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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard

Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Mahesh, who used two sign-up bonuses to book his first premium award. Here’s what he had to say:

I’m new to the points and miles game, as I started following TPG after the Sapphire Reserve card launched in August of 2016. I have always wanted to fly in business class to India at least once, and I’m very happy that it finally happened! Here’s how I did it.

First, I signed up for the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® with a sign-up bonus of 60,000 miles (after spending $3,000 dollars). I then got the Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Red card and added another 60,000 miles after paying the annual fee and making my first purchase. I already had about 15,000 miles from previous American Airlines flights, which left me 5,000 miles short of the 140,000 I needed for two one-way business class award tickets to India.

To make up the difference, I initiated a transfer from my Starwood Preferred Guest account. Though I did sign up for the 25% bonus for converting hotel points to miles, I didn’t want to risk it not coming through, so I followed your advice and transferred the full amount I needed. After initiating the transfer from SPG, I started looking for award space on Oneworld partners. I called American Airlines directly, but the call center reps just did a couple of searches and hung up on me, saying no space was available for my travel dates.

Though I would have preferred to do the research on my own, as a first timer I found it very difficult to track down award space by searching on the American Airlines or British Airways websites. I opted to seek help from award booking services, and one was able to find two business class seats on Cathay Pacific.

With the flight details in hand, I called American Airlines again and provided them with the exact flight numbers and dates; sure enough, they were able to locate the award space without any difficulty. I put my tickets on hold while I waited for my Starpoints to transfer. Then all I had to do was call again to confirm the itinerary and pay $40 in government fees. My 25% transfer bonus did arrive on the same day, so I got 6,250 miles for the 5,000 points I transferred.

Finally, I got 10,000 miles back in my AAdvantage account thanks to the 10% mileage rebate benefit on my cards. I had totally forgotten about that, so it came as a pleasant surprise.

I often see novice award travelers earning points and miles indiscriminately with no plan for how to redeem them. While it doesn’t hurt to have a modest stockpile (of transferable and other flexible rewards in particular), you shouldn’t overlook the importance of setting goals. Mahesh knew where (and how) he wanted to travel, which helped him identify the miles he needed and figure out how to get them. As he learned, there’s more to the process on the redeeming side, but those first steps helped set him up for success.

There are plenty of options for business class awards to Asia, but don’t worry if you’re uncertain about how to book them, especially if you’re new to the game. In the long term, you’ll get enormous value out of learning which programs to use and how to find award availability, but when you’re stuck or short on time, an award booking service may be a good investment. You can enlist their help with the whole booking process, or they can just track down seats for you if you’re able to do the rest. I don’t endorse any specific service, but this FlyerTalk thread lists over 30 with a range of prices and specialties.

Finally, the 10% mileage rebate is a great benefit, and it boosts the ongoing value of these cards if you redeem AAdvantage miles frequently. Unfortunately for Mahesh, the rebates from the two cards don’t stack, so his annual return is capped at 10,000 miles. Still, that’s worth $140 based on my latest valuations, which is well above the annual fee for either card.

I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank Mahesh for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own award travel success stories to info@thepointsguy.com; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. Feel free to also submit your most woeful travel mistakes. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure.

Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Feature image by narvikk / Getty Images.

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