by angelcap2018

Emerson is typically credited with saying: “Life is a journey, not a destination.” So how about our journeys? Should we not enjoy every minute along the way? There was a time for me when the hours in transit at an airport or on a plane ranked right along with dentist visits and paying taxes. Miserable. It honestly made me just want to stay home. Luckily I wised up and now spend about half of my total year out and about the world, sometimes enjoying the time on the airplanes and airport as much as the destination.

This doc is meant to serve as a very basic “101” style award travel primer. I am FAR for the leading expert on this topic, though I’ve spent a lot of time and money with actual experts to gain a good strategy for myself. I believe these concepts would serve as a great starting place for many other folks with similar backgrounds and goals as me.

Who this guide will work best for: Business people, people who dine out a lot, people who travel a lot, international travelers, or folks who want to travel in premium cabins (First Class, or Business Class). Things will be slightly skewed towards Dallas / Fort Worth, as that’s where most of my experience comes from, but will also be useful to others who can adapt things to their home market.

I think this guide will be less beneficial to: People who don’t mind riding in economy class, only have domestic travel goals, don’t spend a lot on travel, dining out, or do not have regular business expenses to run through these programs.

I will outline 3 levels of complication below. One for people who just want an extremely simple strategy that doesn’t require thought or carrying multiple credit cards etc. A mid level for people who don’t mind a little extra work and thought. Finally, an “undergrad” level where you like the game, and don’t mind playing it. There are obviously some pretty advanced strategies out there (think graduate level) but these have diminishing returns for the amount of effort and are really only for the people who LOVE the game.

Basic Level:

This game never stays the same, but the Chase Ultimate Rewards family of cards is the hottest thing around. It’s been that way for several years now and seem like it will stay that way for many years to come. It’s a great program for several reasons: great sign up bonuses, strong card perks, and most of all: a flexible points currency that allows transfers to some of the best travel partners in the world while minimizing point inflationary risks. I use 2 cards every single day.

On the personal side:

I use my Chase Sapphire Reserve Card for almost everything. I dine out a lot, I travel a lot. I get 3x points on every dollar I spend in these categories. This includes spends on things like Uber, Parking Garages, Rental Cars, Bars, Clubs, but not Starbucks… 🙂

The $450 annual fee seems expensive until you consider this. The first plane ticket you buy that costs $300 or more you get a $300 credit on your statement. So now the annual fee is just $150. But you also get a $100 credit towards TSA Precheck. In case you don’t know, this TSA/Global Entry is the card you get, after a careful background check, that lets you blast through security at the airport in your own special line with experienced travelers with your shoes on and laptops still in your bag. When returning to the USA, you scan your Global Entry Card and passport at a kiosk, scan your finger prints, and you’re off to claim your luggage.

It also includes access to a HUGE number of Priority Pass Lounges in airports around the world. This can be a life saver for long layovers, where you can go in, charge your phone, get decent WIFI access, grab a bite and a drink, and get some work done. Some of these lounges are pretty terrible, while others offer nap rooms and nice shower rooms.

If you’re serious about getting into the award travel game you need one of these cards.

Chase Sapphire Reserve Card
I don’t get anything if you sign up. Poor me. I still have to recommend as it’s one of the key cards to this whole thing.
50k signup bonus points if you spend $4k in the first 3 months
Earn 3 points for every $1 spent on Travel, Dinning Out, Hotels. Earn 1 point per dollar spent on everything else.
$450 annual fee, offset by $300 Travel Credit, $100 TSA PreCheck Credit, Priority Pass Lounge Access.

On the business side:

Like many of you, I’m an entrepreneur. I use this as a HUGE advantage in my points game. I have a many Chase Ink Business cards for many of my different entities. Each is allowed a signup bonus (just not more than 5 new cards per 24 months… You can read more about the dreaded 5/24 rule with Chase with a simple google search).

What do I do? Well, I get all of my high level employees an authorized user card and tell them all to spend on it when necessary. They buy around $100k of misc inventory for my Materials business every month. They also buy huge amounts of gasoline, meals, and basic supplies.

Whenever possible I signup to automatically pay bills each month on these cards. This includes things like internet, cell phones, insurance, electricity, water bills, security/alarm companies, fedex accounts, etc.

