Thursday, January 31, 2013

Hacking Hong Kong

As I reported earlier, somehow I got another free stopover out of our upcoming trip to India. Due to a schedule change, and an almost-inevitable missed connection in Hong Kong, I was able to talk United into letting us stay an extra day there. Of course that leaves one issue...Where are we going to spend the night? In the spirit of keeping this a "free" stopover I began exploring the options of using miles and/or points to help finance our stay. As much fun as I had spending the night in the HKG airport when United stranded me there in 2006 (haha, just kidding), I knew there just had to be a better way.

My husband and I have a number of points with Starwood, Hilton, and Priority Club, most of them from credit card sign ups. I checked out the W Hong Kong (Starwood)- expensive, The Conrad (Hilton)- doesn't really look like our style, and even considered transferring some points from Chase Ultimate Rewards to stay at the Grand Hyatt. Finally there's the good ol' Intercontinental Hong Kong (Priority Club) where we stayed during Babymoon 2011. My husband is the Priority Club guy in the household. He has the credit card and the Platinum Ambassador status, he knows the system, and he usually takes care of all things hotel-related on most of our trips. Not this time. We are already using a lot of his points (and status) to get the most out of our upcoming stays in Singapore and Bali, and since this little extra stopover in Hong Kong was my idea, guess who gets to pay for it. That right, me.

It turns out I have quite a few Priority Club points too! Before I was banned from Topguest, I managed to rack up quite a few of them (and at one point Gold status too). So for most of us the Topguest ship sailed a long time ago, but if you somehow weren't in on the deal, you can still sign up at topguest.com and earn points for "checking in" via Foursquare. Just don't try and rig an auto check in service because recent foursquare updates make it blatantly obvious that you're cheating (i.e. Michelle just checked in to the local Holiday Inn Express via auto4sq.com). In the end it didn't seem to matter whether you cheated or played fairly, we all got shut down the same. Anyway, the deal was good while it lasted and still may be for whatever you can get out of it.

In addition to the Topguest hack trick, I earned extra points through participating in various promotions (check out the flyertalk master thread) including the some fun quizzes:
This was an old promo and I'm not sure who to thank for originally finding out about this one (flyertalk, milepoint, or another blogger) but The Points Guy does a pretty good job explaining it. Isn't it amazing how many Priority Club properties there are around the world?!? USA, Great Britain, Canada, China, Japan, Italy, Spain, France...Read between the lines here and this little trick is good for at least a few thousand free Priority Club points.

I also stayed at a Holiday Inn Express in New Mexico in 2008, and who knows where else over the years (I've been a Priority Club member since 2001) so some of those points may very well have come from actual hotel stays- but I'm guessing it's a minority of them. My Priority Club account for the most part has been neglected since we started using my husband's.

When I logged into my account the other day, I had just over 32,000 points. I had narrowed down our choices in Hong Kong to two: the Intercontinental Hong Kong and the Crowne Plaza Causeway Bay. Both properties require the same amount of points. Since we stayed at the IC back in 2011, I thought it might be fun to try someplace new. I also wasn't planning on getting lucky with a Harbour View room at the Intercontinental like we did last time, especially since this stay is on my account and I don't have any status. I like the Causeway Bay area because of the convenient shopping and dining choices plus they have a rooftop infinity pool (The IC would like you to think they have one too, but it turns out it is for the Presidential Suites only). Crowne Plaza it is!

Priority Club in Hong Kong

You may notice that the nightly rate for the Intercontinental is quite a bit higher than what it is for the Crowne Plaza, but since we are using points, it really doesn't matter. Sure, you could argue the the IC is a better value and that I'm not getting the best deal, but we already stayed there and in the end I'm still getting a $350/nt. hotel room for free. I'm perfectly OK with that. So my 32,000+ points balance puts me within striking range of the Point and Cash option of 35,000 + $70. Luckily, I don't have to pay the extra $70 (although $70 for 10,000 points is not a bad deal). Priority Club recently devalued "enhanced" their award chart but as a courtesy are giving members until mid-March to call in and book at the old rates (Thanks Mommy Points!). The CP used to cost 35,000 points outright and that's what I'm going to pay.

To top off the account I redeemed 60 e-Rewards dollars for 2,200 more Priority Club points, which put me 265 points frustratingly short of the 35,000 I needed. My next move was going to be a transfer of 1,000 points from my Chase Ultimate Rewards account at a rate of 1:1. That kind of annoyed me because I didn't want to use those Ultimate Rewards for Priority Club points (they are much more valuable transferred elsewhere), and if I counted the $7.90 cost of what it would cost to replenish those points by buying a couples of Vanilla Reloads at the store, my stay wouldn't be so free anymore. Luckily, Jason from Miles Quest saved the day by posting about how to get 1,000 points from VISA for watching a short film about the Priority Club credit card. I watched the movie and the points should be in my account by the time you are reading this.
Redeeming e-Rewards for Priority Club points

So that's how I hacked creatively booked Hong Kong and ended up with a free room for the night. I also cleaned out my Priority Club account (which we no longer use), so now I don't have a bunch of points sitting around waiting to be devalued the next time they "enhance" their award chart. Without miles and points, I can guarantee you we wouldn't be staying in as nice of a hotel and there's no doubt that the extra money I saved will come in handy for a little shopping in Hong Kong.







Wednesday, January 30, 2013

We're going to Alaska!

Have you ever done anything crazy like book a trip to Alaska in the middle of winter? Because that's exactly what I did last week. Why, you may ask? Well, if you follow me on twitter (@hulagrrl210) it's no big secret that I like to ski. As a Tahoe season pass holder, Vail's social media invention EpicMix spams my followers every time I hit the slopes. Of course I could disable it, but I like bragging about my accomplishments such as 150,000 vertical feet so far in the season and mastering the Nevada side at Heavenly in one day! Anyway, I have a cousin in Anchorage who knows how much I love to ski and who keeps inviting me up to check out the 49th state. That combined with watching perhaps a few too many Warren Miller films lately and some newly acquired Alaska Airlines MileagePlan miles gave me the idea...we're going to Alaska!

image courtesy travelalaska.com
It's just me and the baby this time. Unfortunately, my husband has to work (someone has to right?) so let the solo-mom-baby-wrangling adventures begin! It turns out there are some "logistics" involved in figuring out how to get a kid, all of his #$%*, my skis, poles, boots, and a bunch of survival gear winter clothes on a plane to and from Alaska. United has spoiled me over the years with their generous 3x's 75 pound baggage allowance for Premier Golds/Platinums, but we're not flying United this time- mainly because it costs as many miles to fly to ANC as what we're paying to go to Singapore, Bali, India, and now Hong Kong next month. When I checked with UA, the only thing available was a Standard First Class Award (via DEN) for 50,000 miles each way! Yeah, not thanks. So once again Alaska Airlines is stealing away more of my business from United.

