Discover Q1 Promotion “Gas Station” Success

If you have the Discover It card, you will receive bonus cash back on certain rotating categories every quarter. The card is similar to the Chase Freedom card. Through the end of March, you will receive 5% cash back when you use the Discover card at gas stations.

7-Eleven codes as a gas station, so if you can find useful products there in addition to gas (at many 7-Eleven’s), you can easily maximize the cash back. Maximum is $1,500 spend.

I made a test purchase at 7-11 and sure enough, it categorizes as gas!

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If you maximize this promotion, you will receive $75 cash back. I recommend you allocate this into your travel budget for the year. If you haven’t started a travel budget, I highly recommend using Mint.com earmark a portion of your savings for travel.

Have you taken advantage of this offer yet?

 

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Evaluating the Next CCs to Apply For

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The end of Chase card churns is about two months away. That includes all personal and business versions of UR cards like the Ink, CSP, and Freedom, as well as co-branded cards like Hyatt, Southwest, and Marriott. This provides limited-time opportunities on the earning side.

All my friends and family should get the Chase card of their choice before the rule is implemented. I reviewed a couple members of the team to see what the strategy is. Most of them already have Chase cards, so my objective is to find the remaining cards that fit our strategy and shoe horn them in to affected accounts.

The Mrs has 9 hard inquires, but thankfully many which will go expire by later this year. However, that means she would not be eligible for the Freedom (since Chase implemented their 5/24 rule). She can take advantage of the Marriott + Hyatt instead. This could come at a cost to future SW RR Companion Pass strategy. I might keep her as a Chase account.

Furthermore, the Mrs’ mother can take advantage of the Freedom + Marriott card in one pull. If we do this, we can save the hard pulls for the Mrs. in hopes for the Companion Pass to cycle through again in early 2017 (but we need to prep now for that).

Interestingly, my father also only has 3 inquires on EQ, which I know Chase pulls from, even though he has at least 3 pulls just from Chase in the last two years. Perhaps they decided to go with EX this time. I would have to setup a Credit Sesame login to view that, so I did. Then I realized Credit Sesame switched six months ago from EX to TU, so I can’t see my EX score easily. I would have to get the annual free credit report to confirm.

Conclusion

After the Ink Plus on my mother, I can help the Mrs’ mother get the Freedom + Marriott cards (+ AU for Mrs’ father). I will save the Mrs. and my mother as low-maintenance Chase accounts while focusing heavier apps on other accounts. I still value the flexibility and earning potential of the UR points system, especially the ability to pool and combine points among AUs and spouses. My father will go for something else very soon.

After this round, my focus will be on redemptions, especially using Citi TY points.

Have you applied for any new cards lately?

Progress to book flights to Finland: Part 4 Routes

Progress to book flights to Finland: Intro

Progress to book flights to Finland: Part 2

Progress to book flights to Finland: Part 3

Now that I have my available routes/search criteria, as well as the proper point balances, its time to get my hands dirty. I normally perform award searches in ‘sprints’ similar to the sprints used in AGILE project management. Cut your work packages into bite-sized chunks or you could feel mentally overwhelmed with this process and either give up or become inefficient. I don’t spend more than 30 minutes at a time, or else my brain will fry! I try to spread the sprints out… during breakfast, lunch, and in the evenings.

The below is a compilation of routes tests over more than a week, so it might take some time to digest, but it gives a good overview of my workflow putting the puzzle pieces together.

Testing Routes in August:

I started off perusing UA’s calendar view of availability, finding an inbound flight on TK in mid August (15th ish). Using that, I worked backwards, binding my outbound OW search for something early August, since we’re looking for a two week stay. A quick search on AA shows plenty of availability early aug in all classes, but all through LHR, which incurs a $500 fuel surcharge pp.

I then tried to force LHR out of the equation by looking for the known Finnair direct routes to HEL (ORD, MIA, JFK, YYZ), which means I had to look one leg at a time.

I then realized I should have used ITA to filter OW stopover locations to exclude LHR, which returned these: Air Berlin through DUS, the ones above, and then CX + AY through HKG (though later found this wouldn’t work via AA’s routing restrictions)!

