Category Archives: Uncategorized

Devaluation ALERT: American Airlines – Lock In Award Pricing NOW

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On March 22 one of the most lucrative award charts will devalue: American Airlines.

After American and US Airways announced their merger, it was only a matter of time before this would happen. Were the changes bad? Yes. Could they have been worse? Yes, definitely.

Finding value post-devaluation is another discussion, but locking in the cheaper award prices now is imperative.

American lets you book award tickets 331 days out. 331 days from today is January 18, 2017: that covers summer and winter breaks for the next year.

On March 21, 2016, you’ll have even more dates open on the calendar. You’ll be able to book until February 15, 2017.

What’s Changing?

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There’s a lot of red. Some green, but mostly red.

The most notable decreases are in Caribbean/Mexico/Central America .  For coach, that’s great, but for business or first, it wouldn’t be worth it to redeem as those flights can be short and/or the business/first class isn’t anything special on those routes, anyways.

Awards to Book Now

Here are some of the awards to book now that will give you a great value for your American miles, but are also going up (some more than others) on March 22.

  • First class awards for Asia 1 and Asia 2 region.
    • Business clash awards are going up, too, but they are more manageable.
  • Off-peak coach awards to Europe (20k vs 22.5k)
  • Off-peak coach awards to Hawaii (17.5k vs 20k)
  • Business and first class direct, transcontinental flights on American metal
    • JFK-SFO/LAX, LAX-MIA
    • These flights offer lie-flat business and first class seating
    • Business class on 3-class cabin flights (the transcontinental) will go up to 32.5k (vs the current 25k), but first will increase to 50,000!
  • Hawaii travel: all classes of service
  • First class awards on partners to the Middle-East (Doha via Qatar Abu Dhabi via Etihad) will go up by 25,000 miles!
  • Business class awards on lie-flat routings from North America to South America 1 and 2 (Peru and Chile will increase by 7,500 miles.
  • U Check Out Your URL.S. to the Middle-east to Australia in first or business–this will currently price out two awards, but it’s now a lot cheaper than it will be after March 22.

A note about off-peak dates:

In some cases, the amount of off-peak dates will decrease; in others, the dates will just shift around. Be sure to look at those old dates here and new dates here (under ‘Details on award travel’ drop down). You can lock in awards on the old off-peak dates if you book before March 22.

Book now, change later

On all American awards, you can change award bookings without paying the fee if you satisfy the following conditions:

  1. The origin and destination (or co-terminal city, JFK/EWR, HND/NRT) must remain the same
  2. One year to travel from the date of booking–if you book today for next January, you can only change until 12 months from today

You can change:

  1. Routing
  2. Higher class of service–you’ll pay the mileage difference
  3. Carrier (as long as origin and destination are the same)
  4. Time and dates of flights

Being savvy, you can use this to your advantage.

Let’s say that you want to go to Asia this summer, but there’s currently no availability: find a date, any date, that has the availability and make the booking. Now you keep searching and then find award availability for your summer dates after March 22, American should let you change without paying the new mileage prices and without a extra charge.

(I say “should” only because American has confirmed this, but one never knows until it happens.)

Any awards you plan on booking before March 22? 

-The Miner


9 Nights in Asia: Hotel Points

Category : Uncategorized

[Disclosure: I may earn compensation if you click on any external links].

In about a month, we will depart on our long-awaited trip to Beijing and Tokyo.

Our routing will look something like this:

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 6.14.32 PM

Leg 1: JFK-HKG-PEK

Leg 2: PEK-HND

Leg 3: NRT-JFK

We will be in Beijing (PEK) for three nights and Tokyo (HND/NRT) for 6 nights.

Hotels in Beijing

Though good deals can be had for hotels in Asia, why not use points?

For Beijing we will be spending three nights at the Hilton DoubleTree Beijing. Though located in the business district, Ubers are relatively cheap. We’ll also only have two full days, one of which will be occupied by the Great Wall, the other occupied by the Silk Market and other must-sees in Beijing city center.

Hilton Doubletree Beijing: 10,000 HHonors points per night x 3 = 30,000 HHonors points.

998 Chinese Yuan = $150 vs. 10,000 Hilton points? HILTON
998 Chinese Yuan = $150 vs. 10,000 Hilton points? HILTON

A low category, but get’s a 4.5/5 on Tripadvisor.

And as a recently minded Hilton Diamond I’m hoping to score a suite upgrade.

I earned these Hilton points with the AMEX no-fee HHonors Credit card, which has currently gone up to 70,000 points for $1,000 spent in three months. This is the highest this card has ever been. That could get you 7 nights at this Hilton!

Hotels in Tokyo

There are lots of hotel options in Tokyo. The most common ones for miles and points enthusiasts are the Park Hyatt (30,000 Hyatt points) and the Andaz Tokyo (25,000 Hyatt points). Both a great use of Ultimate Rewards points, Hyatt points, or the Hyatt credit card sign-up nights (rooms can go for upwards of $800!).

The Park Hyatt Tokyo became famous in 2003's "Lost in Translation", where Bill Murray stayed.
The Park Hyatt Tokyo became famous in 2003’s “Lost in Translation”, where Bill Murray stayed.

