Month: May 2017

What Are The Best Travel Credit Card Rewards Programs That Aren’t Chase?

What Are The Best Travel Credit Card Rewards Programs That Aren’t Chase?

I’m not shy about my love for Chase cards. They’ve given me some good times. My wife has occasionally caught me singing the lyrics of “Let’s make Love” to my stack of Chase cards. Perhaps I’ll share more about that story one day, but not likely.

The sad truth is that after being in the credit card game for a little over a year (plus or minus a few months depending on how quick you get your bonuses), you’ll come up against the dreaded 5/24 rule. That is, you have applied for 5 or more cards in the last 24 months. At this point, Chase is unlikely to approve any applications until you clear your record. Luckily, there are a lot of other good programs out there, so no need to stop to clear your record just yet. I’m going to walk you through what are the best travel credit card reward programs that aren’t Chase.

While Chase has the most robust program of both Chase Ultimate Reward Point cards as well as travel partner co-branded cards, the following banks have their own reward point programs.

  • Barclays – Miles
  • Citi – ThankYou Points
  • American Express – Membership Rewards Points

Barclays – Miles

The Barclay Arrival card is the only card that allows you to get Barclay miles. It’s actually a pretty cool rewards program that works a little different than the rest. Barclay miles are redeemable for statement credit against any travel purchases that you put on your card. I go into depth in this post (coming soon) about it.

Citi – ThankYou Points

Full disclosure, this is one program I have yet to use. From what I can tell, it’s similar to the Chase Ultimate Rewards program. I don’t know the ins and outs of using the points, because I’ve never used them, but I do know these are the travel partners to which you can transfer:

  • Airfare (All are a 1:1 transfer ratio except Jetblue)
    • JetBlue – 2:1 travel ratio: this means you lose half your ThankYou points when transferring to JetBlue
    • Asia Miles
    • Etihad Guest
    • Eva Air
    • Air France – Flying Blue
    • Garuda Indonesia
    • Jet Privilege
    • Malaysia Airlines Enrich
    • Qantas Frequent Flyer
    • Qatar Privilege Club
    • Singapore Airlines
    • Thai Royal Orchid Plus
    • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
  • Hotels
    • Hilton Hotels – 1:1.5 Ratio: this means that every ThankYou point you transfer to Hilton, you gain half a Hilton point

American Express – Membership Reward Points

American Express Membership Rewards points is another alternative to Chase Ultimate Rewards. Again, I have yet to participate in this program as I’m now at a point where I see more value in waiting for two years to pass than to use American Express Membership Rewards points. The downside I see with American Express is that there are usually high annual fees on their cards for the cards with substantial sign up bonus points. There may be benefits on these cards that make the fee worth it, but I’m at a point where I have enough points saved up, that I can wait two years until my slate is clean to cycle through the Chase cards again. Plus, it’s nice to just take a little break and have time to do stuff like blogging.

If you decide to give the American Express Membership cards a try here are their travel partners and travel ratios:

  • Airlines
    • Aeroplan 1:1
    • Alitalia MilleMiglia 4:3
    • Asia miles 4:3
    • British Airways 1:1
    • Delta SkyMiles 4:3
    • Etihad Guest 4:3
  • Hotels
    • Hilton 1:1
    • Starwood 2:1

Although Chase and Barclays are the only banks whose reward programs I have participated in, there are a lot of co-branded non-Chase programs I have used and would strongly recommend.  Here they are.

American Airlines AAdvantage

This is one of my favorite programs. Both Citi Bank and Barclay have co-branded with American Airlines and offer great sign up bonuses.  If you and a travel partner get all of these cards, there’s enough for both of you to fly round trip between the United States and Europe… twice.

Here’s the cards

  • Citi Bank
    • AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard – 50,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in 3 months, $450 annual fee not waived for the first year
    • CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard – 60,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in 3 months, $95 annual fee waived for the first year
    • AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard – 60,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in 3 months, $95 annual fee waived for the first year
  • Barclay
    • AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard – 40,000 bonus points after the first purchase in 3 months, $95 annual fee not waived for the first year

Club Carlson Visa

US Bank has co-branded with Club Carlson, which runs Radisson and several other hotel chains. They not only have a generous sign-up bonus, but a generous anniversary bonus, AND they have one of the best per dollar (non-bonus) earnings rate of any card.

The Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature card currently has an 85,000 sign up bonus offer after spending $2,500 in the first 3 months. The $75 fee is not waived for the first year.

This is one of the cards that Kendra and I renew each year. Between the two of us we get 80,000 points at our anniversary. Plus, it is one of the easiest to spend on when we’re not working on another sign-up bonus to rack up hotel points quickly.

They’re locations are hit and miss. We’ve never had a bad experience, and the Radisson Blu we stayed at in Dubrovnik, Croatia was stunning (review pending).

Hilton

While it takes a lot of Hilton points to book a decent stay, they are still worth having in your portfolio. There are 4 cards that if all acquired in a relatively short time of each other, can make Hilton a viable option for free accommodation.

  • American Express
    • Hilton HHonors Surpass – 100,000 HHonors Points after spending $3,000 in 3 months, $75 annual fee not waived for the first year
    • Hilton Honors Card – 80,000 HHonors Points after spending $2,000 in 3 months, no annual fee
  • Citi Bank
    • Hilton Reserve Card – 2 free weekend nights after spending $2,500 in 4 months, $95 annual fee not waived for the first year
    • Hilton HHonors Visa Signature – 40,000 HHonors Points after spending $1,000 in 4 months, no annual fee

So, there you have it. Turns out I’m not as wrapped around Chase’s finger as I initially led on.  There’s more non-Chase cards, but these are my favorite. Let me know what your favorites are in the comments.

30 Ways to Meet Minimum Spending Requirements

30 Ways to Meet Minimum Spending Requirements

So you’re telling me I can travel for free…. I just have to spend a boat load of money on credit cards. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose if I’m spending more money just to get the bonus points?

Not really.

I can see the trepidation, but anyone who runs a household easily spends that much money in three months. If you keep a budget, you already know this. If you don’t, try me. Open up a spreadsheet and track all of your spending for 30 days.  At the end multiply your total by three, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of just how much you spend in three months. You see, the idea isn’t to spend more money, but put the money you are already spending on credit cards so you can get those amazing sign-up bonuses. While we’re on the topic of finding out if this is right for you, why don’t you give Drew Housman’s post at The Simple Dollar a read.

The most common spending requirement is $3,000 in three months to qualify for the sign-up bonus.  They do vary though. There are some as easy as just making a single purchase, like the Barclay AAdvantage Aviator card. Others, like the Chase Ink, require $5,000 in three months. On most cards you’ll have three months to hit the minimum spending; on some cards, you’ll have four. Over all the bonus offers that I track, the average spending per month, regardless of the amount of time you have to spend is $889 per month.

The idea is to replace as many cash purchases as possible with your credit card.  Just make sure you use your credit card as if it were a debit card.  Mentally tie the use of the card to the amount of money in your bank account so that you don’t overspend and build up credit card debt.  Most people who run a household can easily meet the spending requirements by doing so.

That being said, if you’re still having trouble thinking of ways to meet the minimum spending, I’ve provided some ideas below to help you hit the spending requirements.

  1. Buy groceries
  2. Buy gasoline
  3. Pay electric bill
  4. Pay gas bill
  5. Pay water bill
  6. Pay cell phone bill
  7. Pay landline bill
  8. Pay cable/phone/internet bill
  9. Pay your gym membership
  10. Pay for Netflix
  11. Pay for Hulu
  12. Pay for Amazon Prime
  13. Pay for college tuition
  14. Pay for medical expenses on your FSA/HSA and then get reimbursed rather than using the plan provided debit card
  15. Pay for prescription copays
  16. Pay for visit copays
  17. Pay deductibles
  18. Pay coinsurance
  19. Pay the bill when eating out with friends and have them reimburse you with cash
  20. Buy gift cards for stores you frequent
  21. Pay for business travel for which you are reimbursed at work
  22. Pay for supplies for which you are reimbursed at work
  23. Buy Christmas gifts
  24. Buy birthday gifts
  25. Buy graduation gifts
  26. Buy wedding gifts
  27. Buy house warming gifts
  28. Pay for dates
  29. Pay for projects
  30. Pay for appliances*

*One of the things I like about this hobby is it does take the sting off of expensive purchases.  A few months after we started this hobby, our washing machine broke. I wasn’t happy about having to buy a new washer and dryer. But an $1,800 purchase did make it so we could sign up for our next credit card that much sooner.

