Portland Based Flyer looking for Travel Savings – Earning The Miles

Monday 13th, October 2014 / 07:08 Written by
Portland Based Flyer looking for Travel Savings – Earning The Miles
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This is an article in a series where I answer reader questions.

This is a 2 part series. In the first article, I focused on the best routes and currencies. In this article, I will focus on how to earn the currencies she needs.

The Skinny

Jenny is a reader who just moved Portland from Vancouver. She wants to travel to Vancouver regularly, with less regular trips to Edmonton and Boston.

I suggest she use British Airways Avios to buy her trips to Vancouver and use Alaska Airlines miles to book her trips to Edmonton and Boston. She can combine these trips into a single itinerary and take her stopovers in Portland to essentially get 2 trips out of each itinerary.

I think the best way to earn miles will be through credit cards. Sign up bonuses on credit cards can get her most of the miles she needs. If she is in the US, she can likely get away with applying for 1-2 card each year and have all of her travel requests paid for.

Question (recap):

Hi Al,

I am from Vancouver and recently moved to Portland, OR. I want to travel back to Vancouver every month to see my family and friends who are there. My mom lives in Edmonton and my sister lives on the East Coast in Boston. Our family usually meets in Vancouver, but I do like to visit both Boston and Edmonton about once per year each. I usually take an international trip each year but that varies and sometimes I can get work to pay for it.

My mom has offered to pay for some of my trips with her credit card points. I have lived in the US for a while so I can actually get a US based credit card myself and use the points from the best card to pay for my flights.

Do you have any suggestions on what I can do to get these routes for the best price?

-Jenny

Thanks Jenny for the question. I would love to help you out.

Recap of Part 1

Let’s just quickly recap what we discussed in the previous article.

For flights between Portland and Vancouver, use British Airways Avios to book flights on Alaska Airlines.

For flights between Edmonton and Portland and for flights between Boston and Portland, it is a good idea to combine 2 itineraries into a single one with a stopover in Portland. This can be done using Alaska Airlines miles.

Earning Miles

There are a few ways you can earn miles with British Airways and Alaska Airlines. As is the case in the current loyalty award space, earning miles is going to be easiest done using credit cards. Ill address a few ways that you can earn miles, but credit cards are going to be the only way you can get a significant balance.

Miles Earned from Flying

British Airways Avios

If you are interested in earning miles from flying, British Airways is going to be a partner of all the OneWorld airlines. For airlines that have a decent footprint into North America, you are looking at American Airlines, US Airways, Cathay Pacific, British Airways and JAL. If you are ever paying cash for tickets on these airlines, you can credit you’re the miles you would earn to British Airways.

Personally, I like this approach. Last year, I sent my parents from Toronto to Dubai on British Airways flights. In one overseas flight, they were able to earn 14000 Avios. This translates into 3 one-way flights between Toronto and New York, or in your case, Vancouver and Portland.

Alaska Miles

Alaska partners with lots of different airlines, though they don’t belong to a specific alliance. American, Delta, British Airways, Cathay and Emirates are ones to consider.

In the example above, I could have had my parents go on an Emirates flight and at that point I would have credited the miles earned to Alaska Airlines. Unfortunately, Alaska only credits ½ the actual miles flown for Emirates flights.

Miles Earned from Credit Cards

I’ll separate this into 2 parts as the cards that you will choose as a Canadian will vary from those that you will choose as an American.

My strategy here would be to apply for the cards for the sign up bonuses and then cancel those cards after the first year when the fee comes due. You can probably cycle through a few cards to pay for at least 3 years of travel without having to even apply for the same card twice.

Canada

British Airways Avios are partners with RBC cards and American Express. There are 3 card (or card systems) that can earn you British Airways Avios through credit card spend in Canada.

