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.

Should You Apply for the 140,000 Point Ritz Carlton Offer?

Chase has an unusually high bonus offer right now going on for the Ritz Carlton card at 140,000 points.  The basic terms here are:

  • $395 Annual Fee NOT waived.
  • 140,000 points after $2,000 in spend after 3 months
  • $200 in airline fee credits
  • A few other perks I don’t value so highly like gold status, 3 club upgrades annually, etc.
Ritz Carlton Abama (Canary Islands)

Ritz Carlton Abama (Canary Islands)

How much is the bonus worth? [Read more…]

Start Today! 5 Cards to Get You Started

One of the most common questions I get is, “OK if I’m just starting out, what should I do?”  The short answer is: apply for credit cards and learn how to maximize their use.

But which cards?  

Here’s the 5 cards I’d apply for if I were starting today.  Not only are they good cards, but they’re good cards to get together for a few reasons as well.  The goal here is to earn a diverse portfolio of points with as mild of a spend requirement as possible, get you set up for daily spending, and to affect your credit as little as possible. [Read more…]

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…]

US Airways 100% Buy Miles Promo is Back!

From my email inbox...

From my email inbox…

They must do this 4-5 times per year at least, but their monthly promo for July is 100% again.  At a maximum, this is allows you to buy 100,000 miles for $1881.25 including all taxes and fees.  That’s an effective price of 1.88 cents per mile.

Should you do it? 

I go back and forth about whether I’m going to do this every time the offer comes around.  On the one hand, it’s very easy to get more than 1.88 cents per mile on a trip and I do love traveling… On the other hand, I have more miles than I have time to travel right now, and cash doesn’t devalue nearly as fast as miles do…

So my opinion is this is worth it under a few circumstances: [Read more…]

Last Day: Lufthansa 50k and Chase Freedom 5X

Tomorrow marks the end of Q2, and the most relevant (to me) changes are:

        1. The end of the Lufthansa 50k offer.  I’d get it now if you are tapped out on AA, UA, US, BA, etc or if you want to be able to book Lufthansa or SWISS first class in advance.  It’s also a great deal at only 35k for a domestic (not Hawaii) first class round trip.  It’s not the best card for an absolute newbie, but Lufthansa first class is amazing–a product I value very highly–so I’m definitely looking to rack up my Miles & More balance.
        2. The end of the 2nd quarter for Chase Freedom 5X bonuses.  To max out my $1500, this week I went to our favorite restaurant and got a gift card that put me at an even $1500 (max per quarter) for the quarter in the 5X categories.  Q3’s categories are a bit more boring: Gas, Theme Parks, and Kohl’s.  I don’t shop at Kohl’s at all, so I’ll be putting my gas on the Freedom and then probably maxing out by purchasing a Visa/Amex gift card at a gas station toward the end of the quarter.

Application Link: The Lufthansa Premier Miles & More World MasterCard®

Is the BA Companion Pass Worth It?

The other day, I wrote about getting the BA Card and the Lufthansa Card for various reasons.  I said the main reason I wanted to get the BA card was companion pass, which you get by spending $30,000 by the end of the year. This allows you to fly 2 people for the mileage cost of only 1 person.  Sounds great, right?

But reader Mike correctly pointed out:

 “I’m surprised you are that high on the BA companion pass. It seems like having to fly on BA metal and pay their high fuel surcharges would negate the value.”

He’s right.  There are significant downsides to the BA companion pass–the same that apply to using BA miles on BA flights.  British Airways charges very high fuel surcharges which start at around $400 per person (and that’s in economy on Boston-London which is a short route) on any itinerary originating from the United States and you’re restricted to only flying on BA flights… you can’t use partners like American or Cathay Pacific.
[Read more…]

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.
[Read more…]

2 Reconsideration Call Wins in 2 Days!

As I explained, I recommend selectively freezing and un-freezing your credit files and calling reconsideration numbers to ensure that one bureau doesn’t get hit more often than other ones–this protects your credit by distributing the damaging effect of credit inquiries across all three bureaus (note once the cards age, it will have been worth it, but may as well have better credit in the mean time).  Humans also have a lot more latitude to approve you than a computer algorithm, so there’s really no downside.

I applied for both the Lufthansa Miles & More 50k credit card and British Airways 50k cards last week and both required a call to reconsideration–not unusual with the number of cards on my credit profile, but I was eventually approved for both.
[Read more…]

United Club Card — First Year Free?

Like Citi’s AAdvantage Executive or Amex’s Delta Reserve card, United also features a premium (read as: ~$400 annual fee) card they call the “Club” card.  It offers, among other things, 1.5 miles per dollar spent which is the best non-bonus spend opportunity out there in my opinion.

However the card also offers United Club membership (and membership means access to alliance lounges as well), Premier Access, no close-in booking fees ($75/ticket), free checked bags for you +1, Hyatt Platinum status, among others like purchase protection, etc.  The United Club benefit is cool, because United is the one major US carrier that doesn’t partner with the Amex Platinum card for lounge access.  So the combination of the two cards gets you access to all 4 major carriers’ lounges.

The problem is the card offers zero sign up bonus and comes with a $395 annual fee which is not waived for the first year…  a tough value propostion unless you spend tons of money on non-bonus spending (i.e. $100k+/year) or would already buy United Club membership anyway.
[Read more…]