Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Buying Movie Tickets at 55% Discount

My wife and I are huge movie buffs. For us watching at least one movie a week is a way of life. Needless to say that our monthly movie expense is a part of monthly expense budgeting process. So I am always on the lookout for movie deals. Fandango, a movie ticket vending site, always has some promo going on and it’s a great way to save some money. One of their long standing offers is in conjunction with Visa – getting 20% off on purchasing a $25 gift card. This allows me to buy $25 Fandango gift cards for $20 only and then use that gift card to buy my tickets, thus saving me $5 (20%), every time I go to watch a movie.

While this is a great way to save money, a better offer came along from Fandango last week, which is stackable with the AMC rewards stubs program and nets me 55% saving on movie tickets. Here’s how anyone can benefit from this offer:

First step is to enroll in the AMC Stubs Program – This is the most awesomest rewards program out there. 

For $12 an year, you earn points for every dollar you spend at the AMC theaters. Movies, pop-corn, soda, everything you spend at AMC. For every $100 worth of spend, you get $10 reward. That $10 can be used for buying movie tickets or for your popcorn and soda’s. Plus you get free size upgrade on your popcorn and soda. The best bit- there is no online ticketing fee – which can add up pretty fast for 4 movies a month. You can track yours through the online account, thus knowing how far you are from the next reward and also they keep a cool stub book of all movies you see.

Next up getting tickets for discount – This is where Fandango comes in. Fandango has a current offer going on – “+1 Movie Fridays on Fandango”.

Here’s the summary- if you have a Visa Signature card (who doesn’t ??), you can get one free ticket every Friday, for tickets purchased on Friday for a show that Friday itself. Simple enough!! That’s a 50% discount right there. They do limit it to 1 free ticket for one Visa Signature card every 30 days. So if you are like me, with multiple Visa Signature card in your arsenal, you can get one free ticket every Friday.

Now, on to making it slightly better – I use the Fandango offer to buy tickets for AMC theaters only. 2 tickets (worth $20), after discount cost me $10. But AMC treats it as 2 tickets purchased and hence gives me credit for $20. Five movies later, I hit the $100 mark and get $10 rewards from AMC.
So for a net spend of $50 only, I get to watch movies worth $110. That’s an awesome 55% discount on AMC movie tickets.

Are you taking advantage of this offer? Do you have a way to make it better?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Why Avios is my #1 miles currency

Less than a year ago, I had ZERO miles in my wife’s and my Avios account. Rather we did not have a British Airways Executive Club account. Infact I hadn't even stepped on a BA flight ever, which is surprising  because I lived in London for 2 years and was regularly travelling between London and India.

Fast forward to 11 months later, we have a combined total of 300,000 Avios and we have spent about 75,000 of it on holidays, already. Holiday’s we wouldn't have taken if we did not have the miles. 250,000 miles were simply earned through credit card sign up bonus and the balance through our flying as well as some through car rentals. And in this short span, Avios has become my favorite miles currency. And there are many reasons for this. When I started dabbling in miles currency last year, almost all the blogs I read were raving about United Mileage and some of them had some nasty things to say about the Avios Fuel Surcharge. Obviously, since I was a newbie at this, I followed the herd and started accumulating United miles like there’s no tomorrow. But once I had some balance in my Avios account and I used them, I realized the power they hold and more importantly, the huge difference between United Miles and Avios and which one worked best in what situation.

Here are three awesome reasons, why Avios is my new best buddy in this world:

1.       Easy to earn: Seriously – I don’t think there is another miles program that is as easy to accumulate as Avios. There are the 100,000 sign up bonuses that the banks throw our way. Then there is the Avios you earn through your regular spending – most banks you give 1 mile per dollar for the affiliate mileage card – but not Avios. You get 1.25 Avios per dollar and while it may seem very little, but at a 25% higher earning rate, they add up pretty fast. Some credit cards offer you annual spend bonus, but to earn them you need to hit a certain threshold of spends, say $25000 or $30000. With the Chase BA Card, you don't have to worry as you earn 1.25 Avios for all spends. Then you earn them through their partners – my favorite being the car rental, as I rent a car for every single day of the year. Then there are the hotels and other partners which can all add to your travel plans. And lastly- there is transfer programs. Every program transfer to BA, be it SPG points, be it Amex Membership Reward or be it Chase Ultimate Reward (not to mention, my point earning program on my Indian Citi and American express cards too…!!). So if you ever need to top off your account for a reward booking, you got plenty of options.

