Shipping up to Boston, For Free!

One of the great things about New York is that getting to places that aren’t New York can be really easy. In this trip planning segment, our next adventure will be to Boston for the weekend. These write-ups should act as guidelines, and are not a promise that you can find these exact trips; however, I hope they are close enough to show that you can really do “expensive” trips for much less than you think.

tumblr_mfyz5hxA0x1rf9whpo1_r1_500.gifAs you’re probably aware by now, I’m pretty partial to Amtrak (to put it mildly), and using them to get between New York and Boston is super easy. To be honest, the worst part about Amtrak is Penn Station–jeez, what a dump.

That aside, you’ll want to take one of the later trains after work and one of the latest trains from Boston on Sunday, that way you have two full days in Boston. I’ve priced out the following on Amtrak:

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The trip will run you 5,244 points (4,982 if you have the Amtrak card) per person, and is only about 4/4.5 hours in each direction. Note:  you’ll be getting off at Back Bay, not South Station, as the hotel is much closer to the penultimate stop on this line. This saves you $136.80 in train fare per person. You could also take the bus (Greyhound, BoltBus, MegaBus, etc…), but honestly, treat yoself.

Next, your hotel. If you can manage, walk the .2 miles to the Westin Copley Place. You’ll be staying here for both nights, and using 40,000 SPG Starpoints to do it.

Note:  The increased bonus for the Starwood SPG card expires today! If you want to take advantage of this deal, make sure to do it ASAP!

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Once in Boston, use Saturday and Sunday to explore! Boston has a TON of great things to do–including Sox games. Unfortunately, the Sox are at Toronto that weekend. That shouldn’t stop you from exploring Chinatown, hitting up the multitude of excellent museums, or just ambling around some of Boston’s historic neighborhoods.

All in all, you’ll spend 49,964 points for your weekend in Boston:

Items Points Used Cash Value of Points Cash Spent
2x Amtrak tickets NYP-BBY-NYP 10,488 Amtrak Guest Rewards miles

(9,964 if you have the Amtrak card)

$273.60 $0.00
2 nights Westin Copley Place  

40,000 SPG Starpoints

$611.92 $0.00

Cost of trip:  49,964 points and $0.00 ($79.00 if you include the Amtrak card annual fee)

Cost of trip without miles/points:  $885.52

Savings:  $885.52, or 100% off!

So which cards make this possible? You’ll need two cards:

Card Annual Fee Spending Requirement Bonus Points Notes
Bank of America Amtrak Guest Rewards World $79 $1,000 in 90 days 20,000 points You will still have 10,036 points for another trip.
American Express Starwood Preferred Guest $0 for the first year, $95 every year after that $3,000 in 90 days 35,000 points This is the highest the bonus has ever been. You will need to spend $5,000 on the card to get all 40,000 points.

And that’s that, folks! Here’s to your free weekend in Boston!

Costco Credit Card – New Credit Card

Last year, Citi announced that they would become Costco’s new credit card provider, replacing American Express. This means that come June, American Express cards will no longer be able to be used at Costco, only cards on the Visa network.

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 10.35.18 AM.pngBecause of this, the American Express Costco card was discontinued, and customers should be receiving their new card in May.

What makes this new Citi card better than the American Express version is the earning structure of it! If you shop at Costco, this card could be a no brainer for you.  When this card is released later this year, it will earn the following cash back:

  • 4% cash back on gas, up to $7,000 per year
  • 3% cash back on restaurants and eligible travel
  • 2% cash back at Costco and Costco.com
  • 1% cash back on everything else

Again, if you shop at Costco, this card could be a no-brainer for you, as the cash back is awarded to you yearly (in February) as what I would consider a Costco gift card or gift certificate. Let’s assume the following spending per month:

  • $35 a month on gas
  • $200 a month on restaurants
  • $150 a month at Costco
  • $215 a month on everything else

That works out to:

  • 35 x 12 x .04 = $16.80
  • 200 x 12 x .03 = $72.00
  • 150 x 12 x .02 = $36.00
  • 215 x 12 x.01 = $25.80

In total, you’ve earned $150.60 in cash back over the course of a year, which is more than your hypothetical monthly trip to Costco! Free groceries, anyone?!

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Costco isn’t very convenient for me here in NYC (I don’t have a car, the space, or the time to make it feasible), but this card could be really beneficial for some people who find Costco convenient.

Saturday Round-Up 3/26

Happy weekend (and happy Easter weekend if that’s your thing!). You know the drill:

Posts:

News:

  • Remember to activate your quarterly categories for the Chase Freedom and the Discover it! This quarter it’s:
    • Grocery stories and wholesale clubs on the Chase Freedom
    • Restaurants and movies on the Discover it
  • Details about the Citi CostCo card were announced, and the cash back could be pretty substantial, especially if you shop and/or fill up at CostCo. We’ll have more details on this next week.
  • From Airways News, it looks as if Virgin America is looking to be sold. It’ll be interesting to watch this story unfold!

