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There are a lot of reasons to collect miles and points.

  • For free luxury hotel stays and first class flights
  • To travel to more countries than you could otherwise afford
  • To take your family on vacation
  • To visit home for the holidays
  • To earn big rewards for everyday spending

Whatever your reason for being here, there is a rewards card or cards that suit your needs.

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Want to spend four days backpacking in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile. There’s a rewards card to get you there (but not to pitch your tent.)

In the last few years, I’ve been to dozens of countries, travel that would have been completely impossible without miles and points earned from credit cards. This has been my life thanks to miles:

  • Trekking four days in Torres del Paine National Park in Chile
  • Biking 25km around Bogota as part of the original Ciclovia
  • Hiking the Great Wall of China with my brother
  • Straddling the border between North and South Korea
  • Watching dragons dance at the Mid-Autumn Festival in Hong Kong
  • Eating more steak than anyone should in Brazil and Argentina
  • Cliff jumping in Dubrovnik, Croatia
  • Leading an “Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!” cheer in Rod Laver Arena during the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia
  • Scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef
  • Eating Thai-hot Thai curry in Thailand at Thai prices
  • Biking in the Lake District of Patagonia in Bariloche, Argentina
  • Spending three days at Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany
  • Seeing Angkor Wat near Siem Reap, Cambodia
  • Getting some home cooking from my mom who lives 5,000 miles away
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The 55 Countries I’ve Visited

If you don’t have the money to take your dream trips, the good news is that you don’t need much money. By maximizing the sign up bonuses on rewards cards, anyone with good credit can take a dream trip anywhere in the world.

1. Citi American Airlines Personal and Business Cards (100,000 Bonus Miles Total)

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® (personal card) comes with 50,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months.

The other huge benefit is that cardholders get a 10% rebate on all American Airlines award redemptions up to 100k redeemed/10k rebated per year. Example: You book Cathay Pacific First Class from San Francisco to Hong Kong for 67.5k miles. In a few weeks, you get 6,750 miles rebated to your account.

The card also comes with a free checked bag, priority boarding, 25% off onboard food purchases, 2 miles per dollar on AA flights, and one mile per dollar on everything else.

There is no annual fee the first year, then $95.

Right now American Airlines has the best award chart in the world, and it has committed to keeping the same award chart next year even though Delta and United have brutally devalued their charts this year and last.

Application Link: Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®

The business version of the AAdvantage card offers the same sign up bonus (50k miles after $3k/3 months) and no annual fee the first year, followed by $95. Plus the business card offers 2x mile category bonuses on popular business categories. Full MileValue review on the business card.

You can hold both cards at the same time.

Application Link:  CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard®

I recently used American Airlines miles to fly between the United States and Colombia. I’m writing a multi-part series on how to redeem American Airlines miles. Here are the first 10 posts.

2. US Airways Premier World MasterCard

The US Airways® Premier World MasterCard® is now offering 50,000 bonus miles after first purchase for a limited time! US Airways miles are the most valuable miles right now because of how cheap business class awards are on the US Airways award chart.

Here are all the places you can go with just the sign up bonus on this card!

The other big perks are a free checked bag for you and four companions on paid US Airways flights purchased with the cards.

The card earns 1 US Airways mile per dollar on all purchases and 2 miles per dollar on US Airways purchases.

There is an $89 annual fee.

US Airways has an incredible award chart to use the miles now, or they will be converted to American Airlines miles in the second quarter of 2015, which is a fair conversion.

This card will disappear in the second quarter of 2015 when US Airways’ and American Airlines’ loyalty programs combine. Any miles you have will be safe and converted to American Airlines miles. Don’t miss out on getting this card and its bonus before the merger is complete.

If you get the American Airlines and US Airways cards right now, the miles will be combined early next year, and you’ll have at least 103,000 American Airlines miles.

Get Referred to the US Airways Card to Benefit Another Reader

3. Ink Plus

The Ink Plus is a business card that offers 50,000 Ultimate Rewards after spending $5,000 in the first three months. Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 to United, British Airways, Singapore, Korean, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, Amtrak, and more.

The Ink Plus earns 5x points on internet, phone, and cell phone bills; 5x points on purchases at office supply stores; 2x points on hotels and gas; and 1x points on everything else.

The annual fee is $95, though it is waived for the first year.

I recently used Ultimate Rewards (transferred to Hyatt points) to book the Grand Hyatt Macau and Ultimate Rewards (transferred to United miles) to book Slovenia-to-North Carolina in Lufthansa First Class.

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4. Citi ThankYou Premier Card

The Citi ThankYou® Premier Card offers 20,000 bonus points after $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening and an additional 30,000 bonus points after another $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of your second year of being a cardmember. That’s 50,000 bonus ThankYou points total.

ThankYou Points transfer to nine airlines and one hotel.

My favorite transfer partner is Singapore Airlines. For 50,000 Singapore miles, you can book a roundtrip award to South America with two free one ways to Hawaii, all on United flights.

My second favorite partner is Flying Blue. Flying Blue miles can book Promo Awards that cost only 12,500 miles each way to Europe or Israel. You can also use Flying Blue miles to book one way awards on Delta like 15,000 miles to Hawaii, Central America, or the Caribbean.

I also love this card’s big 3x category bonuses. Take a look at the current category bonuses and the (neutral-to-positive) changes that are coming April 19.

The card has no annual fee the first year. In April, the annual fee drops to $95 for this card, so by the time you pay your first annual fee for this card in 12 months, it will only be $95.

