Sunday, December 7, 2014

Making Australia Cheap

Mrs. TIL and I just got back from Australia, and it was an incredible trip.  We managed to visit Sydney, Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road, Adelaide, Alice Springs, Katherine, Darwin, Cairns, and Port Douglas all in a two week period, yet rarely felt "rushed".

Needless to say, for an American like me, Australia was a really expensive destination, with many meals costing $30+ for the two of us.  Yeah, their dollar isn't worth quite as much as ours; however, everything is priced much higher, especially in the cities and tourist zones.

So, how can a trip to Australia become affordable?  Here's a quick sampling of some of our Australia "wins", which were free or nearly free:

  • 2 Qantas First Class suites on the direct flight from Dallas to Sydney (the longest commercial flight in the world), along with connecting flights on AA
    • Price: 145k AAdvantage miles + tax (72.5k each)
  • 2 entries to the Centurion Lounge in Dallas, including a dinner buffet, premium cocktails, and a chair massage in the spa
    • Price: Free, reimbursed through SkyGuide Executive Privilege Club
  • 2 walking tours of Sydney
    • Price: Free + tip with I'm Free Walking Tours
  • Round trip transportation to/from Sydney airport
    • Price: Free bus, because the train lines weren't running the day we were there
  • 2 dinners w/ drinks at the Qantas Club Sydney
    • Price: Free with incoming boarding pass
  • 2 Qantas Business Class flights from Sydney to Melbourne
    • Price: Free using 24 hour international "free stopover" rule.
  • Night in an upgraded "room with a view" at the Park Hyatt Melbourne
    • Price: Free using credit card free night award
  • 2 walking tours of Melbourne
    • Price: Free + tip with I'm Free Walking Tours
  • 2 nights in a garden view room at the Radisson Melbourne
    • Price: First night 44k Club Carlson points; second night Free with credit card 
  • 2 nights in a river view room at the Intercontinental Adelaide
    • Price: Free with credit card free night award ($45 annual fee)
  • Private walking tour of Adelaide
    • Price: Free with Adelaide Greeters
  • 2 Qantas flights from Darwin to Cairns
    • Price: 20k AAdvantage miles + tax (10k each)
  • 2 dinners with drinks at the beautiful new Qantas Club Darwin
    • Price: Free entry with AA credit card
  • Night in an upgraded room and breakfast buffet at the Doubletree Cairns
    • Price: 12k HHonors points and $43 copayment.  Free breakfast with gold status
  • Hertz rental car to drive from Cairns to Port Douglas
    • Price: 500 Hertz points (free from a promotion) + $8 tax
  • Night in a lagoon view suite with private beach access at the Sheraton Port Douglas
    • Price: 10k SPG points
  • Dinner and drinks at the Reef Lounge in Cairns
    • Price: Free with flight
  • 2 Cathay Pacific business class tickets from Cairns to Hong Kong
    • Price: Free using 24 hour international "free stopover" rule
  • Dinner and drinks at the Cathay Pacific arrivals lounge in Hong Kong
    • Price: Free with flight
  • 2 round trip transfers from the Hong Kong Airport to the Intercontinental Hotel
    • Price: $14 ($7 ea.), one of the best deals around!
  • Night in an executive suite overlooking the city/harbor at the Intercontnental Hong Kong
    • Price: Free using credit card free night award ($45 annual fee)
  • Breakfast and drinks at Cathay Pacific's first class lounge
    • Price: Free with flight
  • 1 Cathay Pacific first class suite to Chicago
    • Price: 80k Alaska Airlines miles + tax
  • 1 Cathay Pacific business class flight to Chicago
    • Price: 60k Alaska Airlines miles + tax
  • 2 flights back to our hometown on AA
    • Price: 9k BA Miles (4.5k ea)
We literally got thousands of dollars of free flights, hotels, tours, and meals by using our miles and points wisely.  The "annual free night" awards provided by our credit cards were especially lucrative on this trip (and often overlooked in a points/miles strategy), especially when used at expensive hotels.

