Do you ever get the urge to take a mega-trip? Not a quick weekend to Nice like I just booked, but a few weeks to several cities. I’m planning to book a multi-city hop to Asia this fall, so I’m exploring all of my redemption options now.

It can be hard to visit several cities on one award trip, but by using your United miles and British Airways Avios, you can easily construct incredible trips where you can see three cities for barely more than the price of a roundtrip award to one city.

Here’s how it works:

United awards allow a stopover and an open jaw. That means you can include three foreign cities on a United award, but there will be an unfilled hole between two of them.

For instance, imagine you flew from your home airport of Newark to Rome. You stop over in Rome for a few days before continuing to Vienna. A week later, after an open jaw between Vienna and Munich, you return from Munich to Newark.

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This is a valid United award and it includes Rome, Vienna, and Munich. Unfortunately there’s no flight between Vienna and Munich, and no way to add one because the United award already uses its stopover and open jaw.

That’s where British Airways Avios come in. Avios are ideal for short, non-stop flights like Vienna to Munich because the price of an Avios award depends on the distance of the flight. Vienna and Munich are so close that the Avios award costs only 4,500 miles.

Rules

United awards can have a stopover and an open jaw. That gives you a chance to fly into city A, continue to city B, and return home from city C. But it leaves a hole between city B and city C that Avios are ideally suited to fill.

Try to make sure that one of the cities involved with the open jaw is a oneworld hub, so that there will be a direct flight.

You can fly the outbound and return of the United awards in different cabins. If you do that, you just pay the one way price for each cabin.

Examples

Rome, Vienna, and Munich

Start on the multi-city search page of united.com. Enter the dates and cities you desire. Remember that there will be an open jaw. In my case, the open jaw is between Vienna and Munich.

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Give the number of passengers, then skip down to the bottom and select Award Travel.

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Search results are displayed without the miles price or the taxes on multi-city searches. Don’t worry. Those reappear at the end.

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It was fairly easy for me to piece together a United award for October that features time in Rome, Vienna, and Munich for only 60k miles and $153.

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But you’ll notice the award has no way to get from Vienna to Munich. This is where Avios come in.

British Airways has a partner named Niki, based in Vienna with excellent award space throughout Europe.

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Since the flight is so short, it costs only 4,500 + $45.

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If you book both the United award and British Airways award, you’d get a two-week trip to Rome, Vienna, and Munich with all flights included for 60,000 United miles, 4,500 Avios, and $198 in taxes. That’s an unbeatable way to jet around Europe!

Tokyo, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur (with a First Class return)

Nothing limits the techniques in this post to European trips or economy awards. Here’s an award that hits Tokyo, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur. The outbound is in economy, but the return from Kuala Lumpur to San Francisco features 11 hours in United Global First Class.

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The total cost of the United award is 120k miles and $79. The 120k miles is 40k miles for the outbound in economy and 80k for the return in First Class.

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But if you noticed, the United award has no flight between Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. Luckily British Airways’ oneworld partner Malaysia Airlines flies around the world from Kuala Lumpur with excellent award space.

From Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Airlines usually offers award space on several daily flights. The cost is only 7,500 Avios and $21.

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So the total cost to see three vibrant Asian capitals would be 120k United miles, 7,500 Avios, and $101. And that price includes a return in First Class, so you can hit the ground running back at home.

In Summary…

United miles and Avios pair really well together. United is perfect for the longhaul segments that form the backbone of the trip, and Avios are perfect to fill in small gaps that the United award can’t reach because of its stopover limit.

United miles and Avios are both 1:1 transfer partners of Ultimate Rewards. You can stock up on those with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, The Ink Plus, and The Ink Bold.

You can also earn 50,000 bonus Avios after spending only $2,000 in the first three months with the British Airways Visa Signature Card.

Have you constructed an award redemption like this before? If so, where did you go?

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I’m sure by now, many of you already know that one of the benefits of the American Express Platinum cards is the $200 yearly airline fee credit (if not, see this post), and one way to satisfy that credit is to purchase airline gift cards.

Earlier in the year, American Express noted that their US Airways Club/American Airlines Admirals Club lounge access would no longer be a card-member benefit after March 31, and as a courtesy, they were offering card members an additional incidentals credit to compensate for the loss of the lounge privileges.

Again, many card members had the same gift card idea.

