November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving from Singapore

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you that are celebrating today.   After an unbelievable (much, much more on this coming soon) stay at the Park Hyatt Maldives, we're enjoying a couple of days in Singapore before heading home.

Park Hyatt Maldives Water Villas

We were both blown away by the Park Hyatt and both of us are very excited to return in the future.  What an incredible place.  It certainly isn't easy to get to and for me, that is part of the charm.

Maldives sunrise

Sunrise stroll

As always, thank you for reading and sharing your feedback with me.

Stairway to (snorkeling) heaven

It is a lot of fun to share my stories with all of you and I can't wait to share more about this incredible journey.  It is truly remarkable how miles and points can open up the world - making it possible to travel half way around the world in unbelievable comfort to experience a place like this.

November 23, 2015

Quick Thoughts on Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa

I'll have a full trip report forthcoming but wanted to provide a few initial thoughts on Al Maha.  The place was perfect.  Like all around perfect.  I can't think of a single thing wrong with the the resort.  In fact, I think it's the finest resort property I've stayed in.  Thanks to Starwood, it's far more accessible through March of 2016.

Al Maha Resort & Spa entrance

Two nights was great although three would have been ideal.  More than that and I think we would have been bored.  The room rate (whether on points on paid) includes three meals and two activities per day.  You can take your meals in the restaurant or in your suite.  Everything we ate was outstanding.  Alcoholic beverages are the only thing not included.  No kids are allowed.  This is not your average all-inclusive resort in Cancun.

Camel ride sundowner

We participated in three activities - a drive through the park, camel riding, and dune bashing.  I would highly recommend all three.  The location is truly special (more on this in the full trip report) and like nothing else I've seen before.

Unique view from the lobby

Because I'm such a well known blogger we're lucky, we were upgraded to a royal suite which at nearly 2,000 square feet, was certainly more than we needed.  But it was great to have more space to relax, a bigger pool, and two bathrooms.

Our "royal" suite

The service was a 10/10.  They nailed Emily's gluten allergy like few places have.  Transport to/from DXB was well coordinated, all of our activities were set and confirmed prior to our arrival by our awesome field guide (Niko).

Taking a break from dune bashing

I would highly recommend Al Maha and I'm confident we'll be back soon.  Stay tuned for a full trip report.

November 20, 2015

Starwood & Marriott Make it Official

By now you've all read about the merger between Starwood Hotels and Marriott International.  Starwood's been for sale all year and it's been a pretty crazy time with plenty (IHG, Wyndham, Hyatt, etc...) of suitors mentioned in the news.  Interestingly enough, I never once read about Marriott being a potentially acquirer.

Everyone's speculating about what will happen to Starwood's brands, SPG program, and the current American Express credit card relationship.  While it's great to speculate, this is a $12B+ merger and it's going to take years to fully integrate both companies.  Marriott's been coy about their plans for all of the above and I expect it will take quite some time before we learn more.  The merger isn't expected to close for 6-9 months and if the airline integrations of the past few years are any indication, it's going to take awhile to even come up with a plan.

Marriott is a giant company with nearly 3x the hotels, 20 brands with many in the limited service category.  Starwood has the better loyalty program, credit card, and is focused on the higher end market.  So the merger makes a ton of sense in that both companies are complimentary to each other.

It's highly likely that the Marriott loyalty program survives and the Starwood American Express relationship (another blow for Amex) is shuttered given that Marriott is the acquirer and will essentially be the surviving entity.

If that happens, I'll be sad to see the program (wonder what will happen to my lifetime gold status?) and the longest tenured credit card in my wallet go.

But this is business and we knew it was coming all year.  I hope Marriott decides to keep Starwood as a brand but not sure that's the best long term business move.  At this point, all that we can do is speculate on what will happen and continue to earn/burn as normal.  I'm doing just that at the moment - wrapping up a phenomenal stay at Al Maha (more on this later) outside of Dubai.  What I wouldn't do is panic and blow all of your points.

