“Count Me In” (Three Cards)

So you want in.  Welcome to the points game, my friend! Next I’ll get a little more creative and give an example of an awesome award flight redemption with only three credit cards.

First, let’s start with my go-to: the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.  The CSP has great transfer parters, double points on dining and travel, and after meeting the minimum spending requirements as well as adding an authorized user, can come with almost 70,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points.  Bottom line: the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a fantastic travel rewards credit credit. Check out my more thorough review in “I’m Nervous”*Click here using our referral link to sign up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card and get started on your own credit card points journey!*

For the second card, let’s take a look at the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) credit card from American Express.

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With a sign-up bonus of only 25,000 points, this doesn’t look like a great credit card offer.  Still, some of the benefits of the SPG credit card include:

  • $95 annual fee (waived for the first year)
  • 25,000 SPG Starpoints (after $3,000 in spending within three months; the SPG card periodically offers increased sign-up bonuses)
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Free wifi at SPG hotels (Westin, Sheraton, W, Four Points, Aloft, etc.)
  • Priority boarding
  • 2x points on SPG/Marriott purchases with credit card (since Marriott and SPG have announced they will be merging)
  • 5 nights and 2 stays towards SPG elite status (probably not a factor for infrequent flyers/travelers)

*Yawn* Not too exciting. But the real benefit of the SPG card is the 5,000 mile bonus when transferring 20,000 Starpoints to one of the many SPG transfer partners. So instead of having only 28,000 Starpoints after meeting the minimum spending requirements, you essentially have 33,000 Starpoints.  Also, the SPG card periodically offers an increased sign-up bonus of 30,000 or even 35,000 Starpoints.  And if you are able to earn 40,000 Starpoints (either through credit card spending or maybe you already have some Starpoints stashed away), that’s the equivalent of 50,000 airline frequent flyer miles.  It’s deceiving at first, but the transfer bonus and airline partners make this card very valuable.

The third credit card I’ll propose is the Citi ThankYou Premier credit card.

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Citi ThankYou Premier credit card offer.  Great category spend bonuses.

This travel rewards card from Citibank has a lot to offer:

  • $95 annual fee  (waived for the first year)
  • Earn 50,000 Citi ThankYou Points (after $4,500 in spending within three months)
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 3x points on travel (including gas stations) as well as 2x points on restaurants and entertainment

What sets the ThankYou Premier card apart are the category spending bonuses.  The Chase Sapphire Preferred only offers 2x points on travel (which doesn’t include gas stations).  The ThankYou Premier card also offers 2x points on entertainment, which is unique among the four different Credit Card Currencies.  That includes Netflix, Ticketmaster, movie theaters, amusement parks, etc.  Every point counts, so 2x points on entertainment-related purchases is a nice perk.

The only complaint I have with ThankYou points are the transfer partners.  There are good options, but the Citi transfer partners just aren’t as valuable as Chase, SPG, and American Express.  Which is why I put most of my spending eligible for a category bonus on Chase cards.

So after meeting the sign-up bonuses for the three credit cards, that leaves us with at least:

  • 69,000 Ultimate Rewards Points
  • 33,000 SPG Starpoints (assuming you wait for the 30,000 sign-up bonus)
  • 54,000 Citi ThankYou Points

What can you do with these points?  Since they are in three different credit card currencies, the answer is A LOT.

First, let’s assume that you are able to acquire 40,000 Starpoints in order to take full advantage of the potential 10,000 miles transfer bonus. This could be through 1) credit card spending, 2) having some Starpoints stashed away already, or 3) specifically staying at SPG properties so that you can both earn Starpoints from the stay itself as well as paying for it with the SPG credit card.  We were a few thousand Starpoints away from  40,000, so we stayed at a Sheraton hotel.  It was more than we would usually spend on a hotel, but the stay gave us enough points to have 40,000 Starpoints, which then translated to 50,000 airline frequent flyer miles.  So let’s fast forward to having those 50,000 miles.

Now let’s spend those points.  Going to Asia is a long and painful flight in economy, so let’s shoot for a vacay with round-trip business class flights.  After visiting Singapore and Chiang Mai, I would highly recommend both cities, and Singapore Airlines is a transfer partner with all four credit card currencies.  I picked a random day in October and found wide open award availability from Los Angeles to Singapore.

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No problem finding award space on Singapore Airlines.

