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Free Travel #3. NYC -> Amsterdam -> South Carolina for Free

Well, things haven’t been boring. Three trips to Europe in two months, with plenty of opportunity for extra money-making, free access to first-class lounges, and a surplus of jet lag. You can read about October’s free travel here, and March’s free trip here. Between lost luggage and delays, I came out ahead by $300 and 5,000 miles. More on that below, but first…

 

Flying NYC-AMS-CAE for $73.36

In the end, it took just 21 days from start of scheme to clicking “book.” I got a targeted offer in the mail from American Express: Open the Business Gold card and earn 75,000 miles. With a bit of finagling, I was able to meet the high minimum spend requirement. (Side note: we avoid that topic on the website to avoid threatening letters but you can read about it here, here, and here.)

 

The difficulty with those AmEx points is that they take forever to post to the account. There is one way around it. When you get the card, you can set your own statement closing date. That means your first cycle can be shorter than one month, leading to the quicker posting of your bonus points. For example…


 

You receive your card on August 1st. You’re ready to make your purchases quickly and don’t need the three-month period. You call AmEx and have the statement close on August 10th, instead of August 31st. This gets you your bonus points about twenty days sooner. An added problem is, regardless, that only your bonus points post after the first statement closing date. The points you earn through spending don’t post until after the next statement close: here, 41 days later instead of 61.

 

It feels complicated because it is. Brian Kelly, a.k.a. The Points Guy, explains it here. All you really need to know is that with AmEx you shouldn’t be in a rush. I, however, was. Luckily, I was misinformed by an AmEx rep that bonus points could be expedited, so I was able to talk a supervisor into doing it for me on that basis.

 

AmEx’s “Membership Rewards” points are transferable to lots of other reward programs. Not American Airlines or United (try Citi and Chase for those, respectively) but Delta! I transferred 60,000 of my 75,000 miles to Delta. Those made the entire trip possible, with the very manageable Delta surcharge of $73.36. Done! 21 days from start to finish. (Transfer to Delta was instant.)

 

But it actually get’s way better!

It was quite a profitable couple of months. I upgraded the Business Gold card to the Business Platinum card. Fancy! It comes with a $450 annual fee (that I didn’t pay) and lots of benefits. This was a good move because I wouldn’t have been approved for the Platinum card on its own, and its sign-up bonus was at the time much lower than that of the Gold.

 

With the Platinum Card, I was able to make $200 in purchases with American Airlines that were immediately reimbursed by the card. Technically, that $200 travel credit is supposed to go toward “airline fees,” such as baggage charges and in-flight extras. However, it’s common knowledge that one can buy gift cards of $100 or less with American Airlines and have them covered by AmEx’s computerized reimbursement system.

 

Then, I took another $85 in value by signing up for TSA PreCheck. I paid the application fee with my AmEx Platinum card and, like the gift cards, it was reimbursed. I was now up by $211.64. And it gets better! 

 

The Delta flight from Amsterdam to Atlanta was delayed, making me miss my flight to South Carolina. I arrived home all of two hours late. I called Delta the next day and after a 10-minute phone call, most of which was spent on hold, I was quickly offered a $100 voucher for a future Delta flight. I was up $311.64. The Delta credit wiped out their fee, making my “free travel” actually free. The other few hundred bucks were made over the same six weeks and on the same card, so they’re included in this article.

 

I canceled the AmEx card within 30 days of the $450 fee being charged, so I got a full refund. Before I did, though, I transfered the other 15,000 miles to Delta and forfeited the 10,000 earned miles that would’ve shown up too late. The only downside to it all is that I won’t be able to get the AmEx Platinum card sign-up bonus in the future because I’m a former cardholder. I’m not too bothered, however, because it will be quite some time until I could even qualify. Furthermore, there’s still the personal card (I had the business version).

 

All in all, it was a profitable couple of months– based on activity from just one card and one itinerary. Look out for an article soon about CitiBank trying to cheat me out of $390 and how I am now vengefully taking money back from them, $100 at a time. (The tally is currently at $390 + $200 + 5,000 points, stay tuned 😉 )

 

Conclusion

So, that’s it! It’s not exactly rocket science. Get the card, optimize the points. Remember that it can be more valuable to just pay for a flight and save your points for another time. Points are also valued by The Points Guy. Don’t redeem 60,000 points for a $300 flight. Wait for the $1,500 flight, redeeming them for 2.5 cents/point, instead of 0.5 cents.

 

The hard part is doing it over and over again. But this was transatlantic travel #3, and I’ll be flying all around the USA this summer in first class with my girlfriend for an average of $20 per flight. Stay tuned!

 

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great card to start your travel with. Upcoming articles will also cover how to have free meals in every airport you travel to, as well as hot showers, open bars, and comfy couches. (First- and business-class lounges.)

 

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