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

Maldivian Money- The Monopoly Money That Wasn’t

Hello Dear Readers!

I’ve got a great many things to say about the Maldives even though it was a relatively short trip, but half of them are to do with points and the other half are about what I actually did while I was there. And if you’re not into points- well, then, today is your lucky day!

Today I’m going to tell you a story. It’s a good story- a tale of both woe and triumph, (but mostly woe), where a girl learns a costly lesson but also has an amazing time. Those things aren’t mutually exclusive, are they?

So. I told you all how the Conrad Maldives is expensive, right? And I knew this going in. In fact, I broke down for you exactly how to save alllll kinds of money during your trip.

And yet.

And yet.

It was our first night, you see. Harrison and I had just arrived, met up in the Conrad Lounge at the airport, and made our jolly way via seaplane to the resort. (Which was amazing, by the way).

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Super cool!

And we’d enjoyed the bottle of sparkling wine that they’d left in our room. We’d taken a dip in our own private pool, and had already swam off the edge of our overwater villa down into the ocean.

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We were flying high, you could say.

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So we wended our hungry, tipsy, way down to dinner. It was gorgeous, an absolutely phenomenal view. The restaurant was built on a deck over the beach, and nearly no one else was there, which meant that the lights, softly glowing, fell only on us, the sand, and water, while the gentle crash of the waves kept us company. Such a scene paved the way for excess, as the magic was kept alive through small glasses of champagne, toasted tipsily to each other, to our fortune, and to our immense luck at being there in paradise, together.

One, two, perhaps three glasses of champagne each.

And dessert. You can’t have a luxurious dinner without dessert, right? Molten lava cake and ice cream, melting messily on our plates as we laughed, drank, and toasted.

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Such indulgence, the scene was almost fantastical, like something out of a movie. I could write you volumes about it, but suffice to say that it was so great I almost don’t regret what happened next.

You know those places that don’t publish their prices? And their saying is “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”

Well, we should have asked. Because when that bill came- oh Lord did it come.

It was so expensive that at first glance I looked down, scoffed, and reached for my wallet, thinking that the prices were in “Maldivian Money-” some sort of Monopoly money that meant nothing to my mighty US dollar.

No, no they were not.

And that’s the story of how I spent my entire budget on my first dinner in the Maldives.

– Carissa “Worth It” Rawson

The Magnificent Maldives- Diamond Status Is Important!

Hello Dear Readers!

Are you guys as excited as I am for this series of posts on the Maldives? I had such an excellent time there, and really cannot think of a more excellent way to spend my 28th birthday.

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Mandatory paradise selfie

So aside from all the beautiful photos, there are actually quite a few things that went into coordinating my trip to the Maldives.

Our topic today is Hilton Diamond status, which I’ve written about before, but whose importance becomes significant when talking about the Conrad Maldives. You see, when you book a $2,000/night hotel, they sort of expect you to be able to afford it. Their bottom line doesn’t rest on travel hackers who use points to manipulate themselves into luxury. And why would it?

But here’s the thing. When your hotel comes in at 2k a night, it suddenly seems reasonable to start charging $50/person for breakfast. Or $500/person for dinner.

What I’m saying is, it’s not cheap.

And I’m only fake rich. I’m points rich. Which means that I absolutely cannot afford to eat my way through my annual budget.

This is where status comes in. You see, Diamond members receive all kinds of perks whenever they visit Hilton hotels. At the Conrad Maldives, there’s an entire list of benefits you get- check these out!

• Free breakfast for two at their restaurants Atoll and Vilu, daily

• Afternoon Tea at their Mandhoo Restaurant from 4-5pm, daily

• Happy hour at Vilu, from 5-6pm, daily

• Fruit basket with chocolate in your room at check-in (refilled daily)

• Free bottle of wine at check-in

• $25 spa discount card on arrival

These benefits are especially important when you consider the fact that I wasn’t kidding about those meal prices. The price to eat dinner at their underwater restaurant really is $500/person, though you can certainly eat cheaper at any of their other restaurants. Over the course of a four night stay, your meal bill can easily run into the thousands, and that doesn’t begin to cover alcohol. But, if you play your cards right, you can avoid most of the costs of staying at the hotel- eat breakfast late, snack on fruit for lunch, indulge in tea at 4, and run over to happy hour to have a few free drinks before dinner. With that, most of your day is covered. It turns an incredible indulgence of a vacation into something financially manageable.

So that’s what we did. Harrison and I enjoyed the hell out of their massive breakfast, which included a sushi station, an egg station, ice cream, crepes, pancakes, waffles, and even sparkling wine! In short, it’s amazing. You better believe I ate as much food as humanly possible.

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Round one of ten

Even better, our personal concierge, upon learning that it was my birthday, arranged to have a cake (complete with candles and matches) sent to our room. It was excellent!

