Collecting Miles As A Beginner?

In the interest of full disclosure, One Mile At A Time earns a referral bonus for anyone that’s approved through some of the below links. These are the best publicly available offers that we have found for each card. Please check out our advertiser policy for further details about the partners we work with. Thanks for your support!

Update: These offers for the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express and Gold Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express are expired. Learn more about the current offer here.

Reader Owen left the following comment on the “Ask Lucky” page of the blog a few weeks ago, but I’m just now getting to answering in-depth:

Hi, Ben. I have a friend at work who plans to go from DC (any airport) to BKK via Tokyo (stop-over of 5 days) and asked for my help. She is looking for two first (preferably) or business class tickets. I plan to refer your booking service. She and her husband have almost no credit cards but great credit, which should make it easy to get enough miles and points before May next year, which is when they want to go. Which points and miles should I recommend, and how many? Should I have them contact you now? I’m thinking Chase Ultimate rewards and Amex MRs, in addition to other miles, will provide the most options. ANA, AA, US Airways, Korean, and Singapore are potential airlines. Thanks.

This is a common question, and it’s understandably difficult for people who are new to our hobby to wrap their heads around the mileage requirements for award tickets. So I thought it might be helpful to go through my general approach for recommending a card strategy.

To start, let’s look at the mileage required for business and first class tickets to Southeast Asia with some of the major mileage currencies:

Airline ProgramBusiness ClassFirst Class
Air Canada Aeroplan150,000
*one-way awards allowed for 50% of miles
210,000
*one-way awards allowed for 50% of miles
Alaska Airlines Mileage PlanCathay Pacific: 100,000
Delta: 120,000
Emirates: 150,000
Korean: 120,000
*one-way awards allowed for 50% of miles
Cathay Pacific: 140,000
Delta: n/a
Emirates: 200,000
Korean: n/a *one-way awards allowed for 50% of miles
American Airlines AAdvantage110,000
*one-way awards allowed for 50% of miles
135,000
*one-way awards allowed for 50% of miles
Delta SkyMiles 140,000
n/a
Korean Air SkyPassSkyTeam Partners: 135,000
Korean only: 150,000
*one-way awards allowed for 50% of miles on Korean awards only
SkyTeam Partners: 180,000
Korean only: 190,000
*one-way awards allowed for 50% of miles on Korean awards only
Singapore Kris FlyerFrom West Coast: 136,000
From East Coast: 144,500
*one-way awards allowed for 50% of miles, includes online booking discount
From West Coast: 182,750
From East Coast: 187,000
*one-way awards allowed for 50% of miles, includes online booking discount
United Mileage PlusUnited: 140,000
Partners: 160,000
*one-way awards allowed for 50% of miles
United: 160,000
Partners: 260,000
*one-way awards allowed for 50% of miles
US Airways Dividend Miles120,000160,000

Many of these programs offer one-way awards for half the price of a roundtrip, though keep in mind that in most cases you can’t have a stopover on a one-way award.

In addition to knowing the mileage requirements, it’s important to have an idea of how you’re going to get miles into a particular program. It’s great that Alaska allows stopovers on one-way awards, for example, but they have one of the more difficult currencies to accrue.

With that in mind, here are the flexible points transfer partners of each of those programs:

Airline ProgramTransfer PartnersEarn Miles With
Air Canada AeroplanAmerican Express Membership Rewards
Starwood Preferred Guest
American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card
American Express EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Card from American Express
Alaska Airlines Mileage PlanStarwood Preferred GuestStarwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Card from American Express
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card
American Airlines AAdvantageStarwood Preferred GuestStarwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Card from American Express
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®
Delta SkyMiles American Express Membership Rewards
Starwood Preferred Guest
American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card
American Express EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Card from American Express
Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express
Gold Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express
etc.
Korean Air SkyPassChase Ultimate RewardsChase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Ink Plus® Business Credit Card
Ink Bold® Business Charge Card
Singapore Kris FlyerAmerican Express Membership Rewards
Chase Ultimate Rewards
Citi ThankYou Points
Starwood Preferred Guest
American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card
American Express EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Ink Plus® Business Credit Card
Ink Bold® Business Charge Card
Citi ThankYou® Premier Card
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Card from American Express
United Mileage PlusChase Ultimate RewardsChase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Ink Plus® Business Credit Card
Ink Bold® Business Charge Card
US Airways Dividend MilesStarwood Preferred GuestStarwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Card from American Express
US Airways Premier World MasterCard®

That’s a ton of potential options, which on the one hand is awesome, and on the other is downright confusing.

Singapore-Airlines-A380-Business-Class-6
Singapore Airlines A380 business class seat

So the main thing here is that Owen’s friends need to be strategic in their applications. In my experience most people who are new to the game aren’t going to be interested in getting six cards each or spending every weekend at Walmart right off the bat, so let’s try and find a way to do this with 2-3 cards each.

They also want to be careful not to over-diversify their balances, and if they’re wanting to have a stopover, their best strategy is likely going to be to focus on accruing enough miles in a single program for two roundtrips. If the stopover isn’t a priority, they could look at going one-way with one program, and the return with another, which could open up even more options.

Given all that, there are several possible ways to go about this — you could look at purchasing some of the miles, combining miles from multiple programs, etc.

Since Owen’s friends are absolute beginners, I’d suggest keeping this as easy as possible though.

Stock up on Ultimate Rewards

This would be my first choice, as Ultimate Rewards are easy to accrue given the lucrative category bonuses and the numerous opportunities to maximize spending.

So I’d recommend the following for each person:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, which offers 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within three months, plus an additional 5,000 Ultimate Rewards points when you add an authorized user to the card that makes a purchase within three months (they can make each other authorized users). Earn 2X points on travel and dining.
  • Ink Plus® Business Credit Card which offers 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $5,000 within three months. 

This would give them at least 124,000 each, and depending on what categories they met their minimum spends in that could be even higher.

Picking up some Starwood Preferred Guest points is great to bolster your balances for a Singapore KrisFlyer award, for example, but doesn’t help much if the best availability is on Korean. And since these people are beginners I’d try to keep it as simple as possible.

What about you? What strategy would you recommend for a beginner in this case?

Regarding Comments: The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Comments

  1. Ben, I’ve been a long time reader, but it’s time to unsubscribe. You’ll of course justify this post as “responding to a reader question”, but you should be embarrassed at this shameless and transparent plugfest. You have simply gone too far in becoming a credit card puppet. Feel free to contact me if you dial it back or if you’re able to score an interview with His Excellency Mr. Akbar Al Baker.

    -A former reader

  2. @JohnnyPeps hahaaa I’m sure your loss will be keenly felt.

    @lucky – my only source of disappointment as you preceded to answer the question in the most direct and concise way was that I don’t have any of these ‘easy’ options in the UK

  3. I believe most beginners are hesitant to apply for a business credit card unless, of course, they have an actual business. In addition, I’d presume most beginners prefer to fly the most direct route possible, regardless of airplane type as long as it’s business or first class.
    With that in mind, knowing they want to have a stopover in Tokyo for 5 days and their final destination is Bangkok, that’s star alliance territory. The airlines that quickly came to my head would be ANA and United. I also thought about JAL but there are no nonstop flights between IAD-NRT on JAL.
    Given we’re targeting star alliance carriers, I’d either recommend getting the Chase Sapphire Preferred card with the 40k bonus, the United explorer card with 50k bonus, and either buy the remainder of miles or obtain them through dining bonuses, mileageplusexplorer shopping portal, and Ultimate Rewards portal.
    Nowadays I plan my aspiration flights 2 years ahead so I can collect miles and be ready to book the flights 331 days or a year in advance.
    Good luck to them!
    As for beginners, I’d also recommend they apply for a club carlson hotel credit card since us bank is one of those banks that are hard to get an approval from if you’re already into the hobby with over 15 credit cards, etc.

  4. Agree with Joey on the timing aspect. It’s easy to forget that it takes real time to earn the miles, for them to post to your account and then to have any flexibility at all in booking you need to book way in advance. Two years might be a bit much, but I just booked my next summer vacation to Croatia and Spain and started planning the miles in March.

  5. @ JohnnyPeps — Fewer than 10% of my posts are about credit cards. I don’t expect anyone to like all of my posts. Some people HATE my trip reports. Some people HATE my credit card posts. Some people HATE my posts with Real Housewives gifs. And that’s fine. Because hopefully at the end of the day you get more value than not out of the blog.

    If fewer than 10% of my posts are going to make you unsubscribe then there’s nothing I can do. And frankly in looking at the history of your comments on the blog, you haven’t left a single nice one. Something tells me you’re not going anywhere. 😉

  6. I think the very existence of this reader question is the problem here. Clearly his colleague thinks that it is as easy as pie to get two first class tickets to BKK with a stop-over in NRT… she must think these come around any day just like that…
    Why would she think that? Well, reckless pimping blogs like MMS, VFTW, TPG etc make it this all sound like one day a noob can apply for some credit cards and the next day she is taking her family on ANA and TG F to Asia… just like that!
    Well, dear noob, it doesn’t quite work that way. Many of us have been doing this for years, have supreme knowledge, excellent credit, and flexibility to travel… and yet it sometimes just doesn’t work out precisely the way we want to… and almost never it happens in a snap. Just like with any process… LEARN. And most importantly, don’t bite off more than you can chew.
    START SLOW.

  7. Maybe a similar post on hotels? My example being I’ve got hyatt plat, marriott gold from various promotions, and points with hyatt, starwood, and UR, and i’ve got to book 3 days in singapore and 2 separate days in bangkok, with a desire to hit max value of elite benefits, low cost, and in the case of 1 of the bangkok nights, some splurge.

  8. You seem like way to nice a guy to be treated rudely,do those folks realize how much time you spend answering all their questions? If you don’t like what Ben writes then just move on.

  9. I absolutely love how Lucky casually brushes comment trolls of his shoulder. I enjoy the credit card posts. And Lounge / Hotel posts. Trip reports. Airline …well I guess I just find it all useful and enjoyable. Hence my reading twice a day.

    Thanks Lucky!

  10. Is there a reason why ANA’s Mileage Club was completely left off the chart? A travel date of May 2015 corresponds to ANA’s low season, which means only 100,000 miles for business class and 160,000 in first.

  11. Lucky – I am a beginner to all this, so I especially appreciate the content of this post. Could you explain the reference in this post to “spending every weekend at Walmart right off the bat”? Thanks!

  12. Lucky, do you charge for advice about this kind of thing? Also, what kind of credit hit would you take applying for 3-4 cards within a short period of time? I am just getting done with the minimum spend on the AA Admirals club 75k offer. I should have roughly 140k miles in my account, but would like to start thinking about Chase cards…

  13. very interesting- Ben, I had a related question about business credit cards.
    Can you get a Business Credit Card if you don’t have a business?
    And also, can you get the business and regular versions of the same card and get double points?
    I recall someone talking about the AmEx and AmEx Business and them not being able to get the sign up bonus twice.

  14. @ Adi_T — You can almost always earn the sign-up bonus on both a personal and business card. You do need a business to get a business card, though it can be a sole proprietorship.

  15. @ Jeremy — It’s not something I personally do, but many “manufacture” spend by buying money orders at WalMart with credit cards and then cashing them out.

  16. Jeremy — It’s not something I personally do, but many “manufacture” spend by buying money orders at WalMart with credit cards and then cashing them out.

    Wow, I did not know that. Does buying money orders count as a miles-eligible purchase?
    If so, that’s a good idea, especially when you’re short of miles.

  17. Great piece of the puzzle…….but I also liked your JAL post and would think banking Starwood to ultimately convert to JAL could mean some sweet mileage based receptions in the Far East……….

  18. One thing I would suggest them to do before deciding which “camp” to start collecting miles is to check the availability of the awards first. Since they want to travel in May, it should be possible now to kind of eyeball what kind of award spaces are available. I agree with Joey that most infrequent travelers will prefer the shortest routes possible, so they might prefer IAD-NRT-BKK instead of IAD-LAX-NRT-SIN-BKK even if it means they get to fly one of the best first/suite class in the world on SQ instead of the dreaded UA’s Global First.

    By the way, I’ve seen that you don’t have much UA’s Global First and BusineesFirst reviews. Could you fly more of these? Is it too much to ask?

  19. Given the shutdown reports on FT, I’m not sure it’s safe to sign up for multiple Chase cards in the same year anymore. I’d be very hesitant to sign up for three within three months as suggested here.

  20. I think listing all those cards doesn’t really make much sense since they won’t be approved for so many cards from one bank. A more realistic approach would be to find a FFP where they can find different banks to pool in their points so they don’t get too many denials. BTW doesn’t Rewardflyer do this already?

  21. @Lucky,
    Let’s not mislead folks. You know better than to state that ““manufacture” spend by buying money orders at WalMart with credit cards and then cashing them out.”
    You have enough novices here that may actually try this out.

  22. Hello Lucky,

    Interesting site you have over here. Over the next 15 months,I ll be travelling several times(7-9 times) from Indian to the US (AMD/BOM to JFK/EWR and back to India by the same route),usually along with my family .I usually use one middle eastern airlines or Lufthansa ,depending upon which is cheaper for the particular dates of travel.

    I want to maximize the amount of upgrades I get . Could you give a strategy for me?

  23. @ Gaurav — United might be a good option, as they fly to India and as a top tier elite you would receive six systemwide upgrades per year. That’s probably what I would go with in your shoes.

  24. Awesome post, and useful to those of us who are not newbies, but not quite experts either. Thank you!

    And, I second the request for something similar for Europe. Please.

  25. This is a very useful post but, FYI, if you want multiple award seats on ANA, I’d not count on it. Have an F award booked on one of their flights and they haven’t released a second award yet even though it’s less than two weeks out and only 2 of 8 seats have been sold. Very frustrating and I’m very close to swallowing redeposit fees and using very valuable KrisFlyer miles to book 2 Suites.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *