Tag Archives: travel

Mileage Update: Almost There

29 Jul

A quick update to record the progress on the race to 120,000 miles! We’re saving up for a trip to London/Ireland, and 120k miles will get us to London, then Dublin, and back to Houston for under $120 each. I am a little stressed because the itinerary is planned, we are *so* close, and I’m worried the award fares we are planning to use will just disappear. Trying not to be impatient and impulsive – not easy.

Here are the stats:

Last update -114,110 miles

TOTAL: 118,383

I’m so ready to book our airfare, and we’re only 1,617 miles away. The PointsHound bonus hasn’t hit, and we have flights coming up in the next few weeks, so I’m sure we’ll be there in no time. I suck at waiting though!

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First PointsHound Experience – Loved It!

9 Jul

This weekend we stayed at a SpringHill Suites by Marriott near my sister’s house. We’ve stayed there in the past, and it’s a very decent, nice hotel. In the past, we’ve just booked directly through the Marriott website. The prices there have been comparable to discount sites, and I’ve been able to earn Marriott points. I’ve elected to convert those points to miles of course!), but the number of nights stayed also count towards elite status. I don’t currently have elite status, and probably won’t anytime soon since so much of our travel is to stay with family and friends. However, I figure if I at least start stacking up nights in a half-hearted attempt, it might happen one day.

The great thing about PointsHound is that in addition to matching the price on the website and then earning miles on top of that, I also get credit in the Marriott Rewards program. Rocketmiles cannot guarantee that, though some have reported receiving credit anyway. I’ll be checking that out on my stay with them in September.

Altogether, the stay this weekend will garner:

PointsHound bonus for 2 night stay: 700
+ Sign up bonus after first stay: 500
+ Marriott Rewards conversion: 268
+ United MileagePlus Visa: 308

Total: 1776 points for a hotel stay I would have been making anyway!

None of these have hit my account yet, so we’ll see how prompt they are with crediting bonuses. The website says 2-4 weeks, but I hope it’s sooner! Other great things about PointsHound: my card was charged at the time of stay, and the refund policy was very clearly spelled out. I was still welcomed as a Marriott Rewards member by the front desk, and that negated and worry that I might get a worse room since I went through a discount site. We had a corner room, and it was on the 3rd (out of 4) floor.

Beginning Balance as of 06/11/2013: 113,339

Airline Activity: 0

Non Airline Activity:

MP Shopping: 271
MYPOINTS Signup Bonus: 500

Ending Balance as of 07/09/2013: 114,110

MILES TO GO: 5,890

Big Mileage Earning – The Not Hard Way!

25 Jun

We are still chipping away at the mileage we need! Last count, we were still working on more than 13,000 miles to reach our goal of 120,000.

This month, I earned miles by answering some marketing surveys. On United.com, there is a link to e-rewards.com. This can be found on the MileagePlus section, under “Earn Miles”. The first time you sign up, you will receive 250 miles as a bonus – but you must use that link!

The amount of information you have to disclose while answering these surveys may make some people uncomfortable. I chose not to reveal some information, but don’t just make up fake answers. The Flyer Talk forum is full of posters who say the stream of survey opportunities dried up when they consistently made up answers. They have “security” questions mixed in with the regular questions to make sure you aren’t just randomly clicking answers.

The typical survey experience has you answering some basic questions to determine if they want to give you a full survey. If not, you receive the consolation prize of $0.25 or something like that. If you do meet their desired demographic, you may complete the survey and earn $2.00-$7.00 in e-rewards. When you’ve collected a certain amount of money in your account, you can trade it in for all sorts of stuff, including miles.

This week I finally earned $25 in my account, and traded it in for 500 miles. It took about 3 weeks to earn it, answering about 5-7 full-length surveys, and perhaps 10 consolation prizes. Pretty easy!

However, that’s nothing compared to my credit card spend this month. Whew. It’s both exhilarating to see the miles racking up, and a weensy bit scary to know HOW EASY it was to spend $5k in one month! All we needed were some airline tickets, and boom, spending doubled!

