Fighter Jets, Safaris and More: The Wildest Uses For Points and Miles

by David

Cathay Pacific First Class? Boring. Flying the Etihad Apartment? Pedestrian. Try pulling 5 Gs in a fighter jet, or staring down a lioness on an African safari… on points and miles.

Beyond flights, credit card rewards points and miles are increasingly redeemable for experiences and travel expenses far beyond their conventional and original intended purposes of flights and hotel rooms.

Some of these redemptions — ahem, space travel — are aspirational (but doable, particularly for those running up massive business spend on cards like the Chase Ink Preferred or The Business Platinum Card from American Express). Others are well within reach and might be a welcome alternative to increasingly difficult to find international first class flights.

Watch An Arsenal Match From A Luxury Box In London

Award Redemption Cost: From 10,500 Emirates Skywards Miles
Equivalent Cash Price: From $470 (4.4¢ per mile)

The Premier League, England’s highest level of football (soccer), is the most watched sports league in the world with fans tuning in from every corner of the globe. Arsenal Football Club are thirteen-time league winners, sell out nearly every game and own the distinction of having the highest ticket prices in England.

Redeem miles and points for sports events

Emirates Stadium in London. Image by Nazmi-Amin Tai | Wikimedia Commons.

Because season ticket holders and fan club members get first crack at tickets for an upcoming season, games typically sell out well before they ever go on sale to the general public. Anyone else hoping to catch an Arsenal match at their Emirates Stadium home while in London are stuck shelling out for inflated secondary market prices on third-party ticket brokers such as StubHub. Unless, of course, they have an Emirates Skywards balance.

Emirates Skywards has split Arsenal ticket redemption prices into two ticket types — standard seats, and luxury box seats — and four categories of games depending upon the opponent. Standard seat tickets start at 5,000 Skywards miles for the cheapest tickets, and increase in 5,000-mile increments, topping out at 20,000 miles for the priciest ones.

a football stadium with people watching

Redeem Emirates Skywards miles to watch an Arsenal match from under the lights at Emirates Stadium. Image by Andrew Travers | Wikimedia Commons.

Luxury box seat tickets start at 10,500 Skywards miles and increase to 15,000 miles and 20,000 miles for the next two categories. The top luxury box seats are not available, however, for direct mile redemptions during the most significant matches:  Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City. Box seats to these game are only available through blind bid Skywards auctions.

Although the club generally doesn’t offer individual luxury box seat tickets for sale, they do sell entire boxes, fitting between 10 and 15 people, on a per game basis, starting at around $470 per person.

In addition to Arsenal, Emirates allows Skywards ticket redemptions for other European football clubs it sponsors comprising AC Milan in Italy, Paris Saint-Germain in France, Real Madrid in Spain, Hamburger SV in Germany and S.L. Benfica in Portugal. Redeem Skywards miles for football tickets from this page.

Emirates Skywards is a transfer partner of both American Express Membership Rewards and Marriott Rewards. The Platinum Card from American Express currently comes with a 60,000 Membership Rewards point intro bonus – enough to bring the whole family to an Arsenal game.

Go On An African Safari

Award Redemption Cost: Between 500,000 and 800,000 Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Miles
Cash Price: From $5,000 (about 1¢ per mile)

a landscape with trees and rocks

Redeem Flying Club miles for some R&R at Ulusaba, Virgin Limited Edition Property. Image by David Ghorbanpoor | Point Me To The Plane.

Of the five Richard Branson Virgin Limited Edition properties that can be had with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles, two of them are African Safari Lodges. Mahali Mzuri in Kenya is a 12 tent luxury safari camp, offering a front row seat to the great migration. Ulusaba, a luxury South African safari lodge, is located adjacent to Kruger National Park in the Sabi Sands game reserve where visitors hope to capture snapshots of the big five.

Redeem miles and points for Safari

Redeem Flying Club miles for a stay at Mahali Mzuri luxury tented safari in Kenya. Image by Virgin Atlantic Airways.

A luxury safari in the African bush should be a bucket list item. Twice daily game drives afford a chance to catch a glimpse of wild animals like lions, leopards, giraffes and elephants in their natural habitat. Luxurious accommodation, unforgettable views, and inclusive meals and drinks allow safari-goers to get away from it all in the African wilderness.

a bird sitting in a tree

A leopard stalks prey in the Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve, South Africa. Image by David Ghorbanpoor | Point Me To The Plane.

Three night stays for two at either Mahali Mzuri or Ulusaba will set Flying Club members back 600,000 miles or 500,000 miles, respectively. Five night stays at either property cost 800,000 miles. With nightly base rates for double occupancy at Mahali Mzuri starting at $1,710 (during low season) and Ulusaba starting at $1600, the vast majority of stays will return over one-cent-per-point in value. Redeem Virgin Limited Edition property awards at this page.

Build up extra Flying Club miles through credit cards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred. With a 50,000 point introductory bonus, double points on travel and dining and a waived $95 annual fee for the first year, the card is a solid play for incrementally reaching a Virgin Limited Edition safari award.

Meet Chef Eric Ripert and Dine At NYC Restaurants Le Bernardin, Per Se and DANIEL In The Same Night

Award Redemption Cost: Lowest Current Bid = 127,500 Marriott Rewards Points
Cash Price: Not For Sale

Marriott Moments is auctioning three packages for two people each to indulge in a culinary marathon during the same weekend as the New York City Marathon. Auction winners and a guest will meet at 6 p.m on Nov. 2nd, at three-star Michelin restaurant Le Bernardin, where they will enjoy canapés and champagne while meeting Chef Eric Ripert, who will provide a tour of his kitchen.

Redeem points for Marriott Moments Auctions

The entrance to New York City restaurant, Per Se, part of the Marriott Moments culinary marathon auction package. Image by Gwernol | Wikimedia Commons.

Transportation from Le Bernardin on 51st Street to Thomas Keller’s Per Se, also a recipient of three Michelin stars, is included. There, winners and their guests will enjoy two courses of New American fare plus wine pairings. The experience continues as the group will then be ferried to East 65th Street for fine French cuisine from chef Daniel Boulud at his eponymously named restaurant DANIEL, graced with two Michelin stars. Winners and their guests conclude the culinary marathon on the Upper East Side after a fourth course, dessert and wine pairings.

Given the novelty of this redemption to meet a famed chef in his kitchen as well as to eat at three of the top ten or so restaurants in New York City in a single night, placing a standard valuation on this award is near impossible. However, with the current bid on two of the packages sitting at 127,500 Marriott Rewards points and the third at 152,500 points with only a handful of days remaining in the auction, it’s hard to argue that this “Marriott Moment” isn’t worth the current bid amounts.

The Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card right now has a 75,000 intro bonus after cardholders spend a minimum of $3,000 in the first three months.

Those who are out of compliance with Chase’s 5/24 policy but are looking to pad their Marriott Rewards balance may want to consider the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express, which also has a 75,000 point introductory sign-up bonus after $3,000 in expenditures in the first three months but with the $95 annual fee waived during the first year.

Put Miles Toward A Property Down Payment

Award Redemption Cost: 181,600 Etihad Guest Miles
Cash Price: $1,360 (0.7 cents/mile)

So this isn’t the most exciting redemption, but for some, it may be the most responsible. Not to mention it might have a significantly higher payoff if the Dubai real estate market continues to blossom as it has.

The MBL Residence at Jumeirah Lake Towers in Dubai is slated to open in December of 2019, and Etihad Guest members interested in owning a one bedroom unit can put down 181,600 miles, or $1,360, toward a down payment of the purchase price of around $250,000.

Redeem miles for a down payment

Redeem Etihad Guest Miles for a down payment on this Dubai property. Image by Etihad Airways.

Residents have views of the lake, are located conveniently and have access to the building’s outdoor swimming pool, steam room, sauna, and gym. After online redemption, the owner developer will be in contact to discuss the property and agreement details. Redeem this award here.

Amex travel credit cards can help pad an American Express Membership Rewards account — transferrable to Etihad Guest.

American Express® Gold Card currently offers a 25,000 point introductory bonus after $2,000 in expenditures in the first three months. There is a $250 annual fee.

