Sunday, June 30, 2013

Getting Real & What's Up For July

Last week, I got a phone call from my Grandfather. The phone call is not out of the ordinary, as we speak once or twice a week anyways. What was out of the ordinary was the conversation. It went something like this:

Grandfather: I was reading your blog the other day.
Me: Wait you read my blog?
Grandfather: Of course, I read your blog. I read it a few times a week.
Me: Interesting.
Grandfather: Well, I like the content, but I have a question, "how do you earn points?"
Me: What?
Grandfather: You talk frequently about using points, but not so often about earning points.

I hate to say it, but the old man is correct.

We have discussed how to plan for your dream trip and spent a great deal of time talking about burning points. But how does one earn these points & miles is a question we have failed to explain. One can't burn miles if one doesn't have them.

This is going to change. July, at Do It For the Points is Earning Month is earning month. Every day in July, we will write about one way to earn United miles. Why United miles? Well, Chris is a big fan of the Star Alliance and I need to build my balance up in my United account. While we will be talking about earning miles on United, many of the ways discussed apply to other airlines and hotels.

What are some of your favorite ways to earn United miles?

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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Splitting Flights to Get Thai First Class Three Times - Worth It?

As Kelsey and I continue to get more and more excited (and exhausted) for our move to Seattle via Australia and Asia we keep making changes to our itinerary.

So far we've added stops in Bangkok, Hong Kong, Singapore and a brief stop in Tokyo on the way back from Sydney. As a part of the trip we are trying to sample as many Star Alliance airlines as we can on the way back and take advantage of the awesome airline and airport offerings we can. Right now our legs look like this:

Sydney - Bangkok in Thai First
Bangkok - Hong Kong in Thai First
Hong Kong - Singapore in Singapore Business
Singapore - Bangkok in Singapore Business
Bangkok - Tokyo in Thai Business*
Tokyo - Seattle in ANA Business

When we booked the original itinerary at the business class level, but after hearing how awesome Thai First Class out of Bangkok is from Keri over at Heels First (Seriously Thai should hire her to market their airline) we knew we had to upgrade our flights to Thai First out of Bangkok. As a result we ended up with the Sydney to Bangkok leg also being in First Class. But why take advantage of the amazing amenities of the airline, including a free one-hour massage, just one...when you could do it twice?!?!

To position ourselves in Tokyo for the restart of the ANA Tokyo-Seattle route (sadly not on the 787 when we are flying it) we couldn't get a direct flight from Singapore to Tokyo. The routing options took us through Bangkok and then an overnight flight from Bangkok to Tokyo. When we changed only business class was available so I set up an Expert Flyer alert for any open space in first class. Well last week that alert triggered..only one was for just one seat, not two. So we decided to stay in business so we could stay together in Bangkok and enjoy the flight together. But after a little bit of digging we found that Thai operates another overnight flight from Bangkok to Tokyo that leaves an hour earlier. We looked on Expert Flyer and found that it had one open seat.

So it was decision in business on the same flight or split up and arrive within an hour of each other and get another free massage. That was an easy massage!!!! The only thing I am jealous about is that Kelsey's flight on Thai's 777-300ER is scheduled to have their "Suites" class of service...while I am stuck on the 747...though I hope it will be the new layout of one per row, rather than two per row. But hey....that's a pretty good problem to have if you ask me!

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Friday, June 28, 2013

Secondary Benefit of American Express Card: Return Protection

Credit cards have three levels of benefits: initial, primary, and secondary. Most of the time, we only focus on the initial and primary benefits of credit cards.

Initial Benefits: Sign-up bonuses in the form of points, miles, free flights, and nights

Primary Benefits: Miles/Points per $1 spent, threshold bonus (spend $20,000 in a year and earn X)

As one can see, the initial and primary benefits tend to be the ones that get the fancy promotions, the mention by fellow bloggers, and big bold print when the credit card. What gets lost is that many credit cards off valuable secondary benefits.

