Sunday, July 24, 2011

Traveling on miles: first results

In September 2010 I launched my experiment with getting miles in order to fly inexpensively. It's been interesting, as the hoops have gotten a little more tricky each time. In fact I am now realizing that the details are already very vague!

Completed programs:

  • First, I got two cards; on each card I had to charge & pay off $1500 in six months. No problem. The result? 75,000 miles per card - 125k miles on American! (cards now closed)
  • Then I got another card -  this time around I had to charge & pay off $4000, and I can't remember what the time frame was - probably 3 months, for another 75,000 miles on American. (card open but with zero balance, ready to close)
  • Oh, and then I got an offer to take out a different card, pay something like $90, charge a couple of times, and pick up 50,000 miles on United. (card now closed)
Pending programs:
  • My most recent card (Chase) requires that I charge $3000 in three months to get 50,000 points. I went in thinking they were points on United, but it looks like they are Chase points that can be used to buy (among other things) airline miles, so they will likely become 50,000 United miles.
  • Finally, I've opened a bank account with Citibank. I have to pay 2 bills with their online bill pay for 2 months in a row, and they will give me 25,000 miles on American. I opened the account with $100 and have set it to pay two bills so far. Should be quite doable.
What does all this mean? Once I get my next set of points I will have 138,000 miles on American, and 122,587 on United; I'll pick up a bout 4,000 more miles on my Christmas flights which will push me over 125k on United, the holy grail for first class international flights (at the moment).

So is it worth it? Yes, it is, especially if you can be a bit flexible/creative in your bookings. First of all - it's an excellent adventure: the above picture is my private dining table in first class on British Airways! Each person is seated in a pod-like area with a foot rest and a seat that fully goes flat and can be made up like a bed; a table that can be pulled out and set with linen and real tableware (clearly first class passengers would never endanger anyone by wielding flatware improperly); a private tv screen (though that's not exclusive anymore), and the food was delicious. It's not a free flight - it cost me $700 (you have to pay all the taxes and fees for the flight), but that was about half what a coach class ticket would have cost me.

Of course it's important to pay attention to the details and charge enough (and pay it off, of course) to make it to the deadlines. I'm aware of programs like buying coins from the mint and using them to pay the credit card bill, but I'd prefer to do this in a straightforward fashion. We'll see how it goes - my spending seems to go in peaks and valleys and I'm at a low stage right now. I still have to charge $2430 in the next 2 months, so I may wind up looking for tricky options - we'll see!

I'm going to Germany at least once next year so I'm not worried about finding ways to use the miles - I just have to decide if I'm willing to fly coach class anymore. (I kid.. sorta)

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