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Algebralovr

advice for best airline CC to get?

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Greetings air experts!

 

We just returned from Europe, and found out just how uncomfortable a long flight in coach can be. In the US, I'm a Southwest fan, usually flying 2-4 times a year for business and I have the Southwest/Chase card that I pay the $99 per year to use, but means my Feb cruise flight has been free the last couple of years.

 

On the Europe trip, we flew out Swiss Air, and back a mix of Lufthansa and Air Canada. We want to go back to Europe in 3-5 years, and decided after the trip home that the next time we take that long a flight we will probably pay for business class. We are not currently enrolled in any FF programs other than Southwest.

 

Our home airport (STL) has limited international flights these days, but we don't mind running up to ORD for a nice savings. That is what we did this time ($600 per pax savings, with 5 pax). Next time, I expect it will be just DH and me crossing the pond.

 

So, in order to maximize our "status" and payoff the best, what steps might we take? I don't expect to get an award flight to Europe, but I understand that some CC programs help. At the present time, we mostly use a CC from our credit union that has no cost and gives 1% cash back. We use it regularly and usually get about $500 back every 14 months or so. I also use a USAA rewards MC, since it has the Chip and Pin. The SW/Chase card is used for our small business.

 

Suggestions? I hate to get another CC, but will if it will help. Otherwise, should I just plan to save and spend $5000 per person for those flights? The Swiss Air flight out actually offered to upgrade us for $500 per person, but I didn't budget for it and didn't know what I was getting into. The AC back didn't offer such an upgrade. I would have spent it in a heartbeat.

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One more note, after being on Swiss Air and Lufthansa, they or another airline of the same caliber will be my first choices to fly over the pond.

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Your question has many many components, so forgive me for trying to focus your thinking before going onwards. I would suggest you read up on airline credit cards from some experts in the area. Here are some links from Gary Leff, The Points Guy, TPG again, and Frequent Miler. They can help give you some feel for what's out there.

 

Three big questions: What is the goal from your points earning? What airline/hotel card fits into that goal? What is your usage profile for your card?

 

Why are you getting the points -- If you have a small business, you could easily earn enough points for business class tickets, so don't sell short the idea of getting a ticket. Combined with signup bonuses, you could earn enough miles.

 

What fits the goal -- Should you pick an airline and pile the miles onto one card. Or should you be with a program that offers great transfer options, such as Starwood or Amex Membership Rewards. No sense earning miles on Southwest when you want to fly to Europe.

 

What's your usage of the card -- do we get cards for the miles they earn through regular spend or for the bonuses or for the "perks" that go along with the card. Various Chase business cards have 3x and 5x bonuses for certain spend, making them attractive if you have significant activity in those areas.

 

So....read up and do some thinking. Both Flyertalk and Milepoint have credit card areas where you can learn from those who play the game hardcore. The blogs at Boarding Area also have a ton of info. When you have some clearer picture on your goals, spend patterns and time frames, let us know and we can give more specific recommendations.

 

And one last thought....if possible, try to get miles for those flights to/from Europe that you just took. If you aren't a member in a program, they might let you retroactively claim miles. Otherwise, you left about 9000 miles on the table for each of you.

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We too are coming to the conclusion that credit card points are really a significant source of "income" and deserve the careful consideration of other methods we use to maximize our income. We had a credit card that also gave us 1% and only of use for insurance payment. Ditched it and accepted a Capital One Venture card with chip for foreign use and very easy to redeem using the eraser feature. (I tried it after our trip to NZ where we used the card fairly heavily for 3 weeks and the reward "erased 3 day hotel bill about

$400NZ " done in two clicks. We have also accepted a United Milage Plus card with 50,000 mile bonus after $2000 spend and 5K with card for wife spending one time (Unfortunately so very easy!) and when that card bonus is won we will get a similar deal from Chase Sapphire card in my name with my husband getting 5K for being on card. Look for 1:1 (1 point 1 mile or better) and see what airlines/alliances you can use. I know that with 2 cruises to pay for in the next 3 months I will be getting many miles! I hope to get most of the trip to Bali and back by Tokyo for Feb. cruise. We will probably go United economy plus -- an economy seat with a little more room which makes a huge difference in comfort. $139 upgrade per flight is what I expect. Thus the United card and the biggie -- United flies non-stop to Tokyo from Washington DC in about 15 hours and most other routings take a stop in US and much more time because of the stop. Remember miles on United can be used on Star Alliance which has many airlines.

