I Haven’t Paid for a Business Class Flight in 10 Years — Here’s How I Did It

Sip champagne and stretch your legs next time you fly.

In 2008, my wife and booked our first flight in business class and we had no idea what was in store for us. The priority check-in was a breeze and our bags were checked for free, but once on-board we still expected to be ordered to sit down and buckle up, just as always. Instead, the flight attendant smiled and said, “Welcome on board Mr. and Mrs. Steele, could I offer you a glass of champagne?”

The remainder of our 10-hour flight from Denver to Frankfurt, Germany featured delicately presented gourmet meals, seats that turned into beds and free amenity kits. We were giddy from being pampered during the whole flight, but we practically burst out laughing when they wheeled out the dessert cart!

Since then, our family has grown, and we have taken about a dozen business class award flights with our three children to Europe, the Middle East and South America. In fact, we always use frequent flyer miles for these vacations, and we haven’t paid for any flights in over five years, including dozens of domestic trips.

How I Figured Out Frequent Flyer Miles

Many travelers pay little attention to frequent flyer miles. When they bother to sign up for these programs and include their number in their reservation, they still fail to check their balances for years at a time. I get it — I used to occasionally redeem my miles for a free domestic flight in economy class, and that was about it.

But then I started traveling regularly for work, and started earning more miles. At the same time, my wife and I were renovating our house, and using our airline credit card often. Trying to learn how to make the most of these opportunities, I discovered a whole community of award travel enthusiasts (I dislike the term “travel hackers,” which can imply illegal activities) contributing online to blogs and discussion boards. I absorbed everything I could, even attending seminars for frequent travelers.

Today, I’m a full-time freelance contributor to sites such The Points Guy that teach readers how to earn and spend travel rewards picked up from their credit cards and other sources.

Check Out: Best Travel Credit Cards

How You Can Enjoy Business Class Travel — for Free

Over the past 10 years, I’ve arrived at a four-part formula that you can use to earn award flights in business class:

Earn the Best Bonuses

Jump-start your path to award travel by applying for credit cards that offer the most generous sign-up bonuses. If you are new to this, good places to start include the 50,000 points offered by the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Sapphire Reserve cards (which can be transferred to miles), the 50,000 miles offered by the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard and the 100,000 “avios” (essentially points) offered by the The British Airways Visa Signature card from Chase.

Maximize Your Credit Card Spending

I always use the credit card that offers the most valuable rewards for a particular purchase. For example, I use my Chase Sapphire Reserve for travel and dining purchases that earn triple points per dollar. The American Express Gold card features quadruple points at US supermarkets and the Chase Freedom Unlimited is great for earning 1.5 points everywhere else. I also look for ways to earn credit card rewards when paying for expenses such as healthcare, insurance and child care.

Finally, I charge all my business expenses, and I always volunteer to use my credit cards to make purchases for those who pay me back.

Look for Bonus Rewards

Pretty much every airline, hotel and credit card rewards program offers numerous ways to earn bonuses, but you have to find them and opt in. These could be shopping rewards, dining rewards, or just a seasonal incentives to fly, stay or buy a certain amount.

Related: 9 Best Hotel Rewards Programs That Save You the Most Money

Spend Wisely

How you spend your rewards is at least as important as how you earn them. Do your research, try to plan your award travel far in advance and always book the least expensive “saver” level award seats. Also, use a program like Award Wallet that tracks all of your rewards and when they expire.

What to Know Before You Sign Up for a Rewards Credit Card

Reward credit cards are best used by those who avoid interest charges by paying their monthly balances in full and on-time. Do this and your credit score will be just fine, even if you have several credit cards. But if you carry a balance on your credit cards, then earning rewards this way is not for you.

Don’t Miss: Turn Your Travel Dream Into a Reality With Budget Tips From These Globe-Trotting Pros

Earning free flights isn’t rocket science, but you need to take it seriously to accumulate enough to fly in business class. Spend some time and effort to learn the nuances of your favorite rewards program, and it will all be worth it when you find yourself luxuriating in business class. Follow my four point plan, and you’ll enjoy free flights in business class even sooner than you might have thought.

Read more about traveling the world — for practically free.

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Editorial Note: This content is not provided by American Express. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone and have not been endorsed by American Express.