Chasing A Dream

Ouch!

Fake Dictionary, Dictionary definition of the word hubris.

 

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

Let back up a bit, for some context.

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

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

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

I booked Australia!

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 2013 – SPG Amex

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

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

June 2014 – Wells Fargo Amex (closed)

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

December 2014 – Chase Southwest Personal

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

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

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

What now?

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

 

Bursting-Bubble

 

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

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

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

sunshine

 

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

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

 

Australia Award Availability

A Tough One

I have been dreaming of going to (moving to) Australia since I was 15 years old.  When Matthew and I were dating, he said he would take me there someday.  25 years later, we still haven’t gone.

Australia is far away.  It’s expensive.  It’s huge.  And did I mention it’s far away?

When I first started collecting Delta SkyMiles way back in 2002, my goal was to use them for Australia.  But Australia kept getting put on the back burner and I redeemed miles for Morocco, and Europe and California and many other places.  But I still kept collecting them.   Right now I am sitting at 374,363 SkyMiles.  At 80,000 each way in Business class, I am 105,637 miles short for 3 roundtrip tickets.  There is no easy way to earn more SkyMiles with the restrictions from American Express of “one sign up bonus per lifetime”.  I have already had all the cards.

Over the past couple years, I have really started building up my stash of American AAdvantage miles.  Citi cards are easy to churn and I also took advantage of getting a (few) Citi AAdvantage Executive cards when the sign up bonus was 100,000 miles.  So I have 533,998 AAdvantage miles.  And that’s AFTER just redeeming some for 3 tickets to Paris next spring and 3 tickets to Turks and Caicos last fall.  Oh and 2 tickets to California this summer.

That is way more than enough to get 3 roundtrip business class tickets at 62,500 each way. (375,000 total miles needed)

Will Somebody Please Let Me Spend My Miles?

This is where it gets ugly.

Cathay Pacific (A oneworld partner) has terrific business class availability between Los Angeles and Australia via Hong Kong.  Trouble is, American Airlines will not let you route through Asia using their miles.  The 62,500 would take me to Hong Kong and then I would have to redeem another 35,000 mile award to get to Australia.  That’s worse than Delta’s 80,000 mile awards!

Qantas is also a oneworld partner, but they are VERY stingy with their business class availability.

Delta has lots of business class availability with their partner Virgin Australia, but like I said before, I do not have enough Delta miles for 3 roundtrip tickets with Delta.

Possible Good News On The Horizon

A few days ago, American announced it would begin its own nonstop service between Los Angeles and Sydney beginning in December 2015.  This was exciting news at first.  Surely American Airlines would allow a handful of business class award seats to be redeemed by its own members on an aircraft that has 52 business class seats. Right? Not bloody likely.

Check out these pictures.

dfwhkg

Who would pay 175K Miles?

This first one shows award availability for business class on American’s nonstop service between Dallas-Ft. Worth and Hong Kong.  There are no business class Saver Awards available at the far reaches of the current schedule.  None!

The next picture shows you the available seats you could choose from if you redeemed the 175,000 point award.

seats

D’oh!

All of them!  Sure, it’s possible that a couple tickets have been sold and not been assigned seats.  Unlikely though.  American is hoarding seats the way I hoard my miles!

What’s the point?  They would rather let that cabin go out empty, than let people redeem miles for it.

The scenario doesn’t change much when you look at the next couple of weeks.  Still no saver award seats, but 38 available business seats.

nextweek3Is there a Happy Medium?  Maybe.  I have to wait and see once they load the new flights into the schedule.

So What Are My Options?

I have to prepare for the worst case scenario.  Assuming AA does not release 3 business class seats on their new flights, I have accepted that my family will have to travel separately.  Right now, I can send 2 people on Delta/Virgin Australia roundtrip in Business.  The third person can (hopefully) travel on either American or Qantas roundtrip in Business.

I could also transfer 20,000 SPG points to Delta.  With the 5,000 point bonus, I would have 25,000 more SkyMiles and enough for all 3 of us to return on the same flight.  But I’m not sure I want to spend my SPG points for that.  Again, it is almost impossible to earn more of them now.  I only have 43,502 points and I wanted to use them for a ski trip.  Although, they are probably more valuable being used toward Australia.

I was somewhat encouraged when I saw this.  Business class availability on Qantas for 1 person.  For a while, I was having trouble finding availability for even one person!

aaavail

I want to start my trip in Cairns, so I don’t see any way around a connecting flight.  But that’s ok!

Here is Delta/Virgin Australia availability for 2 people for the same dates and almost the same time.

