Friday, August 31, 2012

Chris' Travel Goal: London

As JD stated in his last post, it is very important to have a travel goal when you are first starting out getting points and miles. For me, the goal was to travel back to one of my favorite cities in the world, London!

I had the great opportunity to study abroad in London during my junior year of college. It was an amazing experience! I fell in love with the city and I vowed when I left that I would go back as soon as possible. But, when I graduated the next year I went straight into graduate school and figured that I wouldn't be returning to London anytime soon. I resigned myself to look at my pictures and wish.

Then JD finally said...why don't you just go, you can do it! So after a little convincing and my introduction to the world of points and miles, which I've written about previously, I thought that it might actually be possible. So I told the GF that we might be able to make this happen (she visited London when she studied in Rome and wanted to go back as well)...but if we did, I wanted to go in business class!!!

Understandably, she looked at me like I was crazy and just passed it off as another one of the crazy ideas that JD and I come up with on a regular basis. She just wasn't sure how we could pull off trans-Atlantic business class tickets when we only had 5,000 miles or so each. But once I sat her down again and showed her how we could make it happen she was cautiously on board.

So the plan was launched....a trip to London it is.

Look for my next post on the strategy approach for London next week.

What's your travel goal? What was your first trip using points and miles?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Setting Travel Goals

Why do we go to these extremes to earn points? To go on vacation, of course! Earning points just to increase your frequent flyer account balances is crazy. Hoarding points is a dangerous tactic. The frequent flyer community has seen a devaluation of points on many airlines and hotel chains. The number of miles one will need for that coveted “free ticket or stay at a hotel” has gone up. If you have the points it is best to use them sooner rather than later.

Many of my family and friends disregard frequent flyer points because they complain that there are never “any free seats for 25,000 miles” or “too many blackout dates.” (Or they have seen the Alec Baldwin Capital One Credit Card commercial one too many times). I don’t argue with them because the more people in “the game” means fewer available award tickets or nights for the rest of us. Yes, I know this statement is harsh, but it’s the truth. The airline and hotel industries purposely limit the number award inventory on any given day or plane.  If people don’t want to join the game, I’m not going to fight to get them to join.

While the chance that you will score a free ticket home for Thanksgiving or Christmas is limited, a little planning and forethought can help you score tickets to almost any destination at almost anytime through the year. How do you score those difficult tickets to go on your dream vacation? By setting vacation goals and aligning your point earning strategies to accomplish those goals.

For example, earlier this year, Chris and his girlfriend, Kelsey told me that they wanted to go to London in the fall and were searching for cheap airlines fares. My first thought was "You are going to pay to go on vacation?!" After a long discussion, I convinced them to let me help them get to London with points. Oh, and to make things more difficult, they had to fly business class. The GF told me they didn’t need to fly business class, economy was fine. I smirked and told her by the time she was flying to London her ticket would be business class, not economy. She was skeptical, but I knew better.

With Chris and his Kelsey’s destination and timeframe picked, next was to figure out how many miles they need to get to and from London. From Washington, DC, direct flights to London are easiest flown on the Star Alliance (US Airways, United, Lufthansa etc.). Next go to these airline's award charts and see how many miles you will need for the trip. US Airways is here. United is here

I suggested they focus on United, as they already had small balances in their United accounts. Let's take a closer look at the United award chart:

Planning as far ahead in advance as Chris and Kelsey were, each could get a Saver Award Ticket in business class for about 100,000 miles roundtrip . Saver Award Tickets cost less, but are not offered on every flight. However, I have been able to purchase saver award tickets with less than 48 hours notices, so it is the luck of the draw.

I know some might be thinking why I pushed them to go business class when it cost 40,000 more miles with the Saver Ticket (Kelsey had the same question). I am of the belief that the airplane ride is very much a part of your vacation experience, so why not pamper yourself getting yourself there? Many people dread the thought of riding on an airplane because they know their seat in the back of the plane will be cramped and uncomfortable. Why not spend the extra miles and make yourself feel better? I don’t always sit in business and first class; you will many times see me in economy on flights shorter than 4 hours, but for my long-haul flights, I spend the extra points for comfort.

With the information that each would need 100,000 miles each for the trip, Chris and Kelsey were now ready to do the hard part: earn the miles. They sat down and created a list of ways the two of them could earn 100,000 miles on United. Did they sign-up for the 75,000 mile American Airlines Chase Credit Card? Not at that particular time, because it did not help them get points on United. However, they did apply for the Chase Sapphire because it got them 50,000 miles on United. I am going to leave Chris to explain the various methods they used to obtain the miles for their trip. All I will say is that the two of them are going to London, in business class, and have most of their nights in hotels paid for by points as well.

