We have a motto here at Thrifty Traveler: The best use of points and miles is for a flight you wouldn't otherwise take. And we lived up to that motto in 2019. And then some.
There was a ridiculous first class mistake fare booked using credit card points, a $20,000 flight to Japan booked with miles, a trip around the world, and more. Our entire team did our best to get the most out of our points and miles this past year. If you add just these few flights up, it's at least $100,000 in airfare … all booked for free, or nearly free.
Here's a look at our favorite redemptions of 2019.
Jared, Founder and CEO: Capitalizing on an Airline's Mistake
The hotter the deal, the quicker you have to book to get it. And this mistake fare was about as hot as they come.
In the final gasp of 2018, Cathay Pacific mistakenly sold first class fares for under $1,000 round-trip. The one hitch was that these flights originated in Vietnam before flying to the U.S. and back – not the reverse.
But that price was too good to pass up. Cathay Pacific is one of the best airlines in the world, and these flights typically cost $13,500 or more. Even using miles like American AAdvantage miles, these first class flights would run 110,000 each way – per person.
But when cash prices are cheap, it's a great chance to use credit card points to book airfare. Not only does it make your flights completely free, but you can still earn miles after taking the flight – in this case, extremely valuable Alaska Airlines miles.
So it was time to put one of the most valuable perks of the Business Platinum Card from American Express to use. Booking first or business class using points from this card, you can get a 35% discount on your fare. That brought the price of two round-trip first class tickets for my wife, Erica, and I down to just over 65,000 points each.
And because we booked with points, we earned a whopping 45,000 Alaska miles each! Needless to say, this redemption was worth every single point.
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Had an amazing flight from Vancouver to Hong Kong in first class on @cathaypacific. We booked the Cathay Pacific mistake fare from last NYE for only $1k! The best part is instead of cash we booked the fare with Amex Membership Rewards. It normally would have cost 100k points but we used the 35% rebate on the Amex Biz Platinum card. Total points cost was 65k each roundtrip HAN-HKG-YVR. Normal price around $15k 🤯
Nick, Co-Founder: Flying to Japan in Style
This is it: One of the absolute best deals in the world of points and miles. And my favorite redemption to date after 10 years of using points and miles.
Flying first class to Japan on All Nippon Airways (ANA) isn't cheap – it typically costs more than $20,000 round-trip. Using United Airlines miles would still run you 110,000 miles each way.
That's what makes using Virgin Atlantic miles to book ANA flights such a steal: The airline charges just 110,000 miles round-trip from the West Coast, or 120,000 miles round-trip from the Midwest or East Coast.
But it gets even better. Thanks to a 30% transfer bonus to Virgin Atlantic, I was able to book round-trip flights from Chicago-O'Hare (ORD) to Tokyo-Haneda (HND) with just 93,000 American Express points.
ANA first class was incredible, with some of the best food and drink you'll have in the sky. Read our full review of the experience and you'll see why it's so great.
Booking ANA flights with Virgin Atlantic isn't the most straightforward process, as you can't simply do it online. But read up on all the steps to pull off this awesome redemption in 2020.
Erica (aka Mrs. TT), COO: Emirates First to the Maldives
Emirates + the Maldives = a winning formula for luxury. Yet somehow, this redemption went even further.
Flying Emirates First Class, equipped with showers and an onboard bar, is a bucket list item for many travelers. One of the few ways to reasonably do it on points these days is with Alaska Airlines miles, as most other airline programs pass on exorbitant cash fees.
Jared and I used 150,000 Alaska Airlines miles each to fly from San Francisco (SFO) to Dubai (DXB) on Emirates' legendary Airbus A380. But we didn't stop there.
When using Alaska miles to fly Emirates, the airline treats the Maldives as part of the Middle East. That meant we could continue on to the Maldives without paying a mile or cent more.
Better yet, our flight from Dubai to Male (MLE) was on Emirates' new first class, equipped with just six fully enclosed suites. This was easily the best first class seat I've flown in, and it brings a whole new meaning to the word “luxury.” Read our full review of the flight and you'll see what I mean.
Mikhala, Member Experience Specialist: Flying to Spain on a Budget
What's better than a cheap flight? A free flight.
Back when flights to Spain had dropped to record lows, I was on the hunt for a bargain. A Thrifty Traveler Premium alert delivered: Flights from Boston (BOS) or New York City (JFK) to Madrid (MAD) for just $230 round-trip.
This was the perfect chance to put a stash of Chase Ultimate Rewards points to use. Because I have the Chase Sapphire Preferred, every point is worth 1.25 cents toward travel when booking through Chase. That meant I could book this flight for just under 20,000 Chase points – a third of the card's 60,000-point sign-up bonus you receive after spending $4,000 in the first three months.
Add on a cheap positioning flight to Boston, and I'm off!
Kyle, Editor-in-Chief: Around the World in 6 Days
Between nine flights and 22,084 miles, how am I supposed to choose just one?
Thrifty Traveler Premium Flight Deal Analyst Jon and I flew around the world in just six days earlier this year, an incredible whirlwind trip. We explored Muscat, Oman, struggled (but eventually succeeded) getting visa-free entry into China, popped down to Hong Kong, flew to Tokyo, then headed home.
As with all things using points and miles, putting this trip together was like a 10,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. Getting all the pieces to fit with award availability on the right dates while maximizing our points and miles.
But the highlight for me was our Qatar Airways First Class flight from Doha (DOH) to Guangzhou, China (CAN). Not only did we get to spend a few hours in the unbelievable Al Safwa First Class Lounge, but it's a serious sweet spot for using American AAdvantage miles.
While first class flights between Europe and the Middle East cost 62,500 AAdvantage miles for a shorter trip, we booked this eight-hour flight to China for just 50,000 AAdvantage miles.
My first flight on an Airbus A380 will be tough to beat. The service was impeccable, the food and drink outstanding. But best of all, we had the entire first class cabin – and even the onboard bar – to ourselves.
Jon, Flight Deal Analyst: Australia for Free
While Qatar Airways halfway across the world in business and first class was insane, another redemption from 2019 stands out to me.
My work revolves around finding the cheapest flight deals in the world, and in early 2019 Thrifty Traveler Premium found one of the best deals to Australia I've ever seen: $460 for the nonstop, round-trip flight from Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) to Sydney (Sydney) on Qantas.
It was part of a slew of some unbelievably cheap fares to Australia in the first few months of 2019. And I couldn't resist.
Using Chase Ultimate Rewards points from my Chase Sapphire Reserve, I booked flights for my fiance and I for less than 30,000 points each. A few thousand more Chase points to get from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Dallas, and we were on our way. Considering most flights down under cost at least $1,200 per person, this was a steal.
Look at this list, and you'll see just how far points and miles can really go. Many of these flights were booked using just a single welcome bonus from one credit card. But whether you want to fly in style or just fly more often, points and miles can help get you there.
If you need help sorting out which credit card is right for you or the best way to use your miles, we offer free credit card consulting to all Thrifty Traveler Premium members.