Your travel reward points are valuable. For those of us who like to travel, a cache of airline miles or hotel points is like money in the bank. But unlike your trusty bank account, sometimes your travel points will disappear if you don’t keep a close eye on them.
Some airline and hotel reward programs have been very pro-consumer in implementing a “points never expire” policy. For example, Delta airlines points never expire.
But many points and miles can expire if you don’t take action to preserve them. Fortunately, in most cases, it is very easy to keep those points active, if you are paying attention.
True Confession: The Sadness of Lost SW Rapid Rewards
I am guilty of losing points because I wasn’t paying attention. A few years ago, I had a moderate stash of Southwest Airline Rapid Rewards points. I wasn’t ever going to be able to fly to Europe with those points, but they were nice for domestic trips.
Southwest Rapid Rewards can last forever — but “In order to keep your Rapid Rewards® account active, you must earn qualifying* Rapid Rewards points at least once every 24 months.”
Southwest Airlines doesn’t fly to my home airport. I have to drive a couple hours to get to a city served by SW. As a result, I was not keeping a good eye on my SW account. And then there came a time when I was interested in using those points to get to Chicago. It would have been a great plan, except for the fact that those points (about 30,000) had expired about 2 months earlier.
Include Expiration Info On Your Spreadsheet
Ackkkkk! A lesson learned. I’ve never let that happen again.
Now I include expiration dates/policies on the spreadsheet listing of points. I can quickly see when points are going to expire, and take action to avoid the loss.
Easy Ways to Extend Expiration Dates
For virtually all reward points, you can extend the expiration date by having some activity in the account. Points programs that expire usually have policies that require some sort of activity within a certain period of time. 18 months. 1 year. 3 years. Each is different. Check the date for your miles. If you aren’t sure, just google “expiration date ______ points”
Then, before that date approaches, do something to generate activity.
1. Credit Card Spend
If you have a points earning credit card for the program at issue, then just charge something on that card. Need to extend the date of American Airline Miles? Take one of your AA credit cards. Go to McDonalds and buy a $1 drink. Go to the Apple Music store and buy a $1 song. You will generate one point, and your expiration date is extended for another 2 years (or whatever)
2. Use a Shopping Portal
If you can’t generate points with a credit card, consider whether the points program has a shopping portal. (Yes, I know shopping portal is another big subject. google it if you aren’t familiar). Buy something after going through the shopping portal. Examples of programs that have shopping portals are:
Chase Ultimate Rewards
Be cautious about this, because sometimes it can take 6-8 weeks for those points to show up. So don’t wait until the last minute.
Have a Plan
If you get to within 3 months of the time your points are going to expire, you should have a plan to get more points on that account.
Florida residents: If you have your health insurance with Florida Blue, you can now pay your monthly bill with your credit card. There is no extra cost to do so.
However, you do need to get on line, print out a bar code, and then make a quick trip to a CVS drug store. You can pay your entire monthly bill, though you will be limited to a maximum of $999 per 24 hours. So if your insurance bill is higher than that, you will need to make more than one trip if you want to take full advantage of this.
STEPS TO PAY YOUR BILL WITH A CREDIT CARD:
Go to FloridaBlue.com
Log on to your account by filling in your user name and password
At the top of the next page, click on “Claims and Expenses”
Then click on “Bill Paying Services”
Select “In Person” by clicking on the link to “Get Barcode”
You will then be presented with a PDF page that includes a barcode. You need to print that page. You cannot just show the barcode on a phone.
Take the printed page to either a CVS pharmacy or a Navarro pharmacy, and present it to the cashier with your credit card.
Let the cashier know how much you want to pay. Hint: Because the monthly bill is usually some odd amount, I write down the exact amount on the bottom of the sheet with the barcode and give it to the cashier.
Your transaction will be posted like a regular purchase from CVS. If you have a credit card that gives a bonus for spend at drug stores, you should get that bonus.
NOTES FROM BLUE CROSS ABOUT THE PAYMENT: Your payment is due by the due date on your bill. Payments received after your due date do not guarantee that your policy will remain active. CVS can accept payments from $1 to $999 per 24 hours .
I have been taking advantage of this service for a few months. The payment takes a couple days to appear on you Florida Blue records. This is a relatively painless way to increase your spend if you are a Florida Blue customer.
