Sunday, March 25, 2012

How the @&#! Can You Afford That?

This post has a ton of minutia about points and miles, as will the next few posts. I am writing these because a lot of the people I meet - including friends and family - have no clue how I'm going to be able to pay for this trip. My approach isn't for everyone but I thought I'd lay it out there and let the reader decide.

I just had an e-mail from someone about how I managed to get enough miles and points to pull this trip off. I am not a road warrior. If I travel three times a year for work and two or three more for pleasure then that's a lot. So I'm not earning a lot of butt-in-seats miles or, um, butt-in-beds (is there even an acronym for hotel nights?) points. And I don't have massive reimbursable spending for work either to help me get there. My points and miles come primarily from credit card sign-ups and random promotions throughout the year.

For example, on this trip I accrued points in the following manner.

Airfare: The flights are paid for through points from credit card sign-ups. Most of the flights are part of one giant award redemption - details to follow in another post - through American Express's Membership Rewards program. 50,000 of those points came from signing up for the AmEx Platinum Card. They then advanced me the rest of the points for the award redemption with the understanding that if I didn't earn those points in the next year I'd have to pay for them. I earned the rest by opening up an AmEx Gold Business card which came with a 75,000 point sign-up.

Hotel: Hotels were a bit trickier. My stays on the trip span five hotel chains: Starwood, Hilton, Hyatt, IHG (the Holiday Inn folks) and Carlson (Radisson and a few others). The Starwood points came from signing up for the SPG AmEx card - truly an awesome card regardless of sign-up bonus. I also received a bunch of extra points for a well-timed weekend stay during a promotion they were running.

The Hilton in Anaheim I paid out of pocket because Anaheim hotels are cheap. The Hyatt stays are a combination of two free nights in the Park Hyatt Tokyo (that's the one from Lost in Translation) from a Chase Hyatt card and then points transferred in from the current king of travel credit cards, the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

Finally the Carlson stays were basically free as Carlson gave away 50k points per person for making one cheap stay last November. So my friend and I found the cheapest Radisson in Orlando, had an awesome time at Disney, and I laughed all the way to the points bank. I also picked up a bunch of points here and there through random other things like "liking" certain properties on Facebook or making a brief one-night stay when a great promotion was going on.

So the bulk of the hotel points came from signing up for five credit cards. A lot of you out there are likely appalled right now. Doesn't signing up for all these credit cards hurt your credit score? Actually, mine's gone up significantly since this all started because the maximum amount of credit extended to me has gone through the roof and therefore my utilization percentage - the percent of credit I am currently using - has dropped. That's more than compensated for all of the extra inquiries.

BUT this isn't a game for folks who (a) don't pay all of their credit card bills on-time every month (b) might need a car loan or a mortgage in the next two years or (c) are disorganized.

If you're intrigued, I'm happy to answer questions but I'll also list below some of my favorite bloggers in the miles community. There are some great forums out there (Flyertalk and Milepoint being the two biggies) but they can be intimidating if you don't already know some of what is going on. I list these in the rough order that I discovered them, not in any specific preference-ordering. There are also lots of bloggers who cover their niches really well (Delta Points for Delta, Loyalty Traveler for hotels, Frequent Miler for maximizing the points you get for spending online) but these are the best general blogs:

One Mile At A Time - Ben writes One Miles At A Time. I've never met Ben before even though I think he only lives like 45 minutes from me. He's the only person I've heard of who might possibly drink as much diet soda as I do. Ben just seems like a cool guy who is relatively close to me in age and outlook on life. Does that matter in a blogger? To me it does. He's got great info on how to earn and redeem miles and his trip reports are inspirational. He also posseses a degree of humility and a sense of humor which comes through in his posts. For example, this.

The Points Guy - Brian writes as The Points Guy. Brian has a an awesome series of posts on how to maximize the value of your miles on different airlines. He also has some great contacts in the travel community who provide him with some good insight. Much like Ben, Brian strikes me as someone I'd love to have a drink with even if, in his case, it probably wouldn't be Diet Coke.

View From The Wing - Gary at View From The Wing has been in the travel business for quite a while now. He has an understanding of the economics of the industry that I find impressive. When I want analysis on future trends he's usually the first source I turn to. He's also never afraid to call it like he sees it, which I value.

Million Mile Secrets - I love Daraius because I always feel like he's looking out for his readers' best interests. That is certainly true of everyone else on the list too, but if Daraius had a referral link to a credit card application that earned you 20,000 miles and someone else had one that got you 20,001 he'd tell you to use theirs even if it cost him some referral money.

Mommy Points - While Mommy Points sometimes focuses on something that I don't anticipate ever needing (travel with a child), she also has a very approachable writing style that is personal and that I connect with. When all sorts of crap went down with an AmEx promo this year she was the blogger I wrote to vent to.


  1. You mention, "Airfare: The flights are paid for through points from credit card sign-ups. Most of the flights are part of one giant award redemption - details to follow in another post". What post is ths in? Very much enjoying reading you!

  2. I cover most of that here:

    Although if you have any questions after reading it, don't hesitate to ask!