Our First Time in First Class — Reader Success Story
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Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Eric, who booked premium awards to Asia by transferring points to Virgin Atlantic. Here's what he had to say:
I've been reading your site for a few years now, slowly accruing miles and points using the tips you've provided. I recently executed my first major points redemption and wanted to share!
My parents moved to China last year, and have been asking my wife and me to visit them. We've been dragging our feet on booking the trip, dreading the 15-hour (or more) New York to Shanghai flight in economy. Luckily for us, as avid readers of your site, we had a good chunk of points saved up from sign-up bonuses on our premium credit cards: 50,000 points from my Citi Prestige, and 100,000 points each from our Chase Sapphire Reserve cards.
We've been sitting on those points for a while and waiting for a worthwhile redemption, but then we saw your post about the incredible value of Virgin Atlantic Flying Club and noted that we could book two round-trip, first class tickets on ANA for 120,000 miles per person and around $200 in fees. It just so happened that ANA had a good amount of first class availability right around Thanksgiving this year between Houston and Tokyo. The flight would cost over $22,000 per person if you were to pay cash — that's a mind-blowing 18 cents per mile redemption!
We've never been to either Tokyo or Shanghai, and having read your guides for both cities, we decided to kill three birds with one stone and build these two destinations into our trip to China. We followed your instructions to put our awards on hold while we transferred our points over. Just like you said, these points transferred instantly, allowing us to call back within minutes to complete the booking. After factoring in the short economy flights between New York/Houston and Tokyo/Shanghai, we're spending under $1,000 per person on flights, which is less than what we would have paid for a non-stop economy ticket to Shanghai. We'll also be using the Citi Prestige 4th night free benefit at multiple hotels on this trip, which is going to save us even more money.
My wife and I are incredibly excited for this trip. This will be our first-ever experience in first class, and we've been re-reading your review of ANA first class to make sure we don't miss out on any amenities! We're also planning to check out the new Houston Polaris lounge on the outbound leg. Thank you so much for your tips — we definitely would have had no idea that we could book such an amazing trip and save so much money at the same time without your help!
When I write about the outsized value you can get from transfer partners, awards like the one Eric and his wife booked are precisely what I have in mind. However, I encourage you not to fixate on redemption values alone. You should always aim to get a good return from your rewards (and lean toward paying cash when you're not) — to that end, check out these guides to maximizing points with Chase, Citi, Amex and Starwood. But if your points and miles make your travel goals more attainable, it's a win even when you're not getting top dollar. In Eric's case, booking a premium award made the long trip more palatable and helped motivate him to go. That's more important than how many cents per point he got in return.
Eric and his wife used a positioning flight to Houston to set up their first-class award, presumably because they couldn't find seats on ANA's nonstop service between New York and Tokyo. Positioning flights add time and cost to your trip, but they may be worthwhile to take advantage of better award availability or a fare sale, and they're especially useful if you live in a smaller city where deals are less common. If you book a positioning flight, leave ample time for connections so your main itinerary won't be jeopardized by delays on the shorter one. Better to have a longer layover than to risk missing your whole trip.
I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank Eric 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 email@example.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!