The first step to any great vacation starts with a dream. That dream will eventually turn into a goal, which then requires a plan to get the miles needed to accomplish that goal. Then you are halfway to your dream vacation. With a direction and a plan, you can tailor your spending habits to earn the miles needed for that dream vacation (we will talk soon about the various ways to earn miles).  Earning enough miles for your vacation will not happen overnight, but with time and persistence, the points needed will start to accumulate in your frequent flyer account.

Until next time, keep dreaming!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Marriott's "What's Your Travel Type" Contest Ends Tomorrow

The Marriott "What's Your Travel Type"contest has been written about extensively with lots of promos out there in blog land to win additional points. (Here...Here...Here...etc.) But it is worth noting that the contest ends tomorrow at 4:00 pm ET. But, you can enter once a day so if you hurry you can get two more entries in!

The prizes are everything from 6 nights/5 days at a JW Marriott anywhere in the world to a 7 day/ 6 night trip to Madrid, Spain.

We don't have any prizes to offer...but I am curious what your favorite prize was, and what Marriott properties you would use your prize on?

It's All JD's Fault! Chris' story of addiction to points and miles

For JD it was getting stood up for dinner that got him into the points game.

(As a side note...if I was one of the ones that stood you up JD, I am sorry. Well...not really because you found this hobby, but you know what I mean.) 

In my case, it was all JD's fault! Once JD was hooked I kept seeing him come to Happy Hour and dinner with a new credit card to use. I kept wondering...what is this guy doing?!?! 

When he plopped his new Chase Sapphire down (and if you have the Sapphire, you know it's a plop sound) I finally had to ask, "Why do you have so many cards, and what are you doing!?!" JD went on to explain that he had started collecting airline miles and hotel points so that he could travel more. I was intrigued, but I was convinced that all of those credit cards was destroying his credit, so I simply wished him the best of luck and would give him a hard time anytime he pulled out a new card. 

But, a few months later I was in slogging away at grad school and I saw JD take his first trip on points and miles (more on that in a future post). I knew that he was on to something, and as a poor grad student, I knew this was something that I needed to look into. I finally sucked up my pride and asked him how I could get started reading about points and miles. He sent me over a list of blogs that he regularly read, with a healthy dose of teasing me about not being interested in the past, and sent me on my way. 

Well, much like JD on his first night discovering the miles and points community, I was hooked. I quickly read post after post after post after post on all of the blogs until I was four months back into the archives. I knew that this was a hobby that I had to adopt to travel the way that I never thought I could.

In retrospect, the miles and points game actually helped me in a big way. Before I started collecting miles and points I had a minimal knowledge of my credit. I always used my debit card and would only use my credit card when I was buying place tickets to visit my parents. When I would use that credit card, I would carry a balance and take on interest charges. In a weird way...miles and points taught me how to take control of my credit and use it to my advantage! 

Now here I am, addicted to points and miles and about to set off on my second free trip in October. What an amazing hobby I stumbled into. :) 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Hilton Great Getaway Sale + Q3 Bonus

I received an email last night reminding me that Hilton has extended their “Great Gateway Sale” and I thought I would pass it along to you as well. (Just in case you have any upcoming stays)

From the email:

"Great news, The Great Getaway has been extended and now you have more time to save up to 40% at any participating Hilton Hotels & Resorts when you book by September 10, 2012, and stay by December 30, 2012, at participating hotels and resorts in the Hilton Worldwide portfolio.


Whether your getaway is around the corner or around the world, enjoy savings of 15% to 40% off our Best Available Rate at nine distinct hotel brands within the Hilton Worldwide portfolio for a limited time. So, plan your getaway now - you've earned it.

The great part about this promotion is that you can purchase this rate up to 7 days before your stay. As a reminder, this is a prepaid non-refundable rate, so be sure that you are actually going to stay at the property before purchasing it.

Earlier this month, I used this sale for two nights at the Downtown Hilton Atlanta. The normal room rate would have cost me $129, but I got the room for $89 per night, a 30% savings.

Not all Hilton properties are participating. I checked the Hilton hotels in San Diego, for an upcoming trip, and about half of the properties in the area were offering the “Great Gateway Sale” rate. At most hotels offering the rate, on the weekend I needed, the savings was about 15% off the normal rate.

