Sunday Reader Question: What If My Work Travel Doesn’t Mesh With My Personal Points Strategy?

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TPG reader Jen writes:

I recently started a job where I take business trips to various countries in Africa. The good news is that I get to fly business, accrue serious miles for free and get Delta Diamond status. The bad news is that per company regulations we must fly an American carrier. Pretty much all of my colleagues fly Delta as they are based out of Atlanta or DC and I am based in Seattle – and there is a direct Delta flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg.

The predicament for me is that SkyMiles are harder to use than other currencies and  I would like to redeem them for first class travel to South East Asia as SkyTeam has, in my humble opinion, inferior first class redemption and seats to what Star Alliance can offer. I’ve added the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Freedom cards to start accruing Star Alliance Miles and would like to apply for more in the future.

Should I continue accruing miles with Delta by adding the Delta Amex card to my rotation, or should I try to fly Star Alliance airlines on personal trips and get other credit cards that can transfer to Star Alliance if my main goal to to redeem first class tickets on the best airlines to Southeast Asia? Should I diversify or just commit to Delta?”

If your main goal is to fly first class to Asia, you shouldn’t be participating in the Delta SkyMiles program at all. Delta blocks all international first class redemptions- so for example, you cannot fly Korean Air First Class, even if there is partner award availability. The question you need to ask yourself is how much do value Diamond status? If you never use it since you are flying mostly paid businuess international fares, you might want to look into banking your Delta flights into another SkyTeam frequent flyer program like Korean Air Skypass (which is a 1:1 Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner). That way you can redeem those miles for international first class seats.

Now, if you don’t mind business class and you are based in Seattle, Delta isn’t such a bad option. They have nonstop flights from Seattle to Beijing and Tokyo and since Alaska is a partner with Delta, you can always fly down to San Francisco or Los Angeles and connect on Delta or partner flights on Korean, China Southern, Malaysia Airlines and China Airlines. You already fly Delta’s nicest plane, the Boeing 777LR from Atlanta to Johannesburg and while it’s a great business class product, it pales in comparison to Star Alliance First Class on carriers like Asiana, ANA and Singapore (who just announced they will be releasing more Saver awards on their premium planes).

Bottom line is that Star Alliance is a much better network of carriers for travel to and around Asia, so my advice for you would be to diversify your miles and points and therefore focus on building your Star Alliance balances with your future credit card applications. In fact, that’s pretty much what I do – since I accrue a 125% bonus on flown Delta flights from being a Diamond, I almost exclusively apply for credit cards that will help me build up by Star Alliance and Oneworld miles, since flexibility and diversification is the key to getting the awards you want. The only Delta card that’s on my “maybe” list is the Reserve card which gives 10,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles with the first purchase. I may need them since I am now trying to maintain Executive Platinum status on American and Platinum/Diamond on Delta.

I’d also recommend focusing on building up Oneworld miles via American Airlines, because they can be redeemed on excellent first class products with Cathay Pacific and JAL, which will also help your Asia travel plans.

My suggestions for future cards would be to get the Ink Bold which is basically the business card equivalent of the Sapphire Preferred and currently offers 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points when you spend $5,000 in the first three months or the 60,000 mile United card (if you can hit the $25,000 spend threshold), both American airlines 50,000 mile cards – apply on the same day so you only get one credit inquiry from Citi and a 50,000 point Amex Platinum – either the Mercedes-Benz ($475 annual fee) or the personal Platinum ($450 annual fee) which you need a referral to get the offer, which you can get by emailing me or anyone else you know who has a Platinum card).

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