Australia Award Availability

A Tough One

I have been dreaming of going to (moving to) Australia since I was 15 years old.  When Matthew and I were dating, he said he would take me there someday.  25 years later, we still haven’t gone.

Australia is far away.  It’s expensive.  It’s huge.  And did I mention it’s far away?

When I first started collecting Delta SkyMiles way back in 2002, my goal was to use them for Australia.  But Australia kept getting put on the back burner and I redeemed miles for Morocco, and Europe and California and many other places.  But I still kept collecting them.   Right now I am sitting at 374,363 SkyMiles.  At 80,000 each way in Business class, I am 105,637 miles short for 3 roundtrip tickets.  There is no easy way to earn more SkyMiles with the restrictions from American Express of “one sign up bonus per lifetime”.  I have already had all the cards.

Over the past couple years, I have really started building up my stash of American AAdvantage miles.  Citi cards are easy to churn and I also took advantage of getting a (few) Citi AAdvantage Executive cards when the sign up bonus was 100,000 miles.  So I have 533,998 AAdvantage miles.  And that’s AFTER just redeeming some for 3 tickets to Paris next spring and 3 tickets to Turks and Caicos last fall.  Oh and 2 tickets to California this summer.

That is way more than enough to get 3 roundtrip business class tickets at 62,500 each way. (375,000 total miles needed)

Will Somebody Please Let Me Spend My Miles?

This is where it gets ugly.

Cathay Pacific (A oneworld partner) has terrific business class availability between Los Angeles and Australia via Hong Kong.  Trouble is, American Airlines will not let you route through Asia using their miles.  The 62,500 would take me to Hong Kong and then I would have to redeem another 35,000 mile award to get to Australia.  That’s worse than Delta’s 80,000 mile awards!

Qantas is also a oneworld partner, but they are VERY stingy with their business class availability.

Delta has lots of business class availability with their partner Virgin Australia, but like I said before, I do not have enough Delta miles for 3 roundtrip tickets with Delta.

Possible Good News On The Horizon

A few days ago, American announced it would begin its own nonstop service between Los Angeles and Sydney beginning in December 2015.  This was exciting news at first.  Surely American Airlines would allow a handful of business class award seats to be redeemed by its own members on an aircraft that has 52 business class seats. Right? Not bloody likely.

Check out these pictures.

dfwhkg

Who would pay 175K Miles?

This first one shows award availability for business class on American’s nonstop service between Dallas-Ft. Worth and Hong Kong.  There are no business class Saver Awards available at the far reaches of the current schedule.  None!

The next picture shows you the available seats you could choose from if you redeemed the 175,000 point award.

seats

D’oh!

All of them!  Sure, it’s possible that a couple tickets have been sold and not been assigned seats.  Unlikely though.  American is hoarding seats the way I hoard my miles!

What’s the point?  They would rather let that cabin go out empty, than let people redeem miles for it.

The scenario doesn’t change much when you look at the next couple of weeks.  Still no saver award seats, but 38 available business seats.

nextweek3Is there a Happy Medium?  Maybe.  I have to wait and see once they load the new flights into the schedule.

So What Are My Options?

I have to prepare for the worst case scenario.  Assuming AA does not release 3 business class seats on their new flights, I have accepted that my family will have to travel separately.  Right now, I can send 2 people on Delta/Virgin Australia roundtrip in Business.  The third person can (hopefully) travel on either American or Qantas roundtrip in Business.

I could also transfer 20,000 SPG points to Delta.  With the 5,000 point bonus, I would have 25,000 more SkyMiles and enough for all 3 of us to return on the same flight.  But I’m not sure I want to spend my SPG points for that.  Again, it is almost impossible to earn more of them now.  I only have 43,502 points and I wanted to use them for a ski trip.  Although, they are probably more valuable being used toward Australia.

I was somewhat encouraged when I saw this.  Business class availability on Qantas for 1 person.  For a while, I was having trouble finding availability for even one person!

aaavail

I want to start my trip in Cairns, so I don’t see any way around a connecting flight.  But that’s ok!

Here is Delta/Virgin Australia availability for 2 people for the same dates and almost the same time.

 

dlavail2

This isn’t ideal, but sometimes you have to do things like this to travel for free.  I’m still going to keep my fingers crossed that I can get 3 business class seats on American when they release the schedule. It is possible that they might release a bunch of award seats in the beginning.

What About Coach?

Some people might think I am being a travel snob by refusing to fly to coach.  Not at all.  I know I could easily get 3 economy class seats on Qantas at 37,500 miles each for one way.

But I have done that.  See here.

