Monday, December 31, 2012

Taking Care of Business on 12/31/12

A few highlights from the last day of the year:
  • I'm glad to report a $150 Staples gift card from their Black Friday promo arrived in the mail
  • I've officially delved into the world of prepaid debit cards and joined the Flyertalk Netspend Conga for a free $39
  • I successfully purchased a $950 Reloadit card for 2x's points with my Chase MileagePlus Select VISA at Safeway! (Before this I haven't exactly had the best luck buying reloads with a credit card)
  • A beautiful new British Airways Chase VISA appeared in my mailbox after a recent 2 out of 3 App-O-Rama. I also got the Alaska Airlines card from BofA. Let the spending begin!
  • I signed up for both e-Rewards and e-Miles account using my Delta Skymiles number. (Why?)
  • I finally put together a little trip report from my Island Hopper stopover in Honolulu
  • Great timing! My United Airlines Premier Platinum kit also came today (with luggage tags and some unexpected drink vouchers!)
  • Last-minute blog update to tell you all about it!
I'm a Platinum!
 Stuff to look forward to in 2013:
  • Cashing out that $150 Staples gift card
  • Trying to make sense of the confusing realm prepaid/reloads and possibly blogging about it once I do
  • Credit card churning for "the rest of us" (rookies, the under-ambitious, and the stay-at-home mom/dad crowd who have perfect credit but still have a hard time getting approved sometimes- eff you Citibank)
  • Credit card spending for "the rest of us" (i.e. those who actually don't want to spend a lot but still need to meet sign-up bonuses)
  • Since Delta is no longer an e-Miles and e-Rewards partner in 2013, finding out what happens to the accounts I just signed up for using my Skymiles number (New sponsor opportunity? sympathy points?)
  • More trips, more miles, and more points! (and maybe a few more Mai Tais too!)
Thanks again for reading and I wish you all the best in the upcoming year! Happy 2013!

Mommy Needs A Vacation: Waikiki Edition

I know it's been a while...but as I'm wrapping things up at the end of the year I figured better late than never, right?

Back in November as part of my Island Hopper trip, I did a 1 night stopover in Honolulu. The Island Hopper is the first flight of the day and leaves HNL around 5:30 am, meaning you have to be on the island of Oahu the night before. I figured instead of going over to Hawaii late and staying near (or worse, in) the airport, I'd take an earlier flight from the mainland so I could spend some time on the beach at Waikiki.

The day before my island hopper flight I left SMF for LAX at around 6am. The first thing I saw when I arrived in Los Angeles was that my scheduled flight to Honolulu was delayed several hours- there went my beach time. I was scheduled to arrive a little after noon, but with the delay we were looking at more like 3 or 4pm. Right above where my flight was listed on the monitors, I noticed that there was another flight (not quite a legal connection) to Honolulu that was currently boarding. Not wanting to spend the majority of my short Hawaiian vacation waiting the Los Angeles airport, I ran from Terminal 8 to Terminal 6  in record time to see if I could go standby. One of the things I love about my status with United, is that they let you go same day standby for free. I gave up my confirmed upgrade on the later flight, but come on...United domestic first and who knows how long of a layover at LAX vs. spending more time on a beach in Hawaii...it was an easy choice.

I got an exit row window seat, and to be honest, I was just as comfortable there as I would have been up front. With plans to rent a car in Honolulu I wasn't really missing out on the free first class booze either. The lady next to me was a recently-retired United flight attendant and we had a very interesting conversation during the flight. She was traveling with her husband and two other people, for free, to Hawaii. They had originally wanted to go to Sydney, but because they didn't get upgraded (for free), they decided they'd rather just go to Hawaii for the week. They seemed pretty disappointed about it. Life as a non-rev must be tough.

I didn't immediately disclose what I was doing there, especially the part about spending the next 3 days on a plane to earn benefits they got for free, but then my cover story of flying to Honolulu just to go surfing for the afternoon didn't really hold up either. As soon as I revealed that the greater purpose of the trip was to do the United Island Hopper, out came the route map, and the planning started. They wanted to come along!
I didn't end up seeing them bright and early the next morning, but the whole discussion made for a very interesting flight to Honolulu. It's amazing the things we do in order to pursue our love of travel. Here I was spending 4 days on an airplane to help fund my next big trip, and sitting next to me is a lady who spent more than 25 years working a job she "definitely didn't miss" so she could travel the world for free. I was curious and had to ask; it turns out after all those years, she never got sick of flying.

My standby flight got me to Honolulu just before noon. I'd used 12,500 Starwood points for a free night at the Sheraton Waikiki. The going rate when I checked was around $300 a night. While it was a decent property, I would have felt incredibly ripped off had I actually shelled out that amount in cash to stay there. I had a small city-facing room with a peek-a-boo view of the ocean. It was clean and newly renovated, but the low ceilings and tiny floor plan made it very blatantly obvious how old that place is and there's no way worth it's worth what they charge to stay there in my opinion. The location couldn't be beat and it worked out fine for just one night. I didn't spend much time in the room, anyway.

World Famous Waikiki Beach
After I checked in, I was on the beach by about 1:30. I had arranged to rent a stand-up paddle board through the hotel's activity booth so that I could put it on my husband's brand new SPG AMEX card and earn 5x's Starpoints. I also used the card to pay for their mandatory $25 resort fee (which took care of my parking) and then treated myself to a Longboard and some snacks later on at one of the on-property bars. Thanks honey!

Catching a wave at Waikiki has always been a bucket list item, and one I can say I proudly crossed off. The waves that day were a little small and a bit crowded, but I still managed to catch quite a few on them. After about 2 hours of playing hard in the water, I left the beach absolutely exhausted, but with a killer tan and a big smile on my face. I couldn't imagine anywhere else I'd rather be or anything else I'd rather being doing on some random day in early November.

Next stop after the beach was the Sheraton Waikiki's infinity pool- that too was a bucket list item and honestly the only reason I chose to stay at the Sheraton. It's almost as nice as they make it look in all the pictures (although its a bit smaller in real person). The $25 resort fee included use of their floating beanbag chairs, which I have to admit were kind of amazing! I'd never seen or even imagined such a thing before, but bobbing around in one for a few hours was fabulous and quite relaxing. I briefly left the pool long enough to clean up and get myself some dinner, and then went back for more after the sun set. It's hard to get enough of an infinity pool with a view.

The Sheraton Waikiki infinity pool

So this was the first time I was away from my baby overnight that didn't involve me sleeping on an aircraft. I think every new mom needs a little vacation every now and then, and I was fully enjoying mine until a cute family snuck their baby into the adult-only infinity pool after hours. Seeing their little guy splash and giggle in the water reminded me of my own little guy that I had managed to escape, and then I started to actually miss him! For months I'd dreamed about this trip, about getting away and much needed mommy play time, but then there I was, wishing he was with me. I guess that's just how it works- as soon as you cross something off the bucket list, something else gets added and I will definitely be taking the whole family back to Waikiki to catch a wave and watch a sunset.




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Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 Year in Review

So I know all this "Year in Review" stuff is cheesy and cliche, but what else do you expect me to write about for the last Flashback Friday of the year? ;)

2012 not only brought the birth of my first child, but it was my busiest year in travel to date. I set out on a quest to become a United Million Miler so I can share my status and benefits with my family, and I figured after a few years of making 1K, I'd be there. I didn't quite make it to my goal of 100,000 miles this year, because after all, I didn't get started mileage running until late May, but I did make Platinum for the first time with United Airlines.

2012. http://www.flightmemory.com/user/hulagrrl210

In addition to making 3 routine trips to Hawaii and one to visit family in Wyoming, I mileage ran to EWR (x2), JFK, MCO, MCI, DSM, ABQ, PDX, and MNL. My travels took me through 26 airports, along 50 different routes, and through 4 countries and territories. I took some great pictures for thirtysixthousand.com along the way, met some great people, and even made a few new friends. I checked the United Island Hopper and catching a wave at Waikiki off the bucket list. I visited all of United's domestic hubs including Guam. The only hub I didn't reach was NRT, but technically I still have until May 2013 if I want to say I hit them all in one year. I flew for 85,005 Premier Qualifying Miles with UA and 605 miles on Alaska, after a VDB opportunity I couldn't pass up.

Speaking of VDB's, I earned 3 of them for $750 to help finance my cause. There were many more e-certs (most of them unsolicited) to go along with that. One trip to Hawaii over the summer was worth a record $1100, after just about everything that could go wrong, did. Of course I wouldn't want go through it all again (especially with a 5-month old baby in tow), but stuff like that is what helped keep my trips well below $.02/mile in 2012. If you've read some of my earlier posts, you already know that I didn't have the best year with United, especially when traveling with my family, which is why we are choosing a new airline for 2013. The one good thing I can say in their defense is that they do take care of their elites (eventually), and their generosity in the form of compensation will keep me flying (by myself) at least for another year. I haven't given up on becoming a Million Miler and a Star Alliance/Premier Gold for life, and hopefully someday United will again be our airline of choice. I'm ending 2012 with 777,155 lifetime United flight miles; I'm simply too far invested to just walk away at this point.

The goal (again) for 2013 is to make 1K on United and now (at least) MVP on Alaska. When I'm not flying, I'll still try to earn as many miles and points for free, while continuing to blog about my exploits here. 2013 will also feature my most lucrative mileage redemption to date- a trip to Singapore, Bali, and India in late February/early March which priced out to around $40,000! Of course there will be more on that also. It will be our son's first out-of-belly trip overseas and my first time on a Singapore and Thai A380.

CJ's 2nd trip to Maui at 5 months. Hanging out at SMF.
Speaking of baby, he earned 16,284 butt-in-carseat miles with United, and flew for a total of 18,145 miles after you count lap-childing (most of which was also done in his car seat- I'll post later about how to pull that off, so stick around). Having a baby by far has been my biggest adventure, and after seeing what a good little travel he is becoming, I'm even more determined to earn as many miles and points as I can so that we can continue to share the world with him. Overall, 2012 was a great year, but I have a feeling there's even more to look forward to in 2013 and beyond.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Free Miles and Points: Checkpoints

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday. Christmas is over, but the Free Miles and Points series continues! This week: Checkpoints. What started as a mobile app (iOS and Android) now has a big fancy Swagbucks-like website counterpart. The app however is a true original, and is probably my favorite way of earning free miles and points.

Playing Checkpoints at Foodland in Hawaii

How it Works- For this post I'll be focusing on the mobile app part of Checkpoints as the website is pretty self-explanatory (click thru links, search, participate in sponsor activities, etc.). The app turns your routine trips to the grocery store into a fun miles and points earning scavenger hunt. Simply check in, and scan the featured items while at the store. In addition to earning points, which you can trade in for miles, you also earn Bonus Coins which allow you to play free games to try and win more points.

Scanning items at the grocery store

The Currency and Rewards- The points are what you trade in for miles and prizes, while Bonus Coins are what you use to play the Instant Win games: Paradise Slots and Jungle Lotto. Checkpoints has some great rewards include gift cards ranging from $1-$500 (335-154,500 points), Bose QuietComfort 15 noise cancelling headphones (100,000 points), iPad 4's (150,000) and even a Hermes Birkin Handbag (418,500)! Of course, if you're in it for the miles and points you should be focused on the following rewards: 500 American Airlines AAdvantage miles or Delta Skymiles for 3750 points, and 1000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Miles for 8,100 points. I have to admit though I'm always a sucker for the $50 Sephora card (17,250 points).

Free miles

Free Points- Checkpoints is free to download and free to use. Each scanned item is typically worth 10 points and 1 Bonus Coin. Recently, A typical trip to the grocery store will earn you about 100 points before any games. You can then expect to earn an extra hundred or so from your Bonus Coins. Don't worry if you can't always find everything in the store- not all store stock all the items. Sometimes if you can't find the item, scanning a different item from the same brand will work. The typical prize amount for both Paradise Slots and Jungle Lotto is 20 or 50 points, but I did actually win 5,000 points one time! Those names of winners scrolling across the bottom of the app are real and for one week mine was included!

Taking it to the Next Level- BonusCoins.com is a mobile site that supplements the Checkpoints app. There you get additional Bonus Coins for downloading and opening apps, most of which are free. Download, open, get coins, delete, repeat. Downloading stuff from Bonuscoins.com will slow down your phone beyond belief so don't do it if you have an urgent need to use the internet. I typically like to start a bunch of downloads right before bed, and then deal with the opening/deleting part first thing in the morning. Some of the downloads are even worth keeping. I've even discovered a few cool new games.

BonusCoins.com

Overall Analysis and Other Stuff You Should Know- Don't cheat (i.e. print a bunch of computer-generated bar codes off the internet or scan items from your home). They say they review all scans, and they're not kidding! You will get caught. I did. I got off with a warningand since then I've been playing fair. Checkpoints can really pay off if you take it seriously. My husband and I went all out for a while to see how much we could get and had no problem getting the 3,250 points needed for a $10 Amazon.com gift card each week! That said, we don't normally go to the grocery store daily, so it takes us a little longer to rack up all those points now when we stick to our usual routine. It's still fun though and it definitely makes trips to the grocery store more interesting (if don't mind the occasional person giving you a weird look because you're scanning stuff with your phone). My advice is to scan what's easy, download an app every now and then, and have some fun earning free miles!

Using Bonus Coins to play Jungle Lotto. Moderately addicting.

How to Sign Up- download from the App Store or Google Play. You can use my code "hulagrrl210" to get 300 points (I get 150) or you can join the conga line over at flyertalk. Visit Checkpoints.com to learn more.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Mele Kalikimaka

...me ka Hau'oli Makahiki Hou!

Just wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Thanks for reading.

Our baby CJ at 10 months in Maui, December 2012

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Breaking Up with United

Leaving an airline is like breaking up with a significant other, but worse, and far more complicated, especially when you've been with the airline longer.