However, when I went to purchase an American Airlines e-gift card using my AmEx Platinum, I received this error message:

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Even though, I was not having a physical gift card shipped to a NJ address, I was prevented from purchasing a gift card, period, just because my card had a NJ billing address. It was quite frustrating, and I know many of my fellow NJ readers also faced the same dilemma. This FlyerTalk post further explains the limitations NJ residents face when purchasing gift cards.

Luckily, I have another out-of-state residence, so with a quick call to AmEx, I explained my situation and was able to temporarily change my billing address so that my purchases would go through. I highly recommend anyone else in my shoes do the same.

What is your opinion on the gift card laws that are coming into effect? Do you think it’s unfair that it prevents even e-gift card purchases? Would love to hear your thoughts…

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Hands down, one of the best things about this hobby are the people in it. There’s nothing more enjoyable than talking miles and points face-to-face  in a social setting with people who “get” this quirky hobby. There are two fun-filled events coming up that are open to the public for fellow points and miles enthusiasts to gather together, learn new tricks, and share travel tips. Here’s where we can meet:

  • Friday, April 25 to Sunday, April 27 in Seattle: Whether you’re a new or old player in the points and miles game, there’s always room to learn more and meet some pretty amazing people in the process at Frequent Traveler University. Though this event is technically already sold out, there’s still a chance to score a ticket from someone who can no longer make it. I love going to weekend of points and miles seminars because you can’t beat being in an environment with some of the most influential people in the industry. I’ll personally be in Seattle from Thursday night (for the Freddie awards) until Friday evening for the cocktail hour/kick-off of FTU. You can learn more/discuss FTU here. Looking forward to chatting with all!
  • Friday, October 17 to Sunday, October 19 in Elks Grove, IL:  Tickets are already on sale for this year’s Chicago Seminars that is taking place in Elks Grove, IL during the weekend of October 17-19. The event is capped at 500 people, and has historically sold out in the past. I’ve attended for the past 3 years have always had a blast. I’m sure I’ve said this a thousand times, but this event was the true seed of inspiration for starting this blog, and I highly recommend you attend if you want to be with a group of like-minded individuals who enjoy traveling with points and miles as much as you do. I’m excited to announce that I’ll be speaking at the Chicago Seminars – my session about Best Rate Guarantees is on Saturday afternoon. As a natural deal-queen, I’m excited to share some great BRG strategies.  This event is surely not to be missed!

Looking forward to meeting new faces and seeing familiar ones!

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There are three things happening, or will be happening in the very near future [simultaneously, even] that might make my home airport, EWR, nightmarish to travel to and from due to 3 distinct “hiccups”. Those who I can imagine who will be suffering the most are those traveling to NYC, using Amtrak as a codeshare, or those who simply rely on public transportation (the AirTrain) to get to/from EWR.

Earlier this week Scott at Hack My Trip blogged about hiccup #1 – EWR shutting down it’s airport monorail. In short, starting May 1, EWR’s AirTrain will remain closed for 75 days for construction. This halt will be replaced with shuttle buses from Newark Penn Station and I believe connections will be anything but seamless. This directly impacts customers who book their flights out of “ZFV”, an Amtrak codeshare rail connection from Philadelphia.

Another bump (hiccup #2) that EWR travelers might face is the closure of the Pulaski Skyway. The Pulaski Skyway is a major highway that connects NJ to Manhattan via the Holland Tunnel.

On April 12, 2014, the New Jersey Department of Transportation, (NJDOT), will begin construction to replace the deck on the Pulaski Skyway that will close the northbound lanes toward Jersey City and New York for approximately two years (!!). Many travelers who rely on cabs or car service to get from EWR to NYC might most definitely will experience increased fares and severe traffic.

Lastly, EWR hiccup #3 affects all travelers, even my fellow in-state New Jerseyans. Starting April 2014 and lasting all the way until December 2014 (wishfully thinking), the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey recently announced the closure of Runway 4L/22R due to rehabilitation construction.

PANYNJ states:

Runway 4L-22R will be closed for 60 consecutive days beginning April 1, 2014 and ending June 1, 2014 and will operate at reduced capacity from June 1 to June 15. The runway will be closed an additional 10 days beginning September 20 and ending September 30. With the exception of the closures, the airport’s three runways will be fully utilized during construction.

Things might be slightly better for those whose start and end points of travel remain in New Jersey, but with a runway closing, the hiccups of travel delays and the possibility of tighter/missed connections will be inevitable.

