Sunday, March 31, 2013

Forget About That Pajama Photo in This Airline Bathroom

While bathrooms in premium cabins of aircraft are getting upgrades to include self flushing mechanisms, room for toiletries and enough space to actually have a bench to sit down and give you enough room to change your clothes in...the bathrooms in the back of the plane are getting smaller and smaller.

An article published this week in the Wall Street Journal highlighted the recent battle between the different companies who make airline toilets, which seems like a very lucrative business, are fighting to flush the competition (sorry, had to do it...) with smaller and smaller bathrooms to help airlines fit in more and more seats.

The most recent change was on the new series of 737s that will be coming out soon that will feature a bathroom that is slightly smaller than 3 feet by 3 feet. The smaller toilet and better use of space behind the sink for storage will give airlines the ability to add a few more seats. Delta is taking advantage of this and putting on four more seats to bring their total to 180 passengers on that aircraft.

So as airlines figure out how to fill those planes to the brim and fly smaller and smaller equipment on longer routes that bathroom is getting even smaller. But just be the author of the Journal article reminds us...the FAA doesn't actually require an airline to have a restroom on the lets just be thankful they have one!

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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Radisson Blu Mall of America Offer

I opened my Club Carlson Visa statement (yes, I still get paper statements) today and noticed an offer for the Radisson Blu @ the Mall of America.

The offer is broken into two options: one for those with personal cards and another for those with business cards. 

Business Cards: Earn Triple Gold Points when you book and stay at Radission Blu Mall of America, when you use your Club Carlson Visa Card.

To get this benefit, you can book online at or call 
1-800-333-3333 and ask for the Radission Blu Mall of America Business Card Triple Points Offer.

Personal Cards: Receive complimentary breakfast daily for up to 4 people and guaranteed late check out until 3pm when you use your personal Club Carlson Visa Card.

To get this benefit, you can book online at or call 1-800-333-3333 and ask for the Radission Blu Mall of America Card Breakfast Offer.

Both offers are available from now until September 2nd.

Offer is subject to availability and may not be used in combination with any other offer, package or promotion that requires the use of special promotion codes. We reserve the right to add, modify, or discontinue the Offer without notice. Void where prohibited by law. By participating in this promotion, you agree and consent to these terms and conditions.

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Friday, March 29, 2013

WSJ: Airline Passenger's Rights

The always informative and very well done "The Middle Seat" blog at the Wall Street Journal this week took a look at how passenger's rights on airlines have changed over the past few years as Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood prepares to step down.

In Sec. LaHood's time the Dept. of Transportation has implemented changes that were aimed at curbing long tarmac delays, show the full ticket cost and taxes at time of purchase, increased compensation options for involuntary bumps and my favorite option....the 24-hour cancellation on all tickets (Remember: Book first, ask questions later...well within 24-hours).

But the article highlights the failure of a committee that was formed by Congress to address the problems consumers are facing and make recommendations to Congress and the Dept of Transportation. The only recommendation that came out of it...relief areas for pets in airports. So  there seems to be many more things that need to be done. What changes would you like to see from the DOT to help improve passenger's rights?

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Delta GrandSlam Update: Delta AMEX Gold

Important Note: We talk about credit card sign-up bonuses on our blog because they are an important part of the “game.” Any credit card links in this post will be public application links taken from the issuer's direct website. We do not earn income from you applying from the links. Similarly, please take an extra minute or two before applying for credit cards. If you do not pay your credit card balance off every month then you should stay away from this aspect of the game. Credit cards can lead to major long-term problems if not used correctly. I encourage you to read my post on Young People and the Chains of Credit Card Debt for more details.  

I have been pretty silent on my Delta Grandslam, as of late. I have completed 8 of the 10 partner offers, so there is at least 1,000 Skymiles on the table. You can read more about the Delta Grand Slam here, here, and here.

Moving to another section of the Delta GrandSlam: Getting the Delta Amex Gold

The official section reads:

           "Not already a SkyMiles Credit Cardmember? Get up to 30,000 bonus miles 
           with the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express. That's 
           up to 25,000 miles for getting the Card, plus an additional 5,000 miles now 
           as a new SkyMiles member. On top of that, earn one mile for eligible everyday 
           purchases and double miles for Delta purchases. Plus, get a free checked bag on
           every Delta flight"

However, the terms and condition state:

             "Credit Card Partners: 5,000 bonus miles earned for signing up for the           
              Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card. Only approved accounts are eligible                     
              for bonus miles."

I bring the terms and conditions up, because it only states that you have to be approved for Gold Delta Skymiles Credit Card. Therefore, one can earn points for any offer out there, not just the 25,000 mile offer.

With that said, a few days a go, I received an offer via email for a 40,000 Delta SkyMiles AMEXCard. The offer requires you to spend $1,000 miles in 3 months. A link to the direct site is here. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year. The offer is good until April 28, 2013.

If you get apply and get approved by this offer, you would have 45,000 SkyMiles (40,000 from card + 5,000 from the new member bonus). There is a risk that you might not get the 5,000 bonus. However, I feel like you would have a great argument to fight them not giving them to you.

On the other hand, I have read from bloggers about a 45,000 mile offer. It takes some time, but if you go to the Hustler Money Blog he will walk you through the steps. I just tried this steps and the offer is there, as of 11pm 3/27/13. The offer is slightly harder than the one above: 25,000 miles after the first purchase, 20,000 additional after spending $5,000 in 6 months. If you get this offer, you would then have 50,000 miles (45,000 from the credit card sign-up bonus + 5,000 new member bonus).

As a friendly reminder, take a screen shot of the landing page with the offer. This will be your proof, if you need to fight it later on.

