Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Month: February 2017 (page 1 of 2)

2 Best Airline Credit Cards for the Humboldt-Based Traveler

Living in Humboldt has it’s benefits. The climate is mild, traffic isn’t an issue, and the redwoods are at your doorstep.

But there are definitely some downsides. One of the biggest of these is how hard it is to travel anywhere either quickly or cheaply.

We have one local commercial airport. It is the Arcata-Eureka Airport (IATA code of ‘ACV’), and actually located in McKinleyville, just to be confusing. It also bills itself as an international airport, which I find hysterical.

The Arcata-Eureka airport is our only air connection with the outside world. Currently, the airport is served by about 7 flights per day by two carriers.

Flights out of ACV are typically quite expensive. It may be more convenient to fly out of Arcata, but for a family heading across the country on vacation, driving to the Bay Area to catch a plane is usually the better call.

Luckily, you can have it both ways: convenient and cheap. You just need to amass some award miles.

Earning award miles for flights out of Humboldt

The two carriers that serve ACV airport are United and PenAir. United has been flying to the area for years, while PenAir is a relatively new addition. Both carriers offer flights using award miles.

Here are two great credit cards to help you get started toward your first free flights out of ACV:

  1. United Mileage Plus Explorer Card – This is the best card for the Humboldt-based traveler in my opinion. United offers the most fights in and out of ACV, and they are the best for connection options. All United flights out of Arcata head to San Francisco, one of United’s hubs, and United is a member of the Star Alliance, so you can use you United MileagePlus miles earned via the credit card to fly all over the world. The card typically comes with a 30,000 mile sign-up bonus, but an increased bonus offer of 50,000 miles is typically available at least once per year (currently ongoing). Best airline credit cards HumboldtThe card does carry a $95 annual fee (typically waived the first year…not on this 50k offer), but it does offer some perks, such as 1 free checked bag on United-operated flights, priority boarding, and a slight increase in award seats (some award seats are only available to United credit cardholders). If you fly in and out of Arcata even twice per year, it is worth having in your wallet.
  2. Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card – While the flights out of Arcata are operated by PenAir, awards are available on these flights using Alaska miles. The easiest way to earn Alaska miles is by signing up for their credit card through Bank of America. The typical offer is 25,000 miles, and the card fee is $75 annually. However, you can often find an increased offer of 30,000 miles, sometimes even with a statement credit of $100 after a certain amount in purchases. This effectively nets you $25 and the 30k miles.

    Boarding a PenAir flight at ACV

    Alaska miles can be used on PenAir’s flights out of ACV to any destinations served by Alaska Airlines. The only direct PenAir destination from Arcata is Portland, but Portland is one of Alaska Airlines’ hubs, allowing you to connect to many other destinations. You certainly won’t have the extensive network offered by United, though. Additionally, Alaska flies out of Santa Rosa, which is a much easier airport to get to from Humboldt than either San Francisco or Oakland. Alaska is the actual carrier out of Santa Rosa (rather than PenAir like at ACV), so you can use miles to connect to flights on Alaska’s other partners, which is a huge benefit.

How much award space is available out of Humboldt?

Award space on United is generally very good, as long as you are not looking for last minute seats. Periods around holidays and in mid-summer fill up early as well. Here is a sample of the award availability between ACV and SFO for April and May:

Wide open award availability between ACV-SFO

There is still at least 1 economy award seat (denoted by solid blue line) all but one day over the two months. I can typically find at least 8 award seats available for at least half the dates over this period as well!

Remember that this is just for the leg between ACV and SFO. Availability may not be as good for other legs of an itinerary. This still gives you a taste of how easy it is to fly in and out of Arcata using United miles.

How about PenAir?

Award space out of ACV on PenAir using Alaska miles recently went from very good to fairly abysmal. After Alaska made some changes to their award pricing structure, award flights from ACV to basically anywhere in Alaska’s network now cost 30,000 miles one way! Which is a complete and utter ripoff. I’ve reached out to Alaska via Twitter twice regarding the issue.

PenAir award prices for ACV-PDX-SEA

My wife and I were looking at visiting friends in Montana this spring, but there are no reasonably-priced award all the way through May. The previous price was 7,500 miles, which is a great deal. But 30,000 miles one-way? Not so much.

We could have flown both of us round-trip for what a one-way flight now costs most dates!

Conclusion

If you are interested in accruing miles to travel from Humboldt, I highly recommend one or both of these cards. In addition to the personal cards, both offer a business version as well. If you make a lot of purchases as part of your business, consider getting a business credit card to help earn free travel!

As I will always reiterate, use credit cards responsibly! Any rewards you gain will be immediately offset if you get hit with interest and late fees. Annual fees can be worth paying, depending on your situation and the value of the rewards or points gained. Any other fees are not.

If you’re interested in accruing travel rewards using credit cards and don’t know where to start, consider coming to the first Humboldt Travel Hacker Seminar in a few weeks.

