Money August 2017

Free Honeymoon With Two Credit Card Bonuses

Weddings can be a pretty expensive proposition. The average cost of a wedding in the US is more than $26,000, although most people spend less than $10,000. I guess the multiple Kardashian weddings skew the number up. After spending all of that money on a wedding, who wants to spend lots on a honeymoon? Yet many Americans do. They don’t have to, as there are ways to get a free honeymoon.

I Did Not Get A Free Honeymoon

I recently wrote a post related to how I got involved in travel hacking.  It was quite eyeopening to learn that I could travel for pennies on the dollar. However, this knowledge came a bit late for my own honeymoon. My honeymoon was probably the last major trip I took at full price. Had I known about the ease of scoring frequent flyer miles, my trip to Cancun would have been quite a bit cheaper.

A free honeymoon to Puerto Vallarta is possible.
A view of the pool and ocean and the Puerto Vallarta Marriott, photo by author

You Can Get A Free Honeymoon

Through the use of travel hacking, you can get a free honeymoon. All that it takes is a couple of strategic credit card signup bonuses. I do want to note that by free, I’m referring to highly discounted flights and hotel rooms. Food, ground transportation, and attractions would require more than the two signups that the title suggests. There are taxes on any flights that you can’t get around easily without certain credit cards that give credits for purchases. Additionally, there is the possibility that the hotel will charge a resort fee.

Get The Starwood Preferred Guest Card

Until April 5, 2017, the Starwood Preferred Guest credit card (link with higher signup bonus good until April 5, 2017) is offering a 35,000 point signup bonus with 25,000 paid out after spending $3,000 within three months and another 10,000 paid out after spending an additional $2,000 in the first six months on the personal version. You’d need to spend $5,000 and $3,000  over the same time frames to get the same bonus on the business version. **Please note that you cannot get this bonus if you’ve ever earned it before.

This 35,000 bonus is the highest that anyone has ever seen for the great card. With the recent merger between Marriott and Starwood, it may disappear in short order, so the time to apply is now.

While this number of points might not sound as impressive as some other cards that might be offering 50,000 or even 100,000, it can actually provide even more value.

When I first started reading travel hacking websites a few years ago, this card was the number one recommendation for everyday spending. Users of the Starwood Preferred Guest (personal and business versions) can transfer to just about any airline that has a frequent flyer program. These points transfer at a 1:1 ratio in most, but not all, instances.

A Room at the Renaissance Aruba Resort and Casino in Oranjestat
You could use your points for a room like this one that I enjoyed at the Renaissance Aruba Resort and Casino.

Transfer Starwood Points To Marriott

Those who transfer in 20,000 point batches get a 5,000 mile bonus. This results in what is effectively 1.25 miles per dollar spent, which is a pretty good deal.

However, for the strategy that I’m recommending, you’d want to transfer these points to Marriott Rewards. Marriott recently bought out Starwood, and those who have an account with both programs can link and transfer back and forth between them. Starwood points are worth 3 Marriott Rewards points each.

If you spend the required $5,000 to get the 35,000 bonus points, you’d also earn at least 5,000 additional points at one point per dollar of spending. These 40,000 would then equal 120,000 Marriott Rewards points.

If your spouse-to-be has not earned the bonus before and you still have some wedding expenses coming up, you both could possibly get the bonus by applying before April 5. These two bonuses would equal 240,000 Marriott Rewards points, and you’d be set. I’ll show you how below.

Sign Up For the Marriott Rewards Card

If you’ve only signed up for one of the Starwood cards, your second application should be the Marriott Rewards Premier card (sign up the the highlighted link–I may receive bonus points if you do, and I’d definitely appreciate your support–this is the highest offer currently available so you lose nothing by using my link).

This card offers an 80,000 point bonus after spending at least $3,000 in the first 90 days after your application. This will result in at least 83,000 points. 80,000 of these points will come from the bonus, and the additional 3,000 Marriott Rewards points will come from meeting the minimum spend.

You’ll earn one point per dollar spent on everything outside of restaurants and travel. These purchases earn two points per dollar.  Additionally, purchases at Marriott properties earn five points per dollar.

If the Marriott Rewards Premier Card is your second card, you’d now have at least 203,000 points after transferring the points from the Starwood card. If you both decide to get a Starwood card and then get the Marriott card, you’d then have more than 320,000 points should you be able to meet the required spend.

This is where it gets really, really interesting and where the free honeymoon comes into play.

Get A Marriott Vacation Package

Marriott is pretty unique among loyalty programs, because it provides the option of getting a week at a hotel AND frequent flyer miles. For 200,000 Marriott Rewards points, you could stay a week at any of their category 1-5 hotels and get 50,000 miles in most domestic airline programs (as well as a few international ones).  These miles could get you to many places throughout the continental United States, including California and Florida.

The 320,000 points that you could get should you choose to get two Starwood cards (one for you and your significant other) and a Marriott card would get you 7 nights in a category 6 hotel and 120,000 miles. This would be enough miles for a trip to Europe for both of you in economy class. You could also get 7 nights in a category 7 hotel and 100,000 miles, which would be enough for a trip to Hawaii if you can find availability.