Unfortunately, I am unable to apply for this card now, because I just got some new credit cards last month. It always seems the best offers come out in the middle of my wait periods. My Delta anniversary is coming up in July, so I better get with flying with Delta, earning my last two partner rewards, and getting the AMEX card...otherwise, I am leaving valuable miles on the table . . .

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Coalition of Flight Attendants: No Knives on Planes

The recent policy change announced by the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) that would allow small knives and many items of sports equipment starting April 25 is stirring up quite the controversy. The Coalition on Flight Attendant Unions which represents over 90,000 flight attendants across the country have come out publicly against the ban and are actively campaigning for it's end.

On March 21 flight attendants across the country handed out leaflets to passengers at the airport urging their support to contact TSA and say they do not support the rule changes. Today the head of the Coalition, a flight attendant for United, went on MSNBC's Morning Joe program and indicated that the Coalition doesn't see where the TSA is coming from on this rule change and their members and the passengers they serve and protect don't either. She indicated that it seems like the TSA believes that "security stops at the cockpit door" and now flight attendants are not only expected to do their duty and keep the cabin safe, but also be prepared to take care of anyone who is acting out on the possibly with a knife. I'll post the video of the whole interview once it is available. EDIT: Here is the video from MSNBC.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

The Coalition has started a petition on the White House's website to ask the Obama administration to rescind the policy. The petition currently has almost 40,000 signatures and if it can cross the 100,000 signature mark it will require an administration response. It will be interesting to see if all of the resistance from the flying professionals will cause any change from the TSA, or if this will just make them dig in their heels even more.

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Check Your Mail: 5,000 Hyatt GoldPoint Offer

I came home tonight from a very busy day to some happiness. I received a piece of mail offering me 5,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points after spending $3,000 on the Chase Hyatt Credit Card. Scott at Hack My Trip reported getting the offer last evening just before we posted.

One needs to visit or call 1-877-532-3815.

 Since you need an enrollment code, I guess its limited to those who got it. However, check your snail mail, because I though this was a flyer talking about their Spring stay bonus and almost tossed it,

Well, time to switch some spending.

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Biscuits and BBQ: Do It For the Food Chapel Hill, NC Edition

A few weeks ago if you followed us on Twitter you might have noticed our...well JD's...consumption of a level of Voodoo doughnuts in Portland that would make Mayor Bloomberg faint. As the sugar coursed through our body we decided that it would be a great idea to start a new feature when we travel...not just reviews of the hotels or nice international flights we take, but the food that we eat.

JD and I are both foodies and are always interested in going for the best local options that new cities have to offer. You can get a real sense of the culture of a city by the local restaurants that are around and the ones that all of the locals go to. JD often plays a game when traveling that involved only going to restaurants and bars that are recommended by workers at other restaurants and bars. This way you get to the place that the people who work in the business want to sit down for a meal at. So...we bring you the first edition of...#DoItForTheFood.

Our first city is Chapel Hill, NC. As I posted on Friday I was on my own in Chapel Hill while Kelsey was busy trying to decide where she would be going to grad school next year. I knew that Chapel Hill had a great reputation for food...and the prospect of biscuits and BBQ had me salivating and I let my nose guide me to the perfect foodie day in Chapel Hill.

Starting off I walked from the University of North Carolina campus to the start of the town of Carrboro, NC. It ended up being about a 20-30 minute walk, but it was beautiful out and I needed to stretch my legs and stay active so it was well worth it. After walking for a bit I stumbled upon Jessee's Coffee and Bar and the prospect of a good cup of coffee drew me in. The small shop has about 10 tables and a big bar that you can sit at. They roast their own Espresso and Coffee and it was clear that the latte I had was fresh and the espresso roast was amazing. I also ordered an egg, bacon and cheese sandwich on a fresh made biscuit that I could have had at least 10 more of. The biscuit was warm and flaky and the egg, bacon and cheese cures whatever ails you as always. I also sampled the coffee offerings at The Looking Glass Cafe in Carrboro and it was very good if you need another option.

After walking over 5 miles and not realizing that the local buses were free I had worked up quite an appetite for lunch so I used my nose and eyes to find the restaurant along Franklin Street in Chapel Hill that seemed to have the most people in it still at 1:00 pm and ended up choosing Spanky's Restaurant & Bar . Spanky's has been a Chapel Hill institution since 1977 and their menu was inspired by local ingredients and their beer menu featured almost exclusively local brews. I sat at the bar for lunch and the service was great and all of the staff members were wonderful. I went for the BBQ sandwich (of course) which was bbq pork with a spicy NC style vinegar based sauce and topped with slaw. Now I'm a Kansas City BBQ purist and refuse to recognize that their might be a better kind of BBQ...but I gotta say...this was absolutely amazing Q. The pork was beautifully smoked and the sauce was spicy but full of flavor. I would have ordered another, but I had to save room for more biscuits the next day. ;)

After meeting up with Kelsey and wandering around Chapel Hill for a bit it was time for dinner and we wanted to have a drink along with dinner so we opted to go for the local Carolina Brewery Brewpub and Restaurant. On the drink front Kelsey went for the Sky Blue Golden Ale which was a Kolsch style ale. I went for the Copperline Amber Ale which is my favorite Red Ale with just a bit of hopps and a slight bitter aftertaste. For food we both went with the burger which was well seasoned and delicious so it really hit the spot.

Hopefully this will be a decent guide for those that are visiting Chapel Hill and looking for some options of where to eat. If you live in the area or used to live in the area and I missed out on some places, or your disagree...let me know...because I want to know where you would go so I can go there when we go back!

Now I just want biscuits and BBQ....
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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Introduction: End of Year - Tokyo Trip

My end of the year trip to Tokyo was born out of boredom. Yes, boredom. But I need to take a step back before we move forward.

