Award Trip Breakdown: Aloha From Hawaii!

A big Aloha to all of you as we are currently en-route to Hawaii, flying Hawaiian first class JFK-HNL-KOA on our first big trip of 2015. This is our second time to the Hawaiian islands (after spending our second honeymoon here) and this time around we spending 3 nights on the island of Hawai’i (better known as the Big Island) followed by 6 nights in Maui.

Last year when we made this trip we flew Hawaiian in economy the whole way and back but we decided to splurge with our points and fly Hawaiian “First Class” for this trip. Before you said that’s a waste of points, I’ve read the reviews and I know Hawaiian “First Class” is more comparable to a domestic first class product with big recliner seats instead of lie-flat seats but it still beats economy for 11 hours on the JFK to Honolulu route. I’ll be sure to post my experience and if I thought it was worth the additional miles.

Hawaiian A330 First Class

Hawaiian A330 First Class

On the Big Island we are staying at the Hilton Waikokola Village. I had initially booked our 3 nights with Hilton HHonors points but on Cyber Monday there was a fantastic 50% off sale on all rooms. I decided to book a room in their new MAKAI rooms which offer an upgraded level of service and amenities. With the 50% off sale, it was only about $50 more a night for this room category compared to the base rooms (which were under $100 with this sale) and I’m interested to see if the premium is worth it.

The Massive Hilton Waikokloa Property

The Massive Hilton Waikokloa Property

For Maui, while the allure to stay at a new hotel was promising, it was actually more tempting for us to return to the Andaz Maui. We stayed here last year after staying a few nights at the Grand Wailea and we simply loved it. I booked a Points & Cash stay but unfortunately it seems like the hotel has stopped making these available (I actually booked this stay last year when points & cash awards were more available). It works out well for me that Hyatt’s promotion is ongoing in which I will get 20% of my points back. I did see on the Flyertalk thread for this property that people aren’t as enamored with the property recently so I’ll report back to see how it compared to my stay last year.

Andaz Maui

Andaz Maui

I highly recommend following me on Twitter and Instagram as I will be posting updates and pictures on those social media sites instead of the blog. I do plan on writing up a trip report on the blog that further documents our travels and how easy it was to do on points and miles. So while I’ll post some pictures and details on the flights and hotels in the trip report, you can expect much more analysis in how I booked these awards, what points/miles I used and my recommendations for others to replicate this. Blog posts will be a little less frequent while were away but I will be checking my email. So stayed tuned for more details on this trip and Mahalo!

PSA: Don’t Apply for the Alaska Airlines Credit Card Unless It Has a $100 Statement Credit

If I’m being honest, one of the things that really irks me about this hobby is several well-known bloggers not making their readers aware of the best offer on a particular credit card. The latest example is the Alaska Airlines credit card which according to these expert bloggers only has a 25,000 mile signup bonus. The truth is there is actually a public offer that has a 25,000 mile signup bonus + a $100 statement credit for spending $1,000 in 3 months.

Alaskan Airlines

The best part about this card (and Bank of America cards in general) is that you can get several of them on the same day for just one credit pullI was able to get 2 Alaska credit cards on my wife’s latest churn on the same day without issue. Recently Frequent Miler reported he was able to get 4 Virgin Atlantic credit cards (which are also issued by Bank of America) in his crazy quest for a week on Necker Island. It is nice to see Bank of America being so liberal giving out multiple cards on the same day when other banks have tightened up this practice.

While this may not be groundbreaking news to many of you, consider this your friendly public service announcement to always make sure to apply for the Alaska Airlines Visa with the $100 statement credit. With every application, Bank of America is essentially paying you $25 ($100 statement credit – $75 annual fee) to acquire 25,000 Alaska miles. If you were able to get 3 of these cards in a day, that one credit pull would be worth 75,000 miles in addition to receiving $75 dollars. That sure beats paying $225 for the same amount of miles if you didn’t know about this offer and listened to those other bloggers.

Here is How to Save 20% at Every Marriott & Ritz Carlton Hotel

There haven’t been many great Daily Getaways deals this year (I promise this is my last post about them for 2015) but today’s deal will appeal to most people as you can save 20% on all Marriott and Ritz Carlton stays by purchasing discounted Marriott eGiftcards at 20% off. Unlike the past Hyatt or Hertz deals which had limited quantities, there are several packages available with much more availability. That said, these will still go quick today as 20% any Marriott/Ritz Carlton hotel is a good deal. Here is what will be available tomorrow at 1pm EST:

  • $100 Marriott eGiftCard for $80 (410 eGiftCards available)
  • $500 Marriott eGiftCard for $400 (308 eGiftCards available)
  • $1,000 Marriott eGiftCard for $800 (75 eGiftCards available)

MarriottGiftCard

This deal is much more straightforward than buying points and having to figure out the different cost per points depending on the package. This is simply a way to guarantee a 20% savings on all hotels within the Marriott chain (JW Marriott, EDITION, Autograph Collection, Renaissance, Courtyard are just a few of the chains) and also on participating Ritz Carlton hotels.

If you have an upcoming stay at a Marriott family hotel or even a Ritz Carlton, I would strongly consider buying a card to lock in a 20% discount. These eGiftcards do not expire and even if you are on an award stay, you can use these cards to pay for incidentals on your final checkout bill. I’m not a Marriott guy so I’ll be passing on this offer – good luck to everyone going for one!

If You Are Buying Hertz Points Today Here is One Helpful Hint on Actually Using Those Points

Today’s Daily Getaway deal is for Hertz points with several different packages available for sale ranging from $252 to $698. Here are the options:

5,500 Hertz Gold Plus Rewards for $252 (~4.58 cents per point, 45 available)
13,200 Hertz Gold Plus Rewards for $428 (~3.24 cents per point, 35 available)
16,500 Hertz Gold Plus Rewards for $698 (~4.23 cents per point, 50 available)

To get an idea of how many Hertz points you need for a rental, their full award chart is here but here are some highlights:

HertzAwards

If we assume you can buy the middle package today and get the lowest cost per point for Hertz points at ~3.24 cents each, then a free rental day cost around $21.87 while a free weekly rental costs only $89.16 by buying points today. A specialty vehicle weekly rental (which is defined as minivans, convertibles and certain SUVs) costs $142.56. Obviously rental prices vary greatly based on the market, but those weekly rates are great deals in most major markets.

For example, I am going to Hawaii next week and will be in Maui for a week. I decided to rent a convertible because why not. The listed rate was almost $600 but since I had Hertz points it costs me 4400 points which as pointed out above is a cost of $142.56 if you buy points today. That’s a fantastic deal for a weekly convertible rental in Maui! 

Hertz Rental

While the points can be quite valuable, I do want to point out one drawback which is the Hertz website sucks. It constantly does not let me redeem my points for cars by telling me I don’t have enough points (I do) or giving me the option to use points for just one day out of a weekly rental instead of using points for the full week. Better yet, calling customer service is a nightmare and they are generally unhelpful in my experience (I got into a screaming match with a supervisor the other night booking the convertible above but that’s another long story).

In short, she refused to book it so let me share my one BIG tip to solve this problem – Use the Hertz Twitter team. The Hertz Twitter team is fantastic – they are knowledge, responsive and I’ve never had an issue. For this rental with the convertible above, the rep on the phone claimed no standard convertibles were available which wasn’t true since I could book it paying cash. So I ended up booking it with cash and asking the Twitter team to convert the paid rental to a free weekly rental on points. This is my second big tip – if you are told a car is unavailable but you see it being available by paying cash, book it with cash and then change it to points. It took all of 3 minutes for them to adjust it and my confirmation was updated to pay just the mandatory fees.

Depending on your rental car habits, this deal is not for everyone. If you are an infrequent renter, I wouldn’t want to tie up cash in Hertz points that have already devalued once in 2013 and might again soon. The infrequent renter will be better off using Priceline, Costco Travel or the Chase Ultimate Rewards Portal most of the time. Even for relatively frequent renters, I find Hertz points are the most valuable for weekly rentals, one way rentals and specialty vehicle rentals. I would not use my points on multi-day rentals as 3/4 days is almost the same price as taking the car for the week. There are a limited number of packages available today so good luck!

My Experience Applying for the Last Remaining Debit Card That Earns Airline Miles

Note: The “My Experience” posts seem to be a hit so this is my recap of applying for the UFB Direct Airline Rewards account.

One option many people do not think about to earn miles is using debit cards and for good reason. For starters, there is only one remaining option that new applicants can apply for so this isn’t widely known and more importantly, credit cards earn miles at higher rates and offer much greater benefits such as warranty protection and travel insurance. However, there are times where credit cards won’t help you if you can’t use them to pay certain expenses or would cost too much in processing fees to make it worthwhile to use them, so to maximize miles earned, a rewards earning debit card would help fill those gaps.

UFB Signup

The only remaining option I am aware of for new applicants to apply for is a UFB Direct Airline Rewards Checking account which comes with a debit card that earns American Airline miles on debit card transactions. The earning ratio isn’t great – only 1 mile per $2 spent on debit card transactions. Obviously this reward program can’t compete with any credit card but this poor mileage earning ratio is better than nothing for transactions in which you can’t use a credit card and wouldn’t earn any miles anyway.

Here are the features of this account:

  • 1 American Airlines mile per $2 spent on debit card transactions
  • 1,000 American Airlines miles for 1st time direct deposit totaling $1,000 or more in a calendar month
  • No minimum balance requirement
  • No monthly maintenance fee
  • Unlimited ATM reimbursements (excluding international transactions)

I applied for this card last month last month at this link here and learned a few interesting things along the way. The application process itself was pretty standard with the usual information requested – nothing unusual there. However, I did learn the following:

  • You can fund this account with a credit card...but only up to $100 maximum :(. For the record, I used my Barclays Arrival + and was not charged any cash advance fees.

UFB

  • Make sure to select checks while opening the account. If you do not request checks at this point, you have to pay for them.
  • Customer service is not the best. I sent a secure message with a question and never got an answer let alone an acknowledgement of the message. I did call and get my answer but slightly annoying to have a secure message feature that doesn’t work.
  • Their website is from the Y2K generation. It’s old, outdated but functional I guess.
  • Lastly, a rep will call you a few days after you open the account to see how everything is going. I don’t understand the purpose of this call as I didn’t even receive my card or checks in the mail yet but I said I was excited to start using this account.

I received my card a few days after that and I began using it to fill in areas where I couldn’t use a credit card, such as paying bills like my mortgage and car loan with Evolve Money. Evolve charges a 3% fee on all credit cards but didn’t on debit cards. This worked well until Evolve closed this loophole and instituted a 3% fee on UFB debit cards.

While a loss, there are still some exciting ways to earn miles with this card. One way would be if you have tax payments to make – using a credit card costs 1.87% of the taxes bill in fees while a debit card has a flat fee of usually $3-$4. There are some manufactured spending techniques in which a debit card could come in handy which I am going to explore. In short, signing up for this card won’t earn me a ton of miles (I would probably be shut down by UFB before I get to this point) but I do like having the option to earn miles now on debit card transactions.

For Other My Experience Posts check out:
My Experience Applying for the Citi Prestige
My Experience Applying for the Citigold 30k AA Offer
My Experience Applying for the 75k American Express Business Gold Offer