Hello Wisconsin! Part I: Arrival in Chicago

13782061_10154356613987421_5617404283400284602_nI’m typing this with my feet up in the big. ass. suite we were given at the Brew House Inn and Suites in Milwaukee. We booked three nights in this place using Chase Ultimate Rewards, with a little worry that it’s too out of the way for our plan to enjoy all that Milwaukee offers. So far, however, we are having a lovely beer-centric visit, and this hotel is a beer-lover’s destination in itself.

But let’s backtrack so I can give you a full trip report of journey to the (upper) center of the country, so far. Monday, I flew from Oakland to O’Hare, yet again arriving not just on time but a little early on the direct Spirit flight on that route. Say what you will about that ultra-budget airline, but they seem to have that run down pat. Hope I don’t have to eat my words. Anyway, not only was it the cheapest ticket to get us to the Midwest this summer, each person in my family had a $100 voucher from our New Year’s debacle, so it was a steal. Continue reading

A Moment of Buyer’s Remorse

One bad thing about using miles to fly is that you have to commit well in advance. That disadvantage sank in for me when I heard some chatter online recently about “insanely low” prices to fly to Australia.

Sure enough, right now I could buy RT tickets from SF to Sydney for the dates I want for under $600. The direct flight that I wanted is a little more — $1171 on Qantas. Still, though. It’s a bit upsetting because when I take into account that I spent about $200 per person on fees to use the miles, the $600 flight is only $400 more expensive than the flight I spent 75,000 miles on. Four hundred bucks is the price of a domestic flight, and domestic flights usually only cost about 25,000 miles. Continue reading

All Tickets Booked!

A few days ago, I was getting really nervous that the last 50,000-mile bonus I needed to book our son’s return ticket from Australia still hadn’t hit my AAdvantage account. The first monthly billing period of the card I’d opened to get the bonus had closed, and I’d spent the requisite $3,000. I called Citi to ask why my miles hadn’t posted and the agent told me that yes, I’d earned them, but it would take 4 to 6 weeks for them to hit my account.

That didn’t worry me, because they always say 4 to 6 weeks after the statement closes. In my experience, though, bonus miles usually it your AAdvantage account right after the statement closes.

Sure enough, the next morning, there they were. I had to call American Airlines to book that last ticket because, being a minor, I couldn’t book my first-grader’s ticket online all by itself. I was lucky enough to get a patient and experienced agent, who not only took my miles and booked the ticket, but also linked the reservations of our five family members and my mom, so that now every time I call with a question about our trip, all TWELVE separate flight segments will pop up together.

He also explained to me how to select our seats. Because we are flying American partner Qantas, we have to log into the Qantas web site to select them. We needed a Qantas record locator for each reservation to do that, which he gave us. So I will log onto Qantas to do that asap.

But first I will dance around my kitchen, because I just got $12,000 worth of airfare for miles and a few hundred bucks taxes and fees. Whoo hoo!

Free Trip Plan: Seattle to SFO for 4

Now that I figured out my San Francisco to Australia trip, but am still obsessed with miles, I’ve taken to offering to plan free trips for my friends. If you have an itinerary you’d like to get for free, email me at carrielynnkirby AT gmail.com. Here is my first trip plan for a friend:

I have a friend who wants to take a family trip to the San Francisco Bay Area this summer. This plan would work for anyone who wants four free domestic round trip tickets, as long as you take action before March 30.

I’m assuming that my friend has no miles so far in any airline or system, so that she’s starting fresh. Also, she doesn’t have any credit cards for any travel rewards programs.

Here’s what I told her to do:

Continue reading

We Got Our Free Australia Trip! (Well, 9/10 of it)

Just under the wire before American makes award flights more expensive on Tuesday, I managed to get enough miles into Erik’s and my American accounts to book nine out of the 10 one-way flight segments we need to get our family of five to Sydney, Australia, and back. What’s more, my mom got enough miles in her account to book her out roundtrip, on the same flight as ours.

I need to come up with some sort of miles dance to do all over the house at moments like this. Because the fist pump I did didn’t quite express the excitement.

