Author Archives: Gomanson

Semi-Monthly Update (June 16, 2017)

In this update:  A plethora of increased sign-up bonuses, another exciting excuse from yours truly, a travel update, and a recap of recent ValueTactics blog posts.

Credit Card News

The summer weather is heating up and so are the credit card sign-up bonuses!  Across the board, banks are rolling out some of their cards’ typical increased sign-up bonuses.  Whatever your overall card strategy is, the elevated sign-up bonuses can either simplify or complicate your decision matrix.  Either way, it’s nice to see these bonuses return; it indicates that card issuers are still hungry for your business!

  • Citi AAdvantage Platinum MastercardCiti’s AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard currently has an increased sign-up bonus of 60,000 American Airlines miles.  The usual bonus is 40,000.  To get the bonus miles, you must spend $3,000 in the first three months.  The $95 annual fee is waived the first year.
  • Citi’s business version of the American Airlines card listed in the previous bullet point is also at 60,000 miles for a limited time.
  • The AAdvantage Aviator Red from Barclaycard doesn’t exactly have an increased sign up bonus, but it is available with a nice 50,000 mile bonus.  This card was previously not available for new account holders; it was only available in a converted form from an old U.S. Airways card.  The $95 annual fee is not waived the first year, but the bonus is earned after your first purchase!
  • Barclaycard’s Arrival+ currently has an elevated bonus of 50,000 points after spending $3000 in the first 90 days.  The usual bonus is 40,000.  These points are redeemed for reimbursements of travel purchases made on the card.  You get 5% of redeemed points back in your account, so the current bonus on this card is worth $588.  The $89 annual fee is waived the first year.

YouTube Channel Update

todolistAnother update, another excuse!  🙂  I have acquired a key piece of equipment I need to produce high quality videos.  However I haven’t managed to acquire the time needed to put it to use.  I promise you, as soon as I’m able I will start releasing useful and entertaining videos for you to watch and share!

Recent ValueTactics Blog Posts

Barclaycard Aviator RedKeep or Cancel: Some Examples is a great post for helping you decide whether to keep a credit card when its annual fee is due.  It’s impossible to cover every variable for every situation, but this post shows some examples of how I work through the decision.

Travel News

Over the past week I’ve been struggling to book airfare for our fall trip.  It’s not that there aren’t any good options; there are plenty that would work.  It’s that I’m coordinating with a friend and we both want to get the best deal possible.  It should be pretty easy once we can both get a free hour or two together to work through it.

One thing is for sure. . . our planning is going to result in quite the spreadsheet!  Once I have it, I’ll be sure to share it on the ValueTactics Facebook page.

Now you’re updated.  Go employ some Value Tactics!

Keep or Cancel: Some Examples

Keep or cancel?  It’s the perennial question that comes up every time your credit card’s annual fee is due.  Should I pay the fee and keep the card?  Should I cancel it?  Or should I fish for a retention offer and base my decision on that offer?  All these questions can really be boiled down to one:  Will keeping this card another year be more valuable than the annual fee?

The answer to that question can be determined with some simple math, although assigning a dollar value to some card benefits gets a little subjective.  For example, the impact of cancelling a card on your credit score is hard to quantify.  Likewise, banks have different rules on how often you can get a sign-up bonus.  Keeping a card too long could hinder your future points-earning potential.  You need to consider these and many other factors when you calculate the value in each scenario.

Discussing all the different ways a card can provide value is beyond the scope of this post.  Instead, I will use a few recent examples of keep/cancel decisions that Nicoleen and I made to highlight some of the thought processes involved.

Credit cards on the chopping block.

All credit cards eventually end up on the chopping block.

Citi AAdvantage Platinum MasterCard

Recent action: CANCEL

The annual fee for Nicoleen’s Citi AAdvantage Platinum was charged on the May statement.  She’s had this card for 3 years and has never paid the annual fee.  The previous two times the fee was due she called and fished for a retention offer.  Both times she was successful in getting the fee waived or reimbursed.  We even got a few bonus miles out of the deal.

chaos pool

Citi phone reps are pretty easy to deal with, in general.  But I would still recommend finding a quiet place to make these phone calls!  This was not ideal, but it all worked out in the end.

This time she wasn’t fishing for a retention offer.  She just needed to cancel.  One main factor dominated this decision.  Before I explain that factor, here are the basics of the Citi AAdvantage Platinum MasterCard:

  • This card earns American Airline miles; 1 point per dollar on regular purchases and 2 points per dollar on American Airlines purchases.
  • The standard sign-up bonus is 30k miles with a $3k spend in the first 3 months.  The fairly frequent increased sign-up bonus is 50k miles (and rarely 60k).
  • Annual fee is $95 but is waived the first year.  Historically it’s been a very easy card to get the annual fee waived just by calling.
  • The most noteworthy fringe benefit is free checked baggage on American Airlines flights.

Citi AAdvantage Platinum Mastercard

Long before my time, this card was one of the most churnable miles cards out there.  There were several card versions and each had their own sign-up bonus.  Some people would open multiple cards in a year and have several accounts of the same card at once.  Citi was very lax with the rules on opening accounts and getting sign-up bonuses.  It was the Wild West!

