Remiss in posting

It’s been almost a month without a new post from me and I humbly apologize. It is hard to keep tabs on a blog when you are thrown into five other personal and professional issues at once. Finally, these other things are subsiding and I can get back into my regular posting habit. I do love sharing details of my trips and hopefully they help any reader who sees this. I’ll be back in better form tomorrow, hopefully, and can share more details of my South Africa trip as well as some coming up this summer and beyond.

An amazing start to a honeymoon: Korean Airlines A380

My wife and I recently began our honeymoon to various destinations worldwide and I brought a small netbook so I could document parts of our travel experiences. Originally, she was a bit skeptical of the work I did with miles/points to maximize our benefit but over the past year she has been “turned”, let’s say, to understanding how amazing it can truly be. With a little work (and a lot of patience) you can get some amazing things in the travel world. So, here is the first installment for our honeymoon: our time flying from New York-JFK through Seoul, South Korea, to Denpasar, Bali. I will focus just on the flights for now (with other anecdotes about our specific time in each place later).


I’ve spent about two years now accruing miles for the specific purpose of travel (as opposed to just benefiting from random purchases later on). I plan and scheme specific credit bonuses to get, clubs to enter, and referrals to get, all for the purpose of getting to far places for cheap. My first major version of this was booking our Korean Airlines tickets from New York to Bali.

In order to book award travel on Korean Airlines you need to start by signing up for a free SkyPass account. It’s not difficult – much like anything else it requires your contact information and some other details. Then you can search for the dates you want. Here is an example of the flight plan that my wife and I took (this is not the exact plan we took, FYI).

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We did take these flights but I called to book them in such a way that we had 25 hours in Seoul on our way to Bali. One of the nice things about Korean Airlines is their stopover rules on award travel. I’m not sure exactly how many are allowed, but we could have had multiple weeks between our flight to Seoul and then to Bali. Since our focus was Bali, we made sure it was only one day (more on that day on a later blog post). Also, if you have these kinds of layovers in Seoul, their tourism bureau offers some pretty amazing free bus tours and hotel stays.

One specific note about this award ticket before we go on: in order to get the ticket for my wife, I had to verify that we were married. I put the award ticket on hold (which you can do for up to 30 days on Korean Airlines) and then had to upload a copy of our marriage certificate and have them agree that it was valid before I could officially book it. It was a strange thing to do, but still worth it.

So, now, onto the main event. We arrived at JFK about 2 hours early in order to take advantage of the pre-flight lounge access we had. We breezed through check-in thanks to our tickets being in first class.IMG_5923 We then went to the Korean Airlines lounge and were given access to the prestigious First Class section (they differentiate between First and Business, also called Prestige class). It was not really much to write home about. Some small snacks, drinks, and comfortable chairs. The bathrooms were nice and there was a conference room you could use.IMG_5930IMG_5932

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Because it was not the nicest, we decided to utilize an important benefit of the Citi Prestige card that I have: access to Priority Pass lounges. Air France happens to also have a lounge in the same terminal so we went there and had a MUCH nicer time.

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The food and drink were way more plentiful and tasty and the views were spectacular. We stayed there for the duration of our wait. Unfortunately, our flight left at 2pm, otherwise we would have partaken in the complementary 20 minute spa package included in the lounge. Next time.

After waiting in the lounge for a while, we finally took it upon ourselves to board the flight.

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I was a bit surprised by the fact that there was one entrance for First, Prestige, and Economy class passengers. In the past I’ve read about different gateways, but I guess it was okay. What was more important was the seat we were about to sit in is one of the most comfortable in the world. It is large with an incredible amount of storage and we were given a wonderful amenity kit, Bose headphones, and pajamas for our flight.

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My wife and I have never experienced this kind of luxury in the sky. The food options for meals were incredible (and are more extensive if you need vegetarian or other limited options – just ask further in advance than we did). We had such nice meals and were able to watch their in-flight entertainment system without noise thanks to the headphones.

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The best past for us during this 13 hour journey was that we could really sleep. I changed into my pajamas quickly after getting on the plane and lied down for sleep after dinner. My wife slept longer than I did but it was very enjoyable for both of us. The seat flattens down and a pad is put on top followed by a very comfy duvet cover. Sometimes during the night it got a bit too hot with the duvet but mostly it was a great time.

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Since I woke up earlier than my wife I asked the flight attendants if I could have my second meal early and they happily oblige (side note: they were the most attentive attendants I have ever had. I don’t know if it is the same in Economy but it was incredible up front).

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Overall, the A380 is an amazing way to fly, be it on First Class or otherwise. But if you can get a chance to fly up front at some point, you should definitely take it!

A niche in the Miles & Points booking market?

Yes, I have been very busy over the past few weeks with end-of-year work at my school but I am always thinking ahead to what great miles and points news is coming up and how I can be a part of it. At a party recently I was discussing this with a friend and realized that the exact plan I used for my wedding and honeymoon could benefit many others in similar situations.

I think, then, that I may be starting to put together a small side business to help people who get engaged to wisely sign up for credit cards that can help them pay for their wedding, earn points, and then have awesome honeymoons on the cheap.

If my experience is anything to consider, this could be very lucrative for everyone involved. I put this hear as something to think about and asking for advice from anyone who wants to comment. Thanks!

Save money at Coinstar kiosks

I decided to use part of my Spring Break to get rid of a bunch of change that has accumulated in the coin pot on my desk. Instead of rolling it up and bringing it to my bank (since they do not take loose change) I decided to look into other options. I realized that the Key Food on 5th Avenue near my house actually has a Coinstar Kiosk so I looked into the costs and discovered they charge a 10.9% fee! Since I didn’t want to lose $1.09 for every $10 I could make, I did some more research.

It turns out that Coinstar partners with several online and in-store retailers to offer a no-fee transaction in exchange for eGift cards to those locations. It just so happened that I also wanted to go see Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice today, so I exchanged my coins for a Regal Entertainment Group eGift card and paid no fee for it! Then, I simply brought my paper slip to the movie theater and enjoyed my free film!

You could do the same!

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IHG Pointbreak Hotels + 50K American Airlines points

The Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG) who owns such places as InterContinental and Holiday Inn often offers amazing points deals in the winter/spring season to garner more stays. Reduced award redemptions at 5,000 points a night is an incredible deal. They recent released their official list so check it out!

Another great deal applies to anyone with a Citibank co-branded American Airlines card. If you open up a new checking account and follow their guidelines for spending policies, you can earn 50,000 AA miles. That is enough for a one-way business class ticket to Europe right now (going up to 57,500 on March 22). Check out the details here.

Florida and Nashville for under $600

My wife and I recently decided to use President’s Weekend to visit Florida again and – since I have a mid-Winter break as a teacher – I am continuing on to Nashville for the rest of the week. We used a variety of different mileage deals as well as knowledge of where to get discounts in order to book these tickets.

Flights to Florida
I searched a variety of methods including using British Airways Avios to book an American Airlines flight for 7,500 Avios per person but unfortunately the availability was just not there. There were a few business/first class flights but since their devaluation last year, it was no longer worth it (15K for the one way, not it’s 30K). In the end, I found availability using American Airlines miles themselves under their “Economy AAnytime” category which was only 20K per person. I had 32K available personally but my wife had 7K available to transfer. The cost was about $80 (annoying) and I had to buy the last 1K at a cost of $50. Baggage is free since this is an award ticket. Total cost: $130 (for miles) + $11.20 (Sept. 11th fees) = $142.50

Rental car in Florida
I don’t often use these deals, but I received a notice in my email from American Airlines that we could earn 6 times the normal mileage for renting through Hertz using certain codes sent to me via email. That’s exactly what we did, so for total cost of under $200, we got our three day rental. Total cost: $197.

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Housing in Florida
This is the cheapest part. My parents have a condo in Delray Beach. If you have family members who have places to stay in Florida, take advantage of it. Instead of spending any hotel points or money to stay in an AirBnB or something like that, it was free. Total cost: $0.

Return flights
My wife is returning to New York on February 16 and I am continuing on to Nashville to explore a city and state I’ve never been to! I found a return ticket for her using United because we received travel vouchers for $150 due to our complaint a few weeks ago on our last trip to Toronto. I found a deal for $211.10 (pretty good) on her return fare. We have the MileagePlus Explorer card, so baggage is free for the first two travelers. Total for her flight: $211.10 – $150 = $61.10.

As I mentioned, I am continuing travel to Nashville for three more days of relaxing break. I found a deal with Southwest Airlines for a direct flight using a ridiculously small amount of points: 6,699 for the one-way. Since we have more than enough Chase Ultimate Rewards points right now, I transferred 5,000 (I already had about 1,900 in my account) and booked the ticket. Total cost: $5.60 (Sept. 11th fee again).

Housing in Nashville
I did some searching using the various hotel points we have and found a good deal with Hilton Hotels for a Hampton Inn at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. For only 30,000 points/night I could book my three nights for free! The only snag was that I only had 80K. I researched the cost of the extra 10K points and found out it would have been another $100 to buy the points necessary.

Instead, I looked at some of the transferable options that I have access to. I shied away from using our Chase Ultimate Rewards point as we want to use that for a return flight for our honeymoon. Instead, I realized that I have had a few thousand Citibank ThankYou points lying around a checking account for years. I looked at their list of transfer partners and – low and behold – Hilton is one of them! At a ratio of 1.5:1, I transferred 7K for a redemption of 10.5K – exactly what I needed. Total cost for my hotel: $0. 

Rental car in Nashville
This purchase was deceptively simple. I usually use a website called RentalCarPerks for specific codes that have offers for Hertz, Avis, Budget, and more. Instead, Enterprise had the best offer – an intermediate SUV for $120. Yes, that was the cheapest option (not the compact or economy – those were more expensive). Total cost of car rental: $120.47

Return flight from Nashville
I used my own United voucher on a flight I found for $175.10. Again, having the United credit card allows for free baggage. Total cost for flight: $175.10 – $150 = $25.10

OVERALL TOTAL COST: $557.77

Chase Freedom Q1 2016 bonuses

For those who do not know, the Chase Freedom card has quarterly bonuses that bring your “cash back” percentage from 1% to 5% for a few specific categories. The last quarter of 2015 brought us Amazon.com and a special bonus toward the end of 10% “cash back.”

In the first quarter of 2016, bonuses will be for gas stations and local commuter transportation (defined clearly as not including tolls, parking, or Amtrak).

The reason why I keep writing that term in quotation marks is that – yes, it can be used to get a statement credit – but then you would only be getting 1 cent of value for each point you receive. Instead, if you have another Chase card like the Sapphire Preferred or the Ink Plus, you can transfer those points to a variety of airlines and hotel chains to maximize your point value. My wife and I recently redeemed points at 21 cents per point for a Korean Air first class plane ticket. It’s fantastic.

So, yes, please click here to active your Q1 bonus (you do not get the bonus unless activated). But, then, please ask me to refer you to the Chase Sapphire Preferred so you can maximize your benefit.