Considering how easy it is to earn 150,000 AA miles with 3 credit card sign up bonuses (acknowledgment to Daraius at Million Mile Secrets for the post about signing up for AA cards), booking a trip like the one above is well within anyone’s reach!
I’m actually in Las Vegas this weekend, celebrating a friend’s birthday…I made it here earlier today after a long day of travel (it’s much more effort getting here from the east coast, especially for someone used to making the journey from SoCal).
Gary Leff of View From the Wing recently wrote a post titled “Using Credit Card Offers to Construct a Free Dream Trip Quickly”. I just remembered a little while ago, and I think it is a good overview of where collecting frequently flyer miles and take you. Enjoy!
I was also able to draft a few more posts during my flight over here, so I will be posting more content soon, but I hope this can tide you over for now 🙂
All right, I’m gonna start with the basics. Note that I have included this article in the Beginner’s Guide section if you ever need to refer back to it. I apologize in advance for the long post, but there’s so much information to share! Before I start, I would like to provide this glossary of frequent flyer/traveler terms: http://www.flyertalk.com/glossary/
I actually just discovered this glossary, but it is pretty useful and complete, in case you ever need to look up a term or acronym.
What ARE frequent flyer miles?
Frequent flyer miles are points that are awarded by nearly (if not every) airline on the planet, in some form or another. With most of the major airlines (also known as legacy airlines, including Delta, United, Continental, American), for every flight you take, if you provide your frequent flyer number (or a frequent flyer number for an airline in the same alliance or in a partnership, more on this later), the airline will credit to your frequent flyer account the number of miles that your flight was. Some airlines, such as Southwest, JetBlue, and Virgin America, don’t credit you based on mileage, but they use a system know as a “revenue based” system, which means that the number of miles/point/credits you earn is based on how much you spent for your flight. By and large, these revenue based systems are not as lucrative for the frequent flyer mile collector seeking to redeem for premium class travel. There are exceptions, and these airlines have some partnerships with certain legacy airlines that are sometimes good redemptions, but we’ll save that discussion for another day.
So, what is the point of accumulating these frequent flyer miles?
These miles are loyalty programs, intended to get you to always fly the same airline. OK, that’s more for the airlines’ benefit, but what’s in it for you? Generally, these miles can be redeemed for award tickets. Generally, on the US legacy airlines, a domestic, coach class award ticket can start as low as the 15,000 range, and more typically will cost you 25,000-50,000 miles. Therefore, you could have all your domestic flights for free if you were able to collect enough miles. A United States transcontinental flight (sometimes you’ll see this abbreviated as transcon) will generally generate just shy of 5000 miles, so if you are avidly collecting miles, you could in theory fly across the country for free roughly every 6 trips (of course, subject to travel dates, award availability, etc. etc.).
But what if I want to fly elsewhere?
You’re in luck, miles can be used also to travel internationally. Each airline has its own award chart, which dictates how many miles it costs to fly from each location to another. For example, see this page for links to the United Mileage Plus award chart for United and to the United Star Alliance (partner) Award Chart (that’s the award chart for using United Miles on other alliance members). You’ll notice the award charts also include booking fares for international and first class seats for miles. This is where, if you are interested in traveling in style in premium class, you can get the most bang for your mile. Typically, international business and first class seats are in the 100-150k mile range, of course depending on which airlines’ award chart you’re looking at and what your origin and destination are.
Well, how will I possibly ever accumulate 150,000 miles?
Most people do not fly anywhere close to 150,000 miles in 5 years, let alone a single year. However, there are many ways to earn miles. with the biggest one being credit card signup bonuses. I’ll have a future post about this, but basically, many airlines offer co-branded credit cards with the major banks (Chase United and Continental, Citi AAdvantage, AMEX Delta, etc.), and when you sign up for these, you generally can earn at least 25k bonus miles (ranging up to 50k and sometimes even 100k!). There are also several credit card affinity programs that allow you to earn points that can be converted to miles or allow you to spend the points for travel (usually valuing the points at $0.01 each). I’ll be writing about this very soon, because there are currently several excellent offers on American Express card that are available for only a limited time.
