be available for $185.40.
These mistakes can lead to HUGE savings.
I use a free service called Secret Flying which sends me email notifications every time one of these mistake fares pop up.
The only downside to these mistake fares is that you have no control over where these flights are to. But if you’re the adventurous sort who is up for taking a spontaneous trip to a random location, this is a great asset.
Method #4 – Take Advantage of Israeli Educational Opportunities
Due to the Israel’s position in the political sphere there are a number of free travel opportunities for Non-Jews who wish to travel to Israel to learn more about the country’s history and culture. Zionist Organization of America and The David Project offer free educational trips to Israel for Non-Jewish college students.
And if you’re Jewish, between the ages of 18 and 26, and have never spent an extended period of time in Israel, you can take advantage of the Israeli travel program known as Taglit, also known as “Birthright”.
A Birthright trip includes a free flight to and from Israel, as well as a free 10 day guided tour of Israel’s highlights with other young Jews. The highlights usually include Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, the Western Wall, the Dead Sea, Masada, and more.
All you need to do is go to the Taglit website and fill out an application. (They accept around half of their applicants.)
Every single person I’ve spoken to who has gone on this trip has told me it was one of the best experiences of their lives.
Next time you find yourself putting off that trip you’ve always dreamed of because it’s too expensive, know that it can be done for much less than you think.
Until next time.