Quick Reference: Membership Rewards vs. Starwood Points vs. Chase Ultimate Rewards

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Due to birth of our first child, we haven’t been traveling much the last 24 months. However, I’ve still been racking up the miles (via credit card bonuses, credit card rewards, dining rewards, and shopping portals) and have built up a sizable pile with the three major “superpoints” programs – those that allow transfers to a variety of air and hotel partners. Everyone has their own preferred programs and unique travel needs, but here is a quick reference guide to simplify things. My favorite transfer partners are bolded, but all of the other options are also included. These days I’ll probably just be topping off an account off to qualify for an award ticket or free hotel night. Ratios are 1:1 unless otherwise noted.

Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) Points

  • United Airlines
  • Southwest Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Hyatt
  • Korean Air
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Marriott
  • Ritz-Carlton
  • IHG Rewards Club
  • Amtrak

Credit card bonuses and rewards are the fastest way to jumpstart your miles balance. Here are related offers:

American Express Membership Rewards (MR) Points

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Flightfox – Complicated Flight Booking Without a Travel Agent

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Passenger air travel must have one of the most complicated, opaque pricing systems known to man. The price of a ticket depends on date of travel, date of booking, time of arrival, time of departure, one-way or roundtrip, how many seats are left, the price of oil, and who knows what else. I mean, this is an industry that overbooks on purpose because they gamble on how many people will miss their flight, and will start to charge for restroom access by the second any day now.

Sites like Travelocity and Expedia have made buying your own airfare much more simple, but if you’ve every tried to make a complicated booking with an extended layover, open jaw, multiple cities, or international transfers it’s still quite a maze. In the old days you’d ask a travel agent and hope they were good, but now you can ask the crowd at Flightfox.com. Thanks to reader Mike for the tip.

Simply enter your trip details and offer a bounty ($19 minimum) for the best flight booking in your own opinion. In addition to a low price, you may prefer a certain airline, have a lot of baggage, require no stopovers, or be willing to endure extra stopovers if it saves money. Ideally you’d choose the best option, pay the bounty, and walk away with a better result than you’d have gotten otherwise. If you don’t like any of the options, you owe nothing.

If you’re already a savvy frequent flier, then you can sign up and earn money as a Flight Expert deal finder. Flightfox takes 25% of the fee and you keep 75%. According to Techcrunch, about 5-10% are indeed moonlighting travel agents, and the rest are just well-versed travelers.

I definitely plan on trying this the next time I have a multi-city trip. Anyone use it yet?

Update: About to fly? Get 25% off Flightfox with this link!

Tingo: New Hotel Booking Website That Allows Price Drops

If you haven’t heard, Autoslash was a website that let you book car rentals and then re-booked you whenever they could find a better price via price drops or discount codes. It worked well for me in the past. Then the major car rental companies (which are really 3 huge companies with 10 different names) stopped allowing them to provide quotes. Things do not look good for them.

Tingo.com is a new site that wants to do basically the same thing but with hotel rooms. You book a room, and if there are future price drops, they’ll rebook the same room at the new lower price. It appears that you have to pay for the room upfront, and then future price drops are refunded to your credit card.

I like the idea, and I don’t see why you wouldn’t try them out if they give the same upfront rate as other big sites like Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, etc. (I tried a few dates and places and Tingo did offer the same prices.) It would seem you have nothing to lose? But given what happened to AutoSlash, don’t be surprised if they receive a corporate smackdown as well. I do see that Tingo is a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, so maybe they have cleared this with the major hotel chains.

AutoSlash.com Review: My Car Rental Experience

I just got back from my trip to Orlando, where I tried the new car rental website AutoSlash.com to book, and previously wrote an introductory summary of their features. To briefly recap, the website takes advantage of a unique feature of car rental reservations to continuously check for lower prices over time and re-book you whenever there is a price drop.

Here is the price history of my one week rental of a mid-size car in April 2011 from Orlando International Airport (MCO). I later realized it included Good Friday and Easter weekend, which I think increased the demand of cars.

  • Day 1 – $665.61 including all taxes and fees, with Payless. This was really the lowest price I could find at the time across Kayak, Expedia, etc.
  • Day 2 – $346.18 with Dollar Rent A Car at .
  • Day 3 – $320.41 again with Dollar.
  • Day 38 – $273.68, final price with Dollar.

As you can see, there was a flurry of activity in the beginning, nothing for a long time, and then finally one last price drop at the end. This is only a theory, but I think that the folks behind Autoslash do a manual price search right after your rental reservation is first made, and again a week or so before your actual rental date. They are probably really good at finding the best price, perhaps they know some manual tricks that their automated scripts can’t replicate. Or, this is just a result of how the rental agencies vary their prices over time.

Regardless, I was really happy with my experience, and will use them again in the future. They found a better price than I could have found, with really zero effort on my part. Many of these rental agencies are clones of each other anyway. I picked up my car from Dollar with no issues with my special coupon code, and drove away in a huge Ford Crown Victoria with 9 miles on the odometer since that’s all they had left. I declined all additional insurance coverages from them, and returned it with no problems. This last part is more of a testament to that specific Dollar franchise, but it increases my confidence with places that aren’t Avis or Hertz.

British Airways 100k Miles Promo – Booking Award Tickets On American Airlines Using British Airways Miles

Update 5/6/11: The 100k mile card promotion is now expired. The information on using British Airways miles should still be accurate.

First, a quick reminder that the British Airways 100,000 mile promotion mentioned previously is scheduled to expire in less than two weeks on May 6th. To recap, the Chase British Airways Visa Signature card (expired) is offering 50,000 British Airways (BA) Executive Club miles for new cardmembers with first purchase, and another 50,000 BA miles after spending $2,500 within 3 months of opening, for a total of 100,000 miles.

There are many options on how to spend these points, for example we spent them on business class tickets to London and Rome. But to show the basic value of this offer, I looked into how to use British Airways miles to book award travel on American Airlines, their partner in the US. If American Airlines has a domestic award seat available in their “MileSAAver” category, then in general you can book it with British Air miles. A flight within the continental US costs 25,000 BA miles plus $5, with no fuel surcharges. (Other combinations of less miles and more cash are available, see below.)

If your flight is a direct flight with no stopovers, you can search and book an award online at BritishAirways.com. On the site, go to “Spending BA Miles” and then “Book with partner airlines” and then “Make a reward booking”. They always try to find BA flights first, but once you search for domestic flights, you’ll see this option to include partner airlines.

Here is a screenshot of an award I found from Los Angeles to Dallas/Ft. Worth for 25,000 miles + $5:


(click to enlarge)

Note that I can see the availability even if I don’t have enough miles to actually book it yet. Alternatively, you can book an American Airlines flight from the continental US to Hawaii for 35,000 + $5. Here is an award I found from Los Angeles to Honolulu during the summer for that amount:


(click to enlarge)

Of course, it’s better if you can book ahead of time for the best availability. If your flight has a stopover, you might want to look for award availability on the American Airlines website first and then call British Airways to book the award flight. Since you can’t find the airfare online through their search system, you can try asking them to waive their phone booking fee. Thus, with the 100,000 miles from this offer (plus $20 in fees), you could by four domestic round-trip tickets in the lower 48, or nearly three round trip tickets to Hawaii.

AutoSlash.com: Car Rental Price Search Engine

It’s always fun to find out new tools to save you time and money. Started by some regulars on the Flyertalk travel forum, AutoSlash.com is a website specifically made for car rentals. Yes, all the big guys like Expedia and Hotwire do car rentals. However, this one is a bit different.

First, you need to remember the unique quirk of car rental reservation systems. When you make a reservation at most car rental shops, you simply get a quote and make a non-binding reservation without giving any payment information. You can cancel at any time, without penalty. Heck, even if you just don’t show there is no penalty, besides the bad karma of knowing that you maybe messed up their inventory management for others.

Second, you add in the fact that for us deal-hunters, there can be hundreds combinations of discount codes, CDP numbers, and promotional codes that must be found to get the actual lowest rate on a rental. Autoslash uses computers to test out the codes in its database for you. The best part? It keeps checking every single day to see if it can get you a lower price. If it does, it automatically cancels your last reservation, books the new one for you, and sends you the new reservation code.

Last week, I was searching for a week-long rental in Orlando, FL next month. I checked the usual suspects like Expedia and was getting about $700 for a week-long rental of a mid-size car. Must be some huge event going on that weekend?! So I tried Autoslash.

  • Day 1 – I was bummed to see the lowest price was also $665.61 including all taxes and fees, with Payless.
  • Day 2 – I was rebooked on Dollar Rent A Car at $346.18.
  • Day 3 – I was rebooked again on Dollar for $320.41. Sweet!

The primary drawback that I can see is that they don’t support all the rental car agencies. Specifically, I did not see Avis or Budget in my comparison matrix. Also, the quality of their results depends on the quality of the coupon codes in their database. Basically, it may be possible to get a better deal on your own. However, given the fact that I can always cancel, AutoSlash does provides a very good baseline deal for almost zero work.

Hotel Bidding Tools For Hotwire.com and Priceline.com Travel

I’m working on planning our next travel adventure, and discovered a few new sites to help people navigate “opaque” hotel price engines Hotwire.com and Priceline.com. In my 5-Step Guide to Finding The Lowest Rate For Hotel Rooms, I outlined the benefits of using database sites like BiddingForTravel and BetterBidding to gather information from successful purchasers to remove some of the mystery. Hopefully, these will help you even further.

BidGoggles
With Hotwire, you know the price, but not the actual name of the hotel before you commit. A while back, I pointed out the ability to figure out the hidden hotels behind the price on Hotwire primarily using the number of TripAdvisor.com reviews shown. Shortly afterward, they removed that description. The job became harder, but BidGoggles attempts to use all the smaller clues given to you in order to do the same thing again. Here’s how it works.

You provide them with the following: Star rating, Country, State, City, and Subarea (Neighborhood). Then you match up the little logos that show you what amenities the hotel offers, such as a fitness room, swimming pool, or free breakfast. The results have been hit or miss with me, although I found that it helps if you omit a few amenities if you get no matches. Hopefully their database gets better with time, although the site seems to have slowed down development.

The Bidding Traveler
With the ‘Name Your Own Price’ feature of Priceline, you have to bid auction-style for the price of a room, in addition to only knowing the general neighborhood and star-rating of the hotel. So you have to decide how much to bid on any given hotel quality level, as well as having to deal with the rules of how you can bid again if you’re initial offer is rejected.

TheBiddingTraveler has you choose your hotel’s neighborhood (“zones”) along with the highest quality star-rating you want, and then provides you with some guidance as to what your starting bid and your final offer (the absolute highest price you’d be willing to pay). Recently rejected and accepted bids are provided, along with actual hotel names. Finally, the website actually walks you through the “optimal” bidding strategy, step-by-step.

The main downside I noticed was that some of the accepted bids are sparse for some cities and can be a bit old, so again the quality of the database is very important. Happy travels!

Added: You can save another 2% or more with cashback sites like eBates ($5 new customer bonus), Mr. Rebates ($5 bonus), and BigCrumbs.

Lonely Planet Offers 13 Free iPhone City Guides

In response to Snowpocalypse 2011, Lonely Planet has again made several of their iPhone City Guides free for download. 13 guides will be free in the iTunes App Store until to 6pm PST Friday, February 4th 2011.

Here are the cities: San Francisco, New York City, Boston, Washington DC, Chicago, Seattle, New Orleans, Vancouver, Las Vegas, Miami, Toronto, Los Angeles, Montreal.

Hyatt Credit Card: Two Free Nights! List of Best Expensive Hotels To Use Free Stays At

Hyatt Regency Maui

Hyatt Credit CardThe Hyatt Credit Card by Chase offers you two Free Nights after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months from account opening. The upfront two Free Nights are valid at any Hyatt hotel or resort in the world! The free nights have no resort fees, no internet fees, no redemption fees. No foreign transaction fees for international purchases as well.

