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!

What Is It Like To Fly Coach Class To Asia?

Coach Class to Asia

I started planning our trip to Thailand in February 2013.  At that time I had enough miles for 3 coach tickets.  I knew coach would be rough, but I wanted to know just how rough.  I searched and I Googled, looking for a blog post that documented just how bad it was to fly coach, long distances,  on different carriers.  I found none.  But I found TONS of  posts reviewing the different business class offerings on different airlines.  Yes, we love to drink champagne and eat ice cream sundaes before we Lie Flat in our comfy “bed” with fluffy pillows and duvets.  Yes, we get it.  It’s nice.

thaibusiness

Yes yes, very nice

In order to get 3 business seats (assuming I could even find 3 on the same flight) I would have to earn another 120,000 miles.  I didn’t have time for that! The time to go to Thailand was now! My son was the perfect age and it was pretty easy to pull him out of Kindergarten for 2 weeks.  When he’s older, that may not be as easy.

When I started my blog, I said it was going to be different.  This was going to be “real life”.  A “real” family traveling in coach for 20 hours because we want to take 2 trips rather than one.  Well….by the end of this article, I may just change my mind!

cramped

Who wants to sit like this for 10+ hours? Not me! But I did.

We literally traveled around the world, in coach, and lived to tell about it.  We had a total of 9 flights on our trip to Thailand.  All of them in coach.  Some were ok, some were bad and some were down right ugly!

map

Our routing sent us, literally, around the world!

The Flights

United

We started on a United Regional Jet (RJ) from Cincinnati to Chicago.  You know those kind of flights are going to be bad, and there is no first class anyway, so you just have to deal with it.

Scandinavian Airlines

Our flight from Chicago to Stockholm was on Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), a founding member of the Star Alliance Network. We were on an Airbus 330 with the horrible 2-4-2 configuration.  No hope for a family of 3!  I booked 3 seats in a 4 seat row, leaving one of the middle ones empty in hopes of nobody wanting to book a middle seat in a 4 seat section.  No luck.  The flight was full.

The meal service was not bad.  P’s kid’s meal was chicken fingers, tater tots and cheesecake.  Hubby and I had pot roast, carrots and mashed potatoes.  It really was a decent coach meal.  The service was not so good though.  It took them almost an hour to come around and collect the dirty meal trays.  This just made everyone more uncomfortable having a tray in your lap covered with dirty dishes.

P was starting to come down with some sort of virus that he brought along with him from school.  When we landed in Stockholm, he promptly vomited on the seat.  Of course I freaked out and tried to clean it up with tissues. (that doesn’t work)  I wanted to push past people and run off of that plane as fast as I could.  But having worked for the airlines, I knew we had to tell somebody so it could be safely cleaned up.  Hubby told the nearest flight attendant, who rolled and closed her eyes and shook her head.  Nice.  No “Ohhh I’m so sorry your baby is sick”, just irritation that it was something she would have to deal with.  And by “deal with” I mean “tell someone else to clean up”.

One other thing to be aware of – except for water and coffee, SAS charges for drinks outside of meal service.

Thai Airways

I was so happy to be greeted by the beautiful Thai flight attendants in the traditional silk Thai uniforms! The interior of the Thai 777 was larger, brighter and more modern than the SAS Airbus.  It actually inspired me to take pictures!

thaiairways

Settling in for the 10.5 hour flight!

This flight was probably the most pleasant of all the flights we took on this trip.  The flight attendants were friendly and attentive, the meals were good, the in-flight entertainment was good and there was even a footrest!

P’s kid’s meal was Swedish Meatballs (we departed from Stockholm) with mashed potatoes and carrots.  He was too sick to eat, so I can attest to the tastiness of the meal!

thaikidsmeal

Sorry it’s blurry!

Hubby had Hoki fish (aka McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish) with potatoes and broccoli and I had Chicken panang with rice and green beans.

thaimeal

Thai Airways meals are delicious!

And no Thai meal is complete without Thai Coke!

thaicoke

Ahhhhhhhh!

I had planned to sleep on this flight, but unfortunately I couldn’t.  I just can’t sleep sitting up.  I  bought one of those SkyRest pillows, thinking that I could sleep leaning forward.  But I am either too tall or too short for the SkyRest pillow, I can’t figure out which.  Either way, it was not comfortable.

I passed the time watching 12 Years a Slave, Philomena and our approach to Bangkok.

almostthere

Notice the handy USB plug!

Shortly before we landed we were served breakfast.  P’s breakfast was crepes with little hot dog looking sausages.

thaikidbfast

These types of sausages were common in Thailand. We never quite got used to them.

Air Asia

We used Air Asia twice: from Chiang Mai to Bangkok and a few days later from Bangkok to Phuket.

The flight from Chiang Mai to Bangkok was beyond unpleasant. No fault of Air Asia, just us.  It was a late evening flight, around 8pm, and we were still horribly jet-lagged and P was still sick.  P was seriously a zombie.  I felt terrible that I literally had to drag him through the airport.

The flight from Bangkok to Phuket was much better.  It was a morning flight. we were over our jet lag and illnesses, and we were greeted with the most beautiful view when we landed.

airasia

The Air Asia plane that took us from Bangkok to Phuket

The Phuket airport was rather small and easy to navigate.  We easily exchanged money after getting through customs and went outside to find our taxi.  Now…where is our taxi?

I booked a transfer from Phuket airport to the JW Marriott in Khao Lak with “Boss Cheaper Than Hotel Taxi” (yes that is the name) several weeks in advance.  Our flight landed at 9:30 am and I told him to be there at 10.  We were outside a couple minutes before 10 and he was not there.  We walked up and down for about 15 minutes looking for him, but he never showed.  I had not prepaid him, so if he didn’t show, I would not have lost any money BUT the rate he quoted me was 600 Baht (around $19) cheaper than the vans at the airport.

After a few minutes of pacing, the airport van drivers decided they needed to pounce on the stranded tourist.  I had about 4 of them following me up and down the sidewalk saying “Taxi Miss? You need a taxi?”  I kept telling them I was waiting for Boss, as I thought he was quite well known.  They acted like they had never heard of him.  I had no cell phone service and there was no wifi at the airport so I was unable to look online for his phone number.  I finally asked one of the van drivers to let me borrow his phone, but I couldn’t seem to connect to him.

I was just about to give up and pay the extra $19 when my Hubby shouted “He’s here!”  Only about 45 minutes late, but Thai time is almost like Island time in the Caribbean. He was late and I was stressed, but I would still recommend him if you need transport from Phuket to Khao Lak.

boss

Boss operates new and clean SUVs! And his price really is cheaper than the hotels!

Asiana Airlines

Our flight from Phuket to Seoul departed at 1:30am.  I can tell you at least one person who wasn’t very happy about that departure time!

sleepy

I wish I could do that!

The flight to Seoul was about 6 hours long.  I have virtually no memory of it, and I took no notes so I’m guessing I was able to sleep for most of the flight.

P was wide awake when we arrived in Seoul and fortunately they had a play area for him to run off some energy before getting on our longest flight of the trip.

ICNplayarea

P is a blur at the Incheon airport play area.

asiana747

Our 12.5 hour flight from Seoul to Chicago was on an Asiana 747.  I think this was the flight where I decided I might have to change the theme of my blog.  It wasn’t horrible, but … yeah it was horrible.  No fault of Asiana, but 12.5 hours in those tiny seats is almost cruel.

asianakidmeal

Asiana kids meal

 

One positive thing I can say about Asiana is they sure feed you a lot.  Our meals were quite tasty and they were very generous with snacks and drinks between meal service.  At one point about mid-flight they came through with chicken burritos.  Those were SO good….even P ate one.  We asked if they had any extras and they brought us 2 more!

We survived the 12.5 hour flight to Chicago and retreated to the comfort of the Admiral’s Club (which has showers!) for our 4 hour layover.

Bottom Line

I am really going to have to reconsider my stance on “real family” travel.  If I have the means to book 3 business class seats, I should do it.  Although it can be hard to find 3 business class award seats on the same flight, it’s not impossible.  I also have to consider the value of the business class ticket.  Is it worth blowing the miles?  Maybe book business class only on flights longer than 8 hours?  Maybe.  There is something to be said about being on an 8 hour flight to Europe and arriving refreshed after getting about 6 hours of sleep rather than arriving like a zombie after a 45 minute, neck crushing nap.

In my opinion, it’s best to save your miles for the long international trips in business class.  Personally, I will spend money to buy domestic tickets because they are usually pretty cheap if you know how to find the deals and use your credit card companion passes wisely. Plus you are earning miles for taking the flights!

I recently earned 220,000 miles with the Citi AAdvantage Executive Card, in addition to about 75,000 miles we already had.  PLUS about 70,000 US Airways miles that will soon merge with those AAdvantage miles.  We are thinking about Australia in 2 years and I think that might be the perfect opportunity to use those miles for Business class.  Let’s not forget I still have 300,000 Delta SkyPesos, but their redemption rates are so high I don’t think I could swing an Australia trip using them.  I would LOVE to fly on Virgin Australia though! So I think I will use my SkyPesos for a couple coach trips to Europe…assuming I can find availability.

I’ve flown business and first class many times, both domestic and international.  Is it worth it? Yes.  It is.

 

I hope this post has helped somebody who was searching for the truth on what it’s like to fly coach class to Asia.  The Asian carriers are definitely far superior to any US carrier, but coach is still coach.  In the end, you have to decide what your miles are worth to YOU and what works best for your family.

Happy Travels!

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

To Swede or Not To Swede

Routing Is Everything

When I booked our flights to and from Thailand, (in April 2013) I wanted to get the best routing possible for the least amount of points.  At the time I booked, United had VERY generous routing rules. They have changed them a bit since then, but they are still quite generous.

Up until this past summer, United allowed an unbelievable number of connections to travel from the US to Asia.  It was never officially published, but I heard it was as high as 15.  Let that sink in for a minute while we define layovers and stopovers.

A layover on an international ticket is any time period between flights that is under 24 hours.  A stopover, is simply longer than 24 hours. UNLESS, you arrive on the last flight of the evening and then depart the following morning.

So now, think about this.  United allowed 15 connections on a roundtrip award from the US to Asia.  And you are allowed to fly to Asia from the US via the Pacific or the Atlantic.  That opens up some nice possibilities in Europe for a stopover, or better, a long layover as most flights from the US arrive in Europe in the early morning.

But United started tightening up on it’s routing rules last year because the lines between a round trip award and an around the world award were starting to get blurry.  So, since things are different now, let’s talk about what you can do if you were to book today.

On a roundtrip ticket, you are allowed 5 segments each way between your origin and destination.  That’s still 10 connections, and still pretty cool.

For example, if I wanted to fly from Cincinnati to Singapore and see a couple European cities along the way, I could easily do so for one 80,000 mile US to Asia roundtrip award.  (It was only 65,000 miles when I booked.  What a shame)  With some creative use of the many, many Star Alliance partners that service Asia from Europe I could theoretically do this:

Cincinnati – Chicago – Paris – Istanbul – Singapore  And actually that’s only 4 connections.  I could probably throw Bangkok in there as well.  As long as none of the layovers are longer than 24 hours, I am not using up my stopover.

However, I am much too old to do that.  I would probably die of exhaustion, but for the more adventurous types, it can be done.  I would be more keen to do something like this:

UAcvgsinThat is a pretty simple flight from Cincinnati to Singapore with a layover in either Zurich or Frankfurt for 12 hours.  The best way to do this, is to fly business class for 140,000 miles so you can get some decent sleep.  But if you are able to sleep in coach, you can do it for only 80,000 miles.

My Point

Our flight to Thailand is routed through Europe with an almost 6 hour layover in Stockholm. Stockholm! That has never been a city I have given serious thought to visiting.  Occasional visits to Ikea to buy Flarkenkrap are enough for me.  But if I have the opportunity to see it, for basically nothing, why not?

It is easy enough to get from the airport into Stockholm on the Arlanda Express train.  It’s a 20 minute journey with trains leaving about every 15 minutes.  One drawback (for me) is the cost.  Roundtrip for me, Hubby and P is $87.  That seems crazy high for an airport train!

Another reason is the temperature which is currently in the 30s with snow.  We are traveling to Thailand with temps in the upper 90s.  I really don’t want to carry around heavy  clothes in our luggage for 3 weeks.

And finally, we will be in Stockholm on a Sunday.  In the early morning.  Our flight is scheduled to arrive at 7:50am (but historically arrives around 7:30-7:40) and our departing flight is at 1:30pm.  By the time we get through the airport and to the train and into the city it will probably be around 9am.  We would have to get on the return train by 11:15 at the latest.  That only gives us about 2 hours in a city where, most likely, everything will be closed.  And cold.

It was just in the past few days that I decided to scrap the idea of going into the city.  I’m just not sure how we will feel when we get there and if it will even be worth it to try.  We’ll see.  Since we have all that time, we may just exit the airport, breathe some Swedish air and then go back inside!

And guess what?! Our complete routing is Cincinnati – Chicago – Stockholm – Bangkok – Chiang Mai – Phuket – Seoul – Chicago – Cincinnati.  (and then 4 months later to Los Angeles on the same ticket!) So we are literally flying around the world!

mapHappy Travels!

 

 

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!