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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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?

Balcony View

Family Trip to Mexico for Less than a Grand

A couple of months ago, I wrote a report on my Trip to Europe on the Cheap.  I was pretty impressed with my use of frequent flyer miles and hotel points for that trip. I was recently just looking around the Southwest Airlines site to try and figure out how many points would be needed to some of their international destinations. I’ve flown Southwest a few times previously, but I had not yet traveled with them internationally. I’ve been to Cancun and Aruba before, and those were my first choices. I was looking at an Eastern point of departure. I only had enough Chase Ultimate Rewards points to purchase two one-way tickets. I was actually looking at going next year, so that was OK.

The Marina in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico
The Marina in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico (Taken by Your’s Truly with my trusty cell phone)
Entrance to the CasaMagna Marriott Resort, Puerto Vallarta (photo, again by your's truly)
Entrance to the CasaMagna Marriott Resort, Puerto Vallarta (photo, again by your’s truly)

I then lookedd at some tickets from Denver, which is relatively close to home and only a drive of a few hours. We had flown to LAX last year for around 29,000 for four tickets–total. Southwest was having a fare sale at the time, and there was another sale. LAX was now down to just more than 2,000 points for a one-way flight. I then decided to look at international destinations from DEN. Cancun and Aruba were still pretty high. I then came upon a ticket to Puerto Vallarta for 2,880 one-way for a non-stop flight. That seemed like a pretty good deal to me. I figured the return trip would be way higher. To my surprise, however, I could get a flight out on Monday and a return flight on Thursday for 5,760 Rapid rewards points total (with about $76 in taxes in addition). I made the purchase by transferring out 23,000 Ultimate Rewards Points for four tickets.

 

I also had to figure out where to stay. I started on Expedia by using one of those cheapest to most expensive sorter tools. I found a Comfort Inn and a Holiday Inn Express that  were really cheap (think around $50) and offered free breakfast. There was one downside to these hotels, however. They were were not ocean-front properties. If I’m going to a seaside town, I want to be no more than a block or two from the sand. I then found the CasaMagna Marriot Resort. It is an ocean-front property with a massive pool and beach access. I also found out that it was only $97 a night (+ tax). I was pretty much out of Marriott Rewards points because of the aforementioned trip to France, but I figured that spending 35,000 points per night for a category 7 hotel that cost only $97 a night would have been a bad redemption anyways–less than 0.28 cents a point in value. I figure that I’ll wind up with ~10,000 Marriott Rewards points for the stay altogether, not counting a 2,500 point bonus from one of Marriott’s Mega Bonus deals that are quite frequent. The reservation would also include a $30 discount at the spa, which we did not use, and a 30 percent discount at the La Estancia restaurant, which we did use. The filet at La Estancia was excellente. We also dined at the Champion’s Sports Bar, and had the privilege to watch the filming of a popular Mexican soap opera while eating one evening.

 

The room was quite comfortable, but queen beds might have been more comfortable than the doubles that we wound up using. I was supposed to be in what was considered a garden-view room, but I was a bit surprised when I walked onto the balcony to this view:

View from balcony at CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta--by me
View from balcony at CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta–by me

This was a pretty great view to wake up to, to say the least. The gardens on the property are maintained exquisitely. The food on-site was quite good. I had a massive burger one night at Champion’s one night and some grilled chicken rigatoni another, in addition to the meal at La Estancia noted above. The only thing I really did not enjoy was a chili enchilada? (at least I think that’s what it was), but the filet more than made up for it. Lunch each day was a pizza from Mango’s Deli, also on-site at CasaMagna Marriott. The view in Puerto Vallarta, with the mountains in the background, is more impressive than that in Cancun, in my opinion. The weather was great, as the rainy season is still a few weeks away.

The hotel was a wonderful property to visit, and it was not terribly crowded for the most part. Kids were few and far between (outside of mine), as school is still in session for most people. Altogether, lodging, meals, and airfare ran less than $1,000. It’s actually tough to beat this on a trip for four to many places within the US–and I was able to get some international exposure and some much-needed R&R. My hope is that I can get Southwest tickets on sale like this on a fairly regular (every other year or so) basis so that I can visit again and explore more of the city. We did little else outside of hang out at the beach and the pool other than walking to the Marina one day and riding a cab to the Malecon on another for some shopping (not my cup of tea, but mi familia loves it).

Mexican Pesos
Mexican Pesos

I do have a few bits of advice for people who are visiting PV. Make sure to exchange a few dollars for pesos upon arrival. Cabs do not appear to take credit cards, and there are many shops that do not, and those that do mostly take only Visa or MasterCard (no Amex). Also, ignore the peddlers of time shares in the airport. They act like they are the only ones who can get you a ride to the hotel, but it is way expensive (400 pesos for a trip that should have taken less than 100–other hotels could cost a bit more, but the Marriott to the Malecon was only 105 pesos, which is at 20-minute ride for ~$5), and they will push you to go through their presentation. I didn’t fall for the presentation, but did get ripped off on the ride (was told it was a refundable deposit). Just take a cab.

Currently, Southwest Airlines cards are offering a 50,000 Rapid Rewards point sign-up bonus for a $2,000 minimum spend. For those who can avoid running up interest charges for not paying off their cards on a monthly basis, this could pay off in anywhere between 2 and 8 (at the super-duper discounted rate I paid) round-trip tickets to Puerto Vallarta.

Disclaimer: I may get compensation should you click my affiliate links. Also, do not sign up for credit cards if you cannot pay off the balance on a monthly basis. Interest expenses will more than eat up any benefit you can get from the sign-up bonus you get.