There are very few things I chase in life… love, happiness, points and miles, and last, but not least – sunshine. There are two summers each year, and I think everyone should celebrate both. Hopefully you have your summer plans set for this northern hemisphere summer which is tantalizingly close.

Summer passes by too quickly here in NJ, and I’m already day-dreaming about where I want to go to escape the dreadful fall/winter, so how do I help fuel my imagination? By searching for awards, of course.

Now is also a great time to book an escape from our winter during the southern hemisphere summer. Award space is wide open to some top southern hemisphere destinations between November and March with United miles.

Here are some findings:

  • United miles are undoubtedly the best miles to Africa because the Star Alliance has the most African partners, and I hear South Africa is one of the nicest places to be during its summer.
  • I fell in love with Sydney when I visited last March (also by using United miles, but by flying in one of Singapore Airlines’ A380 first-class suites), and I’m happy to see United will operate three daily flights to Australia during its 2014/2015 summer, and economy award space is excellent.
  • I’m dying to return to Southeast Asia, which has more of a dry season than a summer in early 2015, and United miles are the best with partners like Thai Airways.

Awards to all three places cost only 80k miles per person roundtrip. It’s quite easy to get United miles. Sure, you can get the United MileagePlus Explorer card, but make sure you find a targeted-offer that comes with a 50,000-mile sign-up bonus because the currently affiliate/public offer is not as strong (only offering a 30,000-mile sign-up bonus). I’m sure by now you already know that United is an instant 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards. These are the best Ultimate Rewards cards:

  • The Chase Sapphire Preferred (40,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first three months), The Ink Plus (50,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first three months) and The Ink Bold (50,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first three months).

United Miles to South Africa

Cape Town is the perfect winter escape. During its summer, Cape Town hums with beaches, mountains, easy access to vineyards and safaris, history, and culture. Cape Town has been on my bucket list for some time now, and is a strong consideration for early 2015 (perhaps a Dad trip?).

South African Airways is a United partner that flies from Washington-Dulles and New York to Johannesburg and from there to the rest of the country. United awards from the United States to South Africa cost 80k miles roundtrip in economy.

It can be tough to find award space on the direct South African flights. As this shows, there are only a handful of dates in February and March 2015 with saver award availability for two people from New York to Johannesburg on the direct flight.

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But if you’re willing to connect, space is wide open. January and February are brimming with itineraries that connect in Egypt or Germany on other Star Alliance partners.

Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 1.53.39 PMUnited Miles to Australia

Australia is another place with an awesome southern hemisphere summer. I visited in early March 2013 and was graced with beautiful, cloudless, sunny days. I liked it so much that I booked myself a ticket to spend NYE 2014 there. Sadly, I had to cancel since I would have been over 8 months pregnant at the time. I would definitely love to ring in the new year in Sydney one of these years though.

The Great Barrier Reef, incredible beaches, and a laid-back, easy-to-travel country make Australia a great place to head during the southern hemisphere summer.

During summer 2015 in Australia, United will operate three daily flights:

  • San Francisco to Sydney
  • Los Angeles to Sydney
  • Los Angeles to Melbourne

Award space is wide open for two passengers in economy from San Francisco to Sydney next February and March for only 80k miles roundtrip per person.

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United Miles to Thailand

I love Thailand because it’s inexpensive, warm, and has an awesome culture. I visited last in March 2012 and I’m dying to return. Early 2015 should be a great time to visit Thailand during the dry season. Thailand has amazing beach resorts like Koh Samui and Phuket; a mega-city in Bangkok; and a cheap, culture-rich northern region featuring Chiang Mai.

There is plenty of award space for two passengers from Newark to Phuket, Thailand in economy for 80k miles per person roundtrip.

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Traveling to your favorite part of Thailand is easy since United partners with Thai Airways, which in my experience, offers award space on nearly every intra-Thailand flight.

Award space to Southeast Asia with United miles is wide open in 2015. From the east coast, most itineraries route through Europe, while from the west coast, itineraries tend to transit North Asia.

Sure, riding long-distances in economy is rough, but as I mentioned in earlier posts, I like to stretch my miles out as much as I can, adding in the occasional business class and first class treat here and there. For me, seeing more places is more important than arriving in style.

Do you follow the same trend as I do by looking to escape winter by experiencing another country’s summer? If so, where are your “gem” redemptions? I’m still looking for inspiration!

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This offer is not particularly exciting, but enrollment is free, and it only takes a few minutes. For a limited time, Chase Ink customers can enroll in Expedia’s Business Rewards program for free and receive 3 extra reward night credits by booking an eligible hotel.

I don’t know much about the Expedia Business Rewards program, but some “perks” include:

  • Earn a $100 Expedia hotel coupon for every 10 eligible hotel nights booked.
  • Track all business travel in one place and get access to Expedia’s travel options.

The coupon is redeemable for a stay at over 100,000 hotels worldwide with no blackout date. The coupons are also completely transferable to anyone with an Expedia.com account.

Chase Ink customers have the option to receive 3 extra reward night credits (per company) if they book an eligible hotel by May 22, 2014 and stay by June 22, 2014. I tend to refrain from booking from 3rd-party online travel agencies because I prefer getting stay credits and bonus points for booking directly with the hotel; however, this program could be useful for those who prefer non-chain boutique hotels.

What are your thoughts? Anyone use the Expedia Business Rewards program?

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I’m excited to head to Seattle in a few days for the Freddie Awards and FTU. However, instead of returning back to NJ afterwards, I made a last-minute (surprise surprise) decision to spend a few days in Miami with friends. Luckily I had originally booked my return SEA-EWR on Southwest points, so I was able to redeposit without paying a fee.

While now searching for a last-minute flight from SEA-FLL, I decided to play around with all of the possibilities. In the end, I was able to find a great $169 fare on United (and I even confirmed an upgrade, yay), but I still learned of a cool trick for Southwest award redemptions.

You can use one little known trick to get 80% off your next Southwest award. This trick doesn’t involve using cash. Instead, it involves using Southwest Rapid Rewards points, which I get from Ultimate Rewards transfers or by using my Southwest Rapid Rewards Visa.

Even though Ultimate Rewards are easy to rack up, I still love to stretch them five times farther when I can. The best three cards to earn Ultimate Rewards are:

  • The Chase Sapphire Preferred currently offers 40,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first three months. You can also get 5,000 bonus points for adding an authorized user to your account.
  • The Ink Plus is a business card that offers 50,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first three months (as well as 5x points on your phone, cable, and internet bills.)
  • The Ink Bold is a business charge card that offers 50,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first three months (as well as 5x points on your phone, cable, and internet bills.)

Once you have your Ultimate Rewards, they transfer instantly 1:1 to Southwest points. Southwest points can book any flight on which Southwest is selling a seat. You need 70 Southwest points for every dollar of the base fare, so a $200 base fare can be booked with 14,000 Southwest points.

But you can do even better on some flights.

The key is that for the last two years, Southwest has let us freely transfer between Southwest points and AirTran credits. This might be one time when a really slow merger benefits consumers.

With a few clicks, you can turn 19,200 Southwest points into one roundtrip award on any flights on which Southwest is offering Standard Award space. At 70 points per dollar, 19,200 Southwest points should only get you about $274 in Southwest flights, but as one Standard roundtrip award, you can often get way more value from your 19,200 Southwest points.

Here’s how this trick works:

When a roundtrip Southwest award would cost more than 19,200 points (cost more than $274) and that roundtrip has Standard Award space, you book with this trick instead of the normal way.

Before using this trick, you have to make sure that an award would cost more than 19,200 points and that it has Standard Award space.

You can check how many points an award costs by doing a simple search and asking for the results in points instead of dollars. You can even click for a monthly calendar of the route.

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If the sum of the roundtrip is more than 19,200 points, then it will be cheaper to book as a Standard Award if there is Standard Award space.

To search for Standard Award space, go to this page, sign into your Southwest account, and click the button that says “Standard Awards Availability.”

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Your search will bring up a calendar like this one from Los Angeles to Tampa. Days with checks have an itinerary with Standard Award availability. From Tampa to Los Angeles in May, 9 out of 31 days have Standard Award space.