Los Angeles to Australia is a flight of approximately 15 hours.  By comparison, the longest flight of our Thailand trip, from Seoul to Chicago, was 12.5 hours.

It was not fun.

I do not want to do it again.

Call me a snob if you will, but I have no desire to repeat that.  I have done the work to earn these miles, I want to redeem them and be comfortable on a flight halfway around the world.

And Now, I Wait

I want our trip to begin on May 31, 2016.  Or as close as I can get to that date.  I am really very flexible with dates, which should help me out with securing award seats.

I do have 4 nights booked at the Radisson Blu in Sydney, June 13-17, but I’m quite sure I can fit that in to whatever flight dates I am able to book.

The schedule for May 31,2016 should load on July 6.  Hopefully American and Qantas can get the approval for the new routes by then.  I really don’t want to book anything until I see how many seats American is going to release on the new flights.

If anybody has had any experience doing this or has any advice to offer, I am all ears!

 

 

My Recent MS Adventures

MS Adventures? Or Misadventures?

By now, I’m sure you have seen everybody’s e-mail from Target that explains what you can and cannot feed your RedBird with.  I will throw mine in here, just in case it looks different from every other blogger’s e-mail.

targetemail

This isn’t really new.  I’m sure since they stopped allowing credit card loads on May 6, that many people have had success loading the “old fashioned” way with gift cards purchased from other sources.

Here is what I have done over the past two months.  Hold onto your hats! You know I’m a big spender! <sarcasm>

On April 8 and April 13 I purchased two $2,000 American Express gift cards and loaded them directly to my RedBird account.  I paid $12.90 for fees and shipping  for each card, but I earned $60 cash back.  (which should pay out at the end of this month) So I was ahead with $34.20 in my pocket.  And $4,000 in my RedBird.

Between mid-April and May 6, I loaded $7,300 via direct credit card loads onto my account and Matthew’s.  That sure was fun while it lasted.

After May 6, I did not do any MS.  I didn’t like the hassle of going to Wal-Mart and if I was going to go to Walmart, I would rather just load up there with Kate.  But I can no longer use Kate since I canceled my Bluebird and Serve accounts.

Then, I got bored.

I really did not like just sitting here and not doing anything to actively earn miles and points.  So on May 27, I decided to jump back in.  I tested the waters at Walmart.

walmart
It had been awhile since I had purchased a gift card at Walmart.  I was nervous that things had changed.  I have had Walmart cashiers bark at me “cash or debit only” when I start to swipe my credit card.  I just always smile and say, “It’s ok” and then it goes through.

 

The gift card rack looked different now.  There were many more options of card designs to choose from.  But having been burned in the past, I stuck with the “Happy Birthday” card that has always worked for me.

gc

I really liked the stork one, but I was afraid to try it.

I have learned a few things over the years about buying gift cards at Walmart.  Never go to the cigarette lane.  That is usually where the Customer Service Managers hang out, en masse, to go over whatever it is Walmart CSMs have to discuss.  Also avoid older ladies and the 10 item or less express lane.  My plan is to always look for a young person and preferably a guy.  They tend to care the least.  I found just who I was looking for in Jacob in lane 7.  I don’t think he said a word to me other than “how much” when I handed him the gift card.  He was too busy trying to sneak glances at his phone and flirt with the girl in lane 10.  I was in and out in about 5 minutes.  No muss, no fuss.

success

I hope Jacob works at Walmart for a long time. I wish I knew his schedule.

That gift card has a fee of $4.94 so now I am only ahead by $29.26

I then drove directly to Target to load the gift card to my RedBird.  Again, I was nervous because I wasn’t sure if this would work.  But it worked like a charm.  In and out.

target

Well, that’s blurry

The next day, Matthew and I drove to Indianapolis to see the Weird Al concert.  Best Concert Ever, by the way.  So good in fact, we are going to see him again next week in Dayton.  And taking Parker!

I have always heard that the MS opportunities in Indiana are abundant.  They have Simon Malls, which have lower fees on their gift cards than Walmart.  I have also heard it is still possible to buy Vanilla Reloads with credit cards!  How sweet!

On our way to the concert we stopped at the very nice Circle Centre mall in downtown Indy.  We ate dinner and then went to the customer service kiosk to buy a Simon Mall gift card.  The old lady working there was nice enough (at first), but very slow and somewhat suspicious of why we were buying such a large denomination gift card with a credit card.  We bought one $500 gift card charged to Matthew’s US Airways card.  There was a $3.95 fee so now I am only ahead by $25.31.

