Case Study: Earning Miles For Specific Trips

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As I mentioned previously, over the coming days and weeks you’ll see the occasional post from a fellow reader who has applied to write for OMAAT on an ongoing basis. It’s possible that posts will still be in the publication queue after we’ve announced our decision, so we’ll be publishing these anonymously. We hope you enjoy the different perspectives!


In my regular life I work as a high school math teacher. My coworker Daniela is… wait for it… also a math teacher.

This of course means that we have the same vacation schedule; but whereas I like to use my points and miles knowledge to fly business class to whatever interesting place happens to have good award availability, Daniela tends to buy British Airways economy tickets to Prague to visit her parents.

So, you know, basically the same, except she pays more and her flights are not quite as comfortable. As an example of how miles and points can improve all kinds of travel, let’s look at changing that.

My goal is to create a strategy for Daniela that will focus on the following:

  1. Save as much money as possible on the three trips each year that she takes from Los Angeles to Prague
  2. Keep the required credit card spend under $2000 per month

The background

  • Her emphasis is on spending as much time with her family as possible, so her flexibility is minimal.
  • The flights will be for winter break (essentially December 1 through January 1, thanks to our school’s wacky schedule), spring break (the last two weeks of March), and the summer (mid-June to mid-August).
  • I’ll be focusing on economy flights for this post. No matter how many gorgeous cabins Ben flies in, many people want to stretch their miles as far as they can, and that’s the case here.
  • As a point of comparison, she says the flights often cost her around $1500 each (this seemed super high to me, but I think the allure of Avios has, unfortunately, bought her loyalty to this point).

Also, before we start, please know that this is a purely mental exercise. Award availability comes and goes constantly, so by tomorrow the specific awards detailed below could be impossible.

Let’s just see what is generally feasible.

The general plan

Three credit card signups will more than do the trick for these three roundtrip flights to Europe. For those of us who do not fly for work, strategically signing up for credit cards is the primary way we earn points and miles. Like many teachers, Daniela does additional tutoring on the side, so we can consider small business cards as well.

Credit Card Signups

Transfers used/Airlines flown

  • Ultimate Rewards → United MileagePlus for flights on Lufthansa
  • Ultimate Rewards → FlyingBlue for flights on AirFrance and/or KLM
  • AAdvantage miles for flights on American Airlines (the availability exists!)

Step One: Earn Ink Preferred Signup Bonus to Book Summer Break Trips

I mean, why wouldn’t the first step be to apply for the card Ben ranks #1 for March? While the online offer is 80k points after spending $5,000 in three months, you can potentially get an offer for 100k for the same minimum spend if you apply in-branch like I just did, literally five hours ago.

Once she makes the minimum spend, she’ll hopefully have 105,000 Ultimate Rewards points with which to work, and United MileagePlus is going to be our transfer partner of choice for the outbound June flight. As we can see, economy availability is really good:

While Singapore Air Krisflyer would charge 2,500 fewer miles and is also an Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, most of the availability showing is on Lufthansa, for which Krisflyer would charge about $250 in taxes and fees. United, in a rare win over Singapore, only charges $43 in taxes and fees for this flight.

If the availability were on United itself, then booking with Krisflyer would be the better bet.

Convoluted? Indeed. It’s almost as if the airlines don’t want us extracting thousands of dollars of value!

Now, for the trip back, Star Alliance availability at the end of August seems to have dried up, though not entirely:

If those available days match up with the beginning of school, then another 30k point transfer to MileagePlus will take care of it. If not, FlyingBlue is also an Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, and award space is pretty good:

While the taxes and fees are more than we’d like to pay, it’s still a nice redemption for Europe in the summer. And much less than she’s currently spending for a similar itinerary.

Step 2: Sign up for the CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard and book the outbound winter break flight

Before she flies, Daniela should apply for the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®. At the moment, the signup bonus is 70,000 AAdvantage miles for $4,000 spent in four months, and this will set her up for her flight before winter break. The card doesn’t have foreign transaction fees, so she can work on meeting her minimum spend while she’s in Europe.

Not only is economy availability wide open at the beginning of December, but it’s during off-peak dates and the transatlantic flight is on American metal, meaning she can avoid the dreaded British Airways screw you award traveler fees fuel surcharges:

The way home might not be so easy. Searching all of the major alliances for award space turned up essentially no saver award space.

Apparently the days around Christmas and New Years are popular for traveling. Who knew!? So she has a few options.

The option of the non-initiated: in August, when she returns to the US, Daniela could sign up for the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, meet the $3,000 minimum spend, and get $500 in cash-back credit to use on a revenue ticket home.

Or, my preference, the “Let’s live a little option”, which leads to:

Step 3: Earn the Signup Bonus for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and book the return flight in the front of the plane

In August, Daniela can sign up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, earn the 50k UR points, and book a business class flight on KLM by transferring 65k to FlyingBlue:

The price tag is steep – both in terms of points and dollars – but when you’ve never flown up front (and even when you have), long-haul business class is just so much fun.

Step 4: Book spring break trips as soon as you can

For spring break 2019, I’ll have to engage in some guesswork, but here’s the good news:

MileagePlus Availability toward the end of the schedule:

AAdvantage Availability toward the end of the schedule:

FlyingBlue Availability toward the end of the schedule:

This is all to say that since Daniela will know her vacation schedule well in advance, she should have no trouble finding economy availability if she plans ahead. And, with at least 35,000 Ultimate Rewards and 37,500 AAdvantage miles left, she has enough to book two one-ways already.

I think we’ve done it! That’s enough for three roundtrip flights from LAX to PRG. Let’s do some tabulating (I am a math teacher, after all).

Total out-of-pocket expenses:
Annual fees: $95 for the Ink, $0 for the CSP in the first year, and $0 for the CitiBusiness AAdvantage card in the first year for a total of $95. (“Nice mental math!” said in my least-sarcastic teacher voice)

Points Used: Approximately 147.5k UR and 45 AA.

Taxes and fees: Approximately $627.

Minimum Spends: $5,000 + $3,000 + $4,000 = $12,000. This can scare a lot of people off, but I’ve found that I haven’t had any trouble meeting $5,000 in three months, and presumably she makes more than I do since she’s been teaching for a bit longer.

Conclusion

By signing up for cards tailored to her travel needs, and having a solid plan, Daniela can save a few thousand dollars compared to what she is currently paying each year to go home to see her parents.

While your travel goals are almost certainly different, there is a strategy out there that can save you money as well.

I know that no post can be everything to every reader, but I hope this one helps anyone new to the hobby or those trying to convince a skeptical friend to jump in.

*You’ll notice I haven’t named the country Prague is actually in. It seems like the official short name is now Czechia, but most Americans still call it the Czech Republic, and Daniela herself just refers to it as Czech, so I have no clue what to do.*


As a reminder, this post was guest-written by a fellow reader. Feedback is appreciated, but please keep the comments kind and constructive.

Regarding Comments: The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Comments

  1. What’s the plan for getting the ink business card? You say she’s a teacher and spends most of the rest of the time in Prague so I assume she’s not really running another business.

  2. Hey, what I am curious about is. This would work only for one year, as you can not sign up every year for credit cards to get the sign up bonus. Or am I wrong?

  3. This post is interesting – but nothing too out of the ordinary to report. Awards from LAX to Europe are fairly common, and Prague is honestly a fairly common destination in traveler’s circles. Even now that AA is starting PHL-PRG nonstop and DL runs JFK-PRG nonstop during th summers.
    Lucky: give math teacher a pass

  4. Writing: 6/10 (sorry, the writing got me lost in the middle. )
    Content: 5/10 (its uninteresting, sign-ups are 1-off, and using miles for economy? for all the confusing effort to fly economy – and of course savings significantly less substantial than biz, its hard to excite anyone. a 5 is my encouragement for effort. for non-us based readers, there is nearly no meaning to this piece. try something else next time)

  5. Good primer.

    I would also encourage your friend to look at budget carriers that fly from LA to Iceland etc, and stop paying $1500. Learning to leverage Google flights would greatly help her also

  6. So this guy has basically tried shoving credit card sign ups down our throat again. Real original idea.
    So far the guy talking about how to get a trip for a family of 4 and showing us the actual monetary figures behind it has been the best post

  7. OMAAT, when all is said and done, is a points and miles blog. To say that writing about sign up bonuses, points transfers, redemptions etc. is uninteresting or even meaningless is like saying fish don’t need any water.

