My friend Ed Pizzarello of Pizza in Motion fame, hosts a podcast called Miles to Go. On his show he often laments/ humblebrags that he has never been to Hawaii.  I almost think that people on his show are so amazed by that fact that he takes it as a point of pride to have never been there.

Ed, sure that’s fine for you, but think of the children!  Sure it will look good on their college essays to list the hardship of never having been to Hawaii, and that’s not a bad strategy to get them into Harvard, but look at the life experiences you are denying them.  They may harbor resentment for the rest of their lives.  You may be labelled as a bad father.  Sure, you take them to Disneyworld like ten times a year, but still…

Most of us in the frequent flyer community consider this crazy since that is a prime destination for users of points and miles.  My wife and I lived there for three years and have returned every year to vacation at one of the islands. We find it very easy to get there and always get there with a great deal.  Today, I am going to lay that strategy out for you and see if you won’t be tempted.

Items required to make this work for a family of four:

Two Bank of America Alaska Airlines credit cards

Two AMEX Aspire Hilton credit cards

480,000 Hilton Honors points for two rooms for five nights

Optional – Gold Guest Upgrade Certificates

Optional – AA or AS Lounge membership

Now, Ed, you may be questioning the first item on the list.  Alaska Airlines? But I live in D.C., not Seattle. Actually, Ed, you might be surprised how much AS has expanded in the last few years.  They fly from all three Washington airports, BWI, DCA, and Dulles to most of the West Coast and then have flights from there to all the major Hawaiian islands. Here is the route my wife and I flew a few weeks ago.

Ed, I know you are concerned with a 10-12 hour flight to Hawaii.  Alaska also allows you a free stopover on their flights. One of my favorite ways to get to HNL from WAS is to fly BWI-SAN, spend a couple of days in San Diego, and then SAN-HNL a couple of days later. You could also do the same for LAX or SFO. In the summer, SEA is also a good stopover. Likewise, you can do the same on the way back.  This breaks up a long journey and is probably easier for the kids to handle, plus they get to see another city or two.

 

Why Alaska and no the other airlines? Because of one of the best CC benefits out there – the BoA Alaska Airline CC’ Companion Certificate.  As the name implies, this is a $99 ($122 with takes) ticket for someone travelling on exactly the same itinerary as you.  Right now, BoA has a deal where they will they are waiving the $99 fee the first year so that companion ticket only costs the $22 in taxes. So it really is two tickets for the price of one.  Ed, if you and your wife each get this CC, your family of four flies for half price (~$1800). Don’t forget to have AS FF accounts as each person earns full distance-based miles for these tickets. At about 10,000 miles round trip, that’s quite a few very valuable AS miles. My being a MVP Gold and my wife a MVP Gold75k, we earn 100% and 125% bonuses, respectively, on these trips meaning almost enough for a free award ticket for this one flight.

If you have a REALLY good friend, they may also give you a Gold Guest Upgrade (GGU) that they get from being an AS Gold. You need to select that from the pull down menu when searching for flights.  Look for flights with blue “F” boxes. If you are fortunate enough to find a flight with both legs showing as upgradeable that still only takes one GGU. Note that these fares may be slightly higher but way cheaper than outright buying First Class as shown below.

So that’s how to get there, but what about an inexpensive stay once you do get here? Here is a strategy for that with Hilton.  The AMEX Aspire card came out about a year ago and offers an interesting way to maximize value.  The card is $450/yr., but comes with Hilton Diamond Status and a $250/yr. credit for incidentals (everything but the room rate) at Hilton hotels. It is really meant to offset the ludicrous resort fee of $50/night, but here is a better way to use it.  Hilton does not charge the resort fee if you stay on points, meaning you can apply that credit to restaurants, surf lessons for your kids, or your morning coffee at Starbucks.  The most economical strategy is to get a room for four nights on points and then Hilton will give you a fifth night free. This applies whether you use points or cash, but let’s stick with points for now. We recently stayed at the Hilton Hawaiian Village for 240,000 points for five nights. That might seem like an incredible number of points, but Hilton points are very easy to earn.  In fact, the sign up bonus for the Aspire card is 150,000 right now so you are already over halfway there just with that.

