January 15, 2017

Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card $50 Statement Credit

Citi's offering a $50 statement credit (targeted) for adding an authorized user and spending $3,000 on the card by 3/31/2017.  While I won't be taking advantage (too many other spending requirements to meet) this is actually a decent deal if you don't have anywhere better to put the spend.

The card earns 10x points on Hilton spend, 5x on airfare and car rentals, and 3x everywhere else.

Even if all of your spend is unbounded (unlikely) you'd be earning 9,000 Hilton HHonors points and $50.  I value the HHonors points around .6 cents/point so you're getting $104 in value from $3,000 in spend.

That's a roughly 3.5% return.

I Booked My First Ever Delta Award Ticket

And I was impressed!  Everyone says Delta is so great operationally but many in the travel community affectionately refer to SkyMiles as SkyPesos.

I've been stocking up on Delta SkyMiles over the last year given increased sign-up bonuses from Delta American Express co-brand cards.  Between Emily and I, we were approved for 6 cards last year netting a total of 380,000 SkyMiles from sign-up bonuses alone.  Add in a bit of flying and minimum spend on the cards and we currently have 410,000 SkyMiles.

Delta doesn't publish an award chart which is super annoying.  But I found their online search engine to be quite intuitive and actually pretty easy to find the "cheapest" award ticket.

As I eluded to last week, I'm headed to Seoul later this year for a long weekend solo.  I wanted to use some of my Delta SkyMiles stash so begin looking for options.

Delta options to Seoul
While the cheapest ticket I could find was 185,000 SkyMiles for roundtrip business class, I did see some one-ways as low as 80,000 SkyMiles.  Now you can fly one-way to Seoul on United metal in business class for 65,000 MileagePlus miles and 80,000 on Star Alliance partners or 80,000 on United metal in first class.  You could probably rack up 410,000 United MileagePlus miles fairly easily but I'm out of Chase/United card options since I've had all of them recently.

I ended up spending 210,000 SkyMiles for a bit more comfort.  That's a ride on the upper deck of Delta's soon to be retired 747 to Seoul.  On the way back, Skyteam partner Korean Air's 777-300ER new business class prestige suites which even in a 2-2-2 layout offer everyone direct aisle access.

Korean Air new business class
I was quite pleased with the searching/booking experience and am happy to have a stash of Delta SkyMiles saved up for the next trip.  Stay tuned for all the details about this trip over the next few months.

The Status of Status for 2017

We're halfway through the first month of 2017 so it's time for my annual update on elite status.  While we traveled a lot in 2016, most of it was award travel.  So for the first time since 2004, I will not hold any airline elite status in 2017.  And I'm totally okay with it.

It really is a great time to be a free agent.  First class airfare (and upgrades) are cheap.  You can effectively simulate elite status (free checked bags, priority boarding, etc...) with airline co-branded credit cards.  Lack of status creates freedom - it's great to be able to pick a flight solely based on schedule, cost and convenience rather than chasing gold, silver, platinum, etc...You can even earn elite status on Delta solely through credit card spend.

That said, I plan on more paid business and leisure travel in 2017 and likely will end up with lowest tier status on Delta or United.  And that will certainly be better than nothing.

On the hotel front, I'm perfectly content with mid-tier status across several programs.  Lounge access, the occasional upgrade, and bonus points are most important anyway.

To that end, here's where things stand for 2017:

Airline:  Will drop to United General member after flying only 12,000 paid BIS (butt-in-seat) miles i 2017.  Emily had already dropped to General although she did better with nearly 20,000 BIS miles.  I already have 10,000 miles of travel booked on United for 2017.  .

Hotel:  I qualified for Starwood lifetime Gold a couple years ago and am pretty happy with that.  I also have Hilton HHonors Gold, Hyatt Platinum, and Marriott Gold from credit card benefits.  Emily also has gold status across Starwood, Marriott, and Hilton.

The biggest downside dropping from Silver to General Member on United will be the loss of Economy Plus access.  Other than that, it probably won't feel all that different.

Chase Ritz-Carlton Rewards Card Cuts Bonus to Two Nights

Over the last few months, I've written several posts describing the value of the Chase Ritz-Carlton Rewards card.  Start with my full review, then read on about the $300 annual travel credit, then read about the $100 off airfare benefit which has already saved me hundreds of dollars.

You can also read View From the Wing's thoughts on my review of the overall value of the card.