If you both got a Starwood card and a Marriott card, you’d have more than 400,000 Marriott Rewards points available, and that would score you a week at just about any Marriott property in the world and some lower level Ritz Carlton properties.  You can search the various Marriott vacation package options at the Marriott site.  These options open the possibility of a free honeymoon to just about anyone who has solid credit.

Money August 2017

Travel Hacking: My Introduction to a Great Opportunity

Disclaimer: Some of my links on this site are affiliate links. I may receive compensation should you choose to sign up using them. I appreciate any support. One of the coolest opportunities that is out there for most people is travel hacking. This “hobby” gives ordinary people who are far from trust fund babies like Donald Trump’s or Bill Clinton’s kids the chance to get out and see the world without spending a fortune. I had no idea that it even existed until I was well into adulthood, but I soon learned that it could really benefit me.

My Idea of a Great Vacation as a Kid

When I was a youngster, I really enjoyed going to amusement parks. My family went to Kings Island in Ohio just about every year in my youth. I really liked it and pushed to go back. My youth group at church would go. My family would go. Some years, we’d go to Kings Island and Carowinds in North Carolina if we were lucky. My parents got bored with the whole “let’s go back to Kings Island” spiel, but it’s what I was comfortable with. I went on a few trips to church camp and three trips in high school, one of which took me to Arizona, that I really enjoyed, too. Flying across the world never really crossed my mind at this point.

The Eiffel Tower at Kings Island
Replica of the Eiffel Tower at Kings Island in Mason, OH

My Introduction to the World of Travel Hacking

After I proposed to my now wife, I set toward planning a honeymoon. I’d never been outside the US at this point, and we decided upon a week in Cancun. This would be my very first time ever on a plane. It would also be pretty much the last vacation that I’d pay full price for. About this time, a new accountant started working at my office. This guy told me he’d been to Hawaii. FOR FREE. I pretty much thought this was an impossibility, but I asked all about how he got to a tropical paradise that I figured I’d never visit because of the cost.

Enter Marriott Rewards

He then proceeded to tell me about the Marriott Rewards program. Needless to say, I wanted to learn more. He told me about the vacation package that you could get through Marriott’s loyalty program. Enough points would give you a free week at a Marriott hotel and frequent flyer miles to get you there. Wow. How can one get these here Marriott Rewards points? I wondered.

He then told me about the Marriott Rewards credit card that gave you points every time you stayed in a hotel owned by Marriott and a point for every other dollar you spent. Beside that, if you got approved for the card and made a single purchase, you’d get a bonus of 10,000 free points. This bonus is laughably small compared to what Marriott offers today, but back in 2003, it sounded like a good idea.

My First Travel Card

I talked to the new wife about this idea. She was cool with it, so I ditched my old AT & T Universal card that acted as a calling card and a credit card (I’d gotten it before the days of anyone and everyone having a cell phone. People actually used pay phones and hotel phones in those olden days). I applied for the Marriott Rewards card. I excitedly used it as soon as it came in to get the bonus points.

Not long after, we decided that perhaps my wife could qualify too. We saw an ad for 20,000 bonus points after the first purchase, plus a FREE NIGHT. We thought this was a great deal. Again, this bonus is pretty laughable compared to what’s available today. The newer Marriott Rewards Premier card now offers 80,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in three months. It also offers a free night to offset each renewal of the annual fee.

Off to Hawaii Via Marriott Rewards

It took more than two years of spending on the card, the two bonuses, and staying at Marriott hotels when out of town to build up nearly enough to pay for a week at the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa in Honolulu. Back in those days, seven nights at what was then a category 5 hotel took 110,000 points. I was just short and bought a few thousand points to make it happen.

My account didn’t have enough to get the package deal with the airline miles, but I did get tickets for $448 from my small-town airport in the Eastern US. I also had a $50 coupon for a United flight from an Entertainment book that I bought to get buy-one-get-one deals at restaurants. This brought the final cost for $398 for each ticket to Honolulu. Needless to say, I thought this was a big score. I got to Hawaii for about $1,200 total and got to stay in a nice resort.

Travel Hacking Since

In those early days, I rarely got new credit cards, thinking it was a good idea to avoid having too many. I’d heard that too many would hurt your credit score. If you’re responsible with them, they really don’t. It took me several years to get enough miles and points to get my next trip, which landed me at the Renaissance Aruba Resort and Casino, another Marriott property in a tropical paradise.

CasaMagna Marriott Resort Puerto Vallarta, part of a travel hacking trip
Entrance to CasaMagna Marriott Resort, Puerto Vallarta (photo, again by your’s truly) I actually paid for this hotel, but got my flights for taxes only.

Since the trip to Aruba, I’ve been more aggressive with the travel rewards cards. I’ve earned bonuses from the new Chase Sapphire Reserve, as well as the older, but still good, Chase Sapphire Preferred, and the Chase Freedom. An upgrade with a new Marriott Rewards Premier card also earned me a hefty bonus. I’ve been able to take highly discounted trips to Los Angeles/Disneyland, Paris, and Mexico over the past few years. Additionally, I’ve got another trip to Europe planned with points and miles taking care of most of the cost.

