Chase just released their 4th quarter 5% cashback categories for the Chase Freedom and this includes Walmart and department stores. For the months of October, November, and December, you will get 5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on the first $1,500 you spend on these categories. The inclusion of Walmart is a pretty big deal since many people shop there on a weekly basis for groceries, household goods, supplies, clothing, etc. It’s an added bonus that the inclusion of Walmart and department stores during the 4th quarter coincides with Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the Christmas holiday season. If you already hold the Chase Freedom card, remember to log in to Chase and activate the 5% cashback bonus. If you also own the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Chase Sapphire Reserve, this would have added value since you aren’t limited to redeeming the Ultimate Rewards Points for cashback or gift cards. You are able to unlock more value by transferring the points on a 1:1 basis to one of the many airline or hotel partners. I wrote a couple of detailed posts about that and you can read that here and here.
One of the biggest impediments for a lot of folks after applying for a credit card is spending up to the threshold to gain the boat load of bonus points. These days, many valuable credit cards require anywhere between $3k and $7.5k of spending over 3 months to get the bonus. Many people simply don’t have expenses that add up to that amount over a 3 month period. This makes obtaining a bonus difficult. This is where the American Airlines Barclays Aviator card comes into play. They have a limited time offer in which you would earn 60,000 American AAdvantage miles after your first purchase. That purchase can be as small as a cup of coffee and that would be sufficient to trigger the bonus. The first year annual fee of $95 is not waived but that is a trade off you should make any day of the week. 60,000 miles for $95? That’s a STEAL. Let’s take a look below where 60k American AAdvantage miles would take you.
Chicago to Barcelona Round Trip (March 7th-14th)
Plenty of award availability on this route throughout the year. This round trip during non-peak season (until March 10th) would require 45k miles round trip, giving you 15k miles to spare. If you decided to take this trip during peak season, it would cost 60k miles round trip. Chicago to Barcelona non-stop service is seasonal so you would get a non-stop flight if you booked between early spring and early autumn.
Chicago to Tokyo Round Trip (March 2nd-12th)
Chicago to Tokyo round trip would cost 65k miles during non-peak season. The 60k bonus would put you right at the door step for this award flight if you don’t have any miles to work with. This itinerary would have non-stop service for the flight there and the return back to Chicago.
Albany, NY to Paris
Even though most of my examples are from larger airports and cities, these award flights would also work if your flight originated in a smaller airport such as Albany International Airport. I haven’t forgotten about you, Albany people =)
For 45k points, you would be able to fly round trip to Paris with a relatively short layover in Philadelphia. If you chose this route during the peak season in late spring into early autumn, the bonus would still cover the 60k points required for this award ticket. The return flight would also have a reasonable layover in Philadelphia.
If you have a spouse or travel partner that also takes advantage of this offer, now you’d get two free round trip tickets to Europe or be on the cusp of getting to destinations as far out as Asia. All this for a combined annual fee of $190 between the two cards. This card also allows you to bring a free checked bag and gives you back 10% of the points you redeem.
Before I get into the tidbits of Avios redemption on American Airlines, I’ll share my recent experience with British Airways and how redeeming Avios on American Airlines rather than booking with American using its own AAdvantage miles saved me a huge headache. At a conference in Philadelphia two weeks ago, I arrived at the hotel and was asked to provide a drivers license or an ID and a credit card for incidentals. I opened my wallet and my credit card was there. I assumed I had my drivers license and looked behind a few cards but I could not find it (I left it in my scanner at home when I was making a copy 2 days prior). I went into all out panic mode and frantically started searching my pockets, book bag, and suitcase. I took out every single card from my wallet and nothing came up. I was the guy who booked the hotel rooms for 3 other friends and I’m thinking I might be the guy who might have screwed this whole thing up. I told the receptionist “uhhh I’m really really sorry but I don’t have my drivers license with me. I think I dropped it. The only thing I have is my school ID. Can you match that with my credit card and make that work?” The receptionist said they generally don’t allow it but since I was there for the conference, he’d let it slide. If you are some how reading this and you are that receptionist from the Double Tree near Phildelphia International Airport, God bless you and thank you again. Half the disaster averted. Now I realized I also had a flight from Philly to Albany two days later and not having my license would really make things difficult ( I arrived in Philly via Greyhound and they never checked for ID). I booked my flight using British Airways Avios on American Airlines for 7.5k Avios plus $5.60 in taxes. The cash price for this one way ticket was going for $422 (!). This gave me an excellent value of 5.6 cents per Avios. If I had booked the same flight using American Airlines miles, It would have cost me 7.5k AAdvantage miles PLUS an additional $80. If you book an award flight within 21 days of departure on American, you are subjected to an $80 “close in” fee. British Airways does not charge the same fee when using Avios to book on American. This allows you to make same day bookings (if seats are available) without losing value due to a surcharge. Since I didn’t have my license and didn’t want to deal with extra paperwork and questions from TSA trying to board my flight, I decided I would just ride back with a friend who had driven there. I called British Airways about 40 hours prior to departure and requested to cancel my flight. British Airways’ award cancellation policy is very customer friendly. As long as you cancel 24 hours or more prior to departure, they will credit your miles back without charging a fee to reinstate those miles. The only thing you would lose is the $5.60 in tax which is negligible in the grand scheme of things. Had I booked this flight using AAdvantage miles, American would have charged me $150 to cancel the flight and reinstate those miles.
