All posts by chris

UA/CO merger

Well, the merger of United and Continental(CO) is complete.  The last CO flight took off late last night, and the last CO flight to land will arrive in Houston today at 12:35 P.M. central time.  The merger was legally completed quite some time ago, but the airlines operated as separate airlines until today.  I will miss Continental.  They had more comfortable first class seats, better food, live television via direct TV on most domestic flights, and systemwide upgrades (SWU’s, earned by elite passengers) that could be used to upgrade any paid airfare (such as coach to international business class).  I also thought CO had above-average customer service and slightly better lounges than United.

Unfortunately, most of the good things about CO are being lost in the merger.  Of particular dismay to me is that SWU upgrades now can only be used on more expensive booking fares, which means you have to pay about $400 more for a long-haul plane ticket to try to upgrade it, which is really frustrating because you usually don’t know if an upgrade will clear.  It really sucks to pay $400 more for a ticket then end up in coach anyway because the upgrade didn’t clear.

United used to be one of the few airlines not to charge for booking last-minute award tickets.  Of course after the merger, they decided to be more like CO and charge up to $75 for booking an award ticket less than 21 days before departure.  That is BS because on a lot of flights, award seats are not even available until the last minute.

One good thing on United that did survive the merger is Economy Plus.  The first ten or so rows of the economy cabin have a few extra inches of legroom.  Elite passengers can sit up there for free.  Economy plus is gradually being added to former Continental aircraft, although so far very few have gotten it.  As a top-tier elite on Continental, I usually would get upgraded to first class on domestic flights for free, or at least get an exit row seat, so I didn’t need economy plus that badly.

For now, I will keep flying the new United, as I’ve got top-tier elite on them and want to continue enjoying elite benefits.  And even after the changes, I still think the merged airline has the best mileage program.

Free Hilton Gold Status

Courtesy of New Girl in the Air – Wow!  You can get FREE Hilton Gold status for 15 months!  Gold status will get you bonus Hilton points, plus free upgrades, free breakfast, and free internet at most Hilton properties.  Just register for this promo.  When it asks for a code to verify your credit card, just use 411945.  It doesn’t seem to matter if you actually have a credit card at all!  If you don’t already have a Hilton membership, sign up for one for free then register for this promo!

UPDATE:  As of 12/28, this no longer seems to be working.  Often when you see an opportunity like this you have to jump at it quick!

UPDATE:  On 12/31,   I read on another blog that people are now having success using the code 442394.



Credit card spend requirements

Often credit cards have a minimum spend requirement to get the signup bonus.  For example, my latest credit card churn involved applying for four credit cards in one day of which three had significant spend requirements to get the signup bonus.  One of the cards had a requirement to spend $1000 within four months, another card required spending $3000 within three months, and another card (with a very substantial signup bonus) requires me to spend $10,000 within five months to get the bonus (only fourth card gave the bonus after the first purchase with no minimum spend).

Now I would never spend that much money on credit cards in such a short period of time based on normal spending patterns.  But there are several strategies that can be used to increase credit card spending without actually buying extra things you don’t need just to spend the money.  Here are a few:

1)  Buying gift cards:  If time is running out to meet the minimum spend requirement, consider buying gift cards.  You can buy Amex or Visa gift cards with your credit card at no extra cost (you pay $100 for a $100 gift card).  You obviously will eventually have to buy something with the gift cards, but you can use this strategy to meet the minimum spend requirement before the deadline and then use the gift cards whenever it is convenient.  You can also buy gift cards to a store that you might shop, such or Costco.

2)  Kiva loans:  Kiva is a great charitable organization that allows people to lend money via the internet to micro-finance institutions in developing countries around the world.  The loans are used to provide funding to entrepreneurs and small businesses that do not have access to traditional banking systems.  The loans will not earn you any interest, and they are not guaranteed, but the historical repayment rate is almost 99%.  You can choose which entrepreneur/business you want to support, and you can see the repayment timeline before you decide to lend.  Loans can be made with a credit card using Paypal, with no credit card fees charged to the donor or recipient of the loan.

3) Paying taxes:  In my jurisdiction, I can pay my property taxes (which are about $6000/year) using a Visa or MasterCard for a convenience fee of 1.9% (This may vary depending on where you live; for me works out to about $110 when charging $6000).    This isn’t bad when you consider the miles you will be earning from the signup bonus (essentially, you’re paying $110 for 50,000+ miles).  In fact, I think you could extend this logic to any type of large one-off bills that accept a credit card but charge a fee.  The fee is worth paying to help meet a large minimum spend, because (depending on how you value miles), the fee should be more than offset by the miles and/or bonus miles that you get.

4) Sending money:  There are online services out there that will allow you to send money (generally up to $1000 per month) to friends/relatives using a credit card with no fees.  I won’t publish the names of these services here, but email if you are interested in learning more.

5)  Paying ordinary bills:  If you are paying bills with debit cards, checks, or automatic withdrawal from your bank account, you should check to see if credit cards can be used.  I’ve found that many (but not all) regular bills can be paid with credit cards.  I pay my electric bill, cable bill, auto insurance, homeowner’s insurance, and cell phone bills with credit cards.

Note that you may have heard about dollar coins, specifically frequently flyers using them to gain hundreds of thousands of essentially free miles.  Until a few months ago, you could buy dollar coins at face value (free shipping) with your credit card from the U.S. mint.  The Mint allowed this because they were trying to put coins into circulation, but eventually they realized that many people were abusing the system by purchasing tens of thousands of coins just to earn credit card points and then taking them straight to the bank without even unrolling them. Unfortunately for us, the Mint finally put a stop to this, and you can no longer purchase dollar coins with a credit card.  NPR wrote an article about this practice, and it was shortly after this article that the program was quashed.