2.       Least amount of fee(s):  Unlike United or American or US Air, there is no last minute or close in booking fee. The tax, etc. on an award ticket is the same, irrespective of how far out or how close in you book your ticket. There is no award redemption fee (yes, I am looking at you US Airways). In case you can’t find your award online but are certain the award is available, you can always call in. They will even waive the $25 phone booking charge, if you explain the situation to the CSR. The best part – the LOW cancellation fee. The cancellation fee is $40 only. And in case you have booked a domestic US award, in which cases your taxes come out to only $2.5, then that is all you need to pay as cancellation. That’s it. $2.5..!! Compared to $150 at almost all other airlines to get your award miles back.

3.       Distance based award chart: The BA Avios award chart is quirky. It’s not region based like any of the US legacy carriers. It’s distance based. So every flight segment you are on is priced separately. So for e.g. you take an AUS-SFO flight via LAX- a US carrier would price it as one single flight within US, for a standard 12,500 miles. But BA would price it as one flight from AUS-LAX and a second flight from LAX-SFO. While this might sound like paying for 2 flights, most often than not, you would actually be saving miles. All short distance flights (less than 650 miles) are only 4500 Avios (yes that is not a typo). Infact you could fly upto 3,000 miles using 12,500 Avios (refer chart below). A NYC-SFO flight is just 2,574 miles. So it’s safe to say, as long as you have a direct flight on AA or US Air (One World Partners), you can simply use your Avios and give yourself the flexibility of less fee and anytime cancellation..!! I don’t see how that doesn’t trump United Mileage.
BA Mileage Redemption Chart - Refer BA website for updated information. Source Britishairways.com

Now, this is not to say the United Mileage is not a great FFP or that BA doesn’t have its drawbacks. United is still one of the best when it comes to redeeming for international travel. And BA does have one of the longest hold times on their phone lines, when calling in for any booking related issue, whether award or revenue. No program is perfect so depending on your need, you should choose your FFP. If you want to fly internationally for cheap, United is the way to go. But if you want to fly domestic US, then there is no better program than the British Airways Executive Club Avios.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A-O-R 3

AOR 3 made a grand appearance this earlier this month. This is my first AOR this year and my 3rd so far. The last AOR was 6 months earlier. I started with a quick check of my credit score on CreditKarma (both Transunion and Vantage Score), CreditSesame and my FICO score from my Discover card and was happy to see that all of them were higher than when I started out last year. So, now that I was in the green, it was time to get cracking.

I finalized 11 cards that I wanted. But this was too high for my taste, so I finally came down to 6 card and decided to play the other 5 based on the success on the first 6. These were my choices:
Final Haul

6 Must apply cards (Green = approved):

1.       Barclays US Airways
2.       Chase UA Business
3.       Citi AA Business
4.       Amex SPG Business
5.       Chase Sapphire Preferred
6.       Amex Everyday Card

And the 5 “may be apply” card:

A.      Barclays Arrival Card
B.      US Bank FlexPerk – Travel Card
C.      Chase IHG
D.      US Bank Aviana Airlines
E.       Capital One Venture

Here’s how it ended.

I started with the Barclays US Airways card. I am expecting this card to vanish in near future and I din mind 30,000 US Airways points for absolutely no spend requirement. If I can use this, great. If not, and they get converted to AA miles, that’s cool too. I was pretty sure I am going to get a pending status and then I will have to call the reco line and I will get rejected. It’s Barclays after all. I was ready for that, but I did not want to not try it. I tried and contrary to expectation – I got approved IMMEDIATELY! I was on cloud 9. That was a great start.

Now that this was done, I got greedy and decided to go for the Barclays Arrival Card. I thought maybe I will get really lucky. It didn’t happen. I got a pending review and the call to the reco line, did not do anything to change it. So I was on 1/6 and 0/5.

Moving on, I decided to first go for the Business cards on my list. There was the Amex SPG Business, Citi AA Business and the United Explorer Business. I had no doubt in my mind I will get approved for all 3 of them; though I was sure Citi will ask for additional documents. All 3 applications gave me a pending status. I called Citi first and just as expected, they asked for an address proof, which I promptly emailed them. A phone call 24 hours later ended in a request for another document and another 24 hours later, I was approved for the card. Next I called Chase and after I lengthy discussion I was denied. I was fairly surprised and disappointed to say the least. This card was on the top of my list and I was sure I will get it. Chase has never denied any of my application. 50,000 UA points would have really helped my currently meagre balance. But a denial was a denial and I moved on. I was unhappy with Chase, but it’s ok. Last was Amex SPG Business Card. Before I called reco, I decided to check my status online once and voila – I was approved. Score 3/6 and 0/5.

