Monthly Archives: December 2016

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A Year in Review – 2 Million Miles Earned

Category : Uncategorized

Earlier this week I shared with you an updated fourth quarter of earning and burning. (You can view quarters 1, 2 and 3).

I write and share this information for the following reasons:

  1. Transparency. I’m a big believer in sharing my knowledge – after all, that’s why I started this blog! If I’m not open and transparent, how is this blog different?
  2. It’s not impossible. Earning millions of miles and points per year is time consuming and there is a learning curve. BUT, it’s not impossible, regardless of your academic or professional background.

Changes

Before diving head first into the nitty gritty, here are two changes I made to compiling and analyzing my data this year.

SPENDING REQUIREMENT

Previously, when listing miles earned per card, the only values provided were the sign-up bonus itself. This never included the spending requirements. However, considering the amount of cards my wife and I opened up this year, I thought it was important to add on. After all with 40 cards opened (!), $3,000 and $3,000 and $3,000 etc., adds up.

REALISTIC VALUATIONS

Last year I fell subject to the sticker shock valuation of writing that I saved thousands and thousands on travel. While that sounds lovely, and certainly would be, it is not realistic. The ‘value’ column is divided into “maximum” – what the value would be if I paid out of pocket; and “realistic” – what, in reality, I’d pay.

Realistic values were determined based on the cost of a economy ticket for that destination and time of year. Hotel nights were calculated based on what I’d look to pay (if I were to pay cash) at a 3 – 4 star hotel, per night.

Total Miles Earned 2016: 2 Million

Program Cards Amount Certificates
AAdvantage 5 237,000
Alaska MileagePlan 5 150,000
Arrival + 1 43,000
British Airways Avios 2 240,000
Citi ThankYou Points 1 53,000
Delta SkyMiles 3 164,000
Fairmont 1 2
Hilton HHonors 5 333,000 2
Hyatt Gold Passport 1 1,000 2
IHG 1 81,000
JetBlue TrueBlue 1 31,000
Lufthansa Miles & More 1 55,000
Marriott/Ritz 1 5,000  3
Merill-Lynch 1 53,000
Membership Rewards 9 438,000
Southwest 1 52,000
Starwood Preferred Guest 1 38,000
Refer-a-Friend 45,000
Totals  40 2,019,000 9

I was also able to earn (almost) a sign-up bonus with a refer-a-friend bonuses. (Thanks, guys!)

Compare this to:

Totals for 2015: 29 cards, 1.3 Million Miles Earned

Several of the cards – Hyatt, Fairmont, Ritz-Carlton and Hilton – provided certificates instead of points or miles.

TAKE-AWAYS

  • Between me and my wife, we opened up 40 credit cards.
  • Our highest and most lucrative bonuses came from AMEX Membership Rewards, which often include bonuses of 100,000 for spending anywhere between $3,000 – $10,000. (Transferable point currencies provide the most flexibility).
  • We’re both ineligible for earning the lucrative Chase Sapphire Reserve or Citi ThankYou cards – for now – leaving me to overcompensate with Membership Rewards.
  • Due to Citi’s changes in August of 2016, we went ham for AAdvantage miles. Barclaycard’s recent release of the Aviator card has helped pad those balances, too.
  • Because of some of these changes, I’ve moved to earning cards which provide hotel night certificates. These are inherently less lucrative and more restrictive because of category caps and/or expiration dates.

Total Miles Burned in 2016: 892,500

Please note, this only includes redemptions and travel for 2016.

Redemption Points Used Taxes Estimated Cash Value: Maximum / Realistic
New York – London, Business Class35,000 Delta SkyMiles + 28,000 AMEX Membership Rewards 35,000 Delta SkyMiles + 28,000 AMEX Membership Rewards $5.60 $3,256 / $400
New York – London, Business Class35,000 Delta SkyMiles + 28,000 AMEX Membership Rewards 35,000 Delta SkyMiles + 28,000 AMEX Membership Rewards $5.60 $3,256 / $400
Cash N/A $100 $100
100,00 AS 100,000 Alaska Mileage Plan $110 $3,500 / $800
Three nights at The Edition: London 3 Ritz-Carlton Certificates N/A $1,500 / $750
Two Nights at the Alexandra Doubletree Barcelona 150,00 HHonors Points $523 $500 / $400
One-way New York – Chicago, Companion Pass 6,000 Southwest points $11.20 $240 / $240
New York – Chicago 7,500 Britsh Airways $5.60 $120
New York – Miami 15,000 British AIrways $11.20 $240
Miami – New York 15,000 Delta SkyMiles $11.20 $300
New York – Chicago Cash $70
Tel Aviv – New York, Business 62,500 Membership Rewards $200 $2,500 / $750
New York – Kiev – Tel Aviv, Cash, Economy Cash $500
London Gatwick – Barcelona (two) Cash $100
New York – Pheonix – New York (two) 39,500 ThankYou Points N/A $650 / $500
New York – Chicago – New York, Multiple 44,000 ThankYou Points N/A $650
New York – Chicago 10,000 Delta SkyMiles $11.20 $300
New York – Chicago – New York, Multiple 51,000 Southwest $43.80
3 Nights Waldrof Astoria Jerusalem 240,00 HHonors Points $2,250 / $750
1 Night RItz-Carlton Herzilya [Cash + Points] 26,000 Marriott $170 $400 / $250
Total 892,500 $1,208.40 $20,402 / $7,530

A few things…

  • I didn’t burn as much as I had hoped, keeping in with my ‘earn and burn’ philosophy.
  • I spent cash on a lot of short-haul tickets like New York – Chicago which represented better values than using points.
  • A lot of my points were spent on hotels, like the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem.

Total Miles Traveled in 2016: Approximately 70,000

Last year I traveled a bit more (75,000 miles flown and 35 flight segments), but 70,000 and 31 flight segments isn’t too bad.

Here’s how it looks on the map:

Screen Shot 2016-12-27 at 5.38.01 PM

My Credit!

No, these screenshots aren’t to brag – they’re to show you that it’s possible to maintain a really solid credit score and earn lots of rewards. If you’re responsible, don’t let yourself get into debt, you too can reap the benefits of rewards earning credit cards. However, with this many cards open, we can’t not talk about my credit score.

Experian – Provided by American Express

Sure - I'd love for this to be higher, but in New York, Chase, Bank of America & AMEX all pull from Experian

Sure – I’d love for this to be higher, but in New York, Chase, Bank of America & AMEX all pull from Experian

Transunion – Provided by Barclaycard

Screen Shot 2016-12-27 at 4.38.51 PM

Equifax – Provided by Citi

While I was surprised by this, it is over a month old.

While I was surprised by this, it is over a month old.

Bottom line

While I only have a few itineraries booked (subject to change, of course), I’m looking forward to 2017 and the changing landscape. There were definitely a lot of points and miles pitfalls that hit the community this year. Personally, this made me more resilient and interested in finding more deals. Perhaps these deals weren’t as easy or straightforward, but they were definitely lucrative.

Cheers, to 2017!

-The Miner


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Virgin America & Alaska Airlines Merging Loyalty Programs – The Right Way

Category : Uncategorized

A few days ago Virgin America and Alaska Airlines completed their long awaited and much delayed merger. As we’ve seen with airline mergers, the first thing the companies focus on is allowing customers to book (revenue) flights on each others websites. From there, they move onto other priorities such as integrating the fleet, the crew and then, the loyalty programs.

Alaska and Virgin seem to be putting their loyalty programs at the forefront, already having announced some exciting and unexpected changes.

Let’s highlight some of the most important changes:

  1. Virgin America to Alaska Airlines transfer ratio;
  2. Updated award redemptions
  3. Updated mileage accrual
  4. Delta and Alaska partnership coming to an end

Virgin American & Alaska Airlines – Transfer Ratio

#differentworks

#differentworks

Changes related to the transfer will go into affect January 9, 2017. (That’s a few weeks from now). Virgin Elevate members will be able to transfer their points at a 1:1.3 ratio to Alaska Airlines.

While that’s not the 1:3 of Starwood and Marriott, to me to seems pretty fair.

The Virgin Elevate program is a revenue based program while Alaska’s mileage plan is a distance based award chart (region and partner depending).

