Gina Henry led a group on a tour of Machu Picchu last summer, so she booked her airfare from Houston using AAdvantage miles. She also used miles to upgrade to business class when she saw seats were limited, and instead got a surprise bump up to first class for part of the trip.
Name: Gina Henry
Occupation: Travel Speaker, Consultant, Tour Director
Residence: Nacogdoches, Texas
Credit card: The Chase Sapphire Reserve® and the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®
Route: Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport to Miami International Airport to Jorge Chavez International Airport – Callao, Peru and finally to Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport – Cusco, Peru
Dates of travel: Aug. 24 – Sept. 19, 2018
Airline: American Airlines
Class of service: Business class on departure (with an upgrade to first class on the flight from Houston to Miami). She returned in coach class.
Q: Did you visit a lounge at the airport?
A: I had a 20-hour delay in Lima on my return flight due to mechanical problems, but I was able to enjoy the Priority Club at the Jorge Chavez International Airport because I have the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, which comes with lounge access. I was able to enjoy the lounge’s beds, showers, food and beverages.
Q: Did you travel alone or with someone?
A: I traveled alone. This was my eighth trip to Peru. I love it there. Hiking Machu Picchu is incredible, so I started a tour business where I take people to see Peru and it pays for my trip.
The card and loyalty program
Q: What loyalty program and card did you use to get a free trip?
A: American Airlines AAdvantage program and the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®.
Q: How long were you a member/cardholder at that time?
A: I have been a member of the reward program since 1984, and I have had Citi-American Airlines cards on and off or the past 20 years. I had the current Citi card for one year.
Q: How long were you planning/saving for this trip?
A: It took me two months to meet the welcome offer for the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®. The current welcome offer is: Earn 70,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first 4 months of account opening.
I already had 258,000 miles in my AAdvantage account, but I like to earn more when I’m about to redeem so I always have a nice stash of miles for future trips.
Q: What’s your favorite perk of this card/program?
A: Ease of use when earning points and booking rewards.
Redemption and booking
Q: Did you take advantage of promotions while earning points for this trip?
A: Yes, I signed up for a new CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard® and took advantage of the welcome bonus.
Q: Where/how did you book?
A: I tried to book online, but could not get a coach seat assignment. Fearing that would mean flying in the middle seat, I called the airline and asked how many points were needed to fly business class. They said 10,000 extra points (20,000 each way in coach). I felt the 10,000 extra points for business class was a great value and booked it on the phone with no booking fee involved.
Q: How many points/miles/rewards did this cost?
A: A total of 50,000 points (40,000 points for coach plus 10,000 points for the Houston-Cusco upgrade to business class).
Q: Did you book in conjunction with a promotion or deal?
Q: Any bonus upgrades or surprises?
A: I received a free upgrade to first class on the Houston to Miami flight because there was no business class. The airline also emailed me a menu for the flight and I was able to pre-order a gluten-free meal, which was a sirloin steak, asparagus and a salad. I was the envy of the others in first class as their meal was pasta.
What’s your next travel rewards goal?
I’m saving points for a trip to Colombia, Ecuador and Peru in July 2019, and a trip to Israel and Ethiopia in 2020.
Photo via Gina Henry.
How to maximize your rewardsYou 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:
- Airline miles and a large bonus: The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- No annual fee: The Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
- Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: The Bank of America® Travel Rewards Visa® credit card
- Premium travel rewards: The Chase Sapphire Reserve®
- Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
- Business travelers: The Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card
Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice:
How I flew for free: Miles to the rescue for a family emergency
How I flew for free: Round trip NYC to India using Chase Ultimate Rewards
How I flew business class to Bangkok with my family for free