Last week, I did a 2 day/1 night hike on the Great Wall of China near Beijing that included 10 miles of hiking on the Wall, several meals, transportation, lodging, and a massage. My brother and I paid $370 per person.
Hiking the Great Wall was one of my best travel experiences ever. The history, the scenery, the outdoor exercise, and spending time with my brother were a potent combination.
I went with Great Wall Hiking (which gave me no discount and doesn’t know I’m writing this review), and I enjoyed the tour immensely. I wish it had been cheaper, and there may be similar options out there that are cheaper. I’ll give my experiences to help you plan your Great Wall adventure if you head to Beijing. (See also How the 72 Hour Transit Without Visa Works in Beijing, China and Award Space Home from the Great Wall.)
- What was the itinerary?
- How was the service?
Through Monday September 22, 2014, you can buy 100,000+ IHG Rewards points for 0.575 cents each.
Buying IHG points for under 0.6 cents each means you can book certain IHG hotel rooms for less than $30 per night.
This sale virtually ties the cheapest I’ve ever seen the points for sale. In May, during Daily Getaways, 100k points were sold for $567 (0.008 cents cheaper per point), and that package sold out quickly.
- How does the sale work?
- How can you get $30 hotel nights?
- Is this a good deal?
I just arrived in Los Angeles after 10 hours flying Asiana First Class on its brand new A380. I booked my seat last month for 70,000 United miles (at pre-devaluation prices using this trick.)
This is a really important trip report because Asiana First Class is a true luxury product that is extremely easy to book with miles!
Champagne wishes & caviar realities in Asiana First
Award space on the Asiana A380 is wide open in Business Class and First Class between Los Angeles and Seoul, especially at the last minute. Here’s a search for 4 passengers between Seoul and Los Angeles for the next two months. The blue and green days all have award space in Business or First Class or both for 4 passengers on the same flight.
This flight has 4+ Business Class and 4+ First Class award seats on the same Asiana A380.
I very much enjoyed my Asiana First Class experience, though there are some things the airline can improve.
- How was the seat, bed, food, service, lounge, and airport experience?
Enjoy one of these 50 free upgrade codes to six months of Award Wallet Plus. Award Wallet is the free way I track my 35 miles and points balances and store my login information for those programs.
Read more about Award Wallet.
Sign up for Award Wallet.
Click “Continue Reading” to see the codes. You may need to try a few before you find one that is unused.
I’m sitting in the Asiana First Class Lounge in Seoul, about to fly one of the newest and hopefully best First Class products in the world on the Asiana A380.
First Class Suite on Asiana A380
I booked the ticket for 70,000 United miles and around $150 all in because you can still book awards at the old pre-devaluation United award prices.
On a whim, I checked the cash price for the ticket. United is selling today’s Asiana flight for 3.7 million Korean won, about $3,560 one way in First Class.
I am actually surprised that the flight isn’t much more expensive. This year I flew Cathay Pacific First Class from New York to Hong Kong for 67,500 American Airlines miles and $27.50. A similar flight goes for $11,271 one way if you buy it from American Airlines (oddly $5,000 cheaper than buying the Cathay Pacific flight from Cathay Pacific.)
These eye-popping prices made me think: How rich would I need to be before I bought these flights with cash?
- How rich would you need to be before you bought First Class with cash?
- Why do I redeem miles for First Class instead of economy?
I recently received an email about changes to the Virgin Atlantic route network.
Virgin Atlantic is a London-based carrier that is not a member of any of the three major alliances, but does have a partnership with Delta.
Using 125,000 Delta miles for a roundtrip in Upper Class from anywhere in the United States to anywhere in Europe is a fantastic use of SkyMiles.
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Marketing
I checked a few of the Virgin Atlantic routes for award space for May 2015 and found award space nearly every day on one route, many of those days featuring two award seats in Upper Class, bookable with Delta miles with no fuel surcharges.
Virgin Atlantic serves 11 cities in the United States from London and the rest of Europe from there.
- How is award space in Virgin Atlantic Upper Class?
- How can you book it with Delta miles?
- How can you greatly reduce taxes on awards that involve Virgin Atlantic Upper Class?
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.
(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?
Posted in Chase
Tagged Chase, Freedom
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.
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?
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)
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!
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?
All 30 spots are full and there is a wait list for cancellations that is already 10+ deep, so no new RSVPs can be accepted. I love the great response, so I’ll try to have more.
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
Posted in MileValue
Amazon Payments is a payment service very similar to PayPal with one major difference.
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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I had a blast spending 70 hours in Beijing with my brother this week using the 72-Hour Visa-Free Transit rule.
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.
- 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?
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.
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?
American Airlines’ best Business and First Class are both found on the 777-300ER, its newest international plane.
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.
The plane will also fly Miami to Sao Paulo from November 6 to December 1 of this year.
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?
United partner Azul, a Brazilian low cost carrier, is adding flies to the United States in December 2014.
- 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?
Posted in United