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!

Cross-post: I’m in a podcast about Brians!

Before I left for my honeymoon I had heard about this amazing new podcast called All The Brians. I supposed I think it’s amazing because it’s a very specific topic that I happen to be a part of. That being said, I had a great time chatting with the host, Brian Alexander, for about an hour touching on two major topics: education and travel hacking. If you are interested in the education portion, just listen from the beginning. If you are interested in the travel portion, begin at timestamp 47:55.

Check it out!

Chase devalues point redemptions on Amazon.com

Some of you may know that you can use Chase Ultimate Rewards points to buy things on Amazon.com. It used to be that 100 points = $1.00 so you were using your points at $0.01/point. This is not remarkable as the standard cash back rate is the same. So, essentially, you were benefiting from the ease of use.

I just received an email, however, devaluing the use of these points. Now, instead of 100 points = $1.00, it will take 125 points = $1.00. So each point is now worth only $0.008 (or 8/10 of one cent). While I am glad they are giving advanced warning, this makes it so much worse to use your points for this purpose.

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Starwood’s More For You Promotion earns you points quickly

My wife and I returned from our honeymoon last Sunday so expect some posts soon on our travels. Photos and reviews coming soon!

In the meantime, I wanted to share with you a success and opportunity for you from Starwood’s More For You promotion that is upcoming. If you are a member of the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program like I am you have the opportunity to earn more points than usual if you stay at one of their properties.

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Before September 12, however, you have the opportunity to win a whole bunch of Starpoints very quickly. 1,000, 5,000, or 10,000 points are up for grabs! According to The Points Guy’s most recent valuation, that is worth $25, $125, or $250 dollars just for clicking on some links!

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I’ve been inputting my wife’s and my SPG number daily and was lucky enough this morning to win 5,000!

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You never know what you can win and these points will help us get either a hotel or flight to our next travel destination. Start clicking!

Arrival in Seoul and Korean Air A330-300

On our way to Bali my wife and stopped over in Seoul, South Korea for a day. Korean Airlines offers free stopovers and since ours lasted more than 24 hours we were able to get our luggage from baggage claim and use it while we were there (those transit passengers in Seoul for <24 hours have to through-check their baggage to their final destination).

For our time in Seoul we used our Marriott points (and credit card) to book a one-night stay at The Plaza, a new addition to the Marriott Autograph collection. I booked us a “Deluxe room” costing 35,000 points (a pretty good deal for the center of a major city) and when we arrived they actually upgraded us to the Plaza Suite, possibly because we mentioned it was our honeymoon. They even gave us a little rose!

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The Plaza Suite room was much larger than the Deluxe room we had booked and had a better view, more electronic amenities (i.e. the blinds were controlled from a cool pad next to the bed), and way more room. We even ordered some room service and easily sat down to eat it together. Right below the TV there was even a working fireplace (not that we needed it with 85 degree+ weather outside!). The bathroom also had a shower and separate bathtub (my wife loves those) as well as a bidet with controls next to the toilet. It was a really nice room.

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After our overnight and exploration of Seoul (there are so many palaces, food markets, and other things to explore) we were ready for our flight to Bali. We booked it as a part of the same ticket on the A380 so it was also in a high class of service. Unfortunately, when I booked the tickets there were no first class seats available so I voluntarily downgraded us to Prestige Class. Since we were flying on the A330-300 I assumed we were going to get the “Prestige Suite“, a new version of this class of service that is more like their First class without the separate sectioning. Unfortunately, the plane was a bit more dated and we only had their “Prestige Sleeper.” It was still incredibly comfortable but not their highest version so I was, of course, disappointed.

In the Seoul airport there were a variety of lounges available to the public. The Korean Airlines lounge is one of their bigger ones with a much wider selection of food than JFK and even access to showers. I really appreciated this last point as I had been sweating a lot during our walk around town. We didn’t have an enormous amount of time in the lounge but noticed that the two other lounges we could have used from Priority Pass (SkyHub Lounge and Matina Lounge) both seemed to offer better food. That being said, they were both fee-based lounges so they were overcrowded and we were not allowed in.

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It was a very easy 7-hour flight. The in-flight entertainment was the same as on the A380 and the meal service was similar. It was a shorter flight so we received a bit less food but could ask for anything at any time. There was no turn-down service and no pajamas, unfortunately, but the flight crew was still great. When I woke up from a 3 hour sleep the flight attendant immediately asked if I wanted the sandwich that I had missed. Honestly, there was not much difference between this class and first class (maybe a bit wider sleeper area at the feet) so we were not that upset about it. We arrived in Bali pretty well rested and got to our hotel just fine!

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