Category Archives: Awards

What kind of Pointer are you?

I’ve used airline and hotel reward points many times to not only get from Point A to Point B but also to enjoy travel experiences I would never otherwise have been able to afford.

Lufthansa 747-400 First Class Seat

Lufthansa First Class

Yes, points have allowed me to attain my travel goals. Yet, it may seem to others that I’ve been a bit obsessive in my pursuit of points. Rest assured my friends, there has always been a method to my madness.

So what exactly is a Pointer?

  1. Anything that points or is used for pointing.
  2. A needle-like component of a timepiece or measuring device that indicates the time or the current reading of the device.
  3. A breed of hunting dog.

To this definition I’d like to add:

  1. A traveller who expresses a passion for the collection and redemption of loyalty award points; Pointing – process of collecting and redeeming loyalty award points.

Yes, I’m definitely a #4. I’m a Pointer.

Any discussion of points accumulation and the associated strategies for attaining those points needs to start with a close examination of one’s own personal motivations. All of your efforts should really begin with a round of introspection and the asking of the question: Why?

I’ve found that the asking of the “Why” question helps the budding Pointer figure out not only the best ways to accumulate points but also the most effective ways to spend those points. Moreover, the spending of points should go beyond what’s most “efficient” and should also factor in what would be the most valuable to you from a personal, professional and/or experiential perspective.

With these thoughts in mind, I think it’s important to ask yourself the following questions to help guide your Pointing strategies. These are all questions that I’ve asked myself and they’ve proved very useful to me as I plot out my own accumulation and redemption strategies. As you work your way through these …. Umm, Points, I’ve provided my own answers so that you can start to get a sense for who I am and the thought process behind my Pointing efforts.

Why do you want to collect points?

I know that’s a ridiculously simple question. However, unless you answer it you won’t have a starting point. For example, should you be working towards an airline award


United Global First Class Lounge Chicago ORD O'Hare Airport New Lounge Design

United Global First Class Lounge Chicago O’Hare Airport

or a hotel reward

Andaz Liverpool Street London Atrium View

or a combination of the two?

My focus is on airline points with my secondary goal being the accumulation of hotel points.

What kind of travel experience are you seeking?

Some people are just looking to get from Point A to Point B and traveling in economy is just fine.

United Airlines new Slim-Line Seats 737

United Economy Plus

Others are saving up for a Trip of a Lifetime. For example, my Partner F and I recently mixed and matched our Household Kitty of points and miles to take a “dream vacation” to Thailand.

During this trip our various award redemptions allowed us to travel in luxury and ….

Thai Airways A380 First Class Seat Suite Frankfurt FRA to Bangkok BKK

Thai Airways A380 First Class

… fly Thai Airways’ new A380 in First Class

Royal Orchid Sheraton Bangkok New Year's Eve Fireworks Celebration Display on the Chao Phraya River

Royal Orchid Sheraton Bangkok

… celebrate New Year’s Eve in Bangkok

Sheraton Krabi Beach Resort Infinity Pool

Sheraton Krabi Beach Resort

…. relax on the beach in southern Thailand

Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge The Wing Hong Kong Champagne Bar

Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge in Hong Kong

… enjoy a bit of pampering in Hong Kong

Cathay Pacific First Class Seat Suite Hong Kong HKG to Chicago ORD

Cathay Pacific First Class

… and fly home in style in Cathay Pacific First Class

Therefore, I guess I’d fall into the aspirational award category since I like to be REALLY comfortable when I travel.

Where do you live? Who do you fly?

The answer to this question helps determine who might be the best travel partners for you. For example, do you live near one of the Major Airline Hubs? Someone from Minneapolis, Detroit or Atlanta might best be served by aligning with Delta. On the other hand, those travelers living near Dallas might want set their sights on American Airlines.

I’m a Chicago guy who benefits from living near O’Hare so I have a great deal of choice with all the major carriers flying into my city. In my case, I’ve aligned with my hometown airline of United. By declaring a “home” airline I’ll be able to focus my limited time, travel and financial resources.

Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that airline frequent flyer programs change very regularly. For example, last year United’s program implemented a major devaluation that greatly increased the mileage requirement for redeeming awards.

Therefore, it would be prudent to maintain frequent flyer accounts with all the major airlines in order to diversify your holdings. For example, I also hold accounts with American and Southwest. Although I fly those airlines less frequently, every mile I do earn adds up after awhile. In addition, I’ve found that great Pointing opportunities can still arise on airlines that I never fly!

How much do you travel now?

Travel provides the opportunity to earn the “currency” of award travel, the loyalty reward point. Are you a Road Warrior who travels significantly for business? Are you the occasional leisure traveler? Have you never left your hometown? Who do you think will earn the most points? Anyone and everyone.

I don’t travel at all for business. I do take 4-5 leisure trips a year which provides me with about 25,000 miles annually. However, as you’ll soon see, you don’t have to spend that much (or any) of your time in the air in order to reach your Pointing goals.

What’s in your wallet?

Credit cards have changed the landscape of the travel reward industry. Period. These will prove to be a major tool in the Pointing strategies for most people.

Beginner Credit Cards for Earning the Big Three Points Currencies

One of the best ways to accumulate points is by signing up for cards that earn one of the major points “currencies.” Flexible points currencies provide a way to hedge against potential award program devaluations by allowing you to transfer the points into your preferred loyalty programs only when you need them. In addition, the bonus points these cards provide for your daily spending will enable you to quickly earn the miles and points you’ll need to reach your award goals.

However, the most important concept associated with using “credit card spend” to achieve your Pointing goals is this: NEVER carry a balance and ALWAYS pay your bills off in full every month!

What kind of Pointer am I?

Well from my answers to these questions you can see that a Profile of me has emerged. These characteristics influence the subject matter that I cover in my blog.

I’m a non-Road Warrior who’ll be responsible for funding my own travel. Since I live in Chicago, as a matter of personal preference I’ll by relying heavily on United Airlines. However, I’ll always be sure to DIVERSIFY my Pointing activities in order to avoid getting burned by award program devaluations. Along those lines, I’ll orient my daily spending around using cards that earn the major points earning currencies. In addition, I’m all about the “aspirational” trip and you’ll see from my trip reports that I like to be pampered and will work very hard to get to my destination in the most comfortable manner possible!

The wealth of information available is simply staggering. I’ll take the approach of relaying to you what I’ve learned as it applies to my own situation. I plan to personalize the whole Pointing process and give you concrete examples. In some cases, I’ve not done things in the most efficient way and I’ll be ready to share those instances with you so that you can learn from my mistakes. I’m hoping to make Pointing a much more accessible and understandable endeavor. This blog will likely be best suited to the budding Pointer who’s trying to sift through a lot of information and is trying to make sense of it all.

I won’t try to be all things to all people. In addition, there will be times where you’ll be learning things right alongside me. However, I feel I’ve learned a lot over the last several years and would be happy to share it with all of you as I do. Consider me “that guy” in the office that everyone seems to turn to for travel advice.

Oh yeah, I guess I should also add a #5 to the definitions that started out this post:

5) Pointing / Pointer – a quick shorthand and misuse of the English language that will enable me to more quickly and concisely express the process of collecting and redeeming loyalty award points. I’m not trying to be clever. I’m just too lazy to use a thesaurus to come up with new ways to express this concept.

With that, let the blogging continue … and please, be gentle with me …

– From Point A

Sharing Starwood Starpoints

I love it when a plan comes together. As the mercury plummets in my hometown of Chicago, I’m eagerly looking forward to fleeing the Midwestern Winter and enjoying a vacation with my Partner F on the beaches of Thailand. I started plotting our escape earlier in the year.

Our Escape Plan So Far

The first step was to secure our airline flights. Using a combination of frequent flyer programs I booked two tickets to Thailand. I was even able to improve the award itinerary I originally reserved and ensure that we travelled in First Class for our entire journey. With our transportation taken care of, I next set my sights on putting a (luxurious) roof over our heads. It was at this point that I raided the Household Points Kitty to book our hotels.

The Starwood Starpoints Strategy

I’ve previously written about the virtues of the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) loyalty program.

Starwood Preferred Guest LogoAs one of the Big Three Points Currencies, Starpoints are a hedge against future potential points devaluations since they can be transferred to a wide variety of airline frequent flyer programs in addition to being redeemed for hotel awards. However, another useful feature of the Starwood Preferred Guest program is the ability to transfer Starpoints from one member to another.

Transferring Starwood Starpoints Overview

SPG members of who have shared the same residential mailing address for at least 30 days prior to requesting the transfer are eligible to participate. The detailed Terms & Conditions follow:

Transferring Starpoints Terms & Conditions

Once you’re ready to transfer your points, you fill out this simple form:

Starwood Starpoints Member-to-Member Transfer Form

SPG states that it will take approximately five working days for the transferred points to credit. In my case, I initiated the transfer request from my Partner F’s account around 10:00 pm on a Thursday night. When I checked around the same time on Friday of the following week, the transferred points were credited to my SPG account as promised.

Redeeming our Starpoints

With my SPG account flush with Starpoints, I was now ready to book our hotels.


We’ll be starting our trip at the Royal Orchid Sheraton in Bangkok.

Sheraton Krabi Beach Resort Infinity Pool

This will be followed by some serious pool and beach time at the Sheraton Krabi Beach Resort.

I’ll be writing full trip reports on our upcoming hotel stays and airline experiences. Be sure to stay tuned and subscribe to my blog to receive notifications of new posts by email.

How about you? Have you ever used the Starwood Preferred Guest Member-to-Member Starpoints transfer feature? What was your experience?



Crafting the Perfect Award Itinerary – The Second Time’s a Charm

I’ve booked some pretty great trips over the years by redeeming miles and points (or as I like to call it, by Pointing). Award availability tends to be best when you plan ahead. However, in some cases you don’t need to make your reservation as far ahead as you might think. In fact, some really exceptional award redemptions are only available at the last minute. Furthermore, if at first you don’t succeed in crafting the “perfect” award itinerary, try, try again.

How far in advance should you book your award ticket?

Conventional wisdom holds that you should book your award ticket about 11 months in advance. More specifically, most airlines open their award calendars approximately 331 to 360 days in advance of your intended travel date. For more information on this topic, Blogger Ben at One Mile at A Time has published a very useful and detailed post on When Do Airlines Open Award Seats.

In the wake of this year’s massive United Devaluation, I employed this tactic to burn up my stock of MileagePlus miles and reserved two First Class tickets to Bangkok to celebrate the New Year. I also made my initial award reservations for last summer’s trip to Italy just as early.