Application Link: Citi ThankYou® Premier Rewards Card

I recently transferred ThankYou Points to Singapore miles to book a Business Class award for 20,000 miles that would have cost 40,000 United miles.

5. Arrival Plus

The Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard® is a great card for families that travel in economy, since Arrival miles can be used to book any flight on any airline with no blackouts. Miles can also be redeemed for any hotel or other travel expense.

This card comes with 40,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 90 days and earns 2 miles per dollar on all purchases.

Miles are worth 1.14 cents each, so spending $3,000 on the card in the first 90 days earns more than $500 in free flights or other travel expenses.

With this card you can book any flight on any airline at any time, or any hotel, or rental car, then redeem your miles for a statement credit equal to the cost. Here’s how.

The 40,000 bonus miles could be used on any $400 flight without the need to find award space. You would even earn miles for flying the flight, since the airline will see it as a cash ticket!

Plus you get a 10% rebate after every redemption for travel, so after redeeming the 40,000 miles for $400 in travel, you get 4,000 miles back, worth $40 more dollars.

This card fills the gaps in a miles strategy because the rewards are perfect for cheap domestic flights or hotels that otherwise would be bad redemptions with traditional airline miles and hotel points.

There is no annual fee the first year, $89 thereafter.

Application Link: Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard®

I recently used my Arrival miles to book myself a free Airbnb stay and to pay the taxes on an award booked with traditional miles.

6. Sapphire Preferred

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a personal card that earns 40k Ultimate Rewards after spending $3k in 3 months. Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 to United, British Airways, Korean, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, Amtrak, and more.

You also get 5k bonus points for adding an authorized user while applying, so I think of this as a 45k bonus point card. (Adding an authorized user does not prevent that person from getting the card at the same time or in the future as a primary account holder and getting the full sign up bonus.)

The Sapphire Preferred earns 2x points on dining and travel. Dining includes bars, restaurants, and fast food. Travel includes airfare, hotels, taxis, rental cars, tolls, parking, and much more.

The Sapphire Preferred has no annual fee the first year, then $95 thereafter.

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7. Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card

The Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card is the best card for giving you free luxury hotel nights. The card comes with two free weekend nights at Hiltons worldwide after spending $2,500 in the first four months. The free nights are best spent at top-tier Hiltons and Conrads that can go for $500 or more per night.

This card is perfect to get aspirational stays at top tier properties like the Conrad Koh Samui that goes for 95,000 Hilton points per night and costs more than $1k per night.

The card also comes with Hilton Gold Status, so you can enjoy free internet and breakfast on those free stays.

The card earns 10x points on Hilton stays, 5x on airlines and car rentals, and 3x on all other purchases.

There card has no foreign transaction fee. The annual fee is $95.

Application Link: Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card

8. Platinum Card from American Express Exclusively for Mercedes-Benz

The Platinum Card from American Express Exclusively for Mercedes-Benz comes with 50,000 Membership Rewards after spending $3,000 in the first three months.

The card has a $475 annual fee in the first year. But it comes with huge benefits like airline fee reimbursement, airport lounge access, and hotel status.

For more info on setting up and maximizing the benefits, see Get the Most Out of Your Platinum Card.

Landing Page: Platinum Card from American Express Exclusively for Mercedes-Benz

9. British Airways Card

The British Airways Visa Signature card comes with 50,000 bonus Avios after spending $2,000 in the first three months on the card.

The card comes with 2.5 Avios per dollar on British Airways purchases and 1.25 Avios per dollar on other purchases.

British Airways Avios are perfect for short, direct, economy flights on British Airways partners that do not levy fuel surcharges like these partners.

For instance, the west coast to Hawaii on American Airlines or Alaska Airlines flights for 12,500 Avios or only 4,500 Avios between New York and a dozen destinations are two of many sweet spots.

The card has a $95 annual fee that is waived for the first 12 months.

Application Link: British Airways Visa Signature Card

10. Citi Prestige Card

The Citi Prestige® Card comes with 30,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $2,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open, $250 in airfare or airline fee credits per calendar year, access to the American Airlines Admirals Clubs and Priority Pass lounges, 3x points per dollar on air travel and hotels, and a $450 annual fee.

 

The Citi Prestige® Card is premium card that is designed to give travelers huge benefits to offset the big annual fee. For the first 12 months of holding the card, you are guaranteed to get more than $450 from the card if you maximize the $250 worth of statement credits to offset airline tickets or fees each calendar year, a $100 statement credit to offset Global Entry, and Priority Pass and American Airlines lounge access.

Beyond the 30,000 point sign up bonus, the Citi Prestige® Card earns:

  • Earn 3x points on Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 2x points on Dining at Restaurants and Entertainment

ThankYou Points transfer to nine airlines and one hotel. Or you can use the points for 1.33 cents off any flight on any airline with no blackouts or 1.6 cents off American Airlines and US Airways flights.

Click these links for a full explanation of the card’s benefits and for a comparison to the American Express Platinum Card.

Application Link: Citi Prestige® Card
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It’s already February. Summer is just a few short months away, so now is your last, best chance to plan and execute a perfect summer vacation to Europe for 2015 with miles and points for pennies on the dollar.

Your roundtrip flights can be under $100. You hotels can be free. Everything else will seem like it’s 30% off as the euro sits at $1.13. I’ve been in Europe when it was $1.50!

This blueprint will explain which miles to accrue, why to accrue them, how many you need, and which cards to open now to accrue them. I’ve even got a few tips on free hotel and airbnb.