Also, Elevate Silver and Gold members will be matched to Alaska’s varying tiers of elite MVP status.

Updated Award Redemptions

Though seemingly separate from the merger, Alaska has made some positive changes to their award redemption options (they already have many). As with transfers, beginning Monday, January 9, you’ll be able to redeem Alaska Mileage Plans miles for Virgin America flights.

Furthermore, Alaska has lowered the redemption costs of several short-haul routes. Now with an increased West Coast presence, short-haul redemptions will begin at 5,000 miles one-way, all the way up to 12,500 (the standard domestic price).

The Alaska MileagePlan updated short-haul redemption chart.

The Alaska MileagePlan updated short-haul redemption chart.

Some of these are real bargains if you live on the West Coast, considering the cost of some of these flights.

Updated Mileage Accrual Rates

Mileage accrual?! But this site is about flying for free, not revenue flights and earning butt-in-seat miles!

True, but these changes are pretty positive so I thought I’d briefly highlight them!

Starting now it’s possible to earn MileagePlan miles for Virgin America flights.

Here’s some of the updated accrual rates and a really good breakdown over at One Mile At A Time of how you can work this to your advantage.

Screen Shot 2016-12-20 at 7.38.54 AM

Delta & Alaska Partnership to End

Image Courtesy of Seattle Business Magazine

Image Courtesy of Seattle Business Magazine

Delta and Alaska have had a interesting partnership over the past few years, slowly and slowly chipping away at the benefits as they slug it out for Seattle.

Now that the dust has settled, it’s not too surprising, but Delta and Alaska will be formally cutting ties on April 30, 2017. After that date, you’ll be unable to earn reciprocal miles (Delta SkyMiles on Alaska flights or vice versa) or redeem reciprocally.

(Note: you’ll be unable to make changes to Delta flights booked on Alaska after May 1, 2017 – though travel will still be honored after this date).

It’s always disappointing to lose a partner, but Alaska is not only gaining a larger footprint because of the merger, MileagePlan is always at the forefront of adding new and exciting accrual and redemption partners.

Bottom Line

While there’s a lot of information available, I’ve tried to drill down to some of the most important aspects that will impact readers. Feel free to read the entire FAQ here.

Mergers tend to be tumultuous times for frequent flyers, but if Alaska and Virgin’s moves are any indication, it seems like this one will run pretty smoothly…

-The Miner

Cover photo courtesy of Alaska Airlines


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Quick Hit: New Barclays Credit Card Is Here!

Category : Uncategorized

Several months ago I reported that Barclays would once again earn the right to issue their Aviator cards to new cardmembers.

Under the previous agreement, all US Airways cardholders had their products converted to one of the four flavors of the Aviator card. The caveat was that Barclays could not issue new products.

Now that’s changed – which means more competition and more cards which earn AAdvantage miles.

It was assumed this card would be released in early 2017, but it’s here now and ready for sign-ups!

The Sign-Up

aviator sign up bennies

“Earn 40,000 AAdvantage miles after making one qualifying purchase and paying the annual fee of $95”.

Though there is an annual fee, it’s like you’re “buying” 40,000 AAdvantage miles for $95. That’s a very solid deal.

The rest of the card benefits are very similar to the AAdvantage Platinum Mastercard from Citi, but here’s a recap:

  • First checked bag free
  • Earn 10% of your redeem miles back, up to 10,000 miles, per calendar year
  • Priority 1 boarding where applicable
  • 25% inflight savings (on onboard food and beverages)
  • No foreign transaction fees

My Experience Getting This Card

I was last approved for my first (and only) US Airways card in December 2014, prior to the merger. My Aviator card has been open since then as Barclays tends to be pretty generous with retention offers and annual fee waivers – particularly with this product.

<a href="https://miningformiles.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2016/12/aviator-terms you could try these out.png”>aviator terms

This one-time AAdvantage bonus mileage offer is valid for first time cardmembers with new accounts only. Existing cardmembers, existing accounts and previous cardmembers with accounts closed in the past 24 months may not be eligible for this offer.