Don’t forget – miles aren’t a good deal if you are carrying balances on your card. Make sure you are paying off your card as you go so you don’t accrue interest charges.

Beginning Balance as of 06/11/2013: 106,759

Airline Activity: 0

Non Airline Activity:

– E-REWARDS REDEMPTION 500
– Chase Explorer Card Purchases 5,029
– Chase Explorer United Purchases 1,051

Ending Balance as of 06/11/2013: 113,339

MILES TO GO: 6,661

Well, there’s no chance I’ll be picking up anothet CC spend bonus like that anytime soon! The remaining mileage will have to come from some other upcoming sources: our PointsHound booked stay is in 2 weeks, and our next flight is in a little over a month. Looks like it may be September before we reach 120,000 (or later!) With award fares possibly drying up before then, we may need to think about buying/transferring miles. Lame.

OCD Vacation Planning: Website Guilty Pleasures

18 Jun

One of my favorite things to do in life is plan the most perfect itinerary for trips. I’m not as bad as I used to be – at the age of twelve, I took my grandparents’ awesome National Geographic map set and used a ruler to map out the exact time each leg of our road trip to DisneyWorld would take. I then created a detailed-to-the-minute itinerary for the entire 12 day trip, down to roadside bathroom breaks and what order to go on rides. I’m sure I drove my parents crazy.

Man, if twelve-year-old me had had access the Internet, that DisneyWorld trip would have been crazy.

The OCD has stuck around, so I still love to research the hell out of every trip to maximize enjoyment and minimize the possibility of overlooking some once in a lifetime experience. However, I’ve learned to not over-schedule (mostly) and can appreciate how leaving some windows of open time allows for spontaneity and flexibility. But to go on a trip without doing the research on what the best things to see and do would be such a waste of time – you could miss your one chance to experience something you’d love see by not realizing it’s closed on Tuesdays. Also, I need to know about everything, even if I can’t possibly see it all, so I know what I’m missing. It doesn’t seem as bad if I’ve made the choice to forgo it, rather than by chance.

Currently, I am using three websites to help plan our upcoming adventures, particularly for the October trip to Napa Valley:

TripAdvisor: I feel like TripAdvisor should be the first place you check before you go anywhere, perhaps even in your own town. Users rate attractions, hotels, restaurants, etc., upload their own pictures, and participate in helpful forums. The website also provides mapped search results so you can narrow options down to a particular neighborhood or block. Also, if you log in through Facebook, you can see if any of your friends or friends of friends have reviewed a particular place, which might be more meaningful and reliable than the word of total strangers.

[Chowhound](http://chowhound.chow.com/boards/1): This is particularly useful for our trip to Napa, as that trip is all about food and wine experiences. The Chowhound Bay Area Board is a forum with local foodies and oenophiles doling out advice for the non-native foodies and oenophiles planning their trips. One of my favorite things people do is post their proposed itineraries for critique and suggestions, then follow up after the trip is over to provide their own “trip report”. It’s great to see what works and what doesn’t for those going ahead of you. Hopefully you can avoid their mistakes!

TripIt: Once you’ve figured out some of the places you’d like to go, made hotel reservations, rented a car, or booked a flight, this website organizes all of your information into an itinerary. This is awesome – if you want it to, it can pull confirmation emails directly from your inbox and automatically create a Lodging item on your itinerary. It can also create driving directions between to addresses listed on your itinerary and automatically add them. Basically, when you go on your trip, you won’t need to dig through your email searching for contact info or confirmation numbers. Everything will be neatly organized into an itinerary.

This can be helpful for planning stages as well – as you fill your itinerary with activities, you can visualize how cramped your schedule might get if you add too much. By adding driving directions between each point, you can ensure that you have plenty of travel time built in!

TripIt is a website, with iPhone and iPad apps available as well.

