Earning a million air miles from credit card rewards had never been a goal for me and Grace, at least not before 2016. In the past, we had redeemed our credit card points more frequently for short award flights as they accumulated. Wanderlust for round-the-world traveling hit us late 2015, and so we began our goal of earning one million air miles this year so that our two toddlers and us can literally fly around the globe for almost free. Talk about #couplegoals and #familygoals.
We did everything possible to maximize our credit card points, especially by using signing bonuses wherever possible, and ta-dah, we are happy to say we finally reached our One Million Air Miles goal in September 2016.
Reaching this goal hasn't been easy and required a lot of military-precision researching, planning and execution on our part. We don't belong to the top echelon of frequent flyers who routinely fly every few days nor do we do mileage runs like some travel bloggers do. As credit card comparison geeks, we took steps to maximize our credit card use for the most points and miles possible.
Many people fantasize about what they would do if they had one million dollars, but what would you do if you had one million air miles? How many Business or First Class air tickets would you get? And where would you fly to? Pedro Pla
Those were questions we started asking ourselves earlier this year as we saw that our accumulated credit card points were getting close to the equivalent of one million airline miles.
Flying Around The World
Grace and I traveled around the world back in 2007-2008 using a Round-the-World (RTW) ticket booked through the OneWorld network, and that was the funnest thing we did in our 20s. Now we have two kids aged 2 and 4, and we figured it was time to take the plunge again and do something not just interesting, but really epic with our credit card points. And so we settled on redeeming our one million air miles for an RTW journey for our family of four.
The first thing we needed to do was to decide what type of air ticket to get. If we redeemed individual ticket segments, the number of destinations a family of four could visit would be rather limited. An international one-way segment on Business Class can cost anywhere from 35,000 to 120,000 frequent flyer miles. As a family of four, we would need 4 tickets for each segment and we would then only be able to go to around 4 or 5 destinations with one-way flights to each place.
There is however, another type of ticket which we had used in the past, and which can sometimes be a better deal. It is the Round-the-World (RTW) ticket. An RTW ticket lets you take a full trip around the world, up to a certain amount of miles or stops, and usually costs much less than buying the individual segments of the ticket on their own.
Because of this, we decided to use our miles towards 4 RTW tickets. Being in Asia at the time, and having recently spent a fabulous month in the Maldives, we decided to transfer our credit card points and miles to Singapore Airlines' frequent flyer program, KrisFlyer. We chose Singapore Airlines as it is consistently rated as one of the best airlines in the world and we've enjoyed flying with them.
With an RTW ticket, you end up flying on other partner airlines as well. Since Singapore Airlines is part of the Star Alliance network, you can fly on any of the partner airlines, so long as they have award seats available for redemption in the class you want.
According to the Singapore Airlines website, you need 240,000 miles to redeem for one RTW ticket on Business Class (you need 360,000 miles for First Class and 120,000 miles for Economy). For a family of four, we would need a total of 960,000 miles. With our one million miles, we had enough to fly around the world for almost free.
Our first step was transferring enough of our credit card points into KrisFlyer miles. We already had some miles accumulated on Singapore Airlines, so the total after transferring was slightly more than one million miles.
After transferring the miles over from our different credit card point accounts, we were pretty eager to book our trip.
Star Alliance has several RTW tickets with different mileage tiers from 32,000 - 39,000 miles, and we wanted to know which one would be valid for the award RTW from Singapore Airlines as well as any other restrictions. After several phone calls and emails with Singapore Airlines over nearly a month, they finally sent us an email with the main restrictions for RTW award tickets:
- Normal Star Alliance Award travel restrictions apply.
- You must travel in a continuous eastbound or westbound direction, beginning and ending in the same country. You must make only one crossing of the Atlantic Ocean and only one crossing of the Pacific Ocean. You are allowed an origin open-jaw in the same country.
- Your total travel distance must not exceed 35,000 miles. You are allowed a maximum of 16 segments in your itinerary.
- You may include a maximum of seven complimentary stopovers in your itinerary. The same stopover restrictions for Star Alliance Award apply for Round the World Awards. In addition, you may stopover only once in each city and no more than twice in any one country. You may not purchase additional stopover. Surface sectors are permitted but count as stopover.
Luckily we were already aware of these restrictions from our own research and had already started planning our trip using the Star Alliance Book and Fly tool (Round The World). The Book and Fly tool is very easy to use. To be honest, it was such a thrill to discover the places we could fly to, especially knowing that we would be getting 4 tickets for free. After much discussion, we finally decided on our destinations and proceeded to fill out a paper form downloaded from the Singapore Airlines redemption page which we then emailed.
Singapore Airlines called us back two days later, with the news that some segments were not available at all for award flight redemption and many others were only available on Economy Class, even on other dates. We asked if they had ever actually booked an RTW award flight before, and all those we spoke to said they had not, and us being able to redeem for one RTW ticket was like hitting the jackpot!
Booking Award RTW Tickets: What You Need To Know
1. You can't always get what you want
We had wanted to start the RTW journey from Singapore to New Zealand and then cross the Pacific, but it just wasn't possible for the few months they checked. From what the Singapore Airlines customer rep could see, Air New Zealand doesn't share any Business Class award seats with Singapore Airlines and barely any Economy Class award seats. And they had no award tickets available to Singapore Airlines for any of their transpacific flights, from New Zealand to either the US or South America, on either Business or Economy Class.
2. It's easier to plan your itinerary over the phone
Instead of us emailing them another whole new itinerary and then have them tell us nothing was available, we went through the whole redemption booking on the phone with the Singapore Airlines customer rep and had them check flights and dates on the go and put together the booking as we talked. It took five hours of talking on the phone with them for us to finally sort out our routes. I don't think it would take that long if you were booking just one award ticket, but in our case, since we were booking 4 award tickets and on Business Class, it was a lot trickier.
3. You have to be really flexible with your destinations and dates
An RTW ticket is certainly more complicated to redeem, compared to a one-way or round-trip air ticket. Since an RTW ticket has to be booked on several partner airlines, the availability of an award ticket on other airlines is really up to the discretion of each individual airline; some airlines will be more generous than some others and there's nothing you can do to change it.
After being on the phone for five hours, we managed to book an RTW itinerary that goes to all continents except Oceania, and on Business Class for each flight, for all four of us. Because New Zealand was out of the question, we chose Africa instead as the first continent to fly to, and so our RTW journey would begin westward instead of eastward.
We had planned to travel around the world for 6 months, so that gave us enough time and flexibility to fit our itinerary around the availability of 4 award tickets on Business Class.
These 4 Business award tickets were booked on the I fare class. Economy award tickets would be on X fare class and First award tickets would be on O fare class.
Once we had confirmed the RTW itinerary with them, it took nearly 24 hours for Singapore Airlines to ticket it as it was the first RTW award ticket any of the staff we spoke to had processed and they had to get all the flights and rules validated and the taxes calculated.
4. Use Layovers To Visit More Places
One trick we used to visit more places than the 7 stopovers allowed is that if you stay in a place for less than 24 hours (in some cases up to 48 hours), it is considered a connection rather than a stopover, and that can let you have a quick visit at some places which you may not otherwise be able to include.
Our Biggest Freebie Ever - US$54,000 Worth Of Air Tickets
If we had bought these tickets instead of redeeming with our miles, it would have cost US$54,000 (or S$76,428), without taxes and surcharges. So basically we got US$54,000 worth of air tickets for free, just by chalking up points on our credit cards. That's the biggest freebie we've ever gotten. We will be using these tickets to start our RTW trip in January 2017. Pedro Pla
It's worth saying that we never carry a balance, ever, and always pay our card bills in full each month. Responsible card use is essential if you plan to use credit cards to earn points or miles.
Maximizing One Million Air Miles To The Fullest
Redeeming our million miles for 4 RTW tickets was the best option when it came to maximizing the value of our miles as we covered many more destinations compared to booking individual flights.
If we had used the miles for separate award tickets, we would only have gotten 4 round-trip Business Saver award tickets from Los Angeles to Singapore through United, plus another 4 round-trip Business Saver award tickets from Singapore to Maldives or a similarly close-by destination on Singapore Airlines.
We also chose not to accumulate more miles in order to redeem for First Class RTW tickets because of several reasons.
Firstly, there are many routes on different airlines that do not even have First Class, so you would be downgraded to Business even if you had redeemed more miles for it. Secondly, First Class award seats may only be available to the specific airline's own frequent flyer members, instead of being made available to other partner airlines on Star Alliance. Thirdly, because First Class has the least number of seats on a plane, only one or two seats may be opened for award booking, and we would need 4 award seats for each flight.
So after considering all these, Business Class award seats make the most sense for our family of four, for a round-the-world journey.
When you have a decent amount of miles in your account, it's usually a better decision to use them to fly in a premium cabin. That's because a premium cabin usually costs 3-5 times Economy if you purchase it with money, but can many times be had for just 2 times or less when you redeem with miles.
For example, it takes 120k miles to redeem an Economy Class RTW ticket on Singapore Airlines and twice that (240k miles) to redeem for Business, whereas to buy just one of the segments, for example from Singapore to Cape Town, it costs US$1250 round-trip on Economy and US$4440 on the cheapest Business Saver, which is more than 3 times the price of an Economy ticket.
So redeeming a Business Class ticket using miles will give your miles much more value per dollar than if you were to redeem them for an Economy ticket. In the same vein, redeeming a First Class ticket using miles will give your miles much more value per dollar than if you were to redeem them for a Business seat, but this only makes sense if the First Class award seats are available for the flight you want and if you are flying solo or with just another companion.
Giving Credit To Credit Cards
Reaching our goal of earning one million miles in 2016 has been the highlight of the year - and all this would not have been possible without the smart use of credit cards. As we mentioned earlier, we are not mileage runners nor super frequent flyers; most of the miles we earn are from credit card points and miles.
It's important that if you do this or plan to do this, you pay off your credit card bills in full each month and do not ever carry a balance. And as travel hackers, we made sure not to spend more than we would have otherwise spent in order to earn those million miles, otherwise it defeats the purpose of getting more for our money. The credit card market in the US is vast and there are constantly new offers popping up. Using the best credit cards or cards with attractive signing bonuses will help you get started in your own mileage chasing game and propel you to free flights if you love traveling like we do and for less money.
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Pedro Pla is co-founder of GET.com. He has been around the globe several times and considers collecting air miles and points from credit cards to be a hobby, if not, an obsession. Email: email@example.com.Editorial Disclosure: Any personal views and opinions expressed by the author in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of GET.com. The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of the companies mentioned, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.
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