Before you get carried away with applying for credit cards, I would like to add a caveat. Playing the credit card side of the miles requires you to have a good credit score (at least 700, or close to that), and to be able to maintain that score (i.e.always paying your bills off on time, in full). IF you have trouble with either one of these, and/or you are planning, in the next two years, to make a major purchase involving a credit check, DO NOT dabble with credit cards. It’s more important that you be able to secure the best rate for your car loan, home mortgage, or whatever else you may be buying.
And even if you do play the credit card game, don’t go off applying for everything…generally, each bank will only allow you 3-4 credit cards a year, and they will not accept more than 1 application ever 30 days (sometimes 60). Therefore you have to be a bit selective on which offers you jump on, and go for the ones that present the best value in your particular situation.
Anyway, back to Frequent Flyer miles…
So one question that I have heard several times, is people lamenting the fact that they can’t earn useful miles on their flight because they collect United Mileage Plus miles, but they’re flying US Airways (or Continental). However, you CAN earn miles (even elite qualifying miles, or EQM, more on that in a moment) by flying on carriers in the same alliance. I’m only going to scratch the surface on this topic, but there are three major alliances operating in the US (actually, probably the world too):
- Star Alliance (sometimes abbreviated as *A, not to be confused for A* search) – includes United, Continental, US Airways, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways, ANA, Lufthansa, and more. This is the largest alliance in the world.
- OneWorld (creatively abbreviated as OW) – includes American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, and more.
- SkyTeam – Includes Delta, AirFrance/KLM, and other airlines, but this is generally considered the weakest alliance.
So, next time you’re not flying you’re usual carrier, do check if you can possibly credit your miles to another carrier’s account in the same alliance. And if you don’t have any miles with that alliance, you should consider opening an account with one of the carriers. One of the key tenets to follow is to always collect miles, and to accumulate miles in as many brands/alliances/chains as possible, because you never know when they’ll come in handy.
Last but not least…elite status?
So generally, as you accumulate EQM with a single frequent flyer program, you can earn elite status if you earn enough miles in a single year. Most of the airlines have elite levels at 25k miles, 50k miles, and 75k/100k/125k (top levels vary by program). You can also earn elite status through segments, which involves counting every flight you take. This might be the way you qualify if say you take many short trips within or near California or Texas. You generally don’t fly much more than 500 miles on these trips, but you can qualify for low-level elite status at less 50 segments.
The benefits of elite status generally include waived baggage fees on at least one bag, priority lines for check-in and sometimes security, and the potential to get free domestic upgrades to first class (I believe AA is an exception on this one). Note that ONLY elite qualifying miles (EQM) earn elite status and these are generally miles flown butt-in-seat (BIS). Most of the time, credit cards and other methods of earning or purchasing miles will not qualify you for elite status (though there are some exceptions). Airlines also sometimes run promotions where you can earn additional EQM on flights, usually it will be flight on certain routes that allow you to earn double or even triple EQM than normal.
Anyway, I think I’ve bombarded you all with enough words and acronyms for one sitting. Thank you for reading, to everyone that made it this far. And please feel free to post any questions in the comment section, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next time!
Hello everyone! Frequent Flyer Collector has invited me to be an guest contributor/blogger to this site. So I’ll tell you a little about me and why I started this travel hobby. I started aggressively collecting miles last year, and I like to think I’m one of the friends that originally inspired Mr. Collector (aka jfoo) to join the game. I’ve done a lot of business travel over the years, and after many years I accumulated about 200,000 frequent flyer miles from flying, spread across several programs (American, Delta, Continental, etc). I hardly ever used them, because they seemed pretty useless. Airlines would advertise that you can get a free domestic ticket for 25,000 miles, but there seemed to hardly ever be availability, at least not when I wanted to travel. Eventually the airlines started offering “saver awards” for 25,000 miles (with very limited availability), and “standard” awards for 50,000 miles which had better availability (anywhere in continental USA). OK, so at least a standard award might be available when I want to travel, but that would take about ten cross-country round-trips to earn enough miles for ONE free ticket. And that is only if the ten trips are all on the same airline! I can usually get a domestic round-trip for $400 or less, so I valued the miles at less than one cent each.
