Use My Alaska Airlines Companion Pass!

Hello friends! I am using an Alaska Airlines Companion Pass to help a pair of travelers get to their destination a lot cheaper. In the last year, I’ve used my companion passes three times and saved the recipients over $2,000 on flights.

The Alaska Air Companion Pass allows for the purchase of a second ticket for approximately $120, regardless of how much the first ticket cost. For example, a flight from NYC to Hawaii on Alaska Air often costs north of $1,000 round-trip, but with this pass, instead of $2,000 for two people, it will be closer to $1,120, or a savings of about $880. Here's the list of travel destinations served by Alaska Airlines, including two cities in Costa Rica and nine in Mexico!

I have really enjoyed helping make some travel dreams come true with these passes, but in the past, my method for distributing the passes left some equally-worthy recipients at a disadvantage. This time around, everyone who completes the three tasks below will have an equal chance at the companion pass (I'll even be helping you book your flights).  In one week, I will use a random number generator to pick the lucky winner!

Here's what you need to do:

  1. Comment on this post about Marriott hotels, sharing which one looks like the best use of the travel package and why

  2. Share a link on facebook to my post with helpful strategies for using Airbnb

  3. Go to the Thorpe Travel facebook page and describe the trip you’d like to take on the Alaska Companion Pass Giveaway post (don't forget to like the page!)

Best of luck!

*A few things to keep in mind: the pass can only be used on Alaska Air flights and I will only redeem if savings from the flights total at least $200 for the recipient. The best uses of this pass are for flights to Hawaii, one of Alaska's international destinations, trans-continental flights, or for flights that are expensive because of busy travel dates. Alaska Air terms state I cannot give this pass away, since the owner must be flying or paying for the flight, so I will be booking your flights and you will reimburse me.

Travel Together: A Ridiculous Hyatt Points + Cash Redemption in Cartagena

Cartagena City View from Bocagrande

Cartagena City View from Bocagrande

Recently, a group of old friends and I headed to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico for some sun. We had such a good time that there has been talk of taking another trip together. While I would have no problem heading back to Cabo with this awesome group, I thought it might be fun to explore other options for next time. I've also been spending some time researching the Hyatt Gold Passport Rewards Program and How to Always Get 10-15% off Hyatt Hotels. This post will explain how to stack both opportunities for a ridiculously good deal in Cartagena, Colombia!

Why Cartagena for the Next Trip?

Cartagena is an obvious candidate for a future trip for many reasons. The main argument against it is that it's a bit farther away than tropical destinations in Mexico, but in it's favor:

  1. Flights on Avianca (read: nice, new airplanes) from LAX, often for similar prices to other places with tropical weather like Cabo or Cancun in Mexico.
  2. Cartagena feels adventurous compared to more typical US leisure destinations, but enough Americans go that it sufficiently caters to that crowd, too.
  3. Colombia is a discount destination, where most things cost half what they'd cost in the United States. A 15-20 minutes taxi ride costs about $5 and a full meal with drinks at a restaurant can be had for $5-15 per person. Even drinks at trendy nightclubs will only set you back a couple bucks!
  4. Speaking of clubs, Cartagena has a great nightlife scene, whether you want to dance or chill on a rooftop with some beers. There's enough to explore during the day, too, so no need to hang by the pool the whole time (though that sounds good!).
  5. Right now, there is an absolute steal of a hotel award redemption at the Hyatt Regency!

The Hotel: Hyatt Regency Cartagena

This hotel is so new, it isn't even open yet! The Hyatt Regency Cartagena in Barrio Bocagrande is currently taking reservations for December 19th, 2016 and on. From the photos available and information I was able to gather from the website, this is a premium hotel, but somehow it's only a Category 2 redemption for Hyatt Gold Passport members (more on why this is awesome later).

The Hyatt Regency is located just a three minute taxi ride from the main Cartagena action (Centro & Getsemani Neighborhoods) in an area populated by long strands of beach-front, high-rise hotels. Bocagrande is often spoken of as the "Colombian Miami Beach," although the beaches themselves aren't quite as nice.

Getting There: Flights on Avianca and Comparing Destination

First off, I'll make a few assumptions about trip length and appropriate travel dates:

  1. Colombia is a little farther than Caribbean destinations and significantly farther than Pacific Mexican resort towns, so I think 5 days (including the travel days) is the minimum.
  2. Since 5 days is the minimum optimal trip length, I decided to focus on weekends that also fall on US national holidays to reduce time-off work.