Unfortunately, I don't (yet) have any status with AS so we're just going to have to rough it with the standard (paid) 2x's 50lb. baggage allowance. Since baby's first trip and the infant carrier days, we've transitioned him into a Britax Marathon car seat and use a Go Go Kidz TravelMate to wheel him around the airport. Those come on board with us. We then use the stroller as a makeshift luggage cart and check that plane-side. Then CJ has his own massively-large Dakine Split Roller duffle bag that holds his Pack-n-Play and whatever else baby needs when he goes on vacation (a lot of diapers, wipes, clothes, toys, food, etc.). We then usually have our own individual carry-ons, plus the diaper bag, and an additional check-in bag (or two) for mom and dad. This works out great when we have two adults (and no heavy ski boots). Not this time! Luckily, my cousin's wife says they have a Pack-n-Play we can use, and I'm figuring without much use for the stroller in Alaska in the middle of winter, I might actually be able to pull this one off with one check-in (my skis padded with winter jackets and whatever else I can cram in that bag) and a carry-on roll-a-board or backpack (with ski boots). A diaper bag is a "personal item" right? I know I'm really pushing it with the carry-on allowance, so worst case scenario I pay extra (grrrr), CJ's giant duffle bag comes too and without the Pack-n-Play, if I put the ski boots in there, we still have hope of coming in under 50 lbs. Glad we got that all figured out!
Guess whose bag that is!
Now, you also might be wondering how a life-long loyal United customer ends up with a bunch of Alaska MileagePlan Miles. 25,000 miles came from a targeted promotion for Northern California residents flying to Hawaii. A few more miles came from actually flying to Hawaii (2 times now with AS) plus a trip home from Las Vegas on Delta. More recently I got a 25,000 from a Bank of America-Alaska Airlines credit card sign-up ($75 annual fee). Add in the various other routine daily activities of a self-confessed mileage junkie (e-Rewards, e-Miles, etc.) and before you know it, I had over 75,000 miles in the bank- more than double what I need to make it up to Anchorage and back. Award availability on Alaska Airlines was surprisingly good given the last minute nature of the trip. I was able to get very good mid-day timings with minimal layovers for 32,500 miles (12.5k + 20k). There were some cheaper options, but I figured going via SEA and PDX then getting to ANC at 1 or 2 in the morning would make me a bad mother, and an even worse house guest. In the end it was well worth a few extra miles to travel in the middle of the day. I only bought one ticket for both of us, which is something I like to do on domestic award travel as long as there appear to be a lot of empty seats at the time of booking. The airlines will usually let you bring your car seat on board and take up an extra unoccupied seat. While I typically don't like to "lapchild", this is something I have done before on United. Alaska's policy is very generous in this regard, and all they ask is that I provide them with a birth certificate (or passport) to verify that my child is indeed under 2 years old.

An example of some flights we won't be taking

 So after having kids, it turns out just a bit more planning goes into these last-minute, impulsive-behavior-driven trips as I continue to chase my dreams of being a jet-setting, snow-bunny, surfer-chick, still-20-something (for a few more weeks anyway), life-loving, sometimes-crazy, young adult. Of course, none of this would be possible without having one of the greatest little guys around, and he really is such a good sport on the plane (and in the car) when we drag him along on all of our travel adventures. Also special thanks to my awesome cousin Steve, his wife Lisa, and their beautiful family for the invite and for taking us in. I am truly blessed to have such wonderful relatives and I can't wait to check out the snow in Alaska!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

United Award Booking Adventures

At first I thought about titling this "How to get extra stopovers on award travel", but then I'm not sure if I found a way to exploit the system or if I just got lucky..maybe both. Anyway, I somehow ended up with 3 free stopovers on our upcoming trip to India. One of the things I like to do on award tickets is to take advantage of the one free stopover that United offers on round trip travel. If you're headed to India, which is about as far away from Northern California as you can get without going full circle, that means your stopover can pretty much be anywhere in the world. For this one we chose to sneak in a free trip to Bali.

The next free stopover in Singapore isn't really a stopover at all...after all anything less than 24 hours is just a long layover right? ;) This is one of my favorite tricks and one we used before on Babymoon 2011. The idea is you show up at a city mid-morning or early afternoon one day, and instead of continuing on to your destination that evening, you choose a morning flight the next day. To do this, try using the multi-city or "Multiple Destinations" option when booking. Sometimes it may be helpful to try search by individual segment or to look up the schedule in your airlines' timetable. In some cases getting this extra "stopover" may require calling on the phone. As the golden rule with United goes...if at first you don't succeed, hang up, call again. It took a couple of phone calls in this case and I had to tell the agent exactly which flight numbers I wanted, but it worked! I also got them to waive the charge for booking over the phone by saying I was having "techincal" issues with the website (united.com didn't like my idea very much)- while the new United really doesn't like to waive the fees for this reason anymore, they still occasionally will if you ask nicely. :)

I booked these tickets almost a year ago...a lot can change in a year, especially schedules. Long story short, that is how we ended up with our 3rd stopover in Hong Kong.

SFO-HKG-SIN-DPS-BKK-DEL-BKK-HKG-SFO gcmap.com

For this trip we ended up with a mixed saver award (half coach, half business class) using Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways and United. Trying to get business class seats on Singapore using United miles is next to impossible. The one day in the history of the world when Singapore released their premium seats to other Star Alliance partners...yeah, I was busy working sitting on a beach in Maui when that happened and missed out, so coach it is. Not sure if I write that off as FML or #firstworldproblems. Singapore Airlines offered the best schedule to fit our needs (and the only way to "stopover" in Singapore along the way), so we took what we could get.

Coming home I was able to score us business class seats the whole way. With a roundtrip economy saver award to India costing 80,000 miles per person, and the mixed award we ended up with being 100,000 I found this to be an incredible value. (20,000 miles to fly halfway around the world in business class...yes please!) The plan was DEL-BKK-HKG-SFO, going as far as Hong Kong on Thai and then continuing home on United. The trick to getting 3 business class seats on Thai was to book 2 people on one record and 1 on the other. Thai releases their seats in pairs, and special thanks to Gary from View from the Wing for telling me about it. Sure enough it worked like a charm; as soon as two of us booked the seats, two more opened up and we were able to snag the third that we needed. Of course, in typical United fashion, they botched this and put the baby on his own record instead of one of the adults, but whatever. Hey, at least we're all on the same flights (believe it or not that has been an issue with United the past)!

With tickets booked well in advance, we waited...and continued to wait for our upcoming trip as some interesting changes began to unfold. The first one being our SQ1 flight is now on an A380 instead of a 777. So bigger, fancier plane- same not-so-big, not-so-fancy coach seats, but then I've never been on an A380, so I figured it'll be cool. The next change was an aircraft swap from a TG 474 to their brand new A380, and since we're flying in business class on that segment this was a welcome surprise and the chance to try out a brand new premium product. Along with that swap came a slight schedule change...and what was a tight connection at HKG became an illegal even tighter one. I somewhat-intentionally neglected to do anything about it.

So a few days ago, I'm at home, probably still in my PJ's, cleaning up the latest mess the baby made...ah, my other glamorous life of that stay at home mom...when the phone rings. I nice lady from United was calling and asking to talk to baby CJ...um, ok. She then asked if baby CJ was traveling by himself (valid question perhaps given the state of our itineraries, but no I'm not sending my soon-to-be 1 year old son jet setting around the world by himself). "This wouldn't possibly be regarding our upcoming trip to India, would it?" Lucky guess. She then informed me of the "good news" that she could rebook us on a 15-hour flight DEL-EWR and then continuing on to SFO. My head started spinning. First of all, I hate Newark. Second of all, I've done that flight. It sucks. What sucks more is following it by 5-6 hour transcon in an A320, or similarly-sucky aircraft...Goodbye Thai A380's brand new business class. Goodbye free massage at the Royal Orchid club in BKK (one of the perks of flying Thai). Hello enhanced pat down in New Jersey. At that point my baby started crying. Thank goodness! "I'm going to have to call you back."

The first thing I did was to get on the computer and start exploring other options. Was there anything through Narita? Frankfurt? Singapore? Munich? Seoul? Anywhere but Newark? Nope. I eventually did call back, defeated and ready to accept my fate. Interesting conversation...At first I asked if there were any other options. There were none. A month out? Business Class? Saver Award? Who were we kidding. When I told the agent I was trying to avoid EWR, she said, "I don't blame you. You know, I don't know who or why or whatever they were able to even offer you that routing." That's what I'm sayin'! Technically coming home through Newark would be an around the world ticket. I was always told "you go through the Pacific, you come home through the Pacific" when traveling to that part of the world. She agreed with me. The way around this would be to book tickets to India using 2 one-ways, but since we took advantage of the free stopover, that option was out. I guess United had been willing to make an exception since it was their metal that flies the DEL-EWR route. While it might have been fun for my kiddo to make his first around-the-world trip at a year old, I didn't complete mine until I was 23...Dude can wait a few years! Of course, technically not being able to go around the world ruled out Lufthansa or Swiss and going through Europe, which didn't matter because there wasn't availability anyway. No luck via Tokyo on ANA either. Singapore Airlines didn't have any Business seats (no surprises there), neither did Thai, and none of the other Star Alliance carriers' schedules worked. We were running out of options. I figured it was a long shot, but I asked anyway, "What if we are willing to spend the night in Hong Kong, and just come home 24 hours later?"..."Let me put you on hold".

Hong Kong 2011
So United is letting us do another stopover in Hong Kong. I like the city and I figured it will be a good way to break up the long journey a little bit. At one point there was talk of them even providing a hotel but that didn't come through. They had to convert some revenue business class seats to "accommodate" us (as in we already might have cost them a little bit of money), but anyway we're now booked HKG-SFO on our same original flight, in business class, just a day later. In the end I was thanked again for my continued loyalty and I very graciously thanked the lady who helped me for her time. I'm sure we're going to have a fun day in Hong Kong. Thanks United!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Flashback Friday: Flying United's "New" Business Class

...or at least it was new back in 2009 when my husband and I flew San Francisco to Frankfurt on the way to India. The lay-flat seats were still more or a novelty than an industry standard at the time, and we just thought we were the coolest kids ever after my dad let us burn a couple of his Systemwides to sit there. Of course that was back in the day when you could actually use Systemwides (now Global Premier Upgrades) on a discounted coach fare.

Before our "miles and points" days we would actually buy our tickets to go visit my husband's family in India. I've been to India 5 times now, and most of them were in paid-coach. We simply didn't know any better. Sure, I'd been in international business class once or twice before, but it was usually on a 777 and in an old-school recliner-style seats with the tvs that only got like 3 channels...even then I thought it was nice. But now there were these cool rear-facing seats with lay-flat beds, and an on-demand entertainment system with a huge screen- I was so excited and busy playing with it all that I didn't sleep the entire way to Germany! We were trying really hard to act like we'd been there before but it was tough. The only thing tougher was going back to economy after that.

When I think of the good old days at United, this flight stands out. It wasn't just the novelty of getting to try out a new premium product, but it was that combined with the legacy of my once all-time favorite airline that went along with it. It was getting to fly around the world on a big blue-and-white 747 with a tulip on the tail. It was the really good service we got that day from flight attendants that remembered what it was like to work for the "Friendly Skies".

It's been a while since I've been that excited about flying United. I don't know if it's because I'm getting old and jaded, because now I've been there and done that or if the service is really that much worse now...and don't even get me started on the "changes" since the merger. The airline I used to love to fly is almost unrecognizable now. And I really don't like the globe logo or the new ugly-blue color scheme either. There, I said it. More and more I find myself on unfamiliar Continental aircraft with Continental crews- not that it's all bad (BusinessFirst is ok and some of the Continental people are actually really nice), it's just not United.

In a few weeks, we're off to India again, and I managed to score us some of those same lay-flat United Business seats using our miles coming home from Hong Kong. I'm sure the logo on the tail has been painted over, but it's still a United plane, it should be a United crew, and I'm hoping for a little nostalgia and maybe a bit of that same excitement we had back when it was all "new".

Tulip Tails at SFO
They never let our Jack and Cokes go empty
Our Blue and White 747 at FRA

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Little Good News From e-Miles

With all the bad news "enhancements" circulating the miles and points world lately (no more HawaiianMiles for amazon.com, widespread hotel points devaluations, and a major carrier going revenue-based, etc.) I needed a little something good. Earlier I wrote about how I signed up for new e-Rewards and e-Miles accounts through Delta because I wanted to see what would happen to the accounts. As previously reported, I got lucky with e-Rewards and now that account has access to all the different airline and hotel awards. The e-Miles accounts was left in limbo with a promise that something exciting would come in the future, but until yesterday I wasn't exactly sure what that meant. I assumed it would be the ability to redeem my e-Miles for amazon.com gift cards or something like that. Then I got this email-

So it looks like I am going to get access to all the partners now and I "no longer have to choose just one". Yay! I didn't get emails for any of my other multiple e-Miles accounts, so this appears to Delta-specific for now. I'll take it! Although I've really enjoyed all my experiences on Delta and I think they are a very nice airline, I've never been a big fan of "Skypesos" and always opt for Alaska Mileage Plan miles (they are partners) given the choice. Of course there's always United, American, US Airways, and others to choose from too! Finally, an "enhancement" that actually is one!

To find out more about e-Miles and their partners, check out my previous post, or go to e-miles.com to sign up.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Plane Spotting: Sports Teams Special Liveries

The Niners are going to the Super Bowl!!! The Niners are going to the Super Bowl!!! The Niners...ok, obviously I'm a little excited :) So in honor of my favorite team making it to the biggest game of the year for the first time since I was a kid, and because I haven't done a plane spotting feature in a while, I thought it would be fun to throw together a little checklist of some of the special sports teams liveries from around the country and those that are easily spotted domestically (including where I've spotted a few myself). If you're not a frequent flier you can still play along and check them all out on airliners.net! How many have you seen?

US Airways "Angry Birds" Arizona Cardinals plane at SJD


Air New Zealand
  • All Blacks (rugby) 777-300 ZK-OKQ (spotted several times at LAX, most recently December 2012)
Air Tran
Alaska Airlines
  • Portland Timbers (soccer) 737-700 N607AS (spotted at LAX and PDX in 2012)
Etihad
  • Formula 1 Racing A340 A6-EHJ (spotted at JFK September 2012) ok, so it's not a team, but still a pretty cool looking livery!
Hawaiian Airlines is the official carrier of the...
  • Oakland Raiders and they have 2 767's (N592HA and N593HA) that have sported the team's logo (N592HA spotted at HNL)
Horizon (Alaska) loves the NCAA!
  • University of Idaho Vandals Q400 N400QX (spotted at SMF)
  • Washington State Cougars Q400 N401QX
  • University of Montana Grizzlies Q400 N402QX (spotted at SMF)
  • Montana State Bobcats Q400 N403QX
  • University of Oregon Ducks Q400 N407QX (spotted at LAX) There also used to be a CRJ (spotted at SMF)
  • San Diego State University Aztecs Q400 N414QX
  • University of Washington Huskies Q400 N435QX
  • Boise State Broncos Q400 N437QX
  • Oregon State Beavers Q400 N440QX (spotted at LAX)
JetBlue
US Airways
  • Philadelphia Eagles A319 N709UW (spotted PHX)
  • Arizona Cardinals A319 N837AW (flew 2011 SJD-PHX) looks like an Angry Bird!
  • Carolina Panthers A319 N717UW
  • Pittsburgh Steelers A319 N773UW
Virgin America
  • SF Giants A320 N849VA (I see this plane a lot at SFO early in the morning- I think it spends the night there)
Feel free to take a copy of this list with you on your next trip and if you can think of any I've missed or want to share what (and where) you've spotted please comment below.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

An Interesting Proposition...

As I was busy flying Alaska Airlines home from Hawaii yesterday, this showed up in my email...


I originally set out to make 1K last year, but because life happens, I ended up just a little short. Intrigued by the email, and of course wanting to know how to get that coveted status that eluded me last year, I clicked the link to find out more...


I choked. I might have also thrown up in my mouth a little and maybe dropped the f-bomb in front of my kid. It appears as though United is soliciting money in exchange for status...a lot of money. $4149 to be exact. I ended the year at 85,005 miles, so 15k is what I'd need.

Just then another email showed up, but this one was for the baby (we share an email address)....


I guess I wasn't the only one to notice the slight price discrepancy and there is even a Flyertalk thread about it. It appears that 1K is a lot more valuable than Silver- ha, no surprises there. Special thanks to WineCountryUA for doing the math.

So I don't think we are going to be taking United up on this offer, unless of course my kiddo wants to pay for it using the United MileagePlus Explorer VISA that they keep trying to sign him up for. He's not flying United anymore anyway, so thanks, but no thanks. I'm not saying it's a bad deal (not explicitly, at least), and who knows, someone out there might value this offer and want to pay that much for their status. I am not one of those people. I want to make one thing very clear- there are no other benefits to buying those PQM miles other for status (they aren't redeemable). That said, I can think of a lot of better ways to spend $4149...

It appears the going rate of a decent mileage run nowadays is $.04 per mile, so if we're talking about making 1K which requires 100,000 miles, that's $4,000. For the sake of argument let's round up and assume it is going to cost $4149. For that same amount, as a Premier Platinum earning a 75% redeemable miles bonus each time I fly, I can get 175,000 redeemable miles by flying instead of buying. (You can check out the interactive award chart to see all the fun can be had with those).

I still want to make Million Miler with United and secure lifetime Gold status for myself and my husband before it's too late. With this week's news that Delta is moving towards a revenue based frequent flier program (and with these emails being any indication), I fear that it's only a matter of time before United might be headed in the same direction. In a world where cash means more than loyalty, I'd like to wrap up that lifetime status before I can't afford to anymore. It's time to start doing some serious mileage running.

Once again my goal for 2013 is to make 1K and I'd like to do it for less than $4149. With the overall theme of this post being "I can think of a lot of better ways to spend $4149" of course I'd like as little of that money as possible to actually come out of my own pocket. With all the flying I do for my Hawaii business being shifted to Alaska Airlines this year, any flying on United is purely for fun miles. I can't really justify spending that amount on a "hobby". So how am I going to pay for it? Well, I'm still sitting on quite a few customer relations/customer care certificates (e-certs) and voluntary denied boarding vouchers (VDBs) from last year that can help finance the cause. If 2013 is anything like 2012, then I'm sure I'll pick some more up along the way. Beyond that? Citi ThankYou points (thanks Frequent Miler for the idea), Chase Ultimate Rewards, whatever other credit card point currencies I can think of...and finally, as a last resort...cash out of my own pocket. Between now and then, I'm just fine with being a Platinum. So how's that for a proposition?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Flying Alaska to Hawaii

We just got back from our first trip of the year to Maui on Alaska Airlines and I have to say I was impressed...very impressed. I've been flying United to Hawaii all of my life, so switching airlines at this point is kind of a big deal. Over the years I've noticed a lot of changes, many of them that I didn't like, until finally it got to the point where I just couldn't take any more so my family decided to pick a new airline for all of our Hawaii travel. I wasn't expecting much seeing as how we don't have status on Alaska (yet), but I came away from this experience feeling like my business was truly appreciated, even as a general-member. Alaska runs a great airline. All of the people we encountered were friendly, everyone (including other passengers) seemed happy to be there, and the airline really goes above and beyond to make sure flying to Hawaii is something special.

So I already kind of knew that Alaska was a nice airline when we decided to make the switch. My husband and I flew with them back in 2011 when they were offering a 25,000 mile promotion to Hawaii for new Northern California Mileage Plan members. The deal was too good to pass up. We then status matched to MVP gold, got even more miles, were upgraded to First Class, and even enjoyed some our elite benefits and a free upgrade on Delta (Alaska and Delta are partners). Unfortunately, it was later in the year, I shortly thereafter found out I was pregnant, and we didn't fly enough after that to keep the status...so back to United it was. Anyway, what impressed me most about this latest trip was how nice things were in the back of the plane, which is where we now fly.

Printed menus in coach


The first thing that caught my eye when we settled into our surprisingly-spacious coach seats was the "Flight Plan". I can't remember the last time I saw a printed menu in coach (Singapore Airlines, maybe?) and I don't think I've ever seen one on a domestic flight before. First service, second service...hospitality service (including complimentary Mai Tais!)...they took really good care of us. The second thing I noticed was that it seemed everything was branded somehow with a friendly reminder of where we were going- flowers on the napkins, island snack mix, "aloha mixed plate" lunches for sale, and even Kona Longboard as a beer choice. Even the Eskimo on the tail is wearing a lei, and except for the one flight attendant in the Seahawks jersey (Go Niners), the crew had on Hawaiian shirts.



About the Mai Tais...they're the same Trader Vics premixed ones that I gave United a hard time about earlier, but once you add a little POG (passion orange guava) which Alaska also serves, you've got yourself a pretty good drink! It really took me back to the days when we used to do that on Aloha Airlines. I figure as long as it's two colors, it's still a Mai Tai, and besides who am I to complain about a free drink. It was perfect.

Something special for the keikis

Aside from that, my kiddo got an "Aloha Hawaii" coloring book and a pack of crayons (which I intend to keep). At 11 months old, he's more into eating crayons than playing with them, but for sure there will be more flights on Alaska and more coloring books in the near future. I'm sure as he grows older this is something he'll look forward to, just like when I used to get my "wings". In a lot of ways Alaska reminds me of how United used to be. I have fond memories of flying the "Friendly Skies" to Hawaii as a kid. Sadly those days are gone now and my son will never get to share the same great experience I had, but for sure we can all look forward to making new memories (and status) together on our airline of choice for 2013 and beyond.

Flashback Friday: Hawaii Statehood

We just got back from Maui last night and while I'm still busy unpacking and getting back in the routine, I still wanted to leave you guys with a little something for Flashback Friday.

If you're ever passing through the Kahului Airport in Maui, there is a wonderful Road to Statehood display that went up in 2009 in celebration of Hawaii's 50th anniversary. It is located near gate 17 and is in a part of the airport you should pass right by while catching most flights to the mainland.

The Road to Statehood display at OGG
Most of the 50th anniversary celebration has died down since August 21st, 2009 (even the special hawaii.gov/statehood website has sadly been down for a while now), but it is nice that the airport authority left this for people to continue to enjoy.


If you are interested in learning more and aren't passing through the islands any time soon, there is a timeline very similar to the one in the airport online at http://statehoodhawaii.org/hist/sctl.html.

On a more personal note, my family has been in the islands for almost as long. My grandma first visited in 1958 and moved there shortly thereafter to start a new life and the family-owned business we operate today. She is 98 and still lives on Maui.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Earning Miles for Going Green


Aloha from Maui! I'm here with my family for work to escape the freezing cold temps in NorCal and go surfing. The first item of business this morning was a trip to Foodland to stock up on some necessities (poke, beer, pog, and some purple sweet potato for baby). It's been a while now that we've been able to earn HawaiianMiles for shopping at Foodland at a rate of 200 miles for 250 Maika'i points (dollars spent). Since everything is so expensive here in the islands, it isn't really hard to get a certificate redeemable for the miles each time we visit here, but now with the introduction of Foodland's Take the Bag Challenge, the deal just got even better. Foodland also gives 3 HawaiianMiles (or a $.05 credit) when you shop using your own reusable bag.

Shopping for miles at Foodland in Hawaii

The fine print of the promotion says it has to be a standard size bag and you have to fill it, meaning you can't show up with 10 bags expecting to earn 30 miles without buying a ton of groceries. However, they make absolutely no mention of making multiple trips to the store...I'm sure I forgot something and because of the time change between Hawaii and the west coast, and the ongodly hour at which we decided to shopping this morning, they hadn't put the poke out yet. I guess I'll just have to go back later for more stuff another 3 miles! So, ok I admit this isn't the next big thing to get points-rich and earn endless tickets to the South Pacific (Hawaiian flies to Papeete and Pago Pago), but it is a good reminder to B.Y.O.B. (bring your own bag).

Bonus: Make 10 visits to the store with your own bag before Jan 30th for an extra 100 Maika'i points. To get in on the deal make sure you link your HawaiianMiles number to your Maika'i card and ask for the miles at checkout since the default is to reward you with $.05.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

My First Vanilla Reload

I finally bought a Vanilla Reload using a credit card today! For those who have no idea what I'm talking about or why it is SUCH a big deal...here's how it works- Buy reload card using favorite miles and points earning credit card --> Find a way to cash out (or pay bills using) reload card --> pay credit card bill --> repeat. The catch is that reload cards are supposed to be purchased with cash, but whatever. Vanilla Reloads are just one of the products available that can occasionally be bought with a credit card, and they are perhaps the easiest of all the reloads to cash out.

I finally bought a Vanilla Reload using my credit card!
I wasn't even looking for a Vanilla Reload when I went to the store today. If you read my Paying Taxes with Netspend (a type of prepaid debit card), then you already know that I was one REloadit (another type of reload) short of having what I needed to pay my quarterly income tax. In the past I'd been able to buy a few of the "cash only" reload packs at Safeway using my favorite miles and points earning credit cards. Yesterday I wasn't so lucky. I then sent my husband out to try but that was another epic fail. He said he "almost got one"...whatever that means. His story about how they were profusely apologetic was pretty amusing though considering that has never happened to me; I usually get publicly humiliated. Today I tried once more to buy the final REloadit at a different Safeway. The cashier was nice enough to show me the fine print that says "cash only" by waiving the card in my face right in front of the new friend I'd met in the check-out line. "See, Cash Only!" she said. I walked out empty handed.

Until now I haven't exactly had the best luck finding/buying Vanilla Reloads (read Credit Card Spending for the Rest of Us to get an idea) so I'd pretty much given up on the cause. I normally would never consider wasting using a Vanilla Reload with a Netspend card (there are so many better ways to cash out), but I really would like to finish paying my taxes (in full) before we head out of town and my Netspend balance just isn't there yet. It just so happens that there is a CVS (a place where you can buy Vanilla Reloads) next to the Safeway (where I wasn't able to buy a REloadit), so I figured, hey, what the hell...I'd give it another shot. I'd been there before looking for the elusive Vanilla Reloads but they were always out of stock. Today my luck changed and there were 2 left! I just about peed myself in excitement when the cashier let me pay with my brand new British Airways VISA (That card has some crazy spending requirements to get the full 100k sign-up bonus). No hassle, no questions, and because I only loaded the cards for $496.05 ($500 minus the $3.95 fee), there was no having to talk to a manager. So I know I've been a harsh critic of all the Vanilla hype in the past, but I have to admit I'm kind of thrilled to finally get in on some of that action everyone has been talking about for so long.

So this little story of how I almost got screwed majorly inconvenienced trying to pay my taxes using reloads and a prepaid debit card has a happy ending and I now know where to head in town (or rather the town next to me) in case I ever need/want to buy more Vanilla. The only thing that could make this day even better is if the 49ers beat the Packers later today!


Friday, January 11, 2013

Paying Taxes With Netspend

...or trying to pay taxes with Netspend, might be the more accurate statement.

If you read my Credit Card Spending for the Rest of Us, you already know that Netspend prepaid debit cards and REloadits are one of the many ways you can rack up your credit card spend. I recently signed up for my Netspend card via the Flyertalk Conga to get some free money ($20 for loading your card, plus $20 referral from the next person in the conga). As far as I've read, most miles and points collectors get their accounts shut down pretty fast, so I wasn't really planning on actually using the card much. To be honest I was only after the free $39, but then I figured why not try to use Netspend to pay taxes (which I have to pay anyway) and get some miles out of the deal. The plan was to use my favorite miles-earning credit cards to buy REloadit packs at the grocery store, then load them on the Netspend card which I can then use as a debit card to pay my quarterlies via PayUSAtax.com. The credit card fees on PayUSAtax are percentage based (yikes!) but there is a flat fee of only $3.49 to pay using a debit card. As the site points out, that's cheaper than mailing a check via certified mail with a return receipt! Too good to be true?

Buying Prepaids and Reloads at Safeway

So I went to Safeway today to buy my final REloadit pack for my Netspend card and I got shut down. The cashier wouldn't let me to buy the "cash only" reload using my credit card. I tried explaining that I've done it there before, and asked nicely if she'd let me try anyway, but the answer was no. My cashier then called for backup and they both kind of ganged up on me and told me I couldn't do it. I didn't want to push the issue because, well,  they were right, and I actually shop regularly at that store, hence not wanting to make a scene. I didn't end up getting the reload pack so I'm still one REloadit short of having what I need to pay my taxes. There are other Safeways in the area, but I think I've had enough rejection for one day. Maybe I'll send my husband out later when he gets home from work or if not I'll try again tomorrow.

So theoretically here's how it was supposed to work:
  • Buy 3 REloadits from Safeway using my credit cards at a fee of $3.95 each (Total fees: $11.85)
  • Pat taxes online at PayUSAtax.com ($3.49 fee + $1 transaction fee from Netspend = $4.49)
  • I'm (hopefully) getting $40 free from Netspend so subtract fees ($40- $11.85- $4.49 = $23.66)
  • All said and done I'm actually coming out almost $24 ahead after earning a lot of miles and racking up spend at the grocery store (my Chase MileagePlus Select Visa which I used for one of the transactions even gets double miles!)
  • I was hoping to get some Safeway Gas Rewards points on top of the miles, but unfortunately buying reload packs doesn't seem to count towards the program.
I guess whether or not I still use my Netspend card to pay taxes is TDB (to be determined) based on whether or not we're able to get that final REloadit card before we leave on our trip this week, otherwise I'll have to mail a check (or pay with my non-points-earning, bank-issued debit card). I really don't want to send a partial tax payment, so as for the Netspend card, I'll be looking for other ways to cash out (along with other ways to earn miles in the future). Hopefully I get my account closed by doing so. Now that I can't reliably buy REloadits from the grocery store anymore, there is no reason for me to do business with Netspend.  To be honest the high fees ($1 or $2 per swipe for almost everything) scare me a little bit. So does the privacy policy. Keeping the card seems like a liability hassle.

Netspend's Privacy Policy. Highlighting and commentary are mine.

This entire process has been a giant pain in the ass great learning experience. Challenges like this always force me to think creatively and it doesn't hurt that I'm getting free miles and free money for just a little bit of hard work. I could have easily signed up for the Netspend card and cashed out for the full $39 just like Flyertalker LumixFan did, but where's the fun in that? ;)

Flashback Friday: Kahului Airport in the 1980s

This week we're headed to Maui. My big childhood claim to fame is that I made 4 trips there before a year old, and now Baby CJ is about to tie the record! For this week's Flashback Friday, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at what OGG was like when I was a kid. The new building that we are all familiar with wasn't built until the late 1980s/early 90s. Before that there was just a single-room terminal which is now part of the modern baggage claim. I actually remember having to walk outside to the planes, and how big a DC-10 seemed compared to the primitive surroundings. I also remember the construction that seemed to go on forever, and with all the expansions that have taken place, in a way it has.

The State of Hawaii runs an incredible website, Hawaii Aviation, which is where I was able to find these great old photos. If you're looking to go back in time and revisit your own first trip to the islands, I highly recommend checking out the site. In addition to all of the wonderful photographs there is a wealth of information covering Hawaii's unique and fascinating aviation history. Enjoy!

Kahului Airport 1986. Image courtesy hawaii.gov/hawaiiaviation
OGG in the 1980's. Image courtesy hawaii.gov/hawaiiaviation
New Terminal building 1988. Image courtesy hawaii.gov/hawaiiaviation
Construction at OGG in 1989. Image courtesy hawaii.gov/hawaiiaviation

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Credit Card Spending for the Rest of Us

Are you tired of hearing about Vanilla Reloads? Don't know what they are? Wondering what the big deal is in the first place? Keep reading.

The deal was people were buying Vanilla Reload cards using their Chase Ink Bold and Chase Ink Plus credit cards at Office Depot (for 5x's points) and then using American Express Bluebird and/or AMEX Prepaids to cash out. The $500 Vanilla reload cards carry a $3.95 fee and then you're just a few trips to the ATM or a wire transfer away from getting most of your money back in time to pay the credit card. Too good to be true? Office Depot stopped selling Vanilla Reloads back in October. So why are so many people still even talking about it? Maybe it has something to do with the mass-proliferation of Chase affiliate sign up links- That's my theory anyway. No doubt about it, it was a good deal, but it's over now.

Not all of us got in on the Office Depot deal in time and/or couldn't find Vanilla reloads in our area. So, yeah, thanks to all the other bloggers out there who continue to rub it in, while luring us to sign up for a Chase Ink card using their links. Sure, they're great cards (not only for the 5x's points but also because it lets you transfer Ultimate Rewards points directly to MileagePlus and a few other programs), but they're business cards. That in itself is bound to scare some off. You can still sign up for one claiming your eBay business or personal travel blog as a sole proprietorship and using your SSN in lieu of a Tax ID number, but you're more likely than not going to have to call a reconsideration line and talk to a real person over the phone about your "business". Now that the 5x's-Office Depot-Vanilla reload game is over, do you still really need the card? Maybe. Maybe Not.

