Category Archives: Starwood - Page 2

An Introduction to Earning Miles (Even Without Flying), Part 3: Earning Miles Every Day

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Today we’re wrapping up our introduction to earning miles without flying by looking at credit cards you’d use every day.

Much of the year my credit card spending is tied up with cards that I’m trying to hit a minimum spend on so I can earn a bonus (right now, I’m finishing up the spend on my Chase Sapphire Preferred card, and I’ll be starting the $1,500 spend for my Citi AA Visa card soon). But when I’m not working on a bonus, my daily card is the Starwood Preferred Guest Amex (apply here for personal card and here for business card). You do not actually need a business to apply for the business card – a sole proprietorship (ie, you being yourself) counts. Your spouse can also get his/her own cards and bonuses associated with each. The nice thing there is that Starwood has “household accounts” allowing you to transfer miles freely between accounts as long as you and your spouse have the same address. Right now, Starwood is offering a bonus of 10,000 miles for getting the card and 20,000 additional miles once you spend $4,500 in 3 months (first year fee waived, $65 thereafter). Assuming you’re plowing spend onto that, between you and your spouse you can earn 120,000 Starwood points with $18,000 in spend. That may seem like a crazy amount to you – don’t worry about it if it is. That 10,000 mile bonus is still pretty good, plus there are other reasons to get the card.

Why am I a fan of the Starwood card? First off, earning Starwood points through stays at Starwood hotels is a bear. If you’re not an elite member (and if you spend $30k/yr on this card they’ll give you Gold status, which isn’t worth much, but there ya go), you’ll earn 2 points for every dollar spent for stays at Starwood hotels, meaning a $150 hotel room earns you 300 points. Good luck getting a free room when a decent room at a “category 4” Westin costs 10,000 points a night. However, with even a modest amount of spend you’ll be getting free nights pretty quickly since you earn 1 point for each dollar of spend on the card.

Secondly, and perhaps most impressively, Starwood points transfer into airline frequent flyer programs at a 1:1 ratio (except for Continental, which gives a sad 1:2 – ie, half – ratio) and LAN which offers a 2:1 ratio, but that’s primarily because their program is in kilometers, not miles (read details on maximizing the LAN transfer here). Moreover, they give a 5,000 point bonus for 20,000 mile transfers, meaning that if you transfer 20,000 miles to, for example, Alaska Airlines, you’ll actually get 25,000 miles in the account. Doing the math, you’ll see that you’re actually earning 1.25 airline miles for every dollar of spend. Great, right?

On the hotel redemption side, Starwood has a really wide range of hotels including nicer ones on the low end (Aloft/Element) and amazing ones on the high end. With the Cash and Points program you can find yourself in a Category 4 (ie, a regular Westin, roughly) for just $60 + 4,000 points instead of 10,000 points. It’s a great deal.

There are a couple of minor drawbacks to the SPG card: if you travel internationally they do charge you a foreign transaction fee. That is, frankly, annoying. Also, if you do a transfer from points to an airline program it can (though not always) take days or, in a few cases, weeks for those points to show up. That may not matter, but if you’re looking at a quick trip, that’s not going to work for you.

Other folks I respect (ie, here) love the American Express Premier Rewards Gold card (see here). It offers a 15,000 point bonus with Membership Rewards after a $1,000 spend in months. Annual fee is $175, though it’s waived the first year. People like that it earns double points on gas and groceries and triple points on airfare. If you are able to buy your business travel flights on your own credit card, this may be a good option for you as a day-to-day card (ie, my occasional $5,000 business class ticket to Europe would earn me 15,000 Membership Rewards points just from the purchase). I find the $175 annual fee to be excessive for my spending habits (I’m actually not permitted to put my business travel on a personal card).

The Membership Rewards points, though, are a great program because of the flexibility of the points. Sure, you can transfer them on to gift cards (generally at a 100 points – to – $1 ratio), but the real benefits come from the flexibility to transfer points into great programs like Aeroplan and ANA (that Air Canada and the former All Nippon Airways, respectively). People love Aeroplan because they offer some pretty great redemption options (90,000 miles for business class to Europe, though they’ve recently changed their award chart to be less valuable) – see here for details, and they love ANA because with their distance-based rewards you can get some great values (63,000 ANA miles for a business class ticket on Virgin to London which until recently did not require Virgin’s outrageous fuel surcharges). That flexibility is quite valuable, as you have a much wider range of airlines to choose from when making a reward booking.

Finally, The Points Guy has been saying that the Chase Sapphire Preferred card is the best for everyday spend because foreign fees are waived, you have the flexibility to spend the Chase points on airfare on a 1:1.25 basis (ie, 10,000 points gets you $125 worth of airfare), or you can transfer on a 1:1 basis to Continental, and because you get a 7% bonus on all your spend at the end of the year. That all said, I still think SPG is more valuable because of the flexibility to use those points at Starwood hotels or on a bunch of different airlines. However, if you travel internationally a lot, the Chase card may make more sense because they are not charging you a ridiculous 3% fee on foreign transactions. You’ll have to do the math yourself to determine whether it’s worth it to you.

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1,000 Bonus Southwest Rapid Rewards Points for Select Starwood Stays

Southwest is offering 1,000 bonus Rapid Rewards points on top of the normal 600 points when you stay at a Sheraton, Element, Aloft or Four Points hotel between now and December 15th (register here). The 1,600 points you earn is basically worth $26.66 toward travel on Southwest.

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Everyone Is Writing About: Starwood 30,000 Point Bonus for Their Amex

I’ve started notice a proliferation in bloggers writing about credit card deals and at this point, everyone is writing about the same ones (I mean, how many are there, really?). I go half a day without looking at any other sites, and suddenly there are 6 all writing about the same deal to get 30,000 Bonus Starwood Preferred Guest Points when you sign up for their American Express credit card (personal card signup here, business card signup here). You can get one of each, so you’ll get 10k points for signup, then an additional 20k points for spending $4,500 within the first three months (remember, you can do that for each card, plus you can combine Starwood accounts in one household, so you could end up with 120,000 points for $18000 in spend if you also have your spouse apply separately). In addition they waive the $65 fee in the first year. If you’ve gotten the card in the past, you can’t get it again.

The Starwood Amex is my go-to card because SPG points are flexible, with 1:1 transfers for most airline programs (plus a 5k bonus for a 20k transfer), and 1:2 with LAN (though it’s not quite that valuable because LAN prices awards in Kilometers, though there are some great values there). You’ll earn Starwood Gold status with $30k in annual spend (not particularly valuable, frankly, but the bonus points for stays are nice). Also, earning SPG points through hotel stays is incredibly difficult compared to what I earn putting my spend on the SPG card.

All the others writing about this stuff have perhaps additional detail, but there ya go…a solid bonus on a great card. (EXPIRED on AUGUST 23rd – bonus is now 10,000 points with another 15,000 points if you spend $15k in 6 months).

(I’ll go back to writing about Icelandair now…)

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How Can I Get an Award Ticket on Icelandair If I’m Not a Saga Club Member?

Quick hint for anyone looking to use frequent flyer miles to get to Iceland: Sure, you have a couple of more weeks to use up those Skymiles for Delta’s certain-to-be canceled summer-only service from JFK to Keflavik. But if you want to go any other time of the year, you’re stuck with Iceland Express (no frequent flyer program) or Icelandair.

Although Icelandair has their own frequent flyer program (Saga Club) and limited partnerships, one of those partners is Alaska Airlines. You can use 50,000 Mileage Plan points for a roundtrip coach ticket to Iceland on Icelandair (coach tickets to Europe are only 55,000 miles. Business Class tickets are 75k and 80k for Iceland and Europe, respectively, though their business class is akin to what you’d find on a domestic flight up front.)

If you don’t have Mileage Plan points, they’re a transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest (yet another reason to get the American Express Starwood credit card), so you’ll get the 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 points transferred, allowing you a ticket to Iceland for only 40,000 SPG points. Not too shabby.

Now, Icelandair’s winter and spring fares are not that expensive, so this may not be the best use of those 40k SPG points, but who am I to tell you that you should lay out cash instead of using those points you’ve acquired? It’s also a nice backup to Europe if your larger airlines aren’t showing availability.

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How to Get Miles for Free Flights Using Credit Cards: An Introduction

I want to preface this by saying that there are several other websites out there you should visit to learn more about earning miles from credit cards (View from the Wing and Frugal Travel Guy, among others – though FTG’s blog is, how do I say this nicely, a bit crude in its usability and right now I will make an offer to Rick who runs the site: I will gladly help you move your site to WordPress or Squarespace, where you can manage it easily and your visitors will have a vastly easier time using the site.  Contact me if you’re interested.  My help and WordPress are both free.  Squarespace is great and cheap.)

That said, credit card companies have been escalating their offers recently for signup bonuses for airline cards and it’s certainly worth considering applying for credit cards to earn miles to be used for free flights.  For those new to the game, a few basic FAQs I thought would be helpful:

– Everyone new to this asks this question:  won’t applying for credit cards hurt my credit score?  Answer: Yes.  And No.  Yes, you’ll be dinged for a few points for each time you apply (whether you are approved or not).  But if you are approved, you will also gain points for having unused credit.  The short answer is:  If your credit is good and you are not applying for a mortgage for the next 1-2 years, you should be fine.

– I’ve heard about churning credit cards.  Can you explain?  Until last year, Citibank allowed you to apply for American Airlines Citibank cards and get signup bonuses over and over again.  The process of getting a signup bonus, canceling the card, and then re-applying was called churning.  This was a windfall for many, as you could earn several hundred thousand miles a year just for churning.  Citibank put a stop to that last year, and though many of us wept, it makes sense.  Chase, which is associated with most other airline cards, allows you to earn a bonus once a year (for the most part).

– Is there a way to maximize how many miles I get?  The biggest thing people forget to do is to apply for both a personal and a business version of the credit card.  The Delta Amex just offered a bonus of 45,000 miles when you got a Delta Skymiles Amex (now expired).  But you could also get a Business Delta Skymiels Amex (just list your business as Your Name Consulting).  You’d get an extra 45,000 miles for that.  And have your spouse do the same.  Assuming you can meet the spend threshold (in this case, $3k over 3 months), you’ve just earned 180,000 by spending $12,000 on your cards.  Not too shabby.

– Are all offers that lucrative?  Well, no.  The generic signup offer tends to be around 25,000 miles.  But we’ve seen some doozies lately:  British Airways had a 100,000 mile bonus (both you and spouse could get that); American Airlines is still running a 75,000 mile bonus for $4,000 spend in 6 months.  And they offer 3 cards.  Get all 3, and it’s 225,000 points.  Have your spouse do the same, and it’s 450,000 points.  You can’t do this if you’ve ever had a Citi AA card before, however.

– How can I learn about new offers?  Follow the blogs I mentioned above.  These offers come up all the time – the biggest problem is finding out about them.

– Any other advice?  Yes.  I think this is most important:  You HAVE to keep track of the cards you’ve signed up for, what you’ve spent on them, and when the first year free expires.  Set up an excel spreadsheet and calendar reminders.  Spend only what you need to on these “churned” cards, then move on.  But you’ll need to keep close track of that, and of when you need to cancel the card.  I generally cancel after 11 months, to keep the maximum amount of credit open.

– Do you have a favorite miles card?  I’m not really an expert on this (see above, as each of those blogs has plenty of posts about the “best cards”), but my day-to-day card is the Starwood Amex.  The points are transferable into many airline programs with a 5,000 point bonus for 20,000 point transfers, plus they’ve got a wide range of hotels.  I’ve been happy with it.

Good luck…

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How to Get to Easter Island Using Frequent Flyer Miles (Since I’m Leaving for Easter Island Today)

The OTR is headed to Easter Island for a few days (I’ll be back posting again next Thursday, most likely) thanks to frequent flyer miles and my somehow winning Voyage.Tv’s TweetYourTrip contest.  While doing some research about how to get to Easter Island using frequent flyer miles, I found that there wasn’t a particularly useful roundup of how to do that.  I’ll provide that now:

LAN (part of oneworld) is the only airline that flies to Easter Island, and the schedule varies quite widely based on seasons – though you can only fly there via Santiago, Chile, or Tahiti.  There are a handful of months (October is one) where you can make the connection from New York without having to spend a day in Santiago.  For those of us in the US, American would be the most obvious choice to use miles, but they consider Easter Island to be part of the South Pacific – so you would have to fly via Tahiti.  Not really an option from the East Coast (especially with Air Tahiti Nui’s nonstop from New York no longer flying).

Fret not:  you have several other options:

– Use your AAdvantage points for the flight to Santiago (40k miles offpeak), then book the 50,000 kilometer reward from Santiago to Easter Island using points you’ve transfered into LAN from Starwood.  Remember – Starwood points transfer at 1-to-2, so 20k Starwood points gets you 50,000 kilometers.

– Or, even better if you’re going with two people, British Airways only requires 20,000 miles for the Santiago – Easter Island flight.  Transfer 35,000 SPG points into BA and you’ve got two roundtrip tickets.  40k AA miles + 17,500 SPG points is a pretty good deal, considering it’s 16 hours flying time.

– Or you can suck it up and pay 100k AA miles and fly on LAN’s apparently great premium business to Santiago.  My wife doesn’t do 17 hours in coach anymore.

– Thanks to TweetYourTrip we’ll be staying at the Explora Rapa Nui.  Trust me, I would not pay $1,600/night on my own.  I’ll let you know if it’s worth it.

In any case, we’ll be back Wednesday.  Looking online there really was a lack of resources out there about how to plan this trip so if any of you have questions about Easter Island, I’ll be more than happy to answer & post here.

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