Tag Archives: Best Of

Top Ten Credit Cards for Travel, November 2014

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There are a lot of reasons to collect miles and points.

  • For free luxury hotel stays and first class flights
  • To travel to more countries than you could otherwise afford
  • To take your family on vacation
  • To visit home for the holidays
  • To earn big rewards for everyday spending

Whatever your reason for being here, there is a rewards card or cards that suit your needs.

Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 2.37.59 PMWant to Hike the Great Wall of China with Your Brother? There’s a Card for That

Since the start of last year, I’ve been to over 30 countries, travel that would have been completely impossible without miles and points earned from credit cards. This has been my life thanks to miles:

  • Biking 25km around Bogota as part of the original Ciclovia
  • Hiking the Great Wall of China with my brother
  • Straddling the line between North and South Korea
  • Watching dragons dance at the Mid-Autumn Festival in Hong Kong
  • Eating more steak than anyone should in Brazil and Argentina
  • Cliff jumping in Dubrovnik, Croatia
  • Leading an “Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!” cheer in Rod Laver Arena during the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia
  • Scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef
  • Eating Thai-hot Thai curry in Thailand at Thai prices
  • Biking in the Lake District of Patagonia in Bariloche, Argentina
  • Spending three days at Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany
  • Seeing Angkor Wat near Siem Reap, Cambodia
  • Getting some home cooking from my mom who lives 5,000 miles away
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2013 Flights

If you don’t have the money to take your dream trips, the good news is that you don’t need much money. By maximizing the sign up bonuses on rewards cards, anyone with good credit can take a dream trip anywhere in the world.

  • How can you earn rewards for the trips of your dreams?
  • What are the best credit card offers for September 2014?
  • Which of the cards on the list expire in the next few days?

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How to Get 1.52 LifeMiles Per Dollar on All Purchases

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Update: Mileage sale extended until 10/3/14.

Today (September 30, 2014) is the last day that you can get 1.52 Avianca LifeMiles on all purchases by using your Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard®.

This is a big flipping deal!

The Arrival Plus is already the most valuable card for economy redemptions since its 2 miles per dollar on all purchases and 10% rebate on all travel redemptions means you effectively get 2.28% back toward flights on any airline with no blackouts. This technique–which dies today–makes the Arrival Plus also the best all-around card for business and first class redemptions.

The technique in this post is an incredible way to turn Arrival miles, which are worth a fixed 1.14 cents each, into traditional airline miles that can be used for valuable international business and first class itineraries.

Now Get into Beds, like United Global First, with Arrival Miles

To me, the technique in this post makes the Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard® much more valuable because no other card earns 1.52 traditional airline miles on all purchases, and the LifeMiles award chart offers tons of great values for premium cabin awards on Star Alliance partners like:

Maybe you’ve never heard of LifeMiles, but they are actually fantastic for international awards. The only reason they’re not better known is because they’re normally hard to obtain.

LifeMiles awards never contain fuel surcharges, just government taxes plus a $25 award booking fee. You can book all 27 Star Alliance airline with LifeMiles.

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Getting more than one-and-a-half miles per dollar on such a great award chart is quite a deal, and that deal ends today.

  • How can you get 1.52 LifeMiles per dollar on all Arrival Plus purchases?
  • How can you book LifeMiles awards?
  • What are the highest value LifeMiles awards?
  • Is earning 1.52 LifeMiles per dollar better than 2 Arrival miles per dollar?

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The Coolest Thing You Can Do with 60k Miles

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Last week I urged people to be realistic with their miles and listed The Easiest Places to Get with Miles. Today I’m telling you to dream big and to look to do things with miles that you couldn’t easily or cheaply do without miles.

For instance, for 60,000 miles, you can book yourself a “triangle trip” that lets you practice your Spanish in Chile and Spain. The trip would let you see the wildlife of Patagonia and the nightlife of Barcelona.

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How many thousands of dollars would a similar trip cost? Could you even have dared to dream about such a routing before you knew the power of your miles?