This is one of the reasons that certain deals in this community are intentionally not well publicized.  It’s important that with credit cards and other promotions, moderation is always good, because you start drawing the wrong kind of attention if you overly exploit any good promotion.


Credit Card Churning for Miles!

One of the quickest and easiest way to earn a lot of frequent flyer miles is churning credit cards.  What is churning?  The miles and points credit cards we’ll look at here generally give you some amount of bonus points for signing up, and in some case, spending a certain amount of money on the card within a certain amount of time.  For many of these credit cards, you can apply for these credit cards over and over and get the bonus miles each time.  However, in the past couple of years, the banks have started cracking down on this, so for many cards, you have to wait approximately about two years after cancelling before you can apply and get a bonus again.  There are still a few exceptions, cards which you can churn every 3 months and get a bonus.

Before you begin, keep in mind that churning cards does affect your credit.  As Rick of Frugal Travel Guy says “Your credit is your most important asset.”  If you are thinking of buying a house in the next two years, you should be careful about applying for too many credit cards (or credit cards at all), because even a small change in your credit score could affect the interest rate you are charged on your mortgage or your ability to qualify for the loan you need.

When churning cards, the short-term effect on your credit score is less than 10 points per credit card application.  In the long run, as long as you pay your bills on time and in full each month, credit card churning will not negatively affect your credit score.

And what can you get for all this trouble?  Anywhere from 500k – 1  million miles per year if you churn credit cards smartly.  That is enough for twenty free domestic tickets in coach, or about five free business class trips to Europe!

Eventually we’ll take the time to post a detailed strategy for credit card churning here.  But for now here is a link to a great article about credit card churning on the Million Mile Secrets blog:

Are you ready to Churn Credit Cards?


Why I started collecting miles and points

Hello everyone! Frequent Flyer Collector has invited me to be an guest contributor/blogger to this site.  So I’ll tell you a little about me and why I started this travel hobby.  I started aggressively collecting miles last year, and I like to think I’m one of the friends that originally inspired Mr. Collector (aka jfoo) to join the game.  I’ve done a lot of business travel over the years, and after many years I accumulated about 200,000 frequent flyer miles from flying, spread across several programs (American, Delta, Continental, etc).  I hardly ever used them, because they seemed pretty useless.  Airlines would advertise that you can get a free domestic ticket for 25,000 miles, but there seemed to hardly ever be availability, at least not when I wanted to travel.   Eventually the airlines started offering “saver awards” for 25,000 miles (with very limited availability), and “standard” awards for 50,000 miles which had better availability (anywhere in continental USA).  OK, so at least a standard award might be available when I want to travel, but that would take about ten cross-country round-trips to earn enough miles for ONE free ticket.  And that is only if the ten trips are all on the same airline!  I can usually get a domestic round-trip for $400 or less, so I valued the miles at less than one cent each.

But sometime in about 2010, I finally realized the real value of collecting miles.  Their greatest value is booking premium travel (first or business class) overseas.  First some background information:  If you buy a ticket from the USA to Asia, you probably will pay about $1000-$1500 round-trip for economy class, $5000-$8000 for business class, and $10000-$15000 for first class.   As much as I enjoy premium class travel, that is way more than I can afford to pay for a vacation.  So I’d typically pay around $1000 for a very miserable 18-hour trip to Asia, thinking I could never afford to sit up front with the rich people.  But very occasionally, my status as a very frequent traveler got me upgraded, and that turned a miserable overseas flight into a very enjoyable flight, with a big, comfortable seat that reclines like a bed (in case I want to sleep), awesome food and drinks, interesting people to talk to, and a much more quiet, relaxing environment.  I just wished I could always sit up there!

Now if you want to use miles to book an award ticket to Asia, on United that costs 65,000 miles in economy, 120,000 in business class, or 140,000 in first class (round trip).  Of course availability of saver awards to Asia (or anywhere) on United is pretty limited, but at these levels, but if you COULD book saver awards at these levels, the frequent flyer miles are worth as much as 10 cents each.  But eventually I realized that you actually can get awards at this level, because United miles can be used to book tickets on any of United Airlines “partner” airlines!  So if traveling to Asia, even if United does not have award seats on United flights, you can use United miles to travel to Asia on Asiana, Singapore Air, Thai Airways, Al Nippon Airways (ANA), Air China, Continental, or any of United’s 26 Star Alliance partners.  With so many options, there is almost always at least one airline that has premium award seats available when you want to travel.

Of course, it would take a lot of traveling to earn that many miles just from flying.  Suddenly, those credit cards offering bonuses of 50,000 miles, 75,000 miles, or even 100,000 miles just for signing up seemed a lot more valuable.  And when you can apply for several credit cards in one day, you can quickly get enough miles to earn a free ticket overseas that would other wise cost $5000 or $10,000 or more!  And with so many credit cards out there offering bonuses, you can do this over and over again!    It does take some work to find the best credit card deals, to learn how and when to apply for credit cards,  and to learn how to use the rewards, but I think it is well worth it.  Of course, reading this blog will drastically reduce the amount of work to find this information, because you can learn a lot from the research we’ve already done and the experiences we will share.

Well that’s enough for now.  You’ll be hearing from me here in the future, so stay tuned.