The Points Guy recently posted a list of links to all of the major airlines’ award charts (showing how many miles you will in each frequent flyer program to book the award ticket you want). This is an excellent resource. I recommend all frequent flyers bookmark this page. I certainly will.
An CBS Chicago article describes some people’s experiences with their miles being taken. While I’m not totally irresponsible with my mileage accounts, I don’t feel like I protect my information on them as closely as other things. For one, using AwardWallet is a major weak point, because if someone can breach that account, then they have access to your entire collection.
My take is that if my miles/points were stolen, it would be upsetting, but not as bad as my bank account being emptied. The miles have value, and I’ve definitely invested time and money into getting some miles, but for some reason I wouldn’t feel like it’s the end of the world if they were stolen (possibly because I collect way too much of them?). I suspect it would still be quite upsetting if something like that happened to me though.
On the other hand, while having AwardWallet is a weak security point, it does also allow me to keep an eye on everything with little effort. so if there was a breach on one of my accounts, I would probably find out sooner than if I didn’t use an aggregating service.
I’m a little bit late, but the new year is only a few days old. I wanted to review my travels of the past year and how I did with collecting frequent flyer miles.
In 2011, I probably traveled the most distance-wise that I ever have (although I don’t think it’s the most new places I’ve visited). The year started out pretty routinely (my memory of it is not completely clear) and not too heavy on travel. I started out living in southern California, and had a couple of business trips to the east coast. I also made several trips to visit my parents at the beginning of the year.
Everything was routine until I had to make a week long business trip to Afghanistan over the summer. That trip was actually my first time out of the country in a few years, and it was probably one of the most unique places I’ve ever been, to say the least. Also I made that trip via Germany, which marked the first time I’ve ever set foot in Europe (albeit only a day on the way in and another day on the way back). I found it a bit hard to believe that it’d been so long since I made an international trip, since I’d enjoyed my first long international trip a few years prior, but hopefully I don’t repeat that dry spell any time soon.
Later in the summer, I ended up accepting a new job on the east coast and moved at the end of the summer. Before moving, I went on a family vacation to Banff, Alberta, Canada, in the Canadian Rockies. It was pretty nice to get out to an outdoorsy place, and to see the mountains and glaciers there.
After moving, I seemed to travel quite a bit over weekends…one of the highlights was attending the 2011 Flyertalk Chicago Seminars. Attending this event put the icing on the cake for the mile collecting hobby that I started over the last year. I met a lot of other people interested in this hobby (including all the bloggers that I’d begun to follow), heard many great stories, and found out about more bloggers to follow. It’s been pretty motivating to see so many people interested in this.
While we’re on the topic of Chicago Seminars, Rick of Frugral Travel Guy announced today announced in a blog post the dates and hotel for the 2012 Chicago Seminars. I highly recommend that everyone attend this event. You will meet many people with their own interesting stories, and undoubtedly learn a thing or two (or more) that you didn’t know. I am a bit disappointed that the event is still at the Holiday Inn, as it did not seem quite large enough to handle the crowd we had back in October (and my guess is this event is only going to get larger this year).
Anyway, the information I learned from the Seminars gave me more ideas to gain elite status in various programs, as well as showed me new ways to use the status I already had…
Elite Status Progress
The large majority of my travel this year was on United. Most of my work trips were on United, which motivated me to use United (or other Star Alliance carriers like Continental and US Airways) as much as possible for personal trips. By the end of the year, I was able to make Premier Executive status on United, which is the 2nd/mid-level tier in the Mileage Plus program, requiring 50,000 EQM.
Note that to earn that status, I didn’t actually fly 50,000 miles. I previously had Premier status (25k level) on United, and because of that, I earned bonus miles whenever I flew. On a full fare coach (Y class ticket), those bonus miles are all elite qualifying, and it just so happens the trips I made for work were generally all on Y class fares…so that definitely helped a lot.
In addition, I managed to get to Gold Medallion status on Delta. I pretty much lucked out on this one, and it involved only one flight on Delta. I earned a large chunk of my miles through signing up for the American Express Platinum card (link is courtesy of The Points Guy, and does pay him a commission if you apply through it). Earlier this year, AMEX was running a 50k Membership Rewards (MR) points signup bonus, which some were able to bump to 100k by simply asking, including yours truly. I converted the initial 50k that I received into Delta miles, and at the time, there was a 50% bonus on AMEX MR points converted to Delta miles, with up to 25k of those elite qualifying. Thus, I turned the 50k signup bonus into 75k Delta Medallion miles, with 25k MQM, giving me the lowest elite status on Delta.
A couple of months later, I received a mailing from Delta offering me Delta Gold Medallion status if I completed one international trip or two domestic trips on Delta. As luck would have it, I just happened to already have a trip booked to Canada on Delta a couple of weeks after I received the mailing. Thus, with a single DL flight, I was able to earn Gold Medallion 🙂
On the hotel front, I was able to earn Hilton Gold status through a 4 stays or 9 nights promotion (if that wasn’t easy enough, Hilton was/is also giving away Gold status these days. In addition to that, with some inspiration from Lucky from a Chicago Seminars talk on Starwood, I was motivated to secure Starwood Platinum status by doing mattress runs by paying for cheap stays near where I live. I had already stayed at Starwood a number of times last year, so I decided to go for Platinum. Hopefully, I am able to take advantage of that status this year (and requalify again).
That’s all for me this year! I hope to make a post about my credit card bonuses for the year, at least to the best of my memory and records, and I am also going to have one linking to various other bloggers’ posts regarding credit card strategies for the new year.
There’s a couple of posts about credit cards today. View from the Wing writes about how the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) card has been a long time favorite and Million Mile Secrets writes about the United MileagePlus Explorer card and the Continental OnePass card, specifically what your strategy should be right now for applying/cancelling the cards.
I highly recommend the View from the Wing article, because it is the same credit card strategy that I follow, and that I think most people would agree with. The AMEX SPG card was actually the first affinity program card that I applied for, my ‘gateway drug’ into collecting miles if you will. When I applied for it, I decided that I wanted a good hotel chain credit card, because I’d noticed that whenever I take vacations, my biggest spending generally seemed to be hotels, rather than airfare. While airfare to international destinations can be quite expensive, and it is great to earn miles to get that for free, staying at hotels can add up to be much more than the airfare. So I decided it made sense to start collecting hotel points, and I had heard the SPG card was considered one of the best all around travel cards.
Interestingly enough, I soon learned that it wasn’t considered a great card just because you could use the points to stay at Starwood (Westin, Sheraton, W, St. Regis, Le Meridien properties, among others, are all under Starwood). I mean, there are great redemption options, even for a hotel program. You can often get 2 cents of value from each SPG point just redeeming for rooms, but they also offer points and cash rewards, where you use fewer points but pay a co pay (typically $25-$50), and various free nights promotions if you use points for so many consecutive nights. However, you can also transfer your SPG points to over 30 different airline frequent flyer programs (generally at a 1:1 ratio, with some exceptions such as United/Continental), and for every 20000 SPG points that you transfer, you get a 25% bonus. Now the card only earn 1 points per dollar, except at SPG properties, but it is still considered one of the best values for general credit card spending.
The programs that offer flexible award redemptions are currently “in”, as you can see from the View from the Wing post. The other cards that he uses/recommends are the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which is linked to the Chase Ultimate Rewards program (which allows transfer to United, BA, Hyatt, Priority Club, among others), and the American Premier Rewards Gold (or Business Rewards Gold) card, which is linked to the American Express Membership Rewards program. The Amex cards generally come with steep fees, (the gold card has a $175 fee which is waived for the first year), but I think they are worth it for access to Membership Rewards, and in the case of the gold card, the 4X points on airfare, if you book a lot of airfare on your own credit cards.
At any rate, I recommend reading through both of the linked posts, and applying for some of these cards if you haven’t already! As long as you can make the minimum spend (of there is one), it’s perfectly acceptable to apply for both an American Express and Chase card simultaneously to jump start your mileage accounts. Not only that you could apply for the business versions of any cards that you apply for, and your applications will be considered (and approved if you are creditworthy).
On a side note…I decided over the weekend to go “all in” on the AA DEQM (TEQM for IL/TX and CA flights). I’ll make a separate post about that, but the gist is, I’ve booked 9 roundtrip flights on AA in the month of January, all on weekends no less! it’s gonna be one hellish month of flying, but hopefully i’ll get 70-80k for EQM on AA, and be well on my way to executive platinum status with them.
It’s interesting to consider and to witness how business moves impact our decisions as frequent flyers. For example, all of AA’s recent promotions are attempting to retain their existing customers and draw in new ones while the company goes through bankruptcy (more on that later). Another example is the bidding war that is going on (post courtesy of Lufthansa Flyer at Boarding Area) for an airline that is obscure to most people, bmi (British Midland International). bmi is the second largest airline at London Heathrow (LHR), and a member of Star Alliance. In the past month, British Airways was set to purchase bmi from Lufthansa, which would’ve strengthened BA’s hold at LHR, and removed bmi from Star Alliance.
Now, apparently Virgin Atlantic has joined the fray for bmi. If Virgin were to win, this would be interesting for several reasons. For one, Star Alliance would be able to maintain a decent presence at LHR. Second, Virgin has been rumored to be looking to join an alliance, and this merger would pave the way for them to join the Star Alliance (they already have partnerships with 9 Star Alliance airlines, and they are 49% owned by fellow *A airline Singapore Airlines). So it will be interesting to see how this plays out…
bmi is/was a favorite among some frequent flyers due to their 600-mile minimum segments as well as a generous redemption chart. It will be interesting to see how things play out with all this…
This post is long overdue, but hopefully you’ve all already figured somethings out. In this post, I’m going to outline the steps from The Points Guy’s Beginner’s Guide.
