• Cash Back

    A Real Round-The-World Trip – Part One: The Setup

    by  • July 21, 2018 • Cash Back, Credit Cards, Luxury Airline Travel, Luxury Hotel, Miles & Points, Travel • 0 Comments

    I’m up. I can’t sleep. A mix of anxious worry that I’ve forgotten something and gitty excitement. Oh, and happy birthday to me. My 36th birthday is about to begin, and there’s much to be excited about. The to-do list is racing through my head:

    • Pick up my malaria prescription
    • Buy micro SD cards for drone/go pros (I found out around 11pm the night before my card was corrupted and upon further research discovered a faster SD card would be better suited)
    • Transfer a few Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, and Howie Day shows to my phone
    • Pick up rental car
    • Buy a suitcase
    • Oh ya, and pack

    I pull myself out of bed at about 6:00am to start the tasks, methodically checking things off the to-do list I made the night before. To be fair, I’ve been planning this day, and the following 11 days for the past nine months, so I’m pretty sure I have everything down – from the minute by minute plans, to the Canadian flag patches we might have to sew onto our backpacks in case our Uniter-in-Chief decides to bomb someone while we are a bit closer to the Korean Peninsula.

    I grab a quick workout and at 11:45am pull out of the driveway with NSPwife, NSPpeanut and NSPbabysitter. We rented a car for the hour drive, picking it up at a Hertz two miles from our house and dropping it off at O’Hare, just a few minute shuttle drive to International Terminal 5. We rented the car knowing that Uber is roughly the same cost, wanted to make sure the luggage would fit (needing an SUV), and to make sure we would be on our own schedule. The four of us are about to head around the world. While NSPwife and I have been to the other side of the world a couple of times, we’ve never truly traveled around the world. That’s about to change.

    The first leg is Chicago to Hong Kong on one of my favorite flights: Cathay 807, First Class. I didn’t necessarily book this flight due to it being my birthday, but one First Class and Three Business Class seats aren’t necessarily easy to come by – and it happened to be one of only three dates to choose from with that award availability and seemed to work from a work schedule perspective. Luckily, a second First Class seat opened up about 10 days before the flight, so NSPwife and I will both be sitting up front.

    After an 8:20pm arrival in Hong Kong and a quick planned jaunt into Kowloon, we will be staying at the Marriott Skycity hotel next to the Hong Kong airport, and take an 8:45am flight to Kuala Lumpur. NSPwife and I will be sitting in Business while NSPpeanut and NSPbabysitter have economy. This will be our first time there, a city that has long been on my bucket list, and I’m excited to try as much food as possible. It’s a quick 2.5 days in Kuala Lumpur, staying at the Grand Hyatt.

    Then it’s on to Phuket, Thailand, one of NSPwife and my happy places. We are staying at the Hilton Arcadia, and while a bit dated, we love the location. Karon beach is a little less party-central, which is nice for NSPpeanut. It’s also a few minute walk to a number of local restaurants, shops, tailors, and massage places. I can’t wait to stock up on custom suits, get multiple massages, authentic Thai food, and lay by the pool and beach. We are risking it a bit by traveling at the start of the rainy season – but hoping the occasional scattered thunderstorm is all we have to deal with.

    After Phuket, we make our way to Siem Reap by way of Bangkok on Bangkok Airways. I chose Bangkok Airways for two reasons: first, the times were excellent with an early morning flight and arrival into Siem Reap, and second, they don’t charge checked bag fees which would definitely add up after accumulating some extra baggage at the custom tailors and shops 😊. We will be staying at the Park Hyatt for our two days there and then make our way back to Bangkok. We arrive in Bangkok around 11:00am and booked the Grand Hyatt for the “day.” We’ll explore the city again for the day and hopefully grab a nap.

    At 2:00am we work our way back around the globe, Bangkok to Abu Dhabi, with a five hour layover, and onto Washington Dulles. It may be a painful trek, but I’m hoping we sleep the entire way to Abu Dhabi, in Etihad Business Class. I’m hoping there is enough time in Abu Dhabi for a quick trip to Emirates Palace for breakfast, and then we head back to the States, NSPwife and I in First Class and NSPpeanut and NSPbabysitter in Business Class.

    11 days, 21,391miles. It’s another whirlwind trip, but I learned from our last one that a relaxing beach destination in the middle is extremely rejuvenating, and added a fourth night (instead of only three) to the middle of the trip.

