Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Holy Grail of Award Travel: Southwest Companion Pass

Category : Uncategorized

[Disclosure: I may earn compensation from some of these links].

UPDATE: Both Southwest personal cards and business cards are offering 50,000 points. Click here for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Visa – 50,000 points with $2,000 spent in three months. 

Southwest Airlines—either you love it or hate it. Messy group boarding, no assigned seats, two free checked bags, no lounges, no priority boarding. Status? Sort of. The Companion Pass is the best tool in an award travelers digital wallet.

The Southwest Companion pass is the holy grail of domestic award travel.

What is it? 

After earning 110,000 miles, eligible passengers receive the companion pass allowing them to purchase a ticket with cash or miles and add a travel companion for no additional cost of miles or base price of ticket (you still pay the taxes).

My wife and I have used this many, many times on short and medium flights within the U.S., primarily to visit family in the Midwest. We’ve flown 10 one-way flights, valued at $3,000 on my companion pass so far.

The best part is that you and your companion (spouse, domestic partner, friend—it doesn’t matter!) can each earn it.

How long is it good for?

The companion pass, like many airline statuses is good for the year in which it was earned and the following year. So, if you earned it January 2016 the companion pass would be valid throughout the remainder of this year and the entire 2017. That’s nearly two years of companion-able tickets.

I earned my Companion Pass in February 2015--good through December 2016!
I earned my Companion Pass in February 2015–good through December 2016!

How do I earn it?

Credit card sign-ups, how else? There are three Southwest cards (two personal, one business). Their standard sign-ups are 25,000 bonus points (each carry an annual fee), but three or four times a year the sign-up goes to 50,000. That is when you should apply to earn the companion pass.

Southwest Plus [Personal] 50,000

+

2,000 ($2,000 minimum spend base points)

+

Southwest Premier [Personal] or Business 50,000

+

2,000 ($2,000 minimum spend base points)

=

104,000 miles

For the other 6,000 miles, just spend on $6,000 on any of those cards and you’ll hit 110,000 miles earned.

You can also open up both cards in the same day, if you qualify. Don’t listen to the customer service agent. These are considered separate products.

The personal premier and premier business cards are both up to 50,000 points; currently the plus is down to 25,000. Trust me. It’s worth the wait if you don’t qualify for the business version.

How do I use it?

Simple! Sign in to your Rapid Rewards account, find the flight of your choice and then book your ticket. Pay the $5.60 per direction of travel. Once the ticket is ticketed, you’ll receive an email confirmation from Southwest. Sign back in to your account, and you’ll see:

Adding a companion to your booked miles or cash flight is easy!
Adding a companion to your booked miles or cash flight is easy!

After clicking that and paying the $5.60 per direction of travel for your companion, you’ll receive a separate email confirmation.

Important: Because these are two separate tickets, you each must check-in 24 hours prior to your flight departure.

Is my companion really free?

Basically, with the exception of 9/11 security taxes, which are $5.60 per direction, per person, on domestic award travel.

Whose it good for?

Anyone who has a travel buddy! If you have children, both you and your significant other can earn the companion pass and each add a child (over 2) and receive the same benefit.

You’ll get amazing benefit out of Southwest miles and the pass if you do a lot of domestic travel. Southwest also flies to some international destinations in the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America. You can get great return on your points on these routes, but if you don’t like connecting, try flying out of Dallas-Love, Chicago Midway and Baltimore airports.

What else do I need to know?

  • You can change your companion up to three times per calendar year;
  • If you need to cancel a miles flight, southwest credits the miles back immediately and will refund you for the taxes, or let you use it at a later date for a different flight.
  • Paying the annual fee does not count towards the sign-up bonus.
  • Transferring points from Chase into your Southwest account will not count towards the companion pass.

What’s the catch?

There’s always a catch. This isn’t supposed to work. But it does and has for a while. I’m mentioning this because it’s important to realize that at any point this exploited flaw can stop working. General rule of thumb in the miles and points world is to jump on the offer or scheme while you can.

Have you had the Companion Pass? Do you plan on earning it for 2016 and 2017? Let me know in the comments!

 

-The Miner


Credit Card Churning 101

Category : Uncategorized

[8/23/16 – This post has been updated to reflect recent changes by multiple banks] 

What’s churning?

Churning is the process by which one opens and closes cards (sometimes the same ones, or different) to earn a sign-up bonus multiple times, on multiple cards. To fully reap the benefits, review the rules for each bank and card issuer below.

Please note that these rules can change without notice. As soon as I am aware of any changes, I will make them here.

American Express

American Express can be generous with approvals, but you must know the rules before applying:

  • Business and personal credit pulls will be merged;
  • Personal cards are once in a lifetime; this means you can only get this card ONCE. Be sure to sign-up for the personal card offer.
  • Business cards are now once in a lifetime. This means you can only get this card ONCE. Be sure to sign up for the highest business card offer.

