Sunday, July 28, 2013

Staycation - Hyatt Regency Jersey City

Hotel Stay Detail
Hotel: Hyatt Regency Jersey City 
Dates: July 19-20, 2013 
Rate Paid: 15,000 Hyatt points/night 
Regular Room Rate: $250/night (incl. tax) 
Total $ Benefit: $250 
Point Redemption: 1.7 cents/pt

If you were around the Northeast U.S. two weeks ago, you probably endured one of the hottest stretches of weather in my recent memory (all of 20 months). It repeatedly hit 95-100 degrees almost each day that week. And living in Manhattan, the heat was exacerbated by the fact that all the tall buildings block any breezes from cooling you off. But our apartment building was no escape, because it had those environmentally friendly A/C units that just have an on/off switch. It will just never really get that cold. Well, by that Friday, we had enough and needed a little getaway.

But instead of booking a last minute fare to Iceland (expensive!), we opted instead to find a local hotel with a swimming pool and powerful air conditioning. As regular LCD readers know, my father loves Starwood and wants to earn Platinum status (50 nights), but he was on track to hitting that goal without any additional stays required.

However, since my father was a Hyatt Diamond for 2013, we'd get VIP treatment, free breakfast and internet if we chose a Hyatt hotel instead.

Our Hyatt choices were plentiful in Manhattan: Andaz 5th Avenue, Grand Hyatt 42nd Street, 48 Lex, Hyatt Place 36th Street, Andaz Wall Street and Hyatt Union Square. But unfortunately, none of these NYC Hyatt hotels had a swimming pool. Plus rates were all $250-350 for the night.

However, there was the Hyatt Regency in Jersey City just a PATH train away (in fact the PATH Exchange Place stop is right next to the Hyatt). They had an indoor swimming pool and had regular rooms available for $219/night (+ another $31 in taxes). But of course, my cheap clever father knew he had a large stash of Chase Ultimate Reward points that he could convert instantly into Hyatt Gold Passport Points.

So instead of paying $250, he opted to transfer 15,000 Chase UR points to Hyatt for the award stay. By basic math, he was getting a weak but acceptable 1.7 cents per Chase UR point, but it was better than having our family sweating profusely in our apartment for another 24 hours.

Plus, because he had Diamond status, we would get free breakfast the following morning (which is arguably worth another $10-25 per person). Of course, by using points, he was foregoing 5x points on his stay and another 3x points for charging it to his Chase Hyatt Visa card, but missing out on 1,752 Hyatt Gold Passport points didn't cause us to lose any sleep - especially in a 68 degree air conditioned room!.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Small Business Saturday - Nov 30

I realize it's still 4 months away, but if you're looking to maximize the value of your credit cards, then now is the time to start thinking about Thanksgiving.

Well, to be more specific, thinking about Small Business Saturday ("SBS") which comes after Thanksgiving Thursday.

For those of you who don't know, SBS is a program run by American Express (similar to Black Friday and Cyber Monday) where there are special promotions for shopping at retailers.

What is SBS?
The way it has worked in the past, you go online and register your American Express credit cards. Then if you spend over $25 at a small business (i.e., not a chain retailer/restaurant), then American Express will give you a $25 credit a few days later. So if you spend exactly $25 at your local independent restaurant using your Amex, it will end up 100% free!

How does it actually work?
I'm just a 21 month old toddler without any connections at American Express, so can't confirm the 2013 details with 100% certainty, but here's how it worked last year (November 2012).
  1. On Sunday November 18 (few days before Thanksgiving), they opened the online registration. My father went online that morning and registered each of his American Express cards (Starwood Amex, Hilton Amex, etc). It's unclear if there's a limit on how many people can sign up, but he didn't take any chances so he did it first thing.
  2. During the week, my father looked on Amex's Small Shop Map that listed all the small businesses that qualified for the SBS statement credit, including dry cleaners, independent retailers, small grocery stores, non-chain restaurants, wine shops, etc. Of course, my obsessive super organized father actually scheduled out his Saturday with stores he would visit and which Amex cards he would use to make sure he got full value.
  3. On Thurs November 22, we enjoyed a great Thanksgiving dinner (thanks to pre-ordering from FreshDirect).
  4. On Sat November 24, we spent at least $25 at each of the following places:  Ivory Dry Cleaners ($25), 11AM family dim sum brunch at Golden Unicorn ($50 split across 2 cards), picked up our favorite sandwiches at Defonte's of Brooklyn ($25) to eat later, nice dinner with family friends at Tre Dici ($75 split across 3 cards) and picked up a bottle of red at the local wine shop ($25).
Within 1 week, all 8 Amex cards received $25 statement credits each. $200 of value. Not a bad Saturday.