You will also receive an additional Hyatt Free Night Award each year on the anniversary of your account opening. The anniversary free nights are eligible for redemption at any category 1-4 Hyatt hotel or resort. There is a $75 annual fee.

You also get 3 Hyatt Gold Passport points for every $1 spent with your Hyatt Card at all Hyatt properties, 2 Hyatt Gold Passport points for every $1 spent at restaurants, on airline tickets purchased directly with the airline and at car rental agencies, and 1 Hyatt Gold Passport point for every $1 spent on purchases elsewhere.

If you have a free night at any Hyatt hotel, what should you do with it? I went over to Condé Nast Traveler’s Top Hotels and Travel+Leisure’s Top 500 Hotels, which helped me find these spots with sample rates from $300 to $900 a night:

Planning a Round-the-World (RTW) Trip For Under $10,000

The following is a guest post from reader Chris, who shares a quick and dirty (and cost-conscious) examination of Round-the-World Travel. He writes about about making a life of long-term travel and other related topics at ChrisCarruth.com.

$10,000 goes a long way. That’s a healthy drop in the retirement bucket, a sizable boost to any portfolio, a new(er) car or, as I’m about to advocate, an adventure of spirit and culture and affirmation that most never embark upon.

Would you believe me if I told you that you could travel the world for $10,000? Hopefully, by the end of reading this you’ll see the opportunity for what it is. Of course we aren’t talking about stopping at the nearly 250 UN recognized nations, but rather circumnavigating the globe while stopping at a selection of countries and cities. Your time frame, your itinerary, your budget (and your sensibilities) will set the limits of your travels, so keep them in mind at all times.

Being readers of MyMoneyBlog.com, I think it’s safe to assume that you’re all fairly versed in saving methodologies and tips and tricks and are in, at least, a decent financial state. If you’re a new reader or simply don’t have that kind of scratch lying around, I didn’t leave you out. I’ve left some time honored travelers tips at the bottom to both save money for your travels and to pinch pennies while on the road. General rules of this study:

  • I am traveling solo.
  • I have gear and vaccinations.
  • I have $10,000.
  • I will travel for 3 months – 1 week in the US. 5 weeks in Europe and 6 weeks in Asia.

Consideration #1 – Airfare

Costs: $1,700
Remaining budget: $8,300

Airfare these days is not only the most economical choice, but also the least logistically imposing method of traversing the globe. There are two main schools of thought when it comes to RTW airfare – have it your way or go prepackaged. Customized itineraries allow for greater flexibility of schedule, freedom of destination and directional independence, while “pre-packaged” RTW tickets typically want you flying East-to-West (or vice-verse, no hopping back and forth), have a handful of stops and must be used within a certain date (usually within one year from purchase).

My focus on traveling will be South East Asia and Western Europe in a west-to-east route. I’ve opted for an itinerary from Boots’n'all Travel, who partners with the Airtreks to bring all this in at $1299 (as of September 2010, see current RTW specials here) . There are always some hidden fees, so let’s buffer that up to a straight $1500.

Flight itinerary – SE Asia & Europe Budget Ticket: San Francisco or Los Angeles – Manila – Borneo (Kota Kinabalu) – Singapore – Angkor Wat (Siem Reap) – surface – Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City – Bangkok – surface – Kuala Lumpur – London – Amsterdam – surface – Paris – San Francisco or Los Angeles from US$1299

Note: This sample itinerary is good through September 30th. Each month Boots’n'all offers different routes, but the prices, and locations, generally stay the same.

In the interest of creating as realistic a scenario as is reasonable, I’ll dish up the fact that I don’t live in San Fran or L.A. I’m a Colorado Springs resident…a quick check on Kayak.com shows that round-trip airfare from my home to the Bay Area and back runs less than $200. Done (and subtracted from our budget).

On a side note, if you’re concerned about the environment impacts of air-travel, you’ll be happy that the sustainability movement has more than a foothold in our modern travel climate. Carbon offsetting is an option as are bio-fueled jets (not commonly available…). Of course, these will up your costs and for the sake of staying under budget I’ve left them out.

