My 2015 Travel Review: How I Used One Million Points/Miles & 8 Free Night Certificates

As I alluded to in 2015 Year in Review post, I wanted to post a recap of all my travel from the past year so here is a summary of our travels from the past year & how I burned over 1 million points in 2015 broken down by the various trips we took this year.

January 2015 – Aruba: 75,000 IHG Points

For this trip, we booked a cheap airfare about 9 months out or so when fares from NYC to Aruba dropped to $300 roundtrip which is fansatic for winter (and especially MLK weekend). Of course, I used some Delta e-gift cards I got my from various Platinum cards to offset the flight cost. We stayed 3 nights at the Holiday Inn Aruba at 25,000 points a nights with no resort fees or taxes. It wasn’t the most luxurious hotel but it had a great beachfront location. I would return for a long weekend in a heartbeat, especially at only 25,000 IHG points a night. See this Award Trip Breakdown post for more details.

Holiday Inn Aruba

Holiday Inn Aruba

Hawaii – April 2015: 160,000 Hawaiian Miles + 60,000 Hyatt Points + 6,000 Virgin American Points

This was our first big trip of 2015 with 3 nights on the Big Island, followed by 6 nights in Maui. We booked first class flights on Hawaiian with the outbound routing of JFK-HNL-KOA and return of OGG-HNL-JFK for 80,000 Hawaiian miles per person (I did transfer some Amex MR points to top off my account). Our return flight had quite an interesting twist as we assisted in a medical emergency onboard.

Hawaiian A330 First Class

Hawaiian A330 First Class

On the Big Island, we stayed at the Hilton Waikoloa Village on a paid stay which was around $130/night if I recall correctly for their new MAKAI rooms since I had booked it during a Black Friday sale in 2014. My wife and I really loved this property and the Big Island in general – we felt it had such a different vibe from what most people think of when they hear “Hawaii”.

Hilton Waikoloa Village

Hilton Waikoloa Village

To get to Maui from Kona, we used 3,000 Virgin America points each for a one way ticket on Hawaiian Airlines which is actually a pretty solid deal, considering these flights can cost $100 or more. Then in Maui we did cash + points at the Andaz Maui for 75,000 points + $150/night co-pay so I could use a Diamond Suite upgrade…which led to this post. However, Hyatt was running a promotion for Hyatt Visa cardholders and I got 20% of my points back (hence the 60,000 total in the title). Even with the all complaints on Flyertalk about the Andaz Maui (resort fee, reduced breakfast for Diamonds, lack of cash+points), it remains my favorite domestic hotel and it took a lot for me not to return to it this year on our April 2016 trip to Hawaii.  For more details, see this Award Trip Breakdown.

Andaz Maui

Andaz Maui

Seattle – May 2015: 2 Hilton Free Night Certificates + 50,000 Hilton Points + 40,000 Delta Skypesos Skymiles

We went to Seattle for a long weekend to visit one of Andrea’s friends and set up base at the Hilton Seattle using 2 free nights from the Citi Hilton Reserve (yes, I know it wasn’t the best use of the free nights but our original plans for Italy fell through) + 50,000 Hilton points for the 3rd night. For the flights, we paid for the outbound as it was only $162 per person (we used Delta e-gift cards again) but all the return flights were pricing at $275 + for a one way since we wanted a red-eye back to NY to maximize our time in Seattle. I ended up using 20,000 Delta Skypesos per person – see this Award Trip Breakdown for even more details. 

No trip to Seattle is complete without a trip to Boeing #avgeek

No trip to Seattle is complete without a trip to Boeing #avgeek

Antigua – July 2015: 40,000 British Airways Avios

We wanted to go away for the July 4th weekend and to figure out where to go, I used American’s Award Map tool which I talked about in this post. The only island that had availability was Antigua so we decided to use British Airways Avios at a rate of 20,000 Avios per person instead of the 35,000 miles American wanted. For the hotel, there are no chain hotels so I decided to take advantage of the 4th night free benefit from the Citi Prestige card and booked the Sandals Antigua. Since we went for exactly 4 nights, we only paid for 3 nights but even with this perk I don’t think I’d return to this Sandals anytime soon.

SandalsAntigua

Chicago – July 2015: 50,000 Club Carlson Points

My wife was running a half marathon in Chicago so we headed off to the Windy City for 2 nights. We booked a cheapish roundtrip on American for ~$225 roundtrip and stayed at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel, which is part of the Club Carlson group of hotels. We chose this hotel since at the time, I had the Club Carlson Visa which allowed you one night free on all award stays – so for our two night stay, we paid for one night in points (50,000) and the other night was free! Unfortunately Club Carlson discontinued this perk and I cancelled my card shortly thereafter.

