IHG Rewards Club PointBreaks List Preview

IHG Rewards PointBreaks are reduced award redemptions at IHG Hotels.  IHG Hotels include not only the “standard”  Holiday Inn, but also upscale properties like Crowne Plaza and Intercontinental.

A PointBreak award is only 5,000 points for a free night.  The list of PointBreak hotels changes every couple months.  The current list can be found here.  The new list will be released on Monday, March 24, but IHG members can get a preview tomorrow in the IHG Community Forum.  The new list will be for stays from March 24 until May 31.

Most of the time the PointBreaks properties are not in the most popular areas at the most popular time of the year.  But sometimes, once you read more about the property, it doesn’t sound so bad! For example, the Holiday Inn Prague Airport is part of the January-March PointBreaks.  If you were visiting Prague (in February) you would probably think the airport is not the best place to stay for a leisure trip. But the hotel is only 10km from the city centre, and you can take a bus to the metro for a 4 stop ride into the  city.  So, for 5,000 points a night? Yeah…maybe it would not be such a bad deal.  Rooms at the Holiday Inn Prague Airport start around $115 per night or 15,000 IHG points.

A  better PointBreaks deal is going to be on the new list that will be released on Monday.  The InterContinental Mumbai.  If your travel plans take you to India in the next couple months, this is a steal!  It will probably sell out quickly, so if it interests you, jump on it!  Rooms at the IC Mumbai are around $175 per night or 25,000 points.  It looks like a beautiful hotel in a great location.  On a PointBreak Reward, you could stay 5 nights for the price of 1!

With Spring Break approaching it would be great news to see some beach properties on the list.  I was seriously considering a stay at the Holiday Inn Resort Phuket in April, but in the end decided against it.  The normal award rate is 30,000 points per night and if it shows up on the PointBreak list tomorrow, I may change my mind!

Holiday Inn Resort Phuket

Holiday Inn Resort Phuket

Happy Travels!

 

Marriott Hotel Category Changes

Marriott Hotel Category Changes? Say it isn’t so!

This is a tough one for me.  Hubby stays at Marriott hotels when he travels and, in fact, has achieved Gold Status with them.  We don’t put much spend on our Marriott cards anymore, so most of our earning is from his stays.  I personally love Marriott.  I like their Rewards program (in spite of massive Category changes the past 2 years) and their properties are always clean and well maintained. But,  it may be time to think about switching hotel loyalty.

This is not a complete surprise though.  As I mentioned in a previous post, most hotels and airlines shuffle their programs around this time of year.  And Marriott did this last year, affecting one of the hotels I was considering for Thailand.

The Details

The award chart, itself, is not changing.  And you will still get the 5th night free if you redeem 4 nights.  Here is the list of categories and points required for each.

  • Category 1:  7,500
  • Category 2:  10,000
  • Category 3:  15,000
  • Category 4:  20,000
  • Category 5:  25,000
  • Category 6:  30,000
  • Category 7:  35,000
  • Category 8:  40,000
  • Category 9:  45,000

There is also a separate category for Ritz-Carlton Hotels.

All redemption reservations booked on or before April 7, 2014 will be honored at the current points, even if the stay is after April 8, 2014.  If you have not ordered your certificate prior to April 8, 2014, you can call Guest Services prior to your stay to request the lower priced certificate.

One thing I really love about Marriott is that they allow you to book 50 weeks in advance, even if you don’t have enough points in your account for the stay!

73% of the properties remain unchanged and 27% are changing categories.  Of that 27%, 22% are decreasing by one category and 78% are increasing by one category.

Marriott released a complete list of hotels that are changing categories.  You can find that list in this article.  I did not like that they did not separate the list of hotels by country.  That made the list very hard to read.

So, once again, if you are considering a stay at a Marriott property, check the list and book it before April 7! Even if you don’t have enough points.  You can always cancel if your plans change, just remember to read the cancellation policy for each reservation to make sure.

