Category: Hilton

London + Paris on Points!

Earlier this year, my wife asked me to keep an eye out for any opportunities for us to visit Europe in May 2020 to celebrate her milestone birthday. Accordingly, I tracked trends, and continued to save our points while I waited for a deal.

Our primary cards are the American Express Platinum, Gold and Blue Business Plus which means when we earn 4-10% back on our purchases, we earn those rewards in the form of American Express points (valued by TPG at $0.02/each). One of the things I like about these points, is the Point Transfer travel partners that allow you to convert your American Express points into various brands such as hotel points with Hilton or Marriott; or to airline miles with over a dozen airlines including Delta, Flying Blue (Air France, KLM), Hawaiian, Emirates and more.

Flexibility: The Key to Success

Flexibility is key when planning a big points redemption. Having an idea of where you’d like to travel (somewhere in Europe) rather than a specific destination, will allow you to best take advantage of sale opportunities. In a perfect world, your dates would be flexible too (sometime this Spring), but in our case, we had a very specific range of dates to work with as we balanced operational demands and advanced PTO approval with our respective employers.

Game Plan: Hotel or Airfare

With the versatility of our points, I began to develop a game plan for what we’d best pay with points. I may oversimplify this here, but I simply priced out airfare like I had to use cash to purchase it; I then mapped out lodging. In this case, the airfare was much more expensive while the lodging was quite reasonable when paying cash, so this helped shape my search.

Testing Valuation

I reminded you above that the valuation on our American Express points is $0.02/point. For that reason, this remains my goal when going into any redemption of points: Stay at or above the valuation for those specific points.

For example, let’s pretend we have 50,000 American Express points (valued at $0.02 x 50,000 = $1,000). I should be looking to receive $1,000 in value for anything I spend my points on.

You may also decide to do a dynamic review of your options: When trying to compare apples to apples, take the cost in cash for a hotel or airfare expense, and divide it by the number of points that you can redeem to pay for it instead. In the above example, let’s say we found a great flight that we could redeem 50,000 points for. When we go to book the flight on its own, we find that it would cost $500 in cash. $500 / 50,000 points = a $0.01 point valuation. In this quick fact check, we see we’re not maximizing the value of our points and should continue looking for better options since the proven valuation is at least $0.02/point.

Finding a Deal

I have a regular habit of checking for promotions on my American Express account. In early August, I logged in to find an offer for a 40% bonus on British Airways Executive Club Avios. At this time, I had just over 80,000 points saved up which means I could receive up to 112,000 Avios when transferring.

This promotion showed 1,000 American Express Points = 1,400 British Airways Avios

In order to see if this deal would work for us, I began shopping Avios redemptions online. I had never shopped with British Airways before, so I quickly created my free Executive Club account and obtained my membership ID number. Armed with my new credentials, I clicked “Shop with Avios.”

Stopovers

When redeeming your miles, many airlines will allow you to use stopovers at no additional charge. That means you can delay your connecting flight in order to enjoy some time in the connecting city before continuing on.

Originally eyeing Paris, I had searched for direct flights between San Francisco and Paris only to be disappointed that there were no direct flights available for reward travel; I had to connect through London.

I’ve booked stopover award flights before, but never with British Airways which proved to be one of the simplest user-interfaces to complete this complicated booking. As you can see in the screen below, the booking website even prompted me to book a stopover as part of my mile redemption!

With the stopover benefit in mind, I restarted my search. Rather than four days in Paris, what if we spent two days in London first since we would need to stop there anyway? Sure enough, the stopover itinerary was the same price! A total of 100,500 Avios for two round-trip tickets!

Thanks to the 40% bonus promotion, I could acquire 100,500 Avios for just 72,000 American Express membership reward points!

Points Transfer

Now that I had confirmed that I A) had enough American Express Points to transfer to Avios; and B) British Airways had an itinerary meeting our needs for that value, I began the process of moving my points!

This process of 1:1 Transfer advertises that it could take up to 48 hours to complete, but I’ve never had that experience. Though this transfer made me wait an excruciating four minutes, it ultimately was an instant transfer as my previous experiences had been.

Using the 40% bonus promotion, I transferred 72,000 American Express membership rewards points in exchange for 100,800 Avios (you are required to transfer in multiples of 1,000).

The Value

After deciding to book this redemption, I took my own advice and priced out the same exact itinerary using cash instead:

We booked this itinerary to London and Paris at a valuation of $0.05468/point; 2.7X TPG’s valuation for American Express membership reward points!!

The cost for two round-trip tickets was $4,550.96. When we used 72,000 American Express membership reward points, we only paid $613.98 in surcharges! That means that the 72,000 points paid for $3,936.98 of the trip; a valuation of $0.05468/point or 2.7X the usual valuation of those points. That made this a great redemption for us.

Note: The fuel surcharges we incurred are typical for British Airways which charges large fees compared to its competitors. For this reason, when booking your redemption you may try to avoid using British Airways if possible.

A Weekend in Vegas

Ever since I added the Hilton Aspire card to my wallet, I knew I’d be using it to go to Las Vegas. Vegas, and all that comes with it, is undoubtedly my favorite vacation spot. As ridiculous as that sounds, it is an adult playground and I will never get enough of it. To celebrate a milestone birthday later this year, I took advantage of some perks in my arsenal to develop a quick weekend with flair.

Airfare

Because I have MVP Gold status with Alaska Airlines, I have the ability to complete same day flight changes for free. I also am awarded some first-class advance-award tickets on select flights each year. For my departure, I found a great mile redemption of just 7,500 miles for the one-way ticket. I booked it, and even though the flight departs at an ungodly evening time (arriving after midnight), I have no intention of taking the flight. Instead, I will fly space-available on one of the earlier flights that day for free. What’s a trip to Vegas if it doesn’t start with a gamble, am I right?

On the return trip, I elected to book the first flight out on Monday morning. Though it is very early, it happens to be eligible for one of my free advanced-confirmation first class upgrades. This not only allows me to reduce my time out of the office and make the most of my weekend, it allows me to count on a luxurious return trip and free breakfast in-flight; even if I lose my shirt the day before.

Out the door, I confirmed round-trip airfare (including a guaranteed segment in first class) for just $147 and 7,500 miles. Because of my elite status, I am placed on a wait-list for a free first class upgrade for the first segment as well.

Hotel

Because I have the Hilton Aspire card from American Express, I not only receive one free weekend night a year, I also receive $250 in resort credits (good for room charges) each year. In Las Vegas, these credits can be used at one of six properties including the Elara, Tropicana and Flamingo. For my two night stay, I took full advantage of each of these perks:

Night One

After a quick set of queries, I determined that my first night in Vegas was going to be more expensive than the second. Accordingly, I aimed to redeem my free night for night one. I booked a room at the Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas. The standard room cost for this evening was over $600 including resort fees and taxes. Instead, I booked it for free.

Night Two

For my second night in Vegas, I was intent on booking a stay at one of Hilton’s six resorts to take advantage of the $250 credit. I found a King City View room in the Paradise Tower (preferred) of the Tropicana overlooking the Strip for a total of $245.45 including taxes and fees. After my $250 credit is applied towards the room charges, my stay will be free!

Summary

Because of my status with Alaska Airlines, and my credit card with Hilton, I will enjoy a weekend trip in Las Vegas, flying first class (at least on the way home), and spending the night in two premium rooms on the Strip for a total of $147. If I wanted to book the trip without using status, the same trip would have cost $1,069.51 (86% off). In addition, I was able to use some American Express Platinum membership reward points to have my wife join me from Nashville (a redemption worth $400).

Now to go make back that $147 at the Sports Book.

Why I’m Using the Hilton Aspire Card

Recently, Hilton increased all of their signup bonuses for their American Express cards including the Aspire Card; the high-end version of the branded card. This piqued my interest and caused me to consider the card’s addition to my wallet in 2019. The new sign up bonus of 150,000 Hilton Honors points seemed to make it worth my while alone.

In reviewing the details of the card, I ended up applying for the card that same day. As is typical for American Express, the card was express-shipped to me and I received it just two days later via UPS. The Aspire card carries a $450 annual fee without any trial period; however the signup bonus is valued at $1,200 which more than pays for the card in its first year. Here’s what else the card will do for you, and why you may decide to renew it in future years:

Diamond Status

Aspire cardholders receive complimentary, and immediate, Diamond Status with Hilton Honors; the top tier of the membership reward program. In addition to a myriad of inherited benefits, Diamond members are guaranteed Executive Lounge Access at properties offering them; and up to 1-bedroom Suite room type upgrades (up from Executive room types offered to Gold members).

$250 in Airline Incidentals

Similar to American Express’ other cards that offer airline incidentals, you must choose a single airline each year that you will redeem your incidentals with. Since I fly Alaska Airlines almost exclusively; they’re my choice. The $250 in airline incidentals will cover baggage fees, seat upgrades, change fees and in-flight food and beverage.

$250 in Hilton Resort Credits

Don’t be tricked by this one like I was! This is not a credit that can be used at just any Hilton. It is an annual credit reserved for one of 72 Hilton Resort properties listed here. However, with locations in the continental US, Hawaii, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America, you’re sure to find a resort that fits nicely into your travel plans. Personally, I’m looking forward to using it during a future trip to Las Vegas.

14x Hilton Honors Bonus Points

With TPG’s latest valuation of 0.8 cents/point, Hilton points are far from the most valuable on the market. But with 14x bonus points on Hilton purchases, you are receiving 11.2% back on your Hilton purchases; this return can’t be beat with any other card on the market. The card also offers 5.6% back on dining (7x points), but this redemption is less attractive if you’re using the American Express Gold or Chase Sapphire Reserve cards which offer a higher redemption on dining.

$100 On-Property Credit

Hilton offers a $100 credit when you book a two-night-minimum stay at select properties. This isn’t the most straight-forward perk to redeem and therefore I wouldn’t consider it too heavily when weighing the worth of the card.

Priority Pass Select

If you don’t already have it with another card, the Aspire will also offer you unlimited airport lounge visits for you and up to two guests as allowed by Priority Pass.

A Free Weekend Night

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you will receive one free weekend night each year after renewal. This free night turns into two if you place $60,000 in charges on the card each calendar year. Depending on your travel plans for the year, even a single free night’s stay could pay for the card itself.

Referral

For the reasons above, and with Hilton reservations already on my itinerary in 2019, I was motivated to add the Aspire card to my wallet. If you’re interested in applying for the Aspire card yourself, please consider accessing the American Express site by using my referral link here.

Platinum or CSR? Why You May Choose Both.

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Choices

The American Express Platinum and the Chase Sapphire Reserve: These two cards are the power couple of the premium credit card world. Deciding which one is right for you can be tricky; so why not choose both?

I’m Not Crazy

While applying for not one, but two premium metal credit cards with a combined $1,000 annual fee may seem absurd to you, I’m here to provide you with the alternate narrative and tell you why we’ve decided to hold both cards in our wallet in 2018. Read on, and I will explain how $25/month will unlock a plethora of travel benefits for you and your loved ones this year.

Sign Up Bonuses

With the sign up bonuses offered by both cards, the rewards more than compensate you for the annual fees you incur in that first year. At the laziest redemption level, using points to purchase travel through the respective travel portals, you earn $1,350 from sign up bonuses in exchange for the $1,000 in annual fees; a $350 profit if you plan to travel this year.

Annual Fees vs. Credits

The American Express Platinum card carries a $550 annual fee, while offering $200 back in Uber credits and $200 back in airline incidentals. The Chase Sapphire Reserve card carries a $450 annual fee, while offering $300 back in travel credits. If you assume you will spend money with Uber or Uber Eats, the airlines and by traveling anyway, then each card only costs you $150.

Takeaway

For the two cards, it will cost you just $300/year, or $25/month, while affording you these benefits all year long:

