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.

September 21, 2014

Nothing Booked in 2015

Usually about this time of year I start booking travel for the following calendar year.  It was really warm in Denver this weekend but fall is definitely coming and it's always good to have a handful of getaways planned once it starts dumping and the temperatures plummet.  

The rest of 2014 is pretty busy - Vegas in October, New York in November, St. Barths in December...and then hopefully Asia over New Years.  But as of now, we don't really have anything booked.  We have a loose trip planned to Europe next May but that is it.

So I'm thinking about booking some speculative hotel Vegas, Phoenix, LA...maybe Mexico...maybe Panama City.  

Berners Tavern - London Edition - should we go back?

But I'm not entirely sure what we'll end up doing.  Where should we go?  What would you like to see on the blog in 2015?

Buying Coins from the US Mint

There used to be a pretty crazy scheme to earn frequent flyer miles where travel hackers would buy coins from the US Mint with credit cards and then deposit the coins into their bank accounts.  The scheme ended before I got really into this hobby after the mint eliminated the free shipping and credit card purchase option.

However, I recently figured out that the mint does allow credit card purchases for some coins.  The mint is currently offering a gold version of the Kennedy half-dollar for the 50th anniversary of the coin.  While I'm not a serious collector or anything, I do happen to think coins are pretty cool and am also a big Kennedy fan.  So I bought one.  I am still working on the minimum spend on my second Citi Executive AAdvantage card and this purchase helped me get pretty close to the bonus threshold.

2014 Gold Kennedy Half-Dollar

The box recently arrived and I was pretty excited to open it up.  It's a piece (albeit a small one) of history and just a bonus that I earned a few AA miles by making the purchase.  I plan to hold on to the coin and hopefully I'll be lucky enough to have a son to give it to in the future.

September 14, 2014

Why International First Class is a Steal

Emily and I both love Hong Kong.  We were there for the first time in 2012 on our Honeymoon and loved the city.  So we've been itching to go back but dates/flights just haven't worked out.  Until now. Yesterday, I was able to change a speculative award (that was booked under the old United award chart) to an award that we actually plan on using.

First Class availability on United's SFO - HKG route has been hard to find...especially for two seats.  But it opened up yesterday and we pulled the trigger.  United First Class certainly isn't as cool as Lufthansa or Singapore but it's still 15 hours in the nose of a 747.  Hard to complain about that.

But here's the thing - the two award tickets (one-way) cost 140,000 MileagePlus miles.  Had we paid cash, the tickets would have set us back $19,125.  While I certainly wouldn't pay that (or really anywhere near that) price, that is an unreal value.  Maybe the best award I have ever booked at 13.7 cents/mile.

And this is why leveraging your miles and points for international first class is such a "deal."  You'll never get anywhere close to this type of value out of your points if you just book coach tickets to Vegas, Miami, or Chicago.

Even if you use your miles to book international coach or business class tickets, you still won't get anywhere near 13.7 cents/miles because the premium to book first class tickets (especially on United metal) is so small.  A first class saver ticket costs roughly 2x the amount of miles as a coach ticket.  But the cash cost is more likely to be 6x or 8x a coach ticket.

So we are pretty stoked to be heading back to Hong Kong.  We hope to spend a few days in Taipei as well over New Years.  I will keep you posted as we make progress on putting the trip together.

Now on to the next challenge...finding a flight home!

SPG's Q4 2014 Promotion

Starwood's Q4 promotion is out and it's actually pretty good with one exception.  There are a ton of hotels excluded on the list.

The "More for You" promotion (you have to register by 10/31/14) will award 2x points on eligible stays of 2+ nights. You'll get 3x points if your stay includes a Friday or Saturday night.  So this is a solid promotion for leisure travel.

We actually have a stay coming up at the W Union Square in November that would earn 3x points (in addition to my Platinum elite bonus) but it is one of the excluded hotels.

Since so many hotels are excluded, I wouldn't go out of my way to book more stays with Starwood but if you have work or leisure travel over the next few months, I would definitely register.

September 13, 2014

Another MileagePlus Shopping Bonus

The United MileagePlus Shopping portal is out with another great bonus running through 9/18.  You'll earn 1,000 United MileagePlus miles after spending $225 through the portal.  You can read about the basics of earning miles/points through online portals in my introductory post.

In July, the portal offered a similar bonus offering 4x bonus points for meeting certain spend thresholds.  Note that you can spend the $225 at multiple merchants across multiple transactions.

The $225 threshold is steep but could be a great way to stock up for the holidays or grab some gift cards for future spending needs.  You could also stack this deal with the Amex offer.  The current payouts aren't outstanding but the bonus is solid (~$20) if you were going to be spending the $225 anyway.

September 11, 2014

Amazon Payments is Dead

Bad news in the miles and points world this week.  The manufactured spend technique known as Amazon Payments will no longer be available for P2P (Person-to-Person) payments effective October 13th.  So you'll have one more opportunity to send and receive $1,000 in October.

For the past couple of years, I've been leveraging Amazon Payments to charge $2,000 (half on my card, half on Emily's) each month on various credit cards.  This has helped us to meet minimum spend requirements with ease.

It makes sense that Amazon is shifting away from this "product" given their renewed focus on providing payment services to actual merchants.  This is certainly a bummer but there are still plenty of other ways to manufacture spend and earn free (or very low cost) miles and points.

September 9, 2014

New Amex Offer: Get $15 off $100 at Staples

I've posted several times (here, here, and here) about how lucrative the "Amex Offers" program can be.  By syncing these offers to your American Express card and combining with a coupon and/or shopping portal, you can really save a ton of money.

Amex has a new offer out (I'm seeing it on my EveryDay Preferred Card but YMMV) that will give you a $15 statement credit after spending $100 at  The offer isn't valid on e-gift cards (which are free) but is valid on physical gift cards (which Staples charges a $1.99 fee).

You can combine this offer with a shopping portal (i.e. Ultimate Rewards Mall) which should net you an additional 2-3 miles/points.  

I plan on taking advantage of this offer by purchasing a Home Depot gift card...they sell a ton of items online that we need in the house.  Both Emily and I have this offer in our accounts so we'll take advantage of it twice!  $15 isn't earth shattering but if you take advantage of these offers across the year (especially with multiple cardmembers in your household) you can literally save hundreds of dollars.  

In the last year, I am up to $305 on one card!

September 7, 2014

New to the blog? Here's what you need to know to get started

A few readers have asked for a periodic "getting started" post.  After almost 9 months of blogging, I've written a fair amount of content and sometimes finding a post (although you can search on the blog homepage) isn't as easy as it should be.  So here's a recap of post that are great to bookmark, share, or read for the first time.

Getting Started with Miles & Points:

There are over twenty getting started posts accessible from the getting started page.  One of my first posts on credit card bonuses is one of the most viewed posts I've written.  You'll also find posts on buying miles, booking United awards, and keeping track of all the points and miles you accrue.

Travel Tips:

I've written a series of posts on prepping for travel, managing cash overseas, and how to save time when re-entering the US.

Trip Reports:

The best part about this hobby is actually taking the trips.  Over the past few years, we've traveled to Bangkok, Phuket, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Istanbul, Dubai, London, and Bali.  You can read all about these trips (all in premium first and business class cabins) on the trip report page.

Lufthansa First Class from Dallas to Frankfurt

Hopefully this is helpful.  Let me know in the comments or via email if you have any suggestions for future getting started posts.