I joined MileagePlus is 1986 and used to have one of those account numbers that started with a bunch of zeroes- a clear indication of how long I'd been with the airline. That was before the merger. Now I have one with a bunch of letters just like everybody else. I've been at least a Premier (Silver) for over 15 years, and a Premier Executive (Gold) for the past 4. This year I made Platinum.

I've been flying United to Hawaii since I was born. I made 4 trips there before I was a year old, and the trend has continued every since. Back in the days of the "Friendly Skies" flying to Hawaii on United was truly something special. The flight attendants even had cool Aloha shirt uniforms. Those went away in the early 90's, but there were still the Halfway to Hawaii game and the famous Mai Tais. A lot of times when we flew we'd even recognize our pursers; a lot of them had been working for the airline and bidding for that route since I was a kid. Over the years we've tried other carriers: Aloha, Alaska, and even Delta, but we always somehow ended up back at United because of what they had to offer. We had a good run with them. For a period of about 4 years, I don't think we missed an upgrade. We were consistently paying around $350 per person to fly First Class to Hawaii on a 767. It was a good deal. All of that tradition ended December 6, 2012.

This year wasn't good. With our general member infant son added to my itinerary, we did not have much luck with the upgrades. The only reason my son didn't earn status last year was because he hadn't been born yet. He flew almost 40,000 miles in utero during 2011, if only that counted. So instead of him being treated like my Gold/Platinum companion, when we traveled together I got treated more like a general member. During all three trips we made with him this year, United split our itinerary every single time no matter what I did.  After that, one of two things usually happened- I either got upgraded without him, or none of us got upgraded at all. There was one time we had a companion upgrade come through the way it was supposed to. Then there was the time that they re-booked my son on a separate flight. On our most recent trip, they gave away our seat assignments. So after we give them extra business by booking our infant his own ticket, they reciprocate by making it harder for us to fly. We seldom get to enjoy the Premier benefits I have worked hard to earn and all those hours I wasted on the phone trying to work it all out is precious time that I will never get back.

During our son's 2nd trip to Hawaii at 5 months old we experienced a 5 hour mechanical delay at LAX, a cancelled flight, a missed connection, and an overnight at SFO. At least that time we were able to get a hotel though, and didn't have to sleep in the airport like I did in September. The thought did cross my mind at that point, that maybe it would just be easier to take a direct flight on another airline out of Sacramento.

We still gave United one more chance after that. Nothing about this last trip was that remarkable. We had the same problems with the splitting of our itineraries as we did before, and the only real issue to top that, aside from not making any of our upgrades, was that they gave away our seats. At some point, and after a separate complaint to United Customer Care went unanswered after 3+ months, I lost the will to complain. No one I interacted with on this particular trip was that much ruder, less helpful, or more incompetent than I have dealt with in the past. In fact, if I were to rank all of the times I've been wronged by United over the years, I doubt this trip would even make the list. I'm just over it.

In the end, I figured if I am going to sit in coach on a narrow body aircraft going to Hawaii, it might as well be on a direct flight. United doesn't offer that. The 767's, the Halfway to Hawaii game (which is now rarely played), the Mai Tais, and everything else that made United special are gone. The Maui flights are now run by a bunch of strangers from Continental Airlines. If I'm getting stuck with a new airline, I might as well go pick a good one.

I still plan to fly with United, just not to Hawaii. I'd vow never to fly them again, but where's the fun in that? We have a long history together, and I still look forward to seeing some of my old friends on the red-eye to Houston, or whatever other lousy route they put them on now. I'll still continue to mileage run, and earn valuable miles for my family to use on our overseas trips, I just won't be dragging any of them along for more of the torture. Right now I have more e-certificates than I even want to disclose, but let's just say it's enough to keep me "loyal" for at least another year as I continue my quest towards Million Miler. I might very well become the least profitable customer the airline has ever seen. With my all of my Hawaii business gone, and the loss of my family, United is now only going to see me, alone, on trips that cost $.04 per mile or less and that's before I apply any e-certs. You can bet I'll be trading in my United miles on a different Star Alliance carrier too. How's that for sweet revenge?

I always wondered what this day would feel like but instead of feeling bitter and scorned, I actually feel liberated. I'm excited to take my business over to Alaska next year, after fantasizing about it for so long. I briefly cheated on United and status matched to MVP Gold in 2010, so I know what to expect and that I'm making a good choice. Sadly the status match was a once-in-a-lifetime deal, so this time around I'll be earning MVP status the hard way, by actually flying for it. Since I can also earn Alaska EQM's on American and Delta, this new love is opening up a whole new world of possibilities. 2013 is already looking to be a great year!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Flashback Friday: Mayan Territory


By far one of the worst redemption of miles is using them to go to Mexico, especially when the tickets only cost a few hundred dollars, but hey, free is free, we wanted to go, and so we did in December 2010.

 Chichen Itza
I normally don't like traveling during the holidays, but when the alternative was sticking around this suburban strip-mall shopping hell/wonderland we call home while freezing to death, it didn't take too much convincing to get me on a plane to somewhere warm. My husband and I had always talked about going to Mexico together, the Mayan pyramids were a bucket list item, and Cancun was the only place we could get a last-minute Economy Saver award on United, so that's where we went.

El Castillo
We spent 4 days there, visiting Chichen Itza, Tulum, Playa del Carmen, and more than a few famous drinking establishments around Cancun. It was my first time back in Mexico since Spring Break Puerto Vallarta 1996 was cut short due to a hit being put out on our family (that's a story!), and aside from being convinced our Hertz rental car had been stolen at one point, this trip went remarkably better than the last. We had a lot of fun. The Yucatan has some gorgeous beaches, the ruins were worth the effort we made to go see them, and in the end none of us got sick.

2010 was still back in our pre-hotel points collecting days, so we spend about $100 a night to stay at the ME by Melia. You may recognize the property from just about every crappy reality tv show filmed in Mexico including the Real World Cancun, but we found it to be actually quite nice and surprisingly quiet. The service wasn't stellar, but it's a well maintained property, with a stunning infinity pool, and I would probably stay there again.

ME by Melia, Cancun
We rented a car for the first few days, which is by far the best way to get around that part of Mexico. The roads are good, it's safe, and unless you want to be stuck on a tour bus with a bunch of other a-holes, it's the way to go. It is a bit pricey, especially if you don't read your card member agreement and opt for every single item of additional coverage the rental car company sells you (lesson learned- most credit cards already cover most of that stuff), but it's worth it if you are on a tight schedule and want to get stuff done. So I know you're probably wondering about the aforementioned suspected rental car theft incident. After we finished our sightseeing, we decided to return the car a day or two early, and just use the bus to get around Cancun. We dropped the car at their satellite office in Cancun near all the hotels. A nice man in a yellow shirt met us outside the building, took the car and drove off in it, while we went in the office to settle the paperwork. So all of Hertz's computers were down across Mexico, or so we were told, and there was no way we could get a receipt or any other proof that we had in fact returned the car. The "manager" seemed offended that we even asked, and in the meantime, for all we knew, his friend was out joyriding in our Dodge Charger that wasn't due back for another day and a half. There wasn't much else we could do, so we got his name, he agreed to scribble a signature on our rental agreement, and with a little good faith, we parted ways. It's not so much that I didn't trust him, I don't trust anybody. Who knows what happened after that, but there were no additional charges for it. 


