It's no secret that points and miles are a great way to not only get flights to all parts of the world, but to do so in the best seats on the plane. Rarely do I fly in economy anymore and if you asked me if that was worth it 2 years ago, I would have told you no... but when I can fly to my hometown for $10 in first class, how can you argue that.
Knowing your points and credit cards is key here. I am always trying to minimize the amount of points I spend while still trying to maximize the amount of miles I earn. It can be a juggling act that requires you to keep up on the best methods with multiple different companies in a constantly changing market.
So how did I do it?
There were two aims on this flight booking, I am at the end of a status challenge with Delta. I'm about 4,200 miles short of meeting that challenge. So I needed to get those miles on a single round trip, to a location that isn't far enough away to give me that many miles in a normal trip. On top of all that, my current job situation means I don't have much money to spend on this flight.
There is a way to make all of this happen. Citi ThankYou points can be redeemed through their website for flights on any airline. While ThankYou points are usually more valuable as a transferable currency, using these points right now is better at a less than optimal rate, if only because I can't really spend money on a flight right now.
Next, we need to tackle the problem of the short flight distance. Normally the flight to Central New York would not grab me the 4,200 miles that I would need to meet the Delta challenge I'm currently undertaking. This is partly where first class comes in. On a paid ticket, first class earns 150% Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQM).
Still this does not meet the full 4,200 miles I needed... now we need to get creative with the routing. By adding a short extra flight to the itinerary, it gains me the additional miles needed. Knowing the rules of a program can turn things in your favor.
Delta like many domestic carriers has a minimum mileage guarantee, meaning that no flight will earn you less than 500 MQM's ever. In first class, that means short flights of 500 miles or less will always earn you 750 miles. So if I take a short flight from Syracuse to JFK, then that 200 mile journey equals 750 MQM's. Same thing from Atlanta to Greenville. Using these routing rules to my advantage turns a short round trip flight into 4,500 MQM's, well over the 4,200 I still need to earn status.
How did I pay for it?
This one was tricky. I debated using all points for this through Citi ThankYou rewards. ThankYou points allow you to use your points to purchase a ticket, costing me nothing, but to Delta it still acts as a paid ticket meaning miles and MQM's are still earned like a paid ticket. Problem is, I don't want to spend all of my points if I can help it.
Now my Chase Sapphire Reserve card steps in. This credit card comes with a $300 credit toward airfare, meaning that my purchase of a ticket will automatically be $300 off... to Delta they don't see this discount since it is applied on the credit card end of the transaction, once again earning me full miles with Delta.
To maximize both the credit from Chase and pay the least amount possible, I actually split the flight in two. Setting up a one way flight in each direction. I paid each of the flights separately, one with the Chase credit card and one with Citi ThankYou points. In this way I used the Chase credit which will expire at the end of the year before I am issued another $300 credit (it's a yearly perk). At the same time I minimized the amount of points used from my Citi card.
Points fully paid for one direction, no money out of pocket. The Chase credit and a small credit already on the card almost fully paid for the other direction, leaving only about $10 to pay out of pocket. Using all of your credit card perks and points you've built up, you can make a flight virtually free, just knowing how all of this works to your advantage will save you massive amounts of money.