Category Archives: Getting Started

Chicago Seminars 2016 – a Must if you are New to this Game of Point/Mile Collecting

I cannot say enough GREAT things about this seminar – which I have absolutely no affiliation with other than being a very happy attendee.  This will be my 5th year in attending and each year I come away with more confidence to broaden what I do.  The seminar was begun by Rick Ingersol of Frugal Travel Guy and taken over by Howie Rappaport.  If you have a chance, go on over to Howie’s blog.

First of all, this seminar is, in my opinion, very, very affordable.  The entire weekend of seminars beginning Friday late afternoon to late afternoon on Sunday and including your lunch on both Saturday and Sunday is $105.00.  The event is at the Elk Grove Holiday Inn, a short shuttle stop from O’Hare Airport.  If at all possible, try to stay at the host hotel but if not, book a room at one of the overflow hotels where shuttles will run you back and forth to the event.  If you are in an overflow hotel, keep checking back at the host hotel because there are ALWAYS last minute cancellations, even the day the seminar begins.  I would go to the host hotel first and see if there were any openings before checking into the host hotel.

Most times there are two concurrent seminar topics running in adjacent rooms.  Tough decision which to choice or better yet bring a friend, spouse or find a friend and offer to share notes..  Bring a sweater too – some rooms are very cold, others just right or hot.  You just never know.

Bring your laptop (I do), a notebook for jotting down information, your iPhone to take pictures of the screens to help you remember.  The main thing that you should bring with you is a willingness to meet people, include others in your conversations, share and to ask questions.  So much of what I have learned has been in the lobby between classes, or over a beer in the connected restaurant or over a meal with a newfound friend.

You may ask why am I attending for a 5th time.  Well, as most of you know, I am a YOUNG senior and although I have plenty of free time (ahh, retirement is grand) I do sometimes take a little longer to “get it”.  My first time attending I felt overwhelmed and that everyone was speaking a language that I didn’t get and I felt too embarrassed to ask any questions.  I hid out in my room some of the time though I did have a great excuse of my broken foot in a cast and needed to elevate it.  The second time I had taken a couple of trips, knew the words but still a little unsure of the strategies.  I spoke more, sat with strangers and involved myself in the conversations.  I knew what to expect the second time and even spent an extra night (Sunday) so I wouldn’t miss Sunday afternoon and wasn’t as rushed.  The third time was really the charm for me.  I met a great group from Boston and a really nice woman from Texas.  She and I have stayed in contact passing on deals to each other.  We joined a large group for dinner and had so much fun.  Last year, I felt like one of the more veteran attendees and it was answering questions from newbies, encouraged those who stayed outside of circles to join us.

No matter what your level or expertise in this hobby is, I know that you will take home a new trick as well as new friend.

Here is the link to the registration form   Please consider attending, you will not regret it, I promise

 

 

 

 

 

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Why I LOVE going to the grocery store – not what you think!

As most of you know by now, the majority of our travel is from earning and burning points and miles from our various credit cards. We don’t earn too many of them from travel but rather from strategically using our credit cards as well as credit card sign ups.

As I have mentioned in the past, one of my favorite combination of credit cards is the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card with the Chase Freedom card. The Freedom card by itself is a money back card but if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred card or one of the Chase Inks (business cards) then the Freedom card will earn the Ultimate Reward points that can be transferred to airlines and hotels and formerly AMTRAK.Freedom

What is unique about the Freedom card is that they have different category spending per quarter. The second quarter of this year is 5 times points at grocery stores and big box stores like Sam’s Club, BJ’s Warehouse, Costco, etc.

I need to have a few windows replaced and had Lowe’s come over and give me an estimate for the window replacements – over $2,000.00. Hmm, my local grocery stores sells Lowe’s gift cards and if I purchase them this quarter, I’ll get 7,500 ultimate reward points rather than just the 2,000 points from paying Lowe’s directly.  Note:  you are limited to spending $1500 per quarter to get the bonus points.  Do I hear a Cha Ching!

That got me thinking.  What else do I ordinarily spend money on that I could purchase a gift card for during this quarter? I always need gas so a few BP gas cards went in my basket as well as a few restaurants gift cards and movie theatre gift cards and of course, those lovely and ever so versatile VISA $500 gift cards. Luckily, Blogger Hubby also has a Freedom that that we can use for all these extra points.

This should be a banner month for me with it all ending on June 30th. I hope you have the Freedom and and have taken advantage of this quarter’s bonus categories. If you don’t have it and are interested in one, please leave me a message in the comment section.

UPDATE:  Mommy Points has just written that Chase Freedom will continue to pay 5 x points when used at wholesale club stores through the end of the year.  You can read her post here.

New Rules for Chase Credit Cards

I receive no compensation of any type from JP Chase – in fact, they probably don’t know anything about me.  The views below are mine entirely.

Chase is tightening up their rules for obtaining one of their credit cards.  This past summer/fall, they began implementing the 5/24 rule.  If you opened 5 credit cards from any bank within twenty four months, you would most likely be declined for any of Chase’s own credit cards.  This was exclusive to their own credit cards such as Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Freedom card and any of their cards that are not co-branded with another company such as Marriott.

 

If you are new to credit card churning, then I would suggest before you get to the 5 card you apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card, one of my favorites of all time.  I do not have an affiliate link as I do not have a business relationship with them but if you are thinking of getting their card, I would receive 5,000 Ultimate Reward points if I refer you.  If interested, just drop me an email and I’ll begin a dialogue with you.  If not, I still HIGHLY recommend this credit card because of its flexible Ultimate Reward points.

Now Chase is changing the rules AGAIN!  Their co-branded cards will follow the same 5/24 rule sometime in April.  If you are on the fence or thinking about applying for one of their co-branded cards, my advise is to do it within the next month to six weeks.  In fact, I would do it sooner than later. Some of their co-branded cards include British Airways, Hyatt, Marriott, IHG, Ritz Carlton,  Disney, Southwest Airlines and United Explorer.

I have been thinking about getting both the Hyatt card and the Marriott card but my problem is that you can only have five personal credit cards from Chase.  Which card to close is my dilemma.  I already have the United Mileage Plus Select card (a co-branded card) which is my oldest credit card dating back to the early 1990’s.  It is a card that is no longer available and for those of us that have it, it makes it worthwhile to keep it.  I certainly do not want to close that card out since I have had it as long as I do – always keep your oldest card!

hyatt logo

I also have the IHG card ( a co-branded card) which gives me Aspire elite status with IHG (Holiday Inn, Intercontinental, etc) and I do participate a few times a year with their promotions and there ALWAYS is a step that has you paying with your IHG credit card.  Also, this card gives me one free night a year and the annual fee is only $49.  I have only had the card about ten months now and do not mind paying the $49 for the one free night, which we will use in Brussels.

ihg

I currently have the Freedom (one of Chase’s cards, not co-branded) which I do love for the revolving quarterly bonus categories.  It has been particularly useful to me before the holidays as Amazon has been one of the bonus stores.  That might be the one that I will consider closing and perhaps my husband could get it instead.

Freedom

In December I applied for and one month later  approved for the United Explorer credit card which gives me free checked bags when I fly on United.  Since I tend to fly United the most, that will be particularly useful to me.  Since I have had that card only about a month, obviously I do not want to close it.

Finally, I have the Chase Sapphire Preferred.  Thinking that I might never be approved for it again, I’m keeping it.  I love the Ultimate Reward points and since am boosting my United points with my new Explorer card, I can use those UR points for other airlines, like Singapore Airlines.

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Chase Sapphire Preferred

So if I want the Marriott or Hyatt card, I’ll have to close one of my Chase cards and it will probably be the Freedom, much to my chagrin.

Have you thought about applying for any of the Chase co-branded cards before the 5/24 rule takes effect?  Are you having the problem that I am as to which card to close?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Update on Target Redbird

I’ve received a few email questions about the Target Redbird.  Folks around the country are beginning to find out about it and are begging people who live near a Target who are selling the PrePaid Debit card to get one for them.

Screen shot 2014-10-21 at 4.46.56 PM

You CAN load the Redbird with a credit card even though it says cash only.  Some people, including me, found that my transaction with one credit card was declined.  I knew my card was fine but what I should have done is to call the credit card first to alert them that I was going to be purchasing about $500 on my credit card at Target.  That did the trick and I have had no problems since then. If you are declined, just step aside and call your credit card company.

After you have your permanent card make sure you register it online.  At the home page you can manage your Redcard and then pay bills with it.  Go to “Online Bill Pay” and near the top of the page you’ll  “Pay and Transfer”.  Click on the and you’ll find a drop down menu where you can select Pay Bills.  You can then add a Payee.  Add the amount that you want to pay and then you’ll be told when it will be delivered.  Today I am paying a credit card bill and the money will arrive in two days.  If you are sending it to a small company that may not be listed with them or an individual, it will take longer.  If you are planning on sending money to cover your rent to an indivdual, allow yourself enough time for the check to arrive.

Now, are you all ready to begin loading your Redbird and paying your bills?

 

Target RedCard PrePaid Debit – the New Points Game in Town

We all loved the American Express BlueBird card when we could get the Vanilla Reloads at CVS but when CVS would no longer allow the purchase of the Vanilla Reloads with a credit card, many people put their Bluebird card away unless you were one of the lucky ones that had a source of VR’s near you at a different store.

Now Target and American Express has come up with a great alternative to the Bluebird – the RedCard PrePaid Debit affectionately known at the Red Bird.  This is the third type of RedCard that AmEx and Target have collaborated on and you want to make sure you get the correct one.  You want to get this card:

Screen shot 2014-10-21 at 4.46.56 PM

This will be a temporary card that you’ll receive at the store and you’ll need to pay $5 for it though in some stores that fee is being waived.  It is being tested at a few Targets around the country so you most likely will not find it at your store unless you live in a test market.  I just purchased one in Richmond, Virginia – no fee but I did load $5 on the one that I purchased for a friend of mine.

At the register the clerk will ask you to input  your social security number into the machine but some people have found that they have a “fat finger” when it comes to adding in their number in the store.  While I am not advocating it, if you want to get some RedBirds for others, that fat finger may come in handy.  Don’t be surprised if the sales register clerk scans your drivers license – this is normal.   At the register, you can load $500 on this temporary, unregistered  card.  Once it is registered, you can load a total of $1500.

When you get home you’ll need to register it online and you need to make sure you have your correct social security number.  It is one per person like the Bluebird is and you cannot have either a Bluebird or a Serve – both issued by AmEx.  You can buy a Redbird but before you register it, you must  cancel your Bluebird or Serve.

To find a store near you, click here and go to the second question where you will click on another link to find a drop down menu to find your state.  Look at the locations in the test markets, see if you have any friends that are who can pick one up for you if you are not near one yourself.  If you have the card, you can still load it at a Target near you even though you can’t purchase one at your local Target.

Another great benefit of having the card is that it gives you a 5% discount when you make  purchases at Target and pay with your Prepaid debit card.

The Redbird has a $5000 monthly load and a $2500 daily load when you use your credit card although you can only load it $1000 per transaction.  If you wanted the full $2500 per day then you would need to go through the registers twice.

Like the Bluebird, you can withdraw money from your Redbird when you use an ATM.  To use it at an ATM fee free – go to an All Point network for a list of locations that have this ATM network.   I wouldn’t recommend withdrawing more than 80% of your funds this way though I hardly ever withdraw money. I usually use it to pay my bills.   We all want to be careful not to have any of our accounts shut down.  Use it to purchase items at stores, at an ATM and bill paying and you’ll be fine.

Some of you newbies may wonder why this is such great news.  Let me explain for you.  When you sign up for some of the credit cards that come with great bonus as far as points/miles, you generally have a minimum spend that you must do prior to receiving the points.  By using your credit card to load money on your Redbird, you will be meeting that minimum spend.   It’s simple – you can load money at the register with your credit card.  Cha-ching, I hear the points accumulating in my mental points register.  Like the Bluebird you can pay your bills with the Redbird.  Imagine getting points for paying your rent, mortgage, anything that you generally cannot pay with a credit card.  You can even pay your credit card that you used to load money onto your Redbird!  Which account do you need to get more points?

To get you started on your Redbird, I will award one Redbird loaded with $20 to a lucky reader.  You must leave a comment on this post as to how you would use your Redbird – for  the discount at Target, for the points to use for a future trip….any type of comment.  Contest will end on Sunday, November 16th at 9:00 PM.  The card will be mailed out later that week (as soon as I go to a location that sells them).

 

Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

Continuing on with the credit card theme from yesterday, we are moving on to my Number One favorite credit card – the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card.  Every time I use this card I get lots of compliments because it is a heavy card with metal between the plastic front and back.  This is the card that both Blogger Hubby and I each applied for two years ago to get enough points to fly to Australia in business class with the lie flat seats.

Chase Sapphire Preferred
Chase Sapphire Preferred

With the Sapphire Preferred card, you get 2 times points on all travel and dining charges and on the first Friday of the month you will get 3 times points on dining.  Another perk is an additional 1 times points (for a total of 3 times points) on travel when you book your travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.  One benefit that I think is important to any traveler is no foreign transaction fees.  That alone can save you lots of money.

ultimate-rewards_tcg._CB388517712_

Now you ask, what are Ultimate Rewards.  This is the part that I REALLY like.  When you use a Delta credit card, you receive Delta miles; when you use an American Airlines card you receive American Airlines points.  When you use Chase Sapphire Preferred card and a few other cards from Chase, you receive Ultimate Reward points.

united

Ultimate Reward points are flexible points.  Chase gives you options of where you can transfer your Ultimate Reward points to and I like options.  I can transfer these points to United Airlines and consequently to all of the Star Alliance; to Southwest Airlines which we have used twice in the past year and had never used before; British Airways which gets you into the OneWorld Alliance; Korean Airlines which gets you into the SkyTeam Alliance; Virgin Atlantic and just added (and one of my favorite airlines that is also in the Star Alliance – Singapore Airlines.  For those who take the train you can transfer you points to AMTRAK.  There are also hotels that you can transfer your points to though in my opinion you get more bang for your point by transferring them to an airline.  However if you need hotel points, you can transfer them to Hyatt, Marriott, Ritz Carlton and IHG which is Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Crowne Plaza and more.

Currently if you are approved for this card you need to spend $3000 in the first 3 months to earn 40,000 miles.  If you are interested in this card, leave a note in the comment section and I’ll forward to you my referral code where I would receive 5,000 points for the referral or if you would rather not, you can go directly to the Chase website and fill out an application there.  Either way, this card is definitely in my wallet and is my favorite.

Chase Ink Business Credit Card

I’ve been accused of not spending enough time writing about credit cards so to the readers that have written me about it, this post is for you.

I absolutely love the Chase Ink Business card.  Although I do have a business (I rent a condo) when I applied for some reason I didn’t even consider my rental as a business.  Instead I said that I sold homemade items at craft shows and did some lunch catering for the elderly.  I answered the questions truthfully, called myself a sole proprietor and submitted by application.  I was approved.  I’m sure that many of you have a business without even thinking about it?  Do you babysit, tutor, do side jobs, write a blog, etc  There are so many circumstances that would qualify for a “business”.

chase ink bold

What I really like about the Chase Ink credit card is that it gives me 5 times points when I pay my landline, wireless bills as well as my internet bill and (drum roll please) office supply stores.

Yes, my greatest points come from office supply stores.  You may wonder how I do that.  It’s easy — I shop the gift card section of office supply stores for upcoming shopping or dining that I will be doing.

My Office Max is located next door to one of my favorite stores – TJ MAXX.  I go into T J MAXX and put what I am going to purchase in a cart then head next door to buy my TJ MAXX git card.  Yes, it is an additional step but I will earn 5 times points at Office Max toward my purchase at TJ  MAXX.  I will also pick up restaurant gift cards as well as gas station gift cards.  One of my favorites is Amazon gift cards or those that are Amazon Kindle gift cards (those can be used on Amazon and not just on their Kindle product).  I’m finding that I am spending more and more time shopping on Amazon particularly for new reads for my Kindle so why not get the most points that I can?

The Chase Ink Business card is just that – a charge card which means that you need to pay your balance in full each month.  For those of us in the points hobby, we know how important it is for your credit score to pay your charge or credit cards in full each month.

Currently the Ink Business card is offering 50,000 Ultimate Reward points when you spend $5000 within three months.  Now wait a minute, before you say that you can’t spend $5000 in three months, remember some of the ways that we “manufactured spending”.  I have purchased variable VISA debit cards at stores (many office supply stores do not sell these cards but many grocery stores do) where you can load anywhere between $20 to $500 on these cards.  I then call a number on the back of the card to set a PIN.  What I do next is go to my local grocery store and purchase a money order using the debit card to fund the money order.  Later I’ll deposit the money order in my bank account so I can pay the Ink Business card charge that I made for the debit card.  To break it down further:  I used my credit card (and got points for this) to buy a VISA/MasterCard debit card and I would put $500 on it.  I would then take that VISA card with $500 on it and purchase a money order.  I would then later take the money order and deposit it to my bank account so I could pay the credit card bill.  Personally I wouldn’t do more than $1500 to $2000 on money orders per month.  Now you have met your $5000 spend to earn your 50,000 points in opening up your Ink credit card.

Finally, when you make application online, you may not get an immediate response. That is not unusual.  I simply call their reconsideration line.  They may need more information and by speaking with them, you can give them all the information they need or perhaps explain.  Do not wait longer than a week.  I’ll go as far as saying that I call the same day that you applied.  Secondly, make sure that you have a good reason to apply for the card.  Do not say that you like the bonuses that they are offering.  You might say that you are planning on some foreign travel and the no foreign transaction fee is important to you.   You could also say that a friend of yours has the card and highly recommends it.  If you do not have enough credit available, offer to reduce your credit line on another card with the same bank – in this case Chase.  The telephone number that you want to call is 800-453-9719.

If you are interested in applying, here is a link  I do not receive any compensation from Chase or any other company.  These comments are purely my own.

 

 

Chase Freedom 3rd Quarter

I am such a fan of the Chase Freedom credit card; particularly since I have both the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card as well as the Chase Ink business card.  I say particularly so because rather than getting cash back from the Freedom card I get the points and to me, points are extremely valuable.

Freedom

What I like love, about the Chase Freedom card are the different bonus categories that they have each quarter that will give you 5 x points.  This quarter is a repeat of first quarter’s gas points as well as Kohls.

Before this quarter ends. I’ll be sure to purchase some gas gift cards at the gas stations that I go to.  This way I’ll continue to get 5 X points since the gift cards were purchased during the 3rd quarter bonus period.

Don’t forget to activate your Chase Freedom card.  Just follow this link and it will take you to the activation page.

Amazing Deal – Citi American Airlines Credit Card 100,000 points!

Occasionally a great deal will come our way.  Last year for 2 days only, I received 100,000 miles from American Express.  Those miles took Blogger Hubby and I to Hawaii in Business Class seats with 40,000 miles left over for a future trip.

Now Citi is offering a similiar deal – you can earn 100,000 American Airlines miles with a $10,000 spend in three months.  This offer comes with the following benefits:

  • $200 in statement credits — earn $1 in statement credits for each $1 spent on purchases within the first 12 months of membership.
  • Admirals Club membership (a membership value of up to $500)
  • Earn10,000 Elite Qualifying Milesafter spending $40,000 in purchases each calendar year
  • No foreign transaction fees  on purchases
  • Earn two AAdvantage miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases, including US Airways codeshare flights booked on aa.com
  • Priority Boarding and 25% savings on eligible in-flight purchases
  • Your first eligible checked bag is free
  • SmartChip technology Expert Concierge Service
  • $450 Annual Fee – not waived but with the $200 statement credit it will help offset this expense

You will notice on this page, which will take you to the application page, that it asks for a referral code  – you can leave it blank.

aadvantage deal

Remember that US Airways and American Airlines are merging so more routes would open.

I know that you might be put off with the $10,000 spend but my plan is (yes, we got this card yesterday) to buy Vanilla Reloads and pay my mortgages with them and then pay my credit card that I used to get the VR’s with the money that is in the bank that I was going to use to pay my mortgage.  Between paying bills, grocery shopping, and even paying for federal/state taxes with my credit card.

Is this something that you are planning on applying for – if yes, I’d recommend doing it sooner than later.  Great deals like this do not last long.

Credit Card Sign-Up Bonuses that you Need to be Aware Of

This is a quiet time for travels for me so I thought I would bring you some news of different credit card sign-ups. I urge you not to sign up for any credit cards if you are not able to make the minimum spend, have any large purchases (cars, home) in the next two years and don’t pay your bills on time and in full.  Only you can decide whether to sign up or not.   I do not receive anything from the credit card companies.

1. Alaska Airlines – a Visa credit card that offers you 50,000 mile after $1000 spend.  This is the highest offer ever.  You might be thinking that you do not travel Alaska Airline but what is sweet about Alaska is who its partners are.

alaska airlines cc

Although it is not part of any alliance, it does have some partners that might interest you with the main ones being :

  • Aeromexico
  • Air France
  • American Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Emirates
  • Fiji Airways
  • KLM
  • Korean Air
  • LAN
  • Qantas

I don’t have this card but am seriously thinking of adding it to my wallet.

2. Lufthansa Miles and More – offers you 50,000 miles after you spend $5000.  This is a great card to have in your arsenal of credit cards if you want to fly Lufthansa and the Star Alliance.  Miles and More, like many airlines, does charge fuel surcharges on award tickets but not for those that are domestic tickets.  You can avoid some of these fuel surcharges by flying domestically and within Canada; flights to the Caribbean, flights to the Central and South America, US Airways flights to Europe as long as US Airways is still in the Star Alliance (I would book sooner than later – they join One World Alliance on March 31, 2014); and a few United flights to Asia.  Their award booking for domestic in the US is fewer miles than if you had booked directly with United or US Airways.  When we flew to Hawaii this fall, we booked our business class tickets through Singapore Air on United for 60,000 miles rather the 80,000 that United wanted.  I believe that this is set to expire on Dec. 15th so if you want this card – apply NOW!

lufthansa miles and more

3. British Airways Visa – 50,000 bonus Avios points when you spend $2,000 then you can get 25,000 additional bonus Avios after $10,000 in purchases within the first year of account opening,and a final 25,000 bonus Avios after you make an additional $10,000 in purchases also within the first year of account opening.

ba cc

Together all three cards will net you 150,000 miles.  Are you thinking of adding more credit cards to your wallet?

Keeping Track of your Points and Miles – Award Wallet

With membership in many, many loyalty brands, keeping track of how many points and miles can be hectic.  Add in other family members and it becomes daunting.   Enter Award Wallet.  It keeps track of all you keep track all your miles and points including airline miles, hotel points, and car rental points.  You enter all your loyalty programs, your user name and password and Award Wallet will update your totals each week so you can see at a glance how many miles and/or points you have.

award wallet

It can be hard to track miles and points in different accounts. Award Wallet keeps all your airline, hotel, and car rental miles and points in one place. You always know your exact miles and points balance – and expiration date – so you can prevent them from expiring.

You can add other family members, like I do for Blogger Hubby so that I can manage his miles and points in the same and easy site that I use for mine.

The basic version of Award Wallet is free and it keeps track of over 500 airline,hotel, store loyalty (like DSW, Hallmark, etc) and credit card loyalty brands. You can pay for the

However, Delta, Southwest, and United Airlines do NOT allow Award Wallet to track your miles and points for you.  There is a work around this by using your account mailbox at Award Wallet.   It works by having your statements forwarded to your Award Wallet email address and they’ll automatically import the statement data into your AwardWallet account.

Additionally, Award Wallet Plus keeps track of when your miles or points are going to expire.  That most likely will never happen to me since I have many co-branded credit cards and when I use them for shopping my miles don’t expire as long as I use my card a few times a year.  A friend of mine came to me about two months ago because she has about 500,000 miles on United and they were going to expire.  She was all set to take a trip so they wouldn’t until I suggested that she purchase something on her United Mileage Plus shopping portal which would extend her expiration date.

The basic service is free or you can upgrade to Award Wallet Plus for upwards of $5 for 6 months.

I highly recommend this application to keep track of your miles.

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Chase Freedom 4th Quarter Bonus Categories

For those that have the Chase Freedom card (one of my top 3 cards) you can activate the 4th quarter bonus categories today.  From October 1st though December 31 you can earn 5 times points on purchases made with these merchants.  Go to your Chase site to activate your card.

They have some very attractive stores in their bonus category for the 4th quarter where you can earn 5 x points.  Some of the stores are Amazon, Macy’s, Nordstroms, Bloomingdale’s, Loehmans, Lord & Taylor, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Ave and Off 5th, JCPenney, Kohl’s, Sears and more.  For the complete list click here.

As a reminder, if you go to the Ultimate Rewards mall, with some merchants you’ll get additional points plus the 5 times points from using your Freedom card.  This is how I bump up my points.

Freedom

Bluebird and free checks 1/1/2014

I’ve shared with you a few times my love of Vanilla Reloads (VR)  and AmEx Bluebird (BB).  For those of you who are new to this blog, you can go to this site to read up on it in more detail but very quickly VRs are a transfer means. What I do is to go into a store that sells VRs and they MUST look like this:   Load them

Must look like this
Must look like this

up to $500 each with my credit card that I am either trying to meet the minimum spend on for the sign up points or a credit card that I am trying to get more points on.  I then transfer the money that is on the VR to my Bluebird (BB) and I am able to do it online in the comfort of my home.  Once the money is in my BB account, then I can pay bills electronically.  BB advertisers itself as a debit and checking alternative.

bluebird

Last spring BB introduced free checks.   To use one of BBs checks, you enter the check information on the BB site.  Basically what BB does is preauthorize the check amount and they debit it from your balance.  You can never be in an overdraft position because the check has to be pre-authorized.  This is also handy because some payees do not accept credit card payments (IRS, anything I pay at City Hall, church donations, etc).

You can order free checks now until January 1, 2014.  You have a choice of 50 or 100 checks and since they are free, I would order 100 checks.

bluebird checks

If you go to the VR site you will find a list of stores that supposedly sell VRs.  Now I say supposedly because WalMart is listed and as far as I know they have never sold VRs.  Click on all the stores because there are many names that I did not recognize them but they were the “holding company” and some of their stores were ones that I was aware of and had shopped at.

Do you use Bluebird and Vanilla Reloads?

More Reader Questions

More reader questions answered for you……..

1. Is there a way to link actual miles flown to the ultimate rewards account…or would you have to fly on a star alliance carrier as the way to be able to eventually pool those miles flown with the miles you would get by converting ultimate reward points?   There is no way to link miles flown with your Ultimate Rewards.  UR points can be transferred to the following airlines – British Airways, Korean Air, Southwest, United, Virgin Atlantic.  Of these airlines, only United is a Star Alliance member.  Korean Air is part of the One Sky Alliance.  British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have partners but are not in an alliance.  Southwest has no partners and are not in an alliance.  If you were interested in Star Alliance, you would have to fly United and then you could transfer you UR points to United in order to fly with one of the Star Alliance members.

2. On hotels, what is the best way to begin getting free hotel stays…would you recommend just joining the hotel loyalty programs, signing up for a hotel rewards credit card, or both?  The best way to begin getting free hotel stays is to sign up for their loyalty program.  That way you’ll learn about their promotions which will give you multiple points/free nights if you follow the terms of the promotion.  Hotel credit cards are another way of getting free nights.  Hyatt will give you two free nights, Marriott will give you 50,000 points and you will have to check the other credit cards to see what you will get.

3. Is there a way to combine the Chase ultimate reward points for free hotel stays, or is it a better use of those points to save them for flights?   You can transfer some of your UR points to Hyatt, Marriott, Priority Club, Ritz-Carlton.  Whether you think it is a better use to use your UR for airlines or hotel stays is up to you and what is important to you. Personally I prefer to use my points for long distance business class airline travel.

4. If my spouse also gets a Chase Sapphire Preferred card, will we be able to combine our points?  Yes and no.  You will not have a family account but you can transfer yours into his and vice versa.  When we flew last year, my husband transferred his to my account and we made one booking that way.

5. What specifically do you mean between the difference in free flights versus status? I think I am most interested in being able to book free travel, and if possible in business class.   You get free flights from using your points in your airline account.  For status, you generally get it from flying with your butt in the seat – that’s why people do mileage runs.  You do have the opportunity to get an upgraded seat when you have status.  You could have purchased a coach ticket as a gold member.  If there are business class or premium economy available, you’ll get on the upgrade list.  Whether you get it or not depends on how many seats available, and how many elites are ahead of you.

6. I think I know what you mean by mileage run, but in practical terms, would you just pick a weekend and book a bunch of travel and fly all weekend, or would you do it by strategically picking a far away destination and traveling there over a weekend but making a short vacation out of it…or maybe both depending on circumstances? You could do both.  If you were going on a greater distance, you would have the opportunity to add in a bunch of stops, many times for a nominal amount, for the sole purpose of getting miles.  If you wanted to go from IAD to SFO  you might want to try routing IAD through Boston to Chicago to Houston to SFO.  See how many more miles you would get?  Go to Great Circle Mapper and see the difference.  Now my husband’s cousin picks a destination and makes a short vacation.  She is going to Hong Kong for the miles.  My brother-in-law and his wife went to Aruba to preserve her diamond level.  So, it’s entirely up to you.

7. Question about currency exchange. We will be going to Europe in the fall. Would it be better to get a bunch of Euros before we go or to use a debit card (no ATM charge) at banks in Europe?   I like to have some currency when we go to a new country – in fact, enough to last a few days.  I buy it at my local bank over several different months so hopefully I catch it when the rate is the most favorable.  While I am traveling I use my Charles Schwab bank debit card.  They reimburse you for ALL you ATM fees and it is a favorite of many travelers.  If you are interested, call Chuck and set up your account.

Answering Readers Questions

I recently received some questions from a reader.  You might have some of the same questions in your mind. Hopefully I can answer them for you..

1. Generally speaking, what would you say is the best approach for accumulating significant ultimate rewards points?  In my opinion, the fastest way to accumulate significant UR miles is through credit card churning BUT only if you can do the minimum spend in the allotted time and be able to pay your bill off entirely each  month and you are not going to be making a major purchase in the next two years as hard inquiries stay on your credit report for two years.  Remember, in doing this you want to protect your credit. Last year I applied for and was approved for the Sapphire card (50,000 points), Explorer card (40,000 points), Ink Bold (50,000 points) and Chase Freedom (10,000 points).  Right there is 150,000 points just from the sign-up and not including the points earned while doing the minimum spend.  Add in the cards that my husband opened, and we have over 300,000 points from the credit cards.  We have begun to close a few of our cards – something you should do if you do not want to pay the fee and don’t care about the extra perks, in 8-11 months after opening.  The Chase Mileage Plus Explorer card gives you one free checked bag and two passes to the United Lounge each year.

2. My takeaways from your blog are to: use the card on everyday expenses, use the card especially through the rewards mall and especially with stores that offer the highest points, and booking travel through the ultimate rewards site (although I am not clear how to do this)  When you go to your Chase credit card site, click on the right side to go to Ultimate Rewards.  When you get to this page you will see a blue box on the left side.  You want to click on “Book a Trip”.  Follow the directions and you can then book a trip using miles.

3.  Are there other methods for accumulating a lot of miles in a relatively short time span?   As I wrote about in an earlier blog, Vanilla Reloads are a way that I use to pump up my monthly totals.  Read this post to find out how to use it.  Another way is to have one of the Chase business credit cards where you get 5X points in office supply stores.  You can go in, purchase a $500 VISA gift card and use that for your spend in places where you are only getting 1X points – you’ve just bumped up your total points you would have earned.  Additionally if you have the business credit card, pay for internet, landline and wireless phone bill since you’ll also earn 5X points.

4. Is there a way to link actual miles flown to the ultimate rewards account…or would you have to fly on a star alliance carrier as the way to be able to eventually pool those miles flown with the miles you would get by converting ultimate reward points?   Your actual miles flown would stay with the airline that you’ve flown with.  You would pool your points with an airline of the alliance you want to fly.  Let’s say you have UAL miles, you could transfer your UR points to your UAL account when you want to fly on Star Alliance booking through UAL.  You can only transfer your UR points to one of its transfer partners and then you can use their alliance.  UR points can transfer to Korean Air.  Go to Korean Air and see what alliance they are in (SkyTeam) and who you can transfer to within their alliance.

5. On hotels, what is the best way to begin getting free hotel stays…would you recommend just joining the hotel loyalty programs, signing up for a hotel rewards credit card, or both?  I would join the hotel loyalty program so you can learn about all their promotions.  Generally they have 3-4 promos a year geared toward the season “The new Fall promotion…”  To jump start, get the hotel credit card and many times you’ll get points right off the bat and then when you stay with them you’ll get 5x or 10x points per dollar spent at the hotel.  Last year we stayed at a Marriott for a function that we were going to.  There was a cash bar in our function room so I couldn’t charge my drink to my room.  I walked down the hallway to the hotel bar, charged my drinks and got 5x points for each dollar that I spent at the bar.  I believe Marriott now has a promo that you have to register for that after two stays (remember the difference between a stay and a night) , you get one night free.

More questions and answers coming next week.  Keep them coming.

Mileage Running Tools and Tips for Finding Great Fares

I wrote the other day about going for status by doing a mileage run.  In this post mapI mentioned the ITA Matrix and I gave you some tutorials by other bloggers.  Using those tutorials, I have found that Great Circle Mapper is extremely handy for me in determining how many miles I would get with a basic flight and how many more miles I would earn by adding in a stop.  Here is the link to Great Circle Mapper where you input the airports and you get the distance or you can see it on a map – the choice is yours.

Another tool to help in finding inexpensive flights for your mileage running is Google Flights  You plug in the city you are flying out of and you will see cities all over the world and what it would cost to fly there.  You will be able to  find an inexpensive flights around the United States and the world!

On FlyerTalk, an online community of frequent flyers,  you can go to the forums and you’ll see a thread on Mileage Runs.  Follow this link to go there.  People in the mileage community will often post great deals there and you need to jump on them as they can and will disappear.

Another tool is Fare Compare  You input your departure city, when you want to travel, the minimum and maximum on your budget and voila…..fares and cities will be shown.  Let the fares dictate where you take your next getaway.

I hope you find these tools helpful in planning for your next trip.

Some of My Fellow Points and Miles and Travel Bloggers

As I mentioned previously, I have only been following blogs and beginning to understand this hobby of ours for almost 1 1/2 years.  There are many. many bloggers out there and  few of them were responsible (and still are) for me learning about miles, points and travel.  Each one has a unique interest and specialty.  I’d like to introduce you to a few of my favorite bloggers:

Rene writes Delta Points and as his name suggests, he write mainly about Delta Airlines though you will read about his trips to visit his family in Sweden or scuba diving with his wife in Aruba. I met Rene last year at the Chicago Seminar in October.   If Delta is one of the main airlines you fly, you should read his blog and sign up for his text alerts when he find great mileage runs on Delta.

Frequent Miler is written by Greg who I had the pleasure of  meeting while we were both on a mattress run last year in Sault Ste. Marie.  He has taught everyone so much in getting multiple points through his Frequent Miler Laboratory.  He was the first that I remember to write about the Vanilla Reloads, becoming a Fulfilled by Amazon seller (FBA) when you find really good deals (such as  at Kohls where you get 5x points and this week 30% off) to sell while you are keeping the points and at times making some money.  Last March he challenged himself to earn ONE MILLION MILES.  You can read all about that and other experiments he’s done to help us all at Frequent Miler

MJ on Travel is written by Marshall Jackson who is a pilot, worked for one of the largest airlines.  He is still in the airline industry, travels frequently and is a cruiser as well.  With his frequent travel schedule he does many reviews of hotels, his flights and has a keen insider knowledge of what goes on behind the scenes.  You can read his blog at MJ on Travel

New Girl in the Air is written by Becky, a young married woman.  As much as we all love international travel, it is not financially possible to do it all the time.  Becky combines both long weekend trip reports with her international travels.  Both types of trips are extremely informative and she travels places that are a little off the beaten path.  Currently she is writing about her trip to Slovenia but prior to that she has written about her trip to the Columbia River Gorge, Memphis, etc.  Check out her blog New Girl in the Air

Scott and his team write Mile Value.  Like other bloggers they do quite a bit of traveling.  Scott’s blog is a little different than just trip reports, he analyzes  the entire point and mile travel.  His blog was the first one that I read that told me how I could get a free one way ticket that I could take much later when booking a trip using miles.  Read his free one ways so that you too can make use of this trick at Mile Value.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this post on some of the bloggers that I read and why I like their blogs.

Air, Land and Sea is 2 months old!

I have published my 50th post and my blog is 2 months old!  The idea that I’ve had for a very short time to write a travel blog has now come to fruition and has been published for two months.  Okay, I’ve had to strong arm some friends, and force family members to subscribe and “follow” me.  Although they have heard many of these stories before they have been kind enough to listen again.

Every time that a new person signs up for the blog and I don’t know him or her, I get so excited.  I often wonder how unknown people find my blog and I am so excited that they have.  I know that this blog is a very small (okay, tiny is more like it) player in the world of travel blogs yet I am still excited every time I write a blog and see that people have read it and sometimes commented on it.

I have had people from 20 different countries find and read my blog.  The biggest surprise was 28 hits from Norway when my daughter wrote about her Hawaiian Babymoon in Hawaii using points.

I’ve had people from Canada, Norway, United Kingdom, Australia, Switzerland, Philippines, Malawi, Hong Kong, Singapore, Spain, Poland, Finland, Russian Federation, Costa Rica, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Germany, Vietnam, Malta and Indonesia find and read my blog.  That is such an absolute thrill for me.

I hope that you have been able to find a few tips.  Whether it have been  perhaps been encouraged to get out and do more traveling or to help “fund” your travel through credit card sign-ups or find a new product that will make your travel a little bit easier.

I also want to thank you for passing my blog on to friends and family and also for posting it on your FB page and encouraging others to read it.

If you ever want to be a guest blogger for travel locally, domestically or internationally, please drop me a note.  We are in this to help each other out.

Once again, thank you for being part of my Air. Land. &  Sea family.

photo: kootation.com
photo: kootation.com

Club Carlson

How many of you have ever heard of Club Carlson?  Here’s a hint…it is a loyalty program of a hotel brand known as Hotel Rezidor.  I know that I never heard of them till last year.  In fact, it was May 2012 when I first heard of them via their amazing promotion to get their name and their loyalty program more well known.  Give up yet?  They are the loyalty program of the Radisson Hotels, Country Inn and Suites and the lesser known Park Inn.  We’ve all heard of the first two.

club carlson

Basically what they did last year is give you an amazing amount of points if you stayed just one night in their hotels within a two month period ending July 15th.  You had to register by May 15th with them and if you stayed at a Radisson for that one night, they gave you 50,000 points as well as points for booking online and points for staying with them.  They did the same thing with Country Inn and Suites and the Park Inn only for those two they gave you 44,000 points plus booking online points and staying with them points.  Both Blogger Hubby and I separately registered and we wound up with almost 300,000 points which would come in handy for our trip to Australia.  I was fortunate that during the summer we lived about 40 miles from a Park Inn and I had a coupon for 30% off.  We paid $54 for our night and for that we got about almost 50,000 points.

As we were making plans for our trip to Sydney, we needed to find a hotel to spend four nights in.  Up until I got involved with points and miles, we tended to stay at a little out of the way hotels that were clean and less expensive and we would take public transportation to get to the city sights.

With the points we earned we were had our choice of two Radisson Hotels in Sydney.  The Radisson Bleu is in the Central Business District (CBD) and closer to the waterfront.  The other was the Radisson Hotel and Suites still in the heart of Sydney but closer to Chinatown, stores and restaurants.  We chose the later and each night cost 50,000 points or $375 AU which at that time was over $400 USD.

Additionally, before we went on our trip I signed up for the Club Carlson VISA card for one very important reason.  If you stayed two consecutive nights using your points, they refunded you your last night’s points.  That’s right, we got one of our nights free.  In theory we could have booked two nights each;  under my Club Carlson membership number and gotten the second night free and then also book the next two consecutive nights under Blogger Hubby’s membership number and gotten his second night free.  I felt like we had done quite well with all the points the gave us and didn’t want to be too greedy even though it was legal under their T&C (terms and conditions).

Our room was great.  We had a one bedroom suite with a small balcony that overlooked the busy street below, a full size kitchen and living room.  We were within easy walking distance of Chinatown and all the food offerings they had.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were also close to a small grocery store, a wine store, easy walking distance to Darling Harbour, the free city tours that are offered in all major cities in the world, the Chinese Friendship Garden and almost around the corner from one of the main transportations streets – George Street that has a free tourist bus that takes you to Circular Quay. I was even happier when I heard how much friends of ours spent on meals and we got great meals in Chinatown for less than half of what they paid and ours was probably just as good.  We just had more choices.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In addition to the free last night of a two night or more award stay, the Club Carlson VISA gives you 85,000 points after you spend $2500 in the first 90 days; 5 points per dollar on all purchases and 10 points per dollar for all purchases purchases at participating Club Rezidor Hotels (Radisson, Country Inn and Suites and Park Inn); 40,000 points each year at renewal time; and free Upgrade to Gold Elite with the credit car.

