I used my stockpile of credit card points to fly across the world in business class for under $100 - here's how I did it
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- Keeping a balance of miles and points gives you flexibility when you want to book a major trip.
- Being open with dates and flight times helps you find even more valuable business class saver awards.
- Adding a stop can unlock the best value seats and amazing airline experiences.
- Opening credit cards that offer large sign-up bonuses can help you rack up points quickly.
In 2016, my dad was diagnosed with stage IV prostate cancer. If you are not familiar with cancer, stage IV means "bad." As someone who is somewhat religious, my gut reaction was to respond by taking my dad on a trip to Israel. For someone Jewish, I can't think of anything more healing than that.
Having been to Israel a handful of times in the past, I know that a typical round-trip can easily cost $2,000 from North America to Ben Gurion Airport, Israel's only major international airport that sits on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. But I've been saving miles and points for years, and I wanted to treat my dad to something truly special: international business class.
The lie-flat seat experience was something new to both of us, and I picked it up at a bargain price thanks to my miles and points hobby.
Here's how I did it.
Always build miles and points balances
I opened my first credit card with the primary intent of earning miles and points about a decade ago. That British Airways Visa Signature Card earned me 100,000 Avios, enough of British Airways' travel currency to enjoy a heavily discounted trip to London, Paris, and Amsterdam with plenty of points leftover.build huge balances at Chase, American Express, and other brands for future trips. Before booking the Israel trip with my dad, I had about 1 million points between credit card, airline, and hotel rewards programs.
Even if you don't have a specific trip in mind, it is never too early to earn points to pay for it. Always keep your eyes out for a great credit card that matches your spending habits, especially if it offers a big sign-up bonus. That's the quickest way to build your miles and points balance.
Research the best redemptions for every trip
When it came time to book this specific trip, I looked at both my Chase and American Express balances to pay for our flights. I had enough with either to cover a round-trip business class for both of us if I could find saver level awards.
It didn't take long for United Super Saver awards to emerge as the best option for both me (LAX-TLV) and my dad (DEN-TLV). I had more flexibility on dates, so I was easily able to pick up a route going to Israel on LOT Polish Airlines and returning on Turkish. My dad wasn't as flexible, but I picked a route that looked like it would work that took my dad through New York and Vienna on the way and flying back together.
I could have rushed and picked a higher-cost redemption using the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal or transferring American Express points to a different airline partner. But the best value per point came from the Chase-United transfer. Research all redemption options before moving points or booking anything.
Be flexible with your routing
To get business class on my trip to Israel, I couldn't fly from my preferred Burbank or Santa Barbara airports. I had to go from LAX. My route took me from LA to Warsaw on a beautiful 787 Dreamliner, though my lie-flat seat didn't lie flat! (More on that in a minute) It then took me from Warsaw to Istanbul to Tel Aviv, where I landed at 3 a.m.Sure, that wasn't ideal, but getting a bed across the ocean instead of a chair in the back is pretty cool. Adding an extra stop to book that $5,000-$10,000 ticket instead of a $1,200 coach ticket gives you much more value per point, even at a higher cost in total points.
Ultimately, due to a snafu in the booking process for my dad's ticket, he ended up flying in Economy Plus from Denver to Newark to Tel Aviv.
We both flew business class on the return trip, however. Those tickets ended up costing a total of 85,000 points plus $54.14 in fees each (not including travel insurance).
Actual business class is awesome
For our flights home, we took Turkish from Tel Aviv to Istanbul and Istanbul to Chicago. We changed there to take United to Houston for the last leg of our trip. We had First Class seats from Tel Aviv to Istanbul and spent a few hours in the Turkish lounge before making our way to the long-haul flight to Chicago.
Turkish does Business Class right. The lie-flat seats could be made up into a bed with sheets and a comforter by the flight attendant. It also included high-end noise-canceling headphones, unlimited high-end adult beverages, and some of the best airline food you can eat.
While I only have one comparison with LOT Polish, my experience on Turkish was exquisite. From the always open snack bar to the onboard chefs, you eat really well on those flights.
And having a bed on a plane. I might be ruined for life. It was excellent.
But it isn't perfectFor my first time flying business, I hoped for a perfect experience. It all started well with a drink in the lounge at LAX waiting for my first flight headed to Israel. But my lie-flat seat wasn't all it was cracked up to be. I paid the full Super Saver rate for a business class experience, but I didn't get one.
After take off, we figured out my seat was broken. The feet would go up manually, but the lie-flat function was completely stuck. The head flight attendant spent about 15 minutes trying to fix it at one point and ultimately gave up.
Polish offered me a 20% discount on a future flight, which is pretty much worthless to me. I contacted United, and they gave me back 5,000 points from my booking. I'll take it, but I wasn't thrilled with the outcome there.
But overall, it was a bargain. That one-way trip to Israel cost me just 85,000 points and $26.90. My dad's one-way to Israel was only $11.20 plus 42,500 miles when all was said and done. That means the out-of-pocket cost for our round-trip airfare was $38.10 to get us to Israel (one business, one economy plus) and $108.28 to get home. That is $146.38 for two people round-trip to Israel, or well under $100 each.
That is why I work hard to maximize my miles and points. My biggest worry is where I want to travel next!
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