The best frequent flyer redemption I ever made

The best frequent flyer redemption I ever made

One of the nice perks about being a “churner” is that you eventually get to the point where you have enough miles across a range of accounts that anywhere you want to go is within reach. While it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when I got to this point, I’d like to say it took me around 2-3 years of taking advantage of credit card bonuses.

Of course, as I’ve written about earlier, once people like us accumulate enough miles, there is a tendency to “hoard”, to be reluctant to spend them in order to “save up” for that big redemption. But in reality, miles, unlike cash, only depreciate over time, and are worth as much as one company says they’re worth.

A little under a year ago, I heard about a new charity formed by members of the incredible r/churning community called Miles4Migrants, designed for people to use their unused frequent flyer miles to help refugees escape from terrorism. While the idea of this wasn’t totally new (as many airlines will allow you to donate miles to charity), this was a more direct approach in that people pledge a certain amount of miles, then they are paired up with a situation where they make the redemption directly for the affected party.

When I first heard of it, I thought it was an amazing idea, but was very busy at the time and soon forgot about it. But a little over a month later when President Trump’s travel ban went into effect, I felt called to do something more. I donated to the ACLU and CAIR that day as well as went to the closest airport to express solidarity, but it still didn’t feel like enough, considering that a similar travel ban 100 years ago would have prevented my Syrian ancestors from coming to the United States.

Having accrued close to 400,000 American Express Membership Rewards points, I went on to the Miles4Migrants site that night and pledged 50,000 points. It felt great at the time, but once again, I soon forgot about it after I hadn’t heard anything. And while I wanted to believe it was a noble cause, a small voice in the back of my head also wondered if this was a scam.

Finally a few months later, they reached out to me with a case that they were working on, which I gladly agreed to help with, but it unfortunately fell through.  But soon again, they reached out to me again with another case from an NGO in Belgium, in this situation a mother (32) and two children (9 and 3) who’d been separated from their father. The father had already moved to Belgium; the rest of the family was trying to leave Syria to be re-united with him. As I literally would not be here had my great-grandmother not fled Syria 100 years ago to escape religious persecution, it was an obvious no-brainer. After all, while she came by boat rather than plane, there was probably at some point a generous donor who made things easier along the way.

I eagerly let Miles4Migrants know that I was 100% on board, and they soon sent me passport information for the family, as well as the route and dates to book. While I can’t share their passport pictures for privacy reasons, as soon as I saw their faces, it made me even more excited to help, especially seeing the children’s faces. I cannot imagine what it must be like to grow up only knowing war, but their faces definitely reflected that, with a combination of hope for something better but exhaustion from what they’d already seen.

The actual flight booking process ended up taking far longer than expected, as the originally intended flight ended up being not available, which then meant needing to go back to the NGO and figure out a new plan, while taking into account things like layovers, amount of Arabic spoken in the airports they’d be transiting through, and so on.

After much back and forth though, the flight was finally booked. Three one-way tickets on EgyptAir from Beirut to Brussels via Cairo for 18,000 KrisFlyer miles each (transfered from Membership Rewards), plus  some taxes and fees (covered by Miles4Migrants); normally a flight that would have cost $600.

The day of the flight finally came, which I was excited about, after which I soon received confirmation that they had made it, but nothing else.

Finally, nearly three months later, I received the following email from the father (via the NGO):

Hello [redacted] and our generous donor !

We wanted to tell you “thank you from our hearts”!  You don’t realize it, maybe, but you have contribute to save the life of a family and you give us the chance to rebuild a new life together in another country.

My family and myself are so grateful for what you have done to us: when I arrived in [redacted] asking for help, I cried because I had no issue to find such money to by fly tickets. I realized how poor I was comparing to time when I used to work in a big company in Aleppo. But I had to quite this life for my safety and to give a chance to my kids to know me before I die.

Then I arrived in Belgium: I couldn’t take the risk to bring my family with me because I was so afraid to loose them during the travel. But I made a promise to my little son : I told him he is going to be with me again.

I didn’t realize how the family reunification procedure is such a big deal and that would cost so much. I didn’t have enough money to pay all the legalizations and passports for the family: my wife had to sell her wedding ring and other jewelries I offered to her. I felt so bad about this but she told me that everything will be ok: we don’t need money if we are together because that’s the biggest treasure we can have.

Then I realize I don’t have money for the plane tickets; the first time I saw Kawtare she was just smiling and she was really kind. She told me there’s no way to get financial help by Caritas but she will try something else; she didn’t tell me what but I saw hope and happiness in her eyes so I felt ok.

To days later, she called and now my dream came true! My family is here with me in Brussels: I have to admit that my wife was so scared to take the flight because she thought that  a free plane ticket won’t offer a such comfortable travel. But the kids and her were so happy when they were on boarding. The travel was great!

Now we are all learning French together, the children are starting school in one month. My little girl is starting musical courses in the academy of music and arts. She loves singing, I’m so happy to hear her wonderful voice again!

I’m looking for a job at the same time: I hope to have the chance one day to help another family by offering miles to “ miles for migrants” so you did for my family. We will never forget what you did for us! My wife used to work as a hairdresser: she hopes to open a new hairdressing salon in the future. She had her own in Alep but this one was destroyed during the war

If you want us to keep in touch, just add me on Facebook! It will be more than an honor for me!


At this point, I started to tear up a little bit. I’ve been lucky to redeem hundreds of thousands of miles for all sorts of amazing adventures to see places that would have otherwise been unaffordable to visit – ranging from Turkmenistan, Bali, Rwanda, Jordan, South Africa, and many more incredible countries (while I did visit North Korea, I was unable to redeem any miles on the state-owned Air Koryo airline). But none of those redemptions gave me the kind of feeling I experienced after doing this.

Now, I realize, not everyone is in a position to do this. It’s important to have a good stash of frequent flyer miles for any necessary flights that may come up. But if you’ve been lucky to accrue hundreds of thousands (or millions) of miles, be it through “churning”, frequent long-distance business travel, or something else, just maybe consider giving some back to help people far less fortunate.


Main Photo Courtesy Miles4Migrants.


“Dispute Charge” is your friend – use it

“Dispute Charge” is your friend – use it

All of us have probably been cheated out of some money by a merchant at some point or another (if not, consider yourself very very lucky).

The next step is often arguing with them, either in person, over the phone, or online. If you’re lucky (and/or they care more about your repeat business than a small amount of money), maybe you get your money back. But as is sometimes the case with larger, more indifferent corporations, they may just put you through endless customer service loops (and/or just say “No”).

Unfortunately, this is where many people tend to stop the process, cut their losses, and move on. But if you paid for the transaction with a credit card (or even debit card), it doesn’t need to stop here (which is yet another reason to never pay for anything in cash if you don’t have to).

When you make a credit card or debit card transaction, you’re not actually paying the merchant, rather, you’re paying the credit card company, who takes a cut out of the payment, as does the payment organization (Visa/Mastercard/AMEX/Discover), which transfers the money to the bank of the merchant (the processor also takes a cut, as it allows the merchant to accept credit cards).

All major credit card companies will allow you to dispute a charge if you feel that you have unfairly been charged for something. In this case, they will usually ask you a series of questions about why you’re disputing the charge, then temporarily remove the charge from your statement so that you’re not responsible for it, and begin their investigation.

During the investigation, they will reach out to the merchant to get the merchant’s side of the story. If the merchant doesn’t answer within a certain amount of time (usually 2-4) weeks, then you will automatically be ruled in favor of and have the money refunded back to you. More often though, the merchant will respond and it will then be up to the credit card company to decide. During this process, you may receive a call for them asking for additional information and/or further documentation. The more documentation you can provide, the better! Note that before you file a dispute, you must make an attempt to resolve it with the merchant first. If you do not, they will reject it and tell you to first try that.

In the end, you hope the company rules in favor of you, though there have been situations where I have contested the original decision and won.

So far, I have never lost a dispute, but part of that is also being rational about what I dispute and what I don’t dispute. For one, any attempts to try and game the system to get something for free will not only be rejected, but probably hurt your relationship with your credit card company and the merchant (if applicable), reducing the amount of effort they put into future requests. For example, you can’t buy a $1,000 airline ticket then dispute that based on the fact that you didn’t realize how expensive it was. You also can’t dispute a restaurant bill saying that you didn’t like the food.

So what kind of things have I used it for?

-A rental car company added on a charge that wasn’t part of the contract I signed.

-I returned merchandise (within the stated terms) but never received a credit for it.

-The third-party software I use to book work travel added on an extra fee to book my reservation.

-FedEx delivered my package a week later than they said they would (in this case, it’s likely that had I actually gotten through to someone at FedEx they would have handled it internally, but their online dispute system was down and I never got off hold).

-I paid for a tour in advance and then was charged again for certain items once I arrived on the tour.

I think you get the picture.

Inequal advocacy

Unfortunately, your chances of winning the dispute are not only based on the merit of your claim, but also the quality of the disputers at your credit card company. I have by far found American Express to be the best at disputing claims (both for their easy method of filing one online, and their quick resolution, always in my favor). As a result, whenever I’m dealing with a merchant whom I may be suspicious of, I’ll try to pay with an American Express card so that I’m covered in case something happens.

Chase and Citi also allow for online filing of disputes, but tend to be a little slower. Barclaycard unfortunately requires you to call in order to file a dispute, which is super frustrating.

Generally though, as long as your claim has merit, you should come out with your money back; it just may take a little while depending on who’s disputing your claim.

Feel free to post any good dispute stories in the comments!


Travel insurance can be pretty amazing – but that doesn’t mean you have to pay extra for it (or, how I used it for a 2-day all-expense paid vacation)

Travel insurance can be pretty amazing – but that doesn’t mean you have to pay extra for it (or, how I used it for a 2-day all-expense paid vacation)

We’ve probably all been in that situation where we’re about to purchase a flight, and then an error message pops up reminding you that you didn’t select whether you want to add on travel insurance. At that point, you then wonder if it may be worth it to spent just a little bit more to be covered in all sorts of situations if something goes wrong. After all, you don’t want to be wishing you had spent just $20 more when you’re out $5,000 for a big expense, right?

Of course, this is the principle of risk, and how insurance companies make their money. The good news is, you usually don’t need to buy it because some form is likely already included with your credit card.

While I’ve wanted to write about this for quite some time, I only recently felt compelled to do so, when what could have been a disasterous 48-hour flight delay turned into a wonderful two-day vacation at a beach resort with all meals included, thanks to my credit card travel insurance.


This lobster cobb salad that I got during my trip was worth the $20 it cost on the menu, but it tasted even better knowing that it was free.

I recently went to Charleston, South Carolina for a quick weekend trip with my family. Seeing as it was much cheaper to fly nonstop from Boston into Myrtle Beach, rent a car, then drive instead of flying nonstop into Charleston, I opted for the former.

The trip down was relatively uneventful. But when I woke up on Sunday morning, I received an email telling me that my flight back to Boston that evening had been cancelled due to the snowstorm, and to call the airline to figure out my next steps. Unfortunately, this was a once-a-day route (not uncommon for Spirit), and the next day’s flight was completely sold out. I was told that I could either be placed on the Tuesday night flight, or receive a voucher for the cost of the flight.

Knowing that I had excellent travel insurance from booking the trip with my Citi Prestige card (as well as the fact that the few flights operating that day were absurdly expensive since everyone was trying to get home), I opted to be placed on the Tuesday flight (I also had smartly brought my work laptop with me and am able to work remotely, which I realize is not the case for everyone). However, I could have used this benefit to book an earlier flight, but given the chance that that too could be cancelled, as well as the prospect of going back to cold weather, I was not very inclined to do so.

I called Citi to advise them of my situation. They confirmed that it did indeed qualify (as I had paid for the flight with my Citi card and it was delayed more than 5 hours or cancelled), and let me know that I had up to $500 dollars in “immediate expenses” for lodging and food, with a total claim amount allowed up to $3,000, which I did not have to put on the same card.

This is very important. In order to be eligible, you must have paid for a portion of the airfare with the card that you have insurance with, it is not enough to just have the card. You do not have to pay for the actual expenses that you will submit for your claim.

I then proceeded to look up Marriott (my chain of choice for earning points) beachfront hotels in Myrtle Beach, and booked a two-night stay at the Marriott OceanWatch Villas at Grand Dunes for $250. It was aptly named, as I could indeed watch the ocean from my room:16649264_817023895974_8082171755378146430_n

I treated myself to a very nice dinner the first night at an excellent nearby gastropub, dining on duck confit nachos, pork belly, and corn creme brulee (sounds weird, tastes amazing):


Unfortunately things got very crazy with work the next two days so I didn’t have a chance to explore other restaurants, but thankfully the hotel restaurant was quite excellent, as you can see by the picture of the lobster Cobb salad further up.

The aftermath

After I got back, I then called Citi again to move forward with next steps, after which they proceeded to open up a claim for me, and gave me an email address to submit documentation to. I sent in receipts for the hotel stay, the restaurants, the Uber rides to and from the airports, the email notifying me of the cancellation, proof of the statement showing that I paid for the trip with my card, proof of the actual flight cancellation, and proof of my original and rebooked flight. I’m not sure if I needed to quite submit all of this, but several days later, I received an email letting me know I could expect a check in the mail for the amount I claimed.

But what if I don’t have this card?

