Thursday, January 30, 2014

Louisville for the Derby

LGA to Louisville just started on AA, with booking beginning on Jan 26th. There is still cheap award space to get to the Derby, and you can fly back from Cincinnati (90 minutes from the Derby) to JFK all for 9000 BA miles, which transfer from Chase. Anyone want to go to Kentucky?

Making points and money buying money

All manufactured spend opportunities in the end come down to buying money with credit. One guy bought lots and lots of dollar coins and then just brought them to his bank. Here is one way to go about buying money on credit.

First register at Bigcrumbs. Say I referred you, patmmccann, when you get the chance in the form. Go to the offers and click on this one:

Click on consumer gift cards. Select one 3k and one 2k card

Enter promotion code FPVAL to eliminate the 8 bucks in fees. You still have to pay $9 shipping, but remember, you are getting over $100 in cash back from Big Crumbs.

Pay with a Barclaycard or an American Express. Don't use a Citi or a Chase; they might count it as a cash advance. YMMV with Chase. This is good for me because I need $5000 to get to 60k Lufthansa miles so I can get two 30k transatlantic tickets on LOT. Check here for the latest info on which card to use.

Make sure to have them shipped to work if you aren't home during the day.

Next, find out who is giving the best rebate at using evreward. It might be Topcashback, but right now it seems to be ebates (update Ebates is 0% on some giftcards, including the one we need, 1% on all else). Convert the Amex giftcards to Visa giftcards with PIN numbers and finally go to Walmart and buy money orders for 70 cents each or just load them onto your Bluebird. Altogether, you make over $50 in actual money doing this since Amex is currently waiving the fee, and you get miles!

Funny thing is, Topcashback says you can only do this ten times a day. Some people are happy to manufacture lots of spend :)

How to eat and drink free forever

News story here:

Basically this guy bought a first class refundable ticket with zero change fees, and then went to the airport everyday for his free dinner and then rebooked his ticket to the next day. When he was confronted by the airline 300 days later, he simply got a refund for the ticket.

If you want to buy this type of fare, just call the airline, or using the booking class tools on your ITA Matrix search which should also work on Hipmunk.

Okay, I have just hatched a scheme I am going to research. Next time I fly, the idea is buy a refundable first class ticket on a different airline in the same terminal, go through security as a first class passenger, and go to the lounge, and then call up and refund the ticket.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Trip report: Mattituck, NY

Christine and I went out for a day trip on Sunday to the north fork of Long Island. We started out by meeting some friends from grad school in Queens for lunch. Strand Smokehouse in Astoria has an excellent BBQ brunch, with free coffee and a great pastrami platter.

 After lunch we headed out to Bedell winery. This place was excellent. We are in their club so we get free tastings, but their wines are great and we are considering upgrading our membership. We cleaned them out of their First
Crush white.

Our other favorites are Paumanauk and Palmer, but after Bedell we went on to Sparkling Pointe, a new one for us. It has a carnival in Rio theme and serves amazing sparkling wine. Christine bought a $75 bottle for our anniversary that is coming up. 

Sparkling Pointe
Next we went to the new Roanoke Vineyards tasting room on Love Lane, next to the cheese shop. This place does tastings for another winery as well. We really liked the wild yeast fermented Chardonnay.

 We finished off the day by walking a couple blocks to some Italian place before heading home. It was called A Mano. The food there was okay; Christine had an amazing prosciutto wrapped baked persimmon as an appetizer. I always plan on getting dinner in Flushing on the way back or at North Fork Table, but we always somewhere else when we go out there. All in all, another great day trip.

On the way back, I finished up my Freedom bonus at a 7-11 with a couple OneVanilla cards. 

January 2014 App-o-rama advice

A friend wrote to me and said he wants to open a new card. Well, I used to get one card at a time and that was a newbie mistake. The app-o-rama every 6 months or so, with couples alternating in quarters, is the way to go. If you apply for a new card every time you hit a min spend, then you always have recent inquiries on your report. With my first denial (courtesy US Bank) about a month behind me, I realized I have to follow a better strategy. This strategy is commonly known as the app-o-rama and is three or more applications on the same day. People are often concerned the app-o-rama will hurt their credit, and it will a tad, but if you have more than a twenty point buffer past 720 and you aren't buying a house this year you should consider it your best bet.

First piece of advice for the app-o-rama is: Get a card from each bank. Chase might let you get two if you tell them you want the Freedom and the X for some reason and apply in a branch. This post is for someone new to the game so I pick the best card from each bank and ignore business cards.

So order of applications best practice is supposedly US Bank, then Barclays, then Citi, then Chase, then AMEX, and finally Bank of America or others. If you are a beginner, don't apply for cards with a combined minimum spend much more than a $2000 or $3000 more than your normal quarterly spend. Two or three thousand is a pretty easy spend to manufacture. In other words, if you spend $5000 a quarter, go for a group of cards with $7000 - $8000 in combined minimum spend.

Advice from Flyertalk:  "Especially with the first 3 [banks], wait for approval before making the next app. Start in the morning so you have time to make as many recon calls as necessary, and still get all your apps in the same day."
Starting with US Bank, here is the best card signup I think they have out there: Club Carlson Premier, I put the signup bonus at around $800 in value, conservatively. Depends on if you can travel to Eastern Europe or India or not. If you can, you can get over $1000 in value here. This card requires $3500 in min spend and gives another 40k in points every year. Second best: Flex perks travel, $3500 min spend, $400 in value.

