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: British Airways A380 First Class

Our next major flight was from Singapore to London on a British Airways A380 in First Class. As you can imagine I was quite looking forward to this in order to compare it to what we had during our Korean Air trip. It all began when we entered the airport – we got there three hours early (earlier than planned, but my wife suggested we do it to maximize our experience of the lounges!).

Upon arrival we were immediately welcomed at the British Airways check-in counters. The gentleman told us there was a special area for First Class passengers but since we were there already with no line, we might as well check in. We did, then went to go see what he was talking about. It was quite a luxurious sight to see – comfortable chairs/couches while you wait and free drinks!

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After being sent through a special exit to security we passed through in mere minutes. We then had an important choice to make: with our first class tickets (and Priority Pass to boot) we had access to three lounges (Qantas, British Airways, and SATS Premier) – which would we go to? Answer: we toured through them all first and then sat down in each for some time.


We started off in the SATS Premier Lounge, where we eventually decided to eat our dinner. The food there looked more various than the other two lounges and so we had a nice chat over some tasty dishes. I had a beer and my wife had some wine, if I recall correctly.

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Then went to the British Airways Lounge to check it out as well. As mentioned before the food was not as exciting but there was the Concorde Lounge – an extra exclusive benefit of First Class passengers wherein they get table service in a quieter area. It required a passcode that the desk attendant informed us before we got to it.

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Finally, the Qantas Lounge: we decided to come here for dessert as they had the most various offerings. So much fruit to choose from and a very comfortable seating area. There were also numerous magazines to choose from.

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Since I had been touring around Singapore the entire day before our flight I wanted to make sure I was clean before getting onto the airplane. After our brief tour I decided that the Qantas Lounge had the nicest place to take a shower and so I just walked up and asked the attendant where to go. There was plenty of space in the bathroom, the shower water pressure was fantastic, and the soaps/shampoos were very usable.

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The gate and entrance to the plane were as expected: three different areas to enter based on seating class. We went to door A as we were in row 3 in the middle two seats.

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The seat itself is smaller in width than Korean Air and others but has more storage capacity on the side. We received an amenity kit similar to Korean Air as well as the pajamas we would wear for a majority of our overnight flight. Our flight attendant was very kind (with a British accent!) but not as attentive as on Korean Air. There was so much legroom (as usual in first class) and the in-flight entertainment was extensive and easily controlled from our handsets.

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I ate a quick meal before heading off to bed that consisted of a very tasty soup, ratatouille, and chocolate brownie dessert. The courses were served nicely with all attention to detail and I enjoyed it quite a lot.

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I spent most of the flight sleeping as it was an overnight experience. I had the flight attendant change the seat into its bed position while I put on my pajamas. They are very comfortable! My sleep was nice and uninterrupted. I set an alarm to wake up in time for some breakfast while watching a movie. It consisted of two courses: a cereal and toast course followed by some very yummy french toast.

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During flight we received a small note that we had access to “Fast Track,” a service that allows you to get through customs and immigration faster than the average customer. We followed all signs and directions and were able to exit quite quickly. It was then that my wife suggested we check out the Arrivals Lounge, something I’ve never done before. Essentially, it is a space for incoming travelers to relax while they wait for their next type of movement. We picked up our bags at baggage claim and headed straight for it.

It was a nice space that had loads of food and another Concorde Lounge for First Class passengers. We availed ourselves of the amenity this time and had table service of another round of breakfast foods at it was only 6:30am or so. What we did not know in advance was that there was a spa we could use as well! Granted, it was probably not on the caliber of what we experienced in Southeast Asia but it was free. Unfortunately, their earliest appointments were around 9am so we opted to go to our hotel instead.

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Overall, the experience was quite enjoyable, as expected. The service was wonderful but not up to what Korean Air offered us. We would definitely take this flight again, however!

Credit cards with big bonuses right now

There are a few credit cards that have big bonuses that can be transferred to a variety of airlines and hotels at the moment. Some are higher than usual; others are the normal bonus but allow for lots of flexibility.

AScreen Shot 2015-08-03 at 3.33.07 PMs usual, the Chase Sapphire Preferred tops the list as one of the most valuable credit cards to have. After spending $4,000 in 3 months, you earn 40,000 bonus points. And if you add an authorized user (i.e. someone else you trust to use the card) you get an extra 5,000 bonus points. So, with an authorized user and the minimum spend, that’s 49,000 points to spend on travel. Just ask me for a referral and I’ll be happy to oblige. I’ve written much before about this card.

Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 3.36.31 PMThe Citi ThankYou Premier card is currently offered a bonus of 50,000 ThankYou points after spending $3,000 in the first three months of use. These points can be transferred to a variety of partner airlines and hotels much like the Chase Sapphire Preferred. A bonus over the other cards is its 3x bonus on travel (including gas stations).

Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 3.37.05 PMThe British Airways Visa card is offering 50,000 bonus Avios after spending $2,000 in the first three months. You may be thinking, “why should I get a British Airways card if I don’t live in England?” Well, with a great distance-based award travel chart, you could fly from PHL/NYC/BOS to Toronto for 4,500 Avis one-way + tax. Or you could go from NYC/PHL/BOS->Florida for 7,500 Avious one-way + tax. Amazing deals for flights that normally cost 12,500 miles from airlines like United or American.

I wrote about other big bonuses recently as well.

How to get to Southeast Asia in style

This summer I am feeling a bit antsy since for the first time in 11 years I am not doing an enormous amount of travel. I usually travel internationally (to Israel and beyond, more or less) and this time am sticking close to home with small trips on the east coast and Chicago.

That being said, it doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to dream! I’ve been eyeing some tickets to Southeast Asia just to find out how many miles they would cost and what kind of planes they would be. I reviewed some of the first-class options two days ago that was mainly using Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Here, though, I’m going to talk about using American Airlines miles, which can often be a better use of your points.

The two important things you must know are:

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 7.46.44 AM1) American Airlines has a great partner award travel chart. As a member of the oneworld alliance, you have access to amazing airlines like Cathay Pacific, Qatar Airways, Malaysia Airlines, and more. Their chart shows that you can get from the US to Southeast Asia (known as Asia Regions 1 and 2 in this chart) for at most 67,500 miles one-way (in first class, no less). Sometimes you can even do it for 25,000 in economy.

2) You can’t easily search these flights on the American Airlines website. To better your search capacity, using British Airways Avios search tool (it sounds weird, but it’s true).

First, you must make sure you are a member of the British Airways Executive Club (sometimes there are sign-up bonuses but don’t let that make you hesitate).

Then, you can use their search tool to ostensibly find British Airways flights, when in fact you will find all the partner flights as well. For example, here is a search from New York to Singapore on February 26:Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 7.56.24 AM

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Or you could try using another airline on February 23:

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All these flights would be available for American Airlines mile-users. The one caveat to note, however, is that American Airlines only allows the fares listed above if traveling directly to that region. In the case of the British Airways and Qatar Airways flights, they are technically flying through an extra region to get to Singapore, so your flights would be broken up into two segments and priced accordingly.

In any case, it is important to note this method when you want to find these flights. It is hard to find them otherwise.

How I used British Airways Avios to book a cheap trip to Toronto

In September my fiancée and I will be going to Toronto for my cousin and his fiancée’s wedding. Yes, I admit that was a confusing sentence. Suffice it to say that we needed two roundtrip plane tickets from New York to Toronto. Since we are paying for much of our own wedding at the moment we are trying to reduce costs as much as possible. I did some research and found the cheapest plane tickets at a fairly undesirable time:

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Instead of spending $215 x 2 = $430 for the plane tickets (and then $25 for checked luggage according to their website) I decided to look into spending British Airways Avios on a plane ticket for the flight. This is a well-known use in the Miles and Points community because Avios are spent on a distance-flown basis. For flights below 650 miles (like NYC->Toronto) it costs only 4500 Avios each way for an Economy ticket. BA partners with American Airlines and recently TAM for this route so I did some research and found the following flights that we are taking:

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And the greatest part of it all, it costs so little:

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In reality the price is actually $122 because I had to book over the phone (there was an error on the website). But that’s okay – we each get a free checked bag according to the rules of TAM and we will be flying a Boeing 767. This is a turbo-fan, wide-body plane as opposed to the propellor plane we would have had with Delta.

Overall a good bargain, eh? (Full disclosure, British Airways is changing their award chart on April 28, 2015).