 

dlavail2

This isn’t ideal, but sometimes you have to do things like this to travel for free.  I’m still going to keep my fingers crossed that I can get 3 business class seats on American when they release the schedule. It is possible that they might release a bunch of award seats in the beginning.

What About Coach?

Some people might think I am being a travel snob by refusing to fly to coach.  Not at all.  I know I could easily get 3 economy class seats on Qantas at 37,500 miles each for one way.

But I have done that.  See here.

Los Angeles to Australia is a flight of approximately 15 hours.  By comparison, the longest flight of our Thailand trip, from Seoul to Chicago, was 12.5 hours.

It was not fun.

I do not want to do it again.

Call me a snob if you will, but I have no desire to repeat that.  I have done the work to earn these miles, I want to redeem them and be comfortable on a flight halfway around the world.

And Now, I Wait

I want our trip to begin on May 31, 2016.  Or as close as I can get to that date.  I am really very flexible with dates, which should help me out with securing award seats.

I do have 4 nights booked at the Radisson Blu in Sydney, June 13-17, but I’m quite sure I can fit that in to whatever flight dates I am able to book.

The schedule for May 31,2016 should load on July 6.  Hopefully American and Qantas can get the approval for the new routes by then.  I really don’t want to book anything until I see how many seats American is going to release on the new flights.

If anybody has had any experience doing this or has any advice to offer, I am all ears!

 

 

My “Last Hurrah” with Club Carlson – Plus a Mini AOR

Ahhhh….Club Carlson.  I have only had your credit card for 1 year now and in the beginning you were full of promises and Bonus Nights.

But now? Now you are like a cheating lover who has punched me in the heart and destroyed my faith in all hotel loyalty programs.

Too dramatic? Yeah.  Maybe.  But the past couple weeks I have been seriously stressed out by the looming devaluation of the Club Carlson Rewards Program.

It is crazy easy to earn Club Carlson points without ever staying in one of their properties.  You earn 5 points per dollar spent and they offer an 85,000 point sign up bonus for their Premier Rewards Visa Card.  After your sign up and initial spend, you’ve got a cool 97,500 points to redeem.  Factor in the Bonus Nights (R.I.P.) and you could spend 4 nights in a 4-star European hotel for just $75.  (that is the annual fee that is not waived for the first year)

Granted, their US properties are not the greatest (with a few exceptions) but many of their European properties are quite nice.

As you all know by now, the Bonus Night perk went away on June 1, 2015.  Between Matthew and myself we had about 350,000 Club Carlson points that would be worth half as much after June 1. (it was 337,000 but Matthew stayed at a Radisson on business and earned more points)  And to add insult to injury, they were also making a bunch of Category changes on June 1, with most properties moving UP a category.

I spent the last 2 weeks of May trying to decide what speculative bookings to make, hoping I would be able to make them all work.

What I Did

I am planning a trip to Australia in June 2016.  That much, I know.  I do not really know the exact dates, but I have a general idea of when I would like to go and how long I would like to stay.  I also know that I would like to end my trip in (and fly home from) Sydney.  So I took a big gamble and booked 4 nights at the Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel Sydney.  I used 50,000 miles from my account and 50,000 miles from Matthew’s account.

raddison-blu-sydney

Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel Sydney

It’s a beautiful 5 star hotel within walking distance of the Sydney Harbor Bridge and the view of some kind of  futuristic looking Opera House.

Now all I have to do is hope I can secure 3 business class seats home on Virgin Australia using Delta miles when the schedule opens up in mid July!  Of course I also have to hope that I can secure 3 business class seats on Cathay Pacific using American miles to even get there in the first place!   Hopefully all the planets align and the dates I want/need will be available.

Next up – Spring Break 2016.  This was a tough one, but yet a very easy one at the same time.  I had tossed about the idea of going to Cancun to visit Chichen Itza.  I also considered Peru and Machu Picchu.  Some kind of Mayan phase I was in, I guess.  I had also seriously considered Egypt.  Parker is fascinated with Egypt right now and has had an Egyptian themed birthday for the past 2 years! But Egypt is so hard to get to! (read: it costs more miles than I am willing to spend) I could not find what I thought was a reasonable redemption to get us to Egypt so I put it back on the shelf for a while.

