Author: Miles Moneyball

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.


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’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, an online travel agency, to collect the equivalence of its own loyalty benefits. To top it off, go through a portal such as to, 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!

Ink Business Preferred 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


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。




提前预订的用餐, 晚饭烤羊排,早饭小菜伴粥。


正好还没看过奥斯卡红片La La Land。边吃边看两不误。





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。









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”。























































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。

















2017: Chicago/Taipei Round Trip

2017: Chicago/Taipei Round Trip

Trip Synopsis

Business Class Round Trip Chicago to Taipei on EVA Air + Business Class One Way Chicago to New York on United for 160K United MileagePlus Miles.


MMB Analysis

  • Check out new route by EVA Air from its hub in Taipei to Chicago when award seat availability is good.
  • Travel time and comfort are of essence to enjoy a brisk vacation across the Pacific Ocean during the spring break week.
  • Take advantage of United’s free “open jaw” flight on international award booking. It’s called open jaw because this US to Asia trip starts in Chicago and ends in New York. United sees Chicago as a stopover city en route from Taipei to New York. The Chicago stopover lasts from April to August, leading to our mini-vacation to New York in August with outbound flight already covered by this redemption.
  • Trip Report in Chinese (游记)

How will it work out today

The same 160K rate applies. Free open jaw flight no longer allowed.

Trip Metrics

From  To Distance (Miles)
Chicago Taipei 7457
Taipei Chicago 7457
Chicago New York LaGuardia  734
Total 15648
2017: Chicago/Shanghai Round Trip

2017: Chicago/Shanghai Round Trip

Trip Synopsis

Business Class one way outbound, First Class inbound, on Japan Airlines for 55K + 67.5K American Airlines AAdvantage miles


MMB Analysis

  • The trip was booked just prior to AA devaluation in 2016.
  • AAdvantage account owners can redeem AA miles on Japan Airlines up to 330 days before departure. Availability is usually good on the first day (i.e., 330 days ahead). It will dry out after initial release and won’t open up again until a week or two before departure, if ever. As with other carriers, it pays to plan early.

How will it work out today

American Airlines have devalued their award chart in 2016. The same trip would have cost 70K AA miles in business class and 110K in first class.

Trip Metrics

From  To Distance (Miles)
Chicago Tokyo 6275
Tokyo Shanghai 1119
Shanghai Tokyo 1119
Tokyo Chicago 6275
Total 14786

MMB Highlights

Japan Airlines served Tokyo to Chicago route with Boeing 777-300 ER with three-class configuration, 4 seats per row in first class and 7 abreast in business class, both lie-flat. Japan Airlines feature meal-on-demand in premium classes, – one can order from the menu anytime during the flight. Our younger son is a big fan of Japanese noodle. After he requested his fourth bowl, on top of regularly served meals, concerned flight attendant politely asked “Are you sure you can finish this?”. I don’t blame him. Udon noodles in seafood soup did wonder to dispel fatigue on trans-Pacific flights!

After visiting Japan Airlines’ Sakura Lounge for business class passengers a couple of times, we had a chance to tour its First Class Lounge at Terminal 2. These two lounges were situated next to each other. Through a inconspicuous door, First Class passengers can walk to the upper level of Sakura Lounge and get any service offered there. Despite its smaller size, I noticed that all the food choices found in Sakura were also present at First Class Lounge. In addition, First Class featured a beer machine and a made-to-order Sushi station.

Beer machine at Japan Airlines First Class Lounge

Meals served on first class flight were all recognized by chefs’ names. I went for Western style by “BEDD”.

Champion served on Japan Airlines first class

Main Entree: Wagyu beef


2016: Chicago to Manchester, Amsterdam to Chicago

2016: Chicago to Manchester, Amsterdam to Chicago

Trip Synopsis

Business Class one way Chicago to Manchester, via New York, on Delta, Economy Class one way Amsterdam to London on KLM, London to Chicago on Virgin Atlantic for 90K Delta SkyMiles



MMB Analysis

  • Delta is the only domestic “Big Four” without a hub presence in Chicago. Flying non-stop between Chicago and Europe will have to involve Delta’s partner. I found it in Virgin Atlantic on the return trip.
  • Delta has withdrawn award chart publicly, making it difficult to plan and budget miles needed for redemption. I did not have enough SkyMiles to book round trip in business but figured it’s worthwhile to exhaust my balance on a mixed cabin itinerary.
  • It’s best to redeem SkyMiles in round trip to Europe as they charge $200+ in fees for one way Europe to the US. The fee goes down to $50 for round trip award tickets.