I’ve also setup some of my Multifamily apartment complexes to charge electric and water to my credit cards. This doesn’t always work, but can you imagine what it looks like for points when an ALL BILLS PAID property electric bill hits your credit card each month? 🙂 😉 :-p

Earn 80,000 bonus points with Chase Ink Business Preferred. I can be rewarded too if you apply here and are approved for the Card. Learn more.
I get 20k points if you sign up using my link. (Hopefully you can see my real motivations are to help people as I already have nearly 2,000,000 of these points and am capped at getting 100k points per year using these referral links…)
You get 80k signup bonus points if you spend at least $5k in the first 3 months
Earn 3 points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases on travel, shipping purchases, Internet, cable and phone services, and on advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines each account anniversary year.*
Earn 1 point per $1 on everything else.

Mid Level:

Let’s get a little more advanced, and put a few more “cards in your wallet”. I’m in DFW and DFW means American Airlines. The Chase Ultimate Reward family does not currently have AA as a travel partner. You can do something really silly like buy AA tickets with your UR points, but this is a horrible value for your points and I’d rather slit my wrists than abuse my points in such a manner.

Both cards below are available on the Biz or Personal side. Details might vary, but the concepts are the same.

AA is frustrating for an awards traveler. They have very poor availability for seats when you need them. I used to only collect AA, but now only keep enough points in my account to grab 2 round trip First Class tickets to Asia, just in case they have something open when I need it. Once I spend those points, I’ll start earning again until it’s replenished.

This Citi Card below is a revamped product and one of the only ways to get 2x points on restaurants and gasoline for AA. I haven’t spent on this card in years, but plan to dust it off and start using it again. In my opinion it’s now stronger than the Executive Card and its $450 annual fee, unless you NEED the Admirals Club that’s included with that card. (Just use Priority Pass Lounges with the Sapphire Reserve, or get Admiral’s Club access with your premium cabin award travel boarding passes)

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Card
I do not earn anything for referring this card.
Earn 50,000 bonus miles after $2,500 in purchases in the first 3 months.
Earn double miles at restaurants and gas stations.
$99 annual fee
Lots of other small perks like $100 travel coupons, 1st bag checked free, priority boarding.
If I’m not looking to earn more AA points, I use the Chase Freedom Unlimited for 1.5X points on ANYTHING you buy. It’s a no brainer to reach for this card instead of your Sapphire Reserve if it’s not a bonus category (like travel, dinning, etc) so you get 50% more points for the spend. (Think HD, Walmart, Amazon, etc)

Earn a $150 bonus with Chase Freedom Unlimited. I can be rewarded too if you apply here and are approved for the card. Learn more.
I get $100 if you sign up using my link. (Again, I like $100, but far from my motivator here. I’m also capped at $500 per years, soo……)
You get $150 (or 15k points if you have an Ink or Sapphire Card to combine points with) if you spend $500 in the first 3 months.
You get 1.5 points per $1 spent on everything. No categories or thinking.
Only card discussed here with a Foreign Transaction Fee, so I don’t travel with it

Undergrad Level:

Things get slightly more complicated here, but not too bad. It’s time to think about Airline Status and a few other signup bonuses that work well with the strategy described above.

Back to American Airlines. Status is a nice perk to have on any airline. You get things like priority boarding, cheaper seat upgrades, more luggage, bonus mile earning potential, etc.

If you are interested in maintaining status with AA consider getting one of the Barclay Aviator family of cards and the Citi Executive card. If you spend a lot per year on each of these cards, you can get the difficult to earn Elite Qualifying Dollars and Miles. You can earn 10k EQM for $40k on each of the cards, or 20k EQM total. This puts you just a little shy of Gold Status with American. Also, on the Aviator Silver, you can earn $6k Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQD) if you spend $50k or more per calendar year. Again, this will almost get you Gold Status if paired up with the 20k EQM as described above. I don’t want to get into too much detail here as AA status is quite confusing and is has a lot of detail on their website, but these 2 cards will basically ensure Gold Status with AA as long as you spend, spend, spend each year.

Other Airline Credit Cards. You can target signup bonuses on various different airlines that you may travel on from time to time. I have United, Alaska, Korean, Cathay Pacific credit cards in my safe at home. I never spend on them, but I did get healthy signup bonuses when I originally signed up. Also, this gets you an account with each of these airlines which will later be handy when transfering points to them from your URs.

OK. So Now I have a ton of points. How do I spend them?

You will get the best bang for your buck in finding “Saver” style awards in premium cabins. You typically get a lousy return on “Everyday” style awards where there is a ton of availability. You will also get poor returns in the economy cabin. What do I mean by this? Chase UR points are usually valued around $0.02 a peice. A one way domestic economy class ticket will cost around 12.5k points or around $250. That’s hardly a steal as it’s fair market value for the points. (12,500 x $0.02 = $250) In fact I’d rather just buy it with cash, that way I’d get 3x points on my credit card for the purchase, and earn status with the airline as it’s a revenue ticket. If you pay cash you’ll also have much better availability and choose the exact flight you want.

