Avios Search Trick / Last Minute Booking

FTU Seattle

For those of you going to FTU Seattle next weekend, I’m happy to announce that I will be there pitching my new startup during the Launchpoint competition (more on that next week). So if you see me around at FTU, feel free to say hi!

Since my cousin lives in Seattle, I was originally planning on going out there tomorrow with the idea that we would rent a car this weekend and go down to Portland since both of us have never been.

Change Of Plans

Unfortunately that Portland plan ended up falling through so I was trying to see if there was anything else I could do this weekend.

Coincidentally earlier this week, my girlfriend decided she was going to NYC this weekend. I haven’t been to the Big Apple in a while and it is my Niece’s birthday on Saturday so I decided to tag along.

Due to some procrastination on my end, it wasn’t until this afternoon that I finally tried to book a ticket to NYC…

Normally this isn’t a huge issue because there are 3 airports in NYC and 2 in Chicago (3 if you count MKE) so there are a ton of flights back and forth. However searching with Avios, this upcoming Saturday only had First availability for 22,500 points one way…

"No Economy!

“No Economy!

I next checked Southwest but from my experiences, the cheap “wanna get away” fares typically either sell out or are sky high if your departure is less than 10 days out. In this case, the cheapest flight was 19,274 points!

"A Little Too Expensive"

“A Little Too Expensive”

I was willing to shell out the $75 close-in ticketing fee on AA or United if they got me to NYC on Saturday, so I went and checked AA.com and lo and behold there were Economy saver flights to NYC!

"Surprise!"

“Surprise!”

I didn’t understand why Avios wasn’t showing these Economy flights and then realized that it was perhaps because they weren’t non-stop flights.? I’m not sure though because Avios definitely does show connections on longer flights that are cross country…

Since there weren’t any non-stop flights on AA, I figured if I could book the same AA 1-connection flights with Avios I might as well try and save $75 in close-in ticketing fees.

Avios Search Trick

So while Avios was showing no Economy flights from ORD-NYC, when I simply searched for the above AA flights like ORD-CMH and then CMH-LGA, I was able to book the flights with Avios for 4,500 points each leg.

While ORD-NYC direct would be 7,500 points, in this case I am happy to pay the extra 1,500 points to get to NYC.

"Would You Look At That!"

“Would You Look At That!”

"CMH-LGA"

“CMH-LGA”

New York – Baltimore

To get to Baltimore, we ended up just buying a MegaBus ticket for $30 one way.

While I’d certainly rather fly, these buses are nice in that they leave from downtown (so no need to trek out to the airport) and you have to get there only 30 minutes before departure since there isn’t any security.

If you factor it all together, taking the bus is probably easier and quicker than flying.

Baltimore – Seattle

To get from Baltimore to Seattle next week, I ran another Avios search.

One thing that really annoys me is that British Airways thinks Baltimore falls under Washington D.C…

There is no way to specifically search for BWI, instead it automatically defaults to WAS and shows you all Washington D.C airports!

That isn’t really useful since DCA & IAD are over 1 hour away from downtown Baltimore and BWI is 16 mins…

Regardless Avios wasn’t showing any available flights out of BWI (Washington D.C).

"See How It Says Washington D.C"

“See How It Says Washington D.C”

I quickly cross-checked AA.com just to be sure and to my surprise, there were tons of flights out of DCA.

"AA To The Rescue!"

“AA To The Rescue!”

Out of curiosity, I ran DCA – SEA search on Avios again (not BWI or WAS) and now those AA flights came up for 14,500 Avios…

"WTF!"

“WTF!”

Basically, it seems that even if British Airways is defaulting to the citysearch (like Washington D.C or New York) instead of a specific airport (BWI), it won’t always show you all the results for the city.

In this case, although British Airways thinks BWI is in Washington D.C, it didn’t show all the Washington D.C flights. However when I explicitly searched for DCA, it showed all the flights I found on AA. Same thing when I explicitly searched for IAD.

Bottom line is to always cross check the Avios engine with AA (or Qantas or ExpertFlyer) because BA might not be showing you all the results.

Anyways, I ran a BWI-SEA search on Southwest since BWI use to be a hub for Airtran before they merged with Southwest.

To my surprise, there was a BWI-MKE-SEA flight for 10,028 points!

"Talk About A Deal"

“Talk About A Deal”

People love to hate on Southwest but I’m not aware of any other airline that lets you book a fully cancelable ticket 5 days out with no close-in ticketing fees for 10,028 points and you can check 2 bags for free if you want…

Oh and if my girlfriend was coming with me to Seattle, because I  have a companion pass, we could both fly to Seattle for 10,028 points total (5,014 points each)!

Seattle – Chicago

I had my original Southwest ticket but since it was fully cancelable, I decided to quickly check and see if there were any better options.

On Avios, there was a much better SEA-ORD flight for 10,000 Avios so I went ahead and booked that too!

Recap

All in all, with only 2 days notice I was able to cancel all my other previous Southwest tickets, re-book ORD-NYC, BWI-SEA, SEA-ORD all in for 29,028 points! Because I used Southwest and Avios points, I was also able to avoid paying any close-in ticketing fees or cancellation fees!

The 3 main points I hope everyone takes away from this are:

1. Miles & points can save you serious money!

If I had to book this ticket out of pocket, the cheapest I could find on Kayak was $743 which isn’t terrible. However thanks to 30,000 miles & points, I only had to spend around $10 in taxes.

"Actually Not Terrible"

“Actually Not Terrible”

2. If you don’t have set plans, book with either Avios or Southwest because they are cancelable (for the most part).

Thanks to booking with BA and Southwest, I avoided all change and cancellation fees. If these flights were originally booked with United, US Airways, Delta, or American, it would have cost me $150 to make the changes / cancellations and another $75 for close in ticketing. No thanks!

2. The British Airways Avios engine isn’t 100% accurate so always double check with AA

As I showed, the British Airways award engine is goofy and doesn’t always show everything that is available. I suggest either using Expert Flyer, Qantas, or if you are lazy just use AA. At a minimum, you will see all the connecting flights that BA might not be showing you.

-Parag


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A Real Example Of How To Earn 115,000 Miles

How To Earn 115,000 Miles

This past month, my Parents told me they needed some new credit cards because they have some large purchases coming up.

Since I’ve been doing this credit card game for a while now and I manage all the miles for my family, over the years I’ve basically signed them up for almost all the “big offers”. This means that there is a smaller pool of cards to pick from for every new round of credit card applications .

One thing that has been really helpful in managing this process is that last year I finally started tracking all the open / closed cards my family has via this spreadsheet. So instead of guessing when my Mom last had the Hyatt card, I can simply now just check the spreadsheet.

Normally I wouldn’t share “mundane” posts like how I signed my Parents up for some basic credit cards but the reason I am writing about this is because I forgot how easy it is to earn miles…

Not Rocket Science

Whenever I meet new people, they always ask what I do for a living, so of course I tell them about FFU and how to earn miles etc. From those experiences and the reader questions I get, I think there is a general sense that earning miles via credit cards is extremely difficult and takes some sort of rocket science.

So I am sharing my “mundane” experience about how I signed my Parents up for a couple credit cards and earned them 115,000 miles, so when random people stumble across this blog, they realize that anyone can do this and there isn’t any rocket science involved.

3 Cards = 115,000 Miles

As I stated earlier, my Parents have already had most of the “big” cards like Chase Sapphire Preferred, Starwood, etc.

Their upcoming large purchases total around $4,000, so I didn’t want to sign them up for any cards with a large minimum spend requirement that would require them to do any manufactured spend (ie. more work for me).

After taking a look at my spreadsheet, I opted to sign them both up for the following cards.

  • Citi American Airlines – 50,000 AA miles after $3,000 minimum spend in 3 months
  • US Airways Mastercard – 40,000 miles after 1st purchase
  • Alaska Airlines – 25,000 miles after $1,000 in 3 months. Plus $100 statement credit.

The total haul for each person will be 115,000 miles after completing $4,000 in minimum spend!

The Cards & My Rationale

1. Citi American Airlines – 50,000 miles

Link To Application

This offer is pretty standard at 50,000 miles for $3,000 minimum spend but because AA has now merged with US Airways, these AA miles are becoming increasingly valuable as the OneWorld route network expands.

To make matters even better, the $95 annual fee is waived for the first year!

