Posted in Travel Planning

Prepare for Take Off: Our Portugal Airfare Strategy

I currently have 18 months until we travel to Portugal.  I have accumulated thousands of points to use for hotels, and now I am ready to get serious about our airfare plan.  Because I am a huge ROOKIE at this, I used a Lifeline and reached out to Joe at Your Mileage May Vary for some advice.

Seriously, if you are interested in learning how to work with Loyalty Programs, you NEED to follow them!  They have great posts that are written so we Rookies can get this stuff.  No sales Pitches or high level stuff you still need an interpreter for.  I even go to there page and search for a topic I am struggling with and pull up pertinent articles that answer my questions.  They are a great resource and pretty swell humans!


Choosing a Loyalty Program

Most of the carriers with decent priced flights to Portugal are part of the Star Alliance.  When using the Star Alliance you just need to be a Loyalty Member with any one of the partner airlines.  Originally, I thought that United would be the best choice.  But Joe showed me that there is a significant difference in the points needed for Reward flights on United and ANA airlines.

Loyalty Program                                    Economy               Business              

United Mileage Plus                                  70,000                    155,000

ANA Mileage Club                                     55,000                      88,000


United Mileage Plus

United Mileage Plus offers a Business Class Saver for Star Alliance for 70,000 miles or you can add 40,000 miles for First class if both Business class and First class are offered.

United Mileage Plus sometimes Blocks Reward Redemption for certain partner airlines, like they recently did with TAP Airlines (who I am strongly leaning toward using).

How to earn United Miles 

They offer the United Explorer Credit Card for earning miles toward Award flights.  The sign on bonus is 40,000 miles for spending $2,000/3 months.  First year Annual fee is waived and then it is the standard $95 per year.  Bonus: The United card allows access to extra United award flights

Transfer partners to United Mileage Plus that I could use include:

  • IHG Hotels                             3:1 Ratio
  • Marriott/Bonvoy Hotels      3:1 Ratio
  • World of Hyatt Hotels      2.5:1 Ratio
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards – Chase Sapphire is offering a 60,000 point sign up bonus for spending $4,000/3 months.  $95 annual fee.


ANA Mileage Club

Joe suggested the ANA Mileage Club as an affordable option for booking reward tickets through the Star Alliance.  Business class Reward Tickets for our Portugal trip can be obtained for 88,000 ANA points and the fees would only be around $108 (per person).

How to earn ANA Miles 

  • American Express Membership Award Points – Amex Gold is currently only offering a 35,000 point sign up bonus for spending $2,000/3 months (gonna see if a better sign up bonus comes up) but has 4 times points for grocery and dining. I don’t love the $250 annual fee for what you get.
  • Flight miles
  • ANA is a Japanese company and offers a credit card that is not US based and doesn’t have a rich sign up bonus
  • Limited options for earning miles or transfer from partners

I would need to open an account for each of us with sign up bonuses of 50,000 points (I think that’s the best I can hope for).  This would still only give me 100,000 points and I need 180,000.  I doubt that I can scrounge up 80,000 points from purchases.

I also explored the Hilton Honors Amex cards.  Their Business card has a 125,000 sign up bonus.  You can transfer to airline partners, but most are at a 10:1 Ratio!  Yikes!  Not only is that a terrible rate of return on those points, it would only give me around 13,000 transferred points.  Not a good plan!


Digging up more Points if we choose United

Marriott Bonvoy is currently offering a Limited Time 100,000 sign up bonus points for spending $5,000/3 months. Since those points transfer to United at a 3:1 Ratio, I could transfer 90,000 points and get 30,000 miles.  With the points I already have, I would still have enough points left for 1 hotel night in Portugal plus could use my annual hotel night.  I know the perfect place in the Azores to use those!

I have a saved up many points with IHG to use for our hotel stays in Portugal, but I could probably spare 60,000 points for another 20,000 miles.  I know that the transfer of hotel points for airfare miles is usually not the best bang for their buck…but in a pinch I guess you do what you have to do.

We could get the United Mileage Plus card with a sign up bonus of 40,000 miles, and/or 60,000 points from the Chase Sapphire Preferred.  This is a lot of new accounts to open/manage and would push me pretty close on the 5/24 with Chase.  So many Options!

Chase Ink Business Preferred card has a sign up bonus of 80,000 points for spending $5,000/3 months.  This is a meaty sign up bonus and they offer 3 times points for paying your cable, phone or internet and for shipping. The points would transfer at a 1:1 Ratio to the United Mileage Club.  $95 annual fee


Cutting to the “Chase”

If we want to go in Business Class the 88,000 points at ANA sounds great, but getting Membership Reward points is not as easy as getting Chase points for me.

We could hope for a Business Class Saver Award at 70,000 points with United and that they are not restricting our carrier of choice.  That would mean we would need 140,000 points for 2 award flights.  Even though it would take more cards to get there, I think it would be simpler than going the American Express for ANA route.


Bad News

Just when you think you have it all figured out, United changes up their Rewards process.     The Points Guy: United Award Chart News



We need a sign!

A big SIGN up bonus (soon) from American Express would get me rolling toward our goal.  I really would prefer to go the ANA Business Class route if I can come up with the points.  The struggle is REAL!  Otherwise, we could buy tickets and use miles to upgrade or just settle for Economy Award tickets from ANA….but what fun is that!  Game on.


Good News

I was just able to find a 50,000 point sign up bonus for American Express and get started working toward my first spend requirement.  And so it begins!  Gonna chip away at it and hopefully have enough points when the time is right to book the flights that I want through ANA/Star Alliance.