1. American Express Membership Rewards

Application Link (my referal)

Type: American Express
Rewards: 2 Membership Rewards / dollar on gas, grocery, drugstore, travel1 Membership Rewards / dollar on everything else
Annual Fee: $120, waived first year
Sign-up Bonus: 25,000 Membership Rewards
Point Value: 1 Membership Rewards = 1 Avios (or other program)

I think this is the easiest way to earn Avios in Canada. Canadian Membership Rewards transfer to Avios at a rate of 1000:1000. There are healthy sign up bonuses for cards and there are a decent categories that earn extra points, depending on the card. According to our analysis, the best card is going to be the American Express Gold card, that earns a 25000 Membership Rewards as a sign up bonus, with the first year annual fee waived. Spending earns 1 Membership Rewards / $ spent and 2 Membership Rewards / $ spent on gas, grocery drugstores and travel.

2. RBC Avion

Application Link

Type: Visa
Rewards: 1.25 RBC Rewards / dollar on travel1 RBC Rewards / dollar on everything else
Annual Fee: $120, not waived first year
Sign-up Bonus: 15,000 RBC Rewards
Point Value: 1 RBC Rewards = 1 Avios always1 RBC Rewards = 1.35 Avios during transfer bonuses

The next best card for earning Avios is the RBC Avion card. This card earn RBC Rewards which transfer to Avios at a rate of 100:100. However, what makes this valuable is that traditionally, each year they offer 35% transfer bonuses to Avios where you can trade 100 RBC Avion Rewards for 135 Avios. These are not guaranteed but they have come around the past several years. RBC Avion cards earn 1 RBC Reward for every dollar spent and 1.25 RBC Rewards for every dollar on travel. This is not the best card to apply for a sign up bonus as it earns 15,000 RBC Rewards signup bonus, but a $120 annual fee is required even in the first year.

3. RBC British Airways card

Application Link

Type: Visa
Rewards: 2 Avios / dollar on British Airways purchases1 Avios / dollar on everything else
Annual Fee: $165, not waived first year
Sign-up Bonus: 15,000 Avios

This card is not a card I would suggest. The earning is limited to 1 Avios / $ spent on all purchases. There are double points on purchases from British Airways directly. The sign up bonus of 15000 British Airways Avios is not bad, but the annual fee of $165 is not waived in the first year. There is a companion pass that is award after $30000 of spend, but since this pass can only be used for award tickets on British Airways operated flights, it has very little value.

If you are interested in getting this card, I would strongly suggest the RBC Avion card as almost all aspects are better with the RBC Avion card and the aspects that are better about this card have very limited value.

Alaska Airlines

The only credit card partner of Alaska Airlines in Canada in MBNA.

1. MBNA Alaska Airlines

Application Link

Type: Visa
Rewards: 3 miles / dollar on Alaska Airlines Purchases1 pt / dollar on everything else
Annual Fee: $75, not waived first year
Sign-up Bonus: 25,000 Alaska Miles

This is a card that I recommend. I actually applied for this card during my App-O-Rama in late 2013. If I didn’t already have it, I would apply for it again.

This card earns a healthy sign up bonus of 25000 Alaska miles after the first purchase, thought the $75 annual fee is not waived in the first year. After that, this card earns 1 Alaska mile / $ spent on all purchases, while purchases with Alaska Airlines earn 3 miles / $ spent. The real benefit of this card is the $99 + tax companion ticket that comes with the card every year. If you are traveling with someone else, then you can buy your ticket and have the partner travel for only $99 + tax on the exact same itinerary. I would use this to go to Hawaii, but you can use it whenever you like. It can be worth a lot.

US Cards

British Airways Avios

In the United States, British Airways Avios can be earned from Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards.

There are a multitude of cards that you can choose from. If you are in the US, and you have the ability to, I would suggest applying for new cards whenever you need more Avios. The sign up bonuses are very healthy and if you are only using your rewards for Avios, you can easily have all of your Avios earned through 1 or 2 card applications each year.

1. Chase Ultimate Rewards

Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 to British Airways Avios

The Chase cards that can earn nice signup bonuses are :

The sign up bonuses range from 40,000 Ultimate Rewards to as high as 70,000 Ultimate Rewards. The first year fee is usually waived and the spend requirements are usually less than $1000. Chase Ultimate Rewards will only transfer to British Airways Avios if a premium (fee based) card is in your profile, so make sure that you tranfer your Ultimate Rewards to Avios before you cancel a fee based card.

