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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…..

Planning 2016 Travel and Other Aggravations

REDbird_card_image

 

As you have probably heard, the Buzz of the day is that beginning tomorrow (May 6) you can no longer load the Target Prepaid REDcard (aka RedBird) with credit cards.  This is (as of now) a basically unsubstantiated rumor, but I’m sure there will be long lines at many Target CS desks tonight!

This makes me very sad as I have only had my RedBird for a couple months and Matthew just got his last month!  I am very conservative with Manufactured Spending, so I really haven’t done much.  I was going to start amping it up and was even going to write a post about it.  But, for right now we just have to wait and see what happens tomorrow.  Hopefully the rumor is not true.

While I’m here, I will tell you my MAJOR MS activity in April 2015.  I’m not a $50k per month MS monster (I do believe they are the ones that ruin it for the rest of us), but here’s what I did.

I purchased $4,000 in American Express Gift Cards (AGC) with my American Express SPG card.  I paid $25.80 in fees but earned $60 in cash back, so I came out ahead by $34.20.  I loaded those cards to the RedBird throughout the month.  Usually in $1,000 increments.

I also did direct credit card loads of $2250 using AA cards and the old US Air card.  WooHoo!  Big spender! Like I said, I was going to step up my game in May!

But for all my troubles I earned 4,000 SPG points and 2,250 AA miles. (actually I may have earned more AA points with the bonus points promotion that is currently running)  And $34 in cash.

Today only, there is a 2.25% cash back offer on AGC via TopCashBack.  I was about to pull the trigger on a couple today until the other shoe dropped on the RedBird.  I still might do it though.  With cash back, even if I have to pay fees to turn around and buy VISA GC with them, I still come out ahead.

Bottom line for me – if the RedBirds die tomorrow, I will probably still keep them.  Or maybe cancel one and go back to Serve with the other.  We should still be able to load both with VISA GC. (I hope!)

2016 Travel

Ahhhh…it’s that time.  Time to think about next year’s travel plans.  I know where I want to go, and when but I’m having trouble making it work.

Dive-sites

 

My son wants to go to Egypt for Spring Break.  He wants to see the Pyramids and Matthew and I want to dive the Red Sea.

I thought this would be easy to accomplish because prices in Egypt are pretty low right now.  Tourism has fallen off by an estimated 95% since the turmoil and civic unrest of the past few years.  The Red Sea resorts are doing OK, but the historical areas in Cairo, Luxor and Aswan are suffering.  So yeah, I thought it would be cheap and easy.  Not so much.

Have you ever tried to GET to Egypt?  Oh my.  The term “BFE” that we used to say as teenagers ain’t for nothing!

I could fly on Delta for 80,000 miles and $115 per ticket.  But I did not really want to burn up my Delta miles, because I wanted to use those for Australia (which I will talk about in a minute).

I was hoping to use some AA miles to get us to Egypt.  AA codes Egypt as “Middle East” , even though it is  in Africa. (I used to know a Delta agent who thought Egypt was in Europe.  But, I digress) AA also uses British Airways to get to Cairo.  So you know what that means.  Fuel Surcharges.  It would cost me 90,000 miles and $463 Per Ticket to fly from CVG to Cairo.  Yikes!

Then I thought of something else.  Spring Break is “off peak” to Europe on AA.  So I could use 40,000 AA miles to fly RT to London and then 20,000 Avios to fly RT from London to Cairo.  Of course, there are fuel surcharges which would be about $250 per ticket. That still hurts.  But it would only be a total of 60,000 miles per ticket and a total of $750 in cash.  Plus I would have to pay cash for the flights from Cairo to Sharm el Sheikh.

This Egypt trip is getting expensive and complicated.

Australia 2016

Another hassle.  Alaska Airlines has some great partners and low redemption rates.  Cathay Pacific, Qantas and even Fiji Airways can get me to Australia from LAX using Alaska miles.  In coach.  Trying to find availability for 3 business class seats is not looking good.  I have checked many dates throughout the year and nothing comes up in business class. Sometimes not even for 1 ticket.  I have not checked Cathay Pacific though, because you have to call them.

I will likely fly coach to Europe in the future.  But not over the Pacific.  No.  Never again.  Been there, done that.  It was horrible.

You know what does show availability for 3 tickets in business class on several dates throughout the year?  Virgin Australia using Delta SkyMiles.  I would gladly do that roundtrip , but sadly I do not have the 480,000 SkyMiles needed.  I have about 375,000 right now.  By doing some heavy MS and/or transferring some SPG points to Delta, I could probably manage 5 awards (at 80,000 each).  That would mean either Matthew or I would have to take a different flight on the outbound or return.  Not ideal, but we could do it as a last resort.

Trying to figure out which programs to use to make these two big trips happen is proving to be quite stressful.

And finally the last trip I hope to take in 2016 is a 4 or 5 night stay at Beaches Turks and Caicos over fall break.  That is one of our favorite places in the entire world.  October is again “off peak” on the AA charts, so it’s only 25,000 miles per ticket.

Club Carlson Devaluation

Between Matthew and myself, we have about 350,000 Club Carlson points.  Somehow, I have to tentatively book all of those before May 31.  Right.  That’s not going to happen.  There are a couple nice Radisson properties in Australia, but I have no idea what dates I will end up traveling on, so I can’t make tentative bookings.  I am assuming if I call back to change the dates, they will take away the bonus night.  That’s what Marriott does.  But I will be sure to clarify that soon.

To add insult to injury, they are raising categories on about 1,000,000 properties beginning June 1.  Interestingly, the property I want to stay at in Egypt is LOWERING from 28,000 points per night to 15,000 points per night.  So if I have to wait until after the Bonus nights go away, it will only cost me another 2,000 points for 2 nights.  But that is certainly not the case for numerous other hotels.

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Radisson Blu Sharm el Sheikh Egypt

So that’s it! That’s all I have for right now.  If you have any suggestions for me regarding Australia or Egypt I would LOVE to hear it.

Happy Travels!

 

 

 

 

Summer 2015 May Not Be Exotic

I am almost ashamed to say that I have not booked any travel for next summer.  It’s been very hard to plan in advance with Matthew’s travel schedule being so unpredictable and now that I have a better idea of when we can go, the pickin’s are slim.

Why do I feel like I am not “traveling” if I do not go to Europe? Or Asia? That’s a mindset that I need to shake off.  Parker loves California and has talked about the Grand Canyon, so I have a feeling the Boring Rolands will be going west this summer.

I have some award tickets on hold with American until Dec 9, so I need to make a decision before then.  Matthew has a work trip to Albuquerque in late June.

Breaking-Bad

OF COURSE I would do this if I have time!

My plan is for Parker and I to fly in to Albuquerque on the last day of his work trip (June 26) and drive to the Grand Canyon from there.  

We could spend a couple days at the Canyon and then drive on to Las Vegas, with a stop at the Hoover Dam.  I’m not sure Vegas is a great place for kids, but I think it would be worth at least a day.  Parker would probably love the lights and action and I’m sure we could find some kid-friendly things to do.

From there, we would fly on Southwest to our favorite place, San Jose CA.  The Southwest fares seem to be around $75 one way, so that’s not bad at all and better than driving!

We love love love love love the Santa Cruz area.  Especially the Boardwalk.  We would spend at least 2 days there.santacruz

For the 4th of July weekend, we would head back up to San Jose to spend the weekend with family and hopefully attend Matthew’s cousin’s 98th birthday party!

My tickets on hold have us flying home from San Jose on Tuesday July 7.  Matthew would have to fly back to Albuquerque before flying home, unless he can work out his travel to allow him to fly home from San Jose.

That is more days than I planned to spend on this trip, but it was the only way I could make low level award tickets work.  I will keep checking, though, and see if anything else opens up that might let me shorten it by at least a day.

Boring, huh?  We go to California every year.  So I guess it’s all perspective.  We love it, and that’s what matters.

But I still have the itch to go to Europe.  (always) So I was checking Delta availability and I found 3 low level awards to London for July 1-July 9.  Of course you have to pay $300 per ticket for the privilege of flying out of London, but still.  Those dates are perfect and I  have been wanting to go to London and Scotland to visit my (dead) relatives.

On the bright side, I am still planning a trip to Romania in Oct 2015 with a friend, so I guess that will be my Europe fix for 2015.  Better travel plans await in 2016 – The Year of Australia!

So what travel plans do you have this summer?  What am I missing?  Do you have any suggestions of places to go where I still might be able to find low-level availability?  I know travel is “free” , but I still refuse to pay medium or high level for awards.  It’s a matter of principle.

Happy Travels!

New York City 2014

This was a Gatekeeper Paranormal team trip, rather than a “family trip”, but I wanted to share with you some of the fun things we did and ways I saved money!