Next, Barclays. I think this is a no-brainer for the US Airways Dividend Miles card. It requires no spend, and the bonuses vary. Look around on the internet for a 35k link with no annual fee the first year, lounge passes, and a companion ticket. I put this signup value around $700.

Second best Barclaycard, not sure. Lufthansa bonus is too low right now, Frontier and Arrival both are worth around $450 right now. The Arrival is a good card to spend on when you aren't trying to hit bonuses. The Frontier only has a $500 min spend. Toss up, or depends on how much you care about where Frontier goes or if you live in Trenton or Denver.

Next up is Citi. If you are in flying more than five times a year or so and you don't have lounge access somewhere, you might want to get the 100k AA card with the lounge access and the $200 credit. You pay $450 but you are getting lounge access and some other nice perks, but you have to hit 10k in spend in 3 months. Most folks should get the AA Platinum Select with the 50k signup bonus. This card is worth around $800 in signup for 3k in min spend. Second place from Citi: I guess you could get the Thank You Premier, but I would skip it since the bonus requires 15 months to get. I would choose the Hilton HHonors card. This card has some tricks to it with status, but it is generally good to hold on to and the sign up bonus is worth about $500 bucks since you get two nights in pretty much any Hilton.

Next up is Chase. This is tough, there are so many good Chase cards, but I still like the in branch offer for the United Explorer card at 55k. You get 50k for you and 5k for your authorized user with the fee waived. You get a couple lounge passes and a bag free. Latest is usually here, which seems to indicate you don't have to hit up the branch, but recommends it. I value these perks at least at $900 for 2k in min spend. Runners up include but are not limited to the Southwest card, currently at 50k so $800 (dropping to $700) in value, the Marriott card I reviewed earlier today (worth about $700), and the Chase Sapphire Preferred (worth about $800 in signup).

So far we have 4 cards at an average of $800 in value, getting us $3200 in value for $8501 in three month credit card spend. If we manufacture $2500 of this, this is good for folks with about $2000 a month in credit card spend. If we can fit more, let's move on to Amex.

Some folks are getting 50k offers for Amex Premier Gold by using Cardmatch. This is worth about $1000. If you can't get this, I would go for the Starwood card for a $600 in value bonus.

 Alaska Airlines (who has great partners) is the best from B of A ($500) and the Venture is the best from Capital One ($200). Comenity offers the Virgina America card with a ~$300 sign up bonus. PenFed has a card with a signup bonus too.

Altogether, it is straightforward to get about $4000 worth of signup bonuses for getting 5 cards without annual fees the first year. If you have a significant other to help you with minimum spends, have them do this 3 months afterwards and get some great travel in this year.

Card Review: Chase Marriott Rewards Premier

You can currently get 70k Marriott points and a free night at a category 1-4 hotel by signing up for the Marriott card from Chase. The annual fee for the first year is waived.

This is a pretty decent offer. I value Marriott points at around .8 cents (about half an airline mile). This is because while they can be redeemed for about 1 cent per point in value, I find Marriott to generally be overpriced and if I am paying cash would rarely stay in one.A $200 / night Marriott is only worth $160 to me.

This means the card signup bonus is worth $560 + $120 for the free night and all you have to spend is $1000 bucks in the first three months. You also go Marriott Silver status, which is worth a breakfast and some free wifi.

The annual fee is $85, but every year you get Silver status again and you get another free room, so holding onto the card seems like a good deal.

Now, should one spend on this card? Well, no.

It is essentially 100% defeated by other cards for spending. The point is worse than even a 1% cash back card, at restaurants you get 2 points, so that is about equal to a normal airline mile and many cards get bonuses at restaurants. The Arrival and the Sapphire Preferred get about 2.2 and 3.5 cents at restaurants respectively.   Even at Marriott, I wouldn't spend on it, as the 5 Marriott points worth 4 cents are useful only if one accumulates Marriott points; otherwise I would use my Sapphire preferred. Getting Marriott Gold with a huge spend seems like a waste of time unless one happens to be on the verge.

In short, get this card, get the signup bonus, and lock it away and enjoy your free annual night and your free Marriott silver status.If this link is dead when you decide to apply, let me know and I'll update it to the best current link, which will probably be in this Flyertalk thread.

IHG Pointbreaks

IHG is Holiday Inn, Intercontinental, and a few other hotels. Every quarter they release their Pointbreaks hotels, available to book for 5000 IHG points through March 31st. These are not their dingiest hotels, and I am not sure how they choose them. For example, the Intercontinental Beijing was on there when the list was released. 5000 Point nights are great, but if you transfer from Chase, those are worth about 90 bucks. Fortunately, you can buy the points from IHG for .7 cents each, meaning these hotels can be booked for $35, tax included!

One of the best hotels in the US on the list might be the Atlanta airport Staybridge Suites There are also hotels near Knoxville, Philly, Williamsburg, and Memphis. In Europe, there are hotels in Prague, Toulouse, and Ankara. The only Intercontinental left on the list is Mendoza, Argentina. Beijing was on it but got snatched up immediately.

I hope the Crown Plaza Asuncion keeps showing up, as I may scoop that one up next year.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Amex presales at Ticketmaster

It is always fun to get stuff before the general public, even if anyone can do it. If you have an amex, or the ability to buy an amex gift card at any store, you can get presale tickets for Foals in NYC at Terminal 5 today. Here is the link:

These types of things come around all the time and Chase and Amex seem to compete with each other on presale tickets, why I am not sure, because everyone should have both an Amex and a Chase card.