Fly Fighter Jets For Military Combat Training

Award Redemption Cost: 1,523,500 Etihad Guest Miles
Cash Price Equivalent: $11,430.48 (0.75¢ per mile)

A low face-value for Etihad Guest rewards miles, this is a unique enough opportunity to include in this list.

Etihad Guest members have the option to redeem 1,526,200 miles for a five-night hotel stay, roundtrip flights from London to Los Angeles, ground transportation, three themed dinners and two days of fighter pilot training for themselves and a friend in Orange County, California.

Wild uses of miles and points

Redeem Etihad Guest miles for fighter jet training. Image by Etihad Airways.

Fighter pilot training includes appropriate equipment, ground school tactical maneuver instruction and over 10 combat mission flights. Trainees review recorded video from their aerial dogfights in post-combat debriefing sessions to conclude each training day. Etihad Guest members can redeem this award here.

Etihad Guest is a transfer partner of both American Express Membership Rewards as well as Citi ThankYou Rewards. The Citi ThankYou Premier Card currently comes equipped with a 60,000 point intro bonus and three times the points on travel, including gas stations.

Propose To That Special Someone On A Private Hudson River Sunset Cruise

Award Redemption Cost: 108,250 Avios
Cash Price: $750 (0.7¢ per mile, but hey, no carrier-imposed surcharges)

British Airways Executive Club members have the option to trade in their Avios for a New York City-sized impression when looking to pop the question. Couples board a luxury powerboat on downtown’s West Side for a sunset cruise where they gorge themselves on wine, cheese and charcuterie.

Redeem miles for experiences

Redeem Avios to propose under the Brooklyn Bridge. Image by Giuseppe Milo | Wikimedia Commons.

After rounding Battery Park and as the sun sets, proposers may choose to sail toward either the Statue of Liberty or the Brooklyn Bridge for the big moment. Flowers and champagne are on hand once the (hopefully) successful proposal is complete, and HD video production is included.

a statue of liberty with a sunset sky

Alternatively, redeem Avios for a Statue of Liberty proposal. Image by Ludovic Bertron | Wikimedia Commons.

Executive Club members can receive better Avios value relative to cash prices when, for instance, redeeming premium cabin airfare awards, but if you want to take some of the financial burden away from planning a wedding, this could be a clever way to do it.

This award is found under “Experiences” in the “Spending Avios” section of British Airways’ website and can be accessed directly here.

British Airways Executive Club is a transfer partner of all of the major transferable point card currencies. The British Airways Visa Signature Card, is also a great place build and quickly grow an Avios balance. Although it is a Chase co-branded card, it is not covered under the 5/24 policy, meaning this card will not affect nor be affected by your applications to other cards like the Marriott Rewards Card, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or United MileagePlus Explorer card.

Cardholders currently earn 50,000 Avios after spending $3,000 in three months. Spend a total of $10,000 in the first year for another 25,000 Avios; spend an additional $10,000 and earn a total potential bonus of 100,000 Avios. To access the British Airways Visa Signature Card or for more information, click here.

Go To Space With Virgin Galactic

Award Redemption Cost: 2 million Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Miles
Cash Price: TBD

Private astronauts earning and redeeming miles for space travel may someday replace today’s standard frequent flyer given the resources funneling into the commercial aerospace industry. Virgin Galactic is one of the companies leading the way, and Flying Club members of brand partner Virgin Atlantic Airways have a couple of future options to use their miles to fly to space.

Virgin Atlantic flyers who have earned at least 2 million Flying Club miles from butt-in-seat travel have the option to enter into a raffle drawing to win a Virgin Galactic trip. Miles will only be deducted from the accounts of the lucky winner(s). Flying Club members who don’t quite meet the raffle requirements can redeem 200,000 miles for a voucher for a 10 percent discount on a sub-orbital flight.

Use miles and points to fly to space

Flying Club members can fly to space with Virgin Galactic. Image by Virgin Atlantic Airways.

Once Virgin Galactic launches its first commercial flights, these awards will be available here.

Flying Club is a transfer partner of all of the major transferable currencies, facilitating flexible points earning. American Express Membership Rewards has previously offered bonuses of up to 30 percent on Membership Rewards points transferred into Flying Club, and so cards with hefty introductory bonuses, like the Platinum Card from American Express – are an excellent way to start building that massive points balance to go to space.


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