Radisson Blu Aqua

Radisson Blu Aqua

Costa Rica – August 2015: 78,400 JetBlue Points + 22,500 Hyatt Points + 1 Hyatt Anniversary Night

I’ve always wanted to try out the Andaz Papagayo Resort in Costa Rica so we planned a 4 night stay there with some friends for our first trip to Costa Rica. The Andaz is located on the west coast of Costa Rica and you need to fly into Liberia so flights are bit more scarce than say to San Jose, Costa Rica. Coming from NY, I really wanted to fly the only non-stop on JetBlue and we did though it cost us a boatload of points. However a large portion of that high cost in points (almost 30,000 additional on top what was already booked) is that I had to change our return flight only about a month out since we had to return a day earlier (for my wife’s new job) and cash prices were quite high. I talked about my decision in this post (and yes it still hurts I had to burn that many points for an economy flight).

For the hotel, I once again used cash & points for the first 3 nights (7,500 points a night + $100 copay) so I could use a Diamond Suite Upgrade. For the last night, I used the 2014 free anniversary night from my Hyatt Visa since this is a category 4 hotel and they were nice enough to let us stay in the suite for the night. We loved this hotel and how secluded it was – highly recommended for a relaxing getaway.

One of the pools

One of the pools

Dubai / Maldives – October 2015: 180,000 Alaska Airlines Miles + 2 Anniversary Hyatt Free Nights + 2 Hyatt Free Nights +100,000 Hyatt Points + 180,000 American Airlines Miles

Ok, this was the BIG trip in 2015 for our second anniversary – and quite possibly our favorite trip ever. It had amazing first class flights on Emirates & Etihad and two great Hyatt hotels. For the outbound we used 90,000 Alaska miles per person for a JFK-Dubai (2 night stopover) – Male routing on Emirates first class. Yes, we even got lucky and the Dubai-Male leg had an equipment change with a 777-300ER with first class suites!

Emirates First Class

Emirates A380 First Class

Shower for First Class Passengers

Shower for First Class Passengers

First Class on 777-300ER

First Class on 777-300ER

Our hotel in Dubai was the Grand Hyatt Dubai which is a category 4 hotel so we were able to use my 2015 & 2016 Hyatt free nights here as Hyatt was able to extend the expiration date of my expiring 2015 free night.  This served as a solid base for our 2 nights in Dubai as it was only 10 minutes from the airport.

Grand Hyatt Dubai

Grand Hyatt Dubai, Courtesy of Hyatt.com

In the Maldives, we stayed at the Park Hyatt Maldives using 2 free night from Andrea signing up for the Hyatt Visa + 100,000 Hyatt points for the other 4 nights. We decided to upgrade from the base villa to a private pool villa for 3 nights and an overwater villa for 3 nights. I’m behind on trip reports but I do plan a full review of the property (and the trip in general). Spoiler alert – it was awesome!

1516

Villa 24, with a private pool

1537

From our overwater villa

1564

Overwater Villa

Finally for the return flight home, we burned 90,000 American Airlines miles per person for a first class routing on Etihad home of MLE-AUH-JFK. Unfortunately this was about two months before they flew the First Class Apartments to JFK but nonetheless the flight was awesome. The first class suite on the 777 for the AUH-JFK is very comfortable and the chef for first class was a great perk. It was our longest flight at almost 14 hours and 7,000 miles.

Etihad First Class

Etihad First Class

IMG_2140

Another angle of Etihad First Class

To sum it all up, I burned the following for travel in 2015:

  • Airline Miles – 684,400 miles
  • Hotel Points – 357,500 points
  • Free Night Certificates – 8 Free Night Certificates (I’m including the 4th Night Free in Antigua from the Citi Prestige)
  • Grand Total = 1,041,900 Points/Miles + 8 Free Night Certificates

I’m happy we were able to travel as much as we did in 2015 and even happier to do it for a small fraction of the retail cost of all this travel. Here is to making 2016 just as memorable!

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Positive Updates on the Two Browser Trick for the Alaska Airlines Credit Card

Update Dec. 2015: The two browser trick is dead. 

About two weeks ago I wrote, what turned out to be one of my most popular posts so far in 2015, about how the Two Browser Trick was Back with the Bank of America Alaska Airlines Credit Card. In case you missed it, I tested whether you could apply for two Alaska Airline credit cards simultaneously in two different browsers and get the signup bonus of 25,000 miles + $100 statement credit on each. I applied for two personal cards for my wife and she was instantly approved for both with identical $20,000 credit lines on each card. Two days after approval, the miles posted to her Alaska account, since the miles are awarded upon approval and there is no minimum spending requirement (you do need to spend $1,000 for the $100 statement credit).

Confirmation of miles posting

Confirmation of miles posting

Well, I’m happy to report on two more positive updates I learned from doing this two browser trick.

1) The Two Credit Pulls Are Combined Into One – When I posted the initial blog on this trick, I speculated that there would be two credit pulls from Bank of America but I hoped they would automatically get combined into one. I pulled my wife’s Experian credit report last night for free using her Annual Free Credit Report and sure enough, there is now only one pull from Bank of America!

One only pull from Bank of America!

One only pull from Bank of America!

I did an App-O-Rama for her on January 10th and picked up a total of 5 cards including the Chase Hyatt Visa (two free nights at the Park Hyatt Maldives) and an American Express Hilton HHonors Surprass (80k HHonors points) which you see the credit pulls for in the screenshot above. I unfroutnately don’t have the credit report from right after the application but almost a month later now, her credit report clearly shows just one inquiry from Bank of America. Since there is only one credit inquiry after the fact, I would argue that almost everyone should be applying for two Alaska Airline cards at the same time to get double the miles for the same credit pull. While it does seem Alaska is blocking award redemptions on Emirates First Class after March 28th, you can still book business class in addition to all their other partners.

2) You Can Get the Alaska Airline Business Card on the Same Day As Well – While I didn’t try this personally for my wife, one of my consulting clients wanted to do the Two Browser Trick AND apply for the Alaska Airlines Business card as well on the same day. She didn’t try the Two Browser Trick on the Business card, instead opting to apply for just one after getting approved instantly for both personal cards. In fact, on the approval screen, there is a direct link to then apply for the 25k Alaska Airlines Business card.

She was not approved instantly for the business card and she didn’t have a chance to call the reconsideration department right away. However, a few days later she was notified automatically she was approved for the business card as well! So while not a same day approval, she was able to secure 3 Alaska Airline credit cards in total without the system rejecting her.

These are some great, positive developments and I fully plan on incorporating these cards in my next round of credit card applications since I did these for my wife. I’m curious to see if the Two Browser Trick will work for the Business card – I’ll report back my findings when I try next month.

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

Update Dec. 2015: Per the comments, the double application trick is effectively dead. 

Note: I posted an update here about the miles posting. 

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!

Travel Hacking Year End Checklist: Here is What You Need to Do Before January 1st

Year end is here and as such, there are several calendar year opportunities that you want to make sure you’ve taken advantage of before Thursday. Additionally, there are some limited time opportunities that may not be around much longer, so I’ve included those items below as well.

The clock is ticking...

The clock is ticking…

Here is a list of items you want to make sure you’ve taken care of before the clock strikes midnight on December 31st.

1. Spend the $200 American Express Platinum Airline Credit – Each calendar year, Amex Platinum cardholders (both personal and business) get a $200 airline credit to spend toward fees on a specified airline. You must first select the airline here and if you made a selection last year, it is automatically carried forward for 2014 (you can change this selection once a year in January). Even though the official language regarding this credit is meant to cover baggage fees, lounge passes etc., I always buy gift cards to make sure I fulfill this $200 credit, since I wouldn’t complete it on fees alone. Buying $50 Delta e-gift cards or $100 American Airlines gift cards does the trick. 

2. Spend the $300 Ritz Carlton Credit Card Travel Credit – Similar to the Amex Platinum above, the Ritz Carlton credit card offers $300 annually in travel credit for baggage fees, lounge passes, seat upgrades and other fees, but with two key differences: 1) The $300 credit can cover multiple charges from different airlines and 2) You have to call in to request reimbursement. This second part makes it a little trickier to use this credit for gift cards since they aren’t technically eligible for reimbursement and by having a person manually review every charge (as compared to the Amex Platinum where the credit is automatically generated) it is harder to get reimbursed for gift cards. There are two good threads that have some reports on people getting reimbursed for gift cards here and here. It seems buying gift cards in denominations of stated fees, such as pet fees and checked baggage fees have been working if you are willing to fudge the truth on what the charge is actually for if the agent asks. This is a YMMV scenario.

3. Book Hyatt My Elite Rate & Book via Hyatt Mobile App- I’ve covered this before but Hyatt is ending the My Elite Rate in 2015. If you have any known paid stays upcoming in 2015, you might want to lock in the My Elite Rate now and if you see it go cheaper or your plans change, you could always cancel as most My Elite Rates are cancelable up until a few days before the stay. In addition, the ability to earn 1,000 bonus points if you book a stay via the Hyatt mobile app is ending on 12/31.

4. Maximize Chase Freedom 4th Quarter 5% Bonus – The Chase Freedom Q4 5% Bonus is Amazon.com, Zappos.com and select Department stores. In these categories you will earn 5% cash back up to $1,500 in spend in these categories.  I’m a big Amazon shopper so I will always stock up on Amazon gift cards when the 5% bonus is active on the Freedom card to make sure I hit the $1,500 in spend. You could take a similar approach for department stores or Zappos by buying gift cards for future purchases.

5. Apply for the US Airways MasterCard  – I’m technically cheating on this one since I believe this offer will be around after 12/31 but now is a great time to apply for the US Airways MasterCard. This card is going away at some point in early 2015 (maybe January 18th?) and this is the final call to earn a signup bonus on this card. The current offers are 50,000 miles after first purchase that is valid for everyone and an offer targeted for Preferred Members that offers the same 50,000 miles + 10,000 miles upon renewal. I’ve heard several reports that if you apply for the offer meant for Preferred members but you aren’t a Preferred member and you do not get automatically approved, Barclays will no longer approve you for this offer if you call the reconsideration line. In that case, I recommend going for the standard 50,000 offer and remember there is a refer a friend offer ongoing.

6. Earn 500 Free Points from Virgin America – This is a pretty easy 500 points for a minute of work but this offer expires on 12/31. Here is the link to the offer as well as my write-up on the offer.

7. Check Your American Express Offers – Many good deals expire on 12/31/14 including $10 off Uber, $15 off Toys R Us, and others. If you didn’t register for some of these offers earlier, they may not appear in your account now and others were more targeted. However, for the ones you do have, check to see if any expiring 12/31 offers are worth taking advantage of.

8. Try to Earn 1,000 Free Hilton HHonors Points – Hilton HHonors is running a targeted promotion that gives users 1,000 free HHonors points for updating your email address. I wasn’t targeted as I got a message indicating they had my email address on file. This offer expires on 12/31 so I think its worth a minute of your time to see if your account is eligible for a free 1,000 points.

9. Take 10% off Hyatt Stays with Hyatt Gift Cards – I’ve discussed this deal previously and while the expiration date for this promotion isn’t known, it is widely assumed to be 12/31/14.

I’m sure I missed something here. What else are you doing before year end? Thanks to PointChaser for inspiration of this post.

Here is the Better Offer on the US Airways Mastercard – 50k Miles + 10k Miles On First Anniversary!

Update: Many people have reported Barclays is automatically denying everyone who is applying for this offer who is NOT a Preferred member. If you aren’t a Preferred Member apply for the standard 50k offer here (non-referral link) or feel free to use a refer a friend offer from someone. I’d be happy to refer you – Please email me at ralph@pointscentric.com)

As many of you probably saw, the blogosphere was blitzkrieged with dozens of posts from bloggers promoting the new offer on the US Airways Mastercard of 50,000 miles after 1st purchase. It is a good offer and an improvement over the old offer but most of the bloggers (except Frequent Miler) left out one key detail: There is actually an even better offer for the same 50,000 miles after 1st purchase PLUS 10,000 miles on your first card membership anniversary. Here is a link to that offer – US Airways Mastercard with Anniversary Bonus.

See that little notice in the bottom left? Bingo.

See that little notice in the bottom left? Bingo.

I think this is a very strong offer and one most people who currently do not have an open US Airways Mastercard should go for. Yes, it says this offer is for Preferred members only but in the past anyone has been able to get this bonus and I haven’t read any reports of this changing. Even on Frequent Miler’s post, someone commented they were approved for the card with no status with US Airways and a co-worker of mine was also approved who did not have status.

Here are a few reasons why I think this is a strong offer:

  1. Barclays will stop accepting new applicants for this card at some point in early 2015. This is a fact even though we don’t know the exact date yet. Get it now before you lose the chance to apply for this card for good.
  2. It truly is a strong offer as in the highest ever offer on this card. 50,000 miles for spending a dollar – when do you see those type of offers anymore? Yes, you have to pay the $89 annual fee upfront but would you pay $89 for two domestic roundtrip flights? What about a one-way business class ticket to Europe? Yup, I thought so.
  3. These miles will eventually convert to American Airlines miles at some point in 2015. So even if you think you have no use for US Airways miles, think of this as a way to accumulate extra AA miles that you can use in 2015.
  4. If you do fly US Airways, this card comes with perks such as free checked baggage, priority boarding, an annual companion certificate at $99 and a 5,000 mile discount when booking US Airways awards. That’s a pretty good set of ancillary perks.  

Now of course, you didn’t hear about this improved offer from other bloggers because it wasn’t their affiliate link – it’s really quite that simple as they don’t want to jeopardize their “sales”. Once Frequent Miler posted it, all of the other blogs could have at least mentioned it (I know many of them see his posts) but I didn’t see any other blog update their post (update: MilesforFamily and MommyPoints did mention the better offer later on). I know Travel Blogger Buzz brings awareness to this issue and I’m just doing my part to help.

With no affiliate links on my site, I try to bring you the best, unbiased offers and with several posts on increased offers that other blogs won’t post (75k Amex Business Gold, 50k HHonors Points, $50 bonus on Fidelity Amex) I’m helping my readers get the best bang for their credit card application. Be smart with who you follow and especially on whose credit card links you click on.

*Happy to report no affiliate links were used in this post*

(H/T as well to 4321ka on Twitter)