ACC schedule released!

Book your hotels now; and book speculatively when you can cancel for free!

I booked Nov 1 in Blacksburg

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Free money at Officemax this week

Officemax is giving discounts to purchasers of Mastercard giftcards. These also earn rewards, most generously on a Chase Ink card. Thanks Officemax.

Daytrip to Tannersville, PA

Since we both had off for MLK Day, and we were both pretty much recovered from the flu, Christine and I decided to go out for a country day trip. At first we considered Windham Mountain in the Catskills, however, it closed at 4 pm and is rather expensive. Nearby Hunter Mountain has the same problem. Why aren't these places open later? Hunter Mountain lift and rental face price is $112.

So we decided to go to Camelback. Camelback has a bunch of trails and is good for beginner skiers like Christine. Huffpost ranked them the number one place to learn in the USA, maybe because you can learn for less than forty bucks this January. Also, they were only a tad over 90 minutes drive from Jersey City. Btw, Blue has a similar learn program all winter long and Camelback also has the Explorer card, 3 days of lessons for $130.

So first stop on the way out to Tannersville was Smuggler's Cove. This was a pretty good seafood restaurant and I got soup and salad bar featuring a really nice spicy seafood gumbo with sausage and scallops for only $9. It has quite mixed reviews on Yelp, but was good for a lunch. Next we stopped off at the Tannersville tasting room for Franklin Hill Vineyards, one of the oldest wineries in PA. Their wines run from $12 - $15 and they have some interesting flavored oak infused reds. For example, they have a vanilla oak infused Cab and Chambourcin blend; they use wood chips to impart the flavor.

Next we went onto Camelback for the 3pm - 9pm skiing, which is much cheaper. Lift and rental together with holiday pricing, no discounts was $65. They wouldn't sell us the ticket until precisely 2:45, so we took about 15 minutes to get changed and get our locker before buying the ticket. The rental process was fast and the gear seemed fine. We were on the slopes by 3:15.

Camelback has several greens from the top and our favorite was Marc Antony. After several runs of that, Christine was ready to graduate to the blues. Nile Mile is one of the best runs in the Midatlantic. It has a length of a mile while dropping about 800 feet. It is quite wide the whole way down as well. It doesn't have any slow parts but is never too steep for the beginning skier. Christine definitely conquered it and now feels ready to ski the blues the rest of the year!

For food, the Thirsty Camel is a great bar with pretty good wings, they have a neat little waffle and hot chocolate place on the slopes, and there is a brewpub right outside the gates as well. We will definitely be coming back to Camelback for another night skiing session this year.

We were so busy, the only point related spend I did was a couple $100 Amazon GCs at the Wawa on the way home to help get to my $1500 Q1 Chase Freedom Gas Station bonus.  Leaving NYC is usually a great opportunity for point related spend since the travel hustlers in the area grab all the good gift cards and reloads. I'll stay on the lookout though.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Nyc Hokies, AA flights to Roanoke now bookable with BA miles

Wahoos will note there is a CHO flight as well. These flights should be bookable with 4500 Avios. 

Prediction: Barclaycard will offer 50k US miles in April

I think this is pretty much a done deal. I predict we'll see it in April.

Here's why,
1) Citi is offering 50k for the same airline on a very similar card, in fact the Barclaycard will become an Aadvantage card soon
2) Barclaycard is no stranger to the 50k offer; they routinely do it for the miles and more +Lufthansa card
3) They said they are going balls to the wall on acquisition in the industry press; as reported by View from the Wing

If you don't have this card yet; hold off! I'm sure it will be worth it. The offer certainly isn't getting worse.

Update; will run for miles educated me one may want to get multiple of this card, totally changing strategies. Not sure what the best plan is now.

Bizarrely Cheap Car Rentals

The Chase Ultimate Rewards mall has the best prices on car rentals for many itineraries. In the past I had usually just booked Hotwire. I am going to Miami from 6 pm on April 12 until Noon on April 14, and I am going to Key Largo, so I need a car. Here were the crazy high Hotwire prices if I picked up from the Airport:

Luckily I remembered reading in another blog about huge savings using the Chase UR Mall, run by Connexions Loyalty.

Here is what I found for the same trip:

This was a 60% savings.  I don't think I'll forget to check the Chase UR mall price on a car rental again.

Amex MR Points

What is the best use of American Express Membership Rewards Points? The best thing I have found so far to do with them is transfer straight to Air Nippon Airlines and use their distance based award chart

The UA EWR to Lisbon flight is just under 3500 miles, so you can get to Portugal with no fuel surcharges for 38000 Membership Rewards points, quite the deal. This chart might also be one of the best for getting to Africa or Tel Aviv with minimal miles. Tel Aviv is 60k round trip with ANA miles on UA metal, probably the cheapest way to get there.

The other best option is BA Avios, which often carries a 50% bonus for transferring in  MR points and has some great sweet spots like MIA to the Caribbean for 9k points RT, from BOS-DUB for 25k RT, from Philly to Madrid for 40k RT, or from NYC-Montreal for 9k RT.

Free food and Drink Superbowl weekend for Chase United card holders

Got this in the mail from Chase today. Thanks Chase! These annual fee cards often give freebies like this defraying the cost.

