Author Archives: Gomanson

Winter Vacation Plans Revealed

Winter vacation plans previews

For a while I’ve been hinting at a warm weather winter vacation for my wife and me.  We finally got the plans finalized and over the weekend I posted a few teasers on the ValueTactics Facebook page.

I showed a few screenshots of our online bookings.  I blurred out the locations but astute observers will notice the flights were on American Airlines and the hotel booking was at a Hyatt property.  So that narrows it down to about 1,850 destinations. . .

hyatts

Most of those dots each represent dozens of Hyatt properties. (Courtesy of www.awardmapper.com)



Winter vacation plans revealed!

Some of you already guessed it on Facebook.  Good job.  🙂

In early March, we’re returning to the site of this February’s “Long Weekend in Paradise,”  the beautiful Andaz Papagayo Peninsula in tropical Costa Rica!

Relaxing in Costa Rica

Why Costa Rica?

The planning for this trip was similar to the last time we stayed at the Andaz Papagayo.  I can’t typically get vacation time in the spring so we’re limited to winter months.  In order to get somewhere unequivocally warm in December through mid-March you have to get waaaay south.

The Caribbean is a tough nut to crack when looking to redeem anniversary nights from the Chase Hyatt card.  The anniversary nights are only good at a category 1-4 hotel, which are hard to come by in the Caribbean and Mexico.  The eligible hotels in those regions aren’t anything special and aren’t worth the trouble of a short vacation, in our estimation.  I wracked my brain looking for other options but all paths led once again to the Andaz Papagayo.

This time around the planning was much harder than last time I predicted a phenomenon that finally appears to have come to pass.  With the Caribbean resort capacity severely diminished due to hurricanes, many vacationers have had to cancel or rethink their winter travel plans.  Those who decided to find alternative destinations probably opted for nearby areas that weren’t hit by the storms.  Those would include Jamaica, certain smaller islands, and Central America.

I literally couldn't have done it without a spreadsheet. It was like a linear programming problem!

I literally couldn’t have done it without a spreadsheet. It was like a linear programming problem!

We planned our last Costa Rica vacation only a week or two earlier than this year’s planning, but this year the award night and flight availability was very slim.  I was forced to make a spreadsheet just to organize it all.  Eventually the puzzle pieces fell into place and we ended up with a FREE 4 night warm weather get-away!



Semi-Monthly Update (November 23, 2017)

I’ve been a busy boy, and unfortunately that means I didn’t get a lot of writing got done in the past few weeks.  One thing keeping me occupied has been a handful of short work trips.  Last week I stayed at a questionable hotel in southern MN.  I should probably write a semi-satirical review like the one I did for BUILDING 7-73.  Here’s a preview:

To give you an idea of how swamped I’ve been with non-VT stuff, this post was originally dated November 11th and the date has changed about 5 times.  When it takes several tries and almost 2 weeks to write an update post, you know I’m hurting for time!  And it’s not like there aren’t things to write about. . .

In this update I’ll report on our October points and miles activity, talk about some general and personal credit card news, share some happy reports from readers, and give a travel update.  We’ll top it all off with the latest free travel photo.



Household Points and Miles Activity for October

  • earned 87 hotel points
  • earned 5,710 Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • earned 35 Citi Thank-You points
  • earned 55,433 “other” points

I managed to complete the $3000 bonus spend on my new Bank of America Premier Rewards card in the first month (in fact I met the spend with a single purchase), yielding the 50k bonus “other” points.

Credit Card News

General News:

Lately I’ve been infatuated with the idea of free annual nights as a credit card benefit.  This is how I booked one of the two $700+ nights at the Z Ocean Hotel (pictured below in the free travel photo) this spring.  For a mere $49 annual fee, the Chase IHG card gives you a free night at any IHG property worldwide.  Our tropical weekend get-away to Costa Rica in February was also partially booked with free anniversary nights from our Chase Hyatt cards ($75 AF).

One of the few cards offering this type of benefit is about to be replaced with a new version with different benefits.  The present (and last ever) sign-up bonus on the current version of the card is at an all time high of 125,000 points!  I’m talking about the Hilton Surpass from American ExpressCheck out my previous post for a full run-down of the situation with this card.

