All in… nice! The grand finale will be an around-the-world itinerary with credit cards points. While this one is notional, you could also take a look at How We Made It Happen to see what credit cards and airlines we used to book our own RTW trip. Things have changed a bit since we booked our flights, but many of the redemptions and rules remain the same.
First, let’s assume that you sign up for the three credit cards discussed in “Count Me In,” which are the the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Citi Premier, and SPG American Express cards. These three credit cards give us at least:
- 69,000 Ultimate Rewards Points (*Click here using our referral link to sign up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card!*)
- 33,000 SPG Starpoints (assuming you wait for the 30,000 sign-up bonus)
- 54,000 Citi ThankYou Points
As I outlined before, the points from these three credit cards can provide roundtrip business class airfare to Southeast Asia and back. Pretty awesome, and already sure to be an unforgettable trip… but let’s make it even more awesome.
First, we’ll need to sign-up for a few more credit cards. This could be over the course of weeks, months, or even years. Just keep in mind that banks and airlines can change the rules on points/miles whenever they wish, so I don’t recommend holding on to points for too long.
The fourth and final credit card currency is American Express Membership Rewards points. You’ve probably heard of the AMEX Platinum card; it comes with a lot of perks (airport lounge access, Marriott/SPG Gold status, $200 Uber credit, etc.); it also also comes with a $550 annual fee. Total buzzkill.
The mid-tier American Express card is the Premier Rewards Gold (PRG) card. It has comparable perks to the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Citi Premier cards:
- $195 annual fee (thankfully waived for the first year)
- Earn 25,000-50,000 Membership Reward points (after $2,000 in spending within three months; note AMEX periodically offers 50,000 points instead)
- No foreign transaction fees
- 3x points on airline purchases (must be booked directly from airline) as well as 2x points on U.S. restaurants, gas stations, and supermarkets.
- $100 in airline fee credit; this can be used for checked bags, onboard food/drinks… or potentially redeemable for airline gift cards
- Note: The AMEX PRG card is a charge card rather than a credit card, so you must pay the full balance each month. If you’re playing the points game, you should be doing this regardless, but it’s worth pointing out.
Pretty basic stuff, though the $100 airline fee credit is unique among the other credit cards. These “incidental fees” (baggage fees, onboard food/drinks, ticket change fees, etc.) are charged directly from the airline, and the fees are coded differently from actual airline fares. Once eligible charges clear on your American Express card, the bank gives an automatic credit back to your account for the charges.
Pretty awesome in its own right, though some airlines (including Delta, American, and Southwest) allow the airline fee credit to be applied to gift cards purchased from the airline’s website. So in practice, that can be a free $100 in airfare since the annual fee is waived the first year. You can also see that the AMEX PRG card gives 2x on spending at supermarkets, which is also unique among the other three credit cards. Since the Citi Premier card gives 3x on all travel spending, the PRG’s 3x points on airfare purchases isn’t as appealing.
The sign-up offer ranges from a pitiful 25,000 Membership Rewards points to a more respectable 50,000 points. AMEX will periodically offer the bigger sign-up bonus, so let’s assume that you wait for the 50,000 Membership Rewards offer before applying. After meeting the minimum spending requirements, you’ll have at least 52,000 Membership Rewards points. Another nice addition to your diversified credit card points wallet.
Four credit cards is enough to score you around-the-world business class flights, which is a pretty epic trip. For good measure, let’s also sign-up for the United Explorer credit card that I described in “I’ll Give it a Shot.” Bottom line: If you time your application correctly, the card can net you 57,000 United frequent flyer miles.
A quick recap of our total points after signing up for the five credit cards:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred card (69,000 Ultimate Rewards Points)
- American Express Starwood Preferred Guest card (33,000 SPG Starpoints)
- Citi ThankYou Premier card (54,000 ThankYou Points)
- American Express Premier Rewards Gold card (52,000 Membership Rewards Points)
- Chase United Explorer card (57,000 United MileagePlus miles)
Now let’s make it rain credit card points!