With no nights at the Park Hyatt available and not wanting to spend 150,000 Ultimate Rewards points at the Andaz, I looked into other options.

The Best Tool for Finding Hotel Award Night Availability

Hands down, the best tool for finding hotel award night availability is Wandering Aramean’s Hotel Hustle. All you do is enter the airport code, so in my case, HND or NRT and search the nights. I recommend searching one night at a time, then verifying it on the hotel’s website:

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 6.29.34 PM

I then used the ‘Hotel Chains’ box to filter by what chain points I had, which were 117,000 Marriott:

hotel hustle prince sakura

With the options being 40,000 – 70,000, I choose the 40,000 point option. But with 117,000 points, 6 nights of staying, I’d need 240,000 points, right?

Though Marriott points don’t have the greatest value and devalue (more to be discussed in the next post), this seemed like a great redemption: solid location, good reviews, and 40,000 points per night for a $386 hotel room.

Marriott and Hilton have a stay 4, get 5th night free policy, even on points! So, 6 nights would cost me 200,000 points! I still needed 83,000 points, but I didn’t want to lose the award night availability.

Marriott also allows you to book without enough points. You just need to be sure you have all the points in your account 14 days before you check-in. So I made my reservation, prematurely.

Having already earned the sign-up of 80,000 points on the Marriott card, I signed up for the same offer for my wife. After meeting the spend and getting approved, she had 83,000 points. Marriott ALSO allows you to share points if it’ll complete the award stay!

117,000 + 83,000 = 200,000 Marriott points/6 nights, or $2,298.

Why Marriott points aren’t as bad as everyone thinks:

  • Make redemptions without all points in account (you can do this online)
  • Stay 4 nights, get the fifth night free (this discount is automatically taken into account online)
  • Share points to complete award stays (you must call in, but the process to share points takes about 15 minutes)

Not only does Marriott have these three great benefits, they’re all relatively straightforward processes.

Marriott Credit Card

Currently, like the Hilton card, the Marriott card is at it’s highest of 80,000 points for $3,000 in spending in three months, plus an additional 7,500 points for adding an authorized user. If you and your significant other or friend both sign up for the account, after spending and adding an authorized user you’ll each have 90,500 points, or 181,000 points combined! Lots of great redemptions to be had. The highest category Marriott, category 9, is 45,000 points. With 180,000 points you’d have enough for 4 nights at the nicest Marriott hotels… wait, with the 5th night free, that would be five!

Two last comments:

  1. Remember the new Chase churning rules.
  2. Unless it’s 1 – 2,000 points, you probably don’t want to transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Marriott.

 

-The Miner

Like what you’ve read? Though you don’t have to, show your support of the site by clicking on my referral links (highlighted names of credit cards).


Strategies Before Chase Drops the Axe

Category : Uncategorized

[Disclosure: I may earn compensation if you click on any external links].

In May 2015, Chase began restricting it’s proprietary Chase products to customers who have had more than 5 cards in the period of 24 months, from any bank. At that time, co-branded (United, Hyatt, Southwest, etc.) and business cards were exempt from this rule. In late 2016, Doctor of Credit reported that in March 2016, Chase Ink business cards would fall under this restriction. Still, co-branded cards were safe.

Then just last week, he reported that co-branded cards would come under the rule in April of 2016. For churners (those who open and close a lot of cards in a short period of time to earn and re-earn their bonuses), this was devastating news.

(Read here if this is new to you.)

Since that post, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about strategies moving forward. I thought I’d outline some scenarios. Of course, these may not work for you, but there are general patterns.

Twenty-four months prior to today (2/17/16) is 2/14/14. 

Scenario A

You’ve (like me and my wife) opened up more than five cards in the past 24 months.

Step 1: Apply TODAY

  • If you can, apply for the Chase Ink business card.
  • If you cannot, apply for any of the co-branded cards that make sense for your future travel plans.
  • Apply for two cards (if you have good credit), as Chase will merge pulls. Be willing to close a card (not your Sapphire or Ink–otherwise you lose the ability to transfer your Ultimate Rewards to partners) or shift credit lines for approvals.

Step 2: Apply in 31 days (no more than 43 days) from now for two more cards.

  • So you’ve gotten one (or hopefully two) cards approved from the application one month ago.
  • Apply for the next card you want/need, get approved and then apply for a second card that same day. Remember, they’ll be merged. You may not get approved, but at that point, you have nothing to lose.
  • The last day to apply, if DoC is right, is March 31 (43 days from now).

Scenario B

You’ve opened up 4 cards over the past 24 months, but that’s it.

Step 1: Apply TODAY

  • Apply TODAY for two cards, because once you pass that 5th card, you’ll be ineligible based on Chase’s new rules.If you do not have the Chase Sapphire, get it first.
  • Follow the rest of the steps as Scenario A.

Step 2: Apply for the Chase

Scenario C

You have 0, 1 or 2 credit cards, but after reading this, and other blogs like it, you want to get into the game.

