November 22, 2014

How to Build Your Own "Cash & Points" Redemption

One of the best uses of hotel points is the "cash and points" redemption.  Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott, IHG, and Starwood, all offer some sort of cash and points redemption opportunity.  Often times, you can get "more value" out of your points redeeming this way vs. redeeming points outright for a room.

That said, it can be challenging at times to find availability.  So sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands.  Em and I are presently in New York for the weekend and wanted to stay at the W Union Square.  When we first made the reservation, rates were going for $400++ so I booked two nights at 20,000 SPG points a piece.  That's a steep price to pay but getting 2.25 cents a point isn't bad either.

Friday night in Union Square

Over the last couple of months, rates dropped from $400 to $350 and finally down to $270.  But I could only secure that rate for the first night of our stay.  The second night was going for $370.

So I made my own "cash and points" rate by booking the first night at $270 and the second for 20,000 points.  If you average the two nights, that's $135 and 10,000 points per night.  Compare that to the Starwood Category 6 cash and points rate of $180 cash and 10,000 points per night and I'm actually coming out ahead.

I was able to quickly chat with SPG Platinum customer support and they linked the reservations together.  Upon check in, we were upgraded to a suite (two categories) for the first night but they only had availability the second night at a one level upgrade.  We opted to "downgrade" the first night so we didn't have to switch rooms on Saturday night.

That was a good choice as our Spectacular room is spacious (as far as NYC rooms go) and has a great view of Union Square.

November 16, 2014

Ringing in 2015: Planning & Booking

Planning & Booking
United 747 Global First San Francisco to Hong Kong
Grand Hyatt Hong Kong Grand Club
Cathay Pacific A330 Business Class Hong Kong to Taipei
W Taipei
Cathay Pacific 777 First Class A340 Business Class Taipei to Hong Kong
W Hong Kong
American Airlines 777-300 ER Flagship First Class Hong Kong to Dallas

We're only 40 days away from our trip and we're pumped.  Emily is always slightly bummed in the few days after Christmas (no more presents to open or family to hangout with) so it is great to have a trip to look forward to.

In the scheme of things, this trip was relatively easy to book.  There are three award tickets (two one-ways and a roundtrip) and three hotel stays.  Not like our last trip where we had five hotel stays including two overnights and four flight segments to get to our first destination!  If I had more time, we could make the itinerary MUCH more complicated but I still feel like we got great value from our hard earned miles and points.

Here's how we booked the trip:

Amex Small Business Saturday Enrollment is Live

One of the best promotions of the year (at least for the last several years) has been American Express Small Business Saturday.  Amex launched the promotion to stimulate spending at local businesses (and charge volume on their cards and through their payment network) during the economic downturn.

In the past, they've offered a single $25 statement credit per card which was a great offer.  This year, the offer provides up to three $10 statement credits on each registered American Express card.

All you have to do is register here and then spend $10 or more on each of your registered cards at "qualifying small business" shown on the Shop Small Map.  The map is actually pretty cool and allows you to search and map locations near you that are "qualifying."

Shop Small Map for my office in Denver

There is an enrollment cap so it definitely makes sense to enroll sooner rather than later.   We currently hold five American Express cards and I was able to register all five this morning.  So we'll grab some coffee, breakfast, lunch, and do some holiday shopping all in our neighborhood and end up with $150 in statement credits.

American Express Small Business Saturday is on 11/29 so register soon and circle the date on your calendar!

November 10, 2014

Hyatt Selling Points at a 30% Discount

Hyatt is currently selling points at a 30% discount when you buy 5,000 or more points.  This brings the cost down to around 1.85 cents per point.  I wouldn't "speculatively" buy points at this price but if you are looking to book award travel for the holidays or 2015 this could be a good use of points.

I recently purchased 1,000 points recently to top off my account for an award at 2.4 cents a point.  Hyatt's sold points at a 40% discount so if you don't need the top off immediately, you might as well wait.

If you're new to the miles and points world, read this getting started post on the benefits of purchasing miles.

November 9, 2014

Blog Layout Changes

Good morning and happy Sunday.  I made a handful of layout changes (slightly narrower width and larger fonts) to the blog which hopefully will make things easier to read and navigate.  Would love to know what you think in the comments.  Thanks for reading!

November 8, 2014

Ringing in 2015: Introduction

Planning & Booking
United 747 Global First San Francisco to Hong Kong
Grand Hyatt Hong Kong Grand Club
Cathay Pacific A330 Business Class Hong Kong to Taipei
W Taipei
Cathay Pacific 777 First Class Taipei to Hong Kong
W Hong Kong
American Airlines 777-300 ER Flagship First Class Hong Kong to Dallas

I've already dripped a couple of posts around our flight to Hong Kong and the return flight so figured I might as well write the first couple of posts since the holidays are coming up and things tend to get busy.  Beyond that, we had a flood in our house a few days ago and while everyone is okay, our house is a mess.  We were looking forward to this trip before but now we are REALLY looking forward to a week on the other side of the world.  And writing about the trip gets me even more excited. on to the intro.

We had originally planned a more robust trip to Asia where we could spend more time in each place and also see more places.  For a variety of reasons, we had to rethink our itinerary so that we could be here for Christmas and return prior to the first week of January.  That left us with 8-10 days to play with.

Nearly 18,000 miles in the air - courtesy of the Great Circle Mapper

We knew we wanted to go back to Hong Kong as it's easily one of our favorite places in the world.  The combination (and juxtaposition) of cultures, sheer size of the city, and the setting make it a great place to visit.  We'll be leaving for Hong Kong on the 26th of December which has special meaning for us - we took the same flight two years ago when we departed on our honeymoon and also got engaged on the 26th four years ago.  Last time around we stayed on the Kowloon side at the W...this time we decided to mix it up and stay on Hong Kong Island at the Grand Hyatt.

So we'll spend a few days in Hong Kong exploring before we head to Taipei for three nights.  We are really excited about Taipei.  It's just a quick hop (2 hours) from Hong Kong and from everything we've read, is a real gem of a city.

We're staying at the W which is supposed to be one of the best of the W's.  The location is perfect and we'll have a great view of the Taipei 101 (second tallest building in the world) New Year's celebration.

We then head back to Hong Kong for one night where we'll return to the W we stayed at in 2012 before heading home on American's 777-300ER direct to Dallas.

Hong Kong taxi and view of the skyline

Flying "legacy carrier" first class from the US to Asia was once the way to go.  Not so much anymore with all of the competition from Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines among others.  But it will be fun to ride in the nose of a 747 (I'm in seat 1K where the window faces slightly forward) and see what American has to offer on their brand new 777.  And it will be fun to compare to our previous first class experiences.

I'm most looking forward to the actual trip and getting there in style just makes it that much more fun.  The entire trip was paid for with miles and points with the exception of our last night in Hong Kong.  I'll have all the details on each redemption in the next post but I believe our total cash outlay (for flights and hotels) will end up being less than $600!

IHG 10% Rebate Posted

Last month we went to Las Vegas for the weekend.  We stayed at the Venetian and our hotel was free thanks to the Chase IHG credit card.  For the first night, I used the annual free night that I get for keeping the IHG credit card.  Clearly worth the annual fee of $49.

For the second night, I used 50,000 IHG points that I had earned by signing up for the card and various other promotions. I didn't think of it at the time but IHG provides a 10% rebate (up to 100,000 points per year) on award stays if you hold the IHG credit card.

I checked my AwardWallet account this week and saw the 5,000 point bump in my balance.  I wasn't sure where it came from so I logged into my IHG account to check it out.  I value IHG points at around .7 cents each so on the redemption, it's like getting $35 back.

10% rebate posted

I will definitely be keeping this card and plan to leverage the free night coupled with an award night for a weekend getaway.  Well worth $49!

