My dad used to tell me: "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." That's not always true.
Case in point: My wife, a close friend of ours who we regard as our daughter, and I recently enjoyed an unforgettable vacation in Greece. I paid the sum of $304.71 for the three of us! This included: (1) airfare from Columbus, Ohio to Athens, Greece (departure); (2) four days at an Airbnb in Athens (Plaka); (3) airfare from Athens, Greece to Thessaloniki, Greece; (4) five days at an Airbnb in Thessaloniki (Waterfront); (5) three days at an Airbnb in Halkidiki (Sithonia); and (6) airfare from Thessaloniki, Greece to Columbus, Ohio (return). In other words, the average price per person for all of the aforementioned items came to $101.57! (We also stayed six days in Thassos, a beautiful Greek island; however, I paid a separate amount for our Vrbo in the village of Skala Sotiros which was not part of the $304.71.)
Say what? Actually, it was less than that when you factor in the perks and credit card rewards earned.
Do you want to learn more? Read on!
All opinions and reviews expressed herein are the author's alone and have not been reviewed or approved by any credit card issuer, airline, bank, hotel chain, or other entity. Some of the credit card offers and links appearing in this article are from companies from which we may receive commission or a referral bonus when you click on the link. You do not need to use our links but we appreciate it when you do—it helps support our website! Some of the credit card offers mentioned herein are time-sensitive and may no longer be available.
How to Book Your Award Flight
Although this is not a hard and fast rule, I generally recommend that you book your Award Flight first—before booking your hotel. Award availability can dry up, and you don't want to book your hotel only to find out that the price for your Award Flight has doubled, or even tripled!
I used United MileagePlus®—the frequent-flyer program of United Airlines—to book our Award Flights. Round trip flights—from the United States to Europe—can be found for 60,000 miles! United also has a program known as the Excursionist Perk which allows you to book your Award Flight as "Multi-city." Essentially, this allows you to add a free one-way award segment to your booking. It also allows for an open-jaw itinerary; however, some requirements must be met in order to qualify for this perk.
I was able to take advantage of United's Excursionist Perk. This itinerary included: (1) a departing flight from Columbus, Ohio to Athens, Greece; (2) an intra-Europe flight from Athens to Thessaloniki after 4 days spent in Athens; and (3) a return flight from Thessaloniki to Columbus. For 60,000 miles per person, the intra-Europe flight (ATH to SKG) was essentially free—with the exception of taxes and fees—which is standard on Award Flights.
Because there were 3 of us, I used 180,000 miles plus $304.71 in taxes and fees.
How much cash would this same itinerary cost me? When you factor in the 1st checked bag, it would have amounted to ~$4,430!
In other words, I redeemed my 180,000 United miles at a value of ~2.3 cents per point! I strive to get at least 1.5 cents per point when redeeming my miles/ points.
How to Book Your Airbnb as an "Award Stay"
I used Chase's Pay Yourself Back℠ program in order to "erase" my Airbnb purchases in Greece. Pay Yourself Back℠ allows you to turn your available Ultimate Rewards® points into a statement credit. Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card gives you a 25% boost on your points whereas Chase Sapphire Reserve® gives you a 50% boost!
Airbnb is an eligible category through June 30, 2022. I think it is great that Chase has Airbnb as an eligible category. Hopefully, Chase will extend Airbnb beyond June 30, 2022. All eligible transactions need to be redeemed within 90 days of the posting date.
I recently product changed my Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card to the Chase Sapphire Reserve® to take advantage of the 50% boost in points—or a 1.5 cents per point valuation—and erase Airbnb charges in Athens, Thessaloniki, and Halkidiki. I used a total of 124,945 Ultimate Rewards® points. This "erased" $1,874.19 in charges from my trip! I also earned 5,623 Ultimate Rewards® points! In other words, not only did I pay $0 for these stays, I earned ~$84 toward future travel expenses (by assigning a value of 1.5 cents per point).