By signing up each of my Parents for this AA card and by completing the $6,000 total minimum spend, they will earn a total  of 100,000 miles!

2. US Airways – 40,000 miles

Link To Application

There certainly have been better US Air offers in the past but it is honestly surprising that this card is still available given the US Air / AA merger is complete.

Not only is there no minimum spend on this card but you can get it more than once…

I’ve signed my Parents up for this card in the past, so I went ahead and got them each another one. Once they spend $1 on the card, they will get 40,000 miles!

While the $89 annual fee is not waived for this card, it is a small price to pay for 40,000 miles.

Also since these miles will eventually be converted into AA miles later this year, it is an easy way to proactively stock up.

3. Alaska Airlines – 25,000 miles + $100 statement credit

Link To Application

This isn’t a card that most people even consider because unless you live on the West Coast, you probably would never fly Alaska.

While that is definitely true, since Alaska isn’t part of any alliance, they have crafted one of the best airline partnerships out there.

So even if you never plan to fly Alaska, you could potentially redeem your 25,000 Alaska miles for a free flight on Delta, AA, British Airways, Emirates, etc. Full list of partners is here.

While the $75 annual fee isn’t waived, I was able to find an offer that gives a $100 statement credit. So if you were to get this card, you are actually making $25…

As for the $1,000 minimum spend, since I have Amazon Payment accounts for both my Parents, I am just going to use those to complete the minimum spend for them.

Recap

Having to sign my Parents up for normal credit cards and not having to do any of the two-browser tricks or creating an eBay business to get a business credit card, was a refreshing reminder of HOW EASY IT IS TO EARN MILES!

These banks are literally giving miles away or in some cases paying you $25 to take their miles.

3 credit card sign ups each netted my Parents 115,000 miles for around $64 ($89 + $75 – $100 statement credit) and $4,000 in minimum spend each.

If they go to India in the next few years, then those 115,000 miles + the miles from minimum spend is almost enough for a free Business Class ticket! Even if they were to redeem those 115,000 miles for just domestic economy travel, they would get probably 5 free trips worth upwards of $1,500 total!

Not bad for 30 minutes of work on my end!

Basically, if you are new to earning miles or this site, hopefully my Parents experience showcases that it is in fact possible to earn quite a few free miles / free trips with a minimal amount of work.

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to email me!

-Parag


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How To Get Retention Bonuses

When To Keep A Card Open Or Close It

If you have been earning miles primarily from credit cards then you probably have come across this problem. You open a card, get the bonus, and then the 1 year anniversary comes and you don’t know what to do next…

The 1 year anniversary is significant for a couple of reasons:

  1. Typically this is when the annual fee actually starts since many cards now waive the fee for the first year.
  1. As an incentive to pay the annual fee, many cards now offer some sort of anniversary bonus. This can be anything from a free hotel night (Hyatt, Marriott), to a points rebate (Sapphire Preferred), or bonus points / miles (Southwest).

The obvious benefits of closing a card are that you avoid paying the annual fee but that can certainly negatively impact your credit score if you close too many cards in a short period of time.

Always Try To Retain Or Downgrade

My personal advice and strategy is to either try and get a retention bonus or downgrade to a free version of the card.

The rationale behind this is:

  • It’s Cheaper For Them To Keep You Than Lose You

The credit card company spend upwards of $700+ to acquire you as a customer (marketing to you, affiliate payouts, sign on bonus, setting up the account, etc). One Chase exec told me that it takes them on average 7 years to recoup their initial investment in acquiring you.

So if they spent $700+ to get you, it is way cheaper for them to waive the annual fee and lose $95 but keep you as a customer, instead of you closing the card and then them having to spend another $700+ to get someone else.

  • No Need To Burn Bridges

Fair warning, I have zero data to back this up but from my experiences it is always easier to get approved for cards if you are a current customer. I’ve had no luck getting any US Bank cards and I suspect it is because I don’t have a prior history with them.

Say for example your account doesn’t get automatically approved for a card and a credit risk analyst has to manually look over your application. What do you want them to see? That you previously had 4 cards with them but have closed every single one after 1 year OR you previously had 4 cards, closed 1 of them and downgraded the 3 others but those accounts are all still in good standing and still open for the last 4 years.

To me it just makes sense to avoid hurting your credit score by closing a card if it can be avoided. If the bank is giving you the option to keep the credit line open for free with a downgrade, why wouldn’t you do that? My sock drawer is literally filled with 10 – 20 downgraded versions of cards that are all still open but I have never put a charge on.

Keep It Or Close It? A New Show From HGTV

Over the past few months, quite a few of my cards “have come due” meaning that they have hit the 1 year anniversary mark and I have had to decide to keep or close them.

These decisions to downgrade or close my cards reflect my personal preference of avoiding paying annual fees. Don’t think of this as a definitive guide, more just me sharing my experiences. For some people, it might actually make sense to pay the annual fee if they are offered a large retention bonus or actually use the cards on a day to day basis!

American Express Platinum

  • Status: Closed
  • Retention Offer: No
  • Annual Fee: $450

When I first got this card in November of 2012, I grudgingly paid the $450 annual fee. The reason was because every calendar year, I could get $200 in airline gift certificates which I talked about here.

Since the annual  fee is prorated at $37.50 a month, even after my 1 year anniversary in November 2013, I continued paying the annual fee for an extra 2 months. The reason for this was so that on Jan 1, 2014, I could get another $200 in airline credit. After I purchased my Southwest gift certificate and was reimbursed, I simply called and closed my card.

So for $450, I was able to get $200 in 2012, 2013, 2014 or basically $600. This does not include the $100 Global Entry reimbursement, lounge access, or 50,000 point sign up bonus that I also got.

So overall I paid around $500ish for $600 in airline gift certificates, 2 years of lounge access, free Global Entry, and 50,000 AMEX Points! Not terrible…

Unfortunately AMEX doesn’t offer any free versions of their “charge cards” which earn Membership Rewards, so you can’t really downgrade unless you want the Gold or Green Cards and pay a lower fee of $125 or $95.

Some people commented below that you could potentially downgrade to the AMEX Everyday Card which earns Membership Rewards and has no annual fee BUT that is a credit card and not a charge card.

American Express Premier Rewards Gold

  • Status: Closed
  • Retention Offer: 15,000 points for $3,000 spend in 3 months. 5,000 points instantly.
  • Annual Fee: $175

The AMEX PRG card has one of the worst value propositions and is really hard to justify paying the annual fee.

Unless you pay out of pocket for revenue tickets, it is really hard to imagine the 3x airline ticket bonus covering the $175 annual fee.

I got this card last February for the 50,000 point sign up bonus and because the annual fee was waived for the 1st year.

I honestly wouldn’t even have ever even used it after I completed the minimum spend requirement but it turns out that “purchases” on Amazon Payments get coded as airfare. So “spending” $12,000 over the last 12 months has earned me an easy 36,000 points.

When I called to close the card, I was offered 5,000 points on the spot and an additional 15,000 points for spending $3,000 in 3 months. I took the offer for the time being but wasn’t sure if I was going to close the card.

This morning, I opted to close the card and logged into my AMEX account and noticed that the 15,000 retention bonus (for spending $3,000) already posted without me even spending a penny…

So I quickly transferred out the 15,000 Membership Rewards points to British Airways at 1:1 ratio (transfer was instant) and then called the close the card.

Again, I was told there was no way to downgrade to a free version because this card is a “charge card” and you can’t switch between charge card and credit card without opening a new account.

American Express Starwood Card

  • Status: Downgrade to Blue Cash Everyday
  • Retention Offer: $35 statement credit
  • Annual Fee: $65

I love SPG as a brand and they undoubtedly were the pioneers of creating an awesome loyalty program and credit card BUT Chase has really brought the heat and AMEX and SPG have not kept up.

The SPG card has no multiplier for non-hotel stays, they still charge foreign exchange fees even though their hotels are located in other countries, there is no annual rebate, there is no annual free night certificate, etc.

AMEX and SPG really seem to be banking on the fact that spending money on the SPG card is really the only “easy way” to earn SPG points without hotel stays. Those are really your only 2 options, hence why SPG points are so highly valued. So if you want to spend your way to SPG points, then you need to pay AMEX $65 a year for the privilege.

When I called AMEX to close the card, they offered me a partial statement credit of $35, which covered a little over half of the annual fee.

I don’t stay at Starwood enough or spend enough money on the card to justify even paying the reduced $30 annual fee. Again, not everyone will agree with me here but this is just my personal situation. If I stayed at SPG even once a year, I’d probably then pay the $30.

Since this card is a Credit Card, you are allowed to downgrade it to a free version of another AMEX Credit Card, so I ended up chosing the Blue Cash Everyday card. Now this was a few months ago before the new AMEX Everyday Card existed (which earns Membership Rewards without an annual fee). I’d recommend downgrading to that new card because it will keep your Membership Rewards points alive in the event you close a AMEX PRG or AMEX Platinum card.

I have no plans on ever using the Blue Cash card, but I figure it is good just to keep the credit line open.

Chase Sapphire Preferred

  • Status: Downgrade to Chase Freedom or Chase Sapphire
  • Retention Offer: No
  • Annual Fee: $95

If there weren’t so many cards always offering bonuses, then this is the only card I would actually pay the $95 annual fee for.

I have had both the Mastercard and Visa version of this card and outside of looking cool, the Ultimate Rewards program and 2x on travel and dining is pretty awesome.

If you straight up close this card and don’t have any non-Ultimate Rewards cards, then you will loose all your UR points.

So it is best to simply downgrade to either a Chase Freedom (which is actually awesome thanks to the 5x rotating categories) or Chase Sapphire (no annual fee, less benefits).

Both of these cards allow you to still earn Ultimate Rewards, just without the ability to transfer at 1:1 to airlines and hotels. However if you get a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase INK Bold or Plus in the future, then those Ultimate Rewards points once again have that ability to transfer.

I downgraded my Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa to Chase Freedom and my Chase Sapphire Preferred Mastercard to Chase Sapphire.

Chase Hyatt Visa

  • Status: Closed
  • Retention Offer: 5,000 points
  • Annual Fee: $75

The Hyatt card was another card that I solely got for the 2 free nights and then never used.

Even when I called, the retention specialist was like, “I see you spent $1,000 last year in the first month and then haven’t really been using it.”

Closing this card was actually a tough decision because on your card member anniversary every year, you get a 1 free night certificate at a category 1-4 property. Now depending on where you use this, it is obviously worth more than $75.

However, they know most people aren’t just going to spend 1 night somewhere and then hotel hop, so they are hoping you redeem this free night and then pay out-of-pocket for the rest of the nights at Hyatt.

I of course would be fine with hotel hopping (don’t know about my girlfriend…) but with Ultimate Rewards points so easy to come by, a category 4 hotel only costs 15,000 points, so in my humble opinion it is better just to do that than pay $75 for the certificate.

Of course if you are Ultimate Rewards poor or stay at Hyatts anyways, then keeping the Hyatt card open and getting the 5,000 bonus points and free hotel certificate might be a great deal for you. It all just depends on your personal situation.

Since this is a branded Chase Card, you can’t downgrade to a free version.

Citi American Airlines AMEX & Visa

  • Status: Open
  • Retention Offer: $95 statement credit
  • Annual Fee: $85

This is weird one because I have 3 AA cards from Citibank. 2 personal and 1 business.

In November 2013, 2 of the cards “came due”. While the annual fee isn’t as high compared to AMEX, together the 2 cards totaled $170.

These AA cards are actually pretty good since they give you a 10% rebate on AA award flights but you only need 1 card open to get that bonus, not 3…

So I called in November 2013 to close both my AA personal cards and to my surprise, I was offered a $95 statement credit for each card, which I  obviously took.

Now the annual fee is only $85, so I’m not sure why they are giving out $95 but I will take it.

From anecdotal evidence, it seems this is a pretty standard offer if you call to close, so I suggest doing it.

Recap

All in all, calling to say “I am thinking about closing this card” is the best thing you can do!

However many times with these retention offers, the points will only post 6-8 weeks after you complete the retention requirements.

So remember to call early enough like 8 months into your card membership (4 months before the annual fee is due). This will still get the same retention offers but the bonuses will post way before your annual fee is actually due. Who knows you might even get another offer when you call to close for real.

Thanks to my retention offers, I was able to get $190 in statement credit and 15,000 Membership Rewards for spending 30 minutes on the phone.

Of the 7 cards I had called to close, the retention offers and downgrading allowed me to only close 3 of my cards which is pretty awesome!

-Parag


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