Bottom Line on Travel Hacking

If you’re responsible with your finances, and you can pay off all of your credit card bills every month to avoid interest costs, you too can travel the world. Signing up for one of the cards listed above can be a good start that can help you achieve some dreams you might have thought outside your ability to achieve. Travel hacking has changed over the past couple of years, and it’s more difficult to score as many bonus points. However, the opportunities that remain are definitely worth taking advantage of.

Have you been able to take advantage of travel hacking? If so, let me know in the comments. Also, be sure to sign up for updates by filling out the email form at the top of the page or follow me on Twitter.

Disclaimer: Some of my links on this site are affiliate links. I may receive compensation should you choose to sign up using them. I appreciate any support.

Money August 2017

How To Get To Israel Cheaply

There are few places on earth that hold the special place that Israel does for Christians (and Jews). When it comes to taking a pilgrimage to a religious site, none will rank higher than the geographic location that Jesus actually inhabited during his time on earth. Here are some tips that can help you get to Israel without totally breaking the bank.

Most Christians will likely think that getting to Israel is beyond their means. This is not necessarily the case, and singles and couples can find it fairly easy to check Israel off of their travel bucket lists with fairly small out-of-pocket expenses. Even families have options that can help them alleviate many of the costs. The following post will look at 1. How to get to Israel with frequent flyer miles, 2. Cutting down on lodging costs, and 3. Saving money on day trips from Tel Aviv to some of the leading sites within Israel.

How To Actually Get To Israel

The first step to take when looking at how to get to Israel cheaply is to find out what airlines will actually get you there from the US. Fortunately, there are three major alliances that allow travelers from the US to get to the Holy Land without actually flying on United, Delta, or American all the way over. With partner airlines, it is possible to fly to Israel without breaking the bank. Unless you’re looking to stop over in a European city that allows for cheap flights to Israel from the continent, you’ll probably be better off using Star Alliance, which is United’s partnership, or SkyTeam, which is Delta’s. You’ll want to search for flights to Tel Aviv (TLV), as it is the main airport in the country.

It should be possible to get enough frequent flyer miles to travel to Israel with one or two credit card signup bonuses. United will get you to Tel Aviv for 42,500 miles and $5.60 in economy class, depending upon the airport you leave from. Periodically, the United Mileage Plus credit card will offer a signup bonus of 50,000 miles, and this cache of points would pay for a one-way ticket on its own. It’s also possible to get to TLV for 35,000 Delta SkyMiles and $167 or to get back for the same number of miles a $208.49.

Have Plan, Will Travel

Once you have a plan in place, you can start to look for actual flights to get to Israel. Note the image below that shows a flight from the US to Tel Aviv on United in April 2017 for 42,500 Mileage Plus miles and $5.60. I chose to search from Fargo, ND, to show that it’s possible to get to Tel Aviv on points without departing from a major hub.

United Airlines flight to Tel Aviv
Fargo to Tel Aviv, on United Airlines award ticket

American Express frequently offers bonuses that are higher than the 35,000 needed for a one-way flight to or from the Middle East on a Delta credit card. Additionally, both American Express and Chase offer flexible points programs that allow for transfers airlines that could help. Both of these programs allow for trasnfers to the Flying Blue program that’s run by KLM and Air France. Flying Blue treats the Middle East as part of Europe so it might be possible to save points this way. The Chase Sapphire Preferred offers 50,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 on the card in the first three months after approval. The annual fee of $95 is waived for the first year.

Staying In Israel

There are some pretty reasonable lodging options in Tel Aviv. Expedia lists several apartment options. The cheapest rate for one of these apartments is lower than $100 a night for Spring Break. There appear to be similar options available for Jerusalem although they are fewer in number. Those who want to stay on points at the same time could have nearly enough for three free nights at the Sheraton Tel Aviv just by meeting the minimum spending for the Starwood Preferred Guest credit card from American Express.

Get To Israel, Then Use Free Nights

It would also be possible to get two nights from the signup bonuses from the Marriott Rewards Premier card or the IHG Rewards card. The Marriott card has an $85 annual fee, but you could use its 80,000 point bonus in coordination with the Starwood bonus to get five nights at the same hotel in Tel Aviv. Marriott recently bought out Starwood, and it offers the fifth night of a stay on points for free. The Hilton properties that are available would be cost prohibitive when paying with points, but the Hilton HHonors Reserve card offers two free weekend nights for a $95 annual fee. All of these cards could be mixed and matched to extend the length of your free stay.

Get To Israel, See Temple Mount in Jerusalem
The Temple Mount in Jerusalem CC BY-SA 4.0 via Andrew Shiva, Wikimedia Commons

When considering how to get to Israel cheaply, lodging is definitely a portion of the expense that you need to take into account. On that note, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus card offers users at least $530 of free travel that could go toward lodging or the taxes that arise from flying to Israel, but this might also be useful for another purpose as noted below. When thinking about where to stay in Israel, remember that Jerusalem is going to have more of the holy sites, while Tel Aviv is going to be better for those who want to spend some time on a Mediterranean beach. Of course, staying in Tel Aviv and taking day trips from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem or other famous sites could give you the best of both worlds.

Day Trips In Israel

Now that you’ve figured out how to get to Israel, regardless of where you’re looking to stay during your time in the Holy Land, it’s probably going to be necessary to take a couple of day trips to places like Jerusalem, Masada, the Sea of Galilee or the Dead Sea. There are Christian and Jewish (and even Muslim) sites all around Israel, and if you’re looking to walk in the steps of Jesus, these trips can help you check some important items off of your bucket list. Again, credit card signup bonuses can take care of some of the costs. A card like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus could reimburse you for your day trips in Israel if your tour operators code their transactions in the travel category. Here are some of the best day tours from Tel Aviv as noted on Trip Advisor.

When Looking At How To Get To Israel Cheaply, Credit Cards Can Make It Happen

With even one or two credit card signup bonuses, it is possible to substantially cut the cost that you might think necessary to visit Israel. With three or four, it could be possible to spend just a few hundred for ground transportation , food and souvenirs. You can handle lodging, flights and tours with points and miles. Families might have to be a bit more creative, but it is still possible to save hundreds, if not thousands, on a trip to Israel. You just need to pool the bonuses and thinking about one-way tickets and other nontraditional options.

Have any other ideas about saving money on a trip to Israel? Any questions? Be sure to let us know in the comments.

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Money August 2017

Setting Goals To Achieve Success

Those who fail to plan, plan to fail. This is a common refrain that I’ve heard many times in my life. Another example is the statement that those who aim for nothing will hit it every time. I don’t know about you, but I definitely don’t want to fail to hit anything. This is why I’ve decided to start setting goals. The beginning of a new year is a good time to set up new goals.

Consider How To Get There

The most important step in setting goals is knowing where you want to go in life. Perhaps you want to become an engineer. This would require going to school for an engineering degree. The same goes for becoming a teacher, a lawyer, or a doctor. If you’d rather become an entrepreneur, schooling might not be quite so necessary. There are many successful entrepreneurs who haven’t completed a degree, among them are such billionaires and Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. However, these innovators had big ideas and the technical know-how to achieve their goals.

Set Up Checkpoints To Measure Success

It’s a good idea to break up major goals into smaller chunks. This is where short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals come into play. In the example of getting an engineering degree, the long-term goal is getting the degree and getting licensed. A good short-term goal might be passing Calculus 1. After getting through the short-term goals, the medium-term goals will become the new short-term goals. Evaluating goals is a constant necessity.

Here are some goals that I’ve been interested in.

Setting Goals for Passive Income Can Lead to Financial Success

I recently read the book Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin. Questioning some of the purchases that we frequently make can help us cut expenses that require life energy to pay for. When we make more money than we spend, what’s left over is capital that we can use toward an emergency fund or toward building passive income. I’ve decided after reading up on blogs like Dividend Growth Investor that trying to build up a portfolio of dividend growth stocks like Omega Healthcare Investors and Coca-Cola can provide a growing stream of passive income through growth in the annual dividend payments and through the deployment of additional capital. My long-term goal is building up enough passive income to pay for living expenses. My short-term goal might be to get to $1,000 in forward dividend income by the end of the year.

Setting Goals Can Lead to Passive Income
B&O Stock Certificate, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Online Earning Could Be A Smart Goal

While it’s possible to build up passive income with many jobs, many people will have a problem having enough excess capital to grow much passive income on their main salary. This is where earning a bit of money on the side can help. This excess money can then go toward savings if it’s not required for paying ordinary living expenses. It’s also possible to earn quite a nice sum from making money online. There are many lists online that offer ways to make money, some without spending a penny. I’ve used these methods to earn thousands over the past few years.

Paying Off Debt

Debt can really be a drag. The more you have, the closer you might be to financial ruin. It’s hard to grow a strong stream of passive income and a solid net worth with massive amounts of debt. Setting goals for paying down debt over time can lead to a great achievement that can definitely aid in your overall financial success.

Achieving Travel Goals

I love to travel. Therefore, some of my goals have to do with visiting some cool places around the US and the world. I had a goal of taking my family to Europe on the cheap, and I was able to do so. However, before I could, I had to figure out a way to pay for most of the trip’s possible expenses with frequent  flyer miles and hotel loyalty points. I achieved this goal with some well-timed credit card signup bonuses like the ones offered on these five credit cards that you could get in 2017.  I’m already strategizing two trips ahead with the credit cards I’m using.

The process of setting and achieving goals can be a great process that can help you gain the success that you’re looking for.  Setting up mileposts along the way can help you gauge how you’re doing in the process. If you don’t set any goals, one thing is certain. You won’t accomplish them.

Have you set any goals this year? Let us know in the comments.

Also, if you’d like to keep up with new posts and ideas for maximizing your resources in life (including time), be sure to sign up for email updates in the box at the top of the page and via our Twitter account @moneyinpajamas.

Money August 2017

Chase Sapphire Reserve Take Two–Approved

Back in August, when the Chase Sapphire Reserve card first came out, I was super excited at the opportunity to get the killer 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points that came with the card after meeting a minimum spend. (This has since dropped to 50,000 UR points.) I’ve referred to this as the “Mother of All Credit Cards.” As I’ve noted before, I was rejected when I applied for the Sapphire Reserve.

I decided then to bide my time and wait a few months before applying again. I intended to wait until February or March because I wanted to make sure that I was able to offset the entire $450 annual fee , which is quite hefty, over two calendar years.  Imagine my surprise when I woke up on Wednesday morning and found out via Million Mile Secrets that the Reserve’s sign-up bonus was about to get halved.

Applying for the Chase Sapphire Reserve

I decided to jump immediately and go ahead and try to get the top travel credit card that I wanted to get in 2017, albeit a bit earlier than I wanted to get it. Applying was the first thing that I did after logging onto my laptop that morning. I sat down and filled out the three pages on the application and then waited on the decision.

It seemed that it was taking quite a while, but it was probably less than a minute. Regardless, I was a bit nervous that I would again get the notice of a pending application, which generally means no. I was happy, however, when the next page popped up and noted that Chase approved me for the card.

Visa, MasterCard, and American Express
Credit cards via Wikimedia Commons

After I get the Sapphire Reserve in the mail, I intend to start using it exclusively so that I can meet the $4,000 spending requirement so that the 100,000-point bonus will kick in. UPDATE: I got the bonus in March.

What To Do With the Sapphire Reserve’s Bonus

There are several different options when it comes to spending 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points. You could take two round-trip saver flights within the US on United Airlines.  I’ve seen one-way flights from Denver to Las Vegas or Los Angeles for just north of 2,000 Rapid Rewards points on Southwest Airlines.

This bonus would take care of nearly 50 one-way flights between many US cities, and could also pay for at least four flights to Mexico from the US on Southwest, depending upon the date and whether any sales are ongoing from your departure city at the time you book. I got four tickets to Puerto Vallarta for about 23,000 Ultimate Rewards points when transferring them to Southwest last year.

It’s also possible to get two round-trip tickets from the US to Europe on Air France/KLM’s Flying Blue frequent flyer program with some of the discounted options that these companies offer from time to time. 50,000 would also be more than enough to get a one-way business-class ticket at the saver level or a round-trip economy ticket to just about any region of the world on United Airlines. These are just a few of the options that you could use to spend this massive cache of points, as they transfer at a 1:1 ratio to some of the leading loyalty programs around.

If You’d Rather Have Cash Value

Additionally, if you’re looking to pay directly for flights, you could get 1.5 cents per point in value by going through the Chase travel portal with the Chase Sapphire Reserve. This could allow you to get multiple tickets to Europe with some of the sales that have been going on recently.

Finally, you could just redeem them for 1 cent apiece and get a cool $500 in cash which is a pretty easy way to earn money in pajamas. Keep in mind that the sign-up bonus dropped by half on January 11, so if you’re looking to get the Sapphire Reserve and the bonus, be sure to apply sooner, rather than later.  Also, be sure to check out more of my top credit card recommendations for 2017.

Money August 2017

Top 5 Travel Credit Cards To Get In 2017

What Are The Top Travel Credit Cards?

2016 is about to pass into the record books, and 2017 is about to commence. One of the major strategies I’ve been thinking about as I get ready to embark upon the new year is what the best travel credit cards that might help me achieve my goals in the near future would be. I’m already planning what cards I might like to apply for to maximize my travel benefits over the next few years. Here are 5 cards that I’m seriously considering having myself or my wifedoodle apply for in 2017.

1. Chase Sapphire Reserve

When Chase first announced its new Sapphire Reserve card in mid-2016, I must admit that it piqued my interest. 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points made up what I’ve been referring to as the “Mother of All Credit Card Bonuses” and puts the Reserve at the top of my  list of travel credit cards for 2017. Unfortunately, I ran afoul of the infamous 5/24 rule with Chase and was denied getting the Sapphire Reserve in a fail of epic proportions.

Fortunately, the wife got the card, and we set up a European itinerary of epic proportions.  While I’d like to start on the bonus ASAP, I’m waiting until around February to try my luck with another application so that I can maximize the travel reimbursement to offset the hefty $450 annual fee that comes with the card. I’ve already gotten this card as of 1/4. I learned that the 100,000 bonus was getting slashed in half on 1/11, so I risked the hard pull and got approved.

2. Chase Sapphire Preferred

I already have this card, so you might wonder why I’d want another. It’s not for me. My hope is to cancel my card when I (hopefully) get its more impressive brother, the Reserve. However, the 50,000 Ultimate Reward point signup bonus is nothing to sneeze at. For this reason, I’ll have the wife attempt to cash in on this card around the time that her Reserve card is up for a renewal of the annual fee. That way, we’ll earn more than 150,000 Ultimate Rewards points this year from the signup bonuses and minimum spends.

Keep in mind that this is all subject to approval in relation to the infamous 5/24 rule.  While the two Sapphire cards might not seem like the best credit card for travel miles, the ability to transfer them to airlines like United, Southwest, British, and Air France/KLM, among others, make them a great flexible option. They’re also two of the best credit cards for travel because they don’t carry any foreign transaction costs.

