How To Fly Free Forever

Open Jaw

When your net worth is USD 1.37 billion, you’re not exactly struggling to afford a plane ticket. But for Chinese billionaire Liu Yiqian, that’s not enough. He wants his whole family to fly free, in first class, anywhere in the world, for the rest of his life. And he’s done that by buying a painting.

Liu was the winning bidder for Amedeo Modigliani’s “Reclining Nude” at a Christie’s auction this month — offering $170.4 million — and when the sale closes he’ll be putting it on his American Express card. But it’s not just any Amex card. Liu has an American Express Centurion Card, aka the “black card”. Amex issues it by invitation only and it has no official credit limit. It also earns points.

In theory, it's possible to put a ($170 million purchase) on an American Express card," said American Express spokeswoman Elizabeth Crosta. "It is based on our relationship with that individual card member and these decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, based on our knowledge of their spending patterns."

It's a common tactic, says Bill Majcher, a former financial crimes investigator for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who is now based in Hong Kong working as an investment banker. "One simple little black AmEx card or one credit card, you never know what somebody's limits are," he said. "And some people have unlimited amounts based on their wealth and ability to pay."

Using a baseline of one point per dollar, Liu will earn 170,400,000 Membership Reward points for buying the painting. There’s also the matter of taxes and Christie’s fees adding to the final transaction. According to Zach Honig, editor-in-chief of travel rewards site The, flying free for Liu and his family for the rest of his life should not be a problem.

One conversion calculates that he could fly 3,000 times between the U.S. and Europe in the first class suites offered by SQ (estimated cost: $17,800 round trip), if he converted his points to SQ's FFP.

Gives a whole new meaning to Never Leave Home Without It.

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