When searching for the best reward card bonuses to rack up free miles to faraway lands, you need to do a little research before you apply
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Dear Cashing In,
My boyfriend just moved to Peru for the school year, and I’m trying to figure out a way to visit him. My credit is very good. What card could I get that has the best combo of initial rewards offer and ongoing miles-accruing benefits to help me get down there in the next six months? — Jill
Well, that’s a great excuse to visit Peru! I’d start by figuring out which airline you’re most likely to be flying. That’s going to depend partly on where you live and, to some degree, where in Peru your boyfriend will be.
If I were you, I’d plug in a few dates for fares between your city and his on sites such as Expedia, and see what pops up. For example, if you’re flying from Chicago O’Hare International to Lima, the cheapest and shortest flights are on Copa and Aeromexico, with United coming in close. Copa Airlines is now a partner of United, which means that, as of March 2012, flights on Copa can accrue (and be purchased with) miles on United’s MileagePlus program.
With the MileagePlus Explorer card, you get a 25,000-mile sign-up bonus with your first purchase — not enough to get you to Peru, but if you purchase your flights with the card, you earn two miles per dollar. A mid-October flight from Chicago to Lima on Copa or United costs about $1,060 (2,120 miles) and another 7,865 miles in-flight. There’s another 10,000 miles (almost). Add an additional user to the card and you get another 5,000 miles, and 10,000 more if you spend $25,000 in a year.
It should take about 40,000 frequent flier miles to get a free trip to Peru. Use the Explorer card right and you may get that second trip free. Explorer also gets your first bag checked free, priority boarding and two passes to the United Club airport lounges.
If you’ll be flying to Lima from New York’s JFK Airport, Aeromexico offers the cheapest and shortest flights ($963), with Copa coming in second. Aeromexico is a member of SkyTeam and partners with Delta. Delta SkyMiles American Express gets you 30,000 bonus miles if you spend $500 within the first three months. You also get two miles for every dollar spent on Delta, first bag free, priority boarding and 20 percent off in-flight purchases, but no lounge access.
If you find more flights from your city to Peru on LAN Airlines, a partner of American Airlines, consider the Citi Platinum AAdvantage card, which offers 30,000 sign-up points after the first $1,000 spent and 10 percent of redeemed miles refunded each year.
Here’s another option to consider, if you spend enough to qualify for the sign-up bonus: The Chase Sapphire Preferred card offers 40,000 bonus points if you charge $3,000 in the first three months. Those points are worth $500 and can be redeemed on United. You also earn 20 percent off airfare and car rentals if you redeem through Ultimate Rewards, two points per dollar spent on travel and dining and a 7 percent annual points dividend.
All of these cards charge a $95 annual fee, waived the first year, but Sapphire Preferred is the only one that does not charge foreign transaction fees. Explorer and Citi AAdvantage charge a 3 percent foreign transaction fee and American Express charges 2.7 percent. Remember those fees can add up fast when you’re using your card in Peru or anywhere else outside the U.S.