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If you want to travel one of those nine days and you find Standard Award space on the return, you can book the trip for 19,200 Rapid Rewards.

The best time to use the Standard Award trick

Any time is a good time to use a Standard Award to pay 19,200 points for a roundtrip instead of the normal, higher price.

One of the most common times you’ll find that Standard Awards are the best deal is for last-minute travel. Look at these point prices for a one way trip from Newark to Portland this month.

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Southwest wants up to 47k points for a one way. But if you search for Standard Award space, it exists on those same days.

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So instead of paying 47k Rapid Rewards each way, you’re paying 19,200 roundtrip which is about 80% off!

How to Book a Standard Award

If you’ve determined that a Standard Award makes sense for your trip because the normal award price is higher than 19,200 points roundtrip and your dates have Standard Award space, it’s time to book one.

It’s a four step process.

  1. Sign up for an AirTran A+ account with a name that matches your Southwest account.
  2. Transfer 19,200 Rapid Rewards points to 16 A+ credits.
  3. Transfer 16 A+ credits to 16 Southwest credits. (This will automatically turn into one Standard Award in your account.)
  4. Go to this page and book your Standard Award from your Southwest account.

Getting Southwest Points

If you’ve already gotten the Southwest cards (thumbs up if you got the 50,000 point offer), don’t forget you can get even more Rapid Rewards from 1:1 instant transfers from Ultimate Rewards.

I love Ultimate Rewards because they transfer to so many partners and each partner has unique high value awards.

Just a recap, some of the best ways to get Ultimate Rewards points are with the CSP and Ink Bold/Ink Plus cards. The Chase Sapphire Preferred currently offers 40,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first three months, and The Ink Plus and The Ink Bold each offer 50,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first three months.

Have you ever used this standard award tip?

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Since giving birth to Baby Points Traveler back in February, my traveling has obviously come to a halt. While I enjoyed being a new mom, I had been suffering from major cabin fever during the cold, gray winter months.

As a treat to ourselves, Mr. Points Traveler and I had booked a romantic post-baby trip to Aruba for the beginning of April, and we were counting down the days for our first “date night” weekend away together.

Unfortunately, the cards aligned poorly leaving Mr. Points Traveler sick with the stomach flu for the entire weekend away. We thought about the option of extending our time in Aruba so that we can get a day or two in of him potentially feeling better, but we already were missing the little guy and didn’t want to be away from him for too long.

After returning back home, we decided we needed a “take 2″ on a proper date night; after all, I had a Hyatt category 1-4 night that was set to expire on 4/30. Instead of booking a new trip all together, we made an executive decision to redeem the free night at the nearby Hyatt Regency New Brunswick.

The one and only time I had ever been to the property was 10 years ago for my high school prom. Since it was a category 2 property, I expected a low-key experience – we had planned to go out to a nice dinner, get drinks, and simply have a nice relaxing sleep with an in-room movie.

The hotel was actually quite nice and located within walking distance from all of the places we had reservations at, and the service was unreal. I am only a Platinum GoldPassport member, but yet they extended free breakfast coupons to us, which was a nice surprise.

Somehow they also knew it was my birthday and sweet token this came to the room:

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I was so impressed with the hotel that has been right there all along and close to home, and we plan on returning again. Even without redeeming a free night, room rates sometimes dip below $100, so it’s definitely a “date night” option again in the future.

It’s amazing how even one day in a local hotel can recharge your mind and give you that quick “vacation fix”. A staycation was all we needed.

Have you ever checked into a hotel close to home just to unwind? angelinasignature

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I love stretching my miles as much as I can to get me to more places rather than always splurging on luxurious first and business class seats (though treating myself is always fun). A good college friend of mine invited me to spend a few days with her in London this summer, and instead of resorting to my usual (United and AAdvantage miles), I wanted to explore other options.

I found I was asking myself this question – Why spend 30k miles for an economy one way to Europe this summer when you could spend fewer miles to fly in a seat that’s twice as nice?