First Travels of Summer – Fredericksburg, Texas

17 Jun

We spent the weekend in the gorgeous Texas Hill Country, in Fredericksburg, Texas. The trip was mostly about visiting family, but we did manage to slip in some relaxation and sightseeing. We stayed at [Palo Alto Creek Farm](http://www.paloaltocreekfarm.com/), a bed and breakfast just north of town. Getting out of the car, I couldn’t help but inhale the fresh smell of cedar and a nearby fire, as well as warm rain. I guess I have become immune to the not so great smells of Houston! The B&B was wonderful. They left breakfast and seven kinds of fresh fruit in the refrigerator, so we didn’t need to interact with anyone. We drank wine, did some shopping, and found lots of things we’d like to do on our next road trip to the Hill Country.

Avoiding Regret: My Travel Goals For Next 12 Months

12 Jun

Regret. There is nothing like regret to motivate a person to throw themselves at a project, or to avoid making past mistakes by researching and seeking advice. I’ve been blessed to do some pretty amazing travel in the past 20 years. Sometimes I wish I could go back and do it again, but do some more research this time, take more pictures, actually keep up with the travel journals I ALWAYS start and ALWAYS forget about by day two. Another major regret: I wish I had joined a frequent flyer program (or three) before I started traveling back then.

**random thought: I wonder if people sign their kids up for FF programs? Is that allowed? Do you have to be a certain age? If not, that would be such an awesome gift to give your children upon adulthood – 18 years of mileage built up over their childhood.**

So back to my own regrets. I’ve flown Quantas round trip from LAX, as well as round trip between Cairns and Sydney, and Sydney and Auckland. Wouldn’t it be awesome to have credit for those? I mean, sure, that was in 1996, but maybe I could have used it for something? I flew round trip to Paris in 1997, and London in 2002. I don’t even remember what carrier we flew on! (I do remember that on the 2002 trip, we checked in at the airport, and my 6’7″ father requested seats in the bulkhead, and they happily sat my family in that row. Like, no big deal. It seems like a million years ago!) I’ve flown to Mexico several times, and again – I couldn’t tell you what airline. I certainly didn’t accrue miles.

I did sign up for OnePass about 5 years ago, and started to funnel any travel opportunities to Continental, and then post-merger United. Thank goodness! I mean, I wasn’t doing anything with them, but at least I wasn’t “leaving money on the table”, as they say.

So here we are now, mid-2013. Andrew and I have four round trip flights planned for the rest of the year, and we are trying to maximize our mileage, credit card spending, hotel stays and all the rest of it with one goal in mind – a trip to Ireland in spring 2014! And to really wring every drop of value from that trip, I want to fly there (practically) for free, and use that savings to do things we otherwise couldn’t afford.

I’ve already learned so many things from reading the ‘frequent flyer’ blogs that have helped. I learned about “open jaws” and “stopovers” from [Hack My Trip](http://hackmytrip.com/2013/06/award-routing-rules-united-airline/). This has inspired me to consider adding a 2 or 3 night stopover in London to our itinerary. London is my favorite city – where else might I bump into Mr. Darcy, Sherlock, and Dr. Who? We can do this without increasing the miles needed for our round trip tickets, which with the Saver Award fares at United should be 60k round trip each.

That’s why our goal right now is 120,000 miles. It feels like a race against time, because Saver Award availability seems to change all the time, so I’m trying to accrue the miles asap! As of today:

Beginning Balance as of 06/10/2013: 106,365

Airline Activity: 0

Non Airline Activity:

– MileagePlus Dining: 144
– ERewards Welcome Bonus (signing up through United.com): 250

Ending Balance as of 06/11/2013: 106,759

MILES TO GO: 13,241

Whoa. We have some work ahead of us! I am looking forward to my CC spend hitting for June – that should give me a nice boost.

Judging Mileage Offers

11 Jun

I’ve found a few new places to gather miles, and places NOT to as well, thanks to helpful travel bloggers!

[New Girl In The Air has a helpful post that brings together 52 ways to earn miles and points](http://boardingarea.com/blogs/newgirlintheair/2013/06/11/ways-to-earn-frequent-flier-miles/). Many of them don’t apply to United MileagePlus, or are for credit card offers, which I am not currently using as a strategy right now. The remainder were very interesting, and even though I didn’t see much that helps me now, it was great to learn about programs and some strategies for determining their usefulness.

