Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom with Korean Air Skypass Visa

The day finally arrived and my friend and I went to go see Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Due to my membership with the Skypass Visa card, I was given two free tickets, free popcorn + drinks, and an exclusive screening of the movie.

I’ll say a little about the movie first: it was entertaining but I’m glad I didn’t pay full ticket price to see it. I really thought the first Jurassic World film was good (and might even buy it on Blu-ray for $5-$8) but this one was just not at that level of quality. The storyline was a bit derivative from Jurassic Park: Lost World and it didn’t have any new pizzazz, really. So, I recommend you wait until it’s on Netflix or Amazon Prime to watch it.

Now for the experience at the theater: my friend and I were greeted by folks at a desk and given our tickets and concession vouchers. 

There were signs all over the place welcoming us to the movies and guiding us to our theater. Additionally, there was a cute photo booth wherein you could take your photo with blow-up dinosaurs. I couldn’t resist!

There were a couple of speeches by folks from US Bank (the issuer of the card) and Korean Air Skypass (the mileage program) and then the movie got started. Afterward, there were giveaways of posters and bags. I only took a bag because I am surely not going to advertise a movie I don’t think others should pay for!

Overall, it was a fun experience. Not only did I get a 45,000 mile bonus by meeting minimum spending requirements on the card, I also got this free screening. Sufficed to say, however, I cancelled the card the very next day. Since I don’t plan on using Korean Airlines exclusively and I don’t travel to South Korea often (although my wife and I will be there this summer) it didn’t make sense to keep it. Luckily, I used the points I had accumulated before closing the card, otherwise those would have been forfeit, too. Good thing I called!

ICYMI: Singapore Airlines has a very different devaluation scheduled for March 23

On March 1 I received an email entitled, “Important Changes to Flight Redemption.” In brief, it explained that Singapore Airlines will be changing their award chart for their own flights in some very important ways:

  • They are removing the 15% discount on flight redemptions.
  • They are reducing/removing many fuel and insurance charges from flight redemptions.

This is one of the more interesting devaluations as it actually might help some people get better deals at times. This has been reviewed several times already but is still worth noting. They even give an example of how this will affect long-haul flights in business- and economy-class:

This could be very major except there is a pretty big method of getting around it: use their Star Alliance award chart that hasn’t actually changed at all. Essentially, you can still use Singapore Airlines miles to book tickets that include both their own planes and others within the Alliance, at which point you will be using the other award chart that can be more lucrative at times.

It just means a bit more thought needs to go into using SA miles, but since they already have great redemption value, it’s not a huge change in my opinion.

A recent trip to Toronto

I recently took a trip to Toronto using Air Canada and was overall pleased with the service, comfort, with some oddities in how my trip occurred. Let me explain.

I booked the flight from LaGuardia to Pearson airport using my Barclaycard Arrival Plus Mastercard, a useful card if you want to get 2 miles for every dollar spent. These miles are quite versatile in that they can used for any kind of airline credit: ticket purchases, fees, etc. They are redeemed in quantities above $100, which is equivalent to 10,000 miles. So, after I paid for my trip using the card, I was able to immediately refund the money used. Here is what it looks like on my online bill:

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Very simple.

On my way there I noticed wonderful in LaGuardia: a pumping/nursing station! While I do not think breastfeeding needs to be a private thing (it’s a natural thing to do…), it is nice to have some privacy for those who want it. Apparently they were put there in May 2015 and are located in Terminal B.

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When I arrived at Toronto’s Pearson Airport I found myself on a huge and quick moving walkway. This was not the normal kind that simply rotates through – it actually extended and flexed in order to move people faster. I had never seen or experienced this before but it was fascinating! I took a video myself but the one in the article is better.

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Finally, a quick note about the actual plane travel itself. Air Canada is a professional carrier! Their in-flight entertainment aboard their small plane was quite wonderful. It was an Embraer 190 and had comfortable seats (if not an enormous amount of legroom) as well as wonderful cabin service. I got a hot tea and small snack on each direction of my journey.

The price of this airline is often more expensive than budget airline WestJet but that sometimes means it really is worth it. In this case, it definitely was!

Review: Holiday Garden Inn in Providence is surprisingly amazing

My wife and I spent Thanksgiving in Providence, Rhode Island visiting her relatives and due to a variety of factors we ended up sleeping at the Hilton Garden Inn located in Fox Point, across from India Point Park. We had booked the trip using points and got a great deal. At the time, each night would have been $144 + tax, giving us a less-than ideal valuation rate:

~$320 (for two nights) / 80,000 = $0.004/point (basically 0.4 cents per point)

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Since The Points Guy currently values Hilton at 0.5 cents per point, we were a little below, but that was offset by the fact that we have Gold Status through the AMEX Hilton Surpass card I have. With that benefit, we got upgraded to a larger, nicer room (although without a bathtub – only a large shower), and two free breakfast vouchers to use at their in-hotel restaurant, Drift.

The room was spacious and had a wonderful view of the harbor (this was important since the other side was a loud highway). There were some nice amenities inside including a refrigerator, microwave, and Keurig coffee/tea machine. The TV screen was also enormous (must have been at least 50″) and the bed was large and comfortable (with lights on both sides, but not power ports). Overall, a solidly good room.

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The restaurant is where our experience really shined, though. Of course we used our two vouchers because it was easy and convenient to get a variety of foods in the morning. What we didn’t realize going into the experience was that our experience would be incredible, our food would be amazingly tasty, and we would befriend the breakfast manager, Steven.

When you enter the breakfast area it looks similar to other hotel breakfasts you experience: there are some cold trays filled with yogurt, juices, and fruit; there are some pastries, bagels, and assorted extras; and there is a small kitchen. We found out from the server that we had some simple cook-to-order options: eggs/omelettes, french toast, roasted potatoes, and pancakes. And the drink station had a wide variety to offer, including a layered-lemon-lime water.

Put simply: the food was astonishingly tasty!

We had all the fixings at some point during our two-night stay: the pancakes were fluffy and abosrbed the (real) maple syrup well; the french toast had an amazing cinnamon-y flavoring to it; the omelettes were fluffy and made-to-order with real eggs (not from a carton), and the potatoes were out-of-this-world (paprika can do wonders!).

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Steven, the breakfast manager, was so kind and fun to chat with – we shmoozed for around 20 minutes each morning as he was in and out serving and retrieving orders. It all started because he overheard my wife and I commenting on how lovely and tasty the water was, so he responded and started a conversation. We learned that he takes his business very seriously and plays within whatever limitations he is given by Hilton to make sure the food is scrumptious and real. He also told us about his chef who, while young, has some amazing skill that benefited from immensely.

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There are some restaurants out there that really get what it’s like to provide a nice experience for their customers and Steven’s is one of them. The food was so tasty that despite him giving us a recommendation for another place he is connected to in Providence (Milk Money) we decided to stick around for another meal.

Overall it was an awesome experience in the hotel and the breakfast made it even more so. Thank you to Steven, the hotel staff, and Hilton for allowing us to use our points for this stay!

Small Business Week with The Points Guy

A few weeks ago I received notice that Brian Kelly – also known as The Points Guy (or TPG for short) – was hosting a small gathering at the WeWork facility in the Financial District in order to share points and miles tips and answer questions by local business people. Since I have recently started consulting with friends/acquaintances on how to maximize their use of points (or gather some on their own) I signed up to attend. Boy, was it fun!

When I entered I was greeted by a sign informing me of consent to be filmed and photographed as well as by some small appetizers to satiate me for a small while. The WeWork common space was fairly large and their kitchen had lots of snacks for sale (and beer on tap!).

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TPG got started with a 20-minute presentation covering topics I pretty much already knew – how to maximize credit card bonuses; which cards to hold onto and which to get rid of; what options there are for earning miles outside of flying or simple swiping of the card; etc. The new piece of information I learned was EVRewards, a website devoted to sharing with you how to maximize your points-earning based on what store you are buying from. It’s a cool site that I will add to the list I go through before making a purchase.

After that he started taking numerous questions. He probably did this for about 45 minutes. I was lucky enough to be called on and made a quip about being a math teacher so I appreciated when he said “do the math” as he often does for his monthly valuations of points. I became known as “the teacher” and even had a brief conversation with his Chief Operations Officer. There may be some relationship brewing there that becomes fruitful and interesting in the future.

Finally, before I left I got a chance to get a photo with someone I’ve been trying to meet for almost a year now. I’m so grateful for the opportunity and can’t wait to get more involved!

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Oh, and we got an awesome swag bag, too!