I intentionally didn’t want to make this a post comparing the different travel insurance cards out there (as quite a lot of them already exist), but rather a firsthand account of why it’s useful to have travel insurance. I would highly encourage you to look at the policies on all your cards, and then use whichever card is most generous to pay for your flights moving forward. While most do not cover flight delays and cancellations like in my case, nearly all cards will cover you for if something happens to you on your trip, or you need to cancel your trip for an unavoidable reason. Again, while I’d encourage you to read up on the benefits of each one, a general rule of thumb is that the higher the annual fee is, the more benefits you’ll receive (after all, credit card companies can’t pay premiums to the insurance companies off interchange fees alone). In my case, the Citi Prestige, which has a $450 annual fee (which is reduced to $350 with a Citigold account and has a $250 airfare credit, essentially becoming $100), is considered to have some of the best coverage around, though you’ll also find similar coverage with the new Chase Sapphire Reserve ($450 fee, $300 travel credit).

Have a question or a good travel insurance-related story to share? Feel free to contact me or post in the comments below.

Unless you’re going somewhere with amazing public transit or walkability, it’s usually cheaper to rent a car on international trips

Unless you’re going somewhere with amazing public transit or walkability, it’s usually cheaper to rent a car on international trips

For some reason, Americans seem to have a strange aversion to renting cars in foreign countries. I am always shocked at how much people shell out for cabs and tours in foreign countries where the roads are just as good as the ones in the US (if not better), the drivers are as good (or better), and they still drive on the same side of the road.

Now, I get that for some people, traveling internationally is supposed to be a leisure activity where you let someone else do all the work and get away from your daily routine, which I could understand somewhat especially for people that drive many miles in traffic every day for their job. But is that really worth hundreds (if not thousands of dollars) more?

A prime example of this would be Iceland, where seemingly everyone you know has either gone recently or plans to go soon (and is a place which I love for its amazing hot springs). While admittedly going in March was before high season, I booked a car rental six weeks in advance for $215 USD for nine days, or roughly $24 per day. We literally drove around the entire island  (probably around 900 miles) and spent $267.51 on gas (and before you say, “It’s not that much cheaper since gas is so expensive in Europe,” remember that not only are the cars more fuel efficient, but the cabs and tours are proportionally more expensive too).

Given that most comparable guided tours are packages that include lodging, it’s impossible to know how much the transportation cost of a similar guided tour would be, but given that many are around $1400/person with lodging, it’s likely that even without lodging, it still far exceeds the $241 per person cost my friend and I spent on transportation.

Now, despite my constant pleadings to people to spend longer in Iceland and drive around the whole country, I realize a nine-day trip may be excessive for some people. Icelandair and WOW have been doing extremely well recently promoting their stopover fares, where someone can fly from the US to somewhere else in Europe and add on a multi-day (or single-day) stop in Iceland for no additional charge. Let’s look at a popular one-day itinerary of Reykjavik, Blue Lagoon, and the Golden Circle. This is roughly a 200 mile trip (including the return) from the airport, so in a rental car for $24/day that gets 40 miles per gallon with gas at $8 per gallon (just a guess), that’s $40 of gas or $64 total.

A tour from Reykjavik is $82 per person, but that doesn’t include the cost of getting to Reykjavik from the airport, which is an extra $39 per person by bus or $117 by cab. And this still doesn’t include the Blue Lagoon. Obviously, the cost savings are not as significant for a solo traveler, but with more people, the cost of the rental car and gas still stay the same; the tour and bus costs (calculated per person) do not.

But even putting cost aside, the other nice thing about renting a car is the “Ooh this looks really cool, let’s pull over!” factor which you can have when in a rental car. The cover photo from this post is from a recent trip I took to Sommarøy, Norway and I was so struck by how beautiful the bridge was that I had to stop. Or when I was driving around Iceland, I was struck by the beauty of all of the ponies on the side of the road:


You lose this aspect if you’re in a big group van where individual requests can’t always be accomodated.

But it doesn’t always make sense

As the title of this post notes, renting a car does not always make sense when traveling internationally. For one, there are certain countries which may restrict renting a car to citizens of that country (for example, China).

And in some, like Japan (where you can rent with an International Driving Permit), it doesn’t make any sense, given the amazing high-speed rail system that runs everywhere (as well as the amazing subways within urban areas).

In other countries with safety issues, it also may make sense to hire a driver in case you run into any sort of trouble. These countries also can sometimes be very unaffordable anyway due to high mandatory insurance costs.

But wait

But contrary to popular belief, one situation that should not deter you from renting a car is being in a country that drives on the other side of the road. There usually is no legal requirement in these countries to be from a country that also drives on the same side, and while it may feel weird at first, you can usually adapt in 15-20 minutes. And you never know what kind of animals you may encounter, as was the case with this baboon I ran into outside of Cape Town, South Africa:


This post took longer than expected to write and while I was originally going to also write about rental car insurance in this post, I think it’s best saved for another post.

But if you have any questions on the above, let me know!

All photos by Mark Ayoub.

Finding cheap last-minute airfare is rare, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try

Finding cheap last-minute airfare is rare, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try

In my last post, I mentioned a very cheap airfare I had found for $137 from San Jose to Boston that had allowed me to make a last-minute trip to San Francisco to see my girlfriend for New Year’s, using it as an example of cases where you may want to credit your fare to an airline other than the one you’re flying.

When talking about this with people, they were often very surprised. But in reality, I wasn’t too surprised that I was able to find such a cheap fare at the last minute.

In theory, one would think that airlines would apply heavy discounts to last-minute fares in order to maximize the chances of a full flight – e.g. if they have three seats left to fill, why not make them super cheap? In reality, this isn’t how it works though, as anyone who’s tried to book a last-minute flight likely knows. There are mostly two reasons:

First, if they did this, then everyone would just wait until the last minute to book their airfare, which would be a disaster for the airline in terms of a planning perspective.

But more importantly, the airlines want to make sure that there’s always a few seats left to allow for the chance of the traveler (usually a business traveler) who absolutely has to get somewhere at the last minute and will pay as much as s/he needs to (usually from a corporate account) to make that happen. In other words, an airline doesn’t want to be in the position of turning away a wealthy businessman who absolutely has to get from New York City to Los Angeles at the last minute and will pay $1,000 to do so because they already sold the last seat on that flight to some college kid for $100.

For example, right now, the cheapest ticket for two people traveling from New York City to Los Angeles today is a whopping $868, and it’s not even nonstop!nyc

Now, are all of these fares going to be purchased before the plane leaves? Highly unlikely (not to mention since all of these have connections, it’s likely that purchasing one of them could eliminate another).

But let’s say that flight gets filled by a last-minute captive traveler willing to pay anything one time out of every eight times. The airline then earns more money than if they had routinely discounted that fare to $100 and filled it each of those eight times.

Of course, the title of this post is not about why you shouldn’t look for last-minute fares, but rather why you should – after all, they definitely do exist, as evidenced by the fare I found. And given what I wrote above, it’s not surprising. Airlines tend to avoid having cheap last-minute fares because of the possibility of the captive business traveler, but there are certain times of the year (and routes) where it is very unlikely to have this kind of last-minute traveler. Saturdays would be one, as would the week between Christmas and New Year’s, which is virtually a dead week in the corporate world.

Another example would be Hawaii, which doesn’t tend to get much business traffic. That’s of course not to say you’ll find a cheap last-minute fare to Hawaii, just that it won’t be as much of a difference from a normal fare (which are already pricy).

Lastly, this practice of marking up last-minute fares is generally less common when it comes to ultra low-cost carriers, such as Spirit, Frontier, and Allegiant. Given that many business travelers would rather miss an important meeting than suffer six-hours cross-country on Spirit Airlines (even though I don’t think it’s that bad), these airlines are generally less concerned about preserving their ability to gouge last-minute business travelers. Furthermore, as their profit margins are far tighter, they generally are better at filling up all seats in advance (as you can see from the screenshot, none of them have any availability).

Looking at a last-minute flight from Boston to Washington tomorrow morning (a very popular business route), Spirit is almost $50 cheaper than the next cheapest airline, and is selling the flight at a price ($103) not too much more than a typical flight on that route not bought at the last-minute. Nearly every business traveler I know would be able to pay the extra $46 to not fly Spirit, but for someone else more budget-conscious who may need to take this route at the last minute due to personal reasons, they may opt for Spirit:


On the other hand, if you look at this same route exactly three weeks later, the fare is not only cheaper, but other airlines are matching (or coming close to) Spirit:


As a reminder, for finding cheap airfares, whether at the last-minute or far in advance, I can’t recommend my initial post highly enough.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to let me know!


Why I sometimes earn miles with airlines I’ll never fly

Why I sometimes earn miles with airlines I’ll never fly

At the time of writing this, I recently got off a flight from San Jose to Boston via Denver on United Airlines. I was lucky enough to score a great last minute deal, booking it for just $137, despite it being a nearly 3,000-mile journey.

Now, in a more simpler era, airlines had the very simple policy of giving you one mile earned for every mile you flew. Unfortunately, itineraries like the one I booked above meant that the airline would give away a lot of miles without earning much money. In contrast, (business) travelers who often booked very expensive short-distance (often last-minute) itineraries would not earn very many miles, creating a disincentive against a behavior that is very profitable for the airline.

Consequently, over the past three years, the Big Three airlines (United, Delta, and American) have all made the switch to what is known as revenue-based earning, where the number of award miles earned correlates with the amount of money spent on the ticket, rather than the amount of miles flown. Southwest, JetBlue, Virgin America, and Sun Country have always operated this way, leaving Alaska, Frontier, and Spirit as the only domestic airlines that still award miles based on distance flown rather than money spent (though there is rampant speculation that Alaska may be switching away from this, and redeeming miles and Frontier and Spirit is an exercise in frustration).

With the Big Three airlines, they now award you miles equal to five times the price of your airfare before taxes, assuming you don’t have any status. So for the itinerary I booked recently on United, despite flying 2,705 miles, I would have only earned 535 United award miles:


Considering that domestic one-way awards on United start at 10,000 miles (for trips under 700 miles), this means that I won’t have enough award miles to redeem for a free trip until I’ve spent $2,000 on airfare!

If that sounds like a lot of money to spend in order to book a free flight that often prices for under $100, it is!

The good news is that given United’s membership in the Star Alliance, you can choose to earn miles with any of the 27 airlines in the Star Alliance, or one of their non-alliance partners like Aer Lingus.

And while the other airlines would love to also award miles based on how much you spent on United, for obvious reasons, they do not have that data, nor is United going to provide it to them. So they have no choice but to award miles based on how far you fly. That being said, not all tickets will earn miles at the same rate. And that’s not just whether you’re flying in first, business, or economy – even within economy, not all tickets earn at the same rate.

I’m not going to get into a detailed explanation of airline fare classes given how complex a topic is, but what it comes down to is that airlines sell there tickets in different fare “buckets”. Availability of those buckets varies depending on a number of factors, which is also why the person next do you on your flight may have paid a different amount for the same flight.

Somewhere on your ticket there should be a letter indicating the class; in my case it was “G”:


Thanks to the very helpful website, I can now see how many miles I’ll earn on a G fare on United Airlines:capture

Knowing that my flight is 2,702 miles (which I can see from the “PQM” field above), I know that if I credit to Singapore Airlines, I can earn 100% of those miles flown, or 2,702 miles with Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer program. As you can see from the chart, my flight will earn the most miles on Singapore Airlines (as it turns out, almost all United flights will earn 100% on Singapore Airlines).

Of course, that’s not to say you should always credit miles to the program where you will earn the most miles, as intuitive as that may seem. Before deciding where to credit your miles, you should first look at the award chart of the airline you want to earn miles on to see how many miles you would need for an award. In this case with Singapore Airlines’ award chart, I can see that a round-trip flight within the United States (which would be on United) booked through Singapore Airlines is 25,000 miles, or, the same as it would cost if I were booking with United miles:


But that’s not the only thing to consider. You should also think about how easy it is to accrue these miles. In this situation, I know that I can transfer my Starwood Preferred Guest points, Citi ThankYou Points, AMEX Membership Rewards, or Chase Ultimate Rewards to Singapore Airlines if I encounter a situation where I need more miles to book an award. Furthermore, you also should be aware of any taxes and fees that airlines may add on to your ticket – in this case I know that none would be added for a domestic flight on United Airlines, but Singapore Airlines can sometimes add on thousands of dollars in fees for first-class redemptions on Singapore Airlines.

But let’s say instead this flight earned 75% on Singapore Airlines and 100% on Ethiopian Airlines. Given that there is no other way to accrue Ethiopian Airlines miles other than flying Star Alliance airlines, I might still lean toward earning on Singapore Airlines. Furthermore, you should look to see how easy it is to redeem miles in the program you are earning with. While I know that it is relatively easy to redeem Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles (it does require a phone call if you aren’t booking on Singapore Airlines itself), I might be a little bit more skeptical about doing something like crediting all of my Delta Airlines flights to Czech Airways; while Czech Airways generally earns the most miles for Delta flights (usually 100%), a brief search for stories about redeeming those miles indicates it’s nearly impossible.

I should also mention that this strategy should only be used by people who are not trying to attain status with a particular airline. In order to do so, you need to be crediting all your flights to the same airline, and then based on how many miles you fly, you may be able to earn status with that airline, even if you don’t earn nearly as many actual redeeemable miles. As someone who rarely pays for a flight though, airline status (which requires paid flights) has never been something I’ve prioritized too much. Furthermore, all of the calculations about miles earned are assuming you don’t have status – if you do have status, then you’ll need to factor in any multipliers when determining miles earned.


Did I miss something? Have a question? Let me know!