Get United Miles

United and its partners in the Star Alliance have the best award availability to Europe for Summer 2015 by far. Award space in economy to Europe is wide open for 4+ people on the same itinerary this summer. Sample routes:

New York to Frankfurt, June and July, award space for 4 in economy on 54/61 days

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Houston to Brussels, July and August, award space for 4 in economy on 55/62 days Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 2.50.03 PM

Los Angeles to Paris, June and July, award space for 4 in economy on 34/61 days Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 2.50.28 PM

Award space is better from the East Coast because finding the award space within North America during the summer is hard, and flights from the West Coast directly to Europe have terrible award space on almost every airline.

Award space within Europe is excellent, so pretty much no matter where you want to go in Europe should have similar award space.

Business and First Class award space is very limited right now. Usually United’s flights to Brussels from Newark and Washington-Dulles have some of the best premium-cabin award space in its European network. Right now Washington-Dulles to Brussels only has premium-cabin award space for one passenger on 6/61 days in July and August.

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Some days do have award space in both Business and First Class.Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 3.14.55 PM

If you really want to fly a premium cabin, I’d suggest one of two options:

  1. Book a premium cabin one way. There is sprinkled award space in Business and First Class on various routes. Find space in one direction that you can build on, and then book the other direction in economy since economy space is plentiful with United miles to and from Europe this summer. The age old question is which direction to book in Business Class? If it’s the eastbound, you get better use of the bed. If it’s the westbound, you get more out of the service and experience. There is no right answer.
  2. Book economy now and look to change one or both directions to a premium cabin in the last few days before departure.

Both United and Lufthansa, the German Star Alliance carrier, are pretty famous for opening last minute award space in Business and First Class.

Check a few weeks before departure to see if space has opened up on your flight and then every day after that. Space can open up as late as the day of your flight.

Unfortunately changing an award within 21 days of departure does cost $75 per ticket, but weirdly, sometimes this fee is forgotten by phone agents and not charged online.

How Many United Miles?

United charges:

  • 30,000 miles one way in economy
  • 57,500 miles one way in United Business (and for a limited time in partner Business)
  • 70,000 miles one way in partner Business Class normally
  • 80,000 miles one way in United First
  • 110,000 miles one way in partner First

You’ll need at least 60,000 United miles per person for the roundtrip to Europe. United awards do not require a payment of fuel surcharges, but you will be on the hook for government taxes associated with your flights. These vary based on the countries you transit, arrive in, and depart from.

The highest taxes are on roundtrip Business or First Class awards to the United Kingdom (about $300). For most European itineraries, the roundtrip taxes will be in the $100 to $150 range. Lower taxes are available to some countries also. If the taxes matter a lot to you, play around with awards to different countries on united.com.

Add up the number of miles you need for the passengers and cabins you have in mind.

How to Get United Miles

The easiest way to get United miles is from credit card sign up bonuses on cards that offer United miles or Ultimate Rewards, the proprietary points Chase offers with some cards that transfer 1:1 instantly to United miles.

All the relevant cards are offered by Chase. In my experience, you can get one Chase personal and one Chase business card on the same day. Between such days, I like to wait 91 days until I apply for more Chase cards. I’ve also noticed that many people who are brand new to Chase can get two personal cards (and a business card) on the same day.

Once you get your cards, you will have to meet a minimum spending requirement to get the promised bonus miles. Once you meet the requirement, your miles should post the same day or maybe a day after the day on which your next statement closes.

Because of this lag between credit card application and getting your miles, unless you are planning a very late summer trip, you only have time for one relevant application day before summer. Make it count.

Here are the best two personal and one business card:

  • United personal card: 50,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 in the first three months, 5,000 bonus miles for adding an authorized user

Sign into your United account. Do you see a banner for this offer? If not, apply for the “standard” 30,000 miles offer. Then when approved, send a secure message from chase.com asking to be matched to the 50,000 mile offer. Something like this has worked for 2+ years:

“I recently applied for the 30,000 mile offer on the United card. Heading through the airport the other day, there was a 50,000 bonus mile offer after spending $2,000 in the first three months that was open to everyone. Can you match me to that offer?”

Your mileage may vary.

About the extra 5,000 miles for adding an authorized user: the authorized user card does NOT stop that person from getting their own United card account with the bonus miles, does NOT require inputting that person’s social security number, and is sent to you.

This card should be 57,000 miles after spending $2,000.

  • Sapphire Preferred personal card: 40,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first three months, 5,000 bonus points for adding an authorized user.

This card should be 49,000 points (which transfer 1:1 instantly to United) after spending $4,000.

  • United business card: 50,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 in the first three months (limited time offer)

If you can get a business card, this card should be an easy 52,000 miles after spending $2,000.

One person getting all three cards would be 158,000 United miles after spending $8,000 in the next three months.

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Future Cards

In 91+ days, you could get the Freedom for 10,000 bonus points after spending $500 in the first three months and the Ink Plus business card for 50,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first three months. That’s about it in the short term for how many United miles one person can get.

I’d also save hotel cards for the future unless you can meet their spending requirements at the same time. The reason? Award flights at the Saver level are heavily capacity controlled. Get them first. Free hotel nights are generally available whenever there is a standard room for sale at that hotel. Get them later.

The hotel cards I like in Europe are:

The Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card comes with 85,000 bonus points after spending $2,500 on the card in the first 90 days & the last night free on all award stays of 2+ nights.

My Review of the Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card explains how meeting the minimum spending requirement equals up to 20 free hotel nights.

The Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card comes with Two Free Weekend Nights (Fri, Sat, or Sun) worldwide at top tier Hiltons after spending $2,500 in four months. The card also comes with free Gold Status.

The Club Carlson card gets you more free nights, and the Hilton Reserve gets you fancier nights. Check that locations of participating Club Carlson and Hilton properties coincide with your travel plans before getting either card.

Of course, hotels are only one option for lodging. I actually prefer airbnb because they are cheaper, have more space and multiple bedrooms if you want, include a kitchen, and are often in more interesting parts of the city. Here are Three Ways to Save Money on Airbnb.

The Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard® comes with 40,000 bonus miles after spending $3k in the first 90 days. You can redeem Arrival miles for airbnb stays (or the taxes on your flight award.)

Do You Really Have Enough Miles?

Transferring United miles between accounts is very expensive, so one account with 45,000 miles and one account with 15,000 miles is very different than a single account with 60,000, which is enough for a roundtrip to Europe.

You can book United awards as one ways, so two accounts with 30,000 miles can be great to book one direction of the trip from each account. Anyone’s United miles can be used to book anyone else a ticket.

Ultimate Rewards can be perfect to top off accounts, but the points can only transfer to your United account or your spouse/domestic partner’s.

When you’re planning how many miles you need and which cards to get, keep these limitations in mind.

What Can You Do On Your Award?

One way United awards can’t have anything fancy. No stopovers, only connections of up to 24 hours.

Roundtrip United awards can have two open jaws at the end points, one stopover, and the destination, plus any connections up to 24 hours.

On a roundtrip award, you can do something like this:

  • Home to European city A (stopover)
  • European city A to European city B (destination)
  • European city C (open jaw) to home

And feel free to throw a few 23 hour connections in there in European cities D and E.

Note the open jaw between cities B and C. This would be filled in with a train or low-cost carrier flight.

Any questions?

Get started now, so you can have your miles in place as soon as possible and your flights booked shortly thereafter. At that point, worry about hotels and lodging if you haven’t already.

You can use your miles to see up to three European cities (plus more on 23 hour connections) on a single roundtrip award.

Award space is wide open, Europe is unusually cheap at the moment, and miles and points can pay for most of your trip. What are you waiting for?

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Pay your award taxes and fees with the Arrival Plus then redeem Arrival miles to remove the charge.

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Delta awards that originate in Europe have big fuel surcharges, but they can be dumped fairly easily.

The fuel surcharges weren’t much of an issue for most Americans in the past when Delta required roundtrip awards because not many of us book roundtrips originating in Europe. But now that Delta allows one way awards, the fuel surcharges for awards originating in Europe are very annoying. They effectively make it cost-prohibitive to book a one way award from Europe to the United States.

The Problem

For instance this Madrid to New York one way has 199 euros ($230) worth of taxes, fees, and charges.

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That roughly lines up with the taxes and fuel surcharges (194 euros) of a cash ticket.

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But if you book this one way as part of a roundtrip to Madrid, you pay only $91 total in taxes for the entire roundtrip.

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The Solution

The way to fuel dump the one way ticket out of Europe is to add a preceding one way ticket that originates somewhere other than Europe, like the United States.

Go to the Delta Multi-city search page and search for a flight that doesn’t originate in Europe followed by your one way ticket from Europe to the United Staes.

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In the above example, I’ve chose Atlanta to New York preceding Madrid to New York. Yes, back-to-back flights on the award go to New York. I chose this example to show that the preceding flight can really be any flight that doesn’t originate in Europe.

This award booked at 87,500 miles + $68–no fuel surcharges–in First Class and Business Class. That’s 25,000 miles for Domestic First Class and 62,500 miles for Business Class from Europe to the United States.

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It priced as 42,500 miles in economy–12,500 miles for domestic economy and 30,000 miles for Europe to the United States. Again without fuel surcharges.

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Unfortunately online I couldn’t get the computer to price domestic economy plus Business Class returning from Europe. When I selected flights like that, it overrode my selection and put the first flight in First Class.

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The first flight doesn’t need to be a domestic flight in the United States. Here is an example where the first flight is Seoul to Tokyo, which by the way, is dirt cheap at 7,500 miles one way.

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The award prices at 37,500 miles + $88 in taxes–again, no fuel surcharges.

The Problems with the Solution

The big one: If you don’t fly the first flight, your entire award will be cancelled. Pick a first flight you actually need.

Smaller one: Domestic First Class on most routes is not worth double the price of economy, but I couldn’t price out domestic economy for the first flight plus international Business Class home from Europe. I suspect you could price this out correctly by phone. I further suspect the agent’s computer would spit out the taxes without fuel surcharges for the entire award, and the agent wouldn’t even notice that you just dumped over $200 in bogus fuel surcharges.

Hat Tip for this trick to reader John who came up with it while playing around with a Delta award he was booking.

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Pay your award taxes and fees with the Arrival Plus then redeem Arrival miles to remove the charge.

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Earlier today, I explained why American Airlines miles are not very good to go to Europe in Business Class (and what the best option is.) Every type of miles has strengths and weaknesses, and overall I consider American Airlines miles the most valuable miles. Here are the strengths of American Airlines miles:

  • Economy awards to Australia, including via Hawaii
  • Business and First Class awards to East Asia
  • Business and First Class awards to the Middle East, Indian Subcontinent, and Maldives
  • Latin America awards
  • Cross-country awards in international-quality First Class
  • Economy awards to Europe

American Airlines miles are strong to every continent except Africa, can access some of the world’s nicest Business and First Classes, can be used for one way awards, and feature the cheapest award chart since United and Delta jacked up their prices last year. They’re also really easy to get.