For many of the reasons highlighted above, Executive Club is one my favorite frequent flier programs for domestic travel. BA Executive Club is a transfer partner of Chase, AMEX, and SPG, so there are many ways to get Avios (British Airways’ frequent flier curency). I have never redeemed Avios for international flights on British Airways itself because BA charges a very hefty fuel surcharge on transatlantic award flights flown on their metal. I use Avios to book flights on BA’s OneWorld partner, American Airlines. British Airways utilizes a distance based award chart which means the number of Avios used depends on the distance you’re traveling. Zone 1 costs 7.5k Avios for a one way ticket (0-1,151 miles traveled), zone 2 costs 10k avios for a one way ticket (1,152-2000 miles traveled), and zone 3 costs 12.5k Avios for a one way ticket (2001-3000 miles traveled). When you book a saver award using American Airlines, domestic flights that are less than 500 miles require 7.5k AAdvantage miles. Anything more than that requires 12.5k at the saver level. I do want clarify that British Airways award availability on American Airlines isn’t a sure thing on any given date. Generally if American Airlines is showing saver award availability via their own program, there is a decent chance BA will have access to those as well. I have posted an example of a sample itinerary using both programs.
In this example, we’ll use a one way flight from Chicago (ORD) to Denver (DIA) on September 17th. Let’s start off with American Airlines:
We can see that there is MileSAAver availability from Chicago to Denver. A one way flight would cost 12.5 AAdvantage miles.
There is also discounted MileSAAver availability in business class for 25k AAdvantage miles.
Now let’s see how much the same flight would cost using British Airways Avios:
The same flight we saw above for 12.5k AAdantage miles in economy can be booked for 7.5k Avios. And if we want to book a seat in business class……..
This same flight costs 25k AAdvantage miles to book in business class. Booking with British Airways only costs 15k Avios for a business class ticket. When you take into consideration that booking just an economy seat using American costs 12.5k miles, an extra 2.5k Avios to bump up to business class is a tremendous value.
Another great use of Avios is for domestic award tickets on Alaska Airlines. Unfortunately, Alaska Airlines does not show up on British Airways’ website the way American does so you would have to call them to book. If they tell you that a phone booking would cost you a fee, kindly request them to waive it since booking an Alaska flight using Avios is not possible through their website.
If you have driven past any mall or big box retailer over the past couple of weeks, you have seen the “back to school” signs plastered on storefront windows trying to grab your attention and inviting you to walk in. It’s the time of the year when parents will be restocking school supplies for kids and undergrad and grad students will be looking for the best deals on laptops and textbooks. This time of the year is pretty important for retailers and they know consumers have more choices than ever. In the realm of the points and miles world, this is also a time of the year where you can benefit greatly. If you plan on doing a majority of your shopping on Amazon, you can read in-depth how you can accumulate JetBlue miles by clicking here. For other retailers where you might consider shopping online, I highly recommend using www.cashbackmonitor.com
This website shows you how many airline miles or hotel points you will earn by routing yourself through that airline’s or hotel’s online mall. It’s pretty straight forward and you can find a detailed example below. I have posted some screenshots for the online Apple store as an example:
This is the homepage of http://www.cashbackmonitor.com. The most popular retailers are listed on the front page. If you don’t see yours, search for it on the search tab
If you wanted to purchase something online from the Apple Store, this is how many miles/points/cashback different airlines/hotels/cashback portals are offering if you route yourself to the Apple Store via their own shopping mall. Keep in mind, it doesn’t cost you a dime to sign up for these frequent flier programs. At this particular time, United is offering 6 miles per dollar if you make a purchase on Apple.com by clicking through their link. This is the highest among any of the shopping portals. Let’s use that as an example.