Personal News:

October 27th, the day before our Florida trip, I applied for the Synchrony Cathay Pacific card during its highest-ever bonus of 50,000 Asia Miles.  I got the “pending” message many applicants have reported.  I received no e-mail communication since I applied but I finally got a letter on November 9th:

cathay pacific letter

And then on the 10th, the card arrived!

(If the FB post isn’t showing up, click here.)

ValueTactics Reader Success

ValueTactics reader Jamie recently told me about an upcoming vacation where she got a sweet deal on airfare to Ft. Myers.  She booked 4 round trip flights for only $44 and 68,000 miles!  That’s an awesome value; great job using the points and miles tactic, Jamie!

Travel News

castle

We’ve been back from our Florida vacation for 3 weeks now.  The trip was so awesome!  I have to admit it was less relaxing than I anticipated, but at the same time it was more fun than I expected.  Disney really does do things above and beyond all of their competition.  After being there it’s easy to see that all other theme parks are trying to imitate what Disney has created.

the club

Besides two theme parks and the Kennedy Space Center we also experienced a free hotel stay and two free airport lounges.  (Well, “two lounges” is a stretch since one of them was a quick grab and go affair.)  This trip should generate a few different blog posts, one of which is mostly finished: a complete outline of how we planned this trip for so little money.

Of course getting back from a vacation also generates the dreaded vacation hangover, and regular readers will know how I like to cure that. . .   🙂

Free Travel Photo

After our family vacation to Disney, Nicoleen and I are ready for

After our family vacation to Disney, Nicoleen and I are ready for a break. . . like maybe a vacation with just the two of us?  Our last adults-only trip was her birthday surprise trip to Miami Beach in April.  I love this photo because I managed to fit everything into one shot from our private rooftop terrace: the moon shining on the ocean, the night lights of lively Ocean Drive, the unique pool at the Z Ocean Hotel, and our complimentary bottle of champagne.  What an awesome free trip that was!




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

Highest Ever 125k Point Hilton Surpass Offer

The Hilton Surpass card from American Express has a new sign-up offer that comes with a highest ever 125k Hilton point bonus.  This is already week-old news to some, but I figured I’d weigh in on it.



The Offer

  • 100,000 Hilton points after $3k spend in 3 months
  • Additional 25,000 Hilton points after additional $1k spend in 6 months
  • Hilton Gold status
  • Earns 12x points / dollar on Hilton purchases
  • Earns 6x points / dollar on gas, groceries, and dining
  • Earns 3x points / dollar on all other purchases
  • $75 annual fee, not waived the first year

Spending a combined $4k in 6 months is pretty doable and 125k is the highest bonus ever seen on this card, but keep in mind that not all hotel points are the same.  Hilton is near the bottom of the list, at around 0.33 cents per point.  Still, they are nice to have as Hilton properties are everywhere and in my experience they have the best overall service of the major conglomerates.  The high earn rate on continued spending sort of makes up for the crappy value of the points.  Hilton now lets you easily combine points with other people and they have a flexible cash + points option on award stays.  These two factors make orphan points almost nonexistent.

The Gold status shouldn’t be ignored either.  Hilton Gold status benefits vary by hotel brand and by individual property, but the least it will get you is free internet and a welcome snack and bottled water.  In many cases it will get you room upgrades and/or free breakfast.  During our stay at the Hilton Amsterdam in 2015 my Gold status got us free breakfast ($30 each) and access to the Executive Lounge, which could have easily served as our dinner.  Gold status at this one stay alone was worth more than the annual fee on the Surpass card!

Complimentary food at the Executive Lounge at the Hilton Amsterdam.

Complimentary food at the Executive Lounge at the Hilton Amsterdam.  Lounge access came with my Gold status.

The Catch

The Hilton Surpass is from American Express, which means it’s a once-in-a-lifetime bonus.  With that in mind, the strategy for when to get a given Amex card is simple: wait until it’s at its best known offer.

