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If you’re new to the world of points and miles, booking that first business-class award ticket is a fantastic resolution for 2018. It’s also a great goal if you’re returning to the space after spending some time restoring your credit score and using credit responsibly.
According to US News, 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by the first week of February. To stay on track, set small, achievable goals and have a plan for meeting them. If you want to fly business class for almost free for the first time in 2018, follow these simple steps.
6 Steps to Booking Your First Business-Class Award Flight
1. Pick Your Destination
There’s no way around it: The points and miles hobby is overwhelming when you’re just beginning. The easiest way to start is to choose somewhere you really want to visit — one that’s worthy of flying up front. Whether it’s an overseas city you’ve always wanted to see or if it’s just to grandmother’s or dad’s house on a three-hour flight and you want to be comfortable for once, pick that city and stick to it.
Once you have the destination selected, the rest of the strategy for sitting up front for almost free will be based on the routing and the airline taking you to that city.
2. Check Revenue Airfare
Before jumping into points and miles, it’s best to do a quick search for business-class airfare on your route of choice. Use Google Flights and filter for business-class seats. Make a quick note of the airfare for the flights you’d actually feel comfortable flying — i.e., no 14-hour layovers or no 5:35am departures. We’ll use this airfare in the next step of determining what points/miles you need to earn.
3. Find Out What Variety and How Many Points/Miles You Need
You’ve got the destination in mind and, from your revenue search, an idea of the routing and flights you’d like to take. With this information, use one of a few tools to find out how many miles and what variety would be best for your first business-class award flight. Key point here: These tools will only tell you the cost of your route; they won’t show you the dates when an award seat is available, nor will they tell you taxes and fees for the award flight.
AwardHacker.com is the most comprehensive award-pricing tool available. It encompasses the most programs, and the user-interface is very intuitive. It also lets you hide off-peak award pricing and display only nonstop options, so you’re getting a more realistic price for the miles you’ll need. Here’s an example search of Atlanta (ATL) to Paris (CDG) round-trip in business:
From a miles perspective, the cheapest way to fly round-trip in business from Atlanta to Paris is using 65,000 Japan Airlines miles to book a JAL partner airline like Air France, as designated in the “operated by” column in the search results. You can then look in the far right column to see where you may be able to transfer points from in order to earn JAL miles. In this case, SPG is highlighted, since Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints can be transferred to JAL Mileage Bank.
You’ll need a bit more knowledge to really decipher these results. For example, it helps to know that Starpoints are typically the most difficult rewards to earn. With that in mind, looking just a bit further down the results to an Ultimate Rewards transfer partner like Korean Air would be a better option because of the relative ease of earning Chase Ultimate Rewards points. The next result is then Air France, also a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards — so you should now know that earning Ultimate Rewards is a good bet if you want to book a business-class award flight from Atlanta to Paris.
Finally, go back to the revenue prices you found and compare them with points that can be redeemed to cover the revenue price of a ticket. Chase Ultimate Rewards can be redeemed directly through Chase’s travel center for between 1-1.5 cents per point depending on which card you have; Citi ThankYou points can be redeemed at 1.25 cents per point through the Citi travel center; Amex Membership Rewards at between 1-1.53 cents per point depending on which card you have. Also keep in mind other currencies like Wells Fargo Go Far Rewards, US Bank Flexperks and Barclaycard Arrival miles.
On the rare occasion, a really good business-class fare sale makes redeeming Chase Ultimate Rewards for 1.5 cents each a cheaper option than transferring points to a travel partner. I typically use 1.5 cents per point in my math equation as I know a few programs will let me use points at that value if I have the right credit card. If the number of points required at 1.5 cents apiece is still considerably more than transferring to a travel partner, I’ll go back to the awardhacker.com results.
4. Find Availability
The most difficult step to booking a business-class flight is finding an available award seat. It’s important to find seats before deciding which points and miles you need to earn, otherwise you could decide to earn a currency for a route which hardly ever/never has business-class award seats.
In the case of using Korean miles to fly to Europe, you want to know how to search for SkyTeam award seats. Based on the awardhacker.com results, head to that program and see if you can find award seats for your desired route before deciding which currency to earn.
5. Earn the Points/Miles
You should now know what points or miles to earn and should have a rough idea of the typical availability for your destination. It’s time to ensure your credit score is in order and then apply for the card or cards that will help you earn the miles you decided were best based on both cost and availability patterns.
Remember to ensure you can meet the minimum spend required to earn sign-up bonuses, and don’t pay interest. Also give yourself plenty of time before your intended departure date for the points or miles to post to your account.
You’ve met the minimum spend; the points or miles have posted to your account; and it’s time to book. Simply log in and redeem the miles following the same steps you used to find availability. You can usually do this online, but sometimes with partner bookings you’ll have to call the airline whose miles you have in order to book the flight. Remember for partner bookings, the price is always based on the award chart of the program whose miles you have, and you’ll do all booking through that program, not the airline operating the flight.
Take the six steps one at a time, Googling for additional help as you need it and taking notes on the lessons you learn. Once you complete the entire process, you can apply the skills to almost any airline award booking you need to complete. The only difference will be how you find availability (depending on the airline you want to fly), and you can then learn to book more advanced routings that include things like stopovers and open jaws.
Keep your resolution to fly business class for the first time in 2018, but be careful: It’s awfully hard to go to the back of the bus after you’ve flown up front.
Featured image shows Emirates’ new business class on the 777-300ER.
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