I should also point out that we got nearly a dozen free meals (mostly in lounges and airplanes) as a result of our planning.  With food being so expensive in Australia, it was great to be able to offset our meal costs with miles and points.

Looking back, the trip was still expensive, but we were definitely able to maximize our use of miles, points, and other deals to make it as cheap as possible.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Seat Assignments on OneWorld Award Tickets

For those of you booking flights with AAdvantage miles, BA Avios, or other Oneworld award currency, you've probably experienced the recent trend of certain airlines charging for seat assignments or withholding seat assignments until the last minute.  For example, AirBerlin is now charging $16 to pre-select a seat on an upcoming paid European flight:

Unlike with a paid reservation, booking an award ticket should get you a seat assignment.  Depending on the operating and ticketing airlines, you may or may not be able to to select a seat when you book your flight online.  However, if you are unable to select a seat upon booking, you can typically call the airline who ticketed your reservation and request a seat, and they'll put the request through for you (free of charge).

So, what should you do if the agent can't put your request through, or you simply don't want to call and wait on hold?  Here's a step-by-step guide:
  1. First, you need your Amadeus record locator.  In many cases, this will be provided when you book your ticket, or you can ask the agent.  For Avios bookings, the 6-charater BA record locator is your Amadeus record locator.  For AAdvantage bookings, you may need to ask for any alternate record locators because AA will use their own.
  2. Go to and look at the tails across the top of the site:

    Almost all of these airlines will allow you to pull up your reservation by simply entering your Amadeus record locator and last name.  Here's an example from Sri Lankan airlines' site (coincidentally, the last "tail" on the list):

  3. Put in your record locator and last name to pull up your reservation.  Typically, you'll find that you're redirected to Amadeus.  In some cases, you'll be given access to modify your reservation or select seats:
  4. Select your seat and confirm it went through - easy peasy.
Important: This trick typically does not work with Sri Lankan airlines' website (or AA or BA, for that matter).  So, which airlines' site should you use?  I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader -- a bit of a "treasure hunt", if you will.  What I will tell you is that at least two OneWorld partners allow seat selection across all OneWorld airlines.

Also Important: Calling for a seat assignment is still the safer way to get a seat, and (as stated above) you should not be charged for seat assignment on partner award tickets.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Free Book from PointsAway - Good Comprehensive Intro!

I've been busy giving presentations for people and helping friends book trips.  For many just getting into the hobby, it can seem daunting.

This morning, Casey Ayers from PointsAway posted his $10 ebook for free on Amazon.  Scanning through it, it's a very nice comprehensive introduction to the miles and points game.  I recommend picking it up today!

Get it here:

HT: A80GL @ Slackdeals

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

MS is Alive and Well

MS is Manufactured Spend.  It's a term used to describe the practice of spending money for the sake of spending money -- typically for the purpose of meeting a credit card minimum spend or earning extra points.

Typically, manufacturing spend isn't free.  For example, if I purchase a tablet on sale for $500 and sell it on ebay for $450, I can manufacture $500 of spend, but it would cost 10% plus a lot of time and hassle.  In some cases, manufactured spend is free, but only in small amounts.  For example, I can send  $1000 to a friend using Amazon Payments for free, but I'm limited to $1000 per month.

Two of the more notorious MS schemes involved a) buying coins from the US mint and b) buying Vanilla Reloads and loading them to a Bluebird card for paying bills.  Purchasing coins with a credit card was since shut down, putting a stop to the first scheme.  Vanilla Reloads may still be available to purchase with a credit card; however, most major retail chains are now "cash only", making the second scheme very difficult to pull off.

So, what are your options when you need to put $10,000 worth of transactions on a credit card in three months?  Sometimes, buying grocery store gift cards is an easy fee-free way to generate spend.  However, having $5k of grocery gift cards sitting around is problematic.