The problem is when a card is known to have a limited lifespan.  Such is the case with the Surpass. The offer above is only good through 01/17/2018.  At that time Surpass accounts will be converted to the new Hilton Honors American Express Ascend card.  (See Doctor of Credit’s outline of all Hilton AMEX card details and changes here)

That’s a shoe in, right?  If this is the last chance to get this specific AMEX product, we can safely apply for it with nothing to lose, and still get the bonus on the new Ascend, right?  That’s usually sound logic, but in this case most of the speculative thinking is that new Ascent applicants will be ineligible for any new bonus if they ever received a bonus on the Surpass.

scales-316888_960_720

So in this case it’s a gamble whether to get the Surpass now or wait until it becomes the Ascend.  125K bonus points is nice but 2 free weekend nights would be much nicer.  That was the bonus on the now-retired Citi Hilton Reserve.  We don’t know what the sign-up bonus for new accounts will be on the Ascend, but we do know the benefits will be.  The one that caught my eye is this:

  • One free weekend night each year when you spend at least $15k on the card.

Previous Surpass offers have had this annual free night but without the spend requirement.  $15k a year is definitely doable, but at what opportunity cost?  That’s up to your spending habits and your valuation of Hilton points.

Why I value recurring free night benefits

Lately I’ve been infatuated with the idea of annual free nights as a credit card benefit.  This is how I booked one of our two $700+ nights at the Z Ocean Hotel this spring.  For a mere $49 annual fee, the Chase IHG card gets me a free night at any IHG property worldwide.  Our tropical weekend get-away to Costa Rica in February was also partially booked with free anniversary nights from our Chase Hyatt cards.  The Hyatt anniversary free nights are limited to category 1-4 properties and the annual fee is $75.

Free nights can be extremely valuable when redeemed at aspirational resorts or big city hotels during peak dates.  Hilton free nights often come with a “weekend only” restriction and some anniversary benefit free nights have a property category limitation.  Obviously the best potential for extreme redemption value is on the unrestricted type.

Nicoleen and I have redeemed a total of 11 free night certificates (8 from sign-up bonuses, 3 from anniversary benefits) for a total value of 5327.31! (Annual fees totaled $199 for the 3 anniversary nights)

Last fall we stayed 4 free nights at the Andaz Maui at Wailea. That was two Chase Hyatt cards' worth of bonuses at that time.

Last fall we stayed 4 free nights at the Andaz Maui at Wailea. That was two Chase Hyatt cards’ worth of bonuses at that time.

Grand Wailea - Hibiscus Pool

The extinct Citi Hilton Reserve yielded the sign up bonus we used for two nights at the Grand Wailea on Maui.

hyatt-hilton-smallBesides their obviously high value potential, another reason I’ve recently been fixating on free hotel nights is that they are becoming rarer.  This year Citi discontinued their Hilton Reserve card, which gave 2 free weekend nights as the sign-up bonus.  (Our two Reserve cards yielded us free stays at the Hilton Amsterdam, the Grand Wailea, and the Embassy Suites in St. Paul.)  Also this year, Chase replaced the 2 free night sign up bonus on the Hyatt card with a points bonus.

Will I apply for the Surpass?

I don’t know.  What I am really after is the anniversary free night.  So the gamble for me is basically whether I think the current 125k bonus will be better than the sign-up bonus on the new Ascend.  I would really kick myself if the bonus ends up bringing back the 2 free weekend nights we lost with the death of the Citi Hilton Reserve.  On the other hand, if the new Ascend card never gets above 100k and I didn’t try for the current Surpass offer, I’d also be disappointed.

Then I think about the $15k required annual spend just to get the free night and I question why I’m even spending so much thought on this card!  Oh well, I have until January 17th to decide. . .




For some other opinions on the Surpass/Ascend issue, check out the following:
FrequentMiler – Didn’t see this coming: New 125K Hilton offer
Doctor of Credit – American Express Hilton Surpass 125,000 Point Offer

And last but not least, here’s a link to the offer itself!

Semi-Monthly Update (October 26th, 2017)

Wow!  There have been lots of developments in the ValueTactics sphere of interest in the past couple of weeks.  Some credit card deals have disappeared and others have materialized.  Card issuing banks continue to modify their terms and policies.  An airline announced some potentially exciting news.  Personally, I have been very busy strategizing my own points and miles earning and usage.  Nicoleen and I have almost earned the sign-up bonus on both of our new cards.  And on top of all this, we leave for our family Disney trip in 2 days!

Air Travel News

Southwest Airlines has announced it will begin flying to Hawaii in 2018!  More options are always better than fewer.  This could mean cheaper flights across the board to this destination.  It’s definitely good news for those of us who collect Southwest Rapid Rewards or their surrogate transfer point, Chase Ultimate Rewards.  But I don’t know, could you endure the at least 6-hour flight to the islands with no meal service or assigned seats?  Let me know in the comments below!



Recent ValueTactics Blog Posts

Tighter Rules for Credit Card Sign-Up Bonuses explains how to tell if you’re eligible for a particular sign-up bonus on a credit card.  The banks are making it harder and harder to play their game.  Read the post to see the exact rules for each of the main rewards card issuing banks.

Credit Card News

As I reported in the last update post, Nicoleen recently got the Chase Ink Business Preferred and I got the Bank of America Premium Rewards card.  I already hit the minimum spend on my BoA card, earning me $550+ worth of their cash-only rewards points.  Nicoleen still has a bit of spending to do before earning the massively valuable 80,000 Ultimate Reward bonus on the Ink Preferred.  I could use another card already but I’ve been agonizing over the decision of which one to apply for.  The rules and limitations like I describe in the post linked above are really making it a difficult process to maximize the value of the credit card tactic.

There are currently several noteworthy elevated sign-up bonuses on co-branded airline cards:

  • The AAdvantage Aviator Red from Barclay is up to 60k American Airlines miles with no minimum spend requirement (well, actually you have to make one purchase of any amount.)  American Airlines has been notoriously stingy with award space lately, but American miles is still worth having if you have flexible travel dates.  With 60k miles you could fly round trip to Europe or get 2 domestic round trip flights in economy and have points leftover!  Link to offer
  • The United MileagePlus Explorer card from Chase is back up to 40k United Airlines miles after $2k of spending in 90 days.  This offer bounces back and forth between 30k and 50k, but the 50k public offer hasn’t been around for over a year.  Link to offer
  • American Express’s Delta Gold comes with a 60k Skymiles bonus after spending $2k in the first 90 days.  This offer is the highest ever seen for this card.  When Nicoleen and I got this card the bonus was only 35k, and occasionally it goes up to 50k.  With a once-per-lifetime limit on American Express bonuses, now is a great time to apply for the Delta Amex Gold!  Link to offer  EXPIRES 11/08/2017

Travel News

walt-disney-world-2066168_640On Saturday we leave for our trip to Florida!  For our family of 5 (2 kids are staying home) the airfare and hotel combined only cost us $155!  The entertainment and dining, on the other hand. . . let’s just say Orlando is an easy place to nail that required spend for a credit card sign-up bonus.  😉

I’ll try to post a field update or two from our trip.  No promises though; something tells me I won’t have a lot of downtime!

Free Travel Photo

Kids are funny

One kid attempting to strap down the other kid to our luggage rack during our family vacation last summer.  As we prepare for our Florida trip, I am reminded of our last family trip to South Dakota last summer. It had a few value tactics sprinkled in, like a free hotel night and gas savings along the way.



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

Tighter Rules for Credit Card Sign-Up Bonuses

I’ve been using the credit card tactic to earn points and miles for about 5 years now.  This tactic has earned me thousands of dollars in cash and tens of thousands of dollars worth of free travel.  I’ve had a good run!  The vast majority of the points and miles I have earned were not from regular spending, but from the credit card’s sign-up bonus.  But the rules for credit card sign-up bonuses are getting tighter all the time.

Each credit card has its own requirement in order to get the sign-up bonus.  The most common requirement is a certain amount of spending on the card in a given time period, typically the first 3 months of card membership.  The bonus on each card can change periodically and is advertised on whatever page you click through when you apply for the card.  However, just because you’re approved for the card and make the required spending doesn’t mean you’ll get the bonus!

Tighter rules on chase cards

An example of a card’s “splash page,” listing the bonus and other benefits of the card.  Chase’s rules only allow you to get the bonus on their Hyatt card every 24 months.  The 2 free night deal seen here has been replaced with a 40,000 point bonus, and the $50 statement credit comes and goes.

Most of the following rules only apply to someone who has already earned the bonus on a particular card once before.  Getting a repeat bonus on a particular card is called card churning.

Current rules for sign-up bonuses

Each issuing bank has their own set of rules for if and how often you can get a sign-up bonus.  These rules for credit card sign-up bonuses have changed a lot in the 5 years I have been in this game.  I can’t think of a single example of a rule loosening up!  Like most complex systems, things only tend to get more restricted and more narrowly defined.

Chase

Chase is a points and miles powerhouse, with co-branded cards with United Airlines, British Airways, Southwest, Hyatt, Marriott, and International Hotel Group.  Chase also has their own transfer points, Ultimate Rewards, which are highly valuable due to their transferability.  Even getting approved for a Chase card has its own extremely limiting rule called the 5/24 rule.  If you can get approved for a Chase card, here are the rules on getting the sign-up bonus:

  • You cannot get the bonus if you already have that card (i.e. you can’t have two copies of the same card).
  • You won’t get the bonus if you have earned a sign-up bonus on the same card in the past 24 months.  Keep in mind this 24 month timer starts when you received the bonus, not when your account was approved.
  • Only one Sapphire product at a time.  This is more of a card approval rule, but I’ll include it anyway since the Sapphire Preferred and the Sapphire Reserve are both popular cards for their 50k Ultimate Rewards sign-up bonuses.  If you apply for any Chase card with the word “Sapphire” in the card title and you already have any Sapphire card, your application will be denied.

Citi

Citi is another golden goose of sign-up bonuses.  As of this summer they no longer have Hilton co-branded cards but they still have American Airlines cards with 40-60k mile bonuses.  Citi also has their own transfer points called the Citi Thank-You points.  While Citi used to have very lax rules regarding sign-up bonus illegibility, they now have some of the most restrictive:

  • Like Chase, Citi has a 24 month timer between bonuses on the same card.
  • A few months ago Citi added some new fine print to their applications that pretty much makes the above-mentioned timer a moot point.  The 24 month timer is now shared among all cards within the same point species.  (For example:  if you earned a bonus on the Citi Thank You Premier, you are not eligible for the bonus on the Citi Thank You Prestige for 24 months since they both earn Thank-You points.)  The same goes for their American Airlines earning cards.

But wait, there’s more. . .  The new language also changed the triggers that activate the timer.  The timer is no longer started by earning a sign-up bonus.  Instead, the 24 months start when you open, close, or downgrade an account.  This is asinine because it offers extra motivation to close an account right after earning the sign-up bonus.  The one saving grace is that business cards are given their own separate timer.

Citi Title

American Express

Amex has a horribly harsh, yet refreshingly simple rule for bonus eligibility:

  • One sign-up bonus per card, per person, per lifetime.

If you have ever earned the sign-up bonus on a particular card, you are permanently ineligible to receive a bonus on that card again.  For example, if you had the Amex Delta Gold card 8 years ago and cancelled it 7 years ago, you might be approved again for the card today, but you would not get the sign-up bonus.

If the sign-up bonus changes (like when the Amex Delta Gold goes up to 50k, as it does periodically) it is still the same card so you will still be ineligible.  It’s different if they release a different version of a card with a different name.  For example, if they stopped making the Delta Gold and instead created a new card called the “Delta 24 Carat Gold Card” then you could earn that card’s bonus even if you earned one for the old version.

Most points and miles earning cards periodically come with elevated bonuses. Since Amex sign-up bonuses are once-in-a-lifetime, wait for the best known offer on a given card before applying for it.

Most points and miles earning cards periodically come with elevated bonuses. Since Amex sign-up bonuses are once-in-a-lifetime, wait for the best known offer on a given card before applying for it.

Bank of America

BoA is famous for it’s Alaska Airlines card, which has been the go-to card for compulsive churners for years.  There are reports of people getting a new card every 2 months and earning the sign-up bonus each time.  Bank of America just released it’s new Premium Rewards card, which indicates they may be making a foray into the more competitive group of banks issuing premium travel cards.

  • Some Bank of America cards have no specific fine print related to repeat bonus earning.
  • The brand new BoA Premium Rewards card fine print says you can’t earn the sign-up bonus if you have earned it within the past 24 months.

There is evidence that BoA is starting to get wise about abusive card churning, and several recent reports indicate a general clamping down, like the 24 month timer on the new Premium Rewards card.  It’s still fair to say that Bank of America cards are more churnable than not, but let common sense be your guide on when to try for a repeat bonus on cards without specific language.