Each of the Marriott hotels we are staying at in Thailand is moving up a category.  This time last year, the Renaissance Bangkok Ratchprasong Hotel was a Category 4 and was about to move to a Category 5.  I had some Category 4 certificates that Hubby had earned so I booked 3 nights at the hotel, even though I only had 2 certificates at the time.  Once I got the 3rd certificate, I was able to apply it to the reservation, although I’m honestly not sure if that was an exception or the rule.  Effective April 8, 2014, that Renaissance will now be a Category 6! Incidentally, we are no longer going to stay at the Renaissance because it was right in the middle of the political protests going on in Bangkok last month.   I moved our reservation to the brand new and beautiful Marriott Hotel Sukhumvit., which is a Category 4 and, surprisingly, does not appear to be moving up a category.  (unless I overlooked it in the difficult to read list of hotels)  The Marriott Sukhumvit, in my opinion, looks much nicer than the Renaissance.

JW Marriott khaolak

JW Marriott Resort Khao Lak

Also moving up a category (from a 5 to a 6)  is the JW Marriott Resort Khao Lak.  I am not surprised by this at all as the property looks absolutely gorgeous and I can’t wait to get there!

The Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card gives you 50,000 points and a certificate for a Category 1-4 hotel after spending $1,000 in 3 months with $0 annual fee for the first year.  That’s easy enough to spend, but I wish they would change that certificate to Categories 1-5, since 123 (!) properties moved from a Category 4 to a Category 5.  However, you do get a free Category 1-5 certificate every year if you renew the card at $85 a year.

I’m not sure Hubby will give up on Marriott yet, but we may start looking into Hyatt a bit more.  That is the one hotel I have not yet experienced.

Happy Travels!

*I do not receive a commission if you apply and are approved for the Chase Marriott Rewards Credit Card.

 

To Swede or Not To Swede

Routing Is Everything

When I booked our flights to and from Thailand, (in April 2013) I wanted to get the best routing possible for the least amount of points.  At the time I booked, United had VERY generous routing rules. They have changed them a bit since then, but they are still quite generous.

Up until this past summer, United allowed an unbelievable number of connections to travel from the US to Asia.  It was never officially published, but I heard it was as high as 15.  Let that sink in for a minute while we define layovers and stopovers.

A layover on an international ticket is any time period between flights that is under 24 hours.  A stopover, is simply longer than 24 hours. UNLESS, you arrive on the last flight of the evening and then depart the following morning.

So now, think about this.  United allowed 15 connections on a roundtrip award from the US to Asia.  And you are allowed to fly to Asia from the US via the Pacific or the Atlantic.  That opens up some nice possibilities in Europe for a stopover, or better, a long layover as most flights from the US arrive in Europe in the early morning.

But United started tightening up on it’s routing rules last year because the lines between a round trip award and an around the world award were starting to get blurry.  So, since things are different now, let’s talk about what you can do if you were to book today.

On a roundtrip ticket, you are allowed 5 segments each way between your origin and destination.  That’s still 10 connections, and still pretty cool.

For example, if I wanted to fly from Cincinnati to Singapore and see a couple European cities along the way, I could easily do so for one 80,000 mile US to Asia roundtrip award.  (It was only 65,000 miles when I booked.  What a shame)  With some creative use of the many, many Star Alliance partners that service Asia from Europe I could theoretically do this:

Cincinnati – Chicago – Paris – Istanbul – Singapore  And actually that’s only 4 connections.  I could probably throw Bangkok in there as well.  As long as none of the layovers are longer than 24 hours, I am not using up my stopover.

However, I am much too old to do that.  I would probably die of exhaustion, but for the more adventurous types, it can be done.  I would be more keen to do something like this:

UAcvgsinThat is a pretty simple flight from Cincinnati to Singapore with a layover in either Zurich or Frankfurt for 12 hours.  The best way to do this, is to fly business class for 140,000 miles so you can get some decent sleep.  But if you are able to sleep in coach, you can do it for only 80,000 miles.

My Point

Our flight to Thailand is routed through Europe with an almost 6 hour layover in Stockholm. Stockholm! That has never been a city I have given serious thought to visiting.  Occasional visits to Ikea to buy Flarkenkrap are enough for me.  But if I have the opportunity to see it, for basically nothing, why not?

It is easy enough to get from the airport into Stockholm on the Arlanda Express train.  It’s a 20 minute journey with trains leaving about every 15 minutes.  One drawback (for me) is the cost.  Roundtrip for me, Hubby and P is $87.  That seems crazy high for an airport train!

Another reason is the temperature which is currently in the 30s with snow.  We are traveling to Thailand with temps in the upper 90s.  I really don’t want to carry around heavy  clothes in our luggage for 3 weeks.