I asked Parker where he would like to go for Spring Break next year (other than Egypt) and, without hesitation, he said, “Paris”.  Done and done.  You really do not have to ask me twice to go to Paris.  I am going for 2 days in October of this year, but that’s ok.

paris

So.  I booked 4 nights at the Radisson Blu Paris Champs Elysees.  50,000 points for 2 nights from each of our accounts.  Now this redemption worries me just a little bit.  The 50,000 point redemption is for a “Deluxe Room” which has one queen size bed.  The 3 of us cannot really sleep comfortably in one queen bed.  With each of us having Gold Status (by renewing the Visa card for another year) I am hoping we will be upgraded to a Business Class room with a king bed or a room that will accommodate a rollaway bed.  It’s a gamble and I know that upgrades are never a sure thing.  I could have redeemed 105,000 points for the Business Class room.  But you know I would never do that.

radisson-sas-hotel-paris-champs-elysees-paris_240920100908461791

Radisson Blu Hotel Champs Elysees Paris

My original plan was to book 6 nights at the Champs Elysees, but as luck would have it, they did not have availability for 2 nights in the middle of my stay.  My solution was to spend 2 nights at Disneyland Paris.  (Euro Disney?) At 7, I don’t think Parker will have outgrown it yet.

Using 50,000 points from Matthew’s account, I booked 2 nights at the Radisson Blu Disneyland Paris.  I’m not sure what to expect of Disneyland Paris, but I do not expect an American experience.

rdaissondisney

Radisson Blu Disneyland Paris

Matthew and I are huge geeks.  Especially when it comes to Halloween.  One of our favorite Halloween attractions is Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando, FL.

My favorite time to go is early October, but I going to Romania with my paranormal team in early October.  I also have lots of things planned for later in October so my only option for Halloween Horror Nights was the last weekend in September.  I do not have any flights booked yet (I am hoping for a deal on Frontier) so I took a chance and made a speculative booking at the Country Inn and Suites Orlando Universal.  I used 28,000 points from Matthew’s account for 2 nights.

I also made a speculative booking at Country Inn and Suites Sandusky OH over the 4th of July 2016.  Matthew’s birthday is July 4 and in the past we have gone to amusement parks for his birthday (see above statement about being geeks), so why not next year? Parker has never been to Cedar Point and he is big enough for almost all the rides. Another 28,000 points from Matthew’s account for those 2 nights.

As of May 31, I was left with about 15,0oo points in my account and Matthew had about 30,000.  I could not let them go to waste!

We love California and have gone every year for the past 10 or more years.  Since I will likely buy a Platinum Cedar Fair pass next year (to go to Cedar Point on the 4th of July), if we went to California we could go to Knott’s Berry Farm.  And of course Disneyland.  I found the Radisson Suites Hotel Buena Park which is walking distance to Knott’s Berry Farm.  Big problem though! The Radisson Buena Park was 38,000 points.  Neither of us had enough points.  Club Carlson will allow Gold Elite members to transfer points to another member’s account by calling their Customer Service Center.  The Customer Service Center is closed on weekends and the reservation agents can’t (or won’t) do it.  Remember, the Bonus Night was going away on Monday, June 1.

At this point I was determined not to lose that point redemption and went so far as to install Google Voice on my phone and call the Club Carlson Australian Customer Service Center!  I waited on hold for 18 minutes (and 36 cents) before my call was answered by their Dallas TX reservation center.  What?  Apparently the Australian Service Center was getting so many calls, they were being routed back to the US.  The lady on the line wanted to know why they were getting so many calls about transferring points.  (Really?) I told her I was actually calling Australia to talk to Customer Service and the call was routed back to her.  She said Customer Service was closed on weekends and she could not understand that it was actually Monday morning already in Australia and why in the world would I call Australia??? I hung up before wasting another 2 cents.

I woke up Monday morning, sad that I lost out on one last Bonus Night award redemption.  But wait…what’s this? Notifications on my computer that Bonus Night bookings were still going through! I hopped on the phone and had points transferred from my account to Matthew’s.  As fast as I could, I logged on to the Club Carlson site to book the Radisson Suites Buena Park.  Score! And guess what else? The Radisson Suites Buena Park actually moved DOWN a category on June 1.  So not only did I get the Bonus Night, I also saved 10,000 points!

As a side note, the Radisson Blu Paris Disneyland also moved down a category and was now 6,000 points less than what I booked it for.  I thought about canceling my reservation and rebooking at the lower rate but either my computer or the Club Carlson website was acting funky and I was afraid of losing it completely.  In my opinion, it was not worth it to potentially lose 38,000 points for the sake of maybe saving 6,000.

So…my Club Carlson Tally:

4 nights Radisson Blu Paris Champs Elysees – 100,000

2 nights Radisson Blu Paris Disneyland – 50,000

4 nights Radisson Blu Park Plaza Sydney – 100,000

2 nights Country Inn and Suites Orlando – 28,000

2 nights Country Inn and Suites Sandusky OH  – 28,000

2 nights Radisson Suites Buena Park CA – 28,000

We each have just over 10,000 points left in our accounts.  Hopefully we will be able to find some use for them in the next year or two.

Mini App – O – Rama

Because I feel like I am not doing anything if I am not actively earning miles and points, and because I just finished the minimum spend on Matthew’s most recent AOR,  I decided to do one for myself.

I don’t feel like making one of my little charts, so I will just tell you what I did.

1. Citibank AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard.  I will earn 50,000 AAdvantage miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months.  $0 annual fee for the first year.

  • Reason: you can NEVER have enough AA miles! I am using a big chunk for Cathay Pacific business class to Australia and I want to make sure I have some in the bank.

2. Bank of America Alaska Airlines Signature VISA.  I will earn 25,000 Alaska Airlines miles just for signing up.  No minimum spend required.  $75 annual fee is not waived for the first year.

  • Reason: This is not the greatest sign-up bonus but I am going to start stockpiling Alaska miles to use to get to Fiji in the next 2 years.  As of now, Alaska BOA cards are highly churnable.

3. Barclay’s Frontier Mastercard.  40,000 Frontier miles after spending $500 in the first 3 months. $69 annual fee is not waived for the first year.

  • Reason: My first thought was to use Frontier miles to get to Orlando in September for Halloween Horror Nights.  But it will depend on the fare.  If I can get a good value for the redemption, I will use the miles.  If not, I will pay cash.  I can still use the miles for a ski trip I plan to plan (“plan to plan”, I like that!) for January 2016.

I am getting 115,000 airline miles for $144.  Not the biggest or the cheapest AOR I have ever done, but I have a somewhat immediate need for these miles.

So that’s it for now! I am also working on a post about my recent Manufactured Spending experience.  Hopefully I will have that one up in the next couple days.

I know I don’t have a huge following, but for the handful of people who do read my blog – I appreciate it! Maybe if I would write more…..

Club Carlson Stress

stress-pencil-cropped

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

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

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

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

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

So Why Am I Stressed?

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

Go ahead.  Call me crazy.

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

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

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

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

And I’ll still have 137,042 left.

 

 

April 2015 (Mini) App-O-Rama

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

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

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

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

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

Spring Break 2016

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

I have some planning to do!

Happy Travels!

My Pretty Redbird AND Saving Money at Disney

RIP Serve

serve-1As I’m sure you know by now, Serve will no longer allow credit card loads beginning on April 16.  Boy, that was fun while it lasted.  The limits were low (only $1,000 per month), but I could do it from the comfort of my home.  I didn’t have to put on my PJs and go to Walmart to buy gift cards and hope that Kate was not ill.

I will finish out my $1,000 for March and get $1,000 more loaded before April 16 and then I will bid adieu to Serve.   We had a good run, you and I.

But, wait, what’s this?  A pretty little red bird on the horizon?  Unfortunately, I live in an area that does not sell the Target Prepaid RedCard (aka RedBird) and when I was looking through the list of states that sell them, I could not think of anybody I knew who lived in one.  Apparently, I forgot about my niece in Maryland! Well…my nephew’s wife.  Technically, my husband’s nephew’s wife.  My niece-in-law? In-law?

Anyway! I explained to her what I wanted and she had no problem stopping at Target on her way home from work to pick one up for me.  She even loaded it with $5!  She then sent me a picture of the card showing the number and the 4 digit code on the front of the card.  I used that information to register the card online, in my name.  Within 3 or 4 days I received a personalized, permanent RedCard in the mail.

REDbird_card_image

I was a bit nervous going to Target to load the card.  Since my local Target does not sell them, I wasn’t sure they would know what they are and/or what to do with them.  Visions of WalMart danced in my head.

It was a rather busy Sunday afternoon at Target, but the express line had no wait.  I walked right up to the register and said “I’d like to load my RedCard please”, like I had done it a million times.  She looked at me with a smile and said, “Of course!”

I loaded $325 with my Chase Sapphire Preferred card with absolutely no issues.  It was the easiest thing ever.  I was in and out of the store in about 5 minutes. (Confession…I was having Walmart flashbacks when swiping my credit card, trying to keep it out of her sight so she wouldn’t bark at me “Cash or debit ONLY!”.  When she asked to see the card for the last 4 digits, I had a mild panic attack.  But she entered them, handed it back to me and I was done)  As my son would say “Easy, peasy, lemon squeezey”

So now, where do I go from here? I need to have some sort of strategy for loading the card.  I don’t have any minimum spending requirements to meet, so I need to beef up an account that I plan to use soon.  Ultimate Rewards points are ultimately the most valuable in my opinion, so I think I will focus on them.  But I can’t get too greedy and have Chase wonder why I am suddenly spending so much money at Target.  In even amounts.  I can fix part of that by loading, say, $432.67 to make it look like an actual purchase.  As I have said before, I am not a HUGE manufactured spend(er).  I usually do only a couple thousand a month to pay bills with.  The RedBird limits are $2,500 per day and $5,000 per month, so I can’t go too crazy anyway.  I read blogs of people who do $15,000 or $20,000 a month (and I’m sure you read them too) and honestly, I think those are the people who ruin this for the rest of us who play conservatively.

Right now I only have 1 RedBird, but when Serve dies I think I will close it and open a RedBird in Matthew’s name.  That will give us $10,000 of MS availability each month.  Not that I would use that much.

I also might buy a few American Express Gift Cards through cash back portals.  I will likely use my SPG Amex card for that.  Right now I can get $30 back for buying a $2,000 Amex gift card.  The gift card will cost $12.90 in shipping and fees, so I will make a $17.10 profit.  Better than nothing.  And then I can load the GC on to my RedBird for no fee.  Less Target purchases appearing on my credit card accounts.

We’ll see how this goes.  I’ll keep you posted.

Saving Money at Disney

We are going to Walt Disney World for Spring Break next week.  Yes, I know we are crazy.

walt-disney-world-news1

 

I have done a pretty good job saving money on the trip.  I booked our rental car way back in October for the great rate of $136 for the week! The same car at the same company booked right now is $299.

We are staying at the Country Inn & Suites by the airport.  It’s not fancy, but it has decent reviews and who spends that much time in the room anyway?  I am using Club Carlson points for half of the stay (with the BOGO deal for having the Club Carlson VISA card) and my friend is paying cash for the 2nd half of the stay and I got a great rate at 30% off for 3 nights.

I used 34,000 reward points from my Wells Fargo Propel American Express card (40,000 point sign up bonus) to get my 5 day adult park ticket and bought my son’s 5 day ticket on Undercover Tourist.   With my leftover Wells Fargo Propel rewards points I got a Best Western hotel gift card that I will use on our trip to Bryce Canyon this fall.

But here is the most recent Disney money saving deal I found.

Do you know about AMEX Offers or AMEX Sync?  For Sync, you connect your Amex card with your Twitter account and follow the American Express Twitter feed to take advantage of money saving offers.    You can also just log in to your Amex account to see “Offers for You” and have them added to your card.

Since the Wells Fargo Propel is actually serviced by Wells Fargo, it does not appear when I log into my American Express account.  My SPG, Delta SkyMiles Platinum and SkyMiles Gold Business card are on my American Express account page online.  You can usually add each offer to only one card.  BUT since the Wells Fargo card is separate, I can get the offer added to that card as well via AMEX Sync on Twitter.

So how does this save money at Disney?  Well, one of the Amex Offers is $10 off a $50 purchase at Lowe’s.  Lowe’s sells gift cards, including Disney Gift Cards.  I bought two $50 Disney gift cards at Lowe’s and got two $10 statement credits from American Express.   I added the offer to my SPG card and my Wells Fargo card and got $100 worth of Disney gift cards for $80.  In my book, this is a 20% discount on food.  That should buy at least one meal, right?  My husband wanted me to use the offers to buy mulch.  Yeah…that sounds like fun.

 

Moral Travel Dilemma

I have read many blog posts over the years about bloggers using their seemingly bottomless pit stash of miles and points to send their family and friends on posh vacations all over the world.  They fly them in first class and put them up in the luxury hotel suites.  That’s great.  And it sounds very altruistic.  But, would you do it?  Would I?

For the second time this year I find myself in this rather sticky situation.  The first time was my trip to Europe with a friend this past June.  I did not travel with my husband or my son, it was just me and a friend.  When you travel with a friend, you usually split the cost of the hotel room.  So a $180 room is $90 each, right?  If I travel with my family, the room is $180.  I could use 35,000 IHG points for that $180 room, which isn’t the best value BUT it is better than using 35,000 IHG points for the same $90 room.  Do you see where I’m going with this?

If the person I’m traveling with contributes nothing to the trip in terms of miles or points, should I feel obligated to use mine to offset their cost?  I guess, if I was a completely selfless person.

greed

And I’m not really that greedy! I sincerely enjoy helping people.  If you want to know the best credit card to sign up for to start earning miles and points, I will gladly help you.  If you want to pay for a plane ticket or hotel room and make sure you are getting the best value, I will gladly help you with that too.  But should I GIVE someone my hard-earned miles and points simply because they won’t or can’t sign up for their own?

