Fly International for Free: United and Star Alliance Program is still the best

The good news is that United miles devaluation of Feb 2014 still allow easy redemption of international coach flight tickets via Saver Award.

For example, coach-fare round trip between US and Taiwan or Japan flying Eva Air will require 5000 United miles more, at 70,000 United miles.  There will be no increase between US and Europe at 60,000 United miles, and between US and South America at 40,000 or 60,000 United miles.  On the other hand, the miles requirement to redeem business or first class tickets has ballooned up.

We redeemed two coach-fare flight tickets for Isa's parents for the coming Thanksgiving and December by using 65,000 United miles to redeem one coach fare flight ticket with Eva Air and USD $29 fee, then used 100,000 Eva miles to redeem another coach fare ticket with Eva Air and TWD 6262 ( equivalent to USD $210).  Two Eva Air tickets around that period typically costs $1100 each including taxes and fees.

Savings: $1100 x 2 - $29 - $209 = $1961

Q1:  Typically 1 United Airlines mile is earned per dollar spent, do I then have to spend $70,000 to earn one free coach-fare international flight ticket?

Absolutely not.

Q2:  How to collect 65,000/70,000/100,000 United miles for international flights?

Credit card sign-up bonuses is the key.
  1. Understand the credit card sign-up basics, fix FICO scoreand its related posts, so you know what you are getting into.
  2. if you have non-urgent $100,000 parked outside of Fidelity, Fidelity offers 50,000 United miles as a bonus to open a Fidelity brokerage account with $100,000 for at least 6 months.
  3. Sign up for Chase Free Checking account to become a Chase customer, then check Chase branch about Chase United MileagePlus Explorer card, first year card membership waived, currently $2000 spend to earn 50,000 United miles, or to earn 5000 United miles more by adding one authorized card user, such as your mom.
  4. Six months later (Chase requires 6 months before approving a new Chase application), apply Chase Sapphire Preferred card, first year card membership waived, $3000 spending to earn 40,000 Ultimate Reward points (UR).  The UR points are transferrable with ratio 1:1 into your MileagePlus member account in 1 business day, or you can earn $400 cash instead.
  5. Wait, if you can, until next Christmas time and apply for Chase Freedom Card to earn 20,000 UR points after spending $500 in 3 months, and transfer into United MileagePlus account with the help of your Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

Total United miles collected: 50,000 + 55,000 + 40,000 + 20,000 = 165,000 United miles.  This can redeem one round-trip United Business-class flight ticket, or two round-trip United Coach-fare flight tickets.

Q3: Is there a maximum number of Chase credit cards a person can have at the same time?

Yes, 5.  I would stick to 4 myself, unless the sign-up bonus is very attractive to take the risk.  Each Chase card sign-up bonuses are available only once for life-time, unless the card service provider is different.  For example, Chase Visa card and Chase MasterCard are two different products.

Q4: Are these reward miles taxable?


Q5: Should I earn United Miles or partner miles?

Eva Airlines is one of the United Miles partner.

  • An international flight ticket surcharge fee can amount to $300.  Using United miles to redeem flight ticket costs $29 whereas we still had to pay $210 to redeem using Eva miles.  
  • Eva miles expiration date can not be extended.  In contrast, United miles expiration date can be extended indefinitely, as long as there is United MileagePlus activities.  I like flexibility, so would request United miles even flying Eva Air when ticket is paid.

Q6: Is there a hotel reward program to complement the airline reward program?

Yes, my current favorite is Hilton HHonors program.

Last but not the least, if there are two of you, do not apply Chase credit cards as joint account card holders.  Apply for the Chase credit card separately.

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