I am sure all these Yelp reviewers would like it better if it was free!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Ireland Fall 2014

I want to go to Ireland in the Fall. To get there I need 50k Chase UR points for two tickets and I have 36k. What will I do to get these other 14k? Well I can get 7500 if I max out the Freedom category bonus with $1500 at gas stations in Q1. That means I need to put $3250 in travel and dining on my Sapphire in Q1 as well or worry about Freedom category bonuses in Q2 and possibly not get the tickets I want (BOS-DUB on Aer Lingus). Time to make sure every possible dining dollar is going on my Sapphire again.

Btw if you want to do this trip, just search for availability on the United website, and then use Avios points (a Chase UR partner) to get the flight. This 25k round trip to Europe is one of the cheapest ways to get to Europe I know of. There is an Iberia promotion that seemed to rival it temporarily, but this route is always 25k RT with Avios.
You can see here we just barely make it under the 3000 mile limit:

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Buy 2 get 2 nights at Marriott.

Marriott is offering a free night to new members who stay two nights.

If you have an account, you can sign up a household member or make yourself a new account.

This promotion is stackable with the Megabonus, which also gives you buy two get one.

Together, you buy two nights, you get two nights free, quite nice, as the free nights can be in any category four hotel, even if the ones you bought were lower.

BOGO Airbnb Night

If anyone hasn't used Airbnb yet, you can get a free night if you use promocode ONENIGHT and "Book your first trip between January 13 - 17 for travel by March 31" You'll also have to go through some sort of ID verification process before booking. If you have an account but never have booked, you appear to be eligible. To take advantage, here is a referral coded link

Monday, January 13, 2014

More news on the US - AA merger

Great news! US and AA are starting to code share!

I assume this means the remaining companion pass I have from US is now good on AA flights.

Also, if you are flying with a US # on an AA flight or vice versa, you get 50% milage bonus through March! Just missed my next US flight in April, hopefully they extend that.

More coverage over at the points guy

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Saved by Seat Guru

I am flying UA to Beijing this July in a 777 and I wanted to check out the seat options in economy for my award ticket. Seatguru is generally the place to do this. Here is my plane for this flight. Looks like 41L is great, as it is green on the site, but the comments indicate potential disagreement. I googled around and found that 41L indeed is great on a Flyertalk thread, but that 44KL might be better for a two person reservation. I originally had 41KL but switched back to 44KL because Christine is unlikely to let me sit in that nice window seat with extra legroom, so we'll get a two person row with extra aisle room.

Here is where it saved me on a 757 flight:

This was the most crucial of all, as 20A-F look great on the internet, exit row and no one in front of you, but turns out people HATE these seats, no legroom AND no recline. Thank goodness I passed on them as this would be a rather long flight.

US Airways BarclayCard offered me a category bonus

I was complaining earlier about not getting one on my Miles and More card, but it seems the US Air category bonus was relatively rare. I switched my Verizon payments over to it (about 300 a month) and I'll make sure to use it for Q1 grocery store purchases and I'll easily max out the bonus.

This was the email I received:

Dear Patrick Mccann,
What a rewarding way to start off the year! From January 1 through March 31, 2014, you'll
earn 2 bonus miles for every $1 you spend—up to 2,500 bonus miles—just by using your
US Airways Dividend Miles MasterCard for purchases and payments you already make in the following categories¹:
Grocery store purchases
Movie theater purchases
Utility payments
Best of all, this is in addition to the miles you already earn for using your card for everyday purchases.
You must activate this offer by January 20, 2014 to earn bonus miles!
Activate Now

DCA to SEA on US $262 through May

From The Flight Deal

5.2 CPM

Case of LH Miles > UA Miles

I am traveling to my cousin's wedding in September on K class in UA. One thing I was looking at was upgrade awards. Here is the UA upgrade chart for domestic travel:

Upgrade amounts shown are one way unless otherwise noted.
Award MilesFare TypeSpecial Conditions
15,000J, C, D
15,000Z, P$75 co-pay required (waived for Premier members)
15,000M, E, U, H, Q$75 co-pay required (waived for Premier members)
17,500V, W$75 co-pay required (waived for Premier members)
20,000S, T, K, L, G, N$75 co-pay required (waived for Premier members)

Well, for my K class ticket, it is 40k + 150$ to upgrade, ouch. However, the Lufthansa chart is much nicer, as they only delineate classes Y,B at 10k LH miles for a Star Alliance upgrade and other classes at 15k each way, meaning it would be a 30k upgrade with no co pay.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Southwest Companion Pass opportunity is back

This is the best available deal for reasonably frequent domestic travel. For two card openings you get a SW companion pass good for unlimited companion travel for about 20 months if you do it now.

Scott at Milevalue explains in detail

US Airways Lounge / Admirals Club

One of the strangest things about the Citi AAdvantage Platinum is that it comes with no lounge passes. The United Milage Explorer Card and the  US Airways Dividend Miles Barclaycard do. I value these at about 40 dollars a pass (mostly based on free beer consumption), so two lounge passes can really feel like you've offset that annual fee, even if it is something you wouldn't have otherwise bought.

Now that US Airways has absorbed AA, including their name, one would think AA lounge access would be automatic. Well it is if you are a member, but not if you have day passes from your Barclaycard.

Hopefully they change this strange policy soon.

Why do I care? Because only LGA has a US Airways club in the NYC area and I want to go in the admirals clubs in MIA, SFO, and EWR on trips I already have booked.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

BWI - Las Vegas

BWI to LAS is 228 on the new US / AA through June.