What I found is that typical Los Angeles-Cartagena roundtrip prices for dates associated with US three-day weekends are approximately $525-$550. Both sample dates involve the same flights from LAX to Bogota, but I changed the leg from Bogota to Cartagena in the second to show what's possible with an overnight in Bogota. Basically, by continuing to Cartagena the following day, we'd have time to go out and see the nightlife in Bogota instead of arriving in Cartagena at midnight and trying to force a late start to the evening there. This is effectively a two-for-one deal on Colombian cities!

As points of comparison, I checked the Memorial Day Weekend dates for flights to Cabo and Cancun and here's what I found:

The cheapest flight currently available to Cabo on an airline that is not known for crazy add-on fees and screwing up people's travel plans (I'm looking at you, Frontier!) is this Delta flight for $570 roundtrip. Basically, three-day US holiday weekends are out, since Cabo is priced for these...they know when we want to come.

Interjet will fly to Cancun for $460, which is a pretty good fare, considering that's nearly 5 hours of flying. However, at that point, the difference in cost between Cancun and Cartagena is less than $100, so Mexico really isn't that much of a flight bargain compared to Colombia. At that point, getting to visit the more exotic destination is probably worth the extra money.

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Back to the Good Stuff: Insanely Good Hyatt Award Redemption Values

As I mentioned before, I've been studying Hyatt Hotels for ways to travel hack my stays there. You already know from my previous post that you can always get 10-15% off about 500 Hyatt brand hotels throughout North and South America (Hyatt Regency Cartagena is included in this list). In addition, being a Category 2 hotel makes this particular Hyatt a great option for receiving luxury at a low price. I'm just going to leave the Bogota night out of the equation to make things easier to follow (it's easy to find a nice hotel room in Bogota for $50-$60 per night). Here's how I see it on a per-room basis and assuming a 3-night stay:

Option 1: 3 nights X 8,000 Hyatt points per night = 24,000 Hyatt points per room (two people)

Option 2: 3 nights X 4,000 Hyatt points + $55 = 12,000 Hyatt points + $165 per room (two people)

Option 3: 3 nights X 7,000 Hyatt points + $55 = 21,000 Hyatt points + $165 per room (two people)

At this point, you may be wondering where Options 2 and Option 3 came from, so now have a look at these charts below:

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Hyatt allows members to book award stays with a combination of points and cash, which is what was going on in Option 2. This keeps the hotel cost very minimal at $27.50 per person, per day while requiring half as many Hyatt points to execute.

Option 3 is just a variation of the previous option that adds a 3,000-point upgrade to "Club Level." The Club Level rooms are bigger, with better views and on higher floors, but perhaps the most significant benefit is free continental breakfast and "social hour" in the club lounge (read: free booze every afternoon). In Cabo, we really appreciated not having to go out to get breakfast and it was nice to get a good buzz "on the house." The big difference here is that each day we paid about $125 per person for those privileges plus the room in Cabo, whereas here it costs only $27.50 + 3,500 Hyatt points per person.

How good a deal is this? Best available room rates for this hotel start at $160 per night ($200 for club-level) and head north of $350 in high season and popular weekends.

Putting it All Together: Stacking the Hyatt Travel Hacks for Massive Group Savings

Let's just assume that we wanted to get 10 hotel rooms in Cartagena as simply and affordably as possible. Let's see what Option 2 would look like for 20 travelers:

  • 10 rooms X 3 nights = 30 nights
  • 30 nights X 4,000 points + $55 = 120,000 Hyatt points + $1,650

then, utilize the Hyatt gift card trick to reduce the cash part by at least 10%

  • $1,650 - 10% discount = $1,500

If just one of us picked up the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card, the sign-up bonus plus a little spend would earn enough Chase points to transfer to 120,000 Hyatt points. That man would be an absolute hero and the group could take care of him by buying his food and drinks when we go out! That would leave us with a $1,500 hotel bill, split 20 ways.

Altogether, each person's flight + lodging expenses might look like this:

  • $540 for roundtrip airfare on Avianca
  • $75 for a 3-night stay in a brand-new luxury hotel
  • $60 for a 1-night stay in an excellent Bogota hotel like the B3 Virrey
Hotel B3 Virrey, located  walking distance from Zona T and Parque 93, Two of the hottest nightlife spots in Bogota

Hotel B3 Virrey, located  walking distance from Zona T and Parque 93, Two of the hottest nightlife spots in Bogota

Bogota Party Bus Tours could be fun for a group!

Bogota Party Bus Tours could be fun for a group!