Associated links: Finding Hidden AMEX Sign-Up Offers, Churning Update: AMEX Pins the Nail on the Coffin

Bank of America

  • It is possible to open and receive the bonus on the same card product on the same day.
  • Personal and business inquires will be separate, but multiples of personal or business will be merged.
  • There is no specified amount of time to wait between opening new cards with Bank of America, but after your first two cards they may want to see activity on the card before approving you for a new one.
  • Sometimes you will be approved for less than $5,000 in credit on one of their cards; if that’s the case, you will earn an inferior bonus. Be sure to call and see if they can increase your limit to $5,000 to earn the full bonus. 

Barclays

It is very difficult to be approved for multiple products in the same day from Barclays, but:

  • It is possible to receive the same product (and bonus) multiple times within a few days, or months from each other.
  • There is no rhyme or reason why some people are able to have multiples of the same product, but others cannot.
  • The general rule of thumb is that if you’re not auto approved, it is very hard to call Barclays and receive an approval. (Always call either way, but just putting that out there!).
  • Barclays likes to see activity on your current cards before approving you for new ones;
  • Having excessive credit with Barclays will decrease your chances of being automatically approved for new products. 

Chase

Chase used to be the most “churner-friendly” bank, but as king’s of the rewards cards arena, they’ve tightened up. It used to be possible to open up three cards in one day from Chase and now it’s significantly more difficult.

  • Because Chase will merge personal card applications if done on the same day, it is still possible to open up two cards in the same day; business cards are a separate pull, but it is also possible to open up two business cards in the same day.
  • Chase has instituted a rule known as 5/24, whereby those who have opened up 5 of ANY card (other banks, not just Chase) within 24 months are typically unable to be approved for the Slate, Freedom, or Sapphire Preferred cards. These cards are Chases’ own product; whereas the United and Southwest cards are co-branded cards. Co-branded cards fall outside of the 5/24 rule.
  • The 5/24 Rule has been expanded to all co-branded credit cards except: British Airways, IHG, Hyatt, Fairmont, Ritz-Carlton, Marriott Business, AARP, Disney and Amazon.
  • Sometimes Chase will let you close a card to open a new one;
  • Chase will sometimes let you shift card from Card A to open your new card, Card B.
  • Chase typically likes to see anywhere between 30-90 days between multiple applications.
  • You can downgrade your cards without a hard pull to a no-fee version of the card.\

Associated links: Chase, So You Can’t, Strategies Before Chase Drops the Ax

Citi

Citi has some complicated timing rules for applying. You can only apply for one card of any kind, per day, and they have rules for how many cards you can apply for over a period of time. Remember, denials count as applications.

All old Citi churning rules are superseded by this one, overarching rule:

New, as of August 28, 2016

If you have opened or closed a Citi credit card in one family, you are not eligible to receive the bonus on another Citi card in the same family for another 24 months.

Practically, this means you cannot earn the bonus for multiple American Airlines products from Citi within two years of each other. You can only get 1 American Airlines, 1 ThankYou point earning card and 1 Hilton card every 24 months. The Citi AAdvantage Business card is exempt from this – for now.

Old Citi Churning Rules – Also in affect

  • No more than 1 Citi card, of any kind, per week;
  • No more than 2 Citi cards, of any kind in a 65 day period;
  • No more than 1 Citi business card in a 90 day period;

Other rules to be mindful of:

  • You can downgrade to no-fee cards at Citi after having the card for 12 months (into the 13th).
  • During the application process, Citi will sometimes automatically approve you and move credit over from another card of yours.
  • Many Citi cards have a restriction that if you can only receive the bonus on their cards every 18 months, from opening or closing. So be mindful of the dates of closing and opening for your cards.
  • Moving credit over to close a card may result in a hard pull.
  • It is possible to have multiple card products open at the same time.

Associated links: Citi Churning News


January 2016: 220,000 Points, 4 Cards

Category : Uncategorized

2015 Ended strong, with over a million miles and points earned via credit card sign-ups. To match that, or overcome that, I need to start off 2016 strong.

I managed to get my hands on a coveted American Express Business Platinum 100,000 sign-up bonus. Because AMEX merges credit pulls, I was also able to apply for two more cards: the Hilton Surpass (80,000 points), and Everyday Preferred (15,000).

Finally, because Bank of America allows you to earn the bonus on their products multiple times a year, I applied for another Alaska Airlines card, 25,000 points.

Unfortunately, all of these cards carry an annual fee. The Alaska cards annual fee is $75, but there is a backdoor method to receive 25,000 bonus points and $100 statement credit after spending $1,000 in three months, giving you a net gain of $25.