Although this hotel is not on par with a Hyatt it is, nevertheless, a very god hotel and we have certainly enjoyed our stays.  Currently they are running a summer promotion that you have to register for.  You need to stay two consecutive nights and they will give you 10,000 points in addition to those that you would earn for staying there.

I’ve become a Club Carlson convert.  How about you?

Travel can be Affordable

Before Blogger Hubby and I made our last BIG trip – the kind of trip where you go to a different hemisphere AND below the equator – we knew  that because of the length of the flight we did not want to travel in coach.  I wanted to us to fly in Business Class or First Class.  To fly this way, for us,  is cost prohibitive.  We had decided years ago (yes, it has been on my bucket list this long) to use frequent flier miles and had been religiously saving them since 2006 through our United Airline Visa credit card.  This was a trip that probably wouldn’t be repeated and I wanted to do it in comfort and be well rested so I could hit the pavement when we landed in Sydney, Australia.

 We quickly found out that we didn’t have sufficient miles even though we had close to 200,000 miles with United Airline.  I was going to do my best not to settle for coach for this long of a journey from the East Coast to Sydney.
I quickly did what any modern woman would do – I googled frequent flier  – and a whole new wonderful world opened up in front of my eyes.  There were so many blogs out there with so much information and terminology that I had never heard before.  Apparently there is this whole underground culture about frequent flier miles, how to get more, how to spend them and new promotions.  Oh, I was in blogger heaven as I dreamt about my future travel plans actually coming to fruition.
I began following Frugal Travel Guy (www.frugaltravelguy.com) when it was being written by Rick Ingersoll (he occasionally still posts there).  I would read his blog and actually email him with questions.  He was very patient with me and gave me lots of good advice.  He recognized that we needed more miles quickly and suggested that both Blogger Hubby and myself apply for the Chase Sapphire Credit Card, do the minimum spend ($3000 in four months) and get the 50,000 Ultimate Reward points that we could transfer over to our United Airline Mileage account.  For us getting  instant approval was easy since we only had about 2 credit cards at that time and we always paid them off in full each month.  We also had excellent credit scores because we did pay them off in full each month.  We did not add each other as co-signers on the credit cards but instead we each had our own card and that allowed us to get 100,000 miles in total. Since we were going on a cruise from Sydney to Auckland, we used our new credit cards to pay down our cruise and within 30 days we had our points.

Below are the Three Main Rules when signing up for credit cards:

1) know your credit score.  You can get some FAKO scores (similar to FICO scores) for free by going to http://www.quizzle.com, http://www.creditsesame.com or http://www.creditkarma.com

2) Always pay your credit card bills in full each month

3) Do not plan on purchasing a home or having a large expense within the next two year if you plan on opening more than a couple of credit cards

When you open a new credit card your credit score will take a dip, generally about 3-5 points per card but it will come up quickly, more quickly than you think.  In fact, many hard core credit card churners apply for 3-4 new cards every 91 days and then close these cards within 8-11 months so they won’t have to pay the credit card fee which is generally waived the first year.

Having many credit cards does not hurt your score as long as you pay off your cards in full every month on time. Your new credit is only about 5% of your total credit score.   I have opened ten new cards this year and my score is still in the Excellent range.  After two years these credit card hard “pulls” on your credit history drop off.  Through my credit card sign ups and after using miles to fly Business Class to Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, using points for our hotel stays in Sydney (4 nights), Auckland (1 night) and Singapore (4 nights) as well as using miles to book summer flights for Blogger Hubby I still have over 1.1 million miles.  In future posts I’ll show you how to get more than one mile per dollar spent as well as manufactured spending.

Are you interested in how much money we paid for our flights?  We flew First Class from Washington Dulles to San Francisco on United, Business Class on Asiana Airline to Seoul, Business Class again on Asiana to Sydney, Auckland to Bribane on Air New Zealand in Business Class, Brisbane to Singapore on Singapore Air in Business Class, Singapore to Beijing in economy on Singapore Air and finally Beijing to Washington Dulles in Business Class on United.  When flying Business Class have a separate line going through security, separate boarding, able to use the airline lounges for food, drink, showers and many more perks. We paid a total of $110 each for taxes.

When I sit and think of all the miles and points that I have,  I am reminded of this book:

oh the places

The Beginning

It’s happened.  I’ve succumbed to peer pressure.  I’m joining the world of bloggers…travel bloggers to be more precise.  I’m a novice at traveling but have learned so much since I began less than three years ago and I’m learning more and more every day.  I’d love to share what I have learned with you as well as learning from you and your experiences.

I love to travel and that discovery is recent.   I had taken many cruises in the Caribbean and  don’t REALLY consider that foreign travel.  I was happy with that till my husband suggested we taken a river cruise down the Rhine a few years ago. I had never been to Europe unless you count our honeymoon in Ireland decades ago as Europe.   As excited as I was, I was also a little intimidated.  I would be in several countries where other languages were spoken.  How could I manage?  Would I be able to read a menu, find a restroom, navigate the streets and public transportation and finally ask for help when we needed it?  Would I need special clothing?  Luckily I was with my husband who was more comfortable than I was with foreign travel.

Happily that trip was a success and it instilled in me a burning desire to do more travel.  Enough so that both Blogger Hubby and myself sat down and made out our individual Bucket Lists.  In some ways I was fortunate that Blogger Husband had done some foreign travel before he met me as well as with his job so we are focusing on doing some of my bucket list countries first.

I have learned how to do some research in where to go, less expensive alternatives, what to do, how to travel for a fraction of the cost and how to meet others.  I can now say that I have many more friends now from travels that I did 3 years ago. My tips and tricks are for all ages so come on this journey with me.  If you think you might be interested, click on Subscribe by Email.

”Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

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