Best Views in Florence Panoramic View of the Duomo from the Tower of the Palazzo Vecchio

Taking in the views during last summer’s Italy Trip

However, it’s important to note that airlines don’t release ALL of their award space at that magic 11-month mark. In reality, additional availability tends to appear approximately six months prior to your intended departure date. Definitely search for seats on “Day 331.” However, if you can’t find what you want, continue to search regularly. As time goes on, other people’s plans may change resulting in cancellations that will potentially add seats back into the award inventory. In addition, the second “magic date” to keep an eye out for is that previously mentioned “six-month” point. Therefore, don’t be discouraged if you’re unable to book your award right away.

Changing your award ticket for a better itinerary

As you can see, airline award inventories can fluctuate. With this fact in mind, another award booking strategy is to make an initial reservation to “lock in” your preferred travel dates then change them later once your preferred routing or class of service becomes available.

For example, on our upcoming trip to Bangkok we originally booked 2 Business Class award tickets on Cathay Pacific for our return journey. However, about a month ago the airline swapped the aircraft type for our itinerary’s Hong Kong-to-Chicago segment and opened up availability in First Class. I quickly seized upon this opportunity to pay the additional miles and bump us up a level.

In this case, I was using American AAdvantage miles for travel on its OneWorld partner Cathay Pacific. Since I was changing neither the origin nor the destination on my itinerary, American Airlines didn’t charge me a change fee. However, you should review your airline’s specific policies since change fees can range from zero to $150 depending on your circumstances. Once again, Blogger Ben at One Mile at a Time has published a great summary on Airline Award Ticket Change Fees that you might want to check out.

Making last minute changes to your award itinerary

Now that we know that it’s possible to improve your itinerary by capitalizing on fluctuating award inventories, we can take things a step further by playing a game of “chicken” with the airlines and further tweak your award redemption at the last minute. For example, if you’ve ever dreamed of “jetting off to Paris at a moment’s notice,” there’s some fantastic award availability on tomorrow’s non-stop flight from Chicago.

United Airlines Last Minute Award Availability

As a flight’s departure date approaches, airlines will sometimes release additional space into the award inventory if the carrier determines that it will be unlikely to sell the seat. Furthermore, certain airlines release their best seats only at the last minute. For example, Lufthansa opens its First Class cabin for award redemptions to its Star Alliance partners only approximately 15 days prior to departure.

Lufthansa 747-400 First Class Seat

Lufthansa First Class

Making just such a last minute change (about a week prior to departure) to our London to Chicago itinerary last summer allowed us to experience not only Lufthansa First Class but also the fabled Lufthansa Frankfurt First Class Terminal.

Taking Second Chances

Your airline award doesn’t have to be set in stone. Due to constantly changing award seat inventories, opportunities for refining or upgrading your travel plans should be available. With a combination of flexibility, diligence and planning, you should be able to craft the perfect award itinerary.

How about you? Have you ever changed a travel award? What was your experience?

Purchasing an Upgrade to Business Class – How much would you be willing to pay to “Bump Up”?

I love flying in a premium cabin.  In particular, the comfort of a spacious seat on a long flight makes the travel experience so much more civilized.  In addition, the ability to get some true sleep on an overnight flight allows you to arrive at your destination refreshed and ready to hit the ground running.  Avoiding that first “jet lag” day really helps to make the most of the limited amount of vacation time that a lot of us have.

United BusinessFirst Business Class Seat

The price of comfort doesn’t come cheaply, though. For example, for my upcoming trip to London a round-trip Business Class fare from my hometown of Chicago is currently priced at $6353.  There’s no way I could afford to spend that much money out-of-pocket. These high prices combined with my desire to fly “in front” are what motivate me in my Miles & Points accumulation (or as I like to call it, Pointing) efforts.

However, last summer I redeemed a large part of our household Miles & Points balance for a great trip to Italy and London.  In addition, earlier in the year I used up another big block of miles to book us for a winter trip to Thailand.  This “earn and burn” strategy is very much a part of my Pointing philosophy in the wake of a series of major loyalty program devaluations this year. Unfortunately, these great award redemptions also mean that our stock of miles and points are at an all time low. What then, are our options for flying in a little more comfort for our next flight?

The Myth of Sweet Talking Your Way Into Business Class

There’s a longstanding belief that by “dressing nicely and asking politely” that you can charm a gate agent into upgrading you into a premium cabin.  I actually was able to do this a LONG time ago (e.g,, back when Friends wasn’t running in syndication yet).  However, given the economic pressure under which most airlines are operating today, this method of scoring an upgrade is more of an exception rather than the rule. It fact, it may be more appropriate to include “sweet talking your way into an upgrade” in the “urban travel myth” category.

How Do People REALLY Get Upgraded?

Occasionally, your airline may oversell the Economy class cabin and as a result bump someone up to First or Business class. Alternatively, the carrier may offer a premium class seat in compensation for taking a later flight.  However, these types of situations only arise opportunistically as a result of operational issues and overbooking of a flight.  Most often, unsold space in First or Business Class is given to elite status members of the airline’s frequent flyer program.

Buying Your Way Into Business Class

So what are the options for a no-status leisure traveler for upgrading your Economy class ticket? Well, some airlines offer the possibility of using your frequent flyer miles to upgrade into the next class of service. For example, on our upcoming trip to London on United, I could potentially use 20,000 MileagePlus miles each-way for an upgrade from Economy to Business Class.

Upgrading United flight to Business Class using MileagePlus miles

As you can see, this option involves a co-pay of $550 each way in addition to the miles.  According to The Points Guy, a leading blogger, MileagePlus miles are valued at 1.5 cents per mile. Therefore, in actuality you’re paying out $550 + $300 (the value of your MileagePlus points) for a total of $850 for your one-way upgrade for your overnight transatlantic flight (note: in addition to the amount that you paid for your original Economy Class ticket).

Alternatively, you can wait until online check-in for your flight opens up. Airlines will sometimes offer you the opportunity to “buy up” at a discounted rate (without having to use your miles) if they have not yet sold out (or otherwise distributed upgrades to their elite flyers) their premium cabins.  We actually used this method to “splurge” on an upgrade for a New Year’s Eve flight to London two years ago for about $630 per person.

Bidding Your Way Into Business Class

A growing trend among major airlines is to “auction” off upgrades to their Business Class cabins.  For example, just last month, Air Berlin announced its airberlin exquisite program. This follows on the heels of Austrian Airlines’ Smart Upgrade program, which I had already been aware of. As I continued to do a little more research on this subject, it turns out that quite a few other airlines have already rolled out similar upgrade auction programs.  Blogger Bethaney over at Flashpacker Family has in fact compiled a pretty comprehensive List of Airlines That Allow Bidding for Business Class Upgrades. Other carriers in which I’m particularly interested include: Aer Lingus, American Airlines, El Al, KLM, Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia. In terms of crafting a bid for these auctions, I’d likely use the numbers I referenced in my United Airline example above as a “what it costs and what I might be willing to pay” benchmark (e.g., something in the $500-800 range for an overnight transatlantic flight).

Would You Really Pay for a “Bump Up”?

Nevertheless, the upgrade options I’ve discussed don’t come cheaply.  At the end of the day you’ll have to be the judge of just how much value you put into having a comfy Business Class seat.  Perhaps, a more cost-effective option for dealing with a long flight would be an investment in a high-quality air pillow and a travel companion who doesn’t mind you curling up next to them at night.

How about you? Would you be willing to pay for an upgrade and if so for how much?


Redeeming Frequent Flyer Miles – Mixing and Matching Awards to get us Back to Bangkok

Earlier this year I was going through a period of travel withdrawal. I was sitting in our condo reminiscing about our great summer trip to Italy and London.

Positano Fruit Stand Lemons

Our new jobs on the Amalfi Coast

Posing with Londi Character on Thames South Bank Centre London

New Friend in London

In addition, we just returned from spending our New Year Holiday in Amsterdam and Paris …

Amsterdam Canal and Houseboats December 2013

Eiffel Tower Paris January 2014

… and I realized we had no travel plans on the horizon. It was time to start planning our next trip!

My Partner F and I funded both of those journeys largely through the redemption of our household stock of miles and points – our Points Kitty.  In fact, it’s through Pointing that we’ve been able to afford to treat ourselves during the limited amount of vacation time that we both have.  Since, I booked those trips about ten months earlier, through a strategic use of credit cards for our daily spending, we were able to rebuild a pretty healthy miles and points balance.

However, my diversification strategy meant that my miles and points were spread out across various accounts. How, then, do you craft an itinerary that gets you where you want to go ? The key to mixing and matching is through the use of two features of many frequent flyer programs: One-Way Awards and Airline Alliances.

For example, most of the major airlines allow you to redeem one-way rewards for half the cost of a round-trip award.  There are, however, notable exceptions (e.g., US Airways charges you the round-trip mileage price for one-way awards) so it’s important that you check the specific rules for the airline on which you’re redeeming your frequent flyer miles.

In addition, you should realize that you don’t have to redeem the miles on the airline you usually fly.  The major legacy U.S. carriers each belong to one of the three major airline alliances. Specifically, United is aligned with Star Alliance, Delta with SkyTeam and American with OneWorld.  What this means is that passengers can earn as well redeem miles with any of the members of your “home” airline’s alliance partners.  In addition, the upcoming merger of American and US Airways also creates additional opportunities for redeeming awards with the OneWorld alliance.

So where do we go from here? Well, having survived the Midwest Polar Vortex and the transformation of my hometown into Chi-beria, I knew that I wanted to go someplace warm for our next winter holiday.

Sheraton Krabi Beach Resort Infinity Pool

Sheraton Krabi Beach Resort

In addition, with United’s major devaluation earlier in the year, I knew I wanted to burn up the remaining stock of MileagePlus miles on which I was sitting before the new award chart kicked in. As I geeked around on United’s website running through various potential itineraries, I discovered availability for two First Class award seats from Chicago to Bangkok for the late Winter dates I was seeking.

Wat Arun Bangkok Sitting on the temple steps

Wat Arun  – Temple of Dawn Bangkok

Although we’ll be flying United on the initial leg of the trip, the airline’s Star Alliance affiliation enabled me to book space for the next segment on Thai Airway’s new Airbus A380 super jumbo jet (something very important for an aviation geek like me!). One of the great things about United’s reservation website is that it allows you to check award availability not only on its own planes but also those of most of its Star Alliance partners (LOT Polish Airlines and Singapore Airlines being notable exceptions).

Star Alliance LogoI find United’s website the most user-friendly for Pointing newbies and for researching relatively straightforward award itineraries.  Other options for searching Star Alliance availability include the reservation sites for ANA and Air Canada’s Aeroplan.

However, once we made it to Thailand, how were we going to make our way home? Since I had just used up my MileagePlus reserve, I turned next to my bank of American Airlines AAdvantage miles.  American is part of the OneWorld alliance.

OneWorld Logo

The airline’s reservation website only allows you to search partner award inventories for airberlin, British Airways, Finnair, Qantas, Royal Jordanian and US Airways.  Since we were returning home from Asia and I needed to check availability on partner carriers originating in that region, I used British Airways’ award reservation site to check for availability. Fortunately, I found two Business Class award seats on Cathay Pacific that would get us home via Hong Kong. Once I found the flight numbers, I called back American and booked the itinerary over the phone using my AAdvantage miles.

