Frequent flyer programs are one of those things that, like cell phone plans, can seem difficult to decipher at first glance. And as a student traveler, you might think frequent flyer programs aren't worth the trouble since they seem targeted to stodgy suits in business class who rack up the miles on their way to and from Embassy Suites hotels. Not so -- frequent flyer programs are for student travelers, too: in fact, you'd be amazed how many miles you can rack up in a short time with the way you travel; one study abroad trip can set you up for easy free tickets for a couple more jaunts.
Just as a quick for-instance, you need to have flown 20,000 miles on American to get a free roundtrip ticket to a destination in the USA, Canada, the Caribbean and Mexico. A flight to Hanoi, one of the jumping off places for the backpacker trail in Southeast Asia, gives you about 15,300 miles. Fly home at Christmas just once (for example, Los Angeles to Boston is 5200 miles) and you've got a free ticket on American's frequent flyer program.
On top of that, you probably already know that credit cards offer a tremendous amount of miles as sign-up bonuses for using their cards. You'll be able to score 20,000 miles or more on some cards, and often the only stipulation is that you spend a thousand dollars on something within your first month. Save opening one for when you need to buy a new laptop or make a big purchase, and you'll get free flights as a bonus for spending that cash.
You can also get frequent flyer miles through hundreds partner programs -- rental cars, hotels, restaurants, and more -- and that does become complicated. The true expert community on frequent flyer mileage programs is on a website called Flyer Talk, which has a ton of FAQ documents on the site for new travelers. As well, you can get lots of info about the various programs from our air travel expert right here on Trip Savvy
Student Travel Air Discounts and Deals
On top of getting free flights because you tend to travel long distances, you are also in a special class devoted to you: student travelers. Student travelers are defined as anyone under the age of 26 or a full-time, enrolled student at an accredited college. Student airfares exist just for this group.
Remember to check any student airfares against an aggregator to ensure you've found the best bargain. Some of my favorites include Skyscanner and Momondo. Simply enter in where you want to go and your dates, and practically every airline in the world is checked in order to bring you the best possible deals. I especially love these sites as you can search by country instead of city (or "everywhere" on Skyscanner), and you can choose a date range over several weeks and months. When you can check so many dates and destinations at once, you can ensure you'll pick up a bargain for your flights.
More Ways to Get Air Deals
Those flights you need to get to track up the miles? They can be crazy cheap if you truly start paying attention to deals online. For instance, "fat finger" fares happen (so called because they're the result of a typing error on some poor clerk's part), and you'll only be able to score these error fares if you're quick.
I'm an enormous fan of Secret Flying, and while they tend to focus more on great deals than error fares, the prices I've seen have been unbelievable. Just this year, I've managed to score flights from Copenhagen to Los Angeles for $120, from Rome to Tokyo for $350 return, from London to Zanzibar to Kigali to London for $300, from Lisbon to Cape Town for $250. In short, if you're looking to save money and pick up a fantastic bargain on flights, Secret Flying is the site to keep monitoring. It won't necessarily help improve your frequent flyer status, as you won't be able to choose the airline you fly with, but when you're flying for so cheap anyway, it's still a bonus.
Holiday Airfare Woes
Certain times of year (the most popular ones) may mean you've got to fly, even when it's not the best time to go -- for instance, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Consoling yourself with the frequent flyer miles you'll earn helps ease the pain of paying (probably too much) for an airfare during the highest-priced travel days of the year, and if you've already been focusing on building up your mile balance, you may even be able to score your flight home for free!
This article has been edited and updated by Lauren Juliff.