I can imagine that travelers who are aware of these three disruptions will consider traveling out of JFK and LGA as an alternative. Here I am optimistically hoping that airlines will offer irresistible fare deals out of EWR in order to remain competitive as a NYC airport.

Luckily, I flew from EWR – Aruba and back on April 3 and 6th, respectively and didn’t experience any delays on either end.

Just curious – do these/have these/will these 3 EWR hiccups impact your 2014 travel plans? Please feel free to share your thoughts!

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I’m entering the first year of my “late twenties” next week, and gifts are already starting to flood in from the people I tend to spend the most time with – loyalty programs, of course. Aside from my annual free Sephora VIB beauty gift and my free Victoria’s Secret birthday coupons that I look forward to receiving each year, I’m noticing that many travel programs are also offering a small birthday token.

Here’s the line up so far:

  • JetBlue: If you are signed up for TrueBlue Badges and fly JetBlue during your birthday month, you’ll unwrap 500 points by earning your birthday badge.
  • Hertz: Happy birthday from Hertz! In honor of your special day, we’re giving you 250 Hertz Gold Plus Rewards® bonus points on your next rental before 04/30/2014.
  • Kimpton: Enjoy 20% off our daily rate. Stay with us Thurs – Sun during your birthday month, enjoy 2 glasses of bubbly + dessert, and a special surprise gift from us.
  • IHG: Earn 5,000 extra bonus points after your next weekend stay within the next 90 days.
  • Southwest: 500 bonus points and a 20% discount redemption code.

Out of the 5 gifts I received, I am most excited about the 20% discount redemption code from Southwest (especially after the 15% devaluation, I’ll still make out ahead of the old rates).

What gifts have you received from airline and hotel loyalty programs in the past? Any super cool surprises?

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If you missed out on the ~$1500 business class deals to Europe this summer that One Mile at a Time let us know about last week, it’s still possible to take a trip to Europe during peak season.

If you have a stash of United miles, you’re in luck. United’s partner, Lufthansa, has released a ton of Saver award space in economy and business class for July 2014, so you and a travel buddy can get to Europe on the cheap.

United miles can be used on any Star Alliance carrier. Often the most useful member of the Star Alliance for award bookings to Europe is Lufthansa, the largest airline in Europe, with hubs in Frankfurt and Munich, Germany.

It costs 30k United miles each way to fly between the United States and Europe in economy and 70k United miles each way in business class.

On United awards, you can fly one direction in economy and the other in business to have a treat one way and save miles the other. You can also take a stopover and have an open jaw, when you fly into one airport and out of another.

With all those options, it’s really easy to book an award for two to Europe this summer.

The place to search for and book Lufthansa award space is on United.com. If you just search from your home airport to your goal destination, some Lufthansa flights will probably come up.

I’ve tried to accentuate that by searching routes that Lufthansa flies non-stop between North America and Frankfurt, Germany. Getting from Frankfurt to anywhere else in Europe is very easy because Lufthansa flies all over Europe from Frankfurt and intra-Europe flights usually have award space in both cabins.

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If you don’t live in any of the North American cities in this post, that’s no problem either. You can connect from your home airport to the gateway city on United flights with saver award space. Don’t forget that on an international business class award, you can add United first class domestic segments at no extra charge.

How Good Is The Award Space?

In economy, Lufthansa has released award space every day this summer on a number of routes. Business class space is less available, but it is widely available this July on several routes.

On the calendars below, yellow days have saver award space in economy for two people, blue days have saver award space in business class for two people, and green days have saver award space in economy and business class for two people.

The best award space in business class this summer is from Washington DC to Frankfurt, which has space most Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays in July.

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Lufthansa flies two daily flights between Washington DC and Frankfurt. Pick the one on the 747-8 plane for Lufthansa’s newest fully flat business class product. The aircraft is listed on the far right of the screen under the flight information.

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Dallas to Frankfurt also has some award space in business class for couples this July on Mondays and Tuesdays, as well as economy space nearly every day this summer.

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When looking at ways to get from the United States to Europe, especially from the west coast, don’t forget about the possibility of connecting in Canada. It costs no extra miles, and Toronto to Frankfurt has amazing award space this July for a couple in business class.

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Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 2.28.56 PMUnfortunately New York to Frankfurt doesn’t have as much business class award space this summer as other routes, but there is still plenty of economy award space between JFK and Frankfurt on two daily Lufthansa flights.