Cover image: Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore, courtesy of


Remember to set a PIN on all of your credit cards

Remember to set a PIN on all of your credit cards

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I find that Charles Schwab offers the best checking account for frequent travelers, due to their wide acceptance at ATMs all over the world, no foreign transaction or withdrawal fees, and excellent customer service. But there are times when even they cannot get the job done.

Yesterday in Jordan I needed to fill up my car with gas, and I was out of local currency and most gas stations there don’t accept credit cards. I tried to make a withdrawal with my Schwab card at an ATM and received an error message. I called the international collect number on the back of my card, and they told me that they had not received any request to withdraw funds. I then tried to make a withdrawal with my Capital One backup card, and had the same issue; apparently this particular ATM doesn’t like US debit cards.

Thankfully, I then inserted one of my credit cards, entered the pin I had set up for it, and processed a cash advance for just enough money to get me by. Now, I of course don’t normally recommend cash advances, as the fees on them can often be in the 20-25% range (and no, you don’t earn points on them and they don’t count toward your minimum spending requirement to earn a bonus). But in a pinch, especially when traveling in countries with less developed banking systems, it can be critical.


How to set this up varies by issuer, but you’ll generally either be prompted to set one up when activating a card, or be mailed one separately when you set up a card.


Note that this is different from chip + PIN technology, which is an obviously beneficial anti-fraud technology widely used throughout Europe that requires the user to enter a pin when making a credit card purchase. Alas, the US lags behind in this, having only implemented regular chip technology last year. If you are interested in having this though (as it can be useful at gas stations and ticket machines in Europe which only allow chip + PIN purchases), many credit cards from Barclaycard have this.


Don’t hoard your miles and points!

Don’t hoard your miles and points!

The Chase Sapphire Reserve has quickly become one of the most popular credit cards of all time, so much that Chase actually ran out of metal cards.

And now that many people’s 100,000-point Ultimate Rewards bonuses have started to post, I’ve talked to many people who are treating this like some untouchable emergency reserve (no pun intended), only to be used for the absolute best travel experiences, and paying cash for everything else.

The thing is, these 100,000+ points (currently worth $1,500 in travel) are not like putting $1,500 in a savings account, the value of which will grow slowly over time, or an investment account, the value of which will likely grow relatively quickly over time, with the potential for losing value. The value of these 100,000 points will only decrease the longer you hold off on using them.

Why? Because unlike in a savings account, when $1,500 is worth $1,500 no matter whom you bank with, the value of your points is determined by the company issuing them, in this case Chase.

So right now, while each point is worth 1.5 cents when redeemed for travel, Chase could easily decide at any point that they are worth 1.3 cents when redeemed for travel, which would instantly decrease the value of your 100,000 points by $200. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Citi recently made similar changes to its competitor Citi Prestige card, decreasing the value of points redeemed for American Airlines flights from 1.6 cents per point to 1.25 cents per point. Thankfully, they gave almost a year’s advance notice when doing so, but companies are not always as generous when making changes, such as when Alaska Airlines overnight raised the price to redeem MileagePlan miles for first class flights on Emirates.

Furthermore, with Chase announcing that they lost $200 million in profit due to Chase Sapphire Reserve signups, some analysts are already speculating that this is a sign that it is not sustainable for Chase financially.

But furthermore, even if Chase keeps the value of their Ultimate Rewards points for Reserve cardholders at 1.5 cents per point when redeemed for travel, there’s no guarantee that its transfer partners won’t make a change to their chart.

Right now 100,000 points transferred to United could get you four roundtrip nonstop flights between the East Coast and West Coast, at 25,000 per roundtrip flight. But United could suddenly decide to raise that to 35,000 per roundtrip flight, meaning that those 100,000 points wouldn’t even get you three flights anymore. Or maybe United doesn’t change the price of its awards, but rather negotiates a 5:4 transfer ratio instead of 1:1, meaning that 100,000 Ultimate Rewards gets you 80,000 United MileagePlus miles instead of 100,000.

Another popular redemption is transferring to Singapore Airlines for their amazing first-class Suites product, which tend to run for just under 100,000 KrisFlyer miles (which can also be transferred 1:1 from Ultimate Rewards) one-way plus taxes and fees. But it’s also one of the hardest awards to find availability on. And Singapore could also take the route of Air France at any point, deciding to no longer allow award redemptions for their first-class product anymore.

So while I know it’s tempting to save up your points for an “aspirational” flight or redemption (no doubt made popular by all the bloggers talking about such flights), the reality is that by the time you have the chance to use them that way, they might no longer be worth as much (or even be able to be used in that way).

In other words, if you have a chance to use your points (within reason obviously), just use them.