The Bottom Line

For about $675, airfare and lodging for a 5-day trip to Colombia would be covered. Those who made Cabo a 5-day trip spent about $850 ($500+ for lodging, $350+ for airfare, not including a canceled flight fiasco that left several folks stranded another night). Since our hotel in Cabo was all-inclusive, we have to factor in several days of food/drink expenses, but we'd have an extra $175 each to work with and it would be easy to eat and drink lavishly for less than that amount in Colombia.

In short, a trip to Cartagena would be equally affordable to a return to Cabo or another Mexican destination, while providing the opportunity to experience something new together!

Do you want to take a vacation like this with your friends, but need some help planning the trip? Click the Travel Consulting tab at the top of this site to learn how I can be of service!

Four-Capital+ Latin Sampler Maximizing the New United Excursionist Perk

I have been thinking about exploring more of Latin America lately, and now that there are new opportunities for free one-ways on United bookings, I thought I'd work out an itinerary that incorporates both interests. In this post, I'll share how to see four countries, four capitals + one ancient mountain-top village using a very affordable number of United Miles. I'll also compare my "latin sampler" to the original "latin hopper" route that inspired it.

Itinerary Highlights

The itinerary I've constructed is based on having stopovers to visit cities I've never explored: Mexico City, Lima, Cusco (Machu Picchu), Panama City. In addition, I'd get to revisit one of my favorites, Bogota. Here's why I picked each place:

  • Mexico City - I'd never wanted to visit the capital of Mexico until I saw the opening scene of the most recent 007 movie, which put the city on display during Dia de los Muertos. Intrigued, I dug deeper to find that it was one of two Spanish colonial capitals in Latin America and also featured impressive indigenous ruins like the Aztec city of Teotihuacan. I am also blown away by the wealth of inexpensive hotel award stays available, like the Hampton Inn & Suites in the city-center for only 10k Hilton points per night.
  • Lima - Peru is known to have the best food culture in Latin America, they have a unique national drink (Pisco), and Lima is still a very inexpensive city.
  • Cusco - Machu Picchu is the big + in the title of this post. It's on just about every backpacker's list of places to see, and I feel the call, too!
  • Bogota - The capital of Colombia is coming into its own, in the wake of much progress with issues of violence related to the drug trade and rebel groups. Bogota is probably not for beginning travelers, but it's very energetic and, if you keep your wits about you, a lot of fun for a great price!
  • Panama City - The capital of Panama is an international hub, thanks to the Panama Canal and it's central location within the Americas. There is a big expat scene, an up-and-coming "old-town" (Casco Viejo), and numerous inexpensive hotel point redemption options (the hotels are cheap to book anyway though).
  • San Jose, Costa Rica (PTY Alternative) - While I do intend to visit Costa Rica in the near future, Panama is higher up on my list for this particular trip. However, if you've got the Southwest Companion Pass, San Jose makes an excellent alternative for reasons I'll explain later!

A New Latin Hopper with United: My Four-Capital+ Itinerary

MEX-CUZ: 20k United Miles in business class on an Avianca A319, with an overnight layover (read: one night to party in Lima!). This business product is not as good as the one on their A330's, but is at least as good as most US domestic first-class seats.

CUZ-LIM: I would use 4.5k British Airways Avios in economy class on a LAN flight of approximately 1.5hrs, but if lacking Avios, flights booked at least a few weeks ahead are usually in the range of $75-90 between these cities.

LIM-BOG: Free in business class using the new United one-way loophole. This flight is typically operated by Avianca in an Airbus A330, which is a very solid business-class product.

BOG-PTY: 10k United Miles in economy on a short COPA flight.

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I should mention that I left out flights to and from the US intentionally (fill in your own blanks!). For me, flying out of LAX to MEX for about $100 would be an obvious choice and then I'd probably redeem miles for the return from PTY. Redeeming Singapore Krisflyer Miles for the PTY-LAX flight would also set me up nicely for this award chart routing hack.

Comparing My New United Latin Sampler to the Old Latin Hopper from Drew at Travelisfree

Travelisfree.com has lots of creative content in the same vein as what I have been exploring, and a few years back, Drew mapped out the original "latin hopper." His itinerary was from San Juan (Puerto Rico) to Quito to Lima to Cancun and it cost him only 20k United Miles in economy. Since both San Juan and Cancun are Southwest Airlines destinations, he used Rapid Rewards Miles and the Southwest Companion Pass to cut his positioning costs in half. If you'd like to know more about how that works and how you can get one, check out this post.

My new latin hopper can also be done for 20k United miles in economy (24.5k total miles to include the extra city, Cusco), but I chose to step it up another notch by adding 10 hours of business class flying for just 10k more miles. Considering that it would cost an extra 25k miles to get a similar amount of business class flight-time out of any domestic US travel with United, I find this to be a bargain.

