Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Jack, who used a credit card benefit to get the miles he needed for a premium award:
Flying Delta One has been on my travel bucket list for some time, but never seemed achievable. I couldn’t justify the $3,000 – $4,000 price tag or the 300,000+ SkyMiles required … that is, until Delta’s flash sale a couple of months back gave me a chance to utilize a little known Delta American Express perk!
I was about to go to bed when I received notice of a 48-hour flash sale from Delta, with Delta One awards starting at 98,000 miles round-trip to Europe. The flash sales are usually a little restrictive and don’t line up with my plans, but this one was just right. My wife and I celebrate six years of marriage and her master’s degree at the end of May, and she’s always wanted to go to Amsterdam. We found the perfect itinerary for $3,500 or 98,000 SkyMiles per person. I looked at my Delta account and unfortunately only had 165,000 miles — 31,000 miles shy of an amazing deal.
However, I remembered the Fly Now, Earn Later feature that American Express introduced and decided to try it. I was able to borrow the 31,000 miles we needed, and I have six months to earn them back, so all the miles I earn on my card will pay down this balance instead of going into my SkyMiles account. If I’m short at the end of six months, they’ll charge me 2.5 cents per mile. So even if I earned zero miles, I’d owe $775 for two round-trip tickets valued at $7,000 — I’d take it!
I plan on paying down this balance fairly quickly, and just received a 15,000-mile bonus for referring a friend to the Delta Amex family. By taking advantage of flash sales, credit card perks and bonuses, I’m able to knock off a $7,000 bucket list item for a total of $100 in taxes and fees.
A handful of loyalty programs allow you to borrow rewards, which means you can take advantage of award availability when you don’t already have enough points or miles on hand. Marriott’s Points Advance is the most prominent and useful example, since it’s available to all Marriott Bonvoy members and lets you pay back the borrowed points as you see fit up until 14 days before your stay — apart from spending on Marriott credit cards, you can transfer points into your account or earn them through stays and partner activity. Fly Now, Earn Later similarly gives you access to awards that might otherwise be out of reach, but the lack of options for paying off your “loan” is a major drawback.
After accounting for his referral bonus, Jack still has to put $16,000 of spending on his Delta Amex card to pay down his negative SkyMiles balance. The problem is that the card earns just 1 mile per dollar, and SkyMiles aren’t especially valuable to begin with. In short, it’s not a good card for everyday spending, so he’s leaving a lot of value on the table by using it. That doesn’t mean his approach is faulty; ultimately, he got the flights he wanted at a great price, but it’s important to account for opportunity costs when you’re evaluating whether an award is worthwhile.
I love this story and I want to hear more like it! In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending Jack a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own award travel success stories to email@example.com; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. Feel free to also submit your most woeful travel mistakes, or to contribute to our new award redemption series. If your story is published, we’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually, but we’ll be in touch if yours is selected.
Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!
Featured photo courtesy of The Points Guy.