And finally, we will be in Stockholm on a Sunday.  In the early morning.  Our flight is scheduled to arrive at 7:50am (but historically arrives around 7:30-7:40) and our departing flight is at 1:30pm.  By the time we get through the airport and to the train and into the city it will probably be around 9am.  We would have to get on the return train by 11:15 at the latest.  That only gives us about 2 hours in a city where, most likely, everything will be closed.  And cold.

It was just in the past few days that I decided to scrap the idea of going into the city.  I’m just not sure how we will feel when we get there and if it will even be worth it to try.  We’ll see.  Since we have all that time, we may just exit the airport, breathe some Swedish air and then go back inside!

And guess what?! Our complete routing is Cincinnati – Chicago – Stockholm – Bangkok – Chiang Mai – Phuket – Seoul – Chicago – Cincinnati.  (and then 4 months later to Los Angeles on the same ticket!) So we are literally flying around the world!

mapHappy Travels!

 

 

Club Carlson Devaluation Tomorrow 3/15

 Devaluation

I cannot stand that word.  But it always happens this time of year.  Hotels and airlines move things around in ways that aren’t always beneficial to Award Travelers.  They usually announce such changes in advance though, so you have time to prepare yourself and plan ahead.  (ALWAYS plan ahead)

Club Carlson is introducing a new Category 7 which will be 70,000 points per night.  There are 9 hotels that will be making the jump from Category 6 to Category 7.  Overall, there are 114 increasing and 67 decreasing.

Club Carlson hotels include Country Inn and Suites, Radisson, Radisson Blu, Park Inn by Radisson and Park Plaza.

This will be the new award chart beginning March 15, 2014

Category 1: 9,000 points per night

Category 2: 15,000 points per night

Category 3: 28,000 points per night

Category 4: 38,000 points per night

Category 5: 44,000 points per night

Category 6:  50,000 points per night

Category 7: 70,000 points per night

Some of those higher end hotels sound like a lot of points per night, but you have to remember how easy it is to get Club Carlson points.  Applying for the US Bank Club Carlson Premier Rewards VISA gives you 85,000 bonus points! 50,000 points for your first purchase and another 35,000 points after spending $2,500 in the first 3 months.  Plus you earn 10 points per dollar spent in Carlson hotels and 5 points per dollar spent everywhere else.  Those add up quickly.  Plus, as a cardholder, you get the last award night free! (redeem points for 2 nights and the 3rd is free!)

You can find a complete list of category changes here.  But here are a few changes that interest me.

Radisson Blu Resort Trysil Norway

For the past couple of weeks I have been seriously considering going to Norway for Christmas Break 2015.  Two reasons I want to go to Norway: The Awesome Family Friendly Ski Resort of Trysil and to see The Northern Lights.

Northern-Lights-on-Show-for-Next-Few-Days-650x365

 

The Radisson Blu Resort in Trysil is a ski in/ski out property with an 8 lane bowling alley, 4 indoor pools with a FlowRider and rock climbing wall above the deep pool, and lots of activities for children.

This property is currently a Category 5 at 44,000 points per night, but after tomorrow it will be a Category 6 at 50,000 points per night.  6,000 points per night is not a HUGE jump and it would be relatively easy to earn the extra points.  But I think I might go ahead and book a few nights now.  If my plans change, I can always cancel and the points will be returned to my account.

Originally, I wanted to spend a few days in Trysil and then travel north to Tromso Norway, which is north of the Arctic Circle.  Looking at it now though, that will take too much travel time, and with school schedules we don’t have that luxury.  I have read about Northern Lights excursions from Trysil, so I’m hoping if we stay there 5 or 6 nights, we can get lucky at least once!

A few other hotels going up in Category are The Radisson Blu Le Metropolitan Hotel, Paris Eiffel, Radisson Blu Hotel Champs Elysees, Paris and The May Fair in London.  Those are all going from a Category 6 to Category 7.  But let’s face it, they probably should be there.

mayfair

 

I want to stay in a pink room at The May Fair in London!

Fortunately the Radisson Martinique on Broadway in New York City is NOT changing categories.  I was planning to stay there for a couple nights either around Christmas or to see the Thanksgiving Day Parade!

In conclusion

If you are holding on to some Club Carlson points, I suggest making a booking now if one of your planned destinations will be increasing in category. If your plans change, you can always cancel.  (though be sure to check the exact cancellation policy for every booking you make)

In spite of this devaluation, I still strongly recommend getting the Club Carlson Premier VISA card.  It gives a lot of points and comes with many benefits!

