Friday, December 30, 2011

Up To 30% Off Alaska Airlines Award Flights

I received an email regarding this offer more than a week ago, but haven't been able to post about it since I've been in New Zealand (apparently free WiFi is not very prevalent here). Alaska Airlines is running a great winter promotion right now, offering up to 30% off the amount of miles needed to book an award ticket. The best part is, even flights to Mexico and Hawaii are included, although the discount is at a lower rate.

The offer is only valid on Alaska Airlines-operated non-stop flights, and can be booked as a one-way or round-trip. West Coast flights are discounted 30% (8,700 miles each way), flights to Mexico are discounted 25% (13,000 each way), and flights to Hawaii are discounted 20% (16,000 miles each way). Award tickets must be purchased between December 20, 2011 and January 10, 2012, and travel is valid between January 8 and March 7, 2012.

Seats appear to be limited, so book soon before they are all gone!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Prepping For New Zealand

I'll be leaving for New Zealand tonight and spending the next two weeks backpacking and roadtripping through the South Island with a few of my old college friends. I'm probably most excited about our 4-day hike on the Milford Track, ending at the world-famous Milford Sound. Well... that, and the fact that I'm flying business class both ways on Air New Zealand! Expect a full trip report with plenty of pictures once I return. Although, judging from my last big trip report, it may take a few months for me to actually complete ;)  Hopefully I'll be able to check in once or twice while I'm in New Zealand.

Happy holidays everyone!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Current Citibank AAdvantage 50,000 Miles Bonus Offers

It's been a long while since I've written about the Citibank AAdvantage credit card, and that's mainly because there just hasn't been very many good offers to write about! Ever since the 75,000 mega-bonus died a slow death months after its supposed expiration date in February 2011, there's hardly been a peep from the good folks at Citibank and American Airlines.

Well, two non-targeted offers seem to have arrived in the last two months, offering a decent 50,000 AAdvantage bonus miles and a range of other benefits after the qualified spend:
  • Earn 50,000 bonus AAdvantage miles after spending $3,000 within the first 4 months of cardmembership. Also receive a one-time $150 statement credit after the first eligible American Airlines purchase you make within the first 12 months of cardmembership (there is no minimum purchase amount, so you can buy a beer on your next AA flight, and you will still receive the $150 statement credit). Finally, get two Admirals Club one-day passes. The earn rate is 2 miles per dollar spent on all American Airlines purchases within the first 12 months, and 1 mile per dollar spent on all other purchases with no date restrictions. The annual fee of $85 is waived for the first year. This offer expires February 29, 2012. Apply here.
  • Earn 50,000 bonus AAdvantage miles after spending $2,500 within the first 4 months of cardmembership. The earn rate is 2 miles per dollar spent on all AA purchases within the first 12 months, and 1 mile per dollar spent on all other purchases with no date restrictions. The annual fee of $85 is waived for the first year. There is no expiration date on this offer, but as always, these things can be pulled at any time. Also, there does not appear to be a personal American Express version of this card like most other offers from Citibank - you can only apply for the personal or business Visa. Apply here. EDIT: This offer has already expired.
I would definitely go for the first offer, as there are quite a few more benefits, and the required spend is only $500 more. However, if you are sure you cannot hit the $3,000 threshold, then the second offer is still a good option. I think in that situation, it might be worthwhile to just purchase $500 in gift cards at a grocery store you would shop at regularly anyways in order to meet the minimum spend.

One quick note: "eligible" American Airlines purchases to qualify for the $150 statement credit do not include car rentals, hotel reservations, American Airlines Vacation packages, purchases of American Airlines AAdvantage miles, duty-free purchases, and AA Cargo products and services.

You can read more about using the 2-browser trick to apply for multiple personal Citibank AAdvantage credit cards at the same time here, but the general rule nowadays is that you are only allowed to apply for a personal card once every 18 months. Some have reported being approved for another card inside the 18-month rule, so YMMV. The business card approval process is on a completely different track, and it appears that you can still do some churning. It is best to wait at least 3 months between business card applications, although even with that precaution, Citibank will sometimes request proof of your business with further documentation, so proceed with caution.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Stay 4 Nights And Earn 5,000 Bonus Points At IHG Hotels

Just received this offer in the email, and it looks to be open to everyone. Simply stay 4 nights between January 1 and March 31, 2012 at any IHG hotel worldwide, and earn 5,000 bonus Priority Club points. You must register prior to completing your 4 nights in order to qualify, and no retroactive points will be awarded for stays prior to registration. Only one room per member per stay will be awarded the applicable bonus points.

To register, go to the generic IHG offer registration page, enter your Priority Club number or email, and then enter the promotion code 2183. This offer is fairly easy since it is awarded by nights, not stays... so there is no need to hotel hop in order to meet the requirement.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Flyertalker Gone Wild?

This story is just so absurd I had to laugh, and repost. It also made me slightly jealous ;)

There is an article in the LA Times about how Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum finance director Ronald Lederkramer charged nearly $270,000 worth of new sound equipment to his personal Chase Visa just so he could earn points. The Coliseum has been undergoing major renovations, and apparently, Lederkramer found a way to put large purchases in installments on his personal credit card rather than issue standard checks from the taxpayer-owned stadium.

While this seems to "violate every procurement policy the city of Los Angeles has in place to protect taxpayers", one does question if it is in fact illegal. Seems to me like he should be fired for what he did, but jail time would probably be a little excessive. That may depend, however, on whether or not he overcharged the city in order to use his personal Visa, or if either way of payment would have resulted in the same cost. What's even more ridiculous is the fact that this wasn't a one-time occurrence either. He had been charging major stadium purchases on his personal Visa for almost 3 years, racking up an additional $114,000 in charges... all while earning a salary of $190,000!

I just hope Lederkramer didn't redeem his points for a pair of first class tickets on United like the article suggests... at least spring for an airline that has first class suites and caviar! ;)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Make Sure Your CitiBusiness Account Is REALLY Closed

I had an interesting thing happen today. When I got home, I noticed a statement letter from a CitiBusiness AAdvantage account I opened December of last year, but closed about 6 months ago. I thought that was a little strange, but I figured it was probably just one of those residual zero-balance statements I get once in a long while on a card I never use. Although I have never received a statement 6 months after closing an account before!

Once I opened it, I was shocked to see a $75 annual fee with the payment due by December 27! Of course, I immediately called up CitiBusiness. I explained to the customer service representative what happened, and after a few minutes of looking through my account, she said she knew exactly what was going on.

For those of you who have opened a CitiBusiness AAdvantage account before (or 5 or 6 ;)), you know that in addition to the 16-digit account number printed on your card, you also get a separate, distinct 16-digit business account number. This is so you can open more credit card accounts for your employees, and all of those individual credit card accounts (in addition to yours) will go under the top-level business account number.

Well apparently, the representative who helped me close my account 6 months ago managed to close my credit card, but failed to close down the entire business account. Hence, I was still being charged the $75 annual fee on my open business account. The representative I spoke to tonight apologized for the oversight, and assured me that the $75 would be credited back to me, and the business account would also be closed for good.

So if you have a CitiBusiness AAdvantage credit card that you closed recently, it doesn't hurt to double check and verify with a representative that both your credit card and your business accounts have been properly closed.

Monday, December 5, 2011

25% Off Virgin America Flight Code

This is a great offer found by Deals We Like! Sponsored by Toms Shoes and, they are running a promotion by giving away 12 roundtrip Virgin America flights, exclusive gifts from Toms, as well as $1,000 in restaurant certificates. However, just by entering (all you need is an email address and zip code), they will give you a 15% off certificate to be used on Virgin America.

The best part is, after you enter, you are taken to the next page, where you will be offered another 25% off code just for inviting 5 friends to enter the promotion. Click submit and the 25% code will automatically appear on the next page.

The only downside is that the dates in which the codes can be used are rather limited. You must book your Virgin America flights between December 15 and December 21, 2011, for travel between January 3 and February 15, 2012. The promo code can only be used for one-way or roundtrip non-stop travel, it cannot be used for multi-city itineraries. Also, it is only valid for non-refundable Main Cabin tickets in the following fare classes: S, L, M, U, E, H, B, or V. Valid for new bookings only. Taxes and fees will apply, of course.

Award "Sale" On Aeroplan

Via View From The Wing and this FlyerTalk thread, Air Canada's Aeroplan appears to be pricing business class awards at the economy level, and first class awards at the business level. It started last Friday December 2, and most people thought it was just an award system glitch, but now there is word that this is in fact a "special promotion" that has been confirmed by people affiliated with Aeroplan. Not sure how accurate this confirmation is, but as of today, it looks like the discount is still on.

I had thought about visiting Toronto next summer, and I am currently still seeing SFO-YYZ business seats going for 25,000 Aeroplan miles roundtrip! Be aware that Aeroplan does tack on fuel surcharges to Air Canada award tickets as well as some partner airlines, which can add up quickly. But if you have been planning an award itinerary for sometime next year, I would take advantage of this massive discount right away. There is no word yet on when this "promotion" will be pulled, but I don't expect it to last more than a few more days, if that.

Remember that American Express Membership Rewards is a transfer partner, and miles are deposited into your Aeroplan account almost immediately. This is a great way to burn some of your MR points, especially since Continental is no longer a partner and British Airways has massively devalued their award chart.

EDIT: Seems like they are gradually fixing the issue. There may still be some business and first class seats at the lower level, but most are back to their normal pricing. Take advantage of this "sale" while you still can!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

American Airlines Cracks Down On AwardWallet

Looks like American Airlines is officially cracking down on AwardWallet. As of December 4, 2011, AwardWallet will no longer be able to access your AA miles balance. I just received an email saying they are testing out a new browser extension that will store your password information with your browser and will access the AA miles balance from your computer instead of their servers. There will be a beta test period, but no word yet on when the beta will be released.

Here's the email: 
"American Airlines has contacted us and stated that we may not access its website on your behalf and that we may not store any of your American Airlines account data on our servers. As a result, in the coming weeks we will release a browser extension which will enable you to check your balance and still display that balance along with the rest of your loyalty account balances; however, the data, such as your username, password, balance and any other attributes will only be stored in your browser so we will never have access to it. Also, this browser extension will be accessing American Airlines website from your computer and not from our servers. Since we do not have this extension ready yet, please save all of your American Airlines accounts and password in a secure place so that you can enter that data when we release the extension."

EDIT: The browser extension has been officially released by AwardWallet and can be downloaded directly from their website. It works seamlessly for me so far, and I see it as a good workaround in case other airlines start following AA's lead.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

SPG American Express Ups Their Sign-Up Bonus

For the past two summers, the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express credit card has offered a better-than-normal promotion where you can earn 30,000 SPG points after a fairly reasonable spend requirement. These offers typically lasted only a month or two, and then the card would return to the normal bonus, which was 10,000 SPG points after your first purchase, and 15,000 SPG points after spending $15,000 within the first 6 months. Last month, however, SPG reduced the spend requirement on the regular offer, so you could get the latter 15,000 SPG points after spending only $5,000 within the first 6 months.

And now, they've gone a step further and upped the points amount to 20,000 SPG points after spending $5,000 within the first 6 months. And you still get the 10,000 SPG points after your first purchase, for a total of 30,000 SPG points. This pretty much matches the summer promotion (with a tiny bit higher spend requirement), and I would suggest you take advantage of this deal before it ends on December 12, 2011. The annual fee of $65 is waived for the first year. In addition, there is a personal and a business version of this card, and you can receive the bonus for both if approved!

I've written extensively about the benefits of the SPG American Express card both earlier this summer and also just two months ago. You can read about why it remains one of my go-to cards for everyday spending. If you decide to hold off on applying, I fully expect the 30,000 SPG points bonus offer to come back sometime in 2012, so don't worry too much about missing out!

Adventures In Award Bookings - New Zealand

As I mentioned in a previous post about a month ago, I have been waiting for an award seat to open up for Auckland, New Zealand for the past 6 months. I had done plenty of research online, so I was both cautiously optimistic about my prospects, yet also very worried that nothing was going to show up before my scheduled departure - which is during the peak holiday season. Even worse, my entire group of travel buddies had already booked their flights way back in June. We had also booked hotels, rental cars, a 4-day backpacking trip through Milford Sound, and virtually every other aspect of our 2-week itinerary. I know I probably should have just bit the bullet and booked some sort of refundable fare as a backup, but to be honest, I didn't have that kind of money to throw around.

So I waited... and I waited some more. I signed up for ExpertFlyer in August, religiously checking my email every few hours hoping that a notification would pop up saying that an award seat had opened up. Finally, in late September, I was alerted to one business class seat for the return leg AKL to SFO. I was ecstatic since this was my ideal direct flight, and in lie-flat business no less! Still, by late October, nothing had opened up at all for the flight to Auckland. I set up ExpertFlyer alerts for virtually every known routing, including all direct flights out of SFO and LAX on Air New Zealand and Qantas, as well as some lesser known routes on Air Tahiti Nui through Papeete and Hawaiian Air/Air New Zealand through Honolulu. I also called the American Airlines award desk incessantly to check Air Pacific availability through Nadi, Fiji. Finally, I added Qantas routes via Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne.

The closest I got was when one business award seat opened up on Air New Zealand from Honolulu to Auckland. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any saver awards open in either business or economy into Honolulu from the West Coast, and I wasn't willing to book a separate standard award - yet.

My patience paid off, however, when finally, a couple days ago, a business award seat opened up on Air New Zealand from LAX to AKL! In addition, there was availability from SFO to LAX as well in domestic first class on United Airlines. I literally jumped out of bed when I saw the email alert and immediately logged onto the Continental website to book my award flight. Continental remains one of the very few domestic airlines that displays partner award seats on their website, and also allows you to book directly online, saving you the $25 phone fee.

So for those of you looking to book tickets to New Zealand from the West Coast at the absolute peak holiday season, have hope that with enough patience (and a membership to ExpertFlyer), you may just be able to snag a business class award seat. In fact, after I booked my LAX-AKL ticket, I noticed that another business seat opened up about two day later on the same flight. And after that one was gone, yet another seat opened up a day later. That one is gone now as well, and I haven't seen any more availability since then, unfortunately.

In any case, I am absolutely relieved that this ticket-booking ordeal has finally come to an end. New Zealand here I come! :)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Join Gilt Groupe And Earn 1,500 Mileage Plus/OnePass Miles After Your First Purchase

Not a terribly exciting promotion, but if you were thinking about purchasing something off of Gilt and haven't yet become a member, sign up now and you'll receive 1,500 Mileage Plus or OnePass miles after your first purchase. In addition, you'll earn 5 miles per dollar spent on Gilt Groupe within the first 6 months of registration. Your miles should be credited within 6-8 weeks after the first purchase. There is no fee for registering or becoming a member.

Gilt Groupe consists of a number of different portals, including the original Gilt website that features limited-time offers on designer clothing. They've also expanded to include Gilt City, which mimics what Groupon does for local deals, Jetsetter, which offers travel deals, and Gilt Taste, featuring fine wines and high-end foods.

You may have to do some digging on the website, but there are often times fairly inexpensive items for sale. The cheapest item I've found so far is a sushi mat for only $2.95 plus $5.95 shipping, which comes to a total of $8.90. Just go to the Gilt Taste section, under the "Equipment" tab, select "Accessories". Then just sort by price and it should be the first item listed.

EDIT 4/11/2012: I noticed today that this offer has been updated with a new requirement that the initial purchase must be at least $50, exclusive of taxes and shipping. This makes it slightly less worthwhile. But if you are already planning on signing up for Gilt and making a purchase over $50, then it makes sense to take advantage of this offer.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Old And The New - US Airways In Economy

I had a very interesting experience on US Airways today. Granted, it's the first time I've flown with them in probably three years at least. Still, every time I do, I end up wondering why in the world I would subject myself to the pain and agony (I exaggerate, of course). But that's how today started out.

I needed to be in Las Vegas this week for a conference, and since my company doesn't use Southwest (the only airline that flies SJC-LAS direct), I was left with the options of connecting through LAX, PHX, or even stranger routings such as SEA. I figured I'd milk a few more United miles out of the situation by flying US Airways 683 through PHX, but I started to regret that decision when I boarded the plane and was greeted with the oldest looking 737-300 aircraft I had ever been on. The seats had a strange floral pattern on them, and as I walked down the aisle, I noticed broken window covers jammed at odd angles, discolored panels, and ancient call/light buttons. I didn't think too much of this though, since I figured there are probably plenty of these old aircraft in service all over the world, with no issues whatsoever.

I quickly dozed off after takeoff, and was awakened later by the beverage service and flight attendants chatting with each other next to my seat. I didn't hear the entire conversation but I caught the last bit. It went something like:

"That lady just said it should be illegal..." (chuckling)

"Yeah I can't decide if it's a good thing or a bad thing"

"Well we have much better 37s out there, at least with 2 bathrooms in the back" (more laughter)

After I heard this, I started to wonder what the heck they were talking about. But I figured it probably had something to do with the age of the aircraft. About 10 minutes later, one of the flight attendants came over the speaker and announced (almost in an overtly self-conscious way), that this was the last day this aircraft would be in service since it was being retired afterwards... and then added that it has been flying since 1987 - which elicited a couple of gasps, head shakes, and a few laughs as well. At that point, I understood what she meant earlier when she said she couldn't decide if this was "a good thing or a bad thing". I certainly couldn't decide if I should be feeling happy that I was there to witness this occasion or concerned that US Airways would actually still be flying this aircraft! I just chuckled at the entire situation.

Later on, I went to the back of the aircraft to go to the bathroom, and I noticed a shoddy piece of paper taped to one of the lavatories proclaiming it "INOPERATIVE". More chuckling. Then I stepped into the other lavatory... my oh my I have never seen an aircraft lavatory in such a condition. It literally looked like it was being held together by bathroom sealant and tape. I couldn't help myself, so I took a few snapshots in there as well :)  Then when I got back to my seat, I overheard a couple behind me trying to figure out what the strange whistling sound was all throughout the flight, almost like wind noise going over a car door with a broken seal. I grew slightly concerned, but decided that if the aircraft were to go down in a ball of flames on the day of its retirement, I could at least have one last laugh at the irony of it all.

I know it sounds like I'm complaining a lot, but actually, I was having an absolute ball on this flight. I really did feel a tinge of nostalgia and sadness that this plane would be mothballed, after almost a quarter century of ferrying passengers to and fro. The sights it must have seen in its lifetime! Service was surly, of course, but once I asked one of the flight attendants about the plane some more, she perked up and gladly answered my questions, and even showed me the little plaque in the back of the plane that proudly displayed the aircraft number 332.

Sadly, the flight quickly came to an end, and I soon found myself at Phoenix Sky Harbor awaiting my short hop to Las Vegas, which, ironically (there was a lot of that today), was serviced by one of the newest and most modern A321-200s in US Airways' fleet, complete with in-flight WiFi. Everything in the aircraft looked brand-spankin new, and best of all, I overheard one of the flight attendants say there was only about 40 passengers total! Funny thing was, about half of those passengers were in first class up front, which was completely full. For once in my life, I was ecstatic to be flying in economy, where I could stretch my legs out and have an entire row to myself :)

So new... and so empty...

