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I earn a commission for some links on this blog. Citi is a MileValue partner.

Update 4/23/15:Three of the offers on this list have improved in April, so I am re-posting this re-ordered.

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 coming to MileValue, there is a rewards card or cards that suit your needs.

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Climbing a banyan tree on Maui, on a trip made possible with points

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:

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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. Economy roundtrips to Europe start at 40,000 miles, and prices for Business Class and First Class awards can be 40% less than with United miles.

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. Citi Prestige Card

Just improved 4/9/15: The Citi Prestige® Card comes with 50,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $3,000 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, the fourth night free on paid hotel stays, three free rounds of golf per year, and a $450 annual fee.

I got the Citi Prestige when it only offered 30,000 bonus points for its amazing benefits. Now that it also has one of the biggest sign up bonuses on the market, it shoots up my rankings.

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 (that’s $500 worth in the first 12 months), a $100 statement credit to offset Global Entry, and Priority Pass and American Airlines lounge access.

Beyond the 50,000 point sign up bonus, the Citi Prestige® Card earns:

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

ThankYou Points transfer to 11 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. Here’s how to use ThankYou Points.

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

You can get both the Prestige and Citi ThankYou® Premier Card (#4 below) eight or more days apart and combine their points into a single ThankYou account.

Application Link: Citi Prestige® Card

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

Just improved 4/20/15: The Citi ThankYou® Premier Card offers 50,000 bonus points after $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.

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ThankYou Points transfer to 11 airlines and Hilton or can be used like cash for 1.25 cents each toward any flight on any airline with no blackouts. I get more value out of transferring the points to airline miles.

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.

The card offers 3x points on travel (broadly defined) and gas plus 2x on dining out and entertainment.

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

Application Link: Citi ThankYou® Premier Card

I recently transferred ThankYou Points to Singapore miles to book United First Class (flat bed) from Atlanta to Honolulu for 30,000 miles. The same flights 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. Club Carlson Visa

The Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card offers up to 20 free hotel nights after spending $2,500 on the card in the first 90 days.

The basic idea is:

  • 50,000 Club Carlson Gold Points after first purchase
  • 35,000 more Club Carlson Gold Points after spending $2,500 on the card in the first 90 days
  • Earn 5 points per dollar on all purchases (and 10 on purchases at Carlson Rezidor hotels), so you’ll earn at least another 12,500 points from meeting the minimum spending requirement. After meeting the minimum spending requirement, you’ll have at least 97,500 Gold Points.
  • Free nights at Radisson, Park Plaza, and other properties start at 9,000 Gold Points
  • On award stays of two or more nights, you get the last night free as a cardholder. That means a two night stay at a 9,000 point-per-night property costs only 9,000 total points. This only applies to bookings made by May 31, 2015, but some hotels allow bookings up to three years in advance.
  • That means 90,000 points is enough for 10 two-night stays (20 nights total.)

The Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card is a must have if you are traveling near the 1,000 participating Club Carlson hotels. No other card offers a free award night on all award stays of 2+ nights. I picked up the card in 2013 and don’t ever plan on canceling it.

Application link: Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card

7. 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, Singapore, 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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8. Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card

  • Limited Time: Earn a $100 statement credit after spending $100 or more on your first hotel stay in the Hilton Portfolio within the first 3 months of account opening.*

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

9. 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. Membership Rewards transfer to around 20 hotel and airline programs including Delta, Singapore, and British Airways.

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

10. 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. Starting April 30, these earning rates change to 3 Avios per dollar on British Airways purchases and 1 Avios per dollar on all 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.

Starting April 28, prices for Business and First Class awards go up for medium and long haul flights.

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

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Most of the posts on this site are minutia: a discount on awards to Brazil and Chile or a new Delta route with good award space to Europe. Such posts are only valuable once you understand the big picture and how the miles world works and fits together. Here’s the current big picture.

How to Earn Big Miles

Now, more than ever, the way to earn big miles and points for free travel is through credit cards. United and Delta have slashed the number of miles they give to you for flying their flights, while the number of miles you can earn from signing up for a credit card is often 40,000, 50,000, or more.

There are a lot of types of miles and points you can earn.

Types of Miles and Points from Easiest to Understand to Most Complicated

1. Credit Card Points Pretending to Be Miles

If you’ve seen a Capital One Venture Card ad with Jennifer Garner, you probably don’t understand what Capital One points are because the marketing deliberately obfuscates the product.

Whenever you see an ad that promises miles you can use on any airline with no blackout, the card does not earn true miles. It earns points worth 1 cent (usually) each toward the purchase of any cash ticket. Because you can redeem the credit card points for any cash ticket at a fixed rate, they can legitimately market the card as having no blackouts.

Cards that earn points that can be used at a fixed rate toward any flight are great for people who know how to find cheap tickets, people who don’t mind flying low cost carriers, people who need to travel on completely fixed dates, and families who travel in economy.

These are the simplest rewards program to understand: 1 point/mile = 1 cent or 1.14 cents or whatever the company says they’re worth. You never have to search for award space (explained below); you just purchase any cash ticket on any airlines and redeem your points to offset the cost of the ticket.

Examples of Cards/Programs In This Category:

  • Capital One Venture
  • Barclaycard Arrival Plus and Arrival
  • Many Smaller Banks’ “Miles Earning” Cards
  • Any Card that Promises Redemption of Rewards on Any Airline with No Blackouts

Program to Start with For Beginners: Start with the Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard® with 40,000 bonus “miles” after spending $3,000 in the first three months. The card earns 2 miles per dollar on all purchases, and the miles are worth 1.14 cents each toward any flight, hotel, car rental, cruise, or other travel expense. It is the best of the bunch for its sign up bonus, value of its miles, and the fact that you can redeem for any travel expense not just flights.

Further Reading: Three Steps to Get $500 in Free Flights, Hotels, and Car Rentals from the Arrival Plus Card

2. Airline Points

Airline points are points that have a fixed value or close to a fixed value and can be redeemed on any flight that airline operates. The number of points you need is based on the ticket price.

These are conceptually very similar to the fixed-value credit card points above, except that these can only be used on one airline.

For example, Southwest’s Rapid Rewards can be redeemed for any Southwest flight with no blackouts as long as tickets are for sale. You just pay 70 Rapid Rewards times the base fare. A flight with a $100 base fare would cost 7,000 Rapid Rewards.

These programs are much easier to understand than traditional airline miles that require award searching (explained below) and amounts of miles based on an award chart and award availability.

Examples of Programs In This Category:

  • Southwest Rapid Rewards
  • JetBlue TrueBlue
  • Virgin America Elevate

Program to Start with For Beginners: If Southwest serves routes you want to fly, join the program and get one of the Southwest credit cards when the bonuses go to 50,000 points every few months. If you usually fly with the same companion, get the Southwest Companion Pass–possibly the best deal in travel.

By the way, to figure out where any airline flies, search “[airline] destinations wiki.” To figure out all the routes from your home airport, search “[city] airport wiki.”

Further Reading: Basics of Southwest, JetBlue, and Virgin America Points

3. United, Delta, and American Airlines Miles

Airline mergers have winnowed down the legacy carriers in the United States to three: American, Delta, and United. They’re miles all work basically the same.

Each is a member of an alliance with a few dozen airline partners. You can use your miles on any of the partners. American Airlines is part of oneworld, and there are 24 airlines on which you can redeem American Airlines miles. United is part of Star Alliance. Delta is part of SkyTeam.

On its own flights, each legacy carriers either releases Saver award space or doesn’t (and releases Standard/AAnytime/Level 2-5 award space.) Saver award space costs the fewest miles, but it is not available on every flight in every cabin. It is most available when the airline expects to have empty seats. Think unpopular days, routes, and seasons.

All partner award space prices at the Saver level, so if you are booking Cathay Pacific or Qantas flights with American Airlines miles, you are paying the Saver price.

The number of miles you need for an American Airlines, Delta, or United award is determined by three things:

  1. The cabin you want to fly: economy, Business, or First
  2. Whether you found Saver award space or not
  3. The departure region and arrival region. The cities you fly into/out of don’t matter. Just the regions. Think North America and Europe.

Once you have those three piece of information, you read off the price of your award from the award chart of the airline whose miles you’re using.

These types of miles are complicated because you have to be proficient at searching for Saver and partner award space, or you have to hire an Award Booking Service like mine in order to maximize the value of your miles. But if you can handle the complexity, these miles are more valuable than any other type of miles.

If you find Saver award space, you can fly one way from Los Angeles to Paris in Business Class for 50,000 American Airlines miles. That’s probably a $2,000 ticket, which means it would cost about 200,000 Arrival miles.

American, United, and Delta miles tend to be best for international trips, especially in premium cabins.

Program to Start with For Beginners: American Airlines has the cheapest award chart because United and Delta more recently increased the prices on their charts. You can go to Peru for 15,000 miles one way or Southeast Asia in First Class luxury for only 67,500 miles one way. For a limited time, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® comes with 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months. The card also comes with other awesome benefits like a 10% rebate on miles used for award bookings.

The business version, the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard®, also comes with 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months. This card comes with 2x miles on select business purchases and a 5% miles bonus on renewal. One person can have both cards. Getting both would be enough for a roundtrip anywhere in the world and up to four roundtrips to the Caribbean.

Further Reading: Basics of American, United, and Delta miles

4. Transferable Points

Transferable points are points you earn from a credit card that you can transfer to many different types of airline miles or other points. For instance, Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 to six airline miles/points programs, four hotel programs, and Amtrak points.

Transferable points are awesome because they give you so much flexibility. Each airline program has strengths and weaknesses in terms of the number of miles you need and the availability from point A to point B. Collecting transferable points ensures that no matter where you decide to go, you can always transfer your points to the type of airline miles that is best for the award you want.

To maximize transferable points is extremely complex, though, because you need to understand the basics of every transfer partners to ensure you are using transferring your points to the right partner.

For instance, most people with Ultimate Rewards who want to go to Hawaii from the East Coast are probably transferring their points to United miles to book United flights. That’s a huge mistake. Another Ultimate Rewards transfer partner–Singapore Airlines–can book the exact same United flights for fewer miles. Not knowing that fact would lead to spending too many Ultimate Rewards for your trip to Hawaii.

Examples of Programs In This Category:

  • Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Citi ThankYou Points
  • American Express Membership Rewards
  • Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints

Program to Start with For Beginners: I like Chase Ultimate Rewards roster of credit cards and partners a lot, and I always start friends and family off with a Chase Sapphire Preferred personal card and Chase Ink Plus business card. They both have 40,000 to 50,000 point sign up bonuses and category bonuses of 2x points that let you rack up points.

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Further Reading: Transferable Points Basics

5. Other Mileage Programs

While you’re mastering transferable points, you’ll have to master other, mostly foreign, airline miles programs.

Programs like British Airways Avios, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, Lufthansa Miles & More, Singapore KrisFlyer, and Air France Flying Blue all offer tremendous value to Americans for certain awards, and you can get all of their miles by earning the right transferable points.

While it might seem interminable to learn about 10-20 other airline programs, it’s actually not very tough. I always say that understanding one airline program like American Airlines is the same difficulty as understanding airline programs 2 through 99 combined. All airline programs share certain principles, which make learning the basics of each one a snap. You just have to learn the few quirks.

Examples of Programs In This Category:

  • British Airways Avios (great for short, direct, economy flights on American Airlines, US Airways, and Alaska Airlines within United States; for flights intra-Europe; for flights intra-South America; for flights from the West Coast to Hawaii; for flights from the East Coast to Europe)
  • Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan (great for Business and First Class on Emirates and Cathay Pacific)
  • Lufthansa Miles & More (great for flights within the Western Hemisphere on Star Alliance)
  • Singapore KrisFlyer (great for Singapore Suites and flights within the Western Hemisphere on Star Alliance)
  • Air France Flying Blue (great for Promo Awards and some Delta flights)
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club (great for Economy and Premium Economy to the United Kingdom)

Program to Start with For Beginners: If you live somewhere with a lot of American Airlines, US Airways, or Alaska Airlines flights, start collecting Avios.