Why are you telling me now?
But why am I talking about SBS in the middle of July?  Because now is the time to think about applying for a few American Express cards so that you'll have 1 or 2 opportunities before November comes. As you may recall, my parents like to spread their rounds of applications out by about 3 months. So if they applied now (mid-July) for a few cards, then they would apply for their next round in mid-October.  Hopefully between the two rounds, they could get a bunch of American Express cards to use for SBS.

Baby Songer Tip
Yes, you heard correctly, my parents had 8 different American Express cards registered for Small Business Saturday. But we didn't have 8 different American Express card accounts.

Remember, unlike Visa or Mastercard, getting an additional authorized user card (or two) for an American Express account will result in having several unique American Express card numbers - meaning multiple $25 SBS statement credit opportunities.
  • For example, my father's personal Starwood Amex card account also lists my mother and my grandmother as secondary card holders (3 different Amex cards under my father's account). 
  • In addition, my mother's own personal Starwood Amex card (where she is the primary cardholder) also has my father as a secondary authorized user. 
  • Then my mother also has a SPG Business Amex card with another 2 secondary cardholders. So between 3 SPG Amex card accounts, we have 8 unique SPG Amex cards. 8 x $25 = $200 of potential SBS statement credits! 
As you know, we love Starwood's loyalty program, so opening separate multiple accounts allows us to access those 25,000 SPG point sign up bonuses multiple times. Since the first year has the annual fee waived, we cancel old accounts and open new accounts for one of my parents (personal or business) each year. But given my father's account is one of his oldest active accounts, we keep that one open every year and pay the $65 annual fee on it. But with SBS, we can more than offset the annual fee.

OK, other than SPG, what other American Express cards are out there?  
Well, you can obviously check out the dozens of Amex cards available at, but not every card is worth having and I sure don't recommend opening a new card just for $25-50 of SBS statement credits. We only open new cards if they have big sign up bonuses or offer incredible benefits (at least $500 of value). So with that, here are the ones that we have (for now):
  • Starwood Amex (8 cards across 3 accounts, only 1 account has an annual fee this year)
  • Citi American Airlines Amex (1 card, annual fee waived 1st year)
  • Hilton HHonors Amex (4 cards across 2 accounts, no annual fee ever)
  • Platinum Personal Amex (3 cards across 2 accounts, $450 annual fee + $175 for 3 additional users, but you can offset much of the annual fee if you're smart about the benefits)
  • Gold Business Rewards Amex (2 cards across 1 account, annual fee waived 1st year)

That's 18 unique American Express cards, or as my crazy toddler math skills tell me, $450 of potential free spending. The question is though, can we find enough small businesses to spend that much money at on one Saturday?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Flying to Buffalo on Delta

Delta 5993
New York (LGA) – Buffalo (BUF)
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Depart: 6:50AM / Arrive: 8:18AM
Duration: 1hr 28min
Aircraft: Embraer RJ-175
Seat: 9D

By the time you're reading this, my father is likely already landed in Buffalo after his early morning business flight. He found out last night that he'd be traveling for work trip to Western New York for a meeting.

This will be his first Delta flight in quite some time, but the United flight to Buffalo (out of Newark) was about 70% more expensive than Delta. Since it was his company paying for the flight, he couldn't justify it to the Expense Reimbursement powers that be.

However, he made the best of the situation by using his two American Express cards and his Starwood Gold status.

  • With his Business Gold Amex card, he will receive 3x points on the purchase, including the $9 fee for getting an Economy Comfort seat with 50% more recline and 4" more legroom.
  • With his Platinum Amex card, he is able to access both the Delta Lounge at LaGuardia Airport and the US Airways Lounge at Buffalo Airport. 
  • Starwood Hotels has a partnership with Delta called Crossovers where SPG Gold members get 1 SPG point for every $1 spent on eligible Delta flights.
Wait a minute...the US Airways Lounge? Yes, with the Platinum Amex, you can get into any US Airways lounge, even without a US Airways ticket. Besides, it's the only airline lounge at Buffalo Airport.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Aloft Chicago O'Hare

Hotel Stay Detail
Hotel: Aloft Chicago O'Hare
Dates: July 6-7, 2013
Rate Paid: 3,000 SPG points/night 
Regular Room Rate: $134/night (incl. tax) 
Total $ Benefit: $134
Point Redemption: 4.5 cents/pt

Because we had an early 8:56AM flight Sunday morning, my parents decided to stay near the airport Saturday night so they could just hop on the free shuttle in the morning instead of having to return a rental car or have someone drive us.

Since my father's trying to hit 50 nights at Starwood this year to get 2014 Platinum Status, we picked Aloft Chicago O'Hare. If you haven't heard of Aloft Hotels, its a trendy budget hotel brand that's a cross between Starwood's W Hotel and Four Points.

My parents actually stayed here a few years ago before I was born. They liked the hotel a lot then, but it was located further away from our friends in Arlington Heights, so they opted for the Sheraton Suites in Elk Grove Village instead for the first few nights.

Check In
We arrived late around 9PM so we didn't have any time to check out the lobby lounge/bar or the hotel pool, but we definitely loved the high contrast bright colors splashed all over the common areas. I don't know how long the modernist style will last (think those 1970's style motels), but for 2013, it will do just fine.

We were given Room 634 (top floor, a few rooms off the elevator). The room had the exact same layout as the one my parents had in 2010. To say it nicely, it was "an efficient use of space" where the king bed took up most of the room though there was a small desk in the corner. Wifi was free for all guests and the room came with 2 free bottles of water and instant coffee. There didn't seem to be any room for a crib (but we didn't ask for one, and honestly, don't even know if they're offered at Aloft).

The bathroom was set behind the headboard which doubles as shelf space / closet on the other side. The mirror you see besides the sink is actually a door that slides shut when someone uses the shower or potty. Water pressure was excellent, but no tiny bottles of shampoo to take home. It was school bathroom wall pump style.

Sleeping that night was a bit tougher than we thought. The bed was super comfortable and the AC worked perfectly, but all the hallway noise came through the closed door. Being somewhat close to the elevator sounded good when we were carrying our luggage during check in, but it was a drawback when we were trying to sleep. Apparently some of the other guests on the 6th floor had a fun Saturday night out.

Sunday morning, we woke up at 6:30AM and went downstairs by 7:15AM to get on the 7:30AM airport shuttle. We were three of 7 total guests heading to the airport (most of which were airline crew). The ride took only about 5-7 minutes and we were checking in at our United Terminal 1 before we knew it. Note: If you're a United Elite flyer, your Priority check in area is at the far end of the United Terminal instead of at the front end where they drop you off.

Final Thoughts
Overall, Aloft Hotels aren't made for guests who want to spend an extended amount of time in the hotel, but more for people who want a comfortable place to sleep at night at a reasonable price point. They have a few amenities (pool, gym, bar, lounge, and snack area), but no full service restaurant and the staffing at the bar depends on the night. Again, we didn't get to use anything, but it's nice to know it was available.

For us, the Aloft Chicago O'Hare was a fine stay for the price point we paid (3,000 SPG points) - especially since we were getting 625 SPG points for our stay. 125 SPG points back as a Gold Welcome amenity and another 500 SPG points for making our booking using the Starwood iPhone app during their Summer Promotional period, which comes out to 2,375 net SPG points for a free $134 hotel stay (an amazing $0.056 per point redemption).

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Chicago Baby Friends

We made it back to New York Sunday afternoon around 12PM after a short and uneventful flight into Newark.

Since it was a Sunday flight after a long weekend, my father thought about volunteering to get bumped to a later flight for two $150 United coupons ