/I booked 14 Emirates business class flights using credit card rewards

I booked 14 Emirates business class flights using credit card rewards

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  • I helped a friend book 14 business-class flights to Greece for a family wedding.
  • We used a combination of Amex and Chase points, transferred to Emirates, for the tickets.
  • The flights would have cost about $70,000 had we paid in cash instead of with credit card rewards.
  • Read Insider’s guide to the best travel rewards credit cards.

As a former television news reporter, my friend Aristea Brady used to regularly interview me about credit cards and travel rewards to give her viewers the benefit of my expertise. So I was happy to help her and her family when she approached me with a really fun award travel challenge.

Read more: The best ways to get to Europe with credit card points and miles

Her cousin Jordyn is getting married next summer on the Greek island of Corfu, and she wanted to know if it was possible for her and her fiancé, along with 12 members of her large Greek family, to travel from Denver to Corfu using credit card points and miles.

And to add to the challenge, they all wanted to fly in business class. 

Here’s how we planned and booked the trip.

How they earned the points and miles

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15.99%-22.99% Variable

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  • Pros & Cons
  • Details

  • Pros
    • High sign-up bonus starts you off with lots of points
    • Strong travel coverage
    • Doesn’t offer a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit
    • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
    • Enjoy new benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3X points on dining and 2X points on all other travel purchases, plus more.
    • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel.
    • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
    • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash’s subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
    • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
    • Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.

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    When Aristea first reached out to me with this challenge, she told me that some of her family members already had the necessary points and miles, but many were far short of what they needed to book business class award tickets. Thankfully, there’s never been a better time to use credit cards to earn travel rewards points and miles.

    For example, Jordyn and her fiancé Greg had been using the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card for many years (and through many COVID-related postponements of their wedding). However, I recommended that Jordyn’s parents and some of their other family members open up new Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card accounts while it was offering an elevated welcome bonus. Not only were these bonus points necessary for this trip to Greece, but it’s a great card to use for their daily spending to earn additional travel rewards points.  

    Others traveling to the wedding applied for American Express cards including the American Express® Gold Card

    and The Platinum Card® from American Express

    , which both earn valuable Amex Membership Rewards points and come with high welcome bonuses.

    In fact, the current offer for the Platinum Card is 100,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $6,000 in your first 6 months of card membership, plus 10x points on eligible purchases on the Card at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined purchases, during your first 6 months of card membership.

    Read more: Guide to the best small-business credit cards

    And just as in the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, several of their family members are small-business owners, so they were able to increase the number of points and miles they earned by opening up new accounts with small-business credit cards as well. 

    How they redeemed their rewards

    Earning a lot of points and miles was one thing, but the biggest challenge was always going to be finding the available award tickets. That’s because most airline frequent flyer programs offer an extremely limited number of award tickets in international business class at the lowest mileage levels.

    And when those tickets are available, you might typically find just two or three on a single flight. Otherwise, these award reservations might require several hundreds of thousands of miles each. And even if they had all of those miles available, redeeming that many of them for each ticket would have been an extremely poor use of their hard-earned rewards. 

    Read more: Amex and Chase points are the two most valuable types of credit card rewards — here are their biggest differences

    Over dinner, Aristea, Jordyn, and I tallied up their family’s mileage balances and started searching for award flights. Thankfully, their family member’s focus on earning both American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards points gave them the flexibility to transfer their rewards to frequent flyer miles with numerous airlines and their partners. 

    At first, we had little success with many of the Chase and American Express transfer partners. For instance, the United Airlines MileagePlus program is a Chase transfer partner, but it had virtually no business class seats available from Denver to Athens or Corfu.

    And while British Airways is a transfer partner of both card issuers, and offered numerous business class awards with just a single convenient stop in London, these awards required the payment of well over $1,000 in fuel surcharges. Booking these flights with British Airways Avios points would have greatly increased the cost of their tickets and diminished the value of the points spent. 

    But finally, we happened upon Emirates Airlines, which operates a one-off flight from Newark to Dubai, with a stop in Athens. Not only is the Emirates Skywards frequent flyer program a transfer partner of both Chase and American Express, but we were thrilled to find that it had vast business class award availability on the Newark to Athens leg at just 62,500 miles each way. 

