PointsAway reader Owais wants to visit his family in Pakistan next Summer. He’ll need to fly from Tampa or another nearby city in Florida and would like to spend at least a week and a half there, but is otherwise flexible in his planning.
Current Program Status
Owais is truly starting from scratch, with no meaningful points balance with any program.
Our challenge is to go from zero to one of the world’s harder to reach destinations. As always, where there’s a will, there’s a way with points. In this case, there really is one way that makes much sense, though how we accumulate enough points comes with some options. Let’s dive in.
Comparing the Options
Karachi is a difficult location to travel to on points, with its limited number of servicing carriers. The city’s main airport, Jinnah International, is serviced by just a few carriers associated with any alliances. Among these are Cathay Pacific, Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines. It’s the last of these that catches our interest.
Looking at the major alliances, a minimum of 90,000 American miles roundtrip in Economy with OneWorld carriers, 80,000 Delta miles roundtrip in Economy on SkyTeam carriers and 80,000 United miles roundtrip in Economy on Star Alliance carriers.
Award flexibility and availability when booking through Delta is typically abysmal at the low end of the chart, and it’s difficult to amass such a substantial number of miles quickly in their program. United seems to be the clear answer given its lower redemption cost than American and OneWorld and its alliance partnership with Turkish Airlines.
A few weeks ago, we pointed out how Turkish Airlines is an excellent option when traveling to this neck of the woods.
This is because Turkish Airlines does not offer First Class, with Business Class serving as its best class of service. This is despite Turkish Airlines’ impressive business class, which includes spacious seating that converts into a bed, a full menu of food and beverages and access to the International Lounge in Istanbul, which includes shower facilities and all day food and beverage privileges.
Business Saver tickets come in at 60,000 miles each way, providing great value in this case compared to Saver Economy tickets that require 40,000 miles each way.
Plotting the Route
There’s generally good availability throughout the Summer at present for Saver Economy and Saver Business tickets. We looked at a trip between June 3rd and June 19th as an example.
The most direct routing from Tampa would take Owais from Tampa to Washington (Dulles), on to Istanbul, then on to Karachi.
You’ll notice trip durations of 24 and 27 hours, which is one reason we’re so keen to eye that Business Class option.
Despite being configured based on the Business Class option, total taxes and fees come back at just $137.60. Notice the price discrepancy between the Coach and Business Class tickets. In this case, Owais could nab $7,528.60 of additional value for just 40,000 more miles than the Economy option.
This itinerary is the pattern to follow if Owais wishes to travel purely from Tampa to Karachi and back. However, he has the option to utilize a stopover or open-jaw to visit another city along the way if he’d like by taking a less direct route. Many stop in London, for example, if they don’t take advantage of Turkish’s direct service from Washington to Istanbul. The same number of miles will be required in any case, but the value of the trip could rise even higher.
Finding the Miles
Our first goal is to make it to 80,000 United miles, enough to cover the roundtrip in Economy. Our bonus goal is to make it to 120,000 miles so Owais can fly in style.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great place to start our earnings spree with 40,000 Ultimate Rewards Points after $3,000+ in purchases within the first 3 months. Sapphire Preferred earns 2x points on travel and dining expenses, making it great for everyday use for most people.
Ultimate Rewards points transfer at a 1:1 ratio to United among many others. That means Sapphire Preferred’s sign-up bonus can effectively be converted into more United miles than are offered by the United MileagePlus card, which offers only 30,000 miles and lacks Sapphire’s versatility.
The Chase Ink Bold and Plus both earn 50,000 Ultimate Rewards Points after $5,000+ in purchases within the first 3 months. Ink earns 5x points on Telecom expenses and Office Supply store purchases and 2x points on Hotels and Gas.
Weathering the Worries
The sign-up bonuses of these two cards alone is enough to front the entire trip in Economy. Adding in a safely assumed average earnings of two points per dollar in meeting the minimum spend requirement, Owais should have at least 106,000 miles to start.
Still, it’s awfully rare for us to recommend two card sign-ups to help facilitate a single trip. We’re sure Owais has some questions.
First, even though Ink is a business card, Owais is likely eligible, even if he doesn’t think so right now. Our guide to business cards explains what makes them valuable, sets them apart from personal cards and makes them a viable choice for far more people than you might expect.
Second, a total minimum spend requirement of $8,000 is steep. Owais may want to polish off one before applying for the second accordingly, though this would delay his ability to book the trip and potentially impact availability. Our guide to conquering minimum spend requirements might prove helpful.
Owais may worry about the effect holding multiple cards may have on his credit, as well, but as we explain in our credit primer, those with relatively limited sources of credit actually stand to gain from expanding their card portfolio thanks to a reduction in their credit utilization, a major component of every credit score.
Finally, we’re still not all the way to our target of 120,000 miles, falling roughly 14,000 miles short. There are several ways we can help close this gap.
Closing the Gap
First, shopping in the Ultimate Rewards Mall can be an extraordinary points-earning multiplier. For example, purchases from Kohl’s earn an extra 10 points per $1 simply for clicking through the UR Mall. Purchases from Staples, Office Max and Office Depot’s websites earn an extra 3 points per $1. Combine this with the 5x points earned on Ink at Office Supply stores and you’re effectively earning 8x points on each dollar spent.
Second, signing up for MileagePlus Dining pays out an extra 3 miles per $1 spent at participating restaurants. Combined with Sapphire Preferred’s 2x points on dining, that works out to an effective 5x points for enjoying a good meal.
Third, Owais can always purchase a few miles from United to put his balance over the top. Let’s say he can get to 115,000 miles by effectively taking advantage of these cards’ sign-up and category bonuses. Purchasing the final 5,000 miles at 3.7¢ each for a total of $188.13 could make sense if needed, even though it wouldn’t make sense to purchase a massive amount of miles at this rate. Purchasing some miles can even help in meeting the minimum spend requirement for Sapphire, after all, and will earn 2x points as a travel expense, lowering the effective cost to 3.5¢ per mile. We’ll assume Owais does precisely this in our wrap-up.
Even when trying to travel somewhere as far-flung as Karachi, miles can be a real lifesaver. Whether Owais saves more than $1,800 on an Economy flight or more than $9,400 on a Business Class with a bit of clever strategy, there’s no doubt there’s plenty of value to be found here.
|Trip Component||Cash Price||Points + Cash||Savings|
|United and Turkish Airlines : TPA -> IAD -> IST -> KHI||$9,407.70||115,000 United Miles via Ultimate Rewards Transfer + 5,000 United Miles Purchased for $188.13 + $137.60 Taxes/Fees||$9,081.97|
|Total:||$9,407.70||115,000 United Miles via Transfer + $325.73 Cash.||$9,081.97 (96.5% Savings)|