Many bloggers, including those on my sidebar, focus on really exotic travel (Maldives, Far East, Oceania, etc.), but my tastes are more prosaic. Mrs. Points Ninja and I prefer Europe, as, at a guess, most casual travelers do. Since getting into the miles & points game, we've traveled to Europe four times, each time in either First or Business class, and each time using miles. Over the years, I've built up quite healthy miles balances and currently have enough for at least four more transatlantic (TATL) trips. But, as a though experiment, this post will lay out a strategy for achieving a reasonable travel goal: one business class tickets to Europe. Of course, a couple could use this same strategy to earn enough miles for two tickets.
How to do it? Well, if you're an actual frequent flier, congratulations! You may already have the 100,000-125,000 miles that a business class ticket will cost you. For the rest of us, the answer is credit card sign up bonuses. Caveat: No one should consider this strategy if they plan to carry credit card debt, i.e. not paying your bill off in full each month. If you have credit card debt, my best advice would be to work at paying it off first.
With that out of the way, let's look at possible strategies. For the purposes of this post, I'll assume that the reader has 0 miles. I'll try to get you to 125,000 miles in a program with decent TATL availability with the minimum number of credit card sign ups (and credit report pulls) as possible.
There are a lot of bloggers that love to hate Delta. Gary at View from the Wing coined the term "Skypesos" to describe Delta's Skymiles. There's some grounds for the hate, but I'm something of a Delta partisan. Two of our past trips, and one upcoming trip, have been in Delta's Business Elite (now "DeltaOne") class. It's a decent business class product and TATL availability, particularly in the shoulder season, isn't terrible. Plus, business class tickets include access to Delta's Skyclubs during your trip. With Delta, TATL business class would require at least 125,000 miles. Amex has an exclusive relationship with Delta, so only their cards earn Skymiles. Here's how to get there with three credit card applications:
- Starwood American Express: Currently Amex is offering 35,000 miles when you sign up for the Starwood Amex and spend $3,000 in the first 3 months. The card carries a $95 annual fee, but it is waived the first year. Cancel before you're first year is up and you'll pay no annual fee. The nice thing about Starwood is that their points transfer to multiple airlines (including Delta) and you receive a bonus of 5,000 miles for every 20,000 miles you transfer. Links for this offer can be found on Amex's home page or in any of the blogs on my sidebar. OR, you could let me refer you and I'd earn a bonus when you signed up. If you're interested, just email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Starwood Small Business Amex: Essentially, this is the same offer as above, but for small businesses. "But I don't have a small business" you say. To that, I ask, have you ever sold anything on Ebay? Then you have a small business. Amex regularly approves small business applications for sole proprietor small businesses like this. Lucky @ One Mile at a Time covers the card here.
- Delta Gold Amex: Get the two cards mentioned above first (you can apply for both on the same day). Then wait a couple of months and pick up the Delta Gold Amex. The current offer is 30,000 Skymiles for getting the card and spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. You'll also receive a $50 statement credit for your first $50 Delta purchase (which can be a $50 Delta Gift card). There's on annual fee the first year, and you can cancel the card when the fee comes due in a year. I can refer you to this offer, but there are occasionally better offers available. If one comes up, I'll update this post. EDIT: The Frequent Miler offers useful info on looking for targeted (i.e., better) Amex offers HERE.
After completing the required initial spending (see my posts on Manufactured Spending for tips on how to do that) you'll have 76,000 Starpoints and 31,000 Skymiles. And additional $4,000 in spending on either Starwood card would bring you up to a round 80,000 Starpoints which could be transferred into 100,000 Skymiles, bringing you to a total of 131,000 Skymiles. Your total costs would be (at most) the cost of manufacturing $11,000 in spending, approximately $128. Not bad for a TATL business class ticket.
Generally speaking, British Airways Avios program has decent award availability on their own flights. The trouble is that they carry exorbitant taxes and fees on award flights. For example, here's what pricing on a flight to London looks like:
Ouch! Over $1,000. So, this isn't the best option for travel on the cheap. I'll try to help you deal with those taxes, though.
- British Airways Visa: This one's issued by Chase and has a great sign up offer discussed here by View from the Wing. If you're willing to do some manufactured spending (or can put $20,000 in regular spending in the first year you have the card) you'd earn a total bonus of 100,000 Avios. Bump your spending up to $25,000 and you'd have enough miles to cover a TATL business class ticket. Bump it up to $30,00 in the first year and you'd qualify for a "travel together" award allowing two people to travel in business class for 125,000 miles (BUT, you pay taxes on both!).
- Barclay Arrival Card: You can take some of the sting out of those taxes if you sign up for the Barclay Arrival+ card. It comes with a sign-up bonus of 40,000 points for spending $3,000 in the first three months and no annual fee the first year:
- Again, I can refer you to this card, or you can find a public offer on Barclaycard.com. If you used your Arrival card to pay the taxes on your BA award, those 40,000 Arrival points would be good for $400 towards your taxes, bringing you down to about $700. Still not great, but much cheaper than paying for a business class ticket, or even an economy ticket for that matter.
If you can find availability, American's Saver-level business class flights cost 100,000 AA miles. Flight's on AA's own aircraft don't carry excessive fees, but watch out for the BA flights that will appear in online award search results. Those will carry the same high fees that I discussed above. But, at least getting to 100K miles with AA is pretty easy.
- Citibank Platinum Select AA Mastercard - This card carries a $95 annual fee (waived the first year)) and comes with a 50,000 mile bonus for getting the card and spending $3,000 in the first three months. The Frequent Miler discusses this offer, and others here, and his referral link is here.
- Citibank Business AA Mastercard - This is another small business credit card that offers a 50,000 sign-up bonus for spending $3,000 in the first three months. Like the personal card, the $95 annual fee is waived the first year. The Frequent Miler discusses this offer, and others here, and his referral link is here.
- Alternatively, you could get the two Amex Starwood cards discussed in the Delta section of this post. Starwood points transfer to AA also, and taking this route would earn a total of 100,000 AA points once you include Starwood's transfer bonus.
In the near future, I'll be updating this post to add options for Lufthansa, and United, so stay tuned!