The 6 Cards I Used to Book Our Around the World Award Flights [Business & First Class]

Gardens By The Bay, Singapore

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For our recent around the world trip in October 2017, my wife and I wanted to fly every long-haul segment in first or business class — something we could only afford to do by using points and miles.

As it turns out, we were able to pull it off and got to experience some of the world’s most luxurious air travel products.

Aside from a few short-haul economy flights we paid for out of pocket, the only costs we encountered were taxes and fees on our award tickets — all of which cost less than an economy fare would have on any of the flights.

The total retail value (if we had paid in cash) of the award flights that we booked for both of us would have been ~$55,226 USD. Instead, we paid $2,173.

That’s just insane value.

Of course, we’d never be able (or want!) to pay for this in cash, but it’s fun to recognize the true monetary value of these flights, regardless of whether people pay it or not — and clearly, some do.

Take a look at some fun stats below to see exactly how many miles we used and how much cash we spent on taxes and fees for these 2 business class and 3 first class award flights.

It’s important to note that we did use a LOT of miles, but that’s because this was an around-the-world trip flying in upper classes on some of the best products in the world.

You don’t have to replicate this — that would be pretty ambitious. Instead, we’re offering this trip as an example of the kinds of flights you can take for a “normal” trip of just 1 or 2 destinations. Anyone can emulate any of these routes for a vacation — for example, flying from Dubai to LA, or flying from New York to Singapore.

Ok, let’s dive into it…

Note: Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) has since this trip been combined into with Marriott Bonvoy.

Award Flights & Stats

Flights Flown (2 seats on each flight)
  • 2 x business class (Singapore A330 & 777)
  • 3 x first class (Singapore, Etihad, Emirates)
  • Butt-in-seat flying: 54 hours and 28,000 miles
  • Cost per hour in the air (based on what we paid in taxes and fees): $19.59 each
Total Miles Used
  • 311,000 per person
  • 622,000 total for 2 people
Miles Breakdown
  • 182,000 American Express Membership Rewards Points
  • 280,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points
  • 160,000 SPG Points
Total Taxes & Fees Paid
  • Per Person: ~$1,086 USD
  • Total: ~$2,173 USD

Retail Cash Value (First & Business Bookings)

  • Per Person: $27,613 USD
  • Total: $55,226 USD

Retail Cash Value (Economy Equivalent)

  • Per Person: $2,310 USD
  • Total: $4,620 USD

Flight by Flight Stats

The miles and cash amounts below are “per person.” The retail cost and economy price reflect the typical prices for the exact same route.

Singapore First Class Suites

Miles Used: 93,500 Chase Ultimate Rewards (transferred to Singapore KrisFlyer)
Taxes & Fees Paid: $296.73 USD
Typical Retail Cost: $8,415 USD
Typical Economy Price: $550 USD

Singapore Business Class (A330, 777)

Miles Used: 46,750 Singapore KrisFlyer Miles (includes SGN>SIN portion as this was 1 booking)
Taxes & Fees Paid: $212 USD
Typical Retail Cost: $1,425 USD (SGN>SIN>MEL)
Typical Economy Price: $580 USD

Etihad First Class Apartment

Miles Used: 91,000 Amex Points (transferred to Etihad)
Taxes & Fees Paid: ~$500 USD
Typical Retail Cost: $9,155 USD
Typical Economy Price: $680 USD

Emirates First Class

Miles Used: 80,000 SPG Points (transferred to JAL)
Taxes & Fees Paid: $78 USD (note: tickets booked since November 2017 are subject to much higher cash surcharges)
Typical Retail Cost: $8,618 USD
Typical Economy Price: $500 USD

6 Credit Cards We Used to Earn These Points

Here, I’ll break down exactly how we were able to fly each of the airlines as well as the credit cards we used to earn enough miles to make the booking.

To Fly Singapore Suites & Business Class:

Singapore Airlines is a transfer partner of Chase, Amex, SPG, and Citi! That makes it a piece of cake to earn enough of these points if you use these cards.

Chase Ultimate Rewards are my favorite points — they’re the easiest to earn because the various Chase credit cards offer a wide variety of bonus categories for everyday spending. That means you can earn 1x-4x extra points per dollar you spend.

We’ve been collecting these points for years, so achieving the target of 280,000 wasn’t actually that difficult over that time period.

To Fly Etihad First Class Apartment:

I transferred Amex Membership Rewards points directly to Etihad, since that airline is a transfer partner. Earning enough Amex points was really easy and only required signing up for 1 card each!

Here’s how we cruised to the necessary 182,000 Membership Rewards points:

    • We both applied for the Platinum Card® from American Express when they were offering a 100,000-point welcome bonus, which they have done several times in the past couple of years. After we had met our minimum spending bonus threshold, we had more than enough points to book the Etihad Apartment!
    • It’s worth noting that American Express has run various transfer bonuses to Etihad in the past. In 2016, there was a 30% bonus in May and a 20% bonus in October. For every Amex point you transferred, you’d have received either a 20% or 30% bonus in Etihad miles. This makes it even easier to get the points necessary!
    • For small business owners, you can also apply for The American Express® Business Gold. This is a powerhouse card for business owners, earning you 4x points on the first $150,000 annually on 2 select business categories. After that, earn 1 point per dollar.

To Fly Emirates First Class:

I signed up for the following cards to earn SPG Starpoints, which I’d then transfer to Japan Airlines to book Emirates First Class. This was prior to Japan Airlines added huge cash surcharges to awards on Emirates. (Note that these offers may not be available from these specific cards, as introductory bonuses and their spending requirements change frequently!)

  • The Starwood Preferred Guest® Card from American Express
    • I earned 30,000 bonus Starpoints® from a bonus after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months.
  • The Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Card from American Express
    • Similar to the above, I also earned 30,000 bonus Starpoints® from the welcome offer, but after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months. (Business cards typically have a slightly higher spending requirement to earn the bonus.)

That earned me 60,000 Starpoints® very quickly. Over the course of a year, I referred 3 friends to the card which netted me an extra 30,000 points (10,000 each time). The remaining 70,000 Starpoints® were earned by putting my personal and business spending across the 2 cards.

We also stayed at a handful of SPG hotels where we earned 3pts per $1 spent as Gold members (which is a perk of the The Amex Platinum), and we earned 3pts per $1 on all Uber rides (the SPG-Uber promotion ended December 17. 2017). It all added up and we scraped together the 160,000 required!

Admittedly, these were the toughest miles to earn because there aren’t everyday bonus spending categories, unlike Chase and Amex which are far easier to earn.

Flying Business & First Class for Less Than Economy

If you add up all of the typical economy prices, you get a total cost of $2,310 per person. To be clear, that’s approximately what it would have cost us to book those same flights in economy.

However, what I find incredible is that our out-of-pocket cost (i.e., the taxes and fees that we paid) came to only $1,086.73 per person.

That’s over 50% cheaper than economy, with the insane benefit of flying in first class 3 times and business class twice.

Sure, we spent a lot of points…but it’s clear that points are kinda valuable! 🙂

Final Thoughts

It took a total of 6 credit cards to pull off this monster around-the-world trip, and it was worth every ounce of effort and brain power!

I hope to inspire you to see the ways you can use reward credit cards, sign-up bonuses, and category bonuses for amazing travel and adventures. Whether it’s for a short trip or a long one, there are so many opportunities — and with a little research and planning, you’ll be off on your next experience before you know it!

Frequently asked questions

How many miles were used to book our round-the-world trip?

To book our trip we used 311,000 per person (622,000 total for 2 people). This consisted of 182,000 American Express Membership Rewards Points, 280,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points, and 160,000 SPG Points.

Alex Miller

About Alex Miller

Alex has been traveling for over 25 years and from a young age was lucky enough to set out on numerous family trips all over the world, which gave him the travel bug. Alex has since earned millions of travel points and miles, mainly through maximizing credit card sign-up bonuses and taking every opportunity to earn the most points possible on each dollar spent.

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  1. I love your posts, however sadly enough, nothing of that is applicable for Europeans..One needs to be US resident to apply.. Do you have a way around that?
    Thank you kindly


  2. Enjoyed the post Alex and liked how you broke down how each point was accumulated. Please keep putting out these types of posts. Very helpful!


  3. Matt Stone March 22, 2018

    This is a scam how would anyone use their points like that?


    • I can assure you it’s not a scam, Matt 🙂 If you read all the articles in the series, we literally tell you exactly how we did it, for each flight – step by step.


  4. I have done similar with our trip this year (2018). Our last BIG trip O/S was 2015, but we did go to New Zealand for a month in 2017, but I bought the airfares (more points). After 2015 I had just 140,000 pts left in my Qantas FF account. Changing Credit Cards to a new bank provided Amex and Visa cards netted a 60,000 sign on bonus, then in 2017 changing to a Amex proper airline linked card (Qantas) netted another 60,000 pts. Buying a new vehicle and paying $20,000 deposit with the Amex card (@ $1 = 1.25 pts) helped also along with monthly expenses on the Amex and non-acceptable Amex businesses (used Visa $1 = .5 pts). Earned over 300,000 pts within Oneworld, so enough to fly Business class Melbourne to Paris, Prague to Shanghai and Shanghai to Melbourne.


  5. Danny Chen April 13, 2018

    Thanks Alex for sharing this trick. However, you haven’t included the annual fees for each card. Each of them may cost $95 per year, and you have six of them. But anyway, this is a excellent post.


    • You’re right, these cards do carry individual annual fees. For example, The Chase Sapphire Preferred is $0 for the first year which is nice but then is $95 after. The Amex Platinum Card at the time of me getting it was $450 per year, but then you get an easy $200 airline credit and with us using the Amex Centurion lounges (and using the global entry credit) – as well as a ton of other benefits, it really brings the cost down. But yes, there is an out-of-pocket expense for sure.


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