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Generally the points-earning credit cards that are not tied to a specific airline are the most flexible. American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to multiple airline program, thus giving you a lot more flexibility than if you earned miles in just a single program.

 

Of the "experts" Flyer Talker linked to, Frequent Miler is by far the best. Not only that, he doesn't barrage you with dozens of links to credit card sign ups where these "experts" earn hundreds of dollars per approved application. Frequent Miler has the links, but he is very discreet about it. Also, every other post of his doesn't rate the "10 best credit cards for this" or the "10 best credit cards for that" (with appropriate referral links, of course!).

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Thanks, all!

 

FlyerTalker, your questions are exactly the info I need to boil down, but was having difficulty figuring out the questions. Do you have a recommendation as to which airline miles program I pursue? The AirCanada site specifically says they do not award miles if you were not already a member. What a labyrinth!

 

Looking at what we have planned out, and other expenses (like two kids in college) it will likely be 5 years before we fly back to Europe. It sounds like a lot of the miles expire after 36 months, so it may not matter that much. Work usually sends me on Southwest, and I get to charge those flights to my personal card ;) so I will probably keep it for a while, plus the fact that we have 3 upcoming trips to FLL in the next 2 years. My guess is that I can get all of them free. Add to that, it is now difficult to find a non-stop from STL to MIA or FLL, and Southwest still runs a couple of them a day. Our secondary airport is MC I, and they have a couple a day as well at the present time.

 

I will, however, start reading up on the best other card to have. Most of my hotel stays seem to be in Hilton properties, with a couple of Hyatt thrown in. Sadly, Hilton raised the number of stays needed to hit Gold, and I will miss it this year.

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5yrs time? You're playing the serious long game here, I'd say you could come up with some master plan now to earn miles and run into a situation where you cannot use miles and you're hosed. At best I'd say take out a credit card where you can put the miles into one of a handful of FFPs and redeem from there once you know you have availability. SPG Amex would be best bet, IMO, for this.

 

Personally I'd just budget for buying tickets outright if you're going that far out, gives you far more flexibility in terms of when you guy, who you fly and your itinerary.

 

Lufthansa's business class product is one of the least competitive out there. Their F product is very nice (but rather restricted when it comes to redeeming miles) but they'd be one of my last choices when flying business class to Europe. They are putting new seats in some of their aircraft but they are notorious slow when it comes to putting new products on aircraft. In 5yrs time there's a reasonable chance, even by LH's standards, that they will have the new seats on at least half their aircraft!

Edited by fbgd

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For me, 5 years isn't really that far out to plan when it is a big trip. In 2007, I started getting an idea of taking the kids to see Europe and the cradle of modern civilization. I already have vacation requested at work through 2020.

 

But, I will definitely look at some of the flexible cards out there. I may very well just plan to save and pay cash for tickets, but save hotel points and stay in some of my desired places for little or no cost.

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FF miles are an alternative form of currency. You paid for them somehow - through annual credit card fees, invisible markups charged to you by retailers, somehow.

 

It's interesting (well, to me, but I'm not normal :eek: ) that airline FF programs are hugely profitable cash cows to the airlines. They sell billions of miles/points to banks, who re-sell them to you. The banks pay millions of dollars to the airlines, and the airlines set aside seats that would otherwise go unsold for redemptions. However, like gift certificates, a sizable portion of the miles they sell never get redeemed - they expire in 18 months, or sit in small quantities in people's accounts (5000 United miles are basically useless) until they turn into pumpkins. Meanwhile the airlines have been paid by the banks, and the banks have been paid by credit card users.

 

Miles you earn from actually flying are called "bad" miles by the airlines (really) since they didn't get any money for them.

 

Most users of FF miles have personal rules of thumb regarding their value. Personally, I won't use miles for a flight where the value of the miles (cash price of the flight divided by the number of miles needed for a redemption) is less than 3c. I figure that I probably paid 1 - 1.5 cents per mile, so I want to make a profit. 25,000 miles for a round trip ticket on a trip that I could buy for $500 is no deal (2cpm) whereas 100,000 miles for a business class round trip to Europe that would cost $4000, better deal.

 

So a signup bonus of 30,000 miles for a credit card that costs $100 a year is a good deal, but not during the second year.