Let’s compare that with premium cabin space, First Class/Biz Class, 10-20 hour international travel. That’s where points really start to shine, and also where plunking down some points for full lay flat beds, walkup bars, and in flight showers are best appreciated. Going to Asia, Biz Class will commonly run you $5,000 for a round trip ticket in biz class, or $10,000 for round trip in First Class. Fantastic Korean Air from DFW to Seoul will cost you 125k miles RT for biz class, or 160k miles RT for First. That’s $0.04 value on your points for Biz, and $0.06 value on your points for First. Essentially, you’re getting twice to three times as much value for your points as you are getting in economy domestic. If you value Chase UR points the way most people do at $.02 each, then it’s like you’re buying Biz RT for $2,500 each or First RT for $3,333 each. That’s one hell of a deal for the comfort, sleep, food, and luxury of international premium cabin travel.

Taken to an extreme, for my honeymoon, I booked Singapore Airlines and their fantastic fully enclosed suite, full sized bed product from Singapore to Auckland. This product regularly sells for a whopping $20k-$30k for each RT ticket. I was able to book for 160k miles for each ticket or a value of $0.16 each point. Look up some reviews on these types of tickets and have your mind blown. The airline sends a Benz to pick you up at your hotel and brings you to a secret airport entrance where butlers handle your luggage, immigration, and checkin while you enjoy a 5 Star meal from scratch from a famous local chef. It feels almost debaucherous.

Wrapping this up… Here’s the real value I’m giving:

It look me a long time to learn HOW to find award travel on all of these airlines. It seems pretty straight forward when you want to take American Airlines or United from Dallas to London. But what if they don’t have availability or you want to do something more complicated like Zurich to Dubai? Then where do you search? Hindsight is 20/20, and I might have been able to piece this together without spending a couple of thousands of dollars from Guru Coaches, but I doubt it. They guard some of this info pretty carefully, or at least don’t give enough of the key points away in free blogs to make it very useful.

When booking AA points, sign up for a free account with British Airways, a One World partner of AA’s. Their website is far more functional for finding award availability than AA’s. This way, you’re finding every one of AA’s One World partners award travel seats, not just AA’s. AA is pretty terrible, yet, a lot of AA’s partners have a pretty good selection of seats. This will help you get aboard some exotic carriers to exotic locations like Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong, Etihad to Abu Dhabi, British Airways to London, or Japan Airlines to Kyoto. Once you find the ticket you want, give AA a call and tell them the flight numbers and they’ll book it for you. It should be for free since they do not supply this info on their website.

When booking Ultimate Rewards, it’s best to use good old . As surprising as this is, and as ugly as their site is, it’s a workhorse with their Star Alliance. I was able to find everything on their site on my recent trip. Tickets like Manila to Oman on Oman Air. Oman to Paris on Air France. Lisbon to Casablanca on Royal Air Maroc. Frankfurt to Phuket on a combo of airlines.

Once you see what you want on that website, you can transfer points realtime from your Chase account to your previously created United account, and book the travel from While United is the best way to FIND the tickets, from time to time it’s cheaper to BOOK the tickets from the actual carrier. For example, United might charge 80k to book a biz ticket on Singapore Airlines, Singapore might charge just 60k miles. This has been hit or miss for me, so just be aware of this little point saving concept.

Chase has travel partners who are not partners with United, like Korean Air and their Sky Team Alliance, etc, but most of these carriers have pretty good websites to search for award travel. So please do review all of Chase’s travel partners, and not forget about them when planning your next trip.

Thanks for reading!

I want to reiterate that I’m not an expert at this. I’m pretty good with a solid working knowledge from my own experiences. Please start to follow blogs like Onemileatatime and Thepointsguy . These two fabulously gay gentlemen do a very detailed job where all of this is concerned. It’s easy to get lost in their details without a decent working knowledge of the basics though. They have paid meetups from time to time. They also offer services that will take over the confusing tasks of finding and booking award travel for you. It’s not cheap, and after a few times of seeing what they’re doing, you won’t need them anymore. (I think I paid them $300-$500 a few times to steal most of their travel hacks)

Guys like my friend Chris Sims on FB can also be a wealth of knowledge for earning points in, let’s call it, less traditional ways.

Finally, I need to admit that there is a huge world of AMEX award travel that I know almost nothing about. This is primarily due to many merchants that I deal with won’t accept AMEX, as well as it’s limited acceptance worldwide.

Feedback welcomed!

About angelcap2018
Travel Points 101