Here’s the total haul and rationale for applying for each card:

CardSign-UpMinimum Spend Requirement Annual FeeOther BenefitsRationale
Everyday Preferred15,000$1,000$9530 purchases a month = 50% bonus up to $6,000 a calendar yearAfter one year can downgrade to no-fee version and still have the ability to earn and transfer Membership Rewards to travel partners.
Platinum Business100,00010,000$450, but $200 airline creditNothing particularly useful for me except the $200 airline fee creditAfter earning the bonus, may cancel card for pro-rated annual fee.
Hilton Surpass80,0003,000$75Access to more AMEX offersHilton Diamond this year; Hilton points are easy to come by & this card will jumpstart my Hilton balance.
Alaska Airlines25,000None$75$100 statement credit after spending $1,000Very useful points (and easy to earn)

Here are non-affiliated links for these above offers, except the Platinum Business, which is targeted:

-The Miner

Tomorrow, on Mining for Miles, “Credit Card Churning 101”


In-Depth Credit Card Review: Chase Sapphire Preferred

Category : Uncategorized

A Chase Sapphire Preferred review. Again. The only difference is that I don’t have links plastered all over my site (only one!) or a quota to fill for sign-ups through my page.

Now that we’ve covered some basics, it could be beneficial for some to read this review of the ubiquitous Chase Sapphire Preferred. Though this isn’t a starter card by any means, it’s a great first transferable points currency card (read here for more info on transferable points).

Sign-up:

The sign-up bonus has been increased (and will probably stay this way for a while) to 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in three months. You also receive an additional 5,000 points after adding an authorized user who makes any purchase ($0.01 or $100.00, you’ll still get the additional points).

After spending the $4,000 and adding an authorized user, you’re looking at 59,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points:

50,000 (sign-up)

+

4,000 ($4,000 spend requirement base points)

+

5,000 authorized user bonus

=

59,000

So putting that into perspective, you could (and should!) transfer those points to travel partners for a lot of unique, awesome and expensive redemptions. Let me show you:

  • 60,000 Points: Transfer to United (+ 1,000 points away) for a coach, round-trip ticket to Europe with a stopover;
  • 57,500 points: Transfer to United for one-way business class ticket to Europe on United metal;
  • 60,000 Points: Transfer to Hyatt (+ 1,000 points away) for two-nights at a top tier Hyatt in New York City, Paris, Tokyo or Sydney (usually costing anywhere from $700 – $1,000 a night!);
  • 60,000 Points: Transfer to Singapore (+ 1,000 points) for a lie-flat business class ticket from Newark to Hawaii;
  • 50,000 points: transfer to Korean Air for two, round-trip coach tickets to Hawaii on Delta metal, approximately $800 – $1000
  • 7,500 points: Six, short-haul one-ways transferring to British Airways for flights like New York-Chicago, New York-Miami, etc.
  • 45,000 Points: 3-nights at the Andaz in Costa Rica, unusually $500/night.

A Word About Transfer Partners…

Ultimate rewards transfer to:

  • United
  • Singapore
  • British Airways
  • Southwest
  • Hyatt
  • Marriott
  • IHG
  • Ritz-Carlton
  • Korean Air
  • Virgin Atlantic

The bolded partners are where you’ll get the best value for your points. I would rarely ever transfer to Marriot, IHG, or Ritz-Carlton.

Bonus Earning

When this card came out, it was all the rage to earn 2X on travel and dining. Sure, that can be helpful for earning lots of Ultimate Rewards, but there are other cards that earn 3X on those categories. (As an aside, I can see Chase working to revamp the earning on this card for the better—or so I hope).

If you’re getting this card and it’s the only one you have for travel and dining, to put it into perspective here’s what the average person household on dining (which includes Starbucks) and travel a year, with the total points earned:

CategorySpendingEarning RatePoints
Dining$26252X5,250
Travel (excludes gas)$3,0012X6,002
Total11,252

Source

Annual Fee

The annual fee is $0 for the first year and then $95 after that—is it worth to keep? Retention offers on this card are few and far between, but deciding if it’s worth to keep is up to you.

Other Important Benefits

  • No Foreign Transaction Fees—this is pretty standard cards like this;
  • Primary Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver—If you rent a card, you need to usually pay for their primary auto insurance; if you pay your full car rental with this card, you can waive the collision insurance from the rental company.
Don't be caught in a situation like this; use your Chase Sapphire Preferred for your entire rental purchase.
Don’t be caught in a situation like this; use your Chase Sapphire Preferred for your entire rental purchase.

Why You’d Want to Get this Card Now

Though this card isn’t the bee’s knees for earning, it has solid categories and a really great sign-up bonus. Also, Chase has been tightening its rules for members who have opened more than 5 cards in 24 months. This may not apply to you right now, but if you keep reading this blog you’ll have way more than 5 cards in 24 months!

Conclusion

With a really solid sign-up bonus, and decent spending categories the Chase Sapphire Preferred offers access to some of the best airline transfer partners in the industry. You can transfer the points you earn from the Chase Freedom for free. So if you already have that card, this is a logical follow up.

If you liked this post, and want to support the site, here’s my referral link. The offer is the same as any you’d find on any page—but I’ll earn 5,000 points if you’re approved.

-The Miner


Understanding Airline Alliances

Category : Uncategorized

 

Though I intended to delve into fuel surcharges today, I think the next logical step is to understand airline alliances and how you can take full advantage of them. This will help to give you a complete picture of the best way to book award tickets.

