Update: Some of the offers mentioned below may not be available.
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.
Table of Contents
Award Flights & Stats
- 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
- 311,000 per person
- 622,000 total for 2 people
- 182,000 American Express Membership Rewards Points
- 280,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points
- 160,000 SPG Points
- 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.
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
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
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
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.
- Both Erin and I signed up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (best card to start with!) back in 2014-2015, each collecting the 50,000-point sign-up bonus after meeting the minimum spending requirement.
- This is our #1 go-to card without question, because you earn 2pts/$1 spent on ALL travel and dining purchases worldwide. There are no foreign transaction fees either, so we continue to earn these bonus points when traveling.
- I also signed up for the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card, which is an incredible card for those who run a business. The sign-up bonus I got was 80,000 points! On that note, if you’re a business owner, take a close look at the best business credit cards that we recommend.
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! 🙂
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!