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.

Dubai & Mauritius 2014: St. Regis New York City

We flew to New York the day before our departure to Duabi for a few reasons, but mostly because with a morning departure out of New York, we didn’t want to mis-connect on a separate ticket.  US Airways has excellent award availability on the DCA-LGA route with more daily frequencies than you can count, and at 4500 British Airways Avios per person, it’s a great deal.

NYC

NYC

I tried to book an Uber when we landed at LGA, but he wanted us to walk about 2 miles to him, and with 2 weeks of luggage that wasn’t happening, so we hopped into a cab and quickly (for New York, anyways) arrived in Manhattan at the St.Regis.

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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…]

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

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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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Bali Trip Report: Preview & Cost

Today we leave for Bali, and I truly could not be one bit more excited.  As I write this (circa 3am) I’m not sure if I’ll be able to sleep tonight–I’m like the kid in those cheesy Disney World commercials.

Make sure to follow along on the We Fly Free Facebook Page as I plan to post live updates as often as possible.

In any case, I thought this would be a good chance to just discuss the airlines, products, hotels, etc I’ll be reviewing here and lay out the full cost of the trip for each one.
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SPG Points for High-End Hotels?

Conventional wisdom has always been that SPG points are great for low/mid-end hotels and cash & points hotels (also at mid-end hotels), so looking at the value assessment I did the other day for the Sheraton JFK, I wanted to see if that holds true for what is sure to be the highlight of our trip–The St. Regis Bali.  Are we redeeming points for bad value?

The St. Regis. Bali

The St. Regis. Bali

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Researching a Trip — Trip Reports

One of the best aspects to my services–booking award tickets for you, is that not only am I a super sleuth at finding award space, but I can recommend whether you should take an airline, say Lufthansa or Thai for instance, based on the aircraft, seat configuration, ground services, food, etc.  Sometimes it’s not always what you think.  Of course it helps me that I already know this stuff like the back of my hand, but you can do the research on your own if you want, too, and figure out for yourself which product you might enjoy better.
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Let’s Get Absurd: Award Chart Sweet Spots Mini-RTW

The last two days, I’ve written about two award chart sweet spots — redemptions that I feel are undervalued for how expensive the cash ticket is. (Post #1 & Post #2)  While one of them is not confirmed to exist yet, I’m pretending that it does, because I want to put together a dream trip attainable on one round of credit card applications (+ a tiny bit of credit card spend perhaps).
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Alaska Airlines One Way Awards

Recently, Alaska Airlines announced that one-way awards would be bookable on partner airlines (FrequentFlier.com link), so that got me thinking…how can we use this to our advantage?
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