In the end, our mix-and-match award itinerary looked like this:

Chicago to Frankfurt in United First Class (Star Alliance)
Frankfurt to Bangkok in Thai Airways First Class (Star Alliance)
Bangkok to Hong Kong in Cathay Pacific Business Class (OneWorld)
Hong Kong to Chicago in Cathay Pacific Business Class (OneWorld)

We’re definitely looking forward to this trip and to escaping the Chicago winter. In addition, we’ll have the opportunity to experience premium class service on Thai Airways and Cathay Pacific – two airlines I’ve heard great things about and which will be “new” to us.  Finally, this trip will represent another travel “first” for us.  As you can see, this itinerary will enable us to circumnavigate the globe on a single trip. In other words, we’ll be going “Around-the-Word in 12 Days.” I see some fun trip reports ahead for us – stay tuned!

How about you? Have you ever booked an award trip by mixing-and-matching loyalty programs? I’d love to hear about it.

Triple Dipping – Using the Big Three Points Currencies for Awards on British Airways, Singapore Airlines and Virgin Atlantic

I’ve written in an earlier post about the use of the Big Three Points Currencies as a hedge against future loyalty program devaluations. You can use one or a combination of various cards to amass Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards and/or Starwood Preferred Guest points through your daily spending. In addition, you can pool your Pointing efforts across multiple programs to accelerate progress toward airline award redemptions. In particular, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Singapore Airlines allow for 1-to-1 transfers from all of the Big Three Points Currencies.

Transferring Ultimate Rewards Membership Rewards Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints to British Airways Singapore Airlines Virgin Atlantic

Here’s a quick summary of what you can get for your points:

British Airways

British Airways (BA) doesn’t publish an actual “award chart” but rather provides an Avios Calculator to determine the number of points required for award redemptions. British Airways employs a “distance-based” formula that requires more points the farther you fly. In addition, BA is notorious for charging very high fuel surcharges on it’s own flights. For example, here’s how much it would cost to fly round-trip from my hometown of Chicago to London:

Economy:       40,000 Avios Points plus $507
Business:        80,000 Avios Points plus $877
First:               120,000 Avios Points plus $877

However, because British Airways is part of the Oneworld airline alliance, by flying on one of its partner airlines you can take advantage of a number of “sweet spots” on the award chart. Specifically, British Airways Avios points can be a good value when flying on American Airlines / US Airways, Aer Lingus or Air Berlin. Here are a selection of round-trip itineraries on these carriers that are pretty reasonable from a points / fee perspective:

Chicago to New York (Economy):    15,000 Avios Points plus $2.50
Chicago to Dublin (Business):             80,000 Avios Points plus $0.00
Chicago to Berlin (Business):              100,000 Avios Points plus $0.00

Virgin Atlantic

Richard Branson’s airline follows a similar distance-based formula as BA and socks you with fuel surcharges as well. Virgin’s Spending Calculator prices out Chicago-London fares as follows:

Economy:       35,000 points plus $645.10 to $774.12
Business:        90,000 points plus $1,120 to $1,344

Although BA’s fuel surcharges are high, Virgin Atlantic’s fee are even higher. At these rates, what you’re basically getting for your points is the opportunity to buy a discounted economy class transatlantic ticket (e.g., prices on American and United tend to average around $1000-$1200 round-trip) or a business class ticket for the price of economy (note: Virgin’s Business or “Upper Class” costs approximately $5,600 round-trip).

Is it worth all the points and fees for a Virgin Atlantic award redemption? Well, I guess you’ll have to judge for yourself how much you value access to an in-flight bar in Upper Class.

Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Bar

Source: Virgin Atlantic

Singapore Airlines

This past week, the Chase Ultimate Rewards program introduced Singapore Airlines as its newest point transfer travel partner.

Singapore Airlines Ultimate Rewards Points Transfer Partner

This makes the carrier the third airline to which you can transfer all three of the major flexible points currencies.

Singapore Airline’s KrisFlyer Star Alliance Award Chart employs a zone-based system and imposes fuel surcharges on its award tickets. However, the fees are slightly lower than those charged by British Airways. Although you do receive a 15% points discount by booking your award online, any itinerary that requires the use of a partner airline (e.g., United, etc.) must be booked with an agent through Singapore Airline’s U.S. call center. Sample redemption rates for a round-trip award ticket from Chicago to Singapore are as follows:

Economy:       110,000 points
Business:        195,000 points
First:               225,000 points

Singapore Airlines charges a hefty premium for travel through its program that rivals the new “Partner Award” rates charged by United following its major devaluation earlier this year. That said, Singapore Airlines is known for its exemplary in-flight service. In addition, the airline’s Suites Class offered on it A380 service out of Los Angeles takes the meaning of First Class to a new level.

Singapore Airlines Suites Class Double Bed

Source: Singapore Airlines

I have to admit that I have weak spot for any airline that offers a bed in the sky.

Lufthansa 747-400 First Class Seat

Lufthansa First Class Bed

As a result, a Singapore Airlines Suites Class seat / bed clearly falls into my aspirational “bucket list” award redemption category. It’s important to note that Singapore Airlines very rarely releases award space in its premium cabins to its Star Alliance partners. Therefore, being able to transfer points from three different points currencies into the carrier’s KrisFlyer program makes a Suites Class redemption so much more achievable.

The ability to “triple dip” from the Big Three Points Currencies into these airlines adds some great options for your Pointing efforts. Have you ever used multiple loyalty programs to redeem a travel award? What has been your experience?


United Airlines Post-Devaluation – I Wish I Knew How To Quit You

On November 1, 2013 my Pointing world came crashing down around me.  Okay, well maybe I’m being a bit of a drama queen.  However, it was pretty bad.

On that day United Airlines announced a major devaluation of their award chart that sent the miles and points collecting world reeling.  Effective February 1, 2014 United’s Mileage Plus Program Award Chart will look like the following (Round-trip Award Prices; Changes in Blue):

United MileagePlus Award Chart Post-Devaluation

The good news is that for travel within North America and in Economy class, there haven’t been drastic changes.  However, for those who enjoy redeeming their miles for Business and First Class the news isn’t as bright.  What makes matters worse is that United has implemented a new tier of award redemptions for travel on its Star Alliance partner airlines that increases mileage redemption requirements even further.

Under this new Award Chart, the award redemptions from my Italy trip last summer (check out my post on What I Did On My Pointing Vacation for more details) would increase as follows:

1 United First Class ticket from Chicago to Frankfurt; connecting flight on Lufthansa Business Class from Frankfurt to Naples (check out my Transatlantic Trifecta and Flying Lufthansa Intra-Europe posts for more details on the service experience)


Old Award Price: 67,500 MileagePlus miles
New Award Price: 80,000 MileagePlus miles
18.5% increase!

1 Lufthansa First Class ticket from London to Chicago; connecting in Frankfurt (check out my Lufthansa First Class Trip Report for more details on the over-the-top service experience as well as post on my Visit to the Lufthansa First Class Terminal for more details).

Lufthansa First Class Seat

Old Award Price: 67,500 MileagePlus miles
New Award Price: 110,000 MileagePlus miles
63% increase!

I also burned up some points a few weeks ago on a trip to Europe.  That very same itinerary will cost the following in about a week:

1 United Business Class ticket from Chicago to Amsterdam

United Airlines 767 Business Class Seat Chicago to Amsterdam

Old Award Price: 50,000 MileagePlus miles
New Award Price: 57,500 MileagePlus miles
15% increase!

1 Lufthansa Business Class ticket from Paris to Chicago; Connecting in Munich

Lufthansa A340-300 Business Class Seat Munich to Chicago

Old Award Price: 50,000 MileagePlus miles
New Award Price: 70,000 MileagePlus miles
40% increase!

However, as upset as I am about this changes, they really shouldn’t have come as a big surprise. If you participate in the Miles & Points / Pointing “game” (as I outlined in my earlier post Burn Points Baby Burn), then you have to live with the fact that it’s not matter of “if” a devaluation will occur but “when” such an event will happen. A good Pointer collects, diversifies and more importantly USES those points.

I considered defecting from United to one of its rivals.  In my case, American Airlines would have been a contender.  However, a few years ago I formally decided to “boycott” the carrier because of a very bad service experience on a First and Business Class award redemption to Buenos Aires and have not flown the airline since then. In addition, there’s no guarantee that American won’t be devaluing their award program in the future.  In fact, once the airline sorts out its ongoing merger with US Airways it’s likely that American will be “next up.”  Ironically, an “American Airlines strategy” is a cornerstone of my point diversification strategy.  Keep an eye out for a future post on “Why I collect miles on airlines I never fly.”

So why am I sticking with United?  Well, despite the devaluation, MileagePlus is still a pretty good program.  I like the fact that I can redeem for one-way awards without a penalty.  This allows me to “mix-and-match” awards across different frequent flyer programs and join forces with my Partner F and his various programs (check out my earlier post on Feeding the Points Kitty on how we do this).  The airline’s award search feature on its website is pretty efficient and I’ve found that, with the appropriate amount of planning, both domestic and international award availability through MileagePlus is pretty good.

United’s in-flight “hard product” also strikes a positive tone with me. I appreciate the opportunity to “buy up” into United’s extra-legroom Economy Plus seats.  Also, the airline’s 180-degree lie-flat BusinessFirst seats are comfortable and a good way to get some rest while crossing the Atlantic on an overnight flight.  While I wouldn’t classify First and Business Class awards on United as an “aspirational” travel experience, I do consider them a good value for my miles.

I’ve also found that in general my service experiences with United over the past year have been pretty positive.  In fact, I’ve noticed that the “friendly quotient” has been noticeably higher in most of my interactions with United check-in agents, United Club receptionists and flight attendants.  There seems to be a concerted effort by front-line customer facing employees to present a more welcoming atmosphere.  Either that, or I’ve been lucky to catch most of the airline’s employees on a “good day!”

United Airlines isn’t perfect and there is significant room for improvement.  However, any of the complaints that United’s critics may have could equally be levied against any of its competitors.

Hilton Sorrento Palace Sea View Room of Vesuvius

This is Vesuvius and not Brokeback Mountain …

Yes, I don’t know how I’ll “quit” United.  In fact, I don’t think I’ll even try. Rather than completely abandoning the airline, I’m looking at it as one of the elements in my overall Pointing strategy. Stay tuned for several future posts that will outline how I’ve redefined What Kind of Pointer Am I and some new directions I’m taking my Pointing efforts.

What has been your reaction to the “Great United Airlines Devaluation?”


Feeding the Points Kitty

Wikipedia has this to say about a Kitty:

1) May refer to Cat (animal), a small carnivorous mammal of the subspecies Felis silvestris catus
2) In poker terminology, a pool of money built by collecting small amounts from certain pots, often used to buy refreshments, cards, and so on
3) In Pointing terminology, refers to the place where travel fanatics like me stash their hard earned miles and points

Yes, I have a Kitty (refer to Definition #3 above).  As a matter of fact, I have several Kitties where I store the miles and points I’ve accumulated.  Oh, and to help fund the dream vacation I mentioned in my last postI even tapped into the Kitty maintained by my Partner F. You see, in the world of Pointing it pays to diversify AND join forces to achieve your travel goals.

For F and I, United is our preferred airline.  The carrier’s MileagePlus program is one of the industry’s most versatile frequent flyer programs.  Here’s what is currently in our MileagePlus Kitties:

Me:      100,323 Miles
F:           95,103 Miles

How did we get here? Well, part of those balances came by travel the old-fashioned way – BITS (“Butt-in-the-Seat”).  However, the vast majority of those miles were earned through the use of miles and points earning credit cards.  Check out my earlier post on What’s In My Wallet – My Workhorse Cards for how your everyday spending can rack up your points totals pretty quickly.

In that post, you’ll see that MileagePlus isn’t the only program that we’re using.  Another foundation of our Pointing strategies is the Chase Sapphire Ultimate Rewards program. Here’s what is currently in our Ultimate Rewards Kitties:

Me:      22,051 Points
F:         71,143 Points

Ultimate Rewards points are incredibly useful in that they can be transferred to a wide array of airline and hotel programs. There are a lot of options for how you can structure an award.  In other words, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Ewww … probably not the best analogy to use in feline-themed blog post.

So, how would this all work if you wanted to structure an award?  Well, let’s say that F and I wanted to spend Valentine’s Day in Paris.  Two Business class tickets require 200,000 MileagePlus miles total.  In fact, here’s what’s available (check out how much these tickets REALLY cost!).

Screen Shot 2013-07-26 at 12.14.11 AM

Since we need to top off F’s account he could transfer 5,000 Ultimate Rewards points on a 1:1 basis into his MileagePlus account.  This would give us enough miles to book those two Business Class tickets.

Of course, we’ll need a place to stay.  So, with the remaining miles we could book 4 nights at the Park Hyatt Paris for 88,000 points by transferring what we need from our Ultimate Rewards accounts into our Hyatt Gold Passport hotel programs.

Screen Shot 2013-07-26 at 12.30.43 AM

As this example shows, you can mix and match airline and hotel programs by using a combination of both MileagePlus miles and Ultimate Rewards points.  In addition, since United is a member of the Star Alliance airline network, you’re not restricted to just one airline.

In general, premium cabin awards get you the most bang for the point buck. However, although, F and I have enough points for 2 Business Class awards, I think we’ll be holding out for First Class. You see, for “only” 17,500 more points per person we can go from …

This (United Business Class)


To This (United First Class)


Or if you play your cards right … Maybe THIS (Lufthansa First Class)


A redemption on Lufthansa First Class is the “Great White Whale Award” for many in the miles and points world.  It’s out there …. But you have to jump through a few hoops (or be lost at sea for several years) to achieve it (sorry for going overboard with the Moby Dick references).  I’ll recount how I was able to do this in a future post so stay tuned!

However, there’s a new award redemption which I predict will be the next “must have” for miles and points collectors. Eva Air (of Taiwan) has recently joined the Star Alliance.  As a result you should be able to redeem for awards for this ….

Hello Kitty Eva Air

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I MUST fly this plane one day.  Of course, I do need to warn you.  Five minutes listening to the Hello Kitty music on the website is equivalent to riding Disney’s It’s A Small World ride for 10 hours. You will NOT be able to get this tune out of your head. You’ll also have an incredible urge to eat cotton candy and sushi formed into “cute” shapes. Mmmm … pass the goldfish shaped wasabi … I think it’s time for lunch!

I’m Spent – What I Did On My Pointing Vacation

Dear Blog Reader forgive me for I have not posted.  It has been eight months since my last entry and in that time I’ve …

  • Experienced Cirque de Soleil overload in Vegas
  • Checked out Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers and Marilyn’s white dress in London
  • Conducted a tri-state tour of the deep fried foods of New England
  • Geeked out at the Comic-Con of the frequent traveller and points collecting world in suburban Virginia
  • Amassed a huge collection of mini paper umbrellas in Hawaii

However, most importantly, after a year of planning, obsessing and collecting I’ve cashed in my points. A LOT OF POINTS.

We’ve just come back from a two week trip to Italy where we celebrated an (ahem) “Milestone Birthday” for my Partner F.  Although my miles and points didn’t cover the whole tab, they did pay for some great experiences that I could never imagine paying for on my own.  As I sit at home waiting for the first wave of credit card bills to roll in from our trip, I can at least take some comfort in the fact that we did get a lot of cool stuff for a fraction of the actual cost.  Here’s what my Pointing got us …

 United Airlines First Class


Redeemed 135,000 MileagePlus Miles
2 First Class Tickets from Chicago to Naples, Italy
Estimated Value: $19,200

Hilton Sorrento Palace (Italy)


Redeemed 100,000 Hilton HHonors Points
2 nights – King Guestroom / Sea View
Estimated Value: $920

Lufthansa  Intra-European Flight


Redeemed 25,000 MileagePlus Miles
2 Economy Class Tickets from Florence, Italy to London England
Estimated Value: $3,200

 Andaz Liverpool Street London


Redeemed 54,000 Hyatt Gold Passport Points
3 nights – King Room
Estimated Value: $1,260             

 Lufthansa First Class


Redeemed 135,000 MileagePlus Miles
2 First Class Tickets from London to Chicago
Estimated Value: $21,000

Now that we’re home again, I have to admit that I’m going through a bit of Pointing withdrawal.  After a year of planning and points accumulation I’m now in search of my next big award.  As the “reservation window” for Summer 2014 award travel is starting to open I’ve already started playing around with scenarios for possible award redemptions.  In addition, I’ve been trolling the internet and sifting through my junk mail in search of another great credit card signup bonus.  I’m also still daydreaming of all the great experiences I was able to achieve through Pointing. Sigh, there’s nothing like being driven up to a 747 in a Mercedes.


How many points do I have left? How do I plan on earning more? What do I plan to do with all of those miles and points?  And what about that Mercedes??? Stay tuned, I have few ideas (and vacation pictures) I’d like to share with you …

Where Points have taken me

I was very fortunate that my first job after graduate school was with an internationally oriented government agency.  That position enabled me to travel around the country and provided me with the experience of my first overseas business trip.  I next went to work for a European company.  That job also provided regular opportunities for domestic travel along with a 2-3 week annual temporary assignment to the company’s headquarters in London.  I started accumulating points and started to realize what points could do for me.  In 1995 I redeemed my first award.  What a concept … a “free” transatlantic plane ticket!

United Business Class Seat

However, when I went to work for a new company, my business travel patterns changed … and by changed, I mean that business travel for me effectively came to an end.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved my new job and career.  I find the work that I’m doing is intellectually challenging, I have great colleagues and I’m paid very well for what I do.  However, the tradeoff was that the nature of my role just doesn’t require me to travel for business. As a result, my primary source for generating points came to an end.

Pretty much all of my travel these days is purely for leisure purposes and I often “pay my own way” to get from Point A to Point B. However, I quickly discovered that there are other ways to accumulate points without actually travelling.  In fact, I earn more points now on an annual basis than I did when I was on the road for business.

I recently took an inventory of how I’ve used my points over the years and have come up with the following list (updated May 2015):

Year Award Destination
1995 1 Round Trip Economy Class Ticket on Northwest Airlines London, England
1998 1 Business Class Ticket on United Airlines Sydney, Australia
2000 3 Nights, Hilton Times Square New York, NY
2002 2 Business Class Tickets on United Airlines London, England
2005 2 First Class Tickets on United Airlines Sydney, Australia
2005 3 Nights, Hayman Island Resort Near Great Barrier Reef, Australia
2007 2 First Class Tickets on United Airlines Hong Kong and Thailand
2007 3 Nights, Royal Orchid Sheraton Bangkok, Thailand
2010 3 Nights, Sheraton Carlsbad Resort & Spa Carlsbad, California
2010 4 Nights, Hilton London -Tower Bridge London, England
2011 2 First Class Tickets on United Airlines Rome, Italy
2012 2 First / Business Class Tickets on American Airlines Buenos Aires, Argentina
2013 2 First Class Tickets on United Airlines Naples, Italy
2013 3 Nights, Hilton Sorrento Palace Sorrento, Italy
2013 2 Economy Class Tickets on Lufthansa Florence to London
2013 3 Nights, Andaz Liverpool Street London, England
2013 2 First Class Tickets on Lufthansa London to Chicago
2013 2 Business Class Tickets on United Airlines Amsterdam, Netherlands
2013 3 Nights, Doubletree Amsterdam Amsterdam, Netherlands
2014 2 Nights, Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile Paris, France
2014 2 Nights, Park Hyatt Paris Paris, France
2014 2 Business Class Tickets on Lufthansa Paris to Chicago
2014 2 First Class Tickets on United Airlines Chicago to Frankfurt
2014 2 First Class Tickets on Thai Airways Frankfurt to Bangkok
2014 2 Nights, Royal Orchid Sheraton Bangkok, Thailand
2015 5 Nights, Sheraton Krabi Beach Resort Krabi, Thailand
2015 3 Nights, Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok Hotel Bangkok, Thailand
2015 2 First Class Tickets, Cathay Pacific Bangkok to Chicago
2015 1 First Class Ticket, United Airlines Chicago to San Diego
2015 1 Economy Class Ticket, United Airlines San Diego to Chicago

The table above really demonstrates the concrete value of collecting points. As a Regular Guy in Chicago with a Day Job, I would never think of forking over $14,000 for a First Class Ticket to Bangkok.  However, by using points I was able to take just such a trip.

Thai Airways A380 First Class Seat Suite Frankfurt FRA to Bangkok BKK

How do I do it?  Well, I started this blog to share with others my experience in travel point collection.  Future posts will cover my personal tips, tricks and strategies.   I’ll also share with you what I’ve actually done with all of those points … though of course that will also entail subjecting the readers of this blog to my vacation photos.

I already have my sights set on a few Dream Destinations and the wheels are in motion for attaining those travel goals.  Naturally, I’ll be keeping you updated every step of the way.  However, as proud as I am of what I’ve been able to accomplish with points, thus far, there are some real Pros out there who have made the collection and redemption of points a true art form.

In particular, Lucky over at One Mile at a Time has served as the inspiration for my own blog.  Now that guy knows how to travel! I’m hoping that one day I’ll be able to look back on a Trip Index that will look like his .

I admit I’ve got a long way to go.  However, something tells me that I’ll enjoy the journey.  Stay tuned my friends.