How Much Did My “Free” 3 week trip to the UK Really Cost?

The UK, and London in particular, is a very expensive vacation destination.  But it’s also one of my favourite places in the entire world.

My son’s current obsession with all things Harry Potter and the fact that 2017 marked the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, meant that we simply had to make the UK our “big trip” of the year.

I always tell people “travel does not have to be expensive”. And it doesn’t.  There are plenty of ways I could have made this trip much cheaper than it ended up being, but it would not have been as fun.  One place we definitely could have saved money was food.  We could have hit Pret A Manger every day, shopped at the grocery store for picnic lunches and food to eat in our room – but we were in Scotland and England! I love love love the historic pubs from the 1700s and I wanted to hit as many of them as I possibly could!  And who doesn’t love a good Sunday roast?  And Nando’s?

So what should the food budget be for 2 adults and 1 child for 3 weeks in the UK?  Good question.  I guess it depends on how much you eat and what kind of food you like.  It is easy (very easy) to spend $100+ on dinner every night.  When planning the trip I set a food budget of $80 per day.  That’s $1600.  Wow.  I am happy to say that I ended up only spending an average of $47 per day for a total of $947 for the 20 day trip.  I think I may do a separate post about the places we ate on the trip because there were some really good ones.

Another big expense that miles and points don’t usually cover, is attractions.  We went crazy on a couple of these like the Harry Potter Studio Tour (of course), the London Dungeon, the London HoHo Bus, Tower of London and Stonehenge.  The last 2 are very expensive and to be perfectly honest, my 9 year old son was unimpressed.  I also thought he would enjoy the HoHo Bus a lot more than he did.  Lesson learned.  As a family of 3, we spent $970 on attractions.  I did find Groupons for a couple of tours we took, which saved us some money.

The final big expense of the trip that miles and points won’t cover, is souvenirs.  We went way overboard here.  But there was so much Harry Potter stuff to buy! My son earned almost $200 selling a boatload of his “baby toys” at our yard sale a few months ago.  I told him he could spend $100 of that on the trip.  We still ended up spending another $350 on top of his $100.  Actually $100 of that was gifts for my husband’s birthday on July 4.  He loves golf and we just so happened to be in St. Andrew’s the day after his birthday, so I let him go a little crazy in the gift shop there.   So then really $250 on souvenirs doesn’t sound so bad.

We had a rental car for the first 10 days of the trip.  I reserved a compact car through Hertz, picking up in downtown Edinburgh and dropping off in London on Edgware Rd.  I was pleasantly surprised to be given a Vauxhall Mokka, which is a compact SUV.  It was quite roomy for the 3 of us, our 3 suitcases and 3 backpacks.  The cost of the 10 day rental, including the one way drop off fee was $302.  The car was a manual transmission which was significantly cheaper than an automatic.  I didn’t find it that hard to drive (shifting with my left hand), but Matthew didn’t care for it.  It just added to the stress of trying to remember to drive on the wrong side of the road.  I used miles from my Barclay Arrival Plus card to “erase” the $300 charge, making my car rental cost $0. Gas, however, was another story.  We spent $291 on gas over 10 days.  A necessary evil.

RETAIL COST: $302
I PAID: $0  
(I used 30,000 Barclay Arrival points for a travel statement credit)

So now for the nitty-gritty of how much I spent on airfare and hotels.  This is the part of a trip that you HAVE to do.  You HAVE to get there and you HAVE to have a place to stay.  The food, the attractions and the souvenirs can all be done on the cheap – even in London there are plenty of FREE activities.

AIRFARE:  We flew into Edinburgh and out of Dublin.  Dublin was not initially part of my itinerary.  But once I saw how expensive it was to fly out of London (even on miles), I decided to add 1 night in Dublin and fly home from there.

I used 90,000 Delta SkyMiles for 3 one way economy class tickets from Cincinnati to Edinburgh via JFK.   I paid $17 in taxes.  Our flight was uneventful; I don’t remember much of it.  I think I managed to sleep for a few hours.  People put down Delta a lot (myself included) mainly because their SkyMiles program is …well…just horrible.  But honestly when it comes to service and in flight comfort, I think they have the other US carriers beat.  Especially American.

For our return flight from Dublin, I used 81,000 AAdvantage miles (90,000 – 9,000 miles back as a benefit of having the AAviator credit card) for 3 one way economy class tickets from Dublin to Cincinnati via Philadelphia.  I paid $138 in taxes.

It’s hard to say what the retail cost of these flights would be.  When I price them as individual one ways, they come to around $3,000 each.  Of course it’s unlikely anybody would book them like that.  It’s more likely that these flights would cost around $1,300 per  ticket, so for our retail cost we will say these tickets have Retail Value of $3,900.

This return flight on American was not as uneventful as the Delta flight.  The flight attendants were just this side of rude.  I ordered a kid’s meal for my son, double checked it several times prior to our trip to make sure I had requested it, but lo and behold, no kid’s meal was provided.  The flight attendant was less than apologetic and just said “so does he want chicken or pasta?”  He is the world’s pickiest eater and ended up with nothing to eat. Later in the flight he had to go to the bathroom, but both of the bathrooms on our side of the plane were occupied.  Being a 9 year old with a sense of urgency, he asked the people in the bulkhead if he could cross over and they allowed him to.  They also allowed him to come back through after using the lav, but he encountered a drink trolley blocking his path back to our seats.  He went back across the bulkhead (I realize that is getting out of hand) and tried to cross over through the first class galley.  He was met by a male flight attendant who yelled at him for “running around the plane” and ordered him back to his seat immediately.  He knew the bulkhead folks would yell at him if he went through again, and this guy was blocking his way to cross over so he got scared, stood in the middle of the aisle and started crying.  I was not aware of any of this until I heard him crying.  I had absolutely no idea what was going on or why he was crying.   I pointed toward the back of the plane and told him to go that way.  When I got there, I saw there was a bulkhead row of seats and he could not cross over.  The lady sitting in the bulkhead decided to tell me how tired she was of him crossing over and stepping on her feet.  I still had no idea what was happening.  I pointed toward the front of the plane and told him to go that way.  I went through the first class curtain and through the galley to be met by the male flight attendant, who again started yelling at Parker and me.  Still not knowing what happened, I told him I was absolutely crossing over to get my crying child and we were going back to our seat.  Later, that flight attendant came by and apologized for yelling and said he thought Parker was running around playing.  Another passenger who saw what happened told him that he was only trying to use the bathroom.

So…wow…this was supposed to be about flights and hotels!   Let’s move on.

Back in November, Ryanair had a “Trump sale” on airfare.  Whatever…it was a sale so I bought it.  3 one way economy class tickets from London to Dublin.  I paid $150.  This was still much cheaper than the $150 per person tax I would have had to pay to use my miles to fly home from London.

AIRFARE BOTTOM LINE: 

RETAIL VALUE: $4,050
I PAID: $305

HOTELS:

We spent 3 nights at the Radisson Blu in Edinburgh which sits right on the Royal Mile! 

As a Club Carlson Gold member, I was upgraded to a business class room.  Normally, the business class room includes a buffet breakfast in the hotel restaurant but we were not given breakfast because we were given a “complimentary room upgrade”.  Very strange.

The room itself was quite nice, we had a pretty view from the window and they gave us a rollaway bed for Parker at no additional cost.

For 3 nights:  Retail cost $1,386
I paid $0 
( I used 70,000 Club Carlson points per night)

After we left Edinburgh, we drove up to Loch Ness and spent the night at The Inch Hotel in Ft. Augustus.

I booked this hotel through American Express Travel because I had a few leftover Membership Rewards points that I could put toward the rate.  I booked a family room that was actually quite spacious.  It had 2 bedrooms, one with a queen bed and one with 2 twin beds. Unfortunately breakfast was not included in the American Express rate, but we left quite early in the morning anyway.

The Inch Hotel Family Room

The Inch Hotel Family Room – the kid’s room

RETAIL COST: $276
I PAID: $138

Our next stop was on the Isle of Skye for 2 nights.  This was definitely our “splurge hotel” on the trip.  We stayed at the beautiful Viewfield House Hotel.

This country home sits on 20 wooded acres above the town of Portree.  The house was built over 200 years ago and is still owned by the Macdonald family.   We had a lovely room with a queen bed and a huge window overlooking the garden.

Our room at Viewfield House Hotel

I slept with the shutters open each night – even though it didn’t get dark until almost 11:30pm and the sun came up before 4am!

Our first laundry day fell during our stay at the Viewfield House.  I thought I was going to have to take our laundry down to the Portree Youth Hostel launderette, but fortunately the Viewfield House had a washer and dryer available for guest use.  Score!

We also finally had a proper fry-up B&B breakfast each morning in the beautiful dining room.

RETAIL COST: $414 for 2 nights
I PAID: $0 (I used 40,000 Barclay Arrival points as a travel statement credit)

After leaving the Isle of Skye we drove down to the beautiful Loch Lomond area.  In the middle of all the great hill walks (including Ben Nevis – the highest mountain in the British Isles!) sits the town of Crianlarich and the Ben More Lodge.  The Ben More Lodge was…how do I say this?….cozy.

This was our room.  Seriously.  That’s it.  This picture was taken standing in the front door.  The door directly in front of you goes into the wee bathroom.  (with a very wee shower)  Miles and Points travel is not always 5 star luxury hotels!  But to be fair, the people running this lodge were some of the nicest people we met and they made us feel welcome and cooked a great breakfast (included in the rate).

The view of our room from the parking lot

My plan was to use some Barclay Arrival points to get another statement credit for the cost of this room.  The problem is, you can only redeem Barclay Arrival points in increments of 10,000 (or $100) and this room was $90.  So before we left we bought a bunch of snacks and drinks for our road trip and added them to the bill to get us over $100.  But guess what?  Because the Ben More Lodge is a tavern, the charge coded as a “restaurant” and not “lodging”, so I had to pay for this one.  Live and learn.

RETAIL COST: $90
I PAID: $90

The Ben More Lodge was our last hotel in Scotland.  We headed into England and spent our first night at the Sunderland Marriott hotel.  This was a typical business class Marriott hotel, but it sat directly on the sea and our room had a beautiful view.

