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How to Fly Business Class for Free without Flipping Credit Cards

If you are like me, you love to travel to exotic places with your family.  I cannot count the number of times that I have taken my daughter to Hawaii on vacation.   I’ve also taken her on road trips in Andalusia and France within the last two years.   We’ve gone backpacking in Vietnam and we have done Japan.   My next trips are booked for Portugal and the Czech Republic.

To boot, I have work obligations in Europe and travel there independently and frequently.

Flying comes naturally to me, and I am very able to fly long haul flights in coach class.  But, as I have grown older, I have also grown to appreciate the benefits of flying in business class or first class.   At the very least, it is the difference between my sleeping and not sleeping on a long flight.   And, all too frequently, it is the difference between being herded like cattle and treated like a human being.

The cost difference between flying coach and flying business class is often extreme, with business class seats selling for 10 to 12x coach seats on keys international and transcontinental routes (LAX – JFK, JFK – HND, LHR to any US destination).  For this reason, it is vital to me to maintain large balances of frequent flier miles on those airlines that are most likely to get me to my destination and to have availability for a reasonable number of miles in business class, either on their own metal or on a partner’s metal.

That increasingly means constantly trying to build my balances in United Airlines’ and American Airlines’ frequent flier programs.   I have found great and valuable business class redemptions on Delta, Singapore, and British Airways and if I lived in Atlanta, Singapore or London.  I might focus on those companies, but United and American are the two US airlines with the most extensively international partner networks.  They are also the two where I routinely find seats using my miles in business class out of New York airports, flights that would otherwise be extremely expensive to purchase and where I receive well over 4 cents per point in value (and sometimes much more).     

There are plenty of great credit cards that will give you United Airlines Mileageplus miles.  For those that are within Chase’s 5/24 rules, I highly recommend the new United card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card, where miles can be transferred 1-to-1 to United.  If you have a small business, the new United Business card or the Chase Ink Business Preferrred card work great.  But, even when you have the cards you need, earning large volumes of United miles can still be difficult without setting foot in an airplane.   This is where I pay my taxes using sites like pay1040.com.   With a card like the Chase Freedom Unlimited card that gives me 1.50 points that I can transfer through a Sapphire card to United, I am essentially buying points for less than 1.25 cents each when I pay 1.87% to use the service.   Since I can redeem these points in business class on United flights for well over 4 cents each, it makes a lot of sense for me.

(Find the best travel credit card for your spend patterns with BestCashCow travel maximizer tool here.)

American Airlines miles are no less valuable, but are much tougher to come by than United miles (or Delta miles), especially since none of major credit card transferrable currencies transfer to them.  Citibank and Barclays offer American Airlines cards that earn 1 point per dollar in spend, but neither have premium cards that accrue points that can be converted to American AAdvantage® miles.  This is where Bask Bank is coming to the rescue, by giving you American Airlines AAdvantage® miles instead of interest.   I wrote about Bask Bank’s new offer here and detailed why depositors should allocate some of their resources to this new bank.  Bask Bank is offering attractive bonuses, and in the comments to that article, some have pointed out that they are calculating the cost per mile to be well under 1 cent each if they can meet the deposit bonuses Bask Bank gives for $25,000, $50,000 or $100,000 deposits.   I’ll avoid the details of these calculations here and just say that I personally find that American Airlines AAdvantage® miles are a currency that I want to accumulate and from which I can routinely extract 4 cents per mile (which, under any circumstance, is much greater value than I am foregoing in interest).   In fact, for those who are able and who can also extract this value in long haul business class seats, it remains an attractive proposition to earn miles from Bask Bank instead of interest, even with deposits that are above the highest bonus levels.  

Learn More About Bask Bank here.

Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

Advertising Disclosure: This site may be compensated for hosting offers.

United Airlines Still Has An Excellent Loyalty Program for International Travel

United was once the best airline in the sky.   Whether it is your favorite airline today or not, it still has an outstanding loyalty program, and if your focus is international travel, it may be the program where you want to build your rewards balance.

I lived in Europe and flew United non-stop back to the US from the mid-1990s until 2003.    Whether I was flying coach or business, United was far-and-away the most comfortable way to commute over this time.   

United has been through a lot since then, and not all of it has been good for its customers.   The airline filed for bankruptcy in 2002 and made cuts necessary to preserve itself and secure stable futures for its employees.   And, when the airline finally look poised to return to its prior service levels, industry consolidation led it to acquire Continental and then focus on competing with the likes of Southwest and Spirit to deliver better shareholder returns.

