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.

I did it! My first Business card!

Finally!

I have long been jealous of the bloggers and travel hackers who get so many extra miles and points by getting business cards.  Unfortunately, stay at home moms do not qualify as “business owners” because nobody actually pays us for our services.  (hmmmpf)

Several years ago, I was a Realtor and could have easily gotten multiple business cards for my real estate business.  But I was not into this game then and let my license expire back in 2007.

So, here I sit, letting millions of miles pass me by because I do not have a business.  But do I?

I live in a subdivision that has a community clubhouse that residents can rent out for parties and meetings.  I am in charge of renting the clubhouse and BUYING SUPPLIES for it.  I am paid a modest fee for every party that I book.  A modest fee, yet still a fee.  I am sent a 1099 tax form every year by the HOA and I have to pay taxes on that modest money that I earn.  Do I have a business?  I thought I might.  So a couple years ago, I applied for a Chase Ink card using that business description.  I was denied.  That broke me.  I was scared of Chase then and stayed away from them until my recent Chase Sapphire Preferred card.  Not sure what went wrong with the Ink card.  Maybe they didn’t like the fact that I only made about $2,500 a year and spent less than $100 a month on supplies.

Gatekeeper Paranormal

 

For several months now, I have been getting letters from American Express OPEN Business credit card, addressed to Gatekeeper Paranormal.  I have no idea how they got our name and my address linked to it.  But they did.  We do not charge a fee for our services so we are a “non-profit”,  but have not registered as such because that costs money and if we don’t make money, we don’t have money.

Recently we started working with Bobby Mackey’s Music World.  This has given us a good deal of exposure and as such we have started investing more in our “business”.  Ordering t-shirts and banners, buying new equipment and vendor tables at conventions.  Unless we get our own “Ghost Hunters” type TV show, we are not going to make much money doing this BUT we are making a small amount and still putting out money and providing a service.

The American Express OPEN card was offering me 50,000 Membership Rewards points for spending $5,000 in 3 months AND an additional 25,000 points for spending another $5,000 in the same 3 months.  That’s A LOT of spend.  Especially considering I want to apply for new Marriott Premier VISA cards this month.

I really need some Delta miles though! I want to go to Europe next summer (!) in business class and I only have 310,000 SkyMiles.  (I need 375,000.  which is ridiculous. but it is what it is)  So I started looking at some other business card offers this morning and saw that the Delta SkyMiles Gold Business card was offering 50,000 miles for spending only $1,000 in the first 3 months!  Wow.  If I had to, I could BUY the remaining 15,000 SkyMiles for about $500.  But hopefully I can manufacture some spending in the next month to lower that significantly.

I was nervous, but I applied for the card using Gatekeeper Paranormal information.  It was quite painless actually.  They asked what kind of business and I marked “other”.  They asked my annual income and provided a drop down box where the first option was “$0-$49,999”.  OK.  That’s honest.

60 seconds later:

first biz card

 

Wow.  I was over the moon.  This opens up a whole new world for me!

And that brings me to this blog.  Most of the BIG guy bloggers have affiliate links for credit cards and make a nice little commission every time somebody clicks on one and is approved.  (I just gave Million Mile Secrets some money this morning.  You’re welcome.)

I do not have any such links and I honestly have no idea how to go about getting them.  Part of me doesn’t want to pimp credit cards all the time and another part of me doesn’t want the banks controlling (or trying to control) my content.   But the opportunity exists that I could get affiliate links.  And of course I want to make money.  So even if I don’t have any now, I could apply for a business card for this blog with the intention of getting paid for advertising credit cards.  I could.  But should I?

So apparently I have 3 businesses that technically should each be eligible for their own business credit card.  Will I do that? I doubt it.  But I will be exploring the business side of this game a bit more now.  I’m still very conservative, both in manufactured spend and credit card churning in general.

Do you have any business credit cards?  Have you tapped that well yet?

I heart you American Express.  Thank you.

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!

My First Money Order!

I have said it many times, “I am a reluctant participant in the Manufactured Spending game”.  I am.  It’s true.  Something about it feels…dirty.  Unethical maybe? I do it, but I don’t feel comfortable doing large amounts of it.

And sometimes I feel sorry for the poor airlines who are giving away all these miles and free travel to people who have never paid them a dime for an actual flight.   The poor airlines who are nickel-and-diming us To Death with fees for checked baggage, hand baggage, flight changes, drinks and meals.

And I feel sorry for the poor banks who are giving all those miles and points away to people using their cards to just circle money around a loop. The poor banks who are making millions off of people carrying balances on cards at 19% interest and fees paid by merchants to accept their cards. Continue reading

Laura’s May 2014 App-O-Rama

App-O-Rama Results: 170,000 points

If I haven’t mentioned this before, I am a very conservative App-O-Rama’er.  (is that a new word?) If you are unfamiliar with what an App-O-Rama is, see this post.

Most people do five or six cards at one time, I usually do three or maybe four depending on how good the offers are.  At this time, we seem to be in sort of a drought of good offers so I only applied for three. 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

Thailand – Inspiration and Planning

Thailand

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

Thailand

Maya Bay “The Beach”

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

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

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

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

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

Open Jaw – flying into one city and out of another

Routing

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

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

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

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

Booking

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

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

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

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

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

Oh yeah, about that Free one way ticket

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

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

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

Thailand

Thailand 2

 

Happy Travels!