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Feeling like a queen

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Anyway, long story short, the importance of Diamond status cannot be overstated, especially at these crazy expensive resorts, where you can save hundreds of dollars on your vacation simply by having status. Oh, and how did I get it? Check it out here, for a guide to matching your way to elite status.

See you all soon for more posts on the Maldives!

-Carissa

Miraculous Miraval: Terrifying Ziplining

Hello Dear Readers!

I promise I haven’t died- I’ve just been really busy. (As per the usual).

So, where did we leave off? I’m pretty sure I had just told you guys all about traveling to the Miraval Resort with my sister, Jill. Like I said, redeeming the points was a no-brainer, and we had an absolutely awesome time.

In addition to all sorts of wellness classes, (like yoga, meditation, and spiritual healing), the resort also had challenge courses. Of course Jill and I signed up to go ziplining.

Now, I’ve ziplined once before. I was on a cruise and one of the shore excursions in Dominica was this crazy rope walk through the trees with ziplining. The issue there was that, well, it was Dominica, which meant there were zero safety codes. Which is how I found myself zooming towards a tree on a duct-taped cable with no brakes and a mattress at the other end.

Suffice to say that my first time was a little scary. However, since this was in the good old US of A, I had high hopes as to the safety standards of our course.

And yes, it was safe, but that didn’t make it any less terrifying. 

Like I said, this was considered a ‘challenge course,’ which meant apparently that in order to get to the zipline, you had to scale a fifty foot telephone pole.

Like, with your hands. And your feet. There was no nifty basket to haul my carcass up there.

Someone help us

I’m not that bad with heights, really, but the last time I tried crawling up a sheer surface with my bare hands I got so scared that I straight fell off.

Jill, also, has a horrific time with this concept.

So it was with no little amount of trepidation that we watched the first couple people scale this pole, looking like monkeys as they hopped from rung to rung. I told Jill I’d go first, so I wouldn’t have time to psyche myself out, and began climbing as soon as I was told.

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Pictured: not that bad

It wasn’t so bad, at first. Really. But right at about twenty feet, I realized the ground was really far away, and the rungs were super tiny, and also ohmygod what am I doing.

Ohgod ohgod ohgod

I didn’t fall, at least, but I panicked and raced the entire rest of the way up to the platform, arriving and nearly collapsing with relief.

Just kidding. I was hanging onto the pole for dear life. The employee eventually had to pry me off, assuring me that I was securely connected to the cables hanging around the platform.

Then it was Jill’s turn.

You guys.

You guys. 

It started simply enough. Here comes Jill, crawling up this pole, with all the rest of us shouting encouragement and urging her to come up. I stood at the top and berated her, as any good older sister does.

And there she was, a mere two rungs from arriving at the platform. Her head was even peeking over- all she needed to do was grab this rung.

It was at this point that she looked down. And oh, the panic was real.

It was like a movie. She hung there, hyperventilating, convincing herself she couldn’t do it.

There we all were, calling, calling, encouraging her to reach, just one more, and there she went- one arm outstretched- grasping for the rung.

She caught it with the tips of her fingers, and in slow-motion they slipped, her petrified face dropping out of view as she fell.

The air stopped moving but for her terrified yelp as- thwack- with a stretch, her rope caught her and she swung back around to the pole, clinging to the rungs and sobbing.

She was back several feet down and as red as a tomato, (she’s a ginger, you know), trying to gain control of herself and overcome her panic.

And she did. Scarcely a minute later, she began climbing again, this time her face filled with resolve as rose up.

Finally, she crawled up over the platform, and we all cheered wildly, congratulating her on making it.

After that, the zipline was cake.

-Carissa “Badass” Rawson

Free Alcohol and Food! No, But Really.

Hello Dear Readers!

Do you know where I’m writing this from? No? You don’t? Well let me inform you. I am currently plopped in the dead middle of the Hilton Barcelona’s executive lounge.

“How does this happen?!?” you may ask, confounded, as you recall that I have been staying with some Argentinians in an Airbnb.

Ok, enough teasing (bragging) and let me tell you guys why I’m here. Do you remember a few weeks ago when I wrote about earning Hilton Diamond status with the increased sign up bonus? There’s actually another route you can take to earn Diamond and keep it through 2019. Hilton currently has a promotion going on where they will match your status with another chain’s (in an effort to poach you). Then, once your status is matched, you can complete 8 stays within 90 days in order to hold your status through 2019. It’s a pretty awesome deal if you can take advantage of it.

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Actually through 2019, not 2018.

However, I’m assuming most of you don’t have elite status with other hotels. Or, at least, you don’t have one high enough to match you to Diamond with Hilton. Well, luckily for us, there is one credit card that does offer such a benefit.

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IHG’s (Intercontinental Hotel Group) credit card offers 60,000 bonus points after 1k in spend, as well as automatic Platinum Status with the chain. Now, I’ve stayed at an IHG hotel a bare minimum of times, so don’t think I earned my status or anything.

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I deserve none of this

This is just something they give you when you get the card. Anyway, Hilton will match your IHG Platinum Status with their Diamond status and give you the option to complete the 8 stays in order to keep it.

So that’s what I’m doing! I’ve rebooked a few of my stays throughout the next few months in order to meet the challenge (any Hilton hotel within the portfolio will work), and then I’m good to go.

Why is Diamond so great? Well, it gives you a number of benefits, such as room upgrades, late check-out, early check-in, and free premium internet access. However, most importantly (to me) is executive lounge access, which means free food and drinks (including alcohol!) for the entirety of your stay.

For someone professionally unemployed, like me, this is a huge deal. Now please excuse me while I go stuff my pockets with free apples.

-Carissa “Elite AF” Rawson

Dipping in a Toe: The First Steps for Starting Reward Travel

Hey there everyone,
How are you guys liking the new format? I figured since I finally had enough content, it was time for a refresh on the website. I think the new look is pretty cool, and helps to highlight a lot of the awesome pictures that we have. (Not that I’m biased). Anyway, today I’d like to talk to you guys about the actual steps, in order, that you should take if you’re looking to start into the rewards travel game. Credit for this idea goes to my aunt, whom I am attempting to corrupt at this very moment. (Hi Angie!) Anyway, I realize that a lot of these posts probably come off as complicated for someone just looking to start in the game. Hence, this post.

a2a54309-e28c-421e-beb5-df594fcbea62The first question you always want to answer when looking to start points hacking is what do I want to do with these points? I know that may sound simple, but there are so many different options available to you that knowing what you want to do first gives you a really good direction from which to start.

I, for example, wanted to fly to Europe for free. I had read a few blogs stating that the British Airways signup bonus (50,000 British Airways Avios) was enough to get you to Europe and back, twice, if you flew from Boston. So that’s where I started. In August of 2015 (believe it or not) I got my first card, and from there everything has built upwards.

But what if you wanted to do something else? What if you wanted to go to Hawaii? Or take a once-in-a-lifetime trip to an all-inclusive resort in the Bahamas? Each option requires different rewards, and figuring out all the information can be tough.

First things first, though. You can’t get into the reward travel game with bad credit. Banks are giving out these offers in the hopes that you’ll continue to be a loyal customer, and they aren’t willing to risk this kind of money on people who don’t have good credit. So:

  1. Check your credit. There are numerous websites that will offer you a free credit score, even as often as 1x a week. I personally use Credit Karma, Credit Sesame, Credit Journey, and Nerd Wallet to check my different scores. Credit Karma will offer you both your Experian and Transunion score, which banks pull most frequently from, so I’d go with them first.
  2. Look up credit card specials. The Points Guy has a top 10 list of credit card offers that they maintain, along with different and excellent ways to maximize your points. If you’re worried that your score isn’t good enough, nerdwallet.com will tell you your approval odds for each card.
  3. Decide where you want to go. Bali? Argentina? Hawaii?
  4. Get your first card. For people whose scores hover in the 700’s-720’s, or for someone who doesn’t have much credit built up (not many loans, past credit cards, etc) I would recommend going with mid-level credit cards rather than top-tier right away. Let the banks build their trust in you. Some of these cards include:
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred– the little brother of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, this card still offers 50,000 points to sign up and a minimal fee of $95/year (waived the first year)
  • Hilton Honors American Express, either the Surpass, which is $95/year, or its little brother, the no fee version. The no fee card currently has an increased signup bonus of 75,000 Honors points.
  • AAdvantage Aviator Red card, which is $95/year and offers 40,000 points after your first purchase.

5. Follow different blogging sites, which will tell you awesome deals as they occur and keep you up to date on specials. Often, it can be worth your while to purchase airfare on sale and save your points for lodging. I follow View From the Wing, Secret Flying, Travel Pirates, The Points GuyDeals We Like, Running With Miles, Flyer Talk, Award Wallet, and many more. For the most part, I keep up to date on Facebook, which is a constant feed of the best specials out there.

6. Google is your friend. Want to know the best way to spend 100,000 American Express points? Google will give you a hundred top ten lists, and you can peruse at your leisure.

7. Read my blog! I know, I know, shameless plug, but I’m going to start highlighting different ways to spend points for vacations, because I realize that just deciding where to go and how to do it can be a little…overwhelming.

Was this even helpful? It seems like a primer guide is a little difficult to write. Anyway, the most important takeaways are these: know your credit score. Know it like the back of your hand. Have an idea in mind and apply with purpose- don’t start off just hoarding points. If United miles get you there faster, get a United card. If Southwest does the trick, get Southwest. Never carry a balance. It will tank your score and leave you unable to peruse further points accumulation. And finally, remember to have fun! These are points with a purpose, and using them correctly can give you amazing, unbelievable adventures that you would have never thought possible.

-Carissa.

P.S. I’ll be back later with vacation ideas because who doesn’t like to dream?

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