There are a lot of other ways. There are other things you can do (like your house payment) that charge fees. I would only do this if you’re coming close to the end of the time period and you don’t think you’re going to be able to make it.

Remember to always be conservative. Don’t sign up for more cards than you can confidently complete the minimum spending in the time allotted. Once you sign up for the card, that’s your only chance to get the sign-up bonus. If you don’t do it, you’ve just kissed good bye to the sign up bonus. So always err on the side of doing less.

That’s about it. Have I missed anything? Feel free to leave any methods you use to complete the spending requirements.

How To Redeem Chase Reward Points For Maximum Value

How To Redeem Chase Reward Points For Maximum Value

So I signed up for a bunch of Chase cards and got my bonus points; now what? I need to know how to redeem chase reward points. In this post, I’m going to show you Chase’s online portal where you can access your reward points, as well as how to get their maximum value. So, without further ado, here is how to redeem chase rewards points.

Chase Online Portal

Chase Rewards Portal

This is where I’m directed upon logging in to my credit card. You can see that not only can I review my purchases and manage my payments, but there is also a blue banner below my balance that shows I have 99,948 points.  By clicking on the banner, I am taken to the rewards page shown to the right. There are five ways to redeem your points that show up in a sub menu once you click on Use Points.

  1. Explore and Book Travel
  2. Transfer to Travel Partners
  3. Shop Gift Cards
  4. Shop Products
  5. Get Cash Back

Since I only use my points to fund my most triumphant adventures, I am only going to discuss the first two options, Explore and Book Travel, and Transfer to Travel Partners.

Explore and Book Travel

Explore and book travel takes you to a page where you can book flights, hotels, rental cars, and activities. The benefit to this method is that it centralizes your search to the Chase website. Rather than researching my options on Delta’s, American, and United’s respective websites, I can do it all right here on the Chase portal. The same principle applies to hotels and rental cars. As for activities, it’s likely that you wouldn’t even know which vendors to research online, depending upon how familiar you are with your destination.  Another benefit to this method is that your dates don’t have to be flexible to use your points. You can book without having to worry about aligning your schedule with award flight options.

The way this works is Chase converts your points to a dollar value. Each point is worth $0.0125 for travel purchases. Points for gift cards and cash back are only worth $0.01; another reason I only use points for travel – they’re more valuable that way. But I digress, let’s suppose I want to book a one-way flight to Paris, France from Salt Lake City, Utah on June 6, 2017. I would put those parameters in the search and I get several options on every airline that has a flight that fits my search criteria. United airlines has a flight that costs $3,209.60. If I had 256,768 points (3,209.60 divided by .0125) I could book it and have a free flight to Paris. This isn’t a very good use of my points. As United is a travel partner, I’m going to show you why this is an instance where it would be better to use the Transfer to Travel Partners option.

This is why I typically only use the Explore and Book Travel option for rental cars and excursions. Rental cars and excursions typically don’t tend to have their own rewards programs, and if they do it’s not likely that they are co-branded with any credit cards that offer large sign up bonuses.

Transfer to Travel Partners

This option takes you to a page where you can transfer and convert Chase Ultimate Reward Points to points within reward programs with which Chase partners:

  • Airlines
    • Korean Air – Korean Air SKYPASS
    • Singapore Airlines – Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
    • Southwest Airlines – Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards
    • United Airlines – United MileagePlus
    • Virgin Atlantic – Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
  • Hotels
    • IHG – IHG Rewards Club
    • Marriott – Marriott Rewards
    • Ritz Carlton – The Ritz Carlton
    • Hyatt – World of Hyatt

Each of these companies has its own rewards program. Since Chase partners with them, you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards Points into their programs at a 1:1 ratio. Meaning you can transfer 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards to United Airline’s United MileagePlus program, and you will have 50,000 United MileagePlus Points.

