How I used a credit card rewards sweet spot to turn a business class fare sale to Europe into free flights

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  • With Europe reopening to vaccinated Americans, I took advantage of a cheap business class fare.
  • Instead of paying cash, I redeemed Ultimate Rewards points through the Chase Travel Portal.
  • I spent just 67,000 points and $0 in cash for a round-trip ticket to Amsterdam in a lie-flat seat.
  • Read Insider’s guide to the best rewards credit cards.

If you’re looking to fly business class between the US and Europe, your choices are mostly limited to legacy airlines (like United, American, British Airways, and Lufthansa, for example) which often have pretty egregious pricing. Pre-pandemic, it wasn’t unusual to see round-trip fares that cost $5,000 or more. 

Thankfully there are a number of airlines looking to disrupt this pricing model, including JetBlue, which will begin offering its Mint business class on flights to London later this year, and TAP Portugal. A member of Star Alliance, TAP has been on my radar for a while as it tends to offer some of the cheapest business class fares on the market between the East Coast and Europe, connecting via its hub in Lisbon (LIS).

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Read more: The best credit card rewards sweet spots that get you the most from your hard-earned points and miles

Normally when I’m booking an award ticket I don’t pay much attention to the cash price. With very few exceptions, a business class ticket costs the same number of miles whether the airline is charging $1,000 or $10,000 for that seat. 

With Europe slowly reopening to vaccinated Americans, I’ve been trying to plan a summer trip that I’ll actually be able to take, and was thrilled to find that TAP is selling round-trip business class tickets between the US and a number of European cities for as low as $990! As a point of comparison, on the same day we’re flying, every other airline is charging over $1,000 for round-trip economy flights, so it’s actually cheaper for us to splurge for business class.

If you’re vaccinated and ready to plan a trip, here are some of the best ways to get to Europe with points and miles, and the top current credit card bonuses that can help you earn the rewards you need.

At the time of post writing, these fares are available from several cities including my home airport of Miami, Newark, Washington Dulles, Boston, and Chicago to name a few. Eligible European destinations include London, Amsterdam, Paris, Rome, and Barcelona, with plenty of other options available for under $1,500 round-trip. TAP doesn’t fly all of these routes every day of the week, so you’ll want to play around with the calendar on Google Flights to find availability.

$990 for a round-trip business class ticket is a phenomenal deal, but the entire point of award travel is trying to pay as little as possible for the trips you want to take. That’s why when I decided to take advantage of this fare and book a two-week trip to Amsterdam and Santorini, I redeemed Chase Ultimate Rewards points and paid exactly $0 out of pocket. 

We’re focused here on the rewards and perks that come with each card. These cards won’t be worth it if you’re paying interest or late fees. When using a credit card, it’s important to pay your balance in full each month, make payments on time, and only spend what you can afford to pay.

How I used Chase points to book cheap business class flights to Europe

Because these are regular cash fares, you can search for them on the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal and redeem points instead to cover the cost. If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve® you’ll get a 50% bonus when redeeming your points(making them worth 1.5 cents each) while customers with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or  Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card get a 25% bonus (making your points worth 1.25 cents each).

If you have a Chase Sapphire Reserve® this works out to just under 67,000 Ultimate Rewards points, or about 80,000 points with a Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card.

With the Chase Sapphire Reserve, your points are worth 1.5 cents each toward travel booked through the Chase portal.Chase

Read more: How to use the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal to book flights, hotels, rental cars and more — and get the most from your points

To put that into perspective, most airlines charge 60,000 to 70,000 miles for one-way business class awards, so this is basically a 50% off sale! I love the versatility of Ultimate Rewards points, which let me switch seamlessly between redeeming them for cash fares and transferring to valuable partner airlines.

Chase Ultimate Rewards points are worth, on average, 1.8 cents each based on Insider’s points and miles valuations — in part because you can often get a higher value when you transfer points to partners for award travel.

Even if you don’t have Ultimate Rewards points, you can take advantage of similar pay with points bonuses with American Express cards. The American Express® Business Gold Card offers a 25% rebate when you pay with points for flights booked with Amex Travel (making your points worth ~1.33 cents each) and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express offers a 35% rebate, making your points worth ~1.5 cents apiece.

Read more: Amex Business Platinum versus Amex Business Gold: How to decide which small-business card is best for you

Many other issuers will let you pay for flights with points at a fixed 1 cent each. If you recently applied for the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card to take advantage of its limited-time increased welcome bonus, you could use those points to book a round-trip business class flight to Europe.

The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is offering a whopper of a bonus right now: Earn 100,000 bonus miles once you spend $20,000 on purchases within the first 12 months from account opening (or 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months). Here’s our Capital One Venture card review for more details.

This is a great option to keep in mind any time you see a good fare sale you want to jump on. Instead of seeing the cheap prices and thinking about how much money you’ll save, you can redeem points for the discounted flight and not spend a penny at all. Just remember to comparison shop, and make sure you’re getting a better deal than if you’d transferred your miles to a partner program to book.

One added bonus to sweeten the deal even further: since these are cash fares, you’ll earn miles for the flight. I credited my ticket to my United MileagePlus account, so these miles can complement the bonus I just picked up on the New United Quest℠ Card, which is offering 80,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open, plus an additional 20,000 bonus miles after you spend $10,000 in the first 6 months.

Read more: Chase United Quest Card review: A great pick for United flyers with money-saving perks like 2 free checked bags

According to Great Circle Mapper, flying Miami-Lisbon-Amsterdam-Lisbon-Miami covers a distance of roughly 10,600 miles. When crediting a TAP business class fare to United you’ll earn 125% of the distance flown, so I’ll get just over 13,000 United miles back in my account. 

Ethan Steinberg is an award-travel expert who loves helping readers leverage their credit card rewards for luxurious international travel on a budget.

Chase Chase Sapphire Preferred® CardChase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit CardChase Chase Freedom Unlimited®

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