Tax time is here. If you owe Uncle Sam some money, you can earn reward points by paying the amount you owe with your credit card. This is NOT something for everyone. There is a fee associated with paying taxes by credit card. But in some cases, it can make sense.
If you pay estimated taxes on a quarterly basis, or if you owe taxes at the end of the year, just click on one of the links to the tax paying services. The service will ask for your name as it appears on IRS forms, and for your social security number. You. can then designate any amount to be paid to the IRS. The amount is sent, and you will immediately receive an e-mail confirming the payment.
How Much Does it Cost? 1.87% or more
The least expensive option at this time is to use Pay1040.com
It charges a fee of 1.87%, with a minimum fee of $2.89. So if you are paying $1000 in taxes, you will pay a fee of $18.70. Your credit card will be charged a total of $1018.70, and you will earn 1018 reward points if you are using a card that “pays” 1 point/mile per dollar.
When Does This Makes Sense?
First, in most cases, it does NOT make sense to pay taxes by credit card. I prefer to get my reward points at no extra cost to me. But, there are times when it can make sense. You need to run the numbers to see if it is a good investment in your case.
To Meet Minimum Spend:
If you have a new credit card, and you are trying to meet your minimum spend requirement, paying a fee of 1.87% can make sense. For example, consider a typical airline card that will award you 50,000 miles after spending $3000. If your normal spending habits will only net you $2000 in spend in the required period, you could easily justify spending $18.70 in fees to be sure that you get the 50,000 miles.
Make a Profit with an Alaska Air Credit Card:
You could pay your taxes and still make a “profit” after fees if you get a new Alaska Airlines card from Bank of America. The current offer on that card gives you 30,000 Alaska Air miles, and a $100 credit after you spend $1000 on the card. There is an annual fee of $75, which is not waived. You could get this card, and use it to pay $1000 in taxes. You would pay fees of $93.70 ($75 annual fee and $18.70 for the cost of using credit to pay taxes). After you get your $100 statement credit, you have a “profit” of $6.30.
Use with a Credit Card that Rewards at 2% Rate
Some credit cards have a higher reward rate than 1 point per dollar. For example, if you have a Barclay Arrival card, you earn 2 Arrival points per dollar spent. So if you pay a fee of 1.87%, you still come out ahead.
Topping Off Reward Balances
Sometimes we are close, but not quite at the level needed to get a reward. If you can justify pay 1.87 cents per point to top off an account – then paying your tax bill is one way to do that. But keep in mind that airline or hotel points are sometimes available to buy directly for less than that amount.
Benjamin Franklin told us that the only things that are certain are death and taxes. Since the taxes are certain, you might as well think about whether it makes some sense to earn travel rewards when you pay them. We’ll save the death issue for another day.
In 1987, I flew from Florida to the South Pacific for the first time. Qantas was offering a special ticket that included stops at a number of cities in Australia and New Zealand for a base price of about $2000 in coach. I don’t have my exact records from that trip, but my recollection is that the airfare came to about $2200 with taxes. I flew mostly in 10 across seating in 747s. The routing included a stop in Hawaii in both directions, because at the time, the 747 did not have the range to make it non-stop from LAX to Australia. It took a total of about 22 hours of flying (more than 30 hours when you included layover time) to get to the land down under.
My how times have changed for the better. In January-February 2016, I flew business class to Australia and New Zealand. I used a combination of 145,000 American Airlines miles and 18,000 British Airways Avios points, and I paid for one Virgin Australia flight. Total cash paid for flights was $367
The time spent flying in 2016 was about the same as in 1987. But the luxury afforded in business class could not have been imagined, even in First Class, in 1987. This is why I love collecting frequent flier points.
If you intend to get into the travel rewards game, it’s important to get off on the right foot by making a list (or lists). This hobby takes some organizational skills. You will have to keep track of certain information to be successful. In this post, I’ll share how I do that. You will need to decide what works best for you.
I used to routinely tell people that they needed to use a spreadsheet to keep track of their points and credit card information. However, I quickly found out that approximately 94.6%* of the population’s eyes glaze over when you say the word “spreadsheet.”
*Note that approximately 86.2% of all statistics are made up. Or something like that.
So, even though I use a spreadsheet, you don’t have to. You can just type out the stuff in a word processing program. Or use a database if you have one you like. But, you don’t even need to use a computer. Old fashioned pencil and paper work fine, if that’s what you like. Separate Index cards are also workable. The important thing is to organize all the important information.