Step 1: Apply… When the offer is right, but only apply for Chase cards.

  • Your first five cards should be Chase Cards
  • I know that’s hard to swallow: Chase CAN give you a hard time if you’ve never had a card, but it’s not impossible. My first card was the Chase Slate (I don’t recommend this card, as it does not earn any rewards). Try not to apply for this.
  • Do not apply for cards from other banks, as they will count against your total of 5. After five, move on to the other banks and rewards.
  • This is a long-term rewards earning strategy.

Note regarding apply for two cards on the same day: As long as they are within the same calendar day, pulls will be merged. However, apply for the card you actually want approved first, before applying for the second card. 

What cards?

As I always say, what rewards you earn should be based off of your travel goals. If you fall into Scenario B or C, you can’t go wrong opening up the Chase Freedom and Sapphire card or Chase Ink Business cards, as they’ll give you the ability to transfer to partners and constantly earn Ultimate rewards.

After that? Here are the Chase co-branded cards and why I would open them if you have not already:

  • Southwest Premier or Business–Ability to earn Companion Pass/excellent for domestic fliers with a partner
  • Southwest Plus or Business–Ability to earn Companion Pass/excellent for domestic fliers with a partner
  • United Mileage Plus Explorer–50,000 sign up is excellent and great access to Star Alliance partner flights
  • Hyatt–Two sign up nights to be used at any Hyatt worldwide/excellent card for top-tier Hyatts but nights expire within one year of earning
  • British Airways–Highest sign-up of 100,000 miles after spending $20,000 in one year from opening the card/great for medium-short haul flights in the U.S. and other intra-country destinations.
  • IHG–Sign-up fluctuates between 60,000-80,000 points, good for two-three nights at a solid property/great card to keep every year, as you receive a certificate to be used at ANY IHG property, worldwide after paying the cheap annual fee of $49.
  • Marriott–Solid sign-up can be good for two-three good to very good Marriott properties
  • Ritz-Carlton–Two sign up nights to be used at Tier 1-4 Ritz-Carlton properties/Best Ritz-Carlton properties are Tier 5; only apply for if specific redemption, or no other options, in mind
  • Fairmont–Two sign up nights to be used at certain Fairmont properties/ capacity controlled redemptions; only use if specific redemption in mind

My Strategy

I’ve had every Chase rewards card in the past two years except the Ink, Ritz and Fairmont. I’ll apply in that order. And for my wife, she’s already applied for the British and IHG cards. Next up on March 31? Probably Southwest cards.

 

-The Miner

 


Cash vs. Points?

Category : Uncategorized

Part of effectively using your miles and points is not only knowing how to use them, but when to use them.

There are two major factors that determine this for most people:

A. Getting the most out of each redemption

B. Availability of miles vs. availability of cash

A. Getting the most out of each redemption

Without getting too complicated, one mile can be valued, at a base level, at 1 cent.

So, 100 miles is $1.00, 2000 miles is $20.00, 10,000 miles is $100.00 and 100,000 miles is $1,000.

Note: This is a very, very basic valuation of points–of course, some miles are worth more, if you get more value out of a specific redemption, over others. That’s what we’ll look at here.

Example 1 

A one-way flight from New York to Miami, non-stop on American airlines requires 7,500 British Airways miles. The cash price of this specific ticket is $203:

Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 9.20.19 PM

If you were to use 7,500 British airways miles for this flight, you first need to calculate the price of these miles:

(7,500)(0.01) = 75, or $75.00 

In this example, if you’re going to pay for the ticket with cash, you’d “save” $128.00.

Example 2

This flight using British avoid, for example, would cost 7,500 miles, or $41.00?

Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 4.39.30 PM

If those 7,500 are valued at $75.00, then you’re better off saving miles and paying cash (or that’s what I’d do).

Calculating the value of your redemption

So we know that 1 mile equals one cent. That can help you, after a redemption, the cent per mile redeemed:

In example 1: We redeemed 7,500 miles against a $203 ticket, so what’s the value of each mile? To do the calculation, we need to convert our dollars to cents:

20,300/7500 =

2.63 cents per mile

That’s 2.63 cents per mile. A great redemption, if we assume all miles are valued at 1 cent!

So which one should you use? Cash, or miles? It may seem obvious…

…But, this leads us to to section B; you’re availability of miles vs. your availability of cash.

B. Availability of miles vs. availability of cash

There are one of three categories we each fall into as individuals or as families:

  1. Miles rich, cash poor
  2. Miles comfortable, cash comfortable
  3. Miles poor, cash rich

1. Miles Rich, Cash Poor

This is perhaps the most common of the three categories, not because one is, “poor”, per se, but because one usually doesn’t have the extra income to take lavish trips, flying business and first class around the world and stay in five-star resorts.

We fall into this category because we accrue a significant number of miles via credit card sign ups and spend smartly, allowing us to fly first and business class around the world and stay in five-star resorts. 

If you fall into this category, it will make sense 99% of the time to use miles, over cash to book your big and small trips.

