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- Rather than use my airline miles for practical trips, like a flight to visit my parents, I prefer to save them up for out-of-this-world luxury that I could never afford in cash.
- Some of the world’s best first-class flights cost well over $10,000 but you can often get them for under 100,000 miles.
- A good travel credit card will help you accumulate these miles faster.
- See Business Insider’s list of the best travel rewards credit cards »
Stacking up points and miles can be a great way to save money on everything from solo trips to family vacations. However, being the luxury-obsessed, impractical dreamer that I am, I prefer to use my points and miles not on trips I’d already planned to take, but on trips I could never, ever afford to pay for in cash.
Aspirational, bucket-list travel is one of the best uses of travel points and airline miles, in my opinion. From first-class cabins that cost $20,000 to book to an island-hopping flight that takes you to seven beautiful islands, here are some of the best once-in-a-lifetime travel experiences you can book with points, even if you can’t afford to pay for them in cash.
Keep in mind that we’re focusing on the rewards and perks that make these credit cards great options, not things like interest rates and late fees, which will far outweigh the value of any points or miles. It’s important to practice financial discipline when using credit cards by paying your balances in full each month, making payments on time, and only spending what you can afford to pay back.
1. Take the United Island Hopper across 7 islands in 20 hours
Aviation geeks looking for a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience should look no further than United’s famed Island Hopper, which has been dubbed the “world’s most scenic flight.” This route flies across the Pacific Ocean from Honolulu to Guam, stopping at no fewer than five idyllic little Pacific islands, two in the Marshall Islands and three in Micronesia, along the way.
Paying for this flight in cash can cost you well over $1,000. However, if you save up United miles, you can get this flight for only 27,500 miles. There are United co-branded credit cards that offer sign-up bonuses well above that, so it shouldn’t be hard.
- United Explorer Card ($95 annual fee that’s waived the first year) — Earn 60,000 miles after you spend $3,000 in the first three months
- United Business Card ($99 annual fee) — Earn 100,000 miles after you spend $10,000 in the first three months
2. Experience a full bar in the sky on Emirates business-class flights to India or the Middle East
Business class to India or the Middle East on the Emirates A380 is a unique experience. Emirates is touted as one of the best business and first class airlines, and you’ll get lie-flat seats and be served excellent champagne and multi-course meals. The real sell when it comes to flying on the A380, though, is a bar in the sky.
That’s right, the Emirates A380 has a full bar in the sky that’s accessible to business and first-class passengers, like something out of an ad for luxurious air travel in the 1950s. You can go hang out at the bar or in the bar lounge and sip on premium spirits. If you go all out and book first-class, you’ll even get a private suite with an in-flight shower.
The best ways to book Emirates award flights are through Alaska Airlines and JAL. You can earn Alaska miles with the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card. JAL, meanwhile, partners with Marriott Bonvoy, so you can transfer points earned from Marriott cards like the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card and the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card to JAL’s Mileage Bank program.
3. Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands for the price of one flight using United’s Excursionist Perk
United’s Excursionist Perk gets you a free one-way flight embedded into an award flight, allowing you to travel to two cities for the price of one. There are lots of caveats that come along with this perk — for example, your free one-way and your overall trip must start and end within the same region.
My favorite way to use the Excursionist Perk is to travel to both Cusco, Peru and Baltra, Ecuador in order to visit Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands all in one trip. This will cost you just 40,000 miles round-trip, which is an absolute steal.
- United States to Cusco, Peru: 20,000 miles
- Cusco, Peru to Baltra, Ecuador: 0 miles using the Excursionist Perk
- Baltra, Ecuador to the United States: 20,000 miles
4. Take a Porsche ride to your plane when you fly first class on Lufthansa from Frankfurt
Lufthansa is consistently ranked as one of the world’s best first-class airlines, and for good reason. Any flight with them will be enjoyable, but if you’re able to book a first-class flight out of Frankfurt, Germany, your experience will be otherworldly.
This is because Lufthansa has its own terminal in the Frankfurt airport that’s only accessible to first-class passengers. Apart from being led through security by your own personal assistant, the terminal includes high-class dining, a cigar lounge, a bar with over 130 kinds of whiskey, private offices, quiet rooms with day beds, showers, and even full bathtubs. The best part, though, might be the fact that passengers are transferred from the terminal to their aircraft via a Porsche ride. Welcome aboard, James Bond.
You’ll need close to or over 100,000 miles depending on how you book this award flight, but that price still pales in comparison to how much you’d have to fork over in cash.
You can book Lufthansa first class through United’s MileagePlus program, using United miles. You can earn United miles with co-branded United credit cards, or you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points — earned with cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve — over to United at a 1:1 ratio.
5. Sleep in an actual bed in first-class on Singapore Airlines
If a bar in the sky sounds exciting, what about a whole hotel room? Flying first class on the Singapore Airlines A380 will get you just that. You’ll get an enclosed, private cabin suite complete with an actual bed. By bed, I don’t just mean a lie-flat seat. Your seat is a plushy revolving leather recliner, and next to your seat is an actual bed. If you’re traveling as a couple, you’ll be able to combine two suites for more space and a double bed. That’s not to mention the world-class dining and amenity kit filled with Bose headphones, luxury, full-size toiletries, and designer pajamas.
You’ll need a mileage balance in the six figures to book this flight from New York to Singapore, but that’s nothing considering the cash price is often close to $20,000.
You can transfer Amex points, Chase points, Citi points, and Marriott points to Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer program, so you have lots of options for earning the requisitive rewards. You can earn Amex points with cards like the Platinum Card® from American Express, the American Express® Green Card, and the American Express® Gold Card. Cards that earn Citi points include the Citi Prestige® Card and the Citi Premier℠ Card.
These experiences are more attainable than you think
If saving up enough miles to book one of these flights seems out of reach, it’s worth looking into the best travel credit cards that can help speed up the process. Many of these credit cards come with sign-up bonuses of 50,000 points/miles or more, so if you can earn one or two, you’ll be well on your way to booking the trip of your dreams.