I know right, sign up for credit cards and you get to fly around the world for a few hundred bucks. How many times have you heard that? Fortunately for you, I don’t make any commission from credit cards, just trying to bring travel within reach.
We did it and you can too!
Alyssa and I just completed an around-the-world trip for roughly 97,000 points + $164 per person [for airfare]. We flew a mix of economy and business class. Airlines flown, in no particular order; American, British Airways, Vueling, Royal Jordanian, Cathay Pacific, Southwest, and Delta.
Perhaps you are also interested in flying around the world or you simply think I am full of crap. Wherever you stand, I am going to outline how you can make a full circle around the globe with just two credit cards and a few hundred bucks. Cash out-of-pocket depends on where you want to stop and where you originate/end. Obviously lodging and spending are extra, but there are some ways to minimize those costs as well. (read on)
Two credit cards, that’s it, you can do it. If you are scared of credit cards check out this write-up on avoiding fees and interest charges. If it makes you feel any better, I have opened 32 credit cards in the last three years and my credit score is in the high 700’s, sometimes jumps to the low 800’s. (Don’t tell Dave Ramsey) Credit cards do not automatically mean bad credit or debt, when managed properly they can actually be a huge help to your overall score. I carry ZERO debt which means I pay ZERO in interest.
Hopefully you now feel a bit more confident that credit cards aren’t completely evil. As with most things in life, including lightsabers, they can be used for good or for evil.
Credit Card #1:
The Starwood SPG credit card from American Express is a no-brainer. This card packs a real punch with its improved 35,000 point offer, which ends 4/5/17. I wrote a recent post showing how it can be used to help you earn Southwest Companion Pass if you’d rather go that route, but that option ends March 31st.
Direct Link to application
The standard sign up bonus of the SPG card is 25,000, this offer for 35,000 opens up a ton of transfer options. In addition to redeeming for SPG or Marriott hotels, SPG points can be transferred to 30~ different airline programs. When you transfer in 20,000 point chunks, SPG will add a bonus 5,000 points in the mix. American Express credit card bonuses can only be earned ONCE per lifetime PER card.
The SPG credit card does require $5,000 in minimum spend but has no annual fee the first year. Once you’ve completed the $5,000 spend you’ll have earned at least 5,000 additional points from your regular spending. That will bring your total SPG points balance to 40,000.
How to spend $5,000?
This is the biggest hurdle for most, spending $5,000 in 90 days. Fortunately, Plastiq allows you to pay bills like mortgage, car payment, rent, student loans, all with a credit card. You’ll pay a 2-3% fee for this service but it may make sense if you are going to receive hundreds (thousands?) of dollars in free travel.
Whatever you do, do not spend money just to spend money, have a plan and stick to it. Another option is to pay your taxes with a credit card which also an option with Plastiq.
Time to transfer
The first transfer you will make is to British Airways. As with many loyalty programs, you don’t have to spend your British Airways Avios on British Airways flights. In fact with their insane fuel surcharges, I’d avoid them like the plague.
British Airways is a One World Alliance partner which means your Avios can be used for many other airlines in the program. Enter Japan Airlines (JAL), a great option to get to/from Japan.
You can fly JAL non-stop from Los Angeles to Tokyo for 25,000 British Airways Avios plus $31 in fees. JAL has one of the best economy experiences and a hefty amount of legroom, up to 34″ on some flights.
Avios (ah vee ose)
British Airways uses a distance based award chart which means the further your flight the more points it will run you. LAX to NRT is only 25,000 British Airways Avios because it is under 5,500 flight miles. From San Diego, for example, it will cost 30,000 Avios because it slightly tips over 5,500 flight miles bracket.
Again, 20,000 SPG points transferred to British Airways will net you 25,000 Avios after the 5,000 point bonus. That is enough for a non-stop on JAL to Tokyo from Los Angeles, San Francisco or Vancouver, Canada. (plus $31 in fees). You can check the flight distance to NRT using this calculator.
If you don’t live on the West Coast you can use British Airways Avios to fly American Airlines or Alaska Airlines on the same distance based award chart. Non-stop flights under 1,150 flight miles will cost 7,500 Avios, flights under 2,000 flight miles will cost 10,000 Avios. Most of the country should be able to get a nonstop to San Francisco or Los Angeles on either American or Alaska before making your connection to Tokyo. (read on for where you can source these additional Avios)
Spend a day in Los Angeles or San Fran? Yes please.
The second SPG transfer
Okay, you transferred 20,000 SPG points to BA Avios yielding 25,000 points. That leaves you with a minimum of 20,000 SPG points to send over to American Airlines.
American Airlines allows routing from Asia to the Middle East for only 22,5000 points one-way in economy. We did this routing in business class for 40,000 points but we will refer to economy since we are discussing just TWO credit cards in this write-up.