Further Reading: Basics of Redeeming Singapore, Aeroplan, Flying Blue, ANA, Lufthansa, and Korean Miles

Hotel Points

Beyond the scope of this post, but there are plenty of ways to earn free lodging on your travels.

Bottom Line

Miles and points are still the best way to travel for free. The main way to earn them is through credit card sign up bonuses.

The miles world is complicated, so learn about it a chunk at a time. Start by understanding fixed value credit cards that claim to offer miles. Progress to airline points and airline miles. Pretty soon you’ll understand all the foreign mileage programs to which you can transfer your transferable points. Along the way, you’ll have earned and redeemed hundreds of thousands of miles for thousands of dollars in free travel.

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Earn up to 20 free hotel nights after meeting spending $2,500 in the first 90 days on the Club Carlson Visa.

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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.

Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 8.29.19 PM

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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.

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 11.37.32 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 9.27.12 AM

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.)

IMG_0051
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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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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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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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.

I earn a commission for some links on this blog. Citi is a MileValue partner.

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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Recently, I posted about how we can get amazing value from the fact that the Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer program considers Hawaii to be part of the same region as Central AmericaWe can also use this sweet spot for great value on travel to South America too!

Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 1.53.37 AM

On the Singapore Airline’s award chart, it costs fewer miles to fly between Hawaii and South America, routing through the continental United States, than it does to fly directly between the continental United States and South America.

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 11.31.44 AM
Adding Honolulu to Houston lowers the price of Houston to Buenos Aires

On the Singapore award chart:

  • Continental Unites States to South America: 60,000 miles roundtrip in economy
  • Continental Unites States to South America: 100,000 miles roundtrip in business
  • Hawaii to South America: 50,000 miles roundtrip in economy
  • Hawaii to South America: 80,000 miles roundtrip in business

This is great news for people that live in Hawaii or South America, but it is just as good for people who live in the continental United States!

People who live in the continental United States can use this sweet spot to get a complete vacation to South America and two half trips to Hawaii, all on one award redemption, for fewer miles than simply booking a roundtrip award between the continental United States!

Singapore miles are some of the easiest to get, since Singapore is a transfer partner of Chase, American Express, and Starwood Preferred Guest.

  • What are the relevant rules and tricks for this award?
  • What variations on this award could we book?
  • How can you book this award?
  • What about using United miles?
  • How can you get Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles?

Singapore Award Rules

As I laid out in my last post on Singapore sweet spots, the Singapore Airlines’ relevant award rules include:

  • Singapore does not allow a stopover on one way awards.
  • Singapore Airlines allows six segments per award.
  • Singapore allows one free stopover per roundtrip award and up to three additional stopovers for $100 each.
  • Singapore allows one open jaw per roundtrip award.
  • Singapore collects fuel surcharges on many awards, but no flights you would use for this award have fuel surcharges. United flights to Hawaii and South America and Copa and Avianca flights between the United States and South America are all surcharge free.

We’ll examine each of these rules in relation to an example routing. You can view Singapore Airlines’ full routing rules here.

Example Routing

To illustrate the sweet spot between Hawaii and South America, I am going to give an example itinerary for someone based in Houston.

For only 50,000 Singapore miles in economy or 80,000 miles in business plus $100 plus taxes, we can book:

  • Honolulu to Houston (free one way #1)
  • Stopover for months
  • Houston to Buenos Aires
  • Buenos Aires to Houston (roundtrip award)
  • Stopover for months
  • Houston to Maui (free one way #2)
Singapore Sweet Spot 1
Main award to Buenos Aires in blue, free one ways to Hawaii in green and red

One Way vs. Roundtrip

We have a valid round trip booking, ensuring we are not tripped up by the rule that we may not have a stopover on a one way award.

Number of Segments

We use five segments on our proposed award, which is less than the limit of six that Singapore Airlines imposes on their award redemptions:

  1. Honolulu to Houston
  2. Houston to Buenos Aires
  3. Buenos Aires to Houston
  4. Houston to Los Angeles
  5. Los Angeles to Maui

Due to the rule that we can only have six segments included on the booking, to take advantage of this sweet spot, your home airport must have direct flights to either Hawaii or South America so that you stay under six segments. All United hubs in the continental United States and all cities with direct Avianca flights to Colombia satisfy this requirement.