Happy Travels!

Protect Yourself While You Travel

There are the obvious safety tips that everyone should be aware of when traveling to a foreign country.  Things like making photocopies of your passport and leaving one copy with someone at home, along with a copy of your itinerary.  I also take a picture of our passport ID page on my cell phone, so that it is always with me.  It’s also a good idea to write down the customer service phone number for each credit card you bring on the trip, in case your cards are lost or stolen.  Also other things like making sure you have any required vaccinations and making sure that your insurance will cover your costs if you have a medical emergency.

In this post, I want to talk about a couple safety precautions that you may not think of.

I try to pay for all my travel expenses with a credit card that does NOT charge a Foreign Transaction Fee.  (those run anywhere from 1%-3%)  But in some countries, credit cards are not as widely accepted and you need to have cash.  There are several options for getting cash, the best way (in my opinion) is with your ATM card.  I don’t like bringing loads of American cash with me and I don’t like to use Traveler’s Checks.

There is a practice called ATM “skimming”,  which is basically like identity theft for debit and ATM cards. Thieves use hidden devices on ATMs to steal the information stored on your ATM card, like your account number.  They will place a “skimming” card reader over the actual ATM card slot.  When you insert your card into the ATM you are actually sliding it through the skimming reader, which scans and stores all the information on the magnetic strip.  To get your PIN, the thieves will hide tiny cameras on or around the ATM with a clear view of the keypad.  They could place a fake plastic frame around the actual ATM frame, with a camera hidden inside.  They could also use a fake keypad that sits on top of the actual keypad and records your PIN when you type it in.

Skimming happens as often (maybe more often) in the US as it does abroad, but it’s not really an every day concern of mine because I never pay cash for things and very rarely use an ATM when I’m at home.

To protect our account, I opened a completely separate savings account at our credit union in Hubby’s name and got an ATM card for it.  It is in no way connected to our main account, but I can transfer money into it electronically.  That way, if we were to fall victim to “Skimmers” they would only have access to a couple hundred dollars at a time and not our every last dime.  Am I overly paranoid?  Maybe.  But I would rather be safe than sorry.

The other issue is transferring that money electronically.  When you are using public wifi or hotel wifi, how do you know your connection is secure?  You don’t.  There was a piece on the evening news during the Olympics in Sochi, Russia showing how easy it was for thieves to hack into people’s computers the minute they connect to public wifi.

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network.  It is a group of networks connected together over a public network (the Internet).  It secures your computer’s internet connection to guarantee that all of the data you are sending and receiving is encrypted.  Another (awesome) thing a VPN does is hide your IP address.  I’m not sure if you have ever tried this, but you cannot access your Hulu or Netflix account outside the US, or watch certain videos on youtube.  A VPN basically tricks your internet connection into thinking it is in the US.

There is a free service called Spotflux, that also has a mobile only plan for $5.99 a year and Premium plan for $29.99 per year.  Many people have had great success with the free version.

But I think I am going to use HideMyAss, and not just because I love the name! It gets great reviews in the Tech magazines and they have a monthly plan of $6.55 per month, and I only need this for one month.

We were in Rome about 12 years ago and a little boy tried to pickpocket me on a city bus.  I caught his hand trying to get into one of the 6 zippers on my purse (a very secure travel purse!).  I was trying to drag him on the bus with me, but he got out of my grip as the bus pulled away.  He just smiled at me and said, “Sorry.”  Pickpocketing is the one crime most people think of when traveling, and it still happens. (keep your money in your front pocket) But thieves are much more sophisticated these days, so we have to be just as sophisticated to protect ourselves!  That little boy in Rome is probably an expert Skimmer by now!

Thanks for reading my picture-less post and I hope you didn’t find it too boring.  Hopefully I taught you something!

Happy Travels!

Thailand – Inspiration and Planning

Thailand

14 years ago I saw a film called “The Beach” starring Leonardo DiCaprio.  Mediocre film, incredible scenery.  It was filmed in and around Phuket, Thailand.  At the end of the movie I said to myself “I have to go to Thailand”.  Long before people started (over) using the term “Bucket List”,  Thailand was on mine.