What is the perk? How will I use it? Where did I earn it?
$200 worth of airline incidental reimbursements Lounge passes, in-flight food and beverage, baggage fees and seat upgrades
$200 worth of Uber /
Uber Eats reimbursements
Whether you need a ride, or want dinner delivered to you, you can use these credits to accomplish that
$300 worth of travel reimbursement The most generous of benefits: Travel includes airfare, hotels, taxis, etc.
Priority Pass Membership with up to two guests Great for Alaska Air and The Club Lounges
Priority Pass Membership with unlimited guests The Club Lounges…now with more friends!
Centurion Airport Lounge Access My favorite lounge in Las Vegas
Sky Club Airport Lounge Access when flying Delta My favorite lounge in Seattle
Primary Rental Car Insurance This can be better than your own auto policy with the $75K coverage including Loss of Use
10% back on airfare purchases 5X Points valued at $0.02 each
6.6% back on dining (restaurant, bar) purchases  3X Points valued at $0.022 each
6.6% back on travel (hotel, taxi) purchases  3X Points valued at $0.022 each
Boingo Wifi Membership Unlimited access to over a million WiFi hotspots
 SPG Gold Status Room upgrades and more with Sheraton, Westin and other SPG Hotel Brands
Marriott Gold Status Marriott honors SPG status so add them to your list of elite partners
Hilton Gold Status In case that wasn’t enough, you’ll also be covered at Hilton properties too
Trip Cancellation Insurance Up to $10,000 per trip
Baggage Delay Credit $100/day per bag
Trip Delay Credit  Up to $500 per ticket
Price Protection  Up to $500 per item

Referral Links

Well, what do you think? If you decide to apply for one or both cards, please use my referral link below to net me some bonus points in addition to the ones you’ll receive!

Click here to apply for the American Express Platinum Card and earn 60,000 points!

8 Nights in Tokyo + Airfare for $237

Earlier this year, we enjoyed a trip to Tokyo, Japan for nine days and eight nights. My wife, mother and I flew round-trip with just one connection, and stayed in the heart of Tokyo’s business district at a 4.5 star hotel in Shinjuku. We stayed on the executive floor and enjoyed access to the Executive Lounge offering breakfast, snacks and cocktails; and we did it all for less than $237/person.

Breakdown

Service Value Paid
Hotel – 8 nights w/ Exec Lounge $4,861 $95
Round-trip Airfare for 3 $4,129 $615
Sum $8,990 $710 (92% off!)
$236.67 / person

The $710 paid was a result of taxes incurred, and annual fees associated with credit cards we acquired solely for this trip.

Value

It pays to use points for airfare and hotel expenses because not only are the exchange rates favorable, you typically aren’t charged the same high taxes and fees. In the screenshot below, you can see Hilton charges nearly $900 USD for what it calls “Taxes” and a “Service Charge” on this eight-night stay.

Airfare

Using 50,000 Alaska Airlines miles each, we redeemed our mileage through the Airline Partners program. This is the lowest round-trip redemption available so you’ll need to be flexible with your travel dates to ensure you’re redeeming the best value. The fees on this redemption are listed, and are your only costs incurred on the transaction. They vary by itinerary, but for the example below, would run you $82/person.

Mileage Redemption
Flexibility is key when booking travel because some days will not have the best redemption values available.

Hotel

Again, flexibility is the name of the game. In fact, despite booking this same hotel for 50,000 points / night for these dates a year ago, the asking value is currently triple what we paid. For that reason, you must be fluid with your planning in order to find the best value for your points. We selected the Hilton Tokyo at the time because of its value offered, but also because Hilton offers a 5th night free promotion for point redemption; effectively allowing you to take 20% off a 5 or 10 night stay.

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Hilton Tokyo
Our room included a beautiful city view, traditional shoji screen and fusuma, and accommodated an additional twin bed.

Hilton Gold

Automatically earned when you’re carrying American Express’ Hilton Surpass card or Platinum card, Gold status is what prioritizes you for a room on the Executive Floors. This is valuable, especially at this property, because you’re granted access to the Executive Lounge which happens to be a light-fares restaurant on the top of the high-rise hotel. Complete with a full breakfast in the morning, hors d’oeuvres throughout the day and a full bar at night, this complimentary service will not only enhance your trip, but save you money.

Executive Lounge
The executive lounge boasted a fresh omelette chef to round out each morning’s breakfast.

Collecting Your Points

When you’re planning a massive point redemption like we did, it’s never too early to start accumulating the right points and miles. As you do this, be mindful of terms and conditions associated with earning and using your rewards. For instance, American Express strictly enforces its “once per lifetime” rule that stipulates you can only earn each of their promotions once in your lifetime. However, Hilton recently offered the ability to pool points with friends and family at no-charge so this can be an effective way to combine signup bonuses.

Cards to Consider

I am never compensated for my recommendations. But for your reference, here are some of the cards we found helpful to collect when planning this trip:

  • Hilton Aspire Card from American Express (link)
  • Citi ThankYou Premier Card (link)
  • Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card (link)

We were also able to take advantage of two Hilton cards offered by Citi bank, but due to a new exclusivity deal between Hilton and American Express, those cards are no longer available.