  8. For those who have never actually redeemed miles or made the points to miles transfer (such as myself) this post is very helpful. I have read Lucky’s posts on how to get started and always get bogged down and confused at that point in his explanation. Reading this post rephrases what Lucky said in a different way, one which I was able to follow more easily. I have been reading this blog for a couple of years but all of my knowledge is theoretical as far as actually booking awards tickets goes. I know most of the people here are old hats at this sort of thing, but I would like more posts for beginners.

  9. If it ain’t Chase and Citi it ain’t Lucky.

    Wait a minute, it is Chase and Citi !!!!!!
    Now what is missing is a CLICKBAIT headline. “This secret that airlines don’t want math teachers to know” or “The trick to let teachers fly for FREE”

  10. Great analysis. But in Daniela’s case, mightn’t she be better off just paying cash? For example, most ‘cheapest fare’ LAX-PRG are just over USD800, up to 850 ( cheapest is Aeroflot, next is LOT, then Swiss. Also, Aeroflot offers basically 1/2 the return fare for o/w ( $414), so she could split it 50/50 cash/award.
    So doing the trip 3 per year, cash would be in the order of $2450 ( v the award costs of 730, including taxes/annual cc fee). Plus she would earn for cash, albeit @25%.
    $1500 is way over the odds for these sectors so she does need to shop around.
    Sometimes when I look at the fees for award tickets it’s horrendous, $450-500 is not uncommon for an F o/w long haul on Emirates for example ( using Qantas points). Unless there is no alternative I usually pay cash for a Y ticket and keep the points for lower taxing carriers.
    It would be good to get more from this guest poster. I like the idea of going somewhere just because there is good J availability , something I try myself from time to time ( and yet to be disappointed).

  11. Flying on sign-up bonuses is nice and all but has limits. Another point I don’t get is that the author jumps through all those hoops to fly economy? And if the coworker in question does indeed fly every year to the same place, then she will undoubtedly be able to book those tickets well in advance when there’s a deal.

  12. Well-written and informative piece, thank you!

    Also thank you for bringing up “Czechia.” I may be living in a cave, but I only saw “Czechia” for the first time two days ago…

  13. Interesting but the premise seems oddly contrived? I don’t think most casual flyers would pay 1500 dollars (basically twice the cheapest fare on this route) to fly coach on a specific airline, especially when they know their travel dates well ahead and can look for deals?

  14. I hope this guest does not become a regular. Sign-up bonus? Wow, what a novelty! And redeeming for economy? Amazing! And what is the strategy after year 1?

  15. I like this one the most out of the guest pieces, but I have to admit not much is new here in terms of content.

  16. English speaking countries still use the Czech Republic as the most common way of referring. Whether you want to refer it to Czechia or the Czech Republic is entirely up to you and shouldn’t be a hard decision. Putting that footnote there makes you sound indecisive and lacking authority.

    Regarding content. I recommend OMAAT concentrate more on aspirational and premium travel content. I don’t read this blog for anything with economy travel. I don’t think the blog intended to be that way.

    Cheers

  17. Four credit card signup referral potential in one post. Indeed if this works he should be hired by Lucky. This is like a OMAAT/MMS mashup post.

  18. omg you princesses need to stop your wine. If it doesn’t apply to you directly it must not be useful and I will rail in the comments to let all know. This is a CASE study on how to think about booking for a flight. It’s not how to get your entitled behind on the most luxurious seat for 3 cents because you are cheap.

    This is a case study for a teacher who will probably prefer multiple trips in economy to visit her mother than 1 business class. I help people book trips all the time and frequently they prefer economy so that they can bring their spouse or the rest of their family. They don’t need the business class seats. While it would be great they are not looking for that. I get that response more frequently than hey help me find a business class seat.

    Stop fixating on the credit cards he named because you all probably got those same cards at one point or another to book your trips so why can’t someone else who don’t know what to get do the same? I get the same question all the time on which credit card should I get next. It’s going to be the same 4-6 cards I would recommend.

  19. I enjoyed this author’s tone.

    My two favorite guest posts were this one and the planning family travel post earlier today.

  20. I liked this post a lot because it shows what you can do with more modest monthly spending and strategic credit card sign up bonuses. I imagine that there are plenty of people who don’t spend $10K a month on credit cards as the last guest post was premised on. I’d love to see a post on a multi-year credit card sign up strategy so that Daniela can do this more than once. Posts like this are valuable to get the uninitiated interested in OMAAT and points and miles. If this blog only produces posts on complex first class itineraries (also very interesting!), you run the risk of not expanding your audience.

  21. A better example post than the BA yawnsville one. My understanding is “Czechia” is simply a shorter alternative to using “the Czech Republic”, both are now acceptable.

  22. Wow tough crowd.

    Don’t get me wrong I disagreed with the recent post about TYPs being underrated, but I thought this post was decent and is a nice reminder that miles are not always about maximizing value but how miles can make a meaningful difference for a teacher who doesn’t make a wad of cash and is unfamiliar about the potential value that can be unlocked using miles — think about it she can potentially be saving around $4000 a year which is huge for her.

    I think overall this was a good post — only suggestion is be more concise. Ben does a fabulous job in this regard and the new person will certainly benefit in learning from Ben.

  23. $1500???? That’s a little excessive. First off, if she’s flying BA, she should have taken advantage of the AARP and the BA card 10% off to get a better economy deal. Second, I fly to PRG frequently and from the East coast have never paid over $1k for a flight even when my dates weren’t flexible or if I was going over breaks. Point being, let’s first maximize her cash spend and leave the points for emergency trips. Third, what about flying for cash to London, which might be significantly less expensive and then redeeming Avios for the connection?

  24. I think this post is a lot better than the one with $10,000 per month credit card spend because more cost is defrayed based on her low monthly spend against the cost of three economy flights. To many of us with years of experience at this game it may seem like a simple case but for a newbie like Daniela, it’s a game changer.

    I like the writer’s style and tone.

  25. Hey Lucky, you published it. Even if it’s a one-off, please give the author credit for being published.

  26. The comments have been quite harsh, I think.

    My thought is what a nice guy to do this analysis for his coworker.

  27. She tutors on the side. Tutoring = business. Probably not much income but at least legit compared to the tons of people out there with business cards and no business.

  28. I have plenty of points and could fly business or first but prefer to fly economy to stretch the points. That is how we took my sister and her husband to Europe with us. Everyone does not fly business just because they have points.

    This was not informative to me but I shared it with my sister, as they are new at the game and this lays out a strategy that someone new can easily understand. When I started reading OMAAT I was just beginning to collect points and miles, not all readers are looking for the same thing when they travel.

  29. Solid primer for people new to this points “game.” It’s easy to forget that these blogs are free, so the more readers they get the better. There are tons more points amateurs out there than experts, so creating content tailored for that audience can help expand readership. OMAAT, or any website for that matter, shouldn’t give a crap if it loses fewer readers than it gains by broadening the appeal of its content to the masses.

    Frankly all the business and first class reviews, especially on The Points Guy, drive me nuts. ZERO shot someone with a family of 4, i.e. me, will go blowing points on those flights just to “fly up front and experience the new Super Diamond herringbone lie-flat GMAFB seat.” Plus these types of posts are what I’d share with family and friends who can possibly make use of the tips.

  30. @Jack, @Xtina, and @Andromeda – It’s a good question and one that really opened this whole world to me when I was starting out.

    Like most teachers living in LA, we can use a few extra bucks and there are plenty of wealthy people willing to pay us to tutor their kids. As @Rich said, that’s more than enough to qualify as a business. I’ve opened business cards with all of the major credit card companies and reported very realistic revenues (under $10,000 annually) in all of my applications. The end of this post sums up the basics of applying as a ‘sole proprietorship’: http://onemileatatime.com/2018/03/09/applying-for-amex-business-cards-what-you-need-to-know/

    @MDV: I initially wanted to put that in here as well, but the post started to drag when I added it in (even more than it already did!)

