Category Archives: Pointing

The British (Avios Points) are coming! Evaluating the 100K Bonus Points British Airways Credit Card Offer

I’ve been experiencing a bit of premium cabin travel envy lately. By using the bonus points he accumulated during last year’s American Airlines / US Airways credit card offers, I recently scored a seat for my Partner F in British Airways First Class for his recent trip to London.

British Airways First Class Lounge Chicago O'Hare ORD Entrance

Fortunately, the opportunity to potentially earn up to 100,000 British Airways Avios Points has recently surfaced.

British Airways Visa Credit Card 100K Bonus Avios Points Offer

However, are Avios points the best way for me to reach my aspirational Pointing goals? Read on …

British Airways Visa Card 100K Bonus Points Offer

Bonus points associated with the credit card are awarded once you meet specific earning thresholds. The specifics are outlined below:

100K Bonus Points British Airways Credit Card Offer

It has been about a year and half since the last time this bonus opportunity was offered so I decided to pull the trigger and get the card. However, although I have my own reasons for getting the card, should you as well? Before you go running out to sign up for this card, it’s important to have an understanding of how the British Airways Avios program operates.

Using British Airways Avios Points

When using this program, it’s important to note that 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.

When booking an Avios award, you’re given multiple points / surcharge options. If I were to try and minimize the amount I spend on the surcharges, here’s how much it would cost to fly round-trip from my hometown of Chicago to London:

Economy:       26,000 Avios Points plus $701
Business:        100,000 Avios Points plus $1,186
First:                  136,000 Avios Points plus $1,186

Alternatively, because British Airways is part of the Oneworld airline alliance, by flying on one of its partner airlines you can take advantage of a few “sweet spots” on the award chart. For example, British Airways Avios points can be a good value when flying on American Airlines short and medium-haul flights within the U.S.

Chicago to New York (Economy):              15,000 Avios Points plus $11
New York to DC (Economy):                            9,000 Avios Points plus $11

You can also blunt the effect of some of those extra fees by grabbing a seat on such Oneworld carriers as Air Berlin, Cathay Pacific or Japan Airlines.

Chicago to Berlin (Business):                  150,000 Avios Points plus $136
Chicago to Tokyo (Business):                  180,000 Avios Points plus $263
Chicago to Tokyo (First):                           240,000 Avios Points plus $263
Chicago to Hong Kong (Business):      210,000 Avios Points plus $127
Chicago to Hong Kong (First):               280,000 Avios Points plus $127

British Airways also offers a couple of ways for a household to pool their efforts in order to redeem an award. For example, the airline’s Executive Club frequent flyer program allows you to set up a Household Account with up to six people who live at your same address. In addition, holders of the British Airways Visa Card who make $30,000 in purchases in a single calendar year receive a Travel Together Ticket. This perk allows the holder to book two seats for the Avios points price of a single award. The Travel Together Ticket is valid for two years but requires that each traveler pay the taxes, fees and surcharges associated with each individual ticket.

Should you sign up for the British Airways Visa Card?

A 100,000 points bonus looks really tempting since those types of offers don’t come up too often. However, if you’re a beginner to the miles and points accumulation game (what I like to call Pointing), I’d recommend holding off on signing up for the card. There are better loyalty programs and accumulation methods that I’d try to tackle first.

For example, other than the 3X bonus you receive on British Airways purchases, the card only awards a single point for all other spending. As I’ve written previously, you want to make sure that you’re maximizing your points earning capabilities by using cards that provide you with bonuses for your daily spending such as travel, dining, gas and grocery expenses.

In addition, you need to protect yourself against future loyalty program devaluations. Therefore, it would be prudent to understand how the major points currencies operate. As part of your education process, you should evaluate the cards that would enable you to earn those currencies.

So why did I sign up for the British Airways Visa Card?

