How I saved over $16,000 on my 1st international business-class flight using points and miles

Welcome to the fifth in a year-long series in which Tarah Chieffi, TPG’s family travel reporter, shares her experiences of various points, benefits, credits and access to her first rewards credit card, the American Express Platinum Card®.

Previous installments:

With three kids, most of the “getaways” I take with my husband are quick weekend getaways or short overnight trips. While we survived a week-long vacation to Italy when I was pregnant with our second child, since we’ve had a third child, longer child-free getaways have become even rarer.

I am pleased to announce that we have just returned from our second trip of this nature – a 6 day European adventure through Germany and Belgium. Since we don’t do trips like this very often, I’ve spent months planning hotels, transportation, and activities so we can fit as many attractions and cities as possible.

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To continue to capitalize on this rare child-free time, I wanted to make sure we flew in comfort and class – business class to be precise. As I described in a previous story in this series, I converted American Express Membership Rewards points that I earned The American Express Platinum Card® to Flying Blue miles during a promotional period that earned us 1.25 miles for each point. I used these points to reserve business class seats to and from Europe and saved over $11,000 over the price of booking the same flights with cash.

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Here’s how I made it, what I loved, and what I learned in the process.

Book business class airfare with Amex Membership Rewards points

Transfer actions can advance your points. AMERICAN EXPRESS

After some preliminary research, I found the best way to use the American Express Membership Rewards points I had accumulated from my sign-up bonus (100,000 points) and monthly spend was to convert my points to miles by spending them on my Flying Transfer Blue Account. Flying Blue is the loyalty program of Air France and KLM. Both airlines have dynamic award ticket prices, and it’s surprisingly easy to find deals on business class flights, especially if your travel dates are flexible.

Connected: The cheapest business class awards of all three alliances

I kept my Membership Rewards points until Amex ran a promotion for transfers to Flying Blue. I was able to convert 269,999 Membership Rewards points into 336,250 Flying Blue miles, enough to fly my husband and I in business class between New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and Munich International Airport (MUC) via KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and between Brussels Gare du Midi (ZYR) and JFK via Air France for the return journey.

KLM dynamic award prices may vary from flight to flight. KLM ROYAL DUTCH AIRLINES

Had we paid cash we would have spent over $16,000 on the same flights. So I redeemed 168,000 miles (per person – or 336,000 total) and our cash spend on taxes, fees and fuel surcharges was just under $1,000. I’m sure some points and miles experts would cringe at that number, but in my defense I told you up front that I’m a newbie.

Airport benefits when flying in Business Class

There was no waiting at JFK’s Sky Priority Lane. Tarah Chieffi/The Points Guy

I’ve learned that the benefits of flying business class go well beyond comfortable seats and multi-course inflight meals. When we arrived at JFK, we were able to use Sky Priority Lane for an expedited check-in experience.

We got complimentary access to the Delta Sky Club with our business class tickets. Tarah Chieffi/The Points Guy

Before we left JFK, we received complimentary access to the Delta Sky Club lounge as we were flying business class on a SkyTeam partner flight. We grabbed some preflight drinks and some snacks and charged our devices before it was time to take off. Our gate was just minutes from the lounge and we were some of the first to board our flight.

We had a brief layover at Amsterdam Schipol Airport (AMS) which we spent at KLM’s flagship Crown Lounge. After an overnight flight, it was nice to have a place to brush my teeth and have a quick meal before ending our trip to Munich. The real highlight, however, was the clever, quirky design of the lounge. My favorite features were the wall of Delftware tiles whimsically depicting scenes from the onboard security video and the glass-clad displays of KLM’s signature blue Delftware miniature houses.

For the journey home, we had the opportunity to try the Air France Lounge at Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) in Terminal 2E, Concourse L. It was the prettiest (and quietest) of all the airport lounges we visited during our trip, but lacked the playful personality I loved about the KLM lounge. What it lacked in this regard it made up for with specialty cocktails and an impressive selection of food and drinks.

Regardless of location, waiting for your flight in an airport lounge is far better than waiting at the gate and I was thrilled that our flights included this benefit.

My first business class experience on board

I’ve tried to keep my cool, but I’ve never been greeted on a plane with a free glass of champagne. Tarah Chieffi/The Points Guy

Airport lounges are nice and all but the point of booking this flight was to hop on a plane and get to Germany. After settling into our seats on our KLM flight from New York to Munich, we were greeted with a welcome glass of champagne, an amenity kit with toiletries to keep us refreshed during our flight, and a menu with a variety of dinner choices.

I loved the practical touches on my seat, like that mirror in the storage compartment. Tarah Chieffi/The Points Guy

Having never flown business class before, I spent the first 10 or 15 minutes after boarding pressing every button and opening every compartment to see how everything worked. When my playtime was up, Kevin and I watched Top Gun together while we ate our food.

This was just the starter course on my KLM flight. Tarah Chieffi/The Points Guy

After dinner I was tempted to stay awake and continue enjoying the benefits of business class, but one of the real benefits is having a comfortable reclining seat, a pillow and blanket, and an eye mask so you have a fair chance of a good one get a night’s rest. Due to the 6 hour time difference we landed in Amsterdam around 7am so I made the wise decision and closed one eye.

I’ve been looking forward to receiving one of these miniature Delft houses for a long time. Tarah Chieffi/The Points Guy

I slept through the breakfast service and woke up to the gift I was so looking forward to waiting for me on my tray table – a miniature Delftware gin-filled china house. The airline has been giving these away to passengers in long-haul business class cabins since the 1950s, and I was looking forward to adding one to my collection of travel trinkets. KLM has produced more than 100 versions of these miniature houses. The one I received was designed to look like a 1915 building that once served as KLM’s main office.

I was so happy to have a seat that converts into a daybed. Tarah Chieffi/The Points Guy

Our flight home on Air France was a similar experience, although this time I felt I knew the ropes a bit better. I was more familiar with the seats and what to expect between takeoff and landing. And although it would be 9pm when we landed in New York, my body figured it would be 3am, so after dinner and the obligatory glass (or two) of welcome champagne I took a quick nap.

bottom line

I would be lying if I didn’t admit that in the future it will be difficult to take a long-haul flight (especially a night flight) in a standard economy seat. The convenience, perks, and superior service of Business Class are hard to beat, especially when paid for with points and miles I’ve earned through daily spending.

See also: 11 tips for surviving a long-haul flight in economy

That being said, I don’t intend to use my points and miles just for fancy business class flights. For shorter flights (international or domestic) I wisely use my points and miles here and there for a low-peak economy ticket, but I’m saving the majority of my points for as much money as what I’ve just experienced.

In the future, I’ll probably work harder to find an airline that doesn’t pass on hefty fuel surcharges so I really feel like I’m getting the flight “for free.” However, I have no regrets about booking the flights we booked as they worked for our dates and destinations and I understand that maximizing points and miles is a learning process.

No one is an expert at anything when they start, and it’s only by starting – and embracing your newbie status – that you can learn how this points and miles game works, and eventually become an expert, enjoying a welcome glass of champagne, when whenever he wants.

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