It is always important to check the small print on deals. At the bottom of the email, the small print reads:

"Book between May 10 and September 10, 2012 (ends August 1, 2012 for Asia Pacific region properties) and stay at participating hotels within the Hilton Worldwide portfolio between May 17 and December 30, 2012 (ends September 30, 2012 for North and South America region properties). Some hotels may extend offer period. Subject to availability. Full non-refundable prepayment required at time of booking. Must book at least seven (7) days in advance of arrival, except where noted. Discounts vary and range from 15% - 40% off select rates. Blackout dates and length of stay restrictions may apply based upon which day of the week a stay is consumed, geographical location of hotel and/or by brand."

So for the majority of us, September 30, 2012 is really the last day we can use this rate on a stay instead of December 31st. However, if you are traveling to any other region of the world other than the Americas, you can use this rate through the rest of the year. Just remember to book by September 10th to grab this deal.


If you are going to be staying in a Hilton brand hotel before September 31st, you should register for their Quarter 3 promotion, Double or Triple Points! You must should register here!

For the Triple Your Trip promotion, the additional points you earn per night are calculated based on the average nightly folio (average of your base rates) of your total stay.  For example, if you have a two night stay, with one night costing $89 and another $109, you average nightly folio is $99 ($89 + $109 /2 nights = $99).

You earn the following:

Double Points for stays on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday

Triple Points for stays on Friday, Saturday, Sunda

For a recent trip to Atlanta, we stayed at the Downtown Hilton on Sunday and Monday. I earned triple points on my Sunday night stay and double Points on my Monday stay. The two night stay netted me a total of 5340 points. Not bad for taking less than 2 minutes to click a link and enter my Hilton Honors number.

A simple action can result in big rewards!

What is a point?

This being a point's blog, I believe a quick discussion of “what is a point” is not only a good idea, but necessarily. Going back to the lessons I learned in elementary school, when looking for an answer, start by looking in a dictionary.

Since I ditched my paper copy of my dictionary three or four moves ago, I went online for the answer. Webster’s online dictionary has 19 different definitions for “a point;” instead of boring you with all of them, here are some that you may not know:

1)      One of the 11 divisions of a heraldic shield that determines the position of a charge

2)      A number thrown on the first roll of the dice in craps which the player attempts to repeat before throwing a seven

3)       A lace for tying parts of a garment together used especially in the 16th and 17th centuries

4)      One of the 12 spaces marked off on each side of a backgammon board

Do people even play backgammon any more?

Even though this English lesson was interesting, the definition that we are looking for is:

A unit of measurement

However, what are we measuring when we talk about travel related points? Loyalty! Loyalty = POINTS.

When the first frequent flyer program was started by Texas International Airlines in 1979, the main idea behind the program was to reward those who traveled frequently with special fares. Two years later, Texas International was overtaken by American Airlines. (In a small bit of history, the owner of Texas International bought Continental Airlines in 1982, shortly after selling to American Airlines).  After buying Texas International, American Airlines decided flyers would not be induced to fly American Airlines frequently if the incentive of doing so was “special fares.”  The creation of the “free flight” and modern day frequently flyer program was eventually born.

In the early stages, frequent flyer miles were awarded based upon loyalty. One flies from Boston to Los Angles and gets a certain number of miles for doing so. To get a free flight, the flyer would have to patronage the same airline over and over again. The main goal behind the early frequent flyer programs was to get customers to spend their travel money on one airline.

Nowadays, the travel point game has changed. Yes, airlines and hotels still want to customers to spend their travel money only with them and they have created loyalty programs to reward you for doing so. However, the average consumer will never be able to afford that dream vacation to the Maldives on flying and staying at hotels alone. (Yes, if you fly one or twice a week and live out of a hotel, you might be able to scrap together enough miles). Travelers like Chris and I, who do not travel to for work, accomplish our travel goals by earning points through credit card sign-up bonuses (40,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in 3 months, 50,000 bonus miles after first purchase etc.), mattress runs, and jumping through hoops (I have done some crazy things in the name of points, i.e. 5 minute car rentals to name one).

If you want to start crossing off places on your travel bucket list, you will need to expand your thinking of travel miles/points. Almost all airlines and hotels sell points to third parties, who in turn offer those miles to consumers for doing business with them. The list of businesses that offer airline and hotel miles in exchange for patronizing them is numerous – from flowers to mortgages to online protection to car rentals. Almost every aspect of your daily life can earn you points.

By making small changes in your routines, you can start racking up the mileage balances that will allow you to travel the world. So, what is a point? To me, a point is an opportunity. An opportunity to see the world!