Here's my current method:

  1. Sign up for an American Express Serve prepaid card with free bill pay.  Better yet, sign up for a Serve account using Isis Mobile Wallet (a mobile app) so you avoid any monthly fees, get a $25+ signup bonus, and receive increased limits on credit card loads.
  2. You can load small amounts to the card directly with a credit card.  This is free.
  3. To load greater amounts, find a store that sells GreenDot MoneyPak reload cards with a credit card.  Since GreenDot cards are sold all over the place, you should be able to find a retailer or two in your area.
  4. Load the GreenDot MoneyPak cards into your Serve account using GreenDot's website.  There is no charge for the load, but you'll typically be charged a $4.95 service fee when you purchase the reload from a retail outlet.
  5. Now, use the free bill pay feature to pay all your bills from your Serve account; even bills you'd typically pay with a check.  If you want to be evil, you can pay your credit card bill with Serve's bill pay feature, but that crosses the ethical line for me.
  6. You can also withdraw money from Serve at any MoneyPass ATM.  Don't do this excessively if you want your account to stay open.
Obviously, you can use this method to get pretty crazy, and many people are manufacturing $10,000+ per month using similar methods.  However, please remember that buying reload cards is not free and MS can get pretty shady if you're just moving money around without actually doing something with it.  In order to keep everything on the up-and-up, I only use GreenDot Reloads and Serve for paying mortgage and utility bills where I otherwise wouldn't be able to use a credit card.  In other words, I'm using each product for its intended purpose and everyone is getting their cut.

There are lots of other ways to manufacture spend out there.  What are your best ideas?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

New SkyGuide Executive Privilege Club Offer! $34 for 15 Months of Free Lounge Access!

One of my favorite long-running travel deals out there is the SkyGuide Executive Privilege Club, which provides straight-forward reimbursement of airport lounge day passes.  You simply sign up, visit up to one lounge per month, and then submit your receipts.  About a month later, a check arrives in the mail.

For a couple of years, registration links have been difficult to find.  As of this morning, I found a new link out there that can be used for instant online registration:

For full details on the club, see my updated post at MilePoint:


Friday, January 10, 2014

Pat's Backcountry Beverages - The Ultimate Travel Accessory?

As a frequent backpacker (using both meanings of the word: the trail-hiking type and the world traveling type), I've always been working to find ways to lighten my pack.  At the same time, I love to have a beer when I'm on the trail or on the road.  But, until now, that's always been difficult if not impossible.

Enter Pat's Backcountry Beverages, a company that makes a portable carbonator bottle and "brew concentrate", which is real microbrew beer in concentrated form.  Now I have a way to make carbonated water and real beer when I'm on the road or trail.

My wife got me one of these for Christmas, and admittedly I'm pretty impressed!  This thing actually works!  Basically, you put a packet of citric acid and potassium bicarbonate into a little bottle within the bottle, activate it with water, and shake the bottle to produce (and mix) CO2 into the water bottle.  A simple valve makes sure the salty liquid in the CO2 chamber doesn't go directly into your water (or beer).

In the end, this works just like a SodaStream carbonator, only it's fully portable and costs a lot less.  Plus it uses a simple acid/base reaction instead of expensive CO2 cartridges.

What are some possible uses?
  • Taking beer on long backpacking trips.
  • Sneaking beer on a cruise ship.
  • Making gourmet soda on an airplane or in an airport -- all you add is plain water (Pat's sells soda concentrates).
  • Making inexpensive carbonated water and soda using SodaStream concentrates.
  • Making carbonated kool-aid or Tang.
As you can see, the sky is the limit.

How can I do it cheaper?

Pat's wants to you buy their little activator packs which contain citric acid and potassium bicarbonate.  They are quite convenient for traveling and backpacking.  However, they easily cost between $.50 and $1 if ordered online, not to mention the shipping waste and wait time.

Fortunately, it's easy enough to make your own solution using powdered citric acid and baking soda.  Citric acid can be purchased inexpensively in the canning section at larger grocery stores -- I use the stuff made by Ball which costs about $3.  A box of baking soda can be acquired for about 75 cents.

To make your own solution, mix 1 tsp. citric acid with 1.5 tsp. baking soda.  Put it in the carbonation cup and viola, a carbonated water factory for pennies.

What's the Verdict?

I love this little bottle, and I've had fun making all kinds of beverages in it.  I highly recommend getting one!