By the time I got in the game, a more typical strategy for these cards was thus:  String along annual fee waivers in order to keep the account open for free.  Doing so helps your credit score by adding to both your average account length and your credit-to-debt ratio.  Some time after 24 months (Citi’s old minimum time limit between sign-up bonuses for a given card), close the account and open a new one for another 50k American Airlines miles.

But recent changes have made that strategy invalid. . .

The main factor

Late last year Citi dropped a bomb on credit card churners.  It wasn’t quite the MOAB that Chase dropped with their 5/24 rule, but it was disruptive enough to change my strategy on Citi cards.

The minimum time between sign-up bonuses is still 24 months, but it no longer applies to each specific card.  The 24 month timer is now shared among all cards of a given point type.  For example getting any Hilton sign-up bonus with Citi precludes you from getting the bonus on any other Citi Hilton card.

What’s worse is that the 24 month timer isn’t only reset by earning a sign-up bonus as it previously was.  It now also resets any time a card is cancelled or downgraded.  This is nonsensical to me because it incentivizes people to cancel their cards right after getting the sign-up bonus instead of continuing to use it for the following year(s).

The fact that it will be at least 2 years before Nicoleen can get any American Airlines co-branded card from Citi dominates all the other factors.  Any value she would get from keeping the card, even if Citi waived the annual fee, would pale in comparison to getting that timer going ASAP.  With Citi’s new bonus policy, cancelling this card was an easy decision.

NOTE: One silver lining of cancelling the Citi AAdvantage Platinum was that Nicoleen was able to transfer the credit to one of her no-fee Citi cards.  Therefore there will be no impact on her credit to debt ratio, which helps maintain a good credit score.

Barclaycard American Airlines Aviator Red

Recent action: CANCEL

Another American Airlines card and another history of having annual fees waived.  Like Nicoleen’s Citi card, I have successfully had the annual fee waived twice on my Barclaycard Aviator Red.  Usually my retention offers also came with some nice bonus miles for easy spending requirements.  Last year they waived my fee, gave me 5k miles, and bonus miles on my upcoming spending.

Barclay’s generosity with this card seems to be coming to an end, however.  According to reports on Flyertalk, retention offers are gradually drying up.  Nicoleen found this out first hand when she was offered nothing late last year.

A little about the Barclaycard Aviator Red:

  • The Aviator was originally the result of the American Airlines / U.S. Airways merger.  Barclay had a U.S. Airways card which was converted to the Aviator after the merger.
  • Until recently, the only Aviator Reds that existed were grandfathered U.S. Airways cards.  Now Barclay is taking new applications for the Aviator line of American Airlines cards.
  • Current offer is for 50k miles with no minimum spend, but the $95 annual fee is not waived the first year.
  • Notable fringe benefits are free checked bags on American, and 10% of redeemed miles refunded back every year.

Barclaycard Aviator Red

Other than the usual benefits of keeping a card open (credit score maintenance) the most compelling reason I had to keep this card was the frequent and generous bonus mile offers that came around.  –Read about some of these in this post.–  But without the annual fee waiver, the possibility of bonus offers definitely wouldn’t be enough incentive to keep this account open.

As expected, when I called I got no retention offers and decided to cancel.  I moved my credit to my Arrival card to minimize the impact on my credit score.  Now that the Aviator Red is available for new accounts, I may end up getting the card again sometime soon.  After all, I technically never got the bonus on this card, since my bonus was on the U.S. Airways card before the conversion.

More examples

Stay tuned for Keep or Cancel: Part II where I’ll show examples of cards we recently decided to keep.  I will explain what went into the decision and I’ll show just how much value we reaped from these cards to make them worth the annual fee.

Semi-Monthly Update (June 4, 2017)

In this update: our monthly points and miles activity, a YouTube update/excuse, some recent blog posts, and some minor travel news.

Household Points and Miles Activity for May

It was a pretty uneventful month for points earning/using.  Here’s how we did:

  • earned 738 hotel points
  • earned 2,941 Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • redeemed 80,000 Marriott points for a $1,061 hotel stay

YouTube Update

I apologize for the delay in officially launching the ValueTactics YouTube channel.  All the standard excuses apply: lots of kids, busy at work, busy working on house, etc.  I also need to acquire a halfway-decent microphone, which I have been putting off.


I will do my best to have the channel launched by the next semi-monthly update.  I know some of you really are anxiously waiting for this thing to develop.  After all, who wants to expend all that effort reading when you could just zone out and stare at a video?

New ValueTactics Blog Posts

Our Hawaiian Get-Away 2016 is the main page for the amazing, value-packed trip we took in September.  This post explains exactly how we planned the free nights and airfare, and how the plan all pieced together.  You can also find links to individual hotel reviews here.
The Mistake that Cost me a $690 Hotel Room is the cautionary tale on how I *almost* booked a sweet free room to cap off our anniversary trip to Europe.  Free travel is a fickle thing, and deals can slip through your fingers if you’re not careful.  Read this post for some tips on how not to make the same mistake as I did!
Hotel Review: Maui Seaside Hotel is my review (with lots of pictures) of the “burner” night we spent right after landing in Kahului on Maui.  This was the only hotel on the trip we didn’t use points to book.

Travel News

The blaster shower at Timberlake Lodge that drains entire lakes when all the shower heads are turned on.

The blaster shower at Timberlake Lodge that drains entire lakes when all the shower heads are turned on.

