Eurotrip 2013: Part 1 – How I am taking my Dad to Ireland, Scotland, and Wimbledon in London in Business Class for $137!

wimbledon court

This is the first post in a series about my 2013 trip to Ireland, Scotland and Great Britain. Part of the free plane tickets were funded by the 40,000 point sign up bonus of the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

My Dad loves tennis.  Like really loves it.  Like he Tivos two different tennis matches while he watches a third.  He watches the tennis channel.  Back around Christmas time, I was trying to come up with an over the top gift for him and I was trying to think of a trip we could take together.  As I watched him watch recorded tennis matches, I thought about how he had never been to Wimbledon in London, which I consider to be the most epic tennis tournament each year. He is also an avid golfer and I knew that some of the best and oldest courses in the world were in Scotland including the famous St. Andrews. He is also a history and genealogy buff and I knew that my ancestors the Butlers lived in Kilkenny Castle in Ireland for 600 years.  On a selfish note, I had been to London several times, but had always wanted to visit Ireland and Scotland.

kilkenny castle

So my plan was hatched: For Christmas, I would give him a trip to Ireland, Scotland and Wimbledon!  Since Wimbledon was in the last part of June / early July, I had time to get the flights in business class.  I knew that I could use my 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points I received from my Chase Sapphire Preferred card as an annual bonus along with some of the 264,000 points I got by shopping with Sears to go round trip to Europe for 100,000 miles on United (and other Star Alliance carriers). I checked some flight times and printed out a sample itinerary which I presented to him on Christmas day.  I was waiting to book it just in case there was a problem with the dates or anything.

He was thrilled but I didn’t end up trying to book it until mid March.  Once I started looking using United’s Award Seat system the frequent flyer tickets quickly started disappearing daily! Since I was leaving from Miami and him from Nashville, I knew we would probably have to meet from one of the gateway cities such as New York or Charlotte for the trip across the pond.  I found some flights on US air, but when I researched their business class seats on the plane available, I saw that they were not the fully flat which makes it hard to get any good rest (you end up feeling like you slept in a lazy boy chair).  I searched many alternate routes and ended up finding some business seats on Brussels Airlines on the way there and on Lufthansa on the way back.

The main trip was for 7 nights in Ireland, 4 nights in Scotland and 4 nights in London.  This would allow us enough time to tour the Irish countryside, see the ring of Kerry and the castle where the Butlers lived, play a couple of rounds of golf at some famous Irish and Scottish courses and fully experience Wimbledon in London.  I was able to include an overnight in New York, an all day layover in Brussels, an overnight in Frankfurt, and a free one way in first class to San Diego in the winter.  These are sort of complicated topics so I will write additional articles about them, but I ended up quite pleased with how the trip worked out.

BNA-DUB

And the cost for this amazing trip?  100,000 united miles and $137! I used my Business Gold Rewards from American Express to pay for the $137 since I get triple miles on airfare charges.  I have a feeling the memories we are going to create will be priceless!  And we just so happen to leave the day after Father’s Day so it will be even more special. Why don’t you get started today so you can surprise someone you love with something amazing!  I can help!

How I am going to Detroit Electronic Music Festival (DEMF) for $10!

Movement DEMF

Back in February, I wrote about the air fare sale Southwest was having.  Since that sale applied to both points and cash fares, I decided to look for tickets to DEMF over Memorial Day. I think DEMF is the best techno music festival in the US each year and have gone the last two years and had a great time.  I still have oodles of Southwest Rapid Reward points after my online shopping extravaganza. I found some great flights with only one stop for 12,780 rapid rewards points total!

swa-fll-dtw

 

So with just a few clicks my seat was reserved for 12,780 points and $10 in airport security fees!  Since Southwest doesn’t charge any change fees or cancellation fees there was no reason not to book my flight then and if the price in points dropped, I could simply make the changes and get the extra points back in my account.  As of today, the exact same flights would be 13,500 points so a little bit higher but that is still an awesome value.

