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As 2012 comes to an end, I wanted to take stock of what turned out to be another exciting, challenging and ultimately rewarding year both on ThePointsGuy.com and personally. I visited over 20 countries, flew dozens of airlines, flew about 200,000 miles the good old-fashioned way and spent nearly 160 nights in hotels – and I loved every second of it (more or less).
Here’s a look back at my year in credit cards, airlines and hotels and a look at things to come in the world of miles and points.
Although I flew about 200,000 miles this past year (see my calculations below), the most lucrative source of points and miles for me is still those big credit card sign-up bonuses, easily allowing me to rack up hundreds of thousands of points and several free hotel nights – sometimes all in the same day. Here’s a synopsis of my credit card haul from the past year. I actually took a more cautious approach, because I purchased a home this year, but I didn’t let a pesky mortgage get in the way of racking up points- though I plan to take in a much bigger haul in 2013.
Chase Ink Bold: 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $10,000 in 3 months, though the current offer is down to just $5,000 in 3 months.
Chase Ink Plus: 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $10,000 in 3 months, though the current offer is down to just $5,000 in 3 months. Although both cards are Ink products, like many other points collectors, I was able to get both.
Chase Freedom: 30,000 Ultimate Rewards points, plus I got in on the Exlcusives program, which gets me quarterly 5x spend categories, a 10% bonus and 10 extra points per purchase because I have a Chase Checking account. To my knowledge, this program has been discontinued and the current sign-up bonus is 10,000 points (marketed as $100 cashback, but if you have a Sapphire Preferred or Ink Bold/Plus, you can transfer to those accounts.
Hyatt Credit Card: 2 free nights with no minimum spend. When I got in on the deal, there was actually a $1,000 in 3 months requirement, but I got them to waive it since I had applied just days before the new offer. My 2 free nights are also in a suite thanks to my Hyatt Diamond status.
The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express Open: I got in on one of Amex’s one-day deals for 75,000 bonus points for spending $10,000 in 4 months. The current offer is 0 points, so if you’re thinking about this card, I’d wait till another of these offers comes around.
Starwood Preferred Guest American Express (personal): I got in on the limited time offer of 30,000 SPG points after spending $5,000 in 6 months, 2 stays/5 nights credit toward elite status. (Current offer is 25,000 points)
Starwood Preferred Guest Business Card from American Express Open: I got in on the limited time offer of 30,000 SPG points after spending $5,000 in 6 months, 2 stays/5 nights credit toward elite status. (Current offer is 25,000 points)
Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve: 2 free nights for spending $2,500 within 4 months, and Hilton Diamond Status for hitting $40,000 spending in a calendar year.
Points total: 265,000 points plus four free hotel nights.
My strategy for 2013 will include monitoring the big 3 banks for better future deals, but in the meantime, I will also be looking at getting cards from some of the other issuers I haven’t leveraged yet who have been jumping into the points game in a more major way lately. US Bank has recently upped its offerings including the FlexPerks Travel Reward Visa and three new Club Carlson co-branded cards that can mean a landslide of both bonus points and long-term point-earning potential- however there are many reports that they are very stingy with approvals if you’ve recently gotten a lot of cards. I think I’ll go for the Club Carlson card first and see how many others I can get. I’ll also be looking at Barclay’s and possibly aiming to get in on the US Airways Mastercard (current bonus is 40,000 miles for first purchase) since that card has offered spending bonuses like double elite-qualifying miles on US Airways purchases within the last few months and you can get this card over and over again for the bonus, or maybe the Virgin America credit card from Barclay’s to take advantage of the extra points-earning potential during my Gold Status with the airline.
Well, I’m not sure whether to be proud of the fact that I’m an elite-status addict, but as 2012 winds down, I now have elite status on American, Delta, United and Virgin America.
American: I have Executive Platinum status on American thanks to some diligent planning last October-January when I was able to complete an Executive Platinum status challenge thanks to participating in the Oneworld Megado where I only had to fly 20,000 miles and I would earn elite status until February 2013. Although I was a Delta loyalist before with a few years of Diamond Medallion status under my belt, my strategy shifted since I had moved to Miami and wanted to branch out to other airlines, and it turned out to be a great decision. Despite the airline’s woes this past year, I’ve had great experiences as an Executive Platinum on American, and ended up flying over 126,000 miles on American this past year (not including award flights I booked using miles) – ensuring I’ll have Executive Platinum status until February 2014 now. I love perks like the 100% mileage bonus, 8 systemwide upgrades and the valuable choices I have when redeeming AA miles. Total American miles flown: 126,921.
Delta: Although I’d been a Delta Diamond for years, I decided as part of my diversification strategy to go instead for Platinum in 2011, so I closed out the year with about 83,000 miles and rolled over 33,000 of those to get a head start on my elite qualification for 2012, and I just aimed for Platinum Medallion again this year. Total miles flown: 48,548.
