Success with manufactured spending in Providence, RI

I spent much of the past week in Providence, RI at a professional development workshop learning some new coding skills for the computer science class that I teach. During that time I decided to take a first real stab at manufactured spending and had some wonderful success.

For those unaware of the term, manufactured spending means using your credit card to somehow buy an item (therefore earning points/miles on said credit card), then somehow liquidating that item back into your bank account to pay off the credit card debt you just accrued. I have done it once or twice before in NYC and it is notoriously difficult to liquidate some of the items you can buy. The one method I have heard of working very well was using gift cards to purchase money orders, specifically at a Walmart, where fees are low and opportunity is high.

So, I took this knowledge and put it into action. While staying at the Providence Marriott Downtown, I used the fact that I have a Chase Ink Cash card that earns me 5x the points when purchasing items at office supplies stores to buy loads of Visa gift cards at the Staples just across the street. Then, I took a nice walk to the local Walmart to buy money orders with those gift cards.

The fees involved were not that bad. To buy a $200 gift card at Staples costs $6.95 in fees each and to buy a money order at Walmart is $0.88 for up to a $2000 money order. In total, I was spending $28.68 to earn 4,139 points. So, if you do the math, it cost me roughly 0.69 cents for each point that I earned. Since The Points Guy values each of them at around 2.0 cents for each point, I did quite a good job getting some new value. Not too shabby for a first real try.

The big question now is whether or not I can duplicate this process in Brooklyn. I already know where to get the gift cards (Staples nearby me) but when I’ve tried to find a source to liquidate near me I have come up short. I know there is a Walmart in New Jersey and one in Long Island that are public transit accessible, but it still adds cost. Still searching!

Utilizing the IHG Free Reward Night to its utmost

I am a part of a wonderful math teacher fellowship called Math for America (not to be confused with Teach for America) and every year they host an annual gala event at the Marriott Marquis in downtown Manhattan. For the past two years I’ve thought about staying over but either a) didn’t have enough points or b) the free night as part of the Chase Marriott Rewards card was not for that tier of hotel.

Enter: the IHG Rewards Credit Card. Every year it gives a free reward night for use anywhere in the world. There is not the same kind of limitation as with the Marriott card. So, I found the InterContinental Hotel around the corner from the gala and booked a night there. As you can see, for the night in question it would have been a whopping $629.99!

Instead, we are paying $0. The card itself has a $49 annual fee, so I would argue this makes it all worth it.

Even if we didn’t have the card, we would probably use that night somewhere else during the year for a wedding or small trip somewhere. It definitely makes the $49 worth it.

Marriott matches and exceeds lower prices! And make sure to call back on claims

I have a friend who informed me of Marriott’s Look No Further rate guarantee: if you find the same room reserved on a 3rd-party website Marriott will match the price and give you a 25% discount off the cheaper of the two! This is clearer spelled out in their online FAQ:

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-3-23-09-pm

All you need to do is submit a claim after making the reservation through Marriott’s system is to file a claim on this website. Now, be warned, if the exact type of room is not available on the 3rd-party site this policy does not come into play.


In other news, I just got the last Sapphire Preferred Trip Interruption claim filed and approved for our honeymoon over the summer after having to call back Broadspire (the company that supports this type of insurance). I had submitted two claims: one for a hotel room and one for airline tickets. The hotel night was approved quite quickly but the airline tickets were not because apparently I didn’t submit the correct documentation.

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-3-26-41-pm

This confused me since I uploaded the same documentation for each claim so I called Broadspire up today and spoke with my adjuster. He briefly looked over the claim, talked to his manager, and then approved it based on the other approval. He was quick to state that this was a courtesy that would not be extended a second time, however, so I should make sure to get a physician’s note in the future.

 

Free Club1 Membership can be worth it sometimes

I just took the advice of a blog I read called View from the Wing and signed up for a free 1-year membership with Club1 Hotels. Their service usually costs $675 and comes with a Priority Pass membership but the free version just allows you to search for hotels through their portal. I found that it can actually save you a good amount of money.

I did a brief search for the New York Marriott Marquis at Times Square the evening of an event my wife and I will be attending. I found that if you search on Marriott’s site directly the minimum cost (even with a AAA discount) is $256. Whereas, the Club1 Hotel website shows a listing for $236.10.

screen-shot-2016-10-09-at-8-47-57-am

screen-shot-2016-10-09-at-8-47-49-am

The one snag is that you are likely not going to receive points from this booking as many loyalty networks don’t give points for third-party reservations. But, if your goal is to save money, this would certainly be helpful!

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.

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 8.17.30 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 8.24.48 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 8.33.33 PM

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):

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 8.38.00 PM

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 8.38.19 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 8.40.47 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 8.45.17 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 8.19.19 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 8.22.56 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 8.28.11 AM

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!

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 8.33.17 AM

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!