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® offers 50,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months, and the business version, the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard®, also offers 50,000 bonus American Airlines miles and two Admirals Club lounge passes after spending $3,000 on the card in the first three months.

That’s 106,000 American Airlines miles just for getting two cards and meeting the minimum spending requirements.

Let’s go through the strengths I’ve outlined one-by-one.

Australia in Economy

American Airlines’ oneworld partner Qantas flies from Los Angeles, Dallas, New York, and Honolulu to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and beyond.

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Award space is very rare in Business (my review) and First Class between the United States and Australia, but it is wide open for two people in economy. American charges only 37,500 miles each way in economy between the United States and Australia, not bad when tickets often go for near $2,000 roundtrip.

Here’s what economy award space for two people looks like next month, a peak time, from Los Angeles to Sydney.

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American Airlines also partners with Hawaiian Airlines, which flies from Honolulu to Sydney and Brisbane. If you want to add Hawaii to your Australian vacation, these flights are ideal and also feature a ton of award space. Here is the calendar for two passengers in November.Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 9.29.07 AM

Unfortunately stopovers are not permitted on American Airlines awards, so if you don’t live in Hawaii, you’ll need to book a separate award to get there before your American Airlines award from Hawaii to Australia. (Here are the cheapest ways to get to Hawaii.)

East Asia in Business and First Class

Two words: Cathay Pacific.

American’s Hong-Kong-based partner Cathay Pacific has:

  • top notch Business and First Classes (review)
  • ample award space in Business and First Class
  • predictable schedules for releasing Business and First Class award space
  • a great route network in East Asia
  • cheap award space

American charges only 55,000 miles each way to East Asia in Cathay Pacific Business Class and 67,500 miles each way in First Class. Those prices are ludicrously cheap when you consider that United charges 120,000 miles one way from the United States to East Asia in Asiana First Class, which is comparable, but not quite as good in my opinion. (Review of Asiana First.)

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Cheap to Book Your Own Throne in Cathay Pacific First Class

Here is the release pattern to pick up two Business Class seats, and here is the pattern to pick up two First Class Seats. Cathay Pacific award space must be searched on ba.com and booked by calling American Airlines.

Middle East, Indian Subcontinent, and Maldives in Business and First Class

You can redeem American Airlines miles on both Etihad–hub in Abu Dhabi–and Qatar–hub in Doha. Both fly to the United States, Europe, and Indian subcontinent with strong route networks and ultra-luxurious premium cabins. Here’s a video of Etihad First Class.

Etihad award space must be searched on Etihad’s website–here’s how–and booked by calling American Airlines. Qatar award space searched on ba.com and booked by calling American Airlines. While these extra steps are annoying, they at least ensure that the award space is kept out of view of casual award searchers, and ensures excellent award space.

When people come to my Award Booking Service wanting to go to the Middle East, Indian Subcontinent, or Maldives, I always hope they have American Airlines miles. That’s doubly true if they want to fly in Business or First Class.

American charges:

  • 45,000 miles each way in economy to the Middle East, Indian Subcontinent, or Maldives
  • 67,500 miles each way in Business
  • 90,000 miles each way in First

Again, this is well below what Delta and United charge, and those types of miles offer worse award space in worse Business and First Classes.

Latin America

American Airlines has the best network in Latin America by far. It also partners with LAN and TAM (searchable on ba.com), which add considerably to the network, especially intra-country (like intra-Brazil or intra-Peru.)

Award space is widely available to most countries in economy. Here’s award space to Peru in April for two people.

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 9.31.31 AM

Award space in premium cabins varies by route. Check the route you want to try to crack the pattern. To Buenos Aires, the pattern seems to be that First Class award space opens up within three weeks of departure.

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 9.30.21 AM

 

Cross-Country in International First Class

American Airlines operates three-cabin planes between New York and San Francisco and Los Angeles. Both Business and First Class feature fully flat beds.

Award space is not great on these routes in advance for two people. You seem to be limited to booking on Saturdays.
Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 9.33.06 AM

But both routes in both directions open up award space for 2+ passengers in the last week before departure in First and Business Class. Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 9.36.00 AM Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 9.38.04 AM

Keep in mind that American Airlines would collect a $75 fee for booking within 21 days of departure. That might make these flights a better candidate to be booked with Avios, which doesn’t collect such a fee.

Europe in Economy

Europe is available to people with American Airlines miles who are willing to fly economy. Plus American Airlines charges only 20,000 miles each way in economy to Europe for seven months out of the year, from October 15 to May 15.

I limited my search on aa.com to showing only American Airlines flights (to avoid seeing British Airways award space, which has big fuel surcharges) and here were the results for April for two passengers to London…Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 9.40.53 AM

…and home from Paris.Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 9.41.08 AM

Airberlin, Finnair, US Airways, and Iberia also offer useful economy award space available to American Airlines miles, and all partner space also prices out at the off peak price of 20,000 miles one way during most of the year.

Bottom Line

All miles have their strengths and weaknesses. The glaring weaknesses of American Airlines miles are Europe in Business and getting to Africa.

But the strengths are formidable. American Airlines miles are easy to get and can be redeemed on a much cheaper award chart than Delta and United miles, especially for Business and First Class. American’s partners have the most luxurious Business and First Classes too. And American Airlines miles have great award space:

  • Economy awards to Australia, including via Hawaii
  • Business and First Class to East Asia
  • Business and First Class to the Middle East, Indian Subcontinent, and Maldives
  • Latin America
  • Cross-country flights in international-quality First Class
  • Economy awards to Europe

Key Links

Each card offers 50,000 bonus AAdvantage miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months:

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Here’s a mix of some of my favorite and some of the most popular posts from 2014. If you’re favorite post isn’t on the list, link to it in the comments.

