Point & Center: 10-20% off Virgin America Flights, $50 off Marriott Hotels with Amex Sync & Using Credit Cards to Pay Bills with Evolve Money

I am in the Phoenix this weekend attending the #westcoastDO where about 100 or so points & miles fanatics meet to hear some interesting speakers talk and to share stories, tips and tricks about manufactured spending, travel hacking and trips they have taken. It’s been an awesome weekend but here is a recap of what’s going on in the points & miles world.

1) 10-20% Virgin America Flights – It seems Virgin America is always offering some sort of discount on flights as there is yet another promotion going on right now in which you can take 10-20% off Virgin America flights with promo code DEAL20. This deal isn’t as good as the one a few weeks ago (that one had a much wider travel period) but this deal does include weekend travel so it might work for a quick weekend getaway. Here are the key details:

  • Must book by 11:59 PST TONIGHT (11/9) using promo code DEAL20
  • Travel must be between December 3rd and December 16th
  • You can take 20% off if you travel on Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday
  • You can take 10% off if you travel on the other days of the week (including Friday and Sunday which were excluded last time)

I see roundtrip fares from NY to LA at $242 for this promotion which is fantastic for a non-stop transcon. Play around with the dates to get the lowest price.

VADeal20

2) Take $50 Off Your Next Marriott Stay with Amex Sync – There is an American Express Sync offer that will allow you to take $50 off your next Marriott stay by tweeting #AmexMarriott and then booking a reservation directly with Marriott with your American Express card that is enrolled with Amex Sync. It kinda stinks so many Marriott brands are excluded (see below) but this could work if you are traveling for the upcoming holidays at an eligible Marriott Hotel.

Here is a direct link to the terms and conditions but the big things to know are:

  • Tweet using #AmexMarriott to add this offer to your connected American Express Card
  • Must book directly with Marriott Hotels as reservations must be made online at http://www.marriotthotels.com
  • The total amount charged must be over $200 for the $50 credit to hit. So even if the room rate is under $200, you can still charge any incidentals to your room to get to $200 and make this promotion work for you.
  • You must stay in a Marriott hotel between 11/6/14 and 12/31/14
  • Several Marriott Chains are excluded including The Ritz-Carlton®, EDITION®, AC Hotels by Marriott®, Autograph Collection®, JW Marriott®, Renaissance Hotels®, MOXY(TM) Hotels, Courtyard®, SpringHill Suites by Marriott®, Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott®, Protea Hotels(TM), Residence Inn by Marriott®, TownePlace Suites by Marriott®, Marriott Executive Apartments®, Gaylord Hotels® and Marriott Vacation Club®

3) Use Credit Cards to Pay Bills with Evolve Money – I don’t think I’ve blogged about this before but Evolve money is a bill pay service that in the past let you use gift cards or debit cards to make bill payments for student loans, mortgages, utilities and more.  There was even a short time where you could use credit cards to pay those bills without a fee. Unfortunately, Evolve made some changes a while back that stopped allowing credit cards and limiting you to make only one payment per bill in a month.

Well the good news now is Evolve is “evolving” (I’ll be here all week folks) and they are now accepting at the moment, just Discover credit cards to use for bill payments. They also noted that in early 2015 they will be introducing plans to allow users to use Visa or MasterCard credit cards to pay bills. There are no fees for this service from Evolve but I do wonder if the credit card companies will consider this a cash advance instead of a purchase. And if that’s true, there is no point to do this. I don’t have a Discover card to check it out but I am looking forward to testing it once Visa/MasterCards are accepted.

Point & Center: Save 10,000 Miles on Delta Awards, Annual Fee Waiver on Chase British Airways Visa & Free Wifi at Marriott Hotels!

Lots going on in the points and miles world. Let’s get to it:

1) Save 10,000 Delta SkyMiles on Award Redemptions – In a rare, positive moment for Delta SkyMiles, Delta has announced a special promotion that through November 2nd, you can save 4,000 to 10,000 miles on a roundtrip award with Delta. Here is the chart showing the discounted prices:

DeltaPromo

 

It is important to note that all travel must be between December 3rd, 2014 and February 18th, 2015 and as stated earlier, these flights must be booked by November 2nd. Additionally, the discount only applies to economy travel and obviously not on all awards (such as Europe or Asia) as you can see in the chart above. Lastly, flights to Brazil, Argentina, and Chile require a 7-day minimum stay.

This isn’t the most exciting promotion but if you were looking to book one of these awards (and can find saver space for it…good luck) then I obviously recommending book them before November 2nd. Just remember all travel has to be roundtrip!

2) Chase British Airways Visa Annual Fee Waiver – I saw this on several blogs yesterday but the Chase British Airways Visa is now available with the $95 annual fee waived for the first year. The signup bonus is still the standard 50,000 Avios after spending $2,000 in 3 months which is a good offer.

That said, I’m not as enthusiastic about this new offer as others. Sure its nice the annual fee is waived for the first year but I would much rather prefer a higher signup bonus in the terms of Avios. There used to be a 100,000 Avios offer from Chase annually though one for 2014 doesn’t seem likely now. I would even settle for a bonus of 75,000 Avios if it meant paying the $95 annual fee upfront. I personally plan to skip this offer &  wait and see if the Avios signup bonus increases. As I said on Twitter, I’m still holding out hope for a 100k offer at some point in 2015.

3) Free Wifi at Marriott Hotels & Resorts – Marriott announced today they will provide free internet to Marriott Rewards members who book their stay at a Marriott or Ritz Carlton hotel solely through a Marriott website or reservation center. This is an effort by Marriott to avoid having guests book through the Expedia, Orbitz and Priceline’s of the world and avoid paying them a commission. You must be enrolled as a Marriott Rewards member and have your rewards number attached to the reservation.

From a consumer standpoint, this is an awesome benefit and I will definitely be incentivized to book my stays through Marriott directly. In the event you do see a much cheaper rate on a site like Expedia, you could always file a Best Rate Guarantee with Marriott to get the lower rate + another 25% off. In order to file a Best Rate Guarantee though, you must book the room through Marriott so make sure it is refundable just in case for any reason the claim is not approved. However, this way you will still be entitled to the free internet since you booked through Marriott so this could be a win-win if you get another 25% off the room + free internet.

Point & Center: Use Marriott Points at Atlantis, No More 7,500 AA Miles at Cadillac & $300-$400 Airfare to Europe

*For my new readers, Point & Center is a weekly series (with a witty play on words) that rounds up some of the biggest news in the points and miles space. These posts are generally well-received though some argue my witty play on words is not. You be the judge.*

Here’s a quick recap of what happened in the points & miles world this week.

1. Use Marriott Points at Atlantis Resorts in the Bahamas – I received an email this week from Marriott letting me know that I can now book certain rooms at Atlantis with Marriott Rewards Points. I’ll be the first to admit out of all the major hotel loyalty programs I care least about Marriott – before getting the 140,000 point Ritz credit card I never earned any Marriott points – so it is certainly nice to have a more “inspirational property” available for redemption for Marriott members. That said, I don’t think the values are great as the base level rooms cost 35,000 points. Here is a summary of the points cost per room depending on what tower you are in.

Atlantis

I’ve seen prices for the Beach & Coral Tower hover around $199/night except during prime season or holidays. Outside of times when the room rates are exceptionally higher, I would not use points as I would only be getting $.0057 cents a point when the room rate is around $200. On a different note, if you do pay cash for your room you will only receive Marriott points on the room rate only. In most cases with other hotels chains (and Marriott’s other hotels), you receive points on anything that posts to your hotel bill before checkout. With food and drink quite being quite expensive at Atlantis, this restriction will cost you a fair amount of Marriott points.

2. No More Free & Easy 7,500 American Airline Miles for Test Driving a Cadillac – I posted about this last week but per View From The Wing, Cadillac is no longer allowing any new registrations for its promotion in which customers that test a Cadillac could received 7,500 American Airline miles. If you registered for the promotion but haven’t taken the test drive yet, you should still go forward with it as you will still receive the miles for the promotion.

Cadillac ending this promotion most likely means they have scheduled enough test drives to cover the amount of miles they purchased from AA. The bigger takeaway from all of this is the old mantra of if you snooze, you lose. If you’ve ever seen a mistake fare (scroll to the bottom for the list of fares I’ve taken advantage of) or a promotion “too good to be true”, you know it has a limited shelf life. Especially nowadays, when there is much more attention on some of these deals as blogs, websites and forums are reaching more people, quicker than ever. In this case, there was no downside to registering so hopefully you registered for it and it was not one of the things you decided “to put off”.

3. Wow Air Still Has Cheap Fares to Iceland, London & Copenhagen – I wrote about this deal earlier and suggested to book your flights as soon as possible as I assumed Wow Air only released a handful of seats at the low prices ($99 to London, $300 roundtrip to Iceland etc..) and then would have much higher fares. Well, I’m happy to report I am still seeing some extraordinary airfares to Europe between $319 – $400 roundtrip which is still phenomenal for summer travel to Europe. Here are some fares I pulled at 11pm EST on 10/25. 

WowAir10_25 WowAir10_25Fare2WowAir10_25Fare3

I’ve seen several people disregard this sale because Wow Air is ” just like Spirit”  and they won’t get suckered into all the extra fees. I think this is a bad assumption to make. Even including a fee for a seat reservation and carry-on luggage that’s only an additional $32 to $43 each way so you might be looking at $350-$400 roundtrip with fees included. At these prices, it would be a waste to use miles for Europe. Remember the highlight of a vacation is the destination itself – I’ve read Iceland is absolutely stunning in the summer and at these prices, I’m finding it very difficult to pass up.

Long Weekend in San Juan, Puerto Trip Report – Courtyard Marriott Isla Verde

1) Introduction
2) Flights: American Airlines Business Class JFK – SJU & American Airlines Economy Class SJU – JFK
3) Hotel: Courtyard Marriott Isla Verde
4) Activities & Dining

As mentioned in the introduction, this was actually my second stay at the Courtyard Marriott Isla Verde. The first time we stayed there was way back in 2008 on my first ever trip out of the continental United States (I’ve come a long ways now) and we had quite an enjoyable stay. Looking for hotels on this trip to San Juan, we wanted a hotel right on the beach and was close to the airport to minimize our driving time.

Many hotels of the hotels we were considering were ranging from $135/night to $225/night, including the San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris CasinoInterContinental Hotel San Juan and the Courtyard Marriott Isla Verde.  Points for these hotels ranged from 35,000 to 50,000 a night but with cash rates so low for the hotels, it didn’t make sense to redeem points for our stay. Instead, I had a $500 Marriott Gift Card I purchased for 19% off (for a total of $405) during the American Express Daily Getaways, so my preference was for a Marriott hotel. In the end, we went with the cheaper option at $135/night for the Courtyard Marriott Isla Verde.

View From Our Balcony

View From Our Balcony

In doing some research on the hotel, I noticed it was undergoing a renovation in which rooms on the top few floors were completely renovated while the middle to bottom floors remained untouched. About a week prior to our stay, I emailed the hotel requesting a newly renovated room and they responded they would do their best but could not guarantee it. Our flight landed around 9:30pm, and since the hotel is only a 5-7 minute drive from the airport, we were at the hotel around 9:50pm after making our way out of the airport and finding a taxi.

Upon walking in to the lobby, the check-in area was deserted (not surprising considering it was almost 10pm) but an agent quickly checked us in without any issues. We were assigned a partial ocean view room on the 8th floor, but as you can see in the picture above, the partial ocean view was actually quite nice and not just some small sliver of the ocean. Our room also happened to be a newly renovated room and you could tell what a difference that made as everything was brand new with no marks, scuffs or scratches anywhere on the furniture.

IMG_0233 IMG_0236

 

The room was modestly sized but had some character to it with the painted wall behind the bed and new wood cabinetry and furniture throughout the room. It was well designed, as the TV could swivel out depending whether you were on the couch or the bed and the mini-fridge could actually hold several large bottles of water and snacks. I forgot to take a picture of it but the room opened up to a nice balcony outside which had a small table and two chairs. Each morning, we would run downstairs to the little coffee shop in the lobby and come back to our room to have breakfast on our balcony.

Our favorite part of the hotel was the wide stretch of white, sandy beach right behind the hotel. As I stated in the introduction to this trip report, I think the beach here is nicer than the beach in front of the Ritz-Carlton. My reasoning behind it is even though it is the same stretch of beach (you can just make out the blue cluster of Ritz Carlton chairs in the top photo), the beach gets much narrower by the Ritz and the cluster of chairs makes the beach feel much smaller. Additionally, there are large apartment complexes or hotels on each side of the Ritz, crowding the beach even further, while the Courtyard Marriott Isla Verde is the last hotel on the strip and has a lot more privacy. Each morning, you could walk down to the beach and helpful hotel employees would set up an umbrella and chairs wherever you liked on the beach.

In addition to the umbrella and chair setup, their was food and drink service on the beach which is something that was non-existent the last time we went 6 years ago. Service was generally good though it sometimes took a while to get a drink since they came from the pool bar which was usually crowded. Speaking of the pool, it felt like a standard hotel swimming pool with a nice swim-up bar but the pool was always too crowded for our liking. The food and drinks from the pool bar were good with frozen cocktails averaging $8-$10 a drink and sandwiches/burgers/salads ranging from $10-$12 at lunch. I’m not sure what the prices are at the Ritz down the beach but I guarantee they are much higher than those prices.

Puerto Rico 039 Puerto Rico 044

 

There were also several other features of the hotel we didn’t get to experience including the fitness center which was large and overlooked the pool area. We didn’t have an opportunity to eat dinner at the hotel but we noticed on Sundays, they had a Puerto Rican dinner buffet complete with a whole roasted pig. There was also a small casino inside the hotel (right off the lobby) that had several blackjack, roulette, and craps tables in addition to tons of slots machines.

For a long weekend of 3 nights, I think at this price point (<$150 night), this hotel can’t be beat. It’s close to the airport yet only 15 minutes from Old San Juan (stay tuned for the next post in this series) and has a great beach which is definitely the highlight of this hotel. The renovated rooms are nice though I’m sure I would have been disappointed with a non-renovated room as they are probably still the same room we had 6 years ago. The staff is generally friendly and the drinks/food at the pool bar were good especially when they could be delivered to your beach chairs for no additional fee.

Feel free to ask me any questions about this hotel, I’d be happy to answer them. I’ve included a few additional photos of our room and the grounds.

 

Puerto Rico 020 Puerto Rico 035 Puerto Rico 063 IMG_0245 IMG_0238 IMG_0237 IMG_0235 IMG_0234

Long Weekend in San Juan, Puerto Rico Trip Report – Introduction

* I am going to try something new here on the blog and do a full trip report for our trip to Puerto Rico last month. It will be a 4 part series in which I’ll go over the miles/points/travel hacking aspect to the trip, followed by reviews of our flights and hotel stay and ending with some activities and dining we did to spur ideas for a possible trip for you to Puerto Rico. I’ll update each link below once the relevant post is up.

1) Introduction (this post)

2) Flights – American Airlines Business Class JFK – SJU & American Airlines Economy Class SJU – JFK 

3) Hotel – Courtyard Marriott Isla Verde

4) Activities & Dining

The first ever trip I took with my then girlfriend (now wife) was to Puerto Rico back in 2008. This was before I was into points and miles so I remember thinking back then I got a deal when I booked a vacation package on Orbitz.com for $500+ a person for a 4 night stay. Obviously now I wouldn’t consider that a deal especially considering my trip to Bora Bora cost less but I digress. For this trip, we were looking for a relaxing getaway for the weekend that was within a few hours of NY, had good weather and most importantly, had award availability for flights to make this trip as cheap as possible. The one location that met this criteria almost immediately was a return trip to Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico - 2008

Puerto Rico – 2008

For our flights, I’ve written about this before but being based in NY, British Airways Avios are quite valuable for trips to the Caribbean. The only limitations was that flights had to be on American Airlines and had to be direct to maximize the Avios award chart. I’ll go over the flight selections in the next post on the flight reviews but I was only able to find award availability to San Juan. There was none on the way home which wasn’t especially surprising since everyone is looking for a late Sunday flight home after a weekend getaway. Thankfully, I had some AA gift cards to burn for the return flight.

For the hotel, it was a trip down memory lane as stayed in the same hotel we did back in 2008 – The Courtyard Marriott Isla Verde. I wasn’t trying to be nostalgic but it made the most sense from a financial standpoint, which I’ll get into when I review the hotel. It is located about 5 minutes from the airport and I’d argue the beach at the Courtyard Marriott is nicer then the Ritz Carlton’s which is down maybe a half mile. It’s also #AVGeek heaven as the runway is located across the street from the hotel so you have some amazing views of planes taking off.

I hope you will stay tuned for my first trip report on the blog and if this proves successful, I plan to go back and review some of the bigger trips I’ve taken. My goal for doing this is by showing you how easy it can be to accumulate the miles/points, I hope to inspire you to start taking your own trips. I think seeing pictures and descriptions of the activities we did will only entice you more to make these trips a reality. I know this worked on me when I first started collecting points and miles as I would see bloggers post amazing pictures of their trip in Europe or Asia, followed by pictures of their first class seat or luxury 5 star hotel room that they got for free due to points and miles. Hopefully, this will have the same effect on you.

Puerto Rico - 2014

Puerto Rico – 2014