HOW TO HACK BUSINESS CLASS
written by sanam ghaneeian
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Hi, I’m Sanam! I’m a huge credit card and credit card point aficionado. It all started when I was frequently traveling with family and noticed them getting upgraded on every single flight from their Executive Platinum status. It was with that same family that I experienced getting upgraded to a lie flat business class seat for the first time and I never looked back.
Once I experience something, I have a hard time letting go. So, I did my research to see how I could go about getting my own status with American Airlines in 2020. I did all the math based on each leg, the mileage, the tiers and everything to work myself up to Platinum Pro (the second highest tier) by the end of the year. It was a beautifully detailed, color-coated spreadsheet that went absolutely nowhere with the timing of COVID. Regardless, that experience lit a fire within me to understand how I could maximize every travel experience through different forms of status and points, and then the gamification began!
I started following a few point gurus like The Points Guy, Max Miles Points and Monkey Miles. The accounts share easy tips for first-timers, credit card reviews, travel experiences, redemptions and limited time offers. I went down the deepest rabbit hole between the blogs and reddit threads, and graded myself a solid C- on my former point redemptions. The perfectionist student in me was quaking. I was essentially trading $1 for $1, whereas today, my point transfers yield the equivalent of $1 for $10, if not more.
Taking it back a few steps, before you start redeeming points, it’s important to first collect points. This all comes down to knowing where you spend your money and then applying for the credit cards that complement your lifestyle. I thought my biggest spending category was on food but it was actually on ‘other’ (I go by 3 main categories: food, travel, other). Note, your credit card provides these reports for you and should be easily accessible in the platform. Once you have this insight, it’s time to research the credit card(s) that cater to your lifestyle — for example, “top credit cards for food spending.”
Now, for the good stuff. Every credit card has its own portal that allows you to book travel, redeem points, or transfer to partners. Transferring points to partners is where I find the highest value. It’s essentially sending, let’s say, 50K points from your credit card directly to your Air France account. The key is to redeem your points through the airlines directly (same with hotels). If you book an Air France business class flight in the credit card portal, it’ll likely give you the same price that’s publicly available for ~$5K. Roughly, this would yield 500K points.
(Disclaimer: every point is weighted differently based on the credit card but the ratios outlined here are just my general approach.) However, if you search on airfrance.com, you can find the same business class seat for as low as 50K points, which is the rough equivalent to $500. It’s WILD.
STEAL MY CHEAT SHEET
Everyday Card: My number one card I think everyone should have in their wallet is the Capital One Venture because it gives 2x on every purchase. My general rule of thumb is no single point purchases! This also is great if you’re an ‘other’ spender like me.
If you’re an advanced credit card user, the Venture’s luxury counterpart, Venture X, is also a top tier card (and in my wallet!).
Foodie: If you’re a foodie, Amex Gold is your best friend. The Points Guy said this is one of the top cards on the market. 4x points on food categories. Also, it’s the best for groceries as they fall under the food category (most cards will have this fall into ‘other’).
Travel + Dining: If you like to travel and dine, Chase Sapphire is great! 2x points on travel and 3x dining, 5x points on travel booked through Chase.
Luxe Travel: If you’re an ultra lux traveler, the Amex Platinum yields some excellent perks with their Fine Hotels and Resorts program. Also, 5x points for hotels and flights booked through American Express.
Credit Score: This is only fun if you’re paying your credit card(s) off on time and not risking your credit score or accruing interest.
Debit Cards: The only time I ever touch my debit card is if I need cash at an ATM. Credit cards always, designating different cards for the most fitting categories.
Additional Benefits: Everything I’ve shared is high level information. Each card typically comes with a laundry list of added bonuses that are important to familiarize yourself with.
Base Points: Every purchase should yield at least 2x points.
In Platform Booking: Many credit cards like Chase Sapphire, Capital One Venture X, and Amex Platinum give you EXTRA points when you book travel directly in their platform (worth it). Unless I have a specific reason, I will always opt to purchase travel through a credit card platform. You can likely also get a customer service agent quicker and have built in purchase protection depending on the card.
Flexibility: Booking deals take a bit of work upfront, but worth it. Highly recommend being flexible with dates as a +1/-1 day can yield a difference of up to 100K points or more.
Hyatt: If you love Hyatt hotels, Chase cards are the best because they’re one of the few credit cards that have a Hyatt transfer partner (and Hyatt redemptions are amazing!). I’ve seen hotels that cost $500 a night go for 20K points a night which is the rough equivalent of $200.
Transfer Bonuses: Credits have rotating transfer bonuses on a monthly basis. For example, one month I saw American Express was giving a 50% transfer bonus to Virgin Atlantic. That means, if you transferred 50K points, you’d have 75K points in your Virgin Atlantic account. The points typically need to be redeemed in a year, so no need to have an immediate trip planned.
Airline Loyalty Accounts: Even if you do not anticipate flying an airline more than once, never checkout as a guest. There’s no reason not to accrue points - even if it’s once every few years. You never know what can happen and based on how affordable point-based flying could be, you could very easily score an upgrade or even a domestic flight just by flying an airline a few times.
Transfer Partners: Every credit card has different transfer partners. I would personally categorize transfer partners as a secondary consideration, after point building opportunities. Ultimately, there’s going to be an option that makes sense for you and you don’t need to overcomplicate it.
Trip Research: I used to scour the airline websites for hours at a time when booking business class flights. Now, I leverage point.me which offers 24 hour usage for $5 and sifts through the top airline redemption opportunities.
Example Trips: I’ve booked round trip business class flights to France, Korea, Greece and more under 150K points (rough equivalent of $1500) for cash values of $5-10K each. If flying coach, it can get wildly cheaper.
One Step Further: Once you get experienced, you can go even deeper! Airlines have different codeshare partners that allow you to book on airlines that may not be a direct credit card transfer partner. For example, American Airlines has limited credit card partners (in an effort to promote their own cards), but you can transfer points to British Airways to book the same flight since they operate in the OneWorld Alliance. Check first before transferring!
I hope this helps! It’s a fun world to dive into and I’ve personally learned a lot from the creators mentioned above and through their TikToks like THIS ONE (found a $1200 p/night hotel on Hyatt but used 25K points per night to book, at roughly $250 equivalent). Happy hacking!