Author: Miles Moneyball

Lounge access at airports

Lounge access at airports

You don’t have to travel in business class to enjoy lounge access at the airports. With premium credit cards (those with annual fee over $300 in general), access to independent airport lounges are often provided via Priority Pass network. Granted, these lounges are subpar compared to lounges operated by airlines at their hubs, they are still more pleasant than general boarding area. All offer snacks, drinks and wider space.

The following credit cards are worth considering if you value more relaxed preflight experience:

Chase Sapphire Reserve
Citi Prestige
US Bank Altitude Reserve
American Express Platinum

As a bonus, these cards also reimburse Global Entry (which includes TSA Precheck) fees every five years, making their fees a little easier to swallow).

Some of the lounges I visited using Priority Pass:

ANA Lounge at Lisbon

Tocumen Royal Saloon and Copa Club at Panama City

“First Class” lounge at Pudong international airport

Sala VIP Canudas at Barcelona

Swissport Lounge at Chicago O’Hare International Terminal

Are you interested, too?

Game on: Iberia 90K Avios posted

Game on: Iberia 90K Avios posted

Back in late June, Iberia ran a promotion that for each flight booking with Iberia, you will be awarded 9000 Avios, up to 90,000 Avios. Booking must be completed by June 24, 2018. Bonus Avios will be awarded within 10 days and have to used by December 1, 2018. The promotion has since ended. I captured the screen print below.

I love Iberia Avios. Their award chart is particularly favorable to Chicago-Madrid route, where they charge only 34,000 Avios in off-peak one way business class for the flying distance of 4202 miles, even below what their chart would dictate! I recently redeemed 204,000 Avios for our summer trip to Switzerland and Italy for our family of three.

Iberia – Off-Peak Season

Distance Band Blue Class Full Fare Economy Premium Economy Business
1 (0-650) 4,500 6,750 N/A 9,000
2 (651-1,150) 7,500 11,250 N/A 15,000
3 (1,151-2,000) 10,000 15,000 N/A 20,000
4 (2,001-3,000) 11,000 16,000 N/A 21,250
5 (3,001-4,000) 17,000 25,500/22,000 25,500 34,000
6 (4,001-5,500) 21,250 32,000/27,750 31,750 42,500
7 (5,501-6,500) 25,500 38,250/33,250 38,250 51,000
8 (6,501-7,000) 29,750 44,650/38,750 44,250 59,500
9 (Over 7,000) 42,500 63,750/55,250 63,750 85,000

It’s not surprising that I went all-in at the promotion. Have you heard of the Spanish town of Santander? Me neither. Yet, I must love it so much that I bought TEN one-way tickets from Santander to Madrid, at a cost of $27.73 each. Either that or that’s the lowest price I could find on June 23, 2018 at

To be fair, I had my share of worrying at the too-good-to-true promotion since I purchased the tickets. What if Iberia have determined that I could not possibly fly Santander to Madrid ten times in a span of 20 days between May and June, 2019 and decided to withhold my Avios? What if they admit an error was made in the promotion and just retain the ticket sale instead?

Imagine my pleasant surprise when I saw my Avios balance jumped from 941 to 90,941 upon my second login today! Iberia honored their promotion!!

Now, it rests on me to put this 90K Avios to good use and I can tell you I have some fairly good ideas, most likely on a solo trip to Europe to meet my parents who will fly FINNAIR from Shanghai to Helsinki in their new A350-900 aircraft, a trip that cost me 80K AsiaMiles per person in round trip business class just before it inflated to 100K on June 21, 2018.

2018: Chicago to Cancun Round Trip

2018: Chicago to Cancun Round Trip

Trip Synopsis

Economy Class Round Trip Chicago to Cancun, Mexico, for 25,749 Merrill+ Points on American Airlines.


MMB Analysis

  • Merrill+ Points program has a unique airfare redemption structure: 25,000 points for tickets up to $500 in price, tax included, then 1 point per dollar above $500.
  • Redemption sweet spot sits right at $500 worth of air tickets. Under $500, you will be charged for the same 25,000 points. Above $500, you point value decreases from 2 cents per point towards 1 cent per point.
  • Chicago to Cancun round trip ticket happens to be $507.49 on American Airlines, ideal for redeeming 50,000 bonus Merrill+ Points I earned from signing up Merrill+ Visa card (a no fee card that was discontinued in 2017).
  • Tickets purchased this way are considered revenue tickets, earning American Airlines AAdvantage miles at the normal earning ratio.
  • Even though the ticket was labeled “Basic Economy” and the ticket price matched Basic Economy ticket at, I was able to select seats at Merrill+ web site, confirmed in itinerary email. Somehow, Merrill+ charged me for the Basic Economy price but ticketed regular economy from American Airlines.

