October 18, 2014

Curb to Train in 4 Minutes

I'm flying today and set a new personal record.  I made it from the curb at DIA to the train (that provides transportation to the gates) in four minutes.  There was a pretty big general security line (probably 10-15 minutes waiting time) but no pre-check line.

Three beeps later, I was speeding through the metal detector to grab my bags and head for the train.  I can't say enough good things about the TSA's pre-check program.  Getting through an airport would really suck without it!

October 13, 2014

Singapore Suites on ABC

Last week, ABC did a story on Singapore Suites.  One of their reporters had the really challenging job of flying Singapore Suites from JFK to Frankfurt on a ticket provided by the airline.  I wonder how he returned to New York?

The video provides some additional perspective on the size of the seat, bed, food quality, etc...

Singapore A380 Suite

October 12, 2014

Earning 5x Ultimate Rewards Points from Chase Ink Cards

It must be the morning of 5x.  The Chase Ink Business Cards (Bold and Plus) provide an excellent opportunity to earn a ton of valuable Ultimate Rewards points.  I've had an Ink Bold card for a couple of years now and while I don't keep the card in my wallet, I will grab it out of my CC stack for a couple of key use cases:

1)  I leverage my Ink card for all of our cable, internet, and cell phone monthly bills.  That amounts to roughly $350/month and is all recurring billing so I don't even have to remember to use the card.  That earns an easy 1,750 Ultimate Rewards points.

2)  If I'm going to an office supply store (i.e. Staples or Office Depot) I will bring my Ink Card.  If I'm buying something online from these stores, I will use my Ink Card through a shopping portal.  I spend around $200/month on gift cards to maximize my earning on everyday spend.  That is another 1,000 Ultimate Rewards points each month.

Leveraging these techniques, I'm earning over 33,000 Ultimate Rewards points per year.  I value those points at around $660 so more than paying for the $95 annual fee.  This is a card that I will keep (vs. get rid of)  year after year.

Earn an Additional 5x United Miles for Shopping Online

United has another shopping bonus this week offering 1,000 miles after spending $200.  That's 5x miles in addition to what you would earn from the portal and your credit card.  Not bad if you were going to make a $200 purchase (by 10/18) anyway.  I value United miles at $.02 so by spending $200, you're getting an "extra" 10% rebate on your purchase.

This isn't the best bonus of the year but it's still pretty good.  I would expect some serious increases as we get closer to the holidays in both the bonuses and standard payouts.  So if you are thinking about getting an early start on holiday shopping, you might want to wait a few weeks.

October 11, 2014

What's in My Wallet - October 2014 Edition

This is the next post in my periodic series outlining the cards in my wallet and my rationale for spending on each.  I try to be as purposeful (and organized) as possible about the cards in my wallet and when each one comes out.  The best analogy is really a swiss army knife.  You want to have a handful of tools for different jobs and understand which tool to use for a specific job (purchase).  This will help you maximize your earning on spend.

Here are the four cards (in addition to my debit card) in my wallet this month:

1)  Starwood Preferred Guest American Express

I put half of my non-bonuses everyday spending on this card and the other half on my Chase BA card.  Starwood points are among the most difficult to earn yet the most valuable.  Putting non-bonuses spend (i.e. non dining and entertainment which go on the Sapphire card) is a great way to earn incremental Starwood points.

2)  Citi Executive AAdvantage World MasterCard 

I've already earned the bonus on my first of these cards.  I'm working on the second at the moment and should be complete in October.  After I complete the minimum spend on this card, we'll have earned 327,500 American Airlines miles from these cards this year.  We'll be using the miles to help us get home from Hong Kong later in the year.

3)  Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa Card 

No minimum spend needed on this card.  Just my workhorse everyday card earning 2x (actually 2.14X when you include the annual 7% dividend) on travel and dining. This card is also linked to my United dining program account.

4)  Chase British Airways Visa Signature Card 

I've already met the minimum spend on this card as well as the incremental bonuses (25,000 points after spending $10,000 and another 25,000 points after spending $20,000 in the first year of card membership).  I am now working on reaching $30,000 of spend this year in order to earn the British Airways Travel Together Ticket which is basically a 2 for 1 certificate.

The End of Amazon Payments

Amazon Payments is officially dead for my household.  I processed the final $2,000 roundtrip this morning.

For those of you that haven't done so, you still have 2 more days to manufacture $1,000 per person this month.

Amazon Payments is/was one of the easiest wasps to manufacture spend.  Over the last couple of years, we've generated over 50,000 points and miles while on our way to many more as this technique helped both of us achieve minimum spend requirements for our favorite credit cards.

Certainly an end of an era.

October 7, 2014

Two Nights Away from SPG Lifetime Gold

I logged into my SPG account the other day to check on an upcoming reservation and noticed that I am just two nights away from lifetime Gold status.

We have a W Union Square stay coming up in November so I'll cross the 250 mark in a month or so.  It is crazy to think that I've stayed nearly 250 nights in Starwood properties over the last 11 years.  I won't re-qualify for Starwood Platinum this year but Gold should be fine based on our expected travel in 2015.

