15% Bonus When You Transfer Partner Points to Velocity

Traditionally Virgin Velocity has been running a 15% bonus promo every November and May and thankfully this year has been no exception!  I always plan my transfers to take place during a promo like this to maximize the value I get from my credit card and supermarket points.  The promo ends 30 November but I wouldn’t cut it too close, I like to have all my transfers done at least 3 days ahead of time.

Full details and T&C’s



Please note that while NAB has Velocity branded credit cards they are not included in the promo.  This may give you an idea of which banks offer products to help you grow your Velocity point balance.

va-nov2 va-nov3

Velocity’s latest partner – Flybuys is also part of the promo so you can really get great value for those Flybuys points that come with your weekly grocery shopping!va-nov4

IHG Pointbreaks 31 Oct – 31 Jan But Nothing Exciting As Usual

This quarter’s Pointbreaks list (bookable for 5000 IHG Rewards Points) is less than inspiring for birders/eco-tourists but considering that it encompasses the holiday season it may have something of interest.

Loyalty Lobby has the complete list for your perusal.  Out of all the properties, I can only personally recommend the Crowne Plaza Kathmandu-Soaltee where we stayed a couple nights back in 2011 after returning from birding the Chitwan National Park (on my list of historical trips to blog about).


It’s not walking distance to the shopping district of Thamel but taxis & auto-rickshaws are very cheap – at least they were in 2011!img_0151


United’s Excursionist Perk Not Available In Some Zones

I was just reading a post from Drew at Travel is Free on some very interesting uses of the new United Excursionist Perk.  He has come up with some clever ways to get a free one way within the routing rules.  I was looking at some of my planned future trips trying to see if they worked on my itineraries.  What I found out is that if you transit a third zone, you do not get an excursionist perk even if the route starts and ends in the same zone.

Attempt #1 – Lima to either Guyana or Valencia, Venezuela  (Caracas being too dangerous to visit right now) all of which are in Northern South America zone.  The only way to reach either GEO or VLN is via PTY in Panama which is in Central America so I could not get this route included in an Excursionist Perk.  LIM-BOG works as this route is served by Avianca.

Attempt #2 – Rarotonga to Apia falls within the Oceania zone but you can’t travel between any of these South Pacific Islands without transiting Auckland in the Australia & New Zealand zone.

Here is a list of all the zones.   A green dot indicates that it is possible use the Excursionist Perk within the zone because one or more Star Alliance airlines serve the zone without transiting a third zone.  A yellow dot indicates options are very limited.  In Southern South America it is only possible on Avianca Brazil on some domestic routes.  In Oceania there are only flights in the northern Pacific such as Guam to Palau, etc.  A red dot indicates that there are no airlines that serve the airports in that zone without transiting a third zone.



In all examples, I used BNE-AKL & AKL-SYD as my round-trip and attempted to sandwich random routes located in another zone, wholly within the zone.

Example #1 – Excursionist Perk is KTM to CMB.  It works if you use Air India, even though it requires 3 segments but doesn’t work via BKK.

excursionist2 excursionist1


Example #2 – Using LIM to MDE as the Excursionist Perk.  Works on direct flight on Avianca subsidiary but not via PTY on Copa.excursionist3 excursionist4

This complication probably won’t affect 95% of customers as most people will be looking for intra-Europe or within South-east Asia or similar but it does mess up a birding trip in more remote areas of South America or a hop around the South Pacific.

25% Bonus – Hotel Point Transfers To United MileagePlus

This promo comes around pretty much every year and while not earth-shaking, it’s a good way to get rid of orphaned hotel points you can’t use.  I got rid of 2000 unusable Club Carlson points but couldn’t transfer my 2000-ish odd Hilton points because their minimum transfer is 10,000 points.

You need to register for the promo, then go to your hotel account and initiate the transfer.


This is a good opportunity for people who have lots of Marriott points (from credit cards?) but don’t need a hotel stay or want to do one of the travel packages.  Since I am not up on luxury hotels, I will refer you to Loyalty Lobby for a better explanation.

Last Chance To Book United Stopovers Under Current Rules

Just a reminder if you have an itinerary that won’t be allowed under the new “Excursionist Perks” rules you need to get them booked within the next couple of days.  A few examples of flights you won’t be able to book as of 6 Oct.

SYD – BKK (stopover) – Europe – BKK – SYD because it has a stopover in a different region

JNB – LUN – ADD – NBO because it’s all in one region

I have more details here.


The Marriott-SPG Merger Paves Way For Australians To Get United MileagePlus Via Amex MR: 38k Amex = 25k United


OK this is an eco-tourism blog so I don’t keep up with all the issues regarding elite status and 5 star hotels.  I prefer smaller independent hotels & eco-lodges.  But what I do need is airline miles to get to those amazing birding hotspots preferably through ordinary everyday spending.

The most popular program in Australia is American Express Membership Rewards and most Aussies in The Hobby are familiar with 40,000 Amex MR = 20,000 SPG = 25,000 AA or other SPG partner airline miles.  You can earn up to 3x MR per AUD (Amex Edge supermarket spend) which equates to 1.5 SPG per AUD.  Normal un-bonused spend gets 1 MR per AUD which equates to .5 SPG per AUD.

There is usually a lucrative promo in August or September to get 20% bonus when transferring to AA so you end up with 40,000 Amex = 20,000 SPG = 30,000 AA.


The one elusive program for Aussies has always been United MileagePlus as the SPG ratio is 2:1 rather than 1:1 plus bonus 5000 for transferring 20,000 SPG points.

Since the Marriott-SPG merger went through yesterday, they have released details of how to link your Marriott & SPG accounts.  You can transfer back and forth at the rate of 1 SPG = 3 Marriott.

The sweet spot for airline miles collectors is the preferred rates Marriott has with United Airlines.  (HT: Dan’s Deals for this section).


As you can see from the image, you can exchange 56,000 Marriott for 25,000 United MileagePlus.

With the new merger, that means that you can now transfer 38,000 Amex MR to 19,000 SPG which will get you 57,000 Marriott; that you can transfer into 25,000 United Mileage Plus with 1000 Marriott left over.


Don’t forget that you can also transfer Australian Amex MR to Singapore Krisflyer at 1:1 but SQ does have pretty hefty YQ “fuel” surcharges whereas United doesn’t have this surcharge.  So if you are after a Star Alliance award, you need to weigh up your options on the SQ and UA award charts and see if the cheaper transfer rate directly to SQ is better or if you would rather spend more Amex MR to save the “fuel” surcharges.


Amex 40,000 = 25,000 AA or other SPG partner in batches of 20k SPG

Amex 38,000 = 25,000 UA via SPG/Marriott

Amex 40,000 = 40,000 SQ (or VA, CX, MH, EK, EY).  But watch the surcharges!


We still don’t know how long Marriott will keep SPG as a separate program.  We also don’t know if the Australian Amex MR will partner with Marriott if/when SPG disappears.  Conventional wisdom says the full integration of SPG to Marriott should happen around 2018 and we would be given fair notice so we can do any last transfers required.

Getting To Colombia With Airline Miles

Most frequent flier programs divide the continent of South America into northern and southern regions.  Colombia, which has an amazing bird list with over 1900 species recorded, falls into the northern region.  I already have a blog with my recommendations for which programs to join if you are new to the world of miles and points.

The major gateway cities for Colombia include Bogota (BOG), Medellin (MDE) and Cartagena (CTG).   It will be the same number of miles no matter which you choose.   Once you have been in the miles and points game for awhile, you will get a feel for which airline to use where but if you are just starting out Wikipedia will show you all the airlines that fly into Bogota, Medellin, Cartegena and any of Colombia’s airports.  To present examples below, I will be using Bogota as the example gateway airport.


From North America you can use American Airlines,  LATAM.

From South America you can use LATAM.

From Australia and New Zealand you can use Qantas or LATAM via Santiago.

From UK and Europe you can travel via the USA using BA or IB to get to the USA, then AA, LATAM to South America.

From Asia or Africa there are no direct flights so you will need to travel via the USA or Europe.


From North America you can use United, Air Canada, Avianca-Taca or Copa.

From South America you can use Avianca-Taca or Copa.

From Europe you can use Avianca, Lufthansa or Turkish Airlines.

From Australia and New Zealand, Asia and Africa there are no direct flights, you can use NZ to Buenos Aires (EZE) or travel via the USA.  Depending on which program’s miles you have, this may require one or two awards.


From North America you can use AeroMexico or Delta.

From Argentina & Southern South America you can use Aerolinas Argentinas.

From Europe you can use Air Europa, Air France or KLM, or you can connect in the USA on Delta.

From Australia, Asia and Africa there are no direct flights, you will need to travel via the USA or Europe.


Every airline member of the 3 main alliances has it’s own frequent flier program.  They often have alliances with other airlines outside the program.  I have made some reference charts for the airline alliances and I strongly recommend that you check out the program of the airline in your country and the USA based partners of each program as the USA airlines tend to have the most lucrative bonuses.  Americans can get very generous credit card bonuses.  Details of credit card partners (and other partners) will be on each airline’s website, however often there are more lucrative sign up bonuses.  Details are usually posted in the Flyer Talk thread so I strongly suggest you read this thread and the Miles Buzz forum before you apply for any cards just in case a better bonus has been offered.  I don’t have any affiliate links and I recommend you do extensive research on your own when applying for airline credit cards.



No matter where you live, frequent flyer programs based in the USA usually offer the best deals but it’s still a good idea to look at other members of the alliance.  Try to avoid carriers that charge a fuel surcharge.  Looking at AA’s award chart, we can see that Colombia is in South America Zone 1.

So let’s look at the chart.  AA no longer has all zones on one convenient chart so you need to look at the website for the region you are departing from.  You will notice there are taxes and fees with certain routes and that the awards are prices as one way trips.

We can see that a South Pacific to Central/South America award will cost 45,000 miles each way (90,000 round trip) in economy, 82,500 (160,000 round trip) in business class and 112,500 each way (225,000 round trip in first class.  AA doesn’t allow you to transit the USA on this award so you must fly on the only carriers that operate between Australia and South America-Qantas and LATAM.

If you are based in North America, economy will cost 30,000  each way (60,000 round trip), business class  is 57,500 each way (115,000 round trip) and first is 85,000 each way or 170,000 round trip.  You would be flying on AA or LATAM.


Avios can be a great bargain for shorter flights.  The awards are priced by distance flown per segment rather than zone to zone.


Avios chart

Using the Great Circle Mapper, we can see that a direct flight from Miami to Bogota would cost 10,000 Avios each way, a direct flight from LAX to Bogota would cost 20,000 Avios and a direct flight from NYC to Bogota would cost 12,500 Avios.  If you are using credit card miles, transferring them to Avios rather than UA or AA could save you some points.  If you need a connection from elsewhere in the USA to the gateway city, you need to pay for that segment separately with the Avios cost for the distance flown.  Example OKC-MIA is 1222 miles so you need to add 10,000 Avios to the total price of the ticket.

Avios BOG


For Qantas, it is easiest to use their points calculator to see how many points you need, then look for availability.  Not all itineraries can be booked online, sometimes you have to call them.  Using the example of Sydney to Bogota we can see that they route through the USA (probably because the Santiago route is very hard to get) and economy is 60,000 points one way.  If I were making this trip for real, I would be putting a lot more effort into finding a routing on QF through Santiago.  Although business class shows availability on the random date I chose, if you hover over the seat icon you will see that the DFW-BOG segment is in economy.  I am actually amazed that SYD-DFW has premium seats!  On the next screen you see the points plus taxes & fees that must be paid by credit card.


If you are based somewhere else, leave a comment if you don’t understand this part and I will help you out.  Meanwhile, here is a reference list for other One World carriers.


United, Avianca and Singapore are probably the most common Star Alliance programs in use because of good credit card deals and buy miles promos.


United Airlines is a USA based carrier that offers one way awards on its own flights and other Star Alliance carriers.  Due to the size of their award chart, I can’t paste it here so will link to it and give examples.  For example Orlando to Bogota has availability on several dates which I picked at random.  They are colour coded for economy, business/first or all three classes.  Make sure you scroll all the way down to see all the options.  Some routes are only 20k and others are a whopping 45k!  And beware of routes where it is cheaper to fly business class than economy!



Lifemiles has some very attractive promos to buy and share miles.  While this doesn’t give you a free trip, it can greatly reduce the cost of a trip especially if you are after business or first class awards.  You need to be an existing member of Lifemiles when they announce  a promo so join now if you haven’t already.  Use their calculator to get an idea of award costs.  This will be a range which depends on class and any promos.


They have a Star Alliance Award chart and you can see that they divide the continent of South America into northern and southern regions.  Colombia is in the Northern South America region.  Australia and New Zealand are in the “Others” category.  The chart shows one-way awards.   I prefer to keep my Lifemiles for intra-South/Central America awards which can get pricy but are bargains using awards.

Avianca1 Avianca2


SQ miles have become much easier to get in recent years.  Americans can use Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi Thank You, Amex Membership Rewards.  Aussies can use the Australian Amex Membership Rewards.  Everyone can use SPG.  Just beware of the high fuel (carrier) surcharges when you use Krisflyer.  Personally, I would be happy to use SQ miles for intra-South America awards where surcharges are low or even non-exixtant but would use other programs to get from Australia to South America.  SQ has only one region for all of South America so their awards can be a bargain if you are traveling around the continent!

SQ South America

I don’t use all the programs that are out there but these are the most commonly used programs by travel hackers in the USA and Australia so do some research to see which one works for you!  Bear in mind that the tickets are not completely free, there is usually a booking fee of $25-50 and various taxes, but you would have to pay the taxes whether you pay cash or miles for the ticket in any case.