We walked around for about 30 minutes and as we were about to pass the kiosk again on our way out, I decided to buy another gift card using my Citi AA Mastercard.

When I approached the kiosk and told the lady I wanted to buy another gift card, she gave me a very accusatory look and asked, “Why?”  Yikes.  Because I am a consumer and it is my right to purchase whatever I want.  I had to stand firm.  I am not doing anything wrong.  I was holding my credit card in my hand.  She took it from me and started digging through her receipts to find Matthew’s receipt.  I asked what she was doing.  She said she was looking to see if it was the same card.  What? I told her it was not, and even if it was, why does that matter?

Let’s write the rest of this out like a one act play, shall we?

Lady: “How much do you want to buy?”

Me: “$500”

Lady: “No.  I’m not selling you one for $500.”

Me: “What are you talking about? I want to buy a $500 gift card. If my credit card is declined, you can refuse the sale, but you can’t refuse to sell me something that I am capable of paying for.”

Lady: “Yes I can.  I’m not selling you one for the same amount that he bought.  I can’t do it.”

This is getting scary now.  I was waiting for her to push the secret security button.

Me: “Of course you can. You just won’t”

Lady: “That’s right. I won’t.”

Wow.  Matthew is getting jittery now.

Matthew: “What about $499”

Lady: “No.  I won’t do that either. It’s not allowed.”

Me: “This is crazy.  You are just making stuff up.”

Matthew kicks my foot and gives me a look like “you better watch it”

Since when do you have to haggle to buy a gift card? This is insane!

Me: “Why are you doing this?”

Lady: “Because he just bought one”

Me: “So.  If we had walked up here and pretended like we weren’t together, you would have never known.”

Matthew: “OK  what about $495”

Lady: “No. I would feel more comfortable doing $450.”

Me: “Comfortable? This makes no sense whatsoever.”

Lady: “I’m not selling another one to you for $500”

Me: “Why?”

Lady: “Because I can’t”

Matthew: “$495”

This went back and forth for a while longer, but you don’t need to read all the “yes/no” stuff.

Finally I just said, “Just do $450 and let’s get this over with.”

simon

I had to turn around and snap a picture of the kiosk from hell.

This was the worst gift card buying experience of my life.  Talk about feeling like a criminal.

But I did get my $450 gift card with a $3.95 fee so I am now ahead by $21.36.  I loaded both Simon Mall gift cards to my RedBird with no problem.

A Simon Mall In Another Universe

Matthew was in Oklahoma City on a business trip this week.  There is a Simon Mall there where he has purchased gift cards in the past.  Yesterday he bought two $500 gift cards in the same transaction, with no issues.  $7.90 in fees for both cards so my bottom line is $13.46 in my pocket after all my gift card purchases.

Today, I took those two gift cards to Target to load to my RedBird.  I did the first $500 load with no questions asked.  I told her I wanted to do another one and she started the transaction and she said “Oh I forgot to look at the card you used” I said “Oh for the last four digits?” (which is what they used to do for credit card loads) and she said, “No, to make sure the names matched.” I was not prepared for this and should have had my credit union debit card on standby for such an issue.  But the gift card was still right there in my hand so I just showed it to her.  That transaction had already cleared so there was nothing she could do, but she could have denied the 2nd one if she felt something was wrong.  Although, really…why should they care?  She looked at it and said “Oh it’s a gift card. Ok” and continued to ring the 2nd transaction.

You can order personalized Simon Mall Visa Gift Cards via giftcardmall.com, but you have to pay a shipping fee which brings your total in fees to $7.94.

Taking Time Off

So now I have enough in my RedBird to pay my July mortgage and a couple bills so I am going to take a short break from MS.  Maybe the next time Top Cash Back offers over 2% on American Express Gift Cards I will buy a couple and start again.  Earning the cash back to cover the VISA fees is the only way this MS hobby makes sense now.

I have a $3,000 spending requirement on the new Citi AA card I just got.  But I don’t usually have a problem spending $3,000 in 3 months without MS.

Have you had any MS Adventures lately?

 

My “Last Hurrah” with Club Carlson – Plus a Mini AOR

Ahhhh….Club Carlson.  I have only had your credit card for 1 year now and in the beginning you were full of promises and Bonus Nights.

But now? Now you are like a cheating lover who has punched me in the heart and destroyed my faith in all hotel loyalty programs.

Too dramatic? Yeah.  Maybe.  But the past couple weeks I have been seriously stressed out by the looming devaluation of the Club Carlson Rewards Program.

It is crazy easy to earn Club Carlson points without ever staying in one of their properties.  You earn 5 points per dollar spent and they offer an 85,000 point sign up bonus for their Premier Rewards Visa Card.  After your sign up and initial spend, you’ve got a cool 97,500 points to redeem.  Factor in the Bonus Nights (R.I.P.) and you could spend 4 nights in a 4-star European hotel for just $75.  (that is the annual fee that is not waived for the first year)

Granted, their US properties are not the greatest (with a few exceptions) but many of their European properties are quite nice.

As you all know by now, the Bonus Night perk went away on June 1, 2015.  Between Matthew and myself we had about 350,000 Club Carlson points that would be worth half as much after June 1. (it was 337,000 but Matthew stayed at a Radisson on business and earned more points)  And to add insult to injury, they were also making a bunch of Category changes on June 1, with most properties moving UP a category.

I spent the last 2 weeks of May trying to decide what speculative bookings to make, hoping I would be able to make them all work.

What I Did

I am planning a trip to Australia in June 2016.  That much, I know.  I do not really know the exact dates, but I have a general idea of when I would like to go and how long I would like to stay.  I also know that I would like to end my trip in (and fly home from) Sydney.  So I took a big gamble and booked 4 nights at the Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel Sydney.  I used 50,000 miles from my account and 50,000 miles from Matthew’s account.

raddison-blu-sydney

Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel Sydney

It’s a beautiful 5 star hotel within walking distance of the Sydney Harbor Bridge and the view of some kind of  futuristic looking Opera House.

Now all I have to do is hope I can secure 3 business class seats home on Virgin Australia using Delta miles when the schedule opens up in mid July!  Of course I also have to hope that I can secure 3 business class seats on Cathay Pacific using American miles to even get there in the first place!   Hopefully all the planets align and the dates I want/need will be available.

Next up – Spring Break 2016.  This was a tough one, but yet a very easy one at the same time.  I had tossed about the idea of going to Cancun to visit Chichen Itza.  I also considered Peru and Machu Picchu.  Some kind of Mayan phase I was in, I guess.  I had also seriously considered Egypt.  Parker is fascinated with Egypt right now and has had an Egyptian themed birthday for the past 2 years! But Egypt is so hard to get to! (read: it costs more miles than I am willing to spend) I could not find what I thought was a reasonable redemption to get us to Egypt so I put it back on the shelf for a while.

I asked Parker where he would like to go for Spring Break next year (other than Egypt) and, without hesitation, he said, “Paris”.  Done and done.  You really do not have to ask me twice to go to Paris.  I am going for 2 days in October of this year, but that’s ok.

paris

So.  I booked 4 nights at the Radisson Blu Paris Champs Elysees.  50,000 points for 2 nights from each of our accounts.  Now this redemption worries me just a little bit.  The 50,000 point redemption is for a “Deluxe Room” which has one queen size bed.  The 3 of us cannot really sleep comfortably in one queen bed.  With each of us having Gold Status (by renewing the Visa card for another year) I am hoping we will be upgraded to a Business Class room with a king bed or a room that will accommodate a rollaway bed.  It’s a gamble and I know that upgrades are never a sure thing.  I could have redeemed 105,000 points for the Business Class room.  But you know I would never do that.

radisson-sas-hotel-paris-champs-elysees-paris_240920100908461791

Radisson Blu Hotel Champs Elysees Paris

My original plan was to book 6 nights at the Champs Elysees, but as luck would have it, they did not have availability for 2 nights in the middle of my stay.  My solution was to spend 2 nights at Disneyland Paris.  (Euro Disney?) At 7, I don’t think Parker will have outgrown it yet.

Using 50,000 points from Matthew’s account, I booked 2 nights at the Radisson Blu Disneyland Paris.  I’m not sure what to expect of Disneyland Paris, but I do not expect an American experience.

rdaissondisney

Radisson Blu Disneyland Paris

Matthew and I are huge geeks.  Especially when it comes to Halloween.  One of our favorite Halloween attractions is Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando, FL.

My favorite time to go is early October, but I going to Romania with my paranormal team in early October.  I also have lots of things planned for later in October so my only option for Halloween Horror Nights was the last weekend in September.  I do not have any flights booked yet (I am hoping for a deal on Frontier) so I took a chance and made a speculative booking at the Country Inn and Suites Orlando Universal.  I used 28,000 points from Matthew’s account for 2 nights.

I also made a speculative booking at Country Inn and Suites Sandusky OH over the 4th of July 2016.  Matthew’s birthday is July 4 and in the past we have gone to amusement parks for his birthday (see above statement about being geeks), so why not next year? Parker has never been to Cedar Point and he is big enough for almost all the rides. Another 28,000 points from Matthew’s account for those 2 nights.