A few weeks ago I wrote about the basics of earning Ultimate Rewards from all three families of Ultimate Rewards cards. The bottom line is that Ultimate Rewards are among the easiest currencies to earn because of the cards that offer huge sign up bonuses and huge category bonuses. I also love the flexibility of the points since you can transfer 1:1 to many hotel and airline programs on an as-needed basis.

  • The Chase Sapphire Preferred currently offers 40,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first three months. You can also get 5,000 bonus points for adding an authorized user to your account.
  • The Ink Plus is a business card that offers 50,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first three months (as well as some pretty awesome category bonuses.)
  • The Ink Bold is a business charge card that offers 50,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first three months (as well as the same awesome category bonuses.)

To really maximize the value of all those easy Ultimate Rewards, you need to understand the Ultimate Rewards transfer partners. Today I want to highlight Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.

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Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 to Virgin Atlantic miles. Virgin Atlantic miles are hugely valuable for one way awards from the United States to the United Kingdom in economy and Premium Economy.

Awards start at:

  • 17,500 Virgin Atlantic miles + $131.50 in economy
  • 27,500 Virgin Atlantic miles + $231.50 in Premium Economy

Premium Economy is basically like flying domestic first class on an American airline. It’s not just a few extra inches of leg room like United Economy Plus; it’s a lot more. You get a wider seat, more leg room, a meal, and an amenity kit. Here’s a YouTube video showcasing Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy.

The high value uses of Virgin Atlantic miles are one ways to the United Kingdom in economy and Premium Economy. Best of all, these high value uses are wide open with award space for this summer. A few warnings:

  • Do not use Virgin Atlantic miles for the return trip from Europe to the United States. (Try United miles, another Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, instead.)
  • Do not use Virgin Atlantic miles for Upper Class, what Virgin Atlantic calls business class, redemptions.

Economy Between the United States and United Kingdom

You can check out the Virgin Atlantic award chart here.

Virgin Atlantic charges different miles prices in economy from its different American destinations to the United Kingdom:

  • Boston, New York, Newark, Washington DC, Chicago: 17,500 miles
  • Miami, Orlando, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco: 21,250 miles

The one way award from those cities to London also costs $131.50 out-of-pocket including taxes and a fuel surcharge. The miles price stays the same if your destination is somewhere else in the United Kingdom like Manchester or Edinburgh, but the out of pocket price goes up a bit.

Award space is plentiful on the routes from the eastern United States to the United Kingdom this summer.

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New York to London searches bring up results from JFK and Newark. There is tons of space on both routes in economy this summer.

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Space from the west coast is harder to come by, but it does exist for 21,250 miles + $131.50 one way.

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Choosing a United Kingdom destination other than London does not increase the miles price, but does increase the cash component modestly.

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Premium Economy Between the United States and United Kingdom

Virgin Atlantic charges different miles prices in Premium Economy from its different American destinations to the United Kingdom:

  • Boston, New York, Newark, Washington DC: 27,500 miles
  • Chicago: 30,000 miles
  • Miami, Orlando, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco: 35,000 miles

The one way award from those cities to London also costs $231.50 out-of-pocket including taxes and a fuel surcharge. Like stated above, the miles price stays the same if your destination is somewhere else in the United Kingdom like Manchester or Edinburgh, but the out of pocket price goes up a bit.

Award space is plentiful on the routes from the eastern United States to the United Kingdom this summer.

Some days from New York and Newark have award space on six flights!

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Chicago also has good space and for only 30k miles one way.

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Award space is worse from the west coast, but it does exist for 35,000 miles one way.

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Why These Are Good Deals

Most of us will get our Virgin Atlantic miles from transfers of Ultimate Rewards. Let’s compare whether transferring to Virgin Atlantic and booking Virgin Atlantic economy and Premium Economy is a better idea than transferring to United to book United economy.

United charges 30k miles + $2.50 one way from Chicago (or anywhere else in the United States) to London.

Screen Shot 2014-04-18 at 8.27.32 AM I’d rather pay 17,500 miles + $131.50 to fly Virgin Atlantic. Beyond the service probably being better, you save 12,500 miles for only $129 extra or about one cent per mile saved. I value Ultimate Rewards at about 2 cents each, so I am happy to pay 1 cent each to save them.