Al Maha Dubai bedroom

I'm not going to change my loyalty or credit card approach in light of the merger.  Starwood will still be my primary program and the Starwood Amex remains in my wallet until further notice.

November 18, 2015

Chase Freedom Offering 10x at Amazon!

Chase is out with another great offer for Chase Freedom card holders.  The Freedom card rotates 5x earning categories (quarterly) on up to $1,500 in spend.  For Q4 the bonus is available at Amazon and Zappos.

10x at Amazon and Zappos

Chase recently announced that Freedom card holders would be able to earn 10x on an extra $1,500 in spend between 11/23 and 12/31.  This is above and beyond the 5x earnings from 10/1 through 11/22.

So hypothetically you could earn 22,500 Chase Ultimate Rewards (if you paired a Chase Sapphire or Ink Business Card with your Freedom) on $3,000 in Amazon/Zappos spend.

Not sure I'll be able to get to $3K in spend but I will definitely be waiting to make some key holiday purchases until 11/23.  Earning 10x cashback that can then be converted to United, British Airways, Hyatt, etc... points is like earning more than 20% back on your holiday (or everyday) spend.  This is a pretty phenomenal deal.  Kudos to Chase for stepping up their game at the end of 2015!!

Points and Miles on Sale

It seems like every major loyalty program is selling miles at a discount this month.

SPG points up to 25% off

While I wouldn't speculatively purchase miles/points here (especially given the recent rash of mergers/devaluations) it's worth a look if you are a few miles (or a few thousand) short of an award.  Availability is often tight and buying miles in a pinch can help you lock in an airline or hotel award without waiting as most purchased points post instantly.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Increased Sign-Up Bonus

My favorite all around credit card is offering an increased sign-up bonus now through 3/15/16.

If you don't already have the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, you should strongly consider this offer:

  • 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after $4K in spend in 3 months
  • 5,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after you add an authorized user and they make a purchase in the first 3 months

The annual fee is waved for the first year and $95 after.  I gladly pay the annual fee year after year given the earnings power (2x on travel and dining) and flexibility (points transfer to United, Singapore Airlines, British Airways, Hyatt, Marriott, etc...).

If you sign-up and complete the minimum requirements, you'll earn a minimum of 59,000 Ultimate Rewards points.  Let's round to 60,000 since it's more likely that some of your spend will earn you 2x points (travel and dining).  If a couple signs up for this card and completes the sign-up bonus, you'd nearly have enough points for 5 nights (125,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points) at the Park Hyatt Maldives.  There are dozens of ways to use Ultimate Rewards regardless of your travel goals/habits.

November 11, 2015

Buy Alaska Miles at 50% Off

Alaska Airlines is selling miles at a pretty significant discount through 12/23/15.  The sale is actually a "mystery" sale where you enter your Mileage Plan number and either receive a 35%, 40%, or 50% offer.  My account was targeted for the 40% bonus which brings the cost (if you purchased the maximum 60,000 miles) down to 1.97 cents per mile.

While I wouldn't speculatively purchase a big chunk of Alaska miles, if you are looking to book a premium cabin award on either Cathay Pacific or Emirates, this would be a great way to top up your account.

I actually purchased a handful of Alaska miles during the last sale in order to top up my account and book our Emirates first class flights to the Maldives.  I booked those flights for 90,000 miles each way per person.  Through this promotion, you can get pretty close to that amount for $1,650 + tax.  While you are limited to 60,000 (used to be 40,000) miles per transaction, there's no limit to the number of transactions you can make.

If you (hypothetically) had 0 Alaska Mileage Plan miles and wanted a roundtrip Emirates first class ticket to the Maldives, that would cost you 180,000 total miles and about $40 in fees.  If you were targeted for the 50% bonus, you could make 2 transactions for a total of $3,546 and purchase the 180,000 miles needed for the roundtrip award.  While I certainly would prefer to earn miles in other ways, this approach would still dramatically reduce the cost of something VERY expensive.

Here's an example Emirates first class flight to the Maldives:

$3,546 is still a lot cheaper than nearly $22,000!!!!