Redemption #1: USA to Seoul (stopover) to Chiang Mai, Thailand in Korean Air Business Class
Miles Needed: 75,000 Korean Air miles
- Earn 40,000 Starpoints; transfer 40,000 Starpoints into a newly created Korean Air Skypass frequent flyer account; 40,000 Starpoints = 50,000 Korean Air miles
- Transfer 25,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points into the same Korean Air Skypass account
As I pointed out in “Count Me In,” Korean Air has fantastic award space, allows free stopovers on one-way award flights, and reasonably priced fares. They also fly the Airbus A380 with onboard bar out of Los Angeles, Atlanta, and New York, which would be a mind-blowing experience for any infrequent flyer who had never before flown in business class. With a free stopover in Seoul (as long as there’s award space, you can stay as many days in Seoul as you’d like), this one flight provides two different destinations.
I include an example itinerary from Chicago below, but you could easily find your own award space from one of their other U.S. destinations (Atlanta, Dallas, Honolulu, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC).
Redemption #2: Chiang Mai, Thailand, to Singapore (stopover), to the Maldives in SilkAir Business Class
Miles Needed: 35,000 Singapore Airline miles
- Transfer 35,000 Citi ThankYou Points into a newly created Singapore KrisFlyer frequent flyer account.
Chiang Mai, Singapore, and the Maldives were favorite stops on our own RTW adventure, so this makes sure you would be able to hit all of the highlights. Again, Singapore Airlines allows stopovers (for an additional $100 fee), has generous award space, and best of all, the Singapore Airlines’ frequent flyer program is a transfer partner with all four different credit card currencies. This makes compiling Singapore Airlines miles easy, and when booking a RTW trip, gives you more flexible redemption options. Like the Korean Air stopover in Seoul, note that you’ll need to call Singapore Airlines to book the stopover itinerary.
I should also note that these flights are with SilkAir, which is Singapore Airlines’ regional subsidiary. While SilkAir is the only option from Chiang Mai to Singapore, you could instead opt to fly Singapore Airlines to the Maldives if you’d prefer. Since the Singapore Airlines flight arrives into the Maldives late at night (and the Maldives aren’t cheap), this SilkAir flight might be logistically better. Won’t be too fancy, but since the flights are relatively short, it seems like an appropriate compromise.
Redemption #3: Maldives to London in Lufthansa Business Class
Miles needed: 55,00 United miles
- Spend 55,000 United miles.
Signing up for the United Explorer credit card is enough for this flight. There aren’t too many European airlines that fly to the Maldives and award space is hard to come by, but I found business class availability on the 10.5 hour Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt. I chose to connect via Frankfurt for an onward flight to London, but you could essentially go anywhere in Europe since Frankfurt is such a big hub. The 55,000 United miles is a fantastic value, because you would typically pay 70,000 United miles for a seven hour Lufthansa flight from the United States to Europe. So it’s a cheaper cost yet a longer flight, and of all European airlines, Lufthansa is among the best.
Because award availability to and from the Maldives can be difficult, this long-haul flight to Europe would likely be the redemption that you would need to base the rest of your trip around. Korean Air and Singapore Airlines have generous award availability to their own frequent flyer members (and that’s you since you can transfer credit cards points into their frequent flyer programs), but the North American and European airlines are a bit more stingy.
Another option would be to skip Europe altogether and fly back to the United States with one of the Gulf carriers (Emirates, Etihad, or Qatar Airways). The Gulf carriers’ business and first class products are in a category of their own, so it’d definitely be an unforgettable experience. Though unfortunately, this would require a slightly different strategy and more credit card signups (such as the two American Airlines cards – featured in “I’ll Give it a Shot” – since AA partners with both Etihad and Qatar Airways).
Redemption #4: London to Madrid in British Airways Business Class
Miles needed: 12,750 British Airways Avios
- Transfer 12,750 AMEX Membership Rewards points into Avios (British Airways frequent flyer program).
A short flight, but still a great redemption using the British Airways’ unique distance-based frequent flyer program. Most airlines base their award charts on geographic groupings “North America, Europe, Asia 1, Asia 2, Middle East, etc.), while the price for British Airways award flights are based on the actual miles between the two airports; the longer you travel, the more points required to redeem. Since London and Madrid are so close, it only cost 12,750 miles for a business class redemption between the two cities. A one-way business class flight within the United States on United Airlines costs 25,000 United miles, so 12,750 British Airways miles is a great value.