Monday, August 27, 2012

How I Became Addicted: JD

I have to blame my friends. Yes, this hobby of collecting points is their fault. Some might, including many members of my family, call this hobby an obsession. Yes, my friends are to blame for this obsession of mine.

It was a Friday night in January. I had plans to meet my friends in the city for dinner and drinks. However, it was one of those rainy cold nights. At the last minute, my friends bailed on me, leaving me home on a Friday night with TV. After 2 hours of flipping through 300 + channels, I was bored, to say the least. (How is it that we can have so many channels, but there is always nothing on to watch!)

My boredom led me to check the latest news on and an article about extreme frequent flyers. I want to say this was the time George Clooney’s Up In the Air was out and everyone was talking about the frequent flyer lifestyle. This article, in particular,  caught my attention because the writer interviewed, blogger Gary Leff (View from the Wing) was talking about how he flies around the world for almost nothing. I remember thinking this can’t be true, but I was willing to take the bait.

The article linked to his blog, and so started my journey. Gary’s blog was filled with tricks, tips and amazing trip reports. I was awestruck. How did I not know this frequent flyer community existed before this night? How does this secret travel community stay so secret?

Gary’s blog had links to other bloggers, who had links to other bloggers. At one point, I had close to 20 windows open on my computer. The next morning, I went back to my bookmarks and saw 20 new blogs…to give you an idea of the magnitude of what I was reading that night. Throughout the entire time I was reading, I kept saying to myself, these bloggers make it sound so easy. This can’t be true.

At one point, I looked up and it was 4am. I had been these traveler blogs for over 6 hours. It was time to go to bed, but I was addicted like a child to candy after Halloween. I needed to read every article, every travel deal (even if it was dead), for fear that I would be somehow blocked from the community next day. Eventually, I put myself to bed and I woke up the next morning afternoon asking myself “was what happened last night a dream?”

After being the “game” for little under 18 months, this community is not a dream. What you read in this blog and others are not fairy tales. However, it is not easy. If you want to travel the world for close to nothing, it will take work. It takes reading travel blogs, some blind faith and an adventurous spirit. Looking back, I don’t blame my friends for not wanting to go out on the rainy night in January, I thank them. And some of them are thanking me now, as newly minted travel addicts.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Welcome to Do It For The Points!

Hello everyone! 

Welcome to our new blog, "Do It For the Points!" This blog is a little brainchild that we have been kicking around for awhile as we deal with our addiction to points and miles. We know that there are tons of points and miles blogs out there who provide amazing advice and have pushed us to where we are with our points and trips, so you might be asking yourself...why another blog? 

Well the answer is....we wanted to share our awesome travels with people and start a discussion of points and miles from the newbie side of things. We (JD and Chris) are both newly into the points game, JD is more of a veteran than Chris, but we are both still feeling our way into the miles and points world.  Overall, we wanted to share our perspective, trips, and just general questions we may have about points and miles that you might have but were too shy to ask. Don't worry....we don't mind embarrassing ourselves for you.

Now for a little bit about ourselves. We are both residents of the Washington, D.C. area and have lived here for a combined 16 years! We met in college where our motto was, "Do It For the Story" (thus the name for our blog) and we are always trying to live by that motto.

Chris graduated in May with his MA in public communication and now works in media and public relations for a non-profit organization. His goal in the next 7 years (before he turns 30) is to hit all 7 continents. He has already has 3 (North America, Europe and Australia) under his belt but needs to get going on the next four. 

Chris will be traveling with his girlfriend (a newly made points addict) Kelsey to London and Amsterdam in October on their first ever fully funded points and miles trip. The trip features UA Business Class, an overnight ferry to Amsterdam and a Lufthansa Business Class trip back home.

JD came to DC in pursuit of a degree in his passion, politics. As time went on, his love of politics diminished and he went to work in the mortgage industry. In his spare time, his hobby is points; collecting, hoarding, and spending. Like Chris, his goal is to travel to all 7 continents before he is 30 (in less than 3 years - eck!)

The goal of our blog is to bring you the tips and tricks along the way as we find them, and to also share our trip reports so we can hear your experiences on similar trips and start planning the next one. We also want this to be a place where we can all ask the questions we have as newbies to try and understand the points and miles world. We will then ask them to the people who are much smarter and well-versed in the points and miles world.

We hope you will tune in and have a chat with us on a regular basis so we can help grow this blog and tell all about our favorite trips and dream places we want to go. As always....Do It For the Points!