    Our Travel Map, courtesy of gcmap.com

    Our Travel Map, courtesy of gcmap.com

    As you might surmise, the vast majority of this trip utilized miles and points. A quick breakdown is below:

    Flights

    • ORD to HKG: 70K Alaska Airlines for First Class and 50K for Business Class, totaling 240K miles. Taxes & Fees totaled $22
    • HKG to KUL: 20K British Airways miles Business Class and paid economy tickets, totaling 40K miles. Taxes & Fees totaled $518
    • KUL to HKT: 23,676 Citi Thank You Points. Taxes & Fees totaled $11
    • HKT to BKK to REP to BKK: $943 for four seats inclusive of taxes and fees
    • BKK to AUH: 40K American Airlines Miles and 197,088 Etihad Guest Miles. Taxes & Fees totaled $554
    • AUH to IAD: 298,500 American Airlines Miles and 120,121 Etihad Guest Miles. Taxes & Fees totaled $326
    • IAD to MDW: 26,487 Southwest Miles transferred from Ultimate Rewards. Taxes & Fees totaled $22
    • Total miles used: 985,872
    • Total cash paid: $2,397

    In addition, we utilized $200 Travel Credits on both our Barclay Arrival and Bank of America Travel Reward cards, bringing the total to $1,997.

    Hotels

    • Marriott Skycity, Hong Kong: 1 night, 2 rooms, 31,815 Citi Thank You Points
    • Grand Hyatt, Kuala Lumpur: 2 nights, 2 rooms, 2 Annual Certificates from the Hyatt Credit Card ($75 annual fee) + 15K points per night, totaling $150 and 30K points
    • Hilton Arcadia, Phuket: 4 nights, 2 rooms, 19K points per night totaling 152K points
    • Park Hyatt, Siem Reap: 2 nights, 2 rooms, 15K points per night totaling 60K points
    • Total points used: 273,815
    • Total cash paid: $150

    There are a few things to mention about our itinerary. First, there are probably multiple ways we could have worked our way around the world with much fewer miles; however, after misconnecting with Matthew from Live & Let’s Fly a few times, I decided to just pull the trigger and book this itinerary. Business Class and First Class seats tend to go quickly, and since I booked the Cathay Flights, we were relatively locked in unless we wanted to delay our trip (which we didn’t). NSPwife’s reselling business also helps generate nearly 100,000 miles/points a month, so coupled with my past extreme credit card churning, we were, and are, flush with points, and setting up an itinerary to the desired schedule was more important than saving miles.

    NSPwife is also a Hyatt Globalist member, and status matched to Hilton Diamond. So hoping there’s an upgrade or two along the way. And of course free breakfast at every stop at each hotel due to status and the ability to crash airport lounges with NSPwife’s Priority Pass membership that came with her American Express Ameriprise Platinum Card (no annual fee for year one).

    Second, I really blew it with the HKT > REP > BKK flights. I kept waiting, and waiting, and waiting to make the reservation. I had assumed I was going to jump on an AirAsia or other ultra-low-cost carrier, and since tickets were just $45ish dollars, didn’t have a burning desire to book. Instead, about 45 days out when I tried to book, those flights doubled in cost, and with baggage fees were actually quite expensive. In hindsight, I should have transferred miles to Asia Miles and used Cathay Pacific to book on Bangkok Airways on a multi-city ticket. That would have been 15K miles per person, rather than the $250 per person (or 50% of our total cash outlay!!). Oh well. The one bummer was that when trying to book the flights with the Chase Portal to save 25%, they were pricing out the tickets at $757! Even the supervisors couldn’t manually ticket the flights, which was surprising, and frustrating. I mean, nearly a 300% price increase to book through Chase, that’s just insane, and frankly, disappointing that Chase would try to tack on that type of increase.

    To put the value of these miles and points in perspective using just a microcosm of the travels, here is the cost of a single First Class Cathay flight alone:

    Cathay First Class Ticket - Cash Value

    Cathay First Class Ticket – Cash Value

    So, yes, it’s 5:00am and there’s a bit to be excited about.

    25K Mile (with Baby) Trip Report: Part 1 – Planning

    by  • November 21, 2016 • Cash Back, Credit Cards, Luxury Airline Travel, Luxury Hotel, Miles & Points, Travel • 0 Comments

    NSPwife and I welcomed NSPpeanut into the world on July 14, 2015. As one can expect, she quickly earned her first set of “wings” on United, traveling from Washington Dulles to San Francisco when she was three months old. We decided to fly in economy, but purchase a seat for NSPpeanut. It turned out that she didn’t mind any part of the flight, napping for most of it, and being genuinely well behaved when she was awake. A guy sitting directly behind her gave me a high-five when we were getting off the plane and loudly declared: “best baby ever.” Although biased, we agree.

    A couple weeks later she learned what it was like to fly as a “lap-baby” on her way from Baltimore to St. Louis, and then a month later did the same from Baltimore to Detroit. We decided to “lap-baby-it” from Baltimore to Aruba a couple days after New Years (a 3-for-1 flight, given we have a companion pass). The plane was 100% full on the way down, and 4 hours was a little much for NSPwife. On the way back there were extra seats, and the nice flight attendants didn’t take issue that we kept the baby in a car-seat in her own seat next to us. I luv Southwest.

    During these fall travels, it became clear that if we were going to take our annual “big trip” in 2016, NSPpeanut would have to tag along. As we discussed places and options, we decided to take Asia out of the mix (we are still set on returning to Thailand, and visiting Malaysia and Japan in the near future). We wanted a mix of relaxation and adventure, all that would be baby-appropriate. As we had hundreds of thousands of Alaskan Airlines miles burning holes in our accounts, that left the best use of those miles for Australia or a trip on Emirates (taking out Cathay Pacific). Both NSPwife and I have been to Australia, so we started to look into maximizing our trips should we take Emirates. In first class.

    The flight from Dallas to Dubai is 8,040 miles (just shy of 15 hours in the air). While nice, when you are on an A380 decked out with a shower and bar, you want to maximize that time. We decided to head down to Cape Town, adding Dubai as just a stopover. Unfortunately, we could not find a single flight with award ticket availability from Dubai to Cape Town! After some additional research, we found that we could fly from Dubai to Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean just east of Madagascar – another 3,000 miles and seven hours with the ability to drink Dom and shower at 38,000 feet. The beauty of this ticket is that by using Alaskan Airlines miles, the ticket in first class cost 100,000 miles from the US to Mauritius – and the 2-day stopover in Dubai cost no extra miles.

    On our honeymoon, NSPwife and I stayed a night at Al Maha. It was by far the nicest place we’ve ever stayed, and at the time made a commitment to each other that we had to return within five years. 18-months later and we’d be back watching the sun set over an endless sea of sand in a remote desert near Oman. Pure euphoria. At 60,000 points per night, this is not a cheap award; however, for the past two years SPG held a “fall promo” that discounted the rooms to 39,000 points. We speculatively booked at 60,000 and hoped for the best. A month before our stay, I received the much anticipated email. 15 minutes later, we were booked for 39,000 points per night.

    There was, however, an extraneous factor at play on this trip. NSPpeanut, our 15-month old baby. And when researching “lap-babies” on the Google machine, we found out that on most international itineraries, an infant fare is charged at 10% of the adult fare. At $22,000, a lap-baby would still cost over $2,000 to sit with us in First Class!

    Emirates IAD > DXB > MRU Cost

    In addition, Al Maha does not allow in anyone under 21 years old. So, we had to make a decision (and remember, NSPwife was clear that NSPpeanut was NOT staying in the U.S.). Ultimately, we decided to bring along one of NSPpeanut’s babysitters. So were all four of us going to be in First Class on Emirates? 100,000 miles for a 15-month old? No thanks. The babysitter and NSPpeanut were riding in the back, but we did get each of them their own seat, and made sure to book a bassinet seat. In Dubai, we booked a room at the Sheraton Mall of the Emirates. We did this for a couple reasons. First, using the Starwood Business Card for the reservation, it gives access to the lounge, which is nice in the morning and during happy hour for the babysitter to get a much needed glass of wine. Second, the mall can certainly entertain a 15-month toddler for 2 days. There are plenty of stores, entertainment and, of course, penguins! Most importantly though is McDonald’s. NSPpeanut lives on chicken nuggets, and we knew she would be happy as a clam strolling around a mall watching penguins and people, while munching on her chicken nuggets.