Barclay

Barclay has several good points and miles cards including the Arrival Plus and the American Airlines Aviator series.  Barclay has no publicly defined policy on bonus eligibility for many of their cards  However, Barclay seems to have more of a human touch when it comes to approving new accounts.  Unless you leave some evidence of regular and legitimate card use, it may be difficult to get approved for a new card, especially if you appear to be doing it just for the sign-up bonus.



Is the situation getting worse?

Yes.  It’s not the Wild West anymore.  Many value tacticians who have been around longer than I have remember the days when you could get 4 different versions of an American Airlines card from Citi every 6 months, racking up 300-400k miles a year just from bonuses!  And of course there are the ancient heroes like Pudding Guy, who found a pretty big loophole that earned him over 1.25 million miles by buying and donating $3k worth of pudding!

In my 5 years in this game I have seen a lot of new restrictions come into play.  The most drastic of which have been from Chase and Citi.  This makes sense since these banks have some of the most lucrative bonuses out there.  They need some way of limiting people like us who pay attention to the details and want to maximize these offers.  Limiting bonus earning is a key way they can do that.  The other method banks use to limit churning is with rules on card approvals.  I’ll address this closely-related issue in another post.

How you can still beat the game

Credit card bonuses are an incredibly valuable resource.  But like all resources, they become harder and harder to extract as time goes by.

Signal Hill CA active oil field 2011

Signal Hill CA active oil field 2011. CC Image courtesy of haymarketrebel on Flickr.

Tighter rules on getting sign-up bonuses are just one factor.  Getting approved for some cards is becoming more difficult all the time as well.  Points and miles, like currency, are in a constant state of inflation.  Mileage devaluations and new award charts decrease the value of the points you’ve already earned.  Loopholes are closing across the board at a pretty steady rate.

The solution to all this is to adapt and update your strategy.  Speaking for myself, every card application for me or my wife is very carefully considered.  I have a long term schedule of cards we would like to get, but it’s also flexible.  Elevated bonuses come and go, rules change, and the value of particular points and miles change.

  • If you’re already playing the credit card game, pay attention.  If you got away with willy-nilly card applications in the past, you can’t anymore.
  • If you’re still sitting on the sidelines, get in the game.  I sound like a broken record but I can’t stress this enough.  The crazy world of credit cards, points, and miles is getting more complicated all the time.  But the opportunity is still there and still awesome!  Get in while the gettin’ is good!

🙂  For those of you still on the fence about the credit card game, here’s some general motivation to get your blood pumping: 🙂

Here are some other resources with similar information (minus the awesome motivational video):





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

Semi-Monthly Update (October 3, 2017)

I love to start my day with a cup of coffee and an online credit card application.  Here’s the lovely sight I was greeted with this morning:
BoAPremiumRewards approved
Ah, the thrill of instant approvals!  It never gets old.  Nicoleen, on the other hand, got the always loathsome “pending” on her application last night for the Chase Ink Preferred.  🙁

This round of new card applications is just the jump start I need to get the website rolling again.  (If you want to hear the rest of my whiny excuses for the recent lack of new material, I put a list at the bottom of this post.)  In this update:  our household points and miles activity for September, a look at the current good credit card deals, some details on our upcoming trip, and another free travel pic!




Here’s our September household activity totals.  Pretty average month with no bonuses and no points spending:

  • earned 456 hotel points
  • earned 5,786 Chase Ultimate Rewards

Credit Card News

  • The Chase Southwest personal card currently has the 60k elevated bonus.
  • The Citi Thank-You Prestige bonus is now at 75k Thank-You points  (permanently or temporarily, no one knows), but with a $7.5k minimum spend and a $450 annual fee.
  • Bank of America just busted on to the scene with a new premium travel card: the Premium Rewards card.  The points can only be redeemed for cash, but with the 50k point bonus and some other benefits I estimate the card is worth $600-750.

The Chase Southwest card is a great deal at 60k, but personally I am waiting on the Southwest cards until I can get the companion pass by earning more than $110k points in a year.  I would be all over the Citi Prestige, but Citi’s newest restriction says that I can’t earn any Thank-You points bonuses until 24 months have passed since my last Thank-You point bonus.  I’m currently at around 22 months.  My new Bank of America Premium Rewards card from this morning should be in the mail soon!

I’ve had several people recently ask me what the best single card is right now.  I’m sticking with the Chase Ink Preferred if you can make the case you have a business.  If not, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still at or near the top of the list due to the generous 50k sign-up bonus of the highly versatile Ultimate Rewards points.  If Southwest Rapid Rewards are valuable to you, the Chase SW card (see link above) is an easy way to earn a lot of those points.



Travel News

nicoleenfloridawarmupWe’re mere days away from revealing our fall Florida trip to the kids!  Nicoleen is incidentally in Orlando this week for work, and she’s getting the place ready for us.  🙂

Free Travel Photo

Big caption

A selfie I took in front of the dolphin pool at Hilton’s Grand Wailea just over a year ago.  I chose this photo because I realized that the two cards we used to get the free hotel stays on our amazing Hawaiian get-away last fall are no longer available.  The bonus on the Chase Hyatt is no longer 2 free nights, and the Citi Hilton Reserve doesn’t exist anymore.  Yet another lesson to take advantage of these deals while they’re around!!  Anything else would be a tactical error.

Excuses for only writing one blog post last month and for not launching the long-promised YouTube channel:

  • We have 3.5 kids who just started the school year (one is 2-day pre-K).
  • I was working on a tile job (my previous profession) for 2 weeks every day after my day job.
  • Fall cleaning around the house and my own bathroom tile project.
  • A lull in enthusiasm for value tactics due to no new vacations on the horizon and no new credit card bonuses.  It happens to everyone once in a while!
  • Solo parenting this week while Nicoleen is in Florida.
  • General lack of focus and a hearty dose of writer’s block.

We’re back at it now though!  The recent credit card apps have fueled my enthusiasm once again.  Our upcoming value-filled trip to Florida should keep me motivated as well.

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

Semi-Monthly Update (September 1, 2017)

In this update I will show you our points and miles activity for August, we’ll look at some awesome credit card deals currently available, and I’ll give a travel update.

Household Points and Miles Activity for July

  • earned 104 hotel points
  • earned 455 airline miles
  • earned 6,122 Chase Ultimate Rewards

I was a little puzzled when I saw I had earned 455 American Airlines miles.  I didn’t remember using my Citi AAdvantage Bronze card last month.  Then it dawned on me: for the first leg of my trip to Europe I flew an American flight to Chicago.  It wasn’t an award booking, however.  I paid with a gift card I got for free with my Wells Fargo Propel card.  I am so used to earning points and miles with credit card bonuses and regular spending, I forgot the original way people earn miles: from flying!




Recent ValueTactics Blog Posts

Swissair Business Class (Airbus A321) DUB – ZRH is my review of this wonderful little flight that capped off my trans-Atlantic itinerary this summer.  Swiss quality isn’t limited to watches, chocolates, and pocket knives. . . read the review to find out why!

Credit Card News

  • The biggest news recently is that Chase has once again tightened the rules for getting approved for their best cards.  As of a few days ago, applications for new Sapphire line cards (Sapphire, Sapphire Preferred, and Sapphire Reserve) will be denied if the applicant already has another Sapphire product.  Additionally, the Chase 24 month sign-up bonus timer is now shared among all Sapphire products.  This means you can’t get the bonus for both the Sapphire Preferred and the Reserve within a 2 year period.  I’ll write a full post about this change in the near future.
  • Barclaycard Aviator RedThe sign-up bonus on the Barclay Aviator Red has been increased to 60,000 American Airlines miles.  The minimum spend requirement is one purchase of any amount!  The card does come with a $95 annual fee NOT waived the first year.  If you have the Aviator Red that was transmuted from the old U.S. Airways card, you are still eligible for this bonus since it’s considered a different product.  For more details, check out MileValue’s report on the bonus increase here.
  • In personal news:  In light of the recent Chase rule change and other changes in the past year, I decided I needed to reevaluate my current card strategy.  As the restrictions on new card applications pile up, and as terms and bonuses on popular cards change, it’s getting more and more complicated to maximize the value of credit card bonuses.  I won’t bore you with the details of our specific scenario, but soon I will write a post outlining some of the new challenges of making a card strategy / app schedule.

