Get 5x United Miles at Amazon, Zappos, Sears, and More

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Chase Freedom is offering 5% cash back at amazon.com, zappos.com, and dozens of department stores from October 1 – December 31, 2014. You must activate those category bonuses, and you can do so now.

Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 11.19.01 PM(It’s too late to activate the 5x at gas stations and Kohl’s that runs through September 30. If you haven’t hit $1,500 in spending yet, hurry.)

The Freedom markets itself as a cash back card, but it actually earns Ultimate Rewards that do NOT transfer to airline or hotel partners like United and Hyatt.

You can, however, transfer the Freedom’s Ultimate Rewards to your Sapphire Preferred, Ink Plus, or Ink Bold account or your spouse’s. From there, you can transfer the Ultimate Rewards to a dozen incredible airline and hotel partners like United and Hyatt.

That means that if you play this right, you can earn 5x United miles per dollar at amazon.com, zappos.com, and select department stores for the fourth quarter of the year.

  • How can you register for the Freedom 5x categories?
  • How can you indirectly transfer the Freedom’s Ultimate Rewards to airline miles and hotel points?
  • Why is transferring the points more valuable than cash back?
  • Who are the Ultimate Rewards partners?
  • What department stores will earn 5x? Which are excluded?

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Using IHG Rewards Into the Night Promotion for Free Luxury Hotel Nights

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IHG Rewards has a fantastic promotion called Into the Nights in which you can turn a few cheap stays into free stays at top tier hotels worldwide.

Everyone is given several tasks to complete that vary in difficulty. Each task has an associated amount of bonus points. Complete a set number, and you also earn another set of bonus points or the two Free Nights.

This promotion began two weeks ago, but I avoided writing about it until I knew what “Free Nights” meant.

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The word has come back to Gary Leff that these Free Nights are identical to the Free Nights earned by the credit card and can be used at any IHG Rewards property whenever there is award night availability with points.

  • What is my targeted offer?
  • What is yours?
  • Am I participating?
  • How should you calculate whether participating is a good deal for you?

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The Cheapest Awards within One Region

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If you THINK BIG, and take an amazing multi-destination trip, you’ll need to book several tickets to hop between destinations.

In the United States, Europe, and Southeast Asia, flights are fairly cheap because of the many competing airlines, including low cost carriers. In other regions, like Africa and South America, short flights can be exorbitantly expensive as a lack of competition drives up prices.

When ticket prices are expensive, that’s the time to use miles. I’ve already laid out the cheapest intra-region bargain awards with American Airlines and United miles. There are also some excellent deals within a single region on the American Airlines, United, Singapore Airlines, and US Airways award charts.

Hop Around My Favorite Continent for 12,500 of Which Miles? (from google.com)

Hop Around My Favorite Continent for 12,500 of Which Miles? (from google.com)

The key to finding great miles uses within a single region is finding award charts with big regions.

For instance, Singapore Airlines categorizes all of South America as one region and charges only 12,500 miles each way in economy within the region. One route I’m looking at for a big trip in December is from Medellin, Colombia to Buenos Aires, Argentina. The ticket would cost $755 or 12,500 Singapore miles + $75. That’s over 5 cents of value per mile on an economy ticket!

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With the demise of American Airlines Explorer Awards, big trips will require many awards. Choosing the right miles for each of the small awards will really add up, so make sure you know the top intra-region awards.

  • What are the top intra-region awards with American Airlines, United, Singapore Airlines, and US Airways miles?
  • What about British Airways Avios?

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Announcing Los Angeles MileValue Dinner Sunday 9/21

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I’m excited to announce a MileValue dinner this Sunday, September 21, in Los Angeles (90006) at 6 PM. I chose an earlier start time, since it’s a work night.

This is the first one in Los Angeles in eleven months, and I think the fourth LA dinner overall. I love the MileValue dinners in Los Angeles, which have had attendees from all over Southern California at all miles collecting and redeeming levels.