Making a great deal even sweeter with the companion pass.

To make this deal even sweeter, since I qualified for the companion pass last year by online shopping at Sears, I am able to add another person on the same flights with me for free!  I do have to pay the airport security fees, but no additional cash or points.  This means I can take a friend with me for only $10!

But what if I have no Rapid Reward points?

Let’s get some fast with credit card signups!  You can start with the Rapid Rewards Visa that gives you 50,000 RR points after you spend $2000.  Or since you can transfer Ultimate Rewards points to Southwest, get the awesome Chase Sapphire Preferred card with a 40,000 point bonus after you spend $3,000.

How I am going to Inti Fest in Peru in Business Class for only $65!

inti fest crowd

 

This is the first post in a series about my trip to Inti Fest 2013 in Peru.

For the last two years, my friend Diego has been trying to convince me to come to Asia Beach in Peru for the largest music festival in that country.  He is the type of guy that when he says “Trust me, it will be an amazing time”, he really means it.  As a festival that is described as “an ecological and cultural electronic music festival that celebrates music, appreciation of Peruvian culture and the environment,” it certainly sounded interesting.  Plus being able to get some of the best ceviche in the world while I was there didn’t hurt! I have been to Peru twice before and had explored Lima and Machu Picchu, but had never made it to the Asia Beach area one hour south of Lima where my friends from Miami claimed the great beach parties were. The DJ lineup for this festival was pretty nice as well.

Inti Fest Lineup 2013

But as those who know me would say, I only like doing things when I get a deal so when I looked around at the Wandering Aramean’s page to compare different frequent flyer options I saw that one of my favorites, British Airways was the best choice with a rate of 50,000 Avios points for business class.  Since it is almost a 5+ hour flight from Miami, I definitely wanted business class if possible.  United Airlines was a hefty 20,000 miles more so I wanted to get the flight with Avios if possible.  Remember that you can book using Avios on any Oneworld carrier which means that I could use them for American Airlines and LAN Peru flights, both of which service this route.

The problem was, as happens often, was that there was no availability when I went to book around a month before!  However, I know if you can be flexible, the airlines often release more frequent flyer seats when it gets close to the travel dates.  It is better to put a frequent flyer in a seat than have it go empty. So I actually thought I wasn’t going to be able to go, but I kept checking periodically to see if they released any seats.  Low and behold, as I checked a week before the festival, I saw a bunch of seats pop up.  But the only ones that worked to attend the festival were leaving a little bit earlier than I had planned, just three days from when I saw them! But if you have some flexibility then these last minute trips can be some of the most rewarding.  When I checked on British Airways site, this is what I found!

Miami to Lima using British Airways Miles for Int Fest Peru

 

So for 50,000 Avios Points plus $65, I was on my way! I still had a few Avios left over from my 100,000 Visa I got with them, but transferred some from the 264,000 I got into my Ultimate Rewards Sears shopping adventure. And just like that, I was booked!  Awesome music, great ceviche, seeing a part of Peru I have never seen before, and spending time with friends: what can be better than that?

How I am going to the BPM Festival in Mexico in business class for $70

bpm festival

One of the best music festivals in the world each year is the BPM Festival in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico.  The Sacbe party in the jungle was regarded by many as one of the best parties of the year. I just booked my flight there for $70 in business class.  Here is how:

I took advantage of the 100,000 Mile British Airways offer last year and used some of those miles to go to Machu Picchu, Easter Island, and Santiago, Chile back in April. Since British Airways uses a distance based chart for their awards, short distances can be a huge value when redeeming miles. Here is their Avios redemption chart:

Avios Award ChartSince Cancun is only 531 miles in the air from Miami, that means that it is only 9000 miles round trip in economy or 18000 round trip in business class!  I went onto the British Airways site and searched availability during the festival dates and found that seats were available in business class. Score!

BPMAviosThis meant for 18,000 Avios miles and $70, I could go to BPM! I wanted to see what the value of these miles were so I priced out the exact same ticket on Kayak and came up with $739.