And in another first for me, before pulling away from the gate, the flight attendant came up to those of us near the front of the economy section and asked for 12 volunteers to sit anywhere behind row 17. I didn't mind moving since the entire back of the plane was empty. But this was the first time I'd ever witnessed weight/balance issues on anything larger than a CRJ! I guess first class was overloaded ;)

So all in all, a very strange of day of flying with US Airways... an exercise in extremes, if you will. But I would say there were definitely more positives than negatives, and I wouldn't hesitate to fly US Airways more in the near future!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

30% Bonus When Transferring American Express Membership Rewards Points To British Airways

From now through January 31, 2012, receive a 30% bonus when transferring your American Express Membership Rewards points into British Airways Avios points. There is a minimum transfer requirement of 1,000 MR points. So for each increment of 1,000 MR points you transfer, you will receive 1,300 Avios points in your Executive Club account.

It seems a bit strange that American Express would be offering a mediocre bonus like this since they have previously run 40% and even 50% bonuses for British Airways points transfers. Even more so when you take into account the huge devaluation that BA just announced on November 16th. I certainly hope that AMEX will up their bonus offers in the near future. They certainly need to after Continental ceased to be a transfer partner as of September 30, 2011, and Air Canada's Aeroplan started adding fuel surcharges to certain partner awards. Membership Rewards points have become severely devalued as of late, so I would say that the only time you should really make any transfer is when they are running large bonus offers.

As for this offer, unless you have an immediate need to book a BA award flight, I would say hold off until a better promotion comes up in the future. Still, a mediocre promotion is better than none at all.

Monday, November 21, 2011

American Airlines Award Search Engine Now Displaying Alaska Airlines Flights

Since November 11, 2011, the American Airlines award search engine has started to display Alaska Airlines award availability. This is great news since before this change happened, you had to call in to use your AA miles on Alaska Airlines flights, meaning an extra $25 per ticket issued over the phone. Now, you can directly search for and book your Alaska Airlines award tickets on without any additional booking fees. You can also continue to hold award seats for 5 days. Hopefully, this is a precursor to finally displaying some OneWorld partner award seats as well... though I'm not holding my breath.

In addition, if you still have some British Airways Avios points left after the devaluation on November 16, this is a great way to search for Alaska Airlines award seats since they are also a partner airline. BA's website currently does not display Alaska Airlines award seats in their search engine, so you will still need to call in to do the actual booking. But using the AA website, you can now see exactly which Alaska Airlines flights has partner award seats available before calling in, so you can plan out your itinerary accordingly. BA's award program has become distance-based now, so using your Avios points to book Alaska Airlines award flights might actually be quite a bit cheaper than using your AAdvantage or Mileage Plan miles!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

British Airways Executive Club - The Aftermath

The smoke has finally cleared, and we now have a complete picture of what the new British Airways Executive Club looks like... and it's certainly not very pretty. For the most part, long-haul award flights departing from North America saw a massive increase in Avios points needed, and if you don't live in a gateway city for BA or one of it's partner airlines, you're in even worse shape. This is because BA now determines the points needed for an award flight based on each segment of your itinerary, not the entire route. So if you live in Tulsa, Oklahoma, you will have to pay extra points just to get to LAX, JFK, or any other large gateway city.

And even if you already live in a gateway city like I do (SFO), chances are any long-haul award flight you book will have an increased points requirement. Take, for example, the extremely popular route SFO-HKG-DPS on Cathay Pacific that many people took advantage of prior to the program change:
  • Old BAEC program:  50/100/150K  BA miles + taxes/fees
  • New Avios program:  95/190/285K  Avios points + taxes/fees
Or how about the other great value to Easter Island (SFO-LIM-SCL-IPC) on LAN:
  • Old BAEC program:  40/80K  BA miles + taxes/fees
  • New Avios program:  95/190K  Avios points + taxes/fees
The only exception seems to be departing from the East Coast with Europe as your destination, where the points requirement actually decreased on many routes. This is a result of changing the program over to a distance-based system, since the East Coast is actually quite close to Western countries of Europe. To illustrate this, let's take a look at the difference between traveling from the East Coast and the West Coast to Europe:
  • JFK - LHR:  40/80/120K  Avios points + taxes/fees
  • SFO - LHR:  50/100/150K  Avios points + taxes/fees
So departing from the East Coast actually decreased in points needed, while departing from the West Coast stays the same as the old program, which really isn't that bad. One very important note, however, is that this new distance-based system isn't altogether consistent across the board. For example, let's compare the non-stop routes of JFK-HKG (8072 miles) and LAX-SYD (7488 miles):
  • JFK - HKG:  70/140/210K  Avios points + taxes/fees
  • LAX - SYD:  100/200/300K  Avios points + taxes/fees
You would think since JFK-HKG is quite a bit farther than LAX-SYD, the points required should therefore be more. However, that is certainly not the case as seen above. I suspect the final determination of points requirements is still a combination of variables, including distance, carrier, popularity of route, etc.

One of the more positive changes to the Executive Club program, however, comes from shorter direct routes. The worst part of the U.S. legacy carriers' reward programs is that they charge 25,000 points to fly anywhere in the lower 48 states, no matter what the distance is. So a flight from SFO-LAX costs exactly the same as SFO-JFK, which makes absolutely no sense. But with Avios points, things become distance-based, so the short SFO-LAX hop now costs only 9,000 points roundtrip! That's a fairly good deal in my opinion since that route can run anywhere from $120 to more than $200 during certain times of the year. Using this method, you can also see some interesting routes that used to cost a lot more in the old program because they were in 2 different zones, but are actually quite close distance-wise (hence a decrease in Avios points requirements):
  • IPC - PPT (2644 miles):  25/50/75K  Avios points + taxes/fees
  • LAX - SJD (911 miles):  15/30/45K  Avios points + taxes/fees
  • LAX - HNL (2556 miles):  25/50/75K  Avios points + taxes/fees
  • MIA - CUN (531 miles):  9/18/27K  Avios points + taxes/fees
Similarly, you can find plenty of deals on short-haul flights all over the world - the cost has really come down. In Europe, BA has even created a category of awards called the Reward Flight Saver, where as long as you have earned at least 1 Avios point in the last 12 months, you can redeem award flights within Zones 1-3 for reduced points requirements and a flat fee, instead of paying the old exorbitant taxes/fees. In my opinion, short-haul flights are where the real value lies in the new BA Executive Club program. I know I will be using the rest of my 90,000 Avios points for these short hops in the future!

