Author: Miles Moneyball

These three cards alone can earn you enough miles to fly anywhere in the world in business class

These three cards alone can earn you enough miles to fly anywhere in the world in business class

American Airlines is unique among air companies in that it has made co-branding agreements with two banks: Citi and Barclays. As a result, you can apply for credit cards with both banks and combine the signup bonus into your AAdvantage account. And it so happens that both banks have their highest public offers available right now. If you follow the plan laid out below, you can collect 180,000 AAdvantage miles in signup bonus, enough for round trip travel to anywhere in the world in business class.

Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard

Citi(R) / AAdvantage(R) Platinum Select(R) World Elite(TM) Mastercard(R) - Citi's Best Airline Credit Card with American Airlines AAdvantage(R) miles

  • 60K AAdvantage miles after making $3000 in purchase within the first 3 months of account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Preferred boarding, up to four on the same ticket, on domestic AA flights
  • First checked bag fee waived
  • Double miles on American Airlines purchases
  • Reduced mileage awards
  • Receive 10% in miles back when redeeming miles for flights, up to 10K per year
  • Annual fee of $95, waived for the first year

Besides earning one-time bonus offer, one of the noticeable features is free checked bag and priority boarding on domestic American Airlines flights. With Delta, United, and American all broadening their reach in Basic Economy fare, card holders can dip into the lowest fare without having to be constrained by the lack of carry-on privilege. You can just check in your bag instead. I personally also find 10% miles back beneficial. If you maximize your rebate (ie, redeem 100K miles on award tickets), 10K AA miles saved more than pays for the annual fee.

60K sign up bonus is the highest I have seen for the public. Apply yours here. It’s important to note that Citi bank has a 24-month window policy. If you have opened or closed any AAdvantage-earning Citi card within the past 24 months, you might be approved for the card but NOT be given the sign up bonus.

Barclay’s AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard

AAdvantage Aviator Red

  • 60K AAdvantage miles after making a purchase within the first 3 months of account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Preferred boarding, up to four on the same ticket, on domestic AA flights
  • First checked bag fee waived
  • Double miles on American Airlines purchases
  • Reduced mileage awards
  • Receive 10% in miles back when redeeming miles for flights, up to 10K per year
  • Annual fee of $95, NOT waived for the first year

As  you can see, the terms are almost identical to Cit’s Platinum Select card. The biggest difference is with Barclay, annual fee is assessed before the first statement is cut, but sign up bonus is awarded with just one purchase in any amount. Follow the link to apply.

Since Citi and Barclay are different banks, applying for one does not affect the other, besides usual new credit pull on your credit report.

CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard

CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®

Please note, this the business version of the Platinum Select personal card discussed above. I argued in my previous post that business card is not necessarily limited to profitable business owners.

  • 60K AAdvantage miles after making $3000 in purchase within the first 3 months of account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Preferred boarding, up to four on the same ticket, on domestic AA flights
  • First checked bag fee waived
  • Double miles on American Airlines purchases
  • Reduced mileage awards
  • $99 Companion fare, good for domestic flight only, after $30,000 spending in a year
  • Annual fee of $95, waived for the first year

There is not much meaningful difference between the business and personal cards. I don’t value $99 companion ticket that much as I may not have a chance to use it.

Here’s the link.

Three AAdvantage-earning cards offering maximum sign up bonus miles at the same time is not common. This will be a quick way to accumulate sizable amount of American Airlines miles. Even though AA domestic award seat is very limited, their OneWorld partners still offer reasonable redemption choices.

Following American Airlines’ award chart, from the US, the most expensive region for award redemption, South Pacific, costs 80K AAdvantage miles one way in business class. The sign up bonus from these three cards will take you anywhere in the world American Airlines or its OneWorld partners fly.

Are you interested in applying for these cards?

2017 New Mexico

2017 New Mexico

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

Albuquerque Old Town

Bandelier National Monument

Rio Grande Gorge Junction Bridge

Canyon Street, Santa Fe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My venture into Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

My venture into Cathay Pacific Asia Miles

The Planning

Let’s face it, branching into a new frequent flyer program is both exciting and unsettling, even for a seasoned travel hacker. Generally speaking, I will look into these factors before committing to a new program:

  • Be in a position or have a plan to acquire big trunks of miles meaningful for redemption. Different travelers may have different views on what’s considered minimum. For me, I would set the bar at 100K at the minimum, preferably 200K. Why? At current rate, depending on the airline program, it will cost anywhere from 50K to 90K for a one-way long haul premium class redemption from the US, where the jewel of award travel belies. Too small a balance often means limited travel options and wasted small balance post redemption.
  • Have plausible travel itinerary in mind using the miles before expiration. Almost all frequent flyer miles programs enforce some form of expiration policy from as short as 18 months to a few years. Some set “soft” expiration dates, ie, life of program miles can be extended with some activity. Others are “hard” ones, miles expire regardless of activities in the program.
  • Ideally, the program either does not charge the notorious fuel surcharge (hello British Airways) or keeps it to reasonable nominal amount.

Both my wife and I had previously signed up for Citi Preferred and Citi Prestige cards. Each card earned us 50K ThankYou points. As we closed these accounts with annual fees were due, I was searching for a new home among TY transfer partners for our 200K+ TY points before we closed out the last account. You will need one of the premium accounts open in order to transfer to partners. I was debating between Singapore’s KrisFlyer and KLM/Air France’s Flying Blue. Both have their standout merits but neither is ideal. KrisFlyer is the only way to gain access to the premium cabins of the topnotch airline, including Singapore Airline’s famous first-class suite (the “Apartment” as it is known), an ultimately thrilling experience treasured by many. Yet, Singapore Airline does not serve my home city of Chicago. Staging a flight to JFK, SFO, or LAX, though possible, costs time, a rare commodity in my world predominantly defined by kid’s school schedule. When I looked at Flying Blue, both Air France and KLM serve Chicago, making it possible to hop on SkyTeam’s global network without a transfer. But Flying Blue charge relatively high fuel surcharges and, for 62500 miles, the award rate for my most likely trip to Europe in business class is not particularly attractive. I was hoping Citi would offer transfer bonus to either one of the programs that would help settle my dilemma, before I had to close our last Prestige account by October when another year of annual fee would be assessed.