 

Another benefit from the Aspire card is a $250 credit for airline incidentals including lounge membership. That will almost pay for an annual lounge membership for AA or AS (which also gives access to AA lounges) and make your voyage a little bit easier, especially with a family.

Your new Diamond status should get you an upgrade at the property and also comes with the benefit of a $10/ person (max two)/ night for food and beverage at any of the ten places to eat on the property.  For a five night stay this worked out to $100 off the bill. Note that they simply take off the $100 rather than force you to spend at least $20/day. Here is our recent bill illustrating what I am talking about.

And then my AMEX bill showing the credit. Note that I had used $31 of the credit earlier in the year, but you should get the full $250 if you follow this plan.

So there you go Ed, an inexpensive way for you to take the family to Hawaii. This plan would also work with going to Maui or the Big Island, although most of the things your kids would like are probably on Oahu. Make sure they try the Dole Whip at the Dole Plantation!

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by glenn | One Comment

Just received an email a couple of hours ago from Chase:

So 5,000 miles is not huge and is basically one extra point per dollar.  The UA Club Card already give 1.5 UA miles/ dollar so getting 2.5/ dollar is not a bad every day spend deal.  UA miles are valued at about 1.7 cents each by other Boarding Area bloggers, so that is about a 4.25% return – pretty good.

I use my UA Club Card not only for cheaper access to the UA Club system, but also as my way to get Platinum status on UA.  Fares just don’t add up enough for me to make it otherwise given how cheap fares are now.  $25,000 spend  grants you a PQM exemption for Platinum status.  Unfortunately, that’s the limit for UA.

I am not going to get to the $12,000 PQD required for 1K which is even getting worse next year with the limit raised to $15,000 as detailed by my friend Ed Pizzarello.  Looks like I will never get back to that level.  Hey, Platinum is not bad and even gets free upgrades some of the time.

In the meantime, I follow the standard rule of signing up for everything whether you think you are going to use it or not.  Never hurts to register and you never know when circumstances might change and you can use the bonus.  For this particular deal, I was going to spend on my Chase UA Club Card anyway, so it is a no brainer.

Anyone else get this offer?  Did others get a different incentive?

 

Posted by glenn | 7 Comments

My wife and I went on vacation to Lucca, Italy in May.  Being typical frequent flyer junkies, we went there by the roundabout route of IAD-FRA on UA Economy and them FRA-IST(Istanbul)-PSA (Pisa) on Turkish Business Class.  I wanted to have my wife experience the Turkish Lounge in Istanbul which I think is one of the best in the world.  You can read about it in my previous post.  Note that they have since moved the IST airport to a new location.

Anyway, back to our tale.  We traveled from FRA to IST , spent ten hours in the lounge, then flew IST-PSA.  When we arrived in Pisa, my wife’s bag came out, but not mine.  At PSA, they have a generic baggage claim office for all airlines.  When I checked with them, they inquired and said my bag was still in IST.  Apparently ten hours was not enough time to transfer my bag!  I’m sure that was the problem actually.  They probably stuck our two bags somewhere since they had ten hours and forgot my bag.  At least my wife got her bag.  If one of us had to have no clothes or toiletries, it was far better to be me rather than my wife.

With only the clothes on my back, we grabbed the train and headed toward our AirBnB.  I called the baggage office later and they said they thought the bag would be on the next TK plane in two days.  I said that flight flies everyday, why couldn’t it be on the flight tomorrow.  They gave me the European salute, which we call a shrug, and I knew I wasn’t going to get a better answer.  My spirits were lifted however as I remembered one of the protections I had from the Chase UA Club Card.  I had baggage delay insurance which would pay up to $100/day of expenses – max $300.