The routing I’ll talk about relies on three discounted awards, and award space is plentiful on all routes. Best of all, you can live anywhere in the continental United States to take advantage, and you can customize the destinations to your taste.

  • What three discounted awards combine to form the legs of this triangle trip?
  • What 60,000 miles do you need? How can you get them?

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Only Flying Blue Award Chart Online

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Yesterday I wrote that Citi ThankYou Points had added Air France Flying Blue as a 1:1 transfer partner.

That’s big news because there are some amazing high value uses for Flying Blue miles, and ThankYou Points are so easy to earn from the Citi ThankYou® Premier Rewards Card with its 50,000 point sign up bonus and 3x category bonuses.

  • Earn 20,000 points after $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn an additional 30,000 points after another $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of your second year of being a cardmember
  • Earn 3 ThankYou Points for every $1 spent on purchases for dining at restaurants and entertainment

When I was researching that post though, I couldn’t find Flying Blue’s complete award chart. All I could find was an award chart for awards originating in Europe:

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I took it upon myself to compile an award chart for awards departing the United States, which I believe to be the only Air France/KLM Flying Blue award chart online for awards departing the United States. I priced out awards from the continental United States to every region on the Flying Blue award chart.

  • What is the award chart?
  • Where is it cheaper than Delta’s award chart?

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Which Programs Have One Ways, Stopovers, Fuel Surcharges

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Longtime reader Eddy emailed me:

Do you know of someplace that has the rules of the various frequent flyer programs? I’m looking at trip to China next Spring and there are so many options, so I’d like to know for each program: (1) allow one ways? (2) permit stop overs? (3) charge for fuel? Any idea if this info is collected in one place anywhere? Thanks.

This seemed like something I absolutely had to put in one place, so this is the place.

This chart represents the rules for using the type of miles listed in the far left column.

Click the image to enlarge.

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I’ve included 10 of my favorite programs on the chart. I toyed with how best to present the information of the chart, at one point including footnotes next to almost every entry. I ditched that, and instead will put longer form answers for each airline and explanations of the color-coding after the Continue Reading link.

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There Is No Transitive Property of Miles

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Let me clear up one of the most common types of questions I get from beginners.

There is no transitive property of miles.

Just because Airline A partners with Airline B and Airline B partners with Airline C does NOT mean Airlines A and C are partners.

Screen Shot 2014-08-03 at 11.51.54 AMFor instance, in yesterday’s post Fully Flat Business Class to Europe for 25,000 Miles, I wrote:

I searched award space on Aer Lingus’ routes from Chicago, Boston, and New York to Dublin for one passenger next April through July.

I searched on united.com. Any space seen here is bookable with United or British Airways miles.

Often when I write such things I’ll get a comment or an email like, “I have American Airlines miles, which is a partner of British Airways. Can I use those miles to book Aer Lingus flights as a British Airways award?”

  • Well, can you?
  • What about using a partner’s more favorable fuel surcharge rules?
  • Can you use American Airlines and US Airways miles to book all the partners of either airline?

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Roundtrip to South America, Two Free One Ways to Hawaii for 50,000 Miles

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Recently, I posted about how we can get amazing value from the fact that the Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer program considers Hawaii to be part of the same region as Central AmericaWe can also use this sweet spot for great value on travel to South America too!

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On the Singapore Airline’s award chart, it costs fewer miles to fly between Hawaii and South America, routing through the continental United States, than it does to fly directly between the continental United States and South America.

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Adding Honolulu to Houston lowers the price of Houston to Buenos Aires

On the Singapore award chart:

  • Continental Unites States to South America: 60,000 miles roundtrip in economy
  • Continental Unites States to South America: 100,000 miles roundtrip in business
  • Hawaii to South America: 50,000 miles roundtrip in economy
  • Hawaii to South America: 80,000 miles roundtrip in business

This is great news for people that live in Hawaii or South America, but it is just as good for people who live in the continental United States!

People who live in the continental United States can use this sweet spot to get a complete vacation to South America and two half trips to Hawaii, all on one award redemption, for fewer miles than simply booking a roundtrip award between the continental United States!