November 3, 2014

How to Save $5 on Every United Booking

United has some seriously confusing branding.  This post is about the " Club" vs. the "United Club" which is the name for United's lounge system.  First, let's get a few things straight:

  • The United Club used to be called the Red Carpet Club which was a pretty awesome name.
  • The Club used to be called the Travel Club @ which was a really dumb name.
United bought Continental so they obviously had to rebrand.  I'm not sure any club should have the name ".com" in it but that's a different conversation.  

I've been a member of this "club" for three years.  It costs $25 a year and provides a $5 rebate for each United ticket booked through United.  That is seriously the only benefit.  I almost always book directly through United (vs. an OTA - Online Travel Agency) so this is a great deal for me.

If I'm booking a roundtrip and I can break it into two one-ways for the same price, I will do that as I'll earn $10 back vs. $5.  I've also found that I still get the $5 even if I'm booking for other people.    Last year, I booked approximately 30 tickets and earned $150 in credits for my $25 membership - not a bad return.

It is very easy to redeem from the "Travel Bank"

The credits end up in a "travel bank" which makes it very easy to use.  When on the checkout screen, just click the radio button to redeem and your credit is automatically applied to the price of the ticket.  I have typically waited until that amount gets to $100 or so and then used them. But you could totally redeem $10 here, $5 there if you'd like.

It's interesting that United doesn't do a lot of marketing around this club.  Perhaps they're just keeping it around because there are loyal members from the Continental days.  Doesn't really matter to me as long as I continue to get the opportunity to save $150 or so a year on $25 in spend.

November 2, 2014

One Simple Idea to Make Your Trips More Memorable

Before our July trip to Bali, I read a great and very simple idea to make trips more memorable.  Photo books are great but they take a lot of work!

The idea:

  • Buy a new bottle of cologne/perfume in the duty free shop during a layover
  • Use it during your trip.  
  • When you get home, put the bottle in the rotation
  • When you wear the new scent, you'll be reminded of the great trip you had

Seemed simple enough so I picked up a bottle of Tom Ford Noir in the Incheon airport and used it throughout our trip to Bali.  When I returned home, I put the bottle in my rotation and found myself thinking of Bali each morning I put it on.  

The Ultimate Travel Hacking Sin

I've been working on putting together an end of year trip to Asia for awhile.  Originally we were going to take a bit more time off and head to multiple areas of the continent but for a variety of reasons that wasn't in the cards this year.

So we decided to head back to our favorite place (Hong Kong) and add a few days in Taipei over New Years.  The issue has been finding saver award availability over the holidays.  We're fortunate to have millions of frequent flyer miles across all the major alliances but I kept striking out on finding space for two on the dates we needed.

Looking across Victoria Harbour to Hong Kong Island

As I posted about a few weeks ago, we did find space on the direct United San Francisco to Hong Kong flight the day after Christmas.  While there are certainly better hard/soft products to get you to Asia, the flight time is convenient and we took this exact same flight two years ago (in business class) on our honeymoon.  Plus we get to fly in the nose of a 747.  Something I've always wanted to do.

Using British Airways Avios, I was able to snag two seats on Cathay Pacific for the two hour hop between Hong Kong and Taipei.  We'll get to try Cathay's business class on the way there and first on the return.  A new airline and multiple classes!

But getting home was proving impossible.  We had everything set including our hotel reservations.  There was availability on American's Hong Kong to Dallas route featuring their new 777-300ER product and new flagship first class.  The only issue was that the flight was only bookable at the "anytime" level.  American charges nearly 3x to book these awards!!  So instead of 67,500 miles/person/each way they charge 210,000!

We had over 550,000 American miles thanks to some amazing 2014 credit card bonuses and we really wanted to make the trip a reality.  So I pulled the trigger on two "anytime" first class seats at 210,000 AA miles each and committed the ultimate travel hacking "sin."

I am keeping my eye on availability to see if anything "cheaper" becomes available but at least we have something.  And that is what makes this game/hobby fun.  Everyone has a different reason for playing but at the end of the day making a trip possible is what it's all about.