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Just booked: New Orleans for Mardi Gras!

We have lost our minds here at the Out and Out headquarters in NYC (AKA me in my living room in Brooklyn) – and my dog is giving me the side eye for using the royal “we.”

I’m going to New Orleans for Mardi Gras! (That is kind of a misnomer. “Mardi Gras” is a 3-week celebration. I am just going for the Baccus Parade and Fat Tuesday. But still – super stoked.)

How it happened

Really, I was just tinkering around on the Hyatt website looking at Category 3 and 4 hotels on a dark, snowy evening because that’s what points junkies do in the evenings, right?

But really, I had a free night cert from the Chase Hyatt Visa that I needed to use and wanted to maximize my value. I noticed, in the Category 3 list, the Hyatt French Quarter New Orleans. And then thought hmmm…. I wonder if…. (Basically a repeat of Oktoberfest booking.)

I couldn’t get the website to cooperate with redeeming the free night cert, so I called up Hyatt and a very patient agent plugged in a variety of dates surrounding Fat Tuesday (February 17th this year).

While she did that, I played around with points bookings with both Hyatt and Club Carlson (my two fave programs).

Paid $75 for the Hyatt card annual fee, getting back $315

Paid $75 for the Hyatt card annual fee, getting back $315

Hyatt French Quarter availability - 15,000 points or $500?

Hyatt French Quarter availability – 15,000 points or $500? #nobrainer

Now, I’d been saving my Club Carlson points for when I go to Ireland in May, but seeing that the Country Inn and Suites on Magazine Street in New Orleans was eligible for a BOGO booking sent me over the edge. I figure I can always manufacture some more Club Carlson points in the next couple of months, anyway. I still have my eye set on their Radisson Blu in Cork, Ireland.

Anyway, the Hyatt agent found a night at the Hyatt Regency in New Orleans that was eligible for the free night cert. A quick Google search showed me that it was on the route for the Bacchus Parade. PERFECT.

But then, flights…

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Barclays bumped my US Airways card bonus to 50K miles!

Last week, I finally bit the bullet and got the US Airways MasterCard with 40,000 bonus miles after first purchase and payment of the annual fee.

I made my first purchase, and then the annual fee hit. I paid it. And while waiting for my 40K miles, I saw that a new, better offer had come swimming along: 50,000 bonus miles after first purchase and payment of the annual fee.

Grrr. Hate when that happens.

Now, in the past, Chase has always been so kind about things like this. I wanted to see if Barclays would match me to the new 50K offer.

I spent maybe 2 minutes logging into my account and writing them an email.

Screenshot 2014-12-08 23.34.26

They replied with a few hours and said they would match me! Here is what I wrote them and their reply:

Screenshot 2014-12-08 10.15.38

How cool is that? I wrote on the night of 12/4, got a reply back on 12/5, and guess what happened on 12/6?

Screenshot 2014-12-08 11.31.51

Bottom line

I value all my points and miles at 2 cents each, so this extra 10,000 miles is worth $200 to me. It’s almost enough for a free domestic one-way or 1/3 of a round-trip off-season award ticket to Europe or South America (when they eventually become AAdvantage miles). Not bad for typing a few sentences and asking.

Sometimes the best way to get points and miles is simply to ask for them. If you’ve gotten this card recently (past ~90 days), it’s worth a shot to get an extra 10K miles. Anyone else been able to bump their bonus?

Taking another look at Alaska Airline’s MileagePlan program

You're interesting

You’re interesting

I’ve been curious about Alaska’s MileagePlan program for a while. Between trying out Delta, then racing to qualify for status on American, Alaska has always been that airline that I’ve known about but never really explored. MileagePlan was discussed quite a bit at April’s FTU, and since then, I’ve been looking into the program more.

Pros and Cons

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List of Changes to American in the AA/US Airways Merger

DisAAdvantage

This is mostly for my own benefit, just because I want to keep track of everything that is happening with American during their merger with US Airways.

I will continue to update this post (though hopefully not frequently…).