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Getting United Miles

It’s easy to get to Europe with United miles this summer, but how do you get the United miles, and how many do you need?

Each way is 30k miles per person in economy and 70k in business, so for one person:

  • You need 60k United miles for a roundtrip to Europe in economy.
  • You need 100k United miles for a roundtrip to Europe with one way in economy and one way in Lufthansa Business Class.
  • You need 140k United miles for a roundtrip to Europe in Lufthansa Business Class.

For two people, double those amounts.

Luckily United miles are extremely easy to earn. All these cards earn Ultimate Rewards, which can transfer 1:1 to United miles.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred currently offers 40,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first three months. You can also get 5,000 bonus points for adding an authorized user to your account.

The Ink Plus is a business card that offers 50,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first three months (as well as some pretty awesome category bonuses.)

The Ink Bold is a business charge card that offers 50,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first three months (as well as the same awesome category bonuses.)

Opening a Sapphire Preferred for yourself (and adding an authorized user) and an Ink for your business would result in more than 100k Ultimate Rewards after meeting the minimum spending requirements. That’s enough for a roundtrip to Europe with one direction in the comfort of business class.

I personally have booked myself a first class ticket on Lufthansa from Toronto to Munich for Oktoberfest in the fall (before the United devaluation), but due to a scheduling conflict, I won’t be able to take the trip. I haven’t redeposited my miles yet because I am hoping that more award space will open up for a different weekend…. crossing fingers!

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I just got back from a nice weekend in Aruba (my first flight in 5 months!), and I’ve already gotten bitten by the travel bug. While on vacation, I booked another vacation to the French Riviera this summer with friends – I got in on that “Nice” business class deal (yes, pun was intentional).

Now I am brainstorming other ideas to return to Europe on the cheap. United Airlines has some competitive fare sales to Norway from several parts of the US this fall. You can fly round trip to Oslo from Newark for as low as $426 round trip. West coasters can fly from San Francisco to Norway for as low as $572 round trip. Nice!

Once in Oslo, you can fly to other parts of Europe on a budget using a low-cost carrier such as Norwegian.

Using sample date November 9-12, Oslo to Budapest prices out at $157.10 round trip.

oslCombine that fare with the cheap $426 EWR-OSL fare and you’ve got yourself a nice trip to Budapest for ~583.50.

Other sample prices using the same technique are: Amsterdam for ~$543.50, Stockholm for ~$544, Copenhagen ~$571, Prague ~$577, Rome ~$633, and Paris ~$588.80 just to name a few.

Though I prefer visiting Europe in the warmer summer months, this is still a great deal that I’m considering. Anyone else?

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On Monday, I wrote about British Airways Avios awards. With US Airways and TAM joining British Airways’ alliance, you can now book some incredibly cheap awards like the United States to Brazil for 4,000 Avios and $97.50 or Phoenix to Hawaii for the same price.

You can book a lot of 4,000 Avios awards with the British Airways Visa Signature Card or by transferring Ultimate Rewards or Membership Rewards points 1:1 to Avios.

Everyone knows that British Airways awards are an unbeatable value on short, non-stop awards. But did you know these four less well-known advantages of British Airways awards?

  1. You can get unlimited free stopovers on British Airways awards.
  2. There are no extra fees for booking an Avios award at the last second. Other loyalty programs like American, United, and US Airways do collect a $75 close in ticketing fee.
  3. You get Priority AAccess–priority security and boarding–on American Airlines flights booked with Avios.
  4. You get extremely cheap cancellations with Avios award, as low as $2.50, meaning that you can speculatively book Avios awards without much of a penalty.

#1 Unlimited Free Stopovers

British Airways’ method of pricing its awards is unique. Each individual flight on the award has its own price and the total price of the award is the sum of the price of each flight.

As an example, San Francisco to Los Angeles on an American Airlines plane is 4,500 Avios one way. Los Angeles to Honolulu on an American Airlines plane is 12,500 Avios one way. So if you book San Francisco to Los Angeles to Honolulu as an Avios award, it would cost 17,000 Avios.

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It costs 17,000 whether you lay over in Los Angeles for one hour or you stopover for one week. The only thing that affects the price of an Avios award is the individual flights, not the amount of time between them.

By contrast, on American Airlines awards, stopover policy, you can only take one free stopover per direction and it has to be at your North American International Gateway.

Imagine you wanted to fly from Washington DC to Miami to Lima, Peru to Santiago, Chile to Mendoza, Argentina for a South American adventure. With American Airlines miles, you could only take a free stopover in Miami.