What’s an airline alliance and why is it beneficial for the consumer?

An airline alliance is an arrangement between two or more airlines agreeing to cooperate on varying levels, which includes inter-lining, code sharing and reciprocal elite benefits.

  • Inter-lining—a ticketed itinerary that includes multiple airlines, usually within the same alliance; the airlines agree to handle the passenger on all legs of the journey. Most commonly occurs when one airline will through-check luggage to your destination. Example: Flying American Airlines from Chicago to New York and then New York to London on British Airways; American and British cooperate to have your luggage (and you) reach the destination.
  • Code sharing—when two or more airlines “share” the same flight. This is what enables you to book a Delta revenue flight on an Air France website, or vice versa:
Notice the codeshare partner
Notice the codeshare partner
  • Reciprocal elite benefits—A frequent flyer with certain status on an airline within one of the alliances will have alliance status that enables the flyer to receive certain benefits amongst all member airlines.

 3 Major Alliances

OneWorld: American Airlines, British Airways, Qantas, LANTAM, Cathay Pacific, Japanese Airlines, Malaysia Airways, Qatar, Air Berlin, Finnair, Iberia Airlines, Royal Jordanian

Skyteam: Aeroflot, AeroMexico, Air France, Alitalia, China Airlines, China Eastern, China Southern, Delta Airlines, Garudo Indonesia, KLM, Korean, Saudia, Vietnam Airlines

Star Alliance: Aegean, Air Canada, Air Canada, Air India, Air New Zealand, All Nippon Airways, Asiana Airlines, Auatrian Airlines, Avianca, Brussels Airlines, Copa Airlines, EgyptAir, EVA Air, LOT Polish, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, South Afircan Airways, Swiss, TAP Portugal, Thai, Turkish, United Airlines

As you can see, different alliances provide flights to different destinations. Star Alliance, for example, is the biggest alliance by membership, and has access to nearly every continent and region in the world. So how does this help frequent miles users?

It’s quite simple. If you have miles to one member in any given alliance, you can use those miles to book awards on partner flights. Let me show you:

Redeeming your United miles on Star Alliance partner, Lufthansa
Redeeming your United miles on Star Alliance partner, Lufthansa

Sometimes you’ll need to call the airline to book the partner award, but, to their credit, the airlines are working to make all their partner awards bookable online.

Here’s a handy chart of pros/cons for each alliance.

Star AllianceSkyTeamOneWorld
Alliance ConnectivityBest miles for European travels (particularly United miles); greatest access, via Europe, to Israel; excellent premium cabin airlines (All Nippon Airways, Thai)Mixed bag; Delta miles are usually not good for Delta flights, but Delta has partners with direct flights to very popular destinations in Europe (Rome, Paris, London) and Asia (Shanghai, Taipei, Beijing)Excellent use of miles (American) to travel to many destinations in Asia and South America; Great for short-hauls within regions (British Avios)
Ease of access to award flights across the allianceUnited and Air Canada search engines can access most Star Alliance award spaceAir France and Delta provide access to most SkyTeam partner award spaceBritish has access to most OneWorld alliance award space; with American you need to oftentimes call them to book. Others: Qantas
Ease of earning miles for alliance membersChase: Only 1:1 transfer partner to United; can transfer points to Singapore from all transferable point currencies.AMEX: Several co-branded Delta cards and membership rewards transfer to Delta, Air France; Citi: ThankYou points transfer to Air FranceCiti: Several American Airlines credit cards; Chase: Transferable points to British Airways and British Airways card
ConsMany Star Alliance partners pass on fuel surcharges; United is the exception;Inconsistent Delta low-level award availability; Air France’s website is getting better, but still has bugs.Aside from American & British Avios miles, most other OneWorld alliance miles have limited uses; heavy fuel surcharges on British for most non-intra U.S. flights
Other/Non-Alliance Partner Access (of importance)United miles provide access to Aer Lingus (Ireland) award spaceDelta miles provide access to Virgin Atlantic award spaceAmerican miles provide access to non-alliance partner Etihad and Fiji Airways; British Avios provide access to Aer Lingus award space

 

Non-Alliance Partners: The Big Daddy

There are several airlines that are not part of any alliance, but they have partnerships with various alliances for revenue or miles flights. Alaska Airlines is the Big Daddy; they’re sort of like alliance agnostic and are friends with everyone.

  • Alaska Airlines—AeroMexico, Air France, American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Delta, Emirates, Fiji Airways, Hainan Airlines, Icelandair, KLM, Korean Air, LAN, Qantas

This provides access to many airlines that are not part of any alliance, most notably, Emirates and Fiji Airways. Alaska Airlines has separate award charts based on region and partner. You have to call-in many of the awards, but their search engine is solid.

There are two ways to earn Alaska miles:

  • Alaska Airlines consumer and business credit cards from Bank of America
  • Starwood Preferred Guest consumer and business credit cards from AMEX, that transfer 1:1 to Alaska.

