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.

Secret Weapon to Europe 2.0

Business class space to Europe over the Summer can be some of the toughest award space to come across when most folks are looking for award space–roughly 3 to 9 months in advance.  Check out United.com’s calendar for Star Alliance availability for DC to Paris next Summer [all of my pictures will be for 2 seats, the blog name is WE Fly Free, after all]:

IAD-CDG Star Alliance

IAD-CDG Star Alliance

One day in June or July with award space in business class!   [Read more…]

Why is nobody talking about the Diners Club card?

Recently (as in this month) Diners Club re-launched consumer credit cards in the United States for new applications.  This is big news as Diners Club used to be a major player in the points game and has been closed to new applications for several years as the program has bounced from bank to bank.

My shiny new Diners Club card

My shiny new Diners Club card

They offer a flexible point program with several transfer partners.  Those partners are (via Flyertalk and 1:1 unless otherwise noted):

OneWorld: British Airways
SkyTeam: Delta Airlines, Korean Air.
Star Alliance: Air Canada, Eva Airways, SAS, South African Airways, Thai Airways.
Independent: Alaska Airlines, El Al Airlines, (50:1), Frontier Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Iceland Air, Southwest Airlines (1500:1200), Virgin Atlantic.
Hotels: Best Western (1250:3300), Choice (1250:2400), Hilton (1250:2000), Hyatt (1250:750), Intercontinental Hotel Group (1250:1500), Marriott (1250:1500), Starwood (1250:750).
Rail: Amtrak.

[Read more…]

Getting to Israel in Business Class… this Summer!

One of the most popular requests of my award booking service is getting to Israel in premium cabins–often for families of 2-5 people–which can be a challenge with miles.  Add to that, that often they don’t contact me until a few months before travel, and it really becomes a challenge.

Jerusalem

Jerusalem

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United Devaluation… Thoughts a few days later

If you live under a rock, or don’t follow the points world at all: United massively devalued their award chart overnight on Thursday/Friday.  It was written about extensively in the blogosphere and on the message boards, but I wanted to add a few thoughts after I’ve had time to digest this a bit… [Read more…]

Air France First Class with American AIrlines miles?

If I’m reading this correctly… and I’d like to think that I am, it appears that you may be able to book Air France first class on the Abu Dhabi-Paris route with AA miles.

First Class Award Seats...

First Class Award Seats…

This shows “Guest First” availability for flight EY 37 AUH-CDG, but the note that pops up says that on this date, EY 37/38 are operated by Air France aircraft and crew.

AF First

AF First

So what?

Honestly, I don’t know…  I don’t think many (any?) folks would argue that Air France first class is better than Etihad–and the Etihad operated flight is available too– but it’s definitely harder to book with miles, so perhaps it’s more intriguing.  Ordinarily, only Air France’s own Flying Blue members can redeem for their first class, so this is definitely an interesting option if nothing else.

In fact, I’m not even totally sure that this is correct or that they wouldn’t place you in business class.  Etihad shows the flight as being operated by an Airbus A340-600–which Air France doesn’t even operate.  They do operate a 340-300, and it’s possible that Etihad’s computer doesn’t have the designation for a 300 series in their software (since Etihad doesn’t operate the 300), so they code it as a 600.  However, Air France’s 340’s don’t even have a first class section according to Seat Guru, so now I’m really confused…

I’m going to put in a call to AA and see if they can see anything on their end and maybe even try to put an award on hold.

Anyone know what’s up?

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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My Hitlist: Five Goals & Plans

As I discuss in the Beginner’s Guide, I think it’s very important to regularly take stock of your travel goals and align your earning strategy in such a way that you achieve those travel goals as fast as possible.  That means always thinking 1-2 steps ahead of your next trip, and planning anywhere from a few months to a couple years out.

So rather than lecture you, I figured I’d show you a few examples of my planning… maybe some of you have even been some of these places or experienced some of these and can offer some advice?

Goal #1: Amanpulo

Do I really need to keep talking?

Do I really need to keep talking?

Why: Do I really need to explain why after that picture?  Amanpulo is a private island resort in the Philippines which certainly rivals places like the Maldives or Tahiti for postcard-ness, and, of course, offers the renowned Aman service.

My Plan: This is a tough one because Amans don’t have any loyalty program that I’m aware of, so you can’t use hotel points on the stay.  And it’s expensive.  This is one instance in which it might be advantageous to use a fixed value currency which can be redeemed for any travel related expense–including non-chains.

The best such program is from the Barclaycard Arrival credit card, which earns 2 points on all spending and also earns a 10% rebate on all redemptions.  So for every 100,000 points you redeem, they give you 10,000 points back… not a bad deal!  Given that the flights will likely be [nearly] free, I could live with splurging on a few nights lodging costs.

So really my plan is simply to try and build up a small stash of Barclay Arrival points until I feel comfortable with the amount I’ll be able to offset.

[Read more…]

Redeem AAdvantage Miles on Qatar as of September 23!

AA confirmed on Facebook that they’ll allow earning and redeeming AAdvantage miles on Qatar Airways (which will join Oneworld on October 30th) as of September 23rd!

Redeem on Qatar!

Redeem on Qatar!

This is great news, but the only question is how we’ll search for Qatar space.  Hopefully either BA or Qantas will add Qatar search functionality soon.  (Yes, I’m assuming AA.com won’t support it any time soon)

Croatia Trip 2013: MUC Airport

Dulles Airport
IAD-MUC
MUC Airport

As I said, I was hoping for a remote stand so that we would be picked up by private car and driven straight to the First Class Lounge, but no such luck today as we parked at a gate position.  We disembarked through door 1L, and while I didn’t notice if business class was held back, the four of us in first class all managed to beat them out, and walked directly into the terminal gate area of H28.

We followed signs for the Lufthansa First Class Lounge which was only about 100 yards to the right.

One of my favorite lounges!

One of my favorite lounges!

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