Travel With Ivan is now Travels With Ivan

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Readers, I’m excited to announce the new Travels With Ivan blog at TravelsWithIvan.com

Thanks to your valuable feedback and readership, I’m improving the quality of my product to better serve you, including a dedicated, shorter domain and speedy self-hosting.

I’ve moved all my past posts and updated the links, so the transition is complete. Please continue reading there!

Best,

Ivan

 

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Where to transfer your last Chase Ultimate Reward points

Given the massive adjustments to Chase’ Ultimate Reward earning cards, I decided to adjust my strategy and pursue other cards and reward programs.

I still had an Ink Plus with a small points balance to liquidate prior to closing the card. Due to the overall negative program changes, the card was no longer worth the upcoming annual fee. The below documents my thought process.

My initial transfer choices were the following:

1. Southwest Airlines: 1,000 points = 1,000 Rapid Rewards Points
2. United Airlines: 1,000 points = 1,000 MileagePlus Award Miles
3. British Airways: 1,000 points = 1,000 Avios points
4. Korean Air: 1,000 points = 1,000 Skypass miles
5. Hyatt: 1,000 points = 1,000 Gold Passport points
6. Marriott: 1,000 points = 1,000 Marriott Rewards points
7. Priority Club: 1,000 points = 1,000 Priority Club Rewards points
8. Ritz-Carlton: 1,000 points = 1,000 Ritz-Carlton Rewards Points
9. Virgin Atlantic: 1,000 points = 1,000 Flying Club Miles
10. Singapore Airlines: 1,000 points = 1,000 KrisFlyer points
11. IHG: 1,000 points = 1,000 IHG Rewards Points

A. Filter out low redemptions.

First I filtered out the normally bad redemption rates, and that took out half the chart. For example, Marriott points are normally worth less than 1 CPM, so it would not make sense given the higher opportunities with UA (where you regularly get 3+ CPM redemptions). I’m left with WN, UA, KE, SQ, and Hyatt.

Step B (below) can come first, but the maximizer in me will regret a poor redemption, thus I filter out poor redemptions upfront to save myself the potential anguish later.

After understanding the program limitations and filtering for good valuations, I considered my future travel plans.

B. Understand how the miles can be used for your upcoming travel plans.

My mother has ANA miles that are about to expire in a couple of months, so I plan to use those miles for an Asia trip in early 2017. However, I only have enough miles for one person (ANA forces r/t travel generally). By the way, ANA Miles are one of the few mileage programs where miles expire regardless of activity, so set calendar reminders to use them! They expire 3 years after you earn them and you can check how many of your miles are about to expire on their website.

So how can I use WN, UA, KE, SQ, and Hyatt points?

I know that UA and SQ are *A partners with ANA, so I can potentially book the same flights for the Mrs. Alternatively, I can us the ANA miles for myself, and then use UA/SQ to fly the Mrs. and her mother since there is a chance she can join us. That way she doesn’t fly alone. If I transfer to UA, I know I will use those miles this year (and not worry since they won’t expire with my level of activity anyway). I can also use KE for that flight but I am not an expert of SkyTeam, so I filtered (self-limited) that out. Less choices is better on the brain.

I can always use WN miles since we travel on Southwest frequently (5-6 times annually). Furthermore, our Companion Pass doubles the CPM from ~1.6 to ~3.2 for the rest of this year.

Given my pleasant experiences with Hyatt Diamond status, I want to stay at more Hyatts this year. This is a great example of elite status reinforcing loyalty and driving business decisions. However I don’t have any upcoming destinations where lodging is needed (We will be staying with friends/family for many of our trips).

I can also transfer some points into each of those programs (to top off those accounts) if I calculate a particular redemption for upcoming travel.

C. Understand how this actions fits into your larger strategy and points balance.

If you had a surplus of points in any one of those transfer partners you may think twice before moving them over, especially if you don’t have immediate plans to redeem. All things being equal, a well diversified mileage currency strategy works better (just like with stock investments). You want to hedge against devaluations in any given currency.

I also want to consider the transfer options for my other flexible currencies. For example,  Citibank is also a transfer partner to SQ, so I keep that in mind when pooling resources. I might want to save UR points for UA instead of SQ. Chase is the sole transfer partner for United, so even if I had a lot of United miles, I would consider the transfer given the difficulty of earning or lack of other transfer partners.

