Groupon Has Partnered With IHG, United and More!

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Buy with Groupon and earn Points or Miles! Check this out!

https://thepointsguy.com/2017/10/earn-bonus-miles-when-shopping-at-groupon-with-new-partnerships/

 

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Mattress Run? Um. Ok…

Are you serious?  It’s like a 5k run thing, right?  That is the usual response I get when I’m planning a Mattress Run.

So what is it?  I’ll dumb it down from the beginning.  This is partial example of the current IHG Acceleration Promotion:

I’m interested in the 5,600, the 20,400 and the 1,500 Stay once in August.  By staying at 2 Holiday Inn Hotels in the month of August, I should be eligible to earn 27,500 points + the normal points you earn for a paid room stay+the points you earn for using your IHG credit card.  Total possible; around 32,000 points.  (I had an earlier stay to help complete the “fill 3 out 4 categories, earn 20,400 points” which gave me even more points).

Next look around for inexpensive Holiday Inn Hotels. I found two nearby and booked the cheapest nights at each (different nights).  Total out of pocket $190.00.  Check in, go to the room, stay or don’t stay.  Earn 32,000 ish points.  A “Mattress Run” usually does not involve staying.  Anyways…

IHG points have a value ~.007 cents each.  31,000 x .007=$217.00.  You paid $190.00 (.00612 each).  Not bad…

Now what…let’s put that 32,000 points to work.  Let’s say the Napa Valley, California area in October.  You’re feeling like wine and Fall colors.  How about this:

King Deluxe room, 2 nights (15,000 points per night) or you can pay cash at $384.56. Remember you paid $190.00 with the Mattress Run, that’s half price.

There are excellent Hotel Promotions offered frequently.   This is one way of maximizing value and making friends and family feel like you’ve lost your mind.

How To Get Off The Fence…

Most everyone wants to take the “big” trip someday.  They have the money and windows of time to travel but somewhere between desire and execution, the dream slowly dies and excuses fill the empty space.

Why?  Because its hard to plan the flights, hotels, shuttles etc…it’s just hard.  It’s during the part when you are writing it down, you see all the steps, costs, currency exchanges, details, details, details.  The note pad then gets set aside for “further review”, maybe tomorrow and so it goes.

Why do we go to the doctor?  Have you ever bought a house or a car?  None are easy, but we all make it happen by doing what?  You make an appointment, put money down or make an offer…we commit to something.

You want to take that “big” trip?  Don’t worry about the hotels, shuttles or currency.  The secret is this…BUY THE PLANE TICKET FIRST!

Once that’s done, put the notepad down, smile and breathe.  Now it’s no longer academic, YOU’RE GOING ON A TRIP!   You’ve committed, now relax and work backward.  You now have time, the pressure is off.  Everything else is easy to plan, change or cancel if necessary.  It’s almost fun!

So there it is!  Now you know the secret.  Most people get stalled at the plane ticket.  Don’t worry about the big picture, just decide where and when and buy the ticket.  Use google.com/flights and it gets even easier.

Happy Travels

Going From A to B, The First Half of 2017; By the Numbers

IMG_9320.pngOur arrival home from Miami, Florida marked the conclusion of roughly the first half of 2017’s scheduled and unscheduled travel.  Thankfully, we have no trips planned for the next month (I’m exhausted).  Here are the numbers on how we got from A to B in the first half of 2017, focusing not on the where but on the how.  No wonder I’m tired!

  1.  16 trips ranging from 2 to 17 days
  2.   Stayed in 26 different Hotels
  3.   Stayed in 1 VRBO
  4.   Flew ~ 49,000 air miles
  5.   Drove ~ 6700 miles
  6.   Rented 7 vehicles
  7.   Used Uber 6 times
  8.   Used Lyft once
  9.   Took 4 Taxis
  10.   Rode in 3 Tuk Tuks
  11.   Traveled in 7 Buses
  12.   Used one Roller Coaster to get up to and down from the Great Wall of China.
  13.   Endured 22 different (a few more than once) Airports and their quirky security requirements.
  14.   Held Lilly’s hand for 62 Airplane take-offs and landings. (I’m terrified of take-offs, she of landings).
  15.   Visited 10 US States
  16.   Went to 5 Countries
  17.   Loved every bit of #’s 1 thru 16!

So there it is.  I can’t wait for the 2nd half of 2017, I just need to catch my breath first!

Happy Travels!

A Hilton Points and Miles Beginners Recap @hiltonhonors

Everybody seems to have a blog covering some subject or another. Travel blogs are loaded with tips, links and references to every aspect of Travel including Points and Miles. I’m doing this because I just don’t remember one that helped you get started.

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I’m on Hilton’s Gloriously easy-to-use web page www3.hilton.com  I’m thinking St. Louis, Missouri, February 24-25th, (you would obviously choose dates later in the year), Two adults, Use Hilton Honors Points…Yes (toggle on) and I’ve checked the AAA circle. Engage!

And there it is, a list of hotels. Most offer two ways to reserve your stay, dollars or points and at least one of them, has three! Dollars, Points AND Dollars+Points. Like it wasn’t complicated enough.

Here’s what matters: You need to know the value of a Hilton Point and do some math. I love this part, it’s now me against Hilton. I do enjoy a challenge. All points and miles have a subjective value and every month http://www.thepointsguy.com publishes them. This site is great source of information.

Since, apparently I have no life, I know them all by heart. Hilton points are valued at one half of one cent (.005). As we go forward you will see that .005 is rather pathetic at best, but it is what it is. Hyatt, for example is valued at .019 (almost two cents each).

Looking at Hilton again, I see Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark (I hear they have a baseball team). The rate is listed at $177.00 or 40,000 points (AAA rate). Which is better?

Remember, when you use Points to book a Hotel room, taxes are included. This can be a huge value if you stay in an expensive city (NYC, New Orleans, St. Louis etc…).

Doing the math, 40,000 points has a dollar value of $200.00, (40,000x.005). At Hilton, just cut the points required in half and lose a few zeros. I then go through the motion of checking the Dollar rate, 1 King City View at $177, yes, next screen AAA Hot Deals, Yes and then finally on the next screen, Total for Stay $209.50. (Don’t go forward in the process as you will book the room. (which are very easy to cancel and usually will have no penalties this far out).

Ok, this deal is meh…I could go either way. Most likely I would just pay the dollar rate, earn more points and save them for a better deal, like a $350.00 room for 40,000 points.

What about the room with Three Options? Mathtime with Michael again… St. Louis Union Station, Hmmmm, $126.00/40,000 hhpoints/ $65+16,000 hhpoints. Wow!

$126.00 with tax = $144.58
40,000 points = $200.00 in value
$65.00 + 16,000 points (16,000x.005=$80.00) $65.00+$80.00= $145.00

Which is better? Definitely NOT the 40k points! Whether you use Cash and Points or just pay Cash is a toss up. Or is it? In my next post I will show you why though they may seem to appear almost equal in value, often times they are miles apart.

Big Value at the Ritz-Carlton Resort, Laguna Niguel, California

 

The December 2016 offer was simple.  Be approved for the Chase Ritz-Carlton Rewards card and receive 3 free nights (Tier 1-4), 3 Club Level Upgrades, Gold status for one year, $300.00 Airline credit and all that goes with the Visa Infinite Card Package, Fee is $450.00 a year.  www.Chase.com

Ok, this is a big deal.  This card is packed with an enormous amount of value.  But I hesitated to apply as one of my essential questions, in Points and Miles use, is will I still find value in the card after the Promo perks are used up.

I did the math, applied and was approved for the card.  First Benefit, $300.00 Airline Fee credit.   Simply put, no more luggage fees (up to $300.00 total per year).  Second, find a Ritz-Carlton and make it an expensive one.  We needed a hotel  between San Diego and Los Angeles, California.  Hello Laguna Niguel, a Tier 4 Hotel! Room rate…$903.33 per night (Room and taxes).  Done!  Remember Ritz-Carlton is a part of Marriott, so Gold at one = Gold at all and the “Free Night” includes room rate plus taxes.  Upon arrival, the Front Desk clerk stated “we’ve taken the liberty of upgrading your room to ocean view”.  Why yes! That will be just fine, Thank you very much.

This Hotel is everything you would imagine a Ritz-Carlton should be, Exquisitely Grand and loaded with marble, everywhere.  Upon entering our room, we found a wonderful welcome gift and a personalized note waiting for us..  At 5:00 pm, the “Cookie Guy” came by and dropped off a plate of cookies.  From Valet parking, Fantastic Customer Service and Spectacular Ocean Views, this Hotel ranks “tops” in my list of “Wow” Hotels!.

…and I still have 2 more free nights to use!

The Ritz-Carlton card, during it’s first year, is a screaming value if you want to experience a Grand Hotel Chain.  I believe today’s current promotion will give you two free nights (Tier 1-4) and a plethora of money-saving benefits that should far exceed the $450 annual fee.  If I had stayed three nights, the potential value could have exceeded $2500 in room rates and taxes alone, not to mention, the $300 in Airline baggage savings.  Definately worth a look.  http://www.Chase.com

 

MCI, Delta, Enterprise and Me, A Review

Off to California we go!  Flying from the dreaded Kansas City Airport (MCI) to Los Angeles (Lax).

MCI, as I’ve mentioned before, makes me crazy.  It doesn’t belong in a large city, it belongs somewhere else, like Bulgaria or Siberia.  The design is horrible and inefficient. However, from the shuttle bus, through security and to the gate staff, they were magnificent.  Their level of friendliness and efficiency make the airport bearable and our first choice for a hub to the world (that was painful to say).

I have a love/hate thing with Delta.  My experience is usually either good or somewhat bad.   Moving millions of people, luggage and cargo can’t be easy so I’ll cut them some slack.   United, however, consistently loses our luggage which Delta doesn’t seem to do, so Delta get’s one in the win column here.

Thru American Express Business Platinum, I was able to book two round-trip first-class seats from MCI to LAX on Delta for $796.40, using 79,640 Membership Rewards Points.  Using my Business Platinum, Amex gave me BACK 39,820 of those points.  That gives me about .02 cents in value.  That is a huge bargain, especially for a first class flight.  Delta didn’t lose our luggage and were friendly and on-time.  I am a happy guy.

Next to Enterprise Car Rentals on Bellanca Ave in Los Angeles.  I reserved a large car for 7 days for $230.00 using 15,000 Chase Sapphire Points.  This is an “Meh” value (.015) as I usually like to get closer to .021 on Sapphire Points, but whatever.

This location provided the most friendly, efficient and fastest Car Rental experience I have EVER had.  It was incredible.   We were greeted by the desk, wished an early happy birthday and out the door to pick a car in less than 4 minutes.  The gentleman outside, had us in a car in less than 3 minutes and we were out the gate.  Wow!  I usually enter  with a bad attitude expecting delays and problems only to be in awe at their efficiency and politeness.  I actually felt bad for being “me” and judging so quickly.

Now we are off for a 3 hour, 60 mile drive through LA traffic, at 5:30pm on a Wednesday.  For THAT part of the plan, I should be beaten.  But everybody else did their part and did it extremely well.  MCI, Delta and Enterprise Car Rental get Gold Stars for their performance today.  The writer, however, needs to time things better.  Driving the 405/101 freeways in LA at 5:30 pm, Really?!

Amex Platinum Renewal? Thoughts From Our “For What It’s Worth Department”…

Amex Platinum annual fee is coming due.  Time to get serious, how bad do I need the card, how bad do they want to keep me.  Called the Amex # and asked for the Retention Department.  Transferred and the dance began.  We finally settled on two options; $300.00 credit or 30,000 Membership Rewards Points, if I agreed to renew.  The card has a $450 annual fee and is loaded with benefits.

$300.00 credit is great.   All of the cards incredible benefits for $150.00 ($450 fee-$300 credit) or:

30,000 MR Points, valued at ~.019 per point=$570 in possible travel value, hmmm…A round trip plane ticket to LAX for two costs~$700 or ~60,000 MR Points (Insider Flights) AND with the Amex Business Platinum, thru Amex Travel , I get half the Points back.  So ~$700 in value for 30,000 points is what I end up receiving.

I took the 30,000 points and ran away with a big smile.  That’s value!

Always give the card issuer a chance to keep you.  If you’ve been a good client for them, everybody  wins.

What’s In Dallas, Texas? Why Arlington, of Course!


Off to Dallas for the weekend.  Lilly attended the #WorldVentures International Annual Conference “United” at the AT&T Arena.  23,000 people are getting motivated in a big way.

Me, I’m off to explore the City of Arlington, a suburb of Dallas.  The first thing I noticed is the many areas of lush green trees, I expected a dryer landscape (yes, I need to get out more),    The second thing, Traffic!  I like people who drive like they have a purpose in life.  Dallas drivers have taken this to a whole new level.  These guys are serious and have two speeds; Stopped (for a traffic light) or 150 miles per hour.  You better be on your “A-Game” or don’t even attempt  it.  Construction is everywhere and slow or confused drivers are tempting fate in a big way.