We’re now waiting for the 50,000 bonus miles from my CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® card to hit my account, so we can book the return trip for our youngest kid. Either that or he gets to immigrate to Australia! That solution was proposed by his sisters. Continue reading

Booking: Racing the Clock

Oh, how I wish I hard started this miles push just a little earlier. Mainly because of something I didn’t know when I started: We need to book our flights by Monday, March 21, or we’ll have to pay more miles for each ticket, because American Airlines is raising the rates. Despite my best efforts, it’s now clear that not all the miles I racked up will be credited to our accounts by Monday, so we’ll only be able to book some of our group’s flights then, and will have to pay more for the others.

If we are lucky, on Monday I’ll be able to book six one-way flights with my frequent flyer account, and three with Erik’s. My mom, who’ll be traveling with us, should also be able to book hers. For all these flights, we’ll pay the current rate of 37,500 each.

That leaves just one one-way flight that I’ll have to get later, after more miles credit from the bonus to one of the Mastercards I signed up for. I’ll pay 40,000 miles for that one-way flight. It’s only a loss of 2,500 miles, but I’m bummed that it means we’ll have our reservations spread across more than two record locators. However, I think I can ask customer service to link our itineraries so that the airline knows we’re traveling together.

The best news today is that the 50,000 mile bonus my mom earned from signing up for a Citibank Platinum card just posted to her account, so I’ll be booking her flight today!

I’ll also put the remaining tickets on hold, so that we don’t have trouble booking all of our frequent flyer seats on the same flight. So far, there has been plenty of award availability on the SFO-Sydney flight of our choice, so that shouldn’t be hard. I hope!

What We Spent All That Money on to Get the Miles

Current miles: 295,000

Goal miles: 375,000

In my last post, I told you that we planned to spend $10,000 in less than two months in order to get about $10,000 worth of free airline tickets. Actually, the whole effort was more like spending $16,000 in under four months, because at the time I wrote that, we had already spent $6,000 to earn the sign-up bonuses on two other cards. All this spending earned us a total of about 265,000 miles in bonuses. That might sound crazy. After all, if we have that kind of money on hand, why not just buy the airplane tickets outright?

The reason it’s not crazy is that we spent the money on stuff we were going to pay for anyway. This is a really central tenet of the whole credit card miles thing. You can’t be going out and spending on stuff you wouldn’t have otherwise bought, just to earn the miles. You especially can’t put purchases on these cards that you can’t pay for as soon as the bill comes in, because the moment you pay an interest charge, you’re behind. This game is only worth it if you pay no late fees or interest charges. Seriously!

This post is a little awkward to write, because I get that not everyone can just decide to put thousands of dollars on credit cards over the course of a few months. We are a bigger family in a high-cost area, and although these high costs mean we are far from rich, our monthly income is above the national average. We had some cash reserves on hand, and we had a number of deferred expenditures that had built up because I’m cheap and tend to put off spending money. Not only that, but spring happens to be a time of year when we have to prepay for a bunch of summer programs for the kids so that I can continue working during their summer break. Not everyone will find themselves with as much inflow and outflow as our current situation calls for.

On the other hand, most people reading this might only be trying to get two or three free airline tickets, and might have longer than a month to get all the spending done. The bonus offers I applied for all allowed three months for making the minimum spend. So even if it doesn’t work for you just as it worked for us, it may work for you in your own way.

So what did we spend all that money on in such a short time? Basically, we spent $3,500 on kids’ camps and classes, $2,000 on charity, $2,000 on skiing (some reimbursed), $1,400 at restaurants (a lot of that reimbursed by fellow diners), $1,000 on business expenses, $1,000 on gifts, $850 on groceries, $750 on airfare for family events, $300 on one of our kids’ birthdays, $750 on gift cards for future groceries and the rest on miscellaneous one-time splurges, purchases and bills.

In other words, this stuff:  Continue reading

Our Plan to Get the Rest of the Miles

Previously, I explained how we got the miles we’d accrued so far towards getting our family of five to Australia and back. Today, I’ll lay out my plan for earning the miles we still need.

I started this process by looking around for credit cards that offered bonuses in AAdvantage or Starwood points. I was surprised to learn that Citi offers more than one variety of American AAdvantage card, and that they have no problem with their customers holding all the different varieties. Another thing I had not previously considered was that spouses could each have their own account for each card product, instead of just sharing one account. With these thoughts in mind, I went on a credit application rampage. I applied for all these cards in one evening, and was approved for all of them: Continue reading

How We Got Our Miles — and How You Can Help Us Get More

In my previous post about getting our family of five to Australia and back for free, I laid out our simple round-trip itinerary and explained that we already have 214,523 AAdvantage miles towards our 375,000-mile trip.