Free Travel Photo

Nicoleen and I have recently been discussing what to do with our 2 free Hyatt anniversary nights from our Chase Hyatt cards. Last spring we used them at the Andaz Papagayo Peninsula in Costa Rica. We were impressed when we saw that room service had taken the time to coil up our cords that were scattered around the desk!

Nicoleen and I have recently been discussing what to do with our 2 free Hyatt anniversary nights from our Chase Hyatt cards. Last spring we used them at the Andaz Papagayo Peninsula in Costa Rica. We were impressed when we saw that room service had taken the time to coil up our cords that were scattered around the desk!

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

Swissair Business Class (Airbus A321) DUB – ZRH

My Swissair Business Class flight from Dublin to Zürich was a breath of fresh air on my long journey to Europe.  It was my first time on Swissair and it left me with a very good impression of the airline.  Especially having come straight from a lounge-less layover and a long haul flight on a U.S. carrier, I was struck by the extremely friendly and professional service by the Swissair crew.  The food was a step above the business class fare from my previous flight on United, and the seat was comfortable and roomy.

A cup of good strong coffee and one of the famed Swissair chocolates.

This short flight from Dublin to Zürich was the second leg of my business class booking for my Euro2017 trip.  The booking also included the long haul flight from Chicago to Dublin in the new United Polaris class with a lie flat seat.  The whole thing cost me 57.5k United miles (most were transferred-in Chase Ultimate Rewards) and $8.10 in fees! To see more reviews and details on how I planned this trip, check out the main post containing links to related posts.




The seat

swissair business classJust like the British Airways flight Nicoleen and I took in 2015, my business class intra-Europe flight was in a medium range narrow-body Airbus jet.  And just like that British Airways flight, business class in Swiss Air leaves the middle seat in the 3-3 cabin configuration empty.  I was in seat A1 which meant I had to store my backpack in the overhead compartment during take-off and landing.

The seat itself was comfortable and I had virtually unlimited legroom due to the bulkhead row.  My neighbor in 1C had the same idea as me and we shared the middle seat’s tray table for extra shelf space.  Technically you’re not supposed to store carry-ons on the floor in a bulkhead row.  I set my backpack in the seat next to me for most of the flight and no one bothered me about it.

The meal

With only a 1 hour 30 minute flight time, I wasn’t sure if I would get a meal.  I should have taken a cue from my previous intra-Europe business class experience and expected that Swissair would do anything to give me something to write home about.  That meant a full lunch, followed by coffee and the famous Swissair chocolates.

swissair business class lunch meal

For lunch the options were chicken or pasta.  I ignored my own advice and ordered the chicken.  It was swimming in some sort of peach demi-glace and served with peach slices, pea pods, and what I can only describe as a semi-puffed potato cylinder.  The attendant salad featured high quality slices of roast beef, baby corn segments, and a tiny potato salad.  Like most things Swiss, the potato cubes seemed as though they were hand-cut to exact specifications.

swissair business class lunch saladThe bread, cheeses, and dessert were equally wonderful!

General impressions of Swissair

From the crew’s service and appearance, the captain’s announcements, and the food, to the gate employees and the airline’s website, Swissair screams one thing: professionalism.  I found an excerpt from the in-flight magazine that pretty much sums up what kind of operation Swiss International Airlines runs:

Those are some demanding requirements!

Those are some demanding requirements!

Of course one shouldn’t judge an airline as a whole based on just one flight.  And I’m sure the fact that I was in business class on a new and quiet Airbus A321-200 biased my opinion.  I happened to turn around and witness a few crew interactions with passengers in economy class and they seemed to receive the same level of service I did.




The only disappointing part of my whole Swissair experience was that the fabled Arrivals Lounge at ZRH was already closed up for the day when I landed at 3:00 PM.

I can’t help but to compare this flight once again to my only other business class, intra-Europe flight on a European airline.  Overall it was a welcome and unexpected treat at the tail end of my flight itinerary.

My almost-awesome picture of the Swiss army knife landscaping on the approach to Zürich. Swiss Air business class DUB-ZRH.

My *almost* awesome picture of the Swiss army knife landscaping on the approach to Zürich. Swissair business class DUB-ZRH.

This post is part of a series reviewing my [virtually] free trip to Europe.  For a full list of the posts in this series, and for an overview of the trip, check out the index page.