As mentioned above, my account was opened – and never closed – since December 2014. It’s now two years later and I was instantly approved for the card with a sizable credit limit.

Barclays can tend to be a bit more strict with approvals (though if you’re approved you will get the bonus, in my experience) than other banks. Here are some tips that I’ve found help with approvals from Barclays:

  • If your application goes pending, give them a call as soon as you can
  • Barclays likes to see some activity on your current cardmember accounts
  • They will shift over credit lines to open new products
  • Getting multiple products from Barclays in one day is difficult, but not impossible.
  • If possible, space out your applications by 3 – 4 (or more) months)

Bottom Line

As always, if this card doesn’t make sense for you – hold off! There are plenty of other great products out there. However, if you’re in need of AAdvantage miles and are limited by Citi, here’s a new option.

-The Miner

All images are courtesy of the author.

 


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Comparing Credit Card Travel Credits

Category : Uncategorized

With the end of the year coming up, now is the perfect time to ‘double-tip’ on credit card travel credits. If you already have one of these cards, make sure to go ahead and check if you’ve fully used the credit. Your credits will be good to use for the remainder of this year and next year.

All credit cards aren’t created equal – and all credit card travel credits aren’t created equal, either.

Below are the cards which offer airline travel credits and my ranking of them from most lucrative and easiest to use, to least lucrative and most restrictive.

Bank Card Restrictions Amount Annual Fee How it works?
Chase Sapphire Reserve 5/24 $300 $450 Automatic
Citi Prestige  1 per family, every 24 months $250 $450 Automatic
American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card Once per lifetime $100 Waived first year, then $195 Choose 1 airline
American Express Personal Platinum Once per lifetime $200 $450 Choose 1 airline
American Express Business Platinum Once per lifetime $200 $450 Choose 1 airline
American Express Mercedes Benz Platinum Once per lifetime $200 $475 Choose 1 airline
Chase Ritz-Carlton Rewards Once every 24 months $300 $450 Call Chase

1. Chase Sapphire Reserve – $300 

Chase’s newest and most popular credit card, the Sapphire Reserve has the best travel credit policy of all the cards. Not only is it the most amount per calendar year ($300!), it is the least restrictive

The travel credit works on hotels, too!

The travel credit works on hotels, too!

Though the terms & conditions do not say what is included, anecdotal evidence points that the credits work on many (if not all) travel purchases including airline tickets, award taxes and fees, lounge access, tolls, taxis/ubers, commuter trains and buses and even hotels.

Travel statement credits post automatically.

2. Citi Thankyou Prestige – $250

The Prestige’s airline travel credits were a game changer before the Reserve hit the market. Unlike AMEX, which makes you designate one domestic airline to receive the credits, the Prestige airline travel credit worked on any airline purchase – even a ticket. It also works on award taxes and foreign airlines.

Travel statement credits post automatically, typically after your statement closes.

3. American express personal rewards gold card – $100

When you take a glance at the matrix above, you’ll notice that the AMEX Personal Rewards Gold card is ranked higher than the Platinum products which offer $100 more in travel credits. Why? Because the Gold card’s annual fee is completely waived the first year.

So if you were to apply today (or soon), you’d get $100 in travel credits in 2016 and then again in 2017! That’s $200 in travel credits and you haven’t paid an annual fee. (The annual fee of $195 is charged after the first year).

In order to receive the credits, you must log in and select your airline of choice. You can access the selection page by going to your card’s ‘benefits’ section.

Airline Fee Credit Card Benefits American Express

Easily see how much credit you have remaining each calendar year.

For each AMEX card you have that offers this benefit, you must do this once a year. These airline choices only include domestic U.S. airlines and officially apply towards the following purchases:

  • Award taxes & fees
  • Seat upgrades
  • Lounge access
  • Baggage fees
  • Miscellaneous airline imposed fees

After selecting your airline, you’ll be reimbursed automatically by AMEX.

amex gold travel credit

You get this once per calendar year!

4, 5, 6. AMEX Platinum Personal, Business and Mercedes Benz Platinum

I rank these cards lower because their annual fees are higher.

The restriction about choosing one airline per year is the same as the Gold card. This restriction is frustrating, but AMEX was the first bank to offer these types of credits. Everyone else – Chase and Citi – have copied AMEX and improved.

