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.

Why is BMO Harris shuttering Diners Club accounts?

Reader Jake recently asked if my Diners Club account was affected as part of the massive sweep of closures BMO Harris enacted of the “Elite” version of their new consumer credit card that earns Diners Club Rewards points.

A few months ago, I asked why nobody was talking about the card.  The math, after all was quite compelling if buying Visa gift cards at your local drugstore is your cup of tea.  For a $4.95 “activation fee” and a $0.99 money order fee, one could acquire 1505 Diners Club points.  That’s a cost of only ~0.39c per point — or about $390 to earn 100,000 points which could be transferred at a 1:1 ratio to Alaska Airlines, Aeroplan, British Airways, Delta, etc.  Not only is that a crazy cheap “price” for the miles, but the 3X multiplier made the entire experience much more efficient.

Roughly $400 for potentially two flights in Emirates First Class makes it very much worth it…

Emirates A380 First Class

Emirates A380 First Class

[Read more…]

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…]

Greece and Turkey 2014: Planning, Costs, and Intro

We love the Mediterranean in the Summer… it’s a very welcome, and crisp, change from DC’s muggy summers.  Last Summer we planned a trip around Croatia, and this Summer we wanted to go to Greece.

I spotted an SPG Property that looked good, and since we were staying 8 nights, being SPG Platinum saves us about 50 Euro/day in free breakfast.  We decided to stay at Blue Palace in Crete–which is known for beaches and sun.  [Side note, we’ve seen about 3 total clouds in the 7 days we’ve been here, so the sun part is 100% true].

Blue Palace Main Pool

Blue Palace Main Pool

[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

[Read more…]

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

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…]

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…]

US Airways Mastercard: Buy, Sell or Hold?

AA and US merger is on hold for now...

AA and US merger is on hold for now…

The temporary (or perhaps permanent?) kibosh on the American/US Airways merger throws a wrinkle into the game plan for those of us who like to generate most of our mileage from credit card bonuses and spending.  It looked like a great way to maximize another card and generate a critical mass of miles.  That said, not everybody is convinced that the merger won’t ultimately be approved.  Personally, I think the case that fees and fares would be higher is a slam dunk, but the flip side of that coin is they would be even higher if AA/US Airways can’t compete–leaving only United and Delta as major players.  

Now that the dust has settled a bit on the lawsuit, I wanted to take another look at the card and see what’s what.
[Read more…]