If you’d like to help support this site while signing up for a credit card, you can apply for the Sapphire Preferred with the 50,000 bonus after spending $4,000 in three months. This card has a $95 annual fee, and Chase waives it for the first year if you’re worried about having to pay out the $450 that the Sapphire Reserve requires.

This is the best offer that’s currently available publicly, but I’ll also earn 10,000 points for the first five approved referrals if you apply through the link above. You can go straight to Chase to get the same benefits, but I definitely appreciate any support you might choose to give.

3. CitiBusiness AAdvantage Card

Another of the travel credit cards I want to get this year is the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Card. This card currently has a nice 50,000 mile bonus in return for spending $3,000 over three months. These miles are limited to the American Airlines AAdvantage program, and I’m looking to top these off as we go into 2018 as I have another family vacation that I’m hoping to take to Europe and perhaps a bit beyond.  Both the wife and I have recently had the personal version, so this is likely the only chance we’ll have to score a bonus in the near future because of tighter restrictions with Citi approvals (although there is also the new 40,000 bonus from Barclaycard and the AAdvantage Aviator Red card). H/T to Million Mile Secrets for this last little bit of info.

The Eiffel Tower in Paris, arrived at via AAdvantage miles and Marriott Rewards points.
AAdvantage Miles and Marriott Rewards Points got me to Paris with my family to see the Eiffel Tower.

4. Starwood Preferred Guest (Personal Version)

I’ve already earned the bonus for this card, which was 35,000 StarPoints when I first picked it up. I transferred all of my points to American Airlines when there was a 20 percent bonus promotion going on, and it went along with 10,000 bonus miles because of the 5,000 bonus for every 20,000 transferred. Now, I’ll have to let my wife apply for this one. The reason? You can transfer all of the points from the bonus, currently at 25,000, to Marriott, which is my favorite hotel chain. They’ll transfer at a 1:3 rate, which means that the bonus plus the automatic spending would be worth at least 84,000 Marriott Rewards points.

Pair Starwood With Marriott

I’ve never done this before, but I’m thinking of attempting to get one of the vacation package deals with Marriott that give a week at a nice resort (hopefully in some tropical location in Hawaii, Mexico, or the Caribbean) and some frequent flyer miles to get there in addition to the hotel stay. I would recommend going directly through the Starwood site to get this card. I could refer you, but I think that the flexibility of the points is better than the two nights you’d get from my referral, so I won’t even give it. If you’d like to build up some Marriott points, however, feel free to check out my link to that deal by clicking on the Twitter link like the example above. Again, I appreciate any support that you decide to give the site.

Also, if you’re not yet a member of the Marriott Rewards program, you can get 2,000 bonus points for each of your first five stays for a possible total of 10,000 bonus points by letting me refer you to the program. You should let me know you want referred in the comments of this blog (you have to give your email address to post a comment), and I’ll send the email.

Then you can also apply for the Marriott Rewards Premier card. You’ll get 80,000 points, which is the current standard offer, and in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll get 20,000 points for the referral. Again, I appreciate any support you feel free to give me.  I would also point out that there is the possibility for 5 points on the first $30,000 of spend in the first year with another link, but the 80,000 points for $3,000 in 90 days is easier to attain and you could earn even more signup bonuses from other programs during the same year.

A Room at the Renaissance Aruba Resort and Casino in Oranjestat

You could use your points for a room like this one that I enjoyed at the Renaissance Aruba Resort and Casino.

5. American Express Gold Card (Personal Version)

The last of the travel credit cards I’m looking at is the American Express Gold. This card does not come with a massively huge signup bonus at this time. It’s only 25,000 Membership Rewards points, but Amex waives the annual fee of $195 for the first year and the minimum spending level is $2,000 in three months to earn the bonus. This will pair quite nicely with my recent acquisition of my first business card, the Amex Blue for Business.

I’ve avoided Delta after having been pretty much locked into them because of geography for about three years in the fairly recent past. I also ignored them because of their reputation of having a loyalty currency derisively known as SkyPesos by those in the travel rewards community. However, I recently did a few searches and found quite a bit of low-level availability to Europe…in the summer even. This made me rethink the value of Membership Rewards, and since neither I, nor my wife, has had many Amex cards, I decided it might be time to start collecting them.

Other Options?

These are only five of the travel credit cards that I’m considering this year. There are others the I might get depending on what comes down the pipe. Perhaps Amex will offer another 70,000 bonus on the Delta cards, or the Alaska Airways cards will increase their bonuses to 50,000.

Maybe a card issuer will come out with a card that no one yet knows about that will have a bonus that even eclipses than the “Mother of All Credit Card Bonuses” of the Sapphire reserve. My goal is always to find the best credit card for travel miles at any given time. These five applications are not set in stone, but they are definitely on the radar. What cards might you want to get this year to help fund your travel goals? Be sure to let us know in the comments

Disclaimer: You can go into serious debt with travel credit cards. I recommend only using them if you can pay them off in full on a monthly basis. Otherwise, the interest charges eat up the travel or cashback rewards. Apply at your own risk.