 

The point above about flexibility is VERY important. With a Citibank Master Card co-branded with American Airlines, you can redeem on any of AA's partners, but not on any of United's. With an Amex card from SPG, you can transfer the Starpoints into any of almost 30 airline programs, from American to Singapore, United to Emirates. Then you can redeem miles on any of their partners. See the value?

 

For people that plan far in advance (a particular trait of many cruisers) this can be a BIG part of your financial and travel planning arsenal. NOT accumulating miles is, in my view, simply leaving money on the table.

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Hilton raised the number of stays needed to hit Gold, and I will miss it this year.
For the low price of a Hilton Amex, you get annual gold status. Or you can become a premium member at Milepoint and get it. HHonors Gold is one of the easiest hotel status levels you can buy. Look into it if that's a status level you want.

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For the low price of a Hilton Amex, you get annual gold status. Or you can become a premium member at Milepoint and get it. HHonors Gold is one of the easiest hotel status levels you can buy. Look into it if that's a status level you want.

 

Citi has one as well. I have it and it is an easy way to get and keep Gold status. Annual fee is $95 i think.

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OP, if you are looking at Swiss Air or Lufthansa then you would need a card that earns miles on United. (Star Alliance.). Chase is their partner. The cheapest one (United Milage plus explorer card) is $95 per year and gets you a free checked bag. They have a 30,000 mile sign on bonus when you spend $1000 in at the first 3 months. (You can use this to buy United miles to get even more miles in you account. I did this on AA a couple years ago and banked something like 60k miles at that time). As long as you have account activity (in your FF mile account) at least once per year your miles will never expire. (all you have to do is spend $1 per year and it will reset the expiration times on you miles really easy to keep them from expiring)

 

You can also set your hotel rewards to collect airline miles. Except for Hilton (as iI have the Citi Hilton card and bank as many Hilton miles as I can) I have all my programs to set to collect airline miles instead of hotel points.

 

If you have a few years to save up miles you should not really have an issue getting enough miles for your trip.

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United mileage plus Visa Signature Card was received in the mail last week.

50 K miles sign up bonus, 5 K for 2nd user with $2000 purchase in 3 months. (Unfortunately so very easy!). Will next order a Chase Sapphire in my name for 40K miles with 5K for 2nd user. This card has more flexible use partners including Southwest airlines and Star Alliance and some others. We already have Capital One Venture card. Who knows if we will keep all 3 when fees kick in but brainiac DD says that this will earn us money over the long run and she usually is good on finances having been trained by her more conservative father. We don't care if credit score drops a tiny amount -- the idea is to bounce the check to the funeral home!:p

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Realize that these programs that say miles expire after XX months mean that they expire after XX months of no activity on the account. Right now I am sitting on 160,000 miles on American Airlines. They are due to "expire" at the end of September. I can log on to the online shopping portal and either buy a 500 mile subscription to a magazine I don't want or buy a $5 gift card to some site that I may never use, either way it qualifies as activity and extended my miles for the next 18 months.

 

Assuming you and your wife both have a credit history your best bet is for you both to apply for credit cards in each of your names thereby maximizing the amount of bonus miles you can both earn. you can each be an authorized user on the other's accounts so you can meet minimum spend reqs. The good thing is you have plenty of time to accumulate.

 

Start off by applying for the US Air cards (since these are going away ASAP!) then apply for a round of Chase cards which earn United miles. Then apply for the AA cards via citibank. Stagger each of these 6 (3 banks * 2 applicants) so you can meet the minimum spend on each while maximizing the miles earned.

 

The worst part of booking Europe awards is finding two seats on the same plane. You need to be willing to possibly split up. Especially if you have miles in two alliances (oneworld and star alliance)

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The worst part of booking Europe awards is finding two seats on the same plane. You need to be willing to possibly split up. Especially if you have miles in two alliances (oneworld and star alliance)

 

 

The beauty of going by myself with very flexible travel dates. Pretty easy to find the cheap first/business class flights to wherever. (I won't use miles for domestic trips.) :D

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The beauty of going by myself with very flexible travel dates. Pretty easy to find the cheap first/business class flights to wherever. (I won't use miles for domestic trips.) :D

 

Since you also traveled on Air Canada, I should point out that Some Air Canada aircraft have Premium Economy. It is priced a bit more that Economy but cheaper that Business Class. It has a seat similar to domestic First Class seat.