With those routes, I had to search each leg via AA.com, but even then, I had to manually remove “BA” from the carrier checkbox, only to find that BA is the only available carrier on all the routes I searched. Too bad I can’t force a non-stop search option with AA or BA, from the beginning of the search.

There was an interesting route for SJC-LHR-HEL in Y for 30k miles and $300 YQ pp, with dates that worked, so keep that in mind. The revenue fare would be at least $1600 r/t so that is not a bad CPM. However, I would much rather spend 20k more miles and fly business (w/o YQ) since the marginal value is outsized. With YQ, its not worth it since I wouldn’t pay that cash outlay in the first place.

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Another interesting fact, AA charges a similar amount “YR” even though they don’t transit through LHR… thankfully they don’t pass that along for awards on their own metal.

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Here are the thorough Search Results for Aug 5/6/7 departure to HEL from: ORD, MIA, JFK, YYZ, DUS

ORD (wide open, but stop in LHR on AA metal)

MIA (none, backwards through PHL->MUC)

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JFK (wide open, but stop in LHR on AA metal)

YYZ (none, all backwards through ORD)

DUS (wide open direct, and the one stops to DUS look good):

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Thorough Search Results for Aug 16/17 departure from CPH – SFO

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100k + $300 taxes, not bad.

For *A way back, try these segments:

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So I must search for:

CPH-SFO, MUC-SFO, ZRH-SFO, FRA-SFO, CDG-SFO, ARN-LAX and the 2/4 search results yielded no luck.

CPH July empty, August only after 15th. MUC nothing, ZRH nothing, CDG same as CPH, ARN-LAX stops in DUB, so I tried DUB-SFO and yielded good availability with a stop in LAX.

We can make DUB our stopover… mh… so I started looking at cash fares from HEL-DUB.

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Only Finnair offers non-stop at a hefty price HEL-DUB, so I started to explore BA Avios availability. Norwegian offers 1 stops for $150, with a total 7+ hour travel time, so that doesn’t seem like a good routing if I can’t find Avios availability.Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 4.55.18 PM.png

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Lo and behold! It exists for saver award! Now I have to see if BA will allow this to be booked – Wandering Aramean has a great calculator that prices this out to about 12,500 miles.

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Only one way to find out, so I login to BA and try it out. There is no AY direct option by the one stop in LHR prices out to 12k +$50 in taxes. I’ll have to call to find out.

I’ll also entertain CPH-ORD and ARN-ORD in case I’m not too big a fan of DUB. Both had no availability… gotta keep looking. ARN-EWR only Y (mostly not saver).

CPH-EWR has a couple of dates that work, but they have an angled lie flat hard product. Their flights are daytime, so it may not matter, but no EWR-SFO availability, so that’s out.

At this point, I had enough information to string together an itinerary that stops in DUB, so we researched what to do in that destination. Long story short, we quickly decided to find another stopover route.

In my next post, I’ll reveal the stopover city and the final routes selected after all the due diligence.

 

 

 

 

Check Your Credit Card Statement After Each Stay

 

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I recently stayed in a Hyatt hotel that offered Diamond members breakfast in the restaurant. Every Hyatt hotel is different – some will have buffets and at others you just order off the menu. Normally, you can order any one entree and beverage and the hotel will deduct the entire check (including tip) from your stay invoice.

Thankfully because I regularly scan and lightly reconcile my credit card statements via mint.com, I found the unusual charge and called in to inquire. The hotel apologized for forgetting to remove the charge and removed it from the invoice.

Monthly credit card reconciliation is a good practice to have to catch these discrepancies. It helps you to ensure that you are receiving the full value your elite status benefits, since many benefits are manually adjusted and mistakes can happen. If applicable for you, I also recommend doing this with your significant other as part of a healthy relationship, so you can have conversations about money and work towards alignment. You can adjust the frequency to meet your needs and spending patterns. I normally reconcile at least once a quarter (or after a significant cycle of cc applications).

What is the most surprising travel expense discrepancy you have caught?

