Travel/Miles/Points Wishlist – 2017

I’ve seen a lot of other travel/miles/points bloggers making predictions or wishlists for 2017 so why not?  Mine is from the point of view of a birder/eco-traveler so mine are pretty different.

  1.  LATAM – I wish that you would introduce one-way awards at half the price of a round trip.  Your other South American competitors have them so get with the program!
  2.  COPA – I wish that you would join Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi TYP to make it easier to get your miles.
  3.  AVIANCA – Same as COPA, who will be the first?  C’mon guys, COMPETE!
  4.  AUSSIE AMEX – How about adding more transfer partners, preferably in South America but I’ll take the AA or UA.
  5.  VENEZUELA – Get your economic act together,  You have too good a birdlist so take a page from Colombia, restore law and order so we can start visiting again.
  6.  ALL AIRLINES APPLICABLE – DItch the fuel surcharges, especially on award tickets!
  7.  AA & UA – Offer awards in Premium Economy for your partners that have this cabin.
  8.  QANTAS – Seriously, NO awards in J on SYD-SCL for the whole year?  Unacceptable!
  9.  GARUDA – Why don’t you have an Aussie credit card partner yet?  And while you are at it, offer easy online redemptions.
  10.  COLES & WOOLWORTHS (AUSTRALIA) – Keep the bonus promos coming!

 

 

10,000 Flying Blue Bonus Miles With Hotel Stay

This is one of those rare opportunities where even booking an eco-lodge can earn you a huge miles bonus!  Flying Blue, the miles program for Air France, KLM, Kenya Airways & more have teamed up with Pointshound to offer 10,000 bonus miles for a 2 night hotel stay booked before 31 Dec!  The stay can be after that date but you must book and pay on a credit card before then.  Some eco-lodges can be found here or you can try smaller independent hotels in cities where birding is easily accessible.  I have a few 2 night stays coming up in Uganda & Zambia next year so I will be taking advantage of this promo.

For a limited time, earn 10,000 Award Miles as a bonus for your first 2-night stay! That’s on top of the Miles you earn for each night of your stay… Make your booking via the special PointsHound for Flying Blue website before 31 December 2016. It’s our best deal yet!

  • Choose the ‘Earn Miles’ option and pay with your credit card
  • Make your first booking for 2 consecutive nights before 31 December 2016
  • Earn Award Miles every night you stay, plus an extra 10,000 Award Miles as a bonus!
  • Earn Award Miles towards your next short-haul flight!

Full details, T&Cs

Flying Blue is one of my recommended programs and is very useful if you are traveling to Africa as Kenya Airways is one of the core members.  They also run some excellent promos every month where they reduce the required mileage on specified awards so if you are lucky enough to be traveling to one of their featured destinations you can save a bundle!

 

Amex Platinum Edge – My Secret For Earning Miles & Points

Many people wonder how I manage to do all these amazing trips on such a tight budget.  The #1 thing I do is to take advantage of any credit card promotions that come along.  We all have daily expenses – groceries, petrol, bills that have to be paid regardless so why not earn miles and points on them?

In Australia, the Amex Platinum Edge is the best card for normal everyday spend.

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Here you can see the benefits of this card.  You may notice a 10,000 points bonus for applying but I can do better than that!

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However if you use my referral link, you get 15,000 Membership Rewards points!  I also get a referral bonus……………….and then you will become eligible to refer people yourself so you can pick up some more points!

There are 9 airline transfer partners –  Virgin Australia Velocity Frequent Flyer, Emirates Skywards, Etihad Guest, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, Air New Zealand Airpoints, THAI Royal Orchid Plus, Malaysia Airlines Enrich and Cathay Pacific Asia Miles.  Most of these transfer at 1:1 ratio.  You can also transfer to Starwood Preferred Guest at a ratio of 2 Amex = 1 SPG.  From SPG, you have access to over 20 airlines worldwide including American Airlines, British Airways, Flying Blue & more!  When you transfer from SPG to an airline, you should do so in blocks of 20,000 SPG to get a bonus 5000 miles in your airline account.

Earning Amex Membership Rewards is easier than you think!  First of all, your groceries not only get the 3 points per $ but you also get the Coles Flybuys or Woolworths Rewards by scanning your supermarket loyalty card.  Then you can buy gift cards to all kinds of stores like Bunnings, BCF, several clothing stores, Netflix, iTunes and more so almost all your purchases can earn 3x!  It all adds up and you soon will have enough points for your dream trip!

Amex T&Cs

Getting To The Caribbean Islands With Airline Miles

There are so many islands in the Caribbean that it would take forever to list them all but I will concentrate on the islands that will appeal to birders.  The bad news is that very few islands are served by a member of the main three alliances (Star Alliance, OneWorld, Sky Team) so you would be able to book a ticket with miles.  The easiest island with the most connections, especially via the USA is Puerto Rico and I have a separate post with the details.  So lets look at the rest of the Caribbean.  On the map below, I have highlighted in yellow the islands that are most attractive to birders.

caribbean-map

LIST OF ISLANDS WITH AIRLINES BOOKABLE WITH MILES

ARUBA –  American & LATAM (OneWorld), Avianca, Copa, United (Star Alliance), Delta, KLM (SkyTeam)

BONAIRE – United (Star Alliance), Delta, KLM (SkyTeam)

CAYMAN ISLANDS – American & British Airways (OneWorld),  United (Star Alliance), Delta  (SkyTeam)

CUBA – American, Air Berlin, Iberia & LATAM (OneWorld), Avianca, Copa, Air Canada, Swiss, Austrian, United (Star Alliance), Aeromexico, Air France, Delta, KLM (SkyTeam)

CURACAO – American, Air Berlin  (OneWorld), Avianca, Air Canada,, Copa, United (Star Alliance), KLM (SkyTeam)

DOMINICA – Seaborne is a partner of American Airlines (OneWorld) but not a member of OneWorld.  In my experience they rarely release seats, I tried over several months then had to settle for LIAT.

DOMINCAN REPUBLIC (Punta Cana) – American, British Airways  (OneWorld), Avianca, Air Canada, Swiss, Copa, United (Star Alliance), Delta, KLM, Aerolineas Argentinas (SkyTeam)

JAMAICA – American, British Airways  (OneWorld),   Copa, Air Canada (Star Alliance), Delta (SkyTeam)

ST LUCIA – American, British Airways (OneWorld), Air Canada, United (Star Alliance), Delta (SkyTeam)

ST VINCENT – no alliances

TRINIDAD & TOBAGO – American, British Airways  (OneWorld),   Copa, United (Star Alliance)

 

HOW MANY MILES WILL IT COST?

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.  I’m going to use Port of Spain (POS), Trinidad for my example airport in OneWorld & Star Alliance and Curacao (CUR) for Sky Team.

USING ONE WORLD

AMERICAN AIRLINES

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 the Caribbean has it’s own region.  These are the miles you will need when traveling to the Caribbean.

aa-caribbean

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 the Caribbean 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.

If you are based in North America, economy will cost 17.500 each way (35,000 round trip), business class is 27,500 each way (45,000 round trip) and first is 52,500 each way or 105,000 round trip. You would be flying on AA or LATAM.

AVIOS (BA OR IB)

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

Avios

Avios chart

Using the Great Circle Mapper, we can see that a direct flight from Miami to Port of Spain, Trinidad would cost 10,000 Avios each way, a direct flight from LAX to Port of Spain would cost 20,000 Avios and a direct flight from NYC to Port of Spain 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.  There are also some attractive 5th freedom routes on British Airways such as Port of Spain to St Lucia for a mere 4500 Avios!

avios-caribbean

 

QANTAS FREQUENT FLYER

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 Port of Spain we can see that they route through London or the USA  and economy is 75,000 points one way.  Be careful with the business class offering, if you hover over it, you will see that the SYD-LHR segment is in economy.  On the last screen you see the miles required and the taxes including YQ fuel surcharges you have to pay.

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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.

USING STAR ALLIANCE

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

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 Port of Spain 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 17.5k and others are a whopping 37.5k! And beware of routes where it is cheaper to fly business class than economy!

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AVIANCA TACA LIFEMILES

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 and the Caribbean is on it’s own 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.

av-chart-carib

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SINGAPORE AIRLINES

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-existant but would use other programs to get from Australia to the Caribbean. The one oddity is that they include Hawaii, Central America & the Caribbean in the same region so you can get really good value if you are making a multi-centre holiday!

sq-carib

 

SKY TEAM

FLYING BLUE

The only Sky Team program I use and can personally recommend is Air France/KLM.  The awards are reasonably priced and fuel surcharges aren’t TOO bad!  Let’s use a sample route of Madrid to Curacao.  You can do even better than this if Flying Blue is running a promo but these promos are usually only for the next couple months so you can’t book far in advance.

af-cur

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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

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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.

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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).

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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.

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EXAMPLES OF WHAT WORKS AND WHAT DOESN’T

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.

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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.