I’m not a big fan of credit cards but I am a fan of free travel. I’m an even bigger fan of free travel while sitting in 1st class. That’s exactly what happened to me. I went from paying hundreds of dollars for a flight to flying 1st class for free. Let me share exactly how I successfully completed my first travel hack to 1st Class with American Airlines.
Over the past couple of years my wife and I have condensed the bulk of our purchases to one credit card. The card is a simple cash back credit card offered through Costco (love them). It’s called the Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citibank (dislike them).
A cash back credit is simple. My preference with all things money is to keep things simple.
When I use my credit card I get a percentage back of the purchase amount in cash on a yearly basis. The cash back card isn’t the perfect card for us but it’s very close.
In year’s past we have used the cash back for Christmas gifts and this past year to buy individual stocks like Costco. Really the full circle of life. Buying Costco stock after making purchases from Costco with your Costco credit card.
The credit card has no annual fees, no foreign transaction fees like for this past year’s Italy trip, and can be used at Costco along with a few other perks.
Cash back rewards don’t get you a free hotel night stay or a free 1st class ticket with American Airlines. More on that soon.
It really means to use airline miles to purchase flights for a reduced amount or even free (minus taxes, surcharges, etc.). Miles or reward points can be used for entire vacations, hotel stays, car rentals, and more.
In early 2020 when traveling via airplane was actually a thing I thought about our upcoming trips and travel expenses that lie ahead. In fact I had plans for a few trips.
What better way to save a few dollars then by travel hacking with a credit card. While my cash back card would have received cash back on the purchase price, the goal with travel hacking is to reduce the price of the flight or even fly for free.
Oftentimes credit cards will offer bonus or introduction miles to entice you to become a customer and use their credit card.
Credit card companies are betting that you will use the credit card and make purchases (they receive a small fee, but no charge to you ) and then not pay your bill in full (charging you double digit interest and making boat loads of money).
They have a couple different fees that may or may not apply based on the credit card you choose. The short of it is they wave a free gift in front of you and hope you will screw it all up and pay them a bunch of money to negate any cost related to that former “free gift”.
I have induced a couple things over the last two (2) years of living in South Florida.
After figuring all of that out I ended up looking for an American Airlines credit card that offered a mileage perk to sign up.
I landed on the Citi (still don’t like them) Business AAdvantage Platinum card, a business card for Even Steven Money LLC. Although they do have a personal credit card available which offers less of a sign on bonus.
By signing up and making purchases of $4,000 over the first four (4) months I would receive 65,000 miles to fly the friendly skies using American Airlines.
Besides receiving the bonus miles for signing up I also received a few perks that I liked.
65,000 miles varies in terms of flight usage but roughly speaking it’s the equivalent of two (2) flights within the US. Maybe I could travel hack a 1st class ticket with American Airlines.
Again this varies but .01 cent per mile or $650 for the 65,000 miles, based on comparing a few websites from a simple Google search. Since our business and family have no problem spending $1,000 a month, we knocked it all out and received the bonus mileage.
As you may have guessed 2020 happened and most of our travel has been postponed until next year, please be next year, pretty please.
So my 65,000 miles have been sitting in my American Airlines Advantage account collecting dust. Until they weren’t.
Recently my wife and I talked about the opportunity to check in on my retired parents. Based on recent conversations it made sense to fly out and see where I could help but also enjoy my parent’s company as we don’t see each other very often being 2,000+ miles away.
The flight and travel certainly had it risks and I took every precaution I could.
One of the first things I do when looking for flights is search through Google flights. My destination was set, but my dates were not exact. This caused me to search for a one-way flight rather than a round trip ticket. 1st class didn’t even cross my mind at this point.
The flights in September were below regular pricing as one would expect with a pandemic happening. I paid around $100 for the flight but upgraded to at least choose my own seat and was all in for $118.
Return flights prices were rather low so I decided against putting a fixed date on my return. My wife and I agreed I would be staying in between one to three (1-3) weeks.
I decided paying $100 for a flight was in line with our travel expenses and a relatively cheap flight at that. Also based on the flight reward chart I would have redeemed between 12,500-20,000 miles which would have been below .01 per mile.
Once I figured out my return date I quickly realized that the return trips increased in price. Flights that were hovering around $100 were now closer to $200 for a one way flight.
The flights were still mostly reasonable but my preference was to fly direct and for approximately the same price as my incoming flight.
At this time I realized that using my miles could really be a possibility. With two (2) direct flights available I quickly had the miles pulled up. The morning flight which I preferred was 19,000 miles and the afternoon flight was 15,000 miles interestly enough.
Google flights confirmed that each ticket would be $189 so a little to my surprise at the increased mileage. The morning flight worked out to ~.01 cent per mile and the afternoon flight worked out to ~.013 cents per mile.
Not a huge difference but as a not so frequent flyer I place my miles with high regards and want to use my miles preferably when value presents itself.
To my surprise I noticed flights were also available to fly 1st class. Now I have sat in 1st class but I have truly never purchased a 1st class seat, this could be the first time!
Wait how much and how many miles? To my surprise the morning flight, my preferred flight was 25,000 miles, only a 6,000 mile increase from sitting in economy class. I mean the leg room alone for a tall guy could be worth 6,000 miles.
Since I don’t fly 1st class I had to look up the going price for such an indulgence.
After a few extra clicks on Google flights the current price was $443 for a one way 1st class ticket. I would not normally buy a 1st class ticket, but the way this was working out my miles were soon to be redeemed.
Yes I need to know if I am getting value for my miles. $443 for 25,000 miles works out to be ~.018 cents per mile and not far off from getting .02 cents per mile.
Just like that I redeemed the 25,000 miles and paid $5.60 for taxes and fees and I was sitting in 1st class for the next 4+ hours. Just like that I had successfully completed my first travel hack to 1st Class with American Airlines.
I’m pretty new to 1st class so I wanted to share some of the perks that I used during my flight.
Because of my American Airlines credit card my first bag could have been checked for free. My plan would have been to check one (bag), carry on another, and the last bag would have been a personal item. I could have made it work.
I decided to use the kiosk instead of the priority customer service line. My thoughts were that it would be quicker. Poor choice by me.
The baggage tag wasn’t exactly cooperating with my luggage. The “regular” customer service agent wasn’t exactly brimming with smiles to help me figure it out. In the priority lane my guess is they do that for you.
Priority boarding is a tough call as I don’t really like getting on the plane early as I like to stand as much as possible before the flight. In most cases I am one of the last groups to board the plane so it’s not like I have much choice anyways.
However, I take all that back when you are flying 1st class because you don’t have to wait for anything or anyone. You are sitting and relaxing in a comfortable chair while the plan boards.
Everything else about the 1st class flight was great.
I’m sure as a newbie I missed on a few things that I was unaware of. I mean the person sitting next to me saw me struggle opening the drink holder and opened it for me.
I’m not even sure if I could open the tray table without the same help, thankfully it didn’t come to that.
While 2020 has not been the best year for travel, this too shall end.
Using a credit card and especially the bonus miles that came along with it certainly has proved it’s worth so far. It already has already afforded me a $500+ flight value by using less than 40% of my sign on bonus miles.
That’s my travel hack to 1st class with American Airlines and I’m sticking to it.
Nobody paid me to write about these credit cards, these happen to be the credit cards I currently use. The links provided don’t make me any money, but sure would be nice if they did. Remember I’m just some guy on the internet make sure to do your own research and consult a licensed professional when making financial decisions.
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