Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Want to visit Spain? New Airline is Pulling Down Bay Area Fares

IAG, parent company of British Airways, Iberia, and Aer Lingus, recently launched LEVEL, a long-haul low cost carrier to compete with the likes of Norwegian.

With only four destinations initially being offered, we are fortunate that two are on the U.S. West Coast: Oakland (3x per week) and Los Angeles (2x per week). Both routes will be served by A330s.

The new carrier is based in Barcelona, Spain. Flights take off starting June 1st. Like Norwegian, the airline will charge you for each and every extra if you buy the most basic fare.

Fares started at a crazy $149 each way when they first went on sale. The initial frenzy is over, but there are still some decent non-stop fares from Oakland to Barcelona available.

What about other carriers?

I’ve been eyeing LEVEL’s fares since they launched. The airline has already been offering some incredible deals to Barcelona.

Currently,  Star Alliance carriers are attacking LEVEL’s low fares. There are many dates from August through January where you can get a one-stop round-trip for right around $400 with Air Canada, United, Lufthansa, and Swiss!

LEVEL’s fares are currently higher than these, so don’t expect these competitive fares to last long.

If you’ve wanted to visit Spain, this could be your chance!

A Successful Travel Hacking Intro Presentation

On Monday I gave a presentation to 15 friends and family on the basics of travel hacking through credit cards. It was a fun time, although I did run much longer than I anticipated. I should have blocked out a bit more time.

Public speaking isn’t really my thing, but this seemed different. I was only mildly nervous before we started, and that quickly dissipated once we got rolling. Attendees asked some great questions, and I was happy that there are people interested in this topic. It was fun for me more than anything. I love sharing the knowledge I’ve gained over these past 5 years.

We covered the basics of loyalty programs, how to use credit cards to earn serious amounts of points and miles in said programs, and some of the specifics about credit card offers and how to use credit cards wisely. We finished off with an introduction to airline and hotel loyalty programs, as well as flexible bank rewards programs. The last few minutes were spent speeding through some specific loyalty programs that I find highly lucrative.

Finally, I need to say thanks to my in-laws for the venue and easel (to hold the flip chart), and to my wife and mother-in-law for making cookies. I wasn’t planning on doing anything more than water, so y’all got lucky.

Should we do this again?

Considering that my flip chart (a.k.a poor man’s power point) took a me few hours to put together and is still completely usable, I am considering offering a second session if there is enough interest. More than likely it will be in a couple months at the same venue. It will cover the same material, so if you came this time, there won’t be anything new.  You’re welcome to attend again, though.

In light of that, if anyone is interested in a second session, please send me a note on the contact me page, by phone or text (if you have my number), or through Facebook message with my webpage. I’ll be eyeing a Monday in early May.

Also, I was missing a few who RSVP’ed for the first session, so I will certainly send out a reminder email a couple days in advance for any future sessions.

A Simple “Travel Hacking Starter Plan”

Recently, I’ve laid out several beginner posts now about getting started in the travel hacking game. I’ve recommended a few cards and laid out some ground rules for managing your travel credit cards.  There are even 2 great airline cards I recommend for Humboldt locals. Check out these posts, if you haven’t already:

These posts provide a lot of help to get going. But now I’d like to offer a basic (but full) ” travel hacking starter plan” that should be suitable for most people interested in getting into this game.

Step 0: Check your credit

This is one thing I haven’t mentioned before, but it is essential. You should check your credit. Actually, you should probably monitor your credit routinely. Many people don’t. I typically check my credit and my wife’s credit twice per year. You are guaranteed a free credit report each year by law. The best site to pull your credit report (the free one per year) is annualcreditreport.com.

You can typically also get your credit report from any of the big three agencies for free or for $1 if you sign up for a free trial. I sign up, print off my report, and then call to cancel right away. If you don’t cancel you’ll be charged the monthly service fee.

Your credit report may or may not give you your credit score. I know the free annual one does not, at least last time I used it. Knowing your score is critical as well, since it is typically what determines whether a financial institution will approve you for an account or not.