To see the value in this method, let’s refer to my example above of booking a one way to Paris, France from Salt Lake City, Utah. Booking it through Chase would cost 256,768 Ultimate reward points. By using the transfer option, I can get a lot more value out of my points. Below I have posted the UnitedPlus award flight chart. You can see that an award flight from anywhere in the mainland United States, to anywhere in Europe costs anywhere from 30,000 to 170,000 points, based upon class of seat and the tier. Award tiers will be explained in another post, but the simple explanation is that the cheaper tier usually means your dates need to be more flexible

United Award Chart

The drawback to this option is that it’s dependent upon the airlines award travel constraints. Airlines have sophisticated algorithms that figure out which flights have the lowest demand, so that they can offer seats to award travelers on those dates.

So, Which Option Is Better?

For me, hands down, transfer to travel partners, especially for flights and hotels.  I only use the book option for rental cars and excursions.  And we’ve had some pretty cool excursions on all of our trips. That’s for another post though.

If you must travel on a certain date and you can’t find award travel with any of the travel partners, you can use the Explore and Book Travel option. It just makes me cringe thinking about it though. I have yet to plan a trip where I haven’t been able to use the lowest possible amount on an award chart. I flew to Hawaii in 2014 on the lowest possible option on United Airlines, and did the same to Europe on American Airlines in both 2015 and 2016.  Just to really drive home the stark difference between the two methods, check out the neat little chart below.

Bood vs Transfer

Booking the flight in the example through transferring directly to United first would save 226,768 Chase Ultimate Reward points to be spent on other things. By booking directly through Chase, points have the default value of $0.0125, whereas transferring to United increased the per point value to $0.11, meaning the transferred points have 756% the value of the points used to book on Chase’s portal. As I said before, I usually only use the Chase booking option for rental cars and activities as booking flights and hotels through travel partners get more value out of the points.

Summary

That’s pretty much it.  You can see all your Chase Ultimate Reward Points by logging into your user portal and clicking through to the rewards portal where you can either book travel, or transfer points to another rewards program. I realize I didn’t cover the actual booking of the flight once points are transferred, but I will in another post; one step at a time. While booking through Chase’s portal is more convenient and flexible, the value of your points is insanely higher if you transfer to travel partners.

Please feel free to ask any specific questions, or tell me if I left anything unclear in the comments. I always appreciate the discussion and feedback.

Paragliding in France

Paragliding in France

It’s not every day you have the thought, “This will be one of my top ten memories when I’m old and looking back on my life.” This was definitely one of them.

Paragliding in France was one of the most exciting, scary things I’ve ever done. Nestled in the French Alps is a town called Annecy. We’re lucky we stumbled upon it.  We wanted to fly into Marseilles and spend some time in Southern France and then drive up and finish up our trip with Paris. We had considered spending some time in the Alsace Lorraine area, so we were looking for routes on the eastern side of France.  One night we just did a google search of all the cities that stood out on the map and just looked through the pictures.  We googled Annecy and saw the image below. We didn’t know what it was. It sorta looked like a castle. It also sorta looked like a shed. Maybe a mid evil shed? Anyway, we never really researched it and so we just called it “the thing.”  Even when we got there, we just called it the thing.  And we didn’t get to tour it while we were there, because the thing was under construction.

To this day, I still don’t know what it is, but I know it’s called Palais de l’isle. But it looked cool so we decided to look more into Annecy. And I’m so glad we did. Annecy is a mountain town named after the lake by which it sits.  Between the mountains, the old town, and the lake, it’s really quite picturesque. A perfect place to try my hand at hang gliding.

We met our tour guides who quickly showed us how well they were able to use English swear words, so we were bound to get along. On the drive up they went over all the safety stuff, you know, like “when I tell you to run off the edge of the mountain, don’t slow down or else we’ll fall and die.” It didn’t help calm my nerves. The whole drive I just had to tell myself to not think about it because I knew I’d have a reason to change my shorts if I let it psych me out. I figured takeoff would be the scariest part. I figured once I felt the wind catch our weight that it would be smooth sailing. This is one of the few times I was completely right.

The only way I can describe the take off point is a golf green at the edge of a cliff. They didn’t seem to want to give us much time for pictures, but I was able to quickly capture the one below. My guide put all of our equipment on us and then took us down to the bottom (the edge) of the cliff. At that point I was thinking…. “Dude, if you want me to run, could we at least have started up at the top.” I was literally suppose to run right off the cliff two feet in front of me.

He told me to start running and before my first stride was complete, we were in the air. I felt like a freaking bird. It was amazing. I could look down at the beautiful lake and the surrounding towns, as well as see all the valleys and mountains that we had driven through the day prior. We flew along side the mountains and caught some wind currents that took us high above one of the prominent peaks in the area.  Then we flew out and over the lake and made our way to the southern tip, where we did some stomach churning spins on the way down.

“Wanna do it again?” was the first thing my wife and I said to each other, almost in stereo. We both wanted to, but it probably would have felt excessive to go twice. Had I not covered the cost of airfare and accommodations with credit card points, just once would have been excessive. And that is why I love this hobby so damn much, and try to share it with everyone I can. If we would have paid for airfare, I would have arrived in Annecy, looked up at all the paragliders, and had dreams of being able to do that someday.  Credit card points made it so I was able to experience this most triumphant adventure without having to save until I’m 80.

I’d love to see any paragliding (or just cool experience) pics that any of you have. Feel free to share any experiences or ask any questions about paragliding, Annecy, or anything triumphant in the comments.

The Best Hotel Credit Card

The Best Hotel Credit Card

After people figure out how to get to their dream destination for free, they move on to the next obstacle; where to stay, and how to pay for it.  This naturally leads to the question, what’s the best hotel credit card? There are a lot to choose from, so it’s hard to say exactly which is the best hotel credit card.  If I’m forced to pick one, I’d say the Chase Hyatt card.

The Best Hotel Credit Card – UPDATE – This offer has changed from two free nights to 40,000 points as of 6/29/2017

The current sign-up bonus on the Chase Hyatt card is two free nights at ANY Hyatt, regardless of category. The minimum spending requirement is $2,000 in three months.  The annual fee of $75 is not waived.

There are so many good features of this card.  The sign-up bonus is one of the best in the industry, while the minimum spending requirement is rather low.  You can stay at the swankiest Hyatt resort for free, for two nights. This even includes all-inclusive resorts like the Hyatt Ziva in Cancun.  If you’re lucky enough to have a travel partner, both of you can get the card and double up for four free nights (a benefit I love about all hotel cards).

The card has an annual fee of $75; however, Hyatt awards you with a free night at any category 1 – 4 Hyatt at each anniversary.  This is well worth the annual fee which the reason it’s one of the few cards I don’t cancel to avoid the annual fee.

My wife and I used our sign-up bonus to stay free for four nights at the beautiful Hyatt Andaz in Maui. The room, grounds, pool, and location were pure luxury, almost to the point we were tempted to stay at the resort the whole time and not go out and see the rest of the island. But we were strong and resisted the alluring temptation.

Hyatt Andaz Maui
Hyatt Andaz Maui

In the two subsequent years, we have used our anniversary free nights to book part of our accommodations while we stayed in Paris, and for our anniversary trip to San Francisco.  Neither were as amazing as the Andaz in Maui, but that’s not the point. We got to experience two really cool cities without having to worry about the prohibitive cost of hotels.

With the Chase Hyatt sign-up bonus and subsequent yearly benefits, it’s easily the best hotel credit card in my opinion.  But there are a lot of good alternatives. Other contenders for the best hotel credit card include the Club Carlson card, IHG card, and SPG American Express. I’ll discuss them in separate posts.