When you click on United’s link, this is the page you land on. But wait, not only would you get 6 United MileagePlus miles per dollar for your Apple purchase, United is also offering a back- to-school bonus depending on your level of spending. That $1,300 Macbook Pro would earn you 10,800 United MileagePlus Miles –> ($1,300 x 6 miles) + 3,000 bonus miles for getting the 3,000 mile back-to-school bonus offered by United for spending $600. 12.5k United MileagePlus miles gets you a saver award one way in economy. In addition to that, Apple is offering free Beats headphones if you purchase an iPad or Macbook Pro for college (presumably with a student ID).
If you were going to shop for school supplies online at Walmart.com, this is how much you would earn through each portal:
For you undergrad and grad students reading this, popular online textbook retailers such as Textbooks.com and Alibris.com are also listed on cashbackmonitor.com. If you’re purchasing from Amazon, remember to route yourself via JetBlue. You are simply walking away from an easy opportunity to earn miles if you don’t. And remember, you can use this website to help you earn miles for your routine online shopping no matter the time of the year.
SOME VERY IMPORTANT TIPS BEFORE USING ANY PORTALS TO MAKE A PURCHASE
Make sure your cookies are enabled. If they’re not, the airline or hotel rewards program can’t track your purchase and you might not get credited for them.
Sign up for that particular airline’s frequent flier program PRIOR to shopping (it’s free and takes a minute).
Make sure you are logged-in to the airline’s frequent flier program prior to clicking on the retailers website. Most portals will make you sign in prior to routing you to that retailer.
In an earlier post (you can read it here ), I went over the benefits of having the Chase Sapphire Preferred (CSP) or the higher end Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR) when paired with the Chase Freedom and/or Chase Freedom Unlimited. You are getting the same rewards currency (Ultimate Rewards Points) and you can combine the points into a single pot. When you combine them into the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve account, you now have the ability to transfer to airline and hotel partners. You can also use the points to book straight from Chase. In this post, I’ll demonstrate when you’re better off using the points to book straight from Chase and when you are better off using a transfer partner.
For this example, we’ll do a round trip from Chicago (ORD) to Honolulu (HNL) from October 2nd-October 9th. United is the only airline that flies this route non-stop from Chicago. If you’re sitting on 90,000 Ultimate Rewards points and assuming you have the CSR or CSP, these are your options:
Book the trip with cash and avoid points altogether. This will cost you $913.40 per person
2. Book the trip straight from Chase’s Ultimate Rewards portal.
If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, this will cost 60,893 points per person. (Your redemption is 1.5 cents of value per 1 point). If you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred, this will cost you ~73,000 points per person (Your redemption is 1.2 cents of value per 1 point).
3.Transfer Ultimate Rewards points to United’s MileagePlus frequent flier program on a 1:1 basis.
This redemption is only 45,000 United Miles per person. This is obviously the clear winner. By avoiding Chase and booking this trip via United MileagePlus, you saved yourself 15.9k -28k Ultimate Rewards points. The savings can now be used towards a future trip.
Here is an example when it is more advantageous to book from Chase’s portal rather than transferring the points into MileagePlus.
For this example, we’ll use a round trip itinerary from NYC (LGA) to Chicago (ORD) from October 17th-24th. Assuming we have sufficient Chase points, here are our options.
1.Book the trip with cash. This would cost $99 on American Airlines (that’s actually a really good deal paying with cash).
2. Use the Chase portal to book with Ultimate Rewards Points. Since we’re using Chase’s portal, we can use the points on any airline that’s listed. For this trip, American Airlines happens to be the cheapest redemption since they happen to have the cheapest airfare for this itinerary. If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve (pictured below), 6,560 Ultimate Rewards points is all it takes for a round trip ticket. If you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you would still get an amazing round trip redemption of 7,872 points per person. Also keep in mind, when you use Ultimate Rewards points to make a redemption, these flights are eligible to earn miles. Just add in your American Advantage frequent flier number and you would earn miles for this trip. It’s free to sign up so you have nothing to lose.
