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Another year, another great Chicago Seminars! I once again had a fantastic time in Elk Grove, Illinois (about 20 minutes from O’Hare), meeting and greeting tons of other highly engaged (and slightly obsessed) frequent flyer and points hounds including The Frugal Travel Guy, Rick Ingersoll, and about 550 frequent flyer enthusiasts in attendance and several informative sessions for everyone from beginner to advanced mileage junkies.
My presentation was on Advanced: Credit Card Strategies, and in it I covered:
- The Three Types of Points: Transferable, Co-Branded, Fixed-Value
- Redemption Sweet Spots
- Credit Card Perks: Elite Perks, Spend Bonuses, Category Spending, Lounge Access
- Pay With Miles: Evaluating the benefits of each program
I’m going to include a Flash version of my presentation here so you can flip through it at your leisure and pick up the key points I discussed, but just to give you the gist, you can read on below to see what I talked about as well as relevant links to posts with more information on various topics.
I also created a handout for the seminar with a list of airlines in each alliance and the non-alliance partners for each airline to which you can transfer from American Express, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest, so if you want to keep this information on hand, you can download it Chicago Seminars 2013 Handout.
There are many different ingredients that makes up your credit pie, the largest of which is payment history (35%) and closely followed by amounts owed (30%), with length of credit history (15%) and types of credit (10%), and new credit (10%) rounding up the rest.
Like last year, I started off with Amex Membership Rewards (which you accrue with cards like the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express and Business Gold Rewards card as well as the business, personal and Mercedes-Benz versions of the Platinum Card) and looked into the pros – such as having 16 airline partners, 4 hotel partners, generous transfer bonuses, instantaneous transfers to many partners, and the ability to buy points at 2.5 cents each up to 500,000 per year – and the cons, including losing transfer partners – Continental, Southwest, Airtran, Priority Club – 6/100 cents per point for transfers to US airlines including Delta and the earning portal shutdown.
With Chase Ultimate Rewards, the biggest pros I presented were the addition of partners, that most transfers are instantaneous, no transfer fees, points post right after your statement closes, and they have excellent customer service. Among the few cons are a limited number of partners and no transfer bonuses yet.
Moving on to Starwood Preferred Guest, I listed the pros as having over 1,100 properties, Cash & Points, that reward stays count toward elite status, they have 30 airline partners, 5,000 point bonus on transfers of 20,000 points. The cons are that member can only transfer to their own accounts, there are no other transfer bonuses, posting times vary greatly and there is no shopping portal.
Everyone loves redemption sweet spots, and the ones for American Express are for Aeroplan – there are low fuel surcharges on Air China, Air New Zealand, Avianca, Brussels Airlines, Copa, EgyptAir, Ethiopian, LOT, SAS, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, SWISS, Taca, TAM, Turkish Airlines, United and US Airways. For ANA, there are low fuel surcharges on Air Canada, Air New Zealand, Turkish Airlines, United and US Airways. See my series on ANA awards here.
You can also transfer Amex points to Virgin Atlantic 1:1 and then to Hilton at a rate of 1:2; transfer to Aeroplan at a rate of 1:1 to take advantage of sweet spots (before the January 1, 2014 devaluation) such as 90,000 miles for roundtrip business class to Europe; transfer to ANA at a rate of 1:1 for 63,000 miles in business class from the East coast to Europe, or 43,000 points in economy to Europe using Star Alliance partners, and transfer to Flying Blue at a rate of 1:1 to save up to 50% with Promo Awards travel. Finally, there have been generous transfer bonuses in the past- up to 67% Delta and 50% British Airways.
Chase Ultimate Rewards has the following sweet spots – you can transfer to United at a rate of 1:1 to use on codeshare partners Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines. You can transfer to British Airways at a rate of 1:1 to redeem on short-haul flights, which uses distance of the flights to calculate how many points are needed (650 miles or under are only 4,500 Avios each way in economy). Or you can transfer to Hyatt at a rate of 1:1, where you can get a top-tier Category 6 hotel like the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome or the Park Hyatt Sydney for 22,000 points.
Starwood‘s redemption sweet spots including earning a 5,000-point bonus on 20,000-point transfers, and the fact that it partners with American and US Airways since they don’t have other transfer partners, and Cash & Points awards.
I went on to look at Co-Branded Credit Cards, where I revealed that the pros are mileage and points bonuses and non-points perks like free checked bags, elite status, club. The cons are that they are generally not transferable, it is not a good way to diversify your points, and many perks are the same as elite perks.