Bonuses:

Chase Freedom Unlimited – What’s the Big Deal?

Happy Friday!

Last week, Chase announced the details of a new credit card:  the Chase Freedom Unlimited. This compliments, rather than replaces, the Chase Freedom.

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With the Chase Freedom Unlimited, you earn the following:

  • $150 sign-up bonus after spending $500 in 90 days
  • $25 bonus for adding an Authorized User
  • 0% APR for the first 15 months
  • 1.5% cash back on all purchases, all the time

For the most part, the Chase Freedom Unlimited is very similar to the Chase Freedom, with the exception of the points earning structure (a big difference!). Remember that the Chase Freedom earns 5% cash back in quarterly rotating categories and 1% on everything else.

So, which card makes more sense for you? Let’s assume that you spend:

  • Gas:  $35 a month
  • Grocery:  $200 a month
  • Restaurants:  $200 a month
  • Amazon:  $50 a month
  • Everything Else:  $115 a month
  • TOTAL:  $600 a month

For the Chase Freedom Unlimited, it’s simple:  600 x 1.5 x 12 = 10,800 points ($108 cash back)

For the Chase Freedom, it’s a little more complicated:

  • Gas:  (35 x 1 x 9) + (35 x 5 x 3) = 840 points
  • Grocery:  (200 x 1 x 9) + (200 x 5 x 3) = 4,800 points
  • Restaurants: (200 x 1 x 9) + (200 x 5 x 3) = 4,800 points
  • Amazon:  (50 x 1 x 9) + (50 x 5 x 3) = 1,200 points
  • Everything Else:  (115 x 1 x 12) = 1,380 points

When it’s all said and done, your Chase Freedom has earned 13,020 points ($130.20 cash back) over the course of our hypothetical year, or roughly $22 more in cash back than the the Freedom Unlimited.

For most people, I’d recommend either applying for the Chase Freedom or keeping it, rather than getting a Chase Freedom Unlimited.

NOTE:  If you have the Chase Freedom or Chase Freedom Unlimited AND the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you can turn your cash back into Ultimate Rewards points, which can be transferred to a ton of airline, hotel, rental car, and many other programs. Ultimate Rewards points are how Nick and I are paying for rental cars and our flight home from Hawaii!

Trip Planning: Rome and Florence for 90% Off!

Rome and Florence for 90% off? Yeah right! Actually, it’s not that far fetched.

This is the next post in my series detailing the framework that goes into planning a trip. These write-ups should act as guidelines, and are not a promise that you can find these exact trips; however, I hope they are close enough to show that you really can do “expensive” trips for much less than you think. With that aside, let’s look at a weeklong trip to Rome and Florence in August 2016.

First up, getting there! Searching the United website, there is a Newark – Zurich – Rome flight that leaves Newark 8/13 at 6:45pm and gets into Rome at 2:15pm for 30,000 United miles and $24.70 per person.

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United Airlines EWR-ZRH-FCO

This flight would normally be $2,647 per person, or $5,294 total. If that sounds ridiculous–it is! All flights on United that day were that price or more!

Once you land, head to the Hilton Garden Inn – Rome Claridge, where you’ll be staying for three nights. For this hotel, you’ll be using a Points+Cash reward, which works out to 72,000 points and $328 dollars.

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Hilton Garden Inn – Rome Claridge rate

This hotel is a few kilometers from some of the places you’ll want to see, like the Spanish Steps, the Vatican, and the Colosseum.

On the 17th, you’ll take the train to Florence. The hotel is about 3 kilometers from the train station. The trip takes just over an hour and a half and can be had for as little as $22 per person. Make sure to put both train trips on the Capital One Venture, as you’ll be using points from the sign-up bonus to reimburse these expenses.

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Once in Florence, head to your hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn – Florence Novoli, where you’ll be staying for three nights. Much like the Rome hotel, you’ll be doing a Points+Cash redemption, which comes to 24,000 points and $151. Again, the hotel is a few kilometers from both the train station and the major sights you’ll want to see–I would recommend staying out all day so as to not waste time going back and forth to the hotel.

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Hilton Garden Inn – Florence Novoli rate

On the 20th, you’ll get back on the train and take it directly to Rome Fiumicino Airport. Again, this train ride will cost $22 per person and take about 2 hours and 15 minutes.

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At the airport, head to the Delta check-in area, as you’ll be flying them back to New York. We’re going to splurge a little and take a nonstop flight, which will set you back 65,000 miles and $199 per person. This same flight paid in cash would set you back $1,895 per person, or $3,970 total.

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Delta Air Lines FCO-JFK

So there’s your whirlwind of a trip! Sounds bellissimo! So what is it going to set you back?

Items Points Used Cash Value of Points Cash Spent
2x United tickets EWR-ZRH-FCO 60,000 United MileagePlus miles $5,492.00 $49.40 ($0.00 after Capital One reimbursement)
3 nights Hilton Garden Inn – Rome Clardige 72,000 Hilton HHonors points $548.35 $328.00
2x Italiarail tickets Rome – Florence n/a n/a $44.00 ($0.00 after Capital One reimbursement)
3 nights Hilton Garden Inn – Florence Novoli 24,000 Hilton HHonors $336.88 $151.00
2x Italiarail tickets Florence – Rome Fiumicino n/a n/a $44.00 ($0.00 after Capital One reimbursement)
2x Delta Tickets FCO-JFK 130,000 Delta SkyMiles $3,970.00 $398.00 ($262.60 after Capital One reimbursement)

Cost of trip:  286,000 miles/points and $741.60

Cost of trip without miles/points:  $10,435.23

Savings:  $9,693.63 or over 90% off

So, which cards make this trip possible? You’ll need 6 cards:

Card Annual Fee Spending Requirement Bonus Points Notes
American Express Premier Rewards Gold $0 first year, $195 after that  $1,000 in 90 days 50,000 points After spending requirement, you will have 51,000+ points

Transfer 2,000 to Hilton

Transfer 26,000 to one Delta account, then transfer 13,000 miles from one account to another

American Express Hilton Surpass $75 $3,000 in 90 days 85,000 Hilton HHonors points After spending requirement, you will have 94,000+ points

After transfer from Premier Rewards Gold card, you will have 97,000 points

American Express Delta Gold $0 first year, $95 after that $2,000 in 90 days 50,000 miles After spending requirement, you will have 52,000+ points

After transfer from Premier Rewards Gold card, you will have 65,000 points

American Express Delta Gold $0 first year, $95 after that $2,000 in 90 days 50,000 miles After spending requirement, you will have 52,000+ points

After transfer from other Delta account, you will have 65,000 points

Capital One Venture $0 first year, $59 after that  $3,000 in 90 days 40,000 points ($400.00) After spending requirement, you will have 46,000+ points

Use this card to pay for all your flights and train tickets and use the points for cash reimbursement

Chase MileagePlus Explorer $0 the first year, $95 after that $2,000 in 90 days 55,000 miles (50,000 from bonus, 5,000 for adding an Authorized User) After spending requirement, you will have 57,000+ points

You still need to come up with 3,000 United Miles, either through spend or from miles already in your account

I would HIGHLY suggest staggering these credit card sign-ups, unless you feel like you can handle spending $13,000 in 90 days (hey, more power to you if you can!). I would stagger the cards two at a time, and spread the spend out over nine months (which means you should start planning your trip for 2017 now!).

So there you have it–Rome and Florence for under $800. Ciao!

To Have and to Hold: IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card

From time to time, I’ll highlight credit cards that are better for more than just their sign-up bonus. In the first installment in this series, I’m going to go with the IHG Rewards Club Select credit card by Chase.

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Not the best bonus! Wait for when 80,000 points for $1,000 comes back!

This is a great first card to start your points and miles journey with for a few reasons:

  • There is a low spending requirement for a generally high payoff
  • The bonus categories (gas, grocery, and restaurants) are easy to get with organic spending
  • There is literally a Holiday Inn/Holiday Inn Express in every podunk town, from Bar Harbor, ME, to Albany, OR, which means more opportunity for redemption
  • If you live on the East Coast, you could save a bunch of money during Cherry Blossom season

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Additionally, there is no annual fee the first year, and every year after that, the annual fee is a manageable $49.

Ugh, annual fee, am I right?

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Well, there’s more than meets the eye with the annual fee! When you pay the annual fee, IHG gives you a free night at ANY of their hotel properties worldwide. Like, any any. So you pay the annual fee ($49), and then can spend a night for free at:  InterContinental Amstel Amsterdam (~$593), InterContinental Washington Willard (~$479), or (as most bloggers point out) the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort (~$987). So by paying the annual fee, you could potentially earn a night almost 20 times in value–cool, no?

Additionally, you get:

  • 10 percent of your points back on redemptions, up to 100,000 points back per year
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Platinum Elite Status (which comes with its own set of benefits)

Again, not bad for a $49 a year investment.

I currently have this card, and I am in the planning stages of using the points, so if you have any other questions about it, let me know in the comments!

 

Saturday Round-Up 3/19

In case you missed it! Also shamelessly going to share some photos from my trip to the New York Botanical Garden from last weekend.

Posts:

News:

  • Marriott might not be acquiring Starwood after all! Anbang, a Chinese insurance company, has made a $78-per share offer, totaling $13.2 billion. This is a billion more than Marriott’s offer, and they have 5 days to respond. Read more about it at CNBC.
  • The details of the Chase Freedom Unlimited have been announced. Rather than 1% cash back and 5% cash back in rotating categories like the Freedom, the Freedom Unlimited will earn a straight 1.5% cash back on everything, year round. Is this a card you should consider? Tune in next week and we’ll explore it!

Bonuses