Note: I do not really care about the US Airways side of things, only how they affect American.

On April 8, 2014 (with no advance notice):

  • American has eliminated distance-based Oneworld Explorer awards
  • American has eliminated stopovers at the North American “gateway” city on AAdvantage awards
  • American has created multiple tiers of AAdvantage standard award levels
  • AAdvantage Gold members and Dividend Miles Platinum and Gold members will receive one fewer free checked bag. American Executive Platinums still get 3 free checked bags and Platinums get two. Golds now get only one
  • Flights to and from South America won’t have second bag charges
  • Full fare tickets and AAnytime awards do not get free checked bags
  • Phone ticketing fee increased to $35 from $25

(Hopefully not) To be continued…

Rolling with the punches (Or, Et tu, American?)

Update: American’s shitty response when I tweeted this post:

Did you feel it this morning? The quake that rippled through the blogs regarding American’s sudden overhaul of award redemptions? They also eliminated the beloved Oneworld Explorer Award AND stopovers at North American “gateway” cities – two features I really loved about the AAdvantage program. It’s a veritable mAAsacre.

I have to admit, I was really down about it. I don’t really care about the new five-tired award redemption system. I only ever booked SAAver awards anyway. The others are pure capacity controls, nothing more.

I was really looking forward to booking an Explorer Award in the near future. American recently introduced an unprecedented 100K bonus on the Executive AAdvantage card, which was enough, or nearly enough, to book a decent Explorer Award. I know a lot of people were looking into it and beginning to plan one of their own, including me.

And now, overnight, it’s gone. No advance notice. No, “hey you might want to book this soon”. Just a complete, unannounced overhaul.

The other thorn was the elimination of the free one-way that you could tack onto an award redemption. I was planning on doing that too, to get back from Oktoberfest, then onward to somewhere else. Now, the “somewhere else” prices as a completely separate award.

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Booked: MEX-LIM-EZE-SCL-IPC-SCL-MEX in November

CRAY

CRAY

 

I am SO looking forward to this crazy-ass itinerary. Basically, I get to SCL for a night, fly to IPC and back on the 25th, then get chill out in SCL for another two days. Then, I head up to MEX and will hang out there for two days before returning to NYC.

It’s all on LAN, in business class, which will earn me a heap of miles and points on American.

MEX-LIM-EZE-SCL-IPC-SCL-MEX

  • 14,051 miles (plus 100% bonus)

  • 21,077 points

Only regret: just one hour in EZE. Le sigh. I really wanted to check out the Amex Centurion lounge there, but I might not have time to even leave the gate area.

But how cool is it that I get to fly to IPC twice in one year? And that this business class ticket was just a hair over $1000?

 

Can’t wait to check out Santiago, Valparaiso, and Mexico City over Thanksgiving!

First upgrades on American as a Platinum

I took two flights on American last week as part of my courier work: IND-ORD and ORD-LGA.

It was booked into K class, which doesn’t earn complimentary upgrades. I arrived at IND a little early and asked to get on the next flight. The agent re-booked me into Y class (as a full fare) for the entire trip back and took four upgrade “stickers” out of my AAdvantage account.

Whatever about the stickers. I knew she was wrong, but loved being re-booked into a higher fare bucket.

Then when I got to ORD, I was actually supposed to fly back to EWR, which I despise. I noticed a shit ton of flights headed for LGA and asked if I could do to SDC onto the next LGA flight. The agent rebooked me (staying in the Y fare bucket), and my upgrade cleared instantly. I flew first class on both segments with instant upgrades both times. Easy peezy (and to LGA).

I knew they should’ve used three upgrade stickers instead of four. I called the Platinum desk, they answered on the first ring, and gave me back two certs instead of just one – for the trouble – although flying in first was really no trouble at all. I took the certs and enjoyed the upgrades.

All-in-all, loving American’s service. They seem more willing to do more “behind the scenes” stuff for higher tiers than Delta will, and with no cost. Delta is all about the nickeling and dime-ing these days.

Content to stay with American.

Although, I must say, Delta makes it so freaking easy to earn MQMs with credit card spend. Especially with the newest offer to get 20K MQMS with the Platinum Biz card. Damn, that’s nearly Silver right there. But oh well, can’t win ’em all, right? At least American lets you qualify on points instead of just miles – which might end up being my saving grace if LAN keeps pumping out these cheap deals to South America.

 

$55 Dollar Cologne for $20 (Staples Continued)

Yeah! It really happened! It amused me.

My Staples drama has been well-documented. But then, a funny thing happened. I got 5% cash-back rewards from my $500 free after rebate purchase.

 

$25 - for free!

$25 – for free!

 

Staples gave me $25 to play with – for free!

So what did I do? Bought a $50 e-gift card to Sephora, right on Staples.com. The card came in my email pretty quickly. The cologne I wanted was $55, but this certificate brought that down, right away, to $30. A pretty nice discount.

Sephora gift card on Staples.com

Sephora gift card on Staples.com

 

So about that other $10 off? I clicked through 2 portals: the AAdvantage portal to buy the gift card from Staples, and the Ultimate Rewards portal to buy the cologne from Sephora.

Staples: $50 x 2 points/dollar = 100 points (worth $2)

Sephora: $55 x 8 points/dollar = 440 points (worth $8)

The points posted, and the cologne shipped free. It smelled all the better knowing I’d gotten it for a smooth $20. Can’t beat that with a stick.

 

Moral of the story: always hop on that free-after-rebate stuff from Staples. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Pretty awesome stuff.

Platinum on American…

…with only one trip this year!

AA-Platinum-Status

After Chile and booking the Xmas trip

American was kind enough to let me complete a status challenge. To achieve Platinum, I had to accrue 10,000 points in the three months following May 16th (my start date). Well, on May 18th, I headed down to Chile and was Platinum by the time I arrived in Easter Island.

Now that I’m back, I have a nice amount of activity in my AAdvantage account:

AA-Activity-2013

 

The Easter Island trip netted me 15,088 EQMs, 22,634 EQ points, 4 upgrade “stickers”, and a lot of redeemable miles. Beyond that though, it really makes me want to hit 50K miles on American this year to keep the status. And this, combined with Delta’s move toward a revenue-based system and other assorted asshat-ery makes me want to stick withAmerican from here on out. I’m also highly unimpressed with Amex, Delta’s credit card partner, as has been noted often.

I also really liked redeeming 81K miles (90K – 10% back) for business class MEL-AUH on Etihad yesterday. I dunno. I’m warming up to it. My only regret is not buying another $900 ticket to Chile while I had the chance…

I have my first revenue flight on American in August to Anchorage (and maybe sooner!) and am really curious to see the Platinum benefits in action. Already, I’ve experienced better phone service. To book the award last night, I got a great agent after only one ring.

Yes, I think I’m going to kick damn Delta to the curb. Two final thoughts:

  • The little things.
  • Devil’s in the details.

🙂

Just booked: JFK-LAX-NAN-AKL-SYD-MEL-AUH-CAI-JFK

And I’m super freaking excited about it.

So the title is a bit of a fib: I have a flight alert and fare tracker set for LAX-NAN and will buy it if I have to, and I haven’t gotten the initial JFK-LAX but am not really so worried about it.

This is what the trip will look like:

25,000 miles and all around the world

25,000 miles and all around the world

 

So far, I’ve used 132K miles per person and gotten over 6 cents of value out of each one. This trip would be nearly $17,000 if bought at retail price.

It’ll be from Dec 24th, 2013 to January 7th, 2014. It includes Christmas in Fiji, New Years in Sydney, stopovers in New Zealand and Melbourne, and a quick trip to see the pyramids on the Gaza strip in Cairo.

So how’d I book it? Segment by segment, and with a combination of AAdvantage, MileagePlus, and Avios miles.