Well, my patience paid off, sort of. In early August, Citi announce a 20% transfer bonus to, … Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles program. Given only two months left before $450 annual fee from Prestige were to appear on my bill and I did not plan to renew for another year (hindsight speaking, I actually renewed Prestige for another year due to promotional offers, but I had no regret for this act), this could well be my last chance to get some bonus miles from TY points. I had to ask myself, is 20% extra Asia Miles the tipping point compared to Flying Blue or KrisFlyer?

My homework on Asia Miles’ award program quickly turned up two award charts, one for Cathay’s partners and the other exclusively for OneWorld carriers. Cathay Pacific has formed wide partner network outside of OneWorld alliance, which even includes Star Alliance’s cornerstone carrier Lufthansa and its affiliates of Austrian Airlines and Swiss International, as well as Air China and Air New Zealand, both of Star Alliance. Here’s award chart for its partners:

Asia Miles’ distanced award chart for its flights operated by one of its partners or one partner plus Cathay Pacific

My decision to go for Asia Miles in large part was due to my anticipated redemption from Chicago to Shanghai, my second home town. The direct route between Chicago and Shanghai, served only by American Airlines among Asia Miles’ partners, is 7058 miles. I can also afford to make a stop at Tokyo via Japan Airlines, for a one-way distance of 7393 miles. In both cases, Zone D rate applies and round trip business class costs 120K, slight ahead of American Airlines’ 140K. However, if Cathay Pacific is involved, Chicago-Hong Kong-Shanghai segments add up to 8573 miles, bumping up the total to 145K miles, slightly worse than AA’s 140K. Yet, taking into account 20% transfer bonus, I am looking at either 100K Citi ThankYou points on AA or JAL, or 121K TY points on CX for a round trip home, pretty attractive redemption in my view. And I have no doubt being able to exercise redemption within three years before miles expire.

I also studied Asia Miles’ OneWorld award chart, below, and concluded that I could not do better than 120K AM miles for a round trip in business class to Shanghai, the least expensive option under partner chart above. Regardless, I already found the winning formula and decided to initiate transfer from Citi TY to Cathay Pacific AM.

OneWorld rate applies when two or more OneWrold carriers without Cathay, or three or more OneWorld carriers including Cathay are involved in a round trip ticket

Execution of Transfer

Once I logged in to my Citi ThankYou page, the partner transfer option was available online. I chose to start with a small transfer twenty days before the transfer bonus deadline, to validate the process.

Citi ThankYou points 20% bonus transfer to Asia Miles

Within two days, 20,400 miles were posted to my Asia Miles account. Everything looked good. A few days later, I transferred my entire TY point balance to bring my total AM balance to close to 300K.

More sweetspots

Just like owning a stock piques one’s interest in that company’s news, having miles in the program entices my appetite for better ways of redeeming my hard-earned miles.

If you live on the west coast, particularly close to a gateway city, 120K can get you to many places in China/Asia in business class round trip. For example:

  • San Francisco to most of China for 120K on Air China
  • Los Angeles to eastern China for 120K on Japan Airlines
  • Vancouver to southeast Asia for 120K on Cathay Pacific
  • Western US to Shanghai for 120K on American Airlines
Trip Cathay Partner Airlines Route Distance Zone AM Miles (Round trip business)
San Francisco/Urumqi Air China SFO-PEK-URC 7428 D 120K
Los Angeles/Chongqing Japan Airlines LAX-NRT-CKG 7450 D 120K
Vancouver/Bangkok Cathay Pacifc YVR-HKG-BKK 7442 D 120K
Phoenix/Shanghai American Airlines PHX-LAX-PVG 6856 D 120K

Evan if you are located on the east coast, distance-based AM chart may not come in your favor in terms of mileage requirements, you can still be rewarded with choice of airlines that include Qatar, Iberia, Finn Air, and, if hundreds of dollars in fuel surcharges does not faze you, British Airways.

  • Eastern US to Hong Kong and beyond for 145K on American and Cathay
  • Washington to Beijing for 145K on Iberia
  • New York to Guangzhou for 145K on Finn Air
  • Boston to Chongqing for 145K on Qatar
  • Miami to Chengdu for 145K on British Airways
Trip Cathay Partner Airlines Route Distance Zone AM Miles (Round trip business)
Pittsburgh/Kuala Lumpur American + Cathay Pacific PIT-JFK-HKG-KUL 9987 E 145K
Washington/Beijing Iberia IAD-MAD-PEK 9550 E 145K
New York/Guangzhou Finn Air JFK-HEL-CAN 8893 E 145K
Boston/Chongqing Qatar Airways BOS-DOH-CKG 9880 E 145K
Miami/Chengdu British Airways MIA-LHR-CTU 9595 E 145K

As you can see, Asia Miles program does a nice job either supplementing OneWorld routes beyond those available on American Airlines or saving miles outright compared to AAdvantage. Since AA often offers very few, if any, award space on its own flights, success in OneWorld redemption increasingly hinges on partner availability. Asia Miles does just that, opening another door when AA’s is shut.

What happens if you push the envelope further?

As usual, I like to start off with comparing Asia Miles to its OneWorld cousin, AAdvantage. As far as I am concerned, AAdvantage award rule is cut and dry. To go from point A to point B, you look up which regions they belong to, and apply the rate between the two regions. You can’t construct complicated routing other than maximizing transit time of up to 24 hours to explore the stops in between. Asia Miles, on the other hand, allows two stopovers (stops over 24 hours), two transfers (stops less than 24 hours) or one open-jaw (gap in itinerary instead of all connected dots). In each of the examples above, you may opt to spend a few days en route, whether it’s US gateway cities of San Francisco or Los Angeles, transfer hubs of Tokyo, Beijing, Hong Kong, Doha, London, Helsinki or Madrid, the choice is yours! Does anyone object to visiting two places in one award ticket without extra flight cost? And since we’re talking about business class tickets, how do you feel about checking out airport lounges at each airlines’ main hubs?