There are several other non-alliance airlines that allow you to redeem their miles on partners, but rarely at a good value.

(Alaska Airline redemptions deserves its own post—don’t worry, it’s coming!)

Here’s a nice graphic to sum it all up:

alliance

 

-The Miner


Crash Course on Booking Award Tickets

Category : Uncategorized

 

I’m going to outline my process for searching and booking award flights. This is just a primer, but feel free to add your thoughts below.

Don’t let your miles or award availability (the amount of seats that can be booked with miles) determine where you want to go: go where you want to go based on your interests.

Step 1: Use Google Flights to determine who operates the route you’re interested in flying.

So you want to fly from New York to Paris? Sounds great, but there’s lots of options:

GOOGLE FLIGHTS 2

A bunch of connecting flights, and at least four carriers (Air France, United, Delta, and American) fly direct flights. Let’s focus on those direct flights.

All of the major U.S. carriers fly this route directly, so as long as you have airline miles or transferable miles in one of those airlines, you should have a better chance of finding seats. There’s never a guarantee of award space, but diversifying your miles will help you find the space on the route you want.

NOTE: Southwest and many low-cost carrier flights do not show up on Google Flights.

Step 2: Searching for the award space across the alliances. 

Groups of airlines make airline alliances. The three major airline alliances, with some of their corresponding partners:

OneWorld Alliance – American Airlines, British Airways, Iberia, Air Berlin

Star Alliance – United, Lufthansa, Austria, Singapore

Skyteam – Delta, China Eastern, Air France, Alitalia

This is very important because if you have miles with a corresponding alliance partner you can book an award with your desired airline.

Let me show you an example with our New York to Paris route flying American Airlines, but using British Airways miles:

Using British Airways Avios on American Airlines flights
Using British Airways Avios on American Airlines flights

See how we’re on the British Airways site, using British Airways miles but pulling up American Airlines award flight?

So if you have British Airways Avios you can book American Airlines awards (and many other OneWorld alliance awards).

Don’t see any flights that have space or times that work for you? Check United and Delta.

Here’s an example of the same route, using Air France miles to book a Delta flight:

Using Air France miles to fly Delta
Using Air France miles to fly Delta

The above examples are both straightforward , but it gives you an idea of what alliances are and how useful they can be.

Step 3: Being mindful of fuel surcharges and taxes.

Surcharges, huh? Yes, yes. While there may not be a fee to redeem your miles, airlines will pass on the fuel surcharges (and taxes) that are normally part of your paid ticket, onto the award flight.

We see this in our Air France New York-Paris example. The Air France flights are charging more than the Delta flights. Why is that? In this case, Air France charges higher fuel surcharges/taxes than Delta does on that particular flight.

Are paying the fuel surcharges worth it? You’ll have to decide for yourself, but generally, if you can, avoid them!

$400+ to fly Lufthansa business?! Try again. Book this same award flight on United and pay $80
$400+ to fly Lufthansa business?! Try again. Book this same award flight on United and pay $80

Here’s a quick rundown on fuel surcharge pricing/taxes and how to avoid them:

  • Flights originating the U.S. on U.S. carriers will have minimal fuel surcharges, but will always include 9/11 Security tax which is $5.20 per direction of travel
  • Flights originating in Europe will incur high fuel surcharges
  • Avoid departing out of London, particularly London-Heathrow as the city has a very high fuel surcharge for flights.
  • United does not impose fuel surcharges on award tickets
  • American and Alaska mainly impose fuel surcharges on partner British Airway and Iberia award tickets.
  • Delta is a mixed bag—generally, if you depart from the U.S. the fuel surcharges a minimal; one-way Delta awards from Europe will levy significant surcharges.
  • Many countries in South America have banned fuel surcharges, making it a nearly free award travel destination.

Conclusion 

One can search every airlines site, but in my experience, step #1 will save you the most time and give you an idea of the best place to start. After you’ve found the best routing that works for your travel needs (and your mileage balance), be sure to take into account the price you’ll pay for fuel surcharges.

-The Miner

Next time, on Mining for Miles “To Pay the Fuel Surcharge, or Not to Pay”


Chase Sapphire vs. Citi Premier vs. AMEX Gold Card

Category : Uncategorized

In a battle to the death… YOU DECIDE

SapphirePremierGoldWinner
Standard Sign-Up Bonus50,00050,00025,000/50,000Sapphire/Premier
Spend required4,0003,0001,000Gold
Bonus Categories2x Dining, Travel3x Gas/Travel, 2x Dining/Entertainment3x Airline, 2x Supermarkets, Gas, DiningYOU DECIDE
Annual Fee First Year$0$0$0Tie
Annual Fee After 1st year$95$95$195Sapphire/Premier
Foreign Transaction FeeNoneNoneNoneTie
Transfer Partners101319Gold
Practical Transfer Partners626Sapphire
Airline Fee Credit$0$0$100Gold
Misc. BenefitsPrimary Car Rental InsuranceAMEX Return ProtectionSapphire

While I can explain each and every benefit and why some are better than others, a lot of it will have to do with how YOU, the consumer, spends throughout the month to benefit most from each card. And as we know, you can have all at the same time (I do!).