As of May 31, I was left with about 15,0oo points in my account and Matthew had about 30,000.  I could not let them go to waste!

We love California and have gone every year for the past 10 or more years.  Since I will likely buy a Platinum Cedar Fair pass next year (to go to Cedar Point on the 4th of July), if we went to California we could go to Knott’s Berry Farm.  And of course Disneyland.  I found the Radisson Suites Hotel Buena Park which is walking distance to Knott’s Berry Farm.  Big problem though! The Radisson Buena Park was 38,000 points.  Neither of us had enough points.  Club Carlson will allow Gold Elite members to transfer points to another member’s account by calling their Customer Service Center.  The Customer Service Center is closed on weekends and the reservation agents can’t (or won’t) do it.  Remember, the Bonus Night was going away on Monday, June 1.

At this point I was determined not to lose that point redemption and went so far as to install Google Voice on my phone and call the Club Carlson Australian Customer Service Center!  I waited on hold for 18 minutes (and 36 cents) before my call was answered by their Dallas TX reservation center.  What?  Apparently the Australian Service Center was getting so many calls, they were being routed back to the US.  The lady on the line wanted to know why they were getting so many calls about transferring points.  (Really?) I told her I was actually calling Australia to talk to Customer Service and the call was routed back to her.  She said Customer Service was closed on weekends and she could not understand that it was actually Monday morning already in Australia and why in the world would I call Australia??? I hung up before wasting another 2 cents.

I woke up Monday morning, sad that I lost out on one last Bonus Night award redemption.  But wait…what’s this? Notifications on my computer that Bonus Night bookings were still going through! I hopped on the phone and had points transferred from my account to Matthew’s.  As fast as I could, I logged on to the Club Carlson site to book the Radisson Suites Buena Park.  Score! And guess what else? The Radisson Suites Buena Park actually moved DOWN a category on June 1.  So not only did I get the Bonus Night, I also saved 10,000 points!

As a side note, the Radisson Blu Paris Disneyland also moved down a category and was now 6,000 points less than what I booked it for.  I thought about canceling my reservation and rebooking at the lower rate but either my computer or the Club Carlson website was acting funky and I was afraid of losing it completely.  In my opinion, it was not worth it to potentially lose 38,000 points for the sake of maybe saving 6,000.

So…my Club Carlson Tally:

4 nights Radisson Blu Paris Champs Elysees – 100,000

2 nights Radisson Blu Paris Disneyland – 50,000

4 nights Radisson Blu Park Plaza Sydney – 100,000

2 nights Country Inn and Suites Orlando – 28,000

2 nights Country Inn and Suites Sandusky OH  – 28,000

2 nights Radisson Suites Buena Park CA – 28,000

We each have just over 10,000 points left in our accounts.  Hopefully we will be able to find some use for them in the next year or two.

Mini App – O – Rama

Because I feel like I am not doing anything if I am not actively earning miles and points, and because I just finished the minimum spend on Matthew’s most recent AOR,  I decided to do one for myself.

I don’t feel like making one of my little charts, so I will just tell you what I did.

1. Citibank AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard.  I will earn 50,000 AAdvantage miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months.  $0 annual fee for the first year.

  • Reason: you can NEVER have enough AA miles! I am using a big chunk for Cathay Pacific business class to Australia and I want to make sure I have some in the bank.

2. Bank of America Alaska Airlines Signature VISA.  I will earn 25,000 Alaska Airlines miles just for signing up.  No minimum spend required.  $75 annual fee is not waived for the first year.

  • Reason: This is not the greatest sign-up bonus but I am going to start stockpiling Alaska miles to use to get to Fiji in the next 2 years.  As of now, Alaska BOA cards are highly churnable.

3. Barclay’s Frontier Mastercard.  40,000 Frontier miles after spending $500 in the first 3 months. $69 annual fee is not waived for the first year.

  • Reason: My first thought was to use Frontier miles to get to Orlando in September for Halloween Horror Nights.  But it will depend on the fare.  If I can get a good value for the redemption, I will use the miles.  If not, I will pay cash.  I can still use the miles for a ski trip I plan to plan (“plan to plan”, I like that!) for January 2016.

I am getting 115,000 airline miles for $144.  Not the biggest or the cheapest AOR I have ever done, but I have a somewhat immediate need for these miles.

So that’s it for now! I am also working on a post about my recent Manufactured Spending experience.  Hopefully I will have that one up in the next couple days.

I know I don’t have a huge following, but for the handful of people who do read my blog – I appreciate it! Maybe if I would write more…..