For example, you can [trade in gift cards for miles](https://www.plasticjungle.com/united/web-exchange/gcWelcome). I actually did not end up doing this, as I don’t have any gift cards I don’t eventually plan to use. Also, there’s this:

> In 99% of cases, I’d suggest NOT turning your gift cards into miles. If you really can’t use them, re-gift them, donate them to local organizations, or turn them into cash with Plastic Jungle. However, here are a few times when you might consider using this option: 1. You need mileage activity on your account to keep it from expiring. Your miles will be posted within 5 days, which is a lot faster than a lot of other partner activity. 2. You are just short of an award and don’t want to buy the minimum miles normally required (2,000 miles for $75.20). 3. You are just short of an award and have gift cards to spare but no free cash! I have no intention of participating this offer, but it’s worth knowing about – and worth keeping an eye on in case they ever offer a bonus promotion. – See more at: http://boardingarea.com/blogs/newgirlintheair/2012/07/02/trade-gift-cards-for-miles/#sthash.54DHRYWo.dpuf

Sometimes the best thing to learn is what NOT to do to earn miles. I hadn’t considered the overall cost. We are still looking to earn 12k in the next couple of months, so this offer is not for us.

It seems like the majority of frequent flyers use “churn and burn” and manufactured spending strategies to accumulate mileage through signing up for new credit cards. We are thinking about buying a house next year, so I can’t afford to have a bunch of inquiries dragging my credit score down. This does not seem like a good strategy for us.

I have, however, been considering the Chase Sapphire Preferred card for the future. There is a [sign up bonus of 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points](https://creditcards.chase.com/credit-cards/sapphire-preferred-card.aspx), which can be transferred to United Miles 1:1. Other than my current quest for mileage, I don’t really *need* more credit, so I’m going to wait on this one. I might look at switching my current Chase Amazon card into this product, as I don’t really love the benefits of the Amazon card.

**POINTS IN MY ACCOUNT:**
From 3/1/13 to 5/31/13

Beginning Balance as of 01/01/2013: 104,687

Airline Activity: 0

Non Airline Activity: 1,678

– all CC Spend

Ending Balance as of 03/31/2013: 106,365

None of my “extra” mile-accruing activity hit in this time period, but I am hoping this month sees a big jump as some of these bonuses start hitting my account. The goal is 120,000 miles by the end of July, hopefully!

Earning Points Without Flying

5 Jun

In my quest for more and more miles (I’ll talk about why another time), I’ve had to find ways to accrue them other than flying. We’ve had one trip this year, and the tickets we’re a gift from my in-laws and not on United. No complaints from me, it was an awesome vacation!

In addition to my United MileagePlus Visa Signature, I’ve signed up for some other programs that will help dump more points into my account. None of these programs contribute to status, which is not a goal for me, personally. I’ve seen the forums at FlyerTalk roll their eyes and grumble about it, but the credit card gives me enough perks to make flying bearable for me: a free checked bag and Group 2 boarding. So here’s a rundown of some of the programs I’ve tried:

+ Hotel loyalty/rewards programs: Marriott Rewards and Hilton HHonors

I spoke about this in [yesterday’s post](https://courtneyhoyt.com/2013/06/04/obsessed-with-travel-the-beginning/). When I first started actively trying to gain points, one of my first big accruals came from converting points earned through the Marriott Rewards program. Marriott features an [Airline Miles Program](http://www.marriott.com/rewards/earn-points/miles.mi) which gives 2 miles per dollar on most stays. Some of the lower-end properties give 1 mile per dollar. I also signed up for Hilton HHonors to provide another option. Hilton allows you to earn a combination of points and miles, depending on what your goal is. I’ve chosen to earn through the [Points & Fixed Miles](http://hhonors3.hilton.com/en/earn-use-points/hotel/earning/index.html) method, with 10 Hilton points + 500 miles per eligible stay. Another option is Points + Variable Miles, which seems to benefit you if you are paying more than $500 per stay, as it gives 10 points plus 1 mile per $1 spent. I rarely spend that much on a weekend stay in a hotel.](link)