Next up was the Chase Sapphire Preferred card and the Amex Everyday card. I knew for a fact that my Chase profile had me pre-approved for the CSP (my Chase Banker told me that). Funnily enough I got a pending status and a call to recon told me I need to walk in to the nearest branch and provide an address proof. I was fairly surprised considering I have 3 credit cards and 3 bank accounts with them. All the same, I did as told. And later in the day I was approved for the card. For Amex Everyday card I had to call in again. The agent informed me that for security reason, they do not approve more than one CC in one day on the same social and I can expect this card to be approved 5 days later. 5 days later, I was declined. No reasons given. Was asked to wait for the letter in the mail and if I disagree, I could ask for reconsideration, but that would mean another credit pull. I wanted this card for 2 reasons- 1) I am going to soon cancel my Amex PRG card and I needed to transfer my MR points somewhere and, 2) I try and apply for one no fee card every time I do an AoR, thus ensuring that I can keep them forever and add to my account age. I can’t describe how disappointed I was at this. Score 4/6 and 0/5.

At this point I had to decide to what to do with my other 4 applications. I was already rejected for 2 cards and so far only 2 cards were approved and 3 were technically still pending (remember – at that point I did not know the decision about my Amex Everyday, Citi AA and Chase SP). I decided to play them one at a time.

I started with US Bank FlexPerk Travel Reward card. I got a pending msg and a call to recon did not yield any result. They simply asked me to wait for a few days for the decision. 48 hours later a status check revealed I was approved for the card. But unfortunately when I received the card, it turned out to be the Flex Perk Select Card and not the Travel Reward card I had applied for. Was quite bummed. The only good thing was this is a no fee card, so it takes the sting out of not getting the Amex Everyday card, for improving the age of my credit account. Score 4/6 and 1/5.

I was still quite bummed about the overall scene. But having learnt my lessons from my First AOR and Second AOR, I decided to move along. I applied for the CHASE IHG Card and after a quick call to the recon line I was approved for this card. Score 4/6 and 2/5. At this point I decided that it’s enough for one AOR. Considering the recent debacle in the MS world, I am not sure how I would meet the hefty spend requirements and so I was not going to apply for a card that I wouldn’t be able to meet the spend requirement on. The two cards I let go were the US Bank Avianca Airlines card and the Capital One Venture Travel rewards card. Final Score was 4/6 for the primary cards and 2/3 for the optional cards.

Overall, I was not very satisfied with my day. If I meet all the spend requirements on these 6 cards, I would be richer by 252,500 points/miles. But somehow, missing on 50,000 UA points, not getting a fee free Amex card plus 10,000 MR and being stuck with a 10,000 Bonus Flex Perk card was not what I had envisioned at the start of the day.

How are your points and miles balance shaping up? Did you do your AOR for this year yet ? Tell us in the comments.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Redeeming Amex Membership Reward Points and Avios for a Holiday

I am on a roll here. My miles redemption practice started with helping out my friend last year to plan his honeymoon using Avios and then I planned a spur of the moment trip to San Francisco for the MLK weekend, using Avios again. Earlier this month I decided to go on a holiday for my second marriage anniversary and my wife and I decided on Miami. And the points and miles redemption began again.

Over the last one year I have accumulated a small stack of points and miles, thanks to the AoR on my account and my wife’s account. So I decided to first use these for the holiday booking rather than spending money. 

Here’s how I went about it and the end result.

For the outgoing sector, the cheapest option was Delta at $96 per person. For 2 person and assuming just one luggage it was coming to $ 217. The next best was Southwest for $111 per person, so it came to $222 for 2 people. However, the only problem with these options was that they were all for reaching after 2.30 pm, robbing half my Saturday. Redeeming miles on Delta wasn't turning out a good option as they would charge miles for a return flight – which I wouldn't opt for as I wanted to fly out of MCO.