What is a Chase Freedom gas station?

Chase Freedom is offering 5 UR points on  each dollar of spend up to $1500 in Q1. Don't forget to activate it! I don't spend anywhere near $500 a month on gas, so what will I do. Well if I was in NOVA I might stock up on wine and Belgian beer at the awesome wine shop / Sunoco gas station next to the Target in Reston. But here in NYC, a lot of people buy gift cards or reload cards at a gas station, usually Amex Serve, Moneypak Greendots, or Vanilla Reloads. Some stores might also be misclassified as gas stations, or some gas stations might be misclassified as grocers.

Here is how to find out what is a gas station according to Visa:

Go the the Visa Supplier Locator at

 Put in gas stations and your zip code

You might see some misclassified businesses in the google maps interface, like this gas station at 23rd and Park

Another interesting one: many junk haulers count as utilities, like 1-800-GOT-JUNK, Q1 might be time to clear out your garage.

INNcentive Card

Most travel points bloggers are spoiled. They love to fly in first class and burn their hotel points on $800 rooms. That must be why, as far as I can tell, none of them have ever mentioned the INNcentive card.

Suppose you are is a sticky situation, for example, the Preakness just ended and you need a hotel in walking distance because there are no cabs anywhere and you are in some random shady Baltimore neighborhood on a Saturday at seven pm and you are drunk.

There are three options: the Radisson Cross Keys (Carson), the Econolodge (Choice), and the Red Carpet Inn.

Now if I was smart, I would have the Radisson booked already with a Carlson club card, getting two nights that should cost $200+ for 38000 points total. Last year we stayed there and essentially carried our friend back to it. Unfortunately, it is booked solid so it is the battle of the roach motels, risking a dui, or waiting many hours for a cab.

The Red Carpet is 67 out of 70 hotels in Baltimore according to Tripadvisor, but according to the reviewers is actually the same hotel as the Choice Econolodge, sharing management and a parking lot. The econolodge is bookable with a choice promotion of some sort I am sure, as well as earning welcome rewards, with the latter being my current preferences since I am one night away from a reward. However it is $150 for a double, and the Red Carpet is $107.99 with the INNCentive Card, so that is what I am booking. To use it, you have to register 4-6 weeks in advance, as they didn't give me the membership number in an email. You can book the hotel and then show the card when you get these to get the 10% off according to the person on the phone.

Btw, there will be no more Preakness walking distance rooms very soon, and get your tickets now with Mug Club.

If a little old lady can do this...

I was at a midtown CVS yesterday to pick up something on the way home. The little old lady in front of me says "oh go ahead dear mine will take a while."
Well I noticed she had a vanilla reload card in her hand, which had been sold out when I checked ten minutes earlier, so I wanted to watch what she was doing. 

She then proceeded to manufacture three thousand dollars of US Bank Flexperks spend by buying reloads! I asked her how she did it and she said she said she had walked them down from a different CVS to buy them there under different rules! She said her daughter keeps her rather busy with all this stuff. I asked her if she knew any gas stations I could hit my q1 chase freedom spend at and she said anywhere in Connecticut; and it seemed she was smirking at their provincialism.

If this lady can do it; we all can. I found her quite inspiring.


Newark is generally an armpit of a place. It has depopulated; it has high crime; etc. The violent crime rate is 50% higher than Jersey City and twice as high as Union City.

However it has a really wonderful immigrant community centered around Ferry st with dozens of great restaurants in something called the Ironbound. It is the safest part of Newark by far. It also has an outpost of the famous Dinosaur BBQ. Get the ribs or the brisket there.

The Ironbound has an interesting web presence; it has the look and feel of suburbanites employed off government redevelopment grants. They sent me a free guide to the district by filling out the form at goironbound. I look forward to exploring it more; it has the feel of a Jackson Heights or Falls Church with a Portuguese slant. I have been to two Portuguese places there so far and they were slamming.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


Amtrak is currently offering promotions for Q1 travel on Acela and in the Northeast Regional, buy 2 get 1 free, but the terms actually say buy 4 one ways and get 2 one ways free, and each must cost $49 or more.

Acela has a buy 6 get 2 free one ways deal, with each segment having a minimum cost of $90.

Amtrak is a great way to redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points. I recently redeemed 4000 points for a 200 one way ticket just before Thanksgiving, on the last non blacked out day (Monday night). Strangely the train was far from full. It was nice getting a 5 cent redemption value, but I generally value these tickets (or the tickets to Boston or Montreal) at $80. Anymore and I would prefer the bus, so that means the redemption value is exactly 2 cents. Better than two cent valuations can be achieved by redeeming for roomettes at 15k points, the car train from DC to Orlando at 15k points, or a one way from New York to southern Florida (20 something hours!) at 5500 points, but these aren't too convenient for me.

One can get some quick Amtrak points by doing something with Google Wallet and I think joining the email list. More details on the guest rewards site. If anyone you know is about to take a trip, also, refer them to guest rewards for bonus points.

If you're in Chicago

98$ and 3 cents per mile to the sun on US Air

Update on my next bonus

I was agonizing earlier about my next app. So I went for both, and I got put in a queue for US Bank and happily approved by Citi.

Unfortunately, I wasn't as diligent as I should have been prior to my US Bank app and didn't freeze my ARS and IDA reports, eg as explained by Hackmytrip at

I'll call US Bank, see what they say and possibly give up, possibly get it when it has been a while (I actually really want this card to hold long term and spend on). Maybe Christine will freeze her stuff and get it, but as she is auth on most of my cards, she might have the same issue.