The AT&T Arena (home of the Dallas Cowboys) is perfectly located near Six Flags over Texas, the Globe Life Park (home of the Texas Rangers) and The International Bowling Campus.  I have absolutely no idea what a Bowling Campus is or does, but it did peak my curiosity, so I had to take a picture.  There is also a BMW Dealership in Arlington (my personal Kriptonite).  They were way too wonderful (Vanessa Rogers) and I shouldn’t have been allowed to go near the place without some form of adult supervision (Lilly), but she was busy and that was that.  I recommend them highly.   bmwofarlington.com

Hotels are abundant and your Points can go far here.  Eating is easy and all the chains seem to be present.  Parking is challenging near any event venue so plan ahead and be early for everything.  If you are a sports fan, you will love it here.

Great weekend in this little corner of Dallas, Texas and we’ll be back soon.

Traveling the World with Parkinson’s Disease

About three years ago, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.  It has changed my life and the lives of my Family.  Changed my life, not ruined it.  I travel now more than ever, not because of any fear or thoughts of “the clocks running out”, but simply because it makes me feel better.  The Points and Miles hobby helps me focus and challenges me daily.  I’m a numbers guy and it works.

I can still “control” what you see, to a point.  I look normal, unless you add stress and/or lack of sleep, piss me off or ask me to write anything down and it might show at a meal as I try and eat with a fork.  Lilly says that I eat slower.  I haven’t noticed, but it does make me wonder how I must have appeared to eat before…and I have accepted that being a Surgeon or a Watch Maker is not an option any longer due to “fine motor control” issues.  Some have suggested that my speech is softer and that it is getting harder to understand me.  I probably talked too much anyway.

Traveling with Parkinson’s is a dance of trying to minimize everything listed above and still be happy and functional.  When I was diagnosed, I walked out on the doctor, crawled under a stairwell and just sat there, trying to grasp what I had just been told.  I originally went to the doctor thinking that I had Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.  After numerous tests, there it was.  I was 49 years old and now having a very bad day.  I went home and immediately made a big mistake, I got on the internet and freaked the !@%# out.  The process of “dealing with it” had begun…and it wasn’t pretty.  I just wanted to isolate myself and be left alone.   Lilly and the kids wouldn’t have it. Two of the kids, who lived out of state, joined the actor Michael J. Foxs’ Foundation to learn and raise funds for research while Lilly and the other three circled around me.  I never felt alone.  Two things I’ve learned; what Parkinson’s is and what it isn’t.

What it is:  Degenerative (you won’t get better) and a kick in the teeth to your status quo.  Your brain has either stopped or reduced the amount of dopamine it provides to your body.  This is a big deal because without it, A can’t talk to B, so things don’t move smoothly.  It can and is frustrating and there is no cure.  Stress plus lack of sleep and I can barely form a coherent sentence.

What it isn’t:  A death sentence (it, per se, won’t kill you).  It’s not the end of the world or an excuse to give up living, especially for tomorrow.  It’s not contagious and you didn’t do anything wrong to get it.  It doesn’t seem to move fast so catch your breath, most likely you’ll have plenty of time before the rocking chair.  It’s also not the monster hiding under the bed and Death has not got you on his to-do list.

Positives:  There are very effective medications available.  Exercise has now moved into the top five on your list of important things as does getting a “good nights” sleep.  You learn to embrace the positives and deal with the negatives.   Basically, you quickly get your @#!$ together.  It’s also “semester finals” time on your financial planning.  Did you make good decisions in the past or not.  The Piper has come a calling…

I love to go everywhere.  Traveling keeps you active; walking helps enormously.  Planning a trip challenges your mind and reminds you that tomorrow will come and you will be a part of it.  Traveling also helps you interact with the world and helps you to be social.  It reminds you to breathe.  Best part is that it doesn’t require any “fine motor” skills and you can relax.  More and more people who have Parkinson’s are living normal lifespans.  Awareness is growing and with it, better research.  Michael J. Fox has lived with Parkinson’s Disease for ~25 years and his foundation http://www.michaeljfox.org  immediately comes to mind and gives me a tremendous amount of hope.

Parkinson’s Disease is not the end of the path, it’s just a left turn up a hill.  You just have to keep on going.

An Impressive Sight and the Ugly American

Let’s back up and talk Points and Miles.   To start this trip, we had to get in place, Plane tickets, Hotel rooms, Visa’s and other miscellaneous transportation details.  This was crunch time. A true A-Z, four Alarm Travel Fun Fest (this is the big build up).