Secondary Benefits: Rental Car Protection, Travel Insurance, Lost Luggage and Roadside Assistance

Yesterday, I learned that American Express has a great secondary benefit that I might use: Return Protection. As detailed here, American Express will reimburse one up to $300 for any item that a merchant will not accept back up to $1,000 annually. Here are the caveats of the program:

1) Must have made the original purchase with an American Express card

2) Purchase must have been made within the past 90 days

3) Card member must maintain permanent residence in the United States

4) The item trying to be return can't be: animals and living plants; one-of-a-kind items; limited 
     edition items; going-out-of-business sale items; consumable or perishable items with 
     llimited life spans; jewelry; watches; services and additional costs; rare and precious coins; 
     used, altered, rebuilt and refurbished items; custom-built items, cellular phones; pagers; 
     compact discs; digital video discs; mini discs; audiotapes; videotapes; computer 
     software; firmware (such as console games, Nintendo, etc.); maps; books of any kind; 
     health care items; formal wear; tickets of any kind; motorized vehicles and their parts; 
     land and buildings; firearms; ammunition; negotiable instruments (such as promissory notes, 
     stamps and travelers checks); cash and its equivalent; and items permanently affixed to home, 
     office, vehicles, etc.

5) Must return the item to American Express 

This secondary benefit could be very helpful for stores with only 30 and 60 day return policies. I forget to return items often. I tend to buy a lot and return 80% of it. However, sometimes I get burned by 30 and 60 day return policies, because I forgot that I purchased something. Return protection can save me money and may justify a credit card's annual fee.

One question about this benefit, where does all the returned merchandise go? Is there an American Express Return store somewhere?
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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Daydream with American Airlines and Get Entered to Win 25,000 Miles

Are you one of those miles and points collectors that likes to daydream about your next vacation? Do you stare longingly at route maps to see where you miles can jet you off to? Well, American Airlines has a contest for just that. Their new AAdvantage Award map is a cool way to see what destinations you could go to with your miles and they are launching a contest that could earn you 25,000 AAdvantage miles. Everyday will feature on 25,000 mile winner. All you have to do is go to this link, watch a quick background video on the map, open the map and daydream for a bit and then go back to enter the contest. It's as simple as that! So...what are you waiting for?

American AirlinesReservationsRedeem MilesMy AccountDealsoneworld
Get caught daydreaming. Today it could be worth 25,000 AAdvantage® miles.

We've all been there. Your mind starts drifting. You take a quick mental vacation. Then someone catches you daydreaming. It can be awkward.

But now it can be incredibly rewarding.

You could win 25,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® miles if we catch you daydreaming, when you use
our new AAdvantage Award Map. Every day one lucky traveler will win 25,000 miles to help make their
daydream a reality.

Go ahead. Explore our new Award Map. See where your miles can take you and let the daydreaming begin!
Start Daydreaming

If you don't win the daily price you will most likely get an offer to take off 2,500 miles for your next redemption if you book using the map for travel between September 4 and November 20!

Dear Christopher,

Thank you for sharing your daydream with us. Now, make that daydream a reality. Use your miles to book a flight via Award Map, for travel between September 4 and November 20, and earn 2,500 miles back.*

And, come back tomorrow for another chance to win 25,000 AAdvantage miles. All you have to do is get caught daydreaming, and you'll win!

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Amazing Hyatt Promotion’s Amazing Promotion Material

Yesterday, Chris wrote about summer bonus for Chase Hyatt cardholders. This is the second bonus, this year, that the Chase Hyatt I have been targeted. Both times, what has impressed me more than the actual size and ease to obtain the bonus is the promotional material.

This packaging stands out from one’s normal junk mail.

Excuse me trying to rip the shipping label off\

Inside, the promotional material is clean, eye catching and easy to follow.

Kudos to the marketing folks at Chase for such amazing promotional material!

Do you like Chase's promotion material?