This certainly affects my Q1 hotel choices though, as I was trying to decide between some combination of hitting Big Win, Megabonus, or the Carlson 3 night thing

US Airways card claims to not be going away soon

Milevalue and Viewfromthewing were debating over the last couple days the longevity of the US Airways Barclaycard .

I just got an email from Barclaycard telling me to check out merger news. Apparently, Dividend Miles, and its card, will exist into 2015.

Most important, the card program is not going away. It's getting better! Your existing Dividend Miles and any new miles you earn are secure. Plus, coming soon you'll have more ways to earn miles around the world with codeshare between US Airways and American Airlines. Keep using your US Airways Dividend Miles MasterCard. It's the only card that gives you access to exclusive benefits on US Airways—like Zone 2 priority boarding and the ability to earn Dividend Miles for every dollar you spend. Be on the lookout for information about new benefits, coming soon.

On the merger news section:

Update: I talked with a Barclaycard rep today about a comment I made on twitter expressing disappointment I wasn't qualified for category bonuses on my Miles and More card. They were very gracious in telling me they would not give me the bonus, and confirmed they expect the Dividend Miles card to exist into 2015.

My next bonus

I finished my Lufthansa spend and I am annoyed at them for not qualifying me for category bonuses in Q1. I want to grab another big signup bonus, so is it on to the Citi AA Platinum 50k offer, or should I grab the Club Carlson card from US Bank?

This is a really tough decision, as I only like to work on one bonus at a time. Other travellers will call this amateur, as the minimum spend requirements are so easy and they do something called an app-o-rama, as it supposedly affects their credit score less. I am comfortable not doing an app-o-rama at the moment, as thanks to Barclaycard, I know mine is pretty high and I can easily afford a 20 or 30 point hit.

The Carlson card has the following benefits, you get the last night free on reward stays, you get automatic gold status, and you get 85000 points. With a small amount of spend, this is easily enough for 10 nights if you use your last night free and book wisely. I therefore value this bonus at around 1200 bucks. Doing a bunch more math, I could come up with something better, but I basically figure 90k points = 6*15k category 2 nights + 4 bonus nights at $120 bucks a night. The annual fee here is outweighed by the 40k points you get on renewal, worth at least the cost of the fee, so I could hold this card forever. The 50k bonus seems like it is generally around, so I am not worried about it expiring.

 The AA card comes with 55k AA miles (landing page here), since you get 10%  of your miles back for redeeming (plus it enables another 5k bonus). These can be used on oneworld metal and I value them at 1.75 cents each. That is a $990 dollar signup value; incremented by the value of any free bags. This is a card I might want to hold short term only, I would have to weigh the value of AA bag checks and line cutting versus the annual fee. I already know Citi will be the main issuer for the new AA / US post merger airline. The 50k bonus seems like it is generally around, so I am not worried about it expiring. This would definitely help with the Paraguay trip I am considering in early 2015.

 I am so torn, I might just go ahead and get both.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Secured rewards card?

I am not too familiar with secured rewards cards. In fact, I didn't even know they existed until now. There is an Aeromexico secured card from US Bank with 5000 bonus miles as a signup bonus and no annual fee.

Is this a good deal? If all you can get is a secured card than yes, absolutely. I haven't seen any other card like this that lets the credit challenged get in on our rewards game. In fact, if you want to just burn an inquiry and you are out of things to apply for, go for it. There are a few interesting perks:

A companion pass to Mexico
Double points for gas and groceries (no limit? potential for huge gift card loads)
A strong awards chart with 50k roundtrips from USA to Europe, 20k roundtrips inside Mexico, and 60k USA to Japan
Partnerships with Copa and LAN

If you are ever near San Diego, the 20k RT rewards inside Mexico is kind of cool, as getting to the TJ airport isn't very difficult and can involve some fun hijinks in TJ itself

Their regular card, issued by US Bank, looks interesting as well as it comes with a 20k bonus with no minimum spend, but I think I still prefer the Carlson card if I am trying to choose a US Bank card.

Auto Insurance

One way to hit a credit card minimum spend signup bonus is to put your entire six month policy on a card in one shot. I just did this with Progressive and finished off the Lufthansa card bonus I had been working on, giving me 50,000 Lufthansa miles. Progressive actually seems like they will let me pre-pay the following insurance policy if I want as well. Not paying them in full for six months actually seems crazy, they want an extra 15.7% if I do not, which works out to some astronomical interest rate (34% if I did my arithmetic correctly (((price + premium) / price) ^ (1/6))^12 = 1.34 in this case).So even if one cannot pay it off in full immediately, unless your credit card interest rate is something like 34%, than put your whole premium on a card.

There are a bunch of ways to use these LH miles, here is a ten part guide. How will I use it? Not sure yet, but two roundtrip tickets to Poland on LOT for 60k LH miles would be a good way requiring me to top off the balance with a bit of spend. I could also do two business class round trips to Alaska for 64,000  miles.

Here is my LH card, unfortunately it is down to 35k sign up at the moment:

How to get $56.25 in Uber value for $5

 I learned from Viewfromthewing that you can stack the groupon with the new member referral to get $45 in Uber credit.  Then add the 20% off from thepointsguy blog comments using code ubertpg20 and you should be able to get to $56.25 as a new member. Anyone know why this might not work?