I’d love to see AMEX up their game and ease some of the restrictions on the travel credit. (As an aside, I typically don’t activate my credits until I know I’m going to use them).

These cards offer $200 – instead of $100 – in travel credits.

7. Chase Ritz Carlton Rewards Card – $300

Though this card offers more in travel credits than the Platinums/Benz, I’ve ranked it lower because it is the least restrictive is not applied automatically.

You must either: 1) Call Chase or 2) send a Secure Message to have the charge reimbursed. The call center is quick and painless, but it’s a process nonetheless.

Officially, the following incidentals can earn the travel credits (for all airlines – foreign or domestic)

  • Baggage fees
  • Lounge access
  • Seat upgrades
  • In-flight internet/entertainment
  • In-flight meals

Things like the actual tickets, cancellation fees and award taxes probably won’t work.

After you call it usually takes a few days and then you’ll be reimbursed.

CREDIT CARD chase.com

Travel Credits Are Not Free Money

Travel credits are not free money.

With the exception of the AMEX Personal Rewards Gold card, you need to pay a hefty ($450 – $475) annual fee in order to have the card and ultimately, utilize the credits.

So what’s the point of this post?

If you have one of the premium card products and open it now before 2017 and take advantage, or ‘double-dip’ the travel credits in 2016 and 2017, your return will be a bit better. But again, you’re still spending $450 in order to get $400 back in travel credits. Again, you’ve still spend money.

However, cards like the Reserve and Prestige which are the least restrictive, you’ll gain something because their travel credits in two calendar years ($600 and $500, respectively) are greater than the annual fee.

So for the Reserve, you should look at it like $150 back in travel reimbursements – not $600.

Miscellaneous Information

  • The original purchase counts towards minimum spend requirements, even if it you get reimbursed
  • You will earn points on the original purchase
  • If you do not see the statement credit come in from the bank, be sure to call the number of the back of the card. Even if the T&Cs exclude it, it may be possible to get them to budge – sometimes it’s an error or oversight.

Bottom Line

If you’re on the fence about one of these cards because the annual fee, now may be the time for you to grab one up. This analysis does not take into account sign-up bonuses or other perks and benefits of the cards which you may find useful.

-The Miner


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Trip Highlights: Barcelona, Spain

Category : Uncategorized

Though comprehensive trip reports can be interesting, I find them to be too much and too long to read, and often times, boring. So that’s why I’ll provide some highs and lows.

That being said, I’m more than happy to chat about specific aspects of the trip and location.

Read Part 1: Trip Highlights: London England

A Brief Intro

Part of our motivation to head to Barcelona from London was two fold:

  1. I booked this return trip pretty last minute and due to the Thanksgiving holiday, there were limited return options; the flights from Barcelona to NYC were direct and had availability that was business class (though I’d have flown back economy, too).
  2. Barcelona is located near the Mediterranean making it one of the warmer destinations in Europe at this time of year.

What I Liked About Barcelona

The Art and Architecture 

So much about Barcelona is centered around it’s history with art and architecture – think Picasso and Cubism. Of course there are other things to do there, but it seems that a lot of the tourist industry is built around some of the more weird and interesting architectural designs you’ll come across.

In fact, most of the souvenirs had similar mosaic motifs that mimic the architectural design around the city.

Giant Nespresso pod made of mosaic tiles!

Giant Nespresso pod made of mosaic tiles!

Here’s my recommended order for seeing the architectural masterpieces of Gaudi:

  1. Parc Guell – Though we saw this on our second day, there is a guided tour (about 10 – 15 people) that is relatively short at one hour and very much worth it. Usually I avoid this tours, but we found it to be informative not just about the location but about Barcelona’s premier architect, Gaudi. Because the city features so many of his works, this tour will lay the groundwork for understanding the other sites. I’d defiitely do this first! IMG_0131IMG_0117IMG_0097 (1)
  2. Casa Mila/La Pedrera – Though overpriced, admission includes a tour and access to the roof which provides spectacular views of the city and some truly mind bending architecture by Gaudi. IMG_0057 IMG_0167 IMG_0149
  3. Casa Batllo – We didn’t pay to go up, but the beauty is really the outside of the building. IMG_0072
  4. La Sagrada Familia – An extremely massive church, also designed by Gaudi, but never finished due to his death before completion. It’s currently slated to be finished, based on Gaudi’s detailed notes in 2026.IMG_0085

Other cool sites include the Gothic Quarter and the Picasso Museum. (The Picasso Museum is free on Sunday’s from 3:00 PM – 8:00 PM. Definitely worth the wait in line!)