I only have some tiny news to report on the travel front.  I’ll be traveling for business for a couple days in Grand Rapids, MN.  I look forward to this trip every year and I’m excited that I reserved my room early and had my choice of hotels.  I got into what is hands down the best hotel in town, the Timberlake Lodge.  This place is head and shoulders above the rest of the in-town options.  You can read my review of the Timberlake Lodge here.

Now you’re updated.  Go employ some Value Tactics!

Hotel Review: Maui Seaside Hotel

maui seaside beach
To kick off our Hawaiian get-away in September, Nicoleen and I stayed one night at the Maui Seaside Hotel in Kahului.  This small, Hawaiian-owned hotel is located a few minutes from the airport, which was the main reason we chose to stay there.  Since our flight arrived after 8:00 P.M. we needed an inexpensive place to sleep to avoid wasting a free night at one of the two main resorts of the trip.

A one-night stay doesn’t provide a lot of material for a review.  On the other hand, a short stay really puts the hotel to the test.  They get one chance to impress you, so they better get it right!  Let’s see how well Maui Seaside Hotel did at impressing us. . .

The Room

We booked into a “standard room” with two double beds.  As far as I can tell, the only difference between the different room types is the size and location.  The website lists virtually identical in-room amenities for each type.  Every room type has only two options for bed configuration: 1 king or two double.

Maui Seaside Hotel standard room

The standard room was nothing special.  The TV and table and chairs were one one side of the room and the two beds were along the opposite wall.  The bathroom was small but adequate for our short stay.  The fridge and coffee maker were in the coat closet.

Maui Seaside Hotel soaps

Maui Seaside Hotel fridge

Despite the fairly dated decor and furniture, the room scored high on what we consider the #1 category: cleanliness.  In my book you can get away with a lot if the place is immaculately cleaned.  The Maui Seaside Hotel seems to understand that part; we had no complaints at all about the condition of the room.

Our view was basically a parking lot view but on Maui there’s no such thing as a totally bad view.  Almost anywhere you look either Haleakala or the West Maui Mountains are visible on a clear day.


Maui Seaside Hotel is fairly thin on amenities, but it’s not billed as a resort so that’s perfectly fine.  There is a central courtyard with a pool and patio area.  We didn’t get a chance to swim but the water felt nice and the chairs were comfortable.

The courtyard at Maui Seaside Hotel, with the pool and lounge chairs visible in the background.

The courtyard at Maui Seaside Hotel, with the pool and lounge chairs visible in the background.

A notable side effect of the time change when flying to Hawaii from the mainland is that you naturally wake up very early!  It’s probably less pronounced for West Coasters, but for us Midwesterners it’s a 5 hour difference.  We got up around 5:00 AM and couldn’t go back to sleep so we got to see the hotel “wake up.”

We noticed some grounds workers sweeping up every single dead leaf that had fallen on the parking lot and lawn areas.  The lawn was some kind of turf that was as soft and smooth as a putting green.  The combination of the workers cleaning everything up and the freshly rain-washed courtyard gave the place a very clean feel.

A leaf-camouflaged slug we spotted after the early morning rain.

A leaf-camouflaged slug we spotted after the early morning rain.

Some of the lovely flora of Maui. I took this photo while walking on the beach in front of Maui Seaside Hotel that first morning.

Some of the lovely flora of Maui. I took this photo while walking on the beach in front of Maui Seaside Hotel that first morning.

The beach isn’t specifically meant for swimming as there’s no lifeguard or beach chairs.  However, on our morning walk we saw a few people taking a dip in the morning waves.


Maui Seaside Hotel is connected to Tante’s Island Cuisine (  After our jet-lagged sleeplessness and morning walk, it was time for breakfast.  Tante’s has an awesome breakfast menu with lots of variety.  Nicoleen was ready for some familiar fare, and I was excited to try one of the many savory and hearty options to kick off our culinary journey in this new destination for us.

Maui Seaside Hotel - Tante's Island Cuisine breakfast

Shredded Kahlua pork, bacon, fried rice, eggs, and grilled sausage for breakfast? Why don’t we do this kind of stuff on the mainland??

Nicoleen eagerly awaiting her food, with Tante's ambiance in the background.

Nicoleen eagerly awaiting her food, with Tante’s early morning ambiance in the background.

Because we were some of the first ones in the door that morning, the food came exceptionally fast!  We split Nicoleen’s meal and I couldn’t finish mine so I got a to-go box.  Her review was “good” and I heartily enjoyed my meat-filled, salty, island breakfast.  I couldn’t tell if the passion-orange juice was fresh made or from a can, but I especially enjoyed it either way.  The prices were very reasonable as well.

(We returned to Tante’s for breakfast a week later after descending Haleakala, from where we watched the sunrise.  This time the service was quite a bit slower but I attribute it mostly to the fact that it was Sunday at brunch time.)

Cost and Value

Our one-night stay at Maui Seaside Hotel and our car rental were the only components of our trip that we paid “full price” for.  Even so, I looked for a good deal when shopping around for each.  This hotel provided complimentary airport transportation and was reasonably priced so it fit our criteria.

The price for our room on the hotel website was $149, which turned into $168.99 with taxes and fees.  As I explained briefly in the main trip review page for our Hawaiian get-away, I booked this room through Rocketmiles.  Booking through that website showed the same $149 rate but after taxes and fees it was somehow $179.49. 

-= Rocketmiles =- makes you pay up front for your hotel stay, but gives you bonus frequent flyer miles (program of your choice) as a reward.  Each hotel earns you a specific number of miles, starting at 1,000.  Maui Seaside Hotel is worth 1k miles, but through an e-mail promotion I got an additional 4,000 for using a specific credit card to pay for the room.  Since 5k American Airlines miles is much more valuable than the extra $11 it cost to get the room through Rocketmiles, it was well worth it!

Click here to check out Rocketmiles for yourself.  It’s a pretty simple program and if you’re paying for a hotel room, the extra miles earned may be worth it for you too! 
(I get referral bonus miles if you reserve a room through this link)

Overall impressions

maui seaside

Our stay at Maui Seaside Hotel was an afterthought in the big scheme of our trip.  It was basically there to absorb our first half-wasted day so we could maximize our time at the luxury resorts we stayed at for free later in the week.  Accordingly, we didn’t expect much.

Overall, our expectations were slightly exceeded.  The place was a bit dated but was very well kept up.  The few staff we encountered we very friendly and seemed to genuinely care about guests’ experiences.  Complimentary airport transportation was a nice touch and helped solidify our decision to stay here.

If our trip had been less resort-centric and more sightseeing-centric, Maui Seaside Hotel would have made a perfectly acceptable base of operations.  If we ever return to Maui and need to pay for a hotel for one or more nights, we won’t hesitate to stay again at the Maui Seaside Hotel!

Check out these other posts related to our Maui Vacation 2016!

Our Hawaiian Get-Away 2016
Hotel Review – Andaz Maui at Wailea
Hotel Review – Grand Wailea: A Waldorf Astoria Resort
Maui Vacation Field Report #1
Maui Vacation Field Report #2

The Mistake that Cost me a $690 Hotel Room

In this post I will describe the mistake that cost me a free stay at a posh hotel worth over $690.  More importantly, I’ll explain how you can avoid making this mistake!  It was a dumb mistake but I had never been warned about it, so I learned the hard way.

Oh well, sometimes the hard way is the best way to learn something.  But who says is has to be your hard way?  Read on to learn from mine. . .

My plan

The year was 2014.  I had just gotten my feet wet with my first ever points redemption and I was planning my next big trip.  Up to that point I didn’t have any experience with hotel programs; only frequent flier and miscellaneous points programs.  I only had one hotel credit card, the Citi Hilton Reserve.

I was in the middle of secretly planning the surprise European vacation for Nicoleen’s and my 10 year anniversary.  The flights were booked and all I had left to do was reserve a hotel room for the last night of the trip.  We would be flying out of Amsterdam but only spending one night in The Netherlands so I wanted to make it a memorable one.

Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam Goldfinch Brasserie

Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam Goldfinch Brasserie. CC Image courtesy of currystrumpet on Flickr.

What better way to make a one night hotel stay memorable than to book one of the fanciest hotels in the city, right?  (Ah, the fun things you can do when you use value tactics!)  I had my eyes on the new Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam.  The hotel is in the heart of the city and consists of six 17th century palaces, previously owned by the who’s who of the time, including two mayors.

Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam, by David van der Mark, Flickr

Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam.  CC Image courtesy of David van der Mark on Flickr.

I planned on using one of my free weekend night certificates from the sign-up bonus on my Citi Hilton Reserve card.  I had already finished the minimum spend for the bonus and was just waiting for the certificates to show up in the mail.


In those ancient days the certificates still came in the physical mail.  What I didn’t know, however, was that the free nights were credited to your account 1-2 weeks before the paper certificates showed up . . .

What actually happened

In my recent post about another trip where I used the same kind of Hilton free nights, I touched on how to find available rooms on the Hilton website. In a nutshell, to use the certificate the room has to be available at the “standard” reward rate.  The standard rate is always a nice round number of points.  In the Waldorf’s case, it’s 95,000 points.


I knew the room wouldn’t be available forever.  In-demand Hilton properties have a very limited number of rooms available at the standard rate.  I was booking 7 months in advance but it was for July, right in the middle of vacation season in Europe.

Every day I checked the website and every day I still saw the room available I got more and more nervous.  The free night certificates had to be coming soon!

The moment of truth

Finally the certificates arrived in the mail!  This was going to blow Nicoleen away!  Staying at this ridiculously elegant Waldorf Astoria for free would really lock in the first class status of our trip!

That day I didn’t check the Hilton website.  I had just checked the night before.  What were the chances someone booked that particular room on that particular night, and that it was the very last one left at that rate?  I picked up the phone and called the Hilton HHonors booking line.  I told the rep the hotel location, the dates, and the payment method.

“I’m sorry.  That property is not available for that date.”

What??  How??  Sure enough, someone had booked the last room left at the standard rate, 7 months in advance, less than 24 hours before I called to reserve it!

What I should have done

The worst part about the whole deal was that the free nights had been credited to my account for two weeks before I got the certificates.  I could have reserved the room any time during those two weeks and it would have worked.  But no one ever told me about the delay.

According to the Flyertalk wiki the certificates now come via e-mail, and they come as soon as the free nights are credited on your account.  So the particular scenario that I screwed up isn’t a worry anymore.  However, there’s a broader lesson here. . .

The broader lesson for you

The take-away from my mistake isn’t actually about the timing of free night certificates.  It’s about the scarcity of hotel and flight award bookings.