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The big miles post: comparing what we paid for what we would have paid

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I truly love finding a great miles/points deal. So when my wife and I started planning our honeymoon I realized this was the opportunity of a lifetime to use our points to maximize our enjoyment of flights and hotels wherever possible. While we couldn’t use them all over the places we visited (specifically, in Indonesia) we received such benefit that our honeymoon was that much better and that much cheaper.

This all started about 2 years ago when I got involved in the miles/points game. We started signing up for credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Freedom, Chase Ink Plus, and Chase Ink Cash. Each had a lucrative bonus of Ultimate Rewards points that we stored away for safekeeping. I also signed up for the Citibank American Airlines cards (both personal and business) in order to get 100,000 AA miles to supplement some I had from before the US Airways merger. I added the CitiBank ThankYou Premier card as well as Citi Prestige to get 100,000 ThankYou points as well. Finally, we signed up for a few hotel-based cards: We got the Starwood Personal and Business cards when the bonuses were 30,000 and 35,000 instead of the base level of 25,000 and we also both got the Chase Marriott cards. Sufficed to say, we had a lot of points to spend.

So, in this post I want to analyze the difference between what we paid and what we should have paid if we hadn’t used any points.

The first use of our points was our flights from New York-JFK to Denpasar, Bali. We decided to use Korean Airlines because they are a transfer partner of Chase as long as you have either the Sapphire Preferred or the Ink Plus. We took two flights to get there: one from New York to Seoul and another from Seoul to Bali. We decided to take a one day layover in Seoul so the flights below are not entirely accurate.

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The total cost using miles was 190,000 points + $166 in taxes. 

If we bought the tickets outright, the cost would have been significantly higher.

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As you can see, the tickets from New York to Seoul alone would have been $20,063.60 in total. For some reason I can’t seem to price out the Seoul->Bali ticket right now, but it likely would have been at least $2,000 each.

For our next major journey on miles we flew from Singapore to London on British Airways. We used American Airlines miles to purchase these tickets before the big devaluation it actually cost us less than quoted below: only 70,000 American Airlines miles each.

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With taxes and fees, the total cost was 140,000 miles + $588.40 in taxes and fees.

Running total: 330,000 miles + $754.40.

The actual cost would have been much more (although less than Korean Air):

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Total cost for this flight with two people: $13,057.60.

Running total: $33,121.20

The last major flight was our return home from Frankfurt to New York-JFK with Singapore Airlines. Our two tickets used quite a few miles because the saver award was not available. I had two transfer over 100,000 Citi ThankYou points and Chase points to get it, but it was well worth it.

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With conversion from the date of purchase, the total cost was 221,000 miles + $621.62.

Final total for flights: 551,000 miles + $1,376.03.

From the example below our flight cost would have been $10,183.12.

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Final total for flights: $43,304.32.

One major aspect of this travel I am not including in cost was all the lounges we visited. As a first class passenger we had access to a number of lounges at each airport and with the Citi Prestige we had access to even more through the Priority Pass network. Even in Lombok Airport – a tiny blip on the screen in Indonesia – there was a Sheraton Lounge that took it. We must have saved a few hundred dollars on food and time due to this benefit.


Now we can start discussing the hotels we stayed in because they were also heavily discounted. The first use of points was at the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel in Singapore. As it is a newly rebranded hotel there was a discount in the price although we used our points anyway. We booked to stay for 3 nights on points instead of paying the full price.

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Total hotel points used: 30,000

If we had paid for it outright, the cost would have been around $120/night, totalling $360.

Next, we stayed at a wonderful Sheraton property in London called the Park Lane Hotel. It is a beautiful old world hotel that has been converted to a Sheraton but retains much of its charm. Since we decided to stay in London for five nights we benefited from Starwood’s 4 nights + 1 free promotion when redeeming points. Normally the hotel is 20,000 points/night but it averaged to 16,000/night due to this deal.

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Total hotel points used here: 80,000. Running total of hotel points: 110,000.

Had we booked our room and paid fully, each night would have been a whopping GBP £218. Based on when we booked the hotel (i.e. before the Brexit), that would have been $316/night. Total cost would have been: $1,580. Running total: $1,940.

In Paris we switched gears a bit and stayed at a Marriott Hotel instead since we had all those points to use. I found a great location with the Marriott Opera Ambassador Hotel. It was conveniently located to many restaurants, museums, and right on public transit lines. We stayed four nights there at a cost of 40,000 points/night.