Money August 2017

Offsetting the Chase Sapphire Reserve’s Annual Fee

Earlier this year, I wrote about getting rejected for the Chase Sapphire Reserve card and its bonus that I’ve since started calling the “Mother of All Credit Card Bonuses” because of having too many recent accounts opened in my name.  Luckily, however, my wife was able to get this card because she had not run afoul of the infamous 5/24 rule that Chase has instituted.

This led to our getting enough bonus points to book a round-trip flight with stops in four European cities on United Airlines for only $165–and most of the points came from this one signup bonus of 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points. The Chase Sapphire Reserve is one of the top five travel credit cards for 2017, but the Chase Sapphire Reserve annual fee is quite high.

The big downer for the Chase Sapphire Reserve, however, is the massive $450 annual fee. This would cause many people to take pause. If you time your application and travel purchases right, you can also do much to alleviate this annual fee. You can actually get a $300 credit for travel each calendar year (defined by the statement end date). This means that you could possibly actually earn $150 in free travel for the first year you have the card, in addition to the huge sign-up bonus. I was running down to the wire, but as the article linked above regarding booking our tour of Europe noted, I still had to book a flight from Prague to Lisbon.

How I Offset The Chase Sapphire Reserve Annual Fee

I searched on Expedia.com for flights and the date that I wanted because the aggregator shows just about any flight that you can take on any airline. For a bit, the best price on this trip was a $127 direct flight on TAM Airlines, a Portuguese carrier. Just a couple of weeks ago I ran the search again, and a $95.50 flight on Czech Airlines came up. I snagged it and dutifully used both my wife’s and my Delta  Skymiles frequent flyer numbers in the process. I’m not a huge Delta loyalist, but I try to get every single mile or point

I can and I figure that I’ll be flying Delta at some point in the future for one of the trips that I have planned after 2017. It took awhile for the charge to go through, but when it did, it automatically refunded.  Furthermore, while doing a bit of traveling to visit family for Christmas, I had to stop at a hotel. Thanks to the remainder of the $300 credit, I paid a whopping $6 for the night, all while earning some Marriott Rewards points in the process.  Here’s a graph that shows we completed the credit for 2016.

Chase Sapphire Reserve Travel Credit of $300

I’ll have to stop at a hotel on the way back. Marriott will be the chain of choice, because one more stay before January 15 will result in the regular points for the stay, a credit for the night since the $300 calendar year rebate clock will start over again, and 5,000 bonus points that are a part of Marriott’s Fall MegaBonus. That’s what I call stacking rewards that are beneficial to my both my bank account and my rewards account. How have you been able stack rewards like this? Let me know in the comments.

Money August 2017

Visiting Multiple Cities On One Award Flight

I recently had an epic fail when it came to getting the Chase Sapphire Reserve card.  I obviously wanted to earn the 100,000 point bonus in the Ultimate Rewards program. I was fortunate, however, in that my spouse was not over the 5/24 limit. After she secured the bonus, I started checking on some options for a vacation next year. I found that there was pretty wide open availability on a number of United Airlines flights to Europe, Australia, and Asia. The availability included the summer months, to my surprise. I finally decided, with the wife’s approval, to take a trip to Europe, specifically Prague, Czech Republic, and another to-be-determined city (which turned out to be Lisbon).

How is it possible to visit more than one city on one trip, you might ask. I’ve already written about my recent trip to Madrid and Paris last spring.  I utilized a routing option that’s called an open jaw on this trip. This means that you can fly into one city and then fly out of another back to the city you originated from. Think of it this way. A normal trip would be City A to City B, with a return to City A to complete the round trip. An open jaw flies from City A to City B. Then there’s a trip by another airline, train, or rental car to City C. Then there’s a return to City A from City C. The only question that comes up is how to get from City B to City C. There is some pretty impressive public transportation within Europe, but I’ve found that commuter flights are really cheap between cities. My flight from Madrid to Paris earlier this year was a whopping $69 on Iberia Airlines. I’ve also seen flights from London to Paris from as low as $53 in recent searches. This is on Air France, not on a low-cost carrier that charges for breathing, either.

For my upcoming trip next year, I decided to again utilize the open jaw. I found availability for both of the main cities that I wanted to visit on a multi-city itinerary. Prague was my main goal. I was there a few years ago, and I loved it. My wife did not make this particular trip, so I want to share my love of the Czech capital with her.

Jan Hus Memorial
A memorial to Czech hero Jan Hus, photo taken by me on a previous visit to Prague.

I first tried to book a multi-city itinerary, and the results were not as robust as they were when I looked at each individual leg. Here’s a dummy multi-city search originating from Chicago and going to Prague with the outbound flight:

United Multi-City Search: Chicago to Prague

 

Note that there is only one page in the search results with 18 flights returned, starting at 30,000 Mileage Plus miles for this leg of the trip. I then decided to make the trip two one-way award flights. Note what happens when I go to a one-way search for the same dates (I plugged in June 13-20 for this dummy booking).

One-way flight: Chicago to Prague

We’ve gone from one page with 18 possible flights to seven pages with 152 possible flights, again starting at 30,000 Mileage Plus miles for this leg of the trip. This means more options. There is the greater possibility of adding more than just the two main cities with an itinerary like this.

