Category Archives: Musings

Quick Thoughts on 3/31/2014

Here’s some of what I’ve been up to with regards to miles/points/travel/gluttony recently.

1) Hammering out the details of my trip to Southeast Asia with my sister at the end of May. We were trying to figure out the best way to get from Hanoi to Siem Reap since one-way flights on Vietnam Airlines were pricing out at over $250 per person. I was thinking to transfer Amex Membership Rewards to Air France Flying Blue to book the flights for 10k points each, but Flying Blue charges fuel surcharges and the flights weren’t showing up online, which means dealing with the call center and paying a call center fee. Ended up finding flights for $170 per person roundtrip, so I booked that and we’ll just throw away the return. $170 is still a lot for such a short flight, but Siem Reap is such a touristy destination so it’s no unexpected. Also, just an example of how roundtrip flights can be cheaper than one-way flights for international itineraries.

2) Because we’re flying Vietnam Airlines, I’m trying to get a status match to a SkyTeam carrier. I’m trying China Airlines, but I haven’t heard anything back from my request. Anyone know of a SkyTeam carrier that will status match from oneworld Emerald?

3) Amex Platinum lost American lounge access on March 22nd, but that was also the date for $200 in additional AA credits for me. So I bought 2 $100 gift cards on March 22nd, saw that they were credited by Monday, and called to cancel my Amex Platinum. The first guy on the phone was perfectly nice, but the retention specialist that he transferred me to was awfully mean. She kept saying that I was getting an additional $200 airline credit so that should offset the annual fee for me since I already had a $200 airline credit from earlier this year. I couldn’t tell if she knew that I had already used up both credits, and she was offering $200 in addition to the $400 that I already had credited, but I didn’t think so. She then offered me 7,500 Membership Rewards points to keep the card, and I declined. I asked about getting the annual fee pro-rated, and she said that I could transfer the credit to my Amex SPG card, so I agreed to that.

Anyway, turns out that they’re not pro-rating the fee and instead are refunding me the full $450 (I have not yet received the check, but this is what I saw on my account). This means that for 1 $450 annual fee that I paid last year, I received 100k MR points as a sign-up bonus, 10k MR points to sign-up for pay over time, Priority Pass and other lounge access (which I used many, many times, as evidenced by the many Priority Pass lounge reviews on this blog), and $600 of airline credits. And I think I charged less than $5k on that card last year. Should I feel bad for Amex?

4) I booked my last US Airways Star Alliance trip. I’m headed to China for a week in July, which may or may not be miserable. 90k miles in business class, and I’ll be flying Air China on the way there and within China and EVA on the way back.

5) Manufactured spending has become much, much harder for me. This is mostly because I don’t own a car, and my office moved away from a CVS that stocked VRs often enough, so there’s no convenient source for me any more (I don’t think it’s worth it to spend 40 minutes to go to a CVS when the chances of it being stocked are maybe 1 in 4). I also think that it’s just much more competitive in a city like San Francisco, and there are no Walmarts within any reasonable distance.

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Random Thoughts on 2/25/2014

1) American Airlines Executive Platinum status is awesome. I’m already 5/5 on systemwide upgrades, and I’ve cleared all domestic upgrades except for a Monday morning JFK->SFO flight that was booked one week in advance. This is making me want to maintain my ExPlat status more, but it still seems a little silly to me to try to do so.

2) You should always register for mileage promotions, even if you don’t think you’ll satisfy the requirements. I registered for AA’s double miles promotion to Tokyo and Seoul a long time ago, and what do you know, I’m currently in Tokyo and earned double miles on my flight from LAX to NRT. I’ll happily take an extra 10k AA miles, thank you very much.

3) Speaking of Tokyo, I really don’t understand the craze for popcorn here. Some of the longest lines I’ve seen in this city are to buy popcorn.

4) Club Carlson announced their devaluation last week. It could have been much, much worse. In fact, to me, this devaluation is largely a non-issue, since they didn’t really change redemption levels that much, and they didn’t touch the 5x earning on the credit card and free award night on any stay of 2 or more nights. Even at 70k points for the top tier, that’s 14k of spend to get two free nights on the credit card. What other hotel program can you get that kind of bang for your buck? Granted, the hotels maybe aren’t as aspirational, and the hotels are mostly concentrated in Europe, but Club Carlson is a great hotel program for people who don’t stay in hotels much and instead get points from credit cards.

5) I’ve got a trip planned to Vietnam and Cambodia later this year, and I’m trying to figure out how to get from Hanoi to Siem Reap in a reasonable amount of time. I think the answer is to either pay cash for a one-way ticket on Vietnam Airlines (~$240, which is more than I want to pay), or else to transfer some Amex points to Flying Blue to redeem for a one-way award (10k points). Unfortunately, the Flying Blue website isn’t displaying space on any of the Vietnam Airlines flights and instead wants to route me through Guangzhou, which means I’d have to call in to book and deal with the Air France call center and incur a phone booking fee. The phone booking fee and fuel surcharges would also seem to make the points redemption not as good of a deal. Anyone have experience booking on Vietnam Airlines or have an alternative that I haven’t considered?

Quick Thoughts on Thailand

I’m about halfway through my trip to Thailand, and it’s been incredible so far. Here’s are some quick thoughts so I don’t feel like I’m completely neglecting my blog (although I am).

1) I was initially worried a bit about the demonstrations throughout Bangkok, but as a tourist, it’s easy to avoid all of the protests. I’ve been following Richard Barrow on Twitter, and his feed is a great resource for anyone traveling to Bangkok.

2) The Grand Palace seems extremely overrated to me as a tourist destination. But perhaps I wasn’t a fan precisely because it was swarmed with tourists.

3) Chiang Mai feels like it was built for tourists. Walking around the city, it seems like the majority of people are tourists, and you can’t even walk a block without finding a store selling tour services. All of this makes it very easy to navigate, and the weather is much more pleasant than in Bangkok, but it feels a little bit sterile to me. Bangkok was much grittier and sweatier.

4) I can definitely see why people retire to Thailand. Cost of living seems super, super affordable, and I love that you can get a delicious bowl of noodles for about $1 (maybe not quite as delicious as Yang’s Fry Dumpling).

5) I don’t understand why khao soi isn’t more popular in the US.

6) I flew Cathay Pacific first class on their 747 to get to Thailand. I loved the hard product–great seat, comfortable bed, seats 1A and 1K are perfect for traveling with a companion, the pajamas are probably my favorite airline pajamas to date–but the service was honestly not very good for international first class. Yes, I know you’re supposed to ring the call button, but one of the flight attendants looked like she wanted to kill someone, and she did things like forget courses that I ordered and serve my entree to another passenger and not have any left for me. Of course, these are all major first world problems.

Random Thoughts on 2/3/14

I’m going to be on vacation (actual vacation!) for the next two weeks, so expect more sporadic posts. In general, this blog is increasingly hard for me to update with real content given my work and travel schedules, so I’m not sure exactly what to do. I clearly don’t have the capacity to make it a one-stop shop like many of the other blogs, but I also want to write more than just trip reports, which is all I’ve been doing for the past couple of weeks. I’m thinking of briefer posts that touch on things that are on my mind. I also have a number of friends who say they want to read my blog to learn more about the miles and points world, and I know that I do a bad job for beginners, so I’ll try to work on that.

Here’s what’s on my mind now:

1) I jumped on the Citi Executive AAdvantage card for 100,000 miles after $10,000 of spend in 3 months, $450 annual fee, and $200 statement credit. I got the card in the mail Saturday morning, went to CVS and bought 10 Vanilla Reloads, and am halfway to the minimum spend requirement. I love that I didn’t have to call Citi about the charge (on the other hand, I hate US Bank for constantly declining my Club Carlson cards). I’m debating whether or not to try to go for $40,000 of spend for the 10k bonus AA EQMs, as I’m mostly debating whether or not to try to hit AA Executive Platinum for next year. I currently have about 50k EQMs booked, but I just don’t know if it’s rational for me to really fly 100k paid miles on AA every year. I would probably just do it if there were a closer source of VRs to me, but I think I need to get in a car (which I don’t have) to find them reliably, which makes this proposition less appealing.

2) I really don’t think that you’ll be able to combine EQMs from American and US Airways for status on American next year. Most bloggers seem to think otherwise, but I don’t understand why since you can credit flights to either program for EQMs. Why would they allow this AND allow you to combine EQMs? Seems like too good of a deal to be true.

3) I am constantly reminded of how much United sucks and how good of a decision it was to switch to American. I helped a friend book a flight from Thailand to the US, and Thai decided to cancel one of his flights and move him to a flight that left him a 5-minute connection in Hong Kong. Clearly, this doesn’t work, but United didn’t even email him to tell him his itinerary was now impossible. Thankfully, I was able to fix things, but I honestly don’t understand how normal flyers deal with United.

4) More United bashing: a reader told me that a United agent told him about new restrictions that will be placed on United awards along with the devaluation. If this turns out to be true, I think anyone who burned most of their United stash will be very glad that they did…

Should I Cancel My Chase Sapphire Preferred?

It’s almost February (how did that happen?), which means that the 7% dividend on the Chase Sapphire Preferred is going to post in addition to my annual fee. Last year, I convinced myself that it made sense to keep the card for another year, but now I’m not so sure.

In my last post, I argued that manufactured spend could make it so that you could put all bonused spend on the Chase Sapphire Preferred, and thus the 2x earning would make the annual fee worthwhile without too much spend on the card. But since that post, United has had a major devaluation for international premium cabin awards, and Hyatt has also devalued to a lesser extent. Vanilla Reloads are also increasingly difficult to find where I live.

Because of the devaluations, Ultimate Rewards points are less valuable to me than they were last year. I used to transfer the majority of my UR points to United to book first class awards on Star Alliance partners (see my last first class around-the-world hurrah), but that’s no longer going to be a great option. UR still has some interesting transfer partners in British Airways and Korean, but I’m particularly interested in premium cabin redemptions, which BA Avios aren’t great for, and I’m not sure I’ll accumulate enough UR points through my CSP to book fun awards with Korean.

In general, this means that the 2x spend on the Chase Sapphire Preferred isn’t as appealing as it once was. Instead of getting 2x UR on dining, I can get 5x Thank You points on my Citi Forward. Granted, 5x Thank You points aren’t going to get me in a first class cabin anytime soon, but it seems like neither will 2x UR. For travel spend, you can usually get 2x by using an airline’s co-branded credit cards (e.g. using an AA credit card to buy AA flights) and much more than 2x by using a hotel’s co-branded credit card (e.g. getting 10x on the Club Carlson Visa).

While I no longer carry around my CSP in my pocket for everyday spending, I do carry it with me when I travel internationally. No foreign transaction fee, and you get 2x on most things that I spend money on internationally (e.g. food and lodging). But the Chase Hyatt card is a good card to keep around just for the annual category 1-4 free night certificate, and it has no foreign transaction fee and 2x points on dining. So really, I feel like I’m mostly giving up 2x points on the international travel expenses where the co-branded card has a foreign transaction fee, and I think I’m okay with that.

The real thing that I think I’m going to miss is the credit card benefits. The Chase Sapphire Preferred offers really solid benefits that most people don’t even know about or take advantage of, but that give me a small amount of peace of mind when I use it to book travel. Specifically, this card comes with trip delay and trip cancellation insurance. While I haven’t actually used either benefit on my Chase Sapphire Preferred (although I have used trip delay insurance in the past), only one use of this benefit could cover multiple years’ worth of annual fees. I’m not sure if I have a good alternative for this yet.

Ultimate Rewards points are still going to be valuable, but I’m less enamored by the Chase Sapphire Preferred and its earning power since United and Hyatt devalued. If I still flew United, then international premium cabin redemptions would be more attainable with the combined earning of my flying and my credit card spend, but without the flying, I’m better off getting rid of my Chase Sapphire Preferred and trying to get a Chase Ink card and doing some real manufactured spend at 5x.

Planning My Next Round of Credit Card Applications (January 2014 Edition)

I’ve written in the past about my credit card strategy, and I usually have a pretty good idea of what I want to apply for during each round of applications, which I do every three months. But I’m really coming up empty this time around.

I’m coming up on my annual fee for my Amex Platinum card, and I was originally planning my churn this time around my Amex Plat. A long time ago, I was thinking of applying for the Amex Platinum Mercedes Benz version to get a new sign-up bonus and still maintain all of the benefits, but then Amex started explicitly disallowing the sign-up bonus for existing cardholders of personal Amex cards. So then I was thinking about applying for an Amex Business Platinum card and alternating between Amex Business and Amex Personal Platinum cards in the future.

But then Amex came along and said that they were discontinuing their lounge relationship with American Airlines and US Airways, and that they’ll offer a $200 additional airline reimbursement credit on those airlines for expenses between March 22, 2014 and December 31, 2014. Since Amex has historically reimbursed gift certificates purchases, I figure I’d wait until March 22nd to spend my additional $200 airline credit, and then cancel my Amex Platinum card, since Amex also historically does a pro rata refund of the annual fee. By waiting, I’ll still have to pay about $110 in annual fees, but the extra $200 airline credit should offset that.

Thus, I’m holding onto my Amex Platinum card for now, and now I don’t know what to do. It’s been about 15 months since I last applied for a Citi American Airlines card, so I could try to do that again (although many recommend waiting until at least 18 months), and my last Barclays card was about 9 months ago, so I could try to get my third Barclays US Airways card (although it’s supposed to be nearly impossible to get approved for a third card nowadays). I already got a Bank of America Alaska card and a Chase card in my last round of applications 3 months ago, so it’s probably a little soon to hit up either of those again.

That leaves business cards, and there are many of those since the only business cards I have are the Chase MileagePlus Explorer and the Club Carlson business cards. But ultimately, a large part of my indecision/apathy is that I’m currently sitting on a decent number of miles but I don’t have any specific redemptions in mind. Without a goal in mind, I’m not sure I should be accumulating miles and points all willy nilly, especially since it’s unclear what’s going to happen with the American and US Airways merger.

Thoughts? Am I crazy to not apply for any credit cards since I can start the churn cycle earlier by applying now? Right now, I’m leaning toward just waiting another three months to get rid of my Amex Platinum, get a new Citi AA card, and see if I have a better idea of what else I’ll want or need at that time.

2013 Year in Review

Warning: This post is entirely self-indulgent.

2013 was a great year for many reasons, and January 1, 2013 was the inception of this blog. In 2012, I flew around 75k miles (all but 192 for leisure), and in 2013, I just about doubled that to 145k miles (all for leisure).

2013 Flight Map

2013 Flight Map

My travel was definitely heavier during the end of the year as I flew over 80k miles in the last quarter of the year. A little over 30k of that at the end of the year was to qualify for American Executive Platinum status. For 2014, I already have over 60k miles booked (albeit mostly award tickets), including my first trip to South America, and two major trips where I’ll fly Cathay Pacific, Singapore, Asiana, and Thai in first class. I’d love to plan a trip to Australia and/or New Zealand as well, and I definitely want to return to Africa at some point, but I just need to figure out how to balance all of this desired travel with my full-time job, as I think most of my teammates think I don’t do anything but travel…

Here’s a smattering of my favorite travel moments from 2013, in random order.

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Taking a shower onboard an Emirates A380
The entire Emirates First Class Terminal in Dubai
Using a jacuzzi in the Qatar Premium Terminal for about 3 minutes
Being the only passenger in first class on a Lufthansa A380

Eating
L’arpege in Paris
Breakfast at Gartine in Amsterdam
Eleven Madison Park in New York
Manresa in Los Gatos
Yang’s Fry Dumplings in Shanghai
Ushigoro in Tokyo
And of course, Mission Chinese approximately every other week

Travel Experiences
Dropping my heart at the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul
Getting scrubbed by a gruff Turkish man in a hamam in Istanbul
Having a man in a cafe in Amsterdam try to buy me and my traveling companion a piece of cake because he thought we were too poor to afford more than one thing
Badminton in front of a Starbucks in Shanghai
A burlesque show followed by a late night run to Voodoo Donuts in Portland
Dialogue in the Dark in Hong Kong
Sunrise yoga on the 47th floor of the Park Hyatt Tokyo gym
Staying at a capsule hotel in Tokyo