This wasn’t the first time during this trip’s planning phase that I had to settle for my second choice.  When booking our first class transatlantic flight, I had planned flying business class.  For virtually the same seat and service, the business class seats were 50k miles, versus the 62.5k required for first class.  Days before I booked the award flight, all the business class options disappeared.

If the hotel or flight award booking is easily refundable/changeable, lock in your reservation right away!  Desirable award flights and hotel rooms are hot commodities, and they disappear all the time.  Don’t trust them to still be there after you get all your other plans lined up. If you end up changing your mind, most programs allow a quick and convenient way to have your points refunded.

A missed opportunity, but not a disaster

It all worked out in the end for Nicoleen and me.  We ended up staying at my second choice hotel, the Hilton Amsterdam I recently wrote a review of this awesome hotel.  It was not quite as blown out as the Waldorf Astoria, but we still enjoyed it and it served our purpose nicely.

Nicoleen walking down a typical street in Amsterdam, packed with bikes.

We had a great (but short) time in Amsterdam, despite staying in our second choice hotel.  The Hilton Amsterdam is definitely a worthwhile use of a free night certificate!

Some images in this post made available through a Creative Commons license.  Click here for info.

Our Hawaiian Get-Away 2016

In September of 2016, Nicoleen and I embarked on our long-awaited Hawaiian get-away.  This 7-night luxury trip to Maui was our first time to Hawaii, and knocked off one item in my bucket list.  It took some advanced tactical planning to get the flights and all the hotel stays to align properly.  Read on to find out how we planned and executed our much needed Hawaiian get-away and got $4,152 worth of lodging and airfare for $189 by tactically redeeming miles and free nights!Maui sunset from Grand Wailea

[Mostly] Free Hotels

After our involved and arduous planning phase, we accomplished our goal of 6 free nights at luxury resorts.  Since our flight didn’t arrive in Maui until late evening, we wanted to burn our first night at an inexpensive hotel near the airport.  That way we would get to enjoy our whole first day at the Andaz.

With a little help from Tripadvisor reviews (always part of my research) we settled on Maui Seaside Hotel in Kahului.  I had an e-mail offer from Rocketmiles for 4,000 bonus miles with my first booking.  The price for the room was only $11 more through the Rocketmiles price search.  Since I value 5,000 American Airlines miles at far higher than the $11 difference, the offer was well worth it.

maui seaside– Click for my full review of the Maui Seaside Hotel –

After the brief stay in Kahuilui it was on to the incredibly upscale southwest Maui town of Wailea.  There we stayed at the two resorts that our whole trip revolved around.  The first was the Andaz Maui at Wailea.  The second was the Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria Resort.

- Click for my full review of the Andaz Maui at Wailea -– Click for my full review of the Andaz Maui at Wailea –

Grand Wailea Pools– Click for my full review of the Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria Resort –

Our hotel schedule looked like this:

Cost Summary

Hawaiian Get-Away cost summary

* Add the $95 annual fee on the Citi Hilton Reserve to our lodging cost, if you want to count that.

Points earned on the trip were 4,993 Hyatt points, 4,693 Hilton points, 4,179 American Airlines miles, and approximately 1,500 Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Origin of Concept

I had known about the Chase Hyatt card and the Citi Hilton Reserve card from my early days of credit cards, points and miles.  These are very popular cards because of their sign-up bonuses: both cards offer two free nights at any category of property from their respective portfolios.  Obviously the value potential when redeeming these free nights is enormous.  Each card could conceivably be used for $1000+/night resorts.  I briefly discussed the possibilities for these free nights in this post when we first got these cards.

hyatt-hilton-smallBetween two people you’ll have a total of 8 free nights if each of you gets both cards.  It’s a little tricky though, because the Hilton free nights are only good on weekends (Fri, Sat, Sun nights).  So in order to get 8 nights in a row, you’d have to split your stay at the Hilton in two, with the 4 Hyatt nights in between.  We had no interest in switching hotels twice, so our goal was 6 nights split between 4 Hyatt nights and 2 Hilton nights.  (We had to do this anyway since I had already used both free nights from my Hilton card on previous trips).

The trick then became finding two amazing properties close to each other, one Hilton and one Hyatt. . .

The Planning Phase

As you may have guessed from the post I referenced above, I had already given some thought to which pair of Hilton and Hyatt properties I was aiming for.  There are a number of fantastic locations around the globe with worthwhile resorts from each chain near to each other.  But I had my heart set on Hawaii; specifically the Andaz Maui from Hyatt and the Grand Wailea from Hilton’s Waldorf Astoria collection.

The logistics of this trip were quite a feat to sort out . . . but possible with enough research and advanced planning!

The logistics of this trip were quite a tangled mess to sort out . . . but it was possible with enough research and advanced planning!

This trip was a real doozie to plan!  I had to coordinate 2 free hotel stays at highly in-demand properties.  The dates had to fit with our work schedules.  We needed to be reasonably certain we could arrange child care for the dates.  Plus, the hotel dates needed to mesh with available flights we could purchase with miles.

