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.


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!

How To Leverage The Timeshare System For Free Travel

Or, at the very least, extremely cheap travel.

Over the years, my husband and I have sat through many timeshare presentations.  They were usually offered to you when you signed up at the mall to win a “free car”.  Once you dropped that entry form in the box, you could usually expect a call in a couple weeks from a timeshare company.

Back in the 90s, the “giveaways” were pretty awesome.  We scored a 4 night Carnival cruise to Mexico for sitting through a 2 hour presentation.  (and that’s about the only way you will EVER get me on a cruise ship – if it’s free!)  We also got many restaurant and hotel gift cards and some free airfare and hotels.  The airfare and hotels were difficult to book, but if you are flexible you can work it out.

Nowadays, the hotels have gotten in on the timeshare game and most of the majors have their own vacation clubs.  They will usually contact members of their loyalty programs and offer you a “vacation” at one of their timeshare properties in exchange for sitting through a 90 minute presentation.  In my experience, the hotel timeshare sales people are not nearly as aggressive as the independent timeshare brokers.  What I call “independent” are ones like BlueGreen Vacations and Diamond Resorts.  These are ones that are not directly affiliated with a hotel brand.  There are many more, but those two come to mind because I have recent experience with them.  My father-in-law is a Diamond Resorts owner and we have stayed in several of their properties and they have all been very nice.

If you are interested in taking advantage of the hotel Vacation Club offers, I encourage you to sign up for the loyalty program of each hotel.  Even if you don’t have the co-branded credit card.  But I think it will help you get contacted if you earn some points in their program one way or another.

Marriott Vacation Club

About a year ago I received a call from the Marriott Vacation Club.  I was surprised that the call came to me and not my husband.  He had many more Marriott points than I did, and makes a lot more money! But nevertheless, the call was for me.

They offered me a 4 night stay at one of their top Vacation Club resorts for $499.  I don’t remember all the destinations they offered me, but most likely Orlando and Las Vegas were included.  After searching online while I was on the phone with them, I found the Marriott Newport Coast Villas in Newport Coast, California.  Rooms at that resort range from $400-$600 per night and it is a Category 7 hotel (35,000 points per night!)  I thought the resort looked absolutely beautiful, sitting high on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.


Marriott Newport Coast Villas

I was planning a trip to Disneyland for the following summer, using the “free one way” I added on to the end of our Thailand award tickets.  Newport Coast is about 25 minutes from Disneyland, so there are closer places to stay, but….how could I pass this up?

I knew we could never afford to stay at a hotel like this any other way, and $125 a night was a pretty good deal!  Since it was SUCH a good deal, I added 1 extra night to my stay for $199.  So in the end, I paid $698 for 5 nights.  That is a lot more than I like to pay for a hotel these days, but still, at $140 a night it’s not a bad deal.

The Resort

In a word, beautiful.

We were given the standard 2 bedroom, 2 bath villa (I believe that is the only room type they have) with a view of the road.  Ocean view would have been nice of course, but those rooms are booked years in advance by Vacation Club owners.  And to be honest, even our view of the road was nice.


Our view of the road

Our villa was huge.  We had 2 bedrooms on opposite ends of the unit, each with their own private bathroom.  The bathroom in the master bedroom had a large bathtub and a huge shower with 2 shower heads.  We had a large living room with a pull-out sofa and 2 chairs.  There were a total of 3 flat screen TVs with DVD players.

The kitchen had everything you could possibly need to prepare your own meals and save on the cost of dining out in uber-expensive Newport Beach.  Although to be honest, the last thing I want to do on vacation is cook.  I don’t even want to cook at home most of the time! So we used the kitchen to store milk in the fridge and donuts on the counter.

There was also a washer and dryer in the room and they provided the detergent.


The only picture I took of our room

I really don’t need to say any more about the accommodations.  They were superb.  The room was clean, well designed and properly maintained.

The property has a “Kid’s Club” that in my opinion is not really a “Kid’s Club”.  They have activities for kids throughout the day, but you have to stay with your child at the Kid’s Club.  We like to use Kid’s Clubs at hotels to get a break for some “adult time” while Parker has some fun “kid time”.  My husband and I were looking forward to having a quiet lunch together one day and were very disappointed that we were unable to.

Location Location Location

Newport Coast is located about 22 miles from Disneyland,  5 miles from Laguna Beach and is about an hour south of LA.  The lovely town of Newport Beach and Balboa Island is about a 10 minute drive north.

Directly across the street from Marriott Newport Coast Villas is Crystal Cove State Park. My son loved playing in the tide pools on the beach and climbing on the rocks.  He also thought it was super cool to be in Scooby Doo’s “hometown”!


We were even lucky enough to spot a pod of dolphins swimming right offshore!

The hotel runs a free shuttle to Crystal Cove every hour during the day.  This is a huge convenience because the parking area is quite far from the beach and you have to pay a $15 parking fee!



On the cliff overlooking Crystal Cove is Ruby’s Shake Shack! It’s a bit of a climb up the hill, but the delicious food, chocolate shakes and view are totally worth it!



The Dreaded Presentation

This is the part of the trip that nobody looks forward to.  Sitting through a timeshare presentation can be boring and sometimes very intimidating.

I had originally scheduled the 90 minute presentation at 9am on Wednesday, but then I decided Wednesday would be a better day to go to Disneyland so I changed it to Tuesday. The only time they could offer me on Tuesday was 2pm.  Not ideal to cut your day in half but it ended up not being that bad.  We spent the morning at the beach, took the 90 minute “break” and then went out for shopping and dinner.

The sales area has a proper kid’s club with supervision.  Of course! They want to make sure they have your undivided attention.

Our presentation started promptly at 2 and the salesman was very polite and nice to talk to.  About halfway in, he found out about my little hobby of collecting miles and points.  He still didn’t really understand it and had never heard of “travel hacking” or “churning credit cards”.  In fact, at one point he pointed out that this particular Marriott property was 35,000 points a night and at 1 point per dollar on my Marriott card, I would have to spend $35,000 for one night.  I didn’t really bother trying to explain it to him in much more detail.  The clock was ticking and I wanted to be out of there at 3:30!

After the tour we went back to his office for the hard sell.  I love how they tell you this is a “one time offer” and the “prices are going up soon”.  Yeah right, like if I really wanted to buy this next year, you wouldn’t sell it to me!


Newport Beach loves their cars! Even tiny ones!

I don’t remember all the numbers and they of course don’t let you keep the paper they are scribbling numbers on.  But I do remember something like an $18,000 buy in at 15% interest.  Holy Moly! He pointed out that, of course, I could do my own financing and probably get a lower interest rate.  Sure.  Say I financed at 7% for 5 years.  My payment would be about $350 a month.  For 5 years! That’s $4,200 a year! Not to mention the maintenance fees, which I believe were about 43 cents per point.  At 3,500 points that’s $1,500 a year! Plus club dues which are a couple hundred a year.  So right now I’m in for about $6,000 a year for the next 5 years.  After that, it would be a more reasonable amount per year and he kept pointing out that this is “deeded property” that I can put in my will.  Parker: “Thanks Mom for the monthly maintenance payments!”  Plus, by the time you pay off that initial buy-in, you will usually be tempted to buy another package of points and then the financing starts all over again. My father-in-law has done this and so has the salesman.  The salesman was up to the highest level of something like 20,000 points a year! He logged into his Marriott Rewards account (you can convert the Club points to Reward points and use them at any hotel) and my heart skipped a beat when I saw he had about 800,000 Marriott Rewards points.  800,000!

Timeshares just make no financial sense to me.  But you probably didn’t need me to tell you all that and that’s not what this blog is about anyway!


Marriott Newport Coast Villas

My point here is – take advantage of one of these offers if it is presented to you.  Sit through the presentation. Tell them you NEVER pay for travel, but thank you for the cookies and lemonade and the tour of your beautiful property!


The main pool at the Marriott Newport Coast Villas

If the bottom ever falls out of the miles and points game (heaven forbid!), I would maybe consider something like this.  Maybe.  But I would NEVER buy directly from the resort.  You can get a much better deal on the secondary market. (when people sell their timeshares once they realize they were conned)

I will leave you with one last look at the view from the resort.

Happy Travels!