You can also fly Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy from Chicago to London for 30k miles + $231.50. That’s the same number of miles but $229 more than United economy. This is an individual decision, but would you pay $229 to upgrade United economy to Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy for eight hours? I definitely would.

Awards to Avoid with Virgin Atlantic Miles

As I said earlier, don’t book your return from the United Kingdom with Virgin Atlantic miles. You’ll pay fuel surcharges and the UK’s huge departure taxes. One way from London to New York in economy costs 184 Pounds out-of-pocket, which is about $300. The charges are even higher out of London in Premium Economy and Upper Class.

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I also think Upper Class is a bad deal with Virgin Atlantic miles. The miles price is cheap at 40k to 50k miles from the US to UK, but you have to pay $416.50 out of pocket.

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How to Get Back from the United Kingdom

I don’t recommend returning from the United Kingdom at all. It’s far cheaper to return from continental Europe where departure taxes are a lot lower. Pair London with Spain for instance, and you’ll save over $100 by flying home from Spain instead of London.

Wherever you return from, the best economy award space is with United miles for 30k miles one way. You can also check American Airlines and its partners for 30k mile one way returns.

Getting the Virgin Atlantic and United Miles

As I said earlier, most of us will actually end up getting Virgin Atlantic miles from 1:1 Ultimate Rewards transfers. Just a recap, some of the best ways to get Ultimate Rewards points are with the CSP and Ink Bold/Ink Plus cards. The Chase Sapphire Preferred currently offers 40,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first three months, and The Ink Plus and The Ink Bold each offer 50,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first three months.

I’m excited that I am planning my first trip to London this summer, and I am also equally excited to be flying Virgin Atlantic for the first time. For those who have been to London (which I am sure a lot of readers have been), please feel free to share some tips. Also, I’d love to hear about your Virgin Atlantic flying experiences as well!

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Do you ever get the urge to take a mega-trip? Not a quick weekend to Nice like I just booked, but a few weeks to several cities. I’m planning to book a multi-city hop to Asia this fall, so I’m exploring all of my redemption options now.

It can be hard to visit several cities on one award trip, but by using your United miles and British Airways Avios, you can easily construct incredible trips where you can see three cities for barely more than the price of a roundtrip award to one city.

Here’s how it works:

United awards allow a stopover and an open jaw. That means you can include three foreign cities on a United award, but there will be an unfilled hole between two of them.

For instance, imagine you flew from your home airport of Newark to Rome. You stop over in Rome for a few days before continuing to Vienna. A week later, after an open jaw between Vienna and Munich, you return from Munich to Newark.

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This is a valid United award and it includes Rome, Vienna, and Munich. Unfortunately there’s no flight between Vienna and Munich, and no way to add one because the United award already uses its stopover and open jaw.

That’s where British Airways Avios come in. Avios are ideal for short, non-stop flights like Vienna to Munich because the price of an Avios award depends on the distance of the flight. Vienna and Munich are so close that the Avios award costs only 4,500 miles.

Rules

United awards can have a stopover and an open jaw. That gives you a chance to fly into city A, continue to city B, and return home from city C. But it leaves a hole between city B and city C that Avios are ideally suited to fill.

Try to make sure that one of the cities involved with the open jaw is a oneworld hub, so that there will be a direct flight.

You can fly the outbound and return of the United awards in different cabins. If you do that, you just pay the one way price for each cabin.

Examples

Rome, Vienna, and Munich

Start on the multi-city search page of united.com. Enter the dates and cities you desire. Remember that there will be an open jaw. In my case, the open jaw is between Vienna and Munich.

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Give the number of passengers, then skip down to the bottom and select Award Travel.

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Search results are displayed without the miles price or the taxes on multi-city searches. Don’t worry. Those reappear at the end.

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It was fairly easy for me to piece together a United award for October that features time in Rome, Vienna, and Munich for only 60k miles and $153.

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But you’ll notice the award has no way to get from Vienna to Munich. This is where Avios come in.

British Airways has a partner named Niki, based in Vienna with excellent award space throughout Europe.

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Since the flight is so short, it costs only 4,500 + $45.

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If you book both the United award and British Airways award, you’d get a two-week trip to Rome, Vienna, and Munich with all flights included for 60,000 United miles, 4,500 Avios, and $198 in taxes. That’s an unbeatable way to jet around Europe!

Tokyo, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur (with a First Class return)

Nothing limits the techniques in this post to European trips or economy awards. Here’s an award that hits Tokyo, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur. The outbound is in economy, but the return from Kuala Lumpur to San Francisco features 11 hours in United Global First Class.

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The total cost of the United award is 120k miles and $79. The 120k miles is 40k miles for the outbound in economy and 80k for the return in First Class.

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But if you noticed, the United award has no flight between Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. Luckily British Airways’ oneworld partner Malaysia Airlines flies around the world from Kuala Lumpur with excellent award space.

From Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Airlines usually offers award space on several daily flights. The cost is only 7,500 Avios and $21.

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So the total cost to see three vibrant Asian capitals would be 120k United miles, 7,500 Avios, and $101. And that price includes a return in First Class, so you can hit the ground running back at home.

In Summary…

United miles and Avios pair really well together. United is perfect for the longhaul segments that form the backbone of the trip, and Avios are perfect to fill in small gaps that the United award can’t reach because of its stopover limit.

United miles and Avios are both 1:1 transfer partners of Ultimate Rewards. You can stock up on those with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, The Ink Plus, and The Ink Bold.

You can also earn 50,000 bonus Avios after spending only $2,000 in the first three months with the British Airways Visa Signature Card.

Have you constructed an award redemption like this before? If so, where did you go?

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I’m sure by now, many of you already know that one of the benefits of the American Express Platinum cards is the $200 yearly airline fee credit (if not, see this post), and one way to satisfy that credit is to purchase airline gift cards.

Earlier in the year, American Express noted that their US Airways Club/American Airlines Admirals Club lounge access would no longer be a card-member benefit after March 31, and as a courtesy, they were offering card members an additional incidentals credit to compensate for the loss of the lounge privileges.

Again, many card members had the same gift card idea.

However, when I went to purchase an American Airlines e-gift card using my AmEx Platinum, I received this error message:

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Even though, I was not having a physical gift card shipped to a NJ address, I was prevented from purchasing a gift card, period, just because my card had a NJ billing address. It was quite frustrating, and I know many of my fellow NJ readers also faced the same dilemma. This FlyerTalk post further explains the limitations NJ residents face when purchasing gift cards.

Luckily, I have another out-of-state residence, so with a quick call to AmEx, I explained my situation and was able to temporarily change my billing address so that my purchases would go through. I highly recommend anyone else in my shoes do the same.

What is your opinion on the gift card laws that are coming into effect? Do you think it’s unfair that it prevents even e-gift card purchases? Would love to hear your thoughts…

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Hands down, one of the best things about this hobby are the people in it. There’s nothing more enjoyable than talking miles and points face-to-face  in a social setting with people who “get” this quirky hobby. There are two fun-filled events coming up that are open to the public for fellow points and miles enthusiasts to gather together, learn new tricks, and share travel tips. Here’s where we can meet:

  • Friday, April 25 to Sunday, April 27 in Seattle: Whether you’re a new or old player in the points and miles game, there’s always room to learn more and meet some pretty amazing people in the process at Frequent Traveler University. Though this event is technically already sold out, there’s still a chance to score a ticket from someone who can no longer make it. I love going to weekend of points and miles seminars because you can’t beat being in an environment with some of the most influential people in the industry. I’ll personally be in Seattle from Thursday night (for the Freddie awards) until Friday evening for the cocktail hour/kick-off of FTU. You can learn more/discuss FTU here. Looking forward to chatting with all!
  • Friday, October 17 to Sunday, October 19 in Elks Grove, IL:  Tickets are already on sale for this year’s Chicago Seminars that is taking place in Elks Grove, IL during the weekend of October 17-19. The event is capped at 500 people, and has historically sold out in the past. I’ve attended for the past 3 years have always had a blast. I’m sure I’ve said this a thousand times, but this event was the true seed of inspiration for starting this blog, and I highly recommend you attend if you want to be with a group of like-minded individuals who enjoy traveling with points and miles as much as you do. I’m excited to announce that I’ll be speaking at the Chicago Seminars – my session about Best Rate Guarantees is on Saturday afternoon. As a natural deal-queen, I’m excited to share some great BRG strategies.  This event is surely not to be missed!

Looking forward to meeting new faces and seeing familiar ones!

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There are three things happening, or will be happening in the very near future [simultaneously, even] that might make my home airport, EWR, nightmarish to travel to and from due to 3 distinct “hiccups”. Those who I can imagine who will be suffering the most are those traveling to NYC, using Amtrak as a codeshare, or those who simply rely on public transportation (the AirTrain) to get to/from EWR.

Earlier this week Scott at Hack My Trip blogged about hiccup #1 – EWR shutting down it’s airport monorail. In short, starting May 1, EWR’s AirTrain will remain closed for 75 days for construction. This halt will be replaced with shuttle buses from Newark Penn Station and I believe connections will be anything but seamless. This directly impacts customers who book their flights out of “ZFV”, an Amtrak codeshare rail connection from Philadelphia.

Another bump (hiccup #2) that EWR travelers might face is the closure of the Pulaski Skyway. The Pulaski Skyway is a major highway that connects NJ to Manhattan via the Holland Tunnel.

On April 12, 2014, the New Jersey Department of Transportation, (NJDOT), will begin construction to replace the deck on the Pulaski Skyway that will close the northbound lanes toward Jersey City and New York for approximately two years (!!). Many travelers who rely on cabs or car service to get from EWR to NYC might most definitely will experience increased fares and severe traffic.

Lastly, EWR hiccup #3 affects all travelers, even my fellow in-state New Jerseyans. Starting April 2014 and lasting all the way until December 2014 (wishfully thinking), the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey recently announced the closure of Runway 4L/22R due to rehabilitation construction.

PANYNJ states:

Runway 4L-22R will be closed for 60 consecutive days beginning April 1, 2014 and ending June 1, 2014 and will operate at reduced capacity from June 1 to June 15. The runway will be closed an additional 10 days beginning September 20 and ending September 30. With the exception of the closures, the airport’s three runways will be fully utilized during construction.

Things might be slightly better for those whose start and end points of travel remain in New Jersey, but with a runway closing, the hiccups of travel delays and the possibility of tighter/missed connections will be inevitable.

I can imagine that travelers who are aware of these three disruptions will consider traveling out of JFK and LGA as an alternative. Here I am optimistically hoping that airlines will offer irresistible fare deals out of EWR in order to remain competitive as a NYC airport.

Luckily, I flew from EWR – Aruba and back on April 3 and 6th, respectively and didn’t experience any delays on either end.

Just curious – do these/have these/will these 3 EWR hiccups impact your 2014 travel plans? Please feel free to share your thoughts!

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I’m entering the first year of my “late twenties” next week, and gifts are already starting to flood in from the people I tend to spend the most time with – loyalty programs, of course. Aside from my annual free Sephora VIB beauty gift and my free Victoria’s Secret birthday coupons that I look forward to receiving each year, I’m noticing that many travel programs are also offering a small birthday token.

Here’s the line up so far:

  • JetBlue: If you are signed up for TrueBlue Badges and fly JetBlue during your birthday month, you’ll unwrap 500 points by earning your birthday badge.
  • Hertz: Happy birthday from Hertz! In honor of your special day, we’re giving you 250 Hertz Gold Plus Rewards® bonus points on your next rental before 04/30/2014.
  • Kimpton: Enjoy 20% off our daily rate. Stay with us Thurs – Sun during your birthday month, enjoy 2 glasses of bubbly + dessert, and a special surprise gift from us.
  • IHG: Earn 5,000 extra bonus points after your next weekend stay within the next 90 days.
  • Southwest: 500 bonus points and a 20% discount redemption code.

Out of the 5 gifts I received, I am most excited about the 20% discount redemption code from Southwest (especially after the 15% devaluation, I’ll still make out ahead of the old rates).

What gifts have you received from airline and hotel loyalty programs in the past? Any super cool surprises?

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If you missed out on the ~$1500 business class deals to Europe this summer that One Mile at a Time let us know about last week, it’s still possible to take a trip to Europe during peak season.

If you have a stash of United miles, you’re in luck. United’s partner, Lufthansa, has released a ton of Saver award space in economy and business class for July 2014, so you and a travel buddy can get to Europe on the cheap.

United miles can be used on any Star Alliance carrier. Often the most useful member of the Star Alliance for award bookings to Europe is Lufthansa, the largest airline in Europe, with hubs in Frankfurt and Munich, Germany.

It costs 30k United miles each way to fly between the United States and Europe in economy and 70k United miles each way in business class.

On United awards, you can fly one direction in economy and the other in business to have a treat one way and save miles the other. You can also take a stopover and have an open jaw, when you fly into one airport and out of another.

With all those options, it’s really easy to book an award for two to Europe this summer.

The place to search for and book Lufthansa award space is on United.com. If you just search from your home airport to your goal destination, some Lufthansa flights will probably come up.

I’ve tried to accentuate that by searching routes that Lufthansa flies non-stop between North America and Frankfurt, Germany. Getting from Frankfurt to anywhere else in Europe is very easy because Lufthansa flies all over Europe from Frankfurt and intra-Europe flights usually have award space in both cabins.

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If you don’t live in any of the North American cities in this post, that’s no problem either. You can connect from your home airport to the gateway city on United flights with saver award space. Don’t forget that on an international business class award, you can add United first class domestic segments at no extra charge.

How Good Is The Award Space?

In economy, Lufthansa has released award space every day this summer on a number of routes. Business class space is less available, but it is widely available this July on several routes.

On the calendars below, yellow days have saver award space in economy for two people, blue days have saver award space in business class for two people, and green days have saver award space in economy and business class for two people.

The best award space in business class this summer is from Washington DC to Frankfurt, which has space most Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays in July.

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Lufthansa flies two daily flights between Washington DC and Frankfurt. Pick the one on the 747-8 plane for Lufthansa’s newest fully flat business class product. The aircraft is listed on the far right of the screen under the flight information.

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Dallas to Frankfurt also has some award space in business class for couples this July on Mondays and Tuesdays, as well as economy space nearly every day this summer.

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When looking at ways to get from the United States to Europe, especially from the west coast, don’t forget about the possibility of connecting in Canada. It costs no extra miles, and Toronto to Frankfurt has amazing award space this July for a couple in business class.

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Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 2.28.56 PMUnfortunately New York to Frankfurt doesn’t have as much business class award space this summer as other routes, but there is still plenty of economy award space between JFK and Frankfurt on two daily Lufthansa flights.

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Getting United Miles

It’s easy to get to Europe with United miles this summer, but how do you get the United miles, and how many do you need?

Each way is 30k miles per person in economy and 70k in business, so for one person:

  • You need 60k United miles for a roundtrip to Europe in economy.
  • You need 100k United miles for a roundtrip to Europe with one way in economy and one way in Lufthansa Business Class.
  • You need 140k United miles for a roundtrip to Europe in Lufthansa Business Class.

For two people, double those amounts.

Luckily United miles are extremely easy to earn. All these cards earn Ultimate Rewards, which can transfer 1:1 to United miles.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred currently offers 40,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first three months. You can also get 5,000 bonus points for adding an authorized user to your account.

The Ink Plus is a business card that offers 50,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first three months (as well as some pretty awesome category bonuses.)

The Ink Bold is a business charge card that offers 50,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 in the first three months (as well as the same awesome category bonuses.)

Opening a Sapphire Preferred for yourself (and adding an authorized user) and an Ink for your business would result in more than 100k Ultimate Rewards after meeting the minimum spending requirements. That’s enough for a roundtrip to Europe with one direction in the comfort of business class.

I personally have booked myself a first class ticket on Lufthansa from Toronto to Munich for Oktoberfest in the fall (before the United devaluation), but due to a scheduling conflict, I won’t be able to take the trip. I haven’t redeposited my miles yet because I am hoping that more award space will open up for a different weekend…. crossing fingers!

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