How I Used Air Miles from Buying A $3 Coffee to Fly Roundtrip to Aruba

Drinking a mimosa on a catamaran in Aruba where I flew for free on points I got with buying a $3 coffee.
Drinking a mimosa on a catamaran in Aruba, where I flew for free on points I got with buying a $3 coffee.

Disclosure: There’s a credit card link in this post, however it is not an affiliate link. I do not make any commission off of the referral for this particular card. Just FYI.

This is a pretty simple story, and an introductory on how you can use credit cards to fly for free. Back in 2020, deep into the pandemic, I took an American Airlines flight for work. On the flight, there was an in-flight credit card offer for the American Airlines Aviator Red Card. I’ve been on many flights where credit card applications have been made available, but a few things about this particular offer stuck out to me. The offer was:

  1. 50,500 American Airlines Miles Sign-up Bonus after making one qualifying purchase
  2. The one qualifying purchase could be any price item
  3. The $99 annual fee was waived for the first year
  4. 500 Bonus miles after turning in the application
  5. The offer was in flight only, and the application had to be completed and returned by the end

Knowing what I know about credit cards, I decided this was a good deal because 1) The annual fee was waived, and 2) Rather than being a $3,000 or $4,000 minimum spend requirement on the credit card, it was a one-time purchase. The good thing about this is since the Aviator Red card is only earning American Airline miles, it would be my preference to use American Express Cards, such as the American Express Personal Gold or the American Express Personal Platinum Cards, or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card to earn points.

If that doesn’t make sense, I am going to break it down: for example, if there was a $3,000 minimum spend on this American Airlines Aviator Red Card, and I am only earning 1 American Airline point per dollar spent, at the end of that minimum spend period I would only have 3,000 American Airlines miles, which can only be used towards American Airlines flights. What particularly sucks about this is if I have a trip I want to take and I am looking at flight options, and all I have are American Airlines Miles, that is my only option if I want to do a redemption. I have seen some flights that were 20,000 points on one airlines, and only 7,500 on another, for practically the same exact flight. Which is why it is good to leave your airline options open. If I, on the other hand, was using my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, not only I would get at least 3,750 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (at a 1.25x points earning rate), but I could transfer these points to several different airlines, which would give my options to use less points for my flight, or I could pay with points which would give me 1.25x the value on points. If I was using my American Express Gold card and it was on grocery and restaurant purchases (which are currently at 4x), I would get 12,000 Membership Rewards points for that same purchase, or if I was using the American Express Platinum Card and during the 6 month sign-up period with the current promotion going on, and the $3,000 was spent on grocery stores and gas stations (which are currently at 10x), you could get 30,000 Membership Rewards Points. These membership rewards points can be transferred to several different airline partners, which also gives you flexibility in your flight options to give you the best value. So, this is why I steer away from co-branded credit cards (credit cards specific to airlines or hotels), because it is better to collect credit card points. They’re good for the sign-up bonus, but that’s pretty much it. But in this case, it’s a non-issue—basically, you can spend $3 and get 60,000 airline miles for American Airlines and that’s it.

The second major factor was the annual fee being waived. Since the annual fee was waived, I have literally nothing to lose if I sign up for the card, buy a $3 coffee, and downgrade to a no-fee card after holding onto the card for one year.

So this is exactly what I did. I got this credit card, I bought a $3 coffee, and I waited a few months for a good opportunity to use them. A few friends brought up an opportunity to go to Aruba, which cost 12,500 American Airlines points each way. Since I already had the points in my American Airlines account, I was able to book it immediately. Although, the taxes and fees totaled $90. So, not only did I get free flights to and from Aruba by getting this card, but I also still have 35,000 miles left, which I could use for another trip to Aruba if I really wanted to. This same flight would have cost $621 if I was paying cash.

This was a particularly good redemption for me because my home airport is Indianapolis, and because there are a limited number of direct flights from that airport, flights tend to be more expensive than a direct flight from more popular airports. I found that the 12,500 rate was the same regardless of what airport in the US I flew out of. For example, I flew Indianapolis to Charlotte, then Charlotte to Aruba. I had looked up flights from Charlotte to Aruba, and the flight was also 12,500 American Airlines miles. I appreciate this about American Airlines miles, as it makes my miles go further.

If you apply now online, the annual fee is not waived (worth asking if they will waive it), however the bonus is currently 60,000 points. The 9,500 additional points, as you can see from my point redemption, could potentially be worth more than that $99 annual fee.

Another cool thing about this card is that it allowed me to board in boarding group 5, which is about 5 seconds before the general populous in group 6. This gave me just enough time to get overhead bin space for my carry-on near my seat.

I plan on not using the Aviator Red Card any more, and downgrading the card to an American Airlines card with no annual fee. To prevent myself from accidentally using or losing the card, I decided to put it through the shredder. I check my account periodically to make sure there is no activity on it.

Do you have any questions on how this works? Let me know in the comments, or feel free to send me an email!

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