I decided to put my stash of Avios to good use and we found flights from AUS-MIA via DFW for 12,000 Avios and $5 tax per person. But since this was a connecting flight, we would still reach in the afternoon and we wanted to make full use of Saturday. This is where a little bit of flexibility bailed us. I found an early morning flight from DFW and IAH for 7,500 Avios and $2.5 that would bring us to Miami at 9.20 am in the morning.

The additional money we would spend on renting a car was more than compensated by the 9,000 Avios and $5 we saved and by the points we earned for the Hertz rental (I love Hertz points) and by the fact that we would now reach at 9.20 in the morning and not late in the afternoon. I quickly did some search and found a one way rental from Austin to Houston for $40 and we were set to go to Miami. I could have used my Hertz points to get a free car too, but since Hertz charges double points for one way rentals, I decided to pay with money instead. I did some calculation on milevalue’s calculator and found that I got a value of 1.35 cents per Avios. Anything above 1 cent and I consider myself a winner !!!

The return flight was slightly trickier. We would travel to Orlando and I wanted to fly out of MCO and not have to drive anywhere for the flight. A quick search on Kayak showed that Jetblue is the only airline with direct flights and the other option was using Avios for AA via IAH again. Or flying till IAH and driving. I opted for the former. My closest friends are HUGE Jetblue fans and they have always asked us to try them. I had a small stack of MR points that transfer to Jetblue, though not at the rate I would have liked. All the same, I quickly checked for flight availability and point’s requirement. It took 18,500 MR points and just 5 minutes to transfer from MR to my Jetblue account and before long, we had direct flight back from MCO on our preferred date and time. I could have also used the travel option on Amex MR to book the ticket and earn points for this flight, but for some reason, the price was showing at a higher amount and would have costed 22,000 MR points, while earning me JetBlue miles. I decided to save my MR for now.

So the net result is for 15,000 Avios, 18,500 MR points and $ 21.50 (there was a transfer charge by Amex), we had ourselves 2 tickets for the anniversary holiday booked. The return tickets with luggage charge, in cash, would have been almost $450.

Next up was hotel booking – Look out for the next post..

Monday, March 17, 2014

Bad Redemption – Great Memories

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I got the better of Avios. Well this time they got the better of me. I have read a lot of stuff about getting the most value out of your miles, but sometimes, it’s just about saving some money and enjoying yourself. And that’s what I decided I will do, earlier this year.

My wife and I were contemplating what to do for the long Martin Luther King weekend in Jan. It was already Jan 10th and we were a weekend away from three days of holiday and no plans. And then, we just decided to show up at our friends place in San Francisco. We had never been to West Coast and this seemed like a good time. We checked flight prices and they were all upwards of $150 per person per way for an AUS-SFO/SJC flight (big surprise there). So $600 just for flights. Somehow that threw a damper on our plans.

Enter our miles balance that we earned last year through App-O-Rama’s. This was my turn to show my wife that my miles obsession CAN and WILL save the day. I quickly checked our options. It was mostly United and American Airlines – OK don’t forget, this was the first time I was ever trying to book redemption miles in US, so I am not very good at it. I din even think of checking Jet Blue and use my Membership Rewards point. Checked AA and I was in luck – they had availability on the flights I wanted. Only issue was as this was within the 21 days period, they were charging a hefty fee. So it was coming to 50000 AA miles for two return trip tickets and $310. That din see like a lot of money saving. Disappointed, I got ready to be ridiculed by my wife.

Lighting struck. Suddenly some things I had read all these months started coming back – BA Avios, One World, no last minute fee, beaches, love of wife. I woke up with a scream. I knew what to do. Opened my Avios account and checked. My hands were trembling. And just when I thought I had conquered the world, it all came crashing down. No availability. But I was baffled. AA was showing availability, so why wasn’t BA. I finally decided to call the famed BA Customer Care. A little bit of explaining and before long, I had myself the till-now-elusive ticket for me and my wife to San-Fran-Cisco, for just 58000 Avios and $10 tax. They even waived the phone booking charge, as the website was somehow not showing availability, for tickets that were available.

I know what you must be thinking – what a bad use of miles. Got a value of just 1 cent per mile. But comeon, seriously, does it matter? When I got into this obsession, I told myself, it would be all about having fun and saving money. And so far I think I am doing great. I had a great long weekend, my wife had a great 10 days’ vacation to herself and she finally saw that miles can be put to good use. And this was the first time I was using my miles for my travel. I don’t regret it one bit. I just wish I had done more homework and gotten a better deal. May be next time !!