Examples of popular co-branded cards are:
- American Express: Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express and Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
- Chase: United MileagePlus Explorer and Hyatt Visa
- Citi: American AAdvantage cards, Hilton HHonors Reserve
Fixed-value cards were also a hot topic among everyone. These kinds of points can be redeemed for travel, cash back or merchandise at a fixed rate that is usually around 1-2 cents each. They are best for people who don’t have flexible travel dates, want to earn elite miles on every flight and redeem for inexpensive flights. The pros include no award blackouts, you earn elite status when using them, and it is easy to get 1-2.2% in value back. The cons are that expensive tickets cost a lot of points.
Top 10 Current Credit Offers
Because everyone wants to know where the latest great deals are, and here are my current top t0 picks for credit card deals:
- Business Gold Rewards from American Express: 50,000 points after $5,000 in 3 months
- Ink Bold/Plus: 60,000 points after $5,000 in 3 months
- Mercedes-Benz Platinum from American Express: 60,000 points after $5,000 in 3 months
- Sapphire Preferred: 50,000 points after $4,000 in 3 months
- Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard: 60,000 miles after $5,000 in the first 90 days
- British Airways Visa: 50,000 Avios after $3,000 in 3 months
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card: 40,000 points after $1,000 in 3 months
- Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card: 2 weekend night certificates after $2,500 in 4 months
- Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard: 50,000 miles after $5,000 in 3 months
- Club Carlson Premier Rewards: 85,000 points after $2,500 in 90 days
Perks: Elite Miles and Benefits
I have talked about elite status benefits a few times lately and how to earn status, so I went on to list some of the biggest benefits and perks of having elite status and the credit cards that specifically can help you earn it.
- Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express: 10,000 MQM’s after $25,000 spent in 1 year. Spend $50,000 and get 10,000 more MQM’s.
- Delta Reserve: 15,000 MQM’s when you spend $30,000, and another 15,000 MQM’s at $60,000.
- Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard: 10,000 EQM’s after $40,000 in a calendar year.
- Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card: 1 elite night credit for every $3,000 spend.
- US Airways Premier World MasterCard: Offers up to 10,000 Preferred miles with $25,000 in a year.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier: 1,500 Tier Qualifying Points for every $10,000 spent
- Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve: Free weekend night after $10,000 spent and Diamond status after $40,000 or more in purchases each year.
- Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express: Honors Diamond Elite status after $40,000 or more spent in a year.
- Chase Hyatt Credit Card: Up to 10 night credits per year by spending $40,000.
- Starwood Amex: 2 stays/5 nights credit toward elite status each calendar year.
Moving on, I talked about maximizing category spending, and explained that some of the highlights are 3x on airfare, 2x gas and groceries with the Amex Premier Rewards Gold; 5x office supplies, phone and cable services and 2x gas and lodging with the Chase Ink Bold and Ink Plus; 2x travel and dining with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, and 5x on restaurants, books, movies, music with the Citi Forward.
Twerking and Supermarket Sweep: Points Edition
I always like to have some fun with these seminars and encourage interaction with the audience and – along with a very good sport who channeled Miley Cyrus and taught us all how to twerk- getting 20,000 Ultimate Rewards points for his one minute enthusiastic demonstration!
We also played a very special edition of my favorite game show, Supermarket Sweep. With the help of Miles and the TPG team, three daring duos competed to win points by maximizing a booking opportunity with 300,000 fantasy points. Here were the rules:
- Three teams of 2 representing Amex, Chase and Starwood points
- Use 300,000 points and at least 3 different transfer partners for 3 different redemptions – economy, business class and international first.
- Must show many points used for each redemption and how much in taxes and fees.
- Doesn’t have to be ALL airline redemptions, but has to include economy, business and international first
- Screen shot awards AND full-price itinerary
- No use of texting, any phone call to an airline has to be on speaker monitor
Congratulations to the winners – the SPG team won and each got 50,000 US Airways miles as the grand prize with the other participants getting $50 Visa gift cards.
Although it was a lot of information to get through, it was punctuated with some audience question-and-answer sessions, a lot of great stories both of my own and from the folks in the audience, and all in all, a great way to spend the afternoon.
This was just a brief glance, so have a look at the links I’ve included for more in-depth information on any of these topics as you flip through the presentation below – and next year, be sure to reserve your tickets to the Chicago Seminars early. I hope to see you there!
If you live in Chicago, you can catch me live on Fox Chicago News at Noon around 12:15pm CST today!
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