The latest hotness…

at least until a better promo comes along, is AA’s announcement of double EQM (DEQM) for all flights/fares now until January 31, 2012.  The gist of this is that on all flights, you get twice the miles in your account, and they all count towards elite status.  So low level elite status can be obtained by flying 12, 500 miles in the month of January, and the highest elite level requires only 50,000 miles.  See this post at View From the Wing for more info.  The most intriguing take on this was from lucky at One Mile At A Time, who outlines how easily you can qualify for top tier AA status under this promotion over several days of flying.  It is pretty extreme, but being able to get top tier status on AA seem well worth it under this promotion, and it is quite tempting to me…

At any rate, I do recommend reading that article, even if you aren’t planning to be a hard core mileage runner.  It shows the value of being aware of your promotions and stacking them together, as well as the amazing wealth of knowledge that some of the old timers in this game have 🙂

On a side note, there has also been some speculation that this offer will be matched by UA/CO, as they share several hubs/markets with AA, and will not want to lose business due to this promotion…for now, that is pure speculation though.

Getting started on your miles journey

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

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 🙂

 

Instead of packing and sleeping for my trip tomorrow…

I decided to start reading blogs instead, and then I was inspired into posting some links for all to see.

Check out Mommy Points scoring $3000 worth of travel!  The article’s a bit long, but she’s planned next Christmas vacation on Hyatt points.  This article as well as View from the Wing’s post about Hyatt hotels in New York has inspired me to start working on my Hyatt account in the new year (although I indirectly have Hyatt points through the Chase Ultimate Rewards program).  While the Hyatt chain has very few locations compared to say, Hilton or Starwood, they tend to be very nice hotels, and it’s always fun to get to stay in those.  Especially in a place like New York, where hotels tend to be quite pricy anyway!

Also, Lucky talks about his love for Apple products.   I fully endorse Apple products as well.  Additionally, I ran across this post saying the iPad 3 will be out next spring!  Looking forward to that one 🙂  All right everyone, enjoy the reading!

When things don’t go as planned.

Sometimes (or maybe most of the time), unexpected things happen with travel plans and travel award bookings.  Today I’m going to talk about the recent experience of my friend Caoibes.  I met her at the Flyertalk Chicago Seminars back in October.  She’s a Delta flyer, and has been doing the miles game about the same length of time as me.  One of the trips we had recently read about in one of the blogs was an award booking to the French Seychelles.   Caoibes was planning to spend her miles on a long trip to Asia…however, inspired by the seminars, she decided to look into a more exotic location.

Shortly after the seminars, she researched her options and booked a vacation to the Seychelles, complete with flights business class seats and resort hotel stays.  Unfortunately, Air France’s partner Air Seychelles has apparently discontinued service from CDG-SEZ (Charles De Gaulle Paris International – Seychelles International), and Delta had to cancel her flight (which sorta toasts the whole trip 🙁 ).  Now, at least she has the miles back, and should be able to get the hotel points back.  What is she going to next?  Where else in the world will she go?  Stay tuned for a future post to find out, and see some of the options you have with miles and points!

Back on Twitter!

Yay!  Twitter finally got around to unblocking my account, which had been suspended as a spam account.  Shame on them for making me send multiple emails and wait 10+ days, but since everything is honky-dory now, I’ll consider it water under the bridge.

Do follow me @freqflyercoll, updates to the blog will be posted there, as well as any other good deals or links that I come across 🙂

P.S. Social networking and RSS links can be found on the top menu bar, on the very right side 🙂

Miles can save you in a pinch!

Today, my family had to book a trip on short notice.  My parents’ airfare would’ve added up to $1200, and then a hotel was at least $100/night (which honestly, isn’t terribly unreasonable.  However, I was able to dig into my stash, and used 50,000 UA miles and 4,000 SPG points to cover all of that.  It’s a trip we wish we didn’t have to make, but at least we were able to alleviate one aspect of the trip.  Just another perspective on a reason to participate in all of this.

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 Amazon.com 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 questions@frequentflyercollector.com 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.

 

In case you didn’t get enough about credit cards…

Today’s Friday Rookie Travel Trips post at Frugal Travel Guy covers some credit card basics.  It discusses what factors affect your credit card score and gives a sample credit card churn and what you can net from it in terms of points and miles.  Enjoy!

Also, hot off the press, in the non-rookie section of Frugal Travel Guy, is a post that illustrates, first of all, some of the crazy lengths we go to to get our miles and status, and also the value (in business class trips) you can get out of all this.