Take your 20,000 SPG points and send them to American Airlines, netting you 25,000 AAdvantage points after the 5,000 point bonus from SPG. (transfer can take a few days, FYI)
Asia region 1 and region 2 covers almost all north, south, and east Asian countries, and of course Japan. If you are heading West towards the Middle East, here are the countries that fall under that region:
- Saudi Arabia
- United Arab Emirates
One World carriers between Asia and the Middle East regions (and their connection city):
— Japan Airlines (Tokyo or Osaka)
— Cathay Pacific (Hong Kong)
— Qatar Airways (Doha)
— Royal Jordanian (Amman)
— Malaysian Airlines (Kuala Lumpur)
Here’s a good option
You could, theoretically, fly Tokyo – Seoul – Hong Kong – Tel Aviv for just 22,500 American Airline points one-way. You’d be allowed to stop for 24 hours in Seoul and 24 hours in Hong Kong. We visited both “stop” cities and there is plenty to do and see in 24 hours. (and taste… fish balls in Hong Kong, yum)
That routing would utilize One World carriers such as Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines. You would also be under your MPM of 7,112 flight miles. You must find award space for these flights on British Airway’s site FIRST before calling American Airlines. It should be noted that not all routes open economy award space so you may have to play around with your routings before cementing your plans.
It is often easier to find business class award space in these regions on One World carriers. (40,000 AA miles one-way if you want to go in business class) Flexibility on your part will go a long way in making this work.
There will be some departure and customs fees in addition to your 22,500 American Airline AAdvantage points. You will be looking somewhere in the $40-$90 range depending on your itinerary and carrier choice. Okay cool, you are now in the “Middle East”, for this example we will say you are in Israel.
Credit Card #2
Congrats, you’ve stuck with me to the second credit card. This is the American Express Premier Rewards Gold card, that was a mouthful. The PRG card offers 50,000 Membership Rewards points as a sign up bonus when you spend $2,000 in 90 days. No annual fee for the first year plus you receive a $100 airline credit each calendar year. (again, you can only receive this bonus once per lifetime)
If you don’t see the 50,000 points bonus language, you may need to open the link in a different browser, on a different device, or in an incognito browsing window. Keep trying until you see the bonus offer of 50,000 points.
Direct Link to application
Membership Rewards points are very valuable because they can be transferred to a number of airlines and hotels. One transfer option is the Flying Blue program. Flying Blue is a partnership of many Sky Team partners such as Delta, Air France, KLM, Alitalia, Aeroflot, to name a few.
For just 12,500 Flying Blue points you can fly Tel Aviv to Amsterdam, plus $43 in fees. This example flight option will route you through Rome on the Italian carrier Alitalia (there a bunch of routing options, this is one of them). You can find a flight that has a longer layover like 12+ hours in Rome. If you do have a 12 hour layover in Rome, that will be enough to walk the Colosseum and grab a piece of pizza.
Boom, you are now in Amsterdam, one of our favorite cities I might add. To get home from Amsterdam you can also use Flying Blue points transferred from American Express Membership Rewards.
After hitting your minimum spend on the PRG card you’ll have 52,000 points. Transferring 13,000 to get from Tel Aviv to Amsterdam, you’d be left with 39,000 Membership Rewards points.
Great news, you’ll need only 25,000 Flying Blue points to get from Europe to the United States on Sky Team carriers. (leaving you with 14,000 MR points). Depending on the European city you depart from and the carrier you fly, your fees will vary greatly.
You would, in theory, have 14,000 Membership Rewards points left over. You could transfer these to British Airways at a 250:200 ratio netting you 11,200 BA Avios. These Avios could be used to position you to San Francisco or Los Angeles (I didn’t forget) for the first leg of your JAL flight to Tokyo. Remember, flights under 2,000 actual miles on American Airlines or Alaska Airlines will cost 10,000 Avios one-way (only 7,500 if under 1,150 flight miles)
You could also transfer your MR points to Hilton or SPG for a free hotel stay.
You did it!
Whoa, you virtually flew around the world with just two credit cards! 40,000 SPG points and 52,000 Membership Rewards points (after completing your minimum spends)
A potential itinerary recap:
United States – Tokyo – Seoul for 24hours – Hong Kong for 24 hours – Tel Aviv – Rome for 12 hours – Amsterdam – United States
Based on the above itinerary, here is what your fees would look like:
— JAL to Tokyo: $31
— Tokyo to Tel Aviv: $70~
— Alitalia from Tel Aviv to Amsterdam: $43
— KLM from Amsterdam to Los Angeles: $110
$254 in fees to fly around the world East to West. If you fly the opposite direction, starting in Europe and ending in Asia, your fees will be more like $180~.
These fees can be completely eaten-up by signing up for the Capital One Venture credit card. The Venture card offers a $400 bonus which can be used to erase travel related charges placed on the card. So in theory, with three credit cards you will fly around the world for FREE plus you’ll have some money left over on your Venture card to cover taxis or hotels. If you are new to AirBNB, you can get $40 off your first booking, and I get $20 when you use this link. (thanks if you do)
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