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As 2011 draws to a close, I wanted to take a look back at what has been an amazing, challenging and rewarding year. So let’s take a quick peek at the points I’ve earned and burned, some of my favorite redemptions, and my major strategy shifts in terms of credit cards and travel.
I always say that, though I fly over 150,000 miles a year, by far the biggest source of miles and points for me are credit card bonuses, and 2011 was no exception. In bonuses alone (so, not including spend) I earned over 600,000 points. Back in August I wrote this post about my haul of 553,000 sign-up bonus points including:
British Airways Visa: 100,000 miles, $2,500 in spend within 90 days, $95 annual fee. (The deal has since expired, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it again in 2012).
Sapphire Preferred: 53,500 Ultimate Rewards points, $3000 in spend within 3 months, $95 annual fee waived for first year.
Platinum Card: 100,000 Membership Rewards points, $1,000 in spend within 3 months, $450 annual fee.
Premier Rewards Gold Card: 75,000 Membership Rewards points, $1,500 in spend within 3 months, $175 annual fee waived for first year.
AAdvantage Visa: 75,000 miles, $1,500 spend in 6 months, $75 annual fee waived for first year. (Deal is now expired- 50,000 is the current best offer)
AAdvantage Visa Business: 75,000 miles, $4,000 spend within 6 months, $75 annual fee waived for first year. (Deal is now expired- 50,000 is the current best offer)
AAdvantage American Express: 75,000 miles, $1,500 spend within 6 months, $75 annual fee waived for first year. (Deal is now expired- 50,000 is the current best offer)
And to that I recently added the Chase Ink Bold for Business for 50,000 more Ultimate Rewards points with $5,000 spend in 3 months, and a $95 annual fee waived for the first year.
Total: 603,500 points/miles, $20,000 spend and $540 in annual fees.
Despite all those credit card applications, my credit score is still a strong 740, and I’d value these total points/miles at around $12,000. The actual price of the airline tickets alone that I book using these would actually cost over $40,000 in my estimation at face value—but since I’d never pay that, I’m going to value them a bit more conservatively.
The biggest shift in my credit card strategy has been to move about 60% of my credit card spending from American Express over to my new credit card obsession, the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which I firmly believe is the best all-round credit card on the market these days.
That’s because I spend a lot on travel (airfare, hotels, taxis, subway, parking, etc.) and dining, so the 2x points on these transactions along with no foreign transaction fees make this card a no-brainer for me. Plus, Chase has really ramped up earning opportunities with the Ultimate Rewards Mall with some very lucrative bonuses. They’ve also done a great job at adding solid partners, and I like the flexibility of being able to transfer Ultimate Rewards points instantly to Continental/United, British Airways, Korean Air, Southwest (starting January 2012!), Hyatt, Marriott, Priority Club and Amtrak. I would love to see them start offering transfer bonuses, though, like Amex frequently does.
This was a blockbuster year for points promotions, and I know many of you got in on the most lucrative of them. Here were some of my favorites.
Miles Purchases and Transfers:
-I was able to buy 100,000 US Airways Dividend Miles for just $1,478.
-I bought 60,000 Delta SkyMiles during their recent 100% transfer promo.
-I transferred points to British Airways at a 50% bonus and used them to book a South America award to Santiago, Easter Island and Lima in business class (pre-Avios) for only 80,000 miles for a trip in 2012.
-I used just 150,000 miles to book a roundtrip first class ticket on Cathay Pacific from JFK-HKG-Bali, also in 2012.
-During the US Airways Grand Slam, I banked 100,000 Dividend Miles and can’t wait to redeem those on some premium Star Alliance awards!
These are a mixed bag since airlines don’t always honor purchased mistake fares (see my debacle with American and Cathay Pacific), but I actually got lucky with a ton of them this year as well.
-Delta fares from JFK-Stockholm and Copenhagen: $149
-American Airlines fare from JFK-Madrid, which I was also able to upgrade to business class with miles: $249
-Alitalia/Air Europa from JFK-Rome-Istanbul-Amsterdam: $570 (Not really a mistake fare, but a good one nonetheless)
By far, the most epic mile redemption of my year was for my massive summer trip from New York to Mauritius with a stopover in Spain on the way home. I only used 120,000 Delta SkyMiles plus $250 in taxes total to fly on a combination of Air Europa, Air France, Air Mauritius in business class on all legs. Best of all, as I pointed out, though the trip sounds far-flung and exotic, with just a little bit of savvy and patience, anyone could book something equivalent!
Like in 2010, I split my energies and money this year between my two main brands: Hyatt and Starwood. I maintained my Hyatt Diamond status by participating in the Star Alliance Megado, and I earned Platinum status with Starwood Preferred Guest the old-fashioned way: by sleeping around! The new feather in my cap was actually being nominated for Intercontinental Royal Ambassador status with Priority Club by TPG reader Julianne (thanks again!). So that’s three top-tier statuses to maintain in 2012—we’ll see what happens.
BLOG AND LIFE HIGHLIGHTS
My Star Alliance Megado seatmate, TPG reader Kathy, started her own blog this year, so congratulations to you!
I’ve had the opportunity to meet with press, journalists and news anchors all over the country and contribute quotes and expertise to pieces in some of my favorite publications and telecasts including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Conde Nast Traveler and CNN.
In addition to The Points Guy, I launched a second site, Travel Credit Cards, which is still a work in progress, but is going strong after a great start. It’s a great resource to search for the best points-earning cards on the market and find the right ones for your individual needs and goals.
Finally, this was also the year that I left my Wall Street job and became a full-time travel blogger thanks to all of your support, interest, and enthusiasm. I always say that my readers are my boss, and I want to let you all know how grateful I am to have you as my community, and how much your readership, comments, and tips have contributed both to the development of the site and to my own personal growth. I would never have had this success or opportunity without you, and I am looking forward to continuing traveling all over the world with you in 2012!