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How I Flew for Free: New York to Finland to Amsterdam and Home Again on Travel Rewards

Jan. 4, 2019
Loyalty Programs, Reward Optimization, Travel
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When many were heading back to school in the fall of 2017, Carly Blatt decided it was time to visit an old schoolmate in Europe. Miles and points with different airlines got her there and back for free.

The cardholder

Name: Carly Blatt
Occupation: Marketing and freelance travel writer
Residence: New York
Credit cards: the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® and the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

The trip

Route: Round trip from John F. Kennedy International Airport-New York to Helsinki to Amsterdam
Dates of travel: September 2017
Airlines: Finnair, Transavia, KLM
Class of service: Coach

Q: Did you visit a lounge at the airport?

A: No.

Q: Did you travel alone or with someone?

A: I hadn’t spent much time in Europe since studying abroad in college, so I decided to book a trip to see a friend I met while studying abroad in college and another I met on a separate trip to Jerusalem. I visited one friend in Helsinki and the other in Rotterdam, and I explored Amsterdam on my own for a few days. I tend to travel solo, so it was a nice change to have friends show me around their hometowns.

The card and the loyalty program

Q: What card or loyalty program did you use to get a free trip?

A: I used 30,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles to book a flight with Finnair. I paid cash for the short flight from Helsinki to Amsterdam since it was only €64. For the flight from Amsterdam to New York, I transferred Chase Ultimate Rewards® points that I received from my Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card welcome bonus to Flying Blue, then booked a flight on KLM using Flying Blue miles.

Q: How long were you a cardholder/member at that time?

A: I’d had the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® for two years, and the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card for five months.

Q: How long were you saving for this trip?

A: I booked the trip five weeks before departure. The credit card welcome bonuses from both cards easily covered each flight. I had more than 280,000 AAdvantage points prior to my redemption, so I didn’t have to save up per se for the booking.

Q: What’s your favorite perk of this card/program?

A: For American Airlines, I like that I get 10% of my redeemed miles back. For Chase Ultimate Rewards®, I appreciate the option to either transfer points to other programs or book through their online portal.

Redemption and booking

Q: Did you take advantage of promotions while earning points for this trip?

A: No.

Q: Where/how did you book?

A: I booked the Finnair flight over the phone with an American Airlines agent since I didn’t see the option I wanted on AA.com. For my KLM flight, I transferred points to Flying Blue from Chase Ultimate Rewards®, then made the award booking through Flying Blue’s site.

Q: How many points/miles/rewards did this cost?

A: It cost 30,000 AAdvantage miles for my NYC to Helsinki flight on Finnair, and 25,000 Flying Blue points on KLM from Amsterdam to NYC. Both were nonstop flights.

Q: Did you book in conjunction with a promotion or deal?

A: No

Q: Any surprises or hassles?

A: No, although I believe that having points in multiple programs made it much easier for me to get nonstop travel for both flights. Diversification can be key. I researched my options with airlines I had points and worked backward to book based on the lowest amount of points needed and the ability to get a nonstop.

Also, it’s important to note that many American Airlines partner bookings can only be made online. If AA.com isn’t showing great availability for what you want, it’s worth the effort to directly call the airline. Do as much research as you can prior to calling and let them know if you have a specific routing in mind.

What’s next?

Q: What’s your next travel rewards goal?

A: [I just went] to Croatia in October 2018 and paid for both my flights using United Airlines MileagePlus miles. I currently have the United℠ Explorer Card, which opened up additional availability on award bookings.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2019, including those best for:

Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice:
Nerdwallet’s top travel rewards credit cards
How I flew for free: Round trip NYC to India using Chase Ultimate Rewards
This strategy is how I started earning major travel rewards

About the author