In Conclusion

When planning a trip this large, you’ll only be successful if you can stay adaptable and book with the properties/airlines offering the best deal on the dates they stipulate. It can be a daunting treasure hunt, but the rewards are plentiful. Happy travels!

What’s in my wallet?

If you know me, you know I appreciate The Art And Science Of Rewards Credit Card Churning and the value it produces when done well. But having been asked a few times recently, I wanted to take a brief moment to advocate for the cards I have kept (or plan to keep) despite their annual fees; one of the biggest scare-factors of credit cards for novice users. Today, I’ll tell you about three of the credit cards I keep, how I justify the fees each year, and why you should consider one or more of them.

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Card The American Express Platinum Card
Annual Fee $550
Welcome Offer 60,000 points worth $1,200 in travel
Perks 10% back on travel*, $200 airline credit, $200 Uber credit, fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PRE✓, Boingo Internet Preferred Plan, airport lounge access including Centurion, Priority Pass & Delta SkyClubs, Gold Status with Hilton, SPG (Sheraton, Westin, etc.) and Marriott, and status with Avis, Hertz and National.

*Awarded as 5x points (valued at 2 cents each) for every dollar spent directly with an airline, or on hotels via amextravel.com

Why Keep It? Assuming you spend $200 with airlines (gift cards included) and Uber (or UberEATS) already, the card really only costs you $150/year. If you travel several times a year or more, this is a no-brainer. The 10% back on travel (advertised as 5x back) may even allow you to more than cover the remaining cost of your annual fee if you spend over $1,500 traveling (this includes reimbursable work travel). And once you’re in travel mode, you’ll enjoy access to over 1,000 airport lounges and status with several hotels and rental car companies. The lounges provide a quiet, clean area to enjoy a complimentary cocktail and snack before your flight, and the status you carry with the card will increase your chances of receiving complimentary upgraded vehicles, hotel rooms and even executive hotel lounge access.

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Card The Hyatt Credit Card
Annual Fee $75
Welcome Offer 2 free nights at any Hyatt hotel or resort worldwide
Perks 3.6% back at restaurants*, 1 free night every year after your cardmember anniversary at any Category 1-4 hotel or resort, Discoverist status.

*Awarded as 2x points (valued at 1.8 cents each) for every dollar spent at restaurants.

Why Keep It? The best time to apply for this card is when you’re planning a vacation near a luxury Hyatt property since your sign up bonus of two free nights is good at any property! After the first year, the card essentially provides you with an annual hotel night for only $75 at properties that would easily cost you 5X that amount. The card also gives you Discoverist status (2nd of a 4-level membership) which will comp premium internet, a bottle of water, resort fees on free night awards and may even get you upgraded to a preferred room if there’s availability.

IHG-CARD
Card IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card
Annual Fee $49 (waived for the first year)
Welcome Offer 60,000 points worth $420 in travel
Perks 1 free night at any property every year after your cardmember anniversary, Platinum Elite status.

Why Keep It? This card is a diamond in the rough when it comes to hotel cards. Not only is the annual fee reasonable, it rewards you with a free stay each year. The Platinum Elite status that it carries guarantees you room availability and an upgrade upon arrival. My favorite brands within IHG are Holiday Inn Express, Crowne Plaza and Staybridge. Each offers competitive room rates, and amenities ranging from complimentary hot breakfasts to full apartments.

Why Keep Them?

My wife and I each have the Hyatt and IHG cards and have historically used the free nights for a weekend getaway on her birthday, or to offset the cost of a lengthier vacation. As any good financial stewards would, we budget for annual travel costs; and paying $248 ($75 + $75 +$49 +$49) is well worth the four hotel nights we receive that can be used anywhere in the world. Though we’ve had these two cards for nearly four years, we’ve only recently added the Platinum card to our wallet after AMEX Announced Major Changes to it last March. In my opinion, the AMEX Platinum card is now the best luxury travel card out there, and with our typical spend nearly offsetting the annual fee, I don’t see it leaving our wallet anytime soon with all of the perks it offers.

Shameless Referral Plug. If I’ve convinced you to do so, apply for the Platinum card with this link and we can both get rewarded if you’re approved!