Since the next day was Sunday, I was kind of out of luck as most shops are closed in Italy.  I also was forced to start growing a beard which was a new experience for me.  Went shopping the next day and quickly spent over $200 on underwear and new clothes.  The next day I picked up a set of sneakers while in Pisa.  We stayed in Lucca an extra day since the Italian ATC went on a one day strike.  The baggage office confirmed that the bag would arrive the next day – about an hour after we would fly out!  Once we got to our next destination of Copenhagen, the office said they had the bag and wanted to know where to send it.  I was afraid of having the bag chase us around Europe so I told them just to send it to our home in the U.S.

After arriving home, I started to process of claiming the $300 allowance.  The call to Chase referred me to a website to start the claim.  Seemed pretty straight forward.

Thus started the nightmare.  I sent in the obvious documents, would wait about two weeks and then get sent an automated message saying that my application was incomplete without telling me what was still needed.  Then I had to call in to Chase and they would read their notes and tell me to send in something else.  Initially, this was no big deal, but then they would ask for things I didn’t have such as a note from the company that delivered the bag that proved the bag was delivered.  I also had to go make a claim with TK even though I had read they almost never pay such things.  That took like a month to get the denial.  The Chase agent would make a note when I called every time, they would think about it for two weeks and then I would get the same message.  I submitted a total of 13 documents.

Finally, the ran out of excuses and said they would pay.  I had probably called 6-7 times and this took three months.  One wonders if they limit their payouts by just wearing people out!

So the conclusion is that this is a real benefit, but be prepared to work for it…

 

Posted by glenn | 3 Comments

I received a surprise email from AMEX that my credit limit on my SPG Business Card had been increased.  Along with the email, they gave an interesting offer:

$3,000 in a month would be a lot for me, but maybe would apply to Christmas shopping.  However, I know there are those of you who do MS and this would be easy to achieve.  Plus, Starwood points are some of the most valuable points out there.  You can transfer them to Marriott at a 3:1 ratio or get a 25% bonus when transferring them to one of their many airline partners.  Of course, I like to use them to actually stay for free at Starwood hotels – that’s the best value in my book.

Now that I enrolled it will not let me get back to the offer page to post it for you, but be on the lookout to see if you get this or a similar offer.

 

 

 

Posted by glenn | No Comments

I have the best daughter in the world.  Yes, I know some of you think the same thing, but I am confident that mine is the best.  She is in her fourth year at Med School, her big upcoming activity is flying around the U.S. this fall to interview for residency programs.  As such, I have been saving up plenty of miles and points to help her out.

She tells me that many of her fellow students with less points & miles  savvy parents and are on their own to fund these travels.  Being smart – they are future doctors after all – they are tuned in to the benefits of getting credit cards for the free points & miles.  I questioned her on how they could get qualified since they are full-time students with no time for a job to get qualifying income.

She said they had researched the rules for what qualified as income and found that student loans are considered income by most CC companies.  Kind of makes sense since the money is available to the student for whatever their needs are including rent, car loans, food, etc.  Several of her friends have successfully received cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve.  I thought this was a good tip to pass along in case you, or your kids, are in the same boat.

Posted by glenn | 6 Comments

Just got a sweet offer in my inbox for my AMEX Business Platinum card.  I just completed the initial spend quals to earn 100,000 MR points by the end of April.  Spend went to other things in the meantime, but they are enticing me back with this deal:

 

 

Not too confident to go for all 50,000 points for $10 grand, but certainly can spend $5,000 to get 40,000 MR points!  I am still grandfathered in where I will get 50% of my points back on my preferred airline or Business/ First on any airline.  I don’t even need to register.

 

Anyone else get this offer?

Posted by glenn | 3 Comments

I received a survey from Alaska Airlines this week.  It was pretty in-depth in asking a lot of questions.  Most of the questions were directed at determining whether price, mileage earning, or upgrade chances had which priority.  Hopefully, this is not to gage whether people would go for the Basic Economy fares that the majors have adopted.  For me, the top priority was upgrade chance (and not to just Premium Economy!)

