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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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
See Pay Over Time APR
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
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.
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.
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.
Good to Excellent
3 free nights (each valued up to 50,000 points) after qualifying purchases and 10x total points on eligible purchases in select categories
Good to Excellent
$200 after spending $500 on purchases in the first three months from account opening
Good to Excellent