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 and Dividend Miles Are Now Officially Combined

As I’m sure you have seen by now, American Airlines and US Airways have officially merged their mileage programs.

It looks very pretty!

aacpmbo

that’s half a million, baby

 

Together we have 508,360 miles!  Love it!  I am hoping to use those for 3 business class tickets to Australia in 2016.  Actually, my plan is to use American miles for one direction and some of my 375,000 Delta SkyPesos for the other direction.  But I will do whatever it takes to make it work.

This is just a quick post to share my happiness over the combined miles.  We are leaving for Florida at 1pm today.  Well…technically we are leaving for Louisville at 1pm today.  Our flight to Orlando leaves at 5pm from Louisville.

Were you happy to see your AA and US miles combine?  Tell me your plans for them!

Possible Regret and A Couple Good Bonuses

I hope I don’t regret this

Until midnight last night, you could transfer SPG points to American Airlines or US Airways and receive a 20% bonus.  This was on top of the 25% bonus you already get for transferring SPG points to airlines.  I have just over 40,000 points, so I could have turned those into 58,000 AAdvantage miles.  (or Dividend Miles)

Conventional Wisdom in this game tells you not to transfer miles unless you have immediate plans to use them.  I don’t.  Plus I am pretty flush with AAdvantage Miles and Dividend Miles right now thanks to 3 Citi Executive cards and Matthew’s recent bump in business travel.  I have more than enough for my planned trip to Australia (in BUSINESS class) in 2016.  But this was a heck of an offer to pass up and one that may not return for some time.

I have lots of hotel points in other programs, so I don’t necessarily NEED SPG points for hotels; although you can sometimes find some Great Redemptions.

I would also probably not transfer the points to any other airline.  Except maybe Delta if I needed some points to redeem some of their ridiculously over-priced awards.

Too late now to do anything about it.  It’s just something I decided to think about this morning.  I will probably end up using my SPG points to stay at the Westin in Whistler, which is why I got the card in the first place.

westinwhistler

The Westin Resort & Spa, Whistler

Rooms at the Westin Whistler are 16,000 SPG points per night during Christmas break and most of ski season, but you can find rooms for 9,000 points per night in late ski season.  As long as I have my SPG American Express card open, I will get the 5th night free when I book 4 on points.  So, I still need to earn 24,000 points to get enough points.  SPG points aren’t easy to earn, but if I concentrate some MS on the card over the next year, I should be able to do it.  (then I will watch for the inevitable devaluation)

A Couple Good Credit Card Sign Up Bonuses

Right now, Chase is offering the United Explorer card with an increased sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles after spending $2,000 in 3 months.  I would love to get this one, but Matthew and I just canceled our previous United Explorer cards in July of 2013.  The wait time for churning Chase cards is generally 24 months.  So hopefully next summer they will offer a similar bonus.  But if you have not had a Chase United Explorer card in the past 2 years-go for it!

Chase is also offering the Marriott Rewards Premier VISA card with an increased sign up bonus of 70,000 points PLUS 1 Free night at a category 1-4 hotel after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months.

Matthew and I will definitely be signing up for the Marriott card.  We both just canceled the basic Chase Marriott Rewards card, but this Premier card is a different product so we are eligible for the sign-up bonus even though it has not been 24 months.

Incidentally, I do not earn any commissions if you use the links above.  Those are just public links that I copied and pasted.

Happy Travels!

American Express Serve

I have been reading a lot about Serve by American Express – especially the part about directly loading it online with a credit card. You are limited to loading $1,000 per month ($200 per day) unless you link your Serve card to Isis.  (which I am not doing)

I opened the account in my husband’s name because you cannot have a Bluebird account AND a Serve account at the same time.  Since I like the convenience of being able to write Bluebird checks to people and businesses that I cannot pay electronically, I am still a BB girl.

I did a $200 test load with Matthew’s new Citi AAdvantage Executive card.  I kept my fingers crossed that it would work because I am still trying to bang out that $10k spend!

It loaded with no problem and I waited a couple days and made some payments.

serve

But the real test was whether the charge posted as a regular charge or a cash advance.  Citi is notorious for posting such things as cash advances.  You cannot buy American Express Gift Cards directly from American Express with a Citi card or they will post as cash advances.  Anything posting as a cash advance will not count toward your minimum spending requirement and you’ll have to pay fees and interest!

Knowing that, I was not sure how this $200 charge to Serve would post.  I was not able to log onto our Citi account online, so I had to call.  (the horror)  I did not want to  come right out and ask about the Serve charge specifically, so I just asked the agent to go over the recent charges to my account.  He read through the list that included “$200 to American Express Serve”, wedged between “$20 to Soft Touch Car Wash” and “$7.30 to The Noodle Company”.  Good news! I made a point of asking about a couple pending charges that I knew were coming up, just to keep the call as innocent as possible.  I also did NOT ask for my cash advance limit to be lowered to $1, as so many people do.  I just think that is rather suspicious and I like to keep my activities as benign as possible.

serve-1

 

As long as I am able to continue to load Serve directly with a credit card, I think I will keep it for a while.  I don’t think it will completely replace Bluebird for me, but it will be a nice companion and an additional way to meet Minimum Spending Requirements.  Serve does charge a $1 fee per month unless you set up a Direct Deposit or load $500 during your monthly statement period.  I don’t think loading the $500 will be an issue. Apparently you can also withdraw cash with no fee from MoneyPass ATMs.  Apparently the US Bank at my local Kroger store has a Money Pass ATM.  Next time I am there, I will have to try to withdraw some cash and verify that it works.

Does anyone else have any experience using Serve?  As a Serve “newbie” I would love to hear your opinion!

Happy Travels!

 

Another $10,000 Spend Requirement

Can I Do It?

I think so.  I hope so.  There has been a lot of talk in the blogs lately about people getting 2 (and sometimes even 3) Citi AA Executive cards with the 100,000 AAdvantage miles sign-up bonus.  My husband and I each got one earlier this year, but with people getting multiples, I had to try again.  So I had my husband apply last week.  He got “pending” status, but did not call in to push it.  Frankly he was busy at home with installing hardwood floors and taking care of Parker while I was in Europe.  But even without calling, the card arrived by UPS a few days ago.  He called to verify the 100,000 miles after spending $10,000 in 3 months and the $200 statement credit.  The Citi rep verified that this was indeed the offer he will receive.

Citi-Executive-100000-001

Fortunately I have a couple big expenses in the next couple months that will take a chunk out of the 10K.  The second half of the installation charge for the hardwood floors mentioned above and the final payment on our Beaches vacation.  I’m pretty sure I can cover the rest with bill paying through Bluebird and every day spending.  I may have to throw in an Amazon payment or two as well.

Only One Card This Summer

This Citi Executive card will be the only card we apply for this summer.  I am going to give it a rest for a few months and let our credit scores rise by a few points.  We are both still well over 800, but I don’t want to take any chances.  If some great bonus comes along I will go for it, but otherwise I will do my next round of applications in the fall.

Happy Travels!

 

Run, Don’t Walk, To Sign Up for the US Airways Mastercard!

One of the Best Cards

On my page, Top 5 Credit Cards for Beginners, I listed the Barclay’s US Airways Mastercard as one of the best cards for beginners (or anybody) to get.

Application Link: US Airways Mastercard

You will earn 40,000 miles after your first purchase.  That’s it.  One and done.  Of course, Barclay’s would appreciate it if you would use their card often.  And you really should put one or two purchases on each of your cards every month, just to keep the banks happy.

usairwayscard

As you can see, in addition to the 40,000 miles, you will also get two companion certificates allowing 2 people to travel with you for only $99 each plus tax.  You also get Priority Boarding, a free checked bag and a US Airways Club day pass.  The $89 annual fee is not waived for the first year.  But $89 for 40,000 miles that can get you to the Caribbean or Hawaii – that’s a no-brainer.  You can also travel from the US to Europe in their off-peak season (Jan 15-Feb 28) for only 35,000 miles.  I have traveled to Europe in the winter many times and yes it’s chilly, but the sites are still there and the crowds are not.  It’s actually quite nice.