What it’s like in Paris (and the Marriott Opera Ambassador Hotel)

We spent four nights in Paris during the last part of our honeymoon, and while it was a quick visit it was also quite beautiful. At some point my wife asked me if I thought Paris was more beautiful than New York. Of course I said yes. Now this doesn’t mean I don’t like New York – I love where we live in Brooklyn and all of our friends are nearby. But when you look at all the wrought iron, the old structures, the history that comes out of the city, Paris truly is a beauty.

We arrived in the early afternoon and immediately took a cab from the train station to our hotel: the Marriott Opera Ambassador, a wonderful 4-star establishment within walking distance of the Paris Opera House (which unfortunately was closed during our stay) and easy public transit to get to places like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and even Versailles. While the bed was not the comfiest of our stays the staff was kind enough to add an extra pillow top making it a bit more amenable to our tastes. There was plenty of space to put our stuff (a nice armoire with a safe) as well as a desk that was easily usable. The bathtub was large – a feature my wife enjoyed greatly – but strangely the toilet had its own room. It made it easier if we had to go to the bathroom if the other person was in the bathtub or shower, but it was a bit odd. Overall, a great place to stay and the staff was wonderful.

img_6639 img_6642img_6641img_6643

We started off in Paris simply walking around, an easy thing to do in a city that developed when the fastest mode of transport was horse-drawn carriage. We saw some wonderful promenades and funny signs and learned that it is true what they say about Parisians vacationing for much of August: there were signs everywhere about closed businesses and when they would return.

We spent time at the Eiffel Tower, learning about its original purpose as scientific equipment and how it was supposed to be torn down a few years after completing the experiment. We walked past the Louvre and later I got to visit it (my wife was feeling too tired). I got to see various museums with arms and armor as well as scale models of locations across Europe where French kings fought battles. Napoleon’s Mausoleum was quite a sight as well – such a large encasement for a small body. We also visited Notre Dame after waiting in a line that seemed to be long but really was short; inside we saw some Church gold!

 

dsc_0219 dsc_0221 dsc_0223dsc_0273dsc_0229 dsc_0235dsc_0287dsc_0309

I took half a day to go visit the Palace of Versailles and was really amazed at the scale. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a rainy day so the views weren’t as spectacular, but the majesty of the rooms and the artwork displayed was incredible. The building itself was magnificent and it was quite amazing to learn about its development over two hundred years. There was even an extra exhibit inside a hall showcasing artwork of all the battles France has won explaining the French assistance during the American Revolution – incredible. I spent a few hours there by myself and returned back to Paris where we explored further.

dsc_0327 dsc_0336dsc_0318

Paris was amazing and we spent too short a time there. We plan on returning in the future to explore more and maybe we’ll stay at a Starwood property this time….

It’s been a while; trying to post more often

I know it has been a while but when you get bogged down with other work it takes some time to get back in the habit of blogging. So, here it goes again.

—-

Here are some important news items that have taken place recently:

  1. Many bloggers are pointing out that Chase has a special 50,000 point bonus promotion right now. Since the norm is 40,000 that is a 25% increase! With an extra 10,000 points you could get a hotel stay at a lower-tier hotel in Hyatt or IHG; or you could transfer those points to Southwest for a free one-way ticket on one of their cheaper routes. It’s incredible what you can do with the Chase Sapphire Preferred. If you would like to be referred for one of these cards, let me know!
  2. I received an email today from the Starwood Preferred Guest program announcing that Marriott is to acquire Starwood hotels, so the programs will be merging in the future. Some speculate this could be horrible since SPG points are worth more than Marriott, but others say it could remain a separate entity. Only time will tell the outcome for frequent travelers.
  3. A little bit older is news that Hyatt is finally allowing award redemptions for Points + Cash, allowing you to spread your points a bit farther. Oftentimes these redemptions are cheaper per point even with the cash purchase. So, if you can spend some cash on a hotel to extend your points, go for it!

That’s all I’ve got for now.

 

Got declined from a new card? No problem – just give them a call!

When you are as deep into the credit card points + miles game as I am you will inevitably run into an issue where a bank will deny you a new credit card. Sometimes it’s because you have too much credit from the bank already with not enough income or sometimes it’s because you have received too many “hard” inquiries in the recent past.

Something like that happened to me recently when I applied for the new Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Card. I received a letter in the mail a week ago explaining that the bank had denied my new application for a variety of reasons. I neglected to keep the letter but I still called their customer service line and spoke to a “Reconsideration Specialist” who asked me a few questions about my recent credit history in order to reevaluate whether or not I should get this card.

He asked two main things:

  1. What’s up with all the credit inquiries? Basically, he wanted to know why I was applying for all these credit cards. He listed not just the Chase applications but also the US Bank and CBNA cards I have as well. I was honest with him and said that I wanted to reward points in order to get to/from various weddings and trips over the next few months.
  2. How come all the credit? He wanted to know how much money I wanted to spend on the card and I told him the truth: not that much. I only really want to spend a few hundred (up to the threshold of $3,000 for the 80,000 points) and didn’t need to do a lot with it afterward.

In the end, he approved my application and just asked to shift over some credit from my other accounts to this new one. In 1-2 weeks I’ll be receiving a letter to this effect and my new shiny card!