 

http://www.aircanada.com/en/travelinfo/onboard/premium_economy.html

 

The European Airlines and Air Canada Premium Economy is pretty good and a good compromise given the price. It usually also includes a better meal.

 

Delta and United have an Economy Plus product that is the same seat as economy with a little bit extra leg room for a modest increase over economy. You have to be careful which

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The beauty of going by myself with very flexible travel dates. Pretty easy to find the cheap first/business class flights to wherever. (I won't use miles for domestic trips.) :D
My comments were directed at the OP who specifically mentioned traveling with a spouse. Finding single seats in premium cabins is much easier. I just did ORD-FRA-IST-LHR-IAD-IAH. I had some wonderful seats, but the majority of those seats came through at the VERY last minute, and then only one opened up. I was lucky to be a 1K and could make game day changes for no fee. My itinerary included United, Turkish, Lufthansa & Jet Airways (dba/ TK)

 

14178028727_6e5cfbe4c1.jpgUntitled by nolatravelgirl, on Flickr

 

14177940350_6557f076a6.jpgUntitled by nolatravelgirl, on Flickr

 

14361188401_ffab273b89.jpgUntitled by nolatravelgirl, on Flickr

 

14409046803_24723d6a9c.jpgUntitled by nolatravelgirl, on Flickr

 

14387710604_b4078eecdc.jpgUntitled by nolatravelgirl, on Flickr

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My comments were directed at the OP who specifically mentioned traveling with a spouse. Finding single seats in premium cabins is much easier. I just did ORD-FRA-IST-LHR-IAD-IAH. I had some wonderful seats, but the majority of those seats came through at the VERY last minute, and then only one opened up. I was lucky to be a 1K and could make game day changes for no fee. My itinerary included United, Turkish, Lufthansa & Jet Airways (dba/ TK)

 

14178028727_6e5cfbe4c1.jpgUntitled by nolatravelgirl, on Flickr

 

14177940350_6557f076a6.jpgUntitled by nolatravelgirl, on Flickr

 

14361188401_ffab273b89.jpgUntitled by nolatravelgirl, on Flickr

 

14409046803_24723d6a9c.jpgUntitled by nolatravelgirl, on Flickr

 

14387710604_b4078eecdc.jpgUntitled by nolatravelgirl, on Flickr

 

 

Milage Run or Business trip?

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Milage Run or Business trip?

 

Neither. Vacation travel for a cruise of the Black Sea. I didn't bother to take any photos of UA F (global and domestic first) as the service/seat was really lack luster. I spent the majority of the time combing through the back log of email that I knew was piling up. UA F was really lacking. I had a glass of champagne as my initial drink. They never came around with any bottles of wine so I finally had to ask for a glass of port to have with the only course that I accepted, which was the cheese. Even when they brought out the cheese cart I had to tell the FA that she had the flags with the names of the cheeses in the wrong items. Seems minor, but UA really doesn't get the little things that make premium cabin travel special.

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Neither. Vacation travel for a cruise of the Black Sea. I didn't bother to take any photos of UA F (global and domestic first) as the service/seat was really lack luster. I spent the majority of the time combing through the back log of email that I knew was piling up. UA F was really lacking. I had a glass of champagne as my initial drink. They never came around with any bottles of wine so I finally had to ask for a glass of port to have with the only course that I accepted, which was the cheese. Even when they brought out the cheese cart I had to tell the FA that she had the flags with the names of the cheeses in the wrong items. Seems minor, but UA really doesn't get the little things that make premium cabin travel special.

 

UA F is nothing to write home about, that we can agree on. :D As long as American flyers (for the most part) only want dirt cheap flights there is no incentive to put a high quality product out there. They just want basic transportation and are not willing to pay more for a premium product. (my opinion anyway). Thankfully we (people who don't mind paying a little extra for a good product) have foreign airlines in the various alliances that do provide a superior product. Hello, Thai Airways, Singapore airlines, Cathay Pacific etc etc etc.

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I appreciate all the assistance. I'm reading about different programs, and considering branching out from Southwest for my domestic flights. My thought for our next big trip is that I may try for one award seat (in a couple of years) and purchase the other seat. That should allow us to be on the same flight, but cut down on the cost as well.

 

I also appreciate the comments about the differences between the premium economy or similar on the different lines. It is definitely something to consider!

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