Credit Cards I Don’t Need Just for the Bonus Points

I’ve applied for and gotten two new credit cards this week.  In doing so, I joined the hundreds of thousands of people who play a game called “how many points can I collect by signing up for new credit cards?”

There is an entire sub-culture of people who know how to earn frequent flyer or frequent stayer points to make travel exciting, comfortable, and free.  Some of these folks frequent Inside Flyer or Milepoint or FlyerTalk.  Others provide free advice on blogs at sites like Boarding Area.

I’ve always ensured that I maximize my points.  I try to fly the same airline (Delta) as much as possible. I’ve already achieved Delta Platinum Medallion, which won’t expire until February 2014.  Because of three trips to Asia in the past two years, the family and I are going to Hawaii over Christmas, all on frequent flyer tickets.  But, I hadn’t, until this week, started playing the frequent flyer credit card bonus game.

Mrs. Spidey and I carry very few cards.  We’ve got American Express and a Southwest Airlines Visa.  We’ve also got a Best Buy card, a Kohl’s card and a Nordstrom card, because of the specific benefits at those stores, and a Hilton American Express, because when you spend a bucket load of money on a bar mitzvah and a bat mitzvah at a Hilton property, getting 5 frequent stayer points per dollar is just awesome.  But, in reality, we only really use the AMEX and the Southwest Airlines Visa.

I’ve know about credit card offers for a while.  When each of us got the Southwest Airlines Visa, we got 2 round-trip tickets each as a sign-up bonus.  However, I never wanted to expand card use.  The tipping point for me was realizing that the lowest fare to visit my parents at Thanksgiving is $344 per person and being frustrated at not having points.  Even with my travel, I need more points.

So, this week, I applied for and got instant approval for two new cards, which, based on folks at those blogs above, are  the two best cards.  You should look yourself.

First, I signed up for a Chase Sapphire Preferred card.  For signing up and spending $2,000 in the first three months, I get 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points, which transfer 1:1 to United, Southwest, Hyatt, Marriott and British Airways, among others.  The card also gives you a 7% bonus at the end of the year on top of all the points you’ve earned.

Then, I signed up for the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express.  With this card, I get 10,000 points after my first purchase and another 20,000 if I spend 5,000 in the first five months.  The beauty of SPG points is that they aren’t just for rooms, but, like AMEX’s Membership Rewards and Chase’s Ultimate Rewards, you can transfer to airlines programs 1:1 – and SPG has many more airline partners.

As noted, these two cards are routinely cited at the two best cards for travelers to accumulate points.  Approval was easy.  And, now, our Southwest Visa will be canceled and cut up.

If you go down this route, don’t forget to have your spouse apply for a separate card and get his or her own card and own bonus.  You can actually refer your spouse for the Starwood AMEX, and he/she will get 5,000 extra points.  The cards don’t care where you transfer points, so you can combine the points into a single account for maximum use.

And, one last thing – this frequent flyer/frequent stayer sub-culture is endless.  Dive in deep and make it a game, and you will end up with some amazing free vacations.

 

 

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Delta Airlines to Beijing – Bonus Miles Make Up for Spotty Service

Last week, I flew Delta round trip from St. Louis to Beijing.   I didn’t do it for the great connections or flight times.  I did it purely for the miles.

Delta has a program now that provides for bonus miles and extra qualifying miles for elite status for flights from St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Raleigh-Durham and Nashville.  I flew Delta through two connections (and a very, very low price), because every round-trip international business class trip originating in St. Louis and routed through a Delta hub nets 50,000 extra miles and double qualifying miles towards medallion status.  I’m already a Platinum Medallion, which gets me double miles on every flight.  Business class gets a 50% bonus.  It was a bonanza!!

I earned a total of 88,491 miles:

  • Round trip miles (STL-ATL-SEA-PEK-PEK-MSP-STL) = 15,396
  • 100% Platinum Medallion bonus:  15,396
  • 50% International Business Class bonus:  7,699
  • Special bonus:  50,000

On that one trip, I also earned 46,190 miles towards status, which nets me silver for next year and is less than 3K away from gold.  Note that you have to register for this Delta promotion in advance.  Visit this post at Gary Leff’s View from the Wing blog for links to all four city promotions.

The trip itself was very smooth.  I had six flights and four connections.  The flight from Atlanta to Seattle on the way out was delayed a bit, but I wasn’t close to missing my connection.  Beijing-Seattle pushed back on time, but sat for about 45 minutes on the tarmac.  Still, it arrived early into Seattle.  Thanks very much to Delta for making a four-connection round trip very smooth.