2012 was year of change for me. After five years, I left my first real job at a local community bank to move to a "to big to fail" bank. After three months, I learned quickly that I did not fit well with this bank and quickly signed up with a local mortgage company. 2012 = 3 different jobs. My horoscope for 2013 says that the winds of change are finally calming down. Looking back, 2012 was one big tornado.

Back to the story, one night in November, I was at work late and had enough of this refinance "from hell" (On a side note, not telling your loan officer, you just leased a car, in the middle of your refinance, is not a good thing.) I need something to look forward to. I was having hard time justifying my work. I was the one who said "he works to travel." My last major trip was February. I needed to change my travel drought quickly. That night I put together the trip.

I knew I wanted to go to Asia, as it would knock another continent off my bucket list. Tokyo was the only destination available. My dream destination was an Asia country with warm weather and a beach, but with less than 30 days before the trip, one can't be to picky. It was either Tokyo or Connecticut for the holidays and the decision became a no brainer.

The entire trip was booked using online portals except for the Hyatt stays that had to be booked via the phone. I did not use a booking service (thought about it). I used the United website to book the outward bound flight and American Airline's website for the return flight. Therefore, anyone can recreate this trip.
As I detailed here, I used United miles for my trip from Washington, DC to Frankfurt in  United First and then onward to Tokyo on ANA in their Dreamliner. While in Tokyo, I used my free nights from the Chase Hyatt Visa to stay at the Park Hyatt for two nights. My last three nights were at the Tokyo Hilton using points for two nights and cash for the remaining night.To get home, all that was available was American First from Tokyo to Washington, DC with an overnight in Chicago. My night in Chicago was spent at the W Lakeshore.

I will breakdown my trip into 9 parts:

Tale of Two Lounges - Dulles Airport
Onward to Tokyo - First Class United & ANA Dreamliner
Castle in the Clouds - Park Hyatt Tokyo
Day Trip to Kamakura
Tokyo Hilton
A Blast From the Past - American First Class
Tale of Two Lounges - Narita Airport
The Joan Rivers Hotel - W Chicago Lakeside
Wrap-Up of Trip

I hope this trip report gives you the inspiration to start your own amazing trip. For many months, I would read other people's trip reports, wondering one day I could have my own trip. Yes, this is my second international trip paid for by points, (my first being Niger - trip report to come soon) but my first international trip for less than $500 out of pocket. Again, I hope this brings you the inspiration to start planning your own trip, because the first step in your own dream trip is the dream.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Joy and Fear of Travel

This post is coming to you from a random cafe in North Carolina and it's been something that I've been ruminating over in my head as I've been walking all morning. I'm in North Carolina so Kelsey can visit a grad school that she might be attending next year and she's spending all day doing an admitted students program so I am on my own to check out the area until 5:00. So far I've had only one biscut, which my twitter followers know already, I am disappointed in. I must find more biscuts and eat them as fast as possible.

But the real thing that I noticed as I walked around the area, and area that I have never been to before, I noticed just how much joy and fear one can get while traveling. Even when you are only a few hours from home, there is still that feeling in as you see a place for the first time.

For the most part it's a feeling of joy. It's that feeling when you are wandreing aimlessly around a new place and you go around the corner to discover something out of nothing. When it seems like the Main Street of shops that so many towns have ends...but you keep going only to find the next stretch around the corner. To people who live in the area, it's a given to them that this happens. Instead of a new discovery around the corner, they know this as the normal occurance, their everyday. In face you see it in their faces, they are here for that cup of coffee or to lunch with a friend at their favorite lunch spot. The blip on thier radar represents just something out of their routine. For represents something represents a new shop, a new coffee, a new food dish, a new culture to discover.

You think of how you go through your regular day at home without much thought to what's around's old...not in a bad way, but in a way that makes it not shocking and exciting as the first time you saw it. Think of the first time you found your favoite coffeeshop, your favorite restaurant, clothing store...anything in your town that you had previously not discovered. That feeling at first was like you were a tourist in your own town. That's the part of travel I can't get enough of.

But there are times where travel make you a bit fearful as well. Even when you are just a few hours from home there are differences. There is a natural flow of life for everyone in the area that is used to how things work. They know where the roads go, they know when to cross the street against the signal, they know which restaurants to avoid at certain hours. This makes you feel like you stick out and look silly. For me it's always standing in the exact wrong place in a shop or on public transit and feeling like I should know better, when I would have no possible way to know where to stand. It's that weird circumstance of feeling like you are an alien in your own world...but one that still blends in. It's this feeling that I both love and hate at the same time. I don't like to stand out, but I also recognize that in a new place it's unavoidable...part of the process.

But then there's that moment where you just have the pure joy of knowing that you are in someplace new...that joy of discovering that new site around the corner and stepping into a cool coffee shop to write a blog post and catch up on e-mail. That moment where that fear in your stomach is crunched down and the joy takes back over. It's those moments I love, and those moments that keep me traveling near and far from home.

I know this doesn't do much to "add" to the miles and points conversation...but I think it's something that we travelers all have knowledge of, we all have that unique joy of being in a new place and the fear of it at the same time. We are all united and packaged around the love of travel and the more we share our experiences and read the experiences of others, the more we want to travel to somewhere new. So for now...I'll just enjoy this cup of coffee, set off into the new city and try to find the joy in every moment of something new.

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Earning My Southwest Companion Pass

In my most credit card churn, see here, I got both the Southwest Personal and Business credit cards. Both cards earn 50,000 miles after spending $2,000 in three months. The reason I got both cards is to get the Southwest's Companion Pass. You can learn all about the Companion Pass on Southwest's website here. In short, the companion pass allows your chosen person to fly with you free on any purchase or free Southwest flight.

One can earn the Southwest Companion Pass by earning 110,000 miles in one calender year. The key term here is "earn." One does not need to earn the miles by flying alone.