I would also not shy away from applying for business cards, even if you do not have an incorporated business. Pretty much any type of economic activity will count for business. Chase is known for being liberal in approving business cards so it is worth a try.

I also think it is a good idea to hold a fee-free Chase Freedom card to “store” your Chase Ultimate Rewards and you can earn 5 pts / $ on rotating categories each quarter.

2. American Express Membership Rewards

There are a plethora of cards that American Express offers that have US Membership Rewards. Again, the sign up bonuses are relatively healthy ranging from 25000 – 75000 Membership Rewards. In this situation, it is a good idea to keep the American Express Everyday card as that is a no-fee card. In fact, if you are looking to earn Avios, this is a good card (or the fee based American Express Everyday Preferred) to use for all of your purchases. You will earn 1.2 (or 1.5 with the Preferred) Membership Rewards for every dollar spent.

Again, my strategy here would be to focus on earning Avios through credit card sign up bonuses from American Express cards. These are some of the cards I would suggest:

I would apply for cards that have no or low annual fees in the first year and cancel them when the fee comes due.

Alaska Airlines

Bank Of America Alaska Airlines

Application Link

Type: Visa
Rewards: 3 miles / dollar on Alaska Airlines Purchases1 pt / dollar on everything else
Annual Fee: $75, not waived first year
Sign-up Bonus: 25,000 Alaska Miles

The only card that earns Alaska Airlines miles in the US is the Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa. This card gets 25,000 Alaska miles after first purchase with a $75 fee not waived. Purchases earn 1 mile / $ spent on all purchases and 3 miles / $ spent on Alaska Airlines purchases.

This card is almost identical to the MBNA Alaska Airlines card available to Canadians. Ironically, the MBNA card for Canadians is probably a better than average card in Canada, however, the Bank of America card might be considered a lackluster card in the US. It just goes to show how different the offers are between Canada and the US.

Summary

Jenny –  I think you should apply for a few credit cards to build your balance of the airline miles you need.

If you are in Canada, you can get a few flights out of a sign up bonus and cover the rest through spending. There are a few specific cards I suggest.

If you are in the US, you can do well to just apply for a card each year and that could cover almost all of your travel needs. There are so many options of cards suggested that if you just cycle through them, earning the signup bonus when you need more Avios, you will be traveling for free.

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2 comments on “Portland Based Flyer looking for Travel Savings – Earning The Miles”

  1. Ash says:

    Hi There,

    I was hoping you can help. I am wondering what destinations are available to redeem AVIOS points leaving Toronto?

    Seems the only direct flights are to BOS, DFW, ORD? Is there anywhere else we can redeem AVIOS points to, that makes sense to the US?

    Thanks for your help,

    Ash

    • thepointster says:

      Hi Ash,

      The best uses of Avios will be on short direct flights on American / US Airways.

      From Toronto / YYZ, the best destinations (those that will cost 4500 Avios each way + tax) would be:
      New York / LGA, New York / JFK, Chicago / ORD, Philadelphia / PHL, Washington National / WAS, Charlotte / CLT
      (BOS is not a direct flight from YYZ on American)

      From Toronto, the next tier (7500 Avios) would be:
      Dallas / DFW

      The next tier (12500 Avios) would be:
      Miami / MIA, Los Angeles / LAX

      If you are looking to go to Florida (Miami-Fort Lauderdale area) and you want to save miles, but are ok with a stopover, then you are best to do YYZ-CLT (4500 Avios) and CLT-FLL (4500 Avios), instead of YYZ-MIA (12500 Avios) or YYZ-CLT (4500 Avios) + CLT-MIA (7500 Avios). This is because MIA airport is about 20 miles south of FLL airport and CLT to FLL is just under 650 miles, while CLT-MIA is just over 650 miles.

      I hope that helps.

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