What information to track?
Here is the list of information that I put on my list, with a brief explanation of why it’s important.
Credit Card Name —
The FULL name. Not just something like AA Visa, or Delta Amex. You should write down the full official name of the card. Important because you need to keep track of which cards you already have (or have had), so you know what you can apply for in the future. Each bank has rules about whether you can get a signup bonus for a card more than once, and if so, how often. If you have a card that you can only get a bonus for once in your life (virtually all Amex personal cards), you want to keep track, so that you don’t apply for it again. And some banks issue completely new cards with slightly different sounding names. If its a new product, you can often apply for it and get the bonus, even if you had something that sounded similar in the past.
Issuing Bank —
Amex? Chase? Barclay? Citi? USBank? Bank of America? Keep track, because each bank has rules about how often you can apply, and how many total cards you can have with them. If you already have 4 personal Amex cards, you are probably not going to get approved for a 5th. So its best to keep track.
Date of Application —
Sometimes you can get a card – and the bonus — more than once. In those situations, there is usually a time frame when the new applications can be submitted and still be eligible for the bonus. This might be pegged to the date that you applied for the previous card.
Date Approved —
Approval date is important because that’s the date that starts your time period for meeting the spending requirement. Almost all cards require you to spend a certain amount of money on the card within a certain time period. Typically, you need to charge $2000-3000 on the card within 90 days to get the bonus. That 90 day clock starts ticking on the date you are approved — not the date that you get the card.
Annual Fee — Write it down now, while you remember it. You will save time later when you are deciding whether to keep the card.
Bonus Information —
I recommend writing down 1) the amount of the bonus; 2) the spend requirement to get the bonus (or other requirements for getting the bonus); and 3) the time limit of meeting the spend requirement. Again, this is a case of writing it down while its fresh in your memory, so you will save time later. Believe me, once you get 5 or more cards, you will have difficulty remembering the details about each product. Spend or other requirements
Date the Bonus was Awarded — In some cases, you will be eligible for a bonus again by applying for a new card after a certain amount of time has passed since the last time you were awarded a bonus. So, best to write the date down.
Decision Date for Renewal or Close —
After a year, you will want to review the pros and cons of each credit card to decide whether its worth paying an annual fee to keep it. Some cards offer benefits that outweigh the cost of the annual fee, and you may want to keep those. Others are best closed before the fee is due. You should write down the date that you need to make a decision on whether to keep the card, and then calendar that item.
Optional Information to Include
You can also include your credit card number, the expiration date, and the security code in your list. But think about that carefully before writing it down. The advantage is that all the information is readily available in one place. The problem is that creates a security concern. Anybody with access to this information, can use your credit line very easily, especially for online purchases. This information needs to be kept securely, just like you secure your credit cards themselves.
Write It Down Now to Save Time Later
If you are working to get travel rewards via credit cards, what other information do you like to record? It may take a little time up front to write all of this down in an organized list/spreadsheet… but it’s time well invested.
This holiday seems dull compared to the airfare frenzy that we were experiencing on this day last year. Today is the anniversary of the great Etihad Christmas 2014 Mistake Fare. $187 round trip from the US to Abu Dhabi. Or go to South Africa for about $250.
So far nothing similar. Perhaps in 2016.
For those of you who have no experience with mistake fares… they are like a crazy black Friday frenzy. When you hear about one, you need to book first and ask questions later. You can almost always cancel for no cost within 24 hours.
I’ve booked mistake fares twice in my life. First was thanks to a travel alert from Travelzoo. I flew from Tallahasse to Madrid round trip for $234 on Delta. You usually can’t fly one way to Atlanta for $234. I promptly booked. By the time some friends thought about it (too much) it was gone.
Then I jumped on the Etihad mistake fare last Christmas. In the end, because of a number of changes to the routing (outlined in a previous post), I canceled and got my money back. But it was a crazy fun day bookiing that trip. And it was the start to an amazing journey. I made it to Abu Dhabi, as part of a round the world trip that included fabulous first class flights.
Do you like the idea of a crazy low cost adventure? One of the best places to get alerts for those rare mistake fares is flightdeal.com Better yet, signup for their twitter feed. Then, if you hear of a deal… act FAST. And don’t call the airline.
One of the questions I frequently get from friends who are interested in learning how to leverage credit card rewards into great travel opportunities is — what about the Capital One Venture Card? They either have it, or think they should get it.