Can’t see the view in this picture, but I just wanted to show the room itself. They provided a rollaway bed for Parker at no additional cost.

Exterior of the hotel as seen from the beach

We arrived fairly late after touring castles all day and stopping at carvery in Sunderland for a yummy Sunday roast.  After we checked in, we took Parker to the indoor pool for awhile.  The pool area was full of locals who have a membership to the pool and exercise facility.  They were all surprised that we came to Sunderland on holiday.  I explained that this was the only hotel on our route from Scotland to England where I could stay for free!

Platinum status gave us buffet breakfast in the hotel restaurant.

RETAIL COST: $188
I PAID: $0 (I used an “Anniversary free night in a Category 5 hotel” certificate that Matthew earns each year that he holds the Chase Marriott Credit card)  We also earned 1,250 Marriott Rewards points for the stay.

From Sunderland we drove about an hour and a half south to York.  York is a beautiful city and I would love to go back and spend more time there.  Parker was in heaven when he found “The Shop That Must Not Be Named” , Harry Potter shop.

We stayed at the York Marriott Hotel.  I was unsure how I wanted to pay for this room.  It is a Category 7 hotel, which is a whopping 35,000 points per night, but I was able to reserve a room at the government rate for $124.  I did not feel that was a wise use of points.  There was also the option of using the Barclay Arrival Plus points to credit the cost of the stay, but paying for it and using the Marriott credit card seemed to be the best option.  Using the card pays 5x points and counts toward elite credit.  So in the end, that’s what we did.

The hotel is beautiful and backs up to the York RaceCourse, which you can walk out on.  I am not a fan of horse racing, but it was beautiful and I appreciate the history of the course.

I was disappointed that we were not offered an upgraded room for Platinum status.  They have balcony rooms that overlook the race course and most of them appeared to be vacant.   We were given a standard room with a view of the parking lot.

Platinum status gave us buffet breakfast in the hotel restaurant.

RETAIL COST: $182
I PAID: $124 (government rate and Matthew earned a total of 5,025 points for the 1 night stay)

From York we drove towards the Costwolds (with a stop to visit a friend in Milton Keynes) and spent in the night in Faringdon at The Old Crown Coaching Inn.

This was, by far, my favorite hotel of the trip.  The Inn was built in the 1500s and of course it’s haunted!  My son and I had a great time looking for ghosts in the courtyard and the bar (that was closed when we were there).  The lady working at reception (Sharon) showed us around the hotel, including the secret rooms and underground tunnels.  It was amazing. We were in Room 109, a triple room with 3 twin beds, stone walls and a wood beam ceiling.  I felt like I had stepped back in time to the 16th century, but with wifi.

Our rate included a cooked to order breakfast in the hotel restaurant.

RETAIL COST: $102
I PAID: $0 (I used Barclay Arrival Plus points for a travel statement credit)

We spent the next 2 days driving through the Cotswolds and spent 2 nights at the Hilton Doubletree in Swindon.

Absolutely nothing special about this hotel or the city of Swindon. (sorry)  We were given a  Queen Family Room with a queen bed and a sleeper sofa.  No room upgrade was offered, but a Diamond Welcome gift of points was given at check-in.

Diamond status gave us free buffet breakfast in the hotel restaurant.

RETAIL COST: $378 (which seems high, but that’s what they were going for in mid-July)
I PAID: $0  (I used 30,000 Hilton Honors points)

Our last stop before London was Stonehenge and I booked a room 15 minutes away at The Coach House through Air BnB.

This was literally a small apartment with 2 bedrooms above the coach house and horse stables.  Located in Cholderton, the farm was beautiful and a peaceful way to end our hectic 10 long days of driving.  Peaceful if you don’t mind peacocks hollering at all hours of the day and night.  Honestly though, I loved it.

Our hosts provided all the ingredients for a cook your own breakfast.  Farm fresh eggs, bacon, bread, butter, juice and milk.

RETAIL COST: $126
I PAID: $126 (I booked this early in the planning stages of my trip and meant to credit it with Barclay Arrival points, but I forgot)

Finally! London!

The London Marriott County Hall

Yes – that giant building next to the London Eye is County Hall and Marriott occupies a large chunk of it.

This Marriott was not my first choice.  For the longest time I had the Marriott Park Lane on hold.  But a couple of my travel hacker friends told me how wonderful the County Hall Marriott is.  To be honest, I have never liked that area of London. But things are different now. I have a child and there is an awesome playground next to the County Hall Marriott.  Plus the London Eye is right there, the London Dungeon, Shrek and the Aquarium are in the same building.  I kept my eye on Trip Advisor reviews and saw that people were regularly upgraded to rooms with views of Big Ben and Parliament.  I thought  that would be a lovely view to see every night, so I changed my booking to County Hall.

When we arrived we found a German company called Karcher had taken over the hotel for a convention.  They had the entire hotel booked for the same 5 nights that we were there and had taken all the rooms with views.  No upgrade for you! We were given a room on the side of the building with a view of Jubilee Gardens (basically a view of the support posts of the London Eye). The room we were given was a 5 minute walk from the elevator.  Seriously.  I’m not being lazy. We were walking 7-8 miles a day in London, the last thing I want to do is walk another 200 miles to get to my room!  And finally – a couple weeks before we arrived I sent the County Hall Marriott a Facebook message informing them that it was Matthew’s birthday and I was wondering if they could do something special for him in the room.  I even offered to pay for it.  They said “Sure no problem.  We would be delighted to set something up for him”.  When we checked in, there was nothing in the room.

All of that was too much.  I went down to the desk and asked if I could switch my reservation back to the Park Lane Marriott.  After explaining to the manger on duty all of the concerns I mentioned above (and also the black stains I discovered on the towels and comforter) she not only agreed to switch our reservation but offered to pay for the taxi to take us over there.

After some more discussion with her and her checking the computer several times to see if a better room was available, she (apparently) moved a reservation around and offered to move us to a room with a view of Big Ben being blocked by a Shrek banner.

No joke.

In the end, we were given a room about 10 steps from the elevator with 2 queen beds, a view of the river and Matthew’s birthday gift.

I realize that complaining about not being upgraded might sound entitled and petty.  But Matthew did not earn that status from credit card signups.  He earned it from being loyal to Marriott and staying in them on every work trip for the past 5+ years.

Platinum status gave us free breakfast and evening appetizers in the Marriott Executive lounge.  The new M-Club lounge concept allows the Platinum member to bring one guest to the lounge.  Children of said Platinum guest are expected to pay 40pounds ($52 US)!! for lounge access and breakfast.  Can you believe that?  $52 for a child to eat breakfast! When the manager was changing our room she asked if we were aware of the new lounge concept and told us what it was.  I just looked at her like “You must be kidding me”.  She quickly told us we would not be charged, but that Marriott was cracking down on all hotels with lounges to enforce this new “concept”.  Hopefully enough Platinum members will complain and they will drop that “concept”.  I understand that some people may abuse the lounge access, but I’m betting most do not.

RETAIL COST: $2,800
I PAID: $0  
(I used 180,000 Marriott points – 45,000 per night with the 5th night free)

Our last night was spent in Dublin.  We paid $150 to fly over to Dublin to avoid paying about $450 in taxes to fly out of London.  I had a Holiday Inn free night certificate that was going to expire in April.  Even though the stay was not until July, I booked it before it expired and was able to use it.  If for any reason I cancelled that reservation after the expiration date, I would lose the certificate.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Dublin City Centre, which was a basic Holiday Inn but within a 10 minute walk of the Temple Bar area of Dublin.

Platinum status gave us free buffet breakfast in the hotel restaurant.

RETAIL COST: $212
I PAID: $0 
(annual free night certificate from Chase IHG credit card)

 

So that’s the entire trip and here’s the bottom line.

TOTAL TRIP RETAIL COST: $10,506
I PAID: $783

Of  course as I said at the beginning, I paid a lot more than that when you add up food, attractions, and souvenirs.  But all of those charges can be as much or as little as your budget allows.  What matters most is how cheaply you can get there and how cheaply you can stay there.

AAdvantage Aviator Card Promo – Will I Make It?

In late November, I received an email from Barclaycard to register for a promotion offering 30,000 miles for spending $2,500 each month on my AAdvantage Aviator Red MasterCard.  The promo runs from December 2015 until May 2016.  So essentially I would earn 45,000 miles after adding the 2,500 a month for 6 months.

promo

$2,500 is a lot to spend each month without doing any Manufactured Spending.  At least, for me, it is a lot to spend each month!

I got through December pretty easily thanks to a couple VISA GC purchases at Walmart.

And then this happened.

BB

Ahhhh that dreaded e-mail that we all knew was coming.  Don’t say you didn’t know.  This could not go on forever.  Eventually AMEX would wise up and realize they were losing money.

I got that e-mail on January 8 and I’m totally kicking myself for not buying a gift card the first week of January.  But I have always been very conservative in this hobby.  I don’t buy $40K worth of gift cards every month!  So my plan was to wait until the end of each month and see how short I was.  If I was within $1,000 of the $2,500 (likely) I would buy a couple gift cards to make up the difference.  That’s pretty much what I have always done.  I usually bought $1,000-$1,500 a month and paid my mortgage with it.  I rarely used Bluebird to pay off the credit card I used to buy the gift cards.  I think I did that once.  And I didn’t pay the whole balance.  I would usually pay $378.55 or some other odd amount.

So again. I am really surprised that I was shut down by Bluebird.  I have heard that some people are still going at it.  I’m not sure how they managed to stay under the radar, but at this point, I hope they ride it hard.  I know I would.

Yesterday I got this e-mail from Barclaycard.

aacard

That’s very nice.  I was wondering how (if) they were going to keep track of the monthly spending for this promo.  I WISH they had some kind of calculator on their web page so you could track your monthly purchases.  You can look up your month to date purchases, but you have to whip out the calculator to get the total.

According to my calculations, I am at $1829.26 for the month of January.  And that is with a large $1,000 purchase that I would not normally make.  So in reality I have only spent $800 so far this month.  That is probably about average for us, unless it’s Christmas time, someone’s birthday or we are on a trip.   So at $1829 for this month, I am $670 short.  I don’t see myself spending that much in the next week.  Maybe another $100-200.

Unless I buy a gift card.

I’ve been thinking about this.  People are still buying the Visa GC and then buying money orders.  I have only done that once, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience.  But I might give it another try.  Worst case, I am stuck with a $500 gift card that I will have to liquidate by regular spend.  And at that point it won’t matter because I will not be able to complete this promotion.

Do you still do any manufactured spending?  Do you think the end is nigh?

Best Travel Camera Bag – EVER!

About 6 years ago we upgraded from a small Sony point and shoot camera that could fit in my pocket, to a big ol’ Nikon D3100.  Yes it takes great pictures, but more often than not, I would leave it at home because it was just too big and bulky to carry around.

Tamrac6

 

We were using a Tamrac backpack camera bag.  It held absolutely everything we needed to take pictures, but it was a pain to access your camera when you needed it. By the time you took the bag off of your back, set it down and unzipped the bottom compartment, the moment had likely passed.

As I was planning my trip to Romania (which was AWESOME and I am really going to try to write about it soon) I knew I wanted to take the big camera, but I was dreading the backpack.  Especially since I would not have Matthew with me to carry the load!

On a previous trip to Europe, I carried my camera in my purse, which was not the best idea.  There was absolutely no padding and the particular purse I was carrying did not even zip or snap shut.  Bad idea.

I wanted a camera bag that looked more like a purse than a camera bag.  I started researching bags, but most of them still looked like a camera bag.

Then I found the Lowepro Passport Sling. This bag is awesome.  It fit not only my big Nikon D3100, but also an additional zoom lens if I was so inclined to take it with me.  (Which I was, but did not use it even once)  The front part of the bag expands by about 30% when you open the zipper.  This was great for carrying my wallet, my Go Pro, my phone and even a light cardigan! There are outside pockets also, but they have no zipper or velco closure so you can’t put anything valuable in there.  But the outside pockets were great for water bottles and metro tickets.

The best part about the Lowepro bag was the padded insert for the camera.  It wasn’t as heavily padded on the bottom as I would have liked and I’m not sure why they didn’t pad the bottom as well as the sides.  But it made a nice little cocoon for the camera to ride in and as long as I was careful not to throw the bag on the ground, I felt that the camera was well protected.

I actually purchased the original version of the bag on amazon.com.  There are still some available here.  My main reason for choosing the older model is because of the khaki color.  Most all camera bags are black and red and I thought the khaki color looked more like a purse and would blend in better.  And well, let’s be honest, it’s almost half the price of the newest model.  But it looks like the newest model has a compartment for a tablet, which could be useful if that is something you like to walk around with.

The bag is big, but at just over 5’8″ I did not feel overwhelmed by it.  A smaller person might find it bulky, but it is very light.  Even when it’s stuffed full!

paris

The bag blends in well and doesn’t scream “CAMERA BAG!”

 

 

Chasing A Dream

Ouch!

Fake Dictionary, Dictionary definition of the word hubris.

 

For the first time In My Life, I was denied personal credit.  And it hurt.  Even though it’s partly my own fault; I did not heed the warnings of those who had gone before me. I just went in, balls to the wall, full of arrogance and my 808 credit score and was promptly shot down.

Let back up a bit, for some context.

Back in June, many bloggers (like MMS, and Mommy Points) and Flyer Talk reported that Chase was cracking down on approving applications for people who they felt had opened too many new accounts in the past 24 months.  And this is from ANY bank! Not just Chase.

At that time it seemed to mostly affect Ultimate Rewards earning cards such as Chase Freedom and Chase Sapphire Preferred.  The airline and hotel cards (United, Marriott, Holiday Inn etc) issued by Chase seemed to be ok for a while.

I had a busy summer.  I spent it with my family and we went on a few great trips.  I did not spend as much time as I maybe should have reading blogs and Flyer Talk (or updating my own blog).  So I knew Chase had tightened up, but I really didn’t think about it possibly getting worse.

I booked Australia!

(yay! I’ll tell you about it later!) Yes I did manage to get that done over the summer.  In fact, I booked my flight to Australia using the Delta Mobile app on my phone while we were driving down to Mammoth Cave.  If you know me at all, you know I am not comfortable doing things like that anywhere but my ginormous desktop computer.  Mobile sites just make me uneasy for some reason.  ANYWAY I am going to need some United miles and British Airways Avios for traveling within Australia and to get from Australia to Thailand.  (yes, I’ve added a whole ‘nother trip to Australia)  So I thought this would be a good time to apply for the British Airways card for myself and the United Card for Matthew.  Both had 50,000 mile sign up bonuses which would more than cover what I needed.

I applied online using a friend’s link for the British Airways card and got the dreaded screen telling me to call in to further process my application.  I didn’t think much of it. Most of my applications have been automatically approved, but I have had to call in a couple of times to verify information.