If you still manage to feel hum hum about Asia Miles, let me show you a few more examples, this time, utilizing its OneWorld redemption chart. In a truly industry-leading fashion, Asia Miles OneWorld redemption permits five stopovers, AND two transfers, AND two open-jaws. The only downside? You are required to fly a minimum (note, NOT maximum) of two OneWorld airlines not counting Cathay Pacific.

Asia and Oceania

map

  • Chicago to Tokyo on American Airlines or Japan Airlines (6275 miles)
  • Tour Japan using land based transportation (stopover 1)
  • Tokyo to Hong Kong on Japan Airlines or Cathay Pacific (1842)
  • Tour Hong Kong (stopover 2)
  • Hong Kong to Brisbane on Cathay Pacific (4306)
  • Tour Australia using land based transportation (open-jaw 1)
  • Sydney to Los Angeles on Qantas or American Airlines (7488)
  • Los Angeles to Chicago on whatever (open-jaw 2)

Total flying distance, 19,910 miles, fits into Zone 10 in AM OW chart, giving this all business-class trip a price tag of 140K Asia Miles. And we still have three more stopovers and two transfers to give. Remember, it will cost 140K in AAdvantage miles to go to Hong Kong alone!

Africa and South America

map

  • Chicago to Miami on American Airlines (1197 miles)
  • Transfer at Miami (transfer 1) or tour Miami
  • Miami to Sao Paulo on LATAM or American Airlines (4073)
  • Explore Brazil on land from Sao Paulo (stopover 1)
  • Sao Paulo to Johannesburg on LATAM (4631)
  • Explore safaris from Johannesburg, followed by land or air transportation to Cape Town. Explore Cape Town (open-jaw 1)
  • Cape Town to London on British Airways (5995)
  • Tour London or Europe on land or by low cost air (stopover 2)
  • London to Chicago on American Airlines (preferred due to low fuel charge) or British Airways (3953)

Total fly distance 19,848 miles, good for Zone 10 rate of 140K in business class. Try to do that in AAdvantage!

Asia and Europe on new airplances

If sampling new airplanes or highly ranked airlines is your cup of tea, consider including Doha in your itinerary, home of award-winning Qatar Airways that equips multiple routes with Airbus A380, Boeing Dreamliner B787, or Airbus A350.

map

  • Chicago to Shanghai on American Airlines (7068 miles, B787)
  • Tour Shanghai (stopover 1)
  • Shanghai to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon (779 miles)
  • Tour Hong Kong (stopover 2)
  • Hong Kong to Bangkok on Cathay Pacific (1050, A350)
  • Tour Bangkok (stopover 3)
  • Bangkok to Doha on Qatar Airways (3285, A380)
  • Transit at Doha (transfer 2)
  • Doha to Venice (or Munich, Frankfurt, Vienna and many other European cities) on Qatar Airways (2488, A350)
  • Vienna to London on British Airways (795)
  • Tour London (stopover 4)
  • London to Chicago (3953) on American (B787) or British Airways (B747)

With this itinerary, you have a chance to visit three charming Asian cities of Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Bangkok, as well as European double-header of Vienna and London, sit in front of modern aircrafts in style, and still only have to pay 140K in Asia Miles for your flights!

How can you earn Asia Miles?

Besides flying on Cathay Pacific or crediting your partner flight credits to AM, you can obtain 150K Asia Miles rather quickly with no more than three credit cards offers. Remember Asia Miles is a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou, and SPG Starpoints programs. For example, you can apply for these cards and be on your way to book some of the exciting trips I mentioned earlier after completing signup bonus requirements.

  • American Express Platinum card (often comes with 70K or even 100K offers)
  • American Express SPG card (usually 25K but occassionally 35K)
  • Citi Prestige or Preferred card (50K currently)
  • Synchrony Cathay Pacific card (50K currently)

Are you becoming interested in Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles?

 

 

The case for business credit cards

The case for business credit cards

While most consumers think of credit cards for personal use only, many banks offer credit cards to business. By double-dipping into both personal and business card offerings, you will find miles and points come a lot faster than personal card alone, not to mention some banks offer attractive perks to business cards only. More importantly, business card applications do not appear on personal credit reports, making it convenient to circumvent limitations imposed by banks such as Chase’s five cards per 24 months, or “5/24” rule.

Do you need to have a fully established business in order to apply for business credit card? Not really. If you freelance, do contract work, or sell items at garage sale or online at eBay or Craigslist, you are engaging in for-profit business and qualify for business credit cards to cover business expenses.

When you apply for business cards, you are not required to provide Employer Identification Number or tax ID. The business name can be something as simple as Smith Family Business. Of course, if your business is taking off, it’s a good idea to incorporate or organize legally anyway and to apply for an EIN. Again, as far as application is concerned, an EIN is not required.

Of course, for small business, credit is secured by owners personally. You have to provide your own social security number on the application.

Are you interested in applying for a business credit card? I will review business card offerings in the future.

2017: Chicago Albuquerque Round Trip

2017: Chicago Albuquerque Round Trip

Trip Synopsis

Economy Class Round Trip Chicago to Albuquerque, NM, on American Airlines for 15K British Avios.

map

MMB Analysis

  • British Airways’ award chart is distance-based, great for short haul redemption on domestic AA flights. At a distance of 1118 miles, Chicago/Albuquerque falls just under Zone 2 of BA’s chart (up to 1150 miles) for 7500 Avios one way, a very affordable fall break proposition. The same trip would cost 25K in American Airlines AAdvantage miles. Revenue tickets easily exceed $300.
  • By default, when redeeming BA Avios on AA flights, the reservation is associated with your BA Executive Club account. To enjoy the benefits of credit card perks such as priority boarding and free checked bag afforded by Citi American Airlines AAdvantage Platinum Select or Barclay’s AAdvantage Aviator Red cards, remember to call AA to switch frequent flyer account to AAdvantage. If you have TSA Precheck saved to your AAdvantage account, this will also trigger TSA Precheck on your boarding pass. British Airway does not participate TSA Precheck as yet.

Trip Metrics

From  To Distance (Miles)
Chicago Albuquerque 1118
Albuquerque Chicago 1118
Total 2236

MMB Highlights

  • Although the focus of my award travel experience has been on flights, on the ground, hotel expenses could quickly add up with “free” trips. Fortunately, just like airlines, hotel loyalty programs from time to time offer irresistible deals that savvy travelers should not ignore. For this trip, I concentrated on a Wyndham Rewards promotion that gave bonus 7500 points for each stay booked online and paid for through MasterPass, up to two stays. I maximized the promotion by registering both myself and a family member and spent two stays each during the trip for a total of 30,000 Wyndham Rewards points. One nice feature about WR program is that any available room in their worldwide portfolio can be booked for 15,000 WR points, regardless of cash price. Chances are you will not redeem 15,000 points on an ordinary Howard Johnson or Days Inn, but if you aspire to visit tony Mills House Wyndham Grand Hotel at Charleston during Memorial weekend, for example, a room there will knock you off with $409 per night, or 15,000 WR points. The MasterPass promotion is now over. Wyndham has replaced it with a less attractive but still decent offer of 15,000 points for three stays by 2/18/2018.

  • If our fall break is a little longer, I would go after another low-hanging fruit in Marriott’s MegaBonus promotion. Similar to Wyndham, two stays at Marriott hotels qualifies for one free night in category 1-5 hotels. You have to register before Nove 30, 2017. Granted, more and more Marriott hotels are drifting above category 5, damping my enthusiasm not so slightly. but you can still find decent hotels if you plan ahead.
  • Timing could not be better for discussing the value of Marriott free-night certificate as I redeemed one such certificate right on this trip at Residence Inn Santa Fe, a Category 4 Marriott hotel, earned through Marriott Rewards Premier card issued by Chase. Annual free night certificate that comes with the card more than offsets its annual fee of $85, making this card a keeper in my portfolio. Currently, Chase runs an all-time-high public offer of 80K Marriott Rewards points, plus an additional 7500 points for adding the first authorized user, after $3000 spending within three months of account opening. You don’t have to apply through my link to receive the best public offer, but if you do, I will receive a referral bonus and would appreciate your support of my efforts in sharing good deals such as this with you.

Marriott Rewards(Registered Trademark) Premier credit card

  • We stayed at Residence Inn at Santa Fe for two nights. The second night was also free, courtesy of Hotels.com’s stay-ten-nights-get-one-night-free ongoing offer. Unless you choose to book with chain hotels directly for status chasing or loyalty promotions (such as Wyndham Rewards promotion mentioned above), for other generic bookings, it often pays to book through hotels.com, an online travel agency, to collect the equivalence of its own loyalty benefits. To top it off, go through a portal such as TopCashBack.com to hotels.com, TCB will return another 5-6% of your pretax charge a few weeks after your hotel stay.
  • Not all the nights at New Mexico were either free (Marriott) or directly responding to free hotel stay offers (Wyndham). Hotels at Santa Fe are noticeably more expensive than in Albuquerque so one of nights we found ourselves settled at its suburb at Hilton Santa Fe Buffalo Thunder, a resort style hotel 15 miles north of the city. As a devotee to bargain travel, I charged the only “standard” stay to my American Express Hilton Surpass card that triggered a $50 cash back from American Express and enjoyed free breakfast for all of us at its onsite restaurant and balcony room upgrade for one of our rooms by virtue of Hilton Honor Gold status from both my wife and myself, thanks to American Express Hilton Surpass card. Through an affiliate link not related to or benefiting MMB, I found the best ever signup bonus offer of 125K Hilton points for $4000 spending with the opening of a new Surpass account. If you anticipate to stay at Hilton hotels for even a couple of times a year, the Gold status alone will likely pay for its $95 annual fee.

Hilton Honors Surpass® Card

  • When combining free flight with either outright free or free-earning hotels stays, what’s not to like spending a school break in a new state? My 50 state countdown continues, ND, SD, NE, AR, AL, I am looking at you on the map now.
Why you should apply for this card next

Why you should apply for this card next

If you have followed my suggestion and have Chase Sapphire Reserve in hand, what would you do next?

The answer will not be as straight forward as CSR being the top choice, but I will argue that building a healthy dose of Chase Ultimate Rewards point reservoir is essential to any successful MMB game plan, and you need to get your second UR-earning card in before 5/24 rule closes in on you.

To that end, the following two cards have distinct merits of their own and warrant consideration: Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited.

Clickable card art links to Chase Freedom(Registered Trademark) credit card product page

 

Chase Freedom features 5x bonus categories each quarter

Clickable card art links to Chase Freedom Unlimited (Registered Trademark) credit card product page

Chase Freedom Unlimited has fixed earning ratio of 1.5 point/dollar 

What do they have in common? They both earn Ultimate Rewards points, carry no annual fees, and in conjunction with CSR you already have, see their point value significantly enhanced.

The difference between them comes down to earning bonus. Freedom has a quarterly rotation of different categories that earn five points per dollar spent. Restaurants, gas, drug stores, department stores, home improvement stores, et al, are the usual suspects for quarterly bonus. Non bonus purchases earn one point per dollar spent. Freedom is great if you are organized and can keep up with bonus categories because earning five points per dollar on purchases you normally would make offers excellent values. On the other hand, Freedom Unlimited removes the category bonus but all your purchases earn 1.5 UR points per dollar, ideal for people who prefer collecting above normal rate with simplicity.

Currently, Chase offers 15K Ultimate Rewards points on both new Freedom and Freedom Unlimited accounts, good for $150 cash back each (but I hope you save the points for better value), for $500 in purchases made in the first three months within account opening.

Another option for those who own a business is to apply for Chase Ink Business Preferred card. The card earns 3x on travel, shipping cost, online advertising, and phone/internet/cable services. For a limited time, Chase offers 80K Ultimate Rewards points signing bonus for Chase Ink Business Preferred card, with $5000 purchase requirement for the first three months and an annual fee of $95. If you apply through the link I provided, you will earn the highest signup bonus Chase has ever offered to this card and I will receive a referral bonus and I do appreciate that.

Chase Ink Business Preferred (Service Mark) Card

Chase Business Preferred for business owners

For those who consider Chase Ink Business Preferred card, because the card overlaps somewhat with CSR’s benefits (both open the door for transferring Ultimate Rewards points from all your Chase UR-earning accounts to travel partners, and both earn 3 points per dollar spent on travel), if annual fee is your concern, you may consider after first year just keeping Business Preferred card and converting CSR to fee-free Freedom Unlimited if you don’t have one already or Freedom. Personally, I have two Freedom cards and find it helpful when $1500 quarterly bonus spending limit might be exceeded. Or convert Ink Business Preferred card into Chase Ink Cash card with no annual fee. But I wouldn’t start with Chase Ink Cash.

Why you should consider applying for this card first?

Why you should consider applying for this card first?

With so many credit cards on the market with competing merits, it is understandably difficult, if not impossible, for MMB beginners to sort through a wealth of information and make the first move. Let me make the job easy for you. If you are a beginner aspiring to travel free, with excellent credit but sparse credit applications recently (I will not repeat myself in MMB Basics), you should apply for Chase Sapphire Reserve first!

Chase Sapphire Reserve(Service Mark) credit card

Chase Sapphire Reserve stands out among all credit cards in value

The following considerations make me certain that starting with CSR will work for majority of you:

  • Sequence. Let me be clear on your path forward: once you start the MMB game, you will likely find yourself applying for multiple credit cards in the months and years to come. Chase is known to deny applicants who have opened five or more credits at any bank in the past 24 months (aka “5/24 rule”) for all its Ultimate Rewards points-earning credit cards, including CSR. If you plan to include a UR earning card in your portfolio, you need to apply for it first before others.
  • Point transfer. UR points can be used to redeem for gift cards or even statement credits, often at one cent per point ratio. What makes UR stand out in value is to transfer UR points to its vast network of travel partners in airlines and hotels. You will need ONE “premium” UR card (read: card with an annual fee) in order to gain access to transfer option. CSR fits the bill.
  • High fixed point value in travel. In addition to point transfer, CSR holders have the option to redeem UR points towards travel when booked at Chase’s web site at a fixed value of 1.5 cents per point, a very competitive formula.
  • Bonus earning potential. Usually credit cards earn one point per dollar spent. With CSR, you will earn 3x on popular categories such as travel and dining. Unlike other cards that narrowly define travel, CSR considers travel expense anywhere from direct airline, hotel, rental car, or cruise purchases to travel agencies and parking!
  • Generous travel credit. CSR refunds card holders $300 in the form of statement credits for, again, “travel” purchases each year. The credit effectively reduces the annual fee of $450 to $150.
  • Global Entry fee. CSR covers the cost of $100 Global Entry fee, renewable every five years. If you take advantage of this offer, your first year annual fee comes down to $50.
  • Airport lounge access. CSR card holders gain Priority Pass Select membership. With more than 1000 lounges in most major airports around the world, Priority Pass Select offers a relaxed travel experience at airports particularly when one travels on economy.
  • 50K signup bonus. When spent on travel, the signup bonus is worth $750, more than enough to offset the annual fee even without any other card benefits.
  • Conversion to other UR cards. In the worst case scenario, if you are not happy with CSR, you may choose to downgrade it to Chase Freedom, a no-fee card that’s great for earning UR points, before your card anniversary is up.

Chase currently offers 50K signup bonus for new Sapphire Reserve account, when you make $4000 in purchases within three months of account opening. You don’t have to follow my link, but if you apply through the link I provided, you will be eligible for the same great bonus offer and I will earn a referral incentive from Chase, too, and I really appreciate that.

Practicing what I am preaching, I applied and was approved for CSR in August of 2016, within days of its rollout. Recently, second annual fee was billed to my account and I easily convinced myself this is a keeper for me.

 

2017: Chicago/New York Round Trip

2017: Chicago/New York Round Trip

Trip Synopsis

Business Class One Way Chicago to New York La Guardia on United for free + Economy Class One Way New York La Guardia to Chicago on Delta for 5K Delta miles

map

MMB Analysis

  • Outbound flight is free thanks to Taipei trip.
  • Commit to the trip only after responding to Delta promotion of short-distance domestic award flight for 5K SkyMiles

Trip Metrics

From  To Distance (Miles)
Chicago New York La Guardia 734
New York La Guardia Chicago 734
Total 1468

Trip Highlights

Do you know the security protocol when pilots exit the cockpit to use the bath room? I was sitting at the front row seat (1B) on United flight and wondering why all of a sudden the crew turned off the lights up front and wheeled out the food cart in an awkward position.

Until the cockpit door opened and the pilot came out and sneaked into the bath room under the cover of darkness.

It all makes sense, doesn’t it?