There are a number of reasons I decided to sign up for this credit card. For example, another way to look at the 100K points bonus is that you’re receiving a 5X bonus for ALL of your spending up to $20,000 for the first year that you hold the card. In addition, BA’s U.S domestic award “sweet spots” will be great to use for quick short-to-medium haul weekend getaways. Finally, the Travel Together Ticket associated with the card provides a nice way to make an aspirational travel experience more attainable (e.g. you can effectively receive a First Class seat for the price of an Economy ticket).

I consider British Airways Avios a “niche currency” that I’ll use for specific types of awards. The program is just one element in my arsenal of Pointing tools. What’s your view of taking advantage of the British Airways Visa 100K Points Bonus?


Disclaimer: Please bear in mind that I am NOT a professional financial advisor by any means. My discussion of credit card strategies or other financial matters are based on my own personal experiences and financial situation. In addition, I am not an employee of any of the financial institutions that issue the cards discussed nor do I receive any compensation for discussing these products. The reader is solely responsible for any financial actions that he/she may choose to undertake. Make sure you read of the “fine print” in the Terms & Conditions for all of the offers mentioned.

Summer Shopping through Online Portals

Summer has finally kicked off here in my hometown of Chicago. Just as every diehard Cubs fan believes that THIS YEAR could be the one where we make it to the World Series, the start of the summer offers the hope of limitless possibilities. Of course, the potential for scoring some significant Miles & Points (what I like to call Pointing) is a bit more realistic than my Cubbies hitting those elusive home runs.

Sunset at Wrigley Field April 11 2015

The key to successful Pointing is to build Miles & Points accumulation into your daily routine. One such method is to use Online Shopping Portals to purchase items that are already on your shopping list.

Many of the major airlines and hotel chains maintain sites that enable the shopper to earn points by patronizing a variety of online retailers. In order to use a shopping portal, you simply login with your loyalty number, identify an online retailer that’s of interest to you and “click through” to the retailer’s regular website where you complete the transaction as you normally would. The portal notes the transaction and awards you bonus points for the purchase. Although you can use any card to make your purchase, you can maximize your Pointing by paying with your favorite awards earning credit card. In other words, you earn points from shopping through the portal AND points associated with the card that you’re using.

Some of the major Online Shopping Portals include the following:

Air Canada
American Airlines
British Airways
Chase Ultimate Rewards
Hawaiian Airlines

In addition, many online retailers periodically offer extra bonus points and the Shopping Portals run special spending promotions. For example, through June 15 United’s MileagePlus Shopping portal is awarding up to 2500 bonus award miles for hitting certain spending goals.

United MileagePlus Shopping Award Bonus Summer 2015

As you can see below, you can quickly rack up bonus award miles by shopping through an online portal.

United MileagePlus Summer Shopping Award Bonus Transactions 2015

To determine which retailers offer the best bonuses, I find to be a very helpful resource. This online directory of shopping sites allows you to make side-by-side comparisons of your various rewards options.

With the Father’s Day, Graduation and Wedding gift-buying season upon us, this would be the perfect time to try out an Online Shopping Portal. Have you ever used an Online Shopping Portal as a part of your Pointing efforts? What has been your experience?

Best Credit Cards for Dining and Groceries – Bonus Points for Fine Restaurants and Frozen Dinners

Anyone who takes a lookat my Instagram or Facebook pages might get the impression that I never eat at home. Yes, I’m one of “those people” constantly taking pictures of plates of food. However, I can’t eat out ALL the time. Therefore, trips to my local grocery store are essential to taking the strain off my wallet … and my waistline!

Dining and Grocery expenses comprise a large part of my household budget. I’ve previously written about the importance of incorporating miles and points accumulation strategies into your daily routine (what I like to call Pointing). Thankfully, there are several credit cards that offer everyday spending bonuses for these categories.

For example, recently American Express announced several new bonus categories and benefits (effective June 1, 2015) for its Premier Rewards Gold card.