Reserve a Seat at the First Humboldt Travel Hacker Seminar

For months now I’ve been wanting to hold a seminar for family and friends who are interested in learning more about the travel rewards game. I’ve finally settled on a date and venue, so without further ado, the first Humboldt Travel Hacker Seminar is announced:

When: Monday, March 20th, 6:30-8:00 p.m.

Where: Ferndale Pizza Company, Ferndale, California

Cost: Free

There will not be pizza. Sorry to burst that bubble. The restaurant is closed on Mondays, which is why I can use it. We’ll have the place to ourselves. Shout out to my in-laws who are letting us use the place.

The event will be held in the back room of the restaurant, and seating will be limited to that space, so there will be a maximum of 24 people.

What will the event cover?

The seminar will be a starter course in “travel hacking”. It’s intended to be for those who are interested in how to travel more cheaply or for free, but don’t really know where to start. The seminar will cover some general basics of hotel and loyalty programs, how to accrue miles through credit card sign-ups and spending, and how to use miles for free travel. There will be an open Q&A session at the end.

If the event is a success, I’ll likely hold a second one in the future. Spread the word to friends if you think they might be interested.

How to register and other details

If you are interested in the seminar, please message me via the Points, Miles & Life Facebook page or via the contact form at pointsmilesandlife.com with your name and number attending. If you have my personal email and/or phone number, you’re welcome to contact me by either of those methods as well. I’ll add you to the list of attendees.

Feel free to contact me with questions prior to the event as well.

If you reserve a seat but later realize you cannot make it, please let me know as soon as possible in case someone else can still take your place. I don’t really expect us to fill up, but it may happen.

Hope to see you all there!

Getting My First Business Credit Card

One of the only downsides to selling my previous business is that I was no longer eligible to apply for any business credit cards. It has been almost two years since I sold my pickup and landscaping tools to my brother-in-law, and I haven’t really looked back. Starting in December 2016, though, I have a new businesses that allowed me to apply for my first business credit card.

No, it’s not my blog. I started Points, Miles & Life just over a year ago. I thought I might be able to develop it into a business, but I honestly haven’t put in the labor to make anything of it yet. It may happen. We’ll see. The travel blogging market is a competitive place, and there are plenty of good blogs out there with great information these days. I simply don’t have the time to keep up with the competition.

But the blog did come through for me in one big way: it played a role in being on-boarded as a contributor to Points with a Crew. Dan Miller, who started the Points with a Crew site, has a readership that far surpasses mine, and I am excited to be writing several pieces weekly for PWAC.

In the same month that I applied for the position with PWAC, I also jumped into the world of gift card reselling. I had been interested in this for a while as a way of accruing extra miles and points, as well as a small profit. Wait…profit? This is a legitimate business!

Since I’m also paid to write for Dan, my PWAC contributor position is also technically a side-hustle. But the gift card reselling gig is a bit more conducive for the spending volume I need to justify a business credit card.

Either way, in just one month I now have two new business ventures. Awesome.

Applying for my First Business Credit Card

So I decided to go ahead and apply for the Starwood Preferred Guest Business American Express card. With the future of the card unknown due to Marriott’s purchase of Starwood, I figured I could get some use out of it before the product is no longer available. Plus, it is a great card, and Starpoints are one of my favorite points currencies.

First Business Credit Card - SPG AMEX

Landing page for the SPG Business AMEX

Because I am operating my business (businesses? not sure if/how to split yet for tax time) as a sole proprietorship, the credit card application required only my social security number and not a tax ID. The application is not unlike one for a personal credit card, but it has a few extra fields for business info, including expected monthly revenue.

I filled out everything, reviewed the application, and clicked submit. As has been the case with literally every Amex app I have submitted in the past two years, I was instantly approved.

A few minutes later, and I had my new Starwood card linked up to my American Express online account. The process was as painless as it always has been.

I received the card just a few days later. It was shipped two day express by Amex. Since then I have been racking up some serious points.

Where to Go Next

Now I that I have my first business credit card in my wallet, I have my sights set on a couple others. We’ll see what I end up with in 2017. My wife and I are going to ease of the credit card applications a bit, and I want to be a bit more selective about what I apply for. Still, there are some great business cards out there, and I might try to get a couple more in my wallet.

3 Great Starter Travel Credit Cards

There are tons of credit card options out there, and most provide good value. However, there are a select few that make for a great starter card. If you are brand new to the travel hacking game and are not sure where to begin, I suggest you start with one of these three great starter travel credit cards:

  1. Chase Sapphire Preferred – This is still the bread-and-butter travel credit card for many people. This Chase card earns flexible points that can be used for travel purchase, redeemed for cash back, or transferred to several different hotel and airline loyalty programs. The standard offer for the card is 50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months of card membership. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card does have annual fee of $95 (waived the first year). The value of this card is found in Chase’s quality transfer partners, plus it earns 2x points on travel and dining.
  2. American Express Everyday Card – While the bonus of this card isn’t especially high (typically 10,000-15,000 Membership rewards points), this card is good starter card. It is one of the few cards that earns transferable points that does not have an annual fee. Membership Rewards can be transferred to several airline loyalty programs and a few hotel programs. While I don’t find the transfer partners as lucrative as Chase’s partners, there are still a few that offer great value. The EveryDay card earns a place here since it is a great way to ease into the world of transferable points, plus it can earn up to 2.4x at grocery stores.
  3. CapitalOne Venture – CapitalOne doesn’t get a lot of love from the travel hacking world since most of their products generally aren’t all that great. However, their Venture card is actually a decent product. While you can get a card with equal earning potential that comes without an annual fee (hint – Citi DoubleCash), the Venture card comes with a sign-up bonus worth $400, and the annual fee is waived the first year (then $59). Plus, the rewards can be used for any purchase that codes as travel, so there is a lot of flexibility. This is a great starter card, but not one that I would keep in my wallet for more than a year or two.

Which is the best?

Of these, my pick for the “best card” is the Chase Sapphire Preferred. If are willing to take some time to learn the the basics of a few hotel and airline loyalty programs, it will provide the best value of the three. The card also offers additional perks such as trip cancellation insurance, primary car rental insurance, and no foreign transaction fees (i.e. no extra fees when you use your card outside the U.S. in another country’s local currency).

If your interested in a first card to start earning rewards, consider one of these three great starter travel credit cards. If either the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Amex Everyday look like the one for you, leave a comment and I’ll send you a referral email!

4 Beginner Travel Hacking Tips

If you are new to the travel hacking game, especially on how to use credit cards to earn oodles of miles and points, you may struggle to digest the huge amount of information available. There is so much on the internet that it may seem overwhelming. But don’t let that hinder you from getting started.

You may have lots of questions: how can I obtain free flights to [insert place]? What credit card is the best one to start with? How do I redeem the points and miles I earn? Should I be worried if a card charges an annual fee?

There are answers to all those questions, but they may be different for each person. For some, paying an annual fee simply won’t do. For others, it may be totally justified if the rewards are worth it.

You will need specific answers, but make sure you have some guiding principles in place. Here are my four beginner travel hacking tips for those just starting the miles and points game:

  1. Have a plan – Don’t apply for credit cards until you have a plan. It doesn’t need to be a fully developed plan, but you should have a goal in mind. It could be something like “travel to Hawaii in 2018 with my family of 4”. Having a specific trip or goal in mind allows you to focus your efforts on attaining that goal. Admittedly, I have sometimes applied for a credit card without considering how I will be able to use the points, but this isn’t the ideal strategy, and I certainly didn’t operate that way when I started out. I had a very specific goal in mind. Identify a goal, find a couple credit cards that will help you achieve that goal, and pull the trigger. Then, once you have the cards, learn the ins-and-outs of those specific programs.4 Beginner Travel Hacking Tips
  2. Start slow – Don’t rush into the travel hacking game. If you told me you got 27 credit cards your first year, I would probably raise an eyebrow. Maybe two. It has taken me years to be comfortable applying for a large number of cards, to understand the ins-and-outs of various loyalty programs, and to be able to earn and redeem hundreds of thousands of miles and points each year. Don’t rush. Learn the ropes first with a couple cards (that you’ve identified in your plan) before continuing down the travel hacking path. You’ll get better over time, trust me.
  3. Understand your financial situation and abilities – The travel hacking game isn’t for everyone. There is a lot to learn and understand. If you need simplicity, you may want to use a single good cash back card for a while before venturing further. Also, cards with annual fees aren’t for everyone. Personally, I keep several cards that charge an annual fee, but that is because the value they provide my wife and I is much greater than what we pay for them. But not everyone will see things the same way. Also, if managing your finances is generally a struggle and you do not have a budgeting system in place, credit cards may simply not be the thing for you.
  4. Do your research – Don’t apply for a credit card just because some blogger on the internet says it is the best card of the year. Some are paid commission to offer certain cards, and they’ll often sing their praises on a weekly basis. The card may or may not be something that is actually provides you value. I will recommend certain cards at times, and even then, do your own research to see if it is something that is a fit for your plan. There is also a ton to learn when it comes to redeeming points and miles. Make sure you research various programs. Also, the award travel world tends to change, so research is still imperative even once you have a basic handle on things.

Conclusion

These four beginner travel hacking tips will help you stay on track as you get into this game. Lots of people do crazy stuff with their points, and it’s easy to think either (a) it’s too difficult for me or (b) it’s too good to be true. I’m here to tell you that with a little planning, research, and practice, you can be doing amazing things with your own points and miles.

As a recap: have a plan, start slow, understand your situation, and do your research. You won’t go wrong.

If you live locally and are interested in a starter course in “travel hacking”, I’ll likely be offering one on a Monday evening in March or April. Details should be released this week!

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