At the end of the day, you need to have a good to excellent credit score for travel credit cards, typically above 700. My credit has been at or above 750 for most of my adult life, and I have had little trouble being approved for the vast majority of cards.

Step 1: Make a plan

This one hearkens back to my previous post on beginner travel hacking tips. I highly suggest that you come up with a plan, and do some research to figure out which programs and points/miles you should collect to get you to your goal quickest.

Travel Hacking Starter Plan

If you don’t have a set plan and are still interested in jumping in, then you really can’t go wrong with the next step…

Step 2: Apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred

For most people, plan or no plan, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is the best card to start with. You typically need excellent credit to be approved. The average score needed from one poll is 736.

Starting with the Chase Sapphire Preferred is good for two reasons. First, it has a good sign up bonus that offers flexible points, keeping your redemption options open. Second, you won’t be subject to the “5/24 rule” if you are new to the game. The “5/24 rule” is essentially an informal policy Chase has put in place where they will not approve you for certain types of cards if you have more than a certain number of new accounts (typically 5) opened in the past 24 months. Going with this card early means you won’t be aced out of it later due to “5/24”.

The Chase Sapphire typically offers a bonus of 50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months of card membership. The annual fee is $95, but it is almost always waived the first year, per the terms of the offer. As I mentioned, the points are flexible and can be transferred to a number of loyalty programs. If you are interested, I would appreciate it if you would leave a comment or send me a note via the contact page so I can send you a referral link.

If you want to go big and understand the cost/benefit, consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve. It is a step up from the Chase Sapphire Preferred, but it carries a $450 annual fee, additional perks, and higher earning rates.

Step 3: Apply for a Chase Freedom

This card goes fantastically with the Chase Sapphire Preferred. The Freedom offers rotating categories of 5% UR points, and if you can transfer these to any other UR earning card. This means that if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred (or Ink or Reserve), you can use the Freedom-earned UR points in the same way you use points earned from those cards. You simply need to transfer them to your other account. This can significantly increase the value of your UR points. Without pairing a Freedom with a “full” UR card, you’re points are only redeemable for cash back.

Personally, I only have the standard Chase Freedom. There is also the Freedom Unlimited, which does not have rotating categories, but it does earn 1.5% back (1.5 UR points) on all purchases. Many people prefer the Freedom Unlimited. I find that my Chase Freedom spending is….limited, so I tend to just try to maximize the rotating categories as I can.

You might consider pairing an application for this card on the same day as the one for your Chase Sapphire Preferred, if your credit score is goo and you’re feeling gutsy. Chase has been known to approve you for more than one card per day, and you will reduce the number of “hard hits” on your credit report. Each application normally does a “credit pull”, but the two pulls will be combined if you submit two applications in one day. Do note that you will probably have to talk a phone rep into approving you for the second card. Absolutely apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred first, though. 

The other benefit of a Chase Freedom card (or Freedom Unlimited)? No annual fee!

Again, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, if you’re interested in the Chase Freedom card, please leave a comment or send me a note via the contact me page so I can send you a referral link. You’ll earn me a few points. 🙂

Step 4: Learn how to use your points

Getting your cards in hard and using them to accrue points is only half the equation. The other half is learning how to put them to good use.

By focusing on the cards in the Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) program, you’ll be set up with points that can be transferred to some of the most lucrative loyalty programs, along with some of the easiest to use. I suggest signing up for all of them. You can then save your loyalty number to your UR account. My favorite loyalty programs affiliated with the Ultimate Rewards program are:

  • United
  • Southwest – Sometimes
  • Hyatt – The only really good hotel partner

On of our best award redemptions was at the Hyatt Regency in Nice, France

Other good ones:

  • Korean
  • Flying Blue
  • Singapore
  • British Airways – Specifically, west-coast U.S. to Hawaii

Explore some of these programs. Look up their award charts. Figure out their routing and award redemption rules. Find the sweet spots. It may seem overwhelming at first, but you’ll get better the more you learn.

