How Chase helps keep my business

While I am definitely not beholden to any given bank for my credit card usage (I have AMEX, Chase, Citibank, Bank of America, and Barclays cards at this point) I will point out that Chase does a pretty good job of locking in my loyalty for a few reasons. One of them was emailed to me two days ago:

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Kudos to them for reminding me how many points I have on my Chase Sapphire Preferred account. Even if I may forget at times (or miscalculate) they are there to remind me what I have and how I could use those points. Just look at that photo – it’s quite enticing, to say the least.

Additionally, they keep me in line with their unfortunate 5/24 rule: essentially that any credit card applicant who has opened five new cards (from any bank) in the past 24 months is restricted from certain cards in their repertoire. For example, despite me coveting the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, I was denied because of all my card openings (we didn’t even bother for my wife to try for the same reason).

In conclusion, they are keeping my business for both positive and negative reasons. Fascinating.

What’s in my wallet?

I had a fun and quick conversation over dinner last night about credit cards and points: I met a couple who are probably going to get engaged in the near future and they were fascinated by the idea of using credit cards to pay for their wedding and earning sign-up bonuses in order to pay for their honeymoon. I told them it’s what I did with my wife and it’s how we paid around $1,500 for a variety of flights/hotels instead of around $46,000.

In that regard, I often get asked what credit cards am I currently using because – as those in this game know – you don’t use all the cards you have all the time. So, here is a brief summary of what I am currently carrying.

The first thing to note is that I am currently using the Secrid Miniwallet. While in Paris over our honeymoon I went into a store that sold a variety of leather goods and got a chance to hold it in mind hands. I love the fact that it is slim, it carries multiple cards, has space for some cash, and has a handy flicking tool that extends five cards into your direct reach at any moment. I find this immensely useful in daily life.

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I’ll start from inside-out:

  1. Citibank Debit Card. I don’t feel completely beholden to one bank or another but I do find it useful to have this Citibank account since there are ATMs in both Philadelphia and New York (two cities I frequent). Because my wife and I signed up for a joint account three years ago I haven’t gone through with any kind of change. But, I keep it in order to take money out of ATMs and because the Park Slope Food Coop doesn’t take credit cards (more on that later).
  2. Chase Ink Plus Card. I got this card when the sign-up bonus was 60,000 points (usually it’s 50,000) and keep it because it yields some amazing returns on office supplies and technology expenses (5x!). Since I’m a teacher I am constantly buying office supplies (paper, pencil sharpeners, letter trays, etc) and so I maximize the use of the points. It also gives 2x the returns on gas purchases without foreign transaction fees (useful when renting a car abroad, which I do frequently in Toronto). Despite it’s $95 annual fee, I am fairly certain I get the returns necessary to make it worthwhile. Plus, I can refer others to the card and get a hefty bonus.
  3. Chase Sapphire Preferred. This is by far the most used card I have for travel and restaurant expenses since it earns 2x returns on all of those purchases. Whenever we go out to restaurants, stay at hotels (as long as I don’t have a hotel card for those stays), go flying with bookings through Orbitz or Momondo, this is my go-to card. I find it incredibly useful in order to transfer Ultimate Rewards points to variety of airline partners (not so much the hotel ones) and love the fact that when I call the number on the back of the card I get a person without a wait or computerized menus. Finally, this card came in handy this year for me to get back quite a bit of money (around $600) from hotel stays and plane tickets we couldn’t use during our honeymoon because I got sick.
  4. AMEX Business Gold Card. I am currently putting most of my spending on this card in order to earn 75,000 Membership Rewards points that can be transferred to a variety of airlines (including American Airlines, which is my plan). In addition to the bonus and spending on the card, AMEX is currently running a promotion offering 2x the points for small business purchases. I just signed up for Plastiq in order to pay our rent a bit cheaper through a credit card and it actually counts as a small business! By the end of this time, I should have about 90,000 points to play with.
  5. Park Slope Food Coop Membership Card. My wife and I are members of the Park Slope Food Coop, a grocery store and community that has been supportive of us in sickness and health. They sell some amazing produce and food at very low prices and are almost entirely membership run. You simply volunteer 2.75 hours of your time once every 4 weeks (or you can bank time in advance, like I do) and you can get access. It’s a great deal.

I have a variety of other cards that I use sometimes and am constantly reevaluating whether it’s worth it to keep them. I’ll keep you updated as things change.

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!

Getting ready for Singapore Suites

suitesThis morning I finally booked the homecoming leg of my honeymoon this summer: a sort-of holy grail I’ve been striving for since I started playing with miles and points almost a year and a half ago. Today, I booked passage for my wife and I on Singapore Airlines A380 in Suites class. For those unaware of what that can look like, feast your eyes on the amazing image to the left.

 

Yes, that is what it looks like: a double-bed in the champagnemiddle of an airplane, covered in rose petals and a bottle of champagne. Now, I’m not sure we will get the flora but we will definitely enjoy the choice of what we want to drink, along with many other amenities.

The total cost of this endeavor should be around 10,000 Euro for the two of us.

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We ended up paying significantly less:Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 7.52.57 PM

Yes, we had to spend a butt-load of miles on this trip (transferred from CitiBank ThankYou points and Chase Ultimate Rewards Points) but we are going to get such joy and comfort by returning home in serious luxury. And, if you do the math, we are getting a pretty darn-good redemption value from those points (22.9 cents/point).

I am more psyched for the 5 week vacation I get with my wife, but now I also know we get to return home in style.

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