Thailand

Maya Bay “The Beach”

At the time, I was working for Delta Air Lines and I honestly have no idea why I didn’t just hop on a plane and go (for free)(most likely in Business Class).  Most things in Thailand are relatively cheap, but I think in the back of my mind I thought it was too expensive.  Or too far.  I don’t know the reason, but we didn’t go.

Fast forward to 2011 when I am just getting into collecting miles and points and I start thinking about Thailand again.  By now I have a 3 year old son and getting there seems more difficult than ever.  Or is it?  In late 2011, Hubby and I each applied for a Chase United Mileage Plus credit card that was offering a 60,000 mile sign up bonus.  A round-trip ticket to Southeast Asia was 65,000 miles.  Easily do-able.  For two.   I had no idea how I would get that third ticket.  In March 2012 Capital One was offering a “mileage match” on their Venture card.  If you applied for and were approved for the Venture card, they would match the miles you had in another airline Frequent Flyer program up to 80,000 miles.  Remember, I’m the girl sitting on over 300,000 Delta SkyMiles.

Capital One Venture card offers a “Purchase Eraser”.  Basically, you buy airline tickets, hotels, train tickets, car rentals etc,  and they will “erase” the purchase using your points.  80,000 Capital One points would “erase” $800 in travel expenses.  Doesn’t sound like a great deal except A) those points cost me nothing and B) you earn 2 points for every dollar spent on the card.  Earning an additional 50,000 points on that card would not be that difficult with some Manufactured Spending and using that card exclusively for the next year.

I started looking at United availability during different times of the year.  United has a very good and flexible mileage program.  They allow a stopover AND 2 open jaws on international award tickets.  You can also get a “free one way” when you use your United stopover creatively.  (as I did!)

Stopover – when you stop at a city for more than 24 hours on the way to your destination.  Your stopover can last up to 1 year.

Open Jaw – flying into one city and out of another

Routing

Since it takes so long to get there, I wanted to spend 2-3 weeks in Thailand to feel like I “got my miles worth”.  I wanted to see Chiang Mai, Bangkok and of course Phuket.  Hubby and I are also Scuba Divers, so we wanted to get in some diving in the Similan Islands.

My initial plan was to fly into Phuket and use my stopover for a week or so in Bangkok.  I thought we would take the train between Bangkok and Chiang Mai.  But after thinking about it, I decided that was not a good use of my stopover and I wasn’t taking advantage of the Open Jaw flexibility.  So I changed my plan to fly into Chiang Mai and out of Phuket,  taking a train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok and flying a domestic carrier from Bangkok to Phuket.  It worked on my award routing, but the paid ticket (that I planned to erase with Capital One) was pricing at over $4,000.  There was no way to get the routing I wanted at a price I could afford.  The cheapest option was to buy a ticket directly in and out of Bangkok or Phuket (with no open jaws or stopovers) for around $1,600.  But that would require a lot of back and forth domestic travel in Thailand and I thought there had to be a better way.

A month or so later I got an e-mail from United about a promotion for buying miles.  They would give you a 50% bonus on purchased miles.  I had around 10,000 United miles left over and I needed 65,000 miles.  I was 55,000 miles short. I could purchase 37,000 miles (for around $1300) and they would give me a bonus of 18,500 and then I would have the 65,000 miles needed to redeem the 3rd ticket.  I verified with Capital One that they would erase the mileage purchase before I went through with it.

If you think about it, even if I did not have the option to erase the purchase, $1,300 to get the routing I wanted was still cheaper than paying $1,600 for the not-so-great routing.

Booking

We now had enough miles for the trip, but I wanted to go at “just the right time”.  I wanted my son to be old enough to appreciate it and I also wanted to travel at the right time of year for the destination.  Unfortunately, the best time to travel to that part of Thailand is December through mid-April.  My son was about to start kindergarten and we would become slaves to the school schedule.  I have long been a believer that not all learning is done in a classroom and an experience like this one would well be worth a couple weeks out of school.  I spoke with the principal of his school before even enrolling him, and she agreed to excuse a 2 week absence prior to Spring Break, so we would have 3 weeks to explore Thailand.

Most airlines release seats 331 days in advance.  In late April 2013, I started checking the United schedules every day.  The very minute the schedule opened up for my dates, I booked it.  After I booked the award tickets, I priced them out as paid tickets and they came to $4,195 each.  Absolutely incredible that they cost me nothing other than $79.50 each in taxes.