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Whats in My Wallet & Sock Drawer

The Frequent Miler had an article about which annual fee cards he is planning on keeping. It got me thinking about my own credit cards.

Quite a few are up for their annual fee and its time to make some decisions. Do I keep the credit card and pay the annual fee or singing “na na na, hey hey good-bye,” to it. The decision is not easy, because I deduct credit card annual fees from my travel budget. They are an expense to my travel hobby/addiction. Keep to many and the annual fees can add up quickly.

Here is a list of all the credit cards in my possession and my thinking at the moment of keeping or canceling:


Banana Republic (no annual fee)
Hilton AMEX (no annual fee)
US Airways World Mastercard (no annual fee – oldest credit line)
Capitol One Card (no annual fee)
Chase Hyatt ($79 annual fee – free night on anniversary)
Chase Priority Club ($49 annual fee – free night on anniversary)
US Bank Club Carlson ($75 annual fee - 40,000 point anniversary bonus)


Chase Sapphire ($95 – 7% dividend every January – last years’s: 1500 points)
Chase Southwest – Personal ($99 annual fee, 6,000 miles anniversary bonus)
Chase Southwest – Business ($99 annual fee, 6,000 miles anniversary bonus)
Alaska Airlines ($75 annual fee, $99 companion pass each anniversary)
US Airways Premier World Mastercard ($89 annual fee, - 10,000 miles anniversary bonus)

Bye Bye

Chase British Airways ($99 annual fee)
Chase United Airways ($95 annual fee)
Delta AMEX ($95 annual fee)
Citi American Airlines ($95 annual fee)

Last weekend, I wrote that one of the keys to a great credit card is a bonus on the anniversary especially if there is an annual fee. As reflected above, those credit cards with annual fees that I am keeping offer me that anniversary bonus. I have great credit, use my credit card frequently and always pay my bills on time, I should be reward for keeping their credit in my rotation. Yes, that sounds spoiled, but every time I swipe their card, they earn money. And I swipe alot!

As stated above, one of the main reasons I let cards go is the hit to my travel budget from the annual fees. If I kept all the cards above, the annual fees would be over $1,000 or 1/3 of my travel budget. Wasting a 1/3 of my travel budget on credit card annual fee is crazy.

The decision to keep or cancel a credit card is an important part of the game. Annual fees are not going away anytime soon. To succeed in this game, one must way the cost associated with having a credit card vs. the benefits that you receive from it.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Earn 5,000 Bonus Hyatt Gold Passport Points

If you are Chase Hyatt Credit Card holder check your mail for a summer bonus offer that could earn you a bonus 5,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points if you spend $3,000 or more on your Hyatt Credit Card from July 1 to September 30.

The 5,000 bonus is in addition to the points that you will earn on your $3,000 spend. Hyatt has a helpful breakdown of extra points that you could earn on various items. You can earn 3 points per $1 spent at Hyatt properties, 2 points per $1 spent at restaurants, airline tickets purchased directly from the airline or at car rental agencies, finally 1 point per $1 spent anywhere else. So on the low end you can earn 8,000 extra Hyatt points for $3,000 in spending.

This is a good deal if you are not in the process of meeting a minimum spend on another credit card and you are in the market to gain some Hyatt points. If you have a Hyatt redemption in mind, its even better. With top Hyatt properties at a very accessible 22,000 points putting an 8,000 point dent is always a plus.

To register you can visit or call 1-877-532-3803 to register.
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Monday, June 24, 2013

Building The Best Credit Card

Credit cards are valuable tools in "winning"  in the points & miles game. To often, people focus only on the sign-up bonus when choosing whether to sign-up for a credit card; overlooking the other benefits the card may provide.

One of the questions that has been swirling in my head is, "what makes a great credit card?"

