Have you ever wanted to experience the over-the-top luxury and outrageous architecture of the Middle East’s top tourist spots? You don’t have to be a jet-setting playboy or prince to visit five-star hotels, fine-dining restaurants, the world’s largest malls and man-made island resorts.
You can book a free flight to the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and other destinations for as little as 55,000 miles and save your cash for shopping, food and other indulgences. With the right rewards credit card you can earn the miles you need to get to the Middle East in as little as three months.
The Cheapest Award Flights to the Middle East
To calculate the cost of award flights, we researched routes between major hubs on both coasts of the U.S. to various popular airports in the Middle East. You can use the search feature at RewardExpert to find out the best programs to book with and credit cards to get for any route.
These are the frequent flyer programs offering the cheapest round-trip economy flights:
|JAL Mileage Bank||55,000 to 60,000||$85|
|ANA Mileage Club||65,000||$40|
|Air Canada Aeroplan||80,000||$50|
|Air France KLM Flying Blue||80,000||$140|
|Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan||85,000||$50|
No flight is completely free. All airlines add taxes and fees to award flights. In most cases the fees total under $100, but some frequent flyer programs add prohibitively high fuel surcharges, such as British Airways Executive Club. Those programs have been omitted from the results.
JAL Mileage Bank is the only program on the list that uses distance-based award charts. It costs slightly more to book an award flight through JAL to the Middle East from the West Coast.
All of the airlines above partner with other carriers. For flights to the Middle East, you’ll be flying on the following airlines through the various frequent flyer programs:
|Program||Airlines to Book||Partner Airlines to Avoid Due to Cost|
|JAL Mileage Bank||Emirates, Qatar||Air France, British Airways|
|ANA Mileage Club||Etihad||Turkish Airlines|
|Delta SkyMiles||Air France, KLM||Aeroflot|
|Air Canada Aeroplan||Turkish Airlines|
|American Advantage||Qatar, Etihad||British Airways|
|Air France KLM Flying Blue||Air France, KLM, Saudia|
|Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan||Emirates, Air France, KLM||British Airways|
|United MileagePlus||Turkish Airlines, Air China, Lufthansa, Swiss|
Cards With Transferrable Points
Some credit card rewards programs allow you to transfer the points you earn to a variety of frequent flyer programs. Generally speaking, these are the best cards to get because of their flexibility and value. You aren’t tied to one carrier like you are with co-branded airline cards, but you can still get the most out of your points by transferring them directly to frequent flyer programs.
Credit cards that work like cashback cards, offering statement credits towards travel purchases, are very flexible. The problem with those cards, like Capital One Spark Miles and the Barclaycard Arrival Plus, is that the redemption rate is fixed. You will always get the same value for your points, which is typically a cent each.
If you can transfer your points to frequent flyer programs, however, you can find better bargains and often get over two cents per point or more. That’s why the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express, the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Reserve cards, and the American Express Premier Rewards Gold card top our list of recommendations.
|Card||Starwood Preferred Guest Amex Card|
|Sign-Up Bonus||25,000 points|
|Annual Fee||$95, first year waived|
|Bonus Earning Categories||Up to 5x at Starwood properties|
|Airline Transfer Partners||Over 30, including American, Delta, ANA, Air France KLM, Alaska, JAL, Air Canada and more|
You might not think that the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card would be the best option because it’s co-branded with a hotel rewards program. But it’s actually one of the most flexible award cards available because you can transfer points to over 30 airlines, most of which offer a 1:1 exchange rate.
To get to the Middle East, you can transfer the points you earn with this card to JAL Mileage Bank, Delta SkyMiles, Air France KLM Flying Blue, American Airlines AAdvantage, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, ANA Mileage Club and Air Canada Aeroplan. In fact, the only program that you wouldn’t want to transfer to is United MileagePlus. It takes two SPG points to get one United mile.
While it’s an extremely flexible card, it comes with a relatively small sign-up bonus of only 25,000 points. It makes up for that, though, by offering a 5,000-point bonus for transferring 20,000 points to an airline. That’s not a one-time bonus, either. You’ll get that every time you transfer.
Both the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Sapphire Reserve cards are great, offering big sign-up bonuses, generous bonus earning categories and seven airline transfer partners. For getting to the Middle East, you can transfer to United MileagePlus or Air France KLM Flying Blue.
|Card||Chase Sapphire Preferred|
|Sign-Up Bonus||50,000 points|
|Annual Fee||$95, first year waived|
|Bonus Earning Categories||2x travel and restaurants|
There are a lot of differences between these cards, though. The Sapphire Reserve is a premium card that comes with a lot of perks and a hefty price tag. Its annual fee is $450, compared to $95 for the Sapphire Preferred.
|Card||Chase Sapphire Reserve|
|Sign-Up Bonus||100,000 points|
|Bonus Earning Categories||3x travel and restaurants|
|Chase Ultimate Rewards Airline Transfer Partners||United, Air France KLM, British Airways, Singapore Airlines, Korean Air, Southwest and Virgin Atlantic|
Among the benefits of getting the more expensive Reserve card are a bigger sign-up bonus, triple points for travel and restaurant purchases, a $300 annual travel credit, a $100 application fee for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck and access to over 900 airport lounges with Priority Pass.
The Reserve’s introductory sign-up bonus is 100,000 points, which is way more than enough to get a ticket to the Middle East. That makes this card the quickest option on the list. It’s unclear how long this offer will last and what the subsequent sign-up bonus will be.
There’s nothing wrong with the Preferred card either. You’ll still get a 50,000-point sign-up bonus, double points for travel and restaurant purchases and the annual fee is waived for the first year.
|Card||Amex Premier Rewards Gold Card|
|Sign-Up Bonus||25,000 points|
|Annual Fee||$195, first year waived|
|Bonus Earning Categories||3x airfare; 2x restaurants, gas and groceries|
|Airline Transfer Partners||ANA, Air France KLM, Air Canada, Delta, British Airways, Aeromexico, Alitalia, Cathay Pacific, EL AL, Emirates, Etihad, Hawaiian Airlines, Iberia, JetBlue, Singapore Airlines, Virgin America and Virgin Atlantic|
The Membership Rewards points you earn with the American Express Premier Reward Gold card can be transferred to 17 frequent flyer programs, making it the second most flexible award program. To get to the Middle East, you can transfer them to ANA Mileage Club, Air France KLM Flying Blue, Delta SkyMiles and Air Canada Aeroplan.
While this card comes with a modest 25,000-point sign-up bonus, it does offer generous bonus earning categories. You’ll get triple miles for airfare and double miles at restaurants, gas stations and grocery stores.
The card’s annual fee is slightly higher than most midrange rewards cards at $195, but it is waived for the first year.
Some Other Options
If you decide against a card with transferable points, or if you already have all of the cards above, you might consider getting a co-branded airline card associated with one of the frequent flyer programs on the list.
Unfortunately the airlines offering the cheapest flights, ANA and JAL, also offer co-branded cards with very small sign-up bonuses, making them very undesirable for earning an award ticket quickly. The good news is that the Gold Delta SkyMiles, American Airlines AAdvantage Platinum Select, United MileagePlus Explorer and the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature cards all come with a 30,000-mile sign-up bonus.
If you frequently fly on one of those airlines, you should consider getting its co-branded card. All of the cards come with a free checked bag, priority seating and in-flight discounts. The Alaska card, though, might be the best of the four simply because it comes with an annual companion fare. For just $99 plus taxes and fees, you can take someone with you on a domestic round-trip flight operated by Alaska.
However, if you want to earn the award flight as fast as possible, the Gold Delta SkyMiles might be the best choice since Delta has cheaper award flights to the Middle East. Sometimes the sign-up bonus for that card will even go up to 60,000 miles, which might be worth waiting for.
Whichever card you get, you’ll be on your way to sun and luxury in no time. Consider getting a couple of cards. Combining a co-branded airline card with a transferrable points card is a great way to double down on sign-up bonuses.