Since the flight is so long, the aircraft stops for refueling in Tokyo.  So it’s a direct flight, but not a non-stop flight.

I also suggested going to Chiang Mai, and there’s plenty of award space available.

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No problem finding space for this short-haul business class flight on SilkAir, Singapore Airlines’ regional affiliate. Note that 36.20 Singaporean dollars is the equivalent of about 27.50 USD.

That’s all good, but 108,000 miles is a lot to spend.  Besides award availability, one of the benefits with Singapore Airlines’ frequent flyer program is the ability to add up to three stopovers to your itinerary for $100 each.  In my opinion, that is a small price to pay in order to add on another destination to a business class award redemption.  So rather than purchasing two separate awards tickets, you can combine both into one single award ticket and save on the total cost of the trip. As you can see below, adding Chiang Mai to our original itinerary does not cost any additional miles and only $21.34 more in taxes.  Note that this does not include the extra $100 for the stopover itself, and this flight itinerary does not account for the actual duration of the stopover.

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By including Singapore as a stopover, we can add another business class flight to Chiang Mai for the same cost in miles. As long as there’s award availability (best to search point-to-point), you can travel on whichever dates you prefer.

But let’s go even further.  Since the flight from Los Angeles to Singapore goes through Tokyo (for refueling), you could also add a stopover in Tokyo to your itinerary for an extra $100.  This means that you can plan three destinations on a single award ticket costing 88,000 miles and $244.88.  That’s an incredible value! However, since stopovers can’t be booked via the Singapore Airlines website, you’ll need to call Singapore Airlines (they have an office in the United States) and provide them the exact flight numbers and dates that you want to book. Remember that most Singapore Airlines award availability can only be searched on the Singapore Airlines website, so best to find each individual flight segment on the airline’s own website

Singapore Airlines is a transfer partner with all four currencies, so we have a lot of flexibility in terms of how to pay for it.  The Chase Ultimate Rewards points and SPG Starpoints have a few unique transfer partners, so I’d value them more than the Citi ThankYou Points.  With that, let’s plan on transferring all 54,000 Citi ThankYou points and 34,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to pay for this flight.  This leaves us with 35,000 Ultimate Rewards points and 40,000 Starpoints (or the equivalent of 50,000 miles after the transfer bonus).

Now for the flight home.  Korean Air is another airline that reserves the bulk of their award space for members of their own frequent flyer program.  They are also transfer partners with both Chase Ultimate Rewards and SPG, and their award redemptions on their own aircraft are advantageously priced. I picked another random day in October, and again I found multiple award flight options in business class.

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Korean Air is great for both award availability and reasonably priced redemptions.

Finding a complete vacation itinerary in business class is pretty killer in itself, but this Korean Air redemption gets even better.  While Singapore Airlines charges $100 for each stopover on one-way award flights, Korean Air allows for stopovers at no charge at all.  So… kimchi and bulgogi in Seoul? Completely optional, but a no-brainer in my book (if you have the time available and there’s award flight availability).

And it gets better. The flight from Seoul to Los Angeles is on Korean Air’s Airbus A380, which is the world’s largest passenger aircraft.  This gives enough room for a few extra perks, including an onboard Celestial Bar for business and first class passengers.

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Korean Air’s onboard Celestial Bar.  Not a bad way to celebrate a flight back home.

Tokyo, Singapore, Chiang Mai, and Seoul – that’s a pretty awesome adventure.

Lastly, let’s figure out how much this itinerary is worth.

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One-way flight in Singapore Airlines business class.
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One-way flight in Korean Air business class (equivalent of $2,905).
  • Total airlines miles: 163,000 Singapore Airlines and Korean Air miles
    • 54,000 through Citi ThankYou Points
    • 50,000 through SPG Starpoints
    • 59,000 through Chase Ultimate Rewards points
  • Total taxes and surcharges: $454.98
    • With Singapore Airlines: $44.88
    • Two stopovers on Singapore Airlines: $200
    • With Korean Air: $210.10
  • Cost of actual flights: $6,984.80
  • Monetary value of miles: 4 cents/mile

Roundtrip business class flights to four different Asian countries with only three credit card sign-ups.  Not too bad!

If this credit card combo only started to whet your palate, take a look at my proposed around-the-world redemption, “Hold My Beer”.


1. “I’m Nervous”

2. “I’ll Give it a Shot”

3. “Count Me In”

4. “Hold My Beer”

 

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