Travel Rewards Update

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We sure are getting close to holding a million miles!  It is really just a psychological achievement, there is no added utility or reward for having that much accumulated.  However, I am still excited to reach that amount.  I credit reading Million Mile Secrets, The Points Guy, and Richmond Savers for posting such great content for me to learn from.  We will actually hit it in a little over a month once we get the IHG bonus on the second card.

We have been really paying attention to miles for about 2.5 years now.  I have always accumulated when traveling by using reward accounts, but I never tried to maximize points by using shopping portals, sign-up bonuses, special offers, etc.  As such, I had a bunch of United Airlines points and quite a few Marriott Reward points.  Since we got serious, our point balances have increased significantly, mostly from just being more aware of what is needed to earn the most points.

Program/Card

Points Category

Points

Point Value

Total Value ($)

Notes

American Airlines Airline 201,000 $0.017  $ 3,417 Banking these for a trip to the Midwest for the 2015 holidays and used some recently for our Hawaii trip
Barclays Arrival Card Credit Card 26,000 $0.011  $  286 Using most of the rest for parking and a nice dinner at the Ritz Carlton next week
British Airways (Avios) Airline 0 $0.016  $ 0 Next on the list!  These are awesome to get to Hawaii from the West Coast and useful on American flights as well
Chase Ultimate Rewards Credit Card 191,000 $0.021  $ 4,011 It is tempting to redeem some for cash right now!  It is worth almost $2,000 in cash…
IHG Rewards Hotel 73,500 $0.007  $  515 A new addition due to an increased sign-up bonus.  We are working on the second 70,000 bonus for my wife’s card right now
Marriott Hotels Hotel 340,000 $0.007  $ 2,380 Building for a 1 week Caribbean reward that will make the points worth much more than this rate.  Decided to use 60,000 for a Mother’s Day present
United Airlines (Mileage Plus) Airline 52,000 $0.016  $  832 Not happy with them right now and the value of the points decreased
US Airways Airline 0 $0.019  $  0 Recently rolled over to American Airline accounts
Total   883,500    $ 11,441 A new record for us!

You can see that we are hording Chase Ultimate Reward points right now.  That is because they can be transferred to several programs (including United and Marriott).  That gives us a lot of points to use if we need to move them over to either one of those programs.  We use a Chase card as our default when not trying to earn a bonus on a new card (or except for gas and groceries).

We also earned 50,000 Marriott points for attending a time share presentation in March while in Hawaii.  The option was $200 resort credit or the points.  Since the points are valued at about $.007 each, I thought it was an easy decision.  Also, we avoided the resort restaurants for the most part, so we would have spent it just because we had them.  I would rather save them for the next trip!

Around that same time, I completed the required spend on the Ritz Carlton Rewards card.  Despite the high fee, the card has some great perks, besides the 140,000 point bonus!  We were able to use the $300 annual credit on airlines to have snacks and watch movies on the plane.  It also covered one of the baggage fees for the flight not covered by my United card fee bags.  It also gives us a couple of suite upgrades each year and a Gold status with Ritz/Marriott. 

I hope to use it next week when we stay at the Ritz Cartlon in San Francisco after a work conference.  Is using 60,000 Marriott points for a Mother’s Day present wrong?  I hope to get my wife a nice spa treatment while there, but hopefully we can use a suite upgrade or get upgraded due to the Gold status.  (As a side note I just received a metal version of the Ritz Cartlon card and it is awesome!)

By the way, the 340,000 points is AFTER using 60,000 points for the upcoming stay.  That means we have enough for a Marriott Air + Stay package now!  I hope to use that sometime next year and should be able to get a week in Grand Cayman AND 50,000 airline points to use for a flight!  Not bad, not bad at all.

The US Airways/American Airlines merger was a good thing for us!  Now we have almost 200,000 points in 2 accounts instead of in 4 accounts.  We still have the credit card for both airlines for each of us, so we will probably drop down to just 1 American card in my name (annual fee is offset by baggage fees on 1 trip).  You can also get the fee waived if you request it, sometimes for doing something like 5 purchases in 3 months (of any amount).

Overall, I am really pleased with our progress and we will be able to travel back to the midwest for the holidays (we now need 4 seats needed since the youngest will be over 2 then!) this year with 100% points.  In addition, a Grand Cayman vacation at the Ritz in 2016 is looking pretty solid.  I think we are at 100% of the hotel and 2-3 flights for free right now if I had to estimate.  Some of the $11k we have don’t have an acutal purpose, but it sure is nice to use them when needed. 

New Cards

The IHG Reward bonus was too good to pass up.  I think it is usually 50,000 points, so the 70,000 point offer was 40% more than typical.  IHG includes Intercontinental, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, and Candlewood Suites.  With a wide range of hotels and price points, we could use them on a road trip, or for a luxury stay in a big city.  There is also a free night each year to offset the $49 annual fee.  I think that makes the card a keeper for us.  I don’t stay at this chain a lot, but it will be in the rotation moving forward (mostly for family, not work).