In the case of my trip to Europe, my friend did provide me with a free plane ticket to Europe.  But we only got business class on the way back AND I had to buy a ticket to Atlanta to even begin the trip – but that’s another rant for another blog post. Now the plane tickets to Europe cost my friend nothing.  No money and no miles.  They were given to her by her employer.  But, she probably would not have taken the trip if it weren’t for me being able to go.  Anyway, because she gave me that ticket I felt more obligated to offset her cost on the hotels so I did use my free night certs and some points to cover most of our hotels.  We each ended up spending about $175 for a week’s worth of hotel stays.  Not bad for Europe.

prague

That’s me in Prague. Thanks JoJo!

Now my current dilemma.  Next spring break, a friend and I decided to take our sons to Disney World in Florida.  Crazy idea during Spring Break, I know.  But again, another blog post for that one!

I have been looking at hotels and want to get one booked before the good ones are gone.  I want the trip to cost as little money as possible because I went WAAAY over my travel budget in 2014, so I want to try to conserve next year.

After looking at all the hotel chains in which I have points, I decided the best value would be the Carlson Country Inn and Suites near Universal.  The Gold Points rate is 28,000 points per night and I could split the reservation to maximize the BOGO points redemption, (use my account for 2 nights and Matthew’s account for 2 nights) That would mean 56,000 in points for 4 nights and 2 paid nights for $208.46 total.

If we paid straight cash for the room it would be $625.38.  Divided by 2 is $312.69 each.

If we did the points for 4 nights and cash for 2 nights scenario, I could use points to cover my half and she could pay $300.

So help me out here.  What do you do when you are traveling with friends? Treat them? Or make them pay half, as if you are not using points.

I’m really not trying to be greedy.  Really.

Black Tuesday and other thoughts

So about 2 weeks ago I wrote a post about my “new” discovery of buying American Express Gift Cards through shopping portals and earning cash back.  Earning cash back on these cards really helps defray the cost of buying VISA gift cards to load on to Bluebird.

Since I started churning credit cards and playing the miles and points game I am ALWAYS waiting for the other shoe to drop.  And this past Tuesday, it did.  At least as far as cash back on American Express Gift Cards is concerned.

American-Express-Gift-Card

As of Tuesday afternoon, all shopping portals (for cash back or miles/points) pulled American Express Gift Cards.  If you read Flyertalk, there is all sorts of speculation as to why this has happened.  Everything from a re-negotiating of contracts between AMEX and merchants to too much Manufactured Spending has been speculated.  Some suggest the cash back offers may come back in the next month or two, as a similar blackout happened last fall.  Only time will tell.

I got one last $2,000 American Express Gift Card purchase in under the wire on Monday morning.  I hate that I can’t earn cash back anymore, but I’m happy with what I earned this month and that I came out ahead!  Since early August I have spent $46.43 on fees to buy VISA gift cards BUT I have earned $100.50 for purchasing American Express Gift Cards via BeFrugal (<– my link) so I am actually $54.07 ahead of the game.  We won’t talk about what I have spent on fees for the past couple years.  But I worked those into my yearly travel budget so they didn’t hurt my daily budget at all.

App-O-Rama 2014

I haven’t really done any big App-O-Ramas this year.  I did a couple small ones for myself, but all Matthew has done this year is get two Citi AA Executive cards.  (but those are very substantial)

Here’s a breakdown of what we have earned and spent for the first 9 months of 2014

Matthew

  • Citi AA Executive Mastercard Feb 2014 – 110,000 miles – $250
  • Citi AA Executive Mastercard Jun 2014 – 110,000 miles – $250
  • Chase Marriott Premier Rewards  Sep 2014 – 72,000 points  – $0

Laura

  • Citi AA Executive Mastercard Mar 2014 – 110,000 miles – $250
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa  May 2014 – 48,000 points – $0
  • Club Carlson Premier Visa  May 2014 – 87,500 points – $75
  • Wells Fargo Propel Amex May 2014 – 43,000 points – $0
  • Delta Skymiles Amex Gold Business  Aug 2014 – 52,000 miles – $0
  • Chase Marriott Premier Rewards  Aug 2014 – 72,000 points – $0

So all together we earned 330,000 airline miles, 231,500 hotel points, 48,000 Ultimate Rewards points (that I will probably transfer to United next year) and 43,000 points that I am going to use for Disney World park hopper tickets in March 2015.

To get all those points and miles, we spent $825.  I know…that’s a lot.  But, like I said, I work that into my yearly travel budget, so it doesn’t really hurt.

I am going to take a break from applying for cards for a few months.  Unless something comes along that is too good to pass up!  No reason for this really, other than giving my credit score a rest.  Both of our scores are still above 800, so all this credit card churning has not hurt us in the least and probably has even helped our scores to go up.

My plan is to apply for the Southwest personal and business card in early 2015 to earn the companion pass.  Unfortunately we don’t live in an area that Southwest serves, but it would be worth driving to Louisville for all those free flights.  Heck, people from here drive to Louisville when they are PAYING for flights!

Summer 2015

I’m ashamed to say that I still do not have anything booked for our summer vacation in 2015.  I don’t have enough Delta miles yet! I am still about 8,000 miles short.  I may end up buying the remaining miles I need since the plug has been pulled on the American Express gift cards.  I will still try to push out some MS in the next month so I can have close to enough by October and book then.  If anything is left.

We have no idea where we want to go really and at this point, we will probably just spin the Delta wheel and see where it lands.  Where ever I can get 3 business class tickets to, is where we will go.  I am going to try for Greece, Italy or France.  But who knows where we will end up!  And actually we may stay in the US next year! Imagine that! But I have always wanted to explore the west – Arizona, Wyoming, Montana, Utah.  2015 may be the year to do that!

Happy Travels!

 

Making and Meeting Spending Goals

Time to make a plan

I will be the first to admit that my spending, both regular and manufactured, has always been rather erratic.  I have written a lot about my “mad organizational skillz” and ability to keep track of multiple accounts, but when it came to setting a goal and then spending to meet that goal, I wasn’t doing it.  So I decided to write this post, not only to help my readers better understand the POINT of doing all this, but also to help myself to better organize my spending.

First I want to list the active, open credit cards in my binder for both myself and my hubby.

  • American Express Delta SkyMiles Platinum (me)
  • Chase Marriott VISA (me and hubby)
  • American Express Starwood Preferred (me and hubby)
  • Barclay’s US Airways Premier World Mastercard (me and hubby)
  • Chase IHG Holiday Inn (me and hubby)
  • Citibank American Airlines Visa (me)
  • Barclay’s Frontier Mastercard (me)
  • Bank of American Alaska Airlines Visa (hubby)
  • US Bank Club Carlson Visa (me and hubby)
  • Citibank American Airlines Executive Mastercard (me and hubby)
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred (me)

That’s 17 active credit cards.  See why organization is so important?

I am about to cancel three cards:

  1. My Barclay’s Frontier card.  Frontier awards proved very hard to redeem.
  2. Hubby’s American Express Starwood Preferred.  He has used all the points in the account and there is no benefit to renewing this card.
  3. Hubby’s Chase Marriott Card. He has earned Gold status on his own this year and next year he will apply for the Marriott Premier Rewards card which offers better benefits than the basic card he has now.

That will leave me with 14 cards to spread out my spending.

Credit-Cards

 

My (Immediate) Plans

And by “immediate” I mean within the next 2 years.

Summer of 2015 I want to take a trip to Europe.  I’m thinking most likely Croatia and either Italy or Greece.  I want to fly (business class) to Australia in 2016.  Those are my 2 big ones.  There will be some domestic trips thrown in that I will most likely just pay the airfare for (I save my miles for expensive international travel), and possibly a Caribbean or Hawaii trip on miles.  It is going to be harder to travel now with my son entering 1st grade later this year.  We will be relegated to summer travel with the masses and maybe a Christmas ski trip.  I am not opposed to pulling him out of school to travel, but I will try to keep that to a minimum.  However I do plan on taking a January or February ski trip to Whistler in the next couple of years and I will pull him out for that.

So, having said that, I need to take a look at my inventory of miles.  Between the two of us we have:

  • 384,000 American and US Air miles (that will become “one” with in the next year)
  • 51,000 Alaska Airlines Miles (these can be used on American Airlines and Delta)
  • 308,000 Delta SkyMiles

To fly Business class to Australia using American Airlines Miles, we will need 375,000 miles.  As you can see, we have more than enough to do that after the merge.  But AA miles are probably the most valuable miles out there right now, so I want to concentrate on building as many of them as I can. Especially since we have so many American Airlines and US Airways cards.

information_australia

I will use my American Airlines miles to fly my family to Australia in business class!

My trip to Europe next year will be on Delta and most likely in coach (ugh, I know), which will require 180,000 miles for 3 tickets.  Again, I have more than enough.

I want to build more Alaska miles to supplement my American and Delta totals.  I can’t combine them, but I can get one ticket from the Alaska account and the other two from the American or Delta account.  To that end, I will probably apply for an Alaska card for myself during my next round of apps this fall.

Organized Manufactured Spending

The real goldmine in Manufactured Spending (MS) is using a Chase Ink or Bold card at office supply stores and earning a 5x point bonus.  If you bought $2,000 worth of Visa gift cards per month, you would be earning 10,000 Ultimate Rewards points.  Do that for a year and you have 120,000 points.  That right there is the bread and butter of most miles and points junkies.  And some (most) do way more than $2,000 a month.

Those 120,000 (or more) Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to United, Southwest, British Airways, Korean Air, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, Marriott, IHG, Ritz-Carlton and even Amtrak.

There are some of us, however, who cannot get the Chase Ink or Bold or other business cards because we do not own our own business and do not feel comfortable lying to get one.  I have a part-time job that would probably qualify me for a Business card, but I applied for a Chase Ink last summer and was denied.  That really spooked me, especially with Chase.  So I am going to lay low with Chase for awhile – at least until next year, and then I might try again.

So where does that leave me and others like me without business cards? It leaves us to only earn 1 mile/point per dollar on most cards.  That can still be worthwhile though, and is better than earning Nothing.  So basically $2,000 a month in gift cards for one year will earn you 24,000 miles/points.  That’s a lot less than 120,000! But again, still better than Nothing.  You also have to factor in the cost of doing this, which is approximately $240 on $2,000 worth of gift cards.

By the way, I am using $2,000 because that’s what *I* do, on average.  That is just enough to pay my mortgage and utility bills.  Every once in a while I will do amazon payments or money orders with gift cards, but I try not to game the system too much and risk getting myself shut down or contributing to shutting down the entire system.

So here is my plan

For the months of June through December 2014, I have made a rotation of 4 cards per month, buying one $500 gift card on each card.  The cards I will rotate are both Citibank American Airlines Executive Cards, my Citibank American Visa, Hubby’s Alaska Airlines card, my Delta SkyMiles American Express and both of our Barclay’s US Bank Mastercards.  By doing 4 different cards per month, I can spread out the spend between 4 different banks.  And notice I am avoiding Chase on all MS activities.  Flyertalk threads like this one and this one really make me stop and think.  And if I want to eventually get that Chase Ink or Bold card, I think it is in my best interest to avoid them for now.

So by the end of the year I will earn just under 10,000 American/US Air miles, 2,000 Alaska miles and 2,000 SkyMiles.  Many people will say that is not worth it.  It’s not worth the $140 I will spend on fees or the trips to Walmart.  You would have to make your own decisions on whether or not it’s worth it to you.  I do not go out of my way to go to Walmart to do this.  But chances are that at least 4-5 times a month I am going to be near a Walmart and it takes me about 10 minutes to run inside and do the deed.  I don’t see that as a big inconvenience.  When you could still buy Vanilla Reloads at CVS, the Miles and Points junkies were running around to every CVS within a 50 mile radius of their home, only earning 1 mile/point per dollar spent on them.  The difference was that they didn’t have to go to Walmart to load them.  So really, that is the only thing that has changed.

The bulk of my “everyday” spending will probably go on my Chase Sapphire Rewards card.  Except for gas and groceries which will go on the Chase IHG cards (2x points in those categories) But of course I will throw a few charges here and there on the cards I am using for MS, just for good measure.

Recurring Charges

Before I go, I want to point out that I have several recurring charges each month that are automatically billed to different credit cards.  Our Chase IHG cards are charged for our Netflix account and our cat’s Wellness Plan at the vet.  The Chase Sapphire Preferred gets Direct TV and our cell phones (for now).  And the US Bank Club Carlson card gets my son’s karate class.

I also have certain credit cards assigned to different accounts such as Groupon, iTunes, and Paypal.

The good thing about setting up these recurring payments is that I can change it any time I want to.  Usually when I get a new card and have to meet minimum spending, I will change the Direct TV and cell phone payments (since those are the highest) to go to the new card until I meet the spending requirement.

So that’s it.  That’s my Master Plan.  Do you have a Manufactured Spending or Travel Planning strategy?  If so, please share it in the comments.  I, for one, am very interested in learning more about how other people reach their goals!  I know many people are loath to talk too much about MS in public forums.  But I think the cat is long out of the bag by now and there is not much classified information left.

Happy Travels!

One last personal note…because he’s just too darn cute not to share.  We got a new dog last week! He is a 2 year old Goldendoodle that we named Bodhi.  I occasionally foster dogs through the Stray Animal Adoption Program and this boy came up needing a foster home. We love Doodles so I grabbed him up and we decided within about an hour that we wanted to keep him forever!   Welcome to the family Bodhi!

bodhi1

Bodhi

 

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