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December 25, 2005

Ask Mr. Mileage

(I was going to call this “Ask the Miles Whore” but that sounded so louche . . .)

Dear Mr. Mileage:

I would like to go to Hawaii for a special birthday two years from now. I don’t travel that often and haven’t played the miles game, but I do have some Delta Miles from a previous trip to Europe and a few American Express Membership Rewards Points. What can I do to get as much vacation as I can for my dollar?

Your pal,


Dear Cyn:

Here are my suggestions:

Step 1: Decide where you might want to go.

Go online and browse a few travel sites and get a feel for which islands you want to visit and what hotels are there.

Step 2: Airlines

I’d suggest accumulating either United or Delta Miles.

Destination: United flies to a few more destinations in Hawaii. Delta flies to only Maui, Honolulu and Kona.

Miles Required: United to Hawaii costs 35K, 60K, or 80K miles in Economy, Business or First Class respectively. Delta to Hawaii costs 35K or 75K in Economy or First respectively.

Your Delta miles already earned may give you a leg up, and you can also convert Membership Rewards to Delta Miles but not to United. Depending on whether you have the standard American Express with a yearly fee or the Optima card that is free, your point will convert in either 1,000 or 2,000 mile increments at 1:1 or 2:1 respectively.

Yes, I realize that Delta is in bankruptcy and United is coming out of it. Realize that airline reward currencies are not stable or safe; it is best to earn and redeem them with a short time horizon.

Step 3: Hotels

You will probably find many places that really do it for you, but try and fall in love with a property that is available as a reward from a hotel chain! It seems that Marriott or Starwood have nice properties in Hawaii. The Marriott properties fall towards the top of their rewards tier (mostly category 6; they go up to 7). The Starwood resorts have a few Category 3 and 4 properties sprinkled among the more luxurious offerings. Hilton only has a few properties in Hawaii, but they’re also quite nice.

Step 4: Apply for credit cards:

Presently, sign-up bonuses on credit cards are the most bang for your buck.


Getting the United Visa and making one purchase (buy a Metrocard and pay the bill immediately) will get you 20,000 miles and the card is free for one year. Call and cancel it after 11 months. By the way, people have canceled the card, waited 6 months and then gotten it (and the bonus miles!) all over again repeatedly.


The Delta SkyMiles American Express gives you 15000 miles and is free for one year (cancel the card before they charge you an annual fee) but has the bonus of giving 2 miles per dollar for "everyday purchases"


The Starpoints Preferred Guest Platinum Amex does not have as good a sign up bonus but it is a great card because Starpoints are so versatile. If you do not use them at a Starwood Property (Sheratons, Westins, et al.) they are convertible to a lot of major airlines, the one unfortunate exception being United.

Marriott Rewards:

The Marriott Rewards Visa has a great sign-up bonus right now – one free night but if Marriott points are your objective, I would suggest waiting to apply for the card closer to your trip because the free certificates are usually only good for under a year. Or if you’re really audacious, as with the United Visa, apply for the card now, get the bonus, cancel it and apply again in a year. You should get the bonus again. (This does not work with all companies, but it does seem to work with the company that issues both of these cards).

Both the Starwood and Marriott cards have small annual fees (about $30 per card)


Hilton has either an Amex or a Visa card; both are offering 15,000 bonus points right now for sign-up. The Amex has the added bonus of getting 5 points per dollar on everyday purchases.

By the way, there is nothing stopping you from applying for both Hilton cards, and you can apply for both a Marriott personal and business card as well.


Although there is only one Radisson Hotel in Hawaii, I would suggest applying for the Goldpoints Visa because the starting bonus (20000 points) is particularly good right now (this offer is assumedly for a limited time). The card has no annual fee.

Put whatever expenses you can on these cards without running a balance. Everything – grocery shopping, phone bills, etc.


Delta, United, Marriott, and Radisson/Goldpoints have shopping portals where you can accumulate additional miles for purchases. Each gives different rates for different vendors; you can use Andrew Cram’s charts to check which is the most advantageous. Do whatever shopping you can via these portals. For more information on them, check out Free Frequent Flyer Miles. The Goldpoints portal can be particularly generous. Hilton does not have a retail portal (unfortunately, neither does Starwood), but MyPoints will convert to Hilton points 1:1 in 2,500 point increments.

Other offers:

Check Free Frequent Flyer Miles for a range of offers including offers for points for phone service (those are not as good as they once were, though) and for depositing money in banks or with brokerages. You can even "double dip" miles by using Giftscertificates.com as described by Gary – a direct link won’t work; click on "buying stuff" in the left-hand navigation bar of Free Frequent Flyer Miles.

Points for reading your email:

You can accumulate extra Hilton points if you join MyPoints (use this link to get 500 Hhonors points when you join MyPoints) or e-rewards. MyPoints is both a shopping portal and also sends targeted email ads to your mailbox. Read the ad; get 5 points. You may want to reserve a screen name or mail address solely for this purpose to reduce junk mail in your regular mail. E-rewards offers their own rewards currency for reading email ads and participating in surveys; this can be used to buy Hilton points among other rewards. On occasion, MyPoints or someone else will offer a joining bonus for e-rewards; hold off before joining to watch for one.

Yes, this all takes planning and strategizing. It helps to keep spreadsheets of offers and purchases you have made along with saving the offer email or screenshot itself in case your points don’t get automatically awarded. But with some planning, you could get your birthday vacation to Hawaii at a significant savings.

Happy Travels!

Mr. Mileage.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at December 25, 2005 2:54 PM

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