3. Transfer the points into a Chase transfer partner such as United
For this itinerary, It would require us to transfer 25,000 points from Chase to United to book this trip via MileagePlus miles. Among the three options, this would be the worst. Booking with Chase we’re getting 1.5 cents of value per 1 point. With this redemption, you are only getting 0.4 cents per point. Unless you have elite status with United and you’re confident you’re going to get upgraded to first class, this is a redemption you should avoid. It will end up saving you ~18k+ UR points that you can use for something of greater value.
So, the take home message when redeeming UR points is check the redemption rates on Chase’s transfer partners as well as Chase’s portal itself. By doing so, you might save yourself hundreds of dollars in points.
For those of you traveling overseas on Emirates, don’t miss out on an easy opportunity to earn JetBlue points. You can make an Emirates Skywards membership and earn points for Emirates but unless you’re traveling frequently or making multiple trips on business class, it will take a while to accumulate anything meaningful. Instead, you can enter your JetBlue number and earn miles for a program that doesn’t require a ton of miles for travel. The number of JetBlue miles you earn is based on distance and class of booking. You can see the chart below
If you end up booking the cheapest fare on Emirates, economy saver, you will get 1 point for every 2 miles in distance that you have traveled. If you’re wondering how many JetBlue miles that will earn from your departure city, use a website such as http://www.webflyer.com and enter your departure and arrival city. I’ll use a round trip from New York City (JFK) to Dubai (DXB) as an example.
The round trip distance is 13,660 miles. Were you to book an economy saver fare, this would earn you half of that or 6,830 JetBlue points. If you booked economy flex, you would receive 13,660 JetBlue points and the amount increases as you increase your booking class. The most valuable aspect of JetBlue’s frequent flier program is that they allow a 2 adults and 5 children to combine their miles into a family account free of charge. The individuals do not have to be related so you can also share the points with a friend. If you have parents that are traveling overseas via Emirates, you can sign them up and have them earn points as well. And if they don’t intend on using them, they can book you an award ticket on JetBlue under their account. So when you’re booking your ticket on Emirates, just remember to click the drop down tab under “frequent flyer program” and click JetBlue. Enter your TrueBlue number and those points will be credited to you in about 10-14 days after the conclusion of your trip.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous post the first step you should take prior to flying is enrolling in that airline’s frequent flier program (if you haven’t already). It only takes a few minutes and it’s free. And the best part about being part of a frequent flier program is you don’t necessarily have to travel to earn the miles. You can allow your routine spending habits do that for you. For this post I’ll go over the benefits of using JetBlue as a gateway to Amazon.com.
JetBlue – If you do any type of shopping on Amazon.com, JetBlue’s frequent flier program (TrueBlue) is one which you should absolutely sign up for. If you click on the Amazon.com link through JetBlue’s website and then make your purchase on Amazon, you get 3 points per dollar on your purchases. All it takes is a few clicks and I have posted screenshots below on how to get to the link. Just as an FYI, make sure your browser cookies are enabled so JetBlue can verify you shopped on Amazon using their link. Another important thing to remember is making sure you add items to your cart AFTER clicking on the JetBlue link. If something was already in your cart, JetBlue won’t track that as a purchase you made via their link and the points won’t be credited.
Step 1) Make a TrueBlue account with JetBlue if you don’t have one. When you log in, this is the home screen. Click on the blue rectangle.
Step 2) Click on “our partners” on the bottom left
Step 3) Click on “learn more”
Step 4) This is the last step. When you click on “shop and earn”, you are directed to Amazon.com.
Once you are on Amazon.com, everything you purchase except Amazon gift cards will earn you 3 points per dollar. Amazon sells gift cards to retailers such as Starbucks and Whole Foods. Those also earn 3 points per dollar. From my experience, points will usually post one month after you have made the purchase on Amazon.
For those of you near JetBlue’s main hub in New York City (JFK) as well as secondary hubs such as Boston, Los Angeles (Long Beach), and Fort Lauderdale, you would benefit the most since you have access to just about every non-stop route that JetBlue flies.
If you live in a city such as Minneapolis, Indianapolis, or St. Louis you might ask yourself if a few clicks are worth the trouble when JetBlue does not fly to your respective city. But let’s say you wanted to take a trip to California and you wanted to visit both San Francisco and Los Angeles. If time and fatigue were not an issue, you could make the 380 mile drive up or down the scenic Pacific Coast Highway. But if you wanted to save time and fly, that is a route that JetBlue serves. It is also a route that does not require a ton of points for an award ticket. A random search for an August date shows that it takes 3,000 points to fly from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
For my Chicago friends and family, let’s say you wanted to visit South Florida via Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport. You could make this round trip happen in September for as low as 6,800 points or 3,400 points one way. If you use Amazon with any type of regularity, don’t miss out on your opportunity to earn JetBlue points. As far as I know, JetBlue is the only airline that has a partnership with Amazon which allows you to earn points.