The only other thing I could have done without was Coco Bongo. Don't go there! It sucks. I thought it was like a nightclub, so in an attempt to be young and hip, and after hearing all the hype, we decided to check it out one night. It turned out to be a really-bad-cheesy-90's-cover-band-dance-theater-type-thing with watered down drinks and midget strippers. We left. I think next time I'll stick to my 10pm bedtime and do my binge drinking by the pool, during daylight hours.

You've been warned!
"Culture" aside, the highlight of our trip to Cancun were definitely the ruins and beaches. The Yucatan is a place of amazing natural beauty and the water really is that color. I only hope these pictures can do it some justice. Finally, I just wanted to say one more thing- life is short. The world didn't end today, like many say the Mayans predicted. We're all still here, but for all we know, it could end tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that. Consider this a warning and a second chance. If you really want to go somewhere, do it! That's why we collect miles and points, and they do us absolutely no good just sitting there in our accounts. Whether it's a cheap coach ticket to Mexico or a very expensive First Class redemption somewhere overseas, just get out there and enjoy your journey!

Tulum
Ruins at Chichen Itza
Everyone loves an infinity pool

Trip Tab: 35,000 miles each and around $800 on hotels, (not-stolen) rental cars, rum, tequila, beer, eats, bus fare, and airport Duty Free (CUN is one of the best!).

Must Do: Chichen Itza and the beach at Tulum (get there early to avoid the crowds).

Other Fond Memories: Trying to have a serious dinner conversation with a balloon animal stuck on your head at Senor Frogs.

The Day the World Didn't End

I have to admit I was a little freaked out this morning when I woke up and the sky was a neon orange-red color, especially since today is December 21st, 2012. There's a storm rolling in and I'm sure you all know the saying, "Red Sky at Morning...". I then looked outside and saw a big vibrant rainbow, God's promise that he probably won't be destroying the Earth today. Even if you don't believe in that stuff, let this be a reminder that beauty can be found just about anywhere in the world, even Sacramento, CA.

A few minutes later it was back to being gray and dreary, and life goes on. There's laundry to be done, a kitchen to be cleaned, and a whole lot of Christmas shopping that I've been putting off, just in case. I guess since the world didn't end I should probably get working on today's Flashback Friday too. Anyway, I hope that wherever you are and whatever you're doing today, you take a just minute to enjoy something pretty and be thankful for the fact we're all still here. Happy Winter Solstice everyone!

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"I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth." -Genesis 9:13





Thursday, December 20, 2012

Free Miles and Points: E-miles

The Free Miles and Points series continues! So far we've covered MyPoints and e-Rewards. Now we're moving on to e-Miles, a program that has some in common with the other two, but is a far simpler way to earn miles. Their catch phrase "It's Free, It's Easy, It's e-Miles" sums it up well.

How it Works- e-Miles rewards you (typically 5 miles) for clicking through links and sometimes watching short videos. After that, a sponsor's webpage is opened in a separate window, while you are redirected to a very short survey, typically just 3 questions. Click-thrus and surveys...sound familiar? Earn additional miles for buying or signing up for stuff (optional).

e-Miles rules

The Currency and Rewards- Miles are miles and most transfer at a 1:1 ratio in 500 miles increments. With the Hilton HHonors program however, 500 miles = 650 points, which makes sense, considering HHonors points, arguably, aren't as valuable as airline miles.

e-Miles sponsors

Free Miles- e-Miles is free to join and there are a fair amount of free earning opportunities each month. I typically get about 3 per week. No one should have a problem easily acquiring 500 miles or more per year without additional spend.

Taking it to the Next Level- So obviously you earn more miles by participating in sponsor activities/buying stuff, however did you know that you can sign up for e-Rewards through e-Miles? After you've been a member for a little while, you can expect an e-Rewards sign-up opportunity to appear. This is a great way to get yourself more e-Rewards accounts once you've maxed out sign-ups over there and is a great work around for their whole "invitation-only" thing. There are currently 10 sponsors on e-Miles, so that is potentially how many extra e-Rewards accounts you could go sign up for. Once you earn enough e-Rewards currency, transfer it to e-Miles, then transfer to whatever program your account is linked to. Multiple e-mail addresses and good organization skills are key. Start with an email address, sign up for e-Miles, use the same address to sign up for e-Rewards, and be sure to write it all down if you decide to open multiple accounts. As I've mentioned before in  previous posts, I find it helpful to include the sponsor name in the email address, for example- yourname_airlineprogramname@hotmail.com.

Overall Analysis and Other Stuff You Should Know- So I don't earn very many miles doing E-miles, but I don't really spend a lot of time doing it either. I maybe check my accounts once every 2 weeks and it only takes a few minutes a month to take care of business. My take on the program is that it's a very simple, low-maintenance, hassle-free way to steadily feed to your account balances. It's a great program for people who don't want to waste a lot of time, but who are maybe looking for a free way to keep miles in lesser-used mileage accounts from expiring.

I don't spend a lot of money through e-Miles, which is perhaps one reason why it hasn't paid off big time for me yet, but one thing I do admire about the program that sets it apart from the others, is its partnerships with charities. The rewards aren't great, typically just a few hundred miles, but in the end you're still earning while doing something nice for someone else, which is always worth thinking about, especially during this time of year.

The real value in e-Miles, in my opinion, it in it's relationship with e-Rewards. If you combine the two, and get multiple accounts, you can just about double what you could be doing with e-Rewards alone.

In addition to sponsor offers, e-Miles has an e-market shopping portal, however the partner are limited and the rate is just 1 mile/$ which is usually lower than other sites. I would only advocate using their portal if you need to top off an account in order to transfer miles out of the program. Otherwise check out a site like evreward.com to find the best portal-shopping deals.

e-Miles somewhat recently introduced a mobile app, which is a great way to earn on-the-go, so be sure to check that out as well.

How to Sign Up- emiles.com

Update: As of 12/30/12 Delta will no longer be an e-miles partner

Monday, December 17, 2012

Alaska Airlines Paint the Plane Contest

Voting ends Dec. 18th. Winner announced Jan. 10th

Alaska Airlines is about to get a new special livery, and if you are a Hawaii resident (or have access to a computer while in Hawaii) you get to help pick the design! Sadly this design-a-plane contest isn't one that you or I can enter- it's all about the keikis (kids). Students from around the State of Hawaii got to compete to have their design painted on a 737. As part of the contest Alaska Airlines is giving away thousands of dollar worth of scholarships and free trips to some of the student who entered. The theme of the contest is "spirit of the islands" and I think all 3 finalists' works embody what that means. To view to entries, and vote (if you're in Hawaii), visit Alaskaair.com/Hawaii before December 18th. The winner will be announced on January 10th. I can't wait to see who wins, and look forward to this exciting new plane spotting opportunity coming very soon!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Free Miles and Points: e-Rewards

Next up in my series about Free Miles and Points is e-Rewards. I first wrote about e-Rewards back in August during an enter-to-win 250,000 MileagePlus miles contest. Sadly that promotion is over, but there are still a few very lucrative sign-up bonuses available worth a guaranteed 250-350 miles after completing your first survey. Once upon a time e-Rewards was an invitation-only program, but after a few sponsors posted invitation links right on their websites and news of their sign-up bonuses spread all over the internet, just about anyone with an email account and the know-how (which I'll share) can join.

e-Rewards sponsors as of 12/16/2012
How it Works- e-Rewards is was an invitation only program that rewards you with miles, hotel points, gift cards and even magazine subscriptions for taking surveys. You will typically get an invitation email from one of their numerous sponsors or you can join using the sign-up links below at the end of the post. Surveys are sent to you via email and typically take anywhere from 10-30 minutes to complete. The amount you earn is usually based on the length of the survey and most of the time you will even get a consolation prize ($.25) if you fail to qualify. e-Rewards recently launched a mobile app which has some shorter and more valuable surveys, however you must get an invitation from them in order to use it. e-Rewards "dollars" do expire once a year if not redeemed so I like to use AwardWallet to keep track of my accounts.

e-Rewards email




The Currency and Rewards- e-Rewards gives you e-Rewards "dollars". Even though they use the $ symbol, they are not equal to USD; in my experience, they are only worth about half when you try to trade them in for gift cards. The value of your "$"s varies by sponsor. Here are a few travel-related
examples:

  •  "$25" = 500 miles/points, "$50" = 1,000 miles/points, and "$100" = 2,000 miles/points on Air France/KLM, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, AeroMexico, Frontier, Hawaiian, US Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, United Airlines, Delta Airlines, Emirates, Etihad, Spirit, jetBlue, and Southwest. 
e-Rewards and Alaska Airlines
  • "$30" = 750 Avios, "$60" = 1,500 Avios, and "$100" = 3,000 Avios with Iberia
  • "$25" = 1,000 points, "$50" = 2,500 points, and "$75" = 4,500 points with Club Carlson and Hilton HHonors.
  • "$30" = 1,000 points, "$60" = 2,200 points, "$100" = 4,000 points with LaQuinta, Choice Privileges, and Priority Club
e-Rewards and Priority Club
  • "$20" for a 1-year subscription to Travel + Leisure magazine.
  • "$30" = 150 points and "$60" = 500 points with Hertz.
For the complete list of program sponsors and awards click here.

Free Points- Participation in the e-Rewards program is completely free.

Taking it to the Next Level- Multiple accounts do not seem to be an issue with e-Rewards as long as you use separate email addresses. Of course you will want to keep track of what you redeem out of each e-Rewards account to avoid making it obvious. e-Rewards sometimes helps out in the sense that if you were invited to join by United, you may not be able to even redeem "dollars" from that account with Delta, American, or any other airline sponsor. Obviously, United wants you to redeem your earnings with them, and while there still may be hotel and other options, don't expect to see anything from their competitors. Another tip is that you may want to set up some free email accounts for use for e-Rewards. Making the sponsor name part of the address is any easy way to help you keep track of your accounts, for example- yourname_asmiles@yahoo, yourname_hhpoints@hotmail, or yourname_deltamiles@gmail, etc.

Overall Analysis and Other Stuff You Should Know- Your earning potential with e-Rewards is pretty much limited by how many email addresses you want to sign up for and how much effort you want to put into it. When you first join, you might not be getting a lot of survey invitations, but if you stick with it, those number will surely increase. With several accounts and after more than a year now, I often have more surveys than I have time for. Also be aware that some of the survey the links expire quickly, so in order to maximize your earnings you may want to check your inbox almost daily. Of course, not all of us have the time. I'd guess that I only get to about 20% of mine before they expire, and I'm still earning a lot!

My experience with e-Rewards has been very positive. In just the last year, I've managed to rack up thousands of miles and points across several programs. The sheer number of survey invitations I am getting nowadays is a little overwhelming, so I'm glad I use separate email accounts. Some surveys are more fun that others, and some are just downright mind-numbing and awful. Now that I have a kid, and nowhere near enough free time to complete them all, I pick and choose. I've found that with e-Rewards it's best to be thoughtful and honest with their surveys to insure you qualify and get full credit. The exception to that being cell-phone related surveys. You can usually blindly click through those and still get credit.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I've been selected several times for in-home product trials. e-Rewards has sent me a quite a few cases of free diapers and wipes, then given me credit for completing a very short questionnaire. All of the times they've been brand named products too- Pamper diapers and Huggies wipes. I not super picky about brands when it comes to that so I truly appreciated the freebies! While we normally buy Huggies diapers and Kirkland Signature wipes from Costco, if someone wants to send me free stuff, I'll take it!

Another fun and easy way to earn lots of miles and points with e-Rewards is with their new mobile app (available for iPhone and Android). While a typical email survey worth "$10" might take as long as 30 minutes to complete, with the app, I've been getting "$10" surveys that take less than 5 minutes on my iPhone. Some of these surveys are location-based and in some cases they may want you to take a picture of a receipt or the inside of store to prove you're actually there.

How to Sign Up- Search your inbox for e-mail invitations from e-Rewards sponsors or use any or all of the sign-up bonus links below. If you know of any other bonus offers out there, please feel free to share with other readers in the comments section.

Update: Delta will no longer be a partner in 2013

Friday, December 14, 2012

The United Mai Tai

I know it's been several months since I started blogging here, and you may have noticed I'm yet to write a post about a Mai Tai. There's been plenty of talk about about miles and points, but any mention of the famed tropical drink has been absent...until now. This was a difficult post to write and I'm still mourning over what United did to my favorite cocktail. It's no coincidence that The United Mai Tai finally gets talked about here on Flashback Friday; that's because United no longer serves them. What they serve now is not worthy of talking about, let alone drinking, and it is certainly NOT a Mai Tai, despite what it may say on the product's packaging.
This is not a Mai Tai

The United Mai Tai was something special and it was good. It was a drink we all would get excited about prior to our flights to Hawaii, and before my drinking days, something my parents would even talk about on the trips we all made together when I was a kid. It was the perfect excuse to start drinking at 9am if you happened to be on the early flight. Along with the Halfway to Hawaii game, it was a little something extra that made flying to the islands on United memorable, and not just like any other routine domestic flight.