    So queue up our next stop. The original goal was to travel to Cape Town, South Africa, on the same ticket. So on to Plan B. I didn’t know much about Mauritius at the time; however, after researching the island, it was immediately clear that it was a place we wanted to visit. 18 months ago we visited the Maldives, and adding a trip to a 2nd island in the Indian Ocean seemed like a pretty great idea. And boy did the research of the island back it up. Amazing beaches. Great tourist sites. Great infrastructure. It was a no-brainer. Throw in the fact that the Hilton Resort & Spa was only 40,000 points/night, and accommodations would be easy (particularly given one room could have a Gold guest and the 2nd room a Diamond guest…maybe there would be a chance for an upgrade?!?!).

    The interesting thing about Mauritius is the complete lack of daily airplane service to/from the island. So at that point our hands were essentially dealt. Arrive on a Wednesday and depart on a Saturday. We opted for a late flight on Saturday to arrive in Johannesburg, South Africa. Given the current safety concerns with J-burg, we decided to stay at the Intercontinental Airport Hotel. 2 annual certificates from the IHG credit card made this $75/night (due to annual fee) a fairly worthwhile redemption. And the following morning we would make our way to Cape Town via South African Airways. Given this last flight would be a “domestic flight” – NSPpeanut could lap-baby it up. A few days in Cape Town, followed by the craziest of all return flight plans, and we would finalize our trip.

    What is this crazy return flight? Cape Town > Doha > JFK > DCA. Ouch. Given the painfulness of 11,000 miles in just over 24 hours, we splurged and got NSPpeanut her own Business Class seat. Here’s to hoping we get a little bit of sleep…

    Wrapping up, planning was fairly straight-forward:

    1) Emirates A380 required
    2) Maximize #1 by adding a segment…Mauritius it was!
    3) British Airways Avios to get to Johannesburg
    4) South African Airways ($70/ticket) to get to Cape Town
    5) Qatar Airways, via American Airlines miles, to get home

    Overall costs:

    Flight Costs for Four Passengers

    Hotel Costs for Two Rooms

    Other Costs for Four People

    Overall, airline costs for 4 people wound up costing $646.24 in total, hotels $650.50, and other costs – mostly food & drink, and good food & drink at that, $1,210.00.

    An 11-day vacation, showering on planes, drinking 2006 Dom Perignon, 1986 Ducru Beaucaillou Bordeaux, 5-star private villas with private pools, spanning three continents and ALL IN costs for FOUR people: $2,500. Not bad.

    Only one minor hiccup. About 7 months after booking the trip, Emirates pulled the A380 out of Dallas. WHAT?! NO SHOWER ON A PLANE?? THE HORROR. Luckily, Alaska Airlines allows one free change to award tickets, and there just happened to be availability on the new Washington D.C. > Dubai route, ON AN A380. While this cut almost two hours of flight time, it also saved us from having to make our way to Dallas, saving both time and money. In the end, a great – and lucky – change.

    Let the games begin…

    Barclaycard Arrival Plus 50% Off!

    by  • November 13, 2016 • Cash Back, Credit Cards, Miles & Points • 0 Comments

    Why do I value all $100+ travel-related purchases at 50 cents on the dollar when using my Barclaycard Arrival Plus card? It’s a straight matter of economics:

    • Gift cards cost either $3.95 or $4.95 per $500
    • Liquidating gift cards cost either $0.46 or $0.59 per $500
    • That puts total costs per $500 spend at around $5.00
    • 2.05% travel cash back on $500 credit card spend equals $10.25
    • For every $10.25 in travel expense my cost is really ~$5.00, or 50% off

    I’m sure some naysayers will talk about opportunity cost with 2% cash back cards, or Discover It Miles at 3% for the first year. And don’t worry, I utilize those as well. But I currently sit with a very large credit line with Barclays for my Arrival card, utilize it for some everyday spending, and have good reach with the card.

    Barclaycard Arrival Plus Card

    A Friendly Trip to Costa Rica: Part 1 – AA DCA > MIA

    by  • May 1, 2016 • Cash Back, Credit Cards, Luxury Airline Travel, Miles & Points, Travel • 0 Comments

    NSPwife and I have been extremely fortunate. In the past four years, we have visited South America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia (twice) and the Maldives. We’ve flown in business or first class most of the time. We’ve stayed at 5-Star Resorts such as the Park Hyatt Hadahaa and Al-Maha. And we’ve paid pennies on the dollar. But one thing that has played true for every trip is that it has been only me and NSPwife (although to be fair, NSPpeanut was around in the belly-days). Last April, NSPwife and I had some of our best friends visiting us in Baltimore, and for the first time we convinced them to apply for some credit cards in order to plan for a trip roughly 12 months later.

    We had them sign up for the following:

    • 2 x Barclays U.S. Airways credit cards at 50,000 miles each
    • 2 x Citi American Airlines credit cards at 50,00 miles each
    • 1 x Chase Sapphire credit card at 40,000 Ultimate Rewards

    They wound up applying the following week (they needed a week to build up their courage), and of course made a couple errors. They had applied for:

    • 1 Barclays U.S. Airways card
    • 1 Barclays Arrival Card
    • 1 Chase Sapphire Card
    • 2 Citi American Airlines Cards

    Not the worst mistake in the world, but Barclays was in their last week of issuing the old U.S. Airways card that would fold into American Airlines miles. 8 months later we had one of them apply for another Barclays Arrival card. What was the final haul?

    • 150,000 American Airlines Miles
    • 45,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards
    • $880 Travel Reimbursement

    Here was the criteria for the trip: Could not go over the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean, and must be able to get back to the U.S. relatively quickly – as there were 3 children being left at home with grandparents…for the first time. That left only a few possible destinations: Iceland (OK – so does not follow the Atlantic Ocean rule, but is close enough), Central America and Northern South America. We wound up choosing Costa Rica – a place that had been on my “Top 5 List” to visit for close to a decade. Now it was time to find flights. Our friends were flying from Chicago and we were flying from Baltimore. One thing to note: our friends did not know where we were going, even through the first segment of the trip.

    Something I found out: Spring break is tough to get award tickets to Costa Rica. For the life of me I couldn’t find a flight leaving early Saturday that arrived in San Jose by early afternoon. Every flight was going through Miami, with an overnight stay, arriving in San Jose early the next morning. While a night in Miami was somewhat intriguing, as I read more and more on Costa, I needed that extra day. So I waited. And waited. One morning, four Saver AAward tickets became available flying out of DCA at 6:59am, with a 2-hour layover, arriving in San Jose at 12:24pm. That worked. Let’s do it. A nice sale fare got NSPfriends from MDW to BWI for about $100. But the fun with the fares was far from done. Checking daily, ultimately four Business SAAver fares opened up on the MIA > SJO segment. Boom. We’ll take it – for many reasons: first, priority security access is important during spring break. Second, lounge access in DCA would be nice. Third, well, business class seats. With the new AAdvantage award chart, you are talking only 10,000 extra miles per person. So I pulled the trigger with a voluntary downgrade, thinking I would have a fairly good chance at finding availability later to upgrade the DCA > MIA segment.
    Roughly a week before our flight date, four Business SAAver award tickets opened up from BWI to MIA at roughly the same time. THIS IS PERFECT. We wouldn’t need to take a car to DCA. We wouldn’t have to worry about potential D.C. traffic. We would be in Business Class the entire time. So I called American Airlines. Whoops – BWI wasn’t considered a co-terminal. There was no way to change DCA to BWI without paying $600 in change fees…well, that wasn’t going to happen. At least I could confirm that we would be on the upgrade list. Wait, no? Why not? It seems that American does not put Award Tickets on upgrade lists, they just can’t do it. Even a supervisor can’t manually change it (or at least refused to with almost a dozen HUCAs). I was told this could only happen at the airport, and with upgrades processing automatically, there was no chance of us getting upgraded. OK – so be it.

    We arrived at DCA without issue and proceeded to the Admirals Club.

    Friends in the Admirals Club – DCA

    Admirals Club – DCA

    Admirals Club Breakfast – DCA

    Admirals Club Breakfast – DCA

    We got in around 5:50am and was told the bartender would be in at 6am. Around 5:55am, one of the desk agents came back and told us the bartender would probably be late and offered us drinks. Given we were on an international business fare, premium drinks were available.

    Admirals Club Champagne – DCA

    Admirals Club Bud Light with a Splash of O.J. – DCA

    Four champagnes, a bud light+orange juice and sunrise later, with a quick bagel, we were on way to the airplane. The flight to Miami was quick, mostly filled of sleeping, and we landed in Miami with about two hours before our next flight.

    Our friends still didn’t know where we were going, and it wasn’t quite time to tell them. Onward now to the Centurion Lounge…

    Inspirato = $25

    by  • April 1, 2015 • Cash Back, Miles & Points • 0 Comments

    I continue to be in love with AMEX. The great roll started with Small Business Saturday that netted me $240 in Bud Light and wine to last quite some time. Then came the REDcard from Target. Then it was seemingly endless AMEX Sync Offers and AMEX Prepaid cards through TopCashBack.Com. Then two weeks ago I got an email to sign up and learn more about Inspirato to receive a free $25 AMEX gift card. 30 seconds later and the application was complete. I received a nice mailer about their properties – and it actually looks pretty nice. But that was it.

    Fast forward two weeks, and this shows up in the mail:

    Free $25

    Add that to the “rebates and cashback less fees” spreadsheet and in Q1 I’ve netted $1,003. That’s off to a slower start than I had hoped, but have roughly $700+ pending through TopCashBack and Barclays already that is set to hit in the next month or so. I’m not sure I am going to make the $10,000 I had set out to at the beginning of the year, but it will be fun trying!

    Small Business Saturday Take!

    by  • December 7, 2014 • Cash Back, Credit Cards, Miles & Points • 0 Comments

    For the past five years, AMEX has run a promotion called “Small Business Saturday” two days after Thanksgiving. For every AMEX credit card you have, you can receive up to $30 in free spend. You had to register your cards and then find any local business around you via AMEX’s Small Business Saturday map.

    For every $10 you spend, you receive a $10 statement credit – up to $30, per AMEX card. Have a spouse with an authorized user card? Those are eligible too! The easiest thing to do is purchase $10 gift cards. NSPwife and I racked up 100’s of dollars in “free” gift cards at our local wine shop:

    Stack of Free $10 Gift Cards + Receipts

    Thanks AMEX!

    40% Off Uber

    by  • November 6, 2014 • Cash Back, Travel • 0 Comments

    I love Uber. If you live in a city that has Uber, you understand what I’m talking about. Quick access to “cabs” – often providing water or other amenities. No fumbling for credit cards or cash when you get out. Just an easy pick-up, ride and drop-off. So, what can make Uber better? AMEX Sync’s current promo: $10 off $25 Uber purchases…including…gift cards! Purchase $25 gift cards directly from Uber.com and pay $15.

    How do you use AMEX Sync deals? Simply Link your AMEX Card to a Twitter account here.

    You might be wondering, what’s the big deal on $10? Well…how about using every one of your AMEX cards? What’s that, you only have 3? How many authorized users do you have? Do you have a Serve card? Load up with all of these accounts, and you just might be riding for 40% off for the next couple of months.

    Never used Uber? Sign up here and we will each earn $30 in free rides.

    Not a bad deal!

    Shopping Portals & Cash Back

    by  • July 4, 2014 • Cash Back, Miles & Points • 0 Comments

    I had to make a fairly large purchase at Macy’s. I was thinking it would come in around $1,500, so I began to search around for the best portals to earn miles. Historically I have always used EVReward.Com to find the best deals. I had just received an email from U.S. Airways telling me that Macy’s had bonus miles that week, but when I checked EVReward, the bonus miles weren’t showing up. I then checked CashBackMonitor.Com which I heard was a little more reliable. And in fact, the bonus miles for that week from U.S. Airways were listed – maybe time for a default portal search engine change.

    While shopping portals might seem like a pain and not worth the hassle, literally four clicks and 90 seconds is all it takes to shop through a portal. A great fact about portals, and little known, is that you don’t necessarily need to use a credit card from the bank portal you are going through if you choose to go through a bank portal. We’ll come back to that in a minute.

    I went to Raise.Com, which is a great web site to buy discounted gift cards (i.e. you can routinely buy Starbucks gift cards for ~14% off and them load them right to your existing card – I’m sure you use the app to pay through your phone). After checking Macy’s weekly, they finally put the items I was looking for on sale for a pretty good discount. I also signed up for Macy’s emails, which gave me an instant 15% coupon to stack with any other offer. That took my total to $1,020 for the items I needed. I wound up purchasing $1,022 worth of Macy’s e-gift cards from Raise.Com for $937 – a quick and easy savings of $85.