Starwood Gold Benefits

I'll post again once I qualify in November.  As a reminder, tt's actually pretty easy to earn Starwood Gold either by staying 10 times in Starwood properties, spending $30,000 in a calendar year on the Starwood Amex, or getting complimentary status with the American Express Platinum.

October 6, 2014

Smoothest Weekend Trip in a Long Time

Emily and I were in Vegas over the weekend and had perhaps on of the smoothest weekend trips ever.  There is definitely an art to planning a weekend getaway since you're short on time and a good portion of that time is taken up by traveling and sleeping.  But we're at the place now where we can leave Friday after work and return Sunday and still feel ready to tackle the week.

The logistics absolutely matter and things like pre-check, lounge access, and wifi on planes make a short weekend more enjoyable.

We left Denver around 4 on Friday and were in the parking garage by 4:30.  In three minutes we had one of the best (probably the best) parking spots we've ever had at DIA.  We were literally 100 feet from the terminal.  Three beeps later and we were through pre-check and on our way to Lounge 5280 for a pre-flight cocktail.

Our flight boarded on time and was completely empty.  We had exit row 21 (pro tip:  always select row 21 on United flights if you're able to get an exit row) all to ourselves.  As they shut the door my upgrade cleared so of course I sent Emily upfront.  While she enjoyed a cocktail and a bigger seat, I had three seats to myself and fast wifi.

We landed 15 minutes early and made our way to the Centurion Lounge for some dinner.  We had a great time on Saturday checking out the brand new SLS Las Vegas and eating dinner at Andrea's which is one of the best new restaurants in town.

We woke up this morning...showered, packed, and headed to the airport around 9 for our 11AM flight.  We literally made it from the hotel room through security in 30 minutes thanks to light traffic and pre-check.

Another stop in the Centurion Lounge for breakfast and some fantasy football line-up setting before boarding.  I'm writing this at 37,000 feet while watching the second half of the morning NFL games.

We'll be on the ground by 2...giving us plenty of time to get home and enjoy our Sunday afternoon.  If only things went this smoothly at the blackjack table.

September 29, 2014

Panama City in 2015 - Economy or Business?

Last week I posted about our travel plans for next year.  We are strongly considering heading to Panama City for my birthday in March.  We've always wanted to go and the fact that United flies direct from Denver maximizes our time on the ground.  Award availability on the route is scarce so our plan is to pay cash for the tickets.

Looking at flights for the weekend we want to go, they're actually pretty pricey.  Economy tickets (roundtrip) are going for $951.

But business class tickets (United domestic first) are only $200 more.

The business class tickets book into United "P" class which earns a 50% bonus over economy on both award miles and PQMs.

So while I certainly don't "need" the meals, drinks, and bigger seat that come with United business...$200 is a pretty small premium to pay to be a bit more comfortable during 12 total hours of flying.

The flight is 2,630 miles each way.  So as a United Gold, I'd earn 7,890 award miles.  The "P" class fare would give me an incremental 3,945 United miles which I value at about $80.  Even discounting the extra PQMs, is flying upfront worth $120 each?  The flight is expensive so I don't think it's that good of a deal but certainly interesting that the flight is only pricing $100 more upfront each way.

September 28, 2014

How to Find Saver Award Tickets

Over the last couple of weeks, a few readers have asked how I find "saver" award tickets.  To answer the question, I'll focus on United MileagePlus since that is my go to carrier/frequent flier program.  Earlier in the year, I posted on how to book a United award ticket so that's a helpful guide if you're not familiar with United's booking engine.

In my opinion, booking any award ticket thats not a "saver" ticket is a waste of miles.  While programs have certainly made it easier to accrue miles/points over the last few years, paying more than 2x is equivalent to paying 2x at a restaurant you really want to go eat at but can't get a reservation.

Take this hypothetical example.  Let's say you want to fly (one-way) from Los Angeles to Seoul in December or January.  Here's a screenshot showing the search.  If you want to fly economy, you are looking for yellow or green.  If you want to fly business/first, then you are looking for green or blue.  The days that show up as white only have "standard" award availability.  You want to avoid those dates.

As you can see, besides the two weeks around Christmas, there is saver award availability pretty much everyday.  Maybe you want to spend New Years in Korea so let's take a look at the options for December 30th.

There are a couple of good options.  You can fly Thai Airways direct to Seoul in economy for 35,000 miles or you can fly Asiana's business class for 80,000.  Either way, you'll notice that the standard awards are priced at 2x+ that of the saver awards.  Not that you could also fly through San Francisco on United's metal (United's own plane) in first class for 80,000 miles.  I would definitely select United first over Asiana business if given the choice for the same amount of miles.

Keep this in mind as you're searching for award availability.  The more flexibility you have on dates and routing, the more likely you are to find saver awards.  The more saver awards you book, the more value you'll get out of your hard earned miles.