How You Can Fly First Class, Get a Free Stay and More with Credit Card Points

Mid section portrait of unrecognizable businessman typing on keyboard while using laptop during first class flight in plane, copy space.
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You like to travel in style, but you’re not into paying top-dollar for first-class plane tickets and luxury hotels. Thankfully, there’s plenty of credit cards that will foot the bill for you — in the form of points.

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Many credit cards come with perks that allow you to rack up points with every purchase. Essentially, this allows you to earn travel rewards while spending money on essentials like gas and groceries.

Of course, all credit cards don’t offer the same travel benefits, so John Garner, founder and CEO of credit card rewards optimization app Card Curator, emphasized the importance of choosing wisely.

“The first step in taking advantage of credit card signup offers is deciding what you want to do with the offers and which destination you want to travel to,” he said. “By deciding where you want to go, you can then start organizing the required steps to achieve that free first-class flight and free hotel stay.”

After choosing your desired travel destination, he said you’ll need to see which airlines fly there, so you can compare first-class prices on each carrier to determine which is most affordable. However, he noted that not all airlines have a first-class cabin, with most topping out at business class seats.

“After choosing the airline, you can then research the best ways to go about achieving the miles required to book that first-class flight,” he said. “Some airline loyalty programs will require you to earn miles directly, but for most programs, you can earn the miles through a transferable banking points program like Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards or Citi ThankYou Points.”

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Garner said this can literally be your ticket to a free flight.

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“For example, you could fly Lufthansa First Class to most places in Europe for 87,000 miles one way through Avianca LifeMiles, or for 174,000 miles round trip,” he said.

To earn the required Avianca LifeMiles, he said you can apply for the AMEX Platinum Card, which is currently offering 100,000 membership rewards points as a signup offer — after purchasing $6,000 with the card during your first six months of membership.

Additionally, he said you can apply for the Citi ThankYou Premier Card, which is currently offering 80,000 points as a sign-up offer — after spending $4,000 with the card in the first three months of opening an account.

“Both cards transfer from their respective banking programs to Avianca, and would provide you with more than enough miles to book a first-class round trip on Lufthansa,” he said. “However, availability on Lufthansa First Class can be scarce, so it’s better to book the furthest out as possible from your planned trip dates — or within 15 days of takeoff.”

When it comes to free hotel stays, Garner said you can transfer your leftover airline points to hotel programs, such as Hilton, Marriott and Choice. He said you can then apply for the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Card, which offers 125,000 points and a free night as a sign-up bonus — after you spend $5,000 in the first three months of opening an account.

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Then, For example, he said if you had 31,000 leftover AMEX points, when combined with the 125,000 new Marriott points, you’ll have more than 150,000 total Marriott points.

“This can be enough for a three-night’s stay at a Category 6 hotel — very nice —  or a four-night’s stay at a Category 5 hotel — quite nice — and a six-night’s stay at a Category 4 hotel — pretty nice,” he said. “To summarize, with just three credit cards, a person could fly roundtrip in first class to Europe on one of the nicest first-class products out there, as well as stay at a very nice hotel for three nights for free at one the largest hotel chains in the world.”

For travel in October 2021, a roundtrip first-class ticket — for a seven-day trip — on Lufthansa from New York City to London starts at $9,210. Additionally, the average daily rate for a hotel room was $133.69, during the week ending Sept. 25, 2021, according to global hospitality industry benchmarking, analytics and marketplace insights company STR.

Therefore, taking the time to strategically choose credit cards that offer the travel rewards you need can save you serious cash. Whether you’re a frequent globetrotter or looking for ways to cut costs on your annual family vacation, using credit card points for travel can be a fantastic way to enjoy a seriously high-class trip on a budget.

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Last updated: Oct. 5, 2021


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