First off, fair disclosure.  My Firm provides the opportunity to take two trips around the world each year.  This includes a Travel Agency.  We pick the location from a long list, the Travel Agency fills in the blanks…Unless you go early, stay later or add other countries.  Then they default to “we’ll give you x dollars for the flights and provide a Hotel for x nights at the original location choice”.  The rest is on you.   We’ll that’s us.  We go early, stay later and generally #$@! up their plan in an epic way.

So they provided ~$4400.oo for Airfare, 4 nights in Vietnam at an IHG Intercontinental, a puddle jumper flight from Vietnam to Cambodia and 3 nights in a Sofitel near Angkor Wat.

This is a big financial start to the trip budget.  I get that not everyone has that kind of a jump-start.   Continue reading anyway, it’s worth it.   We then sat down and decided we needed at least two weeks to do this trip.  Remember it’s Vietnam, Cambodia and Beijing, China now.

For giggles, I called the travel agency and they advised we could do the trip for around $8000.00 additional dollars out of my very  cheap Scottish pockets.  How ’bout NO!  I want business class, by the way, up it went to $13,000.00 and I want to fly out of Springfield, Missouri (laughter) and up the price went.  Buh-Bye.

So here’s what I did…(finally)

1. Went to Google Flights and entered every scenario I could think of,  different routes, cities etc…Still too much.  I then made a mistake and entered the start date wrong and Forest Gumped my way to a solution.  I knew that Kansas City was the cheapest starting point but I found that if we flew to say San Francisco, LAX or Seattle, THEN to Vietnam, the price dropped significantly.  Keep in mind I’m ONLY using business class entries.  I started at about $8000.00 out of pocket and when I was done, $3000.00 total out of pocket.  KC to Seattle on a Tuesday with Alaska Air, Wednesday fly out to Vietnam  with a short layover (2 hours) in Tokyo  on ANA Japan.  Four days later, firm provided puddle jumper to Cambodia, then off to Beijing on China Southern Air.  Then after 4 days in Beijing we fly to Chicago (short stop in Tokyo) on ANA again, then from Chicago to Springfield Missouri.  So basically total flight cost in Business Class, including Firm contribution, $7400 for two.

Google flights provided the Airline options, I just juggled the dates and times.

I am writing this from an amazing Business Class Pod, being absolutely spoiled rotten by ANA’s fantastic service on a 787 Dreamliner.  Remember, when I first started, the travel agent quoted me about $7500 PER PERSON.  I paid $1500 each AND as a bonus since most of the flights are United-Star Alliance, we are racking up 23ooo+ united miles EACH.

The Hotels were even easier, added two nights to the Ho Chi Minh Intercontinental (40k total IHG points) and was upgraded (IHG card=Platinum Status) to a suite for the total 6 days + a boatload of points for the nights that the firm covers).  Basically used $280 in IHG points for a 2 night $480 stay.

In Beijing, the JW Marriott at 15k per night for four nights (60k total),  basically $540.00 in points for a $1013.00 stay.   In addition, being up-graded to a suite because of Gold Status with Marriott.  Remember, Amex Platinum=Starwood (SPG) Gold=Marriott and Ritz Carlton Gold.

A few final points, Rented a car from Alamo for the one-way drive to KC for around $58.00, Alamo does one-way the cheapest.  In Seattle, used Chase Sapphire to gain free access to ANA premium Lounge.  Amex Platinum for free entry into the Centurion Lounge.  Using gogo and Boingo (provided as a benefit from Amex Platinum) for Airport and Airline WiFi.

I’m sure that I’ve left out benefits that we are using that just escape me right now.  I’ll add them later (luggage reimbursement benefits come to mind).  I hope this get the wheels turning and helps in some way.  Go big or Go home….

Oh, the ugly American part.  We are standing in front of the All Nippon Airways (ANA) gate waiting to board.  The staff are all dressed very professional, each at the front of a check in line (5 total), a few standing at the desk.  I’m in the business class line in sweats, unshaven, a Despicable Me T-shirt with Minions on the front (hell, my fly was probably open too).  I looked like crap holding a knap sack.  A well dressed gentleman comes out, says something in Japanese and the whole staff bows at the same time…I’m looking at them, they’re bowing towards me…and there I am, in all my splendor with my big mouth wide open…the ugly American.