We are flying from Cincinnati to Chicago to Stockholm.  We have a 6 hour layover in Stockholm and my plan is to go into the city for a couple of hours.  Just to say we’ve been there.  We then fly from Stockholm to Chiang Mai with a 1 hour layover in Bangkok.

On the way home, we fly from Phuket to Chicago with a 2 hour layover in Seoul.  We have a 4 hour layover in Chicago before our flight to Cincinnati, but our United cards gave us 4 passes to the United Club where we can shower and stretch out after the 12 hour flight from Seoul.  In coach.

Yes we are flying coach.  It would have cost 55,000 more miles per ticket to fly Business class.  That’s 165,000 more miles.  It would have taken much longer for me to earn that many more miles and as I have said, we believe the destination is more important than the journey.  Yes it will most likely be uncomfortable, unpleasant and long.  But we are going, and that’s what matters.

Oh yeah, about that Free one way ticket

Last year for Spring Break we went to Disneyland in California and loved it.  We love California in general, and will go there any chance we get.  Why not go back to Disneyland?  I’m sure my son would be all for that.  So…our stopover on the Thailand ticket is Cincinnati.  I added a flight from Cincinnati to Los Angeles departing on June 7 (2 months after we get back from Thailand).  Of course we have to get back home from Los Angeles, but there are many airlines that offer one way awards.  So, if we had booked roundtrip award tickets to go to California in the summer (which I was thinking about doing anyway), it would have cost 25,000 miles per ticket.  I booked 3 one way award tickets at 12,500 each.  So adding that “free one way” onto our Thailand tickets, I saved 37,500 miles!  Sometimes it can be hard to book the free one way ticket online and you may have to call in to do it.  But don’t let it slip away! It is an awesome advantage to booking United award tickets and there are plenty of creative ways to take advantage of stopovers and open jaws on United awards.  I will try to write a post on doing that in the near future.

Two weeks from now we will be leaving on our “Trip of a Lifetime” to Thailand.  My son is at the perfect age for this.  He is starting to understand geography and different languages and cultures.  I think it will be an incredible trip for all 3 of us and I do not have any regrets about pulling him out of school to do it.

Below is a chart of how I got our $15,808 trip to Thailand for $580.  I will do another post soon on the hotels and of course I will post a full trip report when we return!

Thailand

Thailand 2

 

Happy Travels!

 

 

Delta Releases New 2015 Award Chart

New Delta Award Chart

 

There is a high probability that Delta chose to release this award chart early, in part, because of all the complaining by passengers and some very negative media reports.   Turns out it’s not as bad as we feared.  At least it’s not as bad as *I* feared.  *I* who is sitting on 300K SkyMiles.  Yikes.  So, without further ado, here it is:

delta2015econawards

There are several blue lines on the chart, which means a decrease in required miles.  That is good news.  The only big problem I see is the 5 levels of award redemptions.  They told us they were going to do this, but I still don’t like seeing it in print.  There is a strong possibility that they will hold all their award availability in the higher levels.  Of course they can (and do) do that anyway.  But now they have 5 levels to play with.

The news was pretty good in the Premium Cabin award chart too.

DLpremawardchart2015

Again, lots of blue lines, which is what we like to see.  I may end up burning my Delta SkyMiles on some business class awards to Europe, so this is good news to me.

These new award charts go into effect January 1, 2015.

There are some silver linings on this newest Delta cloud.  One is that they released it earlier than planned.  But again that may have been a face-saving move on their part.  Like “See guys, it’s not that bad.” Another good thing is that they are now going to allow one-way redemptions.  That can really come in handy! And it’s also a silver lining that they did not raise the mileage requirements for most awards.

The revenue based earning is still a sore spot for many.  Not really for those of us who only collect credit card miles, but for those who actually pay for flights and earn miles, it’s gonna sting.  I have heard a lot of talk about how this will benefit business travelers who often buy last minute tickets at higher fares than your average leisure traveler.  Yes and no.  What some people may not realize is that companies who have employees that travel on a regular basis have contract fares with airlines and end up paying a much lower fare.  So I still don’t see how this move is benefitting anybody, except Delta.