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Total was 160,000. Running total is: 270,000 points. At this point it is important to mentioned that not all points are created equal, especially when it comes to hotels. Obviously Marriott properties require more points than Starwood ones. Just keep that in mind for the future.

Had we stayed there paying outright, the room would have been 243 Euro/night, translating to $275/night. Total cost: $1,100. Running total: $3,040.

For our last night we stayed at the Hilton City Centre Frankfurt. I had accumulated many Hilton points and even had Gold Status due to the Surpass Card I had signed up for two months prior. While the standard room rate is 50,000 points I actually found a discounted Deluxe Park View room for even less!

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So the total amount of points spent overall for 13 free hotel nights was 311,157 points.

Had we paid out-of-pocket for that room it would have cost 139 Euro, or $157/night. Total cost of hotels would have been: $3,197.


This was a truly amazing trip. The sites we saw were fantastic (and more blog posts to come in that regard). The transportation we took was lovely and speedy. And the places we stayed were welcoming and enticing. I can’t wait to do this again in the future!

Review: Singapore Airlines A380 Suites

Our way back from Frankfurt was probably the highest-quality flight that we took: the legendary Singapore Airlines A380 Suites. Essentially your own comfy cubicle room with a door (and window shades!), the service is amazing, the food is fantastic, and the in-flight entertainment is hard to beat.

We took a cab to Frankfurt International Airport and quickly found our check-in counters. On the way we were impressed to see a sign for a Jewish Prayer Room. We didn’t get a chance to check it out but were glad it was there. We also saw the massive board with all the flights listed: it was quite extensive and impressive to look at.

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Once checked in and through security we went to check out the two lounges we had access to: the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge and the Lufthansa Senator Lounge. Interestingly, the Senator Lounge is actually for its Business class passengers; the First class passengers have their own terminal in Frankfurt airport. We did not have access to it.

Both lounges were quite spacious and had wonderful amenities. We could sit back and eat breakfast at either (we chose the Maple Leaf Lounge as I had done some research and read the food was better; it seemed similar enough to us that it didn’t matter). The chairs were comfortable and there was plenty of space. There were separate sleeping areas in each lounge, presumably for those in transit; they were not whole rooms but separated areas with beds or lean-back chairs. They looked comfortable enough.

 

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We then took some time to look at the Lufthansa Senator Lounge. It was much larger than the Air Canada lounge but had similar food and drink options. The chairs were quite comfy and there were plenty of power options. Probably the biggest difference is that Lufthansa offered actual beds to sleep on while you waited between flights. They were not as private as in the Air Canada lounge, but looked much more comfortable. Additionally, there was a spa you could use for various fees.

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Then we boarded the plane. On our passes it said boarding was going to start at 8am but when we arrived at that time we were almost the last ones on! We found our Suites and enjoyed how luxurious they seemed. Wow – so comfortable and all the amenities right at your fingertips. The chair was leather and high-backed to support your head. There were storage areas everywhere: by your hips, on the desk area, under your footrest, etc. The TV was an amazing 23in big! There would be no way not to enjoy this flight.

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We were given a luxurious three course meal once the plane was in the air. We used Singapore Airlines signature Book the Cook service from which we chose a few specific options ahead of time. I had some lamb rangoon which was quite tasty. My wife had ordered fish but for some reason they didn’t have it recorded so she had an omelette instead. She was still quite impressed. We watched a movie while eating and chatted a bit before putting on our pajamas and getting ready for a quick nap.

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While we were in the bathroom changing the flight attendants brought the beds down. Singapore Airlines uses a chair whose seat back folds all the way down to provide the most comfortable style of bedding. We each had our own place to sleep but the beds were right next to each other. Still, it is not the same as a true double bed because there is a wooden divider in the middle and you are supposed to keep your seatbelt fastened while in flight. We slept for a good portion of the trip (although I woke up earlier than my wife and watched some TV due to stomach pain).

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Upon arrival into JFK our passing through security was easy and uneventful. Because we have Global Entry we had an easier time getting through customs and immigration as well. That being said, I imagine it would be quick for many First Class passengers in general due to disembarking from the plane before the other passengers.

I don’t know when the next first class experience like this will be but my wife and I have already started to accrue more points. Check out this blog for more info on travel hacking as well as the next post which will compare exactly how much we should have spent on these flights/hotels and how much we actually spent!