The Suite Life

Hello Dear Readers!

I have lots more trip things to tell you about, but today I have something awesome to share with you. Remember how I’m always talking about getting status (whether airline or hotel), and how much it can benefit you?

Weeeeell yesterday I checked (back) into the Hilton Dead Sea, to find out that they had upgraded me to their best available room!

I had booked the cheapest rate available for $184/night, using my Citi Prestige card to get the 4th night free. After taxes and all, my total came to $871.53, of which $197.39 Citi refunded back to me. Thus, my total for a 4 night stay was $674.15. A quick look at the rate for a 4 night stay here in this room shows a total of $1784.99.

Yes, they gave me an $1100 upgrade. Simply because I had status with the chain. I’m over the moon about it! And not to sound like a broken record here, but I also get free breakfast, early check-in, late check-out, extra bonus points just for being me, and this totally awesome welcome amenity:

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They were all peanut butter filled??

Status is so worth it! If you guys want a quick refresher on how I got it (without staying in the hotels because come on, that’s expensive), simply click here.

I’m off to enjoy my balcony.

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-Carissa “I’m basically a celebrity” Ragland

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

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?

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: 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

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