Stopovers

We have two stopovers (one free and one for $100). The first is between our flight from Honolulu to Houston and our flight from Houston to Buenos Aires. The second is between our flight from Buenos Aires to Houston and our flight from Houston to Maui via Los Angeles.

Our time spent in Buenos Aires is not considered a stopover because Buenos Aires is the destination of our round trip award.

The stopovers can be as long as we want them, subject to the fact that United only releases award space to Singapore up to 331 days out, and we need to book all our flights at once.

Open Jaws

We have one open jaw (starting the trip in Honolulu and ending the trip in Maui), which conforms to Singapore Airlines routing rule that allows one.

Award Variations

We’ve laid out a fantastic itinerary. However, there are some changes that we could make to the award to better suit our particular circumstances.

  • We could put together a similar award for the same number of miles in reverse if we wanted two half trips to South America and one roundtrip to Hawaii.
  • If, on our trip to Maui we wanted to stopover in Los Angeles, we could pay an additional $100 dollars for the privilege of an additional stopover.
  • If we wanted to minimize our cash out of pocket and not spend $100 for a second stopover on the route, we could book the flights from Houston to Maui within 24 hours of our arrival in Houston from Buenos Aires. We could either combine the two vacations into one big one or treat the flights to Maui as dummy flights and not fly them.

How to Book the Award

You’ll be using Singapore Airline miles to book flights on its Star Alliance partners: United, Avianca, and Copa. The easiest place to search for award space on all three is united.com. I searched for the example award for these dates:

  • Honolulu -> Houston (September 2014)
  • Stopover
  • Houston -> Buenos Aires (November 2014)
  • Buenos Aires -> Houston (November 2014)
  • Stopover
  • Houston -> Maui (April 2015)

Singapore phone agents will have access to all Saver award space you see when searching united.com without signing in to your United account. (Logging in will show extra Saver space that is available only to people with a United credit card or elite status. Singapore can’t book that space.)

Like always, write down the flight numbers, dates, and cabins, so you can feed them to the Singapore customer service representative when you call to book your ticket. Remember, getting to Honolulu before the start of this award and getting back to Houston after arriving in Maui will not be included in this award. I’ve written a lot about the best ways to travel to Hawaii with miles and you can find those posts here.

The Search

While award space was available enough to make the trip work with some flexibility in economy, there was no availability at this time in business.

I started searching in chronological order with Honolulu to Houston in September 2014. Since I knew that there are direct flights on this route, I checked the box on the United search interface to only search nonstop flights.

Singapore Sweet Spot 2

Singapore Sweet Spot 3

There is availability every day except Saturdays in September on the red-eye flight back to Houston.

Singapore Sweet Spot 4

Next I searched the Houston to Buenos Aires route in November. Again, knowing that there was a direct flight offered on this route, I checked the box to search only for nonstop flights.

Singapore Sweet Spot 5

Singapore Sweet Spot 6

The availability for this route was very limited in November, but there were still some options.

Singapore Sweet Spot 7

Next I searched the return flight from Buenos Aires to Houston in November. My goal was to find a flight that gave us a 10 day vacation in Buenos Aires. Again, knowing that there was a direct flight offered on this route, I checked the box to search only for nonstop flights.

Singapore Sweet Spot 8

Singapore Sweet Spot 9

Luckily, there was good availability, especially in the later part of the month, allowing us to spend exactly 10 days in Buenos Aires.

Singapore Sweet Spot 10

Finally, I searched the Houston to Maui route in March 2015. This time, knowing that there was no direct flight offered on this route, I did not check the box to search only for nonstop flights.

Singapore Sweet Spot 11

Singapore Sweet Spot 12

While the availability in the beginning of the month is not good, there is a lot of availability in the latter part of the month.

Singapore Sweet Spot 13

Calling Singapore

We’re flying United and we’re searching united.com, but we have to call Singapore to book since we’re using Singapore miles.

Singapore’s US call center is open 24 hours a day. The number is: (213) 404-0301. There is no telephone booking fee. Always clarify with the agent whether she’s quoting a price in US dollars or Singapore dollars.

As always, if an agent cannot book a flight for you or prices it at a higher price then you are expecting, simply hang up and call back for another representative.

After feeding the agent the flights I’d found, he quoted a price of 50,000 Singapore miles plus $186. That represented $86 in government taxes and $100 for the second stopover. As noted above, Singapore does not collect fuel surcharges on United flights.

Comparison with United Miles

Using Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles is also a better bet for flights to South America than using United Airlines miles, Singapore Airline’s Star Alliance partner and the operator of most of the flights we’ll look at booking to take advantage of this sweet spot.

For flights flown on United, United charges 60k miles in economy or 120k miles in business roundtrip between Hawaii and South America and 60k miles in economy or 110k miles in business roundtrip between the mainland US and South America. Plus, we can’t pay $100 for a second stopover using United miles.

Getting Singapore Miles

Getting Singapore miles is extremely easy now.

Citi ThankYou Points transfer 1:1 in 22-36 hours to Singapore miles. If I had all four types of points in this section, transferring ThankYou Points would be my first choice. This is the best ThankYou Points transfer partner, and the other options like redeeming the points for 1.25 cents each toward any flight aren’t nearly as valuable.

To get 55,000 ThankYou Points after spending $5,000 over 15 months, start with the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card.

My Review of the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card

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  • 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

The card also offers 3x points on dining and entertainment and 2x points on travel. (These categories flip flop on April 19.)

Application Link: Citi ThankYou® Premier Card

This card has a $125 annual fee that is waived the first year, but you will have to pay it once in year 2 to get the full 50,000 point bonus.

SPG Starpoints transfer 1:1 to Singapore miles in about a week. Like all SPG 1:1 transfer partners, for every 20,000 points transferred, you’ll get 5,000 bonus miles. Try to transfer in exact 20,000 Starpoint increments to maximize this 20,000:25,000 transfer ratio.

You can earn Starpoints from the Starwood Preferred Guest personal and business credit cards from American Express.

Chase Ultimate Rewards earned from the Ink Plus and Sapphire Preferred transfer to Singapore KrisFlyer miles in a day or two. Points from the Freedom can transfer to any of those three cards‘ accounts and from there on to Singapore.

Ultimate Rewards are the only one of the four points that also transfer 1:1 to United miles, so people with Ultimate Rewards should definitely bookmark this post that compares awards using United and Singapore miles.

American Express Membership Rewards transfer to Singapore KrisFlyer miles in a day or two. Any Gold, Platinum, Green, EveryDay, or corporate card will earn Membership Rewards.

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Recap

Singapore Airlines has placed Hawaii and Central America in one region. Singapore Airlines charges less miles to fly between the Hawaii/Central America region and South America, routing via the continental United States, than it does to fly directly between the continental United States and South America.

If you live in the continental United States, you can use these facts to combine multiple Hawaiian and South American vacations into a single award for fewer miles than if booking them separately.

Singapore miles are easy to rack up since the airline is a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase and American Express.

Hopefully booking a similar award to the one laid out in this post will be easy for you. If not, hire the MileValue Award Booking Service to book your dream trip (or trips in this case!) for you.

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I earn a commission for some links on this blog. Citi is a MileValue partner.

I’ve collected and redeemed millions of frequent flyer miles over the last three years. By the end of 2014, I will have visited over 50 countries, often flying in First Class. Without frequent flyer miles, I’d probably only have managed half the travel I’ve been able to enjoy.

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Where I’ve Been in Red

This is an extremely basic post designed to explain why airline miles are the key to traveling more, better, and cheaper, especially intended for anyone who caught me on Rudy Maxa’s World this morning.

If you’re a long time MileValue reader, this post really isn’t intended for you, but consider emailing it to friends who have expressed interest in copying your international, luxury travel.

Cheaper

I just booked myself a one way flight from Honolulu to Chicago for a conference for 20,000 miles and $2.50. The exact, direct flight I booked cost $1,205 when I booked it with miles.

