Sunday, February 2, 2014

Current Points/Miles Balances and My 2014 Strategy

After spending three years (2010-2012) mostly in accumulation mode, at the beginning of 2013 I was feeling ROKI-level rich with my points/miles balances sitting at over 2 million.

Before getting into this hobby/game, usually the biggest hurdle to taking a trip was finding the budget to travel (with finding time off work a close second). While the work hurdle still remains, it's amazing how having points/miles can change your mindset. By completely taking the budget hurdle out of the equation, it literally puts the world at your fingertips. We could go anywhere in the world at a moments notice, and even if we went to Asia or Europe just for a couple days, we wouldn't feel like we didn't "get our moneys worth" since the trip was financed using points/miles.

But as I sit here in early 2014 staring at my Awardwallet account on a cold Saturday night, things aren't looking as rosy. The reason is that 2013 was a total spending spree, the kind that would even make the Wolf of Wall Street proud. In total, I spent about 1.8 million on the following:

- 140,000 miles for my Bachelor Party trip to Bali
- 765,000 points/miles for our Honeymoon trip to Australia, Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Dubai
- 505,000 points/miles for our New Years trip to Hong Kong and Macau
- 390,000 miles for Business Class tickets to Hong Kong and Vietnam for my parents and Lisa's mom

Exacerbating the problem was the fact that we were in the market for a new home in 2013, and would need to secure a mortgage. As hard as it was, I was able to resist the urge to get new credit cards for the entire year to ensure that our credit scores were in tip-top shape. But I was able to earn back some miles through business and leisure trips, as well as putting almost all of our wedding spend on credit cards to accrue points.

Since my balances aren't as flush as before it isn't as easy to plan travel anywhere we want go to, which means that I've been keeping a close eye out for deals. And since we were able to grab a great deal on Cathay Pacific from the Maldives (even though this one is even better), we decided to plan another trip later this year to go back to the Maldives since our first trip just wasn't enough.

To get there, we'll be using Korean Air miles transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards to fly First Class SFO-ICN-MLE. Since Korean Air permits a free stopover even on one-way tickets, we'll be using that to stay 2 nights in Seoul on the way over.

For hotels, there's a hotel in the Maldives that I've been dying to stay at that isn't affiliated with a chain, so we will be sucking it up and paying for it. But in Seoul, we'll be staying at the Park Hyatt for 15,000 Hyatt points on one night, and the other night paid for using the free anniversery night that comes with the Chase Hyatt credit card.

That's the only trip we have planned thus far, and since work is picking up for both us, we haven't been able to plan much beyond that. But in some ways that works out just fine, since it allows me to go back into accumulation-mode.

Here is a snapshot of my current balances, and a summary of what I'm planning to do in 2014 to build them back to pre-2013 levels:

American Airlines:

Current balance: 30,000

Even with the upcoming merger with US Airways, I really like American Airlines miles as they give access to One World airlines, as well as Etihad to the Middle East. And since our next top destination is the Seychelles, this is a perfect redemption for us to get there flying Etihad through Abu Dhabi. But that means we'll need to get up to 200,000 miles to fly there one-way in First Class.

2014 strategy:

- 50,000 miles for creating a new account with Fidelity
- 100,000 miles from 2 x 50,000 sign-up bonuses for the American Airlines Citibank credit card

United Airlines:

Current balance: 32,000

With the big devaluation here and the terrible award chart now in effect, I'm completely out on United. I'll use these miles for domestic flights where they make sense, but other than that I have no plans to accrue any more miles into this program.

2014 strategy:
- NOTHING

Korean Air Skypass:

Current balance: 270,000

This is one of the best programs out there for premium cabin (business and first class) availability. They are a member of SkyTeam so you can accrue points into this program by flying Delta for example, and they also have partnerships with Emirates and Etihad. The easiest way to get points in this program is to transfer from Chase Ultimate Rewards.

2014 strategy:

- 100,000 points from 2 x 50,000 Chase Ink Bold sign-up bonuses that can be transferred to Korean Air

Alaska Airlines:

Current balance: 0

As I mentioned before, since I'm officially done with United, this is now my primary airline that I'll be flying. I was able to get a status match from United 1K to Alaska Airlines MVP Gold, which will provide me with complimentary upgrades and mileage-earning bonuses [if you currently have status with an airline that will be expiring, always try to match to another airline before it expires. The United 1K status I earned by flying 100,000+ miles in a year was done 4 years ago, and I've been able to status match back-and-forth to different airlines since then].

Alaska is also perfect for our next big trip to the Seychelles, since it can get us access to Emirates or Etihad. But it will require 200,000 miles one-way to get there in first class, so I'll need to build up that balance quicky.

2014 strategy:

- 50,000 miles earned through annual work/leisure travel using Alaska as my primary airline
- 40,000 miles earned from Bank of America credit card sign-up bonus
- 50,000 miles earned from using this as primary credit card for spend, including manufactured spend and Amazon Payments

Singapore Airlines

Current balance: 21,000

Our next aspirational destination is Seychelles, but my next aspirational flight is Singapore Suites Class aboard their A380. This is the only commercial flight where you and a travel companion can snuggle up together in a double bed. Singapore only flies their A380 on certain longhaul routes, and there are only 4 specific ones (2 from Singapore to Europe, and 2 from Singapore to Australia) where they release 2 seats at a time. To book these seats, we'll need close to 200,000 miles so clearly we have a long way to go.

2014 strategy:

- 50,000 sign-up bonus for the Mercedes Benz American Express Platinum card [the $450 fee seems like a lot, but if you keep this card for 1 year you can get $400 in airline gift certificates for booking flights and $100 Global Entry reiumbursement which alone make up for the annual fee]
- 50,000 points transferred from my Starwood account
- 50,000 sign-up bonus for the American Express Gold card [planning to apply for this, have not yet as I'm waiting for a targetted offer since 25,000 is the best publicly available offer]

Avianca Lifemiles

Current balance: 52,000

The new kid on the block, and the absolute favorite among travel hackers. They regularly run promotions where you can purchase up to 150,000 miles per year, at a rate of 1.5 cents per mile. Why is that a good deal? Because their program has quite a few loopholes which allow travel to Asia or Europe for under $400 in business class. I won't go into more details for fear of those that want to keep this under wraps, but am happy to discuss privately if anyone is interested in hearing more.

2014 strategy:

- 150,000 miles purchased for $2,250, which can yield up to 6 trips in business class to either Europe or Asia

Summary

So in total, I'm hoping to grow my meager balance of ~400,000 miles to approx. 1.1 million by the end of the year.  The vast majority of it will be done with credit card sign-up bonuses now that I'm back in the game after taking 2013 off. Some will come from everyday spend on the cards, combined with manufactured spend. And some will come through purchasing miles, where I feel like I'll be getting an ROI that far exceeds the cost.

Wish me luck!


Current Balance 2014 Target Earned Ending Balance
American Airlines 30,000 150,000 180,000
United Airlines 32,000 0 32,000
Korean Air 270,000 100,000 370,000
Alaska Airlines 0 140,000 140,000
Singapore Airlines 21,000 150,000 171,000
Avianca Lifemiles 52,000 150,000 202,000
Total 405,000 690,000 1,095,000



3 comments:

  1. I'd love to hear more about the Lifemiles hacks, as our whole family are members. I couldn't figure out how to email you but my address is reyo at live dot com.

    ReplyDelete
  2. There's a chance you're qualified for a free $1,000 Amazon Gift Card.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Discover how to book free flights using Travel HACKING.

    ReplyDelete