Therefore getting the two Southwest Cards puts be almost 95% the way to a companion pass:

50,000 Point Sign-Up Bonus for Personal Card
2,000 Earned by Spending $2,000 on the Personal Card
50,000 Point Sigh-Up Bonus for Business Card
2,000 Earned by Spending $2,000 on the Business Card

So far, I have earned 104,000 Southwest Miles leaving me 6,000 miles short of the Companion Pass. I could spend $6,000 more on either or both cards and be finished, but that will divert my spending ability from other cards that I value more. Therefore, I need to find other ways of earning 6,000 Rapid Reward Miles and quickly.

Here is my plan (so far):

1,000 Filing taxes through TurboTax (Southwest Merchant Portal here)
2,000 eRewards Transfer ($100 eRewards = $2,000 Points)

I have no plan for the last 3,000 Rapid Rewards. Here are some of my ideas:

1) Transfer 5,000 Choice Privilege Points = 1,800 Rapid Reward Points
2) Transfer 5,000 Hyatt Points = 2,400 Rapid Reward Points
3) Sign Up for Southwest Dining Rewards and spend $25 = 300 Rapid Reward Points
4) Stay at a Wyndham Hotel =1,200 Rapid Reward Points

As you can see,there aren't really any cheap slam dunk ideas to get that last 3,000 points. These 3,000 points are very violable. The sooner I earn them the sooner I earn the Companion Pass.

After looking at my options, I might need to just spend the extra $3,000 on the credit cards. Not what I want to do, but what I may need to do.

Am I missing some great way of earning 3,000 Rapid Reward Points asap and cheaply?

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Latest British Airways and American Airlines Promo Not Worth It

Many other blogs posted pieces on the latest offer from British Airways that was matched by American that would give up to 20,000 bonus miles per flight when flying from the United States to Europe (Or New York to Dublin on AA Edit: Wrong Original Link. Here is the correct link for all flights from the US to Europe). If you are able to get five round-trips on BA you can earn an additional 100,000 miles.

Earn bonus Avios. Register now.

At first you are thinking...oh yeah, sign me up! But then when you dive deep into the details you discover that the only trips that are eligible for these bonus amounts are trips that are booked into full-fare tickets (i.e. F, A, J, C, D, R, I, W, E, T, Y, B or H on BA) which if you were to book right now for a week in May flying from Washington, D.C. to London would set you back $1488 in Economy, $2071 in Premium Economy and $7324 in Business Class.

It would be nice to earn all of the extra bonus miles, but unless you are sitting on a pile of cash you need to burn or you have a bunch of business trips to Europe coming up that you will be reimbursed for, it just doesn't seem like a good idea to drop nearly $1500 to just get 20,000 bonus miles per flight. Others may disagree with me, but I look at this from the perspective of myself who can't spend anywhere close to $1500 on a plane ticket and is in this hobby to avoid doing just that. Yes the return is nice, but I could think of so many other things I could spend $1500 on and get to my travel goals just as well. It may work for some, but I'll take a pass till a better offer comes along.
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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Antarctica: The Last Frontier

I have written many times of traveling to all 7 continents in business class by my 30th birthday. I turn the Big 30 in May 2015. To achieve my goal, I will need to head to the world's last frontier.

That is why I was shocked and saddened by this Yahoo article about tourism in Antarctica.

According to the article, 35,000 visitors visited Antarctica for tourism reasons, last year. That number is down from the height of 48,000 visitors in the 1980s, and up from 27,000 in 2011-2012.  Getting to Antarctica can only be done by boat or flight. For more information, go to the website of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators.

However, trips to Antarctica are no longer sightseeing excursions. The article says, "now people want to go paragliding, waterskiing, diving or a variety of other things."  The result of the increased tourism on the ecological system is unknown. However, "the United Nations' shipping agency, the International Maritime Organization, barred the use of heavy fuel oil below 60 degrees latitude south in 2011." This binding rule hurt the cruise industry by limiting the size of the ships going to the continent. Further proposed rules would further limit the size of ships touring around Antarctica to those with less than 500 passengers.

Why does this mean for me? Nothing really except that the trip is going to cost me more money than expected. Small cruise ships = more money. Points will only get me so far on this trip. Good thing that I have started my Antarctica fund, a little bit each paycheck. 

T-minus 26 months until the BIG 3 0!

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Saving 50,000 Club Carlson Points and Getting A Free Night!

Kelsey and I are still "massaging" our Australia itinerary that includes stop overs in Singapore and Bangkok for 23 hours each and now that we have our flights mostly routed the way we want them we have moved onto our hotels.

Right now we have:

Two nights at the Park Hyatt Sydney using our two Hyatt nights from the Hyatt visa
Two nights at the Hilton Cairns using one free weekend night from the Hilton Reserve card and 35,000 points (Great Barrier Reef Trip)
One night at the Hilton Sydney using our second free weekend night from the Hilton Reserve Card
One night at the Radisson Blu Sydney using 15,000 Club Carlson points and $115
One night at the Conrad in Singapore for 40,000 Hilton points
One night at the Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit, Bangkok for 10,000 SPG points

As I was looking at our itinerary and not really feeling good about paying for the cash and points option at the Radisson Blu Sydney I went to read Angelina's post at Just Another Points Traveler about her trip with her father to Australia. They were also staying at the Radisson Blu in Sydney but they had used the power of the Club Carlson Visa card to the fullest. If you are redeeming Club Carlson points for a reward night and need at least two (2) nights the last night on your reservation is free. So you can redeem just one night of Club Carlson points and get a second night for free! Why mess around using more points than needed and I could pull back a Hilton free weekend night certificate for another time!

So I quickly went to the Club Carlson site and put in a search for two nights and found pleanty of availability at the Radisson Blu in Sydney for 50,000 points per night. I went to book and saw a note that as long as the Club Carlson visa cardholder was on the reservation the last night would be automatically free. After booking it was confirmed that for two nights I was only deducted 50,000 points and after canceling my old reservation I even got 15,000 points back into my account for another booking later!