Additionally, Executive Club service fees have changed. A base fee of $40 is now charged for both changing the date/time of an award booking and for cancelling an award booking, whether it is done online or over the phone. Doing either over the phone, however, will incur an additional $25 fee (for a total of $65). There is still no fee for making your award booking online, while doing so over the phone will cost $25. Full details can be found here.

You can play around with the new Avios Calculator on the BA website to see how many points you will now need for each segment. Note that the calculator works for only direct segments, not routes. So if you wanted to look up how much SFO-HKG-DPS costs now, you must search for SFO-HKG first, then HKG-DPS, and then add up the points for each. It's a pain, but at least it's fairly clear and accurate. Or, the easier way is to just go ahead and search for the complete route using the award booking system. It's very similar to the old system, and it will add up each segment automatically for you. So far, I haven't noticed any huge glitches yet. Just click below, and then click on the "Book flights with Avios" link. You must be logged into your Executive Club account in order to use the award booking system.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Last Day To Redeem Your British Airways Executive Club Miles Before Devaluation

Today is the very last day to redeem your British Airways Executive Club miles before they officially become Avios points on November 16, 2011. For those of us living in North America, that means a massive devaluation to the program is imminent. As I mentioned in my previous post, BA has been extremely secretive about any changes to the program when originating outside of the U.K., and it's fairly obvious the reason for the lack of transparency is that the points requirements will be increasing by quite a bit. Gone will be the great deals like using only 50,000 BA miles for a roundtrip flight from North America to anywhere in East and Southeast Asia, or 40,000 miles for a roundtrip flight from North America to anywhere in South America, including Easter Island.

Unfortunately, I'm expecting roundtrip award flights to Asia to start at a minimum of 70,000 Avios points tomorrow, and South America at a minimum of 60,000 points. And these are just my wild guesses, the real award chart could be far worse - we'll just have to find out tomorrow morning.

So if you've been thinking about burning your BA miles for a trip sometime next year, I would strongly recommend booking your award flights today! The U.S. British Airways office (1-800-452-1201) has limited hours from 7:30 AM - 8:00 PM EST, and I fully expect them to be swamped with calls today. The better option is to book online, even though their award reservation system has a ton of bugs. I just finished booking an Easter Island trip for October 2012, but I had to call in since the online system wouldn't allow me to find the routing and stopover that I needed. I still had to pay the $20 phone booking fee in addition to the airfare taxes despite their website issues.

Also, remember that you can still change the departure date/time of your reservation all the way to November 14, 2012 since your award ticket is valid for one full year from the date of booking (today). Making changes to your itinerary date/time is free online, while doing it over the phone will cost you $70. Only reservations made online can be changed online. Those made over the phone must be changed over the phone, unfortunately.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Remember To Register For The Radisson 50,000 Gold Point Promotion Tonight!

Starting in about half an hour (midnight EST), registration will open for Radisson's Big Night Giveaway promotion. The first 50,000 people to register will have the chance to earn 50,000 Gold Points. All you have to do is stay at a Radisson or Radisson Blu hotel in the U.S., Canada, or Caribbean between November 10 and December 30, 2011.

It doesn't matter when you actually made your reservation. For example, if you booked way back in September, prior to the announcement of this promotion, your stay will still count as long as it falls between November 10 and December 30, 2011. One caveat is that your stay must be eligible to earn Gold Points in order for it to count, so make sure you read the fine print for the specific rate you are booking.

If you register after the first 50,000 spots are already gone, you still have the opportunity to earn 15,000 Gold Points after completing the same required stay at a Radisson or Radisson Blue hotel. Good luck everyone!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Some Interesting Citibank AA Retention Bonus Offers

I've had two personal Citibank AA credit cards since May of this year. Using the two application trick that I detailed in a previous post, I was approved for both the American Express as well as the Visa Signature card in one swoop. After completing the required spend ($1,500 and $4,000 in 6 months, respectively), I earned 150,000 AAdvantage miles.

Typically for cards that carry an annual fee, I like to cancel before the one year anniversary is up. In this case, each card had an $85 fee that would have been due around May 2012. Lately though, I've been trying to cut down on my available credit just in case I wanted to take advantage of new bonus offers that crop up. For example, I just applied for the Citibank ThankYou Premier card in October and was approved for it.

Last night, I decided to cancel both my Citibank AA cards since I no longer used either of them and they were just taking up excess credit. I first called in to cancel the Visa Signature, and the lady from the retentions department took a look at my account and gave the typical spiel about its benefits. When I asked to continue the cancellation, she then offered an extra 20% on AA miles earned... so effectively the earn rate on the card becomes 1.2 miles per dollar spent. Still not impressed, I told her to go ahead and cancel the account, which she did.

I then called in to cancel the American Express. This time, things got a little more interesting. The gentleman first offered an additional 2 miles per dollar spent (on top of the usual 1 mile per dollar), up to a maximum of 10,000 bonus miles within the next 3 months. I did a quick calculation, and realized that I'd have to spend $5,000 on this card in the next 3 months in order to max out the 10,000 bonus miles. That didn't sound particularly appealing, so I politely declined. He then came back with another offer: spend $500 within the next 3 months, and receive 3,000 bonus miles. This was a much better deal, and I could definitely manage the spend requirement. I agreed to the terms and kept the card (at least for the next 3 months ;)).

Many people who applied for the the Citibank AA cards earlier this year will probably be canceling their accounts within the next few months. It never hurts to call in at least 3 months before your anniversary date since they may offer you some sort of retention bonus. That way, you can take advantage of the offer and still cancel the card prior to your annual fee being charged.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

5,000 Membership Rewards Points For Pay Over Time Option

Via View From The Wing, earn a quick and easy 5,000 Membership Rewards points for signing up for their "Pay Over Time" option. This allows certain larger charges on your American Express Green, Premier Rewards Gold, or Platinum card to be paid over an extended period of time instead of paying them in full every month. You don't actually have to use it to get the 5,000 points, you just need to sign up so the option is there. Personally, I would avoid using this feature since you will be charged interest on the "Pay Over Time" amount.

Per the fine print, you must already have a Membership Rewards account at the time of enrollment, and bonus points will be credited to your account within 6-8 weeks after enrollment. The Bonus ID on this offer is 5670, 5671, or 5688 (I believe depending on the card type you have). Enroll by December 31, 2011.