Beginners Posts

Credit Card Reviews

In Depth Award Booking

Resources

Money Saving Tips

Trip Report

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How am I flying around the world in some of the world’s nicest Business and First Classes? By earning loads of miles, of course. Here are five easy ways you can earn more miles.

1. Collect More Credit Card Sign Up Bonuses

This is the easiest one, and where the vast majority of my miles come from. There are so many 40,000, 50,000, and even larger sign up bonuses available.

Many people worry about what the effect of opening credit cards will be on their credit score. There is an effect, so I recommend tracking your credit score over time to see that effect. I’ve found the effect on my score to be very small, so I open any card with a big bonus I think I can use. This gives me those mega-balances that let me travel in Lufthansa First Class or Cathay Pacific First Class while still leaving enough miles for economy awards that save me serious cash.

Check out the best travel credit card offers for December 2014 or a Free Credit Card Consultation to get started with collecting more sign up bonuses.

2. Category Bonuses

Many of the cards you have likely offer 2x, 3x, or 5x points on certain purchases. Memorize those categories or put small reminders physically on the cards, and carry all your credit cards–easier if you have a purse–to maximize every purchase.

If you figure you can get around 1.5x miles per dollar on all purchases if you maximize the category bonus on every swipe, and you spend $3,000 per month, this is an extra 18,000 miles per year compared to always getting 1x per dollar.

You’ll note that this is way smaller than even a single credit card sign up bonus, so focus there first and here second.

3. Retention Bonuses

I always cancel my credit cards by phone because I want to give the agent a chance to pitch me a bonus or bonuses for holding onto my credit cards. The bonuses might be:

  • A fixed number of miles: we’ll give you 5,000 miles to keep the card
  • Increased miles for spending on the card: we’ll give you 2 miles per dollar for the next three months
  • A waived annual fee: we’ll credit your account for $95 if you make five purchases on your card in the next month; that will offset the annual fee
  • Something else

Sometimes you can get a few offers and choose between them. I always listen carefully and decide whether the retention bonus makes keeping the card the smarter move.

You might even want to call in and ask about retention bonuses if you plan on holding your credit card. It never hurts to get free miles.

4. Refer Your Friends to Your Cards

There are frequently ways to get extra points by referring a friend to a card you have. We’ve seen that on the Starwood Preferred Guest cards, the Chase Freedom, and Chase Ink Plus among others.

You should always evangelize to your friends about miles to try to get them interested, so they can be your travel companions. (Forward them this post.) And when you can get bonus miles for referring them to a card that you believe would be valuable for them, jump at the chance.

5. Dining Programs

You can earn up to 8 miles per dollar at select restaurants if they are members of a dining program. You earn 5 miles per dollar by registering your card and dining frequently enough to earn status plus another 2-3 per dollar if you use a card with a category bonus at restaurants. I use the Citi ThankYou® Premier Rewards Card for its 3 ThankYou Points per dollar on dining and entertainment.

I wouldn’t bother eating at a restaurant just for the miles, but if your favorite restaurant is involved with a program and offers extra miles for every trip, sign up. Check here to see which restaurants are included with Rewards Network, which runs every airlines’ dining program.

But consider your time…

Balance all these ways to earn more miles against your time. We all have a finite amount of time, and sometimes there are better uses than squeezing out a few extra miles. Even I tend to save time and go for the lowest hanging fruit–credit card sign up bonuses–mostly.

Make sure to check out 4 Easy Ways to Spend Less Time on your Miles Hobby.

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From my vantage point reading comments on this blog, emails to me, and tweets @milevalue, I see a lot of mistakes being made in the collection and redemption of miles.

Five of these mistakes are being repeated over and over and are costing people a lot of dream trips.

The mistakes:

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 4.16.41 PM

1. Starting at the Beginning

With miles, you want to start at the end. By that, I mean to figure out your dream trip and work backwards from there to figure out which miles are best for said trip.

I see this mistake manifest a lot of ways. Sometimes people will email and say:

Hey, I see that The US Airways® Premier World MasterCard® now offers 50,000 bonus miles after first purchase. Should I get it?

Without the context of trip goals, no one can answer that question. US Airways and American Airlines miles are great for Asia and terrible for Africa for instance.

I also see the mistake when people come to my Award Booking Service with 1,000,000 Capital One or Arrival miles and want to fly First Class to Europe. These are fixed-value bank-points. The number needed for a ticket depends only on the ticket’s cash price, so they are terrible for expensive First Class and better for economy. Conversely airline miles like United or US Airways miles are better for international Business Class than domestic economy generally. (See the Six Types of Miles.)

Work in reverse. Think up your dream trip then collect the best type of miles for that trip. If you don’t know where to start, fill out my free credit card consultation form with all the details of where, when, and in what cabin you want to travel. I’ll tell you the right miles.

  • What are mistakes 2-5 (all have to do with redemption)?
  • How many of the redemption mistakes are you making?

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Asiana has the best award chart in the Star Alliance. That means that you can book any of the 27 Star Alliance airlines, including United, for fewer miles on many routes with Asiana miles than with better known programs like United, Lufthansa, LifeMiles, Singapore, and Air Canada.

