Miraculous Miraval: Chakras and Zen

Hello Dear Readers!

I’m writing to you from the gorgeous Miraval Resort near Tucson, Arizona. My sister, Jill, and I have been staying here for the last few days, doing all kinds of awesome things. I’ll write about those later (ziplining!), but first I want to tell you how we managed to stay here, because this property is absolutely incredible, and you all need to come here. 

Secluded in the desert

The Miraval Resort is very unique- it’s one of few all-inclusive resorts in the United States, and its rooms can go for as much as $2000/night. However, as of June 29th, Miraval has teamed up with Hyatt in order to allow points earning and redemptions at the resort.

Us with our driver, cheesing before we left the airport. (The ride is included!)

The Miraval exceeds the normal category 1-7 chart, costing 45,000 points/night for the first person, and 20,000 points/ night for the second person. That’s an awful lot, and speaks volumes about the quality of this resort. The Ellen Degeneres show even came here, and did a segment about it:

However, in order to celebrate their new partnership, Hyatt is offering 50% of your points back if you stay here between June 29th-September 15th. As soon as I saw this place, I knew I wanted to come here. And with 50% off, why not?

So I went ahead and booked two nights for Jill and I here, costing a total of 65,000 points (after the 50% back). Now, I had that amount already in my Hyatt account, but the rub here is that you’ll need the full amount of points in your account when you book, totaling 130,000, and they refund the points back to you after you complete your stay.

This kind of sucks, but is definitely worth it. Chase is a transfer partner of Hyatt, so I went ahead and transferred 65,000 Chase Ultimate Reward points into my Hyatt account. (You can earn Ultimate Reward points with many different Chase cards) I’ll have that many left over when they refund me, so I’ll have to use them somewhere else (the Park Hyatt Maldives, perhaps?)

This trip has truly been once in a lifetime. Jill and I don’t get to spend much time together, so getting some sister time has been really awesome.

We were…a little tired after our 6am flight

The Miraval is a wellness resort, so it’s full of classes offering all kinds of different things to do. We’ve been super busy, what with all the meditation, hiking, and spa treatments. When you book with points, your package also includes a $175/ per person/ day credit that you can use at the spa, or on different, extra classes, like horseback riding and ziplining.

I’ll write about that next! Until then, I’m going to go meditate and ponder chakras.

-Carissa “Zen” Rawson

Weekly Inspiration: Paris on Points and Miles

Hello All!

It’s time for another installment of weekly inspiration! Now, I know my travel style is probably a little bit different than a lot of you- that is, I have apparently unlimited free time and go wherever whenever (not totally true, to be fair). However, I realize most of you have productive, working, lives, and some fairly limited time off. Thus, I’m working on making real, sensible, recommendations for you all.

How thoughtful of me! (Sorry, I’ll try to be less sarcastic.) Anyway, this week’s focus is Paris, the city of love. Voted the most romantic city in Europe, Paris is jam-packed with famous landmarks and tons of things to do. I know Paris tops the list for many of us, so let’s figure out how to get there for free- or at least really cheap, eh?

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Flights

Now, there are tons of ways to get to Europe. In case you guys haven’t been keeping up this last year, airlines are going full-warfare on flight prices, which means we’re seeing some incredibly low prices:

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A quick look at November shows us that several different carriers are willing to sell us tickets from New York-Paris for a total of $511 per person. That’s ridiculously cheap all by itself, but we want it free.

So! The American Express Business Platinum is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 75,000 points. One of its perks is a 50% refund on points you spend for airfare on an airline of your choosing. That means, looking above, that you can choose Delta, Air France, Iberia, Finnair, or British Airways, and pay a total of 25,600 points per ticket. That means you’ll be able to enjoy three roundtrip tickets to Paris with just one sign-up bonus!

Now, the American Express Business Platinum spend threshold is pretty high (10k for 50,000 points, and 10k for and additional 25k), so if you’re not looking for a heavy investment, that could be problematic.

In that case, I would recommend the British Airways Visa Signature from Chase, which will give you 50,000 points after spending just 3k in the first three months. (Or even up to 100,000 points if you put enough spend on it).

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Using British Airways Avios, you can then fly New York-Dublin for a mere 26,000 points + fuel surcharges roundtrip. (After meeting your spend goal, you’ll have 53k points).

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Flying on BA’s partner, Aer Lingus

From Dublin, flights to Paris are cheap. Airlines such as Ryanair can get you there for around $20 bucks, or, flying a nicer carrier will cost you around $100 roundtrip. Not bad, not bad at all.

Hotels

So you’ve managed to make your way all the way to Paris, now what?

You could spend two nights at the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme, which is one of the best hotels in Paris, using the two reward nights earned with your Chase Hyatt Visa:

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Or, you can transfer points from one of your Chase Ultimate Rewards cards (such as the Sapphire Preferred or Reserve, which each have a 50,000 point sign up bonus after 4k spend in 3 months), and snag 3 nights at the Hyatt Regency Paris Étoile, which costs a mere 15,000 points a night, or over 1,000 Euros for your three night stint.

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If you get both cards, you’ll have enough points for a full week at the Hyatt Regency, saving yourself 2,200 Euros.

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But Carissa, you say, this all seems like a lot of work. And you’re right, Paris is a notoriously expensive city, and hotels there cost more than almost any else in the world. So what if you don’t want to sign up for a couple different cards just for your hotels?

Well, my friends, I give you Airbnb. No, Airbnb is not free. And you won’t even use points for it. (Or at least not most traditional points). But it is dirt cheap, and cards that give you bonuses based on travel purchases (Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred, Citi Prestige, and a whole host of others) will give you the reward bonus for booking with Airbnb. Check out some of these rates for a stay in November:

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These are all full apartments

So if you ever wanted to stay in a chic Parisian apartment for really cheap, Airbnb is going to be your best friend. In fact, it’s what I used during my trip to Paris last year, and I find that it really has outsized value in such an outrageously expensive city.

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Now, if you really don’t want to pay for the Airbnb, you can get yourself the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard, which gives you a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points (after 3k spend in 3 months). These points can be used to erase charges off your card, so your stay above there would cost 39,200 points, and you’d still have some left over for other fun stuff. (Souvenirs!)

Ok! I know this has been a lot of information in a short post, but I’m hoping I got it all out there pretty clearly. Paris doesn’t have to be unaffordable if you know how to play your cards right, and saving money on airfare and hotels leaves room in the budget for other fun stuff, like shows and ridiculously fancy dinners.

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Like the Moulin Rouge!

I hope you liked this post! Let me know if there’s somewhere you guys would like me to write about!

-Carissa “Fancy Pants” Ragland

Weekly Inspiration: All-Inclusive Cancun on Points and Miles

Hello!

So I realize I started a new series of posts called weekly inspiration, and then never followed up on that. Now, a few weeks later, I finally have time to write some more about awesome things you can do with points.

Today’s topic is Cancun! This comes partly as a result of my own impending trip to Cancun (with my friend Chrissy! Hi Chrissy!) and as a result of a conversation with Joni, where I asked a billion questions about what types of vacations people like to go on.

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This could be you

Now, without further ado, I give you Cancun on points and miles:

Hotels

Now, everyone knows there are a billion all-inclusive hotels throughout Cancun, and a lot of them are good. Great, even. But if you’re going for the experience of a lifetime, the Hyatt Zilara (adults only) and Hyatt Ziva (family-friendly) are the gold standard of all-inclusive luxury. They have tons of reviews talking about how amazing they are, and, even better, can be booked using reward points! (That’s very uncommon, by the way).

The Zilara costs more, since it’s adults only, and a four night stay there in July will run you $4300. Yes, that is mind-bogglingly expensive.

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Ouch.

However, the Chase Hyatt rewards card, which I have mentioned previously, comes with 2 free nights at any hotel in the Hyatt portfolio. (After 2k spend in the first 3 months). If you and your other half (or friend, or literally anyone else you wouldn’t mind sharing room with) each get this card, you’ll both be basking in the Cancun sunshine before you even know it.

Alternatively, both the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred currently come with a 50,000 point sign-up bonus after 4k spend each in the first 3 months. These points can be transferred over to Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio, meaning you can use them to pay for your entire stay at the hotels.The Hyatt Zilara Cancun will run you 25,000 points/night, and the Hyatt Ziva will cost 20,000points/night.

And it’s all free!

Flights

Now, flights to Cancun can be relatively inexpensive, if you keep an eye out and book quickly when good rates appear. I just snagged a flight going from Orlando-Cancun-Los Angeles for $260 total. I paid using points from my American Express Business OPEN, and since it was on Delta (my preferred airline), I received a 50% rebate on points, meaning I spent only 13,000 points total for my flight. (Which is the equivalent of paying $130).

However, if you’re going at peak season, or if you don’t feel like scouring the web for stuff, tons of options abound for reward flights to Cancun.

Southwest usually has really good (and cheap) options for flights to Cancun. To that end, I recommend one of Southwest’s Chase credit cards. There are three, currently offering sign-up bonuses ranging from 50,000-60,000 points.

A quick search on Southwest shows me that they have roundtrip flights to Cancun in July (flying from Los Angeles) starting from 11,108 points roundtrip per/person. This means you and your new best friend can both fly (twice!) roundtrip to Cancun on points. Of course, if you live on the east coast things tend to be a bit more costly, but you should still have more than enough points to cover the cost.

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Since these are all-inclusive resorts, of course, flights and hotel are the entirety of your cost. This whole vacation is free!

To put this into perspective, the dollar cost of your stay would go like this:

$4352 on hotel
$520/flights ($260/person on Southwest)
=
$4,872 for four nights at one of the best all-inclusive hotels in the world. Or, using points, it’ll cost you nothing at all.

So there you have it! A really easy way to get the vacation of a lifetime using a few different cards. Let me know if you guys have any other recommendations for vacations, or if there’s something specific you’re dying to see. Until then, I’ll be dreaming about the beach! Adios!

-Carissa “Gettin Tan” Ragland

Weekly Inspiration: Hawaii on Points and Miles

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I’d start posting different examples for vacations that you can take using points and miles, so I thought I’d finally make good on the offer. Now in the past I’ve posted up my own trips, but since I’m only one person and I can’t possibly take every trip in the world, let’s start working on some hypothetical ones.

First up: Hawaii!

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I know for a lot of people Hawaii is a bucket list item (I still haven’t been…yet), and unfortunately, it always seems to cost a ton of money. Now, there are loads of options for using points and miles to get to Hawaii, but I’m just going to highlight one really easy one, for people who are just getting started. Ready?

How to Get There: Airfare

While round-trip flights from the mainland can usually cost more than $400/person, snagging flights on award availability isn’t all that hard. British Airways, which offers a co-branded Chase credit card, will give you 50,000 points after spending $2,000 in the first three months. Thanks to British Airways’ award chart (it’s distance based, rather than based on the cost of the ticket) this means that you can score a round-trip flight to Hawaii for just 25,000 points. (This is using its award partner, American Airlines) That means that you and someone you really like can fly to Hawaii for free!

Where to Stay: Hotels

There are tons of hotels in Hawaii. For the most part, they’re all ridiculously overpriced. While there are again many hotels that can be redeemed for award points, here we’re going for longevity. What’s the use of spending 50,000 points to stay one night at the fanciest hotel, when you can spend the same for 4 nights elsewhere?

To that end, I recommend the Hyatt Place Waikiki Beach. It’s a category three Hyatt hotel, which means it will cost you just 12,000 points/ night to stay there. In July, the cost to stay there is $270/night, plus taxes and resort fees.

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Chase has both the Sapphire Reserve and Sapphire Preferred cards, which each offer a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points. (After 4k in spend in the first 3 months). You can transfer Chase reward points to Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio, meaning you can spend a whopping 8 nights in Hawaii for free if you get both cards. That same stay would cost you almost $2500 out of pocket. (The Chase Sapphire Reserve even has a 100k sign up bonus available until March 12th if you apply in-branch)

What About the Rest of It?

I know that airfare and hotels are often the two most costly portions of a vacation. But what if you wanted a truly free vacation?

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard offers a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points after 3k spend in 3 months, and you can use its redemptions to erase travel charges at a rate of 1 cent/mile. That’s another $500 worth of stuff you can have for free. What’s not to like about that?

All in all, the travel game isn’t too difficult. Once you get your head wrapped around the different points and their possibilities, almost nowhere is off limits.

Now here’s a solicitation: does anyone have any requests for places to go? Let me know in the comments if you’d like me to do some research and come up with a point plan for you.

Cheers!

-Carissa

Skiing With the Rich and Famous: A How-To Guide for the Poor (and Unemployed) Among Us

Hey guys!

Ok, so I’ve been sitting on this one for a while because I reaaally wanted to do it justice.

What is “it,” exactly?

Well, let me tell you!

It was our Valentine’s Day celebration that we celebrated in a totally planned and not-at-all last minute fashion! Ok, you caught me, it was like a week in advance and maybe I forced David to cancel all his plans. But trust me, it was worth it. So what did we do?

We went to Beaver Creek, Colorado! (It’s for skiing). More specifically, we stayed at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek and skied our tails off on Beaver Creek’s many many ski runs.

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The view from our hotel room

Now, in case many of you guys don’t know, Beaver Creek is full of rich people. I mean like, “Oh I guess I’ll just spend ten thousands dollars this week and go to Beaver Creek” rich. Way above the likes of us. Luckily, and you guys guessed it, Carissa-the-Points-Queen was here to save the day. So how did I manage this?

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Yes. I live here.

Well, the Hyatt brand happens to be a transfer partner of Chase. If you guys remember, I’ve got a few different Chase cards, which have earned me almost 200k Chase points. However, I also happen to have the Hyatt Chase card, which has a sign-up bonus of 2 free nights anywhere.

Now, I had originally planned to use those free nights at the Maldives, but a quick search showed me that I could save myself some points and swap those free nights over to the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek.

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Why? Because the Park Hyatt Maldives is only a Category 6 hotel, which costs 25,000 points/night, and the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek is a Category 7, costing 30,000 points/night. So, by using my two nights at Beaver Creek, I could save myself 10,000 points over a 2 night stay. Well worth it, in my opinion.

For reference, the Park Hyatt is currently going for almost $1000/night, so this was a pretty big deal.

With the hotel taken care of, all we had to do was get there. Starting from Washington D.C., roundtrip flights were around $700/person. Ew. Too much for me.

However, after a stupidly long amount of time, I found some Southwest flights from Philly that were $180 roundtrip. And you know what flying Southwest means, right? David comes for free! (I also redeemed points for our flight) So we drove our happy butts two hours up to Philly, spent a night in Denver, then rented a car and drove the additional two hours to Beaver Creek.

Pause for a moment here. At the request of David, I need to enthusiastically tell you guys how great our rental car company was. I rented from Silvercar, which gives a 30% discount to Visa signature card holders (Chase Sapphire Preferred/ Reserve) They only rent out Audis, which is the coolest thing ever, so we cruised to Beaver Creek in style. It’s also worth noting that the cost of our Audi was $269 for the entire weekend, while a shuttle roundtrip would have cost us $349. I’ll take the leather seats, please.

Let me just say, our hotel was awesome. It was located at the bottom of the ski slopes, so you literally left the hotel and got onto the chair lift up. Super cool.

Now, if you guys happen to know me, you happen to know that I had tried skiing exactly once in my life before this. Suffice to say, it went badly. (So so badly). So I was fairly concerned about attempting to ski again. David had been before, so he was all set, but I opted for ski school. And I mean like “how do I put boots on?” ski school.

Of course I was obviously the best at it (why? I’m normally so clumsy). In fact, I was so good that my instructor had me go it alone on the ski lift. He called me athletic and sent me on my way, which meant that I immediately fell over and ate shit as soon as I tried to get off. Very encouraging.

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Look how perfect I am.

Overall the day was fantastic and made huge ski fans out of both David and I. Unfortunately, since the skiing up there is so bleeding expensive, we only managed to make it out for one day. The other day we spent wandering around Beaver Creek village (they hand out free chocolate chip cookies!) and watching a concert with Glen Morrison, who is some guy from Glee and also other famous things.

Did I mention that David opted for no ski school? He says he had a great time, but he also had a GoPro strapped to his and oh my God you guys need to see the videos of him wiping out. He promises he’s uploading them to YouTube soon so I’ll link you guys as soon as they’re up.

Otherwise, we had an amazing weekend which we could have in no way afforded without points. True, ski rentals and ski school cost us out of pocket, but a free hotel and free flights meant we could afford this awesome opportunity without breaking the bank. Totally worth it!

Carissa “Snowbunny” Rawson

The Magnificent Maldives

Ok! I’m back! Sorry I’ve been away so long, I’ve just been busy moving around California and spending time with friends and family. I know I promised I would write more on Japan, and I will, but today I’m super stoked to talk to you guys about the things you can do with sign up bonuses.

I know I’ve already talked a bit about my favorite cards, but the world is filled with different credit cards companies just begging for your business. Of course, to entice you into spending with them, they offer some very generous sign up bonuses. One card that I just recently opened is the Chase Hyatt Visa, which comes up with a sign-up bonuses of two free nights at any Hyatt property.