Image taken from random Google search
All of my favorite credit cards tend to have similar secondary benefits:
  1.     No foreign transaction fees
  2.     Status of some kind
  3.     Anniversary Bonus (free night, extra points)
  4.     Bonus for spending x dollars in a year (status, extra points, free night)
  5.     Primary rental car coverage (I don't have car or car insurance)
Lately, my favorite two credit cards is the Chase Hyatt and Priority Club. Both offer a no foreign transaction fees, anniversary bonus, and hotel status. In addition, the Hyatt credit card offers the ability to earn night credits towards higher status after spending specific amount of money within a year.

No single card will have all of your wants on it. However, put two or three credit cards in your wallet and one can check all of their wants off their list.

If you could build your perfect credit card, what benefits would your card have?

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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Win a Trip to St. Thomas from Travelzoo!

I received an e-mail this morning from the popular travel e-mail company Travelzoo  that they are hosting a contest where the winner and their guest will receive a free trip to the beautiful island of St. Thomas.

All you have to do to enter is to like the Travelzoo page on Facebook and enter the contest. But you wouldn't want to do that because it will decrease my chance of winning this awesome don't actually enter. ;)

Hope everyone is having a great weekend!

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Do It For The Doughnuts: Astro Doughnuts and Fried Chicken

Do It For The Doughnuts typically involves us traveling to try various doughnut shops around the country. What I have overlooked is that Washington, DC is starting to be a hot bed of over-the-top doughnut shops. So much so, the Washington Post is hosting a March Madness style contest pitting doughnut shops against each other.

After the initial round, the doughnut shop in the lead is Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken.

I had to go visit this place for two reason. First, Astro beat 25 other places in the first round of the WashPo's contest. But more importantly, last week, I walked into a conversation in the work lunch room about this crazy doughnut place located downtown. When it starts popping up during the water cooler conversation, something must be either really good or really bad. I had to try this place quickly.

Astro Doughnuts is located between 13th and 14th Street on G Street.

The closest metro stop is Metro Center; take the 13th & G exit.

The doughnut shop does not have much to it: a counter and trays of doughnuts. Since the only place to sit is a bench outside and that was occupied, I took the doughnuts home.

Astro Doughnuts has a sleek black box. Bring these to the office and your popularity will rise.

The store only had five doughnuts available when I went, so I got six. Don't know why I got six, but I told the guy I wanted six. The types of doughnuts available changes by the day. Visit the website to see their list.

The first doughnut I tried was the Salted Caramel. 

      - The doughnut was good. The first thing you will notice is that these are fresh doughnuts. The
         yeast doughnut was spongy, but that took away from the overall doughnut. The icing combo 
         got lost by the sheer volume of the doughnut.

The second doughnut was the PB &J.

          - The doughnut is square. It wins points for being square. The jelly inside the doughnut was
             so good. I wish there was more of it or they had a doughnut stuffed fulled with it, because
             I would buy a dozen of them on the spot. On the other hand, the peanut butter was not good.
             It was bland and blah. When you put it all together, the PBJ combo failed.

The next on deck was maple bacon.

         - The maple bacon is a staple on my doughnut list. The bacon was crispy and salty. Two
            key parts to any good bacon. The maple icing was noticeable. When put all together, it
            was finger licking good.

The fourth doughnut is Vanilla Bean Glazed.

           - I didn't understand this doughnut. The writing on the doughnut was very pretty. However,
             it lack flavor. I had to check my receipt twice to know what flavor I was eating.

The final doughnut was Birthday Cake.

           - This was the clear winner. Hands down! The doughnut was made from cake batter,
             not doughnut batter. It was soft and chocolaty. The squirt of frosting in the middle
             add so much flavor. Another one I would return to eat in the dozen.


Astro Doughnuts were very tasty. A great weekend treat. I will defiantly be a returning customer; 
just on a different day to try new doughnuts.

The cost depends on the doughnut type and was somewhere between $2.25 to $2.75 each. 