American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card New BenefitsWhat’s particularly noteworthy is the introduction of a 2X points spending bonus on Dining. Along with the existing double points I earn on groceries, the new benefits associated with this card makes it a more powerful tool in my Pointing arsenal. There are also several other cards that offer spending bonuses in these categories. Here’s a chart that summaries some of your other options:

Best Credit Cards for Dining and Groceries - Grocery and Dining Bonus Points

However, what makes the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card special is that it earns you Membership Rewards points which are one of the major flexible points currencies. Not only do such points provide you with a variety of redemption options, but they also serve as a hedge against future award program devaluations.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred and various Citi ThankYou cards also offer a variety of spending bonuses. However, the additional benefits and bonus categories make the Premier Rewards Gold Card a compelling option for any Pointers interested in focusing their spending on just one or two cards.

So whether you’re dining out …

Caffe Pitti Florence Restaurant across the street from the Pitti Palace Firenze

… or just hitting the wine section at Whole Foods

Whole Foods Wine Section

… make sure you’re armed with the right card to maximize your points earning. Have I missed any cards on my list? Are there are other cards out there that offer points bonuses for dining and groceries?


Disclaimer: Please bear in mind that I am NOT a professional financial advisor by any means. My discussion of credit card strategies or other financial matters are based on my own personal experiences and financial situation. In addition, I am not an employee of any of the financial institutions that issue the cards discussed nor do I receive any compensation for discussing these products. The reader is solely responsible for any financial actions that he/she may choose to undertake.



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

Using Online Shopping Portals for your Holiday Gift Buying – Taking Advantage of Tardy Tuesday and Beyond

Whenever I can, I try to align my daily spending patterns with my Miles & Points accumulation (aka Pointing) efforts. The Holiday Season represents the perfect chance to exercise my Pointing skills as I buy gifts for my family, friends and office colleagues. Although I skipped the frenzy of Black Friday, I haven’t missed out on any earnings opportunities. In fact, I’ll probably earn more points by shopping online than by physically stepping foot inside any store.

Galleries Lafayatte Christmas Store Window Display

Many of the major airlines and hotel chains maintain sites that enable the shopper to earn points by patronizing a variety of online retailers. In order to use a shopping portal, you simply login with your loyalty number, identify an online retailer that’s of interest to you and “click through” to the retailer’s regular website where you complete the transaction as you normally would. The portal notes the transaction and awards you bonus points for the purchase. Although you can use any card to make your purchase, you can maximize your Pointing by paying with your favorite awards earning credit card. In other words, you earn points from shopping through the portal AND points associated with the card that you’re using.

Some of the major Online Shopping Portals include the following:

Air Canada
American Airlines
British Airways
Chase Ultimate Rewards
Hawaiian Airlines
US Airways

In addition, many online retailers offer extra bonus points during the Holiday Season.

Galleries Lafayette Christmas Tree

To determine which retailers offer the best bonuses, I find to be a very helpful resource. This online directory of shopping sites allows you to make side-by-side comparisons of your various rewards options.

Therefore, I wouldn’t feel too upset if you missed out on either Black Friday or Cyber Monday. You can still rack up some significant Miles & Points totals by shopping on “Tardy Tuesday” and beyond.

Do you have plans to use an online shopping portal for any of your Holiday Shopping?


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?



US Airways MasterCard – How do you keep me hangin’ on?

Set me free, why don’t you baby?
Get out of my life, why don’t you baby?
‘Cause you don’t really love me
You just keep me hangin’ on

– Said The Supremes (and Barclaycard)

Yes, this song pretty much describes my relationship with the US Airways Premier World MasterCard. I never planned on maintaining a long-term relationship with this card. When I applied for it, I fully intended to take a very mercenary SWAT-team like approach to owning the card – swoop in, meet my minimum spend, collect my bonus miles and cancel the card before the next year’s annual fee kicked in. However, Barclaycard had other plans for me …

So why collect miles on an airline I never fly?

