Tag Archives | points

Summer Travel and Another App-O-Rama

As we plan our escape from the upcoming Buenos Aires winter, miles and points once again come to the rescue of our family!

Now that my son is 18 months old, it’s time for him to have his own seat on the plane. (Yes, he can fly as a lap child until 2 years old, but there is no way you want an 18 month old on your lap for an 11 hour flight!) That means we would need 4 coach seats from Argentina to the United States, and a quick check shows that would cost a crazy $5254! And yes, that’s dollars not pesos.

Luckily, we have more than enough miles from credit card signups and other bonuses to get all this travel for free! Here’s what we did…

I first booked flights for my wife, daughter and son at only 40,000 miles each (the reduced rate for the South American off-season). Since I have the Citibank AA Amex card, I get 10% in miles returned to me (up to 10,000 miles per year) immediately after booking. That means that their three tickets only cost 110,000 miles for an amazing value of $.036 per mile.

Hyatt Regency Boston on PointsNext, I booked my ticket on the same flights using 4,400 AA Business Extra miles. I got these points for free in what I consider to be the best offer of 2014. By simply referring people to join the Business Extra program, I received 1,000 points per referral. I referred my wife and four friends and pocketed the maximum 5,000 points. That means this $1400 ticket cost me about 15 minutes of my time! Plus, I still have 600 points left over that I can use for two sets of free AA lounge passes.

With flights handled, I next booked the Hyatt Regency Boston for three nights when we arrive. Since Hyatt has a promotion that gives 20% back in points on all award redemptions, these nights only cost me 36,000 points rather than the normal 45,000 points. The out-of-pocket cost for these nights would have been $1130, so we’re getting a nice $.031 per point there.

Palazzo Vegas on PointsWhile we’re still firming up the rest of our summer travel plans, I couldn’t pass up last week’s IHG 50% off award promotion for their Las Vegas hotels. I quickly snagged five nights at The Palazzo for the 4th of July weekend at 25,000 points per night rather than the normal 50,000 points per night. As there is a 50/50 chance as to whether we actually go or not, I booked each night individually rather than booking it as an entire 5 night stay. That way if we need to adjust the dates, we can cancel the nights we don’t want without cancelling the whole trip and losing out on the promotional rate. The normal rate for this stay would have been $1147, so getting $.009 per IHG point is a great deal.

We still have a trip to NYC to plan, where we’ll either stay at the Intercontinental Times Square or the Hyatt. Having miles and points gives us a lot of options:

  • Two free nights at the Hyatt through their credit card signup offer
  • One free night at the Intercontinental for paying the $95 renewal on the IHG MasterCard
  • Two free nights at the Intercontinental through the IHG Free Nights promotion where I earned 2 free nights and 28,000 miles by staying two nights at a cheaper Holiday Inn for $332. (Not a bad price to pay to convert to the Intercontinental NYC where nightly rates are over $400 per night!)

All this cheap travel is made possible through credit card bonuses, taking advantage of promotional offers, using online shopping portals and some limited manufactured spending. I’ve written about app-o-ramas before, and my last one was this past November where I applied for the following cards on the same day:

  • American Express Gold – limited time 75,000 bonus point offer
  • Chase Hyatt – 2 free nights at any Hyatt
  • Barclay US Airways MasterCard – 50,000 US Airways miles offer (soon to convert to American Airlines miles)
  • Discover Card – $150 back after spending $750 in three months and to take advantage of 5% spending bonuses

I even managed to get my Argentine wife into the credit card game after working to establish credit for her. Now she can take part in future app-o-ramas as well and we can earn even more points together.

It takes some planning, but with a little bit of time and taking advantage of promotions, you can easily get big travel for little money. For our family, this makes all the difference in the world.

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Getting My Argentine Wife a US Credit Card… While Living in Argentina

As I’ve often written about on this blog, I do as much as I can to earn miles and points so that our family can travel for as close to free as possible. Most often, this takes the form of earning large signup points bonuses for new credit cards. In fact, I’m now up to about 18 active credit card accounts and continue to apply for new ones about every six months. (And yes, my credit score is pretty high and continues to stay that way even with this many cards.)

Of course, I’m always looking to earn more points and one easy way to do this is to get your spouse or partner to also sign up for credit card bonuses. Unfortunately, we live in Argentina and my Argentine wife had absolutely no credit history in the United States. That meant she’d have zero chance of getting approved for any credit cards

I started to work on building her credit history about two years ago. I first added her as an authorized user on all my credit cards that allowed additional users for free – American Express, Chase, etc. Luckily, she already had a social security number from previously being employed by a multinational firm and working in the US. That made this simple, but she could also have applied for an IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITN). I’d be responsible for any of her charges, but she’d start to build a credit history.

Building a Credit HistoryIt seems this strategy worked!

She just recently received a credit card application from American Express in the mail. (We have a US mailing address that we use.) We applied online and she was instantly approved! This was a solid offer for the American Express Gold card with a 50,000 point sign up bonus after spending $1000 in three months and first year fee waived. Not too shabby…

Now, with one credit card under her name, we’ll keep building her credit and apply for another round of credit cards in about 3-6 months and see how we do.

So, to recap, how can you build a credit history for a foreign partner?

If they have or can get a social security number, do that. If not, get them an ITN. ( This thread on Flyertalk has several reports of which banks approve credit cards with only an ITN, including Bank of America, Citibank, Discover, Chase, and Amex.)

Now, add them as an authorized user on your credit card accounts and use that card. Over time, they will build a credit card history and should start to get pre-approved offer letters.

That was all we had to do and now we can start building more miles and points!

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Using An Award Booking Service

If you follow my blog at all, you’ll know that I’m a miles and points junkie. I’ve written numerous times about how our family uses points and miles to get expensive flights and hotels for very little money out of pocket.

As a points and miles junkie, I’m pretty familiar with how to book awards and travel. I’ve always been able to find flights for our family of four to go back and forth to the US, but it helps that we tend to have a lot of flexibility with our schedule. When you’re looking for very specific dates, it can sometimes be harder to use your miles to book award travel.

This is when an award booking service can come in extremely handy. What they do is take a look at all the miles and points that you have and then piece together a complex itinerary to get you where you want to go for the miles you want to spend. For this, they take a booking fee that usually ranges from about $125 – $200. If they cannot find flights or you are not happy with the schedule, you owe nothing.

In my case, I had to book a flight to the United States on short notice and with relatively specific dates. I went to all the airline sites to check for direct flight options in business class (how I prefer to spend my miles for the better value) and nothing came up for the dates I wanted. The return flight was the most problematic with no seats in business or even coach for the dates I needed. After spending the better part of a day searching, I turned to the MileValue Award booking service whom I had read about before.

Award Booking ServiceI filled out their online form – specifying my date ranges, preferred travel class, points balances and other preferences. I also specified that I preferred to use some of my 600,000+ US Airways miles over the lower balance miles I had on other airlines and that the bookings should be at the low-level award requirements. Within 8 hours I had a response and by the next morning I had an itinerary:

Departure:

  1. Buenos Aires to  Miami: first class on American Airlines (my first international first class!)
  2. Miami to Charlotte: first class on US Airways
  3. Charlotte to Boston: first class on US Airways

Return:

  1. Boston to Washington: first class on US Airways
  2. Washington to Miami: first class on US Airways
  3. Miami to São Paulo: business class on TAM
  4. São Paulo to Buenos Aires: business class on Qatar

Tariq at MileValue confirmed that the dates worked, let me know about an 8 hour layover in São Paulo and asked for my approval to book. I confirmed and by that evening I had my tickets! I then sent my payment for their services via PayPal.

That is an itinerary that I would never have been able to piece together myself! And, the best part is it only cost 125,000 US Airways miles plus $255 in taxes and fees (including a $75 fee for booking less than 21 days in advance).

I’d estimate that this is a $6,000 – $7,000 flight that I got for 125,000 miles and $380. That gives me a value of almost 5 cents per mile – an extremely high redemption value considering I only paid 1.13 cents for the miles during a US Airways share miles promotion.

I could not have been happier with their service, and I’d highly recommend them!

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Summer Travel Hacking: How We Travel Cheaply Using Points and Miles

Our family is very lucky in that we get to split our time between Buenos Aires and the United States. This summer, due to work and personal commitments, we’ll be back in the States for almost 3 months, which means skipping most of the gray Buenos Aires winter.

While these trips are great, traveling with a family of four can be quite expensive. This is why I’ve become quite adept at playing the miles and points game as well as doing what I can to manufacture spend and earn as many points as possible. (If you’re not familiar with this, check out some of my other posts.)

This month, we’ll fly from Buenos Aires to Boston and then borrow a car from a friend. Over the rest of the summer, we’ve got road trips planned to Burlington, Montreal, Boston (twice), Lake George, the Berkshires and Mohegan Sun. We return in September from Boston to Buenos Aires.

Here’s the quick summary of how we’ve used miles and points to accomplish this without spending very much money:

Flight

We’re flying American Airlines from Buenos Aires to New York where we’ll spend three nights before flying to Boston. On the way back, we’re flying Boston to New York where we’ll spend one night before flying to Buenos Aires. (Unfortunately AA has since eliminated stopovers, so this routing will not work anymore.)

American Express Centurion Lounge

American Express Centurion Lounge

We’ll also get to relax in the American Express Centurion Lounge at Ezeiza before our flight by having the American Express Platinum Card. They offer free food, drinks and even Freddo ice cream!

For our family of three plus an infant, this would have cost over U$S4300 if we had to pay for it. Instead, we’re using 50,000 miles per person plus $360 in taxes and fees. We obtained these AA miles from credit card signup bonuses as well as having a Bank Direct AA checking account that earns miles. (If you want me to refer you, let me know and we’ll both get 1,000 bonus miles.)

Hotels

50,000 points per night

50,000 points per night

We’re spending three nights at the Intercontinental Times Square in NYC which would cost us U$S 1548.66 and be completely out of our budget. Instead, we’re spending $140 in cash and 80,000 IHG points which we earned most of from our mattress run in Buenos Aires. We also used a free night certificate that we get simply for having the IHG Reward Club credit card and paying the $49 annual fee. A pretty great deal!

On our first trip to Boston, we’re staying at the Best Western for $167.78 in cash – but, of course there’s a deal there too… We booked the hotel on Rocketmiles, which awards airline points for hotel bookings. We got in on a promotion they ran which will give us 6,000 AA miles for this stay. As I value AA miles at about $.02 each, this means a $120 rebate. Not bad. (If you use my link to signup for Rocketmiles, we’ll both get a 1,000 point bonus with your first stay.)

12,000 SPG Points per Night

12,000 SPG Points per Night

For our second trip to Boston, we’re staying at The Liberty Hotel. This would have cost us $913.31, but we’re using 24,000 Starwood Preferred Guest points instead. We earned these by spending on the SPG Amex card. These are some of the most valuable points around as they not only work for SPG hotels but also transfer to many airline programs. (They currently have a promotion for 30,000 bonus points if you sign up for the SPG card with my link. You have to spend $5,000 in 6 months, but that is easily done for free just by using Amazon payments.)

For our Montreal road trip and our Berkshire stop, we took advantage of the IHG Priority Club Points Break. This quarterly offer from IHG is one of the best deals in the travel world. They offer discounted 5,000 point per night rates at a select number of hotels. Since you can “buy” IHG points for $.007 each, this works out to only $35/night! The deals sell out fast, but we managed to snag two nights at the Holiday Inn Express Montreal ($373.09) and one night at the Holiday Inn Berkshires ($167.54). So, for 15,000 points ($105) we managed to get $540.63 in travel.

Great deal at the Park Hyatt nearby.

Great deal at the Park Hyatt nearby.

Next on the road trip list is a surprise concert for my wife at Mohegan Sun (she never reads the blog, so no worries about her finding out). We needed two rooms for the night so that her mother can watch the kids, and unfortunately the Mohegan Sun Hotel is independent and ridiculously pricey at $599/night! Luckily, there is a Hyatt Place nearby with a free shuttle to Mohegan Sun and a more affordable price of $488.40 for both rooms. Of course, what makes this even better is that it’s only 8,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points! That’s $.03 per point which is a great redemption value! We simply transferred the points from Chase Ultimate Rewards to Hyatt and booked the rooms.

A weekend trip to Lake George means two rooms at Country Inn and Suites. This would have cost $1,061.16 during the peak summer season, but I had won two free night certificates from a travel blog and used that for one room. For the other room, I used 38,000 Club Carlson points for one night and got one night free as a beneift for having the Club Carlson branded credit card.

50,000 Points per Night

50,000 Points per Night

And finally on our way home, we decided to spend one night at The Conrad New York. The cost of this night would have been $486.30, but instead we used 70,000 Hilton HHonors points that we earned through a credit card signup bonus. We’ll also get free Internet and free breakfast as well as late check out for having Hilton Gold status (from our credit card).

For a couple of other trips, we needed more space than a hotel would provide and booked some great accommodations on AirBNB for less than the cost of the local hotels.

Whew! It took a bit of effort, but when you look at what we get:

  • $4300 airfare for $360 and 150,000 AA miles ($.026 per mile)
  • $1548.66 Intercontinental New York stay for $140 and 80,000 IHG points ($.017 per point)
  • $167.78 Boston Best Western stay to earn 6,000 AA points ($.028 paid per point)
  • $913.31 The Liberty Boston stay for $0 and 24,000 SPG points ($.038 per point)
  • $373.09 Holiday Inn Montreal stay for 10,000 IHG points ($.037 per point)
  • $167.54 Holiday Inn Berkshires stay for 5,000 IHG points ($.034 per point)
  • $488.40 Park Hyatt Mohegan Sun stay for 16,000 Hyatt points ($.030 per point)
  • $530.58 Country Inn and Suites Lake George stay for 38,000 Club Carlson points ($.014 per point)
  • $486.30 Conrad New York stay for 70,000 Hilton HHonors points ($.007 per point)

Adding it all up, that’s almost $9,000 in travel for only $547.78 plus points and miles. Not too bad IMHO… And this is why it kills me when I hear from friends who redeem their credit card points for gift cards at $.01 each. There is so much more value in those points!

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