PointsCentric’s Kinda Sorta One Year Anniversary! A Thank You to My Readers

So technically, today is my one year anniversary as a blogger as my first post was published on 1/26/14 about a way to get 100 Free Hyatt points. Safe to say that was not my best post but as I alluded to in the title, I didn’t start consistently posting until March 2014 as I had only a total of 6 posts in January and February 2014 so maybe March should be the “real” anniversary date? That seems to be time when I started getting “real” readers instead of just my supportive wife (who deserves a lot of credit for putting up with me while I spent many late nights working on this blog).

The initial logo. Added some color to it since then.

The initial logo and color scheme. Added some color to it since then.

Anyway, I am writing this as a thank you to my readers who give me the motivation to keep blogging. I’d also like to thank anyone has linked to me, shared my blog with others or given me feedback (both positive and negative) about the blog. If no one was reading my blog, I wouldn’t have the motivation to continue. A lot of people don’t realize this but blogging is a huge time commitment and a ton of work, even more than I initially estimated (and I used to blog about Boston College sports with my college buddies at AroundTheRes so I’m not a first time blogger). Not only does it take a fair amount of time to type up a post, there is a lot of background work from doing research, learning WordPress, talking to others, thinking of post ideas, finding photos etc. all of which sometimes takes hours to do. So for those interested in blogging, even if it isn’t points/miles related, be prepared to make a serious time commitment.

I remember back in March when I started posting more regularly, how thrilled I would be if I got some views on a new post. In fact, I find it kind of cool that starting in March 2014 even though I didn’t always have a new post up everyday, I had some traffic each day as an unknown, unheard of blogger in a competitive space. Seriously, even if my traffic was only 5 views that day, it gave me hope that as I got bigger and better, more people would find my blog useful. While my blog is still super, super, super small compared to others in this space, each month traffic is increasing and days that had only hundreds of hits are now turning into thousands.

I think my blog has improved the travel hacking community as I have posted and discovered some great deals many people were able to take advantage (2 Free Rental Days, New Hack for 75k Amex Business Gold, Two Browser Trick with Alaska Airlines etc.) in addition to posting about the latest promotions or credit card offers. Additionally, my consulting and award booking services have taken off and it is actually truly satisfying to help people achieve their travel goals when some of them didn’t think it was possible until they discovered just how valuable points & miles can be.

In closing, thanks for reading PointsCentric. I look forward to having another year of great content and helping others realize just how plain awesome points and miles are.

– Ralph

Award Trip Breakdown: MLK Weekend in Aruba and an Escape from the NY Winter!

For the long Martin Luther King weekend, my wife and I joined a few friends and jetted down to Aruba to escape the New York winter for a weekend. Thanks to an amazingly cheap airfare and some hotel points, we were able to escape to the Caribbean for only $300 a person. Normally a trip this time of year, in the height of winter around a holiday weekend, can easily cost a few thousand dollars if you were paying for flights and hotels. Here is how we did it for only $300 a person.

Aruba

Airfare:

While I like to use miles instead of paying for my flights, sometimes when the airfare is cheap enough, it doesn’t make sense redeem valuable frequent flyer miles for airfare. Back in April, US Airways had a sale on fares to the Caribbean that included travel dates for early 2015 for around $300 roundtrip. The best part was long weekend trips around MLK and Presidents Day Weekend were included! For that time of year, those flights should easily cost $500-$600 (or more) from the East Coast. A roundtrip flight to the Caribbean generally requires 35,000 miles so I would have been getting only around about $.008 cents a mile in value which isn’t even the basic a penny per mile so for this trip, buying the airfare made much more sense. On top of that, it was unlikely to even find award availability over a holiday weekend to a peak destination like this.

After only a few minutes of searching different islands and flight times, we settled on a great itinerary to Aruba that left Saturday and came back on Tuesday. I quickly posted the findings on this blog and my personal Facebook/Twitter accounts and lucky enough, we got some friends to join us a long weekend of fun in the sun.

To take advantage of these limited time fares or even mistake fares by an airline, I recommend following The Flight Deal or following the Mileage Run forum on Flyertalk. Additionally, follow me on Twitter as I tend to post quick tweets on some great fares I see that I may not have time to blog about.

Hotel:

There seems to be two major sections of hotels in Aruba (the low rise and high rise) along the west coast of Aruba, north of the airport. This area of the island has the better beaches in Aruba, including the world famous Eagle Beach. With most major hotel chains present in the Palm Beach area (except for Hilton), you can easily use hotel points to stay in Aruba.

View from our room at the Holiday Inn

View from our room at the Holiday Inn

Our first choice was to stay at the Radisson Aruba due to my wife and I having a balance of over 500,000 Club Carlson points and the ability to get one award night free due to having the Club Carlson credit card. Unfortunately, when I tried to book this hotel, they were completely sold out and this was back in April!  I even called the hotel to confirm what I saw online and it was confirmed you could not book any room, either points or cash – kind of crazy for 9 months in advance! I never followed up but I wonder if any rooms ever opened up right before the cancellation period.

Plan B was the Hyatt Regency Aruba but unfortunately this didn’t make sense for all our friends who were going with us and as such, we didn’t book it. We are in the midst of planning a trip to Costa Rica to stay at the Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort so we didn’t want our friends to burn their Hyatt points since there were many other point options in Aruba but not as many in Costa Rica.

Eventually, we settled on the Holiday Inn Aruba which is only a few hotels down from the Radisson and Hyatt along the same stretch of beach. While a step down in the luxury compared to the Radisson and Hyatt, we cared more location and just wanted a clean, functional hotel for our stay so the Holiday Inn fit our needs perfectly for this trip. In fact, the Holiday Inn had been recently renovated so I was pleasantly surprised by our stay (review to follow in a future post). The cost was only 25,000 IHG points a night and there were no resort fees. In fact, when we checked out on Tuesday, our checkout bill came to only $92 for three days of drinks and one lunch we had by the pool. For the value, I would certainly return here in the future for a long weekend.

I’ll cover some of the dining option we took advantage of and the activities we did when I do a trip report but we had an awesome weekend in Aruba as it was 85 degrees and sunny the whole trip. I heard it rained/snowed back home when we were gone which makes me even happier we decided to go away for the weekend. I commented on Twitter I think Aruba is my new favorite Caribbean island and I would love to return one day in the near future.

Aruba

Totally empty beach we found by the natural pool

 

 

 

The Two Browser Trick is Back with the Bank of America Alaska Airlines Credit Card

Back when I first got into points & miles, one of first tricks I learned from other blogs was the infamous “two browser trick” with Citibank American Airlines credit cards in which you could get two American Airlines credit cards with a 75,000 mile signup bonus if you applied for the cards at the same time using different internet browsers. Well, I can now confirm the newest two browser trick: Alaska Airlines personal credit cards from Bank of America.

AlaskaAir

While prepping for my wife’s latest round of credit card applications, I wanted to include an Alaska Airlines credit card since they are churnable as you can get the signup bonus again and again without any issue. On Flyertalk, there was a post of someone getting approved for both cards at once so I decided to try it and report my findings. The current best offer for the Alaska Airlines credit card is 25,000 miles + $100 statement credit after spending $1,000 in 3 months with the annual fee of $75 NOT waived. This isn’t the largest ever signup bonus for this card and not necessarily an exciting offer by itself. However if you could double this offer for a single credit inquiry, this offer becomes more attractive.

Here how I got approved for two personal Alaska Airlines credit cards:

  1. Closed all internet browsers and opened an incognito Google Chrome window and a private session Internet Explorer (I’m sure a private window in Firefox would work as well).
  2. Pasted the link for the 25,000 mile offer + $100 statement credit in each browser.
  3. Important: On one application, I chose the Northern Lights design while on the other I chose the Classic design. I have no idea if this actually made a difference but my thinking is BofA’s computers will not mark the applications are duplicates since technically the applications are different due to the card design. I haven’t tested trying out the same design on each but I recommend doing different designs since I know this works. AlaskaAirDesign
  4. I completed the application for my wife in each window quickly to avoid possible timing out the page but I did NOT click submit yet.
  5. Once I got to the next page before hitting the final submit application, I quickly verified the information I entered on each was identical (with the exception of the design of the card noted above).
  6. I clicked submit on one application and I immediately, as quick as I could (use ALT+TAB) switched to the other application and hit submit. I did this in about a second or so. I don’t know how quick you need to be but I imagine a few seconds is fine.
  7. About 30 seconds later, I got the message my wife was instantly approved for both cards with identical credit lines on each card. Make sure the credit line is above $5k otherwise you will get approved for a lower level card and not receive the 25k miles.
  8. Since there is no minimum spending requirement for the 25,000 miles (you only need to spend the $1,000 to get a $100 statement credit), the miles should have posted a few days after approval. I applied for the cards on 1/10 and 50,000 miles posted in my wife’s account on 1/18 though the activity was backdated to 1/12. SUCCESS!
  9. I currently see two credit pulls from Bank of America on my wife’s credit report. They haven’t combined just yet but I fully expect them to do so within a few weeks. And if they don’t, I’m confident in my ability to call and get the pulls combined.
Confirmation of miles posting

Confirmation of miles posting

Even though the above worked for me, there are some remaining open points:

Will this work for other Bank of America credit cards? I don’t know and I haven’t test this out to try it. Personally, I believe the offers from BofA to be pretty weak with the Alaska Airlines card as the true standout among their offers due to how valuable their points are.

What if I’m not instantly approved and I have to call the reconsideration line? I don’t know how Bank of America will react if a rep see two pending applications. They will most likely assume it’s a duplicate application but you might be able to explain why you need two cards. You could explain that you want to track different type of expenses or if you added an authorized user on one card, you want to keep the expenses from individuals on separate statements. This is a big YMMV.

Can I do this with Bank of America Business cards? Again, I don’t know and I haven’t tested it. What is interesting though is that after applying for the personal card, on the approval screen I was offered the chance to apply for the business version of the card as well. I didn’t try it out as my wife doesn’t have a legitimate business but I did have someone else try this for me. The business application was initially marked as pending after getting approved for both personal cards. After a call to reconsideration, he was approved so in total he netted 3 Alaska cards (2 personal, 1 business) in a day.

Post your results and findings in the comments!

Point & Center: $400 Flights to Italy, American Express Transfer Bonus to Virgin America, Last Call for Hyatt Reservations & More!

Sorry for the lack of post the past few days – I was down in Aruba for the long weekend and my schedule didn’t allow me to post any of the news going on from the past week or so. Here is quick roundup of some of the more notable news and developments that I missed.

1. 35% American Express Transfer Bonus to Virgin America - American Express is offering a 35% transfer bonus for all transfers of American Express Membership Rewards points to Virgin America. The normal transfer ratio is 2 Membership Rewards points to 1 Virgin America Elevate point (2:1) so with this promotion, it becomes 2:1.35. Virgin America points are worth ~2.2 cents each since that is the approximate rate they can be redeemed for travel on Virgin America. As in most cases when there is a transfer bonus (with perhaps the exception of the current 40% British Airways transfer bonus), I would not make any speculative transfers unless you needed to top off your account for an award you about to book. In general, I don’t recommend taking advantage of this offer for most people.

VATransfer

2. ~$400 flights New York to Milan on Emirates & United – Emirates is running a promotion in which you can snag a non-stop flight from JFK to Milan for only ~$400 a person roundtrip. United quickly matched the fare for Newark to Milan though availability seems to be more limited than Emirates. The catch for this promotion is this is valid for only groups of exactly of 2 people (Emirates) or 2+ people (United). A single traveler will price out at ~$660. You can travel from February to May though you will need to search to see what dates are eligible for the $400 fares. Here is more information from The Flight Deal.

 

3. No Foreign Transaction Fees on Barclays US Airways MasterCard – I recently received an email from Barclays informing me that they will no longer charge a foreign transaction fee on purchases made outside of the United States. Previously they would charge 3% for this but in what I’m guessing is an attempt to lure more customers to acquire the US Airways MasterCard before they are unable to offer it anymore, they have removed this fee completely. I’m glad to see another credit card offer no foreign transaction fee but there are much better cards to use for foreign purchases already so this announcement doesn’t make a big difference to me.

4. Last Call for Hyatt Reservations for Affected Hotels Before Award Category Changes on 1/22 – I posted last month a list of some of the key hotels that are changing categories (Park Hyatt Maldives, Andaz Amsterdam, Park Hyatt Seoul, Baha Mar and more) in the Hyatt Gold Passport Program as a result of Hyatt’s annual evaluation of category levels. The change in award category will occur on 1/22 so if you are targeting a reservation at one of the affected hotels, I recommend booking them now even if you don’t exactly have firm dates. There is no cost to cancel award bookings (as long as you do it before the hotel’s cancellation deadline) and generally, Hyatt has allowed you to change dates to a reservation made before the category change without charging you the increased amount of points (though this is a YMMV situation). Basically, I see no downside to making a speculative reservation now to save points.

Here is the complete list of affected hotels.