My itinerary can also be positioned on the front-end with Southwest flights, and could be adjusted to return via San Jose (Costa Rica) instead of Panama City to return in the same fashion. In doing so, the Southwest Companion Pass could be put into play the same way Drew did on his hopper positioning flights.

While Drew's itinerary began and ended with beach destinations, my route takes in more large cities, but overall, the results are very similar. We each hit Lima, Peru and another Northern South America capital, and have stopovers for as long as we want in at least four Latin American cities (although I add a 5th with Cusco using Avios, hence the "Four Capital+" designation). In all, I'd call it a draw, which is good for miles and points travelers in these changing times.

The Bottom Line

Despite several United Airlines MileagePlus Program devaluations in the two years since the first latin hopper route was widely published, it's still possible to do basically the same thing today. Using my route, you can see some of the coolest places in Latin America and travel in style and comfort without using up too many precious miles or breaking the bank. The miles and points game is alive and well!

If you'd like to create your own route using the United excursionist perk as a "free one-way," check out: A Helpful Resource for Free One-Ways with the New United Award System

A Helpful Resource for Free One-Ways with the New United Award System

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I need to start off this massive post by saying that none of this would have been on my radar had I not been a long-time follower of Drew Macomber over at www.travelisfree.com. His content is unique, creative, and refreshingly short on sale tactics. My goal for this post is to explore and expound upon his recent discovery that, when United recently devalued its awards through changes to its booking system, it simultaneously opened up new opportunities for savvy miles and points enthusiasts in 2016 and beyond.

Use these links to jump to the section you want to explore:

Section 1: The basics of the new free one-ways loophole with United Miles

Section 2: Guidelines to increase redemption values

Section 3: Nesting multiple itineraries to create savings in economy and business

Section 4: The longest flight segments for free one-ways sorted by region

Section 5: Known limitations of the new United free one-ways loophole


Section 1

The basics of the new free one-ways loophole with United miles

Basics of the New United Free One-Way Opportunity

When United changed its booking rules on October 6th (2016), it closed several loopholes in the system, including one that allowed for adding "free one-ways" to the beginning or end of flights. This loophole was reliant upon United allowing a free stopover on any international award flight. While this is no longer possible, the new rules stipulate allow for an excursionist segment. It turns out that this segment can be anywhere in the world besides the ticket origin and it must remain within one region, as designated here.

To simplify as much as possible, what Drew discovered is that you can essentially book any two one-way tickets that begin and end in the same region (even two domestic flights), and then stick any one-region segment you like in the middle at no extra cost. Even better, booking a premium seat on the first leg of the ticket will make that excursionist leg premium also, and at no additional cost.

Minimal Point Outlay for Maximum Free Flight Hours

One way to maximize the benefits of this loophole is to book the cheapest first and final segments, so that the relative value of the free one-way stuck in the middle is higher. For example, one of Drew's readers from Hawaii commented that he could book an inter-island flight for 6,000 MileagePlus Miles.

If you happen to live in Hawaii or need some inter-island flights as part of a vacation there, that means you can spend as little as 12,000 miles to earn a free segment in another region that might normally cost as much as 20,000 miles. You can do even better by booking a business or first class inter-island segment (8.5/10k each way), which should make the free one-way a free premium class flight!

Assuming most people won't be able to take advantage of the inter-island flights, the next cheapest are domestic US flights on United metal that are less than 700 miles between city-pairs. These flights cost just 10,000 miles each. Doing this, you'd pay 20,000 miles for a pair of shorter domestic one-ways and receive a free one-region segment in economy that could be more than twice as long as the two domestic flights combined.


Section 2

Guidelines to increase redemption values

Booking an all-economy award with a free one-way

When booking an all-economy class United award, the best way to maximize the value of the free segment (based on percentage of miles saved) would follow these rules:

  1. Make the first and last legs (the segments you'll pay for with award miles) as cheap as possible. For example, inter-island flights in Hawaii are 6,000 miles each, flights within Japan are 5,000-8,000 miles each, and US domestic flights less than 700 miles in distance are 10,000 miles each. In these scenarios, you will pay between 10,000-20,000 miles for two one-way tickets and receive a third one-way in any other region in the world for free.
  2. While your "paid" award segments might ideally be short, you'll get maximum free flight-time by making your free segment in the middle as long as possible. Try for flights that cross the entirety of a region, such as Los Angeles to New York or Reykjavik to Istanbul. You can reference my resource post to learn about some of the longer one-region free one-ways.
  3. In a similar fashion to rule #2, if you want to maximize value, you would also want your free segment to be in a region that typically charges more for flights within that region, such as the Middle East (20k within the region). The Africa regions, South Asia, and Australia/New Zealand are also high-value options (17.5k within the region).

Booking an award to receive maximum free business/first class air-time

Selecting a business class flight as your first segment will allow you to book your free one-way as business at no additional cost. In this case, you'll benefit from a different set of rules than with all-economy awards:

  1. Make the first leg as long as you want, since there are no short-distance discounts for business-class award options.
  2. Try to fly the first leg in a relatively cheap United business class region and then fly the free one-way segment in a relatively expensive region for business class.
  3. Try to make the first leg a transcontinental or other longer flight within one region to get a better business class product.

Section 3

Nesting multiple itineraries to create savings in economy and business

Nesting Two New United Free One-Way Bookings in Economy Class

First, you'll need to do some date-selection, because once you know your flights, they will be intermingled between two separate bookings that will have date overlaps. In the example below, Booking #1 has the first leg of what will be a free roundtrip between Bogota, Colombia and Lima, Peru, but Booking #2 has the first flight you will actually take.

  • Booking #1: LAX-PTY (17.5k), BOG-LIM (free), SFO-EWR (12.5k)
  • Booking #2: Any domestic economy flight (12.5k), LIM-BOG (free), EWR-SFO (12.5k)

Combining these two bookings in the order they would be flown results in a one-way from San Francisco to Panama City (with an optional stopover in Los Angeles), a round-trip between Bogota and Lima, and a roundtrip between San Francisco and Newark.

  • Combined: SFO-LAX (10k), LAX-PTY (17.5k), BOG-LIM (free), LIM-BOG (free), SFO-EWR (12.5k), EWR-SFO (12.5k) = 52.5k United miles
  • Booked Separately: SFO-PTY (17.5k), BOG-LIM-BOG (20k), SFO-EWR-SFO (25k) = 62.5k United miles

The result of nesting two United bookings such as these allows the traveler to utilize the new United free one-way loophole to save 7.5k miles + add a free flight anywhere in the US. You can see this as an approximately 12% savings + a free flight or a 30% savings if you convert that flight to miles, but it is contingent upon several things:

  1. A nesting strategy like this is complicated enough that some people could get tripped up...focus will be required to make sure all the dates are correct and that it all prices out right.
  2. There must be a desire to book these routes anyway (i.e. saving 10k doesn't help if you didn't want to go to all of these places anyway).
  3. There are still open legs in these routes, such as the return to San Francisco from Panama City if you want to create three distinct trips, or the flights between PTY-BOG and BOG SFO if you want to make two trips (long multi-stopover trip to Latin America + transcontinental flight between San Francisco and New York City)

Nesting Two New United Free One-Ways in Business Class

Achieving greater savings on free one-ways through business class is one of the tricks I pointed out in Section 1. Since there is no additional benefit to booking business class on the final leg of either booking, I will show examples with two legs in business and the third in economy class, which maximizes the best discount by percentage of total cost.

  • Booking #1: SFO-PTY (30k), BOG-LIM (free), EWR-SFO (12.5k)
  • Booking #2:  EWR-SFO or any domestic biz flight (25k), LIM-BOG (free), SFO-EWR (12.5k)
Booking #1

Booking #1

Booking #2

Booking #2

Combining these two award bookings in order of date flown results in a one-way biz class flight from any two cities in the US, a one-way flight biz class from San Francisco to Panama City, a roundtrip biz class between Bogota and Lima, and an economy roundtrip between San Francisco and Newark.

  • Combined: EWR-SFO (25k), SFO-PTY (30k), BOG-LIM (free), LIM-BOG (free), SFO-EWR (12.5k), EWR-SFO (12.5k) = 80k United Miles
  • Booked Separately: EWR-SFO (25k), SFO-PTY (30k), BOG-LIM-BOG (40k), SFO-EWR-SFO (25k) = 120k United Miles
  • Booked only in economy: EWR-SFO (12.5k), SFO-PTY (17.5k), BOG-LIM-BOG (20k), SFO-EWR-SFO (25k) = 70k United Miles

In this example, we get the six-hour roundtrip between Colombia and Peru for free in business class on a nicely outfitted Avianca A330! This amounts to a savings of 40k miles or a 33% savings versus booking the same flights without the new free one-way loophole. Another way of looking at it would be to compare with an all-economy booking. For just 10,000 more points, you get up to 19 hours of business class air-time and it's sometimes easier to find business class space on busier flight dates, so this helps with booking availability, too!


Section 4

The longest flight segments for free one-ways sorted by region

Mainland US, Alaska & Canada

The best plays for this region include the longest flight Anchorage-NYC at about 7hrs in the air (though most flights between the city-pair involve a connection through Denver) and the big transcontinental routes. Pairing Newark and LAX or SFO will likely produce the best results if you're looking for a premium product on transcon flights with United (if you want to know what that looks like, check out this review).

  • Los Angeles-New York City: 2,451 miles on United
  • Los Angeles-Boston: 2,608 miles on United
  • Los Angeles-Washington DC: 2,286 on United
  • Los Angeles-Montreal: 2,471 miles on Air Canada
  • San Francisco-New York City: 2,561 on United
  • San Francisco-Boston: 2,700 miles on United
  • San Francisco-Washington DC: 2,439 miles on United
  • San Francisco-Montreal: 2,535 miles on Air Canada
  • Seattle-New York City: 2,398 miles on United
  • Seattle-Washington DC: 2,303 miles on United
  • Seattle-Toronto: 2,057 miles on United
  • Anchorage-New York City: 3,364 miles on United
  • Anchorage-Chicago: 2,841 miles on United
  • Anchorage-Denver: 2,403 miles on United
  • Anchorage-San Francisco: 2,017 miles on United

Europe

The longest non-stop flight of significance that I could find was between Moscow and Lisbon coming in at round-about 5hrs of flight time. Another interesting play for Europe would be using Lufthansa hubs in Germany or Scandinavian's hub in Copenhagen to connect Reykjavik, Iceland to a number of Mediterranean destinations. Check out the sample below:

Reykjavik to Istanbul via Copenhagen is be 7:20 of flight-time. Using two flights in the US to bookend this award ticket makes the Europe part show up for free, creating a free one-way! Even after recognizing that no miles were charged for the intra-European flights, you might be wondering why this award shows up as 22,500 miles instead of the 25,000 two one-way US flights usually costs. Since Newark to Baltimore is a short flight, United offers it for 10,000 instead of the usual 12,500 each way.

Perhaps the best part about this award came when I switched the LAX-EWR leg to BusinessFirst for 25,000 miles. When I did that, I was able to book the 7+hr European portion in business as well, without incurring additional miles or tax charges. That means that I can fly nearly all of this route in business class for just 35,000 United miles.

Here are some of the city-pairs for Europe I found interesting:

  • Lisbon-Copenhagen: 1,537 miles on TAP
  • Moscow-Lisbon: 2,433 miles on TAP
  • Moscow-Geneva: 1,503 miles on SWISS
  • London-Istanbul: 1,546 miles on Turkish
  • London-Athens: 1,509 miles on Aegean
  • Reykjavik-Munich: 1,674 miles on Lufthansa
  • Munich-Rhodes: 1,169 miles on Aegean
  • Reykjavik-Frankfurt: 1,493 miles on Lufthansa
  • Frankfurt-Istanbul: 1,159 miles on Lufthansa

Northern South America

Last I was aware, Avianca flies mostly their A330 aircraft from Peru to Colombia, which is a solid offering for these 3.5hr flights. If one were combining travels through Central America and/or the Caribbean with Northern South America, one of these free segments could be tacked on to two flights in those regions for a total cost of 20,000 United miles in economy, or 30,000 miles if you want to fly the front end + the free one-way in business.

You'd still have some connecting flights to book, but this works out to potentially 10+ flight hours in business and an additional domestic flight in economy for for a very low rate. Most normally-booked business class flights of 10+ hours (think US-Europe or US-Southern SA) cost at least 55,000 miles each way, instead of only 30,000 here for the same amount of air-time.

  • Lima-Bogota: 1,175 miles on Avianca (see my "latin sampler" post for an example using this segment)
  • Lima-Medellin: 1,267 miles on Avianca
  • Cusco-Bogota: 1,270 miles on Avianca
Avianca A330 Business Class Seats

Avianca A330 Business Class Seats

 Southern South America

While Southern South America doesn't offer many long flights, the routes I did find happen to be "5th Freedom" flights. This means that for your 1.5-2hr flights, you'll be flying an aircraft that's meant to go long-distance, so the quality of the seats and service is likely to be higher.

  • Santiago-Buenos Aires: 709 miles on Air Canada
  • Santiago-Sao Paolo: 1,071 miles on Turkish Airlines

Central America

  • Panama City-Belize City: 838 miles on COPA
  • Panama City-Guatemala City: 845 miles on COPA
  • Panama City-San Salvador: 722 miles on Avianca

South Asia

The longest practical free one-way I have found in the South Asia region would involve flying on United partner Singapore Airlines between Hong Kong and Bali via Singapore. This combo would be over 2,600 miles of flying and would result in a savings of 20,000 United miles in a high-end economy seat or 40,000 miles in a very solid business class product for a medium-haul flight.

  • Hong Kong-Singapore: 1,595 miles on United or Singapore Airlines
  • Hong Kong-Phuket: 1,429 miles on Thai Airways
  • Hong Kong-Bangkok: 1,051 miles on Thai Airways
  • Bali-Bangkok: 1,840 miles on Thai Airways
  • Bali-Singapore: 1,040 miles on Singapore Airlines

Australia/New Zealand/Tasmania

While United flies from the US to Australia and New Zealand, flights within this region will be on Air New Zealand. Air NZ opens a decent amount of economy award space, but very little in business class, so although you can get some decent-length free one-ways, the larger benefit of business class award bookings is unlikely. 

Auckland and Perth stand out as a city-pair with serious potential, but the 7+ hour flight is 17.5k United miles normally and, unless you were planning to go to Perth anyway, doesn't offer much utility.

  • Auckland-Perth: 3,320 miles on Air New Zealand
  • Auckland-Sydney: 1,343 miles on Air New Zealand
  • Auckland-Melbourne: 1,641 miles on Air New Zealand
  • Auckland-Brisbane: 1,428 miles on Air New Zealand
  • Christchurch-Brisbane: 1,553 miles on Air New Zealand
  • Christchurch-Sydney: 1,323 miles on Air New Zealand
  • Christchurch-Melbourne: 1,501 miles on Air New Zealand
  • Queenstown-Sydney: 1,206 miles on Air New Zealand
  • Queenstown-Melbourne: 1,335 miles on Air New Zealand

Section 5

Known limitations of the new United free one-ways loophole

Limitations of the New United Free One-Ways

  1. The region of origin must be visited twice for the itinerary to be eligible for the excursionist perk.
  2. The free one-way must be within a single region and that region cannot be the region of origin.
  3. Intra-region flights tend to be shorter and therefore, usually less valuable in terms of premium class product quality.
  4. Utilizing the new United free one-way loophole to maximum benefit requires planning multiple trips in advance.

How to Always Get 10-15% off Hyatt Hotels

Lots of people prefer Hyatt brands because of their consistent quality and good locations in major cities. While it's not the largest hotel group, Hyatt does have a strong reputation as one of the better ones. Usually, these kinds of things come with a price-tag, and it's true that Hyatt hotels are not the cheapest. In this post, I'll share a simple secret for getting Hyatt hotel stays for 10-15% off, every single time, with no black-out dates.

Use gift cards to achieve significant savings at Hyatt Hotels

Well, the secret is out in the section heading, but I can't tell you how many times gift cards have reduced the cost of purchases I've made over the last few years, and hotels are available at a discount this way, too! you can buy Hyatt gift cards for 10-15% off nearly all of the time. To do this, search gift card resellers like Cardpool.com and Raise.com, or let GiftCardGranny.com do the searching for you. GiftCardGranny will find the highest offers from most of the major gift card resellers, ensuring you get the best deal.

At this time, there are numerous electronic gift cards and even some physical ones that are being offered on multiple sites for 13-14% off. I have checked up on these deals periodically over the last several years and it's always between 10-15%.

These gift cards can then be used to book upcoming stays at more than 500 Hyatt brand properties, including: Park Hyatt, Grand Hyatt, Hyatt Regency, Hyatt Hotels, Andaz, Hyatt Centric, Unbound Collection, Hyatt Place, Hyatt House, and Ziva & Zilara All-Inclusive Resorts. You can find a full list of participating properties here.

Hyatt Playa Del Carmen Resort

Hyatt Playa Del Carmen Resort

Why discounted Hyatt gift cards are so great

One of my favorite booking sites is Hotels.com, which essentially offers about 10% off all the time, either in coupon-form or with their rewards program (after 10 stays, you get a free night equal to the average value of those stays). You may have another OTA (online travel agency) that you use to get regular discounts as well, and the advantage is that you are not beholden to a single brand.

Here are the reasons I still feel Hyatt gift cards are often the better option:

  • Buying gift cards will often earn you a better discount than OTA's
  • You can stack the discounts from gift cards on top of any Hyatt promotions
  • You will still earn Hyatt points for your stay
  • Your stay will count towards achieving status with Hyatt
  • Hyatt will treat you better (hotels tend to give their worst rooms to OTA bookings)

Limitations of using Hyatt gift cards

As is always the case, when you turn cash-money into a gift card or credit with a particular business, you must actually use the full balance in order to make it worthwhile. Gift cards are a profit-leader for many business because they are counting on low redemption rates. The good news is, since most of the gift cards are electronic and the 10-15% discount rates are consistent, there's no need to buy the cards speculatively. When you know you'll need to book a hotel stay, just purchase the gift card immediately before booking to ensure optimum use.

Another limitation occurs if you already have the Hyatt-branded credit card from Chase. In this case, you'll be earning 1 Hyatt point per dollar spent at a gift card reseller, instead of 3ppd for using the card directly at a Hyatt hotel. I find this to be mostly insignificant, since the earnings rate is low either way.

One other thing that's important to point out is that terms and conditions suggest Hyatt gift cards are basically limited to North and South America, so if you have plans to stay in other parts of the world, you may be out of luck. For more information about gift card uses at Hyatt, here's a link to the Hyatt Gift Card FAQ's page.

The bottom line

As you can see, there are lots of reasons to purchase Hyatt gift cards at a discount. In fact, if you have plans to stay at a Hyatt, or just have general plans to stay in a city that has Hyatt properties in North or South America, this 10-15% discount option should always be on the table.

Andaz Papagayo Peninsula Resort

Andaz Papagayo Peninsula Resort

Efficient Ways to Meet Minimum Spend on Credit Cards

Sometimes, good credit card bonus offers come one right after another. For others, normal monthly expenditures don't hit the required minimum spend needed to trigger credit card sign-up bonuses within the first three months. Whatever your scenario, this post will look into some common-sense methods for achieving minimum spend organically, and also what to do if your spending needs a little artificial boost to get over the hump!

How to meet minimum spend organically

This one might seem obvious, but start by using your credit card for EVERYTHING! Many people reach for their debit cards, thinking about their bank balances, but as long as you pay your credit card balance in full every month, they are functionally the same.

Even if you already use your credit card for regular expenditures like groceries and dining out, you could be leaving lots of "spend" on the table. Many recurring bills, such as cable, utilities, and insurance payments can be credit card without a fee.

If you've got a large minimum spend requirement to meet, you could even pay some bills ahead of time, or purchase gift cards for stores that you know you visit consistently (i.e. grocery stores, your favorite restaurant, gas stations, office supply and hardware stores). Often times, these gift cards can be purchased at a discount from sites like cardpool.com and raise.com, which will help you save money at the same time!

Another way to meet those higher minimum spends organically is to time signing up for that particular card to coincide with a large upcoming expense. About to order books for a new semester at school? Have an expensive dental procedure coming up? Off-set the pain by hitting that minimum spend and netting some serious miles and points!

How to increase credit card spend to earn sign-up bonuses

Exhausted all the "organic" methods for meeting minimum spend thresholds but still falling short? This is where you might need to consider a small expense for a big miles or points payday. While I generally operate on the principle that it's not good to spend money solely for the purpose of getting miles and points (which are not as valuable or flexible as cash), some opportunities are totally worth it.

For example, I recently paid a property tax bill for a 2.4% fee. This fee cost me $71 but I earned $460 worth of points towards travel. Since I had specific travel plans in mind for those points, they were about as good as cash to me, which means I profited $389 by meeting the minimum spend in one transaction.

An even better tax payment opportunity is income tax. There are several processing companies approved by the IRS to take your credit card payment of income tax for a fee of 1.87-2%. At that rate, it almost makes sense to pay that way even if you won't be hitting a sign-up bonus threshold, since some cards offer up to 2% cash-back.

If you don't have tax payments to make, you can buy gift cards issued by Visa, AMEX, etc. for a small fee. These cards essentially function like debit cards. In the past, it was easy to load those cards back into various accounts without ever using them, but now you'll probably need to just use them as your main form of payment in the month or two after you hit that tricky minimum spend.

A final option, which is easy, but a little more expensive (2-3%) is to send money to a friend or spouse via electronic payment systems like Venmo or Paypal, or to use Plastiq.com to pay your rent, mortgage, or other bills that typically require a check to be written. Plastiq periodically offers a 1.75% promo rate for using your Mastercard with their site, so that's something to watch.

The Bottom Line

While it's probably good to keep your credit card sign-up spend requirements to a level you can hit without thinking too much, there are times when the reward is worth the effort and sometimes even a bit of cash outlay. In these cases, you can rely on this list of options to increase credit card spend, both organically and artificially to get that big bonus.

Want to know more about getting miles and points by the thousands to reduce the cost of travel? Check out The Miles + Points Primer, a free guide I've written to help beginners on the path to travel freedom!