Amazon Payments

Sometimes when you are trying to hit those minimum spending requirements, a little manufactured spend is really helpful. Amazon Payments is a great way to do this. This is in no way a scoop, so experienced churners can stop reading now.

As an example, last month I opened a Chase Freedom card because it had a 20k point sign up bonus. Since I have a Chase Sapphire Preferred, these are worth about two cents each to me, meaning my sign up bonus was just under $400. It requires a $500 minimum spend, so I logged into Amazon Payments and sent someone I owe money to that lives in my house a $500 payment for Goods and Services. She then logged into her account and withdrew the money into a checking account.

I like the Chase Freedom because it has no annual fee and I plan to use it for $1500 of spend at gas stations and movie theatres to get 7500 points in Q1, worth another $150 to me, and restaurants in Q2 2014, and Amazon in Q4 2014, etc,  so I don't plan on just using it for a sign up bonus.

Another use of these things: I drained a bunch of cash value gift cards directly into checking and paid off my credit card bill with them. For example, my brother gave me $50 in a cash equivalent gift card from Vanilla. I logged into Vanilla, gave the card a billing zipcode, sent money to someone else in my house using that $50 card for goods and services. That $50 then earned points for her as she was able to use her credit card to spend $50.

What are the drawbacks?

Amazon will 1099 you if you " exceed both thresholds ($20,000 in gross payment volume and 200 transactions) "  You have to exceed both thresholds or they won't send one.

Limits, you can only receive and send $1000 / month on credit cards. Amazon will show you what you have done and how much you have left:

Here one can see the $500 transaction I mentioned receiving above.

Finally, don't be dumb and try to send money back and forth on the same credit card. Use this as an innovative way to put things that can't normally be on a credit card on the card, like original artwork from your husband ;) Use it to hit some minimum spends, don't get banned by patterned behavior. Save that for the Vanilla reload cards.

Dining Loyalty Rewards Programs

My favorite commercial right now is the Citi one with the girl complaining that her new boyfriend is just using her for points.

Here is the youtube clip:

I don't think Citi is the right way to do it, but dining is an interesting place to stack rewards, one I don't utilize enough. If you have a category bonus card, you can of course buy gift cards to your favourite chains at grocery or gas stations to get category bonuses. For example, the Chase Freedom bonus is currently at gas stations, and their points transfer to Chase UR, which to me are worth about two cents each, meaning you are earning almost ten cents back on every dining dollar.

Always make a rez on +OpenTable  if you can, they have some loyalty points also. 

If you are a waiter at one of these chains, you can do some real magic. Buy gift cards to your own restaurant and whenever someone pays cash, use the giftcards to settle up with the restaurant. Just don't tell management, they might get annoyed. At +GiftCardRescue  and +eBay , you can find these cards discounted as well. If you buy them online, make sure to use to get the best cash back on the purchase of the gift card.

However, if you haven't hit the signup bonuses for all the dining loyalty programs, you should do that first. It seems everyone uses the same loyalty program vendor, rewards network. Here are the logos on their page:

 Many of these offer a signup bonus, and those can vary over time. Make sure to get all the signup bonuses! There are several airlines and several hotels and then some random junk I am not familiar with.

The way it works is you just register your credit card and they occasionally give you more points. When you register your card with one, it seems to de-register at the others. Hit all the bonuses and then choose your favorite program (Dividend Miles for me). The selection of restaurants these are good at is fairly wide. They are the same at each program, so hopefully you can find a favorite near you. I randomly seem to get extra points just from going out a lot.

 There are a few other things you can do as well, sync your amex card to social media, sign up for +Upromise by Sallie Mae and register your card, check google offers for offers you can redeem with just your phone or credit card (eg this one in Midtown), and a few more. Offermatic and Envaulted appear to be dead companies.

To recap, one potential bonus stack:
Upromise Dining Loyalty Program
 Social media  / coupon discounts
 CC points (eg CSP 2 points in dining)

Another potential bonus stack only for chain restaurants:
CC bonus for buying gift cards online
Evreward determined online shopping rebate
Social media  / coupon discounts at the restaurant

Newsflash: As of today, US and AA award space are cross-bookable

Starting today, you can book AA space with US miles and vice versa. This is pretty awesome. Full story over at milevalue.

It means I might not have to wait to book my MIA to ASU flight Christine has been talking about because I have the US miles to do it, or I could book an offpeak roundtrip to Europe on the AA chart that leaves from the US hubs (PHI and CLT) for only 40k miles.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Club Carlson q1 Promotion

Several large hotel chains are doing some big Q1 promotions. They include IHG, Hyatt, Club Carlson, and Marriott.

Here are the details on Club Carlson, which is +Radisson  and +Country Inns & Suites By Carlson . You get 38,000 points for staying three nights. This is not three stays of one night or more, but you can actually achieve this all on one visit. The nights have to be completed before April 13th, which means I can't use it for my Miami / Caicos Islands trip (April 12- 19), but I might be able to sneak it in there beforehand. Here are the exact details.

You can also get 7500 points at a nonairport Avis location or 9000 points at an airport location for a three night rental. This is discussed at View From the Wing. This gets us to 45500 +Club Carlson points, which can be used for one pretty nice night, but if you really look at their award chart, there are a couple gems in there for 9k / night. This would get us 5 consecutive nights for staying 3 and renting a car for 3 days.

You could have 5 nights in any of these interesting cities:

Alexandria, Egypt

Or you could have 3 nights in any of these:

St. Petersburg
Cape Town
And it looks like there are no blackout dates. I checked Budapest in July and Cancun for spring break and had no problems seeing availability.

