I often get asked for help in putting together an award or getting enough miles to do a particular trip, and I got one today that I liked because it covered my favorite place (the Maldives) and in answering it just showed me how amazing this point’s game can be. In a few months, primarily by taking out a selection of credit cards, you can put together a trip worth tens of thousands of dollars for virtually nothing! It also covers a lot of timely changes that are occurring in the point’s world worth mentioning, and they just are more meaningful in a real world case like this.
Let’s take a look through it. Reader Jay contacted me asking for help in getting the miles needed to put together a 10 night honeymoon stay at the Conrad Maldives, wanting to fly there with Etihad first class from JFK to Abu Dhabi then on in business class to Male. Jay had clearly done some homework and knew pretty much what kind of points he wanted, but was looking for some help in working out how exactly to get balances large enough in a short period of time. So first, let’s take a look at what he needs to get.
The best way to fly on Etihad currently is using AA miles, and a round-trip in first class will cost 180k. Jay is starting from scratch, so that’s a fair amount of miles to put together. The Hilton points needed for the Conrad is a little more complex and I will come back to that one later.
For building AA miles quickly only a month ago the first answer here would be “do the two-browser trick to get 100k AA miles”. But over the past few weeks the ability to get two of the same cards from Citibank has been put on life support, and I would not recommend trying this unless you can really afford the potential denial of the second card. And given Citi also have some useful Hilton cards, and in general you can only get two Citibank cards in any one application round, it is best in this situation to just accept that Jay can only get one 50k AA card. He then wants to combine that with as many Hilton points as he can get his hands on. Here is what I suggested:
Citibank AA 50k Visa with $3k spend, gives at least 53k AA miles after spend
Citibank Hilton 50k Visa with $1.5k spend, gives at least 54.5k Hilton points after spend
Amex Surpass Hilton 60k after $3k spend, gives at least 69k Hilton points after spend
Amex SPG Personal 25k after $5k spend, gives at least 30k SPG points after spend
Bank of America Hawaiian Airlines 35k after $1k spend, gives at least 72k Hilton points after spend and conversion
Bank of Hawaii Hawaiian Airlines 35k after $1k spend, gives at least 72k Hilton points after spend and conversion
So that gives a total of 6 credit cards across 4 issuers with a hefty $14,500 minimum spend. To be clear, one should only do this if you know you are disciplined enough to make the spend without stretching your finances, that you pay off the balance in full and in a timely manner, and you don’t get tempted to go on a shopping spree with the credit made available to you. And $14.5k is a lot of spend to make if you are just looking at “normal” spend, so Jay will need to look at ways to manufacture that spend, such as Amazon Payments, gift cards, reloadable cards and other creative ways. But at the end of it all he will have amassed 53k AA miles, 267.5k Hilton points and 30k SPG points. This puts him well on the way to the Maldives.
Once he has met the minimum spend on that round, and at least 3 months later, I suggest the following second set of credit cards:
Citibank AA 50k Business Visa 50k after $3k spend, gives at least 53k AA miles after spend
Amex SPG Business 25k after $5k spend, gives at least 30k SPG after spend
Citi Hilton Reserve 2 Free Weekend Nights after $2.5k spend, gives the nights plus at least 7.5k Hilton after spend
So another $10,500 in spend. Clearly on the spend side Jay will need to do some manufacturing, but still very do-able. Once he’s done he’s left with 106k AA miles and 60k SPG points. He can convert 60k SPG into 75k AA miles and lo and behold that brings his AA balance to 181,000 – enough to book that Etihad first class flight with a few miles to spare.
On the hotel front he can book two of his required 10 nights, leaving him with 8 to book, and 275k Hilton points in the bank to do so. Because he got the Amex Surpass in the first round, he also has access to Hilton’s “AXON” awards, and can book four nights at the Conrad Maldives for only 145k. So all he needs is another 15k Hilton points to get the total of 290k he needs for 8 nights (what a great deal that is for such an amazing hotel). So he could either get the regular Hilton Amex card, or if he can find a way to manufacture or make $2,500 spend at a grocery store on his Surpass he’d generate another 15k Hilton points (check out the gift card rack for gas cards, Amazon.com cards, restaurants, iTunes etc for ways to put more spend at the grocery store)
It’s also worth noting that the Amex Surpass Hilton card gives him Gold status for a year (as does the Citi Hilton Reserve, which gives you Gold as long as you keep the card) and access to those cheaper AXON awards, so when he gets to the Conrad he will enjoy the benefits of being a Gold member which currently includes breakfast and cocktails every day. Nice touch!
At the end of the day, only the Hawaiian cards have annual fees that are not waived in the first year, so he’d have spent $178 dollars on those. Let’s also say that he had to manufacture the entire $25k of total spend at a cost of 0.5% of the spend amount. That would be another $250. Now let’s DOUBLE that amount and assume his partner (in this case wife-to-be for their honeymoon!) does the same, so they end up spending just under $1k. Well the hotel alone would cost anywhere between $5k and $10k if they paid out of pocket, plus a similar amount for tickets in coach. I just did a check on some random dates and the Etihad first class flight would actually cost $20k!!!
Let’s hope Jay and his wife have a great honeymoon. We will look forward to the report!
(Note: I do not get any referral credit for any of the credit card applications provided in this post. All are provided for information only. Exercise caution in obtaining new credit cards and making minimum spend. Only spend what you can afford to repay and always pay the balance in full. It is not recommended to get multiple credit cards if you need to obtain a mortgage or other significant loan in the coming 12-24 months)
Hat-tip to TBB for making me think carefully about putting in warnings about credit card usage 🙂 Take it seriously kids, credit cards can be bad for your health if you don’t use them properly