US Airways Award Travel Chart

All Good Things Must Come To An End

Unfortunately.  Yesterday I received a card in the mail from US Airways announcing changes to the program and the credit card after the merger with American Airlines.  These changes will most likely come in early 2015.

  • No more companion certificate.  Final companion certificates will be issued soon for current cardholders and they must be booked within 9 months and travel within 12 months.  If you apply for a card today, you will get your companion certificate after your first purchase.
  • Miles earned through credit card spend will no longer count towards Preferred Status.  When you spend $25,000 or more, they will convert 10,000 miles into Preferred Qualifying Miles toward 2015 status.  You must complete this spending by the end of 2014, as this will no longer be offered after the merge.
  • US Airways Club day pass and Membership Discount.  You will receive a Club day pass valid for 12 months to visit a US Airways Club.  But you will not receive a $75 discount coupon towards Club Membership.
  • First Class check in. Continue to enjoy First Class check-in until the end of 2014.

It’s Not All Bad News

There are some positive changes coming to the US Airways award program that are aligned with American’s AAdvantage Program.  These new benefits will be implemented in 2015.

  • 10% of your miles back.  This is a feature of American’s program that I really like.  When you redeem miles for award travel, you’ll receive 10% of your miles back into your account.  Currently US Airways offers a 5,000 mile discount on award bookings if you hold the credit card,  (i.e. 20,000 miles for a domestic ticket rather than 25,000) but only if you fly completely on US Airways metal.  I have never been able to do that.  Seems like American operated flights come up more often than not.
  • 25% off in-flight purchases.  Save 25% on your in-flight food and beverage purchases when you use your card.
  • $100 flight discount.  As a cardmember, you can earn a $100 flight discount each year in which you spend $30,000 or more in purchases and you maintain your card membership.  Not a great deal, in my opinion.
  • Additional redemption flexibility.  Enhance your award travel experience with redemption for one-way travel and First Class upgrades.

No mention of those off peak awards that both carriers currently offer.  I have used the American AAdvantage off peak awards several times to travel to the Caribbean in the fall.

Do It Now

I can’t stress enough how great of a deal this US Airways card is.   Just do it.

Happy Travels!

How I spent $20,000 in 3 months…Without Going Broke!

I did it all for 200,000 American Airlines Miles!

Earlier this year, Citibank began offering their Citi Executive / AAdvantage World Elite Mastercard with a sign up bonus of 100,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles! That was too good to pass up.  There were a couple obstacles that made me pause though.  The spend requirement: $10,000 in 3 months.  And the annual fee: $450 not waived for the first year.  Although they do give you a $200 statement credit, so you can actually say the annual fee is only $250.  Still very high, but if you were to purchase miles from the American Airlines website, it would cost you $2,200 for 80,000 miles (the highest amount they sell) and $250 would only get you about 9,000 miles. Continue reading

BOGO Movie Tickets!

A quick non-travel related post!

I love going to movies (and now P does too) , but it is getting so expensive! Here’s a great way to save some money on movie tickets this summer.

If you have a valid, U.S. issued VISA Signature card, you can get a buy-one-get-one-free movie ticket on Fandango on Fridays from April 25-August 8.

VISA_moviefridays_microsite_FINAL

Visit this site and enter your ZIP code for a theatre near you.  For my Northern Kentucky friends, Fandango issues tickets for Florence, Wilder and Newport! Select 2 or more tickets to a Friday showing and get the lowest priced ticket free! (up to $19.50)  You have to purchase the ticket on Friday as well as go to the Friday showing. Continue reading

Coming Home to Changes

We have just returned from a wonderful 3 week trip to Thailand booked entirely on Miles & Points.  Once all my bills come in, I will share with you the complete total cost of our trip, including meals, activities and transportation costs.

There were definitely some not-so-great moments on the trip, such as P getting sick, Hubby taking his iPhone for a swim and me getting an ear infection after our first dive.  But those small negatives in no way outweighed the many positives of the trip.  Over the coming weeks I will post some trip reports and hotel reviews AND how P met his school goals in science, culture, reading and math on the trip.

Ch-ch-ch-changes

Wow…did many things change while I was gone.  I’m sure if you read other Miles & Points blogs you already know all about them.

The worst one for me was the decision by CVS to go “nationwide” with their policy of not accepting credit cards for purchasing Vanilla Reload cards.  That really hurts!

VanillaReload

My precious. No more.

In my area, it was already difficult to buy Vanilla Reloads with a credit card.  The 2 CVS stores in my area would sometimes allow it, depending on the clerk.  There was a sign on the register stating that they could only be purchased with cash, however, the register would still allow a credit card purchase.  So if you pushed the clerk a bit, they might try it.  But I was denied more times than I was allowed.  There were a few CVS stores in Ohio that would do it, and Hubby had some luck buying them in other states on business trips.  There are a few other retail outlets that will still allow you to purchase VRs with credit cards but sadly, none are in my area.  Hopefully I can have Hubby do some recon on his next business trip, as there are a few stores in Oklahoma City where he travels most often.

There are still other options to load your Bluebird card to pay bills.  Such as buying VISA gift cards from giftcardmall.com.  This is not a good option if you require immediate gratification, as it takes about a week to receive.  I usually only do 2 of these a month.

Yesterday I did a “test purchase” of a VISA gift card at Kroger.  I got burned once in the past with a Mastercard gift card I bought at Kroger.  I was stuck with the $500 gift card after it would not load to my Bluebird account.  (of course there are other ways to liquidate it, but it was still a pain) But I read recently that people have had luck with the VISA version of the card that looks like this:

VisaGiftCard_USBank

 

I bought a $50 card, which cost $4.95.  That’s kind of an expensive test, but it will be worth it if it works.  I plan to take it to Walmart today and try to load it to Bluebird.  Remember, you can load $1,000 a day and up to $5,000 a month to your Bluebird account and then use their online bill pay or checks to pay your every day bills such as mortgage, car payments, utility bills etc.

Award Program Changes

Both American Airlines and US Airways made some pretty big changes to their programs in the past couple weeks.  American did so without warning! Ouch!

One of the big changes at American was no longer allowing a stopover at a North American gateway city.  This didn’t really impact me personally because CVG isn’t an international gateway (for anyone).  But I could have made it work with some creative routing.  Basically if you lived in (or near) a city with international service on American Airlines you could basically book 2 flights for the price of one.  Your home city being your stopover.  This would only work in cities like New York, Miami or Chicago on American.  Partner airlines could open a few more possibilities but again, not for CVG.  I won’t get into any more details about how it worked because you can’t do it anymore.

American also changed the structure of their award chart and the names of their redemptions, but fortunately the miles required for awards did not change.  Only the names.  They also kept their “off peak” awards in place which was a huge relief to me.  I have used those several times for off-peak travel to the Caribbean.

US Airways Free Checked Bag

The US Airways credit card was unique in that it did not allow cardholders a free checked bag, which is usually a standard benefit of other airline credit cards.  That is changing on April 30, 2014.  If you have a US AIrways card with at least a $79 annual fee, you will receive a free checked bag for the primary cardholder and up to 4 companions.

One Bright Spot!

IHG announced that redemption levels for 100 IHG properties will be going DOWN on April 15, 2014 and that for the remainder of 2014, there will no increases in reward night pricing!  Yay! I have not yet seen a complete list of properties, which is surprising as this change takes effect today.  I am hoping that the property in Munich I want to stay at this summer is one of the 100 properties!  Once I come across a list, I will post it here for you!

Use Those Miles!

The fact that these American Airlines changes were made without any advance notice just shows how fast the value of your miles can change.  Earn ’em and burn ’em!   They may not be worth as much next month (or tomorrow) as they are today!

Happy Travels!

 

 

Can I spend $10,000 in 3 months?

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

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

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

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

Churning

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

Can I spend $10,000 in 3 months?

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

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

Citi-Executive-100000-001

 

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

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

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

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

And then there’s the lounge access.

admiralsclub

Admiral’s Club

 

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

The card has other benefits as well:

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

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

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

Here is the link.  Tread carefully.

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