I know that when something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Not only do I know this adage, I also subscribe to it. It works all the time!
But, there is always but… The adage says probably. It doesn’t say always. If it said “always is” I would have an issue with that. Just like I have an issue with another adage: “There is no such thing as free lunch”! What? You won’t believe how many free lunches, dinners and breakfasts I’ve had in my travels. Not even mentioning free booze.
Whoever came up with too good to be true thingy was a wise person. Because the word probably makes all the difference in the world. It means, amazing things can happen. It also means, there is a difference between incredible and impossible. Between something that takes some effort and something that simply cannot be done no matter what.
Now, I’m telling you once again: flying for free to and from Brazil during the World Cup can be done! For some, it can be done easily, while for others it would require an effort. However, any American with good credit can do it. A-ny-one!
How dare I tell you with a straight face that you can go to Brazil for free for the World Cup? Don’t I know how much airlines gouge for the privilege?
Believe me, I do. I do have an internet connection, and it is not a pretty picture.
But (and again, there is always but), this picture doesn’t show you the whole picture, so to speak. You are not going to pay for the ticket anyway, you are going to get it for free. Well, I hope you don’t mind paying some taxes, and don’t worry, they are on a smallish side.
Please read my previous posts on the subject before you continue.
The business class award availability from my second post is gone by now; instead we have some cheap economy seats. All you need is 60,000 United Airlines Mileage Plus miles, and you’re all set. If you don’t have these miles in your account, I’ll tell you how to get them at the end of the post. So let’s begin with the introduction.
Right now, if you are trying to get to Brazil from the US, it’s very difficult. See this picture.
Why United? The United Mileage Plus program is the only one that’s going to work for us. Situation with Delta and American is even worse, because they are blocking cheap awards to Brazil outright. If you’re not familiar with United calendar, that’s fine. Here is what you need to know.
GREEN IS GOOD. It means both economy and business seats are available.
YELLOW IS GOOD also. It means economy seats are available.
BLUE IS NOT GOOD. It means only business/first class seats are available and they cost at least twice as many miles as coach.
In our example, the economy seat is only available for July 5. If that works for you and you have the miles, book it now. You will worry later about the flight back. If it doesn’t work for you, or if you don’t have at least 30,000 miles, keep reading.
The United calendar is a bit quirky in that it doesn’t show you all the routes you can use. It’s probably the best online award calendar out there, but it’s not perfect. So sometimes we need to give it an extra nudge.
I was playing around with some Latin American city pairs. You see, it’s quite easy to get anywhere to Latin America from the States–anywhere except Brazil during the World Cup because every airline is either blocking almost all award seats (like United), or charges double miles like American. So I tried a few options.
First, I tried to get to Brazil from Lima. No dice.
Next, I attempted Santiago, Chile. Excellent availability, but then I noticed it would route the flight via Buenos Aires. So I tried direct flight from Buenos Aires to San Paulo and hit the jackpot.
And here is availability from New York to Buenos Aires.
In order to put together this trip you would have to search awards by “Multiple Destinations”. First enter: NYC-EZE, then EZE-GRU. You’re flying to Buenos Aires on Copa and from Buenos Aires to Brazil on Turkish Airlines (nope, not a typo). Here is what your final availability will look like (click):
The “back home” availability is decent enough, so no trickery is required by now. But if you find availability dwindling you can always use reverse engineering to get a flight back. I used NYC in my example because I live here. Try it from your city and see what happens.
Grand total: 60,000 miles and $96.13 in taxes. You decide if saving over $1,500 is worth a little effort.
Now, is a similar trick possible with hotels? Normally, my answer would be resounding yes, but not during the World Cup. The way they have blocked every hotel so far, I doubt we’d be able to stay on loyalty points. We might get lucky as the time marches on, but I believe renting a short-term apartment is the best way to go. Re-read my FTG post again to see what I’m planning to do about it (first link above) and see if it would work for you.
Now, I promised to tell you how to get 60,000 miles quickly if you don’t have them already. So this is what you do.
1. Sign up for United Mileage Plus program at United.com.
2. Log in with your new number (provided you’re not a member already) and see what kind of credit card offer from United you get. You might get 30,000 miles, which is standard offer or up to 55,000, which is a very special offer for special people. Just kidding.
3. You will most likely get 30,000 offer, so don’t sign up for it just yet. Read this Flyertalk thread VERY CAREFULLY and follow the instructions. If you get the 55,000 offer (extra 5,000 for adding an authorized user) you’re almost done. Make sure you add an additional cardholder and charge $5,000 to your card. You only need to charge $2,000 in 3 months to get the points, but that will get you only 57K, and you need 60K. Remember that you get at least 1 point for every $1 you charge on the card.
If you have carefully followed the instructions but still can’t get the 55K offer to show up (remember to apply in a cookie-free environment like Chrome Incognito or IE In Private), sign up for Chase Sapphire Preferred (find the link on my Best Credit Cards for Free Flights page). It currently offers up to 55,000 miles.
If you get the 55,000 CSP offer, you’re almost done. Make sure you add an additional cardholder and charge $5,000 to your card. You only need to charge $3,000 in 3 months to get the points, but that will get you only 58K, and you need 60K. Remember that you get at least 1 point for every $1 you charge on the card. Transfer your 60K points to your United account and book your flight.
4. If you can’t get either offer, consider signing up for two cards: the lesser 30,000-mile offer from United and the 40,000-mile offer from CSP. Whatever you do, do not forget to meet your spend requirement or you won’t get any miles.
Is it possible the availability won’t be there by the time you’re ready to book your flight? Of course, it’s possible. It’s every bit as possible as that something new will most certainly open up. America is not a soccer country. The hype will subside, and you will be able to book the flight anyway.
And if I’m terribly wrong (and I don’t think I am), you will still be left with your 60,000 miles you can use for another epic trip. I would like to say something snappy like No venture–no gain, but really, where is the venture?