Over the last few years, I have been working towards becoming an expert in the field of miles and points, learning and applying many tricks and travel hacks to help us explore the great, wide world. One of the things that has become most obvious from my studies is that you ought to have a strategy mapped out. There's no point in earning miles if you don't have a plan to use them and if you don't stay organized, things will slip through the cracks. This post will describe the goals I've set forth for the coming year.
Accumulate Alaska Miles
Alaska miles are one of the most valuable reward currencies out there and many people don't even realize just how much you can do with them. Yes, award availability is above-average and Alaska runs a great service, but did you know Alaska miles can get you to Patagonia or New Zealand?
Alaska is not part of a major alliance, preferring instead to partner with an excellent mix of other airlines, like Fiji Airways, American, AeroMexico, Korean, and Qantas, just to name a few of the more useful ones. For example, it's possible to fly from LAX to Buenos Aires via Mexico City on Aeromexico for just 25,000 miles each way. The industry average to Southern South America is 30,000 miles, so this is a great redemption.
The best way to earn Alaska miles is to sign up for the Bank America Alaska Credit Card, which typically nets 25,000 miles. For the best offer available at any time, check this flyertalk resource page. You could then fund a CitiGold checking account (and savings!) with this card like I did to earn another 20,000 miles. For more information on how to do that, check out this Doctor of Credit post.
Get AMEX SPG Cards Before They're Gone
Starwood Hotel Group recently announced that it will become part of the Marriott umbrella in the coming months/years. Nobody knows how soon this merger will happen, but the move spells an eventual end to one of the most valuable and flexible rewards currencies out there.
SPG points can be used toward hotel stays at Westin, Le Meridien, and a few other very nice hotels, but transferring to airline miles provides even higher value. For every 20,000 points transferred to airline miles, SPG adds an extra 5,000 points to the pot. SPG has a ton of airline partners (full list here), but after singing the praises of Alaska's rewards program I will mention that they are an SPG transfer partner.
As an example, if I signed up for both the personal and business SPG credit card from AMEX, I would net 2x25,000 point bonuses after 2x$5000 in spend. I'd also earn an extra 10,000 points from that spend, meaning my SPG account would hold 60,000 points. I could then transfer 20,000 points at a time to say, Alaska, earning the 5,000 point bonus three times. All said and done, these two cards combined could net 75,000 Alaska miles...or that amount of miles with any other SPG transfer partner.
AMEX only allows applicants to earn a sign-up bonus once per card, so I'm weary of getting anything AMEX unless I know it's the best offer they're going to make. The SPG card traditionally goes to a 30,000 point offer briefly in August, but who knows what will happen this year. Since this card is going the way of the dinosaur at some point during the merger, I think it's time to make a move!
Requalify for the Southwest Companion Pass
The Southwest Companion Pass is, without question, one of the best travel hacks out there. Johanna and I have gotten incredible value out of the one we earned in January 2015 and it'll still be serving us well in 2016. However, it's time to start thinking about how to get it again; 2-for-1 flights and the ability to use it even on award travel make this the best companion pass feature out there. I'm even considering getting it this year instead of waiting for next January, since deals that are almost too good to be true typically don't last.
For information about how we got our Companion Pass for 2015-2016, I provided some details here. We'll look to go a similar route in earning the necessary points either this year or next, but one thing is for sure, this is a must-do if you have a lot of domestic travel or trips to Mexico in your future!
US Bank FlexPerks Olympics Offer
During Olympic season, US Bank has made a habit of offering its Visa FlexPerks card with a special promo that improves its signup bonus significantly. Over the last two Olympic Games, this offer has averaged over 30,000 points, which translates to as much as $600 in flights or up to $450 in hotels. This is also a 2x everything card, so its easy to rack up a lot of points on every-day spend. Here's what the last promotion looked like:
On my miles and points spreadsheet, the notes section next to the Flexperks card I got during the Sochi Olympics says "s***** olympics scam." It says that because, while I called in to take advantage of the Olympics offer, the person on the line switched me to a lesser offer for 15,000 points, despite me saying I wasn't interested in that offer. As a result, I'm out to make sure Johanna gets the right promo offer for the Rio Games and I'm considering a business card for myself. If things go well, that's at least 60,000 points or up to $1,200 in value between us. Go USA!
The Bottom Line
There are some great credit card signup bonus opportunities out there in 2016 and we plan to take advantage of a few, while staying reasonable with our expectations. We've racked up a lot of miles over the last few years and even after booking most of our travel for 2016, we've got plenty in reserve. At times like these its important not to go overboard and keep collecting just to have more. With these goals, we will maintain our balances, secure nearly-free domestic travel, and take advantage of a few offers that are rare or may disappear altogether by the end of the year.