Want To Earn More Points & Miles? Here’s How To Know What Kinds To Get

  1. Before you start earning miles and points from your credit cards, it’s really important to know what type of points you’re earning. There are several types of reward miles/points that banks offer and they can be most easily be divided into four categories:
  • Transferable (Flexible) Points
  • Airline Miles and Hotel Points
  • Fixed Value Points
  • Cash Back

I’ll go over some of the basics for each of these points below:
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If She Wants A Unicorn, It’s My Job to Make It Happen. (a.k.a. “Our” Travel Bucket List)

Disclaimer: I love my wife very much. So much so that I asked and was given her permission to write this post (Note from Sharon: Yes, dear).

I find myself amazingly lucky that Sharon and I agree on so many things. One of them is we don’t need to heap presents on each other to show our love and affection. That notwithstanding, there are some occasions when Sharon wants a particular item and it’s my job to acquire it. It may be a larger item, or one that might take some time to find. It’s never been impossible (yet) and I enjoy the challenge and the pleasure when I deliver.


As we’ve started to try to declutter our lives, our lists of “wants” has changed from things we want to have to places we want to go.  Like a bucket list. But one that we tend to fill up just as quickly as we empty it.
Continue reading “If She Wants A Unicorn, It’s My Job to Make It Happen. (a.k.a. “Our” Travel Bucket List)”

I Purchased 120,000 Holiday Inn (IHG) Points – Here’s Why…

For me, the goal of the miles and points game is to get Sharon and I the best travel experience for the money we spend. So then why did I just go and spend $690 for 120,000 IHG Reward Club points with no idea how I will use them? Well, remember that I find points in the IHG program (Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Intercontinental Hotels) to be the most valuable points program for our travels.

View of Times Square from the Crowne Plaza

The reason I bought points without any sure reason how I am going to use them is because they were on sale. No really, they were! There was a flash promotion for 100% bonus points. For the 60,000 points I paid for, I received an additional 60,000 or 120,000 total points. That means instead of the usual price of 1.15 cents per point, these points cost me 0.575 cents each. That’s a value at which I’m confident I’ll be able to use these points to my advantage. Purchasing points during sales is one way you can build up your balances. Instead of buying points, look at it as pre-paying for a room at a set price.

These sales are usually announced by email to the members of the respective programs. So if you haven’t signed up for an account (or two or three or…), you’ll never even know about these promotions. Here is a link to my article with the links to sign up for the major hotel programs, if you need some help signing up. It doesn’t cost anything to sign up, by the way.

Now, to be able to jump on promotions like this one you need to know the answer to at least two questions.

  • Is this a good deal?
  • Will I have a use for these points in a reasonable amount of time?

Figuring out if an offer is a good deal requires you knowing what a point in the particular program is worth. I use my value for previous redemptions as a guide but there are many websites (such as HERE and HERE) that list what they feel is a fair value for a point in each program. You also need to be sure you will be able to use the points before they might significantly go down in value.  If a hotel program suddenly decides that a hotel that used to cost 20,000 points a night now will cost 30,000 points (and yes, sometimes hotel programs do that), your points have now essentially gone down 50% in value. Hotel point devaluations are an unfortunate but unavoidable part of playing this game. So you can see how buying a bunch of points without a potential or planned use for them can possibly be dangerous in the long run.

Since, as I mentioned earlier, there are many hotels that are part of the IHG program (including Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Intercontinental Hotels, Staybridge Suites & Candlewood Suites), I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to use these points in a reasonable amount of time. For example, let’s look at a stay at the Crowne Plaza Times Square for later on this month. A two night stay will cost 100,000 points (50,000 points a night). Right now those nights are selling for $750.00 after taxes and hotel fees.

Paying cash for 2 nights in Manhattan  = $750
Two nights for 100,000 points = $575.00 (100,000 x 0.00575)

With paying for the points and using them to book the room instead of paying for the room directly, you could save $175. I’m sure I could easily use these points for this kind of trip in the near future.

Lets look at a less glamorous hotel to see if the numbers still work out. For example, what about a stay at the Candlewood Suites in New Braunfels, Texas, which is a hotel where we’ve stayed in the past.

Candlewood Suites New Braunfels, TX (Management photo from Tripadvisor)

To book a  room at this hotel would cost 20,000 points a night, so a 3 night stay would cost 60,000 points. The same room for cash with AAA discount is going for $395.50. Using points would yield a redemption value of 0.66 cents a point. Using points bought at the sale price of $0.0575/point the room would cost me $345. This means I would still save about $50.00. Now, if I had I paid full price for those points ($0.0115/point, which is the equivalent of $690 for the 3 nights), it would have been much cheaper to pay cash.

This second example shows why I felt confident in buying points at this sale value. Even with a pretty low redemption value, I’d still come out ahead. That’s why I went full in on this offer.

We have a couple of trips planned this year. I’ll be looking out to see if there are any hotels I can save some money at by using my newly acquired stash of IHG points.

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How We Haven’t Paid For A Flight On Southwest Airlines Since 2015

You read the title correctly. We haven’t paid anything for a trip on Southwest Airlines, except for taxes and fees, since June of 2015. That’s 22 flight segments and 18,170 miles of travel. I’ve traveled with my dad, and Sharon’s gone on a trip with a friend, and we didn’t pay for their flights either.

Image from Great Circle Mapper

I bet you’re wondering how we managed that. It really wasn’t that difficult…I’ve just used several tips that I picked up over the years to make it happen.
Continue reading “How We Haven’t Paid For A Flight On Southwest Airlines Since 2015”

Why is everyone so excited about the Starwood American Express card right now?

NOTE: The offer mentioned in this post is no longer available. Click on the links in the article for the current available offers.

I follow my fair share of websites that focus on miles and points and ever since last week, I can’t get through a couple of articles without seeing something mentioning the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card. Why, all of a sudden, is there an increased interest in this card?

The most important reason for the flurry of attention is that the card has recently increased the sign up bonus from the usual 25,000 points to a bonus of 35,000 points. This bigger bonus does come with a higher spending requirement. To get the full bonus on the personal card, you need to spend $5000 in total over six months ($3,000 in three months for 25,000 points and then you get an additional 10,000 points after spending an additional $2,000 within 6 months.) The business card requires $8,000 in spending for the full bonus ($5,000 in 3 months for 25,000 points and $3,000 additional spending by 6 months for 10,000 more points) The increased bonuses will last until April 5, 2017. The usual annual fee for these cards are $95 but the annual fee is waived for the first year.If you want to apply for the either of these cards, here is a link to apply for the personal card and here is a link for the business card. This will be for the same public offer but they’ll also give me 5,000 Starpoints for the referral, which would be greatly appreciated.

Sharon and I both currently have the personal version of this card and I have previously had the business version of this card. So why is everyone going go crazy over a sign up bonus of 35,000 points? I mean, you can easily find cards offering 50,000, 75,000 or even 100,000 points or miles for a similar amount of spending without having to look very far. The reason is that Starpoints (the name of points in the Starwood Preferred Guest, or SPG program) are usually considered some of the most valuable currencies to have.

To redeem a room at a Starwood Property (Sheraton, Westin, W Hotels, Aloft, Four Points, St. Regis, Le Meriden, Tribute, Design Hotels, Luxury Collection, Element) takes from 2,000 points for the lowest category 1 room on a weekend stay to a maximum of 35,000 for a peak category 7 room. To put that in perspective, Hilton’s lowest category starts at 5,000 points but then goes up to 70,000 to possibly 95,000 points a night (depending on season) for a room in one of their category 10 hotels.

Your 35,000 point sign up bonus can get you 1 night at the Sr. Regis Princeville Resort on Kauai. That room can retail for over $800 a night. Photo from SPG website.
We recently booked this upgraded room at the Great Northern Hotel in London for 17,550 Starpoints a night. Yes, that’s Sharon photobombing the picture.

So while Starpoints can give wonderful value when used to book a hotel room, there are even more reasons they are loved so much in the miles and points world.

  • They are very flexible – there are over 30 airline frequent flyer programs to which which you can transfer your Starpoints. When transferring points to airlines, you also get a 5,000 bonus for every 20,000 points transferred (so 20,000 Starpoints becomes 25,000 Delta SkyMiles). This means it often makes more sense to earn Starpoints on your everyday spending and then transfer them to the airline program than it does to earn miles using the airlines own co-branded card.
  • If you book 4 nights using your Starpoints in a hotel, the 5th night is free. This essentially reduces the points needed per night by 20%. Unfortunately, Sharon and I have never used this perk as we rarely stay in the same place for five nights.
  • Unlike some other programs that will only let you use your points for the lowest level room type, Starpoints can be redeemed for upgraded rooms. I paid 1,750 extra points per night to upgrade to a larger Cubitt room at the Great Northern Hotel in London.
  • While there was much hand-wringing when Marriott merged with Starwood, the hotel points programs are still run separately. They did make it so you are now able to transfer your Starpoints to Marriott Rewards points at a 1:3 ratio. That opens up a whole bunch of hotels owned by Marriott (which also includes Ritz Carlton hotels) that are available to book. Since a top level category 9 Marriott hotel costs 45,000 Marriott Rewards points, you only have to transfer 15,000 Starpoints for enough to book a single night stay. Even the top of the top, a tier 5 Ritz-Carlton hotel, is 70,000 points (equivalent of 23,333 Starpoints).
You can stay at the historic Algonquin Hotel Times Square after transferring 15,000 Starpoints to the Marriott Rewards program. Photo from Marriott Website.
  • It is possible to pool points with your family members as long as your accounts have the same registered address for 30 days or more. This means it could be possible for you to earn even more points with this increased bonus.
  • With the Starwood and Marriott merger complete, it is quite possible that the Starwood American Express cards will be going away in the future. Marriott currently has their own credit card and a Ritz Carlton card, which are both offered by Chase. This could be an instance of if you don’t sign up for this card during this offer, you may never see a bonus this high on this card again.

While I’ve written how valuable this 35,000 sign up bonus can be, I do need to mention some warnings about signing up for credit cards for the bonuses. You really need to have your financial matters in order before starting down this path and it does take discipline to keep things from getting out of control. Here are some quick guidelines.

  • Do NOT sign up for credit cards if you you are currently paying credit card debt that is charging interest. No sign up bonus will make up for the amount you are paying on that debt. Get your finances under control first, no matter how tempting all these points seem to be.
  • Do NOT spend more on a credit card for points than you would normally spend. There are many ways to reach spending thresholds without going out and getting that 70 inch 4K television (unless you were going to be getting it anyway).
  • Do NOT sign up for every offer you see. Some banks, like Chase, are limiting the number of cards you can be approved for. If you have signed up for more than 5 cards in the last 2 years from any bank, you can not get any more Chase cards. It’s really easy to get more than that many cards, overall, once you get started.
  • Keep in mind that even if you have signed up for the personal card before, you may still be eligible for the business version. Million Mile Secrets wrote a great article about what qualifies as a business. The SPG business card does have an additional perk of giving you hotel lounge access even if you’re not booked in a room which would normally allow it. Depending on the hotel, this could be a great perk. For our travels, I’d prefer not to spend a whole bunch of time in the hotel lounge but, as always, Your Mileage May Vary.
  • Do NOT sign up for a bunch of travel credit cards if you have a large purchase you will be financing in the near future, like a home mortgage or a car loan.
We took a 8 month break from credit card sign up bonuses before buying Jeep Jeep (that’s her name) a few weeks ago! And yes, Jeep Jeep is purple. Xtreme Purple, to be exact. It’s Sharon’s car so she chose the color. She likes cars that are the colors of Skittles.

There also also some specific things to know about signing up for cards from American Express.

  • You can only get one sign up bonus per card, PER LIFETIME (this may actually only be once every seven years but the rule hasn’t been in place long enough for people to be able to test that).
  • There is a great article on the website One Mile at a Time  that explains some of the more complex rules of signing up for cards with American Express, which would be more important if you have been going at this game for a while.

So I’m on the fence about if I’m going to have Sharon sign up for the business card. A final crack at an additional 35,000 Starpoints is just too good of an offer to pass up. What do you think?

Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Let me know…

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