2017: 台湾春假游

2017: 台湾春假游

不是因为里程票,春假一个星期游台湾恐怕想也不要想。乘最优惠的经济舱,一路颠簸加转机,抵达目的地一身倦惫,恐怕已无心恋战。何况还要压缩行程,为回程留下一天, 以便第二天带着时差上班上学。即便你是钢筋铁骨也难免不为了休假后调整再休息两天。

里程票就焕然不同啦。首先,可以选择直飞。长荣航空去年十一月开通了台北飞往芝加哥的航线,免去转机损失的时间及有可能的延误。而且时间最佳。周五半夜离开芝加哥,周日晚上回来,把五天春假及两个周末用个淋漓尽致。其次,在里程票的世界里,直飞与转机同一价格,不必在省钱与省时之间煎熬, 特别迎合我买便宜货又不愿吃亏的心理。第三,也是成行的最后要素,因为是新开航线,里程票刚刚发放,空位比比皆是,包括春假期间的商务舱!又能休息好,时间又吻合,兜兜里哩程就愈发烧得慌。 激动之下以每人十六万美联航里程加43美元税费拿下了三张长荣的商务舱。值得一提的是,十六万英里亚洲往返性价并非优化。同样哩程去非洲往返商务舱也够了,而且星空联盟成员的土耳其航空公司有票。如果不受假期限制有两星期时间我肯定会重新考虑。这就叫能办什么事说什么话。人家不说在美国从孩子出生到18岁送出家门要花费二十万美元么。对我们家来说恐怕还要再搭上百万哩程。

毕竟一年乘不了几次飞机,何况是排名前十名公司的商务舱,三月二十四日出发那天还是有些兴奋。周五晚上,芝加哥OHare第五行空楼没有熙熙攘攘的人群。办理完手续后我们直奔指定休息室-法航贵宾休息室。起初还有些纳闷,长荣与法航都不是一个联盟的,怎么客串它家呢。等走过漫长的通道才发现大部分贵宾休息室已经关门或即将打烊。只有少数几家当晚有夜班的英航,SAS,法航等在营业。长荣初来咋到,一天就飞一趟,越盟合作一番也不足为奇。

留着肚子,只喝点咖啡

终于登机了。

提前预订的用餐, 晚饭烤羊排,早饭小菜伴粥。

实际对照

正好还没看过奥斯卡红片La La Land。边吃边看两不误。

吃饱喝足后还能做什么呢?

一觉醒来已在日本领空,开始供应早饭。

虽然不饿,粽子总得尝尝。伴着咖啡,土洋结合吧。

其实此行是全家团聚。已经在凤凰城附近工作的大公子独自从亚利桑那出发,在台北与我们会和。这是计划。但经常出门的知道,现实不总是按计划展开,只不过有时误差小些不误大局,有时后果严重,甚至整个计划落汤。发生在他身上的变故已远远不是前者。还没等飞往凤凰城的飞机起飞,西南航空通知从凤凰城飞往旧金山的航班延误。因为他买的不是联票(精确地说是买不到周五当晚不需在机场过夜的联票),而且转机时间紧凑,一旦中途出差错,耽误了国际航班自己负责。大家都说西南航空公司航班准点率最高,如此承前启后的重要衔接航班非它莫属。我知道航班一旦晚点,雪球效应的几率大增。一共就三个小时在旧金山转机时间绝对经不起折腾。我开始查询备用方案。

这时老大已在飞往凤凰城的飞机上了。虽然焦虑但心理有数老爸会想办法救急,反倒坦然了。我这边开始紧张搜寻航班时刻及价钱。明明是几个月前已就绪,到头来沦为最后一刻购票,做航空公司的肥羊。看着300-500刀的票价,颇不甘心。毕竟从旧金山到台北也不到500刀!(插曲一下,其实是旧金山至台北直飞票要US$700。我给他买了长荣航空旧金山经台北去澳门的机票。作为“转机”,与其它转机航空公司竞争,价钱就降下来了。 当然他最后没赶上台北至澳门的航班,“遗憾”)。 他若不能按计划到达将影响我们当天的活动安排:下飞机就要赶高铁,然后加入已预付的旅游团,一环扣一环。有时候一扇门堵住,另一扇门打开。美国航空公司恰好有一班凤凰城飞往旧金山的飞机与西南的航班几乎同时起飞,当天柜台价365刀。幸运的是,通常AA很少发放哩程票,即使国内短程航线。但这个航班竟有四个位置。下一步是决定怎么买。兑现AA哩程要12500哩,另加75刀起飞21天内”追近起飞费”。如果你只有AA哩程则别无选择,已经比买票上算了。幸好我还有通过Chase英航信用卡积累的十万Avios。英航兑现按飞行距离计算。这两城市短途飞行只要7500 Avios,另加$5.60 911反恐费。就这样,在老大还在飞往凤凰城飞机上的时候,他的下一程飞机已廉价出票了。而且这架来自费城的飞机已在凤凰城降落,离预计出发只剩一个多小时,十拿九稳会准时起飞。后来确认这架美国航空飞机起飞后,我致电把他西南航空里程票取消(西南航空是美国仅有的公司允许最迟起飞10分钟以前取消),5000西南的RapidRewards点照数退回。前前后后忙碌两小时,除了自己心跳呼吸加快,5000西南RR点转嫁成7500英航Avios,几乎没有经济损失。这时我们也如释重负,出发去OHare机场了。后来得知,那班西南航班晚点三小时抵达旧金山。心中窃喜决策果断。

这一切波折及焦虑都在台北桃园机场母子相见的一刻化解。

兵分两路,从相距千里各自启程、经历三个不同航空公司,到克服变故、前后只相差一个多小时到达地球的另一面顺利汇合。笔者作为旅行策划者牛刀小试。

对了,游客到台湾不要忘了在机场买手机卡,离开机场就没有为海外游客特设的价位了。500台币,10天内无限4G上网,还包含100台币通话费。当地旅游业普遍有微信,靠流量通话很方便。我们凌晨五点抵达桃园机场,很多服务店面还没有开始营业,通过网上预购,5:30就可以在柜台取卡。