For the past year we have wanted to experience Blackout , an intense, adults only theatrical “haunted house”.  When they announced the dates for Fall 2014 in New York City, we decided to go for it.

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Airfare from Cincinnati to New York can average anywhere from $350 to $550.  Most of those flights will involve a connection, likely in Charlotte or Chicago.  Delta has a nonstop flight from Cincinnati to LaGuardia, but the fares were around $450.  We didn’t decide to go until about 4 weeks before the event, so the likelihood of finding a low level award ticket was pretty low.

Two of my Gatekeeper team members work for airlines so I decided to use a buddy pass.  Flights from CVG to LGA are pretty easy to get on as a non rev and they looked good for our dates, so I took a chance.  I used to work for airlines myself and non rev travel was always a gamble, but it seems to be much worse now.  But in the end, this worked out great for me.  I paid about $115 for a roundtrip ticket and even got first class on the way home.

Finding a hotel was probably the most difficult part of the planning process.  We were 4 girls who wanted to share one room.  Not easy to do in Manhattan, especially on a budget!  Most of the rooms I could get in Manhattan with points only had one bed.  We wanted this trip to be as cheap as possible since it was relatively last minute, so I expanded my search outside of Manhattan.

A couple years ago I won 22,000 Hyatt points from a contest on Million Mile Secrets.  They have just been sitting there because I have never applied for a Hyatt credit card and honestly have never stayed in a Hyatt before!

I found the Hyatt Place Flushing/LaGuardia available for our 2 nights at 12,000 Hyatt points per night.  I transferred 2,000 points from my Chase Ultimate Rewards account (which was super fast and easy to do) and used the 24,000 points for 2 nights.  I reserved a room with 2 queen beds and a sofa bed.

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The hotel is brand new and within a 7 minute walk to the subway station.  The #7 train will take you directly to Times Square in about 30 minutes.  Again, not as convenient as staying right in Times Square, but sometimes to save money, you do what you have to do.

The hotel is in downtown Flushing, which is the largest urban center in Queens and the 2nd largest Chinatown in New York City.  The hotel caters to a mostly Chinese clientele and is also mostly staffed by Chinese.  The staff though, could not have been friendlier.  I was very pleased with the service we received.  Two of us arrived early (9:30am) and the girl at the front desk was very accommodating in getting us a room so we could relax and wait for our friends to arrive before heading into the city.

On our first day, we took the subway all the way down to Canal Street because one of my friends is a bit obsessed with knock-off handbags.  The knock-off trade isn’t like it used to be back in the day.  Back in the 90s, they had bags displayed on the street and then would hustle you into back rooms to look at the “really good stuff”.  But the police have cracked down on this and now it’s all secret back room dealings.  Ladies on the street will ask you if you want bags and then take you a couple blocks away to meet a guy who gives you a laminated cardboard sheet full of pictures of bags.  Most of them are in the $125 to $140 price range and the guys are not very interesting in haggling.  We walked away empty-handed and it was almost a wasted trip except for getting our $1 dirty water dog.

dog

We came back uptown a bit and walked around Macy’s – who already had their Christmas windows set up and decorations out.  On November 6.

Our 4th friend, Mandy, finally arrived around 6pm and we went to visit her friends who live in the Hell’s Kitchen area.  We had dinner plans to meet my friends at Dos Caminos on Park Avenue at 8pm.  Riding the subway was becoming a bit of a chore so we decided to check out Uber.

Uber is a ride-sharing service that operates like a taxi service – but much cooler.  They were (and maybe still are) offering a promotion where your first ride is free (up to $30).  After your ride, you are given a promo code that you can give to a friend for them to get a free ride.  Once they use their free ride, you get another.  There were 4 of us on this trip…you see where this is going?  No more subway!

Uber uses a cool smartphone app that lets you request a car, get an estimate of the fare and even track your driver’s location on GPS, and the fare and tip is automatically charged to your credit card on file or your PayPal account.

We requested a car to pick us up on 51st Street and take us to Dos Caminos on Park Avenue.  That is a distance of just about 2 miles.  The total Uber fare was $10.83, but cost me nothing because of the promo.  Looking back this was not the best use of my promo code because I could have gotten a $30 value ride.  But…it was still free, so I was happy.