After verifying my address, SSN and phone number, the Chase agent started getting serious.  She asked about the income I stated on the application and where it comes from.  I told her most of it was from my husband, but a small percentage of it was mine from self-employment.  She asked what my “self- employment” was.  I told her I was a part time tour guide.  (this is true)  Then she put me on hold for what felt like forever while she “reviewed my credit history”.  This is when I started to sweat.  She told me I had applied for 9 cards in the past 12 months.  This is not true.  And I am almost positive she said 12 months and not 24 months.  She then asked “Why did you apply for so many cards? Why do you need so much open credit?”  I told her I don’t need that much open credit and I would be happy to shift some around to open this card.  She was having none of it and said I would not be approved.  I asked if I could close the Southwest card to get this one open.  She said “No.  You have more than enough credit for your needs”

Wow.  She was tough.  And she was not backing down.  I asked if being an Authorized User on my husband’s cards was counting in this denial and she said “No.”  Good thing, because that would have probably put me over 20!

I have always said I am a CONSERVATIVE credit card churner and “Manufactured Spender”.  And I still believe that to be true.

In the interest of full disclosure, let’s look at how many cards I have actually applied (and been approved!) for since August 2013.

August 2013 – SPG Amex

Sept 2013 – Citi AA Visa (closed), Barclays Frontier MC (closed)

March 2014 – Citi AA Executive (closed), Chase Sapphire Preferred, US Bank Club Carlson Visa

June 2014 – Wells Fargo Amex (closed)

August 2014 – Skymiles Business Gold Amex (Business card should not be counted), Chase Marriott (closed)

December 2014 – Chase Southwest Personal

January 2015 – Chase Southwest Business (again, Business card)

June 2015 – Citi AA Mastercard, BoA Alaska Airlines Visa, Barclays Frontier MC

Ok.  That’s 14 cards in the past 24 months.  But 2 business cards should not count.  So that’s 12.  She said 9.  I’m thinking maybe she did not count or see the ones from August and Sept 2013.  That would make the count accurate.

What now?

I’m a little torn over what to do now.  Should I just lay low and not apply for any cards until maybe mid-2016?  That way many of my apps will drop off.  Or should I apply for cards from other banks before the whole thing explodes?  I am leaning toward the last option.

 

Bursting-Bubble

 

I don’t want to be an alarmist, but I really think this game is dying.  I know when something dies, something new always comes along.  Every once in a while someone will say, “Do you remember a few years ago when everybody was buying coins from the US Mint?” Well, I think a few years from now people will say, “Do you remember when everybody was getting hundreds of thousands of miles from credit card sign up bonuses? Ah..those were the days”

I mean, look at what has happened recently.  American Express limits sign up bonuses to once per card per lifetime.  Citibank will not give a bonus if you have opened or closed the same card in the past 18 months.  And now Chase is not approving applications if you have opened more than 5 cards in the past 24 months.  What’s next?  Will they all eventually go the same way as American Express? Once per lifetime?

So I think this might be the time to just go for it.  Grab what you can and be happy with what you get before the bottom falls out.  And it will.  If this hobby had remained a secret society, things might still be easy.  But you’ve got too many big name bloggers spewing all the down and dirty details.  Mommy Points was on Nightline for crying out loud!  And even with all the approval crackdowns, they are still pimping their Chase Credit Card affiliate links.  At least the newbies can get some miles.

sunshine

 

Sorry.  I don’t mean to be all doom and gloom.  I think the Chase denial just got to me.  Just last month I went through all the trouble of opening a new checking account with Chase and giving up a 20 year relationship with my credit union!  Chase offered me $300 to do this, but that’s beside the point.  I also haven’t completely cut the cord with my credit union and after this mess, I probably won’t.

So let’s see what happens next.  I’m still $10 ahead from my last MS adventure with ordering American Express gift cards.  (Oh yeah…you know the portals stopped paying out cash back, right?) So I think I will buy a couple Visa Gift Cards with my Chase Sapphire and load them to RedBird.  That will give me 1,000 Ultimate Rewards points.  I need all I can get to transfer to United!  After that…who knows.  If I decide to apply for some different cards in the next couple weeks, I will let you know.

 

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…..

Club Carlson Stress

stress-pencil-cropped

I’m sure everybody has heard by now – Club Carlson (VISA) is doing away with their “Bonus Night” perk beginning on June 1.

The Bonus Night is being replaced by a certificate for 1 free night at any US Club Carlson hotel, if you spend $10,000 in a calendar year.   The free night certificate would be more valuable to most people if it could be used outside the US.  The majority of the Club Carlson hotels within the US are nothing to write home about.  (with the exception of a few top tier hotels in major cities)  I stayed at a Country Inn & Suites in Orlando during Spring Break.  It was perfectly fine for us as it offered free breakfast and it was clean.  What more do you need when you are spending all day at the parks anyway?

At this moment I have my recent US Bank Club Carlson VISA bill sitting on the desk in front of me.  I have until June 1 (conveniently) to decide whether or not to pay the $75 annual fee to renew the card.  I am not sure I would spend $10,000 on the card in a year.  With Manufactured Spending getting more difficult, spending $10,000 isn’t so easy any more.  But if you did manage to do it, the $10,000 would not only give you the free night certificate, but also 50,000 points!

radisson-blu-resort-el-quseir-marsa-alam-egypt-holidays-2015-0

They will give me 40,000 points for renewing and  40,000 points could give me 1 free night at a Category 4 hotel.  Or 4 nights at a Category 1 hotel in Cookeville, TN or Tulsa OK! Incidentally there is a very nice looking Radisson Blu in El Quseir Egypt which is a Category 1.  It is located directly on the Red Sea, just east of Luxor with its own dive center.  If only it were easier to get to Egypt!