Full details and how to RSVP

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End of Amazon Payments Free $1,000 Transfer

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Amazon Payments is a payment service very similar to PayPal with one major difference.

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Amazon Payments charges no fee to pay someone with a credit card. You can send $1,000 per month per account without fees on Amazon Payments. You can also receive $1,000 per month per account without fees.

People use this to pay for things that ordinarily couldn’t be put on a credit card, like your half of your rent to your roommate, or to manufacture spending.

Starting October 13, 2014, the person-to-person payments option will be eliminated. You will no longer be allowed to send and receive $1,000 per calendar month fee-free. From an email sent to Amazon Payments users:

“Additionally, we have updated the terms and conditions of our User Agreement (https://payments.amazon.com/help/Personal-Accounts/User-Agreement-Policies/User-Agreement) that apply to your use of the products and services provided by Amazon Payments.  Our updated User Agreement revises certain terms (including, among other things, the elimination of person-to-person payments).  Our new User Agreement will become effective on October 13, 2014, which is more than 30 days from when we first posted our updated User Agreement.  By continuing to use our services after October 13, 2014, you are agreeing to be bound by the terms and conditions of our new User Agreement.”

That means you can only send $2,000 more fee-free, $1,000 during September and $1,000 from October 1 to 12, 2014.

There are still ways to manufacture spending, including my preferred method, Kiva.

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Award Space Home from the Great Wall

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I had a blast spending 70 hours in Beijing with my brother this week using the 72-Hour Visa-Free Transit rule.

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on a section of the “wild” Great Wall near Jiankou

The rule requires you to enter China from one country and leave China to a third country within 72 hours among other requirements.

Since the time you can spend in Beijing under the rule is so limited, I would not fly directly from the United States to China, starting the clock when you’ll be severely jet lagged. We started our Asian trip in Hong Kong and got over jet lag there, so when we flew to Beijing (same time zone), we could hit the ground running.

Since starting in Beijing is not recommended, I looked at award space next May for awards returning from Beijing to the United States. Why May? The temperature was perfect for us in September, and May has similar weather. (September 2015 will be bookable next month.)

There are a number of direct flights from Beijing to the United States and Canada on Air China, United, Air Canada, and American Airlines that I’ll look at in this post. I’ll ignore the Delta flights because they can’t be booked one way until January 2015.

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  • How is award space for two people from Beijing to the United States in May 2015?
  • What miles can you use to book the flights?

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How the 72 Hour Transit Without Visa Works in Beijing China

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Visa entry requirement change frequently. I will not update this post. Check travel.state.gov for the latest information.

I just spent 70 hours in the Beijing area without a visa using China’s 72-hour Visa-Free Transit rules.

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As a recap, you can stay in China for 72 hours without a visa if:

  • you fly into Beijing (PEK), Shanghai (PVG or SHA), Guangzhou (CAN), or Chengdu (CTU)
  • fly out of the same airport
  • stay in the city/province the entire time
  • arrive with an onward ticket to a third country
  • departing less than 72 hours after arrival
  • hold a passport from one of 51 countries including the United States

The key one not to overlook is that “third country” rule. You cannot fly into Beijing from one country and fly right back to that same country. For instance, New York to Beijing to Los Angeles doesn’t work. New York to Tokyo to Beijing to New York does work.

  • How did the 72 Hour Visa Free Transit work?
  • What did we do upon arrival?
  • Are Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau “third countries” for the purpose of the visa?
  • What did we squeeze into 70 hours?
  • Do I recommend using the 72-Hour Visa-Free Transit program?

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American Airlines Best Business and First Class on New Route

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American Airlines’ best Business and First Class are both found on the 777-300ER, its newest international plane.

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The 777-300ER features fully flat beds in Business Class and First Class, plus a walk up bar on board for the folks up front. So far the plane is flying 1-2 frequencies a day on some of American Airlines’ routes to London and Sao Paulo.

