Bargain First Class to Asia: $18,681.60 in tickets for $34.30 apiece and points!

I love paying for flights with points and miles and David and I try to maximize the points we earn on nearly every purchase we make. But, as anyone who’s tried to book awards flights knows, those “free” flights are often hard to find. Airlines tend to raise the amounts required for convenient times and schedules, offer less award seats on a flight than you need, or simply don’t offer award flights at all on certain flights. Taxes and fees on some airlines and at certain airports (I’m talking about you, Heathrow!) can turn a “free” flight into an expensive proposition. For flights to Asia from DFW, we think Korean Air is the ticket. (Our opinion holds even with all the saber-rattling currently going on between our government and North Korea, although we’ll definitely keep an eye on developments.)

It’s hard to beat Korean Air for both award availability and affordability …and we love their product, too. Last year, we flew Korean Air First Class from Bangkok to Dallas via Seoul for 95,000 Korean Air Skypass Miles plus $204.77 each, flights that would have cost us over $13,000. We only flew one-way because we used repositioning cruises to get to Asia. (Repositioning cruises are one of my favorite, most comfortable and cost-effective ways to cross an ocean without jet lag.) Being pampered with super-soft designer pajamas, a down mattress, duvet and big pillow, plus delicious food, high-end champagne and wine, and attentive service turned a miserably long flight into a pleasure.

We enjoyed our Korean Air experience so much, I searched their flights again when I started planning next spring’s around-the-world odyssey. This time, I was able to book First Class again (DFW-Seoul-Singapore) for the same 95,000 miles each, but taxes and fees were a shockingly low $34.30 apiece. If we’d paid cash, our two tickets would have totaled $18,681.60! We could have booked business class for 75,000 each or economy of 42,500 each. Award availability was wide open in all categories. (Korean Air is partnered with American, but it would take 120,000 AAdvantage miles to fly business class just from DFW to Seoul on the same day and there was no First Class availability.) Korean Air flies to more American cities than any other Asian airline and flies to Hong Kong, Sydney, Tokyo and more. Seoul itself is a fun, dynamic city and Korean Air offers free stopovers at ICN on award flights. (If you have enough time in Seoul ICN and are flying first class, stop by the first class lounge for custom engraved metal luggage tags, a free perk.) See my earlier post for details about combining Korean Air Skypass points with a spouse and family on Korean Air.

We’ve found Korean Air Skypass Miles easy to accumulate using Chase credit cards that generate Ultimate Rewards (UR) points and SPG Starwood points we get from Starwood Amex. Starwood points give a 25% bonus when transferred to their airline partners, but the card and points may soon be phased out with Marriott’s purchase of SPG. UR points are transferable 1:1 to Korean Air Skypass (and many other partners) and are especially easy to accumulate. Last year, Chase offered a whopping 100,000 sign up bonus for the Sapphire Reserve card and my husband and I both jumped on it. The Chase Sapphire Reserve is expensive at $450/year, but that is quickly offset for us by a very unrestricted $300 travel reimbursement that applies to a wide range of travel expenses: airlines, hotels, AirBnB, taxis, trains, rent cars, cruises, toll tags and more plus other valuable travel perks that more than make up for the remaining $150/year. The bonus for Sapphire Reserve is currently down to 50,000, which is still good, but I’d keep my eye open for another super bonus if you’re a frequent traveler, or get the same 50k bonus with the Chase Sapphire Preferred for $95/year without some of the other perks. We use Chase Ink to get 5X miles on office purchases (with includes gift cards from Office Depot for Shell gas, Whole Foods, Amazon and more) and Chase Freedom Unlimited to 1.5X points on everything else purchased in the U.S. (Note: The Freedom Unlimited card charges a foreign transaction fee, so Americans should leave it at home when traveling overseas.) Those points are then combinable with our main UR Reserve accounts. It adds up!

Miles and points posted! Follow-up to Chase and Fidelity promotions

A quick update on how long it took for miles (AAdvantage miles via Fidelity promo) and points (Ultimate Rewards via Chase Sapphire Reserve bonus) to post:

Chase:  Applied for the Sapphire Reserve card on Thursday 11/17; got card on Tuesday 11/22; met spend by 12/7 December statement close date. 100,000 Ultimate Rewards bonus points appeared in my account on Sunday 12/18, BEFORE I had paid the statement balance which is not due until January. Wow.

Fidelity: I made deposit to Fidelity on 12/5; miles appeared in my AAdvantage account on 12/18. 13 days. Not bad at all!

More points!: Chase Sapphire Reserve…and thinking of cancelling AmEx Platinum

The day David and I landed from our 2.5 months in Asia, we headed to our local Chase branch and each applied for the new Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card. The Chase Sapphire has lots of perks, including a huge 100,000 point initial bonus, a $300/calendar year travel rebate, and 3x Ultimate Reward points for all travel expenses and dining. We’d really wanted to get the Sapphire Reserve card before we left on our Asia trip, but it had just launched and was so popular that there was a delay that made it impossible to get before we left. Getting these cards was high on our to-do list when we got back to the States. Happily, Chase had worked through the backlog while we were gone. We were both approved on Thursday and received our new cards the next Tuesday (November 22,2016). [Chase has recently announced a 5-card limit on applications within a 2 year period. When rumors of a new Chase premium card surfaced online, we were careful to hold a spot open for Reserve. I’m so glad. It would have been excruciating to miss this offer!]

The Sapphire Reserve is a premium card with a high annual fee ($450), but its perks more than make up the cost. One of the most enticing aspects for those of us who travel a lot is an annual $300 credit on ANY travel. (A bigger and much more useful credit than the $200 I get on my AmEx Platinum that is limited to certain expenses–not tickets–on one airline of my choice.) Given that we easily spend $300 a year on travel, the annual fee is instantly reduced for us to $150. Moreover, the travel rebate is per calendar year (which means the travel charges must show on the December statement to be included in that calendar year) so we could get $600 in travel rebates apiece in the first 13 months if we moved quickly.

Since we wanted to get maximum travel rebates by spending $300 each in the rapidly-dwindling 2016 calendar year, we knew timing would be tricky. I called to confirm when our first statement closed in December and found mine was December 7th. David’s was even earlier. Not much time! We got busy (and creative*) and charged enough to get the full $300 each before our statements closed in December…meaning we’ll have yet another $300 credit in 2017. ‘Not bad at all for a card that comes with a whopping 100,000 point bonus after $4000 spend in the first 3 months.

Ultimate Reward points are one of the most useful and valuable points out there and I regularly see them valued at 1.7 to 2.1 cents, which gives the bonus points a value of $1700-$2100 if redeemed for travel. If you’ll remember, we used 95,000 points each for our Korean Air First Class tickets from Bangkok to Seoul to Dallas. By that measure, the points are worth substantially more ($6500+ apiece for those tickets). Chase also offers cash redemption at a rate of 1 cent/point so you could get $1000 cash for your points if you’re not into travel. Alternatively, the Sapphire Reserve card lets you redeem through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal at a 1.5 multiplier, giving you $1500 to spend on travel. This can make sense over transferring miles when things like timing (e.g., when award flights aren’t available) or earning more miles via an airline are an issue. [If we didn’t want to keep our Sapphire Reserve cards, we could conceivably cancel after receiving and using or transferring our bonus points and be paid a not-insubstantial amount for using the card! I’m not a fan of this kind of bonus chasing, though, and you risk getting flagged and closed out by the credit card company.]

I know $4000 is a lot of spend, but there are ways to do it if that’s beyond your normal: prepaying things like insurance is one easy way. (Unfortunately, a veterinary medical crisis followed by an expensive car repair made my spend much “easier” and quicker than I’d planned. Happily, my dog made a full and speedy recovery!)

Other benefits of the Sapphire Reserve include Priority Pass Select (which we already get via AmEx Platinum) and Global Entry (which we also already have as a benefit of both AmEx Platinum and Citi Aadvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard). These overlapping benefits are yet another reason I’m considering cancelling my AmEx Platinum after all these years. When Platinum lost Admiral’s Club access, its major benefit was gone as far as I’m concerned. I’ve never found a “free” partner plane ticket that worked out cheaper than what I could find two tickets for on my own for. Hotel chain upgrades are nice, but just not something we use much. We did have a fantastic getaway to The Plaza in NYC and enjoyed the many perks of Platinum Fine Hotels & Resorts (free breakfast, bar and spa credit, room upgrade, late check-out), but it was still an expensive short trip and it’s just not something we do often enough to care…and there are similar benefits with Sapphire Reserve. The AmEx card offers I load onto our cards haven’t been of much use to us recently either. (Valuable offers like an awesome $50 per card deal on AirBnB a year or so ago, cash back on spends at small businesses, and cash rebates at Whole Foods have given way to 2x points offers and rebates requiring large spends at stores we don’t frequent.) Just recently, AmEx Platinum has offered 5x points on flights and related expenses booked directly with airlines or through their travel company. That’s more interesting, but not decisive standing alone. The main benefit to Platinum that I would seriously miss is the Centurion Club. Not $450 worth, but damn, Centurion is a nice lounge. Unfortunately, there just aren’t that many Centurion Clubs. We’re lucky to have a Centurion Club at DFW’s Terminal D which we usually fly out of for our not-infrequent overseas flights. The Admiral’s Club full membership (also available to authorized cardholders for free, i.e., my sons) that comes with the Citi MasterCard is more often useful to us.

NOTE: (1) I got the Chase Sapphire Preferred card this past summer and was really happy with it until the Reserve came out. I was able to apply for the Reserve as a new card, so I get not only the 55,000 point bonus for the Preferred (50k + 5k for adding my college-age son), but am also eligible for the 100,000 point bonus for the Reserve. DO NOT upgrade your Preferred. Apply for a new card or you’ll miss the 100,000 point bonus. (2) It’s fine to cancel or downgrade the Preferred once you get the Reserve, if you have it, but you MUST TRANSFER your Ultimate Rewards points from your Preferred to your Reserve card before you cancel the Preferred or you will lose your points. It’s easy to transfer online; just click on the Ultimate Rewards box, then follow the links to transfer.


*About that being creative with the travel spending: With so little time and no plans to travel prior to the first week in December (We did just get back, after all!), we needed to find some way to get that $300 travel rebate we each had coming. We have reservations on British Airways to Belgium and back in March and May (for which I’d used BA miles and a free companion pass I earned with my BA AmEx). I could only find Business Class availability on the trip over, so we were booked Economy on the way back. We did want exit row seats on that flight, but I’d not yet ponied up the (ridiculously-high) charge. Voila! I charged the exit row seat selections to my Sapphire Reserve. For the balance, I found I was able to gift David with an American Airlines electronic gift card and an AirBnB gift card, both of which were instantly rebated when the charges posted. (Charges take about 3 days to move from “pending” to posted.) American is the airline we use most, so we’ll have no problem using that gift card. The AirBnB gift card will be easy to use as well, probably in April or May in France. We are avid AirBnBers, having stayed in AirBnB apartments in 11 countries on 3 continents in this year alone. By happy coincidence, my mother needed to make a quick trip to Corpus Christi for a friend’s birthday. She let David charge her plane ticket to his card. She paid him back, and his $300 spend was done for the calendar year, too. As an extra perk, these travel expenditures count towards our $4000 initial spend and also garner us 3x the points as well. Thank you, Chase!

The above reflects my personal experience and understanding. If you’re interested in learning more, read the details of the benefits and restrictions of the Chase Sapphire Reserve card and/or apply at: