The Southwest Companion Pass: The Holy Grail of Reward Travel

What’s a Southwest Companion Pass?

Well, my friends, let me educate you. I am celebrating particularly hard today, because I finally managed to finagle the Southwest Companion Pass for myself and David. I first learned about this thing almost a year ago, and I’ve been dancing with anticipation for 2017 to come, because qualifying for the pass (in January of the current year) quite literally means 2 (almost) years of buy one get one free travel for you and your luckiest friend.

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And I’ve finally done it! I’ve designated David as my companion, (for obvious reasons) and from now until 31 December 2018, whenever I fly Southwest, he is able to accompany me for free. No matter what the ticket. Southwest’s route map is extensive, and they’ve recently added new international travel too! Can you say Cancun?

So how do you get this pass? There are a few different methods:

1. Fly 110,000 miles in one calendar year on Southwest Airlines. (AIN’T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR DAT)
2. Fly 100 one-way flights in one calendar year (NO SERIOUSLY NO ONE HAS TIME FOR THAT)
3. Game the system with credit card reward bonuses

Which one do you guys think I did? (Though I used a different one than the one I’m about to detail below, a great loophole that Southwest is finally closing up.)

It’s actually quite simple. Southwest has three separate credit cards that they offer through Chase bank. Each credit card has a bonus attached to it, which qualifies as mileage through Southwest Airlines in order to earn the pass.

The first, called the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus credit card, currently has a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points.

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Here’s the Link

Spending $2,000 on this card within three months (though ideally you’d do it as quickly as possible in order to earn the pass as quickly as possible) will net you a total of 52,000 points toward the 110,000 you need for the pass.

The second card is Southwest’s business version of the rapid rewards card, called the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business credit card, is earning a 60,000 point sign up bonus. This is a limited time offer, so signing up now is the best idea if you want to get these points. (It goes back down to 50,000 points)

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Here’s the Link

If you guys are concerned about getting a business card, see my post from yesterday. It’s cool, seriously. Anyway, that card will net you 63,000 points after meeting $3,000 worth of spend in the first three months.

The third card you can apply for is called the Southwest Rapid Reward Premier credit card, and will also offer you 50,000 points after $2,000 in spend in the first 3 months.

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Here’s the Link

I would personally go for the first two cards outlined above, simply because the Plus card has a $69 annual fee, whereas the Premier card (both of these are personal cards) has a $99 annual fee, and you earn the same 50,000 point bonus for either.

So, after getting two cards (if you get one business and one personal), you’ll have earned 115,000 points, (including the points you’ll earn from meeting the minimum spend requirements) which will qualify you for the Companion Pass! How easy is that? Do you have someone you like/want to travel with? Then get this pass! It’s the holy grail of travel rewards and is so easily achievable right now, there’s no excuse not to!

Keep in mind that you should have good credit before attempting this (or any reward travel, for that matter). Otherwise, it’s free game! Have fun!

-Carissa and her Companion David

What’s In My Wallet? My Favorite Cards to Use and Keep

Ok, today I’d like to do a brief overview of the cards I keep in my wallet, either because they have amazing perks, or because they offer tremendous value in regards to points/redemptions. As we go on, I’ll do an in-depth post of each card, detailing the ins and outs of each card. Are you guys ready for this? *Deep breath* Ok let’s do it!

#1 The American Express Personal Platinum card

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Why?

I’m going to be upfront here and tell you guys that I’m a huge fan of the whole American Express line. I have 6 of their cards already, and the fact that they’ve waived all my annual fees has saved me a ton of money. This card has some of the best perks in the industry:

1. Access to the American Express concierge, who will find and book for you all kinds of cool stuff (such as reservations for restaurants you can’t normally get into, or tickets for Hamilton at face value)
2. Elite status with Hilton, Starwood, Marriott, Avis, National Car Rental, and Hertz
5x bonus points when you use the card to pay for airfare
3. $200/year airline fee credit, which reimburses you for incidentals such as bag fees (or upgrades to first class!)
4. A Priority Pass card, which gets you into participating Priority Pass airline lounges for free (more on this later)
Access to the American Express Centurion lounges in airports around the country (free massages!)
5. 50,000 point sign-up bonus, which is worth anywhere from $1000-$3500, depending on how you spend it
6. Tons of transfer partners, which offers amazing flexibility for redeeming points
A $100 credit to sign up for either Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, which saves TONS of time (though Global Entry also includes TSA PreCheck, so obviously do that one)

There are more, but these are the ones I personally find most valuable. I’ll go more in depth later.

