How to Get 5 People to Europe from 4 Cards

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I got a request for a Free Credit Card Consultation that I thought would be informative to share with everyone. I was able to show a man how he could take his family of five to Europe by opening four cards by himself, divvying up his spending among the four cards, and paying just taxes and fees on his tickets.

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Here are selected answers from his Free Credit Card Consultation form:

Airports: Charlotte, North Carolina (CLT)

Goal: My goal is to take my wife and kids to Spain. (2 adults, 2 toddlers under 4, 1 infant under 2). Destination airports are Pamplona (PNA) or Bilbao (BIO) and Madrid (MAD) if we can get to PNA or BIO.

Current Balances: I have the Barclaycard Arrival +, I earned the 49k points, passed the 91 days.

How many people will be applying for cards? one

Current cards: I have the Barclaycard Arrival +, I earned the 49k points, passed the 91 days. I also have AMEX blue card, basic with no points. I got the AMEX card in 2006

Interested in earning: Airline Miles

Monthly spending: I could spend 2-3k a month

Here is a slightly modified version of my response:

If you travel between October 15 and May 15 each year, you’ll need 120k United miles and 80k American Airlines miles for 4x roundtrips–using one type of miles for 4x one way tickets and the other for 4x the tickets the other way. The lap infant will cost 10% of what United and American calculate to be the equivalent cash fare. Plan on the infant ticket costing around $200 roundtrip. Roundtrip taxes for the other passengers will be under $100 each.

American Airlines and US Airways have merged legally, but they maintain separate frequent flyer programs. The two programs will combine between April and June 2015, and your balances in the two program will be combined as American Airlines miles. The current American Airlines chart, which is the world’s best and far better than United’s or Delta’s, will be the award chart at that time. To take advantage, you should open the American Airlines and US Airways credit cards now, and watch those bonuses be combined soon. This will get you way more than the 80k American Airlines miles you need.

To get the 120k United miles, get the United card and Sapphire Preferred. That puts you at 106k United miles + Ultimate Rewards (which transfer 1:1 instantly to United miles.) The last 14k miles can come from further spending.

Cards

Some credit card offers in this post have expired, but they might come back. If they do they will appear –> Click here for the top current credit card sign up bonuses.

  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® with 50,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
  • US Airways MasterCard with 50,000 bonus US Airways miles after first purchase and payment of $89 annual fee
  • Sapphire Preferred with 40,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months and 5,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards for adding an authorized user. (Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 instantly to United miles.)
  • United card with 50,000 bonus United miles after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months and 5,000 bonus United miles for adding an authorized user

To get the United offer, sign into your United account and see whether a banner appears advertising this offer.

If not, try this:

  1. Apply for the standard offer: 30k United miles after $1k in spending in the first 3 months card
  2. Add an authorized user on the application. That gets you a free 5k miles. Adding an authorized user does not prevent that person from getting the card at the same time or in the future in as the main user and getting the full sign up bonus.
  3. After the card shows up on your chase.com account, send Chase a Secure Message from inside your chase.com account saying you’d like to be matched to the 50k sign up bonus you’ve seen others offered. My friend wrote:
    “Hello,
    I opened the United MileagePlus account with the 30,000 bonus after $1,000 in spending in the first three months. However, I noticed that there was also an offer with a 50,000 bonus after spending $2k in the first three months. Can you please match me to that offer?
    Thank you,”
  4. Chase will say something like: “OK, when you meet the $2k minimum spend, let us know and we’ll give you 20k more miles.”
  5. Hit the minimum spend of $2k, then follow up with Chase.

Minimum Spend

If you add up the minimum spending requirements on your new cards, it is $9,001 over three months. That’s at the top end of the $2k – $3k you report spending each month. To meet the minimum spending requirement, you can either try to put more of your spending on credit cards or stagger the applications by waiting to meet the spending requirement on three of the mentioned cards before applying for the Sapphire Preferred.

In return for meeting the spending requirements, you’ll get 103k American Airlines/US Airways miles and 106k United miles/Ultimate Rewards.

That leaves you 14,000 United miles short of your goal. Keep spending on the Sapphire Preferred, and you’ll get there in five months, fewer if a lot of your spending is on dining and travel where the card has a 2x category bonus.

Do not transfer any Ultimate Rewards to United miles until you are ready to book the awards, since the transfer is instant and irrevocable.

When you have 120,000 United miles and 80,000 American Airlines miles, search for award space in both directions before booking anything. Put the American Airlines award space on hold for 5 days for free by phone or online, ticket the United space, and then ticket the American Airlines space to avoid any award space disappearing during the booking process.

You can search united.com (here’s how) for the United award space. For award space using the American Airlines miles, you’ll want to use ba.com (here’s how) because Iberia award space appears there. You’ll probably have to construct the direction using AA miles with segment-by-segment searching. If this sounds like too much, hire my Award Booking Service.

A quick look at wikipedia shows Bilbao airport with a ton more service than Pamplona, so you’ll probably have better luck there with Madrid as a back up plan.

At the time of booking, mention the lap infant.

Recap

He’s got to get four cards, meet minimum spending requirements, spend a little extra on one card, wait for his American Airlines and US Airways miles to be combined, and by about June 2015, he should have all the miles and be ready to book an award for 5 passengers for about $500 in taxes and fees.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

The comments section below is not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all questions are answered.

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19 COMMENTS

  1. Book one parent with 2 very young children on one airline, and another parent with a very young child on another airline, to a foreign country…what could possibly go wrong?

    Having been a parent of young children, I would never, ever, recommend this strategy.

    • I think you might have misunderstood the approach, Allison. All passengers travel on AA there and United back (or vice versa), but the key is to make sure both are reserved/booked at the same time. Wouldn’t want to end up with tickets home and the outbound availability dried up…

      • Correct. 4x CLT-BIL for 80k AA miles and 4x BIL-CLT for 120k United miles. The hold and ticketing order is designed to ensure you don’t ticket just half of the award only to find the other half of the space disappeared.

        • oh, I’m so sorry! I even read it twice because I was incredulous that you would suggest two airlines, yet I didn’t get that.

  2. We have a similar situation where we are trying to get 2 adults and 3 children to Europe. We are nearly there with enough miles, but are struggling with hotels. We’d like to visit several countries while there. Seems all rooms are for 2 people. Would appreciate a post on lodging overseas for families 🙂

    • Hotels in Europe (and most of the rest of the world) price by person, certainly when more than two people are in a room, and have low cut-offs for who is considered a child (never older than 12, often 6, 3, or even 1 year old).

      For families in places like this you may well find that apartment rentals work better than hotels. You’ll get the bedrooms you need plus a kitchen which is a big win finance-wise and getting-the-kids-to-eat-wise. You can’t get free apartment nights per se but the cost is much, much less than the equivalent number of bedrooms in a hotel and you can offset the cost with cash back or cash-type-travel-points cards.

      For apartments you can look on HomeAway.com or google Holiday Apartments (City Name) to find city-specific rental companies.

      • Thanks for the hotel info.. I’ve certainly seen the same thing.. looking at booking two rooms anywhere we need to go… Maybe apartments would work, though. Can you get them for just 1-2 nights?

      • Club Carlson works for a few nights. We are a family of 5. If you go to certain locations you could stay quite awhile on the sign-up. (Budapest!!!) We’ve used CC in Paris and Budapest. (2 rooms) They even have some family rooms for ca$h in some locations. You need a card and your spouse needs a card and BOGO for family. If you are smart, you can get A huge ROI on the card. We did a bit of luxury, then earned more from a promo from cash nights. Not the best value, but it was what we needed. I was loathe to pay 2 hotel rooms per night when 1/2 of us are small, then Club Carlson comes in and I pay sometimes ZERO. (give or take) if you know how this game works……. Hotwire is great, but you can’t cancel. I don’t like commitment so sometimes Air BnB seems to be a pain. You can cancel CC bookings and rebank anytime. GREAT program for families IMHO.

        • You can even find premium award nights with CC and get breakfast with points. INCREDIBLE savings with BOGO. We got breakfast included on paid stays at CC properties in Ireland and the price for our breakfast at a restaurant would have been nearly what we paid for the hotel stay. Above and beyond the free breakfast you get with a Marriott property for example.

  3. You make it sound so easy to spend all this money on credit cards for months and months at a time. I just don’t get it. It sounds like you’d be getting yourself into a lot of trouble just to get a flight for your family.

    • He said he spends $2k – $3k per month on cards. He needs to spend $23k. That’s about eight months of normal spending at most, probably less if he can transfer more of his expenses to credit card. No need to get into any trouble, and hopefully he’ll save himself $4k+ in airfare for his careful planning.

  4. Scott, any thoughts on how soon to contact United to request the additional 20K miles? I applied for the card today and the card is now showing up in my Chase Account. Should I wait until I at least receive the card in the mail?

  5. Thanks for all the great hotel tips! We got our 1st cc w/sign up bonus last month and were surprised we met the min spend in 40 days (no MS needed!)The one benefit of having 4 kids (1 in college). We’ll look at Club Carlson and I agree on the apartment. Think we’ll do a trial of home exchange and see if we get any takers. I mean, doesn’t everyone want to come to Dallas?!? Happy New Year

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