Jetstar from Singapore to Cambodia (Low Cost Carrier Tips in Asia and Europe)

This is the sixth installment of a round-the-world trip report that started here. We pick up in Singapore.

As the title of this series indicates, my trip was built around flying Cathay Pacific, Singapore, and Lufthansa First Class. I booked those long flights well before I had a plan for my time on the ground.

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When I looked into how I wanted to spend my time in Southeast Asia, I decided to spend eight days in Cambodia. I had to get there and back from Singapore, and the way to do that seemed obvious to me based on previous experience in Southeast Asia: low-cost carriers.

Similarly I decided to spend three days in Slovenia to get back to the Balkans, and I had to get there from London. I knew it was another chance to save my airline miles and book a low-cost carrier.

Both flights could have been booked with traditional airline miles like United miles or British Airways Avios. But they would have been inefficient redemptions where I was saving less than 1 cent per mile used. Instead I saved those airline miles for redemptions when I can get 2 cents of value or more. And I redeemed Arrival miles earned on my Arrival World MasterCard, which can be used for free flights on any airline. (Meeting the card’s spending requirement unlocks $500 in free flights.)

How can you find low-cost carriers on routes you want to fly? How can you book them? What fees do you need to be aware of? Are low cost carriers bearable?

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This is Your Last Chance to Get Some Mega Bonuses from American Express

This is your last chance to get repeat bonuses on your favorite American Express personal cards.

Currently you can get the sign up bonus on an American Express personal card every 12 months. So if you got the bonus on, say, the SPG card in February 2013, you can get it again today.

Starting May 1, you will not be able to get a sign up bonus on an American Express personal card if you have ever gotten that bonus in the past. (American Express Business Cards will still follow the 12 month rule for now.)

In fact, language has already been added to American Express personal card applications that “This offer is also not available to applicants who have or have had this product.”

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But, according to American Express chat reps, that language has been added in advance of the May 1 change only in case you apply today and your application isn’t approved until after May 1. According to those chat reps, you can still be approved for an American Express personal card until May 1 and get its bonus even if you got it in the past.

I am planning to apply today for a few American Express personal cards, which I have previously opened. I figure that applying now gives me the maximum chance to approved before May 1 if I am not approved instantly.

Leave your experiences in the comments.

Using Everything I Know to Help a Friend Plan Two Summer Trips

My friend has big trip aspirations for this summer, but nothing booked.

  • Approx July 12: Boston to France, Italy, or Spain
  • July 13/14 to 24/25: work on a vineyard in France, Italy, or Spain
  • July 25: vineyard location to Croatia
  • July 26 to August 2: Yacht Week
  • August 2: Croatia to Greece
  • August 10/11: Greece to Boston
  • August 22: Boston to Colombia
  • August 31: Colombia to Costa Rica
  • Sept ~7/8: Costa Rica to San Francisco

She emailed me for my suggestions. This is how I would book this trip.

Warning: this post combines a lot of my best material and ideas. It would be too much information to spell everything out, so in several spots I have linked to longer articles on the concepts I discuss. Click the links.

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Moments by SPG: Redeem Starpoints for Experiences

In general, you should use airline miles for flights only and hotel points for hotel stays only. There are a few exceptions.

For instance, Starpoints in your Starwood Preferred Guest account are great for hotels, but they also transfer at a favorable rate to 30 major airlines. Read my Starpoints Primer here.

Starpoints also occasionally offer incredible value through Moments by SPG. SPG Moments offer one-of-a-kind musical, sporting, or cultural experiences to Starwood Preferred Guest members.

Some of the packages are available for immediate redemption, and some are in an auction format. I was browsing the options the other day, and I ran across an “Exclusive Capital Cities Concert at Sheraton Buenos Aires.

For only 5,000 Starpoints, you can instantly get two tickets to see these guys perform in my favorite city, and two tickets to a pre-concert cocktail reception.

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At my valuation of 2.5 cents per point, that’s $125 worth of points for an awesome evening for two.

Even better, there are five auction packages that include the concert tickets, the reception tickets, and a meet-and-greet with the band.