Dos Caminos has some of the best guacamole I have ever tasted.  There was a bit of sticker shock to those of us used to paying midwest restaurant prices.  But it was a lot of fun to eat at a hip NYC restaurant instead of hot dogs on the street, and to visit with my friends.  Incidentally this was the largest expense of my trip, coming in at $65 for just me.  And no…I do not eat a lot.  But I did have two $15 Cadillac margaritas.

cadillac

$15 in a glass

After dinner, we met back up with Mandy’s friends at The Player’s Club.  The Player’s Club is a private, members only club for people of the theatre.  It is located in a townhouse that was built in 1847.

players

photo credit: Mandy Loftis

 

We were given a tour of the entire building, including Edwin Booth’s private room that contains a human skull.  A fascinating experience.

We took a Yellow cab from The Player’s Club back to Flushing and the fare was about $45.  Wow.  Not bad when you split it between 4 people, but still quite a hefty fee.

On Friday we took the subway back into Manhattan and visited One World Trade Center. I have been to the site several times since the Sept 11 attacks, and it looks different every time.  I was there in December 2001 when there were still massive piles of rubble.  I was also there 3 years ago when they were just starting to build the museum.   It looks like the plan now is to complete a huge retail space in the next year.

wtc

photo credit: Angela Johnson

We took a (free) (freezing) ride on the Staten Island ferry so my friends could see the Statue of Liberty.  I have seen Lady Liberty several times, so I stayed inside and tried to stay warm!

tourists

Notice I am missing from this picture

The rest of our afternoon, before hitting Blackout, was spent shopping and eating.  We had pizza at Joe’s Pizza (my fave) and got some crazy delicious mini cupcakes at Baked By Melissa.  (the Cookie Dough ones are To Die For)

We then headed over to Central Park which was still awash in fall colors and absolutely gorgeous.

park

photo credit: Mandy Loftis

We grabbed another Dirty Water Dog here.  Remember the one on Canal Street that cost $1?  The same dog up here is $4.  Location location location.  Eat your dogs downtown!

We took another Free Uber ride down to Houston Street for Blackout.  If you are interested in my review of Blackout you can send me an e-mail.  This is a family travel blog and there really is nothing family-friendly I can say about Blackout.  It is a crazy, intense experience and definitely for adults only.

blackout

Gatekeeper Paranormal survives Blackout:House 2014

After Blackout we walked down the street to Katz Deli to warm up and eat some comfort food.

katz

We took our last free Uber ride back to our hotel in Queens.  Remember the yellow cab ride back to the hotel that cost $45?  The Uber ride was free…but came to $20 with tip.  Not a bad deal!

All together, my weekend trip to NYC set me back about $320.  Not bad!  Here is a breakdown

  • Airfare – $115
  • Two $10 Metro cards – $20
  • Cupcakes – $21 (yes…and I ate them all)
  • Chocolate Babka – $12
  • CVG airport parking – $20
  • Dos Caminos – $65
  • Blackout – $40
  • Cash spent on dogs, pizza, pop and souvenirs for Parker – $30

Up next – my trip report on Beaches Turks and Caicos and hopefully the rest of my Thailand trip reports.

I have taken a break on Manufactured Spending for the moment.  The $30,000 spend required for the Executive card kinda burned me out for awhile.  Too many trips to Walmart.  I will probably get back into it next month.

Happy Travels!

 

Feeling Funky

I think I’m in a Miles and Points funk.  I need to apply for a Marriott Rewards Premier VISA card for my husband before his offer expires on Monday.  I was going to do that today, along with one or two other cards.  But I just don’t feel like it. 

I think part of this is caused by the fact that I have not booked our summer 2015 trip.  I still don’t have enough Delta SkyPesos for 3 business tickets.  Although I checked availability yesterday for some random dates next summer and actually found 3 business seats on Alitalia to Athens.  (which is our #1 choice) But when I was checking out the hotel options on some of the islands, I was disappointed to see that there were very few options for reward stays.  Except places like the SPG Mystique that wants 60,000 points for 1 night.  It’s beautiful but….no thanks.

mystique

SPG Mystique Santorini

So that leaves me looking for “budget” accommodations on Santorini.  With a caldera view, if you please.  Yeah, right.  Although I did find a rather nice one for about $130 per night in mid-July which is not bad at all.

As much as I despise cruises, I actually started looking at Greek Island cruises. I thought that would be a good way to see the islands without paying the crazy hotel prices on the fancy ones.  I only looked at a couple cruise lines yesterday but one of the itineraries said it arrived in Santorini (Or Mykonos…can’t remember now but it was one of the two) at 6pm and left at 11pm.  What’s up with that?  Maybe it’s a party island and people go mainly for the nightlife.  That’s not a great plan for a family.  Actually even without Parker I probably wouldn’t like that.