The breakdown (notice there’s no Delta!):

JFK-LAX: will most likely use AAdvantage miles when I earn a few more, or maybe MileagePlus if necessary

LAX-NAN: would like to use AAdvantage miles for this. Might have to purchase it, and it would be the only leg I’d have to buy. However, it’s only $750 right now and would net me a nice amount of miles as I’m Platinum on American and the flight is on Air Pacific. Still, I’m holding out for award space.

NAN-AKL: 17,500 x 2 (so 35,000) MileagePlus miles on Air New Zealand

AKL-SYD: 9,000 AAdvantage miles for one and 10,000 Avios for the other – both on Qantas

SYD-MEL: 4,500 x 2 (so 9,000) Avios on Qantas, baby. Wonderful redemption rate!

MEL-AUH: 45,000 x 2 (so 90,000) AAdvantage miles for Etihad business class to Abu Dhabi

AUH-CAI-JFK: 60,000 x 2 (so 120,000) MileagePlus miles transferred in from Ultimate Rewards. Includes a 17-hour stopover in Cairo, then back to NYC in business class on Egyptair.

All-in-all, a very good award IMHO. 5 new countries, four new airlines, and two new business class products (I didn’t feel the need to book the short hauls in business) – not to mention an amazing life experience! This is exactly why I’m so crazy about collecting points and miles: I can go on awesome trips like this and actually 1) afford them and 2) travel in style. And the best part is that, with a little strategic planning, you can really maximize what you get for free.

As a litmus test, I went and found the exact flights over on Kayak and priced out how much the itinerary I booked would cost on the retail market. Here’s what I found:

FIJI

 

When I factor in the two remaining legs to book, I estimate this itinerary will be over $17,000. Cray!

Here’s where I was able to extract even MORE value out of this booking aside from the goal value of 2 cents per mile:

  • Having the Citi AAdvantage Select card gives me 10% of redeemed miles back per year, up to 10,000 miles. I just redeemed 100K miles and will get 10K back – making my cost here only 90K miles. I value 10,000 AAdvantage miles at roughly $200, so it’s totally worth paying the annual fee of $95 to get those miles back.
  • The Barclaycard Arrival came with a $440 signup bonus, which I will redeem for the taxes, booking fees, and fuel surcharges. This means that there was literally ZERO out-of-pocket expense in booking these awards. Amazing.
  • My partner has a Chase United Explorer card which gave us access to Saver awards even when the site told us none were available. That’s huge.
  • I just need to add that this booking really shows the value of Avios. I know the program gets knocked quite a bit, but I was able to get some great value out of it. I also am factoring in the flight times into the equation. I had the pick of literally dozens of flights – all for free. Having all those choices is something I really loved.
  • Lastly, thinking of this award booking as one project instead of individual segments really helped me justify the “not amazing” redemption values of some segments. The first on Air New Zealand, for example, only got 3 cents of value per mile. However, on the Etihad segment, I got over 13 cents of value for each mile. That is a huge WOW. By thinking of it this way, the average value of all my miles really came into focus.

 

Very much looking forward to the flights, trip reports, and of course all the amazing new places. I’ve always wanted to visit Australia, and my heart is bursting with excitement and gratitude at being able to actually do this. More soon as always.

The Kaspresky/Staples Drama is OVER: Got my miles (finally)!

Last update to the torrid drama of the free 1500 AAdvantage miles from the free-after-rebate software purchase from Staples that originated back in March. When last we heard, I’d received the checks but not the miles. Welp, I am happy to report I’ve finally received all 1500 miles.

Screen shot 2013-06-02 at 4.54.02 PM

 

…but not without a lot of followup! I value 1500 miles at around $30, but hot damn did I have to work (and wait!) for it.

I sent an email to the Cartera people on April 26th. They were great with the followup and sent me emails on May 11th, 20th, and 31st. The last one was to say the miles had posted. I checked my account and there they were. Yay!

I also found something else that sparked my interest. I now have $25 in Staples rewards that I can spend after the June statement closes. I’m wondering if I have purchase an e-gift card, then use it after clicking through a portal to generate even more FREE miles. That would be simply awesome. So while the Staples saga is over (this one, anyway), the quest for points and miles soldiers on.