Only two of them even have a bid.

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That’s probably because this is a band with only one hit playing a concert thousands of miles away from most SPG members eight months from now. But for me it means I can probably spend 5k points or just a little more for an option to have an incredible night in December if I’m in Buenos Aires.

There are a number of other live auctions to meet other musicians or sports stars all over the world.

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Again, this isn’t necessarily the best use of Starpoints. Nor will it appeal to everyone. But it is a nice option to have, and one to be aware of in addition to the bread-and-butter Starpoint redemptions:

Both the personal and business versions of the Starwood credit card offer 25,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 on the card in the first six months. Getting both and meeting both spending requirements would give you 60k Starpoints (which can transfer to 75k American, Delta, or US Airways miles.)

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Azul Brazilian Airlines Award Space is Wide Open on united.com

United recently announced a new partner: Azul Brazilian Airlines. Azul is a low-cost carrier with flights throughout Brazil.

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United only flies to Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, so being able to continue from there to anywhere else in the country on one award for no extra miles is a big benefit.

Or if you’re in Brazil this summer during the World Cup like I will be, being able to jet around the country for 12,500 United miles + $9 each way is a great deal when intra-Brazil prices are through the roof.

Where does Azul fly? How is award space? What miles can book Azul space?

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My Second Best Travel Tip (Don’t Get Lost Abroad)

I actually haven’t ranked my travel tips, but I love this one because it’s super simple and saves me from getting lost all around the world.

But it’s not my #1 travel tip, which would probably be “use miles” or “travel more” or “travel solo” or something like that.

It may not even be my #2 travel tip because you can save a lot of money with these two:

Anyway, here’s how I avoid getting lost worldwide when I don’t have cell phone data. I used this trick in Slovenia last month because T-Mobile doesn’t offer free data there, and I’ve used it to navigate the dusty streets and alleys of Kampala, Uganda without issue.

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How to Get Free Texts and Cell Phone Data (Almost) Worldwide

T-Mobile offers an incredible deal for travelers. All of their monthly plans offer free text messages and mobile data in over 120 countries worldwide.

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On previous trips, I’ve done everything from buy a local SIM card in every country to pay AT&T upfront for way-overpriced international phone, text, and data packages. On this round-the-world trip, I kept my phone and phone number and got free text messaging and mobile data in five of the six countries I visited. In all my trips abroad, this was the most stress-free when it came to staying connected.

How does the T-Mobile plan work? What countries does it cover? What was my experience?

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17 Changes to US Airways and American Airlines Loyalty Programs Ranked by Importance

US Airways and American Airlines officially merged in December 2013. They are still independent brands with separate loyalty programs, but they are making major changes in unison, especially in the last few weeks.

Below are 17 changes made, mostly yesterday, in the order of my take on their importance. As I said yesterday, I am much more upset about how these changes were made (most of numbers 3-17 were made with no notice) than the fact that they were made.

1) On March 30, US Airways left the Star Alliance.

US Airways lost valuable partners for award redemptions like United, Lufthansa, and Thai. US Airways did maintain several Star Alliance partners including EVA, South African, and Turkish.

Some of those Star Alliance partners are disappearing this year, so make sure you book those partners in 2014 for travel through 2015.

2) On March 31, US Airways joined oneworld opening up great partners like Cathay Pacific, Qantas, and Qatar.

Unfortunately you cannot combine oneworld and the remaining Star Alliance partners on a single award.

Despite the change from Star Alliance to oneworld, no award routing rules changed for US Airways awards.

All the other changes were made yesterday, most with no notice.

3) American Airlines is no longer allowing stopovers on awards.

You used to be able to get a stopover in each direction at the North American International Gateway City. That opened up the chance to get two free oneways on roundtrip awards. That chance is no more.

Check out this award I priced out from Los Angeles to New York, stopover, New York to London. This would have cost 20,000 miles total. Now it costs 32,500 miles.

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4) American Airlines has eliminated the Explorer Award.

This is a huge blow for me personally because I was planning on booking myself one of these up-to-16-flights around-the-world awards that I’ve explained here.

American Airlines had by far the best round-the-world awards until yesterday, and now it has no option for round-the-world awards.

5) US Airways increased the amount of miles for a business class saver award from the US to North Asia from 90,000 to 110,000 miles roundtrip.

I covered this in detail yesterday.

The takeaways: Book your next US Airways award to North Asia in First Class for 120k miles instead. Or use the even sweeter spot of Central America to South Asia for 90k miles roundtrip in business class.

6) American Airlines is increasing the phone fee it charges on award tickets to $35.

It was $25 until yesterday. This phone fee is unavoidable on tons of American Airlines awards because most oneworld partners are not searchable and bookable on aa.com.

7) Starting April 30, customers who have the US Airways MasterCard® will receive one free checked bag for themselves and up to four companions.

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8) American Airlines AAnytime awards are going to a three tier system.

Until yesterday, American Airlines had the best value “standard” awards. For double the price of a MileSAAver (saver) award, you could get the last seat on the plane.

I had never taken advantage, but there were some circumstances where that would have been a good deal.

No more. The new American Airlines award chart has three levels of AAnytime awards, so if you’re getting the last seat on the plane, expect to pay through the nose.

By the way, if you click that link, you might notice that MileSAAver awards have two levels too. That’s not a substantive change, just a change from the old nomenclature. What used to be called “off peak” awards, which are only possible to certain regions, are Level 1. What used to be peak awards are Level 2. No MileSaaver prices changed.

9) US Airways is ending black out dates.

Even with three tiers of award prices, US Airways had some routes and dates with no availability at any price. That’s no more, but I’m sure the former black out dates will have exorbitant price tags that I’ll avoid.

10) US Airways High Level awards are splitting into two tiers starting June 1, 2014.

The US Airways award chart will soon have Low, Medium, High Level 1, and High Level 2 awards.

11) For tickets issued April 8, 2014 and later, US Airways Silver and American Airlines Gold will only get one free checked bag on American Airlines flights.

12) For tickets issued April 8, 2014 and later, full fare economy passengers on American Airlines are going from two free checked bags to zero.

13) For tickets issued April 8, 2014 and later, people flying economy AAnytime awards on American Airlines are going from two free checked bags to zero.

14) For tickets issued April 23, 2014 and later, US Airways Gold and Platinum Elites and American Airlines Platinum Elites are going from three free checked bags all the time to only two free checked bags when they fly economy on US Airways flights.

15) For tickets booked after April 8, 2014 on American Airlines flights, the free checked bag between the US and Mexico/Caribbean/Central America for all passengers is gone. New prices: $25 for the first bag, $40 for the second.

16) For tickets booked after April 8, 2014, the you will only get one free checked back on American Airlines flights to/from Brazil. You used to get two.

17) American Airlines’ unacocompanied minor fee is going from $100 to $150 each way.

I may have missed some other changes because US Airways and American Airlines didn’t communicate all of these is one place. Please let me know what I’ve missed in the comments.

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US Airways Has Eliminated One Sweet Spot to Asia, but There is a Sweeter Spot

US Airways–with absolutely no notice–made some award chart changes today. The big change to Saver award prices is that a roundtrip in business class to North Asia is now 110k miles roundtrip.

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US Airways’ definition of North Asia includes:

  • China
  • Hong Kong
  • Japan
  • Macau,
  • South Korea
  • Taiwan
  • and a bunch of ‘stans

Business class awards to North Asia had been under-priced at 90k US Airways miles roundtrip, and many people in this hobby had taken advantage with awards that included a stopover in Europe and Asia in business class. Bill wrote about his experience booking such an award here.

I am not surprised that this award went up more than 20%. It was well below what competitors charged for the route and had been well below for years. I am surprised and angered that we were given no notice of the change to the award chart.

We all understand that 90k miles get less valuable over time. That doesn’t bother me because we all expect it and because earning miles has become far easier over time. What bothers me is a no-notice change. We all earned US Airways miles under the old rules expecting that we’d be able to redeem under the old rules even if that meant a quick redemption after changes were announced but before they came into effect.

This change is especially brutal for anyone who bought 50k US Airways miles yesterday through the US Airways Share Miles program and was planning to use them to go to North Asia in business class. (By the way, I still think the Share Miles promo is a great deal.)

Now, there is no reason to ever book a US Airways award to North Asia in business class.

What cabin has the best deal to North Asia now? What is the even sweeter spot to Asia that US Airways forgot to devalue?

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Fly from the United States to Europe this Summer for 25k Miles Roundtrip

Flying Blue–the loyalty program of Air France/KLM, Air Europa, Kenya Airways, and TAROM–has released its newest Promo Awards that let you fly from select US cities to anywhere in Europe for as little as 12,500 miles each way with only modest fuel surcharges.

Flying Blue is a 1:1 transfer partner of Membership Rewards and Starpoints.

If you book in April 2014, you can travel in June and July, 2014, you can fly from Boston to Europe for only 25k Membership Rewards or 20k Starpoints + $266 out of pocket.

What cities are these Promo Awards good for? How do you book a Promo Award? How do these awards compare to awards with lower fuel surcharges? How can you eliminate the out of pocket cost of the award?

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Around the World in Cathay, Singapore, and Lufthansa First: Grand Hyatt Macau

This is the fifth installment of a round-the-world trip report that started here. We pick up in Macau, China.

I like Las Vegas in small doses, so I’ve always wanted to check out Macau, one of China’s two special autonomous regions (the other is Hong Kong). Macau is famous for being the biggest gambling destination in the world with revenues about seven times larger than the Las Vegas Strip’s in 2013.

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Macau and Hong Kong, 37 Miles Apart

I had heard that comparing Macau to Vegas was a mistake because while there’s a lot to do in Vegas from shopping to shows to just people watching, Macau is just gambling. I had even heard you could see Macau and get sick of it in a day.

That meant this was the perfect trip for me to go to Macau because I only had 20 hours in Hong Kong as part of an American Airlines award, and Macau is a short ferry ride away from Hong Kong International Airport.

I still haven’t spent time in Hong Kong itself, and I want to save it for a trip when I have several days to explore.

The day before heading to Macau, I had booked myself one night at the Grand Hyatt Macau, which usually goes for around $300 per night. The hotel is a Category 4 property, so I booked my night for free with 15,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points, the majority of which I had transferred instantly from Ultimate Rewards.

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I landed at 2:20 PM in Hong Kong, and I was feeling pretty good since I had slept eight hours on my flight from JFK in Cathay Pacific First Class.

I headed toward the ferry counters, which are well signed and before immigration. There are two ferry terminals in Macau, both of which are served from HKG for about $40. One terminal is called Macau on the north end (the Macau Peninsula) and the other, Taipa, is on the south end (on the island of Taipa.) Taipa was closer to my hotel, but I would have taken the first ferry to either because a cab from one ferry terminal to the other is only about $10.

I booked my ferry ticket for a 4 PM departure and boarded the one hour ferry to Taipa Ferry Terminal on Macau.

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How was the Grand Hyatt Macau? Is Macau worth a visit?

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US Airways Share Miles Promotion Returns for 7 Days Only. Buy Miles for 1.13 Cents Until Sunday!

Until April 13, 2014, US Airways is offering a bonus of 100% on sharing between 30,000 and 50,000 miles between Dividend Miles accounts.

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The US Airways Share Miles promo is typically the best mileage purchasing offer of the year.

Sharing miles works out to buying miles for 1.13 cents each. If you could buy unlimited miles at that price, a roundtrip award from the US to Europe in business class would be only $1,180 plus government taxes, an incredible value.

This is why I routinely max out US Airways Share Miles promotions even when I have no specific use for the miles in mind.

This is a non-targeted offer that only requires membership in US Airways’ Dividend Miles program for at least 12 days and a minimum of 1,000 miles in your account to begin.

Very similar promotions occurred in October 2012, October 2013, and December 2013. I participated fully all three times.

How can you take advantage of the best mileage-buying promotion of the year? Should you, in light of the fact that US Airways recently changed alliances?

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US Airways Losing Four Partners in the Next Few Months

The notes at the bottom of the US Airways award chart have some bad news: US Airways is losing four partners this year.