How to Get Bags Checked All the Way Through on Partner/Alliance Flights

How many of you have been on a multi-airline itinerary where one airline allows you to carry-on your luggage and another forces you to check it?

This type of confusion and inconvenience used to be more common decades ago, but thankfully many airlines have partnered up and simplified the situation. Some airlines even have interline agreements where you can check your luggage all the way from origin to destination without touching it, even if you had three airlines and three plane changes on your itinerary. When you purchase a multi-airline ticket from an alliance airline, the email or online itinerary will normally include the rules about what you can/can’t carry-on and checked luggage limits.

However, there are times when you are planning your own trip segment by segment and need to know what the rules are for each individual airline. Alliance websites are normally my first stop to search for these rules and I normally go to Star Alliance’ link.

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“…For legal reasons…”

The odd thing is that each airline has its own rules, even as part of an alliance.  If anyone can explain to me what the ‘legal reasons’ are, I would greatly appreciate it!

Let’s say that you want to book a flight from Helsinki to Copenhagen (HEL-CPH) on SAS. Their website shows the following information: a table and some small print.

Always read the small print!

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Get your reading glasses or press “cmd +” multiple times!

Additional charges may apply for travel to/from/within US and if the first segment of the itinerary starts with a US airline, the first segment airline’s baggage rules take precedence. This tells you to plan ahead.

If you intend to fly to HEL on an award ticket and open jaw back from CPH (looking for a cash ticket on this SAS flight), make sure you don’t overpack. You will be charged with hefty fees… unless you have status with that alliance.

One more thing that will help you reduce expenses – if you have status with an alliance, you will normally receive a luggage benefit while traveling on an alliance partner. In the above example, Star Alliance Gold (*G) members who purchase an “SAS Go Light” fare can check in luggage at the “SAS Go” rate for free.

What has your experience been with baggage treatment while traveling on different airlines in the same itinerary?

Free $20 to spend at Target or CVS!

I normally don’t post about non-travel related deals, but this one is so good/fast/easy, that the money saved can go towards travel, or you can spend this on items for your next vacation. Think in advanced!

Curbside is a mobile shopping app for your phone. You select the items you want to purchase and then the store lets you know when they are ready for pickup. You then pull up to the front of the store in your car and they delivery them to the curbside (there often is a big “Curbside” service sign that signifies where to pull up). This saves you time, parking woes, and most importantly potentially money from attach-rate incremental revenue. How many times have you bought more than you needed just because something on a shelf you walked by piqued your interest? Yep… only select the items you need on the app and then you won’t be distracted by store sales strategies. Have you noticed how often the highest margin products are shelved at eye-level? Ok enough on this.

The Curbside app isn’t only for Target (it includes CVS, BestBuy, and other stores), but Target and CVS are the biggest retailer currently participating. Most of the SF bay area stores participate in Curbside and you can view a full list of locations here.

And finally, here is the direct link to the offer. If you and your friend/family member/significant other sign up individually on you phones, that’s $40!

Fine Print

  • No minimum purchase, if your order is under $20 after tax it’ll be free. If it’s over $20 you just pay the difference
  • Limit one per household
  • First time customers only
  • $20 off discount not applicable towards perishable grocery purchases at this time
  • Valid until February 29th, 2016 (so hurry!)

Let me know what you plan to buy with your free $20!

Hat tip to Doctor of Credit

Hyatt Gold Passport Earning Mystery

On a recent stay at a Hyatt hotel, I discovered that Hyatt calculates the base earning on a stay differently from what was paid. Normally you earn 5 points per dollar “of eligible spend”. I guess I haven’t checked the amounts that closely because my statements don’t match what I spent. I normally do with Starwood, but I’m a newer entrant to Hyatt.

I’ll explain the booking: since I have the Hyatt credit card, I combined the one free anniversary night from that card with a cash & points fare, which resulted in a two night stay. The cash outlay for this category 4 hotel was $75. However, 620 base points were awarded and I did not pay $124 for the hotel (620/5).