2. Miles Comfortable, Cash Comfortable

The second most common (and thus listed second), category. We earn some miles via credit card sign ups, but we’re not very aggressive. Getting free flights and hotel nights is great, but not really necessary. We’d probably take that once-in-a-lifetime trip after saving up enough miles. Short-medium hall flights to visit family and friends around the U.S. will probably be purchased using cash.

If you fall into this category, you need to look at the vacation line in your budget and see when it makes sense to use miles, or cash for yourself. Without knowing each situation, you’ll get the most bang for your buck using your miles on farther destinations during peak/vacation times.

3. Miles poor, cash rich

We have a few credit cards, but we use cash more often than not. We buy tickets for times of the year it works for us, regardless of the cost.

If you fall into this category: SPEND SMARTLY. Make sure to maximize each and every purchase, for a return on investment: more miles per purchase. (Read this post for more info).

C. Bringing it all together

Read step ‘A’, to determine the calculation of miles or cash. Then, go on to step ‘B’, to determine in which category you fall into. That can help you decide how to move forward on whether or not you should be using cash, or miles.

-The Miner


Finding Value in Delta Skymiles

Category : Uncategorized

Majority of those who collect miles via credit cards loathe Delta’s frequent flyer program, sky miles. It even earned the term SkyPesos, highlighting their lack of value (much like the Peso to other currencies, stable currencies). 

Let’s talk about some about some of that derision and even finding some value (if you currently have Skymiles). This post will discuss the mileage aspects of Delta and not the benefits for Elite or frequent Delta fliers.

Cons:

  • the sky miles credit cards issued by American Express are typically 30,000 miles or even 10,000, but there are a few times a year the cards go up to 50,000
  • Delta removed it’s award charts, indicating that like Southwest or JetBlue, they’d go revenue based. 
  • Delta has tenuous relationships with Skyteam partners, like Korean, that impact reciprocal elite benefits and award redemptions. 
  • Delta consistently makes changes to its elite benefits and frequent flyer program without informing its members or the community.

Best Uses and Award Trends

Typically, using Delta miles in business or first class on Delta metal (so Delta operated flights) will be prohibitively expensive. Take a look at an extreme example, Delta’s non-stop from Los Angeles to Sydney, Australia in Delta One (their business class product):

One-way, Los Angeles - Sydney, Delta business class.
One-way, Los Angeles – Sydney, Delta business class.

175,000 miles. That would be 350,000 miles roundtrip. And it’s off season in Australia in June.

Now a less extreme, and more common example:

Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 7.23.44 PM

Even in the middle of October, 67,500 one-way in lie-flat from New York to Los Angeles. By comparison, United is 25,000 and American after their devaluation will be 32,500 or 50,000 in first class.

Let’s take a look 331 days out from today, the farthest Delta’s calendar goes:

Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 7.25.54 PM

331 days from now, January 9, 2017: 67,500, one-way in business class. That’s still 115,000 miles roundtrip fora flight that clocks in at 6 hours or so.

And for coach:

Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 7.27.35 PM

Like all airlines, the day before and after Christmas/New Years will be more miles for all routes. But the standard  12,500 one-way is there for some days.

As you can see, each day and route is different. Typically, coach flights will price at the lowest level or fare class.

But with Delta having removed their award charts, how is one supposed to know? Well, Dan from Dansdeals screenshotted all the award charts for all regions to give you a metric for determining how high (or low) your Delta redemption will be.

Wait, what about alliances? 

You learned that saver award space on one airline will allow you to redeem miles towards an award flight on partner airlines. So with Delta’s revenue based flights, how do you determine if they will be bookable using partner miles?

Let’s take a look at our above example, on specific flights on one day:

delta n fare class

Now let’s try and find these flights on Skyteam partner Air France:

Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 7.41.56 PM

Delta flights 2829 and 427 are there… but Delta flight 472, pricing out at 32,500 miles for one-way is not showing up. Understanding and identifying that fare class will help you determine which flights are bookable using partner miles.

Quick tip! Fare classes are designations on both cash and award flights that indicate where you booked the ticket and the restrictions imposed on the ticket (refundable, non-refundable, award ticket saver, coach, business, first etc).

For Delta here’s the fare classes that indicate lowest level redemption and ability to book on partners:

delta n o

Delta fare classes ‘N’ are for economy, low level; ‘O’ for business, low level. You cannot book first class partner awards using Delta miles.

Best Uses of Delta Miles

Because Delta miles fluctuate, have no award chart it’s hard to value their currency highly. That being said, there are some solid redemeptions. Here are some of the best uses, as of now. Because Skymiles are so unreliable a currency, you should only book with them once you verify award space

  • 62,500 one-way business class to Europe on off-peak Delta metal flights, Air France, Alitalia, and Virgin Atlantic.
  • 80,000 one-way business class on Korean air to South Korea.
  • 30,000 one-way business class on Aeromexico to Mexico in lie-flat business class (on some flights!)
  • 45,000 one-way economy class on Delta or Virgin Australia direct from Los Angeles to Australia.

Now, taking advantage of their revenue based flights, you can score some solid deals that fall below the standard redemption rates.