Here’s how my thought process worked as I approached this monumental task:
  1. Time window.  We got the card bonuses (free night certificates) in December and we had already picked out September or October as our target date range.  It’s a good time to visit Hawaii and it’s also a relatively slow time for me at work.  A 9-10 month lead time would also improve our chances of finding free nights and flights that all worked together.
  2. Free hotels.  There were multiple options for airlines and frequent flier programs to get to Hawaii, but we were aiming for two specific hotels with limited award night availability.  I knew that hotels would be the limiting factor, so that’s where I started.  The hotel availability was so limited that I didn’t even look at flights at all until I had the hotels set.  The free night certificates are completely refundable, so there was no risk to booking them “in the blind” as far as airfare was concerned.
  3. Free flights.  Once I locked down hotel reservations and used all 6 certificates, I began the flight search.  I checked my usual three: United, American, and Delta.  Right away I noticed that most flights from the lower 48 to Hawaii arrive in the evening, and most return flights are red-eyes.    That threw a wrench in the plans because I didn’t want to waste virtually the whole first day at one of the awesome hotels by getting in late.  So I moved my search for the outgoing flight up a day and figured we could stay the first night in an inexpensive hotel by the airport.  I settled on a Delta round trip, which would use up our entire Delta SkyMiles balances.  (good riddance!)
  4. Bonus night.  Because we would be arriving a night early, we would need to find a hotel for that first night.  I had recently seen an e-mail offer for bonus American Airlines miles when booking hotels through Rocketmiles.  I found a decent-looking hotel near the airport in Kahului and booked it through Rocketmiles for the bonus miles.
  5. Car rental.  We waited a little too close for comfort on this.  I think we reserved a rental car less than 2 months from the trip.  It ended up working out fine, but we should have taken care of it earlier, to be safe.

The struggle with free nights at the Andaz Maui

Certain Hyatt resorts are notorious for being difficult to book with points or free night certificates.  There’s a whole Flyertalk thread devoted to this annoyance.  It’s a combination of supply/demand, games some hotels play with room types, and minimum stay requirements.  The Andaz Maui at Wailea ranks up their with the worst of them, as it has all three factors going for it.

Example: If I try to book for two nights this coming September, it shows standard rooms available:

Check the box for paying with points and the rooms disappear:

But, if you extend the stay to 5 nights, the rooms are magically available again.  This is an example of a hidden minimum stay requirement:

The minimum stay requirement in the example above is probably the one that gets most people.  The minimum stays aren’t publicized; you just have to search around for room availability.  Some dates it’s 5 nights minimum, others it’s 2, or any other number.

Free night certificates can only be used to book “standard” rooms, which are the same ones bookable with points.  This is another way some Hyatts manipulate room availability.  They re-categorize a handful of rooms to a “lower” room type and calling that new type the “standard” room.  This new room type can exist for reasons such as a less desirable view or being on a lower floor.  I call shenanigans!

How we beat the shenanigans and booked the room

With a little help from reports on Flyertalk and blog posts like this one from Million Mile Secrets, I went to book our free rooms.  The Hyatt website was giving us the same minimum stay error for our selected dates as shown above.  I was anticipating that so I had Nicoleen call the Hyatt Gold Passport reservation line.

The rep put up a little resistance when the same online system didn’t let him book Nicoleen’s 2 night stay with her certificates from her Chase Hyatt card.  She played dumb and told him that each night showed up as available when she selected cash as the payment type.  And, she reasoned, if the same room type was available with cash, she should be able to book it with her certificates.  She was successful.  Two down, two to go!

Next It was my turn.  I tried the same thing but the rep I got actually cited the 5-day minimum stay.  I told him as long as the standard room was available (which it certainly was), I should be able to book it with my certificates.  He once again mentioned the 5 night minimum so I had to play my ace: “If it’s not possible, then how did my wife just book the two previous nights?  Here’s her confirmation number…”  The rep put me on hold and after about 10 minutes a manager greeted me.  She said usually it’s not possible, but in this case she would make an exception and book the room for me.

The Andaz Maui at Wailea is such an amazing property, it was worth the extra hassle to hunt and fight for the free night reservations.

The Andaz Maui at Wailea is such an amazing property, it was worth the extra hassle to hunt and fight for the free night reservations.

Apparently there is a way for the Hyatt customer service reps to book free nights and override the individual property’s minimum stay limit.  It might take a few HUCAs (Hang Up and Call Again) but it can be done.  Or at least it could be done when we booked this trip.  This type of thing is constantly evolving and I would recommend reading recent discussion in the Flyertalk forum for the latest intel.

Booking the Hilton free nights

Using the Hilton free nights from the Citi Hilton Reserve card is actually more restrictive than the Hyatt certificates, but it’s more cut and dry.

Hilton also limits their capacity of points-bookable rooms.  On top of the limited supply, they further limit the number of points-bookable rooms at the “standard” award level.  These are the equivalent of an airline’s “saver level” award seat.  Only the standard room type at the standard award level can be booked with the Citi free nights.  One more restriction: the Citi free nights can only be used on Fridays, Saturdays, or Sundays.

Despite the restrictions, it’s easy to search for available dates.  When searching for a room on the Hilton website, check the “flexible dates” and “Hilton Honors points” boxes:


The results will look like this:


You can then click “Forward a week” to scroll through the dates.  Standard award rates are always nice round numbers.  In the Grand Wailea’s case, it’s 95,000 points.  As of right now, September 8th-10th, 2017 is an available weekend stay!

Before booking the Hyatt nights, I had confirmed that the two days following that hotel stay were available weekend nights at the Grand Wailea at standard rates.  A few clicks later, and both hotels were booked!