Step 1 – Sign up for programs
The obvious – if you haven’t already, sign up for the loyalty programs for any airlines/hotels that you currently frequent. TPG’s Beginner’s Guide contains a huge list of links to all the different programs out there (no guarantees it’s comprehensive, but there’s a lot). While the guide suggests signing up for all the programs, I personally think you should only sign up for the programs that you will participate in actively and/or do promotions for now or in the near future. One reason is that programs sometimes off signup bonuses at random times, for example, the current AAdvantage code (detailed here, ack: View from the Wing) that will give you 500 bonus miles for entering the code. Another one that I know about is for Aegean Airlines, who is offering 1000 bonus miles for signing up (it’s been there for a while). Fun Fact: Aegean is probably obscure to most of you, but they are a Star Alliance member, and their claim to fame is that you only need 20,000 status miles (EQM) on them to earn Star Alliance (*A) Gold, for which the primary award is lounge access to all *A lounges (as well as free checked bags, increased baggage allowance, priority lines, priority boarding, etc.).
Anyway, these signup bonuses are generally no more than 1-2000 miles, so it’s not really the end of the world if you miss out on them, but every little bit counts! At first, you’ll probably want to focus on a few programs, especially ones you use, but as you learn more, and get comfortable with credit card applications and promotions, I generally recommend that you start participating in more programs (even if you never travel in them). The point of collecting a wide variety of miles is so that you will always have plenty of options wherever in the world you may travel.
Step 2 – Use a service to manage your miles
Since you just created a few (or possibly many) accounts, you will want a way to track all these accounts. You can keep track of your account information in email or spreadsheets, but there are various services out there that will take your login information and track your miles for you as well as their expiration dates. The current favorite seems to be Award Wallet. Do sign up there, and provide your login information for all of your accounts. Award Wallet even allows you to log into your account at the airlines/hotel’s website by clicking on the program name in your list of balances.
The most basic version if Award Wallet is free, but it only shows you the expiration for up to three of your accounts. It is highly recommended that you upgrade to the paid version of Award Wallet, 1) to see all of your account expiration dates, 2) it’s an immensely useful service that the developers work very hard on, 3) you can name you own price. That right! They allow you to pay as much as you believe the service is worth to you 🙂 For a full list of the differences between the free and paid Award Wallet, see here. As of this writing, Award Wallet claims to support 425 loyalty programs. The programs they support goes way beyond airlines, hotels, and rental cars…
Step 3 – Jump start your miles collection…
with credit card applications! 🙂 There’s pretty much an infinite number of directions to take this one. TPG lists some of the top recommended cards under step three of his guide, and I think he’s spot on 🙂 Some of the cards he lists are the
- Chase Sapphire Preferred
- American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Card
- American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card
There are various great offers, and these offers change continuously. However, the three cards that I have listed above are considered to be the best programs to participate in, because they all have flexible transfer options to various airlines or hotels.
Most of the bloggers that I have listed maintain their own list of current top credit card deals. For example, check out the best offers at View From the Wing
In addition to these three cards, you may want to consider applying for a card for your program of choice, if there is a signup bonus that is 40,000 or greater. I personally think that most airline cards aren’t worth using for every day spending, and that you should be using the three cards listed above for every day spending, but some airline cards require a minimum spend (i.e. spend $X00 within X number of months).
Be careful when applying that you can indeed spend the required amount on all the credit cards you apply for within the given time limits. There are many tricks (some have evolved and or died over the years) to helping you make minimum spends, but try to put everything you spend on a credit card (spending cash is just leaving points on the table), and use gift cards to make up for the rest of the minimum spend, if needed. See this post for more information on making your credit card minimum spends.
I think that is probably enough information for you all, but if you aren’t completely overwhelmed, do check out the rest of TPG’s Beginner’s Guide. There’s a few more points (no pun intended) about using the various mileage dining programs, bonus shopping malls, and following the lates deals and promos. I’ll try to write about each of those topics in the future. Please do let me know if there is anything you are particularly interested in reading about.
Happy collecting! 🙂
P.S. Now that you’ve gotten through all this, now would be a good time to start dreaming how to use your points 🙂
This morning, I learned about a service that I had never heard of, through Gary at View From The Wing. TopGuest is a website that allows you to earn points and miles with various loyalty programs, including Hilton HHonors, Priority Club (Holday Inn), MLife (MGM hotel properties), Virgin America, and according to today’s post at View From The Wing, you will now be able to earn miles on United/Continental for airport check-ins. If you use any social networking check-in service, or are willing to do so to earn miles, and you are ever near any of the properties on the list, I recommend signing up for TopGuest.