How I Flew First Class From Buying Toilet Paper

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barb in first classI hear “it must be nice,” “you must be rich” or “lucky you” when I tell people I usually travel for free.

Well, it is nice when my hard work at juggling rewards programs pays off with travel perks and savings. I would not call it luck, and I don’t have the bank account of a one-percenter.

I sign up for credit cards that earn me points on my everyday spending. I buy a pack of gum with a credit card. Toilet paper? Credit card. Everything goes on the card and I pay off the tabs so I don’t end up paying any interest on the cards. At the end of the month, I’ve spent the same amount I would have if I had only used a debit card, but I also have rewards points that I can use toward travel expenses or gift cards.

Personally, I prefer to save up for travel, because it’s something I love to do with my family. I also love the challenge of finding the most elegant rooms with the most breath-taking views for the best points value.

I stay loyal to one brand to get me the most points and the highest level status. Starwood is my pick for hotels. Whether it’s the Four Points Hotel in Chelsea with its great rates, or the Westin Excelsior in Rome for luxury, I have been a die-hard Starwood customer for over a decade. I always use my SPG credit card and book the mandatory stays each year that get me upgrades to suites, complimentary breakfasts, and free nights. I love a hotel chain that offers me more by letting me know they appreciate my continued business. There isn’t a time when I call Starwood Hotels that they don’t thank me for my loyalty.

When traveling by air, I love Southwest for its convenience and value on short trips. But, the cattle call boarding process and cramped seats are not what I spend my points on. I save those for luxury trips, like the one I just took to London with my daughter for her 16th birthday.

We flew first-class, and oh, was it worth the 170,000 miles. A bed, champagne, glorious food and a pleasant flight attendant handing me warm towels to make the flight even more enjoyable. The flight itself was a vacation even before we got to London.

I got the glamorous travel experience just from using my credit card with rewards on those cheap Southwest flights, and on groceries, gas, school supplies, pet food, Starbucks coffee, doctor’s appointments and electric bills. Things I would have bought anyway within my budget and without building up debt. I just think of my credit card like a debit card and spend within my means while getting rewarded for not going crazy with purchases I can’t afford to pay for right away.

I saved my miles and carefully watched my account grow with the final dream destination in mind. I was going to get there in the best seat possible with hours to enjoy in the air eating, drinking and watching movies that I had not had a chance to see as I work every night until 9 pm.

When we arrived at the airport in Dulles for the London trip, we headed to the British Airways lounge with white tablecloth dining and wine and a beautiful view of the sunset. My head was giddy with the champagne and the first-class treatment that had started before I stepped on a plane. Desserts, hot chocolate, tea, coffee – there was nothing I could want for.

first class in the day

The first-class seats each had a lamp, table, personal monitor and private closet. We each got a bag of toiletries and pajamas with “First Class” embroidered on the pocket. Our flight attendant handed us menus. More champagne, please. Cheers to me for smartly using credit cards to pay for this luxury trip.

When I was ready, I went to bed – yes, you get a bed in first class, one with a goose down comforter and pillow. After six hours, the lights slowly transitioned to turning on. I walked to the bathroom in my socks and got ready for the day with my first-class toiletries. When I got back to my seat, I found that the flight attendant had transformed it back into a seat again. She handed me a menu with swanky breakfast options. Bloody Mary and eggs benedict, please.

When we landed at Heathrow, we had the option of showering in the British Airways lounge, but we were well-rested and ready for the second leg of our trip thanks to an amazing first-class experience that was paid for with rewards points from simply paying for everyday expenses.

Citi AA Platinum MC wbutton

  • Earn 30,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*
  • First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to four companions traveling with you on the same reservation*
  • Enjoy Group 1 Boarding on American Airlines flights*
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases1
  • Receive 25% savings on in-flight food and beverage purchases when you use your card on American Airlines flights*
  • Double AAdvantage® miles on eligible American Airlines purchases*
  • Earn 10% of your redeemed AAdvantage® miles back – up to 10,000 AAdvantage® miles each calendar year*

Bonus
30,000 miles

Intro APR
N/A

Ongoing APR
14.24 – 22.24% variable

Annual Fee
$0 first year; then $95

CitiBusiness/AAdvantage Platinum Select world MasterCard

  • Designed for businesses with an established credit history
  • Earn 30,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*
  • First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines flights for you and up to four companions traveling with you on the same reservation*
  • Enjoy Group 1 Boarding on American Airlines flights*
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines® purchases
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on purchases at telecommunications, car rental merchants and at gas stations2
  • Earn 1 AAdvantage® mile per $1 spent on other purchases*

Bonus
30,000 miles

Intro APR
N/A

Ongoing APR
15.49% variable

Annual Fee
$0 first year; then $95

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Editorial Note: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.