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

Diving Back Into Airline Miles

Years ago, I was a miles junkie.

This was pre-kids. After reading about the pudding guy, I decided to accumulate enough miles for the hubs and I to travel to Australia via Hong Kong, in Business Class. I got most of my miles by clipping coupons off the backs of cereal boxes and by using my Citi AAdvantage credit card for almost every purchase we made.

Then we had a baby, used up our miles stash on bringing the baby home to visit the Midwest, and didn’t have time to think about miles anymore. Life lesson: Take the trip of your dreams before you get pregnant, dummy.

That all changed this year. First, when we took a family trip to Europe this summer, everyone loved it, and the kids are already asking when we’ll go on another international trip. But that trip was extravagantly expensive, not something we can repeat anytime soon, or maybe ever.

Second, a cousin started getting into the miles game, and even attended a conference to learn how to amass more miles. I was amazed to read in her recent trip report the luxurious travel conditions she’d been able to achieve through miles — mostly through sign-up bonuses on credit cards.

I was inspired. But it took more than inspiration to truly push me off the cliff into miles frenzy. It took an event: A big announcement.

Continue reading

Car-Free Adventure: The Little Ice Rink

Now that we have lived in Alameda for more than three years, we’ve gotten the feel of the rhythms of the year. After Back-to-School night, we get ready for our school carnival and walkathon. Then Halloween trick-or-treating, and then …

The Little Ice Rink opens up at South Shore Center!


This ice rink epitomizes everything about how great it is to live in Alameda. I mean, come on! We can walk to it (.7 miles) along the longest continuous beach on San Francisco Bay, taking in one of those epic Alameda sunsets and enjoying temperatures in the 60s. Then we get to put on our gear and ice skate outdoors, without being cold.

We were very grateful to be invited to The Little Ice Rink kick-off party last night. It started with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and some dazzling performances. I mean, we were literally dazzled, especially when we saw this performance using fire on the ice: Continue reading

Car-Free Adventure: Ghiradelli Square Tree Lighting

Apparently I have two adorable children and one adorable zombie. I love them all the same.

I don’t know why my post about this event almost a year ago was sitting in drafts, but hey — the same event is coming up in a few weeks, on Nov. 27, from 5-9 p.m., so enjoy!

There are times when not having a car causes us inconvenience. Then there are times when we feel like being car-free is causing us inconvenience, only to realize that even if we owned a car, we would not have driven it to that particular destination.

That’s how our trip to the Ghiradelli Square Tree Lighting went down on Black Friday.

This trip was long and it took longer than we wanted it to. As so often happens, we left the house later than we meant to. The event began at 4 p.m. in San Francisco, but because we were busy getting our house ready for the biweekly cleaning crew and doing some half-price shopping at Goodwill and Salvation Army, we didn’t leave the house until around the time the event was starting. But that was OK, because the tree lighting, presided over by Santa Clause, wasn’t to occurr until 5:30 p.m. Continue reading

Copenhagen by Scooter


This summer the Car-Free Family took BART to the airport and boarded a series of airplanes, trains and for two bad days, a car, for Copenhagen, London, Bath and Other Places. We had a grand time, and I want to share a few of the experiences with you here.

Today’s story is about scooters. When we arrived in Copenhagen, we had been traveling hard and wanted to stroll around and play it cool. So when we saw some colorful signs on an apartment building wall and deciphered them to mean a garage sale was about to take place, we eagerly followed the arrows.

The sale took place in the shared inner courtyard of a Frederiksburg apartment building. Lots of families who seemed strikingly like us had spread out kids’ clothes, toys and even a few things with wheels. We had already stopped at a couple bike shops that rented bicycles, and were disappointed to find that none of them rented out kids’ bikes. It had been our hope to go native and bike around Copenhagen en famille.

But then, one of the nice, perfect-English-speaking Danish families pointed out that they had a scooter to sell, for 50 Kronors (about $7).

“Yah, it’s a good one too,” the lady said. And look at that! Here’s another $7 scooter!

We left that Danish garage sale ready to take on Copenhagen. Nope, no one had kids’ helmets for sale that would fit our kids. In fact, most kids riding bikes in Copenhagen didn’t even have helmets on, because biking is so safe there. (Some did. But some didn’t.) We told our kids that vacation concussions don’t count, and we were on our way.

Continue reading

This Week’s Rental Car Adventures: Cal Shakes and Sunset Celebration Weekend


It’s been awhile since we’ve rented a car for the weekend, because we’ve been too busy what with the end of the school year and all to plan any day trips. But this weekend we’ll be driving all over the place!

I’m about to bike to the Oakland Airport for a car in an hour. Tonight, I’ll drive Nutmeg and myself to Orinda for our first show at the California Shakespeare Theater. It’s Twelveth Night, which is particularly great because Nutmeg and I saw a different production of the same play last summer at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. I hope it will be a neat experience for her to see how differently two directors and casts can present a Shakespeare play. She’s signed up for a two-week camp with Cal Shakes this summer, and tickets to four shows come along with the deal. Not only will we see the show, we’ll also get a backstage tour and participate in a potluck dinner. We are psyched! Continue reading

Update: The Ecstasy and the Agony of Flying Spirit

I found out from Spirit what I should do and (expensively) fixed my mistake. Solution below.

One of the things that makes our car-free life possible is living so close to Oakland International Airport. Not only can we bike over there to pick up rental cars, but flying in and out of this airport is a local bus or cheap cab ride away.

Not only do I like to fly out of Oakland, but I’m also super-frug. So naturally, when I found out that budget airline Spirit was flying from Oakland to Chicago O’Hare airport (near my parents’ home) for low prices, I became a fan. I’ve taken Spirit twice this year, the last time paying well under $200 per round trip ticket.

But this weekend I just had my first Spirit-astrophe. I’m writing about my stupid airfare booking screw-up mostly because I want to cry on someone’s shoulder, and I can’t write in to one of those airline problem solver columns because the airline didn’t screw up — I did. My secondary motive for writing this is that maybe someone out there can figure out something I can do to salvage the lost money in this situation, because I sure can’t. Continue reading