With British Airways Avios, you could stop in each city as long as you like. The total award would be 34,500 Avios one way, which is the sum of the price of each segment.

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#2 No Close In Ticketing Fee

I tend to use my Avios for last-minute weekend getaways (like my spontaneous trip to Tokyo, random cruise booking, and girls getaway to Toronto), so it’s really nice that Avios charges no close in ticketing fee. You can book the day of travel and still just pay the miles plus taxes.

By contrast, cash tickets tend to go way up in price at the last-minute, and American Airlines adds a $75 fee for award tickets booked within 21 days of travel.

Let’s look at an example of how valuable this benefit is. Look at what a one way flight from New York to Chicago this Friday costs: $184 on scary Spirit and $304 on the big boys.

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American Airlines is offering Saver award space on its morning flights, but there is a $75 close in ticketing fee, so the total price is 12,500 American Airlines miles and $77.50.

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British Airways Avios can book the same flight for only 7,500 Avios and $2.50!

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An Avios award saves 5,000 miles because it’s a short flight and $75 because there are no close in ticketing fees with British Airways awards.

#3 Priority Boarding and Security on American Airlines flights

MileValue and Mommy Points have written that when they’ve booked American Airlines flights with Avios, the words Priority AAccess prints out on their boarding passes. I’ve also had similar experiences, and it has always made my day (especially since I was even able to do a free same-day flight change too at the gate somehow).

Priority AAccess entitles you to the priority line at security, which can be a big time saver in crowded airports. It also entitles you to priority boarding, which means you can get your bag in an overhead bin and get comfortable before the mad scramble of everyone else.

It’s not clear that Priority AAccess should be a perk of Avios awards, so it might disappear. But for the moment, enjoy the free benefit.

#4 Cancel Your Avios Award for a Full Refund of the Miles and as Little as $2.50 out of Pocket

Awards booked with Avios are supposed to have a $55 cancellation fee.

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 9.12.21 PMI say “supposed to” because in practice, if your award has taxes lower than $55, British Airways will return your Avios but not your taxes on an award cancellation without charging you extra money. See Deals We Like for her experience.

So say I booked that New York to Chicago award for 7,500 Avios and $2.50 for this Friday and then got sick. I could cancel it and get back the 7,500 Avios for no extra fee. I’d only be out-of-pocket the $2.50 I had paid in taxes.

That means domestic Avios awards basically have a cancellation fee of only $2.50 per segment, which is unbeatable. It’s this low cancellation fee that makes Avios so good for speculative bookings you’re not sure if you’ll take.

This–like Priority AAccess–is a potentially unintended benefit, so it may disappear at any time.

Avios awards are easy to book, and they’re the absolute best value for short, non-stop flights. With US Airways and TAM flights now bookable with Avios, it’s time to reacquaint yourself with Avios awards and their little known advantages.

I always make sure I have a hefty stash of Avios to fuel my impulsive nature (even though being spontaneous is a lot harder with my new sidekick, Baby Points Traveler).

So how do you get Avios?

Right now the British Airways Visa Signature Card comes with a 50,000 Avios sign-up bonus after you spend $2,000 on the card within your first 3 months.

Like I mentioned above, British Airways is a transfer partner in both the American Express Membership Rewards program and the Chase Ultimate Rewards Program.

Some other Chase cards that allow you to get Avios with 1:1 transfers are the Ink PlusInk Bold, or Sapphire Preferred. All of them earn Ultimate Rewards, which can transfer instantly to British Airways Avios online.

A great Membership Rewards card at the moment is the The Platinum Card® from American Express (sign-up bonus is 40,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $2,000 in 3 months.

What are some exciting trips you have booked thanks to Avios? Any other Avios secrets you’d like to share? I’d especially love to hear about more sweet-spot redemptions (speaking of, Easter Island is a sweet-spot redemption that’s high on my list!).

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If you’ve been a long time reader, then you already know that I am a huge fan of Ultimate Rewards points. The majority of my award redemptions for aspirational and “dream” destination trips have been made possibly by using Ultimate Rewards. Some redemptions include my stays at the Park Hyatt Maldives, Park Hyatt Tokyo and the new Andaz Maui. The airfare for my recent family vacation to Maui, and my first class trip on Singapore Airlines to Sydney last year have also been made possible thanks to Ultimate Rewards – it’s definitely a program I plan to keep high on my list for a long time.

Though many people associate Ultimate Rewards points with just the Chase Sapphire Preferred card and the Ink Plus/Bold cards, there are actually six Chase cards that earn Ultimate Rewards points. I talk a lot about Ultimate Rewards because they transfer 1:1 to United Airlines, British Airways, Korean Air, Southwest Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic miles or Hyatt points. Their flexibility lets me save for many dream redemptions at once.

Now I’ll share with you what I think is the best trio of Ultimate Rewards that work together to maximize every day spending to get you on your dream trip faster.

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The Three Families

I think of the six Ultimate Rewards earning cards as belonging to three “families”: Freedom, Sapphire, and Ink.

Other than their names, the key differences between the families are their category bonuses and whether they contain personal or business cards.

Freedom Family (Personal): 5x on Rotating Categories

The Freedom family has only one card: the Chase Freedom.

The Freedom earns 1 Ultimate Reward per dollar on all purchases, and 5 Ultimate Rewards per dollar on a set of rotating categories each quarter. From April 1 – June 30, 2014, you can earn 5 Ultimate Rewards per dollar at restaurants and Lowe’s stores.

Sapphire Family (Personal): 2x at Restaurants

The Sapphire family has two cards: the Sapphire and Sapphire Preferred.

The Sapphire earns 2 Ultimate Rewards per dollar at restaurants and 1 Ultimate Reward per dollar on everything else.

The Sapphire Preferred earns 2 Ultimate Rewards per dollar at restaurants and on travel purchases and 1 Ultimate Reward per dollar on everything else.

The Sapphire Preferred also offers cardholder a 7% dividend on all points earned in the previous calendar year each January.

Ink Family (Business): 5x at Office Supply Stores and on Telecom Bills, and 2x at Gas Stations

The Ink family has three cards: Ink Plus, Ink Bold, and Ink Cash.

All Inks earn 5 Ultimate Rewards per dollar at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV services.

All Inks earn 2 Ultimate Rewards per dollar at gas stations.

The Bold and Plus earn 2 Ultimate Rewards per dollar at hotels. The Cash earns 2 Ultimate Rewards per dollar at restaurants.

All other purchases earn 1 Ultimate Reward per dollar.

The Strengths of Each Family

Each family of Ultimate Rewards earning cards has very different strengths, so I strategically have one card from each family to fully maximize their advantages.

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To maximize the strengths of each family at the lowest cost, I recommend this combination of cards: the Freedom, Sapphire Preferred, and Ink Cash (coming soon – right now I have the Ink Plus).

If you hold all three, you’d have the following category bonuses:

  • 5x at office supply stores (Ink Cash)
  • 5x on cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV services (Ink Cash)
  • 5x on categories that rotate every quarter, which are restaurants and Lowe’s from 4/1/14 to 6/30/14 (Freedom)
  • 2x at restaurants (Sapphire Preferred)
  • 2x on travel (Sapphire Preferred)
  • 2x at US gas stations (Ink Cash)
  • 2x at restaurants (Ink Cash)

That’s an impressive list that combines the strengths of each family of Ultimate Rewards cards and will allow you to rack up the points every day.

The Freedom, Sapphire Preferred, and Ink Cash combination also ensure that all your Ultimate Rewards are transferable to airlines and hotels while minimizing your annual fees.

Transferability

First things first: not all Ultimate Rewards are equal.

The Sapphire Preferred, Ink Plus, and Ink Bold are the only three Ultimate Rewards cards that earn Ultimate Rewards which can be transferred directly to hotels and airlines. But they also come with a $95 annual fee after the first year’s introductory $0 annual fee.

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The Transferability Trick

The Freedom, Sapphire, and Cash earn Ultimate Rewards that cannot be transferred directly to hotels and airlines.

For me, all the value of Ultimate Rewards comes from their ability to be transferred to hotels and airlines.

The good news is that all Ultimate Rewards can be transferred freely between your Ultimate Rewards accounts.

That means if you have the Freedom and the Sapphire Preferred, you can transfer Ultimate Rewards online from your Freedom account to your Sapphire Preferred account.

Once the Ultimate Rewards are in a Sapphire Preferred account, they can be transferred from there into airline and hotel accounts.

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So you can see why I recommend having the Freedom, Sapphire Preferred, and Ink Cash.

