An active duty military member emailed me:

This December I am getting out of the Military. When I initially get out I get 2 (one for my spouse and one for me) one-way airplane tickets to anywhere in the world. We want to use this to start our trip around Indo China and Europe. We want to go to Vietnam, Thailand, India, Austria, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Belgium, Holland, and England. After visiting these places we will fly to Dayton, Ohio. What is most important to me is flying from London to Dayton, Ohio for hopefully free.

She was writing to me because she didn’t currently have any major frequent flyer mile balances.

My first thought is: don’t fly home from London. Departing the United Kingdom–not transiting it or arriving there–incurs a massive tax called the Air Passenger Duty. While Dayton to London one way would have $5 in taxes, the direction she needs–London to Dayton–has $206 in taxes.

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Not only does she have the London departure tax problem, but she currently has no miles and puts only $1,500 per month on credit cards, which makes it hard to quickly accrue miles.

Still I was able to offer a really easy strategy to get two one way tickets from London to Dayton completely free.

Which two cards did I recommend she open? How did I recommend she book the award?

She needs 60k United miles, since it is 30k per person for a one way Saver award from Europe to the United States. And she needs a way to avoid paying the $412 in award taxes out of pocket.

She should get the United card and Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard®.

United Card

The “standard link” for a United card is 30k United miles. after spending $1,000 in the first three months.

Many people are offered a targeted 50k mile offer after they sign into their account on united.com. This offer has a $1,000 or $2,000 minimum spending requirement.

Many other people, including several of my friends, have simply signed up for the 30k mile offer and sent Chase a Secure Message saying that they had seen a 50k mile offer and wanted to be matched to it. Your mileage may vary.

When signing up for the United offer, you can get an extra 5k miles by adding an authorized user.

For the latest info on the best offers on the United card, see this FlyerTalk thread.

Arrival Plus Card

The Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard® offers 40,000 bonus Arrival miles after spending $3,000 in the first 90 days. The card offers two miles per dollar on all purchases.

After meeting the minimum spending requirement on the Arrival card, you can use your Arrival miles for $500 in free travel. Travel is broadly defined to include hotels, flights, and car rentals.

As I showed yesterday, it even includes the taxes and fees on award tickets, which is what she should use her Arrival miles for.

The Plan

Let’s assume she can get a 50,000 mile offer on the United card for $1,000 in spending.

1. Meet the Cards’ Minimum Spending Requirements

The United card requires spending $1,000 in the first three months. The Arrival Plus card requires spending $3,000 in the first three months.

The first priority, then, is to spend $4,000 on the cards in the first three months.

At that point, she’ll have 56k United miles and 46k Arrival miles after the bonuses and regular miles for spending.

2. Spend a Little More on the United Card

She needs 60k United miles.

Priority two is to spend another $4k on the United card to earn 4k more miles to get her total to 60k United miles. There is no time limit on this spending, though the sooner she reaches it, the sooner she can book.

3. Book the Award with United Miles, and Pay the Taxes with the Arrival Plus Card

Once she has 60k United miles, in her account, she can search on united.com for two economy awards from London to Dayton. Two Saver awards will cost 60k United miles and $412. She should pay that $412 with the Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard®.

4. Redeem Arrival Miles to Get the Taxes for Free

Finally she should log into her Barclaycard account and redeem 41,200 Arrival miles to have the $412 in taxes removed from her statement.

Of course, she’ll get an instant 10% rebate on the redemption like on all travel redemptions with Arrival miles. Here’s more info on redeeming Arrival miles.

5. Enjoy the Trip

The final result of all these steps is two completely free tickets from London to Dayton. And she’d even have 9,744 Arrival miles left in her account, which is worth almost $100 that she can use on her trip for free flights, lodging, or car rentals.

Math on the Arrival Balance: 46,000 starting balance – 41,200 redemption + 4,120 rebate + 824 for paying taxes with the card = 9,744

Further Advice about The Cards

While there are a lot of other Chase cards that offer United miles or Ultimate Rewards, the United card is the best one for her to get because it also grants access to extra Saver award availability in economy that is normally only reserved for elites.

Both the United and Arrival Plus cards have no foreign transaction fees, so both can be used abroad without worries.

I’d strongly recommend using the Arrival Plus card for ongoing spending after meeting the spending requirements outlined in this post.

The Arrival Plus card earns 2.28% back toward travel on all purchases. The United card just earns 1 mile per dollar on all purchases other than United purchases (2x).

Recap

You can get two completely free one way tickets from Europe to the United States by getting the United and Arrival Plus cards and spending enough money on each card.

The United miles book the award tickets, and the Arrival miles nullify the taxes on those tickets.

Once you have the cards, you’re better off putting ongoing spending on the Arrival card because it earns two miles per dollar on all purchases.

Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard® with 40,000 bonus miles after spending $3k in the first 90 days

  • Earn 40,000 bonus miles if you make $3,000 or more in purchases in the first 90 days from account opening. 40,000 bonus miles equates to $400 off your next trip!
  • Earn 2X miles on all purchases
  • No mileage caps or foreign transaction fees
  • Get 10% miles back when you redeem for travel (i.e. redeem 25,000 miles for travel and get 2,500 miles back)
  • Use miles for a statement credit toward any airline purchase to any destination with no seat restrictions and no blackout dates
  • Easily redeem your miles for statement credits toward flights, cruises, car rentals, hotels and more
  • Complimentary subscription to TripIt Pro mobile travel organizer – a $49 annual value!
  • Complimentary FICO® Scores as a benefit to active cardmembers. Opt-in to have instant and convenient access to FICO® Scores from your Barclaycard online account.

Application Link: Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard®

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