May 7, 2007

Money for nothing (cleaned up and updated)

Like a jerk I made the Free Stuff web page by auto-converting an Excel spreadsheet.

I’ve redone it as a series of pages that hopefully will be a good deal simpler to read. There are also some survey providers I inadvertently omitted.

Have a gander.

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May 5, 2007

Money for Nothing and Your Clicks for Free.

I’ve been meaning for ages to do a post on shopping portals and other sources of free and nearly free cash and points, since I am officially an eggspert on them. Now that I’m avoiding writing a review, it seems like the perfect time. If you like the information here, could you join the programs through my links, or send me an email to refer you? It won’t cost you a thing and I get some points or cash for my effort. Thanks!

Free Stuff!

(I'd put it on the blog, but it's too complicated to fix the formatting - sorry.)

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January 3, 2007

Fare Glitch on CO - JFK/LGA to SFO for $158 + tax

This smells like a mistake; someone may have loaded a round trip fare for the one way cost.

LGA or JFK (not EWR) to SFO via IAH (translation for those who do not speak Airport Code - JFK or LaGuardia in NYC to San Francisco airport via Houston) is available for $158 roundtrip plus tax - a major sale. I grabbed it on Travelocity for $195 total, but it's now shown up on I grabbed it for the first weekend in February to see San Francisco Ballet programs 1 and 2.

Dates available through March 9; my guess is it will be pulled very soon.

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December 26, 2006

Good Deal - Discover gives 5% back on travel from 1/1/07 to 3/31/07

Discover Card was one of the first cashback cards I had, but was eclipsed by cards with better offers, and as I learned more about how to work them, by assorted mileage offering cards. Discover began a competitive deal; the "Get More" program. For 3 months, a limited range of items earns 5% cashback. So far, that's been online retail purchases, medical expenses, automotive expenses. It's presently restaurant expenses and from January 1 to March 31, it will be travel.

There are of course terms and conditions to the offer, and Discover will clarify when asked. Here's what Discover wrote me:

From January 1, 2007, through March 31, 2007, Discover Cardmembers who participate in a Cashback Bonus Program can get a 5% Cashback Bonus Reward on qualifying purchases. The transactions must post as hotel, travel/entertainment (Priceline and Hotwire are not classified as such).

To take advantage of this free benefit, simply sign up on our home page,, or respond to this message. Once you sign up, you will begin receiving the 5% Cashback Bonus Reward on travel purchases including airlines, hotels, cruises, car rentals as well as on Amtrak and Greyhound tickets. You may schedule your trips for any time, as long as your purchases post to your Discover Card Account by March 31, 2007.

There is a cap of $1,000 in purchases (for a total Cashback Bonus Reward of $50), but after you reach this cap, additional purchases will earn the regular Cashback Bonus Reward of up to 1%. Remember, you have to sign up to receive this special Reward!

Following are the terms and conditions of this offer:

1. Sign up for this offer and receive a full 5% Cashback Bonus Reward when you use your Discover Card for the qualified purchases listed above.
2. The 5% Reward applies to purchases made from January 1, 2007, or the date you sign up (whichever is later), to March 31, 2007.
3. We are not responsible for merchant delays in processing transactions. While your 5% Cashback Bonus Reward will normally be processed a few days after your purchase, we ask that you allow up to five weeks for your Reward to post.

And the way you know I'm a total deals whore is that I keep putting my reservations to Chicago on a 24 hour hold on AA - I've done this three days running in the hopes of making it all the way to January 1, so I can pay for the tickets with Discover! I keep putting them on hold in case the fare disappears before then, then I can buy the tickets I've held. [Update: which I just had to do for my February flight, so I got Starpoints instead.]

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December 22, 2006

NYC- Chicago fare sale

There are really good deals right now from all NYC airports to O'Hare. I believe jetBlue started with a promotion fare of $49 each way that the major carriers matched, then Airtran upped the ante to $39 and several carriers matched, including Continental and American, which has convenient non-stops and is discounting every day including weekends. I priced leaving 4/6-9 (out late Friday, back early Monday) $98.60 total. At that price, why stay home?

If you're a true miles whore, register for this AA promotion, take three round trips before February 28 and get 25,000 bonus miles. Note to balletomanes: The Joffrey is doing Destiny's Dances a triple bill of Les Presages, Apollo and The Green Table from Feb 14-25. It would be eminently worth traveling to see, but they are also doing almost the same program (Deuce Coupe instead of Les Presages) nearby at the Tilles Center on March 9 and 10 and SUNY Purchase on March 11. Alas, it's Les Presages that I want to see, so I just may be going to Chicago in February. American's flights at that time are about $148 total, but Continental has the $78 sale fare on 2/16-19.

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October 29, 2006

Leigh on TV

The miles and points segment is available online.

Alas, it was only 11 a.m. and I still have Richard Milhous Nixon five o'clock shadow. I need a stylist and/or better lighting.

Update 10/30/06: Here's the story on WCBS in New York. It's mostly the same with a few small changes in filler and a different woman in a suit reading the script.

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October 26, 2006

Two updates

Mileage Eggspert:

While talking to Mom today, she exclaimed in the midst of the conversation, “I saw you on TV yesterday!” I didn’t get any advance warning that the segment ran; it sounded from Mom's general description as if they used a clip of me explaining the basics of how to use shopping portals. Mom also said they showed me sitting down at a computer (we had to troop down to the interviewers office to set up that fake shot at the interviewer's desk) and she reported they said I was smart. Of course I’m smart; I’m a mileage eggspert. I wrote to the production company to see if I could get a copy of the clip.


As I thought might be the case, Asiarooms could not get the Bonnington at such a low rate. I booked the Thistle Marble Arch via Octopus for the 22nd; the same offer isn’t there for the 24th-26th. Priceline bidding is harder than it should be; it has rejected up to $125/night ($152 total with fees) and rates aren’t particularly high at some of the common hotels (Thistle Marble Arch, Cumberland, Hilton London Euston) to explain. I’ll bid in $1 increments up to $130 – at that point I will make a cancelable reservation somewhere inexpensive and hope prices break.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 7:56 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 26, 2006

I’m an Eggspert.

Or so the news industry thinks. A nice lady from an outfit that produces soft news stories for CBS called me last week. She found me via my blog and asked me questions about shopping through online portals. This is something I do know a little about, so she asked me to do a TV interview.