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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Why I Joined Best Buy's Reward Zone

Yesterday, I signed up for a new loyalty program: Best Buy's Reward Zone.

I have never had a Reward Zone account, weird because I shop at Best Buy often. I think that the reason why I never got an account was that it once had a cost to be part of it. I don't know when they stopped charging for Reward Zone, but ever since the program has had a bad taste.

Something changed yesterday. I don't what, but I now have a loyalty program that I am earning points for.

The main point of the Reward Zone program is to give rewards for loyal customers. For every 250 points, one earns a $5 gift certificate to use at Best Buy. One earns 1 point for $1 spent at Best Buy or

To join, go here.

Now one can earn points by completing activities or answering polls on the Reward Zone Facebook page. In addition, one can earn Reward Zone points by answering Audience Reward questions. Weekly, one can earn 12 points by answering 6 questions right (2pts per correct answer).

What really got me to sign-up is their current offer, spent $10 or more in-store or online, earn 500 points: enough for a $10 reward coupon. All one has to do is to complete a purchase over $10 (after discounts), by March 23, in store or online and provide your Reward Zone Number. 500 Reward Zone points will be deposited into your account shortly thereafter. Of course, one should use this promotion online and go through a shopping portal to earn extra points.

Why am I writing about Reward Zone on a travel points blog, first free money is free money and simple free money is a no brainer. Second, Reward Zone points can be transferred into airline points through

1,000 Reward Zone Points (as of 3/16/13) can be traded into:

170 Areoplan Miles
131 AAdvantage Miles
255 Asia Miles
139 Frontier Miles
255 Priority Club Points
131 United Mileage Plus Miles
237 US Airway Miles
124 Alaskan Airways Miles
200 Amtrak Miles
107 Virgin Atlantic Miles

While transferring Reward Zone points into miles won't earn you a ton of miles directly. Many times airlines have promotions that give you bonus miles when you complete partner activities ie US Airways GrandSlam RIP, Delta's New Member Bonus, or United's 25% Bonus.

Since Best Buy's Reward Zone is free, it can't hurt to sign up. Worst case, I transfer all the miles to an airline through

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Saturday, March 16, 2013

5,000 Bonus Points for Shuttle Flights with US Airways

I just got an email from US Airways with a promotion offering 5,000 bonus miles for every 3rd segment flown before May 31st, 2013.

A maximum of 50,000 points can be earned with this promotion.

To participate, one needs to register here.

This promotion is very similar to the one I wrote about here, where US Airways offered 1,000 points per shuttle flight..

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Insiders Guide to the National Cherry Blossom Festival

The Yoshino cherry trees, which were first given to the United States in 1912 by the mayor of Tokyo as a gift to Washington, D.C. are well on their way to peek bloom levels and that only means one thing....the tourists are coming....oh sorry sorry sorry I put on my DC hat there for a second. No, it means that one of the most beautiful times of the year to be in Washington, D.C. is on it's way: The National Cherry Blossom Festival which runs from March 20 to April 14, 2013 in and around the Tidal Basin area of the city.

If you want the insiders guide to the Cherry Blossom Festival, we've got you covered. This year it looks like there is some disagreement as to when the trees will hit their "Peak Bloom" when over 70% of the blooms are open. The National Parks Service, which maintains the Tidal Basin and the Yoshino cherry trees, estimates that the Peak Bloom will occur between March 26-30. The weather forecasters over at the Washington Post say that the bloom might actually occur closer to April 5 due to a colder winter. But the first signs of the blossoms should be coming in the next few weeks so even if you aren't in town for the peak bloom days you will still get a good view of all of these beautiful trees.

 The bad part about the Cherry Blossom Festival is that it is one of the busiest times in Washington, D.C. for tourists. It's right around spring break time for lots of schools and that means families and 8th grad3 Washington trips as far as the eye can see. As a visitor to the city this may not phase you that much, but you will notice it at the Tidal Basin if you try and go in the middle of the day or on the weekends. If you go during those times be prepared to squeeze your way through everyone and having a difficult time getting a good shot of the trees without someone in the background.

If you want to live DC like a local and see the Cherry Blossoms without too much hassle you have to plan on going down on a weekday morning before everyone else has a chance to make it down and while Washingtonians are busy working.

The easiest way to get to the Tidal Basin is to take the Metro system to Smithsonian station. You will want  to go early, but on a weekday just wait until after 9:00 and you will be much happier because commuters will not be blowing by you or rushing you onto a train. But, make sure you follow the basic rules of the DC Metro system. On all escalators you stand on the right and walk on the left side. Safest bet is for everyone to just stand in a single file on the right side and you won't get grief from anyone trying to run for the train. Second rule is that once you reach the bottom of that escalator, keep walking! If you stop at the bottom that means everyone behind you will keep moving and run into don't want this. Third rule is that the easiest way to figure out our Metro system is to look where you are going and find the color of the line that you need to take and the end station on the end of that line. All trains have their line color and the end station (with a few exceptions during rush hour) on them so you know you are on the right train. If you are going to use the Metro system for your whole visit, which I would recommend, consider getting a SmartTrip Card  which will cost you $10 per card, but it will get you $5 in Metro fare and you can reload it at any time and it will save you $1 per use over a paper card.

 When you arrive at the Smithsonian station you will exit on the Independence Avenue side and you will want to cross Independence Avenue and walk on the south side of the street until you cross 15th Street SW and you will take a left and walk down 15th St until you hit Maine Ave SW and you will see the Tidal Basin across the street. The cherry blossoms are all around the Tidal Basin but most people crowd around the area right by Maine Ave so make sure you walk around until you get rid of the main mess of crowds  and you will have a spectacular view!