Singapore miles are some of the easiest to get, since Singapore is a transfer partner of Chase, American Express, and Starwood Preferred Guest.

  • What are the relevant rules and tricks for this award?
  • What variations on this award could we book?
  • How can you book this award?
  • What about using United miles?
  • How can you get Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles?

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Why Are Airline Miles the Key to Traveling More, Better, and Cheaper

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I’ve collected and redeemed millions of frequent flyer miles over the last three years. By the end of 2014, I will have visited over 50 countries, often flying in First Class. Without frequent flyer miles, I’d probably only have managed half the travel I’ve been able to enjoy.

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Where I’ve Been in Red

This is an extremely basic post designed to explain why airline miles are the key to traveling more, better, and cheaper, especially intended for anyone who caught me on Rudy Maxa’s World this morning.

If you’re a long time MileValue reader, this post really isn’t intended for you, but consider emailing it to friends who have expressed interest in copying your international, luxury travel.

Cheaper

I just booked myself a one way flight from Honolulu to Chicago for a conference for 20,000 miles and $2.50. The exact, direct flight I booked cost $1,205 when I booked it with miles.

I paid $2.50 for a $1,200 flight.

Without miles, I would have booked a less convenient route with layovers for about $500 and had $500 less in my bank account.

Better

Before I discovered frequent flyer miles, I only ever flew in economy class. I distinctly remember one 14 hour redeye on Turkish Airlines from Los Angeles to Istanbul when I couldn’t sleep at all in my tiny space and felt like a zombie for the next few days.

For the past two years, I’ve flown all my longhaul international flights in flat beds in Business and First Class.

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These flights are easy to book with miles. I paid only 67,500 American Airlines miles and $43 for a one way redemption in Cathay Pacific First Class (pictured above, trip report) from New York to Singapore. You can get that many miles from one credit card sign up bonus.

Or you could book the flights I flew with miles for a whopping $16,689 cash.

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International First Class makes the trip a whole lot better. It’s easy to book with miles and completely out of reach with cash for 99.9% of people.

More

When I can open a credit card and have enough miles to fly anywhere in the world in First Class for just a few dollars in taxes, I definitely travel a lot more. Everywhere seems within reach–because it is.

  • What are the absolute basics you need to know to get started right now toward your travel goals?
  • How do you get the miles you need for your travel goals?
  • How do you redeem the miles for your dream trip? This is the catch, right? (Wrong!)
  • How do you become a globetrotting miles expert?

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Singapore KrisFlyer Sweet Spot

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Singapore Airlines’ award chart has an amazing sweet spot: Hawaii and Central America are in the same region!

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Flights “within” the Hawaii/Central America region are only 35,000 Singapore miles roundtrip in economy and 60,000 miles roundtrip in business class.

That 35,000-Singapore-miles award would cost 80,000 United miles. That 60,000-Singapore-miles award would cost 140,000 United miles.

One Region!?

One Region!?

Singapore is a Star Alliance member, so you can fly United flights on these awards, and Singapore never collects fuel surcharges on United flights.

Singapore miles are easy to get, since Singapore is a 1:1 transfer partner of Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards.

You Don’t Live in Singapore, Hawaii, or Central America. So What?

The primary beneficiaries of the Hawaii/Central America mega-region on the Singapore award chart are people who live in the continental United States. Mainlanders can use this sweet spot to get all the flights for one trip and half the flights for two other trips for a bargain price.

I priced out what amounts to a roundtrip from Denver to Honolulu plus two one ways between Central America and Denver for 35,000 total Singapore miles and about $177. That’s one complete roundtrip and halves of two others for less than what United charges for just the roundtrip to Hawaii.

The award is 80,000-United-miles-worth of flights for 35,000 Singapore miles.

singapore trip

  • How does this award fit together?
  • Who can take advantage of this trick routing?
  • What are the routing rules for Singapore awards?
  • How can you get Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles?
  • How can you book a Singapore award?

