Traveling again! [but loyalty is dead]

We finally have time to travel again! Cara and I have been busy building an indoor cycling studio in Charlottesville, VA, so we’ve been taking a break from extended travel. We did get back to Ravello, Italy–where we got married a couple years ago–last Summer for our anniversary, but it was a quick trip and then right back.

Tomorrow we leave on our first extended vacation in a couple years, and a lot has changed in the miles & points game since then. On the airline redemption side, the biggest change for me is the 2 cent per point redemption available to American Express Platinum Business card holders. With the continued fare sales putting international business class fares in the $1500-2500 range, you’re really talking about similar points as before — sometimes even less — with the added benefits of mileage earning and more availability.  Other than that, it’s mostly same ol same ol… just slightly higher pricing, which is always to be expected over time … and why I’ve always been an “earn and burn” guy when it comes to points and miles.

On the hotel side, though, the major change is that loyalty is basically dead to me. I’ve been a Starwood Platinum for the last 4 years–expires today, but we didn’t re-qualify in 2016, so 2017 will be our first year without top tier hotel status in a while… and I don’t really care.

As leisure luxury travelers, the benefit of elite status to us was essentially being treated like a valuable guest even though we were giving the hotel very little money by redeeming points (and obviously by “we,” I mean the loyalty program’s low-ish reimbursement rates for point stays). Breakfast at a St. Regis resort, for instance, can easily run upwards of $50pp per day once all is said and done, and on an extended stay, you’re talking about hundreds of dollars. Room upgrades can easily cost hundreds per night–though whether they’re worth it to the extent that we’d pay cash for it is obviously a valid question.

It wasn’t always perfect, though.  We were definitely made to feel like freeloaders and second class guests at the Conrad Maldives, for instance.

That entire dynamic changes, though, when you actually are giving that hotel a lot of money.  For one, it’s my experience that at resort properties in particular, most OTA (online travel agency – like Expedia, Orbitz, etc) even the cheapest rates include breakfast as it is. Furthermore, requesting an upgrade — which is subject to availability anyways — strikes me as easier to justify from the hotel’s perspective when a guest actually is giving you a lot of money–as most luxury leisure properties cost.  Indeed, for our upcoming stay (detailed below) I emailed the resort manager to inquire about an upgrade, and she indicated she’d be pleased to give us one should it be available at check in.

And giving the hotel real money is exactly what you’re doing when you book with a card like the Bank Americard Travel Rewards card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve — both of which for me offer well in excess of 2% of return on spending.  It’s exactly 2.625% on the BofA card and Chase varies with spend (since some spend is bonus-ed up to 3x) but it’s always 1.5c per point on the redemption side, so the effective rate is likely somewhere in the 2’s. Not only that but you don’t have to worry about base/redemption rooms being available, nor do you have to limit yourself to one particular chain — or a chain property at all — which may be strong in one region of the world but weak in another.

In this instance, it’s also allowing us to stay 11 nights at a world class luxury property in Trisara which would otherwise be unattainable on points — or only at a very poor redemption rate several years ago.

The view we’ll be waking up to!

So with that in mind, here are the upcoming details of our trip — and associated mileage/point costs — which I’ll try to report as accurately and thoroughly as possible.  All costs are for 2 travelers:

  • ANA First Class Washington to Tokyo-Narita (215,000 American Express points transferred to Aeroplan – total for 2 passengers)
  • ANA First Class Tokyo-Narita to Singapore (included in the above)1 ThankYou Points transferred to Singapore Krisflyer Miles)
  • 11 nights at Trisara Resort (Roughly 800,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points)
  • Thai Airways Business Class Phuket to Hong Kong (50,000 United Miles)
  • Singapore Airlines First Class Hong Kong to San Francisco (140,250 mix of Citi ThankYou and American Express points transferred to Singapore Krisflyer Miles)
  • American Airlines First Class San Francisco to Charlotte (~65,000 Citi ThankYou points)
  • American Airlines Economy Charlotte to Charlottesville (included in the above)

All in all, we spent about 1.3 million different miles and points on this trip.  This is the most we’ve ever spent on a single trip–usually we spend closer to ~400-500k, and there’s also certain things we could’ve done to keep that amount down.  We could’ve spent ~5,000 SPG points per night – a total of about 50,000 accounting for the 5th night free – on a property like Westin Siray Bay.  But at this point in our careers/lives, time is a more scarce resource than points.  We have almost enough points to do it all again next month but are unlikely to have enough time until next year at the earliest–if not longer.  This is much different than when we were taking 5-6 intercontinental trips per year and were forced to economize.  In this case, we wanted to stay at the absolute best place regardless of price.