+ MileagePlus Dining Program

I joined this through an email bonus offer to join and use by the end of December for a 1500 mile bonus. The way it works is you sign up and use your United Mileage Plus Visa at a participating restaurant. They will see it on the statement, and you earn 3 miles per $1 for the total bill. Unfortunately, the restaurant we went to to fulfill the bonus terms must not have shown up correctly, because the bonus never came. I called, and they requested I send the itemized receipt. I just couldn’t be bothered at the time, so I let it go. Now every so often I see a restaurant x3 reward pop up on my MileagePlus account, it’s always a welcome surprise! I haven’t been actively seeking these miles out as we’ve been eating at home much more.

+ ERewards.com

I found this opportunity through the MileagePlus website, and have tried it out. I don’t think it will earn me miles too quickly, but it’s free. It’s market research and you fill out targeted surveys. For every completed survey, you receive $0.25 up to $5, maybe more. Once you reach $25, you can redeem for 500 miles to MileagePlus (or other loyalty programs.) I received a 250 mile bonus for signing up thought my MileagePlus account, so there is that! I’ve done about 4 surveys and now have $5.10. Not my favorite thing to do, but if I remember to keep doing it, why not?

+ PointsHound

I’m really excited about this one. PointsHound is a 3rd party website to book hotel rooms. Unlike Priceline, rather than deep discounts, they offer mileage bonuses. In addition, you can “Double Up” and earn points and status through certain hotel loyalty programs! The prices are the same as those posted on the hotels’ websites (from what I’ve seen), and cancellation policies vary, so be sure to check before you purchase! Here’s what a search looks like:

Note the Marriott Rewards and Hilton HHonors rates available on some of the listings. Apparently you receive slightly fewer miles for those rooms, but you may value them more. It seems to me, based on the rate I earn through the hotel programs, that Doubling Up is a better return than through PointsHound alone, so I’ll take the slightly lower bonus. I also like the way they post the TripAdvisor score and link right at the top of each hotel listing – helps with the obsessive research! I’ve booked a stay in July through PointsHound, so I’ll report back if I’m satisfied.

There are different levels, and I am currently at Level 2, which increase the miles earned to 5-8 per dollar. If you join through this referral link –> [PointsHound.com](https://PointsHound.com/rvjicz) < — you will earn an additional 250 miles upon your first booking. Full disclosure: I will also earn 250 points at that time.

+ Rocketmiles

Like PointsHound, this is a 3rd party hotel booking site. The major differences are they give many, many more miles per booking and they limit the search to just a few options per location. While PointsHound may offer 150 options in a big city, RocketMiles may offer 6 (they call it a "curated" search.) They offer miles in the thousands for each booking, however. Here's what a search looks like:

(There’s a double miles promotion now, hence the crazy high mileage returns!) For comparison, this search for a random weekend in Denver provided 7 (seemingly good) choices, while PointsHound offered hundreds. However – wow, look at the miles!!

I’m trying them out on a one night stay booked in September, so I will fill you in on how it worked for me. For that booking, PointsHound offered a price of $199 and 300 miles, while Rocketmiles offered $199 and 2,000 miles, both for the same property. On the hotel’s website, the same room was listed for $199. I went with Rocketmiles in this case because they happened to have the specific hotel I wanted – just a lucky coincidence. This is not for the super-researchers who need to know every available hotel option at their destination. Also, I may miss out on earning points + miles (it’s a Hilton property), but I’m still going to ask when I check in if they will give me credit. Even if I don’t, though, I’m earning 2,000 miles on my stay!

To sign up and try Rocketmiles, you can earn 1,000 miles on your first booking by signing up here –> [Rocketmiles.com](https://www.rocketmiles.com/refer/COURTNEYMHURST) <– Full disclosure: I will also earn 1,000 miles.

**POINTS IN MY ACCOUNT:**
From 1/1/13 to 3/1/13

Beginning Balance as of 01/01/2013: 88,253

Airline Activity: 1,091 (CLE-IAH)

Non Airline Activity: 15,343

– Chase enrollment bonus for adding AU: 5,000

– CC Spend: 10,204

– MileagePlus Dining: 139

Ending Balance as of 03/31/2013: 104,687

Obsessed With Travel – The Beginning

4 Jun

Maybe it’s withdrawal from wedding planning. Or perhaps a way to avoid planning for babies (I am newly married – don’t want babies yet!). Whatever the reason, I’ve become preoccupied with planning as many vacations and trips as possible. So far we’ve got 8 separate itineraries set up; some as short as one overnight stay in a nearby city for a wedding, all the way up to a two week trip to Europe.

It all started when I realized that I had built up an impressive (for me) number of points in my United MileagePlus account. I signed up for the United Mileage Plus card on a whim after the wedding last November. My husband has one, and he likes it. I received a targeted offer for 50,000 bonus miles, plus 5,000 miles for adding an authorized user. I’ve been using that card for pretty much everything, including final wedding expenses, automatic payments, and regular monthly spending. I even gave one couple a United gift card as a wedding gift (don’t worry, they registered for it!) With purchases at United garnering x2 points, I’ve been booking all my travel with the card as well.

The other thing that happened is I took a trip for work in November, and I learned that I had something to gain from hotel loyalty programs. I don’t travel for work very often; maybe once a year at most. This was an awesome trip – a conference at the Gaylord in National Harbor, Maryland (just south of DC). The conference was Monday to Wednesday, so Andrew and I went together Saturday morning. We packed four Smithsonian museums into Saturday afternoon and Sunday all day.

We also had drinks at [Smith Commons](http://www.smithcommonsdc.com/) (good drinks, friendly bartender) and dinner at [Granville Moore’s](http://granvillemoores.com/) (Belgian, mussels and frites, delicious, looooong wait.)

We stayed in the [Marriott Crystal City at Reagan National Airport](lhttp://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/wascc-crystal-city-marriott-at-reagan-national-airport/) on Saturday night, which was great for taking the Metro from the airport (one or two stops) to literally drop our bags, then to catch it again to head for the Mall. I chose this property for the price and proximity to the subway, airport, and the Gaylord. The next morning, we packed up early, then took a cab to the [Gaylord](http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/wasgn-gaylord-national-resort-and-convention-center/). They were fantastic, and allowed us an early check-in so we could again toss our luggage and head back out to museums. One disappointment – the next shuttle into town was at noon, so we had to cool our heels a bit. Sidenote – there are several restaurants in the Gaylord, but we particularly enjoyed the sports bar! We sat at the bar and ate dinner, then found a quiet corner with a golf screen simulator. Normally, they charge to use it, but we were able to play for free. Fun! I am moderately bad on the green and terrible in the simulator, Andrew is great on both!

After returning home from my trip, I received an email from the Gaylord touting the Marriott Rewards program. I hadn’t really thought about how the Gaylord was owned by Marriott. When I looked into the program, I realized that with the Saturday night stay plus the 3 nights at the Gaylord I could earn significant points. Even better, Marriott Rewards has an [airline miles program](http://www.marriott.com/rewards/earn-points/miles.mi) where you can earn miles rather than accrue points. For someone like me who is trying to collect as many miles as possible and doesn’t care about earning hotel points, this is awesome! I earned double miles on each dollar spent for a total of 1,961 miles. For my IAH-DCA, DCA-IAH flights, I earned 2,416 miles. If only I’d had the United card already, I could have really racked them up!

beginning MileagePlus balance: 29,362

MileagePlus balance 12/2/12: 33,739
– doesn’t include United MileagePlus credit card bonus or spending

MileagePlus balance 12/31/12:

Airline Activity: 1,091 (IAH-CLE)
Non Airline Activity: 53,423 (CC bonus 50k + $3,423 spend)
Ending Balance: 88,253

Honestly, this miles and points race reminds me of playing a video game. We manipulate our spending and our travel patterns to earn points, which can be redeemed in creative but restricted ways. I bet there are fascinating graduate dissertations on that topic.

There are so many interesting companies and blogs in this “travel game” world – and I’m a total novice. Here’s to learning how to play the game!