I gave up on Delta many years ago and plan to use up my Delta miles as quickly as I can. They honestly have one of the worst, most restrictive programs out there and their website is a joke.   I am also going to cancel my Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express in a couple months.  They are raising the annual fee from $150 to $195.  I had kept it the past few years because of the “free” Companion Certificate.  Of course it wasn’t free, was it?  It was $150.  Now, the “free” companion pass is $195.  I suppose it could still be worth it if you maximize it on a $600 or $700 fare.  But, who pays that much?  Certainly not me!

So now we just have to wait and see what happens in 2015 when people start trying to redeem awards at these new levels.

Happy Travels!

 

Starwood Hotel Category Changes Coming Tomorrow

starwood-preferred-guest

Starwood is changing the number of points required for some (20%) of it’s hotels tomorrow, March 4, 2014.  56% of the hotels will be moving down and 44% will be moving up.

The Starwood collection of hotels includes: The Luxury Collection, St. Regis, W Hotels, Le Meridien, Sheraton, Aloft and Four Points.

The award chart is not changing, but some hotels are switching categories and may require fewer or more points.  Here is the Award Chart listing categories and how many points are required to redeem in each category.

starwoodcats

Less Points

I’ll start with the good news first.  Some hotels are moving down a Category.  One that is of particular interest to me is Le Meridien Angkor. It is moving from a Category 3 to a Category 2.  3,000 points for a weekend night? I’ll take it!

meridienangkor

Le Meridien Angkor

 

We are heading to Thailand in 3 weeks and were scheduled to stay in Bangkok for 3 days.  With the recent political turmoil and the “Bangkok Shutdown” I was thinking about skipping Bangkok and heading over to Cambodia for a couple days instead to check out Angkor Wat.  Bangkok has since settled down and is back on our itinerary, but I will definitely keep this Le Meridien hotel on my list for the future!

A couple other noteworthy hotels moving down a Category are in Orlando.  The Four Points Sheraton Orlando Studio City is moving from a Category 2 to a Category 1.   I have never stayed at this hotel, but I have seen it many times.  It gets good reviews on Trip Advisor and you can’t beat the location on I-Drive!

The other Orlando hotel is the Sheraton Lake Buena Vista, which is moving from a Category 3 to a Category 2.   Another solid hotel choice, only 1 mile from Disney!

Neither of the Orlando hotels are 5 star luxury resorts.  I’m not going to focus very much on luxury properties unless they are a terrific bargain on points.  But these Sheratons are good choices for a family vacation to Orlando.

More points

And now the bad news.  44% of the hotels moving categories are moving up.  These moves hurt a lot more at luxury hotels like the St. Regis Rome which is moving from a Category 6 to a Category 7.  Sure, it looks amazing.  But I would never spend 30,000 Starpoints to stay there for one night.

Of more relevance to my upcoming travel is the Four Points by Sheraton Munich Olympiapark.  I am going to Germany with a friend in late June and considered staying at this property.  Tomorrow it moves from a Category 3 to a Category 4.  That’s a difference of 3,000 points per night and we are staying 3 nights.  We have not nailed down a location to stay in Munich and while this one is a bit further from the city center, it is near a metro station to get us to the center in a few minutes.  I think I will go ahead and book this property before it changes categories because Starwood will allow me to cancel, without penalty, up until the day before arrival.

The other hotel in my future, and one that is making the biggest jump is the Sheraton Baltimore-Washington Airport Hotel. It is jumping from a Category 2 to a Category 4!  That is 7,000 more points per night! We are going up for a wedding in Baltimore in August and I booked this hotel at the fantastic Starpoint rate of 3,000 points per night for weekend nights!  Hubby wants to stay at the Holiday Inn where everybody else is staying.  But I like to stay where I can get the best value! Since I haven’t convinced him of that yet, I will hold on to the reservation I have because I can cancel, without penalty, up until the day before arrival.

So – if you are thinking about planning a trip and staying at a Starwood property, check out the full list of changes here.  If you see one you want to book that is going up in points, book it today! If you change your mind, you can usually cancel without penalty prior to the arrival date.  But be sure to check the cancellation policy on each reservation!  

If you have already booked a property that is going to go down, wait until after the changes take effect, book a new reservation at the lower category and cancel your existing reservation.

I hope you have found this post helpful and I hope you will share it with your friends and family.  My blog is still too new to have affiliate links to apply for credit cards, but if you are interested in applying for the Starwood American Express card to take advantage of some of these great deals, please e-mail me and let me send you a referral link to apply.

Happy Travels!

