Saturday, November 30, 2013

Free Hotel Rooms in Vancouver this Winter - No Strings Attached!

BeVancouver is offering a free $75 (CAD) Amex gift card when you book through and check in.  Most major downtown hotels are participating in the promotion.  You can even use the card to pay for your stay!

This is a tremendous deal, since it's good for one night stays and many hotels in Vancouver offer rates at or under $75 per night.  You could actually make money from this deal.  Although you can't use it for consecutive stays at the same hotel, you can actually book up to 3 stays with this offer for a savings of $225!  If you want to stay consecutive nights, just be sure to jump to another participating hotel.

As always, be sure to check reviews before booking a cheap hotel.

Some good choices (all four star on TripAdvisor) are the Best Western Plus, the funky Burrard Hotel, or the Comfort Inn Downtown, which all have decent locations and regular rates under $100.  We just booked the Comfort Inn for a February ski trip for $75/nt.  All we'll need to pay is taxes and fees, which amount to approximately $12!

The deadline is December 31 for stays through February, but if this deal gets popular it may end earlier.

Credit: sbanders via FT

Saturday, September 21, 2013

ANA Not Charging Fuel Surcharges on SAS Redemptions - The Cheap Way to Europe

ANA is an American Express Membership Rewards transfer partner (1000 Membership Rewards = 1000 ANA Miles), and a very lucrative one at that.  They have a great search engine and access to Star Alliance awards, so availability is typically fantastic.

In the past, I've written about ANA's excellent bargains for domestic and North American travel redemptions.  For example, you can travel up to 2,000 miles on a round trip domestic or North American flight for just 20,000 miles, and up to 4,000 miles for 22,000 miles.  These deals are a result of a generous distance-based award chart coupled with no fees or surcharges for United and US Airways domestic travel.

Generous Award Chart
The major downside to ANA is they typically charge fuel surcharges for their partners.  A "free" award ticket suddenly jumps up to $500+ when you're traveling to Europe on, say, Lufthansa.  The Points Guy wrote an excellent blog post a while back detailing some of these fees and surcharges.

It turns out that, at least for now, ANA is not charging fuel surcharges for SAS flights.  SAS flies a number of routes between the US (San Francisco, Chicago, Washington and Newark) and Scandanavia (Oslo, Stockholm, and Copenhagen).  They have easy connections to a number of European destinations, including Iceland.

There are some incredible bargains to be had, including Newark to Oslo for only 43,000 miles round trip plus $40 in fees!

Plus, ANA allows up to two stopovers on a European itinerary, and doesn't charge for "surface travel", meaning you could take the train out to Bergen (to take a look at the Norwegian Fjords) and tag on a flight back to Oslo.  You'd only need to add the miles for the time you spend on the plane, and in this case there are no additional miles required for the redemption.

Perhaps of particular interest to travelers are SAS's Iceland itineraries.  SAS is one of the few "mainline" airlines that flies to Iceland, connecting through Oslo.  Their flights are a bargain at only 55,000 miles round trip from Chicago, Washington, and Newark.  Here's a sample itinerary from Grand Rapids:

With only $63 of fees and other charges, this is a bargain redemption.  Plus, you can stop over in both Oslo and Reykjavik.

Availability isn't fantastic, but there are still some flights left for peak summer season in 2014.

Here is the breakout of fees for the itinerary above:

Enjoy these bargain redemptions while they last, and remember that ANA often charges additional fuel surcharges when you call -- so this deal is probably only available for itineraries booked online.

Borneo Step By Step Part 1: Chicago to Hong Kong

My wife and I just got back from a great two week trip to Borneo.  I'll take you step-by-step through our trip, the booking process, and the number of miles and dollars spent, so you can see what it takes to book your own trip.

Although almost everything was actually booked about a year in advance, our costs are broken out on a day-by-day basis.

Friday, August 16 - Pre-Trip to Chicago

In an unfortunate turn of events, my grandmother passed away just a few days before our trip.  Although Chicago was meant to be a quick Saturday night stopover, I called American Airlines and had them bump our first flight to Friday instead.  Even though it was a last-minute change, they waived any change fees ($75?) and let us on a Friday fight for free.  We were able to attend the funeral in Chicago before our big trip.

Flight: United Economy GRR-ORD (67,500 AA miles per person from Citi AA bonus)
Hotel: Hyatt Place (5,000 Hyatt miles transferred from Chase Sapphire)
Lounge: None
Totals so far: 5k Chase, 135k AA, $35

Saturday, August 17 - Overnight in Chicago

Originally, our Hong Kong flight departed on Saturday, but AA managed to mess up one of our tickets and we got bumped to Sunday.  This worked out well, though, since we were able to visit a friend.