The importance of doing your own research before determining the best credit card offer

The importance of doing your own research before determining the best credit card offer

I just got approved for a credit card with a $600 airfare credit, $85 annual fee (which you can offset by redeeming 5,000 points)  $25 in-flight credit per airline ticket, a Global Entry credit, triple points on restaurants, double points on gas stations and airfare, and a free rental car day every year. Best of all, I only have to spend $2,000 in four months to get all of these perks (while I’m not saying this is insignificant, it’s much better than the $3,000-$4,000 in three months required by other great credit cards).

While some of you at first may have thought I was referring to the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you probably realized later that it was a different card.

But unless you follow credit card offers very closely, you probably don’t know about it, even though it’s issued by a major financial institution. It’s the US Bank FlexPerks Gold American Express card (it’s processed on the American Express network, but issued by US Bank).

Why doesn’t this get more attention? Well, in short, unlike other cards (such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred), blogs don’t make any money if they get people to sign up for it. Next time you read a major blog with a link to signup for a credit card, look carefully at the URL it immediately redirects to. Most of the time, it contains the site name in it, and clicking on it will eventually redirect you to the signup page for the credit card, but not without first notifying the bank which page they came there from. This is known as an affiliate link, which banks will give (either directly or indirectly) to sites with a certain amount of monthly traffic.

While the amount that a blog makes every time someone signs up through their link is a tightly guarded secret, it’s generally rumored to be in the low hundreds of dollars, with the Chase Sapphire Preferred yielding a payout rumored as high as $350 per signup.

Not surprisingly, despite claims of impartiality by bloggers, anyone who knows the industry can easily find examples where a particular card (which pays a commission) is being promoted over a better card that does not pay a commission. On top of that, it also does not always lead to the best signup bonus for the card (for example the publicly available link to the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card will lead you to an offer for 25,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $2,000 in three months, whereas doing a little bit of research can get you to an offer that will give you 50,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $1,000 in three months).

Full disclosure: Given how infrequently I update my blog, I don’t generate enough traffic to receive affiliate links, but even if I did, I still wouldn’t accept them, unless I one day get corrupted by money and power).

On top of that, accepting affiliate links also gives the financial institution the power to threaten to remove your links if you post content they don’t like. (As it is, I already have received a letter from Barclaycard threatening legal action against this blog if I spell Barclaycard any other way, such as removing the “-card” suffix and replacing it with an “s”).

So where am I going with this? First, I don’t dislike the Chase Sapphire Preferred. I think it’s an excellent card (and for most people, even better than the US Bank FlexPerks Gold Card), though not as good as the Citi Prestige or American Express Preferred Rewards Gold. One card it certainly is better than is the Barclaycard Arrival Plus, which essentially gives you a bonus of $420 with few of the other perks. But due to the commission that Barclaycard pays bloggers who get people to sign up for this card, you’ll see this card promoted much more heavily, as US Bank does not pay commissions (and for what it’s worth, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus card is roughly on par with the Capital One Venture, which also does not get promoted nearly as much for the same reason).

So what’s the solution? First, try not to use affiliate links to sign up for cards unless you can’t find the offer anywhere else (which does happen from time to time), and instead try to find a friend who can refer you for the card, so s/he earns money. Second, try to follow blogs (the amazing Doctor of Credit blog is my personal favorite) which don’t accept affiliate links and only focus on the absolute best offers out there. The excellent r/churning thread is also a great resource, especially their frequently updated database of best card offers.

And may you earn many great future signup bonuses in the future!

Brexit means it’s a really good time to buy a flight

Brexit means it’s a really good time to buy a flight

Regardless of your personal feelings about whether #Brexit is a good idea, one thing is clear: After the pound fell to its lowest level since 1985, this is a great time to buy that flight you’ve been putting off for a while in the hopes that the price will fall lower – if done correctly.

As I wrote about in this blog’s very first post, a great way to save money on flights is to try booking in different currencies. In other words, if you have the chance, book your flight in British pounds.

While this will vary airline to airline (and not all of them will allow you to do this), most airlines with a strong international presence will have this option. For example, I just now looked up a roundtrip weekend flight on United from Boston to San Francisco, a route I fly quite often. It priced out at $478, pretty typical for a trip with such short notice:


But after I switched the top from “United States” to “United Kingdom”, it yielded the following:

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Based on the current low rate of 1 GBP=1.35 USD, this translates into $438, or a $50 savings, though you’ll want to make sure you book on a card with no foreign transaction fees.

Now, when I checked just an hour ago, the rate was a little higher, at 1 GBP=1.43 USD, so it’s very possible that it could continue to fall as the night goes on. But I wouldn’t hold off too long!

Find a good deal on your flight because of this? Feel free to post in the comments or email me.