You May Ask Yourself: How did we get all these miles?

  • Before beginning this push, I had had an AAdvantage Gold Citi Master Card for more than a decade, linked to my AA account. I had already accrued more than 100,000 miles from spending on that card over the past few years. Although we could have already redeemed those miles for recent trips, I saved them instead because I didn’t have enough to buy all five of our tickets for last summer’s international trip, and because I didn’t want to “waste” them on domestic flights, which are not as good value for the mile as international.
  • Erik had less than 10,000 miles in his AA account when I started this, so he applied for and received an AAdvantage Citi Platinum Select Master Card, which promised a bonus of 50,000 miles when we spent $3,000 in the first three months. With Christmas shopping and holiday travel, we hit that limit quickly, and the bonus posted to his account lickety split.

    Best of all, for some reason his account was credited with 60,000 miles instead of 50,000. And, when we called to cancel the card, having achieved our goal, the retention specialist offered him a bonus 1,000 a month to keep the card for another nine months, as long as we spend $1,000 a month on it. We figured, why not? So for now we still have this card, although we still plan to cancel it before the first annual fee kicks in next year.

  • I applied for and was granted an American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card, which paid me a sign-up bonus of 25,000 Starpoints after I spent $3,000. (Starwood is the rewards program for Sheraton hotels.

    But wait, you may exlaim. I thought we were collecting American AAdvantage miles, not hotel points. Here’s the thing: Starwood allows you to transfer their points to airline programs, and for every 20,000 points you transfer to airline programs, including American AAdvantage, you get a bonus 5,000 points!
    So as soon as I received my 25,000 Starpoints bonus, I moved  20,000 Starpoints to my AAdvantage account, which showed up as 25,000 AAdvantage miles. Thanks for this tip,
    Liz Gross!)

    How you can help us earn more miles

    I have a plan to get us all the miles we need for our Sydney trip, mostly by applying to more credit cards, which I will detail in a forthcoming post. However! Not all of those miles will come in as soon as I’d like them to, and time is of the essence as frequent flyer seats are disappearing every day.

    There is a way you could help us get there more quickly. The Starwood Amex card offers a 5,000 point bonus for recruiting new cardholders. For instance, I encouraged my mom to sign up for the card so she could get the 25,000 point (30,000 airline miles) bonus as well, and as soon as she was activated her card, another 5,000 Starpoints showed up in my account. You can transfer Starpoints to a lot of airlines, not just American: Virgin, United, Flying Blue, etc. What’s more, through the end of the month, Starwood is running a promo that gives you 35,000 points for signing up instead of 25,000.

    If you would like to apply for this card through me, email me at carrielynnkirby AT gmail.com, or let m know through social media, and I’ll send you an invite. You can also try simply clicking this link. It doesn’t matter if you already have an American Express card — as long as you don’t already have this particular Starwood Amex, you can still get approved for this one. There’s no annual fee for the first year (after that it’s $95 a year). As far as I can see, you don’t even have to ever use the card in order for me to get the bonus. And signing up online takes less than five minutes.

    But won’t all these new credit accounts trash our credit?

    Maybe a little, in the short term. As FICO explains, a flurry of credit requests in a short time can look bad if you’re about to apply for a mortgage (we’re not), and it can lower the average age of your accounts. However, these factors account for a relatively small portion of your score, and if, like us, you have a number of longstanding accounts and an excellent payment history, it’s nothing that I’m going to worry about. More on this in a future post.

We Settled on an Itinerary to Get Five People to Australia for Free

In my last post, I was mulling various itineraries for getting our family of five to Australia and back using frequent flyer miles. After studying the alternatives a little more and with some help from my miles expert friend, I settled on an itinerary:

San Francisco-Syndey Rount Trip on Qantas, using American Airlines miles

Beautifully simple, right? Most of the miles our family has already are American miles, and there were opportunities out there to grab more American miles, and Qantas is part of American’s OneWorld alliance, meaning that American miles are good for Qantas flights. So here we go! Now I’m racing the clock to get the 375,000 miles needed for the trip before frequent flyer seats on the dates we want are all claimed. Oh, and I have another deadline, too: American frequent flyer seats will cost more miles starting March 22. Continue reading