    That might be good enough for most people, but I also purchased the gift cards at Raise.Com through another portal, Mr. Rebates, which gives 1% back on all gift cards purchased at Raise.Com. So with the $85 savings from Raise and ~$9 from Mr. Rebates, that saved roughly $94.

    I then went through Chase Bank’s Ultimate Rewards portal and paid with the gift cards. While there’s a chance the portal won’t pay out, a few days after the purchase I received the following email:

    Valid for $47.60 of cash back, I value these closer to $90 since I plan to use these on a business or first class seat for a trip I’m planning in the spring.

    That works out to be just over 18% off the purchase for very little work.

    January Churn

    by  • January 31, 2014 • Cash Back, Credit Cards, Miles & Points • 0 Comments

    Given that I have most of the top credit cards available in the market, a new job that will greatly limit my 2014 ability to travel and the potential of purchasing a house in the fall, I felt like having a nice easy 2-card churn. In hindsight I probably should have put more consideration on the Club Carlson credit card (my hotel points are scarily low), but alas, there’s always April to look forward to. For anyone who is concerned about credit scores, after signing up for a $4.95 Equifax 3-in-1 score trial, I found that my credit scores from all three credit bureaus has increased from last January, and have across the board gone up between 30-60 points. You can also find information on how this affects credit scores here.

    I chose to apply for the Citi American Airlines Business credit card and the Barclays Arrival card. I chose the AA card as it is the last card for me in the “American Arsenal” without having to pay a high annual fee – as I already have the AA Personal Visa, AA Personal AMEX and AA World Mastercard. These three cards netted me 140,000 AA miles in 2013, which I used with NSPfiance for our Cathay Pacific flight from Cleveland to Bangkok, and that experience left me thirsting for me. So when I applied and received a pending notice, I fully understood (Citi usually puts me on a pending status). I immediately started an online chat, and the representative told me that it was unfortunately declined. Time to call. Immediately. Upon calling, after a 15 minute conversation it appeared I was not going to get approved through that agent. The reasoning: my business was too new. That seemed like a strange reason. I would have completely understood if the reason was either: “you have made $0 in revenues in the past year” or “you cannot guarantee any revenue for 2014.” [you can always change that scenario here *cough* /shameless plug]. So I hung up, took care of some things around the house and called back up. I will note that throughout the entire conversation, I was always very courteous and polite. When I called back up, I immediately said: “hello, I just called up about 15 minutes ago and was told my application was declined. I just have a couple of additional questions.” I made sure to let them know I just spoke to someone in case they logged my previous phone call (which many banks do). To my complete surprise, the agent responded with: “Oh, I think I just talked to you.” Whoops. This wasn’t looking good. I then asked if there was any way I could have the decision reconsidered that evening or if I had to wait a week for the official letter arrived in the mail, which is what the same agent previously told me. She said I would have to wait, and then said that since it looked like I chose the “email reply” option, the official mail should arrive via email within 2-4 hours instead of a week. Again, I was extremely polite, thanked her and told her I was exited to receive the email so I wouldn’t have to wait a week for the official response. I hung up, thinking I was done. It wasn’t meant to be. Imagine my immense surprise when 20 minutes later the phone rang. It was the agent I spoke to twice! She had made a couple phone calls and got my application approved! I was somewhat skeptical, but upon checking my application status online, I found:

    Moral of the story: Always be extremely nice to customer service representatives.

    I was worried about my second card, the Barclays Arrival card. I chose this card because it allows for $440 in free travel after an initial $1,000 in spend. This could be useful for domestic flights where I don’t want to burn Southwest points, 25K miles on other domestic carriers or when AA is out of saver awards (which can be redeemed using British Airways Avios). The only card I have ever been declined for (out of 20+ applications for other credit cards over the past couple of years), was the Barclays Arrival card. At the time of my denial, they gave me two reasons: first, I had applied for a card with them six month prior, and second, I had low utilization of both of my existing Barclays credit cards. The utilization issue was easy…a few trips to CVS over the past few months allowed me to put a few thousand dollars on the card and also take advantage of a promotion for bonus U.S. Airways miles. The other issue, could only be improved with time – and I had no idea how much time would be needed between applications. So again I was shocked when I saw the “instant approval” message!

    So there you have it. Within 90 days I should be able to build my AA balance up as well as save some money on a domestic flight. Hopefully April will be as successful and some great new products or bonuses are announced!