    @Kerry: Yeah, it certainly is contrived to some extent. Perhaps my drive to be dramatic was a bit of overkill there.

    @ron and @flyingfish: I’m with you – I probably would have just skimmed this post if I hadn’t been the actual one to write it! I got into points and miles for the business class (and first, but I never actually fly longhaul first) flights. That said, in my experience with friends and family, I simply can not convince most of them to part with more than the minimum amount of points or miles necessary. That was my inspiration for this post.

  31. The guy seems super nice but not a good fit. Oh my God, This was almost as bad as Travis’ post about how to transfer Chase points. (No offense to Travis, I like his other posts.) I thought the point was to hire someone who would enhance our knowledge of points and miles. This is beyond basic. If I knew the standards were this low I would’ve applied for the job myself

  32. I like the idea of a beginners guide to redemptions and card earning (which this isn’t, but touches on some pretty basic stuff).
    However, If she goes to the same place three times a year and is on a fairly fixed schedule known well in advance (ie, school holidays) there is no way she should be paying circa $1500-$2000 for a return in economy.

    What she really should be investigating is taking advantage of the advance notice of the term dates she has, and booking her flights backwards – ie, return tickets ex-PRG.
    In Y or in J – especially with the fairly regular EU sales – this would make sense, plus once the outbound is flown, if a date change was needed for some reason, it is just the change fee to swallow, not a full reprice.
    Then again, that would involve continuing to use BA, whose bashing is encouraged on here.

    Ps- this was significantly better written than skippy’s BA business & london bashing post.

  33. Eff this haters. I think all these series of posts are good. At least they generate good comments.

    And most of these posits are well written so off means lucky and tiffany are no special.

    Hire all of them and pay each on clicks per article

  34. I am from … wait for it… the Czech Republic and that’s what 99% of the people call it. Czechia is an official alternate name for the country though most people despise that name and call it the Czech Republic or Czech if they are lazy 🙂 This was a public service announcement on behalf of all fellow citizens.

  35. Pretty good article like what your doing so well done.
    Also my grandparents were born in Prague and they are Czech and I have relatives there still and my granddad always just said Czechoslovakia

  36. As Ben/Lucky has stated literally a gazillion times, you don’t need a business to apply for any business card. You don’t need to be a CEO or a tutor to apply for a business card.

    Google it to find the information.

  37. I’m a high school teacher and think this post was full of solid advice, even though I personally don’t need it. If the post wasn’t interesting to you, why didn’t you move on to the next post? I help several teaching colleagues with travel planning, and think the writer seems like a good friend a lot of us would be lucky to have. A lot of teachers I know don’t get the fact that all miles aren’t equivalent. I’ve had several colleagues tell me all about getting free flights to Vegas from their Cap One card. My award travel on Cathay (first and business) to Bangkok is an abstract concept. I received help from the Pizza in Motion guy at FTU in Seattle several years ago to make that happen. Why bash the writer for helping someone new to award travel? I’ve led several colleagues and friends to better cards helping them develop a strategy to make travel dreams a reality.

    Something to consider for the nay-saying commenters here. Teachers typically have their time off during high demand periods, so a lot of the time helpful tips about cheaper fares don’t really apply for the situation. Fares are rarely on sale when we have the days off. All of the great deals on “The Flight Deal” rarely work for us.

  38. This is a great post, one of my favorites in a long time on this site and my favorite of the guest contributors by far. It’s a pretty amazing thing to argue that award travel can be for everyone, not just for people who can make huge minimum spends. A huge range of people can use the advice in this pos. I’ve sent it around to my friends and family, hoping I can make OMAAT fans out of them. The engaging writing style was just a bonus. I hope we get more from this author!

  39. Like I said in my last post, all of these guest posts really help me to understand both how difficult it is and what a gift it is to be able to write interesting articles that appeal to a wide swath of people.

    For me the topic was only a bit interesting but at least The Math Teacher can write! Give her a different topic and another chance!

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