In any case, it’s a trip we’re very excited about taking and make sure to follow me on Instagram if you want to see some live photos.

Mallorca Next Summer!

This isn’t just me bragging about accomplishing one of the goals I just discussed, there are 2 real pieces of information int his post that may help you…  but I’m also pretty pumped about the trip!  Can’t wait for the St. Regis Mallorca!

Life could be worse...

Life could be worse…

First… the details:
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Free One Way on ANA Awards? Kinda…

The principle of a “free one way” on an award essentially allows you to combine 1.5 trips into a single award.  The conventional free one way involves doing a round trip from your origin to your destination, then using your home airport as a “stopover” point to launch a free one way a few weeks/months later.

For instance, if you live in New York:

–New York to Munich

–Munich to New York

–“Stopover” for 3 months in New York (even though you live there)

–New York to Miami

Green for Free!

Green for Free!

So while you may have just been planning to visit Munich, now you’ve got a free one way trip booked to Miami.  You only need to book a return trip and you got 2 trips for the price of 1.5.  It’s a great way to save your miles.
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Getting to Europe with a Single Credit Card Application

A question I get all the time is about traveling “for free” to Europe… how can I do it? Are there any strings attached? What’s the best time to go, etc?

So I thought I’d go ahead and summarize my thoughts and list a few cards which offer the ability to get to Europe simply by applying for them and attaining the sign up bonus.

However, all of the ways I can think of require a compromise in some way.  You have to travel in specific months, on specific carriers, from specific cities, or pay large cash fuel surcharges.  There’s no carte blanche to travel whenever, however and for no fuel surcharge.
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5 Ways 5 of My Favorite Programs Could Improve

 

I’m a brainstormer … and a business owner.  I can’t help it; I just think of things that (in my view) wouldn’t cost a company much/any money (as far as I can tell), but would improve my experience as a customer.  So I’m going to share some of those thoughts…

 
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Save Money on ANA Award Taxes & Fees

I’ve always been a huge proponent of ANA miles and I think they’re undervalued by many.

ANA miles are great because they afford so much flexibility in routing and stopovers.  With a few exceptions, you can basically do whatever you want as long as there’s award space–they just charge you based on the trip’s total mileage.

They’re particularly useful for East Coast to Europe round trips in business class which usually costs in the 63-68k range depending on your exact routing.  That’s amazing since 60k is the “standard’ rate for an ECONOMY class ticket across the pond with the US-based carriers.

However, one downside is they charge very high fuel surcharges on most of their partners–sometimes over $1000 per ticket!  (Another is the relatively large marginal premium they charge for flying first class vs. business)
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Why I Love ANA 7 Day Search

A few weeks ago, I wrote about 8 tools I use every day to book awards for clients.  I think this one picture perfectly illustrates why I love the ANA 7 Day tool so much:

IST to MLE

IST to MLE

A client recently asked me about a booking to the Maldives this Fall from the New York area with his US Airways miles.
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A Great Trip Even Better!

Two months ago, I described our outbound trip to the Maldives… an itinerary I was truly very happy with.  I was excited to sample two different first class products and BA’s Concorde Room lounge.  But all along, the flight I really wanted to Abu Dhabi was Etihad Diamond First Class.

Not a bad way to spend 13 hours...

What in the world is this dude watching?

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Award Sweet Spot: ANA to Europe!

One of the benefits of programs like American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards is the ability to transfer them to multiple airline and hotel programs.  This allows you to keep your points flexible until you find a redemption that you want and then make a transfer.  It also allows you to pick the most advantageous program for your trip.  One of my favorite sweet spots takes advantage of Membership Rewards partner ANA (All Nippon Airways).
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