There is one parking lot that has very very limited parking so unless you have someone with you that has trouble walking or has a disability I would suggest you save yourself the headaches and stress and just let Metro do the driving and work. In the end you be much more excited to enjoy this view as long as you want.

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Friday, March 15, 2013

JD's Newbie Hotel Choice

Important Note: JD and I may talk about the loyalty credit card for our particular airline and hotel in these posts. Credit card sign-up bonuses are an important part of the “game.” Any credit card links in this post will be public application links taken from the issuer's direct website. We do not earn income from you applying from the links. Similarly, please take an extra minute or two before applying for credit cards. If you do not pay your credit card balance off every month then you should stay away from this aspect of the game. Credit cards can lead to major long-term problems if not used correctly. I encourage you to read JD's post on Young People and the Chains of Credit Card Debt for more details.  

This is the last part of Chris and I’s debate on best newbie hotels and airlines. Other parts of our debates can be seen by clicking the links below:

I was having a hard time picking my newbie hotel. Many would probably guess, I would go with Hilton. I wrote here, why I am sticking with Hilton, even as others around running to other hotels. The benefits of Gold status (upgrades, breakfast, extra points) are very valuable. However, the recent increase in the number of points for a free nights made me think twice as naming it "Best Hotel for Newbies."

That title for me goes to Starwood. Say What!

Yes, Starwood is my choice for Best Newbie Hotel.

Starwood Hotels and Resorts has 9 different hotel brands: Aloft, Four Points, Sheraton, Westin, Le Meridean, Element, W, St. Regis and Luxury Collection. With over 1,100 hotels in 100+ countries, Starwood has hotels in almost anywhere you are headed.

The main reason that I am nominating Starwood as Best Newbie Hotel are the reward redemption's. Starwood's loyalty program is called Starwood Preferred Guest or known as SPG, in the mile world.  SPG gives you multiple ways to redeem Starwood points. The most straight forward way to redeem point is for free nights. Starwood Hotels are divided into seven (7) categories with higher category hotels costing more points per night than lower category hotels.

As you can see, SPG gives you the 5 nights for the cost of 4 night, when redeeming points for
categories 3-7. Week long redemption stays are cheaper, because of SPG 5th Night Free feature.

SPG has another feature that let's you stretch your points further: Points + Cash.

As you can see, one can spend points and cash to upgrade better rooms or even suites. I don't know if the spending the points on a suite is the best use, but there are times that it is well worth it: proposing to your girlfriend, impressing the in-laws or throwback high school hotel party.

There is a redemption chart for upgrades paid solely with points, as well:

One of the most interesting uses for SPG points is Flights and Nights. SPG gives you the ability to turn 60,000 Starpoints into 5 nights in a category 3 hotel and 50,000 airline miles or 70,000 Starpoints into 5 nights in a category 4 hotel and 50,000 airline points. The Miles Professor writes here how she use this redemption option to get two nights at the Conrad Tokyo (she transferred the miles to Virgin Atlantic)

I think the redemption option that makes Starwood stand out compared to other hotels is the ability to transfer points to an airline of your choice. What makes Starwood stand out is the transfer rate: 1 to 1. Starwood allows you to transfer their points into 29 different airlines. Only 6 of the 29 airlines don't transfer at a ratio of 1 SPG to 1 airline miles. Go here to see the list of airlines that Starwood allows its members to transfer to. As a basic member, the minimum number of SPG points one must transfer is 2500.

While I told you how you can spend the points with SPG, the other side of the coin is how one earns is SPG points. There are four major ways of earning SPG points:

Stay at their Hotels: 

Members at Preferred Guest level earn two (2) Starpoints for every eligible dollar spent on participating points. One can earn more points per dollar by gaining status within SPG.

Get and Use SPG Card:

Starwood offers a personal and business cobranded AMEX credit card. Currently, the offer is 25,000 SPG points after spending $5,000 in six months (10,000 points after first use and 15,000 points after spending six months). You earn 5 SPG per dollar spent at Starwood Hotels and 1 SPG per dollar on anything else. 

For the past two summers, the offer has increased to 30,000 SPG. I would wait until July to see if the offer comes up unless you need the card now!

Buy Starwood Points

I was hesitant to add this option, but it is an earning option. To buy points go here. Currently, you can save somewhere between 15% to 25% off buying points. Typically, you can by $0.035 per SPG point with a minimum 500 point buy.


Transfer points from American Express Membership Rewards or Diner's Club

Frequently, Starwood has promotions to give you the option of increasing your points balance. For instance, in the past two quarters, SPG has offered targeted members opportunities to earn free nights or bonus points by staying at their hotel.

Yes, its nice that they have multiple brands for different price points. Its also great that they have more than 1,100 properties in 100 countries. The bread in butter is your ability to spend the points. Unlike Hilton or Club Carlson, a small amount of points can go far with Starwood. With free nights starting as cheaply as 3,000 or 4,000 points and the option to mix cash and points, a small amount of points can go pretty far. That is why I am recommending SPG for newbies. 
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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Chris' Newbie Hotel Choice: Join the Club

Important Note: JD and I may talk about the loyalty credit card for our particular airline and hotel in these posts. Credit card sign-up bonuses are an important part of the “game.” Any credit card links in this post will be public application links taken from the issuer's direct website. We do not earn income from you applying from the links. Similarly, please take an extra minute or two before applying for credit cards. If you do not pay your credit card balance off every month then you should stay away from this aspect of the game. Credit cards can lead to major long-term problems if not used correctly. I encourage you to read JD's post on Young People and the Chains of Credit Card Debt for more details. 

Now that we have round one of our "newbie challenge" out of the way (read each of our airlines of choice here and here) we will wait for the judges to tabulate the scores and move onto the next round. 