 If one combined this with a Club Carlson visa application, one could have a very nice, extended summer trip through Europe, with stays in Berlin, Dresden, Budapest, Krakow, and/or Sofia. If you have the Visa, the last night of an award is always free, so one could easily do two weeks in European hotels in the summer with it.

20% off an Uber ride even for existing riders

Jason at had a link to an Uber signup $20, and someone complained about it being only for new users, then an Uber rep came on and made this comment:

jomohrer • 4 minutes ago Joe, this is Josh Mohrer, the General Manager of Uber in NYC. Here's a code for you and other existing riders. It's only good for the next week, until January 13th 2014. Code: UBERTPG20 20% off 1 ride, regardless of new or existing. Enjoy. Josh

Hotwire $25

+Hotwire is giving away $25 for q1 bookings of $100 or more just for getting their phone app. No special link or invite needed, just go to the home page.

This certainly conflicts with trying to complete +IHG Rewards Club The Big Win in Q1 (stay 3 get ~30k points), or hitting the +Marriott stackable new member signup and Megabonus (stay 2 get 2). But if I finish those, I love using Hotwire in conjunction with

The USAirways Companion pass from Barclaycard

My wife, Christine, and I both got the US Airways Card from
+Barclaycard US  a few months back. We both got a bunch of miles as a sign up bonus, 40k if I recall, and I really really like the card, and will hold at least one of them long term (as long at they exist) even with the annual fee for several reasons that more than make up for the fee.
  • 1) 5k discount on awards tickets
  • 2) Card holders get a bag free
  • 3) Some Lounge passes
  • 4) Annual companion pass for 2 additional travellers at $99 fares
  • 5) Barclaycard gives free FICO scores in its web login. 
  • 6) They emailed me an opt in link for some category bonuses

This picture is from MommyPoints, who also used it successfully

Here is my experience using the companion pass:

I am going to Miami for Spring Break / Holy Week (4/12 - 4/19). The purpose of getting to Miami is mostly to scuba dive at Key Largo, see the Everglades, and take advantage of a 9k RT +British Airways Avios award to Turks and Caicos on AA metal I found using the AA award map, which is great. Unfortunately, this is a really expensive time to travel to south Florida, unless of course, you are somewhere sunny already. My buddy took advantage of a Virgin America SFO - FLL $344 ticket to meet us there. The EWR - CLT - MIA US Airways ticket I wanted was $744. Less convenient times were around $600, even on other airlines. Using the companion pass, I called up the airline and got the other two tickets for $99 plus tax each. It came out to about $340 a ticket and we all got to put in our US Airways FF numbers (no partner earning allowed). I had to avoid a 4/13 blackout date, but didn't have to worry about any the following weekend.

The only better thing would have been an open jaw on the destination side, so I could start by going to Key West, drive up to MIA to hit my Turks and Caicos flight on the 15th, and then connected in MIA on the 19th for the return trip to EWR.

I used the Barclaycard to pay for the fare just to make sure I would get all the benefits associated with being a card member on the flight. I had to mail the pass in though, and I xeroxed it and sent it certified just in case, as they say they are not responsible for lost certs. The ticket took a few days to show up on the Barclaycard, but when it did a few days later I assume it means they got the certificate. They made some claims as to the urgency of sending it, and since I booked on a Saturday, it went out with the Monday mail.

Unfortunately the Barclaycard is going away. People say to sign up for it right away. Scott at Milevalue writes about what will likely happen to card holders; and I agree with Scott. If they try to switch me to the arrival, I will cancel the card. I like Barclaycard though; I am currently working on an LH signup bonus, and look forward to Frontier and/or Arrival signup bonuses.

Here is where I need some help:

I need to use another pass by May 14. The flight should be for a weekend, depart from NYC or PHI, and the regular fare should be between 250 and 300. Denver, New Orleans, Austin, etc all seem nice, but I am really not sure. Direct flights would be nice, as well as late departures on a Sunday. Any ideas?

Btw, I am hoping to convert all the links to affiliate links using FlexOffers, awaiting their approval.

Half Price Avios Awards through LHR

I got an email from British Airways today with a link to the following offer:
Thank You, here’s 50% off Avios on flights Enjoy 50% off Avios on selected World Traveller flights from London to New York, Dubai and more As a way of showing how much we value your membership to the Executive Club, we want to reward you whenever we can. Which is why we’d like you to enjoy 12 days of Thank You redemption offers. Today’s Thank You is 50% off Avios flights in World Traveller. Fly from 6 January to 31 May 2014, to or from London to any of these long haul destinations: New York, Chicago, Washington, Boston, Toronto, Dubai, Denver, Shanghai Offer ends 8 January 12:00 GMT
Quite interesting. I found a round trip open jaw from JFK-LHR, DUB-LHR-JFK in March for 24500 Avios points and 498 in surcharges. If one has earned the BA companion pass from Chase, this might be the time to use it. Make sure to book a non UK open jaw on the way back to save on departure taxes. More details from a 2011 One Mile At a Time post. One can find these offers at; there are supposedly going to be several more.

Update: this is a waste of Avios miles if your goal is simply to get to Europe. Iberia is offering 20k roundtrips to Madrid as well, but with lower surcharges. However, if you are using Chase UR points or your Iberia account is less than three months old, you probably can't get the miles into your Iberia account in time.