Flight: None
Hotel: None
Lounge: None
Totals so far: 5k Chase, 135k AA, $35

Sunday, August 18 - Off to Hong Kong

Finally, we were starting our "real" trip.  The CTA Blue Line took us from Chicago to the airport without incident.  Ground service in Chicago consisted of a Swissair contract lounge with some extra food set out for Cathay Pacific passengers.  Pretty crappy, but it came with an escort to the gate which was a nice touch.  I spent much of the time before our flight exploring the old Terminal 5 including the old Alitalia lounge which was closed and in ruins but unlocked, and a section of unused gates that was filled with sleepy airport employees.

Blue Line to O'Hare
Swissair Lounge

Following a bit of urban exploration (airport style), my wife and I boarded our 777.  Wow, what can I say?  International first class is incredible!  Our suites consisted of a love seat, a guest seat/ottoman, a personal closet, and a nice size TV.  We found out there were three flight attendants working the six seat cabin, and they personally introduced themselves and offered pre-flight drinks.  I ordered their non-alcoholic specialty drink made of mint and kiwi juice -- mmmm!

Cathay Pacific First Class Suite

My wife and I pre-reserved seat 1A and 2A, which are separated from the rest of the first class cabin with a divider.  It was literally like having our own private jet.  The only downside is we sat so far away from each other, we couldn't talk much en-route.

However, at dinner time, they added a table extender and we were able to eat sitting across from each other.  Wow!

Dinner across from each other.

Following dinner, the flight attendants made up our very comfy beds, and we changed into our provided Shanhai Tang pajamas.  Classy!

First class pajamas!

Quite honestly, the beds were incredible -- better than many of our hotel beds.  I could actually stretch out with room to spare, and I'm tall (6'5").

When we landed, it was around 8pm in Hong Kong, one day later.

Flight: Cathay Pacific First Class ORD-HKG
Hotel: First class suite :)
Lounge: Swissair Contract Lounge
Totals so far: 5k Chase, 135k AA, $35

Monday, August 19 - Hong Kong Arrival

Upon arrival, customs were fast and easy, and we grabbed some local currency from the ATM.

Although there was a high-speed train from the airport, it didn't go directly to our hotel in Kowloon, and we didn't want to mess around with transfers.  Instead, we took the CityFlyer bus, route A21, toward Nathan Road.  The fare was HK$33 (around $4), far cheaper than the train, and it took us right to the door of our hotel.  Announcements were easy to understand, in English, and broadcasted on a LED panel above the driver.  Nearby hotels were listed, and there was tons of space for luggage.  What a deal!

About an hour later, we arrived at the Intercontinental Hong Kong.  As part of my IHG credit card renewal, they credited my account with a free stay anywhere in the world.  The Intercontinental in Hong Kong is one of IHG's flagship properties, right on the bay, and I was looking forward to our stay.

Giant room at the Intercontinental
Upon check-in, we found out we were upgraded to a huge room overlooking the pool (not the bay, unfortuantely), and received a couple of drink vouchers for the evening.  Our room had a giant bed (much larger than a king), lots of art including a sculpture in the bathroom, and a nice selection of fruit including a dragonfruit.  We were even able to check-in inside our room instead of the lobby -- a nice touch.  My wife and I are both IHG platinum due to our credit cards, but typically Intercontinental hotels don't offer a lot of benefits to platinum members because they have their own buy-in loyalty program.  We were pleasantly surprised with the treatment we received, and the room was a great use of our free night.

View from the bar at the Intercontinental Hong Kong

Flight: None
Hotel: Intercontinental Hong Kong (free from Credit Card Renewal)
Lounge: None
Totals so far: 5k Chase, 135k AA, $43

Tuesday, August 20 - Dim Sum

We woke up the early the next morning to a warm, sunny day.  Having been introduced to Dim Sum back in the states, we were anxious to try the "real thing" in Hong Kong.  We grabbed the Star Ferry across Victoria Bay, which was a cheap, clean, and pleasant way to make the jump.

Star Ferry
When we arrived on the opposite shore, we were somewhat amazed to find out that Hong Kong is connected together with a series of above-ground walkways, making walking on the street mostly unnecessary.  The walkways were well-used, clean, and direct, although we couldn't help but think were were running around in a giant habitrail.