Today, I live in Manhattan and I often choose to fly United over Delta, American and JetBlue since I have a preference for flying out of Newark over the City’s other airports.   This “sometimes loyalty” to United earns me the ridicule of many who fly frequently from New York, especially as Delta, the other major carrier to make New York an international hub, has improved its service since Ed Bastian became CEO.    

But while United may not be the airline of choice for many who fly regularly, its frequent flier program still enables customers to find outsized value in international redemptions.  While you can still find great redemptions using Delta miles to fly on Delta metal to many of its key international destinations, including Paris, Buenos Aires and Tokyo, it feels like you have hit the lottery when you find a roundtrip for less than 200,000 miles in a business class seat.  

Not everyone has time to spend their lives hunting and pecking for award availability across multiple airlines (I certainly don’t!).  These people will find that United still requires far fewer points in coach or business class to most international destinations than the other major carriers.   It can get you to more places than any other loyalty program with its Star Alliance partner airlines (all of which can be easily accessed through United’s program, save Singapore Airlines for which you will need Singapore miles).

The Star Alliance includes Air Canada, Thai, Air New Zealand, South African Airways, Air India, ANA, Ethiopian Airlines and Air China.   And, just within Europe, it now includes TAP Portugal, Lufthansa, Austrian, LOT, SAS, Swiss, Brussels Airways and Croatia Airlines.

This partner network opens up crazy good redemption opportunities.  For example, 180,000 United Mileage Plus miles will give you a round trip to New Zealand in business class (80,000 will do it in coach).    140,000 United Mileage Plus miles will get you round trip to virtually anywhere in Europe (60,000 will do it in coach).    And, for United, anywhere in Europe includes just about anywhere in Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, the former Yugoslavia, Slovakia, Poland or Scandinavia – all places where American and Delta just aren’t going to get you.

Transferrable points have become the big thing in credit card rewards, and American Express and Chase are competing to offer the best products for their users.   American Express points transfer to Delta and Singapore and several other airlines (the complete list is here).   Chase points, earned through its Sapphire and its Ink cards, are the only points that go to United (and to Hyatt which BestCashCow rates as the most valuable hotel loyalty program), and therefore I find they are the most valuable transferrable point currency.    

Compare Chase's Sapphire and Ink cards against other travel rewards cards here.

The United Airlines cards – both the new United Business card and the improved United Explorer Card - are also worth considering.   These cards both get you a free checked bag, and they open up even better award availability on United’s flights when you search on United’s website.  

Bottom line: Even if United is no longer your favorite airline, you should consider those credit cards that give you United miles or Chase points that can be converted to United miles.

Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

Advertising Disclosure: This site may be compensated for hosting offers.

The Hyatt Regency Tokyo Offers Outstanding Redemption Value at 12,000 Points per Night

I recently stayed for three nights at the Hyatt Regency in Tokyo.   The hotel was clearly Hyatt’s flagship property in Japan when built in 1980.   And, while it has seen finer days and the rooms have not been recently renovated, it is a perfectly comfortable hotel in which to base yourself for a couple of days in Tokyo.   The location is perfect for Tokyo, right in the middle of the Shinjuku neighborhood.   There is a great pool and health club on the top floors that is free for guests to use.

All of the blogs about credit card rewards are filled with drivel about which Hyatt is the best in Tokyo – the Park Hyatt, the Andaz or the Grand Hyatt.   And, while I am sure all three of those hotels are great, each of them is going to set you back between 25,000 and 30,000 Hyatt points a night.   It is neat that the Hyatt Regency can be redeemed for less than half of the redemption value of any of these hotels, especially since the rack rate at the Hyatt Regency is about $600 which is not that much lower than the rack rate at these other Hyatts and which gives you a redemption value close to 5 cents per point.

In a major world class city, it is very rare to find great, cheap redemptions on Hyatts (or any hotels for that matter).   You will not find a Hyatt in New York or London or Paris for less than 25,000 to 30,000 points.   But, you will find one in Tokyo.

There of course are other great category 3 Hyatt hotels.    I myself have recently stayed at the Hyatt Regency in Toronto and the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa in New Mexico.   The Hyatt Regency Tokyo, however, offers a better redemption value.

Bottom line: Save your Hyatt points for the other great redemptions that Hyatt offers and opt for the Hyatt Regency Tokyo when in Japan.

See and compare all of the credit cards that enable you to earn Hyatt points or points that can be transferred to Hyatt here.

Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

Advertising Disclosure: This site may be compensated for hosting offers.