You can also use Chase UR points for travel through the Chase portal at 1.25 cent per point (1.5 cents if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve). This can be a great way to book flights outside (or within, even) the UR transfer partners.

The Chase points are also worth $0.01 each, so having to cash them out is also a reasonable option. Life happens, and sometimes cash in hand is better than travel later. I get that.

Step 5: Plan a trip with your points, even if it is small

Put what you have learned to good use. I suggest a domestic trip, or a trip to Hawaii. A quick example:

  • Two domestic tickets in United saver economy: 12,500 per leg * 2 legs * 2 people == 50,000 United miles == 50,000 UR points (transferred to United)
  • Category 2 Hyatt hotel for 4 nights = 8,000 points per night * 4 nights == 32,000 Hyatt points == 32,000 UR points (transferred to Hyatt)

There. You have a long weekend getaway anywhere in the U.S. with United award availability for 82,000 Ultimate Rewards points. If you include the bonus on the Chase Sapphire Preferred, plus the authorized user bonus, plus the Freedom bonus, plus the points from spending required to get both bonuses, you’ll already have 69,500 points. You’re most of the way there.

Travel Hacking Starter Plan

United is an easy domestic award option – Photo: Boulder, CO & Front Range

Domestic U.S. trips typically require far fewer points, so I suggest you start there. But if you want to plan a multi-stop trip to Southeast Asia on a double open jaw ticket with a free Excursionist Perk extra leg with your United miles, be my guest. There, I probably scared you off…

Step 6: Branch out

Once you have completed your first free or mostly free trip, branch out to other cards. You’re obviously more than welcome to branch out before that if you have a good handle on things. Some other card suggestions:

  • Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card (before it goes away)
  • IHG MasterCard (great hotel card)
  • United MileagePlus Explorer Card (let me send you a link)
  • Hyatt Visa Card (2 free hotel nights…play in 2P mode and have your spouse get one, too)
  • American Express EveryDay card (great for groceries, accrues transferable points)
  • Chase Ink Preferred (if you have a small business)

Final Thoughts

I will continually stress that you must be responsible with credit cards. No, credit cards are not bad, but you can turn them into something really bad when misused. Pay your balance off on time and in full each and every month.

Other than that, have fun! This is a great hobby to be in, and I hope this travel hacking starter plan is useful. I’ve just hit 5 years since getting my first couple travel credit cards and using them for a wonderful honeymoon. You can read all about that if you want.

United cuts an Arcata flight, but switches to larger planes

United airlines has cut service to Arcata airport by one flight per day.  But don’t be too worried about the change. United is switching to operating larger aircraft between here and SFO and will be able to accommodate the same number of passengers per day.

The Star Alliance carrier has been in the process of retiring many of it’s small Canadair CRJ-200 regional jets. This small plane has been one of the primary aircraft United has used on the ACV-SFO route. The carrier is switching to the larger Embraer E175, which seats 76 passengers, compared to 50 on a CRJ-200. United is effectively replacing 3 of its CRJ-200 flights with 2 flights serviced by E-175 aircraft, keeping the number of daily departures the same.

The departure times for afternoon flights has adjusted slightly. Instead of a mid-afternoon departure and a second in the early evening, there will be one departure around 4:00 p.m. moving forward. Most afternoon flights starting in May have a scheduled departure time of 4:20. I want to know if this is a fluke, or some clever person making a gentle nod to the Humboldt subculture.

The two other United flights typically take off around 6:00 a.m. and 11:15 a.m.

Downsides of the change

One negative impact from this change is that there are now only a total of 5 flights in or out of Humboldt County each day. If any of these are delayed or cancelled, more passengers will be affected, and rebooking options will be more limited. Both United and PenAir have very poor on time performances in and out of Arcata Airport, so let’s hope they can improve this moving forward.

It’s a bummer to lose some schedule flexibility, too, with only 3 United flight options now. Hopefully the aircraft swap will mean better operations for the remaining flights. This news also comes on the heels of PenAir cutting a flight per day to Portland.

Personally, my feelings are mixed on the change. My last flight back to Humboldt with United was on an E-175. The plane was much newer and nicer. I was also in shock that we actually boarded via a jetway at SFO. Most of the time you have to walk outside at good ol’ gate 84 to a parked CRJ-200. I happily welcome the new aircraft, but I wish it wasn’t at the cost of a flight per day.

My First Three Months of Reselling Gift Cards

Over the past couple years I have gotten comfortable with the process accruing points through credit card sign up bonuses and usage. It’s been the primary way that my wife and I have amassed and used a very large number of hotel points and airline miles. We’ve taken three multi-week trips, the first to Canada in summer 2015, then Canada again in winter 2016, then Europe this past summer. They have all been fantastic. And they have all been made possible by points and miles.

Now that credit card churning is old hat, however, I have been trying to figure out ways to amass miles beyond applying for cards. The American Express well is running dry (you can only get the sign up bonus once on their products), and I am finding it increasingly difficult to get new cards with both Citibank and Chase.

Enter gift card reselling. I have heard much talk on this topic on various blogs and internet forums and it has always been portrayed as a *great* option for acquiring miles and sometimes a little profit. But is it actually as easy as it sounds?

What is gift card reselling?

For months I have understood the goal: buy gift cards with a points earning credit card, then sell them for equal or greater value. You earn points or miles and potentially a small profit. The execution of this strategy has always eluded me, however.

But over the last weekend in November 2016, I finally decided to knuckle down and figure things out. I had some conversations with a few people on the Points with a Crew slack channel; most were helpful. A couple were not. I understand the touchiness. It seems like the best deals/strategies in this hobby eventually get shut down when they become too well known.

I also scoured some common platforms for reselling gift cards. With the numbers they were showing nothing seemed especially profitable. But then I was able to join a private reselling platform with better stability and rate, thanks to a referral from a couple of my slack buddies.

Could I actually make a go of reselling gift cards?

It took me some time to find a couple profitable deals. There was an iTunes gift card sale at Costco in early December, so I took advantage of that. The going rate made me $1.51 per 4-pack of $25 gift cards, plus about 425 Ultimate Rewards points. Not too shabby. I was limited to 3 packs per visit, however, so it’s not like I would plan a special trip to Eureka to make just under $5 plus some points.

I also found some online deals with Costco, Sam’s Club, Staples, Target, and Ebay. I even made a run to Staples that made me about $35 plus points.

All in all I’ve resold over $14,000 in gift cards from December through February, clearing roughly 8,000 flexible bank points, 9,000 hotel points, and 5,000 airline miles. The value in points is roughly $350. I also made a profit of about $100 and about $75 in statement credits.

There is definitely a learning curve

I did make some mistakes in my first month reselling gift cards. For example, I bought some Google Play cards from Costco that were on sale. I should have made $1 per card, but I didn’t notice that only 2 of 3 cards had been discounted when I checked out. The sign said limit 3, but the register was hard-coded to 2, as I later found out. Instead of making $3 I lost $3. But everything eventually balanced out.

Was it worth the time I put into it? Honestly, hour for hour, I could have made more by working. A little overtime both weeks would have put me further ahead. After two runs to Eureka, plus side trips a couple other days, plus time on the computer finding deals and entering card codes, plus trying to deal with stupid PayPal security, I invested several hours.

But I consider these initial hours part of my learning curve. I’ll eventually calibrate which deals are worth my time and which aren’t. I actually passed up a deal this week that was only breakeven. I could have earned some points, but even a few 100 SPG points aren’t worth all that much.

Conclusion

My new hobby/business of reselling gift cards (since I am going to report it as a business) is fun to me. Not everyone will share that opinion, I know. I’ve scaled back after my first month, learning which sales are profitable and/or easy to manage. Sometimes I turn down an offer simply because processing the cards takes way too much time.

But overall I enjoy the whole process, and it earns my wife and I some awesome travel rewards at the same time. A total win-win!

Header image courtesy of Mike Mozart under CC 2.0 license

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