Consideration #2 – Lodging

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Lonely Planet Offers Free iPhone Apps To Travelers

In response to the disruption caused by a certain Icelandic volcano, Lonely Planet has made their iPhone apps for 13 European cities free until April 22nd. These usually cost $15.99 each, and seemed to work fine on my iPod Touch. From their blog:

‘Travellers stuck in unfamiliar places need access to practical information as well as suggestions on what to do whilst stranded’, said Tom Hall, Lonely Planet Travel Editor. ‘That’s why we’re giving away iPhone city guides to major affected destinations.’

I think it’s a nice gesture on their part and also good PR. Heck, I didn’t even know Lonely Planet offered apps until today. Should make for some neat reading. Here are direct iTunes links to the included cities:

Interview: A Couple Spends A Year In Asia For $9/Day Each

This is a interview/guest post with blog reader Ariel Hoffman, who recently spent a year traveling around Asia with his girlfriend Michal with a combined budget of only $10,000 – and managed to come back with $3,500 of it! I love to read nonfiction travel essays, so not only are there some great frugal travel tips below, it was also very exciting to read about their adventures. Thanks again for sharing, Ariel!

What was your inspiration to go on this adventure?
In Israel, it is mandatory to serve in the armed forces for at least 3 years. After that you just want to get away, and Asia is the perfect destination for someone who’s just saved up 3 years worth of the army’s 100$-a-month salary. Also, Israel’s a pretty small country, so there isn’t much domestic travel to be had like there is in the US.

The itinerary my girlfriend (Michal) and I came up with was mostly about avoiding the rainy season, and minimizing air travel. Air travel is expensive and boring, and you try to avoid it if you have a lot of time to spend.

How did you come up with your budget? Did it end up costing more or less than you thought?
We sat down and did some serious homework, mostly on websites like lonelyplanet.com and their forums. The budget they offered sounded ridiculously low, so we nearly doubled everything we read about, and came up with a rough estimate of about 10,000$ for the two of us, for the entire year.

What we realized, however, is that not only were the estimates online pretty accurate, but also that two people don’t spend exactly twice as much as one – lots of things are shared (such as meals, transportation, hotel rooms etc.) and so it’s more like budgeting for a person and a half rather than two.
We were very pleasantly surprised when we came back home to count our remaining traveler’s cheques and see we still have about 3,500$ left over for next time!

How did you fund it? Did you save up the cash upfront, borrow some money, work while on the trip, or some other combination?
In preparation for our trip, we both took on extra work and saved up every Shekel we made. It took us about 5 months. Once we reached our goal of 10,000$, we exchanged all our cash into traveler’s cheques – a great way to keep your money both liquid and safe when abroad. Luckily for us, the exchange rates were in our favor the whole time, which gave our savings an extra 2%-5% throughout the journey.

Walk us through a typical day on your Year in Asia trip.
Most days would begin with trying to find breakfast – not always an easy task. Most Asian countries do not serve what we would consider breakfast, especially my vegetarian Michal. Although chicken porridge and spicy rice is very nice, it’s not everyone’s idea of the right way to start your day. After eating some novel type of cookie in spiced tea, we would set off to whatever National Monument/UNESCO World Heritage Site/Giant Temple/Yearly Festival was in the town on that day. After a day’s tour of the attraction we would start hunting for a suitable lunch, which meant looking around for a street stall with a good crowd, or a local restaurant with a queue. Nothing says fresh like a long line of customers, and Asian vendors normally close their stalls every day when they’ve exhausted all their stock, so food is never kept overnight and doesn’t have time to spoil. Another plus is that the food is not made of pre-cut ingredients, which makes preparation slower, but at least you see exactly what you’re getting so there are no surprises.

Evening was normally a time for sitting on the beach, going to some performance or sitting in some tea-shop with friends. For a while we had a small kitchen in our room, so I would cook dinner for us while Michal practiced yoga. In China we bought a Wii, and at night we’d plug it in and invite friends over for kart racing – it’s OK to enjoy modern fun even when on the road!
We spent a lot of time on trains and buses, getting from A to B. Sometimes as long as 27 hours! Israel’s longest train ride is only 4 hours long.

What are some basic money-saving tips you might offer us readers?
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