“Oh, a crew will just come to your house and. . .”

“No. I’m happy to film outside or I can come to you.” Anyone who knows me knows why I refused.

CBS’s Studios are two blocks from my house so that was the most obvious solution.

I usually worry more about TV interviews, but I was amused this time and didn’t spend hours freaking out over what shirt to wear or my hairline. (Miles and points? Now I’m an expert on miles and points!) CBS studios have deeply irritating security, involving entering license information into a computer and taking a picture. I don’t really do paranoia very well, and then the waiting area had about 12 TV screens. Most tuned to “The Price is Right.” I don’t even have one working TV in my home, so I pulled out knitting to try and tune it all out. The most disturbing thing was watching the security guard get completely involved in the game show and cheer on the contestants. Does he do that all day?

Once the interviewer, a personable young woman named Mary, came to the reception area, things got much better. I was interviewed in the Eric Sevareid room; a small, narrow black room with a director’s chair where the interviewee sits. It was Mary, myself and a cameraman. The oddest sensation was when the strong lights were trained on me and I had the strangest sensation, much as at the ophthalmologist’s, of being able to see the blood vessels in my eyeballs reflected in my glasses.

The interview was about 10 questions and lasted about that many minutes. Of the questions were on general use of online portals and when I’ve used them – I told them about the Russian trip – and some basic strategies. I redid a few answers when I lost my train of thought in the middle of a sentence. We took a few action shots for introduction of me sitting at a computer pointing and clicking and then it was done.

Mary said it should be on CBS in about two weeks. Luckily, I don’t have a working TV.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:34 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 19, 2006

Getting the best deal and most miles out of a rental car

I don't often rent a car, but I'm going to Palm Springs, CA for a fast weekend and will need one. I'm flying JetBlue into Ontario, CA. A little comparative shopping worked wonders.

The Entertainment Book has many discount car rental offers, so I have finally gotten to put the book I bought primarily for the Goldpoints to use. Several companies offer a free weekend day on a three day rental; my rental was slightly under three days (2 days 14 hours or some such) but National Rent A Car would still accept the coupon at booking. A compact car was $17.90 per day - total cost of rental with the discount and fees - $49.

Since rental car companies allow cancellations without penalty, it makes sense to book whatever fee you see that's acceptable and shop again later on. I looked again this week; the same reservation came to $44 with the Entertainment Book discount, or I could have chosen a Northwest Airlines promotion that would get me triple miles and a full size car for $61. I'm one person and one suitcase so I think a compact should be fine.

Most car rental companies partner with several travel providers to offer miles or points. Which one to take? Because of the small amount of miles earned, my first thought would be to earn miles in the programs where I have fewer miles and infrequent earnings rather than in my strongest programs. For most U.S. and many international programs, earning the miles stops the clock on mileage expiration for 36 months. Check each program for their specific rules. My hotel stay will also earn 250 miles; I'm opting to put them into Aeroplan for this reason. I have some British Airways miles that will expire this year; I'm not using any of their partners so I will extend those miles by having a meal at a restaurant in the Executive Club Dining program.

I'm opting to earn miles for the car rental on Northwest because of the specials they are running. Their base earnings are nothing special, the standard 50 miles per day that most rental companies offer. However, NWA is having a 100,000 mile Dash offer where completing even the minimal offer such as one car rental will earn you 500 miles. It takes completing a few more offers to get the next level of benefits, so I won't bother.

On top of that, NWA is partnering with National and Westin Resorts for a Fairway Flyaway Sweepstakes. National Rentals through April get 1,000 bonus miles.

On top of that, National Car rental is waiving their membership fee in the Emerald Club for a limited time.

1,650 miles, free Emerald Club membership and a car for the weekend for $44. Can't beat it with a stick.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 9:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 5, 2006

Trip Progress, London Dithering

Here's where we are on the St. Petersburg - London trip:

Airfare: Ticketed. Business class on BA via Asiamiles JFK-LED-LHR-JFK. Cost was taxes - $306 and 60,000 Asiamiles (exactly what I had, what a coincidence!)

St. Petersburg Hotels: Renaissance St. Petersburg. Two nights redeemed. This was very dicey. Between the time I had reserved the reward and the time when I came to redeem the points needed for it a few days ago, the hotel raised categories from a Reward Category 4 to 5. For the part paid with Marriott points, this is no problem; Marriott honors the rate at the time the reservation was made. The problem was that one night is to be paid for with a VISA promotional certificate good only up to category 4. At first, the rewards desk told me it was no longer good. Speaking to a supervisor there got an offer of 7,000 points, which was useless. Calling the customer service department, however, got the problem entirely solved. They will honor the certificate and it is documented in my reservation. I will call the hotel directly before leaving, however. I'm not going to find out this did not work when I am in St. Petersburg. I should note that even though this took a few calls to unscramble both the rewards desk and customer service at Marriott are unfailingly polite and make every attempt to be helpful. Total cost will be the taxes, $50/night upgrade fee to a suite, the certificate (which I earned for applying for the VISA) and 20,000 Marriott points (it would have been 25,000, but they honored the earlier rate). I had 18,000 points total and Marriott allows you to buy 10% of a reward in 1000 point increments at $10/1000 points, so I bought 2,000 points for $20 rather than having to charge $2,000.

Radisson Baltic St. Petersburg. We're still earning points. I'm at 37,500 so far. I've converted 25,000 Continental OnePass Miles to 25,000 Amtrak Points to 25,000 Midwest Miles (It's all done via Amtrak Guest Rewards). When the miles land at Midway, I will convert them via to Goldpoints. It should be about 25-26,000. I've got about 1250 Goldpoints pending from online purchases and about 4000 from purchases. My guess is I will have around 70-75000 of the 120,000 points I need, and the rest will be converted from AA miles via

Got that?

I still have to apply for my Russian visa. I have the documents assembled, I just need to get a photo, and the fee in a money order.

On to planning for London:

Given my tendency to overstrategize travel to the point where the hourly cost of my dithering is astronomical, I thought I'd ask you all what you thought.

