Imagine a world where you could buy the cheapest ticket every time, and be treated to a fantastic airport experience, including access to VIP lounges for you and a guest, even when flying in economy.

For the smartest frequent flyers, this is a reality, not just a figment of the imagination.

The thing very few people connect the dots about is the fact that this level of joy can be achieved using points alone. In theory, without spending any cash. Even better, it can actually be done without an insane amount of flying.

The impetus for this article is a deal which lived briefly last week, but there are opportunities today and many more in the near future you should take note of to make this happen. Your points strategy may quite literally be flipped upside down.

We’ll start with last weeks deal, just to illustrate the full potential here. Basically, rather than transfer your credit card points into airline miles, spending them via your credit card company to cover all, or part of a cash ticket can provide incredible value. When you do use them via your bank rather than turning them into airline miles, you still earn the frequent flyer miles and elite status credit when you actually fly.

Basically, the bank gives you a set value for your points, and then pays for your ticket with real money, so as far as the airline is concerned, it’s just like you paid with your own cash, and therefore earn as any other cash ticket would.

Last week, there was a deal on Oneworld airlines from Paris to all over the USA and Canada for around $1,200 round-trip in business class. This is significant because this single round-trip flight could have been enough to earn you elite frequent flyer status for a year, and you could’ve paid for it entirely with points for less than 85,000 points.

The reason: British Airways awards elite airline status under a “tier points” system.

To reach Oneworld Sapphire, which is BA Silver status, you need 600 tier points and 4 actual BA flights. Every flight over 2,000 miles in business class earns 140 tier points, even on other Oneworld airlines and short-haul business class earns 40 each way. Side note: here are the easiest airlines to earn status with.

If you have no idea what Oneworld Sapphire means, it basically gets you lounge access and business class check in on every Oneworld airline, every time you fly, particularly if you earn it with BA.

If you found a nice routing on this previous deal, like Amsterdam to London, London to New York, New York to Los Angeles and the same in return, you’d get 40+140+140+140+140+40 for a grand total of 640 tier points. So long as your transatlantic and intra-European flights were with BA, you’d hit the 4 flight requirement in one go. It would look like this…

  • 40 Tier Points – Amsterdam to London on British Airways
  • 140 Tier Points – London to New York on British Airways
  • 140 Tier Points – New York to Los Angeles on American Airlines
  • 140 Tier Points – Los Angeles to New York on American Airlines
  • 140 Tier Points – New York to London on British Airways
  • 40 Tier Points – London to Amsterdam on British Airways

If you did, you’d have lounge access whenever you fly a Oneworld airline, even on domestic US trips on American Airlines in economy!

Yes, it’s been argued that it makes more sense for domestic US travelers to earn BA status than AA, as weird as that is. This would work for trips starting in the US as well, so long as you manage a connection in the US over 2,000 miles to get that extra 140 tier points before hopping across the pond.

As a reminder, you care because here’s what it gets you for an entire year…

  • Lounge access when flying Oneworld.
  • Flagship lounge access even on domestic AA flights.
  • Business class check in.
  • Priority boarding on all Oneworld airlines.
  • Upgrade priority.

If you collect Amex, Chase, Citi or Capital One Points in the USA, you have the ability to use your points toward the cash value of any ticket.

Chase arguably offers the best system for this, since you can login to your account and book any ticket currently for sale via Expedia with your Chase Points. Because it’s really just a cash ticket, you earn from it, rather than just burn for it. For a $1200 cash ticket such as the one above,  you could’ve burned at the following rates…

Card Cents Per Point
Chase Sapphire Reserve 1.5
Chase Sapphire Preferred 1.25
Ink Business Preferred 1.25
Business Platinum from American Express
(Learn More)
~1.53
American Express Business Gold (Learn More) ~1.33
Citi Prestige*/Citi Premier 1.00

*Citi Prestige will drop to 1 cent per point on September 1, 2019.

Since I have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, I could’ve used exactly 80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book a round-trip long-haul business class flight on major airlines and earn a year of lounge access and other benefits. A Year!

You’d find it nearly impossible to find any redemption between the US and Europe round-trip in business class for 80,000 points and even if you do, it would carry huge surcharges. This redemption meant NO surcharges, tons of airline points as a rebate, and Oneworld Sapphire status as part of the rebate! That’s simply unbeatable.

If you were in the US, you could’ve used points for a cheap one-way flight to reach Amsterdam, in fact some Norwegian deals are as low as $99 one way from time to time.

That, or you could use more points, but find a similar routing and use this tactic to a US originating business class deal. It’s not uncommon to find US to Europe business class under $2500, so if you found something from the West Coast that could add a connection via an east coast hub, you could do this originating the US for under 200,000 points. Again, it’s a solid value for the flights alone, but adding in the elite status for a year is bonkers.

Of course, a big key here is finding great flight deals. Fortunately, you’re on one of the best pages in the world for that, so just make this page a part of your daily routine.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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6 Comments

  1. Nicole, are you that dense? The very premise of the article is that this isn’t a redemption… some people just don’t want to be helped.

  2. @Nicole- the idea is to use the points through the travel portal, whereby they turn into dollars or money you can use to buy a ticket. The airline doesn’t know the difference and just sees a cash ticket purchase and so you do earn tier points.

    I am doing this status run with BA to get Silver status with one trip- US to Kenya via London so four long haul flights in BA first netting me over 600 tier points. My parents moved and no longer live where Delta or United fly so I need to use AA to go see them with my family. Getting status in BA will allow me to make things easier on my family on these trips and I can focus the rest of the year on maintaining my 1k status with United. I have a bunch of Chase Sapphire Reserve Points that I wasn’t sure how to use, and now I think I will see if I can use then to do another BA series of flights and maybe make Gold on my next Kenya trip. Just for fun! Thanks for the idea! Plus, with BA upgrading their first and business class in the next years…I may just abdicate from United altogether!

  3. Great article. How do you find this kind of deals that you can fly from Amerstdam to USA for 80,000points

    1. They come and go. Just check the deals page as suggested to see when a low fare is out, then try to book it via the portals.

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