Free airfare (the easy part)

By the time I got all the hotel stays to line up, our dates were the only stretch in our 2 month window that would work.  Being tied to specific flight dates typically makes finding free flights more difficult.  But we had a few factors working in our favor as well.  We had decent balances in all three major U.S. frequent flier programs (United, American, Delta), Hawaii is a popular place to fly, and we were starting our search 9 months in advance.

Right off the bat our specific travel dates narrowed us down to Delta flights.  Nicoleen and I had over 90k combined Delta miles.  Since Delta has the worst redemption rates in the universe for award flights, our round trip economy flights would cost us 45k miles per person.

The other option was to transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards to Korean Air and book the exact same Delta flight for 25k miles per person.  (For a full explanation of how this works, check out this post by Milevalue: Guide to Booking Delta Flights to Hawaii for 25k Korean Miles Roundtrip).

Despite living near a Delta hub (MSP) I value Delta Skymiles so lowly, I had previously resolved to use them the first chance I could.  So I gave up a potential 50,000 point savings on a 90,000 mile flight in order to get rid of my Delta balance!  I had to pay a $120 fee to transfer some of Nicoleen’s miles to me so we both had over 45k. . . and I still think I made the right choice!

My complimentary meal on the 5 hour flight LAX-OGG. The price of flying for free. :)

My complimentary meal on the 5 hour flight LAX-OGG. The price of flying for free. 🙂

Cost Breakdown


Our outgoing and return Delta flights were both two-leg economy flights with a layover at LAX.  The cash value was actually pretty reasonable at $605.01 per person, round trip.  We paid 45k Delta Skymiles per person.  There was a $120 transfer fee involved in order to get both our account balances up to 45k.  We also paid $25 each way to check a bag.

We earned the majority of our Skymiles with the Delta Gold American Express card, which we both got early in our credit card careers.


We stayed the first night of our Hawaiian get-away at the the Maui Seaside Hotel.  When all was said and done, it cost us $179.  With the stay we earned over 4,179 American Airlines Miles, which is worth at least $50 to me.

Our next 4 nights were at the Andaz Maui at Wailea.  We used 4 free night certificates that we earned by each getting the Chase Hyatt card.  The cash price for a fully refundable stay at the time we booked the room was $439.  With the mandatory valet fee ($25), daily resort fee ($40), and tax, the nightly total would have cost us $540, for a total of $2,160.  The resort fee is covered with the free night, so all we had to pay was the valet fee, $106!

The last two nights of the trip were at Hilton’s Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria Resort.  The cash price for our room at the Grand Wailea was $327.  With resort fee, valet, and tax, two nights would have been $872.  Our cost was just the valet with tax: $62.50!

Ground Transportation:

We decided to see what the smaller, non-chain car rental companies had to offer on Maui.  Our search revealed some amusing results.  One particular company had a category called “old vans” which consisted of early 90’s minivans at a bargain price!

We went with a company called Maui Car Rentals that had Mustang convertibles for less than the price of compact economy cars at the major chain rental agencies.  I got this 3-5 year old Mustang convertible that ran and looked great for $223!  We got a free ride from the airport and they let us drop the car off at the airport after hours.  Maui Car Rentals nō ka ’oi!


We had a running joke with the hotel valet drivers.  When requesting our car we told them we had the white Mustang convertible.  I think about 90% of the cars on the island were white Mustang convertible rentals!



This Hawaiian get-away for Nicoleen and me was the culmination of a lot of planning.  We had this or a similar trip in mind way back when we planned our credit card applications a year prior.  The Chase Hyatt card and the Citi Hilton Reserve cards make a potent combination if enough advanced thought it given to the bonus redemptions.  For us, the research and planning paid off!

We managed to stay at luxury resorts on Maui that we could have normally never afforded.  Throw in the virtually free airfare and the whole trip cost us less than a budget weekend to Florida would have cost!

Another added bonus of virtually free airfare and hotels is the freedom it affords you with other spending.  You can splurge on dining and entertainment and not feel guilty about it.

Lobster deviled eggs, Proletariat woodfired pizza, and the best fries on the planet - at Monkeypod farm-to-table restaurant in Wailea, Maui.

Lobster deviled eggs, Proletariat wood-fired pizza, and the best fries on the planet – at Monkeypod farm-to-table restaurant in Wailea, Maui.

Do you want to learn the tactics we used to plan and execute this amazing Hawaiian get-away?  Like the ValueTactics Facebook page, comment, ask, and interact!

For more on this Hawaiian get-away trip, check out these related posts:

Semi-Monthly Update (May 18, 2017)

In this update: Current credit card elevated bonuses, my card dilemma, recent blog posts, around the web, and website news.

First, a change of plans-  My plans for a huge garage sale this Saturday have been postponed due to weather.  You’ll have to wait a little bit longer for a report on how many giant soccer balls and Menards free stuff I will be able to move.  No one wants to go garage sale-ing in crappy weather, which is what’s forecast through Saturday.

Credit Card News

There are a few cards with higher than usual sign-up bonuses at the moment:

ValueTactics reader Nidakeed sent in this pic of the offer he received for the brand new US Bank Altitude Reserve.

ValueTactics reader Nidakeed sent in this pic of the offer he received for the brand new US Bank Altitude Reserve.