    Read more: I used credit card rewards to book Emirates first-class flights worth $15,000, and the same strategy works whether you have points from Amex, Citi, or other major banks

    Furthermore, we found that by pooling all of their family member’s points, we could book all 14 of them on these flights, albeit not on the same day. And even though they had to purchase domestic flights from Denver to Newark and from Athens to Corfu, it was a small price to pay for tickets that normally cost about $5,000 each. In fact, they were surprised to learn that their travel rewards enabled their family to book approximately $70,000 worth of airline tickets.

    Emirates was apparently surprised as well, as it later performed multiple audits of Aristea’s and other family members’ accounts, as it suspected some sort of fraud. With some persistence, they were able to convince the carrier that everything was on the up and up, and the whole family is now cleared for departure next summer. 

    The secrets to planning your own overseas family adventure with points and miles 

    Regular APR

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    Featured Reward

    100,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $6,000 in your first 6 months of card membership, plus 10x points on eligible purchases on the Card at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined purchases, during your first 6 months of card membership

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  • Pros & Cons
  • Details

  • Pros
    • Long list of travel benefits, including airport lounge access and complimentary elite status with Hilton and Marriott (enrollment required)
    • Annual statement credits with Saks and Uber
    • Bonus categories leave something to be desired
    • One of the highest annual fees among premium travel cards
    • Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on the Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.
    • Plus, earn 10x points on eligible purchases on the Card at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined purchases, during your first 6 months of Card Membership.
    • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
    • $200 Hotel Credit: Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings with American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®.
    • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 in statement credits each month when you pay for eligible purchases with the Platinum Card® at your choice of one or more of the following providers: Peacock, Audible, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.
    • $155 Walmart+ Credit: Cover the cost of a $12.95 monthly Walmart+ membership with a statement credit after you pay for Walmart+ each month with your Platinum Card. Cost includes $12.95 plus applicable local sales tax.
    • American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. Now there are even more places your Platinum Card® can get you complimentary entry and exclusive perks.
    • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one select qualifying airline.
    • $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member only.
    • $300 Equinox Credit: Get up to $25 back each month on select Equinox memberships when you pay with your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
    • $179 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $179 back per year on your CLEAR® membership.
    • $695 annual fee.
    • Terms Apply.

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    When planning this kind of epic award trip, it helps to be a travel rewards expert, but you don’t have to be. Here are some essential tactics that made this kind of trip possible. 

    First, start planning early. Aristea approached me with this idea over a year before Jordyn’s wedding, which gave us some time to evaluate their family’s balances of points and miles, and for them to apply for new credit cards to earn the additional rewards necessary. They also started booking their award flights 11 months in advance, which is the earliest you can do so with most airlines.

    Read more: The best travel rewards credit cards

    Certainly, there are frequent flyer programs that release additional award seats closer to departure, but I’ve found that the greatest selection is still available the day the flights are bookable with dollars or points, which is generally 11 months before departure. 

    Next, they had a lot of flexibility. They earned travel rewards points in flexible programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards, which transfer to miles with numerous airline partners. They were also willing to book separate transatlantic flights and purchase their domestic flights necessary to get to the departure point of their international tickets. And while this tactic added some cost to their trips, it also enabled their family members to spend a few days in Athens on the way to Corfu if they wanted to. 

    Read more: There are different types of credit card rewards — but transferable points are the best

    And finally, Aristea’s family was smart enough to pool their points and miles. Although airlines strictly forbid you from selling points and miles (and will cancel your tickets if they catch you), you’re certainly free to redeem your miles for reservations for your friends and family members.

    So when one aunt was short of a few points, another cousin was able to redeem his points to make sure that everyone was able to make the trip. It was this practice that probably invited the airline’s scrutiny, but the family didn’t violate any rules. 

    Bottom line

    Whether you’re organizing an overseas wedding, or just hoping to take a large, fun, family vacation, it’s possible to do it with credit card rewards.

    By planning your trip early, earning flexible credit card points, and perhaps sharing your rewards between family members, you can plan the trip of a lifetime just like they did. 

    Featured credit cards from our partners

    Featured Reward

    60,000 points

    Credit Needed

    Good to Excellent

    Featured Reward

    3 free nights (each valued up to 50,000 points) after qualifying purchases and 10x total points on eligible purchases in select categories

    Credit Needed

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    Featured Reward

    $200 after spending $500 on purchases in the first three months from account opening

    Credit Needed

    Good to Excellent

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