When To Use Your Miles, And When To Pay For A Ticket Instead


Given the new onslaught of readers from all around the world this week, we here at OMAAT are operating on somewhat of a “back to basics bootcamp” mentality, to welcome those new to miles, points and “gaming” the travel industry — and also to remind regular readers that we can all lose sight of common sense from time to time when we’re caught up dreaming of champagne and caviar service at 35,000 feet.

Nearly everyone I know has some sort of airline- or hotel-affiliated credit card, though very few of my friends know what to do with all the points they accrue. I find myself scratching my head when my friends tell me they have 50,000 miles generated from credit card spend on Airline A, which they hate, because they love flying Airline B so much more.

More to the point, I’ll see friends excitedly “cash in” 25,000 points — or far more — for a domestic economy ticket, simply because it’s possible and because the credit card companies have taught us, as a society, that you can get a free roundtrip domestic economy ticket! is an aspirational goal.

Now, there are certainly instances when domestic coach awards can make sense, especially around holiday periods when ticket prices might border on criminal…. however, in those peak periods, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to snag a “low-level” 25,000 mile roundtrip to begin with.

While there’s a mantra on this website to “earn and burn” versus hoard miles, the sweet spot in the value of miles is long-haul premium cabin travel, which can cost upwards of 150,000 miles per roundtrip ticket, depending on airline and destination. So it is worth building up your mileage vault and not draining it in 25,000-50,000 increments on domestic trips that might only cost $300 out of pocket. Credit card signup bonuses, which can earn you as much as 100,000 miles off the bat, really help in this regard.

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How To Make Sure You’re Earning The Best Miles


As part of the media extravaganza happening here this week, Ben had the chance to appear Thursday morning (Sydney time) on Sunrise, which is a popular breakfast/news show in Australia.

The segment is adorable, and if you didn’t get a chance to watch live it’s now available online. The majority of the discussion focused on earning points across airline partners, which is a bit tricky to get one’s mind around if you haven’t heard of the concept before.

I think this is a useful topic, not just for Australians, but for anyone who wants to maximize the value out of the flights they do take, so thought I’d recap a bit and provide some other examples.

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The World’s 6 Best First Class Airline Products


I’m often asked what I think the world’s best first class product is. As much as I try to put thought into it, I can never come up with a good answer. Heck, I have a hard time narrowing it down to just a few best products.

The truth is that which airline offers the world’s best first class product really does vary flight-by-flight, because there are so many moving parts. Just to give a few examples:

— Singapore Airlines’ lunch and dinner service when departing Singapore is excellent; sometimes their outstation catering isn’t, and if you’re booked on a “supper” (late night) flight you’ll likely end up disappointed with the catering
— Lounges play a big part in what I consider to be the best product, so that experience can differ significantly whether you’re flying out of the airline’s home airport, where they have their flagship lounge, or out of an outstation, where they use a contract lounge
— Across the board, service can vary greatly on a flight-by-flight basis; while I consider Cathay Pacific to be one of the world’s most consistent airlines, I’ve even experienced disappointing service on them
— The quality of first class hard products can vary considerably; for example, Emirates’ longhaul first class product is great, while some of their shorthaul routes are operated by a first class cabin with six seats per row

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What Determines The Value Of Transferrable Points Currencies?


On Sunday I wrote a post about the best credit cards to use for airfare purchases. Reader 31583 left the following comment on the post:

“Could you please explain why do you think that MR points worth 1.8 cents each? I guess you can’t. Anyway it looks like Citi Prestige Card wins. 3 points / dollar and up to 1.6 cents redemption value compared to Amex’s 1 cent is awesome. Nice post except you’re clearly promoting Amex despite it’s only comparable to the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.”

This month I’ll be sharing my updated valuation of miles & points, though in the meantime I think the above is a question which is worth addressing. In the post about which credit card to use for airfare purchases, I explained that I value American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards points at 1.8 cents each, while I value Citi ThankYou points at 1.6 cents each. How do I come up with those valuations, in general?

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How To Value Elite Qualifying Miles Earned Through Credit Card Spend?


The value of miles is highly subjective. For programs with revenue based redemptions there are generally agreed upon values (given that each point can be redeemed for X cents towards the cost of a ticket), but otherwise it gets trickier. That’s because the value of points really depends on what your redemption patterns are.

Nonetheless I’d like to think we’re all at least in a similar range. That’s to say that I think most of us value redeemable miles an average of anywhere between 1.0 and 2.5 cents each. That’s a big range, but at least most people will be somewhere in there.

What gets a bit trickier, in my opinion, is valuing elite qualifying miles. As a reminder, redeemable miles can be redeemed towards award tickets, while elite qualifying miles are those which count towards status, and they typically reset each calendar year.

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Best Credit Card To Use For Airfare Purchases


Reader stvr asked if I could write an updated post of the one I wrote a bit over a year ago about which credit cards to use for airfare purchases.

I spend a good amount on airfare every year (after all, flying 400,000+ miles per year doesn’t come free!), so making sure I’m getting the best return on airfare spend is pretty important to me. Fortunately you have lots of choices as a consumer, as there are plenty of cards offering great category bonuses for airfare spend.

But which are the best?

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What’s Important To You In An Airport Lounge?


Cathay Pacific is one of my favorite airlines, and they’re undergoing a (mild) brand refresh.

As part of that, they’re renovating many of their lounges. Perhaps the most exciting is Cathay Pacific’s The Pier First Class Lounge in Hong Kong, which reopened several weeks ago. It looks stunning, and I can’t wait to check it out, as I think it beats The Wing First Class Lounge in Hong Kong.

That’s not the only lounge they’re renovating, though. They’ve also recently opened a new lounge at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, which looks great as well.

As part of these lounge refreshes, Cathay Pacific has released two videos, about their lounges in Tokyo Haneda and Hong Kong. And they’re abstract and visually stunning, and almost put me in a trance. Let’s look at those before I get too much further in the discussion, because I think the videos raise some interesting points.

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How To Avoid Having To Gate Check Your Bag?


No, this post isn’t about tips for not being asked to gate check your bags, like not overpacking or being sure you’re not among the last to board.

Instead this post is about an email I received from a reader last night about how to avoid gate checking bags after you’ve already been asked to:

“Question: Have you ever been forced to gate check your carry on but ripped off the baggage tag on the gate ramp and just walked on with it? I had an overzealous gate agent today who wouldn’t accept that the bag was allowed on for 48,000 previous miles with them this year. Admittedly, I was a little paranoid it might hold up the plane if they were looking for the bag. Did I get lucky?”

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How To Check Your Uber Rating


I’m a huge fan of Uber, and use them a lot. I don’t have a car given that I live in hotels full time. And I find Uber to be the next best thing. UberX is in virtually all cases cheaper than a taxi, while UberBlack often isn’t that much more, but is a lot more comfortable. Also keep in mind that Uber has a pretty lucrative referral program, whereby you can get a free ride of up to $20 by being referred.

Generally I find Uber drivers to be fantastic. And that probably has to do with the instant feedback loop. With every ride you’re asked to rate the driver, and have the option of leaving feedback. The driver won’t actually see what score you leave them, but instead will only see their overall score.

But here’s what most people don’t realize — Uber drivers are also rating Uber riders. Just like you have the option of giving them a 1-5 star rating with every ride, they also have the option of giving you a 1-5 star rating.

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Costco Or Sam’s Club: Which Is Better For World Travelers?

Costco's lifestyle magazine

My family does a decent amount of our shopping at Costco. I’ve never really convinced myself that the prices are that much better than buying stuff on sale at the grocery store, but my wife says it’s convenient to buy a gigantic box of granola bars all at once. So that’s what we do.

As part of our annual membership, we get a print subscription to Costco Connections delivered to our house each month. (Though anyone can read it on the website.) It’s basically a lifestyle magazine that seems like a cross between Reader’s Digest and the IKEA catalog. While it’s not exactly Pulitzer Prize winning literature, I’ll read pretty much anything, especially if it’s on the table next to my bowl of cereal.

Sometimes the fake debate between two so-called experts can be rather amusing too — like this month’s “Is Artificial Intelligence a Good Thing?” where they have the CEO and Director of the X-Prize arguing in favor, and a filmmaker arguing against. How is that a fair fight?

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My Secret To Living Out Of A Carry-On


When I first moved into hotels my luggage situation was a mess… as summed up in the picture below.

Over time I’ve realized that if you’re going to live out of suitcases full time you need to be super-minimalist and just live out of a carry-on. While it means my wardrobe is quite limited, it also saves me dozens of hours a year of waiting at baggage claim, not to mention the potential headache of lost bags (though amazingly enough even carry-ons can get lost).

Up until this year I had a Tumi 20″ Alpha International, as well as the Tumi Alpha laptop bag. It was a sleek set, if not a bit corporate looking. On US airlines you’re entitled to take aboard one carry-on and one “personal item,” so the 20″ rollaboard was my carry-on, and the laptop bag was my personal item.

But then I discovered the wonders of the weekender bag (mine is from Killspencer) . Yes, most people travel with a weekender bag as their carry-on. I, on the other hand, travel with my weekender bag as my personal item. And it has probably increased my carry-on capacity by about 50%.

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Costco Is Switching To Visa In 2016. This Trick Lets You Use Visa Today.


When I first started going to Costco in the early 2000s, I was pretty surprised to learn that they only accepted American Express. I didn’t have one of those fancy cards, so I would give cash to my buddy — who had the membership anyway — and he would put my order on his credit card. (Was this the first manufactured spend?)

Of course, I was still a lonely graduate student at the time, so all I really needed from Costco was a mega-case of toilet paper anyway.

This exclusive relationship between Costco and American Express has lasted for 16 years. That’s why it was a pretty big deal back in March when they announced that they would be switching to Visa in 2016.

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