BPMCashThis gave me a redemption value of $739 / 18000 = $0.04 per Avios point, which I thought was a good value.  Since it is only a 2 hour flight, I actually probably would have booked the economy for 9000 if it was available, but it wasn’t on the dates I needed.

Avios can be some of the best values for short haul flights around the world because many times the airlines gouge you on pricing. If you want to check how many Avios it requires to get to different city pairs, check out this nice “How Many Avios do I Need” page on BA’s site. Another useful tool is the GCMap.com where you can find out the distance between two cities or view a map of everything within a certain distance of a city. Here is a map of 650 miles from Miami.

Miami 650 Mile MapSo anywhere within that circle would be only 9000 Avios round trip in Economy! Since British Airways is a transfer partner of both Membership Rewards and Ultimate Rewards, that means you can also get Avios from your Chase Ink Bold or Chase Sapphire Preferred cards or your American Express Business Gold Rewards we have written about in the past.

British Airways miles can be very valuable if used correctly and if you don’t have some, you should get some so you can come travel with me! As always feel free to comment with any questions.

 

 

How I am going to the Ibiza closing parties and the Amsterdam Dance Event in business class for $239!

This article is the first in a series on my month long trip to Ibiza for the closing parties and Amsterdam for the Amsterdam Dance Event.

  1. How I am going to the Ibiza closing parties and Amsterdam Dance Event in business class for $239
  2. Ibiza Here I come!
  3. Arrival in Ibiza – SIM cards, hotels and my first night of clubbing
  4. Ibiza Closing Parties: Luciano & Friends, Hot Natured, Marco Carola Music On
  5. Ibiza Closing Parties: Vagabundos at Pacha, Circo Loco at DC-10, Cocoon Heroes Closing at Amnesia
  6. Ibiza Closing Parties: Ovum Closing at Space, Cafe Del Mar, and r:piar:r Closing at Privilege
  7. Ibiza Closing Parties: Space Closing Party and Circo Loco Closing Party

It started simply enough, with a Facebook message four days ago from my best friend Andres:

“dude lets go to the ibiza closing parties!!! smile….wat u think about that?? and after that u can come for the Amsterdam dance event in october here in netherlands….awakenings festivals and more!!! like wmc but in amsterdam!!”

The reason I love points and miles is because 1) I love to travel and 2) It gives you flexibility to plan last minute vacations that would otherwise be priced out of reach.  While I spend a ton of time on this site discussing ways to accumulate massive amounts of points (such as the Easy Quarter Million, my 189,000+ point Sears shopping Spree, and 100,000 Club Carlson Points Bonanza), the main reason I do this is to spend the points on free travel! My Ultimate Rewards balance had gotten to well over 500,000 points due in part to the Chase Sapphire Preferred sign up bonus of 50,000 (now 40,000) and the Chase Ink Bold sign up bonus of 50,000.  This meant I could plan a trip without making too big of a dent in my war chest.  In addition, since points tend to devalue over time, it is a good idea to use them before the programs nerf the rewards.

My first stop was the great Frequent Flyer Redemption Options of the Wandering Aramean .  This page allows you to input city pairs and find out which programs require the fewest miles.  When I entered MIA to IBZ, I saw totals of 80,000 to 215,000 for business class.

Another of the reasons I love the frequent flyer game is it allows you to travel in style in business class instead of cramped in coach for long flights.  As a general rule, I try to fly anything over 3 hours in business class if possible.  While JAL had the best rate at 80,000 (for Oneworld partner flights), there wasn’t much availability on the dates I needed.  And ANA had the same 80,000 rate and had good availability, but they charge high fuel surcharges for European carrier redemptions. Since the award availability was there on Star Alliance (which ANA is part of), I looked to United Airlines which is also part of Star Alliance.  Even better, they are an Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, and don’t charge any fuel surcharges. Score!

An additional benefit of United is they offer one free stopover and two open jaws on roundtrip tickets.  If this sounds like Greek to you, you are not alone! But what that means is you can stop along your route once for as long as you like, then continue to your final destination (a “stopover”).  An open jaw means you could land in one city and take off in another (example, fly to London, then take the chunnel over to Paris, then fly back home from there).  In my case, I wanted to go to both Ibiza and Amsterdam, so the free stopover would work perfectly!  Amsterdam would be my final destination and Ibiza would be my stopover since it is “sort of” on the way in a normal routing.  I actually booked the whole thing through Barcelona instead because Ibiza wasn’t showing availability and will pick up a cheap $100 flight from Barcelona to Ibiza.  And I could do this whole trip for 100,000 MileagePlus miles in business class!

I’m going to do a separate article about how to book stopovers on United, but the end results of my work was:

So for 100,000 miles and $239, I would be booked!  You can see that this business class flight would have cost $12,918 if I had paid cash for it!(not that I would ever pay that much)  That gives me a cash/point value of 12 cents per mile!  Awesome!  I had to call in to get them to change the last flight to a flight an hour later that had business class availability. For some reason, it wasn’t showing up online when I booked the whole itinerary, but it showed up when I tried to book a one way flight from EWR to FLL on those dates.

But as you can see, I only had 1026 miles in my United account. Ultimate Rewards to the rescue!  I logged onto my Chase Ink Bold account, and transferred 99,000 points over to United Mileageplus that were available more or less immediately.

I was then able to book the whole thing.  I did have to pay $75 more than I could have since I was booking less than 21 days from  the date of departure(included in the $239). I used my Amex Business Gold Rewards card to get 3X Membership Rewards points on airfare, so I will be 717 miles closer to my next trip!

There are really too many big names to list that will be both in Ibiza and Amsterdam, such as Ricardo Villalobos, Loco Dice, Luciano, Jamie Jones, Seth Troxler and many more.  But if you want the full list check out this link for Ibiza and this link for Amsterdam.

And as always I will blog and post pics and videos of the trip for your reading pleasure. Well, that’s it for now, off to plan some hotels!

How I’m going to Get Lost LA and Burning Man for $12.50.

One of the great things about acquiring points and miles is that you can plan last minute trips that would normally be too expensive otherwise.  One of the top global parties every year is Burning Man which takes place in the middle of the desert in Nevada in the week leading up to each Labor Day.  Imagine you and 50,000 of your closest friends coming for a week and creating a city of art, music and memories.  The ideas of sustainability and “Leaving no Trace” are central to the festival and the idea is you take away whatever you bring so the desert (playa) is left exactly as it was when you found it.   I have been wanting to go for many years and decided that this was my year! This is just the lineup from one of the many parties at burning man this year.

Luck had it that immediately before Burning Man was another amazing party called Get Lost in Los Angeles.  The Get Lost parties during Winter Music Conference in Miami are some of the most talked about every year and the music and artists are amazing.

I decided to see if I could plan a trip to do both parties, first Get Lost in LA then Burning Man.  If I could get a good deal on the plane tickets which is often the biggest hurdle for most people then I could get the experience of a lifetime on a small budget.

Since I had oodles of Southwest Points that I got by buying and selling Sears merchandise, I wanted to see if I could use those to make it happen.  When I looked around, I was surprised to see some really reasonable point values still available.  Long story short this is what I was able to find.

So for almost 26,000 points and $12.50 I had my tickets!  Since Southwest uses a fixed ratio of 60 points per dollar for Wanna Get Away fares, this gave me a value of $433 for those points.  I am staying with some friends in LA and at Burning Man so there will be some other expenses, but when you can get the flights for free, it makes it much easier to make the other ends meet.

While that great Sears offer I took advantage previously isn’t available any more, what IS available is a 50,000 offer for the Chase Rapid Rewards card.  Spending just 1000 in 3 months will get you the 50,000 points which is enough for 2 incredible trips (or more) like I just booked!  I really don’t know why people pay for flights when it is so easy to get them for free.  Get on board and join me traveling around this amazing world of ours!