I paid $2.50 for a $1,200 flight.

Without miles, I would have booked a less convenient route with layovers for about $500 and had $500 less in my bank account.

Better

Before I discovered frequent flyer miles, I only ever flew in economy class. I distinctly remember one 14 hour redeye on Turkish Airlines from Los Angeles to Istanbul when I couldn’t sleep at all in my tiny space and felt like a zombie for the next few days.

For the past two years, I’ve flown all my longhaul international flights in flat beds in Business and First Class.

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These flights are easy to book with miles. I paid only 67,500 American Airlines miles and $43 for a one way redemption in Cathay Pacific First Class (pictured above, trip report) from New York to Singapore. You can get that many miles from one credit card sign up bonus.

Or you could book the flights I flew with miles for a whopping $16,689 cash.

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International First Class makes the trip a whole lot better. It’s easy to book with miles and completely out of reach with cash for 99.9% of people.

More

When I can open a credit card and have enough miles to fly anywhere in the world in First Class for just a few dollars in taxes, I definitely travel a lot more. Everywhere seems within reach–because it is.

  • What are the absolute basics you need to know to get started right now toward your travel goals?
  • How do you get the miles you need for your travel goals?
  • How do you redeem the miles for your dream trip? This is the catch, right? (Wrong!)
  • How do you become a globetrotting miles expert?

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I earn a commission for some links on this blog. Citi is a MileValue partner.

Singapore Airlines’ award chart has an amazing sweet spot: Hawaii and Central America are in the same region!

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Flights “within” the Hawaii/Central America region are only 35,000 Singapore miles roundtrip in economy and 60,000 miles roundtrip in business class.

That 35,000-Singapore-miles award would cost 80,000 United miles. That 60,000-Singapore-miles award would cost 140,000 United miles.

One Region!?
One Region!?

Singapore is a Star Alliance member, so you can fly United flights on these awards, and Singapore never collects fuel surcharges on United flights.

Singapore miles are easy to get, since Singapore is a 1:1 transfer partner of Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards.

You Don’t Live in Singapore, Hawaii, or Central America. So What?

The primary beneficiaries of the Hawaii/Central America mega-region on the Singapore award chart are people who live in the continental United States. Mainlanders can use this sweet spot to get all the flights for one trip and half the flights for two other trips for a bargain price.

I priced out what amounts to a roundtrip from Denver to Honolulu plus two one ways between Central America and Denver for 35,000 total Singapore miles and about $177. That’s one complete roundtrip and halves of two others for less than what United charges for just the roundtrip to Hawaii.

The award is 80,000-United-miles-worth of flights for 35,000 Singapore miles.

singapore trip

  • How does this award fit together?
  • Who can take advantage of this trick routing?
  • What are the routing rules for Singapore awards?
  • How can you get Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles?
  • How can you book a Singapore award?

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I earn a commission for some links on this blog. Citi is a MileValue partner.

Update: Super reader Dave made a map of the locations of the Category 9 and 10 properties for visual learners.

Super reader Jeremy has created the most valuable spreadsheet imaginable for the Hilton HHonors program that you can download for free here.

The spreadsheet lists:

  • all 34 Category 1 hotels
  • all 131 Category 2 hotels
  • all 46 Category 9 hotels
  • all 10 Category 10 hotels

For each hotel, the name, location, and a link to its Trip Advisor reviews are listed.

Jeremy took the information from Hilton’s PDF of all its hotels’ categories and made it much more useful and streamlined.

The three main improvements he made:

  1. His spreadsheet is sortable by city, state, country, or hotel name (which often starts with the hotel brand.) This can be very useful if you want to know if there is a Category 1, 2, 9, or 10 Hilton on the route of your next trip.
  2. He added links to the Trip Advisor page of each hotel for more information quickly.
  3. He cut out Categories 3-8.
  • Why is cutting out Categories 3-8 an improvement?
  • What are the only two viable Hilton redemption strategies?
  • What card offers up to 10 free nights at Hilton properties after spending $1,000 in three months?

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