A Good Problem To Have: Too Many Ways to Free Travel

It has only been 4 days into 2016 and I am already spending my way into my free travel credits for the year. First trip is a business trip to SFO for a weekend. I immediately looked for travel using the Visa Infinite portal which forces you to book at least 2 tickets to get the $100 off:

Not bad for two round trip tickets for $379.80, only $94.95. Unfortunately my buddy flaked out on me so this was not a good option as you need 2 tickets for the discount. My thoughts then turned to using AmEx points with the travel portal, but this was not the best deal at 23,790 MR points with a 11,895 MR point rebate using the AmEx Biz Plat.

Even at 2 cents a point, not worth it. I then looked into using my Avios miles on American airlines and got only one flight option each way:

Not bad for 20k Avios and $11.20 for essentially the cost of 16,666 MR points when the 300 Avios for 250 MR was on in 2016. However, booking directly with AmEx travel would give me more flexibility and I would only need to spend 11,895 MR points. I am kind of regretting transferring 100,000 MR points for 120,000 Avios at this point. I would not have done it if I knew that they would be doing this 50% rebate with the Biz Plat.

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Frequent Flyer Miles are Dead: New Hotness is MR and UR Travel Portals

The game changes so quickly, it was all about airline miles before, but loyalty sucks and the consumer knows it. With ever devaluing miles, mile expiration, and so many new rules and fuel surcharges, it’s very easy for a program like Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) and American Express Membership Rewards (MR) to become populat with offering an airline independent points system. Even Wired magazine lays out why the system is so convoluted, and unattainable with the new unfortunate trend of Qualifying Dollar requirements. It’s not enough you spent 50,000 ass in the seat miles on a United flight, but you now need 4 segments as well as dropping $6,000 a year just to qualifying for premier gold.

Like all bad, demanding, and outright abusive relationships, many of us have dropped our loyalty. Even The Points Guy has re-evaluated transferring MR points for redemption. Why dedicate your loyalty to a single airline company? AmEx has a system of Centurion Domestic lounges being built up along side access to international Priority Pass lounges. With the fee waivers for luggage, and the free Uber, you get the first class experience while flying the basic bitch seat. The game is now about credit card points that you can use to book any airlines. We are now free from marrying a single airline, and just causaly date them from trip to trip.

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Derp Report Goes Domestic

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Proper Midwestern Breakfast at Hilton St. Louis Airport (free with HHonors Diamond status (also free))

You don’t appreciate how awesome exploring America is until you spend 1096 days on a tiny island where there is no potential of a road trip to drive to another prefecture/state. I just did my first road trip from St. Louis to Springfield, Illinois going a whopping 100 km/h! The vastness of the land and the endless non-tolled infrastructure is appreciated, the $2 gas is awesome as well.

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Additionally the lack of bowing and taking off my shoes every location has saved me countless hours in pointless pleasantries. A simple “thanks” has replaced “arigatou gozaimasu” and “morin'” has replaced “Ohayō gozaimasu”. Out of the 26,304 hours spent in Japan I estimate I spend at least 1,000 hours avoiding eye contact and bowing. Yes very novel at first but only for the first 16,000 hours.

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$15 Wifi! Waived at checkout with HHonors Diamond (gold as well?)

The best part is much better redemption for points. As in hotels you can drive to, staycations abound, no more reliance in airplanes just to change the scene. In the past 76 hours I have already started my redemption process towards my goal of spending all my points before the end of 2017.

First staycation to empty my Marriott Account. The Ritz Carlton Chicago which was under the Four Seasons Group until it recently reverted back to an actual Ritz. I had 45,000 points left in my Marriott account which I topped off with some UR points to redeem for a single night at 50k points for a tier 3 hotel.

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The Ritz at Water Tower Place, Chicago

at $400 a night for 50k points we are getting 8/10 of a cent per point. Which is slightly better than the 0.7 cents the points guys says they are worth.

Second redemption is for a wedding I am going to in Florida. I had earned 50k IHG points by playing their Priceless Surprises sweepstakes. I was able to book the Melburne Oceanfront where the wedding will be for a mere 30k points for a single night.

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Crowne Plaza Melbourne-Oceanfront

At a cost of $120 a night the redemption of  30K points gets you only 4/10 of a cent per point. Terrible redemption, but been sitting on these points for too long. In the past I was able to get a $400 room for 50k points at the Inter-Contential Tokyo for twice the redemption value of 8/10 of one cent, but don’t forget where the points came from, a free mail in sweepstakes.

Now the flights from ORD to MLB usually run $210 a piece on Delta. Now that Delta status matched me to our United Silver and Gold for Silver and Gold Medallion I get to sample the good life. I went ahead and used 30k Delta Sky Pesos for 2 tickets at a redemption of 1.4 cents per mile. This is better than the 1.2 the points guy gets. I moved 5k points from my AmEx MR points to top off my account and then instantly redeem for the trip. Do not for any reason transfer points without the intent to redeem them right away as devaluations happen randomly and you don’t want to convert a reserve currency into a worthless one.

More to come as I explore this vast country.

-Derp

Redemption: The whole point of Churning

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Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica: Imported From France

So I am a points millionaire! It only took me a year from zero to the 2 comma club. As for realizing this I started a spreadsheet where you can input your UR points and MR points and it will auto calculate what you will get for each transfer partner. You can also put in how many points you have for each program and it will give you a grand total. I used TPG for my valuations, keep in mind your redemption can be much more than whats estimated.

Whats the point really of having a million points over all these programs? The answer is nothing, since they are pretty much worthless when not used, and with the yearly devaluation of value there is really no point in holding on to them for more than you need. My only regret is to not have the end game figured out before earning these points. I should of started with a trip in mind, and then earn points to achieve this goal.

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Okinawa Staycation with Points

This post goes out to all my brothers and sisters trapped on base. I have a colleague that is planning on hosting his parents in a few weeks and we were looking at the many hotel options on this humble island. After years working on base, living in the BOQ or the “towers” you some times forget that Okinawa is home to some pretty heavy hitting hotel chains. For example there is a tier 4 Ritz Carlton in Nago, There is the brand new Hilton resort by American Village. There is even the Busena Terrace, a $5,700 a night hotel where Bill Clinton stayed with his 7 counterparts; Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. President Bill Clinton, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, French President Jacques Chirac, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and European Commission President Romano Prodi during the 2000 g8 summit in Nago:

TAS05:NAGO,JAPAN. JULY 22. G8 leaders wave to the camera prior to summit talks on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, on July 22. The leaders are (L-R) Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. President Bill Clinton, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, French President Jacques Chirac, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and European Commission President Romano Prodi. (ITAR-TASS photo / Sergei Velichkin, Vladimir Rodionov) ----- ÒÀÑ05 ßïîíèÿ, Íàãî (Îêèíàâà), 22 èþëÿ. Ïåðåä íà÷àëîì óòðåííåãî çàñåäàíèÿ ëèäåðû âîñüìè âåäóùèõ ñòðàí ìèðà (ñëåâà íàïðàâî) ãëàâà ïðàâèòåëüñòâà Èòàëèè Äæóëèàíî Àìàòî, ïðåìüåð-ìèíèñòð Âåëèêîáðèòàíèè Òîíè Áëýð, ïðåçèäåíò ÐÔ Âëàäèìèð Ïóòèí, ïðåçèäåíò ÑØÀ Áèëë Êëèíòîí, ãëàâà ïðàâèòåëüñòâà ßïîíèè Èîñèðî Ìîðè, ïðåçèäåíò Ôðàíöèè Æàê Øèðàê, ïðåìüåð-ìèíèñòð Êàíàäû Æàí Êðåòüåí, êàíöëåð Ãåðìàíèè Ãåðõàðä Øðåäåð, ïðåäñåäàòåëü Åâðîïåéñêîé êîìèññèè Ðîìàíî Ïðîäè. Ôîòî Ñåðãåÿ Âåëè÷êèíà è Âëàäèìèðà Ðîäèîíîâà (ÈÒÀÐ-ÒÀÑÑ)

They love Clinton so much the replicated his boyhood home on a Golf Course in Nago! If you get the base fever and want some off base time, I’ve summed up all of the major point based hotel chains in Okinawa.

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$1,974.74 Ritz in Kyoto for $95

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Thats right, Kyoto Ritz gives you soap with solid gold flakes in it! It takes two months to make a bar and it has a fragrance to remind you of Kyoto. So that pretty much sums up the height of Japanese hospitality in Kyoto. This is the gold standard, the bar that shows what can possibly be achieved in terms of hospitality in the world. The best part was I got it all without spending a dime at the Ritz. (just $95 with Chase).

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Booking United & JAL Flights with AmEx MR points

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The two universal currencies out there (that I use) for reward points are American Express Membership Reward Points and Chase Ultimate Reward Points. More about the two can be found on many sites.

You have to learn about the hotel, airline, credit card cliques. We have two main players: American Express and, J.P. Morgan Chase. Some of the big partners with American Express are SPG, ANA, Delta and British airways. On the other side Chase has relations with Marriott, Ritz Carlton, and United airlines. So it may appear that you have to be loyal to one point system vs the other. This is not the case. For example If you wanted to fly on united from Tokyo to Guam, you have the option of booking a flight through ANA Milage Club using American express points:

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How to Spend Amex Points in Okinawa

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I had my 4th AD referral for the year this weekend for AmEx Platinum. This means 7,500 points for me and 40,000 points for them (after $3k spend). For those who use my links, thank you!, and for those who don’t but got the idea from me or my blog, you are robbing me (or any AmEx member really) of points, and should feel really ashamed that you just threw out $75 (at least) to whomever could of sent you a referral.

So if you get the inkling to go platinum, hit me up, I’ll buy you dinner! The reason for the generosity is because AmEx points are valuable to get off Okitraz for nearly free! The trick is to use British Airways Avios Miles to book on Japan airlines.

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Churn and Burn

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So the past year has been all about accumulation of points. Now its time to use them up! I’m traveling with the family and this is what I have booked so far:

Hotel Location Points Cash Equivilent Point Value Source
Sheridan HK 36,000 $941.76 $0.0262 SPG
Grand Hyatt Taiwan 42,000 $762.00 $0.0181 Ultimate Rewards
Hyatt Reg HK 30,000 $616.00 $0.0205 Ultimate Rewards

You can already see that the use of Ultimate Reward points yields almost twice the value as if I had simply used points for cash back. However the use of SPG points is worse if I had transferred 1000 AmEx Member points for 333 SPG points. Whats nice with SPG is you can book now and convert to points later. I plan on using the SPG AmEx card to get the initial offer and earn on referral for the points. Not sure what to do with AmEx points now.

-Derp