Searching Delta Award Space and Taking Advantage of Higher Priced Awards

One good thing about Delta is their easy to read award calendar. Always search one way. To find the cheapest dates, use the flexible date option and change from one week to ‘5 weeks’.

We’re always looking to get the most bang for our buck, so redeeming non saver space on any airline is usually something bloggers in this space advise against. Typically, I do as well. Except with Delta. Sometimes you can only travel during peak seasons, so all award space on the major legacy carriers will price out higher than normal. Though Delta isn’t different, their currency isn’t as highly valued so at least you’re “burning” some Skymiles and getting to where you need to get, when you need to.

The best way to secure Delta’s lowest priced awards is to book in advance. As far as securing partner space, it’s like any other award booking. Be flexible.

Should you go out of your way to earn Skymiles?

If you have other airline cards and other AMEX cards, sure, it’s worth it. Remember to read the churning rules for AMEX to get the most out of your applications.

Should you transfer to Delta?

SPG and Membership Rewards transfer to Delta. But remember, transfers are only one way, so if you’re going to transfer always search award space first–transfers are instant(As an aside, I wouldn’t transfer SPG points to Delta).

Should you fly revenue on Delta?

If you’re a revenue flyer, who flies enough for elite status, maybe. If you’re airline agnostic and you’ll go for what’s cheapest? Definitely. Delta has some of the best on-time performance.

Conclusion

One last thing. Never use Delta miles on one-way flights from Europe. They will pass on heavy, heavy fuel surcharges.

Can you find value in Delta? Certainly. I’ve made some great redemptions including:

  • Cancun-New York, 17,500 one-way, per person (standard)
  • New York-St. Martin, 15,000 one-way, per person (cheaper than normal)
  • 7,5000 Miami-New York, one-way per person (cheaper than normal)

Booking in advance has helped, but also knowing that they’re getting me to where I need to get, even at the higher prices has taken some of the sting out of the lack of value Skymiles appear to have.

 

-The Miner


Update on Chase Churning Rules

Category : Uncategorized

The longer this “hobby” continues to be a “hobby”, the best deals will come and go quickly, and will be dead even faster. As more “users” occupy the market, the airlines and banks, the greatest deals will go by the wayside.

The end of 2015 and early 2016 saw the death of many manufactured spend methods and further devaluations across many hotel and airline currencies. Getting the most bang for your buck and travel hacking has become more difficult. Nothing wrong with it being difficult, but sometimes there are changes that come down the pipeline that really take a chunk out of the miles and points game.

Today Doctor of Credit posted ‘Chase to Limit Card Approvals (5/24) on Co-Branded Cards‘, setting the blogospehre and private forums abuzz with the demise of churning Chase credit cards.

For years, Chase has been best friend to credit card churners, with many people being able to open up 2 or 3 credit cards in a day and having as many as 8-9 cards open at one time. In the middle of 2015 they began instituting a rule that became known as ‘5/24’: If you have opened up 5 of ANY credit cards (so business, personal, all banks, even authorized user cards) in 24 months, you would not qualify for the Chase personal Flagship products: Chase Slate, Freedom, or Sapphire preferred. This was bad news, as the Sapphire Preferred used to be pretty churnable, but business cards (Ink) and the whole host of Chase’s awesome co-branded cards were safe. For now.

I think we all assumed that the Ink cards would come next. About a month ago, Doctor of Credit reported that the Ink would fall under this ‘5/24’ rule starting in March. Also, bad news, but not the worst. Chase business cards are pretty difficult to get, anyways. Still, our coveted co-branded cards were safe.

This morning Doctor of Credit report that co-branded cards would fall under the ‘5/24’ rule starting in April. Definitely bad news.

So what does this mean for you? 

If you haven’t opened up ANY credit cards in the past two years, the next five cards you should get should be Chase. I know. It’s hard to hear that, especially for someone just getting started in this game of churning. But, you could get the following combinations of five cards:

  1. Chase Sapphire Preferred
  2. Southwest Premier Personal (for Companion Pass)
  3. Southwest Plus (for Companion Pass)
  4. United Mileage Explorer Plus
  5. Hyatt Card

The other notable cards include the British Airways card. I would skip the Marriott, Ritz and IHG cards.

Now, you’ve probably opened up more than 1 or 2 cards if you read this blog. And if you did? Go for the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Definitely. It’ll give you the option to transfer your points to Hyatt, United and Southwest. Have a specific hotel redemption in mind at a top category Hyatt? Go for that card.

Even better, if you have a partner you can spread the wealth with some of these cards.

What’s my plan? 

Well. I’ve definitely opened up more than five cards in the past two years. I’ve been unable to get approved for a new Sapphire since May 2015, but I’ve had success with co-branded cards.

At the end of March, I will probably apply for the British Airways card (as it’s been two years since I earned the bonus) and the Ritz-Carlton card. The only other cards I’ve never had within the past two years are the Ritz and Fairmont cards.

Let’s hope Doctor of Credit is wrong.

 

-The Miner


Last Minute Hotel Deals–Hotel Tonight to the Rescue

Category : Uncategorized

[Disclosure: I may earn compensation if you click on any external links].