I like to "earn and burn" my points as opposed to hoarding them. Loyalty programs are constantly being devalued over time.
How to Choose Your Credit Card
Choosing the right credit card is important in your Award Travel journey. You will want to focus on Flexible Points Credit Cards. Nevertheless, co-branded credit cards do have their place in your credit card portfolio.
In my opinion, the best credit card to get started with is the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. The current sign-up bonus is 60,000 Ultimate Rewards® points. United Airlines is a transfer partner of Chase. Hence, you can transfer 60,000 Ultimate Rewards® points to United MileagePlus® and book a round-trip Saver Award from the United States to Europe for 60,000 miles! You can apply for this card here! You can also learn more about this card in the following post: Chase Sapphire Preferred—The Best Credit Card Just Got Better!
Both my wife and I were able to apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. In the Award Travel arena, this is colloquially known as two-player mode. When my wife applied, the sign-up bonus was 80,000 Ultimate Rewards® points—more than the 60,000 Ultimate Rewards® points offer I received. She was approved—even though she was unemployed. This resulted in 140,000 Ultimate Rewards® points + points earned on spend! You can also earn 15,000 Ultimate Rewards® points for referring your spouse—or friend—who gets the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.
The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act amendment in 2013 allow stay-at-home spouses to include income from their spouses if they have a reasonable expectation of access to it. To learn more about this strategy, see the following post: Getting Approved for a Credit Card While Unemployed—Why You Don't Want to Miss Out!
Another credit card that helped us get the miles we needed for our trip to Greece was the United℠ Explorer Card. When I originally applied for it, it had a 70,000 miles sign-up bonus. It currently has a 70,000 miles sign-up bonus. This is more than enough miles to book a round-trip Saver Award from the United States to Europe! Two nice perks about this card include: (1) Free first checked bag for the primary Cardmember and one companion—up to $140 per roundtrip; and (2) Up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck. We used our Global Entry when we returned from Greece and it probably saved us over an hour in line when going through customs! You can apply for this card here!
My wife applied for the United Quest℠ Card. At the time, the sign-up bonus was 100,000 miles! It is currently 80,000 miles. It includes some nice perks: (1) $125 annual United purchase credit; (2) Two 5,000-mile anniversary award flight credits; and (3) Up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck. We used this credit card to purchase the Award Flights through United; as a result, we will be getting $125 back from the $304.71 payment and 5,000 miles! If I am able to redeem a future Award Flight at 2.3 cents per point, the 5,000 miles will be worth ~$115! You can apply for this card here! You can also learn more about this card in the following post: United Quest Card—The Best Airline Credit Card!
Additional credit cards that will help you increase your stash of Ultimate Rewards® are: Chase Freedom Unlimited® and Chase Freedom Flex℠. Both currently have a sign-up bonus of 20,000 Ultimate Rewards® points. My wife and I have both of these cards. When paired with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve® they make up the "Chase Trifecta." The "Chase trifecta" is a term known by Chase Ultimate Rewards® enthusiasts. Essentially, it is strategically combining three Chase credit cards to boost their rewards earning potential. Not all Chase-branded credit cards "qualify" for this special designation. You can apply for both of these cards here! You can learn more about these cards in the following posts: Chase Freedom Unlimited—Don't Miss Out on This Card! Chase Freedom Flex—A Remarkable No Annual Fee Card!
By doing a little math, you can see how easy it is to accumulate the points and miles you need to travel to a different country for "almost free." Technically, an argument could be made that I didn't pay $304.71 for the 3 of us to fly and stay in 3 cities in Greece. From a certain perspective, I received a credit of $19.29! In other words, the 5,623 Ultimate Rewards® earned from the Airbnb purchases or $84 value + the $125 annual United purchase credit + the 5,000-mile anniversary award flight credit or $115 value more than offset what I paid!
"Credit cards open the door to some amazing Award Travel redemptions."