奋起湖-阿里山-日月潭-清境草原三日游

偏巧三月下旬是阿里山樱花季节。安排行程时很庆幸我们运气不错,在没有任何活动余地的假期内还能锦上添花。等到了之后才发现人算不如天算。到那天正逢下雨。一场大雨过后树上的樱花所剩无几。唯有满载游人的大巴塞满了从奋起湖至阿里山的盘山路。早知如此,不凑那份热闹也罢。

奋起湖老街大排档及茶室。忍不住带了几包高山茶回来。

阿里山的观景小火车

凋零的樱花

即便第二天雨过天晴,见到了阿里山真貌也很难为之而动。浓厚的更是商业气息。我还天真地问导游为什么阿里山名声那么大,从小就学会民谣”阿里山的姑娘美如水,阿里山的少年壮如牛”。 他回答的很简单,“姑娘都老了”。

所谓阿里山看日出更不敢恭维。人群簇拥下瞟一眼已然白炽的太阳从山脊中升起。此景此情与想象中的浪漫格格不入。

名声在外的日月潭也多少有负众望。湖边比比皆是商业区。倒是在水果摊上认识了许多没见过的台湾特产。

回过头看,当初真要是误了转机,不得不砍掉第一天阿里山的项目在景致上的损失将微不足道。难以迁就的唯有欲尝未得的遗憾。其实,人生中有多少遗憾真的值得挂念呢?么不如只争朝夕,走好在眼前的路。

相比之下,攻略时只因顺路而安排的清境草原倒是焕然一新。这个远离景区,座落在群山中的农场恬静又充满生机,深沉而婀娜多姿。真想在这里多呆几天,细细感受田园风光。

 

中横公路

台湾中部山脉起伏。去我们下一站花莲只有中横公路最佳。一路基本上是盘山路,有些弯处近在咫尺方见对面来车。司机必须精力高度集中。

途径台湾最高峰,武嶺。远处云海尽收眼底。

一共四小时车程,中间被公路维修打断两次。一次约半小时。坐在车里不知觉,公路两侧常常有裸石陡壁,险象环生。即便频繁维修,中横公路也是台湾高危路段。

傍晚平安抵达花莲,入住位于太魯阁立雾溪出海口的立霧左邨景觀民宿。游客口碑极佳,我们也有所领略。当初还没有入住致电询问太鲁阁旅游介绍,女主人不厌其烦给我们一一讲解,回答所有问题,并回复电子邮件。见面后更对这对勤劳的六哥六嫂夫妇(赖先生家里排行老六,故名)油生敬意。私家小楼依山伴水,房间整洁、庭院宽阔,夫妻待人热心周到,宾至如归。赖先生给我们送到火车站去花莲逛夜市,供应早饭时女主人特地叮嘱一位带婴儿的房客他们的饮用水里有蜂蜜,以防婴儿过敏。这一夜小住让我对台湾民宿留下了非常正面的印象。

花莲

提起花莲,首屈一指的景点非太鲁阁国家公园莫属。中横公路抵达东岸之前横穿太鲁阁,它的险我们一路过来已有体会。但只有放慢脚步,才能体会太鲁阁的美。

燕子口:急湍,吊桥及帖服在陡壁上的公路

太鲁阁峡

从中横公路出发,沿白杨步道步行不到2公里来到白杨瀑布。

在台湾旅游包车很方便,价钱也公平。为了充分利用在花莲的时间,我们一家四人包了一天出租车,八小时三千台币,约一百美元。除了游玩太鲁阁,司机还领我们去了清水断崖和七星潭。

清水断崖在(宜兰)苏(澳镇)花(莲)公路起始处。苏花公路沿途地震频繁,坡石松动,遇到下雨天极易落石。至今是台湾全境乃至世界上危险公路,虽然有些半山腰开凿出的路段已被水泥封固的隧道取代。但险恶的地势掩盖不住的是峻山丽水。

七星潭则以鹅卵石著名。由于游客随手拾捡,七星潭的鹅卵石曾经流失很快。后来台湾通过保护法予以禁止。导游司机反复叮咛,这里的石头不可以带走,海关会没收。我们就把照片作为最美好的回忆,让后人和我们一样能够欣赏这里的石滩。

我们刚从(位于西岸)嘉义下高铁,加入阿里山三日游的时候,导游就跟我们提起花莲的公正包子很有名。现在到了东岸的花莲,公正包子一定不能错过。5个台币一只包子,二十年没涨价,你不得不扪心自问,肚子里能撑下几美元?

此行台湾,夜市小吃是重头项目。经过行程紧凑的三日游之后,花莲作为自由活动的第一站,早已按捺不住逛夜市的向往。抵达花莲的当晚就搭车走访了花莲东大门夜市,在排队最长的北港春卷柜台前开张了。小小的店面,弯弯的客流,只有一位中年妇女和和一位十几岁学生模样的少年维持供应,顺便还要照顾一个在地上玩耍的娃娃。

第四天晚上,乘坐普悠瑪号快车,花莲至台北。

台北

作为近代国民党统治的见证,孙中山和蒋介石的纪念场所都集中在台北。在国父纪念馆和中正纪念堂均有士兵站岗。每小时的换岗仪式吸引了很多游客。

与中正纪念堂毗邻的自由广场

在众多纪念馆中我最喜欢蒋介石宋美龄的故居-士林官邸。不仅因为其簇拥花园、环境优美,故居里面(颇为简谱)的摆设及音响录音更将蒋氏执政期间的历史事件栩栩如生地复原。

也许因为在士林官邸,没有人质疑小卖部出售的中正包和美玲包侵权嫌疑。比起大陆的什么包,气氛更见随和诙谐。

民主社会的象征之一是政府向大众开放。参观总统府只需出示护照,十分钟后通过安检就进门了,比进白宫和中南海都方便。总统府建筑结构基本是方阵型三层楼,中间围出一个庭院,内部装潢也以实用为本,不见奢侈豪华。

在总统府与蔡总统合影

说到政治,能够举办国际体育大赛无疑有助于提高台湾的国际形象。但后来大运会出现的闹剧恐怕是举办者始料不及。比起2008北京奥运会,谁能否认大型体育比赛与政治的藕断丝连?

与世界其他都市相比台北占地面积不大。但以捷运(地铁)为骨干的公交网络四通八达。尤其是从位于东西蓝线和南北红线相交的火车站出发,市内诸多旅游点一部车直达。所以我们通过AirBnB预订了台北火车站旁边的高楼民宿(condo),双房一厅,加浴室厨房,四天500美元,比酒店更宽敞实惠,何况很多酒店的双人床对我们两个一米八有余小伙子来说多多少少有些捉襟见肘。

地点在方便不过了,小区环境也很整洁。你注意到愚人节那天谷歌地图上特有的Pac-Man没有?

如果不迷路,从住处几分钟可以室内穿堂至火车站站台。台北火车站集台湾铁路(沿东线去花莲、垦丁)、西线高铁(台中、高雄)、桃园捷运(桃园机场)、台北市内捷运和长途汽车站于一体,地下有三层站台,十几个地面出口,尤如3D迷宫。再加上沿途美食店比比皆是、处处散发佳肴的诱惑,在繁多路标和簇簇人头中保证全家不走丢不走散谈何容易!

到陌生地方难免问路。好在身在台湾没有语言障碍。我们在士林捷运站下车后拿不准去士林官邸怎么走。一位路人很耐心地给我们指路。不料我们离开后两三分钟他又追过来,对他讲解的路线再做微微更正。小事一桩,听得我心肠暖暖。用照片记录下这段淳朴的回忆。

在台北四天全是自由活动,自己安排三餐的结果是早餐转找受当地人推崇的便当,晚餐则追寻著名的夜市。

早餐粘饭团

连7-11里的便餐也爱不释手

在著名的士林夜市品尝香脆的炸鸡排

在国立师范学院旁的师园夜市

老王記桃源街牛肉麵,大块牛肉是他们的特长

淡水老街的豆沙蛋烙,豆馅塞得不能再塞了

新建成餅店带回来的鸭黄芝麻饼,甜咸交融,后悔没多买几盒。不过想起来有些后怕,这东东在芝加哥机场要被没收罚款的呀!

连Costco里的小吃也中化了

美国店为什么没有虾仁比萨呢??

游台北,少不了去第一高楼台北101。这个标志性的建筑在室内随处可见。

游客最高可低91楼。

乘坐高速电梯不到一分钟就到了89楼观景台。

大楼中间重达728吨的平衡球极大程度上减少了楼体晃动

在台北的最后一天包了一天出租车(4500新台币),计划游览郊外的阳明山、筠园(邓丽君纪念园)、九分、十分老街。偏巧那天赶上清明节周末,山上一路塞车,从阳明山下山后已经中午了。为了不影响晚上赶飞机,临时改道只去九分、十分老街。司机见我们有些失望,建议去九分路上顺路游览野柳地质公园。没想到这个后加的景点喧宾夺主,成为当日行程的高潮。

野柳疏松的石灰岩地质经风吹雨淋和海水腐蚀行成绚丽多姿的形状,为宝岛增添一道独特风景。

等到我们流连忘返离开野柳时,司机给我们带来了更为沮丧的消息。返台北的公路严重堵车,九分、十分也要二者选一。早知道周末这个路况,我们真应该选个工作日出城。

最终我们决定去十分。因为心里总惦记着晚上的飞机,走起来有些心神不宁,时不时低头看谷歌地图交通状况。加上游人熙熙攘攘,在十分瀑布占一席之地摄影都很难,此时此地早已是人在曹营心在汉了。

热闹的十分老街,很多人点燃天灯,把吉祥和祝福拜托给苍天。

就座落在老街上的国小

桃园机场

同样乘坐长荣航空,我们三人从芝加哥往返都是商务舱,可以使用长荣的贵宾室。老大后兑现经洛杉矶转机的哩程票,只剩经济舱。幸好我们都有大通银行发行的Sapphire Reserve信用卡,持卡人可不限人数带领随行人享用Priority Pass系统里的机场贵宾室。在台北机场这样的贵宾室有五个。我们就把老大就近安置在Plaza Premium Lounge,与我们后来去的长荣花园贵宾室遥遥相望。

至少在这里饿不着:炒面、素菜、沙拉、饼干,足以应付他起飞前的填填肚子了。

进入花园才深深体会到同是一个机场的贵宾室、其内涵可以有天壤之别。长荣作为全球名列前茅的航空公司,它的旗舰贵宾室焕然一新,不论在设施规模和食物安排方面都可与其它享有盛名的日航成天和国泰香港贵宾室媲美。

首先迎接来客的机器人

标志性的变色灯柱

贵宾室里旅客比较多,不变随便拍照。只好对着餐桌咔嚓咔嚓。

如果是中餐爱好者,有各色屉笼伺候。

是就着粥喝呢还是来碗菌汤?

当然少不了各式炒菜

西餐选择相对简单

各式冷热饮

贵宾室还有另一侧没来得及采访,已到登记时间了。

回程

飞往台北的路上,空姐一句“先生,怎么称呼您?”把我们中文水平三斧子半的老二问得不知所措。经我们调教后,临阵磨枪果然排上了用处。一上飞机空姐再次问怎么称呼,他很有信心地回答“我姓周!”。“是周还是邹?”。哎,又懵了。

好在点菜轻车熟路,一道道有条不紊地消灭。

十三个小时很快在吃睡交替中过去了。这么说吧,假如飞机慢点飞多耗上几个小时我不会有意见的。当飞机盘旋在夜幕笼罩下的芝加哥低空时,没有丝毫的疲倦,唯见淡淡的眷恋。

第二天就要上学上班了,但这些一点也唤不起我的激情。因为我的脑海里正在憧憬,下一个十六万哩要去哪?