But sometime in about 2010, I finally realized the real value of collecting miles. Their greatest value is booking premium travel (first or business class) overseas. First some background information: If you buy a ticket from the USA to Asia, you probably will pay about $1000-$1500 round-trip for economy class, $5000-$8000 for business class, and $10000-$15000 for first class. As much as I enjoy premium class travel, that is way more than I can afford to pay for a vacation. So I’d typically pay around $1000 for a very miserable 18-hour trip to Asia, thinking I could never afford to sit up front with the rich people. But very occasionally, my status as a very frequent traveler got me upgraded, and that turned a miserable overseas flight into a very enjoyable flight, with a big, comfortable seat that reclines like a bed (in case I want to sleep), awesome food and drinks, interesting people to talk to, and a much more quiet, relaxing environment. I just wished I could always sit up there!
Now if you want to use miles to book an award ticket to Asia, on United that costs 65,000 miles in economy, 120,000 in business class, or 140,000 in first class (round trip). Of course availability of saver awards to Asia (or anywhere) on United is pretty limited, but at these levels, but if you COULD book saver awards at these levels, the frequent flyer miles are worth as much as 10 cents each. But eventually I realized that you actually can get awards at this level, because United miles can be used to book tickets on any of United Airlines “partner” airlines! So if traveling to Asia, even if United does not have award seats on United flights, you can use United miles to travel to Asia on Asiana, Singapore Air, Thai Airways, Al Nippon Airways (ANA), Air China, Continental, or any of United’s 26 Star Alliance partners. With so many options, there is almost always at least one airline that has premium award seats available when you want to travel.
Of course, it would take a lot of traveling to earn that many miles just from flying. Suddenly, those credit cards offering bonuses of 50,000 miles, 75,000 miles, or even 100,000 miles just for signing up seemed a lot more valuable. And when you can apply for several credit cards in one day, you can quickly get enough miles to earn a free ticket overseas that would other wise cost $5000 or $10,000 or more! And with so many credit cards out there offering bonuses, you can do this over and over again! It does take some work to find the best credit card deals, to learn how and when to apply for credit cards, and to learn how to use the rewards, but I think it is well worth it. Of course, reading this blog will drastically reduce the amount of work to find this information, because you can learn a lot from the research we’ve already done and the experiences we will share.
Well that’s enough for now. You’ll be hearing from me here in the future, so stay tuned.
This post jumps ahead a bit for all the beginners, but I’d like to go ahead and cover it. The Chase reconsideration line has been thoroughly blogged about in the miles community, but I figured I would share my experiences. All the major credit card companies have reconsideration lines you can call if you ever have a credit card application denied. I recently applied for the Chase Ink Bold Business card which is a charge card. It features a 50,000 Ultimate Rewards bonus for spending $5000 on it in 3 months. The offer on this card has actually just been refreshed on Monday November 28. It still offers the same bonus as before, but now also offers 5X points on certain types of business spending (office supplies, wireless, cable, telecommunications, among others), and 2X on gas and hotel purchases.
Anyway, when you call the business reconsideration line, they will generally ask you for details about your business (it can be a business you’re trying to start), and if you already have a lot of credit with Chase they will either ask (or you can suggest) taking some credit off your other credit lines and reallocating it to opening a new credit card. For example my application for the Ink Bold was deferred (the actually message I got when I applied said something about processing). I had a Chase BA Visa card that I wasn’t really using anymore, so I asked them to take some of the credit line from that and open an Ink Bold account.
Chase tends to be very flexible with these things so it’s always worth following up with them on your applications. The number for the Chase reconsideration line is below, courtesy of Darius at Million Mile Secrets, who has a very thorough post about the Chase reconsideration line.
Chase Credit Card Reconsideration
- 888–245–0625 connects directly to a personal card credit analyst
- 800–453–9719 connects directly to a business card credit analyst
- 888–609–7805 connects to the application status department
You can find a link for the Chase Ink Bold application as well as other great offers on the Credit Card Offers page
UPDATE: Thanks to Chris for also sharing his experiences in the comments:
“I recently was declined for the Chase Southwest Visa. The rejection letter said that I had two many accounts open with Chase. (I have three other Chase credit cards.) I called the reconsideration line and offered to cancel one of the other cards. The Chase Customer Service rep said she would reopen my application and take a look at it. She asked a few questions about my income, then said she could approve me if we reduced the size of the credit lines on my other cards. I was happy to do that, and I got approved. The whole process was easy and painless.”