How I Fly in Business Class 4 Times a Year for Free (And You — Yes, YOU — Can Too!)

I know what I'm doing, and I'll share it with you.

Johnny Jet (real name: John DiScala) is the expert and blogger behind the eponymous site JohnnyJet.com, and appears on Forbes' list of Top 10 travel influencers. He flies an average of 150,00 miles and visits 20 countries annually.

There’s an old saying amongst frequent travelers: “Once you go up front, it’s difficult to go in the back.” I remember my first flight in business class fondly; I flew from Los Angeles to Hong Kong in style. The wide seats, extra leg room, expensive champagne, warm nuts, three-course meals, ice cream sundaes, and attentive service changed my entire opinion of air travel. 

Of course, I couldn’t afford expensive business-class tickets, so I had to find ways to sit up front for cheap. Here’s how I do it and how you can, too.

Credit Card Sign-Up Bonuses

When I learned that not everyone traveling in business class paid cash for their tickets but instead paid with frequent-flier miles, I immediately knew this was my ticket to get up front without winning the lottery or robbing a bank.

In the old days, I used to accrue a ton of miles by flying on cheap tickets, but sadly that method is gone. Now, the best way to get a ton of miles is through credit card sign-up bonuses. Banks offer a "signup" bonus when you are approved for a credit card and meet their terms and conditions. Most often it is in the form of a minimum spend, meaning if you don’t spend the minimum amount, you don’t get the sign-up bonus.

Important: Being financially responsible and protecting your credit score is way more important than flying in business class, but it is possible to do both. Travel reward credit cards tend to have high APRs so never or very rarely make late payments on these cards and pay your balance in full each month.

Below are four credit cards that can help you fly in business class for next to nothing in the first year

Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card: This card gave me 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first three months. I earned two points per dollar on travel purchases, two points per dollar on dining worldwide, and one mile per dollar on all other purchases. The annual fee is waived the first year, then it is $95 thereafter. The Sapphire Preferred is generally considered the best personal travel card because of its flexibility.

After three months, you will have at least 54,000 Ultimate Rewards points. Ultimate Rewards points transfer to several different reward and frequent flyer programs. United Mileage Plus is a transfer partner at a one-to-one ratio. One-way business class saver awards to Europe on United start at 57,500.

Citi ThankYou Premier Card: You have three months to spend $4,000. You can earn three points per dollar on travel, including gas stations, two points per dollar on restaurants and entertainment, and one point on all other purchases. Your 50,000 bonus points are redeemable for $625 in airfare when booked through the Citi ThankYou Travel Center or can be transferred to one of their partner reward frequent flyer programs. The annual fee is waived the first year, then it is $95 thereafter.

A friend of mine was heading to Chicago, and since there wasn’t any award space available for the trip, he started monitoring fares. He found a round-trip non-stop flight in business class for $618.93 and used his Citi ThankYou points through the Travel Center and he was set.

Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express: This sign-up bonus is not as high as the other two, but the value is. The card currently offers 25,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in purchases in the first three months. The earning rate is two points per dollar at participating SPG and Marriott hotels and one point per dollar on all other purchases. The reason I applied for this credit card is the number of transfer partners that Starwood Preferred Guests partner with. With over 30 transfer partners and the majority being a one-to-one transfer ratio, I had a ton of options. I added over 30,000 points to my American Airlines AAdvantage frequent flyer account. Starwood gives you a 5,000-point bonus for each 20,000 miles transferred. The annual fee is waived the first year, then it is $95 thereafter. I would wait to apply for the SPG card during a limited time offer promotion when the sign-up bonus is higher.

Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard: There is currently a limited time offer on this card, with a sign-up bonus of 75,000 miles after spending $7,500 in the first three months of account opening. While the minimum spend on this card is higher than the others, the sign-up bonus is much bigger. I had some larger purchases coming up and could meet the minimum spend. The card offers two miles per dollar spent on American Airlines purchases and one mile per dollar on all other purchases. Admirals Club membership for you and your guests and complimentary access for authorized users. Your first checked bag is free for yourself and up to eight companions on your reservation on domestic flights. The card comes with a heavy $450 annual fee but the lounge access may make up for it.

With over 100,000 American Airline AAdvantage miles, you can book two business class trips anywhere in the contiguous 48 states.

Other Ways to Earn Frequent Flyer Miles...

Utilizing online shopping portals for online purchases is a quick way to rack up more miles. Most of the major frequent-flyer programs offer online shopping portals. You can log into your account and click through the shopping portal to earn on anywhere from 1 – 10 miles per dollar.

You can earn more points by signing up your credit card with a dining program. Most of the major hotel and airline loyalty programs have them. It's free to sign up and see the bonus points add up.

Understand Relationships with Award Programs

Major banks have relationships with airline reward programs. That is how Chase offers the United Mileage Plus credit card that you can earn airline miles with. And airline reward programs have relationships with other airlines, known as airline alliances. For example, using American Airline AAdvantage miles to fly on British Airways.

Booking Award Travel

Having flexibility when looking at award travel is part of the key to success. Airlines release award space around 330 days in advance. Some airlines release award space far in advance when their schedules open. So, the earlier you book, the better. Some airlines hold onto their business- and first-class award space closer to departure.

Staying Organized

With so many credit cards and frequent flyer programs, staying organized is crucial. Keep track of credit cards you open and fees coming due in a spreadsheet. AwardWallet.com is a great platform for keeping track of when your points expire.

Bottom Line

Sitting at the front of the cabin for free is possible for anyone that puts a little time and effort into it. Even if you aren’t traveling the rest of the year. Are you maximizing credit card rewards that are available to you? Consider applying for a new card with a sign-up bonus and your next business class ticket could be free.

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