Now, at first glance, the offer may not seem that awesome. I mean, who wants to go anywhere for two nights? However, David and I both are getting the card and stacking our offers, so we’ll be able to stay a total of four nights.

After earning the bonus (with $2,000 in spending in the first three months), you’ve gotta figure out where to stay. Now, what makes this offer so valuable is that it’s for any property, which led me to this:

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The Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa is possibly the chain’s nicest hotel. Located on its own island, and with room for only 100 people at a time, this hotel starts at $1000/night.

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I mean come on

But that’s for the cheapest season. You know what I’m gonna do? David and I (and some friends who I’ve convinced to join us) are going during the high season, when rooms are $1930. A stay for four nights would otherwise cost us $9,535. Or, y’know, free.

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If the Maldives aren’t your thing (because you’re afraid of sun? Or fabulousness?), there are plenty of other opportunities to use your free nights:

  1. Park Hyatt Vendome, Paris
  2. Park Hyatt Tokyo
  3. Park Hyatt Beaver Creek
  4. Park Hyatt Sydney
  5. Park Hyatt Milan
  6. Park Hyatt Zurich
  7. Park Hyatt New York

These ones aren’t *quite* as expensive as the Maldives, but are definitely more accessible for people not looking to travel to the middle of nowhere.

All in all, the Hyatt Chase Visa gives a pretty awesome sign-up bonus. Using it well can give you almost $5000 worth of free hotel stays! That’s worth my spending any day.

-Carissa “let’s do that!” Rawson

Japan, Or: Dear God Help Me Where Am I?

Since I’ve been bombarding you guys the last few days with different travel tips, I thought I’d go back a bit and talk about our trip to Japan last May. This trip was unique in a lot of ways, not the least because it was David’s first time leaving the US (as an adult. He had been to Mexico when he was a kid).

That meant that everything we were doing was going to be new and different and weird for him. Plus, y’know, it was Japan. Everything there is uncomfortably foreign.

Since this way last May, I actually didn’t have a ton of travel tricks up my sleeve. However, I had signed us up for British Airways Visa cards the year before, since I knew I’d be wanting to travel around. That meant our flights to and from Tokyo were free, which is a huge savings in and of itself.

I’m going to pause here and tout the awesomeness of Airbnb. Japan was our first time using the platform, and it saved us hundreds of dollars. It also lets you live like a local, which is something that everyone values (unless you’re in, like, Liberia). Since then, I’ve stayed in 13 different Airbnbs, with reservations for 11 more this year. What I’m saying is, these places can be great deals.

Our trip to Japan went like this: Tokyo -> Hakone -> Tokyo -> Kanazawa -> Kyoto -> Osaka -> Kobe -> Tokyo

We spent a total of ten days in Japan and encountered some of the coolest, weirdest, stuff around, like Harajuku, where everything is violently pink and men with professional cameras take pictures of dozens of girls in school uniforms. Awkward.

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Just a normal day in Harajuku

Anyway, the first day we landed in Tokyo at about 5am, which meant that almost everything was closed, and we were exhausted from the flight over. Economy life sucks, guys. Our Airbnb host was really nice and let us head to our flat early, which meant we were able to shower and get ready before heading out for the day.

Since David is a giant nerd, our first flat was in Akihabara, home of all things geeky. We arrived super duper early, so we got a chance to walk through the city while everything was still asleep, which was really cool.

Our random walking took us over to the Tokyo Zoo, which we ended up wandering through for a few hours before heading over to the Gundam Cafe because we’re losers. It was awesome.

For our first night, we ended up eating at an Izakaya, with a dinner show from our host Mr. Yucky.

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The show was…very Japanese. I mean that in the best way possible. We had traditional Japanese food, which meant a lot of mushrooms and fish. So basically I starved.

But the show. Ok, so Mr. Yucky asked each group of people to pick a country from a list that he had. When it came to my turn, I picked France. He disappeared into his back room for a minute before returning with an easel, a beret, and a piece of charcoal. French music began to play while he swiftly and silently began drawing a picture of me on his easel.

Then, having finished his art piece, he sat back for a minute and admired it before making out with it. A few seconds later, he picked it up, and with a flourish, dropped it down to his pants and began humping it.

I’m not kidding.

Then he handed it to me!

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Japan.

More later.

-Carissa “Draw me like one of your French girls” Rawson

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