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On Saturday, I explained Where to Search for Award Space on All 26 of US Airways’ Partners. If you want to fly four of those partners, though, you need to book in the next few weeks.

Which partners is US Airways losing? When do you have to book by? How far into 2015 can you fly the awards? What are good substitute airlines for the partners being lost?

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Where to Search for Award Space on All 26 of US Airways’ Partners

Since US Airways joined the oneworld Alliance on March 31, I think they have the most valuable miles of any airline. The three main reasons:

  1. The world’s cheapest award chart. See a comparison with AA, Delta, and United.
  2. The laxest routing rules of any major airline because only agents–not computers–need to validate your routing.
  3. The most diverse partners.

For partners, US Airways has the rest of the oneworld alliance, plus it maintained several Star Alliance partners, and it even has a few other bilateral partnerships.

If you want to use your Dividend Miles to book an award, you must book it on usairways.com or by calling US Airways at 800-622-1015. Only American Airlines and US Airways award space is bookable online, so you’ll mostly call US Airways to book awards. (Luckily there is no phone fee for awards that can’t be booked online.)

It’s very helpful to search for award space before calling US Airways agents because they aren’t very good at it. You want to have all your flights picked out to read off to the agent to ticket the award.

So where do you search for award space for each of the 26 airlines bookable with US Airways miles?

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Frontier Airlines Card with Up to 50,000 Bonus Miles Now Has 0% Introductory APR for 12 Months

The Frontier Airlines World MasterCard® currently offers one of the best sign up bonuses for a tiny minimum spending requirement: you earn 40,000 bonus miles after spending $500 in the first 90 days.

Now the card is offering 0% Intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 12 months. (After that, the card has a variable APR, currently 15.99% or 24.99%, based on credit worthiness)

Zero percent intro APR is extremely rare among miles earning cards.

In general, you shouldn’t use credit cards if you don’t pay off the balance in full each month to avoid interest. In particular, you shouldn’t use rewards cards because they tend to have higher interest rates than other cards.

But if for whatever reason you do have balances on other cards, or you think you might be running balances in the next 12 months, the Frontier card’s offer could come in handy.

The Frontier Airlines World MasterCard® continues to offer up to 10,000 bonus miles (1 mile per $1) on balance transfers in the first 90 days. I’ve never mentioned it before because during the first twelve billing cycles, the 3% fee on balance transfers means you’d basically be “buying” the 10k bonus miles for 3 cents each, which is a terrible price.

But now the math has changed a bit. If you have a balance on one credit card that is charging you interest, and you transfer that balance to the Frontier card and pay it off in the next 12 months, you could come out ahead.

Imagine you have a $10k balance on a card charging you 15% interest. You transfer it to Frontier for a 3% fee and earn 10k miles. Then you pay it off during the first 12 months while there is zero interest on the Frontier card. You’d come out way ahead in terms of interest saved and miles earned.

Hopefully for most of us, this new feature of The Frontier Airlines World MasterCard® is irrelevant because it’s a really, really bad idea to be in the habit of carrying a balance on credit cards.

The reason most of us should get the card is for access to the Incredible Frontier Award Chart. The 40,000 bonus miles are enough for two Standard roundtrips within the United States (including Alaska.) And international destinations are only 15k miles each way. For more info, see Frontier World MasterCard with 40,000 Bonus Miles after Spending $500 Means Two Free Domestic Roundtrips.

Full Offer

The Frontier Airlines World MasterCard®

  • 0% Intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 12 months. After that, a variable APR, currently 15.99% or 24.99% based on credit worthiness
  • Earn 40,000 bonus miles after spending $500 in purchases in the first 90 days
  • Earn up to 10,000 bonus miles on balance transfers (1 mile per $1 transferred) in the first 90 days
  • Earn Double miles on purchases at FlyFrontier.com and 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases
  • No blackout dates! Book any roundtrip award flight on Frontier starting at 20,000 miles (subject to fees/taxes from $5)
  • $69 Annual Fee

Application Link: The Frontier Airlines World MasterCard®

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