The Magnificent Maldives- Reserving a Room (For Free!)

Hello Dear Readers!

I’ve made so much fuss over the last year about the Maldives, and previously when I wrote about going, I detailed how I would spend points for nights at the Park Hyatt Maldives. Well, like I told you before, I ended up trading in those nights for a 4 day stay at the Conrad, simply because it was easier (and I wanted to go to their underwater restaurant.)

So how did I do it?

Well, the Conrad Maldives is the absolute highest category hotel that they’ve got, clocking in at an astonishing 95,000 points/ night. For reference, their cheapest hotels (Category 1) go for a mere 10,000 points/ night.

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I spent all year saving up for this, using sign up bonuses from the Hilton Honors Ascend card (which offers 100k points after 3k spend in 6 months) and the now defunct Citi Hilton Reserve card, which offered two free weekend nights at any hotel after 3k spend in the first three months.

I also saved up all the points I’d ever earned from doing my Diamond status challenge and made sure most of my stays during the last year were at Hiltons. This wasn’t just to earn points (though the earning ratio is vastly improved when you have status), but also because being a Diamond member means I get better perks here than at any other chain.

If you’re looking to acquire Hilton points, you can get the card I mentioned above as well as the Hilton Honors Aspire card, which earns you 100k points after 4k in spend in the first three months. (It also gives you Diamond status simply by owning it). There’s also the no annual fee Hilton Honors card, which gives you 50k bonus points after 1k in spend in the first three months.

Obtaining these three cards will net you a minimum of 250,000 points before spend (which will easily drive it up another 10-15k)- nearly enough for three nights at the Conrad Maldives. If you can get yourself up to 380,000 points (very doable in a year, as the Hilton cards earn rewards very quickly), you’ll have enough points for 4 nights. The Hilton Honors program gives the 5th night free on all hotel stays, so you’ll be able to stay for 5 nights for the cost of 4!

So, yes, it’s expensive. But you’re also redeeming your points at a hotel that regularly goes for over $2,000 a night, so you’re making it well worth your while.

The reward room you get is the beach villa, which is nice enough on its own. But a mere month before my arrival, Hilton accidentally made overwater villas (normally a $150-$300/ night upgrade) available for redemption for only 95,000 points a night- the same rate as a beach villa!

Unfortunately, I was past my cancellation window, so thought I had lost the opportunity to snag this. However, I still gave the Diamond desk a call and to my extreme surprise, they pulled some strings, replacing my 4 night stay in a beach villa with 4 nights in an overwater villa at no extra cost! I was more than a little pleased, and have continuously gloated since.

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For us!

Anyway, if you’re looking to stay, those three cards are the easiest way to earn large quantities of points, and once you’ve accumulated enough, it’s worth your while to aim for 4 nights and get 5. If you’re averse to too many cards, American Express transfers points to Hilton at a 2:1 ratio, so you’ll need a mere 190,000 American Express points for your 5 nights at the Maldives.

Up next, more fun and less points. See you soon!

– Carissa “Smug AF” Rawson

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

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