For our quick trip down to Miami, I had booked an Airbnb (our first time!) for one night. We were in Miami for three nights. So what about the second and third nights?

There are lots of point hotel options along the beach, but few are worth the value of the points they’re asking for.

Just take a look at these few chain hotels along the popular Mid-Beach area:

Marriott:

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 3.27.36 PM

You can get better uses for 35,000 – 50,000 Marriott points, or $278, minimum ($300+ with taxes).

Hilton:

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 3.31.05 PM

Hilton’s an even bigger offender. You’d be better off paying than using points. And 80,000 Hilton points can get you nicer, more expensive properties.

IHG:

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 3.33.19 PM

Not as many points or cash as Hilton, or Marriott, but not the cheapest, or most worthwhile, use either.

Hotel Tonight to the Rescue!

What is it?

Stuck in a city you weren’t expecting to be? Want to take a last minute trip and don’t have enough time to plan find a hotel? Hotel tonight is a mobile application for last minute hotel deals. Like truly last minute. And there are actually deals to be had–not the standard 20% of you can get from using random codes for hotels found online.

How does it work?

When hotels can’t sell their rooms, they release them, within a week to Hotel Tonight’s app. These are truly last minute. One of the downsides is that you don’t get room preference, earn points or stay credits on your nights, or receive your elite benefits.

Hotel Tonight let’s users book for today, tomorrow, or within 7 days from the date of search.

Here’s a sample search for New York City, starting with tonight (Monday, Feb. 8):

image3

For New York City, tomorrow, Tuesday, Feb. 9:

image2

And the option to search over the next week:

image1

Notice in the first and second screen grabs that the Jade Hotel Greenwich Village is $53 cheaper tonight, than if you booked for tomorrow.

Let’s compare it to online booking sites for tonight and tomorrow:

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 4.07.06 PM

$225 for tonight as opposed to $126!

And for tomorrow:

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 4.07.45 PM

Wow! Look at that! $179 vs. $295! I’d go with Hotel Tonight.

How I used Hotel Tonight

Ever since I heard about this app, I’ve wanted to try it. Sure, there’s risk involved, but I knew it wouldn’t be more expensive than websites like Priceline or Hotels.Com.

On Saturday night I opened up the application and got the Hilton Garden Inn for $309 for two nights, roughly $154.50 a night!

Here’s what it would have cost me for ONE night booking through Hilton’s website:

For one night, BEFORE taxes!
For one night, BEFORE taxes!

In this case, Hotel Tonight is the winner.

Will it always be this way? In the sample’s I’ve ran that include Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles, Hotel Tonight always comes out cheaper.

Is this for all cities?

Before banking on Hotel Tonight, be sure to check out their list of cities. It’s very extensive in North America and Europe, with properties scattered around the Middle-East, Africa and the South Pacific (mainly Australia). So if you’re going somewhere really off the beaten track, you may want to book in advance. Even popular places like Chile and Lima aren’t available as cities, yet; but within time, I’m sure they’ll be added.

What else you should know

  • As I mentioned previously, you won’t earn elite stay credits or receive your elite benefits. As a Hilton Diamond I did not receive any of the benefits a Diamond normally would (suite upgrade, diamond amenity)
  • That being said, if you’re staying in a chain hotel, be sure to proactively offer your Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt, etc., number, because you may receive some benefits!
  • They do not have a website where you can book from; you can only access it via iOS or Android mobile phone app. The tablet app and website are super clunky.
  • By adding a second night the overall price will be further discounted.
  • All these fares are non-refundable
  • Room type is not guaranteed until check-in.

Was it worth it? 

Definitely.

To be honest, it was a bit stressful, but the experience was worth it. Having always wanted to try Hotel Tonight, not wanting to waste points or shell out a lot of cash, this was the perfect opportunity to try the app.

Receive $25 off your first booking!

I received $25 off of my first booking, bringing the price down to $284, for an average of $142 a night. Want to receive $25 off your first booking? Use promo code: MCZARKA2

Would you use the app? Or is it too last minute?

 


Quick Tip! Taking advantage of Winter Weather Waivers!

Category : Uncategorized

This weekend, the wife and I popped on down to Miami for a quick, weekend getaway. The weather was solid while we were there, but the rest of the country has been battling storm after storm. After checking into my original flight on Sunday night, which was a 5:30 AM departure from Miami to Atlanta, connecting for 40 minutes onto New York JFK, I checked the Weather Channel app, happening upon a lot of winter weather advisories.

This got me thinking: I have this less than optimal connection in Atlanta and a horribly early flight–And there was no way I’d pay that change fee.

So what’s a Miner to do?

When airlines issue weather waivers, if you’re flight is affected, you can usually change your flight. This means that:

Travel THROUGH Atlanta, on Feb. 8
Travel THROUGH Atlanta, on Feb. 8

I could have kept my original routing and possible have had a misconnect in Atlanta, been delayed, or even worse, cancelled. Knowing that I’d be able to change, I searched for award availability from Miami to New York. I found two options:

  1. MIA-JFK, 20,000 Skymiles – NS
  2. MIA-LGA, 12,500 Skymiles – N

‘N’ indicates Delta’s Level 1 and ‘NS’ indicates Delta’s Level 2 award space. I redeemed at a Level 1 award, for 7,500 Skymiles. But because they were the same fare class (‘N’), I didn’t need to pay any difference.

