April 25, 2015

That Pajama Moment

Last week I posted about our Cathay Pacific First Class flight from New York to Vancouver.  There were a few pictures that I somehow missed when posting the trip report that seem worthy of posting here.

There's something about pajamas on an airplane that makes me feel like I'm 5 years old again.  I realize that this is not something most people will experience crammed into an economy seat with total strangers sleeping all over you.  But that's the point of this blog - the experience is totally accessible with a little effort and organization.

While I typically won't wear them on the plane, (they are too warm) I do have a pretty fantastic collection that I get use out of at home.  That said, it is perfectible acceptable to wear them on the plane and most of other passengers (including Emily) seem to go that route.  But for me, just receiving them is a pretty amazing experience.

Of the 10+ pairs of first class pajamas I've received, Cathay's are the best.  Here's the before.

And the after.  Also a great shot of the open cabin with just 6 total seats.

And a bonus shot of the brand new female amenity kit, (male kit is the same - just a darker color and different products) menu, and pre-requisite glass of Krug.

Long Weekend in Vancouver: Fairmont Pacific Rim

Planning & Booking
Cathay Pacific 777-300ER First Class New York (JFK) to Vancouver
Fairmont Pacific Rim
Shangri-La Vancouver

After a great flight from New York, we arrived at the Fairmont Pacific Rim around 1AM.  Check-in formalities were processed very quickly given the hour and the fact that we were likely the last guests to check in for the "previous night."  Our keys were ready and we were on our way to the elevators and ready for bed.  The Fairmont Pacific Rim was built for the 2010 Winter Olympics and is a gorgeous hotel.  The lobby bar was still packed and had we not been so tired would definitely had come back down for a cocktail.

Thanks to the Chase Fairmont Visa Signature Card both of our room nights were free and we had been upgraded to a giant "junior suite."  I put that in quotations because there was nothing junior about this suite.  Upon entering our 6th floor room, we found the bedroom on the right with a full bathroom.  On the left was a second full bathroom.  Straight ahead was the living room, dining area with a table and 4 chairs, and an amazing balcony with dining table and another 4 chairs.  I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

April 22, 2015

Starwood Selling Points at a Discount

Through May 31st, Starwood is selling SPG points at (up to) a 25% discount.  If you haven't read my getting started post on buying points and miles, start here.

While not the best deal in the world, the 20,000+ purchase block brings the total cost down to ~2.6 cents.  Although SPG points are tough to acquire, they do run this promotion a handful of times each year (I have taken advantage of it in the past).

It is pretty easy to get more value out of SPG points than that.  For example, we're headed to The Phoenician in Scottsdale in a couple of weeks.  Our room (booked prior to SPG category change) cost 12,000 SPG points and at the time of booking, was selling for over $500 AI.  That's well over 4 cents a point.

I wouldn't speculatively buy these points but if you are headed on a trip and have enough points for 3 nights and want to go for 5, purchasing enough points to get the 4th for free would also get you the 5th.  Remember - Starwood gives the 5th night free on award redemptions.  So from that perspective, you would get a lot for your money.

April 19, 2015

Introduction: A Week (Euro) in Amsterdam and Paris

Planning & Booking
British Airways 747-400 First Class Denver to London
British Airways Concorde Room London Heathrow
British Airways A320 Club World London to Amsterdam
Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam
Andaz Amsterdam
Thalys Comfort 1 Amsterdam to Paris
Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome
Sheraton Frankfurt Airport Hotel
Singapore Airlines A380 Suites Class Frankfurt to JFK

While I am still working on the trip report for our Long Weekend in Vancouver, I figured I might as well mix it up and post the Introduction to our May trip to Europe.  We're inside a month from departure and starting to piece together the final components to make the trip as awesome as possible.  Over the past 2.5 years, we've taken 6 long-haul trips.  Of those trips, four have been to Asia, one to Europe, and one in the middle (Dubai & Istanbul).  So we have really neglected Europe for no reason other than it is easier to get to from Denver and we'll probably be more likely to go with a kid.  But with the Euro basically crashing (thus the clever trip report series title) against the dollar and the addition of British Airways First Class service direct from Denver we decided a week in Europe would be pretty fun.

Euro to USD 5 year chart

We wanted to start the trip somewhere relatively close to London so we could get in at a decent hour. I've yet to visit Amsterdam and Emily hasn't been for many years.  We both love walking around cities and Amsterdam is a VERY walkable city.  Add in the mix of water (boat trips yay!) and history and it was an easy choice.  We'll start our week with a few nights in Amsterdam at the Waldorf-Astoria and then Andaz which are only a few blocks away from each other.

Originally we were going to fly over to Vienna from Amsterdam but decided that 3 cities in 7 days was just too much.  So we're going to take the train from Amsterdam to Paris which is only a 3.5 hour  ride.  Given the Euro, tickets were really quite reasonable.  Only $85 each for Comfort One (Thalys' equivalent of first class).  It will certainly be a different experience and should enable us to maximize our time on the ground in both cities.

Routing courtesy of the Great Circle Mapper - almost 11,000 miles

We'll then spend four nights at the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome which is something we rarely do.  From everything I have read and heard from people, this is a very special property and one that we want to enjoy for as long as possible.  Paid rates were north of $1,000 USD so I was very glad to be able to get all four nights with a combination of points and free nights from the Chase Hyatt Visa.  We plan to enjoy Spring in Paris and do a day trip out to Reims for some Champagne tours and tasting.

Singapore Suites beverage service

We'll then take a quick hop on Lufthansa (in Economy!) to Frankfurt where we'll spend the night at the Sheraton at the airport.  Our flight the next morning departs at 8AM to New York.  We'll be taking Singapore Airlines' fifth freedom service from Frankfurt to JFK in Singapore Suites!!  This is a hard redemption to get especially for two seats so we were both excited to be able to fly across the pond in real style.

I'll try to post the Planning & Booking segment prior to departure.  Follow along on Instagram, Facebook, and the blog as we spend a week in Europe in May!

The Three Best Credit Cards for Beginners

I am often asked "what is the best credit card to get."  The answer is typically "it depends."  Let's assume that you meet the minimum criteria for travel hacking:

1)  You have a job that pays you money
2)  You don't have credit card debt or carry a balance ever
3)  You desire to travel
4)  You have a 700+ credit score (this one isn't a deal breaker but will certainly help)

Assuming you meet these four criteria, (and most all of you will) here is where I would start:

Chase Freedom:

This is a great place to start as one of the most powerful points earnings cards comes with no annual fee.  The bonus generally sucks at 10,000 points but you'll see it at 20,000 about once a year.  I wouldn't wait for the increase though.  The card enables you to earn 1x cash back for everyday purchases.  You'll get 5x on specific category bonuses each quarter.  You'll also get a 10% bonus if you have a Chase checking account (which many of you likely do).  The kicker is that the cash back can be transferred to Ultimate Rewards points if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred card making this one of the most powerful card duos on the market.  You can then leverage the Ultimate Rewards points to transfer your points to a variety of travel partners (United, British Airways, Hyatt, etc...).  When you redeem those points for travel you're likely to earn a return far greater than the 1% cash back.

Chase Sapphire Preferred:

As one of my first posts ever, I wrote about the value of the CSP.  The value proposition remains solidly in place.  Sign up for the card and you'll receive 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points after $4,000 in spend.  You'll also receive 5,000 UR points for adding an authorized user.  That makes the signup bonus worth nearly 50,000 UR points.  You'll earn 2x UR points for spend in the travel and dining categories...which is most of my personal spend.  The 50,000 UR points can be combined with the 10,000 you earned from the Freedom card and the transferred to the partners mentioned above.  The annual fee (waived for the first year) is $95 but given the everyday earnings power of this card, I think it's worth keeping the card.

