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I tried to cancel my Chase British Airways Visa but was lured to wait

Just a quick note — last May I got in on the crazy 100,000 BA miles sign-up bonus for the Chase British Airways Visa ($95 annual fee), and I still have a ton of unused miles from it. I’ve stopped using the card because I’m not crazy about the program switch to Avios miles that took place last November and I feel like I earn more valuable (and more) points with the Chase Sapphire Preferred (with which I earn Ultimate Rewards points. Those also transfer 1:1 to British Airways, so should I ever feel the need to top off my BA account, Ultimate Rewards gives me the flexibility to do so). So I called Chase and declared I was canceling my card, but the agent said she’d give me 5000 Avios points (posting to my account within the next 30 days) to not cancel quite yet. She justified that my annual fee wasn’t up until May anyway. So I didn’t cancel. Yet. Yay! Free miles!

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The Neurotic Nerd’s first mileage scheme

white rock letters on the Big Island's endless lava fields

The Neurotic Nerd is getting married this summer (yes, someone is actually insane enough to marry the Neurotic; please stop laughing). Despite her crippling fear of flying, Neurotic is getting married in Hawaii, halfway across the world from where she lives. There is nothing quite so smart as deciding to combine a Huge Life Change with Extensive Air Travel when one vomits at merely the thought of turbulence. Or has panic attacks when flying over water.

Anyway, this epic trip (which includes stops in CA and the midwest) is going to involve at least 2 airlines and 9 segments. Airfare would be staggering, except Neurotic has been mentored by the Flying Nerd and has figured out how to use miles to fly free.*

Neurotic and her better half already have some American miles;** only enough for a one-way flight, however. They have no Hawaiian miles. So step one was signing up for a Hawaiian Airlines Visa and an American AAdvantage credit card. The Hawaiian card got them 20,000 miles outright; after a $1000 charge another 15,000 will post. What will that $1000 charge be? RT nonstop flights from the East Coast to Hawaii, on which they will earn double miles for the purchase. The pair also followed Hawaiian Airlines on Twitter and will get 1000 miles for that. So: very quickly they’ve gotten 35,000 miles plus approx. 5000 from the flight purchase and Twitter follow. Boom. That’s enough to cover their 6 interisland flights.

The AAdvantage card will get them 30,000 miles after a $750 purchase (hotel reservations/deposits), plus a $100 statement credit for American air travel. Those miles plus their existing combined 45,000 mean that they can cover all their domestic flights except one one-way ticket. They’ll buy that with the card and the $100 statement credit will apply, so domestic flights should be free but for approx. $100.

Of course, this is like trip-planning Jenga (It could be AWESOME or it could all topple over and be a waste of time) and it remains to be seen how quickly the miles post to their accounts and whether blackout dates will prevent this plan from working. But if it works, they could get from the East Coast to Hawaii, island-hop 3 times, fly to LA, to the midwest, and finally back east for only the cost of a ticket to Hawaii plus about $100. Not bad for a first effort.

*Not free of fear, but whatever. THAT’S WHAT THE BEVERAGE CART IS FOR.
**Neurotic has six figures of lifetime miles on AA. How has that happened with the crippling fear? She is a frequent phobic flyer, and yes that is masochism.


Quick primer on racking up airline miles

Accepting that flying is not the only way to earn airline miles is usually the first hurdle in playing the miles game, so I thought it would be helpful to post a short review on ways to rack up airline miles. First of all, elite qualifying miles (EQM) are a different animal from redeemable miles (miles you trade for free air tickets). EQM earn you elite status on airlines (and thus give you perks). For the most part, you can only really attain elite status by having your own butt (not somebody else’s butt, even if you pay for their ticket) sitting in an airplane seat (hence the term “butt-in-seat miles”). So I’ll focus on how one earns redeemable miles for now.

1. Flying. Duh.

2. Credit card sign-up bonuses and spending money on credit cards.

3. Dining out, having registered for an airline-associated dining program. See explanation here.

4. Shopping online through an airline-associated shopping portal. See explanation here.

5. Converting credit card points or hotel points to miles (or earning miles for booking hotels through airline sites).

6. Free miles through social networking. Sure it takes dedication to constantly update one’s Facebook status or check-in on Foursquare, but I like it. It’s like a real life video game. Sort of.