The more interesting part of the survey was the last part which asked about interest in a high value card at a high cost.  These have become pretty popular in the last few years and I have a few including the Citi Prestige (really miss not having AA lounge access now), AMEX Business Platinum, and waiting for 5/24 eligibility for the Chase Sapphire Reserve.  Note that Bank of America is notably absent from those offerings and are the issuers of the Alaska Airlines card.  The current card is one of the best on the market and even exceeds the value of some of the other high value cards even though its annual fee is only $75.  My wife and I will fly a $1000 flight to Hawaii or Costa Rica and we get that second companion ticket for only about $200 so that’s a $800 value every year.  I know someone who has ten of these cards!  That’s not even counting the value of the miles you get as a sign up bonus.

What could they offer with a premium level card?  Assuming an annual fee of $450, I could see the following:

  1. Companion Certificate, maybe more than one use a year?  This is the thing that makes the current Alaska card one of the best deals out there even if you rarely fly Alaska.  Counting the annual fee of $75 and the cost of the companion fare plus taxes (~$121) you can get any economy fare for free.  This literally means any fare, so BOS-HNL? No problem.  Fly to Costa Rica from Anchorage? Sure.  AND you both get miles for status and redemption!
  2. Airline ticket credit?  Lesser value would be airline fee credit.  Other cards are in the $150-$200 range and this is one of the easiest ways to justify the high fee.
  3. Mileage rebate for flights.  Maybe 50% (or a little less) back on mileage redemptions for either all redemptions or just for Alaska flights.  I think the later is more likely as getting 50% back from my upcoming Emirates redemption would be over 50,000 miles back.  Well, one can dream right?
  4. Access tot he Alaska Lounges.  This already costs me $295/yr. and that’s with the Gold discount.  This would be a great way to offset the fee.  Alaska Lounge membership also includes access to all American lounges and some United.
  5. An alternative to the previous one would be Priority Pass membership.  This would give you access to all the Alaska Lounges and many others around the world.  The only drawback is that a number of lounges close access to PP holders if their capacity is full.  This includes Alaska Lounges very notably.
  6. A 10% discount on Alaska fares similar to what British Airways does with their credit card?  I would get $200-$300 value out of this in a year since it would include the tickets I buy for my wife and daughter.
  7. Grant Alaska MVP Gold status with a certain amount of spend?  This would be too good to be true as MVPGold status save me a ton of money since it allows free changes to any ticket at any time.  Not to mention that I have been upgraded over 85% of the time as a Gold.
  8. What do you think?

It will be exciting to see a B of A premium product on the market.  Hopefully they won’t wait too long to roll this out.

Posted by glenn | 8 Comments

About a month ago, I mentioned a really good deal on the Barclaycard Gold Card. What made it a stunningly good deal was the fact that Barclaycard waives annual fees for active duty members, even if you obtained the card after joining active duty. In that same article, I referenced that Barclaycard and American Express were the two companies that routinely waive annual fees for cardholders even if they obtained it after they activated.

 

I have a new deal, this time coming from Amex. As you might know, I have the Amex Plat Mercedes Benz edition. I got this card not because I drive a Benz (I don’t), but because at the time it offered 50k Membership Rewards (MR) points vs 40k MR points for the regular Amex Plat.

 

We just learned on Friday (H/T to MMS and FM) that the Amex Plat Mercedes Benz now offers a 75k signup bonus after spending $3k in 3 months! (direct link here).

Mercedes-Benz Cards from American Expr_ - https___www262.americanexpress.com

This has the same benefits as the regular Amex Plat, such as access to the Centurion Lounge in select US Airports, $200 airline credits annually, Priority Pass Select, access to Fine Hotels & Resorts, etc.

 

This is not a good card for everyday spend, as it’s only category bonus is 5x MR points on Mercedes purchases; otherwise it only earns 1x. I would meet the minimum spend, then put it in the back slot in my wallet and just enjoy the benefits while getting the $475 annual fee waived.

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

First of all, I’d like to apologize for not posting in a while – I’ve been on deployment with predictably slow internet. Thankfully, BG Goddard has been knocking out the posts. Since I’m home for a while, it’s time I get back into the saddle!

 

I’ve got a ton of reviews upcoming over the next month or so, but before I get to any of those, I thought I’d come at you with a huge credit card deal, one that you should jump on before it no longer works.