In my opinion, JetBlue has the most family friendly frequent flier program of all the U.S. carriers. They allow 2 adults and 5 children to pool points into a single household account. The individuals do not have to be related so you can also make a combined account with a friend. This makes it much easier to accumulate and redeem for award travel. So while you’re signing yourself up for an account, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get your spouse and kids signed up as well.
Unlike any other U.S. airline, United Airlines has a very useful application for iOS and Android that could help you earn miles by spending as you normally would. The app is called is MileagePlusX. You link your credit card(s) to the app and when you’re ready to purchase at a listed retailer or restaurant, it immediately generates a gift card for payment. So if you wanted to reload $10 on your Starbucks app, you would earn 20 United miles (in addition to the credit card points) by using the MileagePlusX app to purchase the gift card. The MileagePlusX app syncs really well with the Starbucks app so when the gift card is generated, it gives you an option to launch it via the Starbucks app. It’s noteworthy to mention that the current quarterly 5x reward category for Chase Freedom is restaurants. Starbucks happens to fall into this category so if you link the Chase Freedom with the MileagePlusX app and purchase the $10 gift card, you would get 20 miles from United for using the app, in addition to 50 points from Chase (5 points x $10) for utilizing the Chase Freedom in the 5x quarterly category. That’s 70 points for a $10 reload you might have done anyway.
When you go to a retailer like DSW, you can enter the exact amount ($49.21 for example) once the cashier tells you the total and a gift card for that specific total will be generated. Some retailers like Amazon require you to purchase in increments of $5. United’s award redemptions are never lower than 12.5k miles per one way ticket so getting an award ticket exclusively from using the app would take a while. But if you’re a few hundred to a few thousand miles short or you have United miles that are expiring and need some type of activity to push back the expiration date, this app would be very useful.
Whether you are a college student planning your summer travels or a well established professional planning your family vacation, the first step you should take is making a frequent flier account for the U.S. legacy carriers (American, United, Delta, Southwest) as well carriers such as JetBlue and Alaska. Remember, to make a frequent flier account with any of these airlines is free. And if you happen to fly on any of them, all you have to do is plug in your frequent flier number and you earn miles for that trip. With all of these frequent flier programs, you don’t even need to fly to earn miles. Your routine spending habits might assist you and I will get to that in a future post.
Once you have accumulated enough miles, you can redeem them for a free flight. Sometimes when I make this suggestion to friends, they might respond by saying “that airline does not fly to my home airport so I won’t need it.” Never say never. Over the last 16 years, mergers and acquisitions have resulted in airlines serving a locality which they may have not served before. For example, if you live in Minneapolis, a city not currently served by JetBlue,you might not give much thought into opening a frequent flier account with JetBlue. However, it might be just a matter of time before a larger airline such as American, Delta, or United becomes fixated with JetBlue and decides to acquire them. Or JetBlue might decide to expand to Minneapolis and if you are equipped with miles, you have a head start in accessing their network to different destinations.
Before getting started on posts detailing the advantages of various credit cards, I wanted to get a few important points across via a simple flow chart. This flow chart is aimed mostly for the younger mid-20’s and under crowd but I suppose anyone can benefit. It is important that you don’t rack up unnecessary spending on a credit card just for the sake of getting the bonus. My general rule is this: If your normal spending habits allow you to get the credit card bonus and you meet the criteria of the flow chart below, go ahead and get it. This includes paying tuition or buying a big ticket item such as a laptop or TV that you would have purchased anyway. If you don’t see yourself spending the $2,000 or $3,000 that is required over the first three months to hit that bonus, wait until an opportunity arises. If you don’t pay off your monthly balance in full, the interest you will pay will negate the benefits you have earned from obtaining the credit card bonus. As the old adage goes, that is like robbing Peter to pay Paul. Credit card bonuses are certainly the easiest way to earn a huge chunk of points/miles but a little discipline is required. If you find yourself not being a good candidate to earn miles via a credit card, don’t be discouraged. There are other ways and I’ll get to those in upcoming posts.