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Free Spreadsheet to Download of Category 1, 2, 9, and 10 Hilton Properties Plus the Only Two Good Hilton Strategies

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Update: Super reader Dave made a map of the locations of the Category 9 and 10 properties for visual learners.

Super reader Jeremy has created the most valuable spreadsheet imaginable for the Hilton HHonors program that you can download for free here.

The spreadsheet lists:

  • all 34 Category 1 hotels
  • all 131 Category 2 hotels
  • all 46 Category 9 hotels
  • all 10 Category 10 hotels

For each hotel, the name, location, and a link to its Trip Advisor reviews are listed.

Jeremy took the information from Hilton’s PDF of all its hotels’ categories and made it much more useful and streamlined.

The three main improvements he made:

  1. His spreadsheet is sortable by city, state, country, or hotel name (which often starts with the hotel brand.) This can be very useful if you want to know if there is a Category 1, 2, 9, or 10 Hilton on the route of your next trip.
  2. He added links to the Trip Advisor page of each hotel for more information quickly.
  3. He cut out Categories 3-8.
  • Why is cutting out Categories 3-8 an improvement?
  • What are the only two viable Hilton redemption strategies?
  • What card offers up to 10 free nights at Hilton properties after spending $1,000 in three months?

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

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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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Master Thread: Holds on United Awards

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Two weeks ago, I wrote that United had ended free holds online for award bookings.

Luckily, JB from the MileValue Award Booking Service came up with an extremely simple hack to regain all of the lost award-hold functionality.

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The ability to hold awards is crucial when booking a trip has many moving parts–hotels, flights for more than one person, several awards booked with different types of miles, etc–that you want to lock in completely before booking any part of the trip. That means it is great news that we can hold United awards so broadly!

Award holds on United are possible again under two circumstances:

  • You have enough miles in your United account to book the award. (PayPal trick)
  • You do NOT have enough miles in your United account to book an award AND the award contains a partner segment. (DoNotTrackMe trick)

That means there is only one time when you cannot hold an award on united.com:

  • You do NOT have enough miles in your account and the award contains only segments on United airplanes.

And even here, there’s a workaround.

How do you hold a United award when you have enough miles in your account? What about when you don’t have enough miles? What’s JB’s hack?

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Value in First Class on the United Chart

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On February 1, United miles became much less valuable for premium cabin flights.

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Not only did all first class awards outside of the western hemisphere go way up in price, but partner first class awards went way, way up.

Since people who want to fly first class awards want the swankiest, most aspirational flights, the increase in the partner award price is a big problem.

United Global First is good. But Thai First Class is great.

There’s no perfect solution, but I’ve come up with the strategy I’ll use to book premium cabin awards for myself with United miles going forward.

What do I think is the best value way to convert United miles into premium cabin awards?

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Austrian Airlines Business Class Opens Up Three Months Out and Economy Class Open Up Ten Months Out

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For flights between the US and Europe, Austrian Airlines releases its economy class award seats to partners 298 days before the flight and its business class award seats to partners 88 days before the flight.

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Austrian routes between the US and Europe have economy award space up to 298 days out

Austrian is a Star Alliance member that operates five routes to North America from its hub in Vienna:

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Austrian operates two cabin Boeing 777s and 767s with fully flat business class seats. I flew Austrian Business Class from Vienna to Chicago in October. My full trip report is here.

 

What predictable pattern of award space have I discovered on Austrian flights between the US and Europe? Which miles do you want to use to book flat beds to Europe this summer on Austrian?

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Here’s a Complete Segment-by-Segment Award Search Example

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I talk a lot about segment-by-segment searching. The idea is that just typing where you live and where you want to go into an airline’s award search engine may not reveal Saver award space even when there is a legal, possible award.

Searching segment-by-segment, starting with the hardest segment can yield itineraries that the search engine missed.

In the comments of yesterday’s post–Route from the US to Europe via Canada for Better Award Space–UA Phil gave a great example of an extremely simple segment-by-segment search he ran that yielded award space from San Francisco to London for only 30k United miles one way.

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I’ve recreated the steps he followed to show you exactly what segment-by-segment searching entails.

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