 

I’d like to preface this post with some discussion about how credit card companies implement their SCRA (Servicemember’s Civil Relief Act) policies. Almost all credit card companies will waive annual fees on credit cards when you’re active duty, if you had the card before you became active duty, US Bank being the conspicuous exception to that. Chase, Citi, American Express, Barclaycard, Capital One, Discover and Bank of America will waive those fees for all previously held cards. Two companies that I know of, American Express and Barclaycard, will waive those annual fees even if you didn’t get the card until after you were already Active Duty. The latter company is the one I’m writing to you about today.

 

Barclaycard has for a long time had available the Black Card, a pathetic excuse for a high-end card, given that it’s benefits were clearly not as good as either the Amex Plat or the Citi Prestige, among others, with a similar annual fee, $495. However, within the past year, they’ve come out with two other pretentiously named “luxury cards”, the Titanium card and the Gold card.

Luxury Card I Made of Stainless Steel - http___www.luxurycard.com_

To broaden interest, they’ve positioned the Titanium card below the Black card, with a 10k point bonus and $195 annual fee, and the Gold card above it, with a 50k point bonus but an astounding $995 annual fee! What, might you ask, is the valuation of the points? Well, each point is worth two cents when redeemed for airfare. So, 50k could be redeemed for a $1000 plane ticket. Or, as Doctor of Credit reminded me, “You don’t need to apply the credit towards airfare, points are worth 2c when redeeming for statement credit with the gold card”. That totally makes up for the annual fee right?

 

Well, my news to you today is that Barclaycard waives this enormous annual fee as long as you’re active duty, and you didn’t have to have the card previously! I’ve confirmed this myself, by applying for and getting accepted, then asking to be transferred to the military benefits department. Also, Doctor of Credit, Derp Report, and Reddit churning have all confirmed it as well (hat-tip to all of them for inspiring me to apply).

 

This is huge! Up to $1k in airfare reimbursed! In addition, you get $200 towards airline purchases separately, and $100 towards global entry application, in addition to other benefits. Also, Derp Report has confirmed that the $200 airline credit can be used directly for airfare, and not on gift cards or registry or anything else.

 

It’s a $3k minimum spend within 3 months, which is doable, although tougher now that there is essentially no easy manufactured spend.

 

I say go for it if you can meet the minimum spend, as it’s up to $1200 in reimbursed airfare!

Posted by glenn | 59 Comments

Many readers buy and use gift cards to make minimum spend or just to get some discount that is being offered.  However, you need to be aware of scams and thieves out there who want to take advantage of your habits.

Thieves record the gift card information and then call the toll-free number in a few days to check the balance.  Once they know it has been activated and the remaining balance they can use it themselves.  Think how easy it would be for a clerk or someone behind you to take a cell phone photo and blow it up to read the numbers.  Note that if thieves use the info to shop on-line, you don’t have the same protection against fraud that you would have with a credit card.

Another way if for thieves to use a small handheld scanner to read the serial number embedded in the card.  After returning home, they can then use that data to reprogram a used card and steal the value.  Lastly, clever thieves can carefully remove new, inactive cards from their packaging and replace them with used cards.  They keep the numbers from the used card and when the shopper activates it, they have access to your money.

8 tips to protect yourself:

  • Inspect the card you purchase carefully and pass if it shows any suspicious signs of tampering.
  • If possible, ask for a card that is not on the rack, but behind the counter.
  • Inspect and scratch-off areas to ensure they are intact.
  • Do not give out your Social Security Number if the clerk asks for it (they never should).
  • After activating your card, ask the clerk to scan it so you can verify the amount on the card.
  • Keep your receipt as proof of purchase and the value you put on the card in case of theft.
  • Buy on-line cards only from the issuer and not a third party.
  • Never buy GCs from an online auction site as you have little protection that the card isn’t stolen, counterfeit, or has less value than promised.

