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We got off to a fun start as Jen asked us about our 2014 picks for bargain destinations. Johnny picked Southeast Asia due to the ability to travel far without spending too much money, and we both put in a word for Australia and New Zealand, but I also mentioned India because of my recent trip there after the Maldives and how easy and cheap it was to get around and see tons of great stuff.
Jen also brought up my mileage redemption to/from the Maldives flying EVA and Singapore on the outbound for just 60,000 United miles and $24 in business class, and then using a trick with Alaska miles to score an Emirates First Class redemption.
Next up, we discussed strategies on searching for cheap flights. Johnny mentioned a few of my favorites including The Flight Deal, Fare Compare and Airfare Watchdog and I brought up a couple of other useful tools including the ITA Matrix for searching cheap flights and ExpertFlyer for seat availability.
Next we discussed various accommodation options including two new sites, Rocketmiles and Pointshound, which regularly offer thousands of airline miles per booking in lieu of earning hotel points – which can be a good option when you’re not staying at your usual hotel chains. I also discussed the advantages of using housing services like VRBO and Airbnb for longer-term or larger accommodations and how you can still earn bonus points on these transactions by using cards like the Sapphire Preferred thanks to its travel category spending bonus.
After a few more quick topics, Jen opened to floor to reader questions, and of course, there were a ton about credit cards. The biggest one, as usual, was about my top travel credit card picks. Everyone wanted to know what the one or two cards they should carry are to maximize their travel benefits.
Of course, it really depends on what you’re hoping to use your points for, but the one card I always recommend to friends and family is the Chase Sapphire Preferred thanks to its 2X travel and dining categories, the ability to transfer to 10 great travel partners, and the flexibility to pay with points at a rate of 1.25 cents each for travel – meaning the 40,000-point sign-up bonus (when you spend $3,000 in 3 months) is worth $500 even without transferring to travel partners – and the card carries no foreign transaction fees and now comes with a Smart Chip. For those who already have a Sapphire Preferred and were interested in a business credit card, I suggested the Ink Plus, which also earns Ultimate Rewards points and comes with a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points when you spend $5,000 in 3 months, along with other great perks like 5X earning on office supplies and telecommunications (up to $50,000 each calendar year), and 2X at hotels and gas stations, along with a host of other great benefits.
The other top card I mentioned was the Barclaycard Arrival. The sign-up bonus of 40,000 miles (when you spend $1,000 in 90 days) is worth $440 towards travel thanks to the 10% mileage refund on travel redemptions, and you earn 2X miles per $1 on all purchases. Since there is no annual fee the first year ($89 after that), so it is literally like free money, which is great for covering costs like award ticket fees, train tickets, car rentals, and other expenses you can’t usually use travel points for like b&b’s, Airbnb, car rentals and more.
We fielded a couple more questions, and before we knew it, our time was up. I stayed after to meet readers who had dropped by and answer a few last questions then we headed off for lunch at LA with my Travel Show Giveaway winners, whom I had a great time meeting and comparing travel tips, favorite destinations and more.
All in all, it was another great experience, so thank you to all who came out, and I’m looking forward to appearing at the New York Times Travel Show March 1-2 later this year as well, so hopefully I’ll get to meet more of you there.
I’ll be appearing on Saturday at 5:00pm discussing “Maximizing Credit Cards for Free Travel,” and on Sunday at 3:00pm to talk about “Beating the System: Travel Pointers for a First Class Lifestyle on a Budget“.