United: Since I’m not sure about Delta’s plans for the SkyMiles program, I decided that once my Platinum Medallion status for 2013 was secured, I would ask for a status match to United. After some confusion when it looked like I would actually have to status challenge, I was matched to Premier Platinum status until February 2014 without having to complete a challenge. Though my time with United has had a few bumps so far – including a canceled award ticket on Swiss this summer that still isn’t resolved, I still think United miles are the most valuable frequent flyer currency out there since I’ve gotten some amazing redemptions using them, including my business class flight on Singapore Airlines from Newark to Singapore for my birthday last year and a great experience flying Lufthansa’s new first class. I’ve booked most of those awards by transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points into my United account, but as a Platinum member, I’m planning to really run the airline through its paces next year and rack up more miles actually flying it. Total miles flown: 17,243.
Virgin America: Although its route network is pretty limited for my needs, it does service some of the transcontinental routes I fly, so I decided to take advantage of Virgin’s recent offer to status match American and Delta flyers and got Gold Elevate status until April a few weeks ago. I’ve never flown Virgin America, but I’ve heard great things, and I’ve been wanting to try it out for myself, so I figured why not do it with elite status from the outset.
Like in 2010 and 2011, I decided to go after top-tier status with both Starwood and Hyatt, and going full-time as a blogger meant a lot more travel opportunities and nights in hotels for me this year.
I concentrated most of my efforts with Starwood this year because of their SPG program benefits enhancements like confirmed suite upgrades and lifetime status, so rather than just qualifying for Platinum again at 50 nights, I went whole hog and stayed over 100 nights for their uber-Platinum benefits including my very own Starwood Ambassador concierge. Total nights: 102, total stays: 56.
I waited somewhat until the last minute with Hyatt, necessitating some end-of-year mattress runs to complete the 25 nights required to requalify for Diamond status. It was worth it to me to maintain thanks to key perks like free breakfast and internet, club lounge access and four suite upgrades per year. Total nights: 30, total stays: 25.
The other big hotel news for me lately has been that I just qualified for Hilton Diamond status by meeting the spending requirement on my Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card , so I’m looking forward to testing out the perks next year and diversifying my hotel points portfolio with the Hilton family of resorts – which has more properties than Starwood and Hyatt combined including some gorgeous high-end hotels in the Waldorf Astoria and Conrad brands. I also just took advantage of a transfer bonus to convert 80,000 Amex points into 216,000 Hilton HHonors points, so I’m looking forward to putting those to good use in 2013.
BEST AIRLINE MILE REDEMPTION
Pre-Avios redemption of 75,000 British Airways miles for Phnomh Penh- Hong Kong (Business Class on Dragon Air) and then Hong Kong- NYC in Cathay Pacific First Class.
MOST MEMORABLE HOTEL STAY
I went to Shanghai for the first time this year and had a great stay at the newly opened Andaz Shanghai. My XL room was huge and futurusitic- with fishbowl-like windows and nice amenities like heated bathroom floors. I thought the location was great and hotel amenities (especially for Hyatt Diamond members) were great.
FAVORITE NEW DESTINATION
I fell in love with Kauai this year, especially when I stayed at the St. Regis Princeville for 21,500 Starpoints a night and got upgraded to a nice suite thanks to being SPG Platinum.
BLOG AND LIFE HIGHLIGHTS
This past year was a big one for ThePointsGuy.com. It was my first calendar year as a full-time blogger, and I kept pretty busy, if I do say so myself! In addition to visiting dozens of countries and meeting tons of great people, the points and miles world continued to change and evolve in fascinating ways, and I was able to share that with all my readers while spanning the globe discovering new destinations.
I was invited to speak at both frequent flyer events like the Chicago Seminars and FTU, as well as at larger trade events including the New York Times Travel Show, where I’ll be appearing again in January. I’ll also be speaking at the LA Times Travel Show in February, and I’m looking forward to more events like that.
It’s also been a great year for press for me with the chance to participate in dozens of articles in magazines, newspapers and on television, including my recent appearance on CNBC. You can check out my other clips and articles on my Press Page.
THE YEAR AHEAD
Much of my travel in 2012 included getting to know several different regions in Asia during my three trips there, as well as discovering some new destinations in Europe and the US. For 2013, my goal is to explore more of the Southern Hemisphere. I’ve been to Argentina and Brazil a few times, but I am really aiming to get to Australia, some new parts of South America, and Africa – starting with my trip to South Africa later this week!
I can already tell it’s going to be another eye-opening and energizing year, and I cannot wait to share all the amazing new deals out there with you as well as telling you about all the fantastic places they are going to allow me to visit in the coming year. As always, I could not do this with all of your support and feedback, and I wish you all the very best as we continue into 2013 together!