Posted by glenn | No Comments

Hey gang, I’m going on deployment soon, so this will be my last post for a while (this is Andy btw). I wanted to go over how to get some free points on your Credit cards if you’re in a rut. With many bloggers declaring the end of manufactured spending, which it truly is, credit cards are still the best way to accumulate points and/or miles. Unfortunately the death of the golden age of MSing (RIP Vanilla Reloads, Serve, Amazon payments, Coopera, REDbird) means it’s incredibly difficult to hit the signup bonuses of 5 or 6 credit cards at once for most normal people. Why not try to utilize some of the credit cards we already have and save our hard pulls for huge signup offers instead?

This is where the reconsideration call for a credit card comes in – you call to say you’re thinking about cancelling your credit card, whether or not you actually are. Banks generally try really hard not to lose a customer, so sometimes they’ll try to “enhance” the cards rewards for a period of time. Not all banks do this (US Bank will cancel your card in the blink of an eye), but Citi is generally known to give the best offers. As long as you call and use the buzzword “cancel”, they’ll transfer you to a “specialist” who will usually give you some tempting offers. I’m waiting for my Transunion hard pulls to go down (I’m at 20 from 24 last Fall, yippee!), so I figured instead of applying for a new card, why not see what Citi can offer me?

I called and said straight up, “hello, I’d like to speak to the reconsideration dept, as I am considering cancelling one or more of my credit cards”. I find that honestly usually works best, and indeed, they transferred me right over. The specialist with whom I talked could not have been more considerate or accommodating, and he patiently offered deals on my 5 personal cards and 1 business card. They were as follows:

Citi Prestige

  • $200 statement credit with $4k spend in 6mo
  • 4TY points/dollar
  • 4/dollar at supermarkets/drug stores/gas up to 50k TY points
  • 1/dollar on all eligible purchases up to 50k
  • or 10k TY points for $3k in spend

I took the last one on that; I was planning a big trip to Vietnam (in an upcoming post) and was going to be spending some money.

Citi Premier

  • $1k/month for 3 months gets $95 statement credit and 1k TY points/month
  • or $1k/month gets $95 statement credit

obviously I took the first one.

Citi Hilton Reserve

  • $750/mo for 3 months gets 750 Hhonors points per month (blech!)
  • $1k/mo for 3 months gets 1k Hhonors points per month (nope!)
  • 3Hhonors points/dollar at restaurants

I took the last one, although I doubt I’ll use it; indeed I might be either downgrading this to the Citi Dividend or just outright cancelling it soon since I used the two free nights already at the Conrad Hong Kong (review upcoming).

Citi AA Exec

  • $1.5k/mo spend gets $50 dollar statement credit/mo for 7 mo max up to $350
  • $1k/mo gets additional 1k miles for the next 16 billing cycles
  • $1.5k spend in the next 3 mo gets 5k miles and $100 statement credit
  • $1.5k spend in the next 3 mo gets 15k miles

I decided to take the first one because I’m awash in AA miles and there’s poor overall availability. Doubt I’ll hit $1.5k per month, but we’ll see.

Citi AA Plat personal

  • 5 separate purchases of at least $20 earns $95 statement credit
  • $500 spend in 3 mo for 3k miles

I took the first one; simple and easy. 5 x $20 Amazon GCs.

Citibusiness AA Plat

  • $2.5k spend/mo gets additional 2.5k miles for up to 16 cycles
  • $1k spend/mo gets additional 1k miles for up to 16 cycles
  • $5k total spend in 6mo gets 10k additional miles
  • $95 total spending in the next month gets $95 statement credit

I took the last one; again, easy day, Amazon GC, and I don’t need AA miles at the moment.

Of note, I applied for and opened all these cards before I came onto active duty in August. I applied for and received SCRA benefits on all these cards, meaning I don’t pay any annual fees on them, even the big guns like the Exec and the Prestige! Here is how to get your annual fees waived if you’re going active duty. Of note, Citi is very strict about it – they will only waive your fees if you opened the card before going active duty; I haven’t heard of any exceptions.

When I get back sometime in about 2 months, I’ll post about the results from this, and also will detail my reconsideration call to American Express and to Chase!

Did anyone get any better deals than I did?

Posted by glenn | No Comments

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