How will it work out today

Delta devalued Europe award chart early 2017 without warning. One way business will cost 70K.

Trip Metrics

From To Distance (Miles)
Chicago New York 741
New York Manchester 3341
Amsterdam London 231
London Chicago 3953
Total 8265

MMB Highlights

Delta One

Our outbound flight on Delta One (aka Business Class) gave us privilege to access Delta Airlines Sky Club at New York JFK airport.

The lounge compared favorably to other domestic airlines’ lounges at their hubs, including American Airlines Admiral Club at ORD, MIA, and DFW, or United Club at ORD, for example. Seats were plenty and dining area spacious.

Sky Club entrance
Sky Club entrance


I found the food and drink choices decent, too.

I particularly liked the outdoor terrace and glass window corner of the lounge for plane spotting.

In contrast, food served on trans-Atlantic Delta One was definitely underwhelming, compared to those served on Asian premier carriers. Mustard-Crusted Tuna fell on the dry side, so was the lamb chop.

Tumi amenity box was provided on the flight.

2015: Chicago to Barcelona, Madrid to Chicago

2015: Chicago to Barcelona, Madrid to Chicago

Trip Synopsis

Economy Class One Way Chicago to Barcelona for 20K American Airlines AAdvantage Miles + Business Class One Way Madrid to Chicago for 40K British Avios, both on Iberia Airlines


MMB Analysis

  • This was my first time redeeming points on OneWorld Alliance member Iberia.
  • Revenue tickets during Christmas/New Year week are usually pricey. Almost all trans-Atlantic fare sales exclude this winter break time. Award tickets are also in demand, often requiring planning ahead. In this case, it was 11 months ahead.
  • As I pointed out before, when it comes down to fees and surcharges, not all airlines’ frequent flyer programs are created equal. This booking illustrated the vast difference in fees and carrier surcharges even though the entire award trip was carried by the same airline, Iberia in this case. On the outbound redemption using AAdvantage miles under American Airlines’ rules, I paid $108 in fees in addition to miles. Inbound trip was governed by British Airlines rules using British Airways Avios. BA assessed $202 in economy and $272 in business class from Madrid to Chicago.
  • Almost without exception, redeeming on long-haul business class produces the best point value. Round trip business class tickets to Europe hover around $5000, pinning one way business class ticket value of easily above $1500. Evan with high carrier-imposed fees, 40K Avios saved at least $1200, or three cents/Avios.

How will it work out today

Both American Airlines and British Airways have devalued their award chart. For AA, end of year travel to Europe is considered “peak” travel time that requires 30K AAdvantage miles one way in economy. Similarly, BA has also split its redemption chart into “peak” and “non-peak” rates. Beginning of the year falls under “peak” and for distance between 4000 to 5500 miles as Madrid to Chicago measures, one way economy costs 25K Avios and business a whopping 75K!

Trip Metrics

From To Distance (Miles)
Chicago Madrid 4202
Madrid Barcelona 301
Madrid Chicago 4202
Total 8704

MMB Highlights

Iberia Airlines

The mediocre rating of Iberia Airlines worked to mute my expectation for a new airline, even for its business class product, prior to the trip. Because of this, I was pleasantly surprised by the hardware and service offered on Iberia.

1-2-1 lie-flat seat configuration on A330 proved to be very comfortable. Food choices were pretty impressive, too.

I missed the pitted olives, better than any olives I had on land.

Sea bass main entree

Free hotel stay at Madrid



2015: Shanghai to Chicago to Philadelphia

2015: Shanghai to Chicago to Philadelphia

Trip Synopsis

First Class one way Shanghai to Chicago to Philadelphia on American Airlines for  67.5K American Airlines AAdvantage Miles


MMB Analysis

  • My first long-haul first class redemption
  • I threw a freebee Chicago to Philadelphia segment for the same amount of miles required for China to North America redemption. I was hoping to be bumped but the flight was not oversold. I approached AA ticket counter at O’Hare and canceled the segment.
  • Great redemption value prior to AA depreciation. This is the return trip from Shanghai. The outbound trip was covered in full trip report.

How will it work out today

American Airlines have devalued their award chart in 2016. The same trip would have cost 110K AA miles now.

Trip Metrics

From  To Distance (Miles)
Shanghai Chicago 7058
Chicago Philadelphia 679
Total 7736