To fully understand what made the drink so special we need to go back in time. You may be surprised to learn that the Mai Tai in fact is not Hawaiian. The name is Tahitian, and the drink itself was invented in California in the 1940's by either Don the Beachcomber or a guy named Trader Vic, depending on which story you believe. The fact that Trader Vic's name made it onto the bottle of they serve today is unfortunate. After a quick google search I was able to uncover the original secret recipe:

The Original Trader Vic Mai Tai

  • 2 oz of 17-year old J. Wray & Nephew Rum over shaved ice
  • Add juice from one fresh lime
  • 1/2 oz Holland DeKuyper Orange CuraƧao
  • 1/4 oz Trader Vic's Rock Candy Syrup
  • 1/2 oz French Garnier Orgeat Syrup
  • Shake vigorously.
  • Add a sprig of fresh mint
So obviously United isn't going to serve us 17-year old rum and they never did. After seeing the way things are going at the airline post-merger, I doubt the ever will either. The Mai Tai has been adapted several times over the years, and the version we are familiar with today is probably closer to what the Royal Hawaiian came up with in the 1950's:

The Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai
  • 1/2 oz Orange Curacao
  • 2 oz Orange Juice
  • 1/2 oz lime juice
  • Dash Orgeat
  • Dash Simple Syrup
  • 1 oz Light Rum
  • 1 oz. Myers's Dark Rum
So again, most airplane galleys don't contain the most well-stocked bars, and I've never seen stuff like Orange Curacao and Orgeat (an almond flavored syrup) on any aircraft before. If you have, please let me know which airlines you're flying, because I want to come join you! What United did was to make the best of what they had on board. Of course there were a few key essential ingredients like a sugary mix, rum, pinneapple and cherry garnish, and a magic tiki dude swizzle stick- beyond that it was open to interpretation. With The United Mai Tai, you never knew what you were going to get. Sometimes it was really good. Other times it tasted like it had jet fuel in it. Maybe it did, but either way it got you to your destination just a little bit happier than when you first stepped on the airplane. Go ahead and call me a traditionalist, but when I think of the term "mixed drink", I feel that it should actually be "mixed", like something mixed with something else and put together by an actual person.

It took a little bit more research to come up with what United actually put in their Mai Tais (besides creativity), and thanks to this flyertalk thread, I think I figured it out, down to two variations. For now let's call them Version 1 and Version 2. Version 1, or the older incarnation, was made with Mr. & Mrs. T's Mai Tai mix, which is something I recall seeing on board several times. It also had Bacardi, a dark rum, and various other juices- sometimes lime, sometimes orange, and even possibly guava juice, but it's been a while, and possibly before I legally started drinking, since United served guava. The degree of "cloudiness" depended on how much juice there was. Version 2, the newer one, for sure contained at least two things: Trader Vic's mix (which is alright if you actually "mix" it with something) and a Myers's dark rum floater. The other ingredients were dependent on how much your flight attendant liked you and how long they had been working for the airlines. A good drink usually contained lime. A really good drink had more rum in it. Sometimes Version 2 had juice. Both drinks came with a pineapple, a cherry, and a magic tiki dude.

The Collection

The United Mai Tai
  • Mix- either Mr. & Mrs. T's or Trader Vic's
  • Rum- Bacardi and/or Myers's
  • Lime
  • Orange Juice (optional)
  • Pineapple, Cherry, and Magic Tiki Dude (very important)
So what went wrong? First the United Magic Tiki Dude disappeared. I can't really blame the airline for that, as any iconography having to do with the old United was to be either pillaged or burned after the merger. Now they just use the same blue Continental-branded swizzle sticks that go in any other drink. The pineapple and cherry garnishes are as hit-and-miss as the Halfway to Hawaii game nowadays, so don't get too excited about seeing them. The rum...the rum is gone! At least the good rum is gone; Continental doing business as United no longer stocks Myers's.

As I said before, the neon-yellow pre-made "stuff" that United serves today is not a Mai Tai. Not that there's anything wrong with Trader Vic's- I've even used it myself as an ingredient in some of my own recipes, but it's just not very good by itself. For a Mai Tai to be good it has to have a little something extra and/or something dark floating on it. I've used Captain Morgan before and while it wasn't great, it was acceptable. For a Mai Tai to be worthy of the name, it can't just be something straight from a bottle dumped over ice. At least Aloha Airlines would float some guava juice on their Trader Vic's before passing it off as a drink.  Towards the end they were much more cash-strapped than United is, but they still took pride in what they served to their customers. United just doesn't get it. Getting rid of the Myers's was undoubtedly a cost saving measure, and the last step in destroying a wonderful tradition. It was a tradition, that in my opinion, was the one thing they did really well, that truly set them apart from the competition.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Free Miles and Points: MyPoints

Earlier this week I talked about how to easily earn over 1,000 free MileagePlus miles through a new program called BCKSTGR. As a follow-up, I wanted to start a Free Miles and Points series covering other programs I use. Since I'm done flying for 2012,  I figured now is the perfect time to share how to earn from home. These activities are also a good way to keep accounts active and keep your valuable miles and points from expiring. All you need to get started is a computer, or in some cases a smart phone. While none of the programs Ill be discussing are that new (you may have even heard of them), I'll be adding my own tips and analysis, while sharing my personal experiences along the way, so stay tuned.

