Author: Abdul Bezrati
Our last blog post was a review of Etihad's First Class flight from Abu Dhabi to Los Angeles. My wife and daughter flew in First class for that flight, while my son and I sat back in Business (Hey, still not too shabby!) Originally, we were planning to all fly in Business class together, but the problem is that Etihad only had two Business class reward seats available at the time of booking and the rest were for cash buyers-- and we are a family of four. Also, because Etihad only flies in to LAX three times per week, if we all flew Business, two of us would have had to fly home a few days before the other two. My wife is superstitious and did not like the idea of us splitting up like that on two separate flights, so she complained until I found another option lol. That's when I realized Valentine's Day was coming up in a few days and I didn't have a gift, but I looked at my point balance and realized that I did have quite a bit of extra miles. So the solution rang out loud and clear, I booked the ladies in First class and my son and I rode Business, so that we could all four fly on the same flight together and get around the fact that they only released two award tickets per cabin.
So as you might have figured out by now, the trick to flying in premium cabins for almost free (you still have to pay taxes-- boo!) is to book flights using miles and points.
There are three major alliances among airlines in the world. One World Alliance, SkyTeam and Star Alliance. There are several big airlines that operate under One World Alliance, including American Airlines, British Airlines, Japan Airlines, and Cathay Pacific. Even though Etihad Airways is not officially a member of OneWorld, it still partners up with American Airlines.
Because of that fact, you can build up American Airlines miles and redeem them on flights with Etihad Airlines (or any Alliance partner airline for the destination you want to travel). It's quite easy to book flights out of Abu Dhabi on Etihad as that is their hub location. However, booking flights from the United States to Abu Dhabi is more complex as Etihad doesn't open up many reward seats very often. Therefore, we used another airlines and a different travel trick for our outgoing flight (leaving LAX), so stay tuned for a future blog post to reveal what we did there!
How many points does it actually cost to fly in premium cabins?
It costs 70,000 points per passenger to fly from the Middle East (any major city that you are interested in visiting) to the USA (again; any major city) in Business class. It costs a whopping 115,000 points to fly in First class from this region. So for us to book two First Class tickets we needed 230,000 points and to book two Business class tickets we needed 140,000 points.
How on earth did you all manage to collect 370,000 miles?
Well, the answer is quite simple: credit cards! There are several credit cards in the United States that earn American Airlines miles and have good sign-up bonuses. Not every card is created equally and some are definitely not worth signing up for, so keep coming back to the blog because we will always let you know when there are good offers to take advantage of, and offers you should pass on. We recommend that you first check your credit score by creating a free account on www.creditkarma.com. Once you know your credit score, you can build a strategy around either applying for premium credit cards or smaller cards with the intent of building up your credit.
The first card you need for this trip is the Citi American Airline Platinum Mastercard. This card has a signup bonus which gives you 60,000 American Airline miles if you spend $3,000 on it in the first three months after opening. It seems hefty, but we put everything on credit cards. We have one rule in our house: Never ever EVER use your debit card. We put our mortgage, childcare, groceries, gas, everything on our credit card. Just make sure you pay off your balance in full at the end of every month so you don't go into debt or owe interest.
When we signed up for this Citi card, there was also a limited time promotion going on where you could send Citi a message after opening the card and ask them to gift an extra 10,000 points and they would. Thanks, Citi! So Sumaya and I each opened a Citi American Airline Platinum Mastercard with the intent of earning 60,000 AA miles and then we each contacted Citi via private message to receive an additional 10,000 added to our account.
60,000 (bonus for meeting minimum spend)
10,000 (extra Citi gift)
3,000 (for every dollar you spend on the credit card, you earn 1 mile. So in the process of spending $3,000 to earn the signup bonus we also collected 3,000 miles)
= 73,000 miles
x2 (because we each did this process)
Now, if you wanted to stop there, this amount will cover you and a guest in Business class which is a treat enough (stay tuned we will be reviewing that class in a future post as well). And, if you are okay with flying Economy class, you could fly home your whole family with these points you've earned so far. (Full disclosure: Once you fly in a premium cabin, you will never ever want to fly Economy again lol so don't upgrade unless you're ready to get in on the Game of Points for life!)
For us though, we still needed 224,000 points for this trip. To accumulate those, we used another bank called Barclays who also issues credit cards with great signup bonuses of American Airlines miles. Specifically, you should get the Barclays American Airline Red Aviator credit card. Unlike Citi where you have to spend $3,000 to earn the bonus, for this card you just need to pay the annual fee right away and then you get 60,000 points. Then you could even close your credit card account after that if you choose. We each applied for that credit card, and after approval paid the annual fee right away and each earned 60,000 points.
The last 104,000 points we gained using a very sneaky trick that will probably die as soon as we publish it. But, here goes nothing. For the Citi credit card signup bonuses, you are only eligible to earn the bonus once every 24 months. In other words, you can't open an account, meet the minimum spend, collect your points, close your account, and reapply a few months later to get the same bonus. Or can you?
Here's a pro-tip: Create American Airlines frequent flyer accounts for free on the American Airlines website by joining AAdvantage for any family member who shares your last name, or make up a family member. We created AA frequent flyer accounts for our kids, and even relatives that don't live in the United States but they share our same last name (Shout out to my dad, here!) And then you wait. The reason is that banks scan those accounts looking for new clients to target with great credit card offers to try to lure them in. A month after creating new AAdvantage accounts, what do you know, we started getting targeted in the mail with invitations to open Citi credit cards addressed to our kids and other family members, but the important part, each one had a unique promotion code.
When you go online to open a new credit card account, you enter the promotion code and at that time the computer allows you to change your first name in the system to officially apply for the card (but not the last name! So it's important to make sure whoever you sign up has your same last name.) So you apply again for the same card and a new credit card account would be opened with a new signup bonus applied. To be clear, you aren't opening credit cards in your family members' names (I'm pretty sure that would be illegal lol) you are opening AA frequent flyer accounts which banks will then target those family members with invitation codes to signup and you use their code, but signup your own self for the card. Thus, we signed up for two additional credit cards and earned the rest of our needed points. Although we did this a year ago we are still getting targeted with new promotions today! Check out the date on the picture to the left.
So that's how we did it! That's how we flew as a family of four on one of the longest flights in the world in premium cabins for free! A lot of planning goes in to just one flight, right? Oh, you haven't read anything yet... This Game of our is just getting started! Come along for the journey, as our next post will take you to the African island of Zanzibar. Did we almost get denied entry and arrested at the airport? Find out on our next post and you'll learn just the lengths we're willing to go for our Game of Points.