Chase Freed 5x Bonus Category for Q4

Every three months the Chase Freedom card rotates a set of 5% cash back bonuses for spending at specific types of stores. For Quarter 3 (i.e. summer months) it was restaurants and movie theaters, presumably because of the increase in number of people who go out during that time frame. You can always check out the bonuses at their website here. 

The aspect of this scenario that many people don’t know, however, is that if you have a premium Ultimate Rewards card from Chase (i.e. Chase Sapphire Preferred/Reserve, or Ink Plus Preferred) then you can transfer those points to travel partners and potentially earn more than the standard 1 point = 1 cent ratio. When I transfer points I do my best to beat their current valuation, with normal redemptions for award travel being between 1.6-2.5 cents per point.

Make sure to activate your Q4 bonuses now in case you plan on spending at department stores this fall!

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.

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:

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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.

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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.

 

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 into the miles and points game

Over the past few months I have begun my journey into the world of frequent flyer miles, travel blogs, points-gathering, and annoying my fiancée in earnest. I have signed up for a few credit cards, referred a few people to them, and am eagerly waiting the time when I can use these points/miles for their intended purpose: near-free travel.

I suppose I really entered this game in January 2014 when I left a conference and was convinced to sign up for the United MileagePlus Club Card by a friend. The card itself was a big bonus over most others in that every purchase provided 1.5 miles per $1 spent. As my friend said, “it adds up faster than you think.” While the $395 annual fee was daunting, there was a one-year fee waiver that I accepted because I signed up at a Chase bank branch near my house.

Since then I’ve accumulated about 110,000 miles with purchases made through the card or through rental agreements, dining out bonuses, and more. I used the card to get one free plane ticket to Toronto with Air Canada but have yet to use its benefit of free first and second luggage check. We currently pay our rent with the card, a service that nets us over 3,000 miles per month due to the large multiplier on standard purchases.

In full disclosure, however, I will be ridding myself of the card in December as the annual fee is not worth it for us now that I have a better understanding of other credit cards I can use.

Since then I have also applied for and received the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, the United MileagePlus Explorer card, the Chase Ink Plus card, and retained my old US Airways Premier World Mastercard. I’ve started learning about credit scores and their tracking through CreditKarma.com and make my Internet purchases through the Chase Ultimate Rewards shopping portal.

I’m so excited to start this blog and share with you stories of travel, transit, and miles/points accumulation from my view. We’ll see what turns up around the corner!