The main complaint about British Airways miles are the surcharges. For some of their long-haul flights, British Airways is known to add surcharges of over $500 in addition to the cost in Avios. Unfortunately, that makes them a horrible redemption for transatlantic flights, so best to use them for short flights on Oneworld airlines.
With any short-haul or domestic flight, don’t expect lay-flat seats or a three-course meal; if you’ve ever ridden business/first class within the United States, the experience will be something similar to that.
Redemption #5: Madrid to Marrakesh, Morocco in Iberia Airlines Business Class
Miles Needed: 16,500 British Airways Avios
- Transfer 16,500 AMEX Membership Rewards points into Avios.
Again, we’re able to capitalize on a short-haul flight using Avios. Rather than flying British Airways, this time we’re using Iberia Airlines, a Oneworld partner. Even though this flight is shorter than the London-Madrid flight, it costs a little more due to using one of the partner airlines.
If only go to one city in Morocco, I would definitely recommend Marrakesh. Souks, Riads, Berber carpets, couscous… it has everything you’d hope to find on a Moroccan adventure. It seems a world away from Europe, but it’s only a two-hour flight from Madrid, which makes for an easy hop across the Mediterranean Sea.
Redemption #6: Marrakesh to Chicago (or another U.S. city) in Air France Business Class
Miles needed: 62,500 Flying Blue miles (Air France and KLM’s frequent flyer program)
- Transfer your remaining Citi ThankYou Points (19,000 points) and AMEX Membership Rewards points (22,750 points) into your Flying Blue account; then transfer 20,750 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to reach the total of 62,500 Flying Blue miles
Air France and KLM’s Flying Blue frequent flyer program is a transfer partner with all four different credit card currencies, so compiling Flying Blue miles is super easy. This helps us some of our leftover currencies for a transatlantic flight home from Morocco. Since Chase Ultimate Rewards and SPG Starpoints have more unique transfer partners, I would recommend using Citi ThankYou Points and AMEX Membership Rewards for this redemption, since I don’t view them to be as valuable. Air France and KLM have decent award space for flights between Paris/Amsterdam and the United States. Also, both airlines fly to MANY U.S. destinations, so while I use Chicago as an example below, there are lots of other options. Compare this to the Finnish airline Finnair, whose only year-round flight to the United States is to New York City.
The bad part? Flying Blue passes along some of the surcharges on awards tickets, so this award ticket will have more out-of-pocket cost. In this case, the award ticket will cost *gulp* $362.33. As I mentioned in Ground Rules, award travel isn’t always free. Though that’s a small price for three business class flights, including one that is 9+ hours with lie-flat seats. To avoid the surcharges, you could instead use a different frequent flyer program through airlines such as United, American, or Avianca (Colombian airline which doesn’t impose surcharges on award tickets).
- Number of flights: 11 business class flights
- Number of airlines: 6 different airlines
- Number of countries: 8 countries on 4 continents
- Total credit card sign-ups: 5
- Total miles redeemed: 256,750 miles
- Total cash spent: $726.61
- Total value of redemption flights: $19,504
- Korean Air flights: $3,309
- Singapore Airlines flights: $1,405
- Lufthansa Airlines flights (via United miles): $6,386
- British Airways flight to Madrid: $738
- Iberia Airlines flight (via British Airways Avios): $386
- Air France flights: $7,280
- Overall monetary value of miles: 7.3 cents/mile
- ($19,504-$726.61)/256,750 miles = .07313 dollars/mile = 7.3 cents/mile
Not bad for a handful of credit card signups.
Also keep in mind that these five credit cards do not charge an annual fee for the first year – you aren’t paying the banks anything, and all this is needed is to meet the minimum spending requirements to qualify for the signup bonuses. If you shift your everyday spending to credit cards (and only spend within your means), this shouldn’t be a difficult threshold to meet. You could sign up for one or two credit cards every three months, and no matter what your timeline, booking your own RTW trip in business class is completely within reach. It’s complicated, but not difficult.
Points with plastic can make your trip of a lifetime possible. So where do you want to go?