It’s not surprising that the question comes up so often. Capital One has several slick and pervasive ad campaigns (Hello Jennifer Garner and Samuel L. Jackson).
What does the card offer?
2 Venture “miles” for every dollar charged on the card. Currently, a 40,000 “mile” bonus after spending $3000 within 3 months. Annual fee of $59, waived the first year.
So what does that mean? After you’ve spent you will have 46,000 Capital One “miles. That will get you exactly $460 worth of travel, no more, no less.
If you spend a total of $10,000 on the card in the first year, you will have 60,000 Capital One “miles” (40,000 from the sign up bonus, and 20,000 from the spend, which is credited at 2 “miles” per dollar. ) This is equivalent to $600 in travel — no more, no less.
The strong argument in favor of this card is — as Jennifer and Samuel let you know in their very frequent ads — it’s very easy to use those “miles.” You just book the travel you want, and then apply the “miles” as a credit to your charge statement. No fuss. Use the miles for travel anytime.
What’s Your Goal?
As with most credit card offers, in order to fully evaluate it, you need to determine your goal. There are times when the 2 “miles” offered by the Venture card is great. If you are generally purchasing low cost domestic economy flights, this card is going to be a good deal for you.
But, if you are considering getting into the “points game” you are probably trying to step it up, and enjoy more distant and/or luxurious travel. You’ve seen the bloggers who travel the world on the cheap, or trip reports from business class and first class travelers who are sipping champagne while reclining in their sky beds. The Capital One Venture card is not going to help you achieve those goals.
Compare — Can you do better with another card?
For international travel and travel in premium cabins, you will virtually always do much better with a card that offers you points in an airline’s frequent flier program.
For example, if you have 40,000 American Airlines AAdvantage Miles, you can use those miles to fly round trip to Europe in coach class between October 15 and May 15. That’s a ticket that is most likely worth at least $800 — and probably more, depending on where you are flying. So, in this case, you get twice the value out of your AA points.
Even for domestic coach tickets, Venture is not always your best bet. Most airlines offer a base round trip coach domestic ticket for 25,000 miles. This includes transcontinental flights that are usually more than $250. So if the ticket you are thinking about buying with your Venture miles costs more that $250, you can frequently do better with another points currency.
For business class to Europe, a paid ticket would most likely cost you at least $3000 (and usually much more). You would need 300,000 Venture miles to get that ticket (meaning you would need to spend $150,000 on the card.) But you can get an AA Saver award in business class to Europe for 100,000 AA miles – and you can usually get that with two credit card signups.
So yes, you can do better. And that’s why I don’t have this card. It is a good card, and you can get value from it. But it doesn’t fit in with my goals, so I prefer to use other cards.
I’ve just returned from a hot adventure (and I do mean hot) to Southeast Asia. I spent 20 days traveling to and touring Bangkok, Cambodia, and Vietnam. These destinations are unique and very affordable ($10 massages, anyone). And thanks to excellent availability of award tickets, the 20+ hours of flying time can be completely enjoyable.
The journey looked like this:
I used American Airlines miles to book business class flights on Cathay Pacific Airlines (with one leg on Cathay’s regional airline, Dragonair). Total cost was 110,000 miles and about $90 in taxes and fees.
Avoiding the Killer 20+ Hour Coach Class Flight
Traveling to Asia from the US, especially the east coast, is a killer. It’s generally about 14-15 hours at least from the west coast. Add in connections to the east coast, and you are easily looking at 20+ hours of butt in seat time each way. I did that in coach a couple of times when I was younger. Thanks to the wonders of airline reward points, I didn’t have to even think about it this time.
American Airlines is a member of the One World airline alliance. One World includes American, British Air, Qantas, Air Berlin, Finnair, Iberia, and others — including the wonderful Hong Kong airline, Cathay Pacific.
Cathay has an excellent business class product — one of the best business class seats in the sky.
Fly Cathay, and you can sleep your way to Asia (as I did). And American Airlines has about the best “price” for those seats.
Using AA Miles to Fly Cathay Pacific
Use your AA miles, and you will just pay 55,000 miles plus about $45 in taxes each way. (Note: price will be going up in March 2016)
Most people don’t ever think about using their AA miles on another airline. Many don’t know you can do that. (Yes, you can use your AA miles for flights on any other One World Airline, as well as some other partners). Or if they know you can use miles on other airlines, they don’t realize that seats are available — because AA doesn’t show you all the availability on its website.