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 2.48.37 AM

Asiana is a 1:1 transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints. As usual with Starpoints transfers, you get 5,000 bonus Asiana miles for every 20,000 Starpoints transferred.

If you can get your hands on Asiana miles, you can book insanely cheap awards like:

  • Lufthansa First Class between the United States and Europe for 50,000 Asiana miles one way vs. 110,000 United miles
  • United First Class between the continental United States and Hawaii for 27,500 Asiana miles one way vs. 40,000 United miles
  • United Global First between the United States and Southern South America for 45,000 Asiana miles one way vs. 70,000 United miles

Unfortunately some Asiana awards have fuel surcharges, and it took 17 days for my transfer of Starpoints to reach Asiana miles. Continue reading for:

  • Comparison tables of United award chart versus Asiana award chart
  • Fuel surcharge info on Asiana awards

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Update: Mileage sale extended until 10/3/14.

Today (September 30, 2014) is the last day that you can get 1.52 Avianca LifeMiles on all purchases by using your Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard®.

This is a big flipping deal!

The Arrival Plus is already the most valuable card for economy redemptions since its 2 miles per dollar on all purchases and 10% rebate on all travel redemptions means you effectively get 2.28% back toward flights on any airline with no blackouts. This technique–which dies today–makes the Arrival Plus also the best all-around card for business and first class redemptions.

The technique in this post is an incredible way to turn Arrival miles, which are worth a fixed 1.14 cents each, into traditional airline miles that can be used for valuable international business and first class itineraries.

Now Get into Beds, like United Global First, with Arrival Miles

To me, the technique in this post makes the Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard® much more valuable because no other card earns 1.52 traditional airline miles on all purchases, and the LifeMiles award chart offers tons of great values for premium cabin awards on Star Alliance partners like:

Maybe you’ve never heard of LifeMiles, but they are actually fantastic for international awards. The only reason they’re not better known is because they’re normally hard to obtain.

LifeMiles awards never contain fuel surcharges, just government taxes plus a $25 award booking fee. You can book all 27 Star Alliance airline with LifeMiles.

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 2.48.37 AM

Getting more than one-and-a-half miles per dollar on such a great award chart is quite a deal, and that deal ends today.

  • How can you get 1.52 LifeMiles per dollar on all Arrival Plus purchases?
  • How can you book LifeMiles awards?
  • What are the highest value LifeMiles awards?
  • Is earning 1.52 LifeMiles per dollar better than 2 Arrival miles per dollar?

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As promised in yesterday’s post on the Five Under-Priced Awards on the American Airlines Chart, today I’ll post six under-priced awards on the United chart.

The basic premise of these posts and my post on the Coolest Thing You Can Do with 60,000 Miles was connecting far-flung regions into a single trip by taking advantage of under-priced awards between the regions.

Why American and United awards? Because they can be booked as one way awards, and these THINK BIG trips allow you to see more by booking a series of cheap one way awards.

I’m including the cheapest one way international awards between non-American regions only because the cheapest international awards from the United States are better known.

Hopefully seeing cheap ways to get between South America and Africa or East Asia and Fiji will spur you to THINK BIG and come up with a really creative trip that incorporates both places.

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 10.08.02 AM

1. Economy Class: 10,000 Miles Between Central America and Northern South America

or 20,000 miles in Business Class

Between Central America and Northern South America (Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela), you can fly for only 10,000 United miles in economy or 20,000 in business.

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 10.15.36 AM

United partners have hubs in El Salvador, Colombia, Peru, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Panama, so finding award space is a cinch.

This award could be the way to combine Central America, the Galapagos and South America on a single trip. THINK BIG.

  • What are the other top six under-priced awards on the United Airlines chart? Pay special attention to five and six!

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Last week I urged people to be realistic with their miles and listed The Easiest Places to Get with Miles. Today I’m telling you to dream big and to look to do things with miles that you couldn’t easily or cheaply do without miles.

For instance, for 60,000 miles, you can book yourself a “triangle trip” that lets you practice your Spanish in Chile and Spain. The trip would let you see the wildlife of Patagonia and the nightlife of Barcelona.

Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 8.59.52 AM

How many thousands of dollars would a similar trip cost? Could you even have dared to dream about such a routing before you knew the power of your miles?

The routing I’ll talk about relies on three discounted awards, and award space is plentiful on all routes. Best of all, you can live anywhere in the continental United States to take advantage, and you can customize the destinations to your taste.

  • What three discounted awards combine to form the legs of this triangle trip?
  • What 60,000 miles do you need? How can you get them?

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Where are the easiest places to get with frequent flyer miles, especially if you’re just starting out?

I started thinking about it because I had a string of very tough requests through my Free Credit Card Consultation form. One in particular read:

Been following your site for about a year and haven’t been able to jump in. Shame on me. It’s all very overwhelming for a newbie even though you break it down well. [Scott: Agreed, but it doesn’t have to be. Start with the Free Credit Card Consultation and reading my beginners’ series.]

So here is my situation: my wife and I would love to get to one of three destinations over the holiday break (12/26-1/3 ish). The top destinations ( in order) are : Maldives, bora bora, or Bali. Right now I am essentially starting from square 1.

Unfortunately, it’s a nearly impossible request given the:

  • time horizon: he’d need to get the miles and book within 3.5 months
  • travel dates: everyone wants to travel over Christmas and New Year’s, so there is less award space
  • destinations: French Polynesia is tough to get to with miles and Maldives and Bali are just really expensive, requiring more credit cards than he has time to open

Don’t worry about this requester, though, I helped him come up with a plan to get to the Maldives next summer that I am confident he can accomplish.

The tough request got me thinking about all the people who come with a nearly impossible first idea for miles, fail to achieve it, and then give up on our hobby. The opposite, an early successful booking with miles, can hook someone for life. I started pondering: what is the easiest place for a beginner to get quickly with miles.

  • What four regions do I think are the easiest for beginners to focus on to jump start their miles success?
  • What time horizon and travel dates increase the chance of success?

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Yesterday I wrote that Citi ThankYou Points had added Air France Flying Blue as a 1:1 transfer partner.

That’s big news because there are some amazing high value uses for Flying Blue miles, and ThankYou Points are so easy to earn from the Citi ThankYou® Premier Rewards Card with its 50,000 point sign up bonus and 3x category bonuses.

  • Earn 20,000 points after $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn an additional 30,000 points after another $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of your second year of being a cardmember
  • Earn 3 ThankYou Points for every $1 spent on purchases for dining at restaurants and entertainment

When I was researching that post though, I couldn’t find Flying Blue’s complete award chart. All I could find was an award chart for awards originating in Europe:

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 11.56.17 PM

I took it upon myself to compile an award chart for awards departing the United States, which I believe to be the only Air France/KLM Flying Blue award chart online for awards departing the United States. I priced out awards from the continental United States to every region on the Flying Blue award chart.

  • What is the award chart?
  • Where is it cheaper than Delta’s award chart?

Here is the award chart in thousands of Flying Blue miles each way from the United States to the listed region, flying on Classic Awards. I didn’t include Premium Economy awards, which are bookable with Flying Blue miles, because the airlines on which you can book them collect fuel surcharges.

Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 2.44.26 AM

The first thing to notice is that awards in economy are often very cheap, but awards in business class are often 2.5x the price, which makes them extremely expensive.

Here’s the same award chart with awards that are cheaper in miles than the same Delta award in red. (I compare Flying Blue to Delta since both are members of SkyTeam.)

Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 2.46.53 AM

Some of the black numbers are the same price as Delta awards, and some are more expensive. (Also Delta awards must be booked as roundtrips until January 1, 2015, and Flying Blue awards can be booked as one ways.)

The near international awards in economy are downright cheap with Flying Blue miles.

  • 15,000 Flying Blue miles each way to Hawaii vs. 45,000 Delta miles roundtrip
  • 15,000 Flying Blue miles each way to Central America/Caribbean vs. 35,000 Delta miles roundtrip
  • 25,000 Flying Blue miles each way to Europe or Southern South America vs. 60,000 Delta miles roundtrip

There’s nothing particularly sexy about flying economy, but paying 30,000 Flying Blue miles instead of $1,000 for a roundtrip to Hawaii–and then enjoying Hawaii–is an awesome deal!

What’s your favorite deal on the award chart?

How to Get ThankYou Points

The easiest way to earn a bundle of ThankYou Points is with the Citi ThankYou® Premier Rewards Card, which has a huge sign up bonus and big category bonuses.

My Review of the Citi ThankYou® Premier Rewards Card

 

  • Earn up to 50,000 bonus ThankYou® Points. Bonus points are redeemable for up to $500 in gift cards, up to $625 for airfare or other great rewards
  • Earn 20,000 points after $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn an additional 30,000 points after another $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of your second year of being a cardmember
  • Annual Fee: $125 (fee waived for the first 12 months). On  4/19/2015, this fee will be reduced to $95 on all accounts
  • Points do not expire and earn unlimited Thank You Points
  • Travel with ease and enjoy chip based technology

Application Link: Citi ThankYou® Premier Rewards Card

To get the full 50,000 point bonus, you do have to pay part of one annual fee of $125 (the annual fee is waived the first year, but you have to hold the card a second year.) Those 50,000 points would also transfer to Singapore Airlines and be enough for a roundtrip to South America with two free one ways to Hawaii!

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Longtime reader Eddy emailed me:

Do you know of someplace that has the rules of the various frequent flyer programs? I’m looking at trip to China next Spring and there are so many options, so I’d like to know for each program: (1) allow one ways? (2) permit stop overs? (3) charge for fuel? Any idea if this info is collected in one place anywhere? Thanks.

This seemed like something I absolutely had to put in one place, so this is the place.

This chart represents the rules for using the type of miles listed in the far left column.

Click the image to enlarge.

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 2.28.55 AM

I’ve included 10 of my favorite programs on the chart. I toyed with how best to present the information of the chart, at one point including footnotes next to almost every entry. I ditched that, and instead will put longer form answers for each airline and explanations of the color-coding after the Continue Reading link.

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Let me clear up one of the most common types of questions I get from beginners.

There is no transitive property of miles.

Just because Airline A partners with Airline B and Airline B partners with Airline C does NOT mean Airlines A and C are partners.

Screen Shot 2014-08-03 at 11.51.54 AMFor instance, in yesterday’s post Fully Flat Business Class to Europe for 25,000 Miles, I wrote:

I searched award space on Aer Lingus’ routes from Chicago, Boston, and New York to Dublin for one passenger next April through July.

I searched on united.com. Any space seen here is bookable with United or British Airways miles.

Often when I write such things I’ll get a comment or an email like, “I have American Airlines miles, which is a partner of British Airways. Can I use those miles to book Aer Lingus flights as a British Airways award?”

  • Well, can you?
  • What about using a partner’s more favorable fuel surcharge rules?
  • Can you use American Airlines and US Airways miles to book all the partners of either airline?

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