In another example, let’s say I have a lot of American Express Membership Rewards points to transfer. I would evaluate all of their transfer partners and discover that Delta Skymiles only allows transfers from MR or SPG Starpoints (Starpoints are very valuable and not easy to accrue). I may consider using MR points for Skymiles as a priority.

D. Consolidate and synthesize your findings. Then pull the trigger.

When you have multivariate decisions of this nature, where one thing is contingent on another, its good to think through the best and worst case scenario. Any transfer option between UA and WN would be good and immediately redeemable. Also, consider what decisions you can make now with your available knowledge, and what decisions require further analysis.

Often it is best to pull the trigger now, since I found that the law of diminishing returns is quite consistent when it comes to too much due diligence.

If I needed to pull the trigger right now as I’m writing this, I would transfer my remaining points to WN. I would be able to use all the points this year to visit family and maintain relationships.

If I had another 30 minutes, I would evaluate between UA and SQ, comparing their award charts for the Asia flight, as well as run test bookings to evaluate actual availability. Other family members have UR points, so this decision isn’t critical, but I want to set myself up for success and make the decision easier when time comes for redemptions.

For the sake of experimentation (and the hope that I can get higher than 3 cpm) I used 30 minutes to evaluated UA’s award chart and found that UA was more favorable for my upcoming trip. Thus, I transferred my points to UA.

What has been your experience transferring credit card points to airline partners?

 

 

Can you recommend domain registrar and web hosting companies?

Hello TWI Readers!

Thank you for your response and encouragement the past couple of months. I’m glad that this blog has been very helpful to many of you and I want to increase my quality and level of service.

To start, I would like to provide a shorter domain name (easier on your fingers) and start self-hosting (in order to resolve some RSS-campaign issues and expand reach). You may have noticed that there are odd spaces in my subscription emails that seem to be related to the free wordpress.com RSS feed. Hopefully it can be resolved with a custom RSS-feed.

Please comment if you have recommendations on companies like 1&1 or bluehost, etc.

Thank you for your dedication and support. It will be my pleasure to continue helping you not only travel better, but achieve a new appreciation of the traveling process.

Ivan

Booking Award Flights to Asia on ANA Miles

We hope to visit both our grandparents in Asia in 2017, so I started exploring options and routes. Since I had some ANA miles from a previous redemption that I ended up canceling (for free due to schedule changes), I wanted to use those ANA miles for this trip.

Award availability on ANA (*A flights) seem to be pretty good for winter 2017 travel. They have a lucrative award chart and good redemption values for both economy and business class travel. I logged into the ANA website and started searching:

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Wait, why are you looking at business class tickets?

I would not pay cash for business class travel, but the award redemption rates are often tempting compared to economy. Furthermore, sometimes only business class redemptions are available, probably because the airline thinks they can sell out the economy cabin, but not the business class cabin. This presents an example of the calculations, opportunity cost analysis, and internal turmoil I am often confronted with while planning. Here is why (this is a typical real-world scenario):

Let’s say a flight SFO-HKG costs $1,000 r/t in Economy and that same ticket can be redeemed for 40,000 miles. The same flight in Business costs $6,000, but with miles its only 80,000. For only two times the miles, you get six times the value.

The opportunity cost is that you could get two economy tickets for the price of one business fare. That’s when you start to consider award availability, your mileage inventory, and the acquisition cost of additional miles. When I have a surplus, or when a program is about to devalue, I often attempt to liquidate using whatever means possible. And if there is business availability, but not econ (which is sometimes the case), using your miles is a better choice than not using them at all.

There is also a common measure for the value of an award redemption called “cents per mile” or CPM. In the above example, you get 1,000/40,000 or 2.5 CPM with one ticket, and 6,000/80,000 or 7.5 CPM. This is an over simplified way of estimative the value of your mileage redemption. I’ll write another post about why I don’t rely on it, but only use it as a starting point when determining whether or not an award is a “good use of miles”.

In conclusion, I normally redeem miles for economy class travel because that is how I stretch my miles. However, occasionally I splurge (with points) a bit and go for the nicer seat redemption when the situation calls for it. That’s another beauty of this hobby, having the option to enjoy experiences that are normally cost prohibitive or an unwise use of cash.

Have you redeemed miles for premium travel?