So how was your long weekend ? What was your first use of miles this year ? or first use of miles ever ?? Did you get a good deal ??

Monday, January 13, 2014

2013 in Points and Miles

2013 is over and it was a year different than the rest of the 29 years of my life. For more reasons than one. I turned 30 and my wife gave me the best present I have received so far in my life. I did my first AoR and then another one and then one for my wife and it was fun!! I flew more this year that I have done in any year – that’s 26 flights spanning 45,203 miles. Unfortunately none of them were with miles. Fortunately, I did not pay for any of them, but oneJ. My company did the rest. My wife on the other hand did 17 flights spanning 40,218 miles. I know people who do more than that in a month, but then, such is life..!!

I started my first ever AoR in June of 2013. A few days before my 30th Birthday. At that point, between me and my wife we had no United account, no AAdvantage account, no SPG account, no Hilton Honors account, no Marriott Rewards account, no IHG account, no Amex MR points or account and some paltry 20-25k in our BA account. So, how did my Miles and Points Balance stack up this year after that. Let’s find out:

1.       American Airlines – My First AoR yielded me 50,000 Points. That’s points that I did not pay for and can use for flying to other cities.  Great start. Thank you Citi Bank.

2.       United Miles – Chase gave me this one. 50,000 miles for the spend challenge and another 5,000 for authorized user. No need to tell you how valuable United miles are, right?

3.       Marriott – 70,000 Marriott Points and one free night in category 1-4 property. That is just great. Already used it on my trip to Niagara Falls for the 4th of July weekend.

4.       SPG – 25,000 points for the challenge. Coupled with the actual 5,000 spend, that’s 30,000 SPG points. And when transferred to my choice of airline in multiples of 20,000, that would yield another 5,000 miles. Sweet!

5.       My last card on the AoR list, which I think in hindsight was a mistake – Amex Gold – earned me 25,000 MR points. They have a decent list of Airlines and Hotels I can convert these points to.

So for a few hours of effort, then a little bit of planned expenses and some support from the manufactured expenses technique, I earned a cool 225,000 miles and points, not including the actual spend miles, which is another 12,000 miles. Once I was done with this, I was hooked. I made a few mistakes along the way, but learnt a few lessons as well.

Before long, September was on us and it was time for my second AoR, 91 days later. But I decided to give it a few more days and do Round One for my wife first, who had a decent credit score by now. And here’s what she came good on:

1.       American Airlines- Scored 50,000. Simple and straightforward.

2.       United – Another 55,000 in the family. Real points.

3.       British Airways – 50,000 points to add to her small flying miles balance. And then there’s the additional 50,000 points she is yet to complete the challenge for. Already used all of these miles earned for a spur of the moment weekend travel to San Francisco. More on that, in the next post.

4.       Hilton Honors-Her first hotel points. A cool 50,000 points

5.       SPG – Same drill. 25,000 valuable SPG Points.

So by the end of 3-4 months, my wife is richer by 230,000 miles and points. The actual spends of 11,750 points. And not to mention, she will soon have the additional 25,000 and 25,000 from British Airways. That will take 3-4 months, but it will happen, no doubt.

That brings me to my AoR 2. More mistakes this time than I was planning to make. But more lessons to be learnt on the way:

6.       Hilton Honors- 50,000 points, to add to my wife’s balance. 100,000 in the family are good enough for some of the best places after all.

7.       British Airways – Not the most valuable miles out there (compared to United and AAdvantage) but still, with our regular flying US-UK-India on BA, a hefty  50,000 Avios Miles goes a long way. And additional 25,000 and 25,000 coming up in the next 3-4 months. That’s a lot of Avios.

So my small stint made me richer by 100,000 points & miles and more are expected.

So, in a little over 6 months, my wife and I have collected almost 600,000 points through 12 different credit cards and are expecting some 145,000 points more and these are just through our AoR’s. Our individual credit scores are better now than what they were 6 months ago (though it did take some plunges and flights in between) and our out of pocket cost was limited to some VR cards purchases.

There were a LOOOTTT of lessons learnt the past year. Mostly good. There would be more Points and Miles that will be earned and more lessons that will be learnt. And some won’t be as nice as the other ones, but that’s a part of this game and life, so bring it on.

So, how was your 2013 in Points and Miles.. how many did you collect and how many did you burn ? and most importantly, how much did you fly.. leave a comment and tell me about it..