American Express Starwood Preferred Guest:

Many of you know that Starwood if my favorite hotel chain.  I've been an elite member for over ten years, I'm a current stockholder and former employee.  I've also held this card in my wallet (and paid the $65 annual fee) for over ten years.  The signup bonus is pretty great - 10,000 points after your first purchase and 15,000 additional points after spending $5,000 in 90 days.

NOTE - if you are looking to signup for this card, let me know and I'll send you a referral link.

That means your total haul will be 30,000 SPG points.  That is enough for a couple of nights at a high end W or Westin.  You can also transfer the points (in 20,000 mile increments) to dozens of airline partners.  When doing so, you'll receive a 5,000 mile bonus meaning 40,000 SPG points will you get 50,000 airline miles.  While there are no category bonuses on the card (beyond spend at SPG properties and Uber) it  is worth keeping the card given the extreme value (around 3 cents IMO) of SPG points.

If you and your spouse picked up these three cards each, you would have 120,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points and 60,000 SPG points.  You could leverage the UR points for roundtrip economy tickets to Europe on United.  Then leverage your 60,000 SPG points to get 2-5 free nights at SPG hotels.  All for free.  If you are planning a honeymoon, a special anniversary trip, or just want to get away for a bit, this combination of cards will take you VERY far.

April 18, 2015

Long Weekend in Vancouver: Cathay Pacific 777-300ER First Class New York to Vancouver

Planning & Booking
Cathay Pacific 777-300ER First Class New York (JFK) to Vancouver
Fairmont Pacific Rim
Shangri-La Vancouver

Due to weather in Chicago, my flight to New York was delayed about 2.5 hours.  I had built in plenty of time so it wasn't a big deal.  I landed in Terminal 8 and took the AirTrain over to Terminal 7 for our flight to Vancouver.  Emily had flown in to La Guardia about an hour earlier and was waiting for me as I entered the terminal.

Our timing was actually perfect as the Cathay desk was just opening up for check-in to Vancouver as we arrived.  Check-in formalities were processed in a couple of minutes and we were handed lounge invitations and shown to fast track security.  Ten minutes later we were in the British Airways First Class Galleries Lounge.  The lounge was nothing special (we actually preferred the lighter, larger business class section) but was perfectly acceptable for a shower, fast wifi, and some decent food and drink. 

Around 9PM we made our way down to gate 6.  It is a pretty cool feeling to be at JFK around this time.  It is transatlantic "rush hour" and there are over half a dozen flights leaving within an hour to cross the pond.

JFK rush hour

April 12, 2015

Earn 3x AA Miles with Citi Executive AAdvantage Card

Update:  Looks like the email is targeted as several readers have reported not receiving the offer.  Perhaps you will receive tomorrow.

Last year, I was able to take advantage of not one but three 100,000 mile offers from the Citi Executive AAdvantage Card.  Those bonuses enabled us to fly First Class on Cathay Pacific back from Hong Kong and to Hong Kong with my brother in June.  I'm finding a ton of value in AA miles so will continue to rack them up whenever possible.

While two of the three cards are cancelled, I have kept one card for Admirals club access.  Yesterday, I received an email from Citi offering 3x AA miles during Q2 in a handful of categories:
  • Restaurants
  • Gas Stations
  • Department Stores
  • Grocery Stores
I certainly won't put any restaurant spend on this card (I'd rather earn 5x Ultimate Rewards points) but will for sure put gas and grocery spend on the card for 3x AA miles...which I value at around $.02.  That's a 6% rebate on everyday purchases - not bad!  

You could also use this bonus to triple dip with a shopping portal at department stores.  For example, Macy's is offering 6x miles through the American Airlines Advantage Shopping Mall.  In addition, they are offering a tiered bonus for spend through the mall which would earn you another 2x miles on $125 in spend.  

Add it all up and you're looking at 11x when shopping through the mall and leveraging your Citi Executive card.  It took about seven seconds to register - just click the link in the email if you received.  The bonus is limited to 2,500 bonus miles ($1,250 in spend) so should be pretty easy to max out during the quarter.