75,000 Bonus Membership Rewards Points For The AMEX Business Rewards Gold Card - TODAY ONLY

Jump on this offer if you've been meaning to apply for the American Express Business Rewards Gold card! For one day only (November 3, 2011), you will earn 75,000 bonus Membership Rewards points if you spend $10,000 within the first 5 months of cardmembership. The normal bonus offer on this card is 50,000 points. In addition the $175 annual fee is waived for the first year.

This card is the counterpart to the personal Premier Rewards Gold card, so the earn rates are similar, though on different types of categories. You earn 3x points per dollar spent on airfare, 2x points on advertising, gas, and shipping, and 1x points on everything else. Membership Rewards points, as always, can be transferred at a 1000:1000 ratio to a number of decent airlines, including Delta, British Airways, All Nippon Airways, Air Canada, etc.

If you just recently applied for the normal 50,000 points offer for the same card, you may be able to send a secure message asking for them to "bump the bonus" by citing this offer (Bonus ID 7616). Despite American Express recently cracking down on bumping the bonus using targeted offers, this appears to be a public offer so it's worth a shot.

The spend threshold on this offer is very high, and for that reason alone, I will probably pass. After all, I'm still working on the spend for my Citi Premier ThankYou card!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

50,000 Gold Points For One Stay At A Radisson Hotel

Via the Mommy Points blog and this press release, Radisson's Carlson Club is running a pretty crazy promotion starting next week. In celebration of the Radisson Blu Hotel brand debut in North America (Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel in Chicago), Carlson Hotels is rolling out the Big Night Giveaway. Be one of the first 50,000 Club Carlson members to register for this promotion on November 10, 2011, and then stay at a Carlson Hotel between November 10 and December 30, 2011, and you will earn 50,000 Gold Points, which is enough for a free stay at any Carlson Hotel worldwide!

The exact terms of this promotion is still a bit vague, and I think more clarification will probably come out prior to November 10th. For example, in the press release, it states that the stay can be at a "Carlson Hotel" to qualify, but then in the next paragraph, it says that the stay can be at any "Radisson hotel in the U.S., Canada, or the Caribbean". So will a stay at the Country Inn & Suites (also part of the Carlson Hotels family), which costs significantly less than a Radisson Hotel, count? In addition, do you also need to be one of the first 50,000 to complete the stay, or just to register for the promotion? Regardless, it may be a good idea to book a stay as close to November 10th as possible just be safe.

EDIT: It looks like only stays at Radisson or Radisson Blu Hotels will qualify. Also, from the terms and conditions on the registration link that was just released, it sounds to me like you just have to be one of the first 50,000 to register, and your stay can happen anytime before December 30, 2011.

Club Carlson is one of the less popular hotel loyalty programs out there, but for 50,000 points, it may be worthwhile to take a second look. I've had an account for about 2 years now, but I've rarely ever stayed at a Carlson Hotel, save for my Park Plaza stay in Beijing last year (which was wonderful by the way). Redemption opportunities seem decent, though the hotel tiers skew on the high side. With 6 categories of hotels, points per night run from 9,000 for the lowest category to 50,000 for highest. You can check out more details regarding Club Carlson hotel categories here.

Personally, I am still debating whether or not to take part in this promotion. I tend to stay away from offers where the cost becomes high enough that it outweighs the benefits (hence my apprehension towards the U.S. Airways Grand Slam Promotion). Now I actually think that the Big Night Giveaway is a very good deal, since spending roughly $100 for a one night stay will yield one free night at some of the most expensive Carlson Hotels in the world - upwards of $300-$400. But I suppose the first order of business is to figure out if there is even a cheap Radisson hotel nearby!

If you are not yet a Club Carlson member, sign up here and you will receive an addition 2,000 bonus Gold Points after your first stay. The registration link has now been activated, though actual registration begins on November 10, 2011. Act fast to be among the first 50,000 to sign up!

Delta 40% Rebate On Membership Rewards Transfers Delay

In late July 2011, Delta ran a very lucrative promotion for transferring American Express Membership Rewards points into Delta Skymiles. For every 50,000 MR points transferred, you would receive a 40% rebate on the points spent. The rebate would come in the form of an email certificate for 20,000 MR points that had to be deposited back into your MR account. Essentially, this was equivalent to a 67% bonus, since 30,000 MR points became 50,000 Delta Skymiles... and there appeared to be no limits on how many e-certs you could earn. So transfer a million MR points into Skymiles, and you would receive 20 e-certs back totaling 400,000 MR points.

The terms and conditions stated that you would receive the e-certs in your email within 8 weeks of the transfer, but soon people realized that their 8-week deadline came and went with still no sign of the certificate. I completed my 50,000 MR points transfer on August 4, 2011, so on October 4, 2011 I gave Delta a call to see what was going on. Many people had hoped to see their MR rebate before September 30, 2011 so they could transfer their points to Continental, since the Continental/MR relationship ended that day. Well... no such luck.

The lady I spoke to at Delta said there was a delay in processing the certificates and that I should receive them within another week. A week came and went, then almost another month. I finally called again today and was transferred twice, finally reaching the Delta Promotions desk, where the gentleman I spoke to had to call another department that issued the certificates to see what was going on. After being put on hold for another 10 minutes, he finally came back and said they were manually pushing through the email to me, and that I should receive it within 72 hours. No sign of the certificate in my email yet, but hopefully this time it's finally resolved.

If there are still people out there waiting for their 40% MR rebate certificates from Delta, I would suggest calling the Delta Promotions desk at 1-888-750-3284 directly, instead of the normal Skymiles reservations desk. Unlike the limited hours of the Skymiles reservations line, the Promotions desk is open 24 hours a day, and can help you directly with the issue. Good luck!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Slightly Worried...

A few old college friends and I have been planning an extensive 2-week New Zealand trip for this upcoming December, and I'm really excited about it. I'm most looking forward to backpacking for four days on the Milford Track, especially since we had to reserve our spots way back in July! It is supposedly one of the most beautiful trails in the world, and just looking at some of the pictures online has made the anticipation almost unbearable. We are also visiting Auckland, Queenstown, Franz Josef Glacier, Paparoa National Park, Abel Tasman National Park, and Wellington. All the hotels have been booked and everything is set.

Unfortunately, there's just one final detail missing... I don't have my plane ticket to New Zealand yet! And even worse, we are traveling during peak Christmas period. So here's the explanation: way back in June/July when we started planning this trip, the cheapest roundtrip tickets for LAX-AKL were running around $1400, which, while reasonable, was still a little steep for me. I had a bunch of United, Continental, and American Airlines miles, so I decided to wait to see if any award seats would open up on Air New Zealand or Qantas. I did my research and signed up for an ExpertFlyer account for award seat notifications, and for the next few months, I waited.

In late September, I finally received an email notifying me that an Air New Zealand business class seat was available for AKL-SFO non-stop... and I immediately jumped at the opportunity. I figured an open award seat for SFO/LAX-AKL shouldn't be too far behind, so I waited... and I waited some more. And now, a month later, I'm starting to sweat bullets at the prospect that perhaps not a single seat will open up for the dates I need (despite setting up alerts for 2 consecutive days for all seating classes available on 8 different flights).

So I'm not exactly sure what I should do at this point. While I'm still holding out hope that one seat in any class will open up within the next month and a half, I'm also really starting to realize that I need some sort of back-up plan in case that doesn't happen. Decisions decisions... :(

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Chase Freedom 30,000 Bonus Points

To be frank, the Chase Freedom card isn't the greatest card in world, or even close to it for that matter. But strangely enough, I've found myself carrying this card for more than 5 years now, and it is probably the card I've kept the longest in my wallet - ever. It's gone through several incarnations, and the rewards scheme has had multiple "enhancements" over the years, but I still find it to be one of the best rewards cards out there that doesn't charge an annual fee.

Chase Freedom participates in the Ultimate Rewards program, but be aware that even though it shares a name, there are significant differences between the UR points earned with the Freedom card and those earned with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. Freedom UR points are not worth 25% more when redeeming for travel through the UR travel booking tool, and most importantly, they cannot be transferred to airline or hotel partners such as United/Continental, British Airways, Korean Air, Hyatt, Marriott, and Priority Club. The good news is that if you have a Sapphire Preferred card, you can transfer UR points earned from your Freedom card over, and then all the benefits of your Sapphire Preferred UR account will apply.

Despite these limitations, the Chase Freedom card is still very lucrative for earning rewards points. Every purchase earns a base rate of 1% back per dollar spent. In addition, there are rotating categories that earns 5% back (1% base + 4% bonus) per dollar spent. These categories change every quarter, and you must remember to sign up every quarter, although there are plenty of reminders when the time comes. Also note that the extra 4% bonus is limited to the first $1500 in purchases within the bonus categories, which caps your total quarterly bonus earned on special categories at $60. Here are the categories from 2011: 

January 1, 2011 March 31, 2011  
      - Grocery Stores 
      - Drugstores
April 1, 2011 June 30, 2011 
      - Home Improvement 
      - Lawn and Garden 
      - Home Furnishings
July 1, 2011 September 30, 2011 
      - Gas 
      - Hotels 
      - Airlines
October 1, 2011 – December 31, 2011 
      - Dining 
      - Department Stores 
      - Movies 
      - Charity
While this does seem a bit cumbersome, I have to say that Chase has always done a pretty good job of accurately rewarding the 5% bonus. And even when specific purchases aren't reported into the correct category, a call will usually get the adjustments done immediately.

Right now, Chase Freedom is running its largest sign-up promotion ever, giving out 30,000 bonus UR points (worth $300 cash back) after spending just $500 within the first 3 months of cardmembership. If you've ever thought of signing up for the Freedom card, or just need a no annual fee rewards card for everyday use, I'd say take advantage of this offer now!

One final note: if you also have a Chase checking account, you earn even more points back on the Chase Freedom card - 10% extra points per dollar spent (meaning you are effectively getting 1.1% back instead of just 1%), plus 10 extra points per transaction. While minor, this can certainly add up fast.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Chase Marriott Rewards Visa 70,000 Bonus Points

Via Flyertalk, this is definitely the highest bonus ever offered by the Chase Marriott Rewards Visa Signature card! Get 70,000 bonus points after your first purchase, which is enough for 3 nights at a Category 4 hotel. In addition, you get an additional free night stay at a Category 1-4 hotel upon account approval (must be redeemed within 6 months). The annual fee of $85 is waived for the first year, and there are no foreign exchange fees on the card either.

The incentives to keep this card after your first year is high as well. You get 15 nights credit towards your next Elite membership level every year, plus 1 Elite night credit for every $3,000 in spend. And best of all, receive a free night at a Category 1-5 hotel on every anniversary (must be redeemed within 6 months).

The earn rate for this card is as follows:
  • 5 points for every $1 spent at all Marriott hotels worldwide
  • 2 points for every $1 spent on eligible dining, airline, and rental car purchases
  • 1 point for every $1 spent everywhere else
  • There are no limits to how many points you can earn
I must say Chase has been inundating the market with mega-bonuses lately, and the only downside is that it's hard to take advantage of all of these great promotions. I'm definitely tempted by this offer since I've never had a Marriott Rewards Visa before, but spacing out your credit card applications is also extremely important so you don't get denials. If you haven't applied for a lot of Chase cards lately, I would recommend jumping on this offer now!

EDIT: The landing page is now broken, but the application page still works. Unfortunately, there is no reference to the 70,000 bonus points promotion on the application page. However, anecdotal evidence shows that it still indeed works. Apply at your own risk!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Half-Off AAdvantage Award Flights To Tokyo On JAL

Via the AAdvantageGeek blog, this is an incredible deal for using your AAdvantage miles to fly business class round-trip from either San Francisco or Vancouver to Tokyo. To celebrate American Airline and Japan Airline's new joint partnership across the Pacific, they are offering reduced miles redemption for award travel on Japan Airlines through February 29, 2012. Normally, a round-trip business class flight using AAdvantage miles costs 100,000 miles, now it is being reduced to half that amount at 50,000 miles. And for economy round-trip awards that normally cost 50,000 miles, they are now reduced to just 30,000 miles. The value here cannot be overstated!

For the JAL operated direct flight from San Francisco (SFO) to Tokyo Haneda (HND), or for the JAL operated direct flight from Vancouver (YVR) to Tokyo Narita (NRT), book your travel starting October 18, 2011 and travel between November 1, 2011 and February 29, 2012. Again, round-trip business class seats will cost 50,000 miles, and round-trip economy seats will cost 30,000 miles. You must call the American Airlines AAdvantage desk at 1-800-882-8880 to make your reservation. Telephone booking fees will apply.

Despite not having a lie-flat business class seat, Japan Airline's hard product still looks extremely good. I actually just flew the SFO-HND route about 4 months ago in economy, and I was very impressed with the food offerings. The service was quite good as well, and every seat had AVOD. You can read my full trip report of Japan Airlines 001 here.

For complete details about the SFO-HND deal, click here. For complete details about the YVR-NRT deal, click here. I recommend booking your tickets as soon as possible before award seats run out!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Adventures In Zion Plus An Award Booking Tip

Two weekends ago, I did a quick backpacking trip through Zion National Park, Utah. With all the international travel I do, it's sometimes easy to forget that there are some pretty amazing sights to see here at home. I've always had a thing for the outdoors, and this quick 3-day hop was the perfect answer for getting out of the hustle and bustle of city life.

In addition, this trip was sort of a fulfillment of a childhood dream of mine. When I was young, my parents bought a beautiful picture book detailing all of the national parks in the United States. I remember the one picture that really stood out to me was from Zion Narrows. The red-hued slot canyon seemed to literally engulf it's hikers, who were standing knee-deep in the Virgin River. This image stayed with me throughout the past 20 years, and I was very excited to finally be able to see it up close and in person.

The largest airport near Zion National Park is Las Vegas, although there is a closer municipal airport near the town of St. George, about 30 miles southwest of Zion. It is serviced by Skywest Airlines (Delta Connection), but flying into St. George isn't cheap. Thus, we decided it made much more sense to fly into Las Vegas, pick up our rental car, and do the quick 3-hour drive to Springdale, the small town right outside of Zion National Park.

Amazingly, when searching for airfare from San Jose, CA to Las Vegas, I realized that only Southwest Airlines services this direct route - which came as a big surprise to me. In any case, I used my newly minted Southwest Rapid Rewards points earned from their recent credit card offer to book a one-way ticket from SJC-LAS. I will talk about the return flight later in this post, as I used a lesser-known method to secure an award flight back.

This was the first time I flew out of the new Terminal B in San Jose, and I was very excited to take some pictures and explore the shops and restaurants. I'm happy to say that it is absolutely beautiful inside, and I'm very proud to call this my home airport (despite my love for SFO :)). There were sculptures and artwork, a large and efficient security check area, tons of seats with power outlets, and plenty of restaurants and shops showcasing some of the best of Silicon Valley. After seeing all this, I really do hope that SJC can continue to expand despite the economy and recent exodus of airlines from this hub.

The flight itself was very typically Southwest (despite not having flown them in more than 5 years), which I love and hate. I really do enjoy the friendly service, peanuts, and general efficiency of the airline, but I also really dislike the cattle-herding nature of their boarding process. But what really won me over was their no change fee and no baggage fee policy. These 2 things in itself saved me at least a good $100, as I changed the time of my flight a week before, and also had to check a large hiking backpack!

For the rest of the trip report about Zion National Park, I'll just do a quick description of the trail, and let the pictures do the talking. There are 3 ways to see the Zion Narrows, which is arguably the most famous of all the hikes in the park. Most people will do a quick day trip, starting at the Temple of Sinawava and hiking up about 3-4 miles to see the Wall Street section of the Narrows (the narrowest and probably most spectacular), then hiking back down the same way. This can be accomplished in a just a few hours. The 2nd method is for those who want to see the entire Zion Narrows. The top-down 16-mile trail is best done in 2 days, and there are backcountry permits available to reserve campsites along the river at around the half-way point. This is the method we chose to do. Be sure to reserve your permits online as early as possible, as you can do that up to 3 months in advance of your start date. Amazingly, for those who are extremely fit and capable, the 3rd way of seeing the Narrows is to do the entire 16-mile trail in one day. I would definitely not recommend this unless you have a lot of experience hiking and backpacking, as we realized once the hike started that it was a lot more strenuous than the map would have you believe!

The trail head for the 16-mile hike actually starts outside of the park at Chamberlain's Ranch. We booked a shared shuttle through the Zion Adventure Company, and they drive you from their office in Sprindale all the way there, with the one-way trip taking approximately 1h 30m. We also rented all our equipment from them as well, including the tent, water hiking shoes, neoprene socks, and hiking sticks. For those who don't know, the vast majority of the hike is in the Virgin River, with the river serving as the trail itself. During various parts of the year, the water level can go up to chest-deep... and through certain portions of the trail, we actually had to swim short distances (yes, with our backpacks on)!

Here are some pictures of the spectacular views we saw during our 2 days in Zion National Park. It was definitely some of the most amazing scenery I've ever witnessed in my life... and as always, pictures just don't do it any justice:

End of Canyon Overlook Trail

Zion Narrows trail head at Chamberlain's Ranch 

Hard to imagine the Virgin River starts as a little creek

Water hiking shoes, neoprene socks, and walking stick

Entering Wall Street

Sliver of sky

On the way back, we spent one night in Las Vegas. I've never really been a huge fan of Vegas since I don't gamble, and I don't really enjoy the party scene much, but since we were already there, I figured we should check out the new hotels at CityCenter. I ended up booking one night at Aria Hotel and Casino on Priceline for a decent $130. I have the say, the hotel itself was beautiful, but the rooms were actually kind of small compared to the newer-styled suites at the Palazzo or Wynn. The dinner buffet wasn't bad either.

Aria water wall

Lobby area

View from the room

Now for the return flight, there was a little tip I learned from reading travel blogs that I put to good use. I had already decided that I would be traveling to Cambodia and Laos in March 2012 for two weeks, and I found availability on Cathay Pacific from SFO-HKG-PNH using American Airlines AAdvantage miles. The good thing about AA award flights is that you can have one stopover at your gateway city in North America. Meaning, for example, if I were to book an award flight from DEN-SFO-HKG, I could have a stopover in San Francisco for as long as their schedule allows.

Using this knowledge, I went ahead and combined my return flight from Las Vegas (with a quick layover in LAX) with my departure flight to Cambodia next March. Thus, my entire award flight became LAS-(LAX)-SFO-HKG-PNH, with a 5-month layover in San Francisco ;). Using this method, I saved the miles I would have needed to book my return flight from Las Vegas, and just tagged this itinerary onto my Asia trip next year!

I will say, however, there is a slight risk involved with doing this, since once you start your award itinerary, you cannot cancel it for any reason. So if my plans change within the next 5 months and I can no longer go to Cambodia/Laos, then I will have forfeited all of my miles associated with the itinerary. Hence, fingers crossed that nothings happens between now and then!