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.

5 Cards You Should Consider Now-ish

These are roughly in the order in which I would prioritize them personally, but your calculation may be different based on the pro/cons of each.

1.  Citi Executive AAdvantage Card – 100,000 AA Miles – 100,00 mile offers are pretty rare these days, so being able to rack up enough miles for a round trip business class ticket to Europe or Japan in one card application is pretty killer.  The catch is that the $450 annual fee is NOT waived the first year, however they do offer a $200 “statement credit” which seems to mean the annual fee is effectively $250.  Given that it gives you full Admirals Club membership (and, you know, 100,000 miles), however, that’s a very good deal–particularly for Amex Platinum Card customers who will be losing access in just a couple months.

Link – Citi AAdvantage Executive 100k Offer

2. Bank of America Alaska Airlines Card – 40,000 Miles – This is a large bonus and represents a 15,000 mile premium above the “normal” offer for this card.  Alaska miles are tremendously valuable due to the large number of partners they have.  We used Alaska Airlines miles to book 2 first class tickets to Seychelles on Emirates for this Summer.  The $75 annual fee is not waived, but if you’re a Bank of America wealth management client (which you may even be eligible for if they are your mortgage provider) they may give you an offsetting statement credit if you call the wealth management department.

Link – Alaska Airlines 40k Offer

3. Barclays US Airways Card – 30,000 Miles – This isn’t an eye popping number and doesn’t represent a bonus compared to the normal offer, but this one is based on merger timing.  The post-merger credit card picture is a bit murky.  So far, Barclays says they’re not going to re-brand this card as an Arrival or other non-cobranded card.  So that means you may still be eligible for grandfathered benefits even after this card is no longer issued… including a 5,000 mile discount on all award bookings.  Given that the Citi Aadvantage cards also offer 10% of redeemed miles back (up to 10k), stacking the two discounts could be extremely lucrative.  A 100,000 mile business class ticket comes down to ~85,000 in that case.  Another interesting thing to watch is whether you’ll continue to get the $99 companion certificate.  I’ve personally [re-] applied for the card hoping that all of the above is the case.

Link – US Airways World Mastercard 30k Offer

4. Citi American Airlines Business Card – 50,000 Miles – Who knows how long this card will be around, but to me the most valuable benefits of this card are: 1) It doesn’t sit on your personal credit report because it’s a business card, so applying for it has very little effect on your credit and doesn’t really preclude you from applying for other cards; 2) you can apply for and receive this card and the bonus several times (I have 3 and have gotten the 50,000 mile bonus each time); and 3) the retention offers are, in my experience, much better than the retention offers on the personal card and very much worth the annual fee.   I would consider it now if for no other reason than so you can get it again sooner.

Link – American Airlines Business 50k Offer

5. Barclays Arrival Card – 40,000 “Miles” – With United’s devaluation beginning tomorrow and US Airways leaving Star Alliance, our options for redeeming Star Alliance miles without fuel surcharges gets pretty bleak very soon.   I think this makes ANA, Aeroplan and Singapore miles the currency of choice for some redemptions going forward, though unfortunately all of them impose fuel surcharges on many Star Alliance carriers.  I think Arrival miles, which can be redeemed against the cost of fuel surcharges, are going to be a pretty compelling option for lots of folks.  Not to mention the double miles on every purchase and 10% rebate on every redemption (raising the effective total to 2.2 miles per dollar assuming you redeem 100% of your miles).

Link – Barclays Arrival World Mastercard 40k Offer

Credit Card Churning SUCCESS!

Credit card “churning” refers to apply for, and getting, the sign up bonus for a credit card you already have or recently cancelled.

In general, this is not possible with most cards these days.  Amex language generally says you can’t have had the card (or one in the same “card family”) for one year previous to be eligible for the bonus.  Chase officially will never give you the bonus again on the same card, though reports are you can get it again around ~2 years.  Citi is a loose 2 years with some people reporting getting the bonus again as early as ~18 months.

However, two cards that I have that are reported to be churnable (among others) are the Bank of America Alaska Airlines card and the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Card.  So I wanted to see if it was true.
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