How to Fly Business Class with Points
Updated: Nov 11, 2019
The EXTREMELY short version.
Have you seen the price of business class flights?! I never thought I would be able to fly business... but then I discovered POINTS!
There are so many great guides out there about points, and I'll be including plenty of links to the people who have explained it much better than I but here are the basics.
Credit cards earn you points for every dollar spent. Certain credit cards allow you to transfer points to Airline Frequent Flyer programs. This is where the fun starts.
It's important to sign up for complimentary credit cards. I like to think that my system works together in a happy ecosystem. I take the Chase approach, but there are AMEX and Citi formations that will yield similar results. This is just MY personal, tried and true, real life, system.
Designing Your Credit Card Eco-System
Again, I am using my own approach as an example. As I said in the previous section, I take the Chase approach because that is the system that works the best for me. There are other formations through companies like AMEX, Citi, etc that will give similar results. BUT YOU NEED TO BE SURE YOU HAVE FOUND A PROGRAM THAT ALLOWS YOU TO TRANSFER TO AIRLINE FREQUENT FLYER ACCOUNTS.
STEP 1 - Select one of these cards. You will need ONE of these to transfer points to airline programs. Choose ONE:
Chase Sapphire Reserve: You earn 3 points per dollar on Transportation and Dining. This is a POWERFUL card. Annual Fee: $450 (BUT you get $300 in travel expenses reimbursed automatically - so in my mind you're really paying $150)
Chase Sapphire Preferred: You earn 2 points per dollar on Transportation and Dining. Annual Fee: $95 annual fee. The link above will also give you a 60,000 point bonus for signing up.
STEP 2 - Select one or more of these cards. You will be able to transfer points you earn on these cards over to the card you select in Step 1, which will allow you the freedom to transfer to airline programs.
Chase Freedom: You earn 5 points per dollar on a rotating quarterly basis. Just as an example, this was the calendar for 2018 (below). Annual Fee: $0
Chase Unlimited: You earn 1.5 points per dollar on ALL purchases AND for the first year (or $20,000) you earn 3 points per dollar. Annual Fee: $0
Spending Those Points
Still with me?
So now you have your cards. You probably got a bunch of sign up bonuses so the great news is you'll have a good amount of points to get you started in the points hacking world.
Chase Sapphire cards allow you to transfer points to the following airline programs:
Flying Blue (KLM/Air France)
You need to look up the mileage charts for each airline program to determine which will give you the best result. If you're here because you watched our Turkish Airlines flight video then the next section will cover how I booked that exact flight. If you haven't seen the video - watch it here.
Example Booking Process
Compare Costs of Different Frequent Flyer Programs
Now we want to determine which airline would give us the best value for the points. I'll use three of the aforementioned programs as an example. An important factor you need to realize is that there are three dominant Airline Alliances that cover most major airlines: SkyTeam, OneWorld, & Star Alliance.
Once you have an understanding that each of the Chase transfer partners will require a different combination of points and cash, AND that each award program will give you access to all of THEIR partner airlines, you can decide which is the best airline to transfer your points to.
If you're already feeling intimidated, scroll down to the bottom of this section for a little shortcut.
If you're feeling strong, read on....
Flying Blue/SkyTeam Alliance
Firstly, let's look at Flying Blue. We can see that a Business Class tickets starts at 90,000 points plus additional taxes and fees TBD for this flight path. Since this is just an estimate, flights on your specific dates could cost more points AND there are usually additional taxes and fees. Flying Blue is part of SkyTeam which would allow you to book any member of the SkyTeam alliance through the Flying Blue Program.
SkyTeam Alliance Members: Aeroflot, Aerolíneas Argentinas, Aeromexico, Air Europa, Air France, Alitalia, China Airlines, China Eastern, China Southern, Czech Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Kenya Airways, KLM, Korean Air, Middle East Airlines, Saudia, TAROM, Vietnam Airlines, Xiamen Air
British Airlines/One World Alliance
Now let's check out British Airlines Avios. I typed in a dummy date and chose a flight with availability. Just like with Flying Blue there may be some fluctuation in points and fees depending on the dates and partners airlines available for your route. But, again, just for these example purposes we can see that for these dates it would cost 124,000 points plus $165.49. British Airways is part of the One World Alliance so you would be able to book any One World Alliance airline with their program.
One World Alliance Members: Iberia, American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Japan Airlines, LATAM Chile, LATAM Brasil, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian, S7 Airlines, SriLankan Airlines
Now let's look at United. We can see that this same flight path costs 60,000 points plus $32.31. Now that sounds like a winner! As a side note, United is the airline alliance I tend to use the most. You can book any member of the Star Alliance using their platform and they're out-of-pocket expense is one of the lowest around.
Star Alliance Members: Adria Airways, Aegean Airlines, Air Canada, Air China, Air India, Air New Zealand, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Austrian Airlines, Avianca, Brussels Airlines, Copa Airlines, Croatia Airlines, EgyptAir, Ethiopian Airlines, EVA Air, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, SAS, Shenzen Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, Swiss International, TAP Portugal, Thai Airways International, Turkish Airlines, United
And the winner is....
But Emma, I don't want to go through every site. Isn't there a shortcut?!?!
Yes, kind of. You can use the website awardhacker.com to briefly and quickly review how many points your flight path will require. You can also filter your results based on the transfer partner you want to use. It won't show actual flight availability and it won't show how much cash you'll need to pay, but it will give you a rough idea of how many points each airline would require for your flight path.
Transfer Your Points
(continuing with this specific example)
Create a United account which will give you a Frequent Flyer number.
Log in to your Chase account (or whatever credit card account you have chosen for your system) and you will see the option to transfer your points to your United FF account. *Typically transfers between Chase and United are instantaneous - another reason they are my preferred programs
Find your perfect flight and book. The user interface is very friendly. You can also call and book but you will be assessed an additional fee.
Other Ways to Earn & Transfer Points
Yes it's a hotel loyalty program but you can transfer your points to an impressive number of airlines.
Anytime I'm about to order something online I like to check Cashback Monitor which compares different shopping portals and how many points you can earn per dollar. Let's say you can earn an additional 5 points per dollar for a $100 purchase you're about to make through Best Buy. That's 500 extra points just for clicking an extra link to make your purchase.
Mistake Fares/Mileage Runs
The simple definition of this is booking a flight that is priced well below what it is worth and will accrue a tremendous amount of frequent flyer points, usually because of the distance flown. There are many road warriors who take flights like this simply because of the points they will accrue.
More Resources to Become a Points Hacking Jedi
I'd like to reiterate that this was a very very basic outline of how you can use points to book business class flights for practically free. I hope I did a decent job and, at the very least, piqued your interest. Here are a few more resources that have done a much better job than I at explaining this fascinating, complicated, rewarding world of travel hacking. There are lots more tricks to learn and it does take a bit of effort. I think you'll find that the effort you put into learning the way to navigate these systems will be well rewarded when you're sitting in that business class cabin drinking champagne 🥂 🍾
Flyer Talk Forum this is a little advanced for a beginner, but this is a terrific forum full of real travel hacking geniuses posting their findings, new rules, mileage runs, ideas, etc. This can be a very useful tool once you get to know how everything works.