Award Trip Breakdown: Maui Wowie!

*This will be an irregular series on some of the free (or almost free) trips I’ve booked. I’ve posted short summaries of these trips on this page but this series will go more in depth and I’ll breakdown how I booked this trip.

Andrea and I just got back from Maui on our 2nd Honeymoon and it was an absolute blast – the perfect balance between a nice relaxing vacation on the beach sprinkled in with some activities such as a rainforest hike to waterfalls and a canoe outrigger experience.  Fortunately points and miles made this 2nd Honeymoon a reality and in this post, I’m gonna breakdown exactly how I booked the trip with points and miles and how I acquired the points and miles needed for a trip like this.

Flights:

Departing: Hawaiian Airlines JFK-HNL-OGG for a cost of 17,500 miles plus $5 in taxes per person.
Return: Hawaiian Airlines OGG-HNL-JFK for a cost of 17,500 miles plus $5 in taxes per person.

Once I saw Hawaiian Airlines offered a direct flight from NY to Honolulu, I wanted to book this flight for our Hawaiian getaway to avoid stopping in LA or SF. There are two basically two main ways to acquire Hawaiian Airline miles – 1) Hawaiian Airlines credit card from Barclays or 2) Transferring American Express Membership Rewards points to Hawaiian Airlines.

Andrea and I decided to each open a Hawaiian Airlines credit card (though it was from Bank of America a year ago) as the credit card offered a signup bonus of 35,000 miles for spending $1,000 in three months. The annual fee of $79 was not waived. The minimum spend was pretty easy to accomplish based on our normal level of spending so it wasn’t long before we had 36,000 miles each (35,000 bonus miles + 1,000 miles for spending $1,000).

Hawaiian Airlines charges 40,000 miles roundtrip from the mainland US to Hawaii but as a cardholder, you were entitled to a 5,000 mile discount on award flights, reducing the cost per person to 35,000 miles plus $10 for taxes roundtrip! So for paying an annual fee of $79 each, we got our flights to Hawaii covered. Compared to the retail cost of these flights of about $1,000 each, we got a deal!

Hotels:

Grand Wailea (a Waldorf Astoria Resort) – 2 Nights

Grand Wailea

Grand Wailea

Back in early 2013, I applied for the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve credit card which offered a signup bonus of 2 free weekend nights at ANY Hilton Hotel for spending $2,500 in 4 months . The annual fee of $95 was not waived. The Hilton family includes Conrad, Hilton, Hilton Garden Inn, Waldorf Astoria, etc. so to make sure I maximized the value of the free nights, I made sure to use them at a Conrad or Waldorf Astoria. Additionally, this credit card grants you Hilton Gold status which gives you free breakfast, room upgrades and other benefits when staying at Hilton Hotels. This is a HUGE perk!

With the flights booked to Maui, I booked our first two nights in Maui at the Grand Wailea. In addition to getting the nights for free, by using points we avoided the $25 daily resort fee, so our bill would have literally been $0.00 if we didn’t have a rental car which we had to pay for parking. Nights here can go for $300-$600 depending on the time of year, so we easily got $600-$1,200 in value.

Andaz Maui at Wailea

Andaz Maui

Andaz Maui

The Andaz Maui is a brand new hotel that opened in fall 2013 so of course I wanted to stay there on our trip. The Andaz Maui costs 22,000 points per night or you could use half the amount of points per night, 12,500, plus a co-pay of $150 per night. I opted to use 12,500 points + $150 per night but you could easily use all points to make the stay free. I did this because by paying a small co-pay per night, I could apply a suite upgrade certificate I received from opening the Hyatt credit card (more on this in a future post).

To acquire Hyatt points, I transferred points from my Chase Ultimate Rewards account. In the past I signed up for several Chase Ultimate Rewards cards, including the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Chase Freedom. The beauty of Chase Ultimate Rewards points is they can transfer to many different airlines and hotels including United, Southwest, British Airways, Marriott, Hyatt etc. so you can use them as needed. I had over 150k Chase Ultimate Rewards points from signup bonuses, everyday spending and other small promotions so I transferred 75k Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt to book the stay.

My total cost was 75,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points plus $900 which might seem steep until you consider this hotel routinely goes for almost $600 a night for a standard room and a $1,000 for a suite, which we stayed in! For 6 nights in our suite, it would have cost $6,000 (which I simply couldn’t afford) so paying $900 represents a pretty nice discount!!

From good flights on Hawaiian Airlines to a great stay at the Grand Wailea to an AMAZING stay at the new Andaz Maui at Wailea, Andrea and I can’t wait to return to Maui.

Remember, this can be you and I’d be happy to help you get there!

Good Morning America Discusses Points & Miles

A co-worker passed this along to me (knowing how obsessed I am with points & miles) and wanted my opinion if the GMA crew did a solid job discussing the world of points & miles. Furthermore, a bunch of you may have seen this as it was on national TV, so let’s break it down!

GMA Discusses Points & Miles (click here for video)

Generally when I see mainstream media discuss our little hobby, I see a lot of misinformation and generalities that wouldn’t apply to most individuals. However, in this piece, I think GMA actually does a fair job discussing when to use and not use points and miles.

A few of the good things they discuss:

  • The biggest mistake people make is not getting full value for their miles. They go over the example of using miles for expensive flights like NY to Seattle instead of using them for NY to Miami as the NY to Seattle flight will almost always be more expensive. So since those flights cost the same amount of miles, use them for the more expensive flight!
  • GMA brings up how confusing understanding miles can be and I think there is some truth in that for novices in this game. It can be overwhelming at first and I’m glad they didn’t downplay this notion to make what we do super easy and made for everyone (hey this is why my consulting and award booking services exist :p )
  • And probably the best point they make, do not redeem your miles for car rentals or merchandise online. This is by far the worst value you could possibly get for miles, so simply don’t do it.

GMA wasn’t perfect though as they discussed a very specific example where you could upgrade an economy ticket to a business class ticket for only 15,000 miles. The amount of miles greatly varies depending on the program and some even charge an additional co-pay (i.e. United) and most of the time, only certain economy tickets are eligible to be upgraded – the lowest, most discounted economy tickets (which is what most people buy) may not be upgradeable in some cases.

Watch the video and look forward to more specific posts in the future on my site where I’ll go into much more detail on some of the items they discussed.

The Real Value of Travel Hacking (and Why You Should Do It)

Travel hacking – It sounds illegal but I assure you, it’s far from it. And best part is you don’t need to be a skilled computer programmer or anything of the like – almost anyone can do this type of hacking!

Bora Bora looks much better when its almost free!

Bora Bora looks much better when its almost free!

If I had to summarize travel hacking in one sentence (which doesn’t do the term full justice) is as follows: Travel hacking is the art of acquiring frequent flyer miles and points at little to no cost and then leveraging them towards free travel. 

By far the easiest way to “travel hack”, is to take advantage of credit card offers when large signup bonuses appear. For example, you can sign up for the Citi American AAdvantage Mastercard and receive 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 in 3 months. What is 50,000 miles worth? Its the equivalent of two domestic roundtrip flight in the US or one roundtrip flight to Europe (from Oct to May) or a one way business class flight to Europe. So for simply signing up for a credit card, you could get anywhere from $500 to $2,000 or more in value! Now imagine if you scale this idea – you could very easily earn hundreds of thousands of points & miles every year this way. And this is with your everyday spending you already do – by not using cash or debit cards and putting all your expenses on a credit card.

Let’s say you spend an average of $1,000 per month on everything outside your rent or mortgage. If you stuck with your current average credit card, you might earn 1% cash back so over 3 months you’ve earned a whopping $30. Now let’s say you applied for the AA card mentioned above. At the end of 3 months, you will have 53,000 miles (50,000 signup bonus + 3,000 per dollar spent). That value as shown above is anywhere from $500 to $2,000. To recap at the end of 3 months, you could have either $30 cash or $500 to $2,000 worth of miles to book free travel with. I know what I’m choosing.

Travel hacking is also about recognizing value, so in some cases it makes sense to pay for miles as long as you maximize the redemption of them. For example, US Airways had a promotion where you could essentially buy miles at almost a penny per mile. So if you bought 100,000 miles it would cost you about $1,000. Sounds expensive right? Well, from a finance perspective if I redeem those miles for more then $1,000 worth of travel, I’ve come out ahead.

In that example, 100,000 miles could be 4 roundtrip domestic flights that are valued at $250 each. That’s probably a fair value and one I think some people would jump at, especially if they had long transcontinental flights that are never under $250. But, what if I said, you could use 90,000 of those miles to fly business class from NY to Paris, hang in Paris for 3 days, fly business class to Hong Kong, stay there for a week or so and then fly business class back to NY. Three longhaul business class flights covering three continents is easily worth over $10,000. 

So let me ask you, would you pay the $1,000 above to save 90% on the retail cost of travel above? I hope you said yes as a simple economy flight to Paris generally costs over $1,000 and this is what you are currently paying if you are not considering travel hacking.

I gave two specific examples on how valuable travel hacking can be but these aren’t extreme or abnormal cases. These types of savings are quite normal – just take a look where I’ve traveled. Of course, it’s bit more complicated then I laid out as you need to know which points & miles to collect, how to use them effectively and more. I’m here to help and guide people with my consulting and award booking services but I think once you see how much money you can save on the retail cost of travel, you’ll be hooked and well on your way to being your own travel hacker.