For the past couple months, I’ve been helping a friend plan a big trip to New Zealand using frequent flier miles. I helpd out at the beginning, but he did most of the work in the end – it’s not too bad once you get the hang of it! In this post I’ll outline how he earned the miles, and then in Part 2 I’ll discuss how he strung together New Zealand and Japan into one award trip. Frankly, I have traveling envy – I’d love to book this trip for myself!
Now that I’m obsessed, I’ve been applying for multiple cards at once to build up my mileage and points balances. I discussed strategy for doing so here. For a one time trip, you can utilize the same strategy to gain enough miles for a trip in style. Here’s the play by play of my though process when recommending a strategy to my friend. I’ll break it down according to the steps I outlined in my credit card strategy post.
1. Determine what you want the miles for
This was easy – my friend said he either wanted to visit New Zealand or Japan. I decided to help him do both. In this case, I also needed to know what mileage balances he had to begin with. If you’re trying to redeem for an award immediately, it’s best to go with programs you already have miles in, especially if you already have the flexibility. Both my friend and his wife had decent balances in United, so I knew we’d be going with Chase, the only bank that partners with United.
2. Determine how much spending you can afford
I’ll respect my friend’s privacy here.
3. Match your spending abilities and needs to choose cards
There are two strategies I’d advise if you want to fly business class on United that are relatively foolproof. Business class costs 100K round trip to Europe. In this case, my friend ended up needing 107500 miles per person for his round trip award since he did one leg in coach, but I’ll get to that in my next post.
Essentially, EACH person who wants to fly on United round trip in business needs to apply for two cards and be able to spend roughly $1000/month on a credit card (and pay it off, of course). This can be done easily within a year, it’s not too tough to do within six months, and could even be done in three months (if you can spend about $6000 in a month, which is too rich for my blood.
Strategy A: Apply for United Mileage Plus Explorer Card and Chase Sapphire Preferred cards 3 months apart from each other, 95000 miles earned for $4000 in spending.
This is the simplest strategy, and pretty straightforward if you have good credit. Apply for two personal cards from Chase 91 days apart from one another. The United Mileage Plus Explorer card comes with a 50,000 mile bonus after spending $1000 within three months, and another 5000 mile bonus for adding a (free) authorized user. The Chase Sapphire Preferred (CSP) card has a 40,000 point bonus after spending $3000 within three months, giving you valuable Ultimate Rewards points which transfer instantly to United. Since you’ll need to spend at least $4000 to meet the minimum spending requirements, you’ll end up with 99,000 United miles right off the bat, 1000 miles short of that round trip business class trip to Europe. As a bonus, if you have the Chase Freedom card, once you get the CSP you can combine points from your Freedom card with the Ultimate Rewards points you earn from CSP, giving you even more potential miles in United. This is ultimately what I had my friend do – he even didn’t wait the full 91 days before applying for the second card (although I’d recommend that. He was just getting antsy). He employed a similar strategy for both himself AND his wife so they’d both have large enough balances to make the trip.
The one caveat is, the main link for Mileage Plus Explorer is only for 30K miles. But if you have some miles in your United account, when you log in, there should be a banner ad for the 50K offer. Anyone I’ve talked to with miles in their account has confirmed this (I just transferred 1000 miles to my wife’s empty account to test it as well, though that was just yesterday).
Strategy B: Apply for the United Mileage Plus Explorer Card and Chase Ink Bold (or Chase Ink Plus) simultaneously, 100,000 miles earned for $6000 in spending
If you’re in a rush, you can apply for 1 personal and 1 business card on the same day from Chase without drawing any red flags. They just lowered the Ink Bold and Ink Plus cards’ spending requirements to $5000 each in three months, which is much more manageable than the $10,000 it used to be. Either of the cards will do the trick for our purposes here. You should fill out both applications (Mileage Plus Explorer and one of the Ink cards) in separate browsers and submit them back to back.
The one caveat for this strategy is when you are applying for a business card, you likely need to call the reconsideration line to expedite the approval process. They’ll ask you about your business, how much credit you need, and some other questions. I did it from Ireland on Skype and it was relatively painless. Chase will approve business card applications to many people – you can use your SSN and say you are a sole proprietor. More on applying for business cards here. Some info on applying for business cards from the Points Guy here. Essentially, even selling stuff on Ebay qualifies as having a business – and you can also apply for a business card for a business that you are planning to start.
By applying for two credit cards at once, you can get enough miles for the trip as fast as you can spend $6000. This costs more money and also involves calling and talking to humans, but still, for a little bit of work, you can get a big payoff.
4. ONLY apply for a maximum of one personal and one business card per bank
This is why you spread out your applications in Strategy A above. Strategy B doesn’t violate this rule, since Ink is a business card and the Mileage Plus Explorer card is a personal one.
5. Submit your applications back to back to back.
As I said above, if you are applying for two cards at once, fill out both applications in different browsers and then submit them back to back.
6. Call reconsideration line if necessary.
When applying for the Ink Bold or Ink Plus, you may have to call to expedite approval. I’ll detail tips for calling reconsideration lines in a future post.
7. Meet minimum spending requirements
Since my friend applied for the two personal cards a few months apart, he only had to tackle one minimum spending requirement at a time. Hitting minimum spends is pretty straightforward – turn off all your auto pays and put all your spending on one card.
8. Wait 90+ days until your next round of applications
You should wait between applying for the second card if you are using Strategy A.
Basically, if you follow either Strategy A or Strategy B outlined in this post, you’ll more or less have enough miles to get to Europe in business class. EACH person who wants to travel will need to do this if you want to go with a companion (unless you have a mileage balance to start with of course). Coach is 60K per person, or it would cost 80K to go one way in coach and the other in business.
My friend wanted to go to New Zealand, but had miles in his and his wife’s accounts to begin with which gave them enough for the award. I’ll outline what we did to book the award in my next post – it’s a pretty sweet award. They are flying to Auckland in coach, and then from Auckland to Tokyo in business class, and then back home in business, all for 107,500 miles per person or 215,000 miles total! I’ll show you exactly how we got that award in the next part of this real life award booking.