6 powerhouse credit cards I used to earn enough points to get a $20,000 flight for (almost) free

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ANA First Class Boeing 777-300ERDavid Slotnick/Business Insider

My wife and I recently flew round-trip to Japan in first class, and we only paid about $250 each in taxes and fees, plus 120,000 credit card points. There were a few steps involved, but overall it was relatively easy - you can read exactly how I used points to book the flights booked the flights here.

We earned the points for this flight - and for other ones - by opening new credit cards to earn their sign-up or welcome bonuses, and then optimizing the rewards we earn on our normal everyday spending.

The points we needed for this particular trip were actually easy to earn, as it was possible to use a mix of American Express, Chase, and Citi points.

I've either had, or currently have, each of the below cards, and their new-membership bonuses and rewards helped make it possible for us to sip $300 Champagne, eat fresh sashimi, and stretch out on a luxurious private bed at 35,000 feet.

Click on the cards below to visit Business Insider's partner The Points Guy to learn more about them:

Platinum Card® from American Express

The AmEx Platinum is one of my favorite cards, because even though it has a steep $550 annual fee, it offers a few benefits - like statement credits for airline fees, Uber, and shopping - that pretty much cover the fee.

Then there are the other benefits, like airline lounge access, elite status and perks at hotels, 5x points on flights purchased from the airline, and more. The card offers 60,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend $5,000 in your first three months.

American Express® Gold Card

The AmEx Gold Card is a relaunch of the old Premier Rewards Gold card, but the new version is a serious upgrade. It offers 4x points per dollar spent at US restaurants and on the first $25,000 spent each year at supermarkets (1x point after that), 3x points on flights booked directly with the airline, and 1x point on everything else.

It has a $250 annual fee, but up to $220 each year in dining and airline fee credits should offset that. It offers a generous 35,000 points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (currently offering its highest-ever sign-up bonus!)

The Sapphire Preferred is one of the all-time greats of the credit card rewards game, and it remains a powerhouse. It offers 2x points per dollar spent on all dining and travel - even if you're abroad - and comes with benefits like primary rental car insurance and trip delay coverage.

Best of all, Chase just increased the card's sign-up bonus for the first time since 2015: You'll get 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months. That's a killer value for a card with a $95 annual fee.

Chase Sapphire Reserve

A new entrant in 2016, the Chase Sapphire Reserve was a groundbreaking credit card, at the time offering the best available rewards on dining and travel: 3x points per dollar spent. While the card has a $450 annual fee, it gives $300 in credits to cover travel expenses each year, bringing the effective fee down to $150.

It offers airline lounge access - though more limited than the Platinum Card's - robust travel protections, and more. The one downside is a slightly lower bonus than the Preferred's: 50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months.

Chase Freedom Unlimited

The Chase Freedom Unlimited is marketed as a cash back card, but actually earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points that can be pooled with points earned from other cards. It earns 1.5% cash - or 1.5x points per dollar spent - on all purchases across the board.

Instead of a traditional sign-up bonus, it currently offers an extra 1.5x points - so a total of 3x points per dollar - on up to $20,000 for your first year with the card (and 1.5x after that). Best of all, the card has no annual fee.

Citi Premier Card

The Citi Premier is often overlooked, but is a fairly solid rewards card. Citi ThankYou Rewards points can be trickier to get top value from than Chase or AmEx points, but with a bit of effort it's absolutely possible, especially if you have the Premier.

It earns 2x points per dollar on all travel - including gas stations, which the Chase cards don't count as travel - 2x points at restaurants and on entertainment, and 1x point on everything else. It offers 50,000 points when you spend $4,000 in the first three months, and waives its $95 annual fee for the first year.

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Personal Finance Insider team. We occasionally highlight financial products and services that can help you make smarter decisions with your money. We do not give investment advice or encourage you to adopt a certain investment strategy. What you decide to do with your money is up to you. If you take action based on one of our recommendations, we get a small share of the revenue from our commerce partners. This does not influence whether we feature a financial product or service. We operate independently from our advertising sales team.

Business Insider may receive a commission from The Points Guy Affiliate Network, but our reporting and recommendations are always independent and objective.

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