So you’re more ambitious than signing up for only one card. Right on. If you’re confident enough to sign-up for two credit cards, I would suggest either of the combinations below:
Two Credit Cards
Chase Sapphire Preferred card and Chase United Explorer card
Citi AAdvantage card and Barclay AAdvantage Aviator card
First, I’ll go over the Chase Sapphire Preferred/United Explorer cards combo.
On the previous page (“I’m Nervous”), I outlined the benefits of the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, so I won’t rehash the details. Bottom line: you can have roughly 70,000 Ultimate Rewards points after meeting the necessary spending requirements on the card. Too easy! *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!*
The Chase United Explorer card pairs nicely with the Sapphire Preferred card. The benefits of the United Explorer card include:
- $95 annual fee is waived for the first year
- Earn 40,000 United miles after spending $2,000 within three months (though better sign-up bonuses are possible, as discussed below)
- 5,000 additional miles by adding an authorized user to the card
- No foreign transaction fees
- Two free United Club passes each year
- Free checked bag for cardmember and one companion
- Priority boarding
- 2x miles on tickets purchased directly from United (not an advantageous bonus, as discussed below)
The United Explorer card is a quick and easy way to gain United miles. While the standard offer is 40,000 United miles, the card periodically offers 50,000 miles and I have previously received targeted offers for 75,000 miles, which is almost enough for a one-way flight in business class to Asia. All for opening a credit card – crazy!
If you’re like me, you may have already signed up for one of the airline credit cards. It’s an awards program that we’re more familiar with, we like the idea of free checked bags/early boarding, and spending a long layover in a United Club is better than fighting for a power outlet in the main boarding area. Maybe these benefits alone are worth the $95 annual fee after the first year.
However, realize that using the airline credit cards will never earn you as many points/miles as using a bank card that earns one of the credit cards currencies (such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred). The Sapphire Preferred card earns 2x on all travel and dining; it also is a 1:1 transfer partner with United Airlines. So unless all of your travel and dining expenses are through United (seriously?), you’d be losing the opportunity for double points on a large swath of charges. The United Explorer card is great for a quick windfall of miles and a few traveling perks, but it’s not how you earn the most points/miles.
To recap: after meeting the minimum spending thresholds, adding an authorized user, and timing appropriately for the more advantageous sign-up bonus, you’ll have about 70,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points and 57,000 United MileagePlus miles. Since Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred into the cardmember’s United MileagePlus frequent flyer program, combining the points would give you roughly 127,000 United miles.
I used to think I was a rockstar when I earned United Premier Silver and had 40,000 miles in my MileagePlus account. While that was nice, it’s not enough to fully utilize frequent flyer programs for premium cabin award travel overseas.
But 127,000 United miles is just what you need for one of those redemptions. For 120,000 miles, you can fly roundtrip in United Airlines business class to Europe or South America. For 140,000 miles, you can fly roundtrip in business class to Europe with one of the Star Alliance partners (Lufthansa, Swiss, Austrian, Air Canada, LOT, etc.). Or if you wanted to go to China, you could fly roundtrip in business class with United or another Star Alliance partner (Air China, ANA, Asiana, EVA, etc.) also for 140,000 miles. And with the United MileagePlus frequent flyer program, there are low taxes and fees associated with award tickets, so your out of pocket cost for an airfare costing $8,366.90 is only $92.01.
Next, let’s talk about compiling AAdvantage miles through American Airlines’ two co-branded credit cards.
American Airlines is unique among the U.S.-based airlines in that they partner with two different banks with their co-branded credit cards. You could easily sign-up for both of these credit cards back-to-back and quickly earn 100,000 AAdvantage miles.
Both of these cards have a lot in common:
- $95 annual fee (unfortunately not waived)
- Earn 50,000 American Airlines miles (after $2,500 in spending within three months for the Citi card, and after the first purchase with the Barclays card)
- No foreign transaction fees
- Free checked bag for cardmember and up to four companions
- Priority boarding
- 2x miles on tickets purchased directly from American Airlines (though unfortunately no other category spending bonuses)
- 25% off inflight purchases using card
After meeting the minimum spending requirements, you will have at least 102,500 American Airlines miles. And the American Airlines AAdvantage frequent flyer program provides great value redemptions in business class to many different regions of the world.
First, when looking at any award chart, ignore the higher cost redemptions; they do not give a good value and are a very inefficient way to redeem miles, especially if you are relying on credit cards to earn most of your points.
Remember the cost of business class redemption to Europe using United miles? 70,000 miles each way. You’ll see in the chart above that business class seats to Europe using American Airlines miles are only 57,500 miles each way. That makes a roundtrip business class flight to Europe completely attainable with only these two credit card sign-ups.
Business class flights to South American Region 2 (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay) are also only 57,500 miles, which is another great redemption option. While American Airlines offers award space on their own aircraft, American Airlines is also a Oneworld alliance partner with South America-based LATAM Airlines. However, LATAM award space is not searchable on AA.com. In order to see if you can redeem your American Airlines miles on a LATAM Airlines flight, you would need to search for LATAM award space on another site (as I describe in Finding Value in Points), then call American Airlines to actually book the flight using your miles. Yes, super complicated, but searching for all possible award space will give the most redemption options, which is invaluable if you don’t have as flexible travel plans.
A more ambitious redemption option is with Oneworld partner Qatar Airways. While the award chart above is for American Airlines award flight redemptions on AA aircraft, they have a separate award chart for redemptions on Oneworld alliance partner aircraft. Yes, they make it even more challenging. You’ll see below that the LATAM Airlines fight still costs only 57,500 AA miles. And while American Airlines doesn’t fly at all to the Middle East, they allow business class redemptions to the Middle East on partner airlines for only 70,000 AA miles each way.
Why fly on Qatar Airways? Because their business class is OFF THE CHAIN.
And if flying to the Middle East isn’t appealing, you could connect through Qatar to Africa, India, Asia, or the best destination ever, the Maldives.
The good news is that American Airlines miles have many opportunities for great value redemptions. The bad news is that award availability can be tough to find. Especially the Qatar Airways Qsuites. So as I mentioned in the Ground Rules, don’t get in with the expectation of finding award flights on your exact dates. If you have your heart set on flying in Qsuites or enjoying the Qatar Airways A380’s onboard bar (and I don’t blame you), you may need to find available award space and plan your entire trip based on that specific flight’s award availability.
“But wait… didn’t you say before that collecting credit card points is more advantageous than collecting airline frequent flyer miles?”
Sure did. And that’s a great general rule to follow. The main strategy is to diversify credit card points in order to consolidate points into frequent flyer miles. But if you are looking for short term goals with a specific redemption in mind, American Airline’s two co-branded credit cards are a quick and easy option.
Interested in diving a little deeper in the credit card game? Check out the next potential credit card combo, “Count Me In.”
2. “I’ll Give it a Shot”