So you are ready to take the big step and get your first miles credit card.. Woot!
There are a few cards that are staples for any frequent mile hacker, the first being the Southwest credit card. My second choice would be the British Airways card, here’s why. Oh, don’t worry, you don’t have to fly to Britain in order to use the British Airways card, think of it as a mall gift card, you can use it for any participating store in the mall. In this case it is miles, miles you can use on any partner or affiliate of BA, not just BA. American Airlines, Alaskan and US Airways are the main domestic partners of BA. The SW card does have an annual fee the first year whereas BA waives the fee for the first year, so also keep that in mind.
So which one should I get, how about both? Well, since both cards are backed by Chase, they typically won’t approve you for two cards in one day. I would space out the applications by at least 30 days if you want to apply for both cards. The main question becomes, where are you flying from and where do you want to go?
Both cards offer 50,000 miles after spending $2,000 within 90 days. Southwest operates in the US (lower 48), Mexico, and some of the Caribbean. British Airways and its partners can fly you pretty much anywhere in the world.
Each person has their own travel style and goals. I am a bit of a free bird in that I look for good redemption options and if it sounds fun, then I book it and go. You may have more rigid goals such as ‘wanting to go to Toronto to visit family at Thanksgiving’. Whatever your style, I am going to show you how to extract the most out of each card (and help you decide which one will be best for you)
With Southwest rapid rewards it requires roughly 70 points to cover $1 in airfare. You receive 50k points for signing up, divided by 70 = $714.00 in flights. Now we are talking. So if a flight from SFO to DCA is $328.00 roundtrip, you will have to redeem almost 23k points. Also as a general rule, you can use your points to book flights for anyone, not just family. Alyssa and I are flying from PHX to RNO in a few weeks, it was only 11k points round trip. That is a great deal. And with southwest companion pass, Alyssa flies for free whenever I fly southwest. So we could both fly round trip to RNO five times for only 45k points. More on companion pass in the future. BTW, I will use airport codes to describe airports, you can find a list of airport codes here.
The British Airways redemption method is a little bit different than Southwest. BA uses distance to calculate how many points it will take to get to your destination. There are pro’s and con’s to this. If the flight you want (flying 1,468 miles) only costs $103 it may be better to just pay cash than redeem 10k points for a free ticket. However, if the same flight six month later costs $196 because it is around the holidays, it will still only cost you 10k points. That would be a better redemption of points. BA uses a flat redemption method, if there is an available award seat then you are able to use your points to book it. The major pro to this is that you can book a flight two months out or two weeks out and it will cost you the same points, assuming the award space is still available. The cash ticket price two months out vs two weeks out would be drastically different.
Now that you have an idea on how these points are redeemed, let’s talk flights.
• Find out where SW flies here
• For domestic flights with British Airways points, here is where American and US Airways fly
First of all, Southwest does not fly to Alaska, Hawaii, or Canada, boo! They also don’t fly really anywhere between Idaho and Minnesota. So if you want to fly to any of these place, go for the British Airways card. With BA it is beneficial if you live near or frequently fly to an American Airlines or US Airways hub (LAX, PHX, DFW, ORD, PHL, DCA, CLT, MIA, JFK) The reason for this is that BA flights go off distance, which means you want to catch a non stop and fly as short of distance as possible. The best redemption method for BA points is for short-haul flights. If you fly to somewhere less than 650 miles, it only costs you 4,500 points one way. This is perfect if you fly from Sac to LA, New York to DC, Dallas to Houston, Orlando to Mia, Chicago to Minneapolis etc.
Example flight, Sacramento to Los Angeles, this flight on Southwest generally costs about anywhere from 4,800-6,100 points one way. With British Airways, this flight would be 4,500 points regardless of when you fly (as long as there is an open award seat).
How to get to Hawaii for 12,500 points one way?
This is the million dollar question. You can fly from the west coast to Hawaii for 25,000 miles round trip with British Airways points (also called avios). The reason you have to do it from the west coast is because it is distance based, must be under 3,000 miles one way. Here are the cities that you can fly out of:
- Los Angeles
- San Diego
- San Jose
Okay, enough for one post. Coming up, I will discuss how to check available Hawaii flights through British Airways and how to confirm the flight.