Not only did I get on a direct routing, get to wake up later for a 7:00 AM vs. 5:30 AM departure, I got an a flight that would have cost more miles. Cha-ching!

Lesson learned? 

Always look for winter weather waivers to use them to your advantage, like the above. Or, more commonly, there’s a waiver issued and you can’t actually travel for other reasons–you can usually cancel the award and get your miles back.

 

-The Miner


Using Your Miles to Get to Israel: Part I

Category : Uncategorized

Israel is an incredibly popular destination for award travelers from all over the world. It’s the number one destination request of my award booking service. Focusing on travel from the U.S., there are a limited number of direct flights from the U.S. to Israel. This post will be broken up into two parts. The first will focus on Star Alliance and Sky Team award availability to Israel. The second will focus on OneWorld and El-Al.

There are five direct flights from the New York airports to Tel-Aviv:

(Delta will be adding another frequency out of JFK this summer.)

Other nonstop frequencies:

  • El-Al flies from Los Angeles, Boston and Toronto;
  • United will soon begin service from San Francisco;
  • Air Canada flies from Toronto

Unfortunately, a few weeks ago, American airlines discontinued their Philadelphia to Tel-Aviv service.

Miles Chart from U.S. to Israel

Let’s be optimistic and first look at some prices in miles. Please note: I am only going to look at the airline programs you’re likely to redeem on. Not all the programs that can be used. All prices are one-way, originating in NYC and terminating in TLV:

Miles Currency/AllianceEconomyBusinessCons:
Air France, KLM/SkyTeam25,00062,500Fuel Surcharges both directions;
United/Star Alliance42,50070,000/80,000Will pay more miles when flying on Alliance partners
British Airways/OneWorld30,000 (from JFK on Air Berlin)70,000All flights on British Airways metal will levy significant fuel surcharges
Singapore/Star Alliance37,50057,500All flights via Europe will have significant fuel surcharges except direct flights on United.
American Airlines/OneWorld40,000 – 45,000 (off-peak vs. peak via Europe)67,500Minimal availability; availability on British Airways = high fuel surcharges
El-Al/Non-AllianceSee link belowSee link belowSee link below

For a full Israel pricing chart check out DansDeals ultimate chart to Israel—bookmark this resource!

 I mentioned ‘cons’ in the above chart because when examining availability trends we’ll see why some mileage programs are better uses than others.

 Award Availability Trends

You can have all the miles in the world, but with so few seats, award availability on these direct flights is tight. And if you want to go business, there are even less seats.

Before getting into the specifics of each alliance/airline program these  guidelines will help you in finding space:

  1. Be flexible. With Israel award flights this cannot be stressed enough.
  2. Book early, early; or right before the flight. You can get decent availability booking really far out, or really close-in; like two-days before, close-in.
  3. Search tips. Start-off looking one-way, one passenger at a time. Be willing to split up if going as a large group.

Best: Using United miles on direct or Star Alliance partner flights via Europe.

Close-in, direct:
The non-saver space is not recommended for award booking!
The non-saver space is not recommended for award booking!

For one passenger from Newark-Tel Aviv, over the next 14 days, I found 5 saver seats. Anything not 42,500 miles is not saver and you will pay a premium in miles to book it. This is not recommended, unless you have no other choice but to be at your destination.

Close-in, via Star Alliance partners in Europe:

Now let’s take a look at close-in space over the next two weeks on Star Alliance partners that are based in Europe:

Star Alliance close-in award space. Coach and business, two weeks from today!
Star Alliance close-in award space. Coach and business, two weeks from today!

Nearly every day over the next two weeks had space for at least two passengers in either coach, business AND first class. So you see that coach via Star Alliance partners is the same price as United direct, but connecting flights via Europe in business are 10K more points. Still, a solid deal each way.

11 months out (United and Star Alliance):

The whole month of December (until December 28, 2016) has coach space via Europe. Why are there no direct flights so far out? Well that’ll be Christmas (of particular importance for the European alliance members) and winter break for a lot of travelers. United knows this. They also tend to release last minute space in coach and business on their direct flights, as we’ve seen.

Decent: Using Air France miles on Sky Team partners via Europe or Russia.

You noticed on the chart that redeeming Air France miles (a transfer partner of SPG, Citi ThankYou, and AMEX Membership Rewards)  offers the cheapest coach award flights, at 25,000 one way and 50,000 roundtrip! (Air France considers Israel to be part of Europe!) So why didn’t this rank higher? Well, scoring direct flights from JFK to Tel Aviv on Delta is nearly impossible at saver levels. So those will very rarely show up on Air France search engine. Availability on Air France via Paris, Alitalia via Rome and Aeroflot via Moscow is solid. Air France also passes on fuel surcharges, so be aware.

Here’s close in in coach and business for two:
sky team close in close-in calendar sky team

There’s a lot less availability in business, close-in, but there’s decent availability in coach for two. Notice the fuel surcharges. Also, the reason why many award travelers do not like to book business via Paris is that not all JFK-Paris routes have upgraded lie-flat business class space.

Here’s Sky Team availability in November 2016 for two in coach:

far out sky team

Wow! There’s coach for two everyday. And fuel surcharges are decently low. Why’s that? The first leg of these flights is on Delta, but that doesn’t mean they’re direct. You’ll connect in Amsterdam, Paris or Rome.

Here’s business for two, in November 2016 on Sky Team:

business far out sky team

The same principle applies to the low fuel surcharges on above (long-portion of the flight on Delta, short on a partner). Still not bad. Perhaps even better than United/Star Alliance.

So which miles should you use?

It always starts with what balances you currently have. If you’re flush with AMEX Membership Rewards and Citi Thank You Points, you may be better of transferring to Air France for Sky Team availability (their fuel surcharges are less than Singapore/Star Alliance). If you have a lot of Chase Ultimate Rewards, United and the Star Alliance availability will be your friend. Plus, the biggest factor is that United does not pass on fuel surcharges. This keeps costs down significantly.

And if you want to book for a random time of the year, being flexible with dates, routing and class of service helps a lot when going to Israel.

That may not sound aspirational and points blogger-y of me, but it’s realistic.

-The Miner

Using your Miles to Get to Israel: Part II will focus on OneWorld award availability, using (or not) your miles on El-Al and the Wild Card Option.


Winter Weather and Flying

Category : Uncategorized

This past weekend’s first serious winter storm, Jonas, saw over 5,000 cancelled or delayed flights across the mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Passengers and airlines have been pretty lucky this winter with the mild weather that we had. Even Thanksgiving and Christmas, which are notorious for colliding with severe weather, were spared.

So what do you do if your flights cancelled? Well, you could:

  1. Do nothing and let the airline rebook you, but it may be during a time you’re unable to fly;
  2. Yell at every airline customer service agent you cross paths with.
frustrated at customer service

Frustrated because of delay or cancellation? Don’t take it out on a representative!

If #1 doesn’t sound good to you, and #2 does not yield positive results either, try these methods the next time you’re stranded at an airport:

Airline Status—do you have airline status? Now’s the time to leverage it. Top-tier elites from airlines have special agents that can try and help them. Take full advantage of your frequent flier status.

Being Proactive—So there’s severely bad weather predicted for your region and you’re traveling and you just have a feeling that your flight will be cancelled or delayed, right? Instead of waiting for the airport app or screen, or receive a slow and late email about the cancellation or significant delay, be proactive. Track your flight and it’s status by checking inputting the airline and flight number in Google:

<img class="size-full wp-image-227" src="https://miningformiles.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2016/01/flightawre.png" alt="This random example is actually delayed! " width="787" height="365" srcset="https://miningformiles.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2016/01/flightawre.png 787w, http://miningformiles cymbalta medication.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2016/01/flightawre-300×139.png 300w, https://miningformiles.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2016/01/flightawre-768×356.png 768w” sizes=”(max-width: 787px) 100vw, 787px” />

This random example is actually delayed!

Check out the first Flightaware link: You’ll see some interesting data that can help you determine and get a jump on the situation.

The reality of being cancelled or delayed. So you’ve automatically been rebooked but hate what the airline’s given you? Remember, thousands of travelers are in the same boat as you. You want to get home, they want to get home. And the airline? Every hour a flight is cancelled and every passenger that has to be rebooked is lost money for them. They don’t like it very much either. So:

  1. Be nice—not much more to be said here.
  2. Try Twitter—sometimes you can get faster responses from dedicated customer service teams
  3. Call the airline on multiple phones—your phone, your child’s, your significant others, etc.
  4. Try calling call centers outside the U.S.—You may have to pay for long distance, jump on Skype voice or use Google Voice calling, but it can save you lots of time. (Google search “airline carrier + country + contact”).

This last method is a principle applied to award bookings, but can potentially be useful on cancelled revenue (cash) tickets.

Be proactive and provide the agents with other options. So, if you were on an American flight from Miami—Charlotte—Chicago this past weekend, chances are high that your flight to Charlotte was cancelled. Alternatives can be the obvious direct flight—so search and see if there’s availability. Be flexible with your routing—perhaps even going out of your way to get home.

The reason why this has less impact on paid flights: if you search Miami to Chicago after a storm, you’ll only get what paid options are available, which will automatically include any published fare that has a seemingly odd routing.

Avoid flying during the winter.

Of course this is an option and I toyed with this idea for a while, but with family in Chicago, it’s not really realistic. Chicago is notorious for bad weather in the winter that has a negative impact on flights. What can you potentially to do mitigate the effects of severe weather on your travel plans? Here is one method that has helped me only get delayed, and not cancelled.

Morning flights. We all hate getting up before 5:00 AM to catch a flight, but the earlier flights are least likely to be cancelled. As the day goes on, runways get more and more backed up. Severe weather only makes it worse.