We also just finished a bonus for a Chase Sapphire Preferred card for my wife.  It gave us a 40,000 point bonus, plus 5,000 more for adding me as an authorized user.  When you add in the 4,000 points we earned from spending, the 49,000 points are worth $490 in cash or easily double that amount (round to $1,000) in travel.

I think this card is a keeper, despite the high fee.  We will probably keep one for at least the next year.  I may change my mind, but at least I can transfer all those points to whichever of the travel partners I choose before I close the card.  I could also move them over to our Chase Freedom card (no annual fee), but then they can only be used for gift cards or cash back.  That essentially limits the value to $.01 per point.

Next Steps

I think the next step is to have my wife open a Chase Ink Plus card for her small business.  It is not as hard as you think to get one, Million Miles Secrets wrote about it a while back. That would be another 40,000 points to add to the collection!

Also on the horizon would be a pair of British Airways cards.  Their points are called Avios and the card gets you 50,000 of them with $2,000 spending in 3 months (annual fee is waived in the first year).  The 100,000 points we would get form a card each would be enough to get our family of 4 a roundtrip to Hawaii again!  There are some fees, but it is still probably a 90% discount on the flights.

I don’t plan on paying for a hotel in the next few years if it is not a work trip.  Hyatt has a good offer that we may jump on later this year as well. 

I wrote recently about the Dangers of Credit Card rewards.  Based on that, I need to make some decisions to avoid losing a lot of value form paying annual fees for cards we don’t need.  We will probably keep 1 airline card, 2 hotel cards, and the Chase Sapphire Preferred.  We would also have some older no annual fee cards that I just keep open for credit score reasons. 

If I closed those old cards, it would stay on my credit report for several years.  You don’t instantly lose the aging that those cards provide if you close them, but you do eventually.

Ebates Coupons and Cash Back

Should I spend points or keep accumulating?  Are you worried about point devaluations?

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28 Responses

  1. Wow you have quite the hoard. I just got into this Credit Card churning as I am late to the party. I had the Barclays Arrival Plus card last year for the bonus and then downgraded it to avoid the annual fee. Once I did that I opened the CSP and just hit my bonus on that. I’ve never canceled a credit card before, so I’m a little nervous when the CSP annual fee comes around next year. I like my credit score above 800, and am afraid if I cancel CSP next year it’ll hurt my score.

    • vawt says:

      Don’t worry, closing the account won’t hurt your score. The card history will remain for at least 7 years. The only way it can hurt you is if you carry balances on other cards, so your utilization percentage goes up when you close one and loose the credit limit from the calculation.

  2. Dude, you are killing it with credit card churning. After reading your last post I had to think long and hard what I had done over the past few years, without really knowing it. But you have once again motivated me to take action.

    I just got the new sapphire preferred card in the mail. I added my wife for the extra 5,000 points on top of the 40,000. Then once we reach the minimum $4,000 we will open up one in my wife’s name to get the same bonus, this time making her primary and myself an authorized user. Once we reach the spending requirement for her card I will transfer all the points to my card.

    I already have the Marriott card that I opened last year, but my wife has not. So we will likely open one for my wife. Based on how we spend, this would likely be all we could do this year in order to fully maximize all the bonuses.

    I know you can’t transfer Marriott points to the Sapphire card, but you can go the other way around. Free hotel rooms have been nice.

    Again thanks for the inspiration.

    Cheers!

    • vawt says:

      Glad to be an inspiration! Don’t forget there is a business version (ink plus) that you could open as well.

      • Sahn says:

        so adding your wife as an authorized user wont hurt her credit score or her chances to get the bonus for the credit card?

        For example, I applied for the Chase Ink Plus with 60,000 points and added my wife for another 5,000 bonus points. Couple weeks down the road, she can apply for this same offer and add me as an authorized user?

        Didn’t know I could do this, but if this is possible, without hurting both of our chances for receiving the bonus and our credit scores, this is awesome.

        Thanks in Advance.

        • vawt says:

          Adding an authorized user can affect their credit score (I also added her to my oldest card to help). As far as the bonus goes, yes you can do that. Being an authorized user on a current card does not affect your ability to get a new card sign up bonus. Great question!

  3. Steve Adcock says:

    Wow! I agree with Gen Y that you are killing it when it comes to credit card rewards points. My wife and I have been doing this for about a year, and while we certainly don’t have anywhere near the points that you have, it has scored us free flights to Glacier National Park this summer. Score!

    Nice job…very nice job.

