Do you know where you’re going on vacation this year? Now is the time to start planning!
How I Booked a Free First Class Award Flight to Cancun
I just got a free one-way ticket to Cancun in first class. I paid zero for it in cash or miles. I just used an airline stopover rule in an unorthodox way. It’s perfectly legit.
2014 Loyalty Program Devaluation Update
As an avid collector of miles and points, it won’t take long before you notice something: frequent program devaluations. Changes to award rates happen occasionally in some programs and all too often in others. You’ve got to be aware of what’s going on in the loyalty travel market so you can best utilize the miles and points you’ve earned.
What is Elite Status and How Do You Get It?
Among travel hackers, elite status is a badge of honor. For business travelers, it’s a reward for miles logged and a key to sanity via upgrades and special treatment.
Blueprint for a First Class Ticket to an Exotic Island
If your imagination were the only limit, where would you go?
A secluded island getaway with private access to a crystal clear lagoon from your glass-bottom villa floating over the warm tropical water?
According to Conde Nast Travelers 2013 Readers Choice Awards, the prettier-than-a-postcard private islands in the Maldives are a dream getaway for many people:
“Our readers found this island nation to be the epitome of “rest, relaxation, and indulgence,” citing the “polished, polite” service, the “gorgeous resorts” and the “superb villas.”
Diving into the “turquoise water,” lounging on the “white sands,” and dining under the “incredible sunsets” make the Maldives experience “more picturesque than postcards can portray.”
So, let’s dream that dream for a second.
Though a pampered Maldivian vacation sounds like something you might win in a contest on the radio, you can make it happen just by living your normal life with a simple plan and two well-chosen credit cards.
Choosing the Right Reward CardsOnly two
Some truly luxurious airlines, including Emirates, Turkish, Etihad, Singapore Airlines, and Cathay Pacific, fly to the Maldives. However, none of them have good co-branded credit cards for Americans. Opt for a card that allows you to transfer points to these airlines, whether through another airlines frequent flyer program or directly from your credit card.
The main three transfer programs Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest have a variety of cards to choose from, as do the major airlines. You’ll start with 30,000 free Delta miles with the American Express Gold Delta Skymiles, 30,000 American Airlines miles with the Citi Premium Select American Airlines AAdvantage Visa Signature, and up to 100,000 Avios with the British Airways Visa Signature Card.
For your hotel nights, you have many options for booking with points. Indulge all the way with princely, private villas starting at 30,000 points per night at the W Retreat & Spa Maldives and the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island by Hilton, two of the country’s most luxurious resorts. Or experience more laid-back luxury at the Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa, Holiday Inn Resort Kandooma Maldives through IHG, and the soon-to-open the Radisson Plaza Resort Maldives Naagoshi.
Sign up for the card that goes with your dream hotel:
- The IHG Rewards Club Select Visa from Chase: 60,000 points after an initial spend of $1,000 in the first month; 2 points per dollar on gas, groceries, and restaurants; 10% bonus on IHG redemptions; free anniversary night
- Club Carlson (Radisson) Rewards Visa Signature Card: 50,000 points after your first purchase and 10,000 additional points after spending $1,500 in the first 90 days; 25,000 renewal bonus points per year; one free night on every reservation of two nights or more; 3 points/$1
- Hilton HHonors Surpass American Express: 60,000 point sign-on bonus; priority pass for lounge access; 6 points/$1 on gas, restaurants, and groceries; 3 points/$1 on everything else
- Starwood Preferred Guest American Express: 75,000 points sign-up bonus after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. While the number of points is higher than the sign-up bonus of many other travel rewards cards, Starpoints are also among the most valuable so this is an outstanding bonus.
Map Out Your Path to Paradise
Through most programs, you’ll need 80,000 points for an economy ticket and 120,000 for a first or business class ticket (which is what you would want on a dream vacation, right?).
In most cases, you’ll start out with 60,000 hotel points and 30,000 airline points for signing up for those two cards. Let’s say you’re going away for a week. That’s long enough to forget that any other world exists beyond your tropical breakfast served on the mirror still waters of the lagoon.
So, you’ll need 120,000 points for your flight and somewhere between 120,000 and 300,000 hotel points depending on how splashy your vacation will be.
How do you get them all?
Look at your credit card, debit card, and cash spending for one year:
- If you use a personal finance tracking like Mint, it’s a snap to tally this all in one place.
- Otherwise, you can log into your banks and add everything up manually.
- If you want to sign up for a card that gives bonus points for gas, grocery, and restaurant spending, break those out separately and multiply by the bonus.
You can earn extra points in so many ways:
Bonus points on spending. Most cards have a quarterly offer for anywhere from 5 to 15 points per dollar on spending in certain categories.
Point exchange bonuses. Last December, American Express offered a 35% bonus on transferring points to Virgin Atlantic, which transfer to double Hilton points.
Paying rent with points. Unless you completely own your house, your biggest expense if probably your housing. Amazon Payments allows you to pay rent with a credit card so you can earn points.
Paying your mortgage with points. If you have a mortgage another huge expense that seems like it must be paid in cash check out ChargeSmart, a website that allows you to pay your mortgage and home-related expenses with a credit card.
Making basic purchases through shopping portals. Everyone knows that you can buy practically anything on Amazon these days, but you can also find pretty much anything you’d buy online through point shopping portals, where you earn up to 12 times normal points buying goods and gift cards for popular brands.
730 Days to Dreamy Ocean Views
With the right reward cards and a little diligence, you can amp your reward earning up to 100,000 points per year.
Add in sign-on bonuses (about 90,000 points) and in two years, you’ve got nearly 300,000 points! More than enough for a week in paradise.
Dominican Republic: A Resort Stay on a Budget
I love to travel on miles and points. I’ve been fortunate enough to find great values and visit places I wouldn’t be able to afford were it not for frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programs.
When Should You Book Reward Tickets?
I want to tell you a little secret about the airline industry.
About booking flights in particular.
The best time to book flights is not when the inventory first loads!
I know, it’s so counterintuitive you don’t believe me.
Tips for Managing Rewards Credit Cards
It’s no secret that credit card sign-up bonuses are the fastest and easiest ways to earn miles and points. However, opening up a dozen credit card accounts is fraught with problems if you’re not organized. Playing the points and miles game is only a good idea if you have excellent credit (730 or higher), you pay off your credit card balances monthly, never miss a payment and are organized enough to keep track of annual card renewal dates.
Ski Trip to Lake Tahoe at 20% Off
My husband is an academic, which means he’s invited to conferences in truly awesome places all the time.
Skiing in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Spain coupled with a tour of Alhambra in Grenada, the tapas capital, anyone? A week in Tenerife in the Canary Islands? Or perhaps culture capitals like Barcelona, Budapest, and Beijing?
How does the American Airlines and US Airways Merger Affect Frequent Flyers?
Ever since American Airlines has come out of bankruptcy, they can’t stop talking about the new American. New planes! New amenities! And now: a host of new routes, hubs, and aircraft courtesy of the American Airlines-US Airways merger.
Miles to Give
This is the ideal time of year to donate to your favorite charities. The holidays are upon us and it’s natural to give thanks for all we have and to want to help those who are less fortunate. Many nonprofits could really use an infusion of goodwill as the year comes to an end.
Holiday Shopping: Best Bets for Giving Miles and Points
With Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday behind us, you just can’t hide. It’s time to do your holiday shopping. For miles and points hounds, picking up stocking stuffers and more expensive gifts offers a lucrative opportunity to earn rewards.
Save on Fees this Holiday Season with Award Tickets
When I worked in a university, it was always a game of chance making holiday travel plans. Our office almost always closed the week between Christmas and New Year’s, but you never knew for sure until less than a month before, too close to book reward tickets without a fee. I traditionally ended up on a short holiday trip followed by a staycation during the office closure.
Fly the Most Miles For Your Reward Miles
Unfortunately for reward travelers in America, the days of zones when you could hop to nearby states on a couple thousands airline points are over.
Can You Hack Travel Hacking? How to Know if it’s for You
What would you do with 12,520 pudding cups?
After finding out Healthy Choice was offering 100 frequent flyer points for every product barcode sent in, the father of travel hacking, David Phillips, figured out what was the lowest-priced bar-coded item he could buy (pudding cups for $0.25) and bought out every store in his state.
Earn Bonus Miles on Hotels and Car Rentals
There are dozens of ways to earn frequent flyer miles and hotel loyalty points. Setting out on an actual trip is the most conventional way to earn miles and points. You earn frequent flyer miles for taking a flight, but you can also actually earn bonus miles for car rentals and hotel stays as well.
Earn Miles and Points with Bluebird by American Express
Even if you’re new to earning miles and points, you’ve probably heard people talk about Bluebird as a way to boost earnings potential. It solves a major problem: how to accrue miles and points when paying bills with merchants like your landlord or mortgage company that don’t take credit cards.
Dining for Miles
How about earning miles for your morning coffee and bagel or dinner out with friends? Enroll in the dining rewards program for your favorite airline and get up to 5 miles per dollar spent.
Earn Miles and Points with Amazon Payments
Isn’t it frustrating when you’ve got a monthly expense or a personal debt to pay and there’s no way to do it other than personal check? You won’t earn miles or points on those transactions and they can add up to a huge loss of rewards over time. What if there was a way to pay the maid, babysitter, or even your landlord and earn miles and points?
Stopover Anyone? Here’s What You Can and Can’t Do
American Airlines does not allow stopovers on domestic award tickets, but does permit them for international travel. I live on the west coast and often use the rule to my advantage to squeeze in a stopover on the way to a foreign destination or to book one leg of a bonus trip on the way back from overseas travel.