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November 9, 2005

So here’s my plan . . .

I refer you to my discussion as to how I was saving up eBay Anythingpoints to convert to Asia Miles at points.com to use via Cathay Pacific’s partnership agreement with British Airways for a business class ticket to Saint Petersburg via London.

Got that?

It’s a convoluted trail, but it worked. Via conversions, I have 56,600 Asia Miles. I get my final Anythingpoints this statement, which should be about 1,000. The rest I can top off by converting spare Starpoints to reach 60 K. I called Asia Miles’ service desk today regarding flights. There is availability.


In London I will see the new production of The Schlepping Beauty and also The Rake’s Progress. It’s also a good excuse to see my brother on his birthday. London accommodations will be the usual no-brainer on Priceline but horrifically enough there is no Priceline bidding for Russia. Where am I going to stay??

I don't really need a luxury hotel. Give me a clean bright room, internet access and a fitness center and I'm happy. But hotels in Saint Petersburg are either decent and horrifically expensive or less expensive and not great, although there are also other options including mini-hotels and apartment rentals. There are a few huge Soviet era hotels (the Sovietskaya, the Moskva and the St. Petersburg) that might be amusing in a retro and grim way for an evening, but I’m not sure I’d want to spend a week there.

There are very few major chains with hotels in Saint Petersburg. Marriott has a Renaissance and Radisson has the SAS Royal there. Rocco Forte runs both the Astoria and the Angleterre. What was the Sheraton Nevsky Palace is now owned by Corinthia, a smaller chain, and Kempinski has Moika 22 and the Grand Hotel Europe. Hmm. It looks like the Grand Hotel Europe has changed hands and is now part of the Orient Express luxury chain. In all cases, only Marriott and Radisson have stays available for any rewards currency rather than cash.

The scheming begins.

Marriott Rewards Visa is offering both their personal and business cards with 15,000 Marriott points and a one night free certificate. I got accepted for the personal card about a week ago; now I’m working on the business card. That’s two free night certificates and 30,000 points total, enough for at least one more night. That’s three nights providing no glitches – the Renaissance in St. Petersburg is a “Category 4” hotel; categories go from 1-6 and the certificate is good for categories 1-4, so it should work.

Radisson’s rewards program is a partner of a larger rewards program, Goldpoints. (If you think this gets complicated, just wait . . .) Goldpoints also offers a Visa card with a smaller sign up bonus, 5,000 points. I signed up for it when there was an extra bonus offer of 11,000 points and got it.

I thought my dates in St. Petersburg would be Jun 8-14 and was starting to make tentative reservations while there was availability. Shortly after, a friend who married a Petersburger pointed me to this thread on Ballet Alert, warning me that on those dates it is All Wagner Operas All The Time.

Rethink the dates. I’ll have to call Asia Miles to recheck availability.

Switching to earlier dates just before Memorial Day puts me at a time when there will be ballet and the city celebrates its anniversary. Also, the rates at the Marriott for rewards nights drop from 30000 a night to 20000 (June 8-10 were blackout dates for standard awards) with an option for a $50/night upgrade to a suite. What the heck, I thought.

The SAS Royal runs 30000 points per night. Both hotels allowed me to reserve a fully cancelable reward stay and not have to redeem the points for several months. So I reserved both hotels and will probably split the stay between them and alter the reservations accordingly as I have some clue where I’ll be earning points.

If this made your head hurt, stop reading here. It gets worse. By the way, this is how you do the budget for a dance company as well. I like stuff like this. Scary, ain’t it?

Ways to earn points in both programs include using their credit cards and their online shopping portals. The Goldpoints online shopping portal is usually more generous. Marriott offers 4 points on the dollar to shop at Barnes and Noble, for instance, Goldpoints offers 15. A Goldpoint is worth less than a Marriott point in this situation (2/3 of the value, as 20,000 Marriott points will get you one night at a hotel as opposed to 30,000 Goldpoints) but the Goldpoints offer is almost four times as many points.

Converting from other points is another option. The only rewards currency that converts to Marriott Points is Diners Club – the card costs $95, so it isn’t happening. Goldpoints converts from points.com, and I have a membership there. American Airlines miles, my largest account and the one I earn the most frequently, convert to Goldpoints at a rate of 1 mile to 1.5 points.

But not with a Radisson Goldpoints card (I told you it got worse.) For some arcane reason, Goldpoints cards issued by Radisson or their affiliate hotels cannot participate in points.com exchanges. I created a new Goldpoints account at goldpoints.com, which allowed a exchanges into points.com. I then called customer service and asked if two accounts with the same name could be combined. All the time, they said.

So, pending the acceptance of the second Marriott Visa card, the plan of attack seems to be to charge whatever I can on Marriott cards despite the lesser rate, because it’s the only convenient way to earn points. Marriott allows you to buy 10% of the necessary points as well at a reasonable cost ($10 per 1000) so I will make use of that. Online shopping will be done mostly through Goldpoints. After I figure out how many AAdvantage miles I need and transfer them via points.com I will consolidate the two Goldpoints accounts.

Do you have a headache yet? For me, it’s like crossword puzzles, and I'm going to take what is a dream trip for me at a fraction of the cost. As my friend Cynthia remarked after hearing similar machinations a while back, “It’s a nice little part-time job.”

Posted by Leigh Witchel at November 9, 2005 6:33 PM

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