I've stayed in Kensington most of my trips to London but there's almost nothing in Kensington I do. When I go to London, I live at Covent Garden. At this point I'm getting kind of tired of spending an hour a day on the tube or not being able to get back to the hotel room for a break. So I was trying on Priceline for a room in the Mayfair-Soho or at least within walking distance of Covent Garden. (I'm a good walker) has the Kingsway Hall Hotel as a "top secret" special (I'm positive about the ID) for £79 per night - that would be $139/night and VAT is included but there is a credit card fee and currency conversion to be considered. It is *exactly* what I want. 1/4 mile from Covent Garden, Free Wireless in the Lobby, Fitness Center. To beat that on Priceline, I would have to get a Mayfair hotel for under $115 per night with fees thrown in and it may not have those amenities. The Waldorf Hilton was coming up on Hotwire for those days for $109 (that would add up to about the same with taxes and fees - around $138), but I waited too long; now it's $338.

Some cities regularly show "counteroffers" on Priceline. These are very useful markers on about how much you will need to bid - it will (except in circumstances I have not yet encountered) be less than the counteroffer. In London, if you have the time, you can get a lay of the land by lowballing several zones one at a time and seeing what the counteroffers are. BE SURE TO REALLY LOWBALL. If your bid is accepted, you're stuck. In zones I didn't really want to stay in, I was bidding around $50 for a 4*, which I have never seen accepted in London (though I have seen a few dollars more get accepted recently - so check recent bids on Bidding For Travel or Better Bidding)

This is what came up:

Mayfair 4* No counteroffer for bid up to $85
3* $110 Counteroffer on bid of $60. My guess is this is the Thistle Trafalgar, which is a mediocre hotel with a good location and no facilities.

Bloomsbury 4* $101 Counteroffer on bid of $50 - My guess is the Thistle Marble Arch. This is a long walk, but possible.

Westminster 4* $85 Counteroffer on bid of $50 - My guess is the Jolly St. Ermins. This is within (a long) walking distance, also no facilities.

City 4* $76 Counteroffer on bid of $48 - not sure what this is; if it is the Tower Hotel it is not in walking distance.

Kensington 4* $68 Counteroffer on bid of $50 - not sure what this is; if it is Holiday Inn Kensington Forum (which is coming up again on winning bids) I like the place and it has all the facilities I want, but it means a 20-25 minute subway ride.

What would you do? Bidding on a Kensington hotel is a savings of about $65/day - or double. The first four nights hotel on Priceline at $63/night comes to $306.35 - the total for the Kingsway Hall on will be about $570 with currency and credit card fees but it is also exactly what I want. However, over 7 days that is a very healthy sum.

Help me stop dithering!

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 9:08 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 20, 2006

What to do with Onepass Miles - Alaska Airlines

About a month ago, Gary Leff wrote on View From The Wing, And if you're not going to earn status and you're going to fly on Continental for goodness sakes accumulate your miles in a real program like Alaska Mileage Plan.

It’s good advice. My beef with Continental has always been simple: Award availability sucks unless you’re willing to pay double the amount of miles that a standard award would cost – and even then other airlines are better. Flights on Continental can earn miles in any of their Skyteam partners as well as Amtrak Guest Rewards, which used to be a better option than it is now. Amtrak Guest Reward points used to be convertible 1:1 to Continental, Midway and most usefully, United, but the ability to exchange for United miles was terminated abruptly at the beginning of last year. Converting to Midway means you can use – usually not the best deal, but I’m exchanging into Goldpoints for my hotel in Russia this year because the conversion rate is still worth more than trying to use the 25,000 Onepass miles I have for a painfully scarce domestic award or to upgrade at an exorbitant cost.

Continental flights can also earn miles on Alaska Airlines. If you’re someone who flies several airlines, Alaska’s program may also be a good way to consolidate miles.

Alaska has an uncommon network of partnerships that span two major alliances. The majors include


Air France


British Airways
Cathay Pacific

With exceptions that should be checked before booking, you can earn Alaska miles on any of these airlines, so a BA flight here and a KLM flight there that might otherwise sit unused as orphan miles can add up to an award.

In many cases I would rather accumulate miles in the original plan or an alliance partner, but there are exceptions. Asiamiles are very valuable to me, but they expire in approximately three years without any extension. If I didn’t think I could earn enough for an award, I might opt for putting them into Alaska's program where miles only expire after three years of complete inactivity.

Alaska also offers one Continental reward at a discount – BusinessFirst from North America to South America via CO is 75,000 miles. Onepass charges 70,000 miles for the northern countries, but 90,000 for Argentina, et al, so that is a savings. Caveat – award availability on CO probably won’t be any better for Alaska Airlines than it will for Onepass.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 9:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 7, 2006

Ask Mr. Mileage

Dear Mr. Mileage:

I have a lot of Membership Rewards points. What are my best options for redemption?

Your Wicked Stepmother

Dear Wicked Stepmother:

Needless to say, Mr. Mileage jumped on this request with great alacrity.

Membership Rewards can be converted to 14 different airlines. Skyteam and Star Alliance are represented, Oneworld isn't really - you can get certificates for discounted economy fares on Cathay Pacific and Qantas, but that's not what we want.

Which are the best transfers? The answer depends on where you want to go. All of these awards are in business class. Would I stick you and Dad in Economy?

If you want to go to South America, I suggest transferring the miles to Aeroplan. A Star Alliance flight to South America (that would probably be on Air Canada, United or Varig) is 75,000 miles.

If you want to go to Europe and the distance is under 8,000 miles total (JFK to Berlin is about as far as you can go), I suggest transferring to ANA Mileage Club. The rewards are distance based and the magic number is under 8,000 miles roundtrip. That award is only 65,000 miles. It's the same situation as Cathay Pacific for Star Alliance members. You could fly United, Lufthansa, Air Canada or Singapore Airlines among others.

For Asia, there are two possible options. Mexicana partners with several airlines, including Singapore Airlines. A roundtrip award to Asia is 90,000 miles. Australia or Oceania on either Singapore or Air New Zealand is 100,000 miles. If you'd be better off flying on Skyteam, then Aeromexico may work better. Awards to North Africa are 80,000 miles, Southeast Asia is 95,000 miles, India is 100,000 miles.

Needless to say, first ascertain routing and availability as best you can. The airline that offers the lowest theoretical partner award might not have a partner that flies where you want to go, or if it flies there they may not have award availability. Once you know you can get the ticket, then transfer the miles.

Bon voyage!

Your scheming stepson.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 12:20 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 2, 2006

More on Awards shopping

The comparisons I'm making of awards are most advantageous to people who either get most of their miles from credit card expenditure or people who fly constantly. For people in between those extremes who fly frequently enough to possibly achieve status, that should be a consideration as to where you credit your flights.

I did the series on distance based vs. zone based award systems less to see which was better overall than to illuminate a few exploitable anomalies, such as Asia Miles to Europe. Someone planning a dream vacation in the future is in the perfect position to take advantage of these, as long as you realize that frequent flyer program rules and awards change with little or no notice.

Look at the award levels for as many airlines as you can to your chosen destination and also its partners. Here's another comparison - New York to Buenos Aires in Business Class.

American Airlines flies this route non-stop. At 11 hours duration even non-stop, if the plane is full it's a pretty miserable flight and worth flying in business class. A business class award on AA costs 90,000 miles. Purchased with money, an economy ticket on this route is around $830 including taxes; business class is an astronomical $8300, though my guess is you can find a discount. By more circuitous routes on other airlines business class goes as low as $2200. If you want to attain status or accumulate miles on American, a round trip NYC-EZE nets you 10,400 miles, which is a significant chunk of the way towards status, at least gold status on a challenge, platinum if you buy a more expensive economy fare that gives you 1.0 Elite Qualification Points per mile instead of .05. If this is desirable for you, the best option may be to use AA miles to upgrade. AA lets any fare be upgraded for miles. Flights to Europe, Asia and the lower part of South America also require a co-pay of $250 one way. Flying business class would cost approximately $1,330 + 50,000 miles and you would earn miles and points towards elite status.

You can also get this award from other Oneworld partners. I'm discounting Aer Lingus, Finnair and Iberia from this comparison; in the first two cases the awards tables are not available on line. In the last, the system of points awarded doesn't lend itself to comparison with the other programs. Leaving the remaining partners, the results are a bit surprising.

Cost for a round trip ticket in business class, NYC-EZE on American Airlines:

American Airlines: 90,000 miles
LAN: 140,000 kilometers (between 70-87,000 miles depending on how earned)
British Airways: 80,000 miles
AsiaMiles: 100,000 miles
Qantas: 144,000 miles

So the winner, depending on the method of earning is LAN or possibly (and surprisingly) British Airways. British Airways is a lousy airline to credit flown miles to, as discounted economy earns .25 of actual miles flown, soemthing none of the American carriers do. But it can be an advantageous company to convert credit card miles to; there have been large bonuses given before. With this bonus as an example, 20,000 Starpoints gets a 5,000 Starpoint bonus, converted at a 2:3 rate - 37,500 points. So 45,000 Starpoints (40,000 with 10,000 bonus points and an extra 5,000 to top it off) would have become 80,000 BA miles, enough for an NYC-EZE reward. LAN accumulates actual kilometers and there are some bonuses if you happen to take a LAN flight for the first time, but as with BA, the most advantageous way to accumulate miles with them is converting Starpoints.

Venturing away from Oneworld, on Skyteam, Continental, Northwest and Delta all charge the same for that award, 90,000 miles, but you could get in from Air France for 80,000. On Star Alliance, United charges 80,000, Aeroplan is a very low 75,000. But it won't be a non-stop flight as only American flies that route.

The moral of the story? Once you have a destination in mind, do your research. You don't need to earn Frequent Flyer miles on them the airline you flew on. Figure out the best partner for your goal, and put them there. Unless there are rumors to consider of a change in conversion ratios or participants, don't convert anything out of Starpoints or another convertible reward currency until you need to or when there's an offer to pounce on.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 24, 2006

Hotel Reward Programs for those who aren't frequent travelers

Here's a comparative look at the major U.S. hotel reward programs for those who won't earn most of their points by hotel stays.

This chart looks at the possible points earning from affiliated credit cards and compares them to the price of a sample award stay and conversion to airline miles. It doesn't tell the whole story, especially if you do travel frequently. Hyatt, an excellent chain, is not included. Why? No affiliate credit card.

If you want points for airline miles, nobody beats Starwood, but Hilton's card if used judiciously for the 5 point per dollar purchases runs a decent second. With no annual fee and an initial sign up offer, it is an alternative or augmentation to consider.

Hotel stays are more complex. The chosen example isn't fair to Radisson; they have one hotel in NYC that costs double their usual award level for the US. For St. Petersburg, Russia, however, the only choices are Marriott at 20,000 points per night and Radisson at 30,000 - but Goldpoints can be earned via credit card usage three times as quickly.

Each program has its advantages with initial bonuses, desired destinations and earnings partners. To get the clearest picture of the best program for your goals, run the numbers for your desired situation and destination.

The table is more clear at this link.

Hotel Rewards at a glance
Points earned per $ with hotel stay10 + either airline miles or 5 bonus points10 (5 at some properties)102 or 3 with status10
Points earned per $ with affiliated credit card use3 (5 at Hilton purchases & grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations)1311
Usual conversion of 10000 points to airline miles (check for exceptions)15001500-20001250100002500
# of airline conversion partners3025113236
Amount of points needed for 1 night in NYC30-4000030-350006000010000 (Sheraton) - 25000 (St. Regis)20-30000
Cost for points for 1 night in NYC from stays (if using affiliated card)$1,500-$2,666$2,727-$3,181$4,615$2,500 - $6,250$1,818-$2,727
From CC usage$8,000-13,333$30-35,000$20,000$10,000-$25,000$20-30,000
Cost for 10000 miles from stays (if using card)$3,333$6,060$6,153$2,500$3,636
From CC usage$13,333-$20,000$66,666$26,666.66$10,000$40,000
Standard Initial Sign up bonus for credit card (as of January 24, 2006) - always check for special offers!10,000 (Amex or Visa)15,000 and a free night certificate (category 1-4)20,000 0 for purchase, up to 6,000 for stays15,000 initial + $20 credit on statement, 10,000 bonus for charging $15,000 annually
Online shopping portal?NoYesYesNoYes
Non-travel partnersSeveral including mypoints and e-rewardsYesYesFewYes
Other notes40% off "Point Stretcher" rewards to selected hotels (which aren't going to be the most popular ones)
The Scandic chain of hotels is a particular bargain at 10,000 points/night all over Northern Europe.
Amount of points per night drops with each add'l night
3 tiers of awards, point saver, standard and stay anytime
Two tiers of awards, Standard & Flex awards, which usually are doubleNo blackout dates
various discounts including reduced weekend redemption rates in categories 1-2 and 5th night free in categories 3 and up
Redemption options include paying with combined cash & points at participating hotels.
5,000 point bonus for every 20,000 Starpoints transferred to an airline.
Points required for redemption standardized by brand, with higher levels for "special destinations"

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 6:03 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 19, 2006

Shopping around for the best mileage award (Part III)

In the first two sections I’ve talked about ways of strategizing which award to shoot for when earning miles. How to earn the miles is a huge separate topic; I’ll give some basics here on where to start.

The self evident way to earn frequent flyer miles is to fly frequently. If you earn miles “butt in seat” and find yourself flying often, then your choice of what program to belong to ought to be predicated less on raw mileage earnings and more on status. British Airways program sucks for mileage earning in economy, but if you’re flying BA often enough to move a few tiers up and earn the upgrades, stay with them for the perks. Smarter Travel just published an interesting discussion of elite strategies.

Rewards currencies are a massive industry and a game everyone – not just business travelers – plays. I did not fly one single mile of the 60,000 I used to purchase my ticket to St. Petersburg. It came primarily from Priceline bidding.

You can do this too. A great first stop is Gary Steiger’s Free Frequent Flyer Miles. I’ve gotten plenty of tips there.

One of the best non-flying mileage earning opportunities is a credit card that offers miles or another reward. Free Frequent Flyer Miles discusses these in great detail, as does Gary Leff’s blog View from the Wing. Leff discusses several mileage cards and explains the advantages of each from several perspectives, including that of a business traveler where perks I wouldn’t care about, like the ability to buy companion business fares, have more weight.

What do I think the best mileage card is? I agree with Leff; the Starwood American Express because it is by far the most versatile. Starwood points are convertible at a 1:1 rate into over twenty other airlines, including Asia Miles, with a few notable exceptions. The most unfortunate is United at 2:1, as is Varig, but other Star Alliance partners like Asiana are 1:1. Of the Oneworld airlines, soon-to-be member JAL is 3:2, and LANPass is 1:2, which takes into account the difference between kilometers and miles with a slight advantage. Starwood points are valuable on their own for hotel stays (I used mine for a very good cash and points deal at the Sheraton at Iguazu Falls). They have great rewards including Nights and Flights, where 60,000 or 70,000 Starpoints gets you five nights in a hotel (28,000 or 40,000 miles) and 50,000 airline miles – that’s a bonus of 8,000 or 10,000 points over doing the two separately. If you opt just to transfer points to miles, for every 20,000 Starpoints transferred another 5,000 points is added, another major perk. The card also has the advantages (better service, especially when something goes wrong while traveling) and disadvantages (less universal acceptance, some higher fees) of being an American Express card. Annual fee is $30 after the first year; there’s a signup bonus of 4,000 Starpoints after the first purchase and you’ll have gold status in Starwood as long as you hold the card. Starwood has far fewer earnings partners than other rewards programs, so you’re probably going to earn the bulk of your Starpoints at Starwood hotels (3 Starpoints per dollar as a Gold member) or through credit card purchases. It would take $20,000 of spending to earn 25,000 Asia Miles, or $6,250 of hotel stays if you charged them to the card as well. After giving you a zillion resons why they're the best card, I'll confess I'm doing almost no spending on it at present. Mine is all on Goldpoints because I'm targeting a Radisson hotel stay.

Another hotel rewards currency that can convert to miles is ICHotel Groups' (Holiday Inn, et al) Priority Club. The conversion rate is much less advantageous than Starwood (4:1 in 10,000 point increments) but it’s also to a large amount of airlines including Asia Miles and LAN – but it looks like LAN is 10000 points to 2500 kms – which is pretty dreadful. However, hotel stays earn 10 points per dollar as opposed to Starwood's 2 or 3, so earnings from stays convert at a more comparable rate to Starpoints. The credit card linked to Priority club is a Visa with no annual fee and a 15,000 point sign up bonus – though I have received a 30,000 offer via surface mail. It would take $100,000 of credit card spending to earn 25,000 Asia Miles or $9,091 in hotel stays if you charged them to the card.

Goldpoints are a more complicated story – read Gary Steiger’s explanation at Free Frequent Flyer Miles. There are two different Goldpoints, believe it or not; Goldpoints Plus issued by Radisson and plain ol' Goldpoints. Goldpoints Plus has a better conversion rate 8:1 to 11 airlines (including Asia Miles) than Goldpoints, which redeem at 10:1 only on Northwest, US Airways and Delta. So join through Radisson. But I needed to convert AAdvantage miles to Goldpoints via, and the Radisson program cards don’t participate. So I ended up opening a second non-Radisson account solely for that purpose (Goldpoints will let you combine accounts) Credit card earners earn 3 Goldpoints per dollar; it is a Visa with no annual fee and a 20,000 point sign up bonus for a limited time. Hotel stays earn 10 points per dollar and there is a 1,000 point bonus for booking online. It would take $66,666.66 (spending of the Beast!) to earn 25,000 Asia Miles or $15,385 in hotel stays if you charged them to the card. However, Goldpoints has a very generous online shopping portal. If you intend to buy flowers online, FTD and the Flower Club earn 100 points per dollar there. Two thousand bucks worth of flowers will get you 25,000 Asia Miles, but hell, it will also get you close to six night’s hotel at the Radisson SAS Royal in St. Petersburg, which has a retail value of well over $1,500 in high season.

Priority Club and Goldpoints give you flexibility in use (and Amex isn't accepted everywhere) but at a cost. If you know you're targeting United for a trip to Australia, it makes the most sense to get a United Visa, especially with its large sign up bonus.

So decide where you want to go. Barcelona? Kyoto? (I’ve tipped my hand to two on my list!) and then decide which airline award is most advantageous to get there. That depends as much on routings as on cheap award levels; I’d love to fly to Kangerlussuaq, but it’s not happening via a Oneworld reward. I better start saving up SAS Eurobonus points.

The most advantageous award also might not have the lowest cost award. If United’s award is 5,000 more than another carrier, but you’d have more earnings opportunities – credit card and telephone service signup bonuses as well as flights – for United, then target United. Keep your ear to the ground for specials as well. Continental recently ran a sale on award tickets to China; economy to Beijing was only 30,000 miles. There are earning speciasl as well. If you're flying from San Francisco to Asia, Cathay Pacific is currently offering double miles on selected routes. Check the program's website for special offers as well as Free Frequent Flyer Miles, Smarter Travel and View From the Wing.

For day to day credit card expenditures try one of the convertible hotel programs. There’s also Hilton and Amex’s Membership Rewards, but Hilton’s rate for transfers is 20:3; and conversion opportunities at both Hilton and Amex have been dwindling.

Finally, be careful with credit cards. If you can’t pay off your balance every month, these strategies cost a whole lot more.

I’ve worked with Asia Miles already. Their service is quite satisfactory. A toll free US number links you to their 24 hour service center in Hong Kong. Occasionally I have a small language difficulty with the representatives. They have access to the same award inventory as every other partner airline, but when reserving this flight I was not able to get my flights on the first call; they could not find availability. Running a dummy award on British Airway’s site told me what flights were actually available. I copied that information down, gave it to the representative at Asia Miles and there were no further problems. The biggest downside with Asia Miles is that their miles expire after three years. Period. No extensions for activity as with most US programs. So don’t convert other currencies to Asia Miles unless you are certain you will use them within three years but in plenty of time to get the award you want. I used a few Starpoints to top off my Asia Miles account; it took a little over two weeks for my account to be credited.

LANPoints expire after three years, but are extendable only if you fly LAN. So if you’re considering a trip or two to Central or South America, it may make sense to join considering their signup bonuses and that activity extends the shelf life of their miles. I am not a member so you’re venturing into uncharted territory regarding partner award availability.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 10:06 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 18, 2006

Shopping around for the best mileage award (Part II)

Distances versus zones

Distances don’t always work your way. Most domestic awards in the U.S. would cost more from Asia Miles than from American. A ticket from New York to San Francisco (which just breaks into the C award zone of 2,501-5,000 miles) costs the same as a ticket to St. Petersburg.

A distance based reward might be more advantageous than a zone based award if you’re working from a gateway city at the edges of the US traveling in the same direction. The magic number for business class awards on Asia Miles is less than 5,000 miles one way. More than 5,000 miles and they jump from 60,000 to 100,000 miles.

Most gateways from the eastern seaboard are less than that distance to most of Europe, though it’s dicier the farther south you go. Going from Miami to the lower part of South America from (Buenos Aires, Santiago or Rio) an award that will cost you 90,000 miles on AA will cost 60,000 Asia Miles. There’s no advantage over AA’s own reward structure as far south as Peru. From New York, Rio de Janeiro is only 60,000 Asia Miles in business (flown on AA) but Buenos Aires is 100,000.

Travelers in Vancouver and Seattle can get to Tokyo or Seoul. L.A. might work for Papeete, Tahiti. Honolulu is only 45,000 Asia Miles in business class from San Francisco; it would be 75,000 on American or as low as 60,000 miles on Alaskan.

The monkey wrench I thought I was going to throw in here isn't turning out to be as good a savings as I had hoped. LANPass is also distance based, but instead of earning miles you earn kilometers. LAN also has different zone dividers than Asia Miles. Just to add to the confusion, the LAN chart is based on round trip distances; Asia Miles’ is based on one way. The awards jump at 6,500 and 20,000 kms total in business class and 10,000 kms in economy. 20,000 kms is farther than Asia Miles' equivalent zone (6,214 miles one way rather than 5,000) but the 140,000 kms needed is about 85,000 miles if you earned them flying. Not much of a savings. However, non flying mileage partners such as credit cards usually value LANPass kilometers at 2 per mile, so if you're earning them from those sources rather than flying, it's as low as 70,000 miles.

There are also a few weird situations where LANPass would be a savings. Boston to Dublin is under 10,000 kms round trip, making economy on AA or Aer Lingus cheaper on LANPass (65,000 kms or between 32,500 and 40,400 miles depending on how you earned them). Trips in business class from Miami to Central America might also be a savings. LANPass is worth keeping in mind, especially as there are a few bonuses for new members that might make it worthwhile if you're contemplating flying LAN for the first time anyway.

I also checked Star Alliance to see if there's an equivalent situation. The only distance based awards I found were on Asiana, and there's some savings (JFK-LHR would be 75,000 Asiana miles as opposed to 80,000 on United) but it isn't that great.

[Update 2-7-06: There is another distance based carrier on Star Alliance - ANA. The magic number for ANA is a business class award for less than 8,000 miles total distance. That's as far as JFK-Berlin, and it's only 65,000 miles. I don't think that works for any transpacific flights.

How do you get these miles? Stay tuned.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 7:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 17, 2006

Shopping around for the best mileage award (Part I)

Not all airline awards are created equal. You may already know that each airline has a different pricing structure for awards with some awards being more of a bargain (for instance, United to Australia) compared to other programs.

So if you have a special destination in mind, start by shopping around; you may find a program that lets you reach your goal faster.

You can also take advantage of airline alliances. These are groups of airlines banded together to offer greater coverage. United, Air Canada, Singapore and a several others are part of Star Alliance; American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Aer Lingus, Iberia, Finnair, Qantas and LAN are part of Oneworld. I mostly fly American, so I know the Oneworld partnership better. If you are a member of an alliance member's frequent flyer program, you have some privileges throughout the alliance and can earn miles in your own program flying on other alliance members subject to restrictions provided by your own carrier. For example, some fares on Iberia don't earn miles on American. Acquiring miles and program choices will be discussed later. The important aspect of alliance partnerships in this discussion is the ability to redeem awards on other alliance carriers. Here are some ways to make the most alliance partnerships.

If you’ve been following my Russia saga, you may know by now that a business class ticket on British Airways to Europe from the East Coast is cheaper purchased via Asia Miles than via British Airways itself. That’s because Asia Miles (the rewards program associated with Cathay Pacific) sets rewards by distance rather than zones. In specific circumstances you can use this to your advantage.

You need to know the distance you’ll be flying. Webflyer’s MileMarker is a good simple tool.

New York to St. Petersburg is approximately 4750 mi/7650 km one way and 9500 mi/15300 kms round trip. Oneworld offers two methods to get there, British Airways via London or Finnair via Helsinki. American Airlines and British Airways price this by zone. For a partner award (American doesn’t fly to St. Petersburg itself) American charges 60, 90 or 125 thousand miles in Economy, Business and First Class. That’s less than British Airways charges for the same award on its own airline: 65, 97.5, 130 and 195 thousand miles. The 97.5 is for a premium economy class BA has that AA doesn’t, but AA will charge you less for business class on BA than BA will charge you for premium economy.

Asia Miles charges by distance; anything 2500-5000 miles is 45, 60 or 90 thousand miles. Their website also has a very useful award calculator. So that same BA business class ticket I just redeemed with 60,000 Asia Miles would have cost 90,000 AA miles or 130,000 BA miles. Big savings, but it depends on the distance. New York to Moscow is just over the 5,000 mile mark, and while it costs the same as a ticket to St. Petersburg on both AA and BA, there’s a big jump at Asia Miles. A business class ticket is 100,000 miles; more than on AA, though less than BA.

We'll throw another monkey wrench into the works next post!

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 3:18 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 6, 2006

The Evil Plan continues

A progress report on this:

Cathay Pacific Asia Miles – goal accomplished, ticket held. Will be purchased (with my Goldpoints Visa, natch) around January 17 when my credit card moves to the next billing period.

Marriott Points – 1 free night certificate + 16,474 + 2,040 pending. There was a setback; I wasn’t approved for the Marriott Business Visa as well as the personal card. I may have too many cards with Chase already. I used to have only one, but then First USA and Bank One merged with Chase and now I have three. This setback means I’ll only have one free night certificate and I think only enough points for an extra night, so I will only plan to stay there two nights and concentrate from this point on getting Goldpoints for the Radisson SAS. New Goal: 1 free night certificate + 18,000 points (purchasing 2,000 more for $20)

Goldpoints – 19,260 + 11,659 pending. That’s slightly more than one free night’s worth. Points from shopping at their portal add up quickly, earning 15-55 points on the dollar as opposed to 3 points for every dollar of credit card spending. Besides Aadvantage miles being convertible at, so are a few other plans. I have more than enough Aadvantage miles to cover the balance needed, but I’d rather use up a few currencies less valuable to me.

I had 6500 orphan USAir Dividend Miles, but USAir didn’t allow transfers out of Dividend Miles without their branded Visa. Then, on the advent of their merger with America West, they allowed transfers between the two programs at 1:1. America West gives much worse transfer rates than USAir, but at least I can exchange the miles.

I value Continental Onepass miles at half of any other reward currency because "Nonepass" is notoriously stingy about award availability, especially at standard rates rather than “Easy Pass”. An award that might be 25,000 miles on American is never available for less than 50,000 miles on Continental. Continental Miles can be transferred to Amtrak Guest Rewards at 1:1 by calling Continental’s customer service. Amtrak points can convert to Midwest Airlines miles at 1:1 as well. And Midwest miles convert to Goldpoints at a little bit more than 1:1. Not the best ratio (eBay points to Goldpoints was 1:3) but I think the 25,000 points I now have parked at Amtrak waiting to go to Midwest will do me more good as Goldpoints than as Nonepass miles. If I don’t need them, I can send them back from Amtrak to Continental.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:33 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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 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 2:54 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 23, 2005


It's the end of the year. Please give generously to the assorted charities on your list.

Here's my list in case you need some ideas:

Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet
Paul Taylor Dance Company
New York Public Library - Library of the Performing Arts
If I can figure out how to get it to them, Nrityagram Dance

Local Charities
City Harvest
City Meals on Wheels
Central Park Conservancy
New York Humane Society

The Nature Conservancy

It's not a non-profit, but I also kick in something to Dance View and Danceview Times, because it's a labor of love. You didn't think they paid me, did you?

If you're donating by credit card, don't forget to use a mileage producing credit card for your donation! I'm getting Goldpoints - but if you like Membership Rewards points, Amex will double your points for every donation you make.

So be generous, and don't forget the arts, please.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 8:55 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 21, 2005

My evil plan is working . . .

Progress report on the miles and points chase.

Asia Miles

Miles required: 60,000
Miles in account: 60,000

I transferred 2133 Starpoints to Asia Miles (A reason to accumulate Starpoints and use the Starwood Amex – Starwood points are valuable enough as hotel points, but can also be used to top off miles in almost every major airline but United.

To get travel dates on British Airways with Asia Miles, one has to call Asia Miles’ service center in Hong Kong, but it has a toll-free US number. Business class award flights on BA have limited inventory and two calls to Asia Miles yielded no inventory, until at the suggestion of (where else?) Flyertalk I ran the potential itinerary at BA’s website to find out open inventory. Asia Miles has access to the same, so they could find the flights and they will hold the ticket one month.


Miles required: 38,000 + 2 free night certificates
Miles in account: 16,000 + 1 free night certificate
Miles pending: 15,000 business card opening bonus
300 points for credit card spending
900 for shopping at the Marriott Rewards Mall.
1,000 Marriott Rewards Mall Holiday bonus:

I needed a new pair of boots and offered 10 points per dollar, one of the best deals on the site. I also bought a series of gift certificates. This involves some audacious multiple dipping, which I hope works. Marriott offers the 1,000 point bonus for spending $150 or more in a single store at their online mall. I didn’t want to make $150 in purchases immediately or at a single store, but one of their stores is I bought a $25 certificate to Barnes & Noble, $50 to and $75 as a “Supercertificate” that can be redeemed at another point. I got 3 points per dollar for the purchase, factored in above. To get more back, I used my Discover card because they are having a bonus offering of 5% cashback on online retail purchases, and I could liberate some money that had been lying there (you can only redeem at $20 intervals). To squeeze every last drop I could out of the purchase, after I earned points for buying the gift certificates at the Marriott portal and they were emailed to me the following day, I headed over to the Goldpoints portal to spend the Barnes & Noble certificate doing shopping at Mom’s request (a Christmas gift for my Uncle) and also spent the certificate stocking up on sundries. The Supercertificate will probably be redeemed for a Marriott gift certificate to be used on this trip!

Miles in account & pending: 33,200 + 2 free night certificates. We’re on our way to a suite in St. Petersburg. I’m 200 MyPoints away from redeeming those for another $100 Marriott gift certificate to help pay the $50/nightly upgrade fee from a standard room to a suite. If you join MyPoints, do it through this link and you'll get 500 Hilton Hhonors points as well if you give them your Hilton number.


Points required: 60,000
Points in account: 13,270
Points pending: 4,600 from the Goldpoints mall (see above)
500 for entering a sweepstakes
Points in account + pending: 18,370. I can convert American Airlines Miles and some other orphan miles to Goldpoints via to top off anything I can’t earn.

I had no Marriott points or Goldpoints in October, so I think I’m doing pretty well.

Retail value of the flight - $3,700 (yes, business class is overpriced) – I earned the miles via Priceline bidding and using my eBay credit card (alas, eBay points are defunct).

Retail value, 4 nights suite, Renaissance St. Petersburg - $2,600 (yes, a suite at the Renaissance is overpriced). I haven’t bought anything I wouldn’t ordinarily to get these points except the $75 Supercertificate.

Retail value, 2 nights at the Radisson SAS Royal St. Petersburg - $760. Let’s face it – everything on this trip is overpriced. That’s why I’m going on this points chase. I did buy an “Entertainment Book” for $28 that was a dubious purchase; let’s hope I can put it to use.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 9:20 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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 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, 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 exchanges. I created a new Goldpoints account at, which allowed a exchanges into 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 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 6:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 4, 2005

Katrina: Ways to help

You all know just how awful the scale of the damage is in New Orleans; there's nothing I can link to that you probably haven't already read.

The no-brainer donation is to the American Red Cross. OK, I lied, I am linking to something, just so you can see the scale of the foul-ups. Billmon's post on an earlier flood shows that some things don't change.

He's also got a huge list of relief organizations. Choose your favorite. However, if you're a miles whore, you can do the same amount of good and feed the miles junkie monkey on your back. A few airlines and hotel chains, including American Airlines and Starwood are offering a miles bonus for donations. Just make the donation through their link - the charity still gets the full donation but you get 500 miles for a donation of $50 and up. Andrew Cram's great Frequent Flyer Resources site has a list of all miles and points programs that are offering to help relief efforts. If you have any orphan miles rotting, or need activity in a dormant program, donate some miles to the cause. Miles or no miles, make the donation.

Hat tip to Flyertalk again.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 12:48 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 31, 2005

Squeezing every last drop out of eBay Anythingpoints

One of the best miles and points deals I’ve participated in is about to end soon, but I’m getting every last point I can while it’s still gasping for breath.

eBay began offering Anythingpoints about two years ago but they never particularly caught on for eBay proper. They were only offered by a few sellers with little incentive for more to use them. Other vendors offered eBay points as well – PayPal, eBay, and Metarewards were all stirred into the soup, usually causing great irritation as each would blame another if points did not post. I got about 12,000 Anythingpoints I traded for AA miles by participating in trial offers from Metarewards (and then pulling teeth at customer service to get the points credited). But the best deals of all came through the eBay portal for Priceline.

eBay offered points per winning Priceline bid by the star value of the bid, 500 points for 2*, 1000 for 2.5* and 3* and 1500 for 4* and 5*, no matter the length of the stay or dollar value of the bid. This potential $15 rebate was nice enough if you purchased items on eBay. I used 2500 points towards a camera. On Flytertalk I learned that the best deal of all was to convert Anythingpoints to Asiamiles via .

Asiamiles is the mileage currency of Cathay Pacific Airlines. Cathay Pacific has a unique reward structure based purely on mileage rather than location. They don’t offer awards from North America to Europe for instance, but from 2,500-5,000 miles. An economy class roundtrip of 2,500-5,000 miles is 45,000 Asiamiles, or 60,000 in business class. This is not merely on Cathay Pacific, but also on several of their partners in the One World group including American and British Airways. Since all destinations in Europe are less than 5,000 miles from the east coast of the US, this is a bargain – it’s 90,000 miles on most other airlines. Add to this the fact that Asiamiles has the most favorable conversion ratio to Anythingpoints by a factor of more than 2 – one Anythingpoint is worth 1.125 Asiamiles.

Here’s the math: It takes around 53,400 Anythingpoints to get 60,000 Asiamiles. That’s just under 36 winning 4* bids on Priceline. Considering that Priceline offers the cheapest hotel prices around anyway, it was icing on the cake.

I just broke 40,000 Anythingpoints when eBay announced the discontinuation of the program. It’s being phased out gradually, with eBay sellers programs ended first, then affiliates. MBNA will award eBay points on their MasterCard until the November statement. will allow swaps into Anythingpoints until September 30 and out until February ’06. The eBay Priceline portal no longer mentions Anythingpoints, but this one still does and still works, or did as of 8/29/05 for a 3* bid. So if you’re in on the Anythingpoints chase, don’t stop using the portal yet!

I’m up to 49,000 miles. My goal is business class to St. Petersburg via London next June.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 12:45 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 16, 2005

Will someone please talk me out of this?

American Airlines is inaugurating their new service to Nagoya, Japan with very low fares, about $630 round trip including tax. That’s slightly more than half the price of comparable flights to Tokyo right now. They’re also matching United’s double miles promotion. Book your ticket by February 18, fly by May 25, get double miles.

Nagoya isn’t tempting, but Kyoto is. And so are busmen’s holidays.

Research and entreaties to Japanese friends didn’t turn up much in the way of ballet in Kyoto, though there is an uncommon appearance of the Paris Opera ballet in Nagoya, coinciding with Expo 2005.

However, the final weekend of April in Tokyo hits the jackpot. Three major performances all in the same weekend.

New National Theatre Ballet, Tokyo - 29, 30 April; 1, 2, 3 May: The Sleeping Beauty

Tokyo Ballet 29, 30 April; 1, 4, 5, 6 May: Sylvie Guillem triple bill

Matsuyama Ballet, Tokyo (Yoko Morishita's company) 29 April; 3, 4 May: Cinderella

(Thank you to Naoko S for all the research)

I am so tempted. It’s not cheap, but it isn’t that expensive either. $630 for airfare, $290 for Japan Rail pass and Tokyo has the sort of budget hotels that New York doesn’t.

The long haul flight comes with certain perks if you’re a “miles whore”. The flight alone is a bit over 14,000 miles round trip; a significant chunk of getting elite status, or jumping up a notch. And if you make mid tier (Platinum), which I would do after this flight, subsequent flights, including the one I’m taking to London, would earn double miles. All told with bonuses, the $630 round trip flights would net me over 30,000 miles, more than enough for one free domestic round trip.

Of course, now I want to splurge on staying in a Ryokan in Kyoto.

I can probably swing the expense. The real problem is that I am going to Buenos Aires in for a week April and England for two weeks in June. Now I want a week in Japan? Well, yeah.

I've put a ticket on hold until the 18th. Will someone please talk me out of this?

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 2:46 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack