Category Archives: Reader Question

Full Analysis of Current AA/SPG Transfer Bonus

Overnight, I wrote about the current Starwood/American Airlines promotion: for all of July, 20,000 Starpoints will transfer to 30,000 American Airlines miles.

I gave the facts in this post, but I was called out in the comments for not analyzing the promotion. Said DH:

“Is this offer an indication there’s an AA devaluation right around the corner? If so, is this transfer still a good idea? Starwood points are really valuable, and I doubt devalued AA miles would be anywhere close. It’d be nice if you could discuss a bit about the merits and drawbacks/risks of the transfer instead of just saying the offer is available. It’s usually your analysis of an offer that sets this site apart. Thanks.”

DH is totally right that I want this site to stand apart because I don’t just say there is a promotion, I analyze it.

In my defense, I was coming back from a night out in Brazil celebrating the USA’s World Cup run, so I wasn’t up to the analysis. But I am now, and there’s 1,500 words of it below!

  • Should you transfer Starpoints to AAdvantage miles speculatively this month?
  • What are the 30+ airline partners of Starpoints?
  • What are the 10+ to which I’d transfer?
  • What are the three best?
  • What are the strengths of those three airline programs?
  • What is my forecast for upcoming devaluations?
  • What are four other great uses of Starpoints besides airline transfers?
  • Will I transfer?
  • Should you?

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When Do Arrival Miles Expire?

Arrival miles never expire as long as you hold your Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard®. They do disappear the second you cancel the card though.

Arrival Plus Card Image

Other than cancelling the card, the only time constraint on using Arrival miles is that you have 120 days after any travel purchase to redeem miles for an offsetting statement credit.

If you forget to use your Arrival miles to offset a travel purchase within 120 days though, it’s usually not a big deal, since all travel redemptions get the same value per Arrival mile. You can just use your Arrival miles to offset the next travel purchase.

These are great redemption rules for us:

  1. Since Arrival miles never expire, you don’t need to earn Arrival miles with a specific redemption in mind. Once you earn Arrival miles, they stay in your account until you’re ready to use them.
  2. With 120 days after any travel purchase to redeem miles, you have the ability to take a trip, then earn miles, then redeem the miles to make the trip free retroactively.

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® is the king of cash back cards without even being a cash back card. I got one myself in February and have included it as one of the June 2014 top ten credit card offers for travel. The Arrival Plus earns 2.28% back toward travel on all purchases, offers flexible redemption options, and just clearing the sign up bonus is worth $500 in free travel!

Since I got the card, Barclaycard has expanded its definition of a travel purchase, which increases redemption options, and now offers Chip & PIN technology, which means it can be used abroad more easily where it has no foreign transaction fees.

  • What are the best uses of Arrival miles?
  • How do you earn and redeem Arrival miles?
  • Who is the Arrival Plus card best for?

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How to Get Two Completely Free Flights from Europe to the US in Five Steps

An active duty military member emailed me:

This December I am getting out of the Military. When I initially get out I get 2 (one for my spouse and one for me) one-way airplane tickets to anywhere in the world. We want to use this to start our trip around Indo China and Europe. We want to go to Vietnam, Thailand, India, Austria, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Belgium, Holland, and England. After visiting these places we will fly to Dayton, Ohio. What is most important to me is flying from London to Dayton, Ohio for hopefully free.

She was writing to me because she didn’t currently have any major frequent flyer mile balances.

My first thought is: don’t fly home from London. Departing the United Kingdom–not transiting it or arriving there–incurs a massive tax called the Air Passenger Duty. While Dayton to London one way would have $5 in taxes, the direction she needs–London to Dayton–has $206 in taxes.

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 3.21.51 AM

Not only does she have the London departure tax problem, but she currently has no miles and puts only $1,500 per month on credit cards, which makes it hard to quickly accrue miles.

Still I was able to offer a really easy strategy to get two one way tickets from London to Dayton completely free.

Which two cards did I recommend she open? How did I recommend she book the award?

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Why Is My American Airlines Award Pricing 25k Miles Higher Than It Should?

We just got an interesting comment on Bill’s great recent post about Booking Etihad Business Class Using American Miles.

MojoMama is trying to go from Los Angeles (LAX) to the Maldives (MLE) in First Class.

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The United States to the Maldives should be 90k miles each way in First Class according to American Airlines’ chart. But she’s getting charged 115k miles:

Trying to book LAX-JFK(stopover)-AUH-MLE in first for August, but it’s pricing at 115,000 miles. Being told AUH-MLE is separate award because it’s not in the same region, which I know is false. Also, was told must route over Pacific via HKG to get to Maldives on one award ticket, which I also know is false. My question is, is LAX-JFK-AUH-MLE a valid routing? It comes up on ITA, but I don’t see it on the Etihad website.

There’s a lot to unpack in this comment because it gets at several of the Five Cardinal Rules of American Airlines Awards.

In the end, as is often the case, American Airlines is trying to charge her the correct amount of miles even though its phone agents are giving tons of misinformation about why the price is what it is.

What are the phone agents getting wrong? Why is Los Angeles to the Maldives 115k American Airlines miles in First Class? How can it be cheaper? What should MojoMama do?

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What Credit Card Should You Use to Pay the Taxes on Your Award Ticket

A reader emailed me to ask what card she should use to pay the taxes on a United award:

I’m trying to book an award ticket on United ORD-EZE-ORD. [Scott: Chicago to Buenos Aires, taxes are about $82.]

Which credit card would you suggest I use to pay the fees and are there any particular advantages to one or the other?  We have United Explorer, United Club, Barclay Arrival, Sapphire Preferred, Starwood, Amex Platinum, and some that I imagine you wouldn’t recommend (Freedom, Citi Aadvantage, Barclay US Airways, Citi Thank You Preferred, Ink Bold).

Of the cards she has, she should use either the Sapphire Preferred or the Barclaycard Arrival(TM) World MasterCard® – Earn 2x on All Purchases.

If she had the American Express® Premier Rewards Gold Card or The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN, those would also be great options.

Under no circumstances should she use her United card for this purchase.

Why should she use the Sapphire Preferred, Arrival, Premier Rewards Gold, or Enhanced Business Gold card to pay the taxes on her award ticket?

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Which Miles Should You Stockpile?

The best advice for collecting miles is to earn and burn. Miles tend to fall in value, and they don’t earn interest, so most people shouldn’t stockpile them.

But maybe you’re too busy to travel this year, so you’re earning miles for future travel. Or maybe you need a ton of miles to take a lot of people on a trip together. In these or other cases, you may need to stockpile miles.

If you are stockpiling miles, I would choose which miles to stockpile based on three criteria.

  1. Value
  2. Versatility
  3. Devaluation Risk

Which miles come out well as miles you should stockpile? Which are the worst miles to stockpile? How do transferable points play into the analysis?

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Should You Focus on One Airline Program or Accrue Miles in All of Them?

Many people ask me a variety of the question: should I focus my earning on one airline program, or should I try to earn miles in all programs?

Let’s divide mileage accrual into two categories:

  1. Miles earned from flying on paid tickets. (Butt-in-seat miles)
  2. Miles earned from other sources. (Mainly credit card miles but also other promos, dining programs, opening brokerage accounts, and more.)

There is a different best strategy for mile accrual of each type that depends on your flying and spending habits.

What’s your best play? Diversify or concentrate?

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Will You Find Last Minute Award Space? Here’s How to Estimate Your Chances.

Dawn writes:

I wanted to ask a question that I didn’t see an answer for on your site or clearly on the interwebs.

I am hoping to do a trip this winter to SE Asia and NZ. The way my schedule is looking, I won’t have the 80,000 miles I need until about a week and a half before the trip…

My question is, how difficult is it going to be to get an economy seat that close in? Any info I’ve found always seems to be about business class.

Thanks again for your great site and have fun on your travels.

Keep reading for my answer to how difficult getting last minute economy space will be for Dawn and how to estimate this for your own trips.

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Can One Person Earn Enough Miles for Two?

I get a lot of emails from people who want to travel with a companion, but their companion can’t open credit cards. Maybe the companion doesn’t have a social security number or just has bad credit. Whatever the reason: can one person get enough miles for two people to take a vacation in style?

Here’s a typical email from Dan:

I am interested in using you for award booking for a European vacation for Summer 2014 in business class.

I am also interested in having you help me determine a strategy for which cards to get in order to execute this trip.

Let me tell you my situation:

My wife can open credit cards for herself and a business, but I can’t. We dipped our toe into the awards card world by signing up for 3 cards over 3 months:

  • Delta Gold Amex, 12/12
  • SPG Amex, 1/13
  • Barclays US Air, 2/13

The more I read, the more I realize that going with Delta was probably a mistake.

I’m coming to you for advice as we plan our first app-o-rama. For the trip we want, should we stick with Delta? Or do we have time to focus on another carrier?

Our current balances are:

  • Delta 31k
  • SPG 30k
  • US Airways 40k

Not only can Dan and his wife get to Europe in business class, they are only one three cards away.

The Plan

US Airways and United are partners, both members of the Star Alliance. That means US Airways miles can be used on

  • US Airways flights
  • United flights
  • Star Alliance flights
  • or any combination thereof.

United miles can be used on those same

  • US Airways flights
  • United flights
  • Star Alliance flights
  • or any combination thereof.

Both US Airways and United charge 100k miles roundtrip to Europe, so if you get 100k of each type of miles, two people are all set to fly roundtrip in business class on the same flights.

Dan’s current balances are very helpful, so his wife just needs to get three cards to fill the gaps.

  1. US Airways Premier World MasterCard with 30,000 US Airways miles after first purchase
  2. Chase Sapphire Preferred with 40,000 Ultimate Rewards after $3,000 in spending in the first 3 months
  3. Chase Ink Bold with 50,000 Ultimate Rewards after $5,000 in spending in the first 3 months

Dan already has one US Airways MasterCard, but in pretty much everyone’s experience, you can get two. See Easily Earn 110k US Airways Miles. (And by the way, be on the lookout for the targeted 15k offers in the mail for continued spending on the card.)

There isn’t much to say about the Sapphire Preferred. It has been the “it” card for the last 18 months in the frequent flyer world. Dan would be better off getting the Chase United Explorer card if he can find it with a 50,000 mile bonus offer, but if not, then he should get the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

The Chase Ink Bold is a business card.

Get those cards and meet the minimum spends, and your new balances will be

  • Delta 31k
  • US Airways 70k
  • SPG 30k
  • Ultimate Rewards 98k

Dan will probably have over 100k Ultimate Rewards since the Sapphire Preferred offers 2x points on dining and travel, and the Ink Bold offers 5x points at office supply stores, and on cellular phone, land line, internet, and cable TV services (on the first $50k of spending annually.) Worst case scenario: he buys the last 2k Ultimate Rewards for $50.

Remember that his goal is to have 100k United miles and 100k US Airways miles. Here’s how to get there.

Transfer 100k Ultimate Rewards to United. Now he has 100k United miles.

Transfer 25k SPG to US Airways. This will show up as 30k US Airways miles with the automatic transfer bonus. Added on to his balance of 70k US Airways miles, he will have 100k US Airways miles.

Dan has now met his goal of having 100k United miles and 100k US Airways miles.

That’s enough to get two seats on the same flights on a roundtrip in business class to Europe.
Dan’s QuestionsDo I combine the United and US Airways miles?

No. You use the United miles to book one award on united.com or by calling United at 800-UNITED-1. You use the US Airways miles to book one award by calling US Airways at 800-622-1015. You just make sure each award has the same flights, so you’ll be on the same planes with each other.

We are booking through different carriers, I assume we will attempt to book seats together, and that the only differences will be what counter we go to for check-in?

The way to choose seats is to call the operating carrier and request seats. So if your flights are on Lufthansa, you call Lufthansa.

You check in at the operating carrier of the first flight, so you check in at the same counter at the airport.

Recap

One person can earn enough miles for two people to travel in style to Europe. The key is to earn 100k United miles and 100k US Airways miles. The miles can’t be combined, but they can be used to each book one seat on the same flights, so the two companions can travel together.