First up is MyPoints, an online shopping portal and United Airlines partner.
  • How it Works- In theory it is a shopping portal, like any other, that gives you points for shopping online using their affiliate links. However, there's so much more to the site and numerous other ways you can earn points for free by doing stuff like reading emails, playing games, completing surveys, and searching the web. Learn more by clicking What is MyPoints?
  • The Currency and Rewards- MyPoints can be converted into giftcards, cash (PayPal), or MileagePlus miles. 10,100 MyPoints points = 5,000 United MileagePlus miles and 5,200 points = 2,500 miles. In comparison 9,000 points is worth a $50 Visa debit gift card or 8,900 points can be converted into a $50 deposit to your paypal. Gift cards from other merchants are a slightly better value than Visa cards/PayPal, but your best option for this program, in my opinion, is to save for the United miles. To view a complete listing of available awards click here.
  • Free Points- BonusMail and SurveyMail earn 5 and 10 points each, respectively. MyPoints will send you emails containing links from their sponsors, but before you mark it as spam, check them out. While not all emails will earn you points, many of them are worth 5 points if you click-thru the link, without further obligation. You may of course can get additional points from actually buying a product or service from the sponsor. MyPoints also sends invitations periodically to participate in surveys. They typically offer 10 points for not qualifying and 50 or 60 points if you do qualify and complete the survey. My personal advice is not to waste much time doing the surveys (there are better survey sites out there which I'll cover in the series). After almost a year of taking them seriously and a lot of wasted time, I think I only qualified for like 2 surveys, so now I just tell them I am 13 years old and make over $200,000 a year and quickly get redirected to a page that says I failed. It's an easy 10 points. You can expect to earn around 300-350 points per month between BonusMail and SurveyMail. You can also earn MyPoints for free by doing web searches and there are a few one-time earning opportunities for installing a search tool-bar and completing your profile on the site as well.
BonusMail example
SurveyMail example
  • Taking it to the Next Level- Pay special attention to any BonusMails having to do with Walmart. They often offer the most lucrative point earning opportunities for making a small purchase and faxing a copy of your receipt. In the past I've earned 1,000 and 1,750 points for printing a coupon and buying diapers, which is something I would have bought anyway. Other Walmart 1,000 point bonuses have been for Glade plug-in refills (not something I would normally buy) and toilet paper (something I normally buy elsewhere). If you figure 10,100 MyPoints can be redeemed for 5,000 United MileagePlus miles, take the bonus you're earning, divide it by half, and that's how many miles you'll get. So for as little as $3-4 in some cases, you're getting the equivalent of 500 MileagePlus miles. Great Deal! Another recent BonusMail was 1,000 points and 30% off at Famous Footwear. My husband needed new work shoes (for which he gets reimbursed) and we both submitted the receipt for points. Of course not all BonusMails bonuses are going to be that great. Expect about 1 a month that actually is. Another typical offering is 300 points for purchasing a $50 restaurant gift card. It's a good deal if you will use the gift card and were planning on eating out anyway, but with the exception being the aforementioned Walmart bonuses, I wouldn't advocate spending the money if you don't actually need the goods. If you're still unsure, there is a MyPoints thread of flyertalk that will usually start buzzing if something is too good of an offer to pass up. Usually a bonus of 1,000 or more gets my attention. You might also choose to use MyPoints as a shopping portal and earn points that way. Of course by doing so, you're giving up the opportunity to use another portal (like MileagePlus Shopping or any other airline/hotel/points/cashback portal) so it's wise to visit a site like evreward.com to compare your options. Right now, for example, the MyPoints website is offering 16 points per dollar (approx. 8 miles) and 30% off at Old Navy so that beats the 2 miles per dollar that United is currently offering.
Walmart BonusMail example
  • Overall Analysis and Other Stuff You Should Know- I like MyPoints. Since I've been a member (about 2 years) I've earned almost 30,000 points or 15,000 miles through a fairly conservative approach (i.e. not much money spent out of pocket). I typically handle the mind-numbing task of click-thrus and surveys on a smartphone while watching TV, so really no time lost there. Note- the email links and surveys do expire, so try to stay on top of things by clearing out your account at least twice a month. At first the sheer number of emails (typically a few per day) got a little annoying, but that is easily overcome by dedicating a separate email address to miles and points earning activities like this one. As for multiple MyPoints accounts- don't do it! It's against terms and conditions and they will shut you down. I tried. Maybe I wasn't clever enough with first initials and maiden names so the two other accounts I had under different emails got closed and I lost out on a lot of points. I got a warning after that but MyPoints let me keep the account with the highest balance.
To sign up and earn 750 United MileagePlus miles go here. The typical sign-up bonus is only 500 miles, so for whatever reason if that link one day stops working or expires, try MyPoints.com/united. There is also a refer-a-friend offer, but in the spirit of full-disclosure, it's not as good of a deal (You get 750 MyPoints points after making a $20 purchase through the site). If you would however still like to be my friend you can always sign up using my referral by clicking here. As always, thanks for reading and you can look forward to more Free Miles and Points posts coming soon.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

1,000+ MileagePlus Miles for Joining BCKSTGR

While all the usual frequent flier sites and the internet were buzzing about BCKSTGR's 1,000 sign-up bonus, I was on vacation. Sorry about that (no, not really). Anyway, there was so much hype about the free easy miles, that it crashed their site, thus halting sign-ups for a little while. Well, things have calmed down, BCKSTGR.com is back up, so if you haven't joined or haven't heard, and like free miles, now is as good a time as ever.

Q: So what is it?
A: It appears to be a social media type thing that rewards you with miles for "sharing" (aka shamelessly promoting) stuff with your friends.

Q: Great! How do I sign up?
A: Go to BCKSTGR.com and register for 400 points. Link for foursquare, facebook, and twitter accounts to get an additional 200 points each, bringing you to 1,000 total.

Q: But what if I don't want to spam my friends?
A: It appears that you don't have to in order to get the 1000 miles sign-up bonus. So far it looks like my facebook page hasn't been hijacked even though I pretty much gave them permission to do that. Same goes for twitter. On foursquare it just says I started using the app, or you know, whatever it typically does on foursquare- no rogue check-ins or anything yet.

Q: Is that it?
A: No. You can get additional miles for actually tweeting, liking, and sharing stuff (the aforementioned shameless promotion part). Go to the "earn" tab at the top of the page. Click on it. Then find the "Dream Big BCKSTGR" graphic that looks like this-

Click on it. Once there you will be instructed to share their registration link on your twitter for 25 miles, tweet #DreamBig for 50 miles, like them on facebook for 25, and post stuff on your wall for another 50. You can do each of these things twice in your lifetime (once per day) with the exception of liking them, for a total of 225 more miles.

Q: I love free miles! But again, what if I don't want to bug my friends?
A: Multiple or "alias" accounts (with little or no friends) are great for stuff like this. You can also tweet and post the stuff and then just delete it once the miles post (which is almost instantly in my experience).

Taking it to the next level-
You may have noticed on the earning page there are a few other links. Right now it appears only people who live in Chicago are lucky enough to have the privilege or more tweeting, liking, and checking-in for miles, but there are ways around that, I'm sure. I'm not going to tell you explicitly how to do it, but mobile sites and browsers that let you manipulate your location are always fun. That said, cheating is bad, you probably shouldn't do it, and don't blame me if you get coal in your stocking this year. I almost forgot to mention the 4,200 additional miles. (DISCLAIMER: I have not tried this step myself, yet)

So is this just another Topguest? We'll see. I'm sure as the program grows and evolves, if successful, we'll see more opportunities to earn miles for selling out to corporate interests. Yay! As a responsible blogger, I would not recommend something I haven't tried myself (with one exception noted above) and for me the miles posted instantly to MileagePlus so I'll vouch that this seems totally legitimate.

If you like my blog, want to know what's on my mind, where I am and what I'm doing, football picks, secrets of the universe, etc., and don't mind occasionally get spammed yourself please follow me on twitter @hulagrrl210.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Remembering Pearl Harbor

It's Friday! I just got back from a trip late last night and because of that, unfortunately, didn't have the time I wanted to write a more detailed and meaning post today about Pearl Harbor. I promise to eventually write a more thorough trip report with more pictures, but for this week's Flashback Friday, I still felt it important to dedicate this post and share some of my thoughts.

My last visit to Pearl Harbor was in 2011, on a last minute, spur-of-the-moment day trip over from Maui. I'd been there before and I know I'll go back again, but each visit is more and more special than the last. Every time I visit the USS Arizona I am truly humbled and silenced by the what went on there, yet amazed at the same time by how peaceful and truly beautiful that place is. The USS Missouri makes me incredibly proud to be an American, while other sites like the Bowfin and the Pacific Aviation Museum always teach me something new and interesting about our nation's incredible history. Of course, we can never forget the story of the Oklahoma, a ship who's history is equally as compelling as the Arizona's, yet is often overlooked because there isn't a big famous monument.

If you ever are on Oahu and get the chance to visit Pearl Harbor, do it! It is an amazing place and worth setting aside a day of your Hawaiian vacation to go see. To all those who lost their lives on December 7th, 1941, you will never be forgotten. For all those who served and continue to serve our country today, through times of uncertainty, both past and present, a huge mahalo and thank you for your commitment.