This time it'! Since JD got to start off the airline round, it's my turn to start off the hotel round. My favorite hotel chain for newbies in the points game is.....Club Carlson.

Club Carlson

Club Carlson is the loyalty program for the Carlson Rezidor hotel group which features brands like Radisson, Radisson Blu, Park Plaza, Park Inn by Radisson and Country Inn & Suites by Carlson (Details on each here). They have over 1,000 hotel locations around the world and are currently expanding heavily. I previously wrote about Club Carlson as a possible alternative for Hilton users who were looking to take their loyalty to another hotel after their most recent devaluation. I think that recommendation is something still to consider, but if you are just starting to look for a new hotel program to join, well join them all, but a focus on Club Carlson is a good move. 

The main reason I recommend Club Carlson for newbies is just how easy it is to earn their points, and in turn spend them. Just by signing up you become a "Red" level member and you will earn 20 points per dollar spent on your reservation and you get an extra 1,000 points by booking on Club Carlson's website. If you stay more times at Club Carlson you can move up their elite level to Silver after 15 nights or 10 stays, Gold after 35 nights or 20 stays or Concierge after 75 nights or 30 stays per calendar year.

If you are a Silver or Gold member you earn 2,000 points by booking on the website and 3,000 points at the top Concierge level of status. In addition to the extra points you are eligible for other benefits such as room upgrades, late check-out and points bonuses. When free nights start at 9,000 points per night...that adds up quickly.

Club Carlson Award Chart

Club Carlson also allows you to book awards with a combination of Cash and Points. It depends on the Category of the hotel you are booking, but these are often very reasonable.

 Club Carlson has regularly also offered points earning opportunities just by staying a few nights. Last year during their Big Night Giveaway you could earn 50,000 points just by staying one night at a Radisson and 40,000 miles for staying one night at a Country Inn & Suites or Park Inn. This past fall they also offered the opportunity to get one night free in the United States after staying one night at any property. Through these promotions Kelsey and I earned enough points to secure two nights at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Mercer Street in London (Category 6 Hotel) and the Radisson Blu in Amsterdam (Category 6 Hotel) for two nights for free.

Recently Club Carlson also introduced a set of Visa Cards with some amazing bonus opportunities. Note that the issuer is US Bank who is notorious about denying applications or downgrading to lower cards upon application. So...double-check your credit levels and make sure you know which card you are offered after applying and as a good steward of your credit and don't take on more than you can spend. 

If you are approved for the Club Carlson Premier Rewards card, the top card, you are eligible to get 85,000 Club Carlson points (50,000 after the first purchase and an additional 35,000 after spending $2,500 in the first 90 days) which will almost get you to two free nights at a Category 6 hotel, their top level. But where you really get the bang for the buck is in the earning potential. Beyond they normal points bonuses you get 10 points per dollar spend at Club Carlson hotels and 5 points per dollar spent at other merchants. You are also gifted Club Carlson Gold Status for as long as you hold the card. my opinion the best feature is the Bonus Award Night feature which means that if you redeem points for two or more consecutive award nights, the last night is free! 

The great rewards program, the large number of locations worldwide and the potential to earn points easily for free nights to dream locations, or just around the corner from home, make Club Carlson the perfect choice for a newbie looking for a good hotel chain to start with!
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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Google Reader Ending July 1, 2013

I know that this isn't directly travel related, but stay with me for a minute. The best way I have found to keep track of all of the frequent flyer blogs and news that I read on a daily basis is through Google Reader. It keeps everything organized and brings new content to me as soon as it's posted.

When I logged in a few minutes ago I got a message that said Google Reader was ending as of July 1, 2013 and took me to this blog post. I am so sad to see this feature go and sad that Google isn't seeing value from it anymore. So...I need a new RSS feed...what do you use?


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Chris' Newbie Airline of Choice

Important Note: JD and I may talk about the loyalty credit card for our particular airline and hotel in these posts. Credit card sign-up bonuses are an important part of the “game.” Any credit card links in this post will be public application links taken from the issuer's direct website. We do not earn income from you applying from the links. Similarly, please take an extra minute or two before applying for credit cards. If you do not pay your credit card balance off every month then you should stay away from this aspect of the game. Credit cards can lead to major long-term problems if not used correctly. I encourage you to read JD's post on Young People and the Chains of Credit Card Debt for more details. 

Alright it's time to keep this throw down going. JD made some valid points and got a few nods from the judges...but now it's my turn to lay the hammer down. (Stop: Hammer Time? Sorry sorry I digress). 

My newbie airline of choice, and my personal airline of choice, is......United Airlines! 

I miss the Dreamliner 
As you might know United's frequent flyer program is known as MileagePlus and United as an airline is a member of the Star Alliance. When you accumulate United MileagePlus miles you can use them to over 370 destinations worldwide on United or one of their 26 partner airlines. The hubs for United include: Newark's Liberty International Airport, Houston, Cleveland, Denver, Washington Dulles, Los Angeles, Chicago O'Hare and San Francisco. 

Image Via United Airlines 
The wide range in hubs gives United the edge over US Airways, though post merger with American this will change a bit, but for now it offers tons of different choices all over the country. With most flights on US Airways you know you will have to go through one of three locations, with United your options will be much more abundant and should offer more choices in comparison. 

You can access award travel within the continental United States, Canada and Alaska for 12,500 miles each-way in economy and 50,000 miles to Europe in business. I know this is more than US Airways, but what I believe is an advantage is that you can use your miles for a one-way trip. If you only have enough miles for half of the award, you can book half of the award. With US Airways you are stuck until you have enough to get that 110,000 miles to get to Africa via US Airways. With their current credit card sign up bonus and no Grand Slam promotion to earn valuable miles quickly....United is gaining the edge here. 