What to Evaluate When Signing Up for Credit Cards

Its been more than 6 months since my mother signed up for a credit card. I’ve been busy helping my in-laws get started with this hobby and working on other things. Thankfully, I have a calendar system that keeps track of my family’s sign up history and a reminder said “its time to make good use of your resources”. This includes of course, leveraging underutilized good credit to take advantage of sign up bonuses, which results in reduced life or travel expenses.

Here is the workflow:

  1. What’s the strategy?
  2. What’s on the schedule?
  3. Has anything changed with her strategy?
  4. What cards does she have?
  5. Check credit score + inquiries.
  6. Narrow down choices with final internet research.
  7. Add referral bonus if applicable.
  8. Apply (use incognito/private mode).
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Start with Strategy

When I help get people started on this program, the first thing I do is help them understand what they want. Do they want to spend less money overall (cash back)? Do they want premium travel experiences (high-value point redemptions)? Or do they want to take a couple of domestic trips a year to see friends and family (flexible points currency)? I encourage people to be clear in what they want in order to derive maximum satisfaction out of this journey.

My mother wants to take one or two major trips per year, but the destination could either be domestic or international. Thus, her strategy is to target Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) points for maximum flexibility and transferability.

She’s been at this hobby for a couple of years now, so we developed a project schedule/tracker that documents current/past cards as well as future cards to consider that align with her strategy.  According to her schedule, the Ink Plus is up next. Her strategy has not changed, and has been reinforced due to Chase’ upcoming 5/24 rules that only allow credit card approvals to those who have had 5 or less inquiries within 24 months. I normally encourage 2-3 cards per application to efficiently ‘batch’ work, including documentation overhead and meeting minimum spend requirements. Furthermore, some credit bureaus will combine multiple inquiries, allowing you to qualify for more cards on the long run.

If I apply for two chase personal cards in the same day, those credit pulls get combined into one, which reduces my overall credit inquiries, increasing my chances of approval for future cards. Note that this works in-kind only (2 business inquiries -> 1 business inquiries, 2 personal inquires -> 1 personal inquiries). So, I wanted to find another business card in addition to the Ink Plus.

The Chase Marriott Rewards card seemed lucrative, but the business version costs $14 more in annual fee, and does not include the 7.5k bonus points for adding an authorized user. Both versions had $3k minimum spend requirement (MSR), and I value that more than a pull, so I decided to go for the personal version. I also wanted to combine an inquiry, so I added in the Chase Freedom card, too.

So the three cards I was looking at was the Chase Ink Plus, the Marriott Personal, and the Chase Freedom.

Final due diligence

I then checked her credit scores and made sure she has less than 5 inquires in 24 months. I also performed light internet research to understand risks and approval chances based on other’s experiences. I learned to add this step the hard way when I applied for Chase cards the week after the 5/24 rule was implemented suddenly and news started to spread on the forums. I was denied and I could have saved a hard pull. After reading through the forums I realized that the card that was most important was the Ink Plus. It is also difficult to be approved for more than 2 Chase cards in one day.

Hence, I decided to go for just the Ink Plus. Since my father already has the Ink Plus, I could use his account to refer my mother and gain bonus points. It takes up to seven days for that email to be generated.

When she receives the referral email by next Thursday, she will setup incognito mode on her browser and apply for the Ink Plus!

 

Progress to book flights to Finland: Part 7 HEL to CPH connector

Progress to book flights to Finland: Intro

Progress to book flights to Finland: Part 2

Progress to book flights to Finland: Part 3

Progress to book flights to Finland: Part 4 Routes

Progress to book flights to Finland: Part 5 Final Route

Progress to book flights to Finland: Part 6 Route Optimization

The last route I needed to secure for our Finland trip was for our second destination, Copenhagen. We wanted to have two European destinations and decided to checkout this city in addition to Helsinki. To recap, I have already secured the flights to HEL and back from CPH. We split the itinerary into two one-way segments, so could not take advantage of a free stopover, which comes with roundtrip itineraries of most programs. Hence, we need a way to get from HEL to CPH.

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We explored taking a boat to Stockholm, which is connected by rail to Copenhagen. However, the cost, travel time, and logistics required was quite complex and seeing Stockholm was not our priority.

Using ITA matrix, I identified several air carriers and the possible prices.