  4. joe says:

    I’ve been turning cards for bonuses for about 5 years now and seldom do I keep a card for more than 8 months, mostly because of the annual fee. Also because I want to be able to reapply again in the nearest future to get the sign up bonus again. With that being said, to clarify vawt’s comment about not affecting your credit score, yes it does. Credit history is about 20% of your score. Nevertheless, if you watch it carefully you can still keep your score above 740, which is all anyone needs for the best credit.
    Between my wife and I we usually accumulate 800,00 to a million points per year. On a side note, Marriott offers 3 different cards, one is a business card presently offering 70,000 bonus points, the other two offer bonus points plus one gives you 2 free nights . If you don’t use the points for hotel rooms, like the IHG card, you can redeem the points for gift cards or merchandise. But you naturally get more bang for your buck using the rooms.

  5. Logan Turner says:

    Just FYI, if you call an IHG hotel & request to be transferred so that you can apply for the IHG card, you will get the 80,000 pts instead of the current “publicly-known” 70,000 pt bonus. This would be yet another 10,000 bonus points that you could accumulate! I recently called IHG Crowne Plaza Downtown St. Louis to book over July 4th weekend & was told this by the rep!

  6. Prasanna says:

    IMHO redeeming Chase Ultimate Rewards on the Chase travel website is better than transferring to partner airlines. On a recent trip, I redeemed them for a long haul flight on American using chase points. I would have spent 3000 miles more if redeemed AA miles.

    • vawt says:

      That is a good point. Part of the reason the points are so valuable is because you have that option, too. I have to remember to check several options when planning a trip! Thanks for the comment Prasanna.

    • I love that you can use Chase UR points 3 different ways (1 cent per point in straight cash, 1.25 cents/pt through the Chase UR travel portal, and transferring to one of the 11 partners (I get the most value out of: United, Hyatt, Southwest, British Airways and recently Amtrak. The others I can mostly ignore except in rare instances like Singapore Airlines miles on United to Hawaii).

      I’m very surprised that you were able to book a long haul flight for fewer miles than it would have taken going the traditional frequent flyer mile method! That must have been a really inexpensive route that you found, as normally it isn’t even close. Would love to hear more about it…

  7. Evan Stevens says:

    I’m surprised to see you don’t have any Starwood or Membership Reward Points in your bank. I try to find programs that are flexible, like Ultimate Rewards. All three programs have excellent transfer partners and there are a lot of redemption options built in. Citi is also trying to step up their game, however their transfer partners are generally non-US based.

    I try not to open cards without having a specific redemption in mind. UR, MR and SPG points all allow you open cards and not be stuck with only one redemption option.

    Nice interview on the Million Mile website!

    • vawt says:

      It is on my list for this year for sure! I just keep putting off Starwood for some reason.

    • vawt says:

      I just looked and I have 1,376 star points from a stay a few months ago. I missed including them!

      • Evan Stevens says:

        Awesome! Usually during the summer AMEX increases their bonus from 25,000 to 30,000 SPG points on both the personal and business cards. I’m holding out until then.

        With every 20,000 points you transfer to an airline, you receive a 5,000 point bonus. Plus, the hotels aren’t too shabby.

  8. mpkomo says:

    regarding your eventual dilemma on keeping the chase sapphire preferred, you may not need to. obviously if you feel the bonus points it gets you on dining and travel outweigh the annual fee then keep it. but if you’re on the fence and your wife eventually does get the ink plus, you can eventually transfer the points to her ink account as that card also provides the option to transfer to travel partners. in the short term you can just hold any points in your freedom account (as you mentioned) so you don’t lose them if you don’t yet have the ink card when you’d need to close the sapphire preferred card(s).

    • vawt says:

      I think that sounds like a good plan! I am glad they make it so easy to move points around between chase accounts.

    • This is PERFECT advice! Between you and your wife you should have four Chase UR “premium” cards: 2x Sapphire Preferred and 2x Ink Plus.

      You can freely transfer the UR between these accounts (“spouse/domestic partners” can share) so you shouldn’t ever have to make the decision to transfer them to a partner speculatively.

      Chase allows you to get the new bonus every 24 months (from the time you last earned the bonus itself and the card has to be closed), so you can really time this perfectly so you always have at least one open.

      The Freedom is a nice no annual fee place to park the UR if your timing is a little bit off 🙂

  9. Thanks for mentioning my site — I really appreciate it!! I noticed a nice stream of traffic from this post and wanted to come over and comment.

    Would love to compare notes, so shoot me an email if you ever want to chat 🙂

    And if anyone is interested, I offer a completely free travel rewards coaching service through Richmond Savers and I also just opened up a free travel rewards course, which is a solid way to get started:

    http://www.travelmiles101.com/register

  10. Chella says:

    The Chase Ultimate rewards sound really interesting to me, as much as i am not a member there. I like the fact that they could be transferred between accounts whenever you want.

    • vawt says:

      Yes, they are very flexible. That means you can save them and decide the best transfer partner later. With other programs, you are usually locked in to their program.

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