On the Atlanta-Seattle flight I paid $12.95 to use their Gogo Wifi internet.  My experience was very positive.  The connection was easy and fast.  I spent a bit of time chatting with friends, and the connection couldn’t have been smoother.  I used Skype to send texts to my family, although I wasn’t able to receive any back, because I hadn’t preauthorized it through my mobile phone.  I didn’t try voice on Skype, because my headphones and microphone were up on the overhead storage.  The only downside, was that my 757 did not have electric outlets, even in first class.  My laptop battery ran out before time to use the Internet.  What a bummer.

The international business class on Delta had ups and downs.  Although the seat wasn’t a flat bed, it was very comfortable, as were the pillow and duvet.  The flight attendants rated about a 7 out of 10, with most of the points earned by the crew from Beijing to Seattle.  The crew from Seattle to Beijing wasn’t impressive.  One flight attendant didn’t know the wine choice, even though there was only one red and one white, and others tended to be too chatty with a group of flight attendants that were passengers on that plane.

Business Class Dinner on Delta - That's Steak at Bottom Right

There were at least three other negatives to my Delta experience.  First, the video system itself had a smaller screen and a must narrower selection than Continental and United for comparison.  On my return, I watched Breaking Bad on DVD on my laptop and didn’t even pull the video unit out.  Second, the electric plug is located behind the passenger’s right hip and is nearly impossible to reach.  Third, and most notably, the food was just not good.  I took a picture of my dinner from Beijing to Seattle and have posted it here.  Yuk.  At any rate, who wants dinner at 10am anyway.  We should have had breakfast!!

I may take another trip to Beijing at the end of September.  No question I’ll endure the connections and layovers for the Delta miles, assuming the cost stays low.  I’ll renew Platinum Medallion on that trip.  And now I know not to order the steak!

Please Don’t Do This on My Plane Ride

For this week’s travel post, I thought I might run down a few things that I highly recommend you don’t do on an airplane.  I’ve traveled for every job I’ve ever had.  For some, I’ve traveled every week.  I’ve been packed in the center seat between New York and London on a 747 and in first class on a 777 from Berlin to DC.  I’m not afraid, like some, to fly Southwest and remember to get my A boarding pass 24-hours early.

Don’t Show Me Your Bare Feet

I have no issue with people wearing sandals, flip-flops or other shoes without socks.  I wear flip-flops almost exclusively from May through September, except when I’m at work.  I don’t mind if you slip them off on the plane.  I just don’t want to know.  Don’t cross your legs and put your foot up at armrest level, almost touching me.  And please, please don’t put your bare foot on the armrest when you sit behind me, so that your toes brush against my elbow.  Yuk!  I borrowed the photo at right from my friends at upgrd.com, who experienced something very similar last fall.

Please Don't Do This!

Don’t Bring Smelly Food on Board

Seriously.  No one wants to smell your tuna or your Italian sub.  You don’t think we can?  Bring a PB&J, or chips.  It was awful to smell Lynch Parsons’ liverwurst in 2nd grade, and it’s awful to smell your stuff now.  At least in 2nd grade, I could sit on the other side of the cafeteria.  I can’t move when I’m on a plane.

Don’t Eat Food with Disposable Parts

I wasn’t sure how to name this.  I once sat on a plane from St. Louis to Orlando in an aisle seat.  Right across the aisle from me, a guy ate sunflower seeds the entire trip.  He put one in his mouth, bit it, reached into his mouth to grab the shell, and put the shell on a napkin on his tray.  I appreciate his neatness, but after 45 minutes he had a nice large pile of wet sunflower seed remnants.  It was disgusting.  Don’t do this.  Don’t bring peanuts or anything like this.

Don’t Expect Your Child to Entertain Themselves

I am constantly amazed at the people who travel with kids that bring nothing to keep the kids entertained.  No coloring books.  No toys.  No books to read.  No DVD player.  No nothing.  When was the last time a 5-year-old sat still for an hour?  Never.  As a result, they kick the back of my seat or cry a lot.  I’m a parent of two, and my kids have flown since they were in baby carriers.  My wife, bless her, always prepared for every trip with stuff.  Once, we flew from Baltimore to Honolulu for my sister’s wedding via Detroit and San Francisco.  My kids were 4 and 1 1/2.  My wife packed wrapped presents to be open about every 90 minutes.  My kids didn’t bother anyone.