  1. The Freedom and Ink Cash have no annual fee, so you minimize annual fees.
  2. You can use each card with its unique and awesome category bonuses, so you maximize everyday spending.
  3. You can transfer your Ultimate Rewards from your Freedom and Ink Cash cards to your Sapphire Preferred account. With all the Ultimate Rewards in the Sapphire Preferred account, you can then transfer your Ultimate Rewards to airline miles and hotel points, so you maximize the Ultimate Rewards transfer partners.

Sign Up Bonuses

Today’s post is really about the best combination of Ultimate Rewards cards for everyday spending, so I haven’t even mentioned the cards’ sign up bonuses.

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred: Earn 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $3,000 within the first 3 months of card membership.
  • Ink Cash Business Card: Earn $200 bonus cash back (20,000 Ultimate Rewards points) after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months from account opening
  • Chase Freedom: Earn $100 bonus cash back (10,000 Ultimate Rewards points) after you spend $500 in the first 3 months of card membership.

What combination of Ultimate Rewards cards do you use to maximize every day spending?

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JetBlue is back with yet another awesome April Fool’s promotion (and it’s no joke!). Last year on this day, JetBlue offered free flights to anyone named April. This year they’re also having fun by celebrating April’s First birthday babies with a present, not a prank!

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Anyone who’s celebrating a birthday today, April 1, and also happens to be taking a JetBlue flight, will be granted travel credits equal to the cost of their flight.

Too bad my birthday is 18 days away! Please pass this post around to anyone you know with an April 1 birthday who happens to be traveling on JetBlue today. If today is your birthday and you don’t have a flight booked on JetBlue today, don’t rush to book a last-minute escape – flights have to be booked on or before March 31, 2014 to qualify.

Be sure to go here for more information on how the birthday boys and girls can redeem flight credits for their April 1 JetBlue travel.

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As you might already know – yesterday was a big day in the points and miles world – US Airways and TAM Airlines of Brazil both joined the oneworld alliance.

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 4.43.45 AMThe good news about this new merger is that British Airways Avios went way up in value yesterday because you can now book some pretty awesome gem such as Phoenix to Hawaii for 4,000 Avios + $97 or from the United States to Brazil for 4,000 Avios + $97. In related news, my brother can now come home to visit us more often because Charlotte to New York is only 4,500 Avios each way! My family is definitely excited about that.

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 4.43.54 AMIf you don’t already have a stash of Avios, the best way to get Avios is through the British Airways Visa Signature Card, which currently offers 50k bonus Avios after spending $2,000 in the first three months of account opening, plus 2.5 Avios per dollar on British Airways purchases, and 1.25 Avios per dollar on all other purchases.

TAM and US Airways flights are currently bookable on ba.com at the same prices as all of British Airways’ other partners.

British Airways awards work differently than awards with United, American, and Delta. On a British Airways award, every flight segment has a price. The price of the flight segment depends on its distance and the cabin you fly. The total award price is the sum of each flight segment’s price.

For example, if you fly from Phoenix to Lihue, Kauai in economy, you pay 12,500 Avios. If you fly from Dallas to Phoenix to Lihue, though, you pay 20,000 Avios because Dallas to Phoenix is 7,500 Avios and Phoenix to Lihue is 12,500 Avios.

For business class awards, you pay double the price of economy awards. For first class awards, you pay triple the price of economy awards.

Here is the British Airways award chart for one way economy flights:

  • Up to 650 miles flown: 4,500 Avios
  • 651 to 1,151 miles flown: 7,500 Avios
  • 1,152 to 2,000 miles flown: 10,000 Avios
  • 2,001 to 3,000 miles flown: 12,500 Avios
  • 3,001 to 4,000 miles flown: 20,000 Avios
  • 4,001 to 5,500 miles flown: 25,000 Avios
  • 5,501 to 6,500 miles flown: 30,000 Avios
  • 6,501 to 7,000 miles flown: 35,000 Avios
  • 7,001+ miles flown: 50,000 Avios

As you can see, the best deal with Avios is to book short, non-stop flights in economy. Connections or premium cabins make the price go up substantially.

With the addition of TAM and US Airways, there are a number of new sweet spot awards with Avios. Let’s take a look:

To and From Brazil on TAM

TAM flies from New York, Orlando, and Miami to Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro for 25,000 Avios each way in economy. There are no fuel surcharges on the awards, and government taxes are very low at about $52 roundtrip.