US Airways is the primary carrier for a lot of people – just not for me. To this day, I’ve never set foot on US Airways metal. However, at the time I originally applied for the US Airways MasterCard, the airline was, along with my primary carrier United, a member of the Star Alliance. This fit in very neatly with my “miles & points accumulation & redemption” (aka Pointing) objectives. In addition, US Airways’ Dividend Miles frequent flyer program offered a number of “sweet spots” on its award chart (e.g. only 90,000 miles to China, Hong Kong, Korea or Japan) and historically the program regularly offered 100% bonuses for either purchasing or transferring miles. I looked on the Dividend Miles program as a way to diversify my Pointing efforts and protect myself against potential devaluations (like United’s earlier in the year!).

US Airways Chairmans Offer

Note: This offer is no longer available.

In the end, as I outlined in an earlier post on this subject, I opted for a signup offer that not only gave me 40,000 miles after my first purchase but also 10,000 miles after the first anniversary of account opening, an additional 10,000 miles on each subsequent account opening anniversary AND waived the first year’s annual fee. Barclaycard had me hooked.

For the times (and airline alliances) they are a-changin’

However, a few months after receiving my card, US Airways and American airlines announced plans to merge. Upon hearing this news, I naturally assumed that the days of the mileage gravy train I was riding were numbered and that within a year or so I would lose these great benefits. Sooner or later I’d have to say buh-bye to my US Airways MasterCard. However, it looks like I have a reprieve.

The argument for holding on to my card

This week, I received an email that officially announced the news that US Airways & American Airlines would be merging their frequent flyer programs in the second quarter of 2015. The companies provided a timeline for the key integration events.

US Airways American Airlines Integration

Once the programs merge, my existing Dividend Miles will be converted into American AAdvantage miles. This upcoming event is what served as the catalyst for me to encourage (umm … push) my Partner F to simultaneously apply for both a Citi Platinum Select / AAdvantageWorld MasterCard and the US Airways Premier World MasterCard. I go into more detail on this particular Pointing strategy in my earlier post: Combining American and US Airways Miles – Taking Advantage of Reaping Dividend Miles. Post-merger, the US Airways MasterCard will become an American Airlines AAdvantage MasterCard and will be closed to new applications. Therefore, the clock is ticking on this particular offer.

However, the US Airways MasterCard isn’t going away quietly. I received another email this week that provided me with a pretty lucrative bonus mile offer.

US Airways MasterCard 15,000 Bonus Miles Spending Offer

By spending a minimum of $500 per month on the card over the next three months, I’ll receive 15,000 bonus miles. The timing is “perfect” (for BarclayCard that is) in that my annual fee will be coming due in the middle of this period. That creates quite the incentive for holding on to the card for another year.

Finally, rounding out this AAdvantage / Dividend Miles charm offensive was a third email.

US Airways 10,000 Mile Anniversary Bonus

BarclayCard will be continuing my anniversary bonus and provide me with 10,000 AAdvantage miles annually.

Taken together, these developments build a pretty compelling case for holding on to my card. The value of the bonus miles that I’ll be receiving justifies the cost of the annual fee. In addition, the big bump I’ll be receiving in a major loyalty “currency” like AAdvantage miles fits into my broader Pointing strategies and provide me with another option for mixing and matching awards.

The Moral of the Story

These are factors that I considered in making the decision to keep my US Airways MasterCard. All of these changes also emphasize the importance of regularly monitoring the shifting landscape of the miles and points world. You need to be prepared to assess how much value you’re receiving from your cards and make adjustments to “what’s in your wallet” as appropriate.

How about you? How do you decide whether to “keep or cancel?”


Disclaimer: Please bear in mind that I am NOT a professional financial advisor by any means.  My discussion of credit card strategies or other financial matters are based on my own personal experiences and financial situation. In addition, I am not an employee of any of the financial institutions that issue the cards discussed nor do I receive any compensation for discussing these products. The reader is solely responsible for any financial actions that he/she may choose to undertake. Make sure you read of the “fine print” in the Terms & Conditions for all of the offers mentioned.

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.