So now that you can't buy Vanilla reloads at Office Depot, what about other places like CVS and Walgreens? Yeah, some of us haven't had the best luck there either. You have to understand that the Vanilla reload is supposed to be purchased with cash or debit. You're not entitled to buy it with a credit card. In fact some registers are hard-coded against it. So what happens when you try? A big red screen pops up on the register and you get to talk to a manager. I've read that some store managers out there are really cool, they understand what people are doing with the cards, and go out of their way to stock them knowing that it draws customers into the store. The guy at my local drugstore, is not one of those people. Then there's the cashier who patronizes you, tells you that you picked the "wrong card" and then escorts you back to the gift card aisle to try again. That of course is even more fun if you have an audience of at least 6 other people in line behind you. Totally embarrassing. Both of my attempts to buy Vanilla Reloads at drugstores using my 6x's Hilton Amex have been unpleasant and that hasn't really inspired me to go back and try again. Of course there's still the dollar store or 7-11, but in case I get a fraud alert call from my credit card company, I don't really want to explain why I'm spending thousands at a dollar store or 7-11. Anyway, I think it's my husband's turn to try buying a Vanilla Reload next, and in the meantime I'll continue to look for something else.

After Vanilla reloads, come Vanilla debit cards. The way people talk about them, you'd think they are the only prepaid debit cards out there. They're not. There's also Mio, Netspend, AccountNow, PayPower, Walmart Money...the list is too long to continue. So why all the love for Vanilla? They typically have lower fees than other prepaid cards. The ones you buy at the store are temporary cards (without a name on them), and then people just walk into the bank with them and ask for a cash advance (which only costs $.50 BTW). It's a good deal for buying miles/points, but that sounds incredibly SHADY to me, and not something that I want to try myself. If you the balls to pull it off, by all means go ahead (moderation is key), just be wary that your activities might appear as though you're laundering money, financing terrorism, etc., and stuff like can lead to Suspicious Activity Reports. No fun. I think I'll keep looking elsewhere.

What about all the other aforementioned prepaid debit cards out there (Mio, Netspend, AccountNow, Paypower, Walmart)? They're good (some of them), but not a great solution to racking up your spend. You usually buy a temporary card in the store, load it, and later a permanent one comes in the mail that has your name on it. You can also sign up for many of these cards online. You then buy reload packs (Vanilla, GreenDot, REloadits, etc.) to fill up the card. Be mindful that the cards and the reload packs are still cash-only, but because there are so many different products out there that are more widely available, you might have better luck finding something you score using your credit card. I've been able to buy $950 REloadit cards for $3.95 at Safeway using my 2x's Chase MileagePlus Select VISA with no problems (they simply ask to check ID) and I plan on going back there with my Chase British Airways VISA soon. So now that you have a VISA or MC debit card with a PIN number, you can use it for stuff like buying money orders and do other things you aren't allowed to do with your credit card. Some of the cards even have bill pay features. The downfalls are high fees, LOTS of fine print, and at some point you will get shut down. From what I've read it doesn't matter if you are modest and crafty about it or even use the prepaid for day-to-day spend. They'll still close your accounts eventually, but just like there are plenty of fish in the sea, there are lots of prepaid debit cards at the grocery store. Use them for what they're worth and move on.

The next best thing after prepaid debit cards are VISA/Mastercard gift cards with the debit logo. They usually have a fee to purchase them, I want to say around $5 for $100 gift card, which is expensive. Typically the higher the denomination, the lower the fee is as a percentage (i.e. a $200 card costs $6.95 or 3.4% whereas a $100 card costs $5.95 or almost 6%), but still expensive. The benefit is that you should have no problem buying these cards using a credit card. Another perk is that retailers sometimes offers promotions/discounts on them which can help cover some of the cost. For example the Staples-Black Friday deal. Recently Safeway had a promotion for $15 off a $100 Mastercard GC's. Another good one: AMEX Sync $20 off $200 at Best Buy (who conveniently sells VISA/MC giftcards). All of these deals are dead now, but use them as examples of what to look for. Think creatively. Sometimes its possible to even come out a little bit ahead, while racking up spend. Obviously promotions are limited by nature, typically one-per-person, so $15 minus the $6 card fee here or there isn't the next get-rich-quick scheme, but it all adds up and every little bit counts. Since these cards don't have a PIN, they're a little bit harder to cash out, but there are ways (with limits) like Amazon Payments, Paypal, and Serve. Don't expect to get more than about $1,000-$2,000 worth per month using this method.

In addition to VISA/MC prepaids and gift cards, there are AMEX ones. The gift cards are pretty much useless unless you intend to actually spend them, however the AMEX prepaids can be used at ATMs. The two AMEX prepaids you should be aware of are the standard blue-color ones that you can order directly online, and the Amex for Target ones (AFT) available at Target. You are allowed to have 3 blue cards, and 2 Target ones per person. The blue American Express prepaids are reloadable using Vanilla Reloads, or GreenDot Moneypaks. You can load the AFT ones at Target ($3 fee) using a credit card- be advised however, it has to be your credit card, with your name on it (no VISA/MC/AMEX gift cards here- I tried). Multiple cards plus the ability to load up to $1,000 at a time means this is a good way to rack up a lot of spend quickly, if you're willing to pay the price (load-fees plus a couple of bucks each time you visit the ATM). Since this method requires cashing out by actually going and getting cash, be aware that you might look like a drug dealer when you show up at your local bank with a fist-full of green attempting to make a large deposit. Again, moderation is the key to not looking like a criminal.

Then there's good 'ol Amazon Payments. Easy. Reliable. Modest. Keep it under $1000 and find a trustworthy friend/spouse/relative to play with. There's also Serve and they are waiving their credit/debit fees until March 15, 2013. $100/day and $250/month on credit cards. $250/day and $1000/month for debit. Bluebird vs. Serve- pick one because you can't have them both and keep in mind Bluebird is pretty much worthless without Vanilla. Paypal is good for a few tries, so plan accordingly and proceed with caution.