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For example, I priced a midday departure out to 4,500 miles  and about $60 in taxes required per person. The same flight costs about $100 per person. Using 4,500 miles to cover $40 is not ideal (less than 1 CPM). I don’t have an abundance of Avios and I would need to transfer valuable Chase UR points to make this work. UR points are worth much more than 1 CPM (I value them conservatively at 2 CPM).

If I determined that miles was a good redemption, after confirming the amount of miles needed, I would log into my Chase Ultimate Rewards account to make the transfer (which posts instantly). In past experiences I was able to refresh the BA website and purchase the flight. In our case, miles is not the best option, so I will stick with the flexibility of a cash fare. Furthermore, this gives me more flexibility to determine when I want to leave Finland, since award availability is currently limited to that one Tuesday in that week (which works out ok in my current calculations). And if I purchased the SAS flight, my Star Alliance Gold status gives me free luggage as well, in the case our luggage doesn’t meet their carryon requirements.

Thus, I will continue to monitor prices and award availability. If things don’t change significantly in about a month, I will most likely purchase a cash fare with the best schedule.

What is your experience with open-ended, or open-jawed itineraries? Do you sometimes feel nervous about not having everything booked, or does the mystery and potential for more options excite you?

How to Travel on a New Airbus A350

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While exploring routes for my upcoming trip to Finland, I discovered that Finnair is the first European Airline to take delivery of the new Airbus A350 airplane. It is the most quiet, comfortable, and fuel-efficient large passenger airplane yet. Its not everyday people get to try a new plane, so I want to share how you can find flights.

The inaugural flight schedules for the respective routes are posted on Finnair’s website.

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I explored routes that fly the new plane and found that HEL-BKK is the most interesting option for me. What this means is a very real possibility of a future round-the-world trip with both Scandinavia and Asia in one shot.  You can follow Finnair on Twitter to find when the HEL-HKG flights will begin.

What is your experience flying relatively new planes? Do you like the new-plane smell?

Update on selling unwanted gift cards

A couple months ago I had Macy’s gift cards I received as Christmas gifts that I was trying to resell.

I wrote this post explaining how I liquidate under-utilized/captive assets as part of a larger earning-strategy for travel.

At that time the market conditions were not favorable towards the seller because there was a surplus of unwanted gcs from the holidays, driving down the price.

I reevaluated the options today and found conditions to still be unfavorable. 75 cents on the dollar isn’t a great resale rate, but it could work for some people who would rather have cash now.

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I’ll check again in a month to document any price differentials.

I’m not in a hurry to sell, but I don’t want to hold onto these gcs for too long either. All currencies devalue, though I wonder if in rare cases gcs of certain stores may retain their value relative to the US Dollar… perhaps an exercise for another post.

Have you sold gcs lately?

 

 

How to save money on airline tickets you’ve purchased

Most airline tickets are dynamically priced. This means that the price changes depending on when you purchase any given ticket. This is often a function of supply/demand (which often follow holiday schedules) as well as certain promotions.

Variations can be as short as minutes, though prices normally change day to day or week to week. Prices often increase closer to the date of the journey, but in some cases they can also drop.

To combat resentment and encourage impulse buying, many airlines have a return policy on the differential if the prices of the ticket drops after you purchase it. But you have to file a claim with the airline proving that has occurred. You have to know that the price has changed and searching for your exact ticket every day probably isn’t the best use of your time.

Yapta is a website that automates this search and notifies you when the price of at ticket drops, so that you can file a claim to refund the differential.

Here is an example of a flight with quite a variation in price.

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I hypothetically purchased this flight for $900 last month. Yapta kept checking the current prices and sent me an email with a price change alert. $227 is quite a savings on $900.

To setup an alert, search for the flight you purchased (or is thinking about purchasing) and enter the price you want to set as the baseline. You can then set the alert criteria – for example, how much of a differential before an alert is sent.

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Try out Yapta and write your thoughts in the comments!

Don’t forget to activate your Discover Q2 Promo

If you have the Discover card, don’t forget to activate your 5% cash back bonus from April to June. You will earn 5% Cashback Bonus on up to $1,500 in purchases at Restaurants and Movies from April through June 2016.

Its still March, so don’t forget to maximize the cash back on gas stations!

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What is your experience using a cash back card to supplement your miles/points strategy?