So I think I am at a point where I feel rather saturated with miles and points (a quick look at Award Wallet tells me we have about 1.5 million of them) and no ability to use them.  I feel saturated, but yet when I think of burning 375,000 Delta SkyPesos on 3 tickets I go into hoarding mode. I don’t want to let them go.

This is terrible.  I must snap out of this.  I think I will go ahead and apply for his Marriott card and perhaps a Frontier card as well.  I wasn’t going to mess with Frontier anymore but they have started offering some new routes out of CVG so it might be nice to have a small stash of them on hand.  Though I have a slight fear of a denial from Barclay’s because he has not used his US Airways card very much.   But I didn’t use mine much either and I was approved for the Frontier card.  And he has only applied for 2 other cards in 2014, so he doesn’t have many pulls.

If anybody reading this has been to Greece, please share some ideas with me! And keep in mind we will be traveling with a 6 year old so we need family friendly places and activities.

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!

 

I did it! My first Business card!

Finally!

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

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

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

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

Gatekeeper Paranormal

 

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

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

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

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

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

60 seconds later:

first biz card

 

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

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

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

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

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

I heart you American Express.  Thank you.

American Express Gift Cards

Just a quick post so you know I’m still alive and to share my recent experiment.

American-Express-Gift-Card

I have heard of people buying American Express gift cards online through cash back portals, but I had never done it myself until last month.  I tested the waters by buying a $200 gift card using the AMEX Sync offer of $10 back on the purchase of AMEX gift cards.  I went through BeFrugal (<that is my link)  and also earned $5 cash back.

I signed up for a 3 month trial of free shipping from American Express, but I still had to pay the $3.95 purchase fee. I paid $203.95 for the gift card.  I was almost immediately issued a $10 credit on my American Express statement and I have $5 pending at BeFrugal.  I liquidated the card via Amazon Payments because I didn’t want to go through the hassle of trying to buy gift cards with it.  (and spending more money to do so) So…after my credits, I paid $188.95 for a $200 gift card.  Not bad.

A couple days ago, I got a bit braver and went for a $1,000 AMEX gift card.  I used my Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which wasn’t the best decision.  I’m trying to build Delta points to burn on a trip to Europe next year and those Ultimate Rewards points won’t help me do that.  But, nevertheless, I did it.  I paid $1003.95 for the card and used my free shipping.

For the $1,000 gift card, I earned $27.50 cash back via BeFrugal. I will use this AMEX gift card to purchase 2 $500 VISA gift cards at Walmart and load them to Bluebird.  Stay tuned for an update or a new post to see how that goes.  I hope to do that today or tomorrow.

I will pay $4.94 for each VISA gift card.  Plus the $3.95 purchase fee on the AMEX card.  I have spent $13.83 in fees BUT I am getting $27.50 cash back.  I am $13.67 ahead of the game.

I just made $27.34. Why didn’t I start doing this years ago?

As long as I do not have any hassles buying VISA gift cards with the AMEX gift cards, this is going to be my “new thing”.

Do you buy American Express gift cards online through shopping portals?  Let me know in the comments!  I would love to hear your experience.

Of course none of this is helping me meet my minimum spend on the last Citi Executive card.  (DO NOT use Citi cards to buy American Express gift cards or you will be charged a cash advance fee!) I’m still a couple thousand short on that minimum spend, but I have until Sept 26, so it shouldn’t be a problem.

I am going to write more.  I am going to write more.

I keep telling myself that.  And I will.  Now that Parker has started 1st grade, I have about 8 hours of “free” time every day.  I have a lot going on.  My paranormal group Gatekeeper Paranormal just started doing tours of Bobby Mackey’s Music World, so I am busy scheduling and conducting those.  I am also trying to plan our spring break 2015 trip to Disney World.  And a trip to Europe next summer.

I also plan to apply for a few cards at the end of this month so I need to sort out which ones are the best.  I know for sure we will each be getting a Marriott Premier Rewards card (not my link) offering 70,000 points after spending  $2,000 in 3 months.

I’m also working on the rest of my trip reports from Thailand! It really was an incredible trip and I want to share all the details!

**UPDATE** I just returned home from Walmart where I purchased two “Birthday Candle” VISA gift cards for $495 each – using the $1000 Amex Gift Card.  I then loaded the VISA gift cards to Bluebird with no problems!

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!