Don’t Hog the Arm Rest or Think You Can Keep It Up the Whole Trip

This is all about sharing.  You take the armrest for a bit, then I’ll take it, and so on.  I can’t stand it when someone plops down, puts their arms on the armrests,  and doesn’t move for two hours.  Meanwhile, my left or right arm is cramping by the time we land.  (By the way, my wife vehemently disagrees with this.  She thinks the person in the middle seat gets both their armrests as “compensation” for taking that seat.) And for those of you slightly larger that don’t want the armrest down – nope.  You have your space, and I have mine, and the armrest separates that space.  If I sit down, and the armrest isn’t down, it goes down immediately.

Don’t Put Your Baggage Over My Seat, When Your Seat is 20 Rows Back

Your baggage goes over your own seat.  That’s why there’s overhead space above your seat.  The overhead space over my seat is mine.  I’ve actually stopped people from using my space, when I see them do it.  I’m sorry you can’t carry the bag all the way back.  Next time, get a seat farther up front.

Don’t Talk the Whole Trip Behind Me or In Front of Me

I can usually control the conversation in my row.  Sometimes I’m in a talking mood, and sometimes I’m not.  I get frustrated however, when the people in rows around me talk incessantly the whole time.  Rows in coach aren’t that far apart.  Voices carry.  Be sensitive.  Two hours of non-stop chatter gets to me.

Don’t Play Your DVD Without Headphones

You can afford a DVD player but not headphones?  Nothing much more for me to write here.

Don’t Rush Up the Aisle When the Plane Lands

This one kills me.  Where the hell are you going?  Three rows make a difference?  I am amazed when this happens on international flights.  People run up the aisle to save four rows, and they have to go through passport control anyway.  You exit a plan row by row, just like on a school bus.  Be considerate.  When I see someone standing above me that I know came from a few rows back, I stare them down and make sure I get out when it’s my turn.  Sometimes, I’ll even block to let row mates out.

This has been a public service announcement from all the frequent flyers to you infrequent flyers.  Thanks for reading.

In Praise of Upgrd.com

Following up on Travel Wednesday, I’m going to focus this Blogosphere Thursday post on a travel blog worth visiting.

I’d like to stipulate that I really like to travel.  It’s not just about the destination for me, it’s about the experience.  I don’t really mind the lines or the process.

I’ve been fortunate in that business travel has often allowed me to collect enough miles to earn status privileges (silver, gold, platinum, etc.) on airlines.  This lets me board early, get upgrades and bonus miles.  With the miles I earn, I’m often able to redeem them for first class travel.  To me, the whole frequent flyer thing is a game and a challenge.  I like figuring out how to collect more miles to get even better status to get even more perks.

If you are like me, you need to follow the group of guys at Upgrd.com.  I wish I could recall how I stumbled upon this site, but I’m happy I did.  I also listen to their podcast where the personalities of the key participants (Matthew, Mike, Ben, Hunter, Josh, Fozz, and Gary) all come out.

So, what can you learn from Upgrd.com?

  1. Ins and outs of the various frequent flyer programs, including how to redeem, how to get bonus miles, what status levels get you, and what to do with your miles in the case of an airline merger.
  2. How to make sure you get an upgrade, which is a whole science in itself.
  3. Why volunteering to take a later flight when yours is oversold can be a good thing and how many miles to request.
  4. All about “mileage runs” and how to build them.  A “mileage run” is a trip someone takes only to earn miles.  There is a rule of thumb that if your miles “cost” less than 3 cents (cost of fare divided by # of miles), then it’s a good deal.  It may be worth spending a day, for example, on a quick round trip between St. Louis and Los Angeles.
  5. Descriptions of the various cabins on different airlines, airport clubs, hotels, etc.
  6. Stories about the traveling experience.

As an example of something I’ve learned recently —  Delta now has a special only out of St. Louis and a few other cities that lets you get your status faster and provides bonus miles.  To get that, however, you have to sign up for the program.  I did, thanks to a tweet from Gary at Upgrd.com.  Because I’m based in St. Louis, and we have to connect to get anywhere, I’ll be tempted to make the next trip on Delta to maximize the miles as long as it doesn’t take me too far out of my way.

Another thing I learned from these guys are the concepts of “status matching” and “status challenges.”  Status matching occurs when one airline matches the status you’ve earned at another, usually as an incentive to get you to fly them.  When I got to Continental Platinum last year, I was able to get Delta Platinum in just 24 hours with a simple email – and I hadn’t flown Delta in years.  Status challenges allow you to get to status levels faster by flying a large amount of miles in a short time (and paying a small fee).  Challenges are good if you’re flying patterns move you to a different airline for an extended period, such as when you start servicing a new client or are on a new project in other cities.

For those of you that don’t think about all this stuff, but fly a lot, it may be worth visiting and possibly subscribing to the boys at Upgrd.com.