Finally, we arrived at our destination, the old and drab but oh-so-delicious Lin Heung Tea House.  The place had all the atmosphere of an interrogation room -- shared dirty tables, clocks on the wall pushing you to eat faster, and bright flourescent lights covering the entire ceiling.  Old women shoved trolleys through the aisles, tossing down selected food and writing down marks on patrons' tally sheets.  If you exhibited any hesitation, the trolly would be gone -- fortunately, the next one was not far behind.

Dim Sum

I honestly have no idea what we ate, and I'm pretty sure they just charged us some random amount at the cashier stand -- likely unrelated to our actual orders.  But, it was cheap and good, and quite an experience!

Dim Sum

We explored some of the famous escalators, used to pull people up and down the mountains that make up the city center, and eventually made our way back toward the airport on the bus.

My next report will detail our flight to Malaysia.

Flight: Malaysian Airlines Hong Kong -> Kota Kinabalu
Hotel: Intercontinental Hong Kong (free from Credit Card Renewal)
Lounge: Cathay Pacific "The Wing" First Class Lounge
Totals so far: 5k Chase, 135k AA, $85

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Borneo Trip: What a privilege to be able to travel like this!

About a week ago, my wife and I returned from a two week trip to Hong Kong, Malaysian Borneo, and Singapore.  In many ways, it was an epic trip.  We flew over 30 hours in private first class suites, complete with gourmet meals, comfy beds, and our own private flight attendant.  We saw Orang Utans in the wild, stood face-to-face with flying foxes, and got to release baby sea turtles into the sea at a turtle sanctuary.  We slept on everything from a huge luxury bed at the Fullerton Bay Hotel in Singapore to a moldy mattress in the jungle at Uncle Tan's Wildlife camp, and loved every second of it!

These are experiences few Americans ever get to experience, and for most, this would be a trip of a lifetime.  Our flights alone retailed for around $60,000.  Yet, our combined out-of-pocket expenses for the entire trip only totaled $2,500, including everything from domestic flights to tours to lodging and ground transportation.  And, about a third of our expenses went toward our climbing expedition to Mount Kinabalu.  Unfortunately, they haven't built a Hyatt on the mountain yet.

Perhaps even more amazing is that we didn't have to do anything crazy to get there.  Our flights came from fewer than two credit card signups each (we had miles to spare at the end!) and almost all of our hotels were covered by everyday spend on our Starwood and Chase Sapphire Preferred cards.  Nearly anyone with a decent credit score could have done the exact same trip.  By taking advantage of our hotel status and points-based upgrades, we were able to get breakfast, snacks, and evening drinks at many of the properties we visited, cutting down on food expenses.

In the upcoming weeks, I'll be dissecting this trip in more detail to show you how obtainable a vacation like this can really be.  Until then, I'll continue to sit in amazement about what is really possible with this hobby.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Daily Getaways: Luxury Hotels Through Preferred Hotel Group for $150 or Less!

It's Daily Getaways season once again, and over the next few weeks you have the chance to purchase hotel points at a discount from almost every major hotel loyalty program in America.  Each day, a different hotel chain is featured and a limited number of points are sold at a discount.

Of particular interest to me are the Choice Hotels redemptions, where you can purchase 40,000 Choice Privileges points for $166 (or $149.40 when you pay with an American Express card).

40,000 Choice Privileges points can get you a lot of free nights at ho-hum Sleep Inns or Comfort Inns around the world and can be a tremendous bargain, but 40,000 points can also get you a luxury hotel from Preferred Hotels group through Choice Hotels' partnerships.

It works like this:
To give you an idea of the savings achieved, here's Kayak's pricing for the Travaasa in Austin, a fantastic destination spa resort:

As you can see, the Daily Getaways deal will save you $217 plus taxes (over 60%) on the price of a room at the Travaasa.

There are lots of other great hotels for 30k-40k points, so be sure to look around and figure out if this offer makes sense for you.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Free LMTClub Membership - Get it Now!

LMTClub is currently offering free memberships using promotion code "4JULYFREE".

I love LMTClub because they often have excellent deals on expensive hotels -- as much as 60-70% off list price.  LMTClub is an online hotel booking site run by Travel Holdings, Inc.  They also own other entities such as, Tourico Holidays, and Travel Global systems.  Their various entities typically share inventory, and -- despite websites that don't look particularly professional -- they seem to have pretty strong buying power worldwide.

Many points junkies recognize as a player in the opaque hotel booking business.  Like Priceline and Hotwire, allows you to book hotels at significant discounts, but they don't tell you the name of the hotel until after you've made the purchase.

LMTClub essentially provides the same inventory as but the hotels aren't opaque.  In other words, you get a great deal and you know exactly what you're going to get.  And, typically, you can change/cancel without a fee and accrue points on your stay if it's allowed by the hotel chain.

Here's an example.  We're currently planning a trip to Vancouver next February, and we'd love to stay at the Hyatt downtown.  Here are Kayak's results:

Kayak's Prices

Now, here's what I can get from LMTClub on the same dates:

LMTClub's Prices
How about a trip to Chicago?  Let's stay at the Hard Rock hotel on August 31.  Here's Kayak:

Kayak's Prices
And LMTClub:

LMTClub's Prices

These prices are pretty consistent with what you'll find in almost any big city.

Moral of the story -- sign up.  There's no reason not to.  And be sure to check out LMTClub before you book your next hotel at retail price.

Note: I am not affiliated with LMTClub in any way (other than as a member).

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Booking Delta Award Tickets? Use callback to skip the queue -- on your terms.

Delta has a cool feature that will call you back during periods of long hold times instead of making you wait on hold.  Since I don't have status with Delta and often book award tickets in the evening, I'm typically faced with 1 hour (or greater) hold times.

So what happens when they call you back and you don't have your partially-booked-online international business class award ticket ready to modify? (you are using this trick to avoid telephone booking fees for complex international itineraries, r-i-i-ight?)  Turns out, you can actually avoid answering the call, and it will keep you at the front of the queue for 15 minutes or so.  Then you simply call back and they'll answer immediately.

So, my typical pattern:

  1. Call Delta to get a place in line.  Set up callback.
  2. Book as much of the ticket online as possible.
  3. When the callback comes, punch the keys that say I'm not available (unless I am...  then I just take the call).
  4. Get everything squared away and call back.  No line.
This is just a fun little trick I hope benefits someone else...

Sunday, April 14, 2013

772 to 732 - Don't Close Your Oldest Account!

Back a few years ago, when I was just getting into the miles and points game, I decided to overhaul my credit card collection, removing cards that were expensive and weren't great for everyday spending (like the old First USA United Airlines card) and adding new cards (like the SPG American Express).

What I didn't realize is I actually owned my old United Airlines card since the 90's, giving me 10+ years of on-time payment history.  When I canceled the card, it didn't have much immediate effect on my score since it was still listed on my report.  The real penalty came just about a month ago when the card's history actually fell off my credit report.  Worse yet, the card fell off my report literally days before I applied to refinance my mortgage.

To give you an idea of the damage, my score on CreditKarma/TransUnion was at 772 prior to March, and it dropped to 732 a few days after the account fell off my report -- a total of 40 points.  A month later, my score hasn't even started moving back up.  Ouch!

Fortunately, the other credit reporting agencies didn't give me quite such a hit and my score was still sufficient to receive a good rate on my mortgage.  On the flip side, I'm seriously worried about applying for additional cards in the near future.

Learn from my mistakes, and don't close your oldest account.  If you want to get out of an annual fee on a card you don't use, ask your credit card company to switch you over to another no-annual-fee card under the same account.  Typically, they're more than willing to do so.

Monday, April 8, 2013

AviancaTaca Buy Miles 100% Bonus - Seriously, Go Buy Miles!

It's almost never a great deal to buy miles.  Except now.  It doesn't get much sweeter than this for outright buying premium class flights, and you can easily save $10,000+ per ticket.

AviancaTaca is a Star Alliance partner.  Right now, they're selling miles for 1.5 cents per mile (regularly 3+ cents).  To sweeten the deal, they offer cash+miles redemptions where you can buy up to 60% of the miles needed for 1.275 cents per mile.  If you buy 40% of the miles you need, and pay the rest when you book your ticket, you can effectively get miles for 1.365 per mile.

Their award chart is good, with no fuel surcharges.  They do charge some taxes plus a $25 booking fee if you're booking partner airlines.

To buy miles, visit Lifemiles.

Here's how it all plays out.  As you can see, you can fly anywhere in the world in business class for under $2000:

Prices w/ Buy Miles Promotion

Some restrictions to be aware of:

  • You must have been an AviancaTaca Lifemiles member before April 8 to get in on the promotion.  If you're not already a member, sign up now so you can take advantage of the next promo.
  • All of your travel must be in the same class of travel.  Domestic first class counts as business class.  No mixing.
  • No stopovers greater than 8 hours.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Need FREE Rental Car Coverage in Ireland? Get the Chase Amtrak Card!

In a couple of months, we're going to be taking a week-long trip to Ireland with Mrs. TIL.  This will be my second trip there, and I'm looking forward to being with my wife on her first trip.

If you've ever tried to rent a car in Ireland, you know it can be quite a hassle.  Like a number of other countries (Costa Rica, I'm looking at you), Ireland has a few notoriously bad sections of road, and car rental companies that love to charge an insane rate for collision and damage coverage (CDW).

To make matters worse, most credit cards explicitly exclude coverage in Ireland.  Visa is out.  American Express is out.  Even Amex's Platinum and "premium" rental car coverage excludes Ireland.  From what I've read, only a few select World Mastercards provide coverage, and the common Mastercards hoisted by points and miles junkies (the Barclay's US Airways World Mastercard, for example) provide their own coverage that excludes Ireland.

I love this card!

You might be surprised, then, to hear that the one card in my entire stack of points cards that does provide coverage in Ireland is the Amtrak Guest Rewards Mastercard.  Yes, that wonderful no-annual-fee, rarely promoted, low budget card that everyone in the travel community seems to overlook.  Of course, the Amtrak card is also the key to some incredible hotel redemptions, but that's not what we're talking about today.

If you're traveling to a country like Ireland or Costa Rica, it's always a good idea to get a letter of coverage prior to your travels.  For MasterCard, you can simply call 1-800-MC-ASSIST and they'll email you a letter within a few minutes of your call.  Here's the one I received a few days ago:

Yes, it covers rentals in Ireland!

If you don't already have this card, the best way to find the current bonus offer is to create an account and sign in to the Amtrak Guest Rewards website.  Look at the bottom of the page and you'll find an ad for the card.  Currently, the bonus is 12,000 points.  I've seen up to 38,000, but 12k is still a pretty good bonus for a no-annual-fee card.

This little card continues to amaze me, and it blows my mind that its benefits often exceed even those of Chase's flagship Sapphire Preferred.  If you're planning a trip to Ireland, be sure to pick one up!

For your card's full terms and conditions be sure to call 1-800-MC-ASSIST.  The agent told me that benefits vary from card to card (and state to state?).

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Fly Round-Trip Almost Anywhere in North America for $550!

In this article I'll describe how to fly United or US Airways to/from almost anywhere in the continental USA, Mexico, Guatemala  Belize, Honduras, Canada, or the Western Caribbean for $550 plus airport taxes. 

ANA's Wonderful Award Chart

Last week, I discussed ways to fly domestically for under 25,000 miles.  Hidden in that article, I mentioned ANA's lucrative distance-based award chart, and the fact that they have stopped assessing fuel surcharges on award flights operated by United and US Airways.  ANA is fantastic in that they allow up to 4 stopovers (outside of your country of origin) and all of your legs are added together to calculate total mileage.

Also last week, one of my colleagues asked me if she could get a cheap spring break trip from the midwest United States to a sunny destination, but she didn't have any miles or points to spend.  As you can imagine, cheap spring break trips to sunny destinations aren't easy to find.  As a matter of fact, I couldn't find much of anything published for under $700.  So, I started to think about options for purchasing miles and redeeming for trips.

Buying Membership Rewards

To make this all work, you need to have an American Express credit card that accrues Membership Rewards.  This includes the Premier Rewards Gold card, the Platinum card, and a number of others.

Although few people know about it, American Express Membership Rewards actually sells points, in conjunction with any redemption, at a rate of $25 per 1000 points.  You can find information about purchasing points and the limits associated with each card on their site.  Although I typically wouldn't recommend purchasing points for 2.5 cents each, in some cases (like this) it actually makes sense.  For example, when BA was offering a 50% bonus a few months ago, you could effectively buy BA miles for under 2 cents each.

Tying it All Together

So, let's tie this all together.  First of all, ANA's partner award chart "sweet spot" is for trips that come in at less than 4000 miles.  In other words, your total round trip, including all connections, must be 4000 miles or less.
ANA award chart.

From Chicago, that basically covers the entire continental USA, Mexico, Guatemala  Belize, Honduras, most of Canada, and most of the Western Caribbean.  In other cities, your covered destinations may vary.  See the map below:

2000 mile radius around Chicago (data courtesy of Google Maps and gmaps-radius).

Now, it's just a matter of planning your trip, finding award availability on United's site, buying 22k miles per ticket (at $25 per 1000 = $550) and redeeming your award ticket.  Boom - a flight from/to just about anywhere for $550.

I'll walk you through step by step.

1. Search for United or US Airways "saver" award flights to your dream destination.

Grand Rapids to Grand Cayman

2. You can verify mileage at

Mileage Verification

3. Now go confirm availability at ANA.  You'll need an ANA Mileage Club account to do this, and at least a couple hundred miles in your account to use their Star Alliance Search.  If you don't have any miles in your account, you can transfer 1000 miles from Membership Rewards to start.

ANA search - it's easiest to search segment-by-segment.
ANA check-out screen confirming 22,000 miles.  Note the overnight layover and multiple airlines.

4. Purchase and transfer Membership Rewards points to ANA.  This takes about 24 hours.

Membership rewards typically transfer 1:1 to ANA.

5. Enjoy your trip!

If you already have membership rewards, you can also use 22,000 points to purchase your trip.  Just to give you an idea of value, my example trip listed retails at $585 on Kayak.  Especially after taxes and with such a minor price difference, I'd probably just buy the tickets outright.  However, there are many times when it's far cheaper to buy trips using Membership Rewards and ANA than to pay retail.

Retail price.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Domestic Economy Tickets for Under 25k? Yes!

For years, 25,000 miles has been the standard for US domestic award tickets.  However, some new "sweet spots" in airline award charts are slowly moving that number down.  Here are some frequent flyer programs to consider:

British Airways

Domestic American Airlines round trips start at just 9,000 miles for non-stop flights that are less than 650 miles each way.  For 15,000 miles, you can fly up to 1,151 miles each way.  For 20,000 miles, you can fly up to 2,000 miles each way.  Flights with stops require combining the above amounts.  For example, if one connection is 500 miles and the other is 1,000 miles, you could redeem 24,000 miles for a round trip.

You can transfer to BA from both Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards.  BA also doesn't charge close-in award fees or fuel surcharges for AA flights, so they're great for last minute trips!


Frontier is one of the final domestic hold-outs still offering domestic round trips for 20,000 miles, no strings attached.  You need to fly through Denver, though, and their destinations are limited.


ANA offers domestic flights on United (and, for a while, US Airways) for 20,000 ANA miles as long as the combined mileage for your round-trip flights is under 2,000 miles.  You can fly up to 4,000 miles for 22,000 ANA miles.

ANA does not charge fuel surcharges for flights on United, and you can transfer points to ANA from Membership Rewards.


Shorter-distance domestic itineraries (including between the US and Canada) are often priced at 15k, but you need to fly only Air Canada to get the discount.  They often charge outrageous fuel surcharges.


Short flights (under 700 miles each way) are priced at 20,000 miles for a round trip.  No strings attached.


If you're a Citi AAdvantage card holder, don't overlook AA's Reduced Mileage Awards, which offer round trips to select destinations for only 17,500 miles!  The only downside is you need to call to book, and you'll invariably incur a telephone booking fee.

US Airways

If you have their credit card and book a trip using only US Airways operated flights, you'll get domestic round trips for 20,000 miles.


Spirit, AirTran, Southwest, and other low cost carriers typically offer redemptions based on the price of the ticket.  There are definitely times when you can fly for under 25k miles (or equivalent).


It's probably worth noting that Starwood transfers to airlines come with a 5k bonus for every 20k points transferred, so you can effectively get round trips on any airline for 20k or under.

Summary of Round Trip Prices by Alliance

Star Alliance: 15k on Aeroplan, 20k on ANA, 20k on United, 20k on US Airways (with credit card).
Oneworld: 9k on BA, 17.5k on AA (with credit card).
None: 20k on Frontier, various amounts on LCCs.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Malaysia Airlines Redemption: Two Wrong Websites Don't Make a Right

I'm working on a complex itinerary to Borneo for this coming August, and decided to book a business class leg on Malaysia Airlines.  For those of you who don't know, Malaysia Airlines just became a OneWorld partner, meaning award flights are now bookable with American AAdvantage miles.

After the agent confirmed our business class itinerary, I didn't look too hard at the details.  But, this afternoon I decided to select seats and was surprised to find:

  • My email from American Airlines confirmed that I was in U class (business award inventory), but said ECONOMY next to the flight.
  • American Airlines' website showed ECONOMY next to the flight.
  • Malaysian Airlines' website showed an ECONOMY booking.
So, I called American to figure out what was going on.  They confirmed that I was, indeed, booked in business.  I asked to talk to a supervisor, and she finally booked me a business class seat to prove that I was booked in business class, and proceeded to follow up with, who confirmed it was a web bug.


You'd think out of all the parties involved, at least one would get it right.  However, this just stresses the  importance of confirming your flight details and not making assumptions about anything -- especially on award tickets.  And, don't assume the computers are right...

Monday, February 25, 2013

Disney on Points and Miles

I went out to lunch with an associate today, and we got to talking about my hobby (or perhaps addiction?).  In most cases when I explain the trips I've taken using points and miles, the other person doesn't really know where they want to go or what they want to do, and they're unlikely to ever follow through with earning and redeeming points and miles for a trip.  Although it sounds fun enough, they don't have enough interest to make it happen.

Who doesn't like Disney?
Today was a bit different, though.  The guy I met for lunch really wanted to take his family of four to Disney.  Nothing complicated, nothing fancy.  Just get from Michigan to Orlando in relative comfort.  First class if possible, but economy would be fine.

This is definitely possible, in some cases with a single well-timed credit card signup.  In lieu of any mega-offers, two simultaneous signups (either by the same person or two) would definitely fund the trip.  The only mega-offer currently out there is for the British Airways Visa, but it requires $20,000 in spend to get the 100,000 mile bonus.

1. Pick a Credit Card Signup Bonus

To narrow things down a bit, we're looking for a card that offers a nice signup bonus, preferably with no annual fee.  For a typical domestic redemption, we're looking at about 25k per person, so we want to find a card that provides at least a 50,000 mile signup bonus (assuming two card signups).

Here are some of the options currently out there:

Current Amex Offer - 50k!

  • Amex Premier Rewards Gold Card - 50k signup bonus after $1000 spend.  Transfers to British Airways (OneWorld alliance), Frontier, Delta (SkyTeam alliance), and Aeroplan (Star Alliance) for domestic flights, among others.  No annual fee for the first year.
  • Chase United Mileage Explorer Card - 55k signup bonus after $1000 spend and adding an authorized user.  No annual fee for the first year.
  • Chase British Airways Visa - 50k signup bonus after $1000 spend, 75k after $10000, 100k (!) after $20000.  $95 annual fee not waived.
  • Citi American Airlines Card (Visa or Amex) - 50k signup bonus after $3000 spend,  $150 statement credit for first AA purchase, and two free Admiral's Club passes.  No annual fee for the first year.
I'd personally recommend the Amex Premier Rewards Gold Card since it is the most flexible.  American Express Membership Rewards points can be transferred to airlines across all three major alliances and a handful of others, and left over miles can be used for hotels.

Another option is the BA Visa.  The current bonus ends on February 27, but is good for up to 100,000 British Airways miles!

2. Find The Best Flight Redemptions

For the cards above, we're looking at redeeming miles using British Airways, Frontier, Delta, Aeroplan, United, or American.  It's probably worth mentioning that just because points are redeemed with these airlines doesn't mean the flights need to be flown with these airlines.  For example, British Airways miles can be redeemed for American Airlines flights; Aeroplan miles can be redeemed for United, Air Canada, and US Airways flights.

When redeeming awards, you must redeem miles according to the redemption airline's award chart, even if you're flying on a partner airline.  For example, if you want to fly American Airlines from Chicago to Orlando using British Airways miles (which is possible, by the way), you would redeem according to British Airways' award chart.

Let's take a look at the possible redemptions in coach:

Chicago - Orlando Round Trip

One-Way Distance-Based Award Chart for British Airways 

  • 15,000 British Airways (flying on American Airlines)
  • 20,000 Frontier (flying on Frontier)
  • 25,000 Delta (flying on Delta)
  • 25,000 Aeroplan (flying on United, Air Canada, or US Airways)
  • 25,000 United (flying on United, Air Canada, or US Airways)
  • 25,000 American (flying on American Airlines)

Grand Rapids - Orlando Round Trip

One-Way Distance-Based Award Chart for British Airways
  • 24,000 British Airways (flying on American Airlines)
  • 20,000 Frontier (flying on Frontier)
  • 25,000 Delta (flying on Delta)
  • 25,000 Aeroplan (flying on United, Air Canada, or US Airways)
  • 25,000 United (flying on United, Air Canada, or US Airways)
  • 25,000 American (flying on American Airlines)
British Airways direct from Chicago is definitely a sweet spot!  At only 15k for a round trip, my associate could fly his family to and from Orlando and still have miles left over for two more flights.  Frontier is also a bit cheaper than others, but requires connecting in Denver.  Frontier's availability for redemption is also quite limited.

For redemptions, I'd probably look at using British Airways miles if possible, but fall back to other airlines if necessary.  Assuming my associate signs up for the Premier Rewards Gold Card, he can take advantage of different transfers and options based on availability.