As with US Airways you can currently use your United miles on any of their Star Alliance partners. I have used United miles to book flights on Lufthansa in the past and in July we will be using our miles to experience the great service on Thai Airways and Singapore Airlines. When US Airways moves to the oneworld alliance they will still have some great redemption options, but I don't think they are quite up to the level of Star Alliance. Especially with the availability in Asia and the South Pacific that Star Alliance has. United wins on this one here in my book as well. 

Like US Airways, United has the option to earn a decent sign up bonus via their MileagePlus Explorer credit card. The current offer is to earn 30,000 MileagePlus points for $1000 in spending during the first three months. The annual fee of $95 is waived for the first year. This card has had much better sign up bonuses in the past, but I have no idea what will happen in the future...but for all of our sakes I hope it goes back up! Where I think the MileagePlus card has the most value if you are a casual traveler is in the benefits. Your first checked bag is free, which is nice if you have to pack a little bit more. Also you are able to have Priority Boarding privileges in Group 2. That's in the same group as me as a Premier Silver and Premier Gold members. You also get two passes a year to the United Club which is a great way to try out the airline club lifestyle without committing to the fee for a full year membership. 

United also has many of the same other ways to earn extra miles that are equivalent to US Airways, like shopping portals and dining rewards so that's a push in my opinion. 

But where I think United has the edge is from the same exact position that JD uses to justify US Airways...the future. United had some growing pains during their merger with Continental and I understand why some long time fliers are angry at them. But they seem to be getting the kinks out and starting to integrate in better ways which is making for a much better airline. US Airways is going to go through those same growing pains (in different ways, of course) when they merge with American Airlines. What this means, we don't really know, but for now I would rather take the airline that is clear of mergers and is finally getting their feet again. That and for the most part the people at United are very nice. There are a few bad apples, as is to be expected, but for the most part their employees are awesome. Though to become a truly awesome airline they HAVE to be better at social media. 

United has been my favorite airline for years now, and was the first one I ever focused on as my only airline giving me the first opportunity to earn status. The earning options, route networks and partner availabilities make them my newbie airline of choice. Plus...when your airline theme song is Rhapsody in Blue...can you really go wrong? 

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

JD's Newbie Airline Choice

Important Note:  Chris and I may talk about the loyalty credit card for our particular airline and hotel in these posts. Credit card sign-up bonuses are an important part of the “game.” If we do decided to use credit card links, they will be public application links taken from the issuer's direct website. We do not earn income from you applying from the links. Similarly, please take an extra minute or two before applying for credit cards. If you do not pay your credit card balance off every month then you should stay away from this aspect of the game. Credit cards can lead to major long-term problems if not used correctly. I encourage you to read my post on Young People and the Chains of Credit Card Debt for more details.

My choice for the best airline for a Newbie is US Airways. Unconventional choice, many of you are saying.

US Airways’s frequent flyer program is called Dividend Miles. With Dividend Miles, US Airways can get you free flights to over 200 destination in the US, Canada, Mexico, Europe, the Middle East, the Caribbean, Central and South America. US Airways has hubs in Charlotte, NC, Philadelphia, and Phoenix and a large focus city in Washington, DC.

Why is this important?

It allows you to get regularly within the United States for as cheap as 25,000 Dividend Miles and Europe and South America for as little as 60,000 Dividend Miles. In addition, throughout the year, US Airways has time periods that offers discounts on award travel. For example, in 2014, one can spend 35,000 miles for a seat to South America in economy, during February 3- 13 & March 17-April 3.

If you want to spend the miles on premium seats, US Airways can help as well. A ticket to Africa in Business Class costs you 110,000 miles and even stranger a trip to Northern Asia with a stopover in Europe cost only 90,000 miles. This is compared to 120,000 United Mileage Plus Miles for business class to Northern Asia or Africa. American Airlines business class seat costs 150,000 miles to Africa and 100,000 miles to Northern Asia.

The other major benefit of Dividend Miles is that it can be used on other carriers. US Airways is a member, for the near future, of the Star Alliance. This is a golden opportunity. The Star Alliance is made up of over 25 International Airlines and flies to over 1,300+ airports in 190+ countries. Dividend Miles opens the world to you.

The ability to easily spend Dividend Miles is not the only reason, why I am recommending US Airways to my newbie friends. Dividend Miles are very easy to obtain, as well. For instance, US Airways has a cobranded card with Barclays. The offer on the US Airways Main Page offers 30,000 miles after your first purchase with an $89 annual fee. Not many credit cards offer that many points after a first use.

Another way to obtain points is to buy them. Every month, US Airways has offers that range from 30% to 100% mileage bonuses. I don't recommend buying points. Yes, it can bank you easy points, but the cost does not always make sense. However, if you are short 10,000 mile to get an award trip, US Airways constant mileage promotions will make the award trip cheaper.

Another way to earn Dividend Miles is to use various US Airway partners. From eating out Dining Rewards to clicking on links through eMiles, Dividend Miles can be earn by doing almost everything in your life. If you are staying at hotels or rent cars, many Dividend Miles can be earn as well. Finally, you can earn miles at the ratio of one (1) mile flown = one (1) mile earned on many Star Alliance airlines.

The final reason why US Airways is a great airline for newbies is the future. US Airways and American Airlines is eventually going to merge into one airline. Subsequently, the Dividends Miles and AAdvantage programs will become one. If history is any indicator of the future, Dividend Miles will transfer 1 to 1 into AAdvantage similar to the Continental and United merger. Therefore, when US Airways leaves the Star Alliance for OneWorld, your miles can be used there as well. It is the best of both worlds. You can use your miles now in the Star Alliance or later in the OneWorld Alliance.

US Airways Dividend Miles was my first frequent flyer account and over the past 12+ years, it has treated me well and I know it will treat you, newbie, equally as well.

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