 

#2 The American Express Business Platinum Card

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Ok, I know some of you are going to ask, do I have to have a business to own this card? The short answer is no. There’s a lot of literature on the subject, but here’s a good article explaining business credit cards:

Can I Get a Business Credit Card Even if I Don’t Have a Business?

Why?

The business version of the platinum card has many of the same perks as the personal one, with one notable exception:

1. 50% rebate on all points redeemed for airfare on an airline of your choice in economy class, or on any airline in either business or first class. This effectively doubles the value of your points, as you can redeem through the Amex travel portal without worrying about figuring out which partners to transfer your points to.
2. This card also has a $200/year airline fee credit
3. Until January 25th, this card has a 100,000 sign up bonus, which is worth anywhere from $2000-7000, depending on how you spend it

 

#3 The Citi Prestige Card

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I know I’ve already talked about this card a lot, but that’s because I rely on it so heavily.

Why?

1. The Citi Prestige concierge, which, like the American Express one, can book your tickets and reservations you otherwise wouldn’t be able to get. Booking hotels through the concierge also gets you the 4th night free on *any* stay, which can be invaluable.
2. 3x bonus points for money spent on airfare
3. 2x bonus points for spend on restaurants and entertainment
4. A 50,000 point sign up bonus, which, is worth between $750-$2000
5. Priority Pass membership for you, which also allows you to bring 2 extra guests into participating airline lounges for free
6. $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck (I use my spare credits on family and friends)
7. $250/year travel credit that is reimbursed automatically

 

#4 The Chase Sapphire Reserve

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I have 7 different Chase cards, but the Reserve is the best of them. Released last year, it caused a wild outcry as hordes of people lined up to apply for it. So many people got it that Chase actually ran out of the metal that the cards were supposed to be manufactured with, and had to start sending out plastic cards. (The shame!)

Why?

1. Great transfer partners, which allow for the ultimate flexibility when redeeming points.
2. 3x bonus points on all travel and restaurants (even, like, Uber)
3. 50,000 point sign up bonus, which is worth between $750-$2000
4. Priority Pass membership for you and unlimited amounts of guests, which means you and you whole family can get into airline lounges for free. (You’re welcome Great-Step-Uncle George 2x removed)
5. $300/year travel credit, which, like the Citi Prestige, is reimbursed automatically when they see travel purchases on your account
6. $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
7. Automatic 1.5 cent redemption of points on Chase’s travel portal, which, while not the best deal, saves you the headache of trying to work out transfer partners. The portal also includes Disneyworld hotels, unlike anyone else, which can save you a lot of money when traveling down to Orlando. (Who does that??)

 

#5 and #6 Starwood Preferred Gold Cards (both personal and business)

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I’ve put these cards together because they offer some really similar benefits, though they do have a few differentiating features. When I’m not trying to meet spending goals or using other cards with bonus categories, these are the cards I use, because SPG points are widely considered the most valuable points out there (and also some of the hardest to earn)

Why?

1. They both offer sign up bonuses of 25,000 points, which can be worth…thousands of dollars. I just spent 40,000 points to stay at the Walt Disney World Dolphin for 5 nights, which saved me $2100.
2. The SPG business card offers free club access at any Sheraton hotel you stay at. While I was initially meh about this perk, I quickly realized that club access means both free breakfast and dinner, which I take good advantage of. It’s saved me a bundle of money when traveling
3. SPG award point redemptions (at Starwood hotels) give you the 5th night free on any stay, which saves you 20% on your stay
4. SPG has the most transfer partners of anyone, and its points often transfer at a more than 1:1 ratio, which means you can get more points by transferring
5. Every time you transfer 20,000 points to a partner, you get an additional 5,000 point bonus

So there you guys go. These are my top cards, which I keep using even after I’ve earned their sign up bonuses. Most of these are considered the “top-tier” of reward cards, and for good reason. The perks they offer can be worth thousands of dollars, and making use of these can take your travel experience from good to amazing.

-Carissa

The Dominican Republic: Virgin Mudslides and Montezuma’s Revenge: The Final Part

Finally the last part guys! I’ve finished talking about how we got there, the caste system of the resort, and our new best friend the huntsman spider. So what else is left? Basically, I just want to discuss what went right, what went wrong, and what I’d change given the chance to do it again.

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David when he knows there’s a photo coming

First, while I definitely appreciate having gotten the hotel for so cheap, I certainly didn’t like the atmosphere of different tiered guests. There were certain pools and restaurants we weren’t able to go to, which I definitely didn’t appreciate.

Second, I’d do some more research on when the best weather is for the Dominican Republic. Like I mentioned before, it rained almost every day, which really put a- wait for it- damper on our trip. Ba dum tshh.

Third, bruh. What was up with that spider? Not cool, seriously not cool.

So what were the good things? The price, obviously, couldn’t be beat. Considering most all-inclusive resorts go for a minimum of $300/night for a couple, paying a mere $88 for the both of us for 4 nights was incredible. Though I didn’t do a lot of drinking, we ate our weight alone in food. (They had a Brazilian steakhouse! Unlimited meat!) The food was also really good, and no one stared judgily when I ordered every single dessert on the menu. I appreciated that.

The people were also pretty nice, though that may have been because everyone kept mistaking David for a Dominican. He speaks no Spanish, so every time they addressed him, he just stared at the floor uncomfortably while muttering “no…hablo…” until they got the message. It was fantastic.

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Me when I have no idea it’s taking a picture

Finally, when the weather was nice, it was really nice. Not too hot, though it was pretty humid. The pools were beautiful and fun to swim in as well.

So what would I change? Honestly, I’d probably go to a different resort. Despite the low price, when going somewhere all-inclusive (this was our first time) you expect to feel like a rockstar, which this place didn’t do. Was it worth eighty bucks? Yeah, definitely. Would I do it again? Maybe. Depends on if the spider showed up.

-Carissa

Oh, and regarding the title? Yeah, that happened. Thanks, Dominican Republic. 

The Dominican Republic: Virgin Mudslides and Montezuma’s Revenge: Part 2

Where did I leave off yesterday? Oh that’s right, we had just gotten to our hotel in the Dominican Republic. First off, have any of you guys ever been to the Caribbean? I went down through several different islands (St. Thomas, St. Maarten, St. Lucia, Barbados, Dominica) on a cruise a few years back, and while I always thought the resort areas were nice, beyond their borders the poverty levels were shocking. I guess white sand beaches are only important if you can, y’know, feed your family.

Anyway, this time around I was totally sure that it would be 100% different and everything would be nice and beautiful because…optimism. I think you guys can see where this is going. Turns out the Dominican Republic is just as poor as everyone else! But that’s ok, because we drove straight through it without stopping on the way to our lovely all-inclusive resort.

Enough about the plight of others. What, do you think this is a blog about humanity? Nope! Our resort, which was called “Lifestyle Tropical Resort,” was a huge, sprawling mass that encompassed 10 other, smaller resorts. I guess the Lifestyle brand is worldwide, which was fairly obvious considering most of the guests there were from the far reaches of the world: Australia, Ecuador, Canada, etc etc.

The resort gave us each a wrist band, which seemed really cool to begin with, since they were marked with a large VIP and clearly meant we were something special. Then, a friendly Dominican guide showed us to our room, which was decent, something I’d expect from a 3 star hotel in the Dominican Republic.

However, we soon came to find out that these wristbands were not quite as special as we had thought, and that actually being marked VIP denoted us as the lowest tier of guests on property. What did this mean?

NO ACCESS TO THE ICE CREAM SHOP. WE WERE REBUFFED FROM THE CREPE STAND. AND- WORST OF ALL- WE WEREN’T ALLOWED INTO THE SPECIALTY WHISKEY BAR. David returned to our room, crying.

Seriously, though. While being at an all-inclusive resort was nice, having different levels of access certainly made us feel…less than. Guests would be hanging out with each other, making small talk, while trying to glance surreptitiously at each other’s wrists to see what level of membership each person had. (The people who owned timeshares within the resort were obviously the highest tier) It was like a caste system at an all-inclusive resort, and we were at the bottom.

I know, these problems are so first world.

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David suffering his life away

So what’s the point of being at an all-inclusive resort? Obviously, to eat and drink as much as humanly possible. You guys will then be disappointed to know that I was on antibiotics and thus prevented from drinking alcohol. David, however, suffered from no such compunction and managed to drink enough for the both of us. The resort is littered with bars and filled with generous bartenders who, I kid you not, straight dump liquor into your glass while winking knowingly at you.

So it was with great confusion that David ordered a “virgin mudslide.” The conversation went something like this:

“Hi, I’d like a superextrastrongalcoholic drink and one virgin mudslide.”
*pause for a beat*
Server: “a what?”
David: “yeah, a virgin mudslide.”
Server: “…you mean a chocolate frosty?”
David: *shamefully* “…yeah.”

That’s how you know a man loves you. Let me tell you, I slurped those things down like there was no tomorrow. They were delicious!

We didn’t do much during our time there, so there isn’t much to write about. However, we did get to try some awesome food at dinner time, and we spend a significant amount of time in the cabanas at the beach. Those were awesome.

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So tilt. So art. So cabana.

But did you guys know that November is the rainy season in the DR? Us either, which meant that 3/4 days we were there, it poured off and on all day. That meant the cabanas were frequently soggy (no one else minded because they were all plastered).

And! One day we got stuck in a rainstorm on the way to dinner at the *authentic* Dominican food restaurant. The whole resort was flooded, and remember how I said it was totally sprawled out? Well, you have to use their resort shuttle system to get around, but the water was too high to get through. I mean, the cars in the parking lot were under almost 3 feet of water. We did manage to flag down a delivery van, and crawled into the open back (no seats, just a metal floor) despite the driver’s protests. Then about 8 other people saw what we were doing and climbed in too, including a very drunk, very old woman who didn’t realize I wasn’t her granddaughter until 20 minutes in. I’ve never been held so lovingly by a 90 year I didn’t know.

Ok, one last story from the resort and I’ll finish up with this part, because seriously guys WHAT THE HELL. Have you guys ever heard of a huntsman spider? I hadn’t either. Here’s a photo of it:

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Shortly before this man died a tragic, spidery, death

Well, on our last night at the resort, we were eating at an open air Mexican restaurant (the food throughout the resort was actually really good), when all of a sudden, the couple at the table next to us stood up, freaking out. We were waiting on our dessert to be served, and I turned to ask the girl what was going on.

“There’s a spider!” she shrieked, pointing wildly in the direction of her table. Now, I would just like to pause here and note that I am not afraid of spiders. David is, and I have to crush them all around the house because he flails like a big baby at them.

But then I saw this spider. It was finished with their table, and instead ran over to ours, skittering across the tabletop like a huge, hairy omen of death.

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THIS WAS BASICALLY US

It was at this point that I got on my chair and started shouting. David, frozen with fear, gaped at the spider and refused to move. A waitress came rushing over, and when I hysterically described the spider to her, she shook the tablecloth a few times before declaring that the spider was gone.

Besides, she said, “it’s harmless, like a big kitty. ”

She then brought me a jack and coke, to calm my nerves.
Thanks, Dominican Republic.
-Carissa who is miraculously still alive

The Dominican Republic: Virgin Mudslides and Montezuma’s Revenge: Part 1

Time for another trip review! Today we’re going to talk about our jaunt over to the Dominican Republic, what went wrong, what went right, and how to do it better next time.

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The idea for the trip started like many of my others. There I was, innocently scrolling through my Facebook feed, looking for videos of baby kittens when- what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a travel pirates post with the deal of the year!

So of course I had to get it. What was it, you ask? Oh, no big deal, just a four night stay at an all-inclusive resort for $88. No, not per person. Just $88. Who wouldn’t buy that?

David always knows when I’m booking travel because I’ll always call him up all innocently, like:

“Hey David, what’s your passport number?”
“Why?”
“Oh, you know, just…wondering.”

For some reason he doesn’t believe me. Anyway, I booked the hotel and then set about looking for ways to get to down to the Dominican Republic for free. I mean, I didn’t want to spoil my $88 vacation rate by purchasing airfare.

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It turns out that flights down to the Dominican Republic cost an arm and a leg, but luckily, I had some reward redemption tricks up my sleeve to keep costs low (free).

