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.

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.

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Bali Trip 2013: Singapore Airport

Bali & Singapore 2013:
Preview & Cost
Dulles Airport
Lufthansa First Class IAD-FRA
Frankfurt Airport
Thai Airways First Class FRA-BKK
Bangkok Airport
St. Regis Bali
Qatar Business Class DPS-SIN
Fairmont Singapore

After our disappointing stay at the Fairmont, and having decided to extend our trip a day (I love miles!), we moved to the St. Regis for our last day.  I don’t have a ton of pictures or info since we were there a grand total of ~20 hours and Cara checked in before me (so our crap was everywhere by the time I got to the room), but I wanted to spend at least a few sentences talking about it.

We booked a 1 night stay through Amex FHR (Platinum card benefit) which entitled us to a room upgrade, early check in, late check out and $100 in resort credit.  I believe the rate was around $325 USD.  The room was excellent with a huge marble bathroom and the service was much more like (though still not as good) what we had gotten used to at the St. Regis Bali.  The Italian restaurant by the pool was also quite good for lunch and a great (and full) use of our $100 resort credit.
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Last Few Months for the Longest Flight in the World

Singapore Air 21/22, the flights to and from Newark, NJ are the two longest scheduled passenger flights in the world.  Scheduled for nearly 19 hours (though it seems like it usually takes more like ~17.5), this is a ridiculously long flight.  And until recently it was only accessible via Singapore’s own KrisFlyer miles.  (Actually it did briefly open up to alliance redemptions, but closed off again…neither here nor there, though)

I can think of worse places to be "stuck" for a long time...

I can think of worse places to be “stuck” for a long time…

However since AviancaTaca joined Star Alliance, it seems Singapore’s IT has either forgotten or not bothered to block their systems from accessing award business class seats–which is the only class of service offered on this route.  And it just so happens their Lifemiles program is running a 100% bonus right now on purchased miles.

Why now?
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Bali Trip 2013: Fairmont Singapore

Bali & Singapore 2013:
Preview & Cost
Dulles Airport
Lufthansa First Class IAD-FRA
Frankfurt Airport
Thai Airways First Class FRA-BKK
Bangkok Airport
St. Regis Bali
Qatar Business Class DPS-SIN

Fairmont Singapore Hotel

We're here!

We’re here!

OK… so I actually had a full report/review of this hotel done  a month ago, but I thought it might not have quite been fair.  Having just come from the St. Regis Bali where everything was absolutely perfect, I thought that I might’ve overanalyzed the stay and/or maybe noticed service imperfections that I would’ve otherwise ignored.  So I decided to wait a bit before publishing anything…

Having said that, looking back, I’m still really disappointed in the stay and still think we made the right decision to move to the St. Regis for our last night.  The Fairmont positions themselves as a luxury chain and the Singapore hotel in particular has really good Tripadvisor ratings.  But there was just too much that bothered me about this property–particularly given the normal price point.

We arrived pretty late–around 2AM after a ~20 minute ride from the airport, and a bellman greeted our taxi with reasonable speed given the late hour.  He was not there in time to open the door for us, but a bellman did do so every other time we returned to a hotel in a taxi, so it was most likely due to the time.  Our luggage was loaded onto a cart and we were shown into the lobby where 1 out of 2 staffed desks were occupied, so we stepped up to the open desk where the agent checked us in  expeditiously and assigned us a room on the 12th floor.

During the day (obviously)

During the day (obviously)

One more

One more

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