7. And here’s the grab bag. Promotions! For example, sign up for Gilt.com and get free miles, sign up for MyPoints and get 750 United Miles (mine just posted, I signed up in September but had to email them asking why it was taking so long. As a warning, you get a lot of emails from them) and so on. You can get miles from opening certain investment accounts or doing online banking through Bank Direct. You can also get one bonus United mile for every dollar you spend when you book a tour package through Viator.com, but you have to spend at least $200 in a single transaction. See the explanation here.

I’m digressing but I had a great experience with Viator in September when I booked me and my boyfriend on their Haleakala sunrise tour. They picked us up from our bed and breakfast in Lahaina in the middle of the night, plied us with coffee and pastries and after watching the sunrise and looking around the crater, we were delivered safely back to Lahaina. Our tour guide / bus driver was super, super nice and enthusiastic about everything. At one point I overheard him telling a couple tourists whose picture he was taking, “Cameras are great!”

We got to sleep on the (long) ride and didn’t have to worry about navigating our way up a strange mountain in pitch darkness. Also I don’t know how to drive and I’m not much of a navigator. You do need to book tours in advance because they don’t run every day. Essentially, by booking a tour you’re really submitting a request and they’ll get back to you within a day about whether the tour is running. If not, they’ll give you alternate dates. Plan in advance!

Finally, the greatest thing about playing the miles game is that you can combine so many different ways to earn miles in a single transaction or trip. For one flight, you can earn miles for having your butt in the airplane seat, paying for a ticket using a credit card, checking in on Facebook at the airport, etc.

If I’m missing anything and if you have other ideas, let me know.

Here are some photos from our Haleakala tour (which I didn’t feel compelled to make prettier, for once):

gathered to watch the sunrise over Haleakala

It was REALLY cold. The guy in front of me was wearing a mattress pad.

crater

above the clouds and on the way up to the observatory

 


Getting started: joining mileage programs and keeping track of them

A few years ago, when I shopped for airplane tickets, I usually just went for the cheapest option. Sometimes that meant spending an entire night in an airport between connecting flights. However, once I started accruing miles and booking award flights, I quickly realized that free was much, much better than cheap and usually quite a bit more comfortable. But the very first step is signing up for mileage accounts with airlines. This is, of course, free. Sometimes you will even get bonus miles just for signing up. Focus on airlines that fly out of the airport that you live nearest to, but consider airlines across all three major alliances (Star Alliance, SkyTeam and OneWorld). You never know when a few miles in a program can come in handy or when some promotion will allow you to quickly accrue miles in a particular program. In some cases, you can even transfer miles between programs and perhaps, receive a bonus. I usually fly United and have premier status (lots of extra legroom in Economy plus seating, not having to pay to check bags, not having to wait in long security lines and a number of other perks), so I’m primarily concerned with my MileagePlus balance, but I also have accounts with the programs of: Air France, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, British Airways, Continental (which will soon become United), Delta, Frontier and Hawaiian Airlines among others. I’ll explain my reasons for membership in each in more specific posts later, but the main ideas are: whenever I fly, I earn miles somewhere and whenever I shop, I also earn miles somewhere (and usually two somewheres).

I keep track of all my mileage balances and those of my boyfriend with Award Wallet and it is quite possibly one of the best things that has ever happened to me. It’s like an interactive, alphabetized bibliography of my points programs. Award Wallet puts the annotated bibliography I once wrote on the interpreters of the Thyestes myth to shame. I can keep track of our mileage balances AND our points with hotel programs and credit card programs.  I only have to go to one place to see my balances for my amtrak points, Thank You Points, Ultimate Rewards points, Expedia rewards, etc. I don’t have to remember all the passwords of each program as I can log in directly from Award Wallet by clicking on the name of the program. I can update each balance whenever to see if they’ve changed (and I do this sometimes several times a day out of sheer excitement) and I can get that same info through their iPhone app. Recently, American Airlines disallowed Award Wallet from letting users log in through them, so that no longer applies to my AAdvantage miles (I’m still fuming) and I have to find out my balance by logging on directly to my American account. Award Wallet is working on how to get around this.