-The Miner


The Best Miles (and Cards You Need) for Domestic Award Travel

Category : Uncategorized

We’re always looking where we can go next that includes a flight over 6 hours, across the ocean (either of them), or over the Artic. But what about good ole’ domestic travel to see mom, dad or grandma and grandpa?

Some points are better than others for domestic travel, while others are excellent for international business and first class adventures.

Standard domestic travel on the major carriers (American, Delta, United and Alaska) will cost you 12,500 each way, per person. There are lots of better things you can do with 12,500 miles than flying from New York to Miami.

Here’s my take on the best points to earn (and where to earn them) for those domestic flights

Mileage Currency: British Airways Avios

The mileage currency for British Airways is Avios points. British Airways mileage program is based off of distance flown. Some frequent flyer programs are based off of distance (U.S. to Asia, U.S. to Europe, etc.); whereas some programs, like British Airways, are based off of distance flown.

But wait, you can’t fly British Airways between New York and Chicago… British Airways and American Airlines are part of the same airline alliance (OneWorld). This allows members with either account to redeem their miles on the partner airline. So in this case, you are using your British Avios on an American Airlines (the partner) flight.

Here’s a breakdown of how many miles it will cost you based on distance, with some examples, all for coach travel:

ZoneDistance FlownAvios RequiredExample
11 – 6504,500NYC-BOS, NYC-PHL, NYC-DCA
1*1 – 6507,500NYC-BOS, NYC-PHL, NYC-DCA
2651 – 1,1517,500NYC-MIA, NYC-ORD
31,152 – 200010,000Chicago – Las Vegas
42,001 – 3,00012,500NYC – LAX, Seattle – New York

*After Feb. 2, 2016, Zone 1 will merge with Zone 2 and flights between 1 – 1,151 miles will all be 7,500 miles.

So how do does one determine the distance between two airports?

You don’t need to! Wandering Aramean has a wonderful Avios mapper that does it for you:

Just plug in your starting airport and the Avios award mapper does the rest!
Just plug in your starting airport and the Avios award mapper does the rest!

There are several cards that earn Avios points.

The following cards earn and transfer to British Airways at a 1:1 –

  • Chase British Airways
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred
  • Chase Ink

unnamed

The following cards earn and transfer to British Airways at a 250:200 (so if you need 7,500 Avios you’d need to transfer 9,500):

mr transfer ba
Notice the 250 Membership Rewards to 200 Avios transfer ratio
  • AMEX Everyday cards
  • AMEX Gold, Business and Personal
  • AMEX Platinum, Business and Personal
  • AMEX Platinum Mercedes-Benz

 

The 7,500 and 10,000 points award flights are definitely a sweet spot on the British Airways Avios chart. These flights would normally cost you 12,500 miles on American, United and Delta.

Mileage Currency: Southwest Rapid Rewards

The mileage program for Southwest Airlines is known as Rapid Rewards. Southwest flight redemptions are revenue based. This means that the miles required to fly are based on the price of the ticket. There used to be a fixed value, but Southwest did away with that and there is little official rhyme or reason on the mileage price in tickets. Based on my experience and observations, because the miles required are based off of the price of the ticket:

  • Book early—Southwest has a generous change policy, especially with points; book your flights early for the cheapest rates
  • Book often—You can cancel any Southwest miles flight and you’ll be refunded the miles (you can save the taxes for travel at another time)
Side-by-side comparison Southwest revenue and award tickets
Side-by-side comparison Southwest revenue and award tickets

The following cards earn and transfer to Southwest Airlines at a 1:1 –

Pro-tip! All three Southwest credit cards are currently offering 50,000 miles for satisfying the spending requirements. Be sure to apply when the offers are high, not the standard 25,000.

I’ve redeemed thousands of miles on domestic travel, almost always from Southwest Rapid Rewards or British Airways Avios.

-The Miner

Next time on Mining for Miles: “The Best Transferable Points Earning Card for Me”


Are Annual fees Worth Paying?

Category : Uncategorized

 

Aside from “How’s your credit score?”, the second most common question I receive is, “How much do you pay in annual fees a year?”

There is a fear in paying annual fees. Sometimes it can be worth it.

Many cards come with the fee waved for the first year, but a few have it upfront. Be careful of premium cards (Ritz-Carlton, AMEX platinum, Citi prestige) as their fees can be $400+ upfront.

Avoiding Annual Fees… In this order.

1) Retention

A retention offer is an offer from the bank or lender to keep you as a customer. This offer will often times come in the form of a credit to offset the fee, bonus points or bonus points on certain categories. As an example, I’ve recently a retention offer Barclays. I called them up after my annual fee (free first year) posted on my Red Aviator MasterCard (converted from the old US Airways cards). After getting through the first line representative and mentioning the words “closing my card”, I was transferred to the retention department.