The Cost

Unlike London, I found the city to be fairly inexpensive. Rides to/from the airport cost about $35 – compared to a cab from London-Heathrow to the city which can be more than double. The attractions, food and the metro were also pretty cheap.

Walkability 

Though the metro there is perfectly fine, downtown Barcelona is pretty condense (I guess this doesn’t make it practical to have a lot of metro stations?). The city – and the most popular sites – are located within 20-30 minutes of each other. Sure, the metro works, too, but the weather was really pleasant for walking around. It’s also a great way to get a feel for a city.

What I Didn’t Like

Like many cities in Europe, Barcelona is probably a bit more fun in the warmer seasons. There’s a beach that gets pretty crowded in the summer months, but it being November and all…

It truly is a an art lovers paradise, but you can hit most of the popular places in 2 – 3 days.

Bottom Line – Is it worth a visit?

I love experiencing new cities and cultures, so yes, I would say it is definitely worth the visit. However, unless you’re taking day trips to the surrounding cities, you don’t need much more than 2 – 3 days to see the best of the city.

-The Miner


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Trip Highlights: London, England

Category : Uncategorized

Though comprehensive trip reports can be interesting, I find them to be too much and too long to read, and often times, boring. So that’s why I’ll provide some highs and lows.

That being said, I’m more than happy to chat about specific aspects of the trip and location.

A Brief Intro

After numerous cancellations of various destinations, we finally settled on Europe for Thanksgiving. Europe, being so massive, we had plenty of places to choose from. We ultimately decided on London for three nights and Barcelona for two.

What I Loved About London

Though three nights is not nearly enough time to cover an entire size such as London, but I think we managed to scratch the surface.

The Underground 

There’s so much I loved about the Underground. I know this seems trivial, but I live in New York City and the subways here are a mess. In London, however, they were clean and efficient. Best of all is the Oyster card which are their version of subway cards. No swiping or inserting. Just tap and go!

The History

There’s an unreal about of history in the city of London and we were able to catch a glimpse of some of it at sites such as the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London (which features the Crown Jewels).

View of Winston Churchill looking at Big Ben

View of Winston Churchill looking at Big Ben

In particular, our tour at the Tower of London was lead by a wonderful guide (known as a ‘Beefeater’) who really made the story of King Henry VIII come alive.

IMG_0019

The People

Our hotel was located right off of Oxford Street near the Oxford Street Circus Tube station. Oxford Street is located in the West End of London and is extremely popular for shopping. So on Saturdays it was packed. And I mean 5th Avenue times two! Though there was pushing and shoving to get to where we needed to go, I still found the people to be more proper and less rude.

IMG_0202

What I Didn’t Love

The Cost

Yesterday I wrote about how travel is not 100% free. There are costs. Like attractions. The nice thing about London is that many of the museums are free – like the National Gallery and the history museums. However, a lot of the cooler attractions (like the ones above) cost. And they’re not cheap. It’s typically about $28 per person. That’s pricey.

The London Eye

The London Eye is a giant ferris wheel with extra large pods that lasts about 25 minutes. It takes the spectator up and around and gives impressive views of London… and that’s it. Sure, views of any city are great but the Eye is overly priced at about $35 per person.

 

Though it looks nice, it's not worth the cost.

Though it looks nice, it’s not worth the cost.

The Eye is better from the outside – skip the expense!

IMG_0051

Bottom Line – Would I go back? 

Definitely!

I’m disappointed that we didn’t have the opportunity to see some museums and go to the Harry Potter studios. The distance between New York and London is about the same as the distance between New York and Los Angeles. I definitely can’t wait to go back.

-The Miner