From Miami, TAM also flies to some other parts of Brazil for super cheap! Belem and Manaus are less than 3,000 miles from Miami, so the flights cost only 12,500 Avios each way.

  • Belem for 12,500 Avios each way
  • Manaus for 12,500 Avios each way
  • Belo Horizonte for 20,000 Avios each way
  • Brasilia for 20,000 Avios way
  • Fortaleza for 20,000 Avios way

That means you can fly from the United States to Brazil for 25,000 Avios + $52 roundtrip!

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Even better, look closely at the “Avios price options” above. Instead of paying the full 25,000 Avios, you can pay as few as 8,000 Avios if you put in a little more cash.

You can get a roundtrip from Miami to Belem or Manaus, Brazil on TAM for only 8,000 Avios + $242.

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 4.47.33 AMWest Coast to Hawaii

Flights from the West Coast to Hawaii fall into the 12,500 Avios each-way band also. British Airways partners with American, Alaska, and now US Airways, who between them, offer flights from a ton of cities on the West Coast to Hawaii.

The newest option is Phoenix to Honolulu, Maui, Kauai, or Kona for only 12,500 Avios each way on US Airways.

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Again, you are given the option of paying 12,500 Avios plus $2.50 each way or as little as 4,000 Avios and $97.50 each way.

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Let’s work out the math on this. The British Airways Visa Signature Card offers 50,000 bonus Avios after spending $2,000 in the first three months.For 48k Avios and under $1,200 you could get six round trips to Hawaii from Phoenix, Los Angeles, Seattle, or anywhere else on the west coast with direct Alaska Airlines flights to Hawaii!

Or if you want to save the cash, you could get two round trips to Hawaii for only $10 out-of-pocket,

To or From JFK, MIA, ORD, DFW, LAX, CLT, PHX, PHL, PDX, SEA, ANC

As I said, short, nonstop economy flights are the best deal with Avios. British Airways partners with American, Alaska, and US Airways who collectively have hubs in:

  • New York-JFK (American)
  • Miami (American)
  • Chicago-O’Hare (American)
  • Dallas-Fort Worth (American)
  • Los Angeles (American, Alaska)
  • Charlotte (US Airways)
  • Phoenix (US Airways)
  • Philadelphia (US Airways)
  • Portland (Alaska)
  • Seattle (Alaska)
  • Anchorage (Alaska)

If you live in one of those cities or want to go to one, you will likely have a ton of direct options for very few Avios.

The best way to check your options for cheap Avios awards from your home airport is to google your home airport with the word “wiki.” That will bring up the wikipedia page, which will list every airline and destination from your airport.

Take the American Airlines, US Airways, and Alaska routes of interest and figure out their distance on gcmap.com. You just type in the airport codes separated by a dash like PHX-LAX and gcmap.com tells you the distance. Refer to the chart above to see the number of Avios needed to fly a flight that distance.

In this case, Phoenix and Los Angeles are 370 miles apart. That means that a flight between those two cities is only 4,500 each way.

From your home airport, you should find some incredibly cheap Avios awards within the United States, or maybe even to Mexico, Canada, Central America, and the Caribbean. The country of your destination doesn’t matter at all, only the distance flown, so some international awards are dirt cheap with Avios.

Hopefully you can see why I’m so excited about US Airways and TAM joining oneworld. The value of my Avios just went way up, and I plan to use my Avios in three new ways:

  1. United States to Brazil for as little as 4,000 Avios and $97.50 each way.
  2. West Coast (Phoenix, Los Angeles, etc) to the four major Hawaiian Islands for 4,000 Avios and $97.50 each way.
  3. Short nonstop flights on US Airways, American, and Alaska for as little as 4,500 Avios and $2.50 each way.

For even more Avios, keep in mind is that British Airways is a transfer partner in both the American Express Membership Rewards program and the Chase Ultimate Rewards Program.

Some other Chase cards that allow you to get Avios with 1:1 transfers are the Ink PlusInk Bold, or Sapphire Preferred. All of them earn Ultimate Rewards, which can transfer instantly to British Airways Avios online.

A great Membership Rewards card is the The Platinum Card® from American Express (sign-up bonus is 40,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $2,000 in 3 months. Also, see related post about the awesome perks related to this card). The 40,000 sign-up bonus can be quite lucrative if you take advantage of an occasional transfer bonus from Membership Rewards to British Airways Avios.

Key Application Link: British Airways Visa Signature Card

What Avios sweet-spot redemption routes interest you?

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