I received the following offers:

  • $89 annual fee waived for this card member year
  • 500 bonus points for spending time on the phone
  • 2x on gas, utilities and pharmacies up to 8000 points within three months.
  • Spend $500 in December, January and February and receive 15,000 bonus miles.

I accepted the offer. But even if the fee wasn’t waved, those 15,000 AAdvantage miles would be worth the $89, for me anyways. So as with many things, it’s a to each their own situation.

2) Downgrade/Conversion

Even after calling several times and receiving poor offers or no offers, after 12 months from opening you may be eligible to downgrade your card to the no fee version (AMEX Everyday preferred to AMEX everyday) or change the product. Your credit limit will stay the same and the account number will remain the same on your credit report, but you’ll receive a different product.

Keep in mind, if you do downgrade, you will be not be eligible to receive the sign-up bonus on that product.

  • Citi – Your best bet is to downgrade to the Citi Double Cash card which earns 2% cash back.
  • Chase – You can downgrade the Sapphire Preferred to a Freedom, but you will lose the ability to transfer your points to travel partners. Some of their hotel and airline cards (co-branded) have no-fee versions. Each card is different.

Pro Tip! It’s possible to have multiple Chase Freedoms, but you will only earn the bonus on the one you applied for, not the one you downgrade to.

  • AMEX – You can downgrade credit cards to the Everyday, no fee. You cannot downgrade charge cards to credit cards, so if you would like to downgrade your Gold or Platinum cards, be sure to ask what no fee charge cards you can downgrade to.
  • Bank of America – Several options for downgrading your card. Their representatives can be tough, but if you call enough times, you should get someone who can help you downgrade to the BankAmericad Cash Rewards, BankAmericad Travel Rewards or the BankAmericard Credit Card.
  • Barclays – Most of their products have a no-fee version that you can downgrade to.

Pro Tip! It’s possible to earn the bonus again on Barclays and Bank of America Cards—sometimes you’re better off cancelling and applying a few months later for that new bonus.

Citi product conversion to the Double Cash
Citi product conversion to the Double Cash

3) Reallocating Credit

If all else fails and you want to just close the card, it can be worthwhile to reallocate your line of credit. For example, you have $5000 in credit on Product A that you are going to close; you can move over a large majority of that credit to Product B.

Chase, AMEX and Barclays do not usually hard pull your credit to reallocate a line of credit, but always confirm that this is the case before agreeing to the move.

Citi and Bank of America nearly always want to pull your credit to move lines around. The exception is when moving around credit to open up a new card.

4) When all else fails, is it worth it?

  • Definite: IHG Card, $49: The card is fee-free its first year. After that, it comes with an yearly certificate to be used at ANY IHG property. This can be really lucrative and worth your $49 at a property like the IHG Bora Bora Resort Thalasso Spa which can run you over $1000 during peak season.
    Overwater Bungalows in Bora Bora can go for thousands--when your annual fee is only $49!
    Overwater Bungalows in Bora Bora can go for thousands–when your annual fee is only $49!
  • Definite: Chase Sapphire Preferred, $89: Not having this card would limit my ability to transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to their many lucrative travel partners.
  • Maybe: Citi Prestige, $350: Though I take full advantage of many of the great benefits this card has to offer, I need to see if I’ll do the same this year.
  • Definitely Not: Citi Hilton Reserve, $89: I paid the fee the first year (it is NOT waived), but now that I’ve been matched to Hilton Diamond, I don’t need a card that provides Gold status.

When it comes to paying annual fees, you the consumer need to determine if the benefits outweighs the cost. Always try for a retention offer.

What cards, if any, do you pay a fee on?

– The Miner


Beginner’s Guide Part 1: Getting Started and Choosing the Right Credit Card

Category : Uncategorized

I got involved in collecting credit card miles/points when a family member introduced it to me. I was skeptical and nervous. Learning the ropes, like anything in life, takes time. For some, this is a second, full-time job. For most, it’s about finding the best possible deal and saving the most money to take trips one otherwise wouldn’t take.

Beginner’s Guide Part 1: Getting Started and Choosing the Right Credit Card

Three Types of Credit Card Miles & Points

There are three major miles and points currencies:

  1. Transferable – This includes Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest points, and Citi ThankYou Points. All of these points can be transferred to a variety of airline or hotel partners. These types of points give you the greatest flexibility when redeeming miles with partners.
AMEX Mebership Rewards Transfer Partners
AMEX Mebership Rewards Transfer Partners
  1. Airline/Hotel- This includes all the airline and hotel currencies that can redeemed for award flights or hotel nights. Airline points allow you to redeem that airlines currency for their own flights or partner award flights.
Delta miles that can be redeemed on Delta flights and Sky Team partners.
Delta miles that can be redeemed on Delta flights and Sky Team partners.
  1. Fixed-value – This includes Barclay’s Arrival+, Citi ThankYou Points, US Bank FlexPerks and more. These currencies are fixed in the sense that you can redeem them towards travel at a fixed rate. Fixed-value points can be very useful for times when no flight or hotel awards are available.