Since the vacation started right after Thanksgiving, David and I were going to be up in D.C., so rather than flying all the way back to Augusta, we stopped off in Atlanta for the night before hopping rewards flights down to Miami and then across to the DR.

Atlanta happens to be one of those cities where even the expensive things are cheap in comparison to the rest of the country. This is evidenced by the fact that staying in even the nicest hotels, such as the Ritz-Carlton, will only set you back $150/night.

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Photo of the year award right here

Now, another perk that the American Express Business Platinum (and regular platinum) have is something called the ‘Fine Hotels and Resorts’ program, where you book through Amex’s travel portal and receive extra goodies, such as 12pm check in, 4pm check out, room upgrades, free breakfast and a $100 credit for food and beverage (or a spa, if your hotel has one.) The Ritz-Carlton Atlanta qualifies for this program, so I went ahead and booked through American Express’ portal in order to get those awesome benefits. Since our flight was super early the next morning, I opted to have room service delivered to the room for our breakfast. The free breakfast credit covered up to $60 worth of food.

Those savvy readers here will see that, very quickly, my $150/night hotel was actually costing me negative money to stay. I got the room upgrade, checked in at 10am, and spent a wonderful evening with David eating steak at their super fancy restaurant. All told, it cost me -$10 plus whatever you value all the upgrades and stuff at. (Since they gave me $160 worth of free food and drinks). Not a bad start to the week!

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Our 5am spread

I then spent 15k Delta miles each for David and I to fly round-trip to Miami. After taxes, our flight cost was $22. (We used miles earned from the American Express Delta Platinum card, whose sign up bonus is currently 50,000 miles). When looking to book those flights at cash value, the cost was around $500/person.

We rose early the next morning, caught our flight, and landed in Miami with several hours to spare. We used those extra hours to head to the American Express Centurion Lounge (more on that later) for free food, drinks, and massages. After that, we boarded our flights to Puerto Plata, using reward redemptions from British Airways (earned using Chase’s British Airways Visa card, whose sign up bonus is currently 50,000 points). In total, it cost us 15k points each and $200 for taxes and fees. The cash value of these flights was around $700/person.

So! After an early flight and many hours in the airport, we finally arrived to our hotel. It seemed fairly nice from the offset, not super extravagant, but I figured for $88 there wasn’t anything that could be too awful.

Foreshadowing.

-Carissa the Ridiculously Tanned in Winter

Dubai on a Dime (or Two)

Ok, so today I want to talk about a trip that hasn’t even happened yet, mostly because I’m just so stoked about the awesome deal that I got it with!

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Since I don’t have any related photos, enjoy this picture of us swilling beer at a Belgian beer fest in Japan.

Yesterday I gave a brief intro to credit card rewards, so today I’m going to focus on some of the credit card perks that are out there, and how using them properly can make travel WAY more affordable. (Also I want to brag because seriously guys this was so genius of me)

If you guys read my earlier blog outlining our itinerary for 2017, you saw that it was pretty busy, mostly because I have no self-restraint when it comes to trips I can both afford and have the time to go on. I mean, like, why not? To that end, early last week I was wasting my day online, when I saw that there were some fairly cheap fares to Dubai. As in, ~$400 round trip from LA. That got me thinking about a trip to Dubai, and whether or not it was possible to fit it into my schedule. Obviously, the answer was YES! So, after doing a bit of browsing, I wasn’t able to find that aforementioned four hundred dollar fare, but I did find that Delta had fares going for $680, which is still a pretty good deal.

Here is where my first trick comes in. American Express is one of my favorite credit card brands for a multitude of reasons. Their customer service is excellent, they offer very generous sign up bonuses and perks, and they waive all annual fees for active duty military. How cool is that?

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For Chrissy, who loves hot dogs

Anyway, after the Chase Sapphire Reserve card debuted last year, there was a mad rush for other credit card companies to catch up and offer a ‘premium’ travel reward card to match Chase’s. American Express’ answer to that was to begin offering a 50% discount on all reward point redemptions made for airfare on your designated airline if you have their Business Platinum card. That is, American Express lets you pick one airline per year for which you would like to have 50% off reward redemptions. Delta happens to be my preferred airline, which led to an awesome bit of luck. Let me break this down a little:

Generally speaking, you can redeem 1 reward point per cent on Amex’s travel website. So, if I had a $680 ticket, I could instead redeem 68,000 points and get my ticket for free. With Amex’s new offer, I could instead redeem 34,000 points for that same exact ticket. This works for any ticket you buy, not just for yourself. Thus, I was able to get two round trip tickets for David and I from Los Angeles to Dubai for a total of 68,000 points. Considering that the sign up bonus for American Express is currently 100,000 points, this is a pretty awesome deal.

Once our flights were paid for (free!) I started looking for hotels.

Ok brag time here. Are any of you familiar with the St. Regis brand of hotels? It’s a super high-end luxury hotel chain owned by Starwood Hotels and Resorts (one of my favorite hotel chains). Here’s a photo of the lobby at the St. Regis Dubai:

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That’s pretty stinkin’ nice. Room rates start at $321/night after taxes. That’s actually fairly inexpensive for the St. Regis brand, since rooms in the one in New York start at around $800. It is the Middle East, after all.

Still, $321/night is too rich for my blood, especially since we’re looking to stay in Dubai for almost two weeks. However, Starwood currently has a promotion running where you can buy 4 nights (at tons of different hotels) and they’ll give you the next two free, for a total of 6 nights. Not bad, right?

You guys remember how I talked about the unconditional ‘buy 3 nights get 1 free’ deal that my Citi Prestige card offers? Well, you can stack those two offers together, to get a ‘buy 3 nights get 3 free deal.’ That’s half off! So I called up the Citi Prestige concierge, and after a lengthy (about 40min) conversation with a very skeptical concierge woman (she had never done this kind of transaction before, so she handed me off to another woman who had- and she very gladly helped me out), I had our room booked!

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I mean look at this bathroom!

It still wasn’t free, of course, but I thought if there was ever a time to splurge this would be it. All told, I got 6 nights at one of the best hotels in the world for $903, instead of $1930 were I just to buy it flat out.

Since that’s only six nights, I still had to buy five more, but where? Well, another nifty perk of the American Express Business Platinum is that it gives you elite status at several hotel chains simply for holding the card. One of those chains is Starwood, where I just booked the St. Regis (which means free room upgrades, 12pm check-in, and 4pm check out, as well as welcome amenities every time you stay), another that it provides is Hilton HHonors gold status.

Hilton’s reward program gives some pretty good perks, the best of which is free breakfast wherever you stay. You guys see where I’m going with this, right? Just wait, it gets better.

Well, I really wanted to stay on Jumeirah Beach, which is the best beach in Dubai, with perfect white sand beaches that overlook hotels like the Burj al-Arab (which I can’t *quite* afford yet). Hilton is having a winter sale right now, where rooms are 30% off, but, even better, you can stack this sale with something called a points + money redemption. Essentially, you pay partial points and partial cash in order to get a discount on the room rate.

Rooms at the Hilton’s Doubletree Jumeriah Beach start at $272/night, but you can also get them for $64 and 16,000 Hilton points per night. Well, I don’t have any Hilton credit cards, so I didn’t have enough points to qualify for that rate. But you know what I do have? That Citi Prestige card I keep talking about! Citi happens to be a transfer reward partner of Hilton and also just *happens* to be having a bonus for 2x the points right now when you transfer to Hilton.

So that’s what I did. I transferred 40,000 Citi points (the current sign-up bonus for this card is 50,000 points) over to my Hilton account, and booked it for five nights at a total cost of $410 and 40,000 Citi points instead of $1506 for a 1000sq ft king bedroom suite right on the beach. Even better? Free breakfast, 12pm check in, 4pm check out, and a possible room upgrade! That’s the high life.

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Our Hilton hotel

All told, our 12 night stay cost $1,313 for flights from Los Angeles and fantastic stays at some of the nicest properties in the world. If we were paying out of pocket, it would have cost us $4,796 for the same thing. That’s the power of points!

I know this has been a long post and tons of information, but I think it’s pretty worth it for you guys to hear. Granted, this isn’t the cheapest vacation in the world, since we decided to spring for the really nice hotels. We could’ve gone cheaper or even free, but then, isn’t Dubai all about excess?

Now that our flights and hotel are covered, I have to come up with some things to do! I’ve heard sand boarding in the desert is great, and we’ll definitely have to ride a camel, but other than that I’m an open book. Do you guys have any recommendations?

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-Carissa and George

An Intro to Reward Travel: Credit Cards Are Not *always* Your Enemy

So after an auspicious start to the blog with the review of our trip to Norway, I thought I’d start making good on the promise to show you guys how exactly we manage to go on these trips. It probably seems complicated, but I assure you guys, it’s not. It just take a bit of time investment on the front end (ya know, to learn it all), and then you can pretty easily hop on things at will.

First things first, right? There are two methods to my madness here, both of which are equally important. In late 2015 I started looking into cheaper ways to travel to Europe, since I had been wanting to go over for a long time. I quickly stumbled into the idea of credit card rewards, and while I originally was skeptical, I found that if you manage it correctly, you can earn tons of rewards without incurring any debt/interest payments/horrible life-ruining fees.

The key, obviously, is not to carry a balance from month to month. Now, since I’m not a huge spender and I don’t have a ton of money, I rely most heavily on credit cards’ sign-up bonuses to earn my points. As an incentive, most cards will offer anywhere from 50k-100k points for you to sign up and spend X amount of dollars on them in a given time. Take, for example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card. It offers a 100k point sign up bonus after 4K in spend in 3 months.

That sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Well, rather than going out and buying yourself four thousand dollars worth of stuff that you don’t need, it makes much more sense to simply transfer all of your spending over to the card. For me, that means my mortgage payment, my car payment, all utilities (water, electricity, gas, phone, internet), insurance payments, etc end up going onto the card. In a month, that total equals about $1900 worth of bills. So, just after 2 months in, I’ve met my spending goal without incurring a ton of extra debt. And, since I already have that money earmarked for bill payment, I simply use that to pay off the credit card.

Then I receive the bonus! 100k points is worth anywhere from $1700-$5000, depending on how you use it. Not too shabby, right? So what do you do if your mortgage doesn’t accept credit card payments? There are actually a ton of services out there that allow you to pay with a credit card and then turn around and issue a check to your bank. Plastiq.com is one of them, but there are a multitude of others. Granted, these folks do charge a small fee for their services, but it ends up worth it in the long run.

After earning the bonus, I simply rinse and repeat with different cards. The credit card market is extremely competitive right now, so there are a ton of good options out there.

Will this hurt my credit score?

I know this question probably bothers a lot of you. The short answer is no. While people generally talk about the amount of inquiries on your report as damaging to your score, the extra lines of credit that you receive will actually increase your score.

As an example, let me give you my own credit history. Since starting this whole thing in late 2015, I’ve gotten 13 new credit cards. (Though only two of them were in 2015, the rest were 2016). That’s right, I averaged essentially one new card per month for the entirety of last year. And you know what? My credit score has actually increased. The reason for this is simple: the number of inquiries on your credit report has a low impact on your overall score, while the available amount of credit that you have (and your overall utilization) has a medium impact on your score. My credit is actually better now than when I started.
The key, again, and I can’t say this enough, is: don’t carry a balance. Otherwise, all the rewards you receive will be eaten into by the interest you’re paying each month. Instead, transfer your regular spending onto the card and use the cash you were going to spend anyway to pay off the card. Trust me, it’s worth it.

What are some of the things I’m getting to do with these rewards?

Flights:

Fly round-trip Los Angeles- Tokyo
Fly round trip Atlanta- Dominican Republic
Fly Houston-Orlando- San Francisco

Fly round trip New York-Madrid
Fly round trip Los Angeles-Dubai
Fly one way New York- Washington DC
Fly New York- Sacramento- Houston

Hotels:

5 night stay at Disneyworld’s Dolphin hotel (free instead of $2100)
6 night stay at the Doubletree Hilton Jumeriah Beach in a 1000sq ft suite ($400 instead of $1700)
4 night stay at the Doubletree Aqaba ($160 instead of $600)

This is just the tip of the iceberg here. There are so many opportunities out there to be taken, and it just takes a (teeny tiny) leap of faith to jump in.

Anyway, this was a brief primer on some of the rewards you can get with cards. Let me know if you guys like this/ would like to hear more/ want an in-depth guide on earning and redemptions. This is something I’m pretty passionate about, and the more people I can bring into this world, the better!

-Carissa the know-it-all