It’s On: AAdvantage Platinum Status Challenge 2013

Man, I’m liking American a lot lately. Today, I called the AAdvantage desk about doing a status challenge for Platinum level, beginning May 16th. I’d been thinking about doing it for a while. I have three flights that end up in Easter Island beginning on the 18th, and since it’s all in first and business class, it’s more than enough to qualify me for Platinum. The rep carefully explained the terms of the challenge, which were the same as described here, so I knew what to expect. But it was still nice to confirm. She actually pulled up my flights and assured me that I’d be Platinum by the time I landed in Easter Island, which was very kind and thorough. Then she put me on hold.

When she came back she said, “I’m gonna help you out. I’m gonna go ahead and upgrade you to Gold so you’ll have a better trip and earn more miles on the way down there.” I was blown away. Now that’s something Delta would never do!

Per the Wiki linked above, I was prepared to pay $240 for the challenge. However, I was only charged $180. Perhaps this is a new thing? I chatted with the rep a bit about the upcoming merger, Explorer Awards, and thanked her profusely for the free upgrade to Gold. That’ll net me 7,000+ free miles in addition to the class bonus. Awesome!

The rep then said I’d get an email with more information, which came as soon as we hung up. Here’s the full text of the email I received from American:

Here’s the Info You Requested on Your Elite Challenge:
Thank you again for registering for an American Airlines AAdvantage elite Challenge. To help you meet
your goal, we are resending information on completing the Challenge. Additionally, if you wish to have a
receipt of the amount you were charged to register, please follow these steps:
1. Go to https://www.refunds.aa.com/
2. Locate the form “Request a Refund or Receipt”
3. In the field for “Ticket Number” input the MSR number I provided to you today
4. Input your Last Name in the next field
5. Select “Go” and the amount you paid is displayed
Now here are some tips to help you succeed:

  • Plan your qualifying flights to meet your goal within the 3-month time frame we discussed. Travel outside this time frame will not qualify toward your Challenge.
  • Be sure to fly on an eligible carrier. Points earned on qualifying flights on American Airlines, American Eagle, the AmericanConnection®carrier, British Airways, Iberia, Japan Airlines and Qantas (including eligible codeshare flights marketed by these carriers) count toward your Challenge.
  • If you upgrade, please keep in mind that points earned are based on the fare and booking code purchased, not the cabin in which you travel.
  • Learn more about point accrual and qualifying fares for each airline:
  • o American Airlines
  • o British Airways
  • o Iberia
  • o Japan
  • o Qantas
  • How can you determine what booking code is used for the fare you’re purchasing? Simply ask the booking agent, whether that’s your travel agent, corporate travel planner or AA Reservations representative. Or, even better, when you book your flights on AA.com, the Flight Summary screen displays the booking code in the same column as the cabin booked. 
  • Remember that the charge for your Challenge is nonrefundable — even if circumstances beyond anyone’s control prevent you from meeting the goal. 

A Challenge is intended for members who are in a hurry to get to the elite level they desire and begin
enjoying their benefits. Think of it as a shortcut to the status you would probably earn on your own
during the normal qualification period. Assuming you’re successful, please be prepared to meet the
normal criteria when it comes time to requalify for your status, since we offer limited opportunities to
earn status via a Challenge. We wish you every success in completing this Challenge.

Then I logged into my AAdvantage account and saw that I was indeed instantly upgraded to Gold.

Screen shot 2013-05-13 at 6.29.18 PM

 

Looking forward to being Platinum on American this time next week. 🙂 Amazing that I’m now Gold with zero American flights this year and will be Platinum after spending a little under $1,000 on a deal of a fare (+$180). The status will be good through the end of February 2014.

I did ask, out of pure curiosity if Executive Platinum challenges were still on the go. The rep told me they were not, and that they’ve stopped doing them altogether.

So that was my experience with American today. Very generous. Feeling good about making the switch. Can’t wait to post the trip reports next week!