No, it’s not blasphemy but sometimes it is a good idea to save your miles and simply pay for the ticket.  The 3 main Central/South American carriers – Avianca, Copa & LATAM have been very competitive lately ex-USA and releasing some very good deals.  These are a few examples but they expire soon so always check the airlines’ website for current specials.

Avianca Colombia Avianca Colombia2 Copa Bog Latam Bog




Woolies (Australia) Makes A Step In The Right Direction

Last year Woolworths gutted their loyalty program in which people could choose between Qantas points and money off your shopping.  Then we heard that due to popular demand they would bring back Qantas points.  It took 8 months but we finally have the details of the new program.  Firstly, for a nice recap, please watch this video from Nine News.

You should also take the time to read the FAQ from their website.  Here’s a few key points:

You asked to be rewarded for every dollar you spend, so we made some changes. Now you get all the existing benefits of Woolworths Rewards, plus from 31 August 2016 you’re guaranteed to earn on every dollar* – $1 = 1 point. You can earn bonus points with exclusive offers in store and via email. Plus, for the first time, you’ll earn points at Caltex Woolworths fuel outlets (excluding Tasmania, Star Mart and Star Shop) on top of what you get at Woolworths and BWS.
*No points will be earned on purchases of smoking products, gift cards, mobile recharge, Woolworths Mobile, travel cards and tickets, delivery charges, internet cafes, Carpet Care, lottery products, Woolworths Flowers and purchases using Caltex Starcard.

This is a plus and basically gets rid of the detested “Orange ticket items” and brings the basic earn to an equal level with Coles Flybuys program, especially if all you want is to save money on your grocery shopping.  Flybuys does still have the edge though with flexibility.  You can redeem your Flybuys at any time of your choosing whereas the Woolworth’s program will either automatically redeem them each time you acquire 2000 points or $10 off your shopping.  If you want to save them, there is a “Save for Christmas” option where you can bank your points throughout the year and they will automatically be redeemed on 15 December.



Enjoy automatic savings

Unless you change your redemption settings to one of the below, you’ll automatically get $10 off a future shop each time your balance hits 2000 points. To redeem your saving, simply spend $10 or more on eligible purchases^ in store or online at a Woolworths supermarket or BWS store and scan your card. You cannot redeem your $10 saving in fuel outlets.


And from 31 August 2016:


Bank your savings for Christmas

You have the option to hold all your $10 savings for your Christmas shop. Your savings will be automatically triggered (i.e. become available for your use) on 15 December 2016.


Or convert your savings to Qantas Points

On 15 December 2016, each $10 Woolworths Dollar saving you’ve earned will be converted into 870 Qantas Points and transferred to your Qantas Frequent Flyer account.* For example, if you accumulate $50 Woolworths Dollars, you’ll get 4,350 Qantas Points.


You can update your redemption preference from 31 August 2016. To select your redemption preference, simply log in to your account at woolworthsrewards.com.au, select ‘My Account’ followed by ‘Redemption Settings’ and follow the prompts. Alternatively, click here to contact us.

I am not overly thrilled with the 15th December being the only option.  We don’t make a big fuss over Christmas and I would rather have the extra shopping the week after we get back from a big trip and then I could apply the week’s grocery budget to our trip.

In the past, I did accumulate quite a few Qantas points from shopping at Woolies but I am becoming less interested in collecting Qantas points due to the excessive fuel surcharges.  So what I would like is to be able to save the points and redeem them in bulk for a week’s free shopping at a time of my choosing.  What I haven’t figured out yet is if you can change your mind after you opt in for “Save for Christmas” and then have your stash of points redeemed when you opt out.


For shopping discounts, both of them value 2000 points at $10.  If this is your goal, then choose your grocery store for price and convenience, not the loyalty program.  Flybuys actually has an edge because you can choose to redeem them whenever you want and Woolies only has the automatic redemption or “Save for Christmas”.

If you want airline miles you need to know if Qantas (and OneWorld alliance) or Etihad (which can be redeemed on Virgin Australia and other partners) will get you where you want to go for less miles and less fuel surcharge.  There’s no easy way to distinguish them as each destination is different.  For example if you are headed to South America, Qantas & partner Latam have better options, for Africa, I would go with Etihad via Abu Dhabi.  Set your travel goal first and choose your loyalty programs accordingly!


If you are depending on just the $1 spent = 1 point earned, you will take forever to accumulate enough points for anything worthwhile.  The real value is in working the promos.  These sometimes get emailed to you, Coles sends out quarterly vouchers and both sometimes print bonus points offers on your shopping docket.  These usually involve you having to make a target such as “Spend $80 and get 1000 bonus points”.  If you can be flexible and rotate between both stores to take advantage of these bonuses you will get a LOT more points!  Ironically, these “loyalty programs” actually reward you better for being disloyal.  If you spend a couple months shopping at Coles, Woolies will try to lure you back with attractive offers and vice versa.  Also, when you are meeting a target, it’s best to just barely meet the target otherwise they raise the bar next time.  If you spend $80.45 on the example to get your 1000 point bonus, stop the register and pay for any remaining groceries separately without scanning the card, otherwise you will find your next target increased to $100.  You can get your spouse or partner to use their card too and rotate between you to keep your targets down.

I know this is a lot to take in and it probably sounds complicated and not worth it but if you play the game well, you do get some pretty good rewards!


The Impact Of United’s Stop-over “Enhancement”

If you’ve been in The Hobby for awhile, you know that “enhancements” are never good news.  So it was with great dread that I perused United’s new stop-over routing rules which come into effect on 6 Oct 2016.  They claim that they are simplifying the booking process and giving a new benefit called an “Excursionist Perk”.  (I’d like to know how they came up with that term – maybe an office pool with the winner getting a couple movie passes?)

They have step by step instructions on how to use the new booking interface on their website so I won’t copy it here.  What I will do is show you how it impacts people like me who were maximizing the previous stop-over rules that allowed 2 open jaws and two stopovers in any region.  This is the example of what will be allowed moving forward.

The Excursionist Perk is a free one-way award within select multi-city itineraries. Members who book an itinerary with three or more one-way awards will be eligible to receive one of those one-way awards for free, if it meets all of these conditions:

  • The Excursionist Perk cannot be in the MileagePlus defined region where your travel originates. (For example, if your journey begins in North America, you will only receive the Excursionist Perk if travel is within a region outside of North America.)
  • Travel must end in the same MileagePlus defined region where travel originates.
  • The origin and destination of the Excursionist Perk is within a single MileagePlus defined region.
  • The cabin of service and award type of the free one-way award is the same or lower than the one-way award preceding it.
  • If two or more one-way awards qualify for this benefit, only the first occurrence will be free.

UA excperk


#1:  In 2014 I booked an United award as follows:


Accra-Addis Ababa-Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro-Addis Ababa-Bangkok-Brisbane

This is a round-trip with an open jaw at destination and a stop-over at Kilimanjaro on the return.  Although open jaws are not specifically addressed, this is probably still allowed as I departed and returned to the same zone and my stop-over is in the same zone as the destination.

#2:  In 2014 I booked this itinerary and flew it in 2015:

Brisbane-Bangkok-Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai-Bangkok (23 hour layover)-Koh Samui

Kuala Lumpur-Bangkok-Shanghai-Auckland-Rarotonga

This itinerary wouldn’t be allowed under the new rules.  I departed from Australia and returned to Rarotonga which is in Oceania – 2 different zones.  The stop-over would have been fine as it is in South-east Asia, same as the destination.

#3:  In 2016 I booked this itinerary and will fly it next year:

Entebbe-Addis Ababa

Addis Ababa-Lusaka


It’s a good thing I have it already booked because it wouldn’t be allowed under the new rules.  The whole itinerary is in Africa (same zone) so no “Excursionist Perk” allowed!

#4:  I haven’t booked this but it is a common itinerary for Aussies:


Bangkok-(anywhere in Europe)

Europe-Sydney (or anywhere in Australia or NZ)

This will not be allowed as the Excursionist Perk is taking place in South-east Asia zone and the destination is in another zone-Europe.

Two out of my three actual trips would have cost a lot more miles if I hadn’t already booked them.  The lesson here is – if you have any travel which depends on the current routing rules, book it before 6 October!

It’s Back: Convert Starpoints & Earn 20% Bonus Miles From August 1 – September 14, 2016

I’m not sure about the USA but this promo is very popular with Aussies and I have been watching for it since last month!  We can collect Amex Membership Rewards and transfer them to SPG at a 2MR = 1 SPG ratio, then transfer them onwards to AAdvantage to get award tickets which in most cases have no fuel surcharges.

40,000 Australian Amex MR = 20,000 SPG

20,000 SPG = 25,000 American AAdvantage miles

SPG AA 2016

I got a lot of free AA miles last year which helped me book the award tickets in J class from Windhoek to Brisbane for next year’s trip!  Starwood will be merging into Marriott later this year so I doubt this promo will be back next year so take AAdvantage of it while you have the chance!