If you start looking for flights at your desired level of seating (coach, business, or first class) and low-level mileage requirements, you can actually look for flights that will take longer to visit an additional city or two during layovers.  I went to page 4 of my actual search (not the dummy search shown here) to find an 11-hour layover in Munich on the way to Prague. This should be plenty of time to hit the local public transportation network and see a couple of sites within the city, extending my trip to three actual cities visited in a single one-week trip.

I did the same process for my return trip, and found a lengthy flight that allowed for an overnight layover of 15 hours in yet another European city, bringing the total number of cities that we should visit to four in one single trip. All I have to figure out is what flight I want to take from Prague to Lisbon. My two one-way flights to and from my main destinations in the Czech Republic and Portugal came to 60,000 United Airlines Mileage Plus miles per person or 120,000 total (most of which came from the wife’s Sapphire Reserve bonus) and around $165, which I put on my Chase Sapphire Preferred to earn 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar for the purchase. These points will go to a later trip that is not yet determined.

By taking the time to play around with the United Airlines booking site, I was able to set up a trip that visits four major European cities. Most people would only look for a round-trip that visited one. Most of my recent trips have been a result of my philosophy of earning money in pajamas. I’ve looked at ways to maximize credit card rewards to save money on things that I’d prefer to spend money on anyway. Have you had any success with similar bookings? If so, feel free to share in the comments.

 

Money August 2017

The Chase Sapphire Reserve Card Verdict–Rejected

Last year, I wrote an article about saving money with credit cards.  I know that some of the leading financial gurus in the US, most notably Dave Ramsey, want every credit card that has ever been created to be cut up into very tiny little pieces. They then want the very tiny little pieces of what used to be credit cards burned in a giant bonfire so that no one can ever use one again for any purpose at any time. I tend to disagree, because I can get some pretty cool benefits if I score some big signup bonuses and pay of my cards on a monthly basis so that I’m paying nothing in interest payments.

Already this year, I’ve been on a couple of pretty cool international trips. I had a week-long jaunt across the pond for Spring Break, visiting Madrid and Paris along the way.  While I spent some money on this trip, I literally saved thousands on what the retail cost would have been because points and miles paid for my flights and hotels.  Just a couple of months later, I found a killer sale on Southwest flights to Puerto Vallarta from the major airport that’s nearest my home.  A round-trip ticket was slightly more than 5,600 Rapid Rewards miles apiece. I found a really, really nice Marriott resort for $97/night and pulled the trigger.  I would not have been able to take these trips without the frequent flyer miles and hotel points that I’d accrued over the past couple of years.

When I started reading about the rumors over the past month or so that Chase Bank was going to have a super-duper premium credit card that earned Ultimate Rewards points, my interest was definitely piqued. The rumor was that for a $450 annual fee, cardholders could earn 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 (above the annual fee) within three months. Additionally, users would get a $300 credit on travel expenses each calendar year. The card was supposed to come out in August, so my thought was that I could get two $300 credits for one $450 annual fee. This would, in effect, mean that I could actually GET PAID $150 to get the card, in addition to the massive sign-up bonus that could come very close to getting my family a one-way saver trip to Europe or Asia all by itself.

Were the rumors too good to be true? It turns out that they were not. The benefits of the card were just as impressive as advertised. However, there was concern that the infamous 5/24 rule would be in effect for the card. This unwritten and unofficial secret squirrel rule means that if you’ve opened 5 cards from any bank over the past 24 months, Chase will most likely deny your application for many of their best travel cards, although, as with most rules, there appear to be some exceptions. I read several of my favorite travel blogs to get an idea of whether to expect this possibility. I thought that I had only opened four in the past 24 months regardless. However, I forgot that I’d held a card as an authorized user. Unfortunately, these count against the 5/24 rule that Chase won’t even confirm exists.  Another problem was that the blogs indicated that many people who had opened more than 5 cards were getting denied, although there were some spotty approvals for people who had opened more cards, sometimes many more cards.

Regardless of my fears, I decided to pull the trigger when the application link became available this week. I applied on the first day that I could have gotten a Sapphire Reserve, hoping to score the massive 100,000 point bonus with lots of Ultimate Rewards points added to my account. I love these points, because I can transfer them to airlines like United and Southwest (I’ve used them both for reward trips over the past couple of years). I can also transfer them to hotel loyalty programs like IHG (best known for the Holiday Inn chain), Marriott, and Hyatt. I once scored three nights at a Hyatt House about 10 minutes from Disneyland for only 8,000 points a night after using another Southwest sale to fly to LAX.

Anyhoo, to make a long story short, after I hit the submit button, I got the dreaded “We have to review your application and we’ll get back to you in 7-10 days” message that usually indicates that an applicant is going to get a big thumbs down on his or her attempt to score a card. I decided to call the reconsideration line, and my concerns were well-founded. Too many cards opened in the last 24 months was the verdict. One of my cards should fall of the list in October. At that point, if the bonus stays high enough, I might just attempt it again.

Did you attempt to get the Chase Sapphire Preferred card? How did it work out?