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I hypothesize a couple theories:

  1. This could mean that the base amount was a function of the average value of a hotel night, which would be $124 (620/5). This is plausible as a hidden internal valuation since that is around the average rate for the hotel in the off-peak seasons. Cash prices were much higher for our stay dates, which made it a good candidate for using cash & points.
  2. The hotel has a hidden internal valuation of $620 per night, if they calculate base amounts for award night or cash & points stays at an inflated 1:1 amount for internal accounting purposes (perhaps to take liabilities off the books).
  3. There could be a higher base ratio for cash & points stays – 620/75 = around 8.2 (vs 5 for standard stays).

I don’t have my other Hyatt stay receipts easily accessible, so I’d like to ask my readers for additional data points. If theory #1 proves true, that could mean that people get more point value for cash and points stays (or that they receive a base calculation equivalent for their point portion). Hyatt of course would not release this kind of data – as it is akin to a company revealing the margins on its products.

Have you noticed unusual calculations when receiving points for a hotel stay?

 

US-Asia Award Redemption

I was attempting to use AA miles for upcoming EU travel, but couldn’t find availability for the peak summer travel season. The deal-maker in me also wanted to burn the miles on CX F/J before the March devaluation. We wanted to visit family in HKG and TPE, so here is how I explored my options:

  1. SFO-HKG (or return)
  2. SFO-TPE (or return)
  3. Outbound availability (with either OW or *A)

Remember, sometimes one of the ways has much better availability with one alliance. So book those routes first.

Thus, I started searching BA for SFO-HKG.

Plenty of Econ/Premium Econ availability, but no luck with anything higher, from late November to December. Premium Econ is currently not bookable with AA miles.

HKG-SFO had the same issue with a few J one-stops in HND.

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Then I tried SFO-TPE and found some 1 stops in HND. Not bad, but the dates are few are far in between.

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TPE-SFO had plenty of Y, but no J.

At the end of the day, just being able to burn miles is already rewarding in today’s award inventory environment. Securing Y and savings the miles might be just fine. I might be able to upgrade to J/F as the day nears if they don’t fill those seats. This could be especially true for Saturday flights (less revenue business-fares).

I could either get Y for any dates with OW on the outbound or inbound. Or I could try to find J/F with the outbound to TPE, then supplementing inbound with *A. This is an example of performing due diligence on your options so you know the possibilities and have the data to make an informed decision.

 

Updating Global Entry Profile When You Renew Your Passport

Global Entry is a fantastic government pre-clearance program for travelers. The program gives you TSA PreCheck for domestic travel and expedited immigration processing when you return from international travel.

The program only costs $20 per year ($100 for a 5 year membership) and has saved us countless hours of time and hassle when we travel, mostly from the shorter lines. Often times that has also meant the difference between catching and missing the flight.

We just renewed the Mrs’ passport so we needed to update her Global Entry profile with the new passport number. This will help ensure her continual membership and PreCheck access. She signed up for GE in 2014 and will have access until 2019. Thankfully, renewing the passport does not require a new GE membership, nor does it require her to re-interview. As an aside, does anyone have data points to show that PreCheck is no longer given for GE members whose passport has expired? 

The process is very simple. Once we got the new passport, we login to the GE website and on the left side click “Update Documents”. Click “Update” on the passport section and type in the new passport number and expiration date, and then you’re good to go!

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What has been your experience with Global Entry?

Credit Card Referral Strategy

Earlier this week, I was helping some extended family members get started on their mile/point strategy.

As an existing cardmember for many credit cards, I can send a personalized offer to people. When they use my link they get an offer that I’ve vetted, which is the best offer publicly available, and I get some bonus points for the referral.

The below is an example of the referral website from Chase.

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You can use this strategy to earn extra points while helping out friends and family. For example, when my family members are approved for the Ink Plus (and complete the spending requirements), they will receive 60k bonus points and I will receive 10k bonus points. Different credit cards come with different referral offers, so enter your card member information into the appropriate page to find that out.

If you are interested in no annual fee cards, I recommend the Chase Freedom for its large bonus offer and rotating 5% cash back categories.

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If you don’t have someone to refer you to the best offers available, please consider supporting this blog by asking me for a referral email in the comments section!