Unfortunately, Chase just cut the three night sign-up bonus down to two nights.  That's a big reduction (1/3) so like going from a 60,000 point bonus to 40,000 points.

Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong where we'll be staying in May
I don't think this fundamentally changes the value prop of the card though.  The benefits (forgetting the sign-up bonus for a second) are still worth more than the $450 annual fee.  You're earning:

  • 10,000 Marriott Rewards points
  • $300 travel credit (2x for one annual fee)
  • $100 off roundtrip domestic coach airfare for 2-5 people (unlimited uses)
  • $100 Global Entry/TSA Precheck reimbursement
On top of it, the two free nights.  So if you haven't signed up already, don't panic.  This card is still on Emily's list for 2017 and we'll likely pick it up towards the end of the year so we can use our free nights somewhere in 2018.

January 8, 2017

Earn 5x on Gas and Uber

I've written about the Chase Freedom card a number of times including post about the 5x category (restaurants) last quarter.  Freedom is one of the best "fee free" cards on the market.  While the card is marketed as a cash back card, if you have another Ultimate Rewards earning card (such as an Ink business card or a Chase Sapphire Preferred/Reserve card) you can transfer the cash back points earned to your Ultimate Rewards earning card.  You can then use those points to transfer to a variety of travel partners (British Airways, United Airlines, Hyatt, etc..) which provide far more value then simply redeeming for cash back.

Chase Freedom provides a quarterly bonus where you can earn 5x cash back (and ultimately 5x Ultimate Rewards) on up to $1,500 in spend per quarter.  During Q4 the bonus categories included department stores, warehouse clubs, and drug stores.  While we didn't max out, we certainly picked up some extra UR points for holiday shopping we would have done anyway.   

Registration/activation is open for Q1 which offers 5x at gas stations and local commuter transportation.  We don't spend a ton of money on gas but should be able to get a ton of value out of these categories given our Uber/Lyft/Car2Go spend.  Not sure we'll max the $1500 on either card but this should still generate some extra UR points this quarter.

Using Travel Codex Award Maximizer

Travel Codex (f.k.a. Hack My Trip) is one of my favorite (besides this one) blogs.  Scott and team do a great job of posting about a wide variety of topics and they've ramped up their content production recently with even more contributors.

I've used the Travel Codex Award Maximizer a few times when looking to easily compare award costs across several programs.  The tool will compare mileage costs for a specific route across programs which is incredibly helpful.  I've memorized most of the major award charts for routes taken often (i.e. Continental US to Europe in Business Class) but it's a challenge to to lookup each program's mileage redemption cost for a more specific routing.

A few weeks ago, I was looking to book a flight between Tokyo and Hong Kong.  Ideally, we wanted to fly Cathay Pacific First Class but I was short of British Airways and American Airlines miles.  I hadn't initially considered that I could use Alaska Mileage Plan miles for the sector.

I keyed in the routing.
And the tool showed results across 14 programs.

My options on Cathay were as follows:
  • 40,000 American AAdvantage miles (each)
  • 27,500 Alaska Mileage Plan miles
  • 40,000 British Airways Avios
  • 40,000 Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
Well that was a no brainer.  After finding Cathay space on the British Airways site, I was able to give Alaska a call and book the routing for 55,000 total Alaska Mileage Plan miles.  The tool links directly to helpful posts on how to book an award with many of the programs.

Kudos to Scott and team for putting together such an awesome resource!

2017 Planned Travel

It's always a mental challenge when the year starts in January and we don't have any trips planned and the wanderlust starts to kick-in big time.

We've done a decent job of planning the past few years so that we have trips to look forward to especially during the cold/snowy Colorado winter.  It's honestly a great place to live, will be 60 degrees on Monday but don't tell your friends.  The traffic sucks already.

2017 is shaping up to be pretty great.  Here's what we've got on the books already:

We hope to return to Vancouver and I'm confident I'll be able to get in a weekend in Vegas in the Spring.

On the flying front, here's what's on tap:
  • United 787-9 Polaris Business Class
  • Cathay Pacific First Class
  • Singapore Airlines First Class
  • Delta One Business Class
  • Korean Air Business Class
On the hotel front:
  • Ritz-Carlton Georgetown
  • Intercontinental Osaka
  • Ritz-Carlton Osaka
  • Conrad Hong Kong
  • Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong
  • Park Hyatt Seoul
  • Fairmont Pacific Rim
Will share introductory and planning and booking posts for these trips in the next couple of months.  Where are you going in 2017?