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The plane will also fly Miami to Sao Paulo from November 6 to December 1 of this year.

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American Airlines and US Airways’ award charts are the cheapest around at the moment, so it’s a great deal to get a new and world-class product like American Airlines has put on its 777-300ERs for 50k miles each way in Business Class to Europe or Brazil or 62,500 miles in First Class.

  • How is award space in Business Class and First Class from Miami to Sao Paulo while the 777-300ER takes over one frequency?
  • How is award space in Business Class and First Class on the other 777-300ER routes?

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More United Options to Brazil, Azul Adds Flights to USA

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United partner Azul, a Brazilian low cost carrier, is adding flies to the United States in December 2014.Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 6.20.17 PM

  • December 1, 2014: Viracopos-Campinas (VCP) to Fort Lauderdale (FLL)
  • December 15, 2014: Viracopos-Campinas (VCP) to Orlando (MCO)

Note that Viracopos-Campinas is often called a Sao Paulo airport. It is about 50 miles from the city center and farther away than Sao Paulo’s other international airport (GRU.)

These new American destinations are in addition to the 100+ destinations served in Brazil.

You can book Azul flight with United miles. Azul’s planes are in an all-economy configuration, and United charges 30,000 miles each way between the United States and Brazil.

  • How is the Azul experience?
  • How can you book Azul flights with United miles?
  • Where does Azul fly to from Viracopos airport?

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Top Five Countries I Still Want to Visit

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I’ve passed the 50 country mark this year, but there’s still so much more of the world I want to see. I gave some thought to the top five countries I haven’t visited yet that I most want to see, and how and when I’ll fit them in, and I’ll share that here.

Sometimes my trip planning happens for reasons other than the country being at the top of my list:

  • There’s a mistake fare or cheap award.
  • There’s an incredible First Class product I want to fly.
  • I want to check a new region off my list.
  • I want to meet up with a traveling friend.

Those are all valid reasons for a trip or two, but I want to refocus and visit the countries where I think I’ll have the most fun and learn the most.

Beyond just thinking about going there, I’m coming up with a time and type of miles to use. Just the act of making a plan makes it more likely I’ll follow through and finally get to these places.

1. Colombia: October 2014

I remember the rumblings when I was on the gringo backpackers trail through Peru in the summer of 2007. Most of the backpackers had not been to Colombia as the country had had a terrible reputation for killings, kidnappings, and terrorism for years, but the few who had been were unanimous: Colombia was their favorite country of the trip.

Everyone had a different reason–Cartagena and the Caribbean, the mountains, the nightlife–but everyone agreed. The seeds were planted then, but somehow I never got around to seeing Colombia even as I visited farther afield countries like Paraguay and Bolivia.

Colombia has been at the top of my wish list since 2011 when I had a big map of South America on my wall and sketched a possible trip where I’d land in Maracaibo, Venezuela, cross the border to Colombia and do a trek to the Ciudad Perdida, visit Cartagena, Bogota, Cali, and Medellin, then head home.

from http://www.ciudadperdidatour.com/informacion-ciudad-perdida/galeria-fotos-ciudad-perdida/

from http://www.ciudadperdidatour.com/informacion-ciudad-perdida/galeria-fotos-ciudad-perdida/

Back then, a great deal came up on a cash ticket to see East Africa and Turkey, so I scrapped the Colombia plan.

When I found out I’d have a perfect 2.5 week travel window this October, I knew where I wanted to go. I plan to travel to Bogota for the entire time to embrace slow travel and getting to really know one place instead of rushing through three (though I like rapid travel too.) I am expecting to love Colombia and to visit the rest of the places on my lost 2011 itinerary on future trips.

I’ll book my trip with American Airlines miles because of what commenters said in this thread.

  • What’s the rest of my top five countries I still haven’t visited?