Trip Metrics

From  To Distance (Miles)
Chicago Cancun 1444
Cancun Chicago 1444
Total 2888

Trip Highlights

With two of the three air tickets covered by Merrill+ and three night all-inclusive hotel stay at Viva Wyndham Azteca paid for by Wyndham Rewards points, this end-of-winter-break mini vacation has become very affordable.

These three cards alone can earn you enough miles to fly anywhere in the world in business class

These three cards alone can earn you enough miles to fly anywhere in the world in business class

American Airlines is unique among air companies in that it has made co-branding agreements with two banks: Citi and Barclays. As a result, you can apply for credit cards with both banks and combine the signup bonus into your AAdvantage account. And it so happens that both banks have their highest public offers available right now. If you follow the plan laid out below, you can collect 180,000 AAdvantage miles in signup bonus, enough for round trip travel to anywhere in the world in business class.

Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard

Citi(R) / AAdvantage(R) Platinum Select(R) World Elite(TM) Mastercard(R) - Citi's Best Airline Credit Card with American Airlines AAdvantage(R) miles

  • 60K AAdvantage miles after making $3000 in purchase within the first 3 months of account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Preferred boarding, up to four on the same ticket, on domestic AA flights
  • First checked bag fee waived
  • Double miles on American Airlines purchases
  • Reduced mileage awards
  • Receive 10% in miles back when redeeming miles for flights, up to 10K per year
  • Annual fee of $95, waived for the first year

Besides earning one-time bonus offer, one of the noticeable features is free checked bag and priority boarding on domestic American Airlines flights. With Delta, United, and American all broadening their reach in Basic Economy fare, card holders can dip into the lowest fare without having to be constrained by the lack of carry-on privilege. You can just check in your bag instead. I personally also find 10% miles back beneficial. If you maximize your rebate (ie, redeem 100K miles on award tickets), 10K AA miles saved more than pays for the annual fee.

60K sign up bonus is the highest I have seen for the public. Apply yours here. It’s important to note that Citi bank has a 24-month window policy. If you have opened or closed any AAdvantage-earning Citi card within the past 24 months, you might be approved for the card but NOT be given the sign up bonus.

Barclay’s AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard

AAdvantage Aviator Red

  • 60K AAdvantage miles after making a purchase within the first 3 months of account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Preferred boarding, up to four on the same ticket, on domestic AA flights
  • First checked bag fee waived
  • Double miles on American Airlines purchases
  • Reduced mileage awards
  • Receive 10% in miles back when redeeming miles for flights, up to 10K per year
  • Annual fee of $95, NOT waived for the first year

As  you can see, the terms are almost identical to Cit’s Platinum Select card. The biggest difference is with Barclay, annual fee is assessed before the first statement is cut, but sign up bonus is awarded with just one purchase in any amount. Follow the link to apply.

Since Citi and Barclay are different banks, applying for one does not affect the other, besides usual new credit pull on your credit report.

CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard

CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®

Please note, this the business version of the Platinum Select personal card discussed above. I argued in my previous post that business card is not necessarily limited to profitable business owners.

  • 60K AAdvantage miles after making $3000 in purchase within the first 3 months of account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Preferred boarding, up to four on the same ticket, on domestic AA flights
  • First checked bag fee waived
  • Double miles on American Airlines purchases
  • Reduced mileage awards
  • $99 Companion fare, good for domestic flight only, after $30,000 spending in a year
  • Annual fee of $95, waived for the first year

There is not much meaningful difference between the business and personal cards. I don’t value $99 companion ticket that much as I may not have a chance to use it.

Here’s the link.

Three AAdvantage-earning cards offering maximum sign up bonus miles at the same time is not common. This will be a quick way to accumulate sizable amount of American Airlines miles. Even though AA domestic award seat is very limited, their OneWorld partners still offer reasonable redemption choices.

Following American Airlines’ award chart, from the US, the most expensive region for award redemption, South Pacific, costs 80K AAdvantage miles one way in business class. The sign up bonus from these three cards will take you anywhere in the world American Airlines or its OneWorld partners fly.

Are you interested in applying for these cards?