So Why Am I Stressed?

Because.  Because between Matthew and myself we have 337,042 Club Carlson points.  (377.042 if I renew)  I am the type of person who absolutely, positively has to get the most bang for my buck.  Just because it’s “free” doesn’t mean I will do it.  Many people will pay 32,500 or 37,500 miles for a roundtrip domestic airline ticket that should only be 25,000 miles.  Roundtrip tickets have been 25,000 miles for years! It has only been recently that all of these “levels” were introduced.  It doesn’t matter if those miles cost me $0.  I am not giving them more than 25,000 miles for a roundtrip domestic ticket.  I’m just not.

Go ahead.  Call me crazy.

So, Club Carlson eliminating the Bonus Night and basically cutting the value of my points in half has me scrambling to redeem all my points, with the best possible value, before May 31.  Or May 28, just to be safe.

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I am planning a trip to Australia in June 2016.

There are all of 3 Club Carlson hotels in Australia.  2 in Sydney and 1 in Melbourne.  (There seems to be a lack of chain/award hotels in Australia in general).  I would be perfectly happy to spend 4 nights at the Radisson Blu Sydney (2 nights from my account and 2 nights from Matthew’s) but the problem is that I have no idea on what nights I will actually be in Sydney.  I won’t be able to book my airfare until mid-July and of course that will be too late to book the Bonus Night at the Radisson.

I think my best bet is to plan the trip, book the Radisson and hope that I can get business class awards on the dates I want.  If not, the room will end up costing 200,000 points for 4 nights, instead of 100,000.

And I’ll still have 137,042 left.

 

 

Planning 2016 Travel and Other Aggravations

REDbird_card_image

 

As you have probably heard, the Buzz of the day is that beginning tomorrow (May 6) you can no longer load the Target Prepaid REDcard (aka RedBird) with credit cards.  This is (as of now) a basically unsubstantiated rumor, but I’m sure there will be long lines at many Target CS desks tonight!

This makes me very sad as I have only had my RedBird for a couple months and Matthew just got his last month!  I am very conservative with Manufactured Spending, so I really haven’t done much.  I was going to start amping it up and was even going to write a post about it.  But, for right now we just have to wait and see what happens tomorrow.  Hopefully the rumor is not true.

While I’m here, I will tell you my MAJOR MS activity in April 2015.  I’m not a $50k per month MS monster (I do believe they are the ones that ruin it for the rest of us), but here’s what I did.

I purchased $4,000 in American Express Gift Cards (AGC) with my American Express SPG card.  I paid $25.80 in fees but earned $60 in cash back, so I came out ahead by $34.20.  I loaded those cards to the RedBird throughout the month.  Usually in $1,000 increments.

I also did direct credit card loads of $2250 using AA cards and the old US Air card.  WooHoo!  Big spender! Like I said, I was going to step up my game in May!

But for all my troubles I earned 4,000 SPG points and 2,250 AA miles. (actually I may have earned more AA points with the bonus points promotion that is currently running)  And $34 in cash.

Today only, there is a 2.25% cash back offer on AGC via TopCashBack.  I was about to pull the trigger on a couple today until the other shoe dropped on the RedBird.  I still might do it though.  With cash back, even if I have to pay fees to turn around and buy VISA GC with them, I still come out ahead.

Bottom line for me – if the RedBirds die tomorrow, I will probably still keep them.  Or maybe cancel one and go back to Serve with the other.  We should still be able to load both with VISA GC. (I hope!)

2016 Travel

Ahhhh…it’s that time.  Time to think about next year’s travel plans.  I know where I want to go, and when but I’m having trouble making it work.

Dive-sites

 

My son wants to go to Egypt for Spring Break.  He wants to see the Pyramids and Matthew and I want to dive the Red Sea.

I thought this would be easy to accomplish because prices in Egypt are pretty low right now.  Tourism has fallen off by an estimated 95% since the turmoil and civic unrest of the past few years.  The Red Sea resorts are doing OK, but the historical areas in Cairo, Luxor and Aswan are suffering.  So yeah, I thought it would be cheap and easy.  Not so much.

Have you ever tried to GET to Egypt?  Oh my.  The term “BFE” that we used to say as teenagers ain’t for nothing!

I could fly on Delta for 80,000 miles and $115 per ticket.  But I did not really want to burn up my Delta miles, because I wanted to use those for Australia (which I will talk about in a minute).

I was hoping to use some AA miles to get us to Egypt.  AA codes Egypt as “Middle East” , even though it is  in Africa. (I used to know a Delta agent who thought Egypt was in Europe.  But, I digress) AA also uses British Airways to get to Cairo.  So you know what that means.  Fuel Surcharges.  It would cost me 90,000 miles and $463 Per Ticket to fly from CVG to Cairo.  Yikes!

Then I thought of something else.  Spring Break is “off peak” to Europe on AA.  So I could use 40,000 AA miles to fly RT to London and then 20,000 Avios to fly RT from London to Cairo.  Of course, there are fuel surcharges which would be about $250 per ticket. That still hurts.  But it would only be a total of 60,000 miles per ticket and a total of $750 in cash.  Plus I would have to pay cash for the flights from Cairo to Sharm el Sheikh.

This Egypt trip is getting expensive and complicated.

Australia 2016

Another hassle.  Alaska Airlines has some great partners and low redemption rates.  Cathay Pacific, Qantas and even Fiji Airways can get me to Australia from LAX using Alaska miles.  In coach.  Trying to find availability for 3 business class seats is not looking good.  I have checked many dates throughout the year and nothing comes up in business class. Sometimes not even for 1 ticket.  I have not checked Cathay Pacific though, because you have to call them.

I will likely fly coach to Europe in the future.  But not over the Pacific.  No.  Never again.  Been there, done that.  It was horrible.

You know what does show availability for 3 tickets in business class on several dates throughout the year?  Virgin Australia using Delta SkyMiles.  I would gladly do that roundtrip , but sadly I do not have the 480,000 SkyMiles needed.  I have about 375,000 right now.  By doing some heavy MS and/or transferring some SPG points to Delta, I could probably manage 5 awards (at 80,000 each).  That would mean either Matthew or I would have to take a different flight on the outbound or return.  Not ideal, but we could do it as a last resort.

Trying to figure out which programs to use to make these two big trips happen is proving to be quite stressful.

And finally the last trip I hope to take in 2016 is a 4 or 5 night stay at Beaches Turks and Caicos over fall break.  That is one of our favorite places in the entire world.  October is again “off peak” on the AA charts, so it’s only 25,000 miles per ticket.

Club Carlson Devaluation

Between Matthew and myself, we have about 350,000 Club Carlson points.  Somehow, I have to tentatively book all of those before May 31.  Right.  That’s not going to happen.  There are a couple nice Radisson properties in Australia, but I have no idea what dates I will end up traveling on, so I can’t make tentative bookings.  I am assuming if I call back to change the dates, they will take away the bonus night.  That’s what Marriott does.  But I will be sure to clarify that soon.

To add insult to injury, they are raising categories on about 1,000,000 properties beginning June 1.  Interestingly, the property I want to stay at in Egypt is LOWERING from 28,000 points per night to 15,000 points per night.  So if I have to wait until after the Bonus nights go away, it will only cost me another 2,000 points for 2 nights.  But that is certainly not the case for numerous other hotels.

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Radisson Blu Sharm el Sheikh Egypt

So that’s it! That’s all I have for right now.  If you have any suggestions for me regarding Australia or Egypt I would LOVE to hear it.

Happy Travels!

 

 

 

 

April 2015 (Mini) App-O-Rama

It’s been awhile since I have posted (or done) one of these.  Gone are the days of 6 apps in one day.  With the demise of amazon payments, Vanilla Reloads and Serve CC loads, I’m not sure I could do $20,000 worth of spending in 3 months.  Maybe.  But let’s see if I can get through this $10,000 in 3 months.

Matthew Apr 15 AORThis AOR was all for Matthew.  He only had 5 cards open in his name, which is not good for the credit score.  Before this AOR, his FICO score was 791.  I will be curious to see if it goes up in the next few months with $57,000 of available credit added.

I chose the Citi AA card because the 50,000 mile sign up bonus is pretty good and the 10% back on redeemed miles will be great when we redeem  his miles for Australia next year. Although, there is a 10,000 mile limit on that benefit, so I will probably get this card as well and redeem some of the miles for the trip from my account.

Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great card to have.  Ultimate Rewards points are infinitely valuable as they can be transferred to Hyatt and United.  My goal is to get a few United cards from Chase in the next year, combined with these Ultimate Rewards points and possibly go back to Thailand or maybe Fiji.  In business class this time!

The Capital One Venture card is often overlooked in the Miles and Points community.  I’m not sure why.  I had the card for several years and got in on an awesome sign-up bonus they had.  They were offering to match the miles you currently had in another program, up to 100,000 miles.  I had 100,000 miles in my Delta account so I earned 100,000 Capital One points.  At 2 points per dollar spent, I quickly had 150,000 points in my account which I used to buy United miles for one of our Thailand tickets last year.  My plan with the card this time is to use it for car rentals or other travel expenses that are not covered with airline or hotel miles.  Using their “Purchase Eraser” makes it easy to “erase” all sorts of travel expenses.

Spring Break 2016

Spring Break 2015 is in the books.  Disney was exhausting, but fun.  I am now working on Spring Break 2016.  With the recent devaluation of the Club Carlson program (discontinuing the bonus night) I feel the need to burn the 300,000 points we have.  So I am considering the Radisson Resort in Aruba.  Southwest flies to Aruba, so that is an added bonus with the Companion Pass.  Or the Radisson Blu Resort in Sharm el Sheikh Egypt.  Parker is fascinated with Egypt and my plan would be to spend a day or two in Cairo at Le Meridien Pyramids to see the pyramids and then head down to the Red Sea for some diving and R&R.

I have some planning to do!

Happy Travels!