I know there's a lot of information here and at first it's a lot to take in for the "rest of us" crowd. Think of this as a starting off point to get you headed in the right direction. The next step should be to sit down with pen and paper to make a spreadsheet, flowchart, or whatever visual aide you need to try and piece together a strategy. Weigh the risks and benefits according to your own standards and develop a way to keep track of the expenses. Once you come up with the answer, let that be your guide in determining how many credit cards you sign up for and which ones. For the sake of trying to present as much stuff as I can in one place at one time, I skipped over a few details, but hopefully it shouldn't be hard to fill in the blanks. Nothing here is top-secret or privileged information, and it can probably be found in a hundred different forms in a million other places (and in greater detail) if you have the curiosity and will to look. Of course if that sounds like too much work you can always contact me with any questions, and I be happy to pass along everything I know. Finally, don't forget you can still always earn miles by flying. ;)











Monday, January 7, 2013

New Year, New Airline

I just booked my family's first tickets of the year with Alaska Airlines, so naturally I had to blog about it! What a great experience after what I am used to with United. We're all starting the year with no status at AS (yikes!) so the first hurdle I ran into was trying to get seat assignments on our flight to Maui next week. The good seats are reserved for MVP elites (once upon a time this used to be us) and others who paid more than I did for tickets, and well, they were out of bad seats. I called and it was taken care of in seconds...not minutes, not hours...seconds! I simply explained to the agent I was traveling with an infant and asked if there was anything she could to do to put us together. "No problem"...we're now in row 9 and she was nice. Doing business with Alaska Airlines in 2013 is a change I think I'm going to like! ;)

FML to "Taken Care of" with just a single phone call



Credit Card Churning for the Rest of Us

While I've traditionally earned most of my miles by actually flying, there's no arguing that credit cards are another great way to earn valuable miles and points. Sure, I've opened (and later closed) an account or two solely to take advantage of a generous sign up bonus, but until very recently churning just wasn't a regular thing. Before my recent December 2012 "App-O-Rama", I'd signed up for a Chase Continental card before the CO/UA merger, a couple of Citi American Airlines AAdvantage cards using the "2 browser trick" and that's about it. The rest of my mileage/points earning cards are ones that I have had for a while and actually use for day-to-day spending.

I have excellent credit (above 750), so I was a little surprised when I didn't get all of the cards I planned to during my last churn. If you read other travel blogs, you'd start to think it's normal to be signing up for 10 cards at a time every 91 days (I signed up for 3). A lot of those blogs conveniently have affiliate links to facilitate this kind of behavior. But what about the rest of us? Not all of us need/want 10 credit cards. Not everyone has perfect credit. Some of us have perfect credit, but belong to the "underemployed" crowd. As a primarily stay-at-home mom these days, I still have some income from my family business, but that doesn't quite cover obligations that I share with my husband (like a mortgage and a car payment). The banks often ask for "personal" income, but look at joint debt. This can be a problem (and recently was with one of the banks I applied with).

So as of right now, I don't offer any affiliate links through my blog. The information I share is free, and my only motivation is to pass along something that might be helpful to someone else. I'm not saying that I might not get affiliate links in the future, but I promise if I ever do, to be responsible and "classy" about it and keep that kind of stuff appropriately separate from whatever else I choose to write about. Anyway, I wanted to take this unique opportunity to offer some conflict-of-interest-free tips and tricks when it comes to churning credit cards.

  • First, and most important, if you don't plan on paying off your balances in full, every month don't do it! Mileage and points earning credit cards typically have higher interest rates than others . The banks can only afford to offer us "free" miles and points if someone, somewhere is paying for it somehow. Don't be one of those people.
  • Don't take on more than you can manage, or as the saying goes, "don't bite off more than you can chew". Many of these cards have minimum spending requirements in order to get the bonuses. Please don't go out and buy a bunch of stuff you don't need. Miles and points collecting is a great hobby, but it's not worth getting into debt over. That said, there are ways to "manufacture" spend, which I hope to get into in a follow-up "rest of us" post soon. Also, time is a factor. I'm a busy mom, and many of "the rest of us" have other things to do aside from our "hobby". Consider that. Keeping track of 100 different credit cards, their requirements, due dates, etc. can be a lot of work and something is bound to slip through the cracks...which brings me to my next point...
  • Stay organized. A spreadsheet is a great way to keep tabs on what you signed up for, spending requirements and when you should cancel...which leads to my next point...
  • Don't forget to actually CANCEL some of your cards. I see so many other bloggers out there talking about the sign-up part, but very few actually advocate getting rid of stuff. Most miles and points earning cards have yearly fees (some are waived the first year) which can really add up. Consider the benefit the card offers, and/or if you are going to be using it enough to justify the fee. Some cards offer checked bags, companion tickets, free hotel nights, and other perks that might very well be worth paying for. Also if you plan on using the card a lot you might be able to justify keeping it based on usage. Say you value Mileage Plus miles at $.02 each, spending $4750 a year might justify a $95 yearly fee. (Yearly fee divided by the value of miles/points = your break even point) But if not, get rid of the card. Be prepared to get hassled. I've had a few phone agents make me feel really bad about what I was doing. Others have offered retention bonuses as a way of saying thank you for my continued business (this can be a way around the yearly fee). An alternative to closing accounts is downgrading...
  • Consider keeping some accounts open, especially free ones. This is a great "for the rest of us" tip for those who have trouble with their credit sometimes. This not only helps your "credit utilization" ratio, but leveraging what you already have can help you get approved. During my last sign-up when I didn't instantly get the thumbs up from Chase, I was able to call and have them reassign some credit from another card with an insanely high limit. I got approved in a matter of minutes after that. There are also some free cards that are just great to have, say like anything from American Express that lets you have access to free money Small Business Saturday. I learned my lesson the hard way on this last round of apps. I'd had a card with Citibank since I was 18 that I cancelled recently for no other reason than I was pissed at them. They arbitrarily "upgraded" my product and changed my account number without asking/telling me. This caused some inconvenience and induced a mild headache. It was still a free card and it was something along the lines of they thought I might like having a "world" Mastercard instead of a regular one...I don't remember, but it was over something stupid like that. I took retaliatory action and closed an account which I had had for over 10 years...dumb. I then churned 2 of their American Airlines cards, closed those (to avoid the fee), then didn't get approved on this last round because of my "debt to income" ratio was unfavorable. Since I no longer have any open accounts with Citi, it's not like I could plead with them and be like "I'm such a good long-time customer". I'm not. Relationships are important...
  • Don't overdo it. This is the part where I advocate rational, sane behavior and modesty, and everyone probably has their own ideas when it comes to this. Just because it's all-you-can-eat, doesn't mean you should eat it all. Don't piss off your bank or credit issuer and be mindful of stuff that might make you look like a criminal and/or gets you in trouble with the IRS. Think about long-term sustainability. Miles and points earning through credit cards is a PRIVILEGE. Don't have it taken away by being stupid or greedy. Along those same lines, if you're looking to finance a house or a car (or other really big ticket item) in the near future, don't go crazy with the miles hoarding/credit card spending. You might have a difficult time proving your innocence trying to explain it later.
As always, thanks for reading. I'm sorry I don't have any sign-up links for you today ;), but if you are looking add some new cards to your wallet, consider doing it through a blog that has actually taught you something meaningful. There are a lot of people who write just to get people to sign up for credit cards (it's blatantly obvious sometimes), then there are a few who consistently produce quality material and happen to have some affiliate links on their page. If someone has shared something that you enjoy reading, show your support as a way of saying thank you. If not, there's a list of current best offers available on Flyertalk.