2017 New Mexico

2017 New Mexico

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

Albuquerque Old Town

Bandelier National Monument

Rio Grande Gorge Junction Bridge

Canyon Street, Santa Fe






















My venture into Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

My venture into Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

The Planning

Let’s face it, branching into a new frequent flyer program is both exciting and unsettling, even for a seasoned travel hacker. Generally speaking, I will look into these factors before committing to a new program:

  • Be in a position or have a plan to acquire big trunks of miles meaningful for redemption. Different travelers may have different views on what’s considered minimum. For me, I would set the bar at 100K at the minimum, preferably 200K. Why? At current rate, depending on the airline program, it will cost anywhere from 50K to 90K for a one-way long haul premium class redemption from the US, where the jewel of award travel belies. Too small a balance often means limited travel options and wasted small balance post redemption.
  • Have plausible travel itinerary in mind using the miles before expiration. Almost all frequent flyer miles programs enforce some form of expiration policy from as short as 18 months to a few years. Some set “soft” expiration dates, ie, life of program miles can be extended with some activity. Others are “hard” ones, miles expire regardless of activities in the program.
  • Ideally, the program either does not charge the notorious fuel surcharge (hello British Airways) or keeps it to reasonable nominal amount.

Both my wife and I had previously signed up for Citi Preferred and Citi Prestige cards. Each card earned us 50K ThankYou points. As we closed these accounts with annual fees were due, I was searching for a new home among TY transfer partners for our 200K+ TY points before we closed out the last account. You will need one of the premium accounts open in order to transfer to partners. I was debating between Singapore’s KrisFlyer and KLM/Air France’s Flying Blue. Both have their standout merits but neither is ideal. KrisFlyer is the only way to gain access to the premium cabins of the topnotch airline, including Singapore Airline’s famous first-class suite (the “Apartment” as it is known), an ultimately thrilling experience treasured by many. Yet, Singapore Airline does not serve my home city of Chicago. Staging a flight to JFK, SFO, or LAX, though possible, costs time, a rare commodity in my world predominantly defined by kid’s school schedule. When I looked at Flying Blue, both Air France and KLM serve Chicago, making it possible to hop on SkyTeam’s global network without a transfer. But Flying Blue charge relatively high fuel surcharges and, for 62500 miles, the award rate for my most likely trip to Europe in business class is not particularly attractive. I was hoping Citi would offer transfer bonus to either one of the programs that would help settle my dilemma, before I had to close our last Prestige account by October when another year of annual fee would be assessed.

Well, my patience paid off, sort of. In early August, Citi announce a 20% transfer bonus to, … Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles program. Given only two months left before $450 annual fee from Prestige were to appear on my bill and I did not plan to renew for another year (hindsight speaking, I actually renewed Prestige for another year due to promotional offers, but I had no regret for this act), this could well be my last chance to get some bonus miles from TY points. I had to ask myself, is 20% extra Asia Miles the tipping point compared to Flying Blue or KrisFlyer?

My homework on Asia Miles’ award program quickly turned up two award charts, one for Cathay’s partners and the other exclusively for OneWorld carriers. Cathay Pacific has formed wide partner network outside of OneWorld alliance, which even includes Star Alliance’s cornerstone carrier Lufthansa and its affiliates of Austrian Airlines and Swiss International, as well as Air China and Air New Zealand, both of Star Alliance. Here’s award chart for its partners:

Asia Miles’ distanced award chart for its flights operated by one of its partners or one partner plus Cathay Pacific

My decision to go for Asia Miles in large part was due to my anticipated redemption from Chicago to Shanghai, my second home town. The direct route between Chicago and Shanghai, served only by American Airlines among Asia Miles’ partners, is 7058 miles. I can also afford to make a stop at Tokyo via Japan Airlines, for a one-way distance of 7393 miles. In both cases, Zone D rate applies and round trip business class costs 120K, slight ahead of American Airlines’ 140K. However, if Cathay Pacific is involved, Chicago-Hong Kong-Shanghai segments add up to 8573 miles, bumping up the total to 145K miles, slightly worse than AA’s 140K. Yet, taking into account 20% transfer bonus, I am looking at either 100K Citi ThankYou points on AA or JAL, or 121K TY points on CX for a round trip home, pretty attractive redemption in my view. And I have no doubt being able to exercise redemption within three years before miles expire.

I also studied Asia Miles’ OneWorld award chart, below, and concluded that I could not do better than 120K AM miles for a round trip in business class to Shanghai, the least expensive option under partner chart above. Regardless, I already found the winning formula and decided to initiate transfer from Citi TY to Cathay Pacific AM.