 

Can I spend $10,000 in 3 months?

Welcome to my new Family Travel Miles & Points blog in an already saturated Family Travel Miles & Points blog world!

I’m starting off with a doozy of a post.  But first, a brief history.

I started collecting airline miles back in 2002 when I was working for Delta Air Lines.  They offered the new SkyMiles credit card with no annual fee to employees.  Sure, why not?  I used that card, and only that card, for the next 9 years.  Fast forward to 2014 and I am sitting on over 300,000 (almost worthless) Delta SkyMiles (aka SkyPesos).  Do as I say, people! Do not do as I do! DO NOT HOARD MILES!  Earn ’em and burn ’em.  We’ll talk more about Delta later.

A short time after my son was born, I realized that it was going to be harder to travel cheaply when I had to buy that 3rd ticket.  So I started getting some mileage earning credit cards.  I started with United and American.  And I kept those cards for a year or two.  I didn’t start “churning” cards until about 2 years ago.  I was scared of hurting my credit and scared of getting declined.  We took some great trips on miles over the last 4 or 5 years.  We went to Morocco, Paris, Brussels, Turks & Caicos (twice), Cancun, California, and Arizona.  (and I STILL have 300,000 SkyMiles)

Churning

What is churning? It is basically finding 2 or 3 (or 6) credit cards that offer a sign-up bonus you are interested in.  You apply for all of them (in one day), spend the amount required to get the sign up bonus and then stop using them and cancel before you have to pay an annual fee.  Sounds simple enough, right?  It is.  But it can also be very dangerous if not done correctly.  Hopefully within the next week I will organize my “Where do I start” section and map out every step you need to take if you want to try this.  I am a very conservative churner compared to most Miles & Points bloggers.  But I think I have just turned a corner.

Can I spend $10,000 in 3 months?

Of course I can! Most credit cards have pretty modest spend requirements to get the sign up bonus.  Maybe $1000 in the first 3 months or sometimes you get lucky and they give it to you after the first purchase.  One and done!  But there are a few cards out there that have a very high spend requirement and a high annual fee, but give you the sweetest rewards.

It was a couple weeks ago that this little nugget popped up on my computer screen.

Citi-Executive-100000-001

 

Oh yes.  100,000 miles in one of the best programs out there.  But look at the small print “after you make $10,000 in purchases in the first 3 months”.  Yikes!  But look – they will give you a $200 statement credit! Yay! Oh no, there is an annual fee of $450 that is Not Waived for the first year. (as many are) Yikes!  Another Bonus, Admiral’s Club membership for a year! Yay!

Offers like that do not come along every day.  In fact, if you Google “Citibank American Executive”, it will take you to an application page that offers you only 30,000 miles.  Many times they will have an offer for 60,000 miles.  But this is 100,000 miles! How could I pass this up?

Fear.  That’s how. If I could not meet that $10,000 spend within 3 months, it would all be for naught. But after doing some math, I figured out that I COULD do it.  It will take some effort, some trips to Wal-Mart (ugh) and some careful Manufactured Spending (a post on that coming soon! I promise) But I think I can do it!

The $450 annual fee will be partially covered by the $200 statement credit.  If I purchased 100,000 miles from American Airlines, that would cost around $1,800.  That is not a good deal.  I am paying $250 for 100,000 AA miles and That is a Very Good Deal.

And then there’s the lounge access.

admiralsclub

Admiral’s Club

 

A one year membership to the American Airlines Admiral’s Club costs $500 for a basic Frequent Flyer member.  To be honest, I have never been in an airport lounge before.  But I know they offer free drinks, snacks and wifi.  Some even have showers and children’s areas.  That’s good enough for me!

The card has other benefits as well:

  • 2 miles for every $1 spent on American Airlines
  • Priority boarding and check in
  • Free checked bag
  • No foreign transaction fees

If you are new to collecting miles and points, I DO NOT recommend getting this card.  Start off small with a regular American Airlines Citibank card with a low spend requirement.  Don’t get in over your head! You likely won’t get out.

However, if you have been playing for awhile, I suggest going for it if you think you can meet the spend.  You may be able to apply even if you already have another American Citi card.  I opened this card in Hubby’s name and he just cancelled his previous AA card a few months ago.  He was approved after a brief call to Citi to verify his information.

Here is the link.  Tread carefully.

Good luck! If you like this post, please share it!