*You’ll notice that Citi ThankYou points are listed under transferable and fixed-value. Citi ThankYou points transfer to various airlines, but you can also redeem them for travel through the ThankYou Portal. Your best redemptions through that portal will be on American Airlines.

Getting Started

If you’ve never had a credit card and need to build credit, try going with a no-fee credit card. Two  of the best no fee cards are:

  • Chase Freedom – This card has rotating quarters (see quarterly calendar here) for a variety of purchases that earn x5 per dollar. These points can be redeemed for cash back, but if you are looking to travel, hold onto those points for when you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred. The points earned on your Freedom can transfer to your Sapphire Preferred which can then be redeemed for travel.
  • American Express Everyday – This card is great for everyday spending, offering you a 20% bonus on purchases (up to $6,000 per year) if you make more than 20 purchases a month. It also offers x2 points on groceries (up to $6,000 per year). Don’t be scared by the fact that this is American Express. Sure they still have the Platinum and Gold cards, but the Everyday card is their entry, no fee card.

If you have established credit (even just one card, a mortgage or an auto loan), and want to jump in, go for a transferable points card:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred – Currently with an increased offer of 50,000 points, the Sapphire earns x2 points on dining and transportation (this includes subways, Uber/Lyft, gas and tolls).  This card will you allow you to transfer your hard earned points to airlines like United, British and Southwest and hotels like Hyatt. This card and it’s partners will offer you tremendous flexibility.
  • Citi ThankYou Premier – This card is Citi’s response to the Sapphire Preferred, offering users 3x points on travel, including gas, 2x on dining out and entertainment, as well as the ability to transfer to some useful airlines like Singapore and Air France.
  • American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card – Rounding out the big banks, this is AMEX’s equivalent card which earns 3x on flights, 2x on supermarkets, gas and restaurants, and the ability to transfer points to many airlines including Delta, Singapore, El-al and Air France.

With all these cards, some transfers are better than others and will depend on where you want to go. Subsequent Beginner’s Guides will detail some of the best uses of different currencies depending on where you want to travel to.

Once you’ve picked up one of these cards, you can get into specific airline and/or hotel currencies

Sign-Up Bonuses

amex 100k
The coveted 100,000 AMEX Platinum Offer

A sign-up bonus is the promotional offer the bank is using to encourage you to apply for their product. More often than not, the earning of a sign-up bonus is dependent on spending a certain amount of money within 3 months from approval date of the card (sometimes it can be 4 or 5 months). The spending requirement, or spend hurdle, can range anywhere from $750 – $20,000, with most falling on the lower end of that range.

After you satisfy the sign-up bonus requirements by spending the designated amount of money, you’ll have a nice, fat pile of fresh points or miles. Sign-up bonuses typically range from 25,000 – 50,000, but can go as low as 10,000 or as high as 140,000 points.

Sign-up bonuses are always important as they can be a great way to boost or start off your miles and points balance.

Which card is right for me?

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The credit card travel rewards market is a crowded space. Luckily for you, the savvy consumer can take advantage of the best offers. The banks are working hard to make sure that their card is the first one you go for everytime you make a purchase.

Everyone has their own travel goals and different cards will suit users differently. When you reach for a card in your wallet, try to use the one that will earn the greatest return. (NOTE: This does not include business cards.)

Here’s a matrix by spending category and/or type of card.

Category
CardGroceriesGasTransportationAir TravelHotelDiningEntertainment
Chase Sapphire Preferred2x2x2x2x
Chase FreedomQuarter 2: 5xQuarter 1: 5xQuarter 1: 5XQuarter 3: 5x
Citi Prestige3x3x3x3x2x2x
Citi Premier3x3x3x3x2x2x
AMEX Everyday Preferred3x2x
AMEX Premier Rewards Gold2x3x2x

If you have a rough estimate where you do most of your weekly spending, the above matrix can help you decide which card to use to maximize your rewards.

What about the hotel and airline cards?

Hotel and airline cards are a staple for anyone getting involved in the earning of miles in points. However, for your everyday spending, they tend not to offer more than 1x per dollar spent. The above cards will generally earn you more than that on your typical, everyday spending.

The one exception to this is that if you’ve signed up for a hotel or airline card and need to reach a spending requirement for the sign-up bonus, you should probably be using that card.

What’s Coming Next:

Here’s a brief summary of what other guides you can expect to read in the coming weeks:

  • Beginner’s Guide Part 2: Airline and Hotel Cards
  • Beginner’s Guide Part 3: Business Credit Cards
  • Beginner’s Guide Part 4: Crash Course in Award Flight Redemptions – Alliances, Cheapest Redemptions and Best Uses
  • Beginner’s Guide Part 5: Redeeming Your Points for Hotel Nights
  • Beginner’s Guide Part 6: Odds & Ends

Wishing you all a wonderful and happy New Year!

-The Miner