Now for my dilemma:  Notice two of these three cards are from Chase?  I cannot get a Chase card because of the blasted 5/24 rule.  And any good card offers I take advantage of from other banks would put me even further into the hole on 5/24, putting these great Chase offers even further out of my reach.  I stand by my original assessment of this 5/24 rule: it IS a game changer.

Recent ValueTactics Blog Posts

Hotel Review: Hilton Amsterdam is a long overdue review of the free night we spent in Amsterdam at the end of our 10 year anniversary trip.  The stay was free, plus we got some nice perks!  Worth a read.
Why my Shed is Full of 40″ Giant Soccer Balls  Well . . . if you’re wondering what this one is all about, just read the post! 🙂

Around the Web

I came across this little gem this week whist surfing my frequent read list.  Regular readers already know how much I love MileValue, and this post is a perfect example of why.  Scott compiled this table comparing the miles required by different major frequent flier programs over a year ago.  He keeps it updated and I regularly use it as a reference.  Here’s the link; it’s worth a bookmark:
Comparison of United, Delta, & American Airlines Latest 2017 Award Charts

Website News

Drumroll please . . .YouTube_logo_2013.svg

I’m expanding to YouTube!

The ValueTactics YouTube channel will feature custom content: card reviews, trip reviews, strategy, tactics, news, etc.  Basically the same things covered here, but in a different format.  There are several reasons for this new expansion, which I will explain further in an upcoming post when the channel goes live.  In a nutshell: it’s easier to explain this stuff verbally than to write about it.

Don’t worry though!  ValueTactics will remain a regularly updated blog as well!

Now you’re updated. Go employ some Value Tactics!

Why my Shed is Full of 40″ Giant Soccer Balls

Kids play with giant soccer ballsEveryone knows that 40″ giant soccer balls are all the rage right now with today’s youngsters.

But the problem is: where can they find these hot, in-demand items?  Aren’t they sold out across the country?  Don’t you see empty shelves every time you stop by your local oversized sports equipment store?

That’s where I come in!  I’m cracking open my special reserve supply of giant 40″ soccer balls and offering them for sale on Amazon, E-bay, in person, and at my upcoming garage sale.

Why do I have a shed full of giant soccer balls?

Well, there’s a bit of a story involved here, but first let me tell you why you should care.  This isn’t the typical type of blog post for this site.  But as I describe in my “about site” page, being a value tactician isn’t all about credit cards and free travel. It’s about spotting valuable opportunities wherever and wherever they present themselves.

On to the story . . .

One day, a little over a year ago, my good friend Jerry calls me up and says, “Do you have room somewhere to store a bunch of huge boxes for a while?”

With 5 kids and a huge horde of free Menards stuff, I’m a little short on space.  So I says to Jerry, I says, “What’s in the boxes and what’s in it for me?”

Jerry then proceeds to tell me about how his dad’s acquaintance was using his dad’s pole shed to store a bunch of giant 40″ soccer balls.  Jerry’s dad had been looking at these things for years and decides he wanted them gone.  After trying unsuccessfully for several months to track down this acquaintance, he tells Jerry to get the balls out of his sight.  He tells Jerry he has 48 hours to do something with them or else he was going to drive them to the dump.

Now Jerry, he’s quite a value tactician in his own right.  He’s not one to let a bunch of humongous mutant sports equipment go to waste.  Seeing the value in these new, in-package balls prompts him to make that call to me, requesting storage space.

So Jerry and I look these things up online and they’re selling for over $80 a pop.  We were right to see the value in these balls!  We do some negotiating, strike a deal for splitting the profit, and before you know it, I got boxes and boxes of giant 40″ soccer balls crammed into my shed.

giant soccer balls

. . . And that’s how I ended up being an ad hoc giant soccer ball salesman!

The value in miscellaneous/opportunistic tactics

Obviously the “giant soccer ball tactic” isn’t really something I can teach to others, since it came about from a once in a lifetime scenario.  But you can apply the same strategy and principles I did to many different situations.

The key is to not automatically dismiss opportunities to make or save money.  Take a second to estimate if it will be worth your time and effort.  Do you think I jumped at the idea of storing, listing, and shipping a huge amount of jumbo soccer balls?  No!  It was only after some brief investigation that I discovered how much potential value the effort might provide.

If I had written off the idea based on my first reaction, I would have missed out on hundreds of dollars of relatively easy income!  And more importantly, children everywhere would be without their 40″ giant soccer balls.  And that’s a world I don’t want to live in.

Some inspirational examples

Spotting valuable opportunities for free money, free stuff, or money savings is something you’ve probably done your whole life.  What I would encourage though, is to open your mind to opportunities you may have ignored in the past.  I highlight a few of these on the Miscellaneous Tactics page.

Here are some other examples I have shown on the ValueTactics Facebook page or in various blog posts:

And don’t forget the $150 worth of free meat, booze, and gift cards I got a few years ago with Small Business Saturday.  (The program no longer gives you free stuff, but that’s part of the point here: take advantage of opportunities when they’re there!)
My 2014 Small Business Saturday haul: 5 bottles of wine, 1 bottle of rum, 6-pack of beer, some jerky and meat sticks, frozen brats and burgers, $50 in movie theater gift cards, and a kid's birthday gift (gift-wrapped, not pictured) ... all for about $11 in odd store totals.

Now your turn!

Notice three of those 4 examples were submitted by readers.  I want to hear about the valuable deals and tactics you have found!  Leave a comment below or interact on the Facebook page!