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Hike to Sai Wan Village, Sheung Luk Stream, Hong Kong

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A few days ago, I hiked to Sai Wan Village and Sheung Luk Stream in Hong Kong on the advice of an American friend who’d done the hike last year. The hike, lunch, and cliff jumping made for my favorite day of activities in Hong Kong and a stark contrast from the urban activities that dominate Central and Kowloon.

The Sai Wan Village hike is quite famous with even a CNN article on the topic, but I couldn’t find one site with good directions, photos, and maps of the hike to Sai Wan village and Sheung Luk stream, so hopefully this post can be that resource as well as a trip report to inspire you for your next trip to Hong Kong.

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Jumping in at Sheung Luk

The hike is an easy 45 minutes to one hour in each direction along a fully paved path. The main issue is the omnipresent heat and humidity in Hong Kong.

Along the way, you’re treated to views of the High Island Reservoir, and at the end of the path is a spectacular beach and ocean, a fishing village with delicious Chinese food, and a stream with natural pools and waterfalls.

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High Island Reservoir, from the trail

  • How do you get to the trailhead?
  • How do you get to the waterfall?
  • What are your return options?
  • Plus more pictures.

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How to Get Free Food on United Flights

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Last week I flew United economy for eight hours from Honolulu to Guam. I shared how I got my own row in economy for a long and comfortable nap.

I also got free food on the flight.

There are a few sure-fire ways to get free food on United flights:

  • Fly first class or business class; Economy Plus doesn’t count.
  • Fly an international route that offers free food in economy.

I didn’t do any of that. I was just given free food from the buy onboard snacks by accident. But the process might be repeatable, so I’ll share it.

  • What did I get for free?
  • Is it repeatable?

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Arrival Miles Can Be Used to Pay Airline Taxes and Fees

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Arrival miles are good for so much more than just airfare. You can also use them to offset fees that airlines charge or even the taxes on award tickets.

Any purchase you make from an airline should code as travel, which means you can redeem Arrival miles from the Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard® to remove the purchase from your card’s account balance.

After my brother and I used his Arrival miles to get a $571 airbnb stay in Seoul for free, we looked at what was left in his account.

He had two other travel purchases that he could redeem miles against: $64.20 from United and $30 from Hawaiian Airlines.

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The United charge was the taxes on his award ticket to Asia. The Hawaiian charge was the change fee on an interisland flight when he decided to cut short a trip to the Big Island.

Many programs like Ultimate Rewards, ThankYou Points, and FlexPoints allow you to redeem points for a free ticket on any airline. Arrival miles from the Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard® go one step further allowing redemptions for any travel expense including these airline taxes and fees.

  • How did we redeem his miles for the taxes and fees?
  • What decision did I make to save him $1 (he owes me a Frosty!)?
  • Does this mean you can use Arrival miles to offset the cost of buying airline miles during miles sales?

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Six Under-Priced Awards on the United Airlines Chart

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As promised in yesterday’s post on the Five Under-Priced Awards on the American Airlines Chart, today I’ll post six under-priced awards on the United chart.

The basic premise of these posts and my post on the Coolest Thing You Can Do with 60,000 Miles was connecting far-flung regions into a single trip by taking advantage of under-priced awards between the regions.

Why American and United awards? Because they can be booked as one way awards, and these THINK BIG trips allow you to see more by booking a series of cheap one way awards.

I’m including the cheapest one way international awards between non-American regions only because the cheapest international awards from the United States are better known.

Hopefully seeing cheap ways to get between South America and Africa or East Asia and Fiji will spur you to THINK BIG and come up with a really creative trip that incorporates both places.

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1. Economy Class: 10,000 Miles Between Central America and Northern South America

or 20,000 miles in Business Class

Between Central America and Northern South America (Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela), you can fly for only 10,000 United miles in economy or 20,000 in business.

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United partners have hubs in El Salvador, Colombia, Peru, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Panama, so finding award space is a cinch.

This award could be the way to combine Central America, the Galapagos and South America on a single trip. THINK BIG.

  • What are the other top six under-priced awards on the United Airlines chart? Pay special attention to five and six!

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