3. Book Hotels

Without a large stash of hotel points, I'd look at a few different options:
  • Transfer from American Express to Hotel Points.
  • Use Priceline, Hotwire, or LastMinuteTravel to score a cheap hotel.
  • Best Rate Guarantees
Unfortunately, American Express hotel transfers are rarely a great deal.  Points can be funneled through Virgin America to Hilton, but Hilton's upcoming award chart devaluation would make any good Orlando properties cost-prohibitive.  Priceline, Hotwire, LastMinuteTravel and Best Rate Guarantees can all be very lucrative in Orlando.

4. Rent a Car

Orlando car rentals are crazy cheap, especially when booked through Priceline or Hotwire.

5. Find Cheap Disney Tickets

Haha, just kidding.  But I do recommend checking out Sea World or the Disney water parks while in Orlando.  Blizzard Beach is a blast in the summer!

6. Put it All Together!
  1. Apply for a couple of cards that provide British Airways miles.  I recommend the Amex Premier Rewards Gold card and/or the Chase BA Visa.
  2. Spend $1000 on each card within the first few months (time period for minimum spend varies).
  3. Once the miles post (after your first statement, usually), book four tickets on American Airlines to Orlando.  Use British Airways miles to book the flights.
  4. Book a cheap hotel and car.
  5. Enjoy!
  6. After a year, cancel or keep the cards.  Remember, annual fees can usually be negotiated.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Ultimate Rewards for Luxury Hotel Stays - Excellent Redemption Value!

Okay, stay with me here.  To take advantage of this offer (and many other good Ultimate Rewards redemptions) you need to have either Amtrak Guest Rewards elite status or $200/yr. Amtrak travel spend on Amtrak's annual fee-free credit card.

If you're an Amtrak Guest Rewards member, you probably already know that you can transfer Ultimate Rewards to Amtrak Guest Rewards on a 1:1 basis.  It's a great deal in itself, since Amtrak offers first-class sleeper car accommodation (with meals) starting at 15,000 points -- for two people!

1:1 transfer UR to Amtrak

Amtrak Guest Rewards also has a couple of other great redemption options.  One is for Hilton, which transfers 1:2.  There are certainly deals to be had if you can now redeem Ultimate Rewards for Hilton points on a 1:2 basis.  The other hotel transfer option is to Choice Hotels, on a 1:3 basis.  Again, this is a great deal if you like to stay at Comfort Suites, Clarion, etc., since Choice redemptions start at only 6000 points.  You can literally stay at the top-rated hotel in Cork, Ireland (the brand new Clarion Cork) for only 8000 points.  That's only 2,667 Ultimate Rewards Points!

HHonors is good, but Choice Hotels is an even better transfer!

But, if you're like me, you like to use your points for more "aspirational" properties, and that's where Choice Hotels' partnership with Preferred Hotel Group comes in.

Choice Hotels partnership w/ Preferred Hotel Group

The Preferred Hotel Group redemptions start at 30,000 Choice Privileges points and go up to 60,000.  You need to book through the phone, and many phone agents aren't very familiar with the program.  The program was devalued quite a bit at the beginning of 2013, and a new tier was added, but there are still plenty of deals to be had.  I did some test bookings for a one night stay on an upcoming Saturday night, March 2.

We stayed at the Travaasa near Austin last year when it was still 30k.  Now it's 40k, but still a stellar deal.

40k Choice points

Retail price

The Travaasa offers complementary activities such as horse training, archery, and yoga.  Typically, you'd have to pay $482 ($450 + tax).  Or you could get the same room for 13,333 UR points.  That's 3.6 cents per point!  And, if you join the "I Prefer" loyalty program before booking, you'll probably get an upgrade and free breakfast, too.

Going to New York?  How about a night at the top-ranked Sherry Netherland boutique hotel?

60k Choice points

Retail price

Yes, it's 60k (or 20,000 UR points), which is pretty steep.  However, you're getting a $684 ($575 + tax) hotel room.  Calculated out, you're getting 3.4 cents per point!

One last example, this time in Hawaii.  For 40k (or 13,333 UR points), you can book the Waikiki Parc Hotel.  In March, it goes for $370 ($325+tax).  That's 2.8 cents per point!

40k Choice points

Retail price

In summary, there are some incredible redemptions available by transferring Ultimate Rewards points to Amtrak and Choice Privileges.  Using Choice Hotels' partnership with Preferred Hotel Group, you can easily get 3+ cents per point when you redeem Ultimate Rewards points for luxury hotels.  And, you can still get perks from the Preferred Hotel Group "I Prefer" loyalty program just for signing up.

Don't forget, to transfer points through Amtrak Guest Rewards you need at least $200 Amtrak travel spend on their annual fee-free credit card, or Amtrak elite status.  And, many of the transfers discussed take a week or two, so leave yourself a bit of extra time before your trip.