OneWorld rate applies when two or more OneWrold carriers without Cathay, or three or more OneWorld carriers including Cathay are involved in a round trip ticket

Execution of Transfer

Once I logged in to my Citi ThankYou page, the partner transfer option was available online. I chose to start with a small transfer twenty days before the transfer bonus deadline, to validate the process.

Citi ThankYou points 20% bonus transfer to Asia Miles

Within two days, 20,400 miles were posted to my Asia Miles account. Everything looked good. A few days later, I transferred my entire TY point balance to bring my total AM balance to close to 300K.

More sweetspots

Just like owning a stock piques one’s interest in that company’s news, having miles in the program entices my appetite for better ways of redeeming my hard-earned miles.

If you live on the west coast, particularly close to a gateway city, 120K can get you to many places in China/Asia in business class round trip. For example:

  • San Francisco to most of China for 120K on Air China
  • Los Angeles to eastern China for 120K on Japan Airlines
  • Vancouver to southeast Asia for 120K on Cathay Pacific
  • Western US to Shanghai for 120K on American Airlines
Trip Cathay Partner Airlines Route Distance Zone AM Miles (Round trip business)
San Francisco/Urumqi Air China SFO-PEK-URC 7428 D 120K
Los Angeles/Chongqing Japan Airlines LAX-NRT-CKG 7450 D 120K
Vancouver/Bangkok Cathay Pacifc YVR-HKG-BKK 7442 D 120K
Phoenix/Shanghai American Airlines PHX-LAX-PVG 6856 D 120K

Evan if you are located on the east coast, distance-based AM chart may not come in your favor in terms of mileage requirements, you can still be rewarded with choice of airlines that include Qatar, Iberia, Finn Air, and, if hundreds of dollars in fuel surcharges does not faze you, British Airways.

  • Eastern US to Hong Kong and beyond for 145K on American and Cathay
  • Washington to Beijing for 145K on Iberia
  • New York to Guangzhou for 145K on Finn Air
  • Boston to Chongqing for 145K on Qatar
  • Miami to Chengdu for 145K on British Airways
Trip Cathay Partner Airlines Route Distance Zone AM Miles (Round trip business)
Pittsburgh/Kuala Lumpur American + Cathay Pacific PIT-JFK-HKG-KUL 9987 E 145K
Washington/Beijing Iberia IAD-MAD-PEK 9550 E 145K
New York/Guangzhou Finn Air JFK-HEL-CAN 8893 E 145K
Boston/Chongqing Qatar Airways BOS-DOH-CKG 9880 E 145K
Miami/Chengdu British Airways MIA-LHR-CTU 9595 E 145K

As you can see, Asia Miles program does a nice job either supplementing OneWorld routes beyond those available on American Airlines or saving miles outright compared to AAdvantage. Since AA often offers very few, if any, award space on its own flights, success in OneWorld redemption increasingly hinges on partner availability. Asia Miles does just that, opening another door when AA’s is shut.

What happens if you push the envelope further?

As usual, I like to start off with comparing Asia Miles to its OneWorld cousin, AAdvantage. As far as I am concerned, AAdvantage award rule is cut and dry. To go from point A to point B, you look up which regions they belong to, and apply the rate between the two regions. You can’t construct complicated routing other than maximizing transit time of up to 24 hours to explore the stops in between. Asia Miles, on the other hand, allows two stopovers (stops over 24 hours), two transfers (stops less than 24 hours) or one open-jaw (gap in itinerary instead of all connected dots). In each of the examples above, you may opt to spend a few days en route, whether it’s US gateway cities of San Francisco or Los Angeles, transfer hubs of Tokyo, Beijing, Hong Kong, Doha, London, Helsinki or Madrid, the choice is yours! Does anyone object to visiting two places in one award ticket without extra flight cost? And since we’re talking about business class tickets, how do you feel about checking out airport lounges at each airlines’ main hubs?

If you still manage to feel hum hum about Asia Miles, let me show you a few more examples, this time, utilizing its OneWorld redemption chart. In a truly industry-leading fashion, Asia Miles OneWorld redemption permits five stopovers, AND two transfers, AND two open-jaws. The only downside? You are required to fly a minimum (note, NOT maximum) of two OneWorld airlines not counting Cathay Pacific.