Astro Doughnuts: 1308 G Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004 - (202)-809-5565

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Saturday, June 22, 2013

End of the Year Trip: Tokyo Hilton, Where I Expected to Meet Don Draper

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

When I was planning for the trip, I wanted to limit my cash out of pocket. Therefore, I knew that I needed to use points to pay for some of the last three nights in Tokyo. The Hilton was two blocks away for the Hilton and I was sitting on about 75,000 points, so I was pretty sure I was going to stay here for the last three nights in Tokyo.

The majority of my 75,000 points came from applying for the American Express Hilton, a great card. At that time, the card had a 50,000 sign-up bonus, but more importantly, no annual fee - making it a great credit card to get and keep to strength my credit score.

At that time, rooms were going for 40,000 points a night. My goal was to pay for 1 night in cash and use points for 2 nights. To earn the last 5,000 points, I decided to transfer 4,500 points from my eRewards account. For the last 500, I paid cash, which is an option that Hilton allows you to do when booking award stays.  Initially, I was going to pay $300 for the last night. I shuddered at the thought about paying that much, but could justify since it was the only night on the trip that would cost me money. However, as I wrote here, Hilton had a 50% sale for stays in December 2012 on participating hotels. Luckily, the Tokyo Hilton was participating and the cost of my night dropped to $154 USD, SCORE! Three nights for $165 USD + 80,000 points.

Back to the trip report....

The Tokyo Hilton is located two blocks away from the Hyatt. I decided to take a cab, because of the size and number of my bags I had. The cost $12 for 2-3 blocks.

The hotel lobby is massive. The check-in desk is deep back in a corner.

Check-in was not smooth. My goal was to get a room on the club level. Prior to my trip, I called the customer service number to request a room on the club level. The representative told me that as a Gold my request would be granted. When I arrived at 5:30 pm, the check-in representative told me my non-smoking room on the fifth floor was ready. I asked for an upgrade to club level and was told there was nothing available. A little pushing and 20 minutes later, I was on my way to a smoking room on the club level.


The room had a distinct 50s feel.  The wood paneling, weird carpeting, and red chair made me feel like I was going to see Don Draper at the bar.

The bathroom was typical hotel size. No Park Hyatt, but good enough:

What I didn't under stand was this glass partion in the shower. It served very little purpose, because it only covered some of the tub. Also, one part of the partion swung out a little, but nothing to a massive degree in one direction or another.

The other strange thing about the bathroom was the mirror. It never completely fogged over:

How does this happen? It was super helpful for shaving directly after showering.

My room had decent views:

The reason why I pushed for Club access was for a place to go and relax and get food.

I was provided this letter at check-in about the club:

As you can see, the club offers food/snacks throughout the day. What I did't expect was the quality of the food. My first night, I went down for Cocktails and appetizers:

 Look at this breakfast spread:

And afternoon tea:

Having access to the lounge was helpful. I saved a ton of money on not having to eat out for breakfast. Given as a Gold member of Hilton, I would have been given free breakfast at the restaurant downstairs. But the access to the lounge was more than just breakfast, it was access to a place to relax and have a drink or snack. 

The hotel has a gym and pool. One must sign in to use either as I learned the hard way:




 The hotel's closest metro stop is M7 - Nishi-Shinjuku.

The hotel actually has its own exit into the tunnel leads toward the subway ie no having to walk outside. From the hotel, the exit to the subway is near the Hiltopia Shopping Arcade.

The second floor of the hotel had many sit-down restaurants. They were all a little out of my price range:

Overall, the stay was good. After staying with the Park Hyatt, my expectations of what a hotel should be were pretty high. If I just stayed at the Hilton, I would have thought the stay was amazing. My only complaint was check-out. It was a cluster fuck. They demanded everyone out at noon, but then did not have the staff to check-out people. The line, as seen below, was 30 to 40 people deep.

The hotel had a 1950s feel, which is cool. However, the hotel was trying to stray away from it and become modern. The 1950s, Mad Men, is hip now. I would play up that old school hotel, you would be surprised how many people would probably dig it.

In the end, I never met Don Draper at the hotel bar, but had a good stay. I would come back.

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