If you go to the AA website and do a search for award flights from the US to Asia, mostly what you’ll see is (very limited) availability on AA’s on flights to places like Hong Kong. But if you know where to look, you will find more seats and more destinations using partner airlines like Cathay, or Japan Airlines.
Search for Awards on British Airways; Then Call AA to Book
The “secret” is to use a search engine on another One World airline that does show the availability of more of the partner airlines. Specifically, my go-to source for One World award availability is the British Airways web site. And that’s how I found my seats on this trip.
Many months ago (important), I opened up the British Airways web site, logged into my Avios account (Avios is the name of BA’s frequent flier program), and searched for Cathay Pacific awards to Bangkok (the start of my tour), and from Hanoi (the end of the tour). It took some juggling dates, but since it was far in advance, I was able to quickly locate 2 business class tickets for the journey (my sister joined me on this trip.)
Finding the awards on the British Airways site does NOT mean that I booked them there. If I had booked the seats there, the “price” would have been much higher, because Avios charges more for those kinds of awards. But, having found the seats that were available, I simply called the AA award reservations line and gave them the flight numbers I wanted. They were able to find the same seats, and confirm the booking.
Flexibility — YES, even later upgrading to FIRST Class
With AA awards, you have some flexibility. You can change the date that you are planning to travel, as long as you don’t change the place you are leaving from or the place you are going to. Other changes can incur fees.
You can also upgrade your class of service if it later becomes available, and there is no change fee — you just pay the difference in miles. For example, on this trip, a First Class seat opened up on Cathay’s trip from LAX to Hong Kong at the last minute. My sister was able to call in and upgrade her ticket. (I tried to do the same but had glitches because I had already flown the first leg. sigh.)
Make The Flight Part of the Fun, Instead of the Torture You Need to Endure
Asia is an amazing adventure. The people of Southeast Asia are smiling and happy to see you, and there is great value there. Don’t let the thought of long long flights deter you from seeing someplace completely different from your world. Collect points and use them to make getting there as enjoyable as being there.
Coming soon — details about the flights and the tour.
If you’ve been thinking about getting a travel points earning credit card, now is a great time to apply. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card has increased its sign up offer to the best its been in a long time.
Disclosure: I get no compensation, kickback, or other reward for blathering on about this card. (Maybe someday I will, but that’s mostly for the big time bloggers). I feel rewarded when I hear from friends who have been approved for this card, and who go on to use the points for wonderful adventures at a reduced cost.
The New Improved Offer
The “usual” sign up offer for the Chase Sapphire Reward Visa Card is 40,000 Ultimate Rewards Points after meeting the spend requirement. The new, improved offer is at least 25% better. If you are approved for the card now, you get 50,000 Ultimate Reward Points after spending $4000 in three months. In addition, if you add an authorized user who makes at least one purchase, you get an additional 5,000 points. Since you get at least 1 point for each dollar you spend on the card, you could end up with 59,000 points or more. The annual fee of $95 is waived the first year.
What Are Ultimate Rewards Points, and What Do You Do With Them?
Ultimate Rewards Points are the “currency” issued by Chase Sapphire Preferred. You earn one point for each dollar you spend. In addition, you earn double points for certain categories of spending, like dining and travel.
Then you use your points for travel adventures. At a minimum, you can use them to book travel through Chase, and get 1.25 cents per point. So, with 59,000 points, you could book a flight or other travel worth $737.
You can get even better value in most cases by transferring your points to a travel partner, like an airline or hotel. 59,000 points is enough to get a one way business class flight to Europe, or a round trip economy flight to Hawaii.
As always, please DON’T do this if you don’t pay off your credit cards in full every month. If you carry a balance on your card, you need to get a low interest rate credit card, not a travel rewards card.
If you decide to close the account next year to avoid paying the annual fee, be sure to use your points or transfer before you close the account.
If you have a regular travel partner (spouse, friend, whatever), BOTH of you should apply for the card so that you BOTH get the rewards.
Where Do I Apply?
Here’s a link to an excellent blog post by Gary Leff at View From the Wing. He is an expert on all things related to travel loyalty and rewards programs. His post does a great job summarizing the benefits of the card, and includes a link for the application.