Asia and Oceania


  • Chicago to Tokyo on American Airlines or Japan Airlines (6275 miles)
  • Tour Japan using land based transportation (stopover 1)
  • Tokyo to Hong Kong on Japan Airlines or Cathay Pacific (1842)
  • Tour Hong Kong (stopover 2)
  • Hong Kong to Brisbane on Cathay Pacific (4306)
  • Tour Australia using land based transportation (open-jaw 1)
  • Sydney to Los Angeles on Qantas or American Airlines (7488)
  • Los Angeles to Chicago on whatever (open-jaw 2)

Total flying distance, 19,910 miles, fits into Zone 10 in AM OW chart, giving this all business-class trip a price tag of 140K Asia Miles. And we still have three more stopovers and two transfers to give. Remember, it will cost 140K in AAdvantage miles to go to Hong Kong alone!

Africa and South America


  • Chicago to Miami on American Airlines (1197 miles)
  • Transfer at Miami (transfer 1) or tour Miami
  • Miami to Sao Paulo on LATAM or American Airlines (4073)
  • Explore Brazil on land from Sao Paulo (stopover 1)
  • Sao Paulo to Johannesburg on LATAM (4631)
  • Explore safaris from Johannesburg, followed by land or air transportation to Cape Town. Explore Cape Town (open-jaw 1)
  • Cape Town to London on British Airways (5995)
  • Tour London or Europe on land or by low cost air (stopover 2)
  • London to Chicago on American Airlines (preferred due to low fuel charge) or British Airways (3953)

Total fly distance 19,848 miles, good for Zone 10 rate of 140K in business class. Try to do that in AAdvantage!

Asia and Europe on new airplances

If sampling new airplanes or highly ranked airlines is your cup of tea, consider including Doha in your itinerary, home of award-winning Qatar Airways that equips multiple routes with Airbus A380, Boeing Dreamliner B787, or Airbus A350.


  • Chicago to Shanghai on American Airlines (7068 miles, B787)
  • Tour Shanghai (stopover 1)
  • Shanghai to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon (779 miles)
  • Tour Hong Kong (stopover 2)
  • Hong Kong to Bangkok on Cathay Pacific (1050, A350)
  • Tour Bangkok (stopover 3)
  • Bangkok to Doha on Qatar Airways (3285, A380)
  • Transit at Doha (transfer 2)
  • Doha to Venice (or Munich, Frankfurt, Vienna and many other European cities) on Qatar Airways (2488, A350)
  • Vienna to London on British Airways (795)
  • Tour London (stopover 4)
  • London to Chicago (3953) on American (B787) or British Airways (B747)

With this itinerary, you have a chance to visit three charming Asian cities of Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Bangkok, as well as European double-header of Vienna and London, sit in front of modern aircrafts in style, and still only have to pay 140K in Asia Miles for your flights!

How can you earn Asia Miles?

Besides flying on Cathay Pacific or crediting your partner flight credits to AM, you can obtain 150K Asia Miles rather quickly with no more than three credit cards offers. Remember Asia Miles is a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou, and SPG Starpoints programs. For example, you can apply for these cards and be on your way to book some of the exciting trips I mentioned earlier after completing signup bonus requirements.

  • American Express Platinum card (often comes with 70K or even 100K offers)
  • American Express SPG card (usually 25K but occassionally 35K)
  • Citi Prestige or Preferred card (50K currently)
  • Synchrony Cathay Pacific card (50K currently)

Are you becoming interested in Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles?



The case for business credit cards

The case for business credit cards

While most consumers think of credit cards for personal use only, many banks offer credit cards to business. By double-dipping into both personal and business card offerings, you will find miles and points come a lot faster than personal card alone, not to mention some banks offer attractive perks to business cards only. More importantly, business card applications do not appear on personal credit reports, making it convenient to circumvent limitations imposed by banks such as Chase’s five cards per 24 months, or “5/24” rule.

Do you need to have a fully established business in order to apply for business credit card? Not really. If you freelance, do contract work, or sell items at garage sale or online at eBay or Craigslist, you are engaging in for-profit business and qualify for business credit cards to cover business expenses.

When you apply for business cards, you are not required to provide Employer Identification Number or tax ID. The business name can be something as simple as Smith Family Business. Of course, if your business is taking off, it’s a good idea to incorporate or organize legally anyway and to apply for an EIN. Again, as far as application is concerned, an EIN is not required.

Of course, for small business, credit is secured by owners personally. You have to provide your own social security number on the application.

Are you interested in applying for a business credit card? I will review business card offerings in the future.