The USS Arizona Memorial as seen from the Mighty Mo.



Saturday, December 1, 2012

How to Book a Mileage Run

Booking is easy. Finding is the tough part, but in case you're needing to top off an account or are looking to secure elite status before the end of the year, here's my hopefully-helpful guide on how to get it done. You might already have a destination in mind (say to visit a friend or family member), in which case you're ahead of the game, but if you have no idea where you want to go, or when, and you're in it purely for the miles, keep reading.

The Tools
  • Kayak.com/explore- Basically, deals on a map and the next best thing to Travelocity's Dream Maps which no longer exists. Enter your city and if you want, select a month from the drop down. You can further narrow your choices by region or interest (beach anyone?). To explore in greater detail click any of the orange tabs and if you find something you like you can proceed to book it through kayak.com.
  • The MileageRuns/Mattress Runs/Travel Hacking forum on milepoint and Mileage Run Deals on Flyertalk- This is where other frequent fliers share great deals that they've found. You'll typically find the airline and other pertinent information in the title and the subsequent thread will include any discussion about the fare. This is a great way to find deals from other cities you may have never considered and if the deal is sweet enough, it may be worth investing in a positioning flight (a separate flight to get you to that city).
  • Airfarewatchdog.com is a great site that lets you search for cheap fares from your (or any other city). It's pretty much domestic flights only, but there are select international trips (usually to Europe) posted occasionally as well. They also have a list of Top 50 Fares and offer a free Fare Alert service which you can subscribe to via email. I get weekly emails from them which is a great way to keep an eye on trends and consistently cheap destinations. You can also book through the site if you know your exact dates.
  • matrix.itasoftware.com- I cannot to begin to tell you how much I love ITA. The ability to quickly and easily search multiple dates over an entire calendar month makes it one of the best tools out there, not just for mileage running but for trip planning in generall. It's also cool because you don't need to know where you're going. You can also use ITA to search multiple airports at the same time. Below is the step-by-step method that I use to find most of my mileage runs. I've included screenshots. Some appear small, but if you click on any of the pictures you will get a bigger, more readable image.

How to Use ITA to Plan a Mileage Run 

1. Enter your origin. This can be your home airport and can include several nearby airports that you would also consider flying out of. I live near Sacramento, so I'll typically search RNO, SFO, SJC in addition to SMF. Sadly United no longer flies out of OAK, but if you live in the Northern California or the Bay Area and fly other airlines that is one to include as well. If you live in the New York area search "NYC" instead of just an individual airport like JFK or LGA. "WAS" for the DC area, "CHI" to search both MDW and ORD. You can also spell out your city and click the "nearby" button to the right in case you don't know your airport codes or what's nearby and a map will pop up.

Departing from Sacramento and some nearby airports

2. Make a list of destinations by region. Now's the time to break out that Hemispheres magazine or check the online route map of your favorite airline to see where they fly. Start by listing destinations in groups of up to about 10 or so, separating them by region (or however else you want to organize it- beaches maybe?). For example: Airports in Florida (one of my favorite mileage run destinations): MIA, FLL, JAX, MCO, TPA are some of airports that United serves. Asia: NRT, ICN, HKG, MNL, BKK, etc. You get the idea. Customize your list to omit/avoid any places where you don't want to go and take the time to find out all the airport codes; time spent now on this is time saved on later searches. Store your list in a spreadsheet, text file, or even in an email to yourself so you can easily cut and paste into ITA. (Obviously if you know where you are going, skip this step and just enter your destination). If you need help finding airport codes you can try a Google search or go to http://www.world-airport-codes.com/.

For this example I used airports in the East

3. Enter any routing codes. This is a more advanced feature of ITA, but it is fairly well explained if you click the "?" button to the right of the textbox. If you have a specific airline in mind, say United, enter the airline code. UA for a direct flight, UA+ for one or more flights. If you're on a mileage run, you're going to want that plus. You can also specify the number of legs you want (say 3) by going UA UA UA, but it's best to save that for a later step when you refine your trip. You can also enter stopover points here, but we'll again save that. If you don't have a particular airline in mind, leave it blank for now.
Searching for United Airlines flights

Advanced Routing Code Syntax, or what pops up if you click "?"

4. Enter you dates. Search specific dates or use the calendar (recommended) function. If you use the calendar function enter a range for length of stay. If this is a "true" mileage run and you don't plan on staying at your destination enter 0.

Searching the entire month of March

5. Search. A calendar will pop up showing your options. Click on it to explore your options.

$255 for trans-con looks promising

Some issues, like arriving at JFK and leaving LGA, but it looks like NYC airports and PHL are the cheapest options
6. Refine. At this point click "modify search" towards the top right to return to the first page and narrow down your options. You'll want to choose 1 departure airport and 1 or maybe 2 destinations. This is the step where you want to start adding stuff into the the routing code boxes to try and get more stops and more miles out of your trip. You can used a paid service like ExpertFlyer.com or KVStool.com to find the published routing rules on or you can guess for free. Now is when you will want to pull out that Hemispheres magazine again or pull up your airline's route map and find out their hubs. Since we're flying United, I know IAH is a hub and if you look on a map, it's not really on the way to New York or Philadelphia from California so that's a good one to try and use. IAD is another good choice because even though its close to New York, I'll get the 500-mile minimum between there are PHL based on my Premier Status. On the West Coast for sure I want to add in SFO or LAX or an extra 500 miles, so we'll enter all that into the boxes as follows. Try some different stuff here- I've successfully booked SMF-IAH-DEN-DSM before. Be creative. This step takes a little trial and error, but keep playing with it until you find something you want. As a general rule, try for at least 2 stops, and 3 segments in each direction. See the example below for syntax. Note SFO and LAX, our first stop, are separated only by a comma, then there is a space between that our next stop IAH or IAD. You'll notice the price goes up a little bit, but I'm earning a lot more miles by adding in the extra stops.

Adding stops in the routing code section

$278 for SMF-SFO-IAD-PHL-IAH-LAX-SMF


Itinerary details. At least 5701 miles and all the info I need to book my ticket.


Booking Your Trip

Now that you've found your trip, all you have to do is book it, which is the one thing you can't do through ITA. For the above example I would most likely book directly with the airline via united.com. Kayak.com is another good option and works best for itineraries that includes multiple airlines. Either way, you are probably going to use the "multi-city" or "multiple destination" function to find the itinerary you are looking for.

Note: ITA doesn't include 500-mile minimum in their mileage calculation, but you will be able to get that information from your airline or you can calculate it yourself manually. gcmap.com is another good tool.
For this run I would end up with 6623 miles once I count in my 500-minimuns  for $278 which breaks down to $.04 per miles. I also like that I am flying on the red-eye eastbound and making a same day turn. There are no ridiculously long layovers and it's also out of Sacramento which saves me a drive to the city. This is a good run! I might actually book it!