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As I mentioned previously, over the coming days and weeks you’ll see the occasional post from a fellow reader who has applied to write for OMAAT on an ongoing basis. It’s possible that posts will still be in the publication queue after we’ve announced our decision, so we’ll be publishing these anonymously. We hope you enjoy the different perspectives!
In my regular life I work as a high school math teacher. My coworker Daniela is… wait for it… also a math teacher.
This of course means that we have the same vacation schedule; but whereas I like to use my points and miles knowledge to fly business class to whatever interesting place happens to have good award availability, Daniela tends to buy British Airways economy tickets to Prague to visit her parents.
So, you know, basically the same, except she pays more and her flights are not quite as comfortable. As an example of how miles and points can improve all kinds of travel, let’s look at changing that.
My goal is to create a strategy for Daniela that will focus on the following:
- Save as much money as possible on the three trips each year that she takes from Los Angeles to Prague
- Keep the required credit card spend under $2000 per month
- Her emphasis is on spending as much time with her family as possible, so her flexibility is minimal.
- The flights will be for winter break (essentially December 1 through January 1, thanks to our school’s wacky schedule), spring break (the last two weeks of March), and the summer (mid-June to mid-August).
- I’ll be focusing on economy flights for this post. No matter how many gorgeous cabins Ben flies in, many people want to stretch their miles as far as they can, and that’s the case here.
- As a point of comparison, she says the flights often cost her around $1500 each (this seemed super high to me, but I think the allure of Avios has, unfortunately, bought her loyalty to this point).
Also, before we start, please know that this is a purely mental exercise. Award availability comes and goes constantly, so by tomorrow the specific awards detailed below could be impossible.
Let’s just see what is generally feasible.
The general plan
Three credit card signups will more than do the trick for these three roundtrip flights to Europe. For those of us who do not fly for work, strategically signing up for credit cards is the primary way we earn points and miles. Like many teachers, Daniela does additional tutoring on the side, so we can consider small business cards as well.
Credit Card Signups
- Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card (ASAP)
- CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard® (June 2018)
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (September 2018)
Transfers used/Airlines flown
- Ultimate Rewards → United MileagePlus for flights on Lufthansa
- Ultimate Rewards → FlyingBlue for flights on AirFrance and/or KLM
- AAdvantage miles for flights on American Airlines (the availability exists!)
Step One: Earn Ink Preferred Signup Bonus to Book Summer Break Trips
I mean, why wouldn’t the first step be to apply for the card Ben ranks #1 for March? While the online offer is 80k points after spending $5,000 in three months, you can potentially get an offer for 100k for the same minimum spend if you apply in-branch like I just did, literally five hours ago.
Once she makes the minimum spend, she’ll hopefully have 105,000 Ultimate Rewards points with which to work, and United MileagePlus is going to be our transfer partner of choice for the outbound June flight. As we can see, economy availability is really good:
While Singapore Air Krisflyer would charge 2,500 fewer miles and is also an Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, most of the availability showing is on Lufthansa, for which Krisflyer would charge about $250 in taxes and fees. United, in a rare win over Singapore, only charges $43 in taxes and fees for this flight.
If the availability were on United itself, then booking with Krisflyer would be the better bet.
Convoluted? Indeed. It’s almost as if the airlines don’t want us extracting thousands of dollars of value!
Now, for the trip back, Star Alliance availability at the end of August seems to have dried up, though not entirely:
If those available days match up with the beginning of school, then another 30k point transfer to MileagePlus will take care of it. If not, FlyingBlue is also an Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, and award space is pretty good:
While the taxes and fees are more than we’d like to pay, it’s still a nice redemption for Europe in the summer. And much less than she’s currently spending for a similar itinerary.
Step 2: Sign up for the CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard and book the outbound winter break flight
Before she flies, Daniela should apply for the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®. At the moment, the signup bonus is 60,000 AAdvantage miles for $3,000 spent in three months, and this will set her up for her flight before winter break. The card doesn’t have foreign transaction fees, so she can work on meeting her minimum spend while she’s in Europe.
Not only is economy availability wide open at the beginning of December, but it’s during off-peak dates and the transatlantic flight is on American metal, meaning she can avoid the dreaded British Airways
screw you award traveler fees fuel surcharges:
The way home might not be so easy. Searching all of the major alliances for award space turned up essentially no saver award space.
Apparently the days around Christmas and New Years are popular for traveling. Who knew!? So she has a few options.
The option of the non-initiated: in August, when she returns to the US, Daniela could sign up for the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, meet the $3,000 minimum spend, and get $500 in cash-back credit to use on a revenue ticket home.
Or, my preference, the “Let’s live a little option”, which leads to:
Step 3: Earn the Signup Bonus for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and book the return flight in the front of the plane
In August, Daniela can sign up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, earn the 50k UR points, and book a business class flight on KLM by transferring 65k to FlyingBlue:
The price tag is steep – both in terms of points and dollars – but when you’ve never flown up front (and even when you have), long-haul business class is just so much fun.
Step 4: Book spring break trips as soon as you can
For spring break 2019, I’ll have to engage in some guesswork, but here’s the good news:
MileagePlus Availability toward the end of the schedule:
AAdvantage Availability toward the end of the schedule:
FlyingBlue Availability toward the end of the schedule:
This is all to say that since Daniela will know her vacation schedule well in advance, she should have no trouble finding economy availability if she plans ahead. And, with at least 35,000 Ultimate Rewards and 37,500 AAdvantage miles left, she has enough to book two one-ways already.
I think we’ve done it! That’s enough for three roundtrip flights from LAX to PRG. Let’s do some tabulating (I am a math teacher, after all).
Total out-of-pocket expenses:
Annual fees: $95 for the Ink, $0 for the CSP in the first year, and $0 for the CitiBusiness AAdvantage card in the first year for a total of $95. (“Nice mental math!” said in my least-sarcastic teacher voice)
Points Used: Approximately 147.5k UR and 45 AA.
Taxes and fees: Approximately $627.
Minimum Spends: $5,000 + $3,000 + $4,000 = $12,000. This can scare a lot of people off, but I’ve found that I haven’t had any trouble meeting $5,000 in three months, and presumably she makes more than I do since she’s been teaching for a bit longer.
By signing up for cards tailored to her travel needs, and having a solid plan, Daniela can save a few thousand dollars compared to what she is currently paying each year to go home to see her parents.
While your travel goals are almost certainly different, there is a strategy out there that can save you money as well.
I know that no post can be everything to every reader, but I hope this one helps anyone new to the hobby or those trying to convince a skeptical friend to jump in.
*You’ll notice I haven’t named the country Prague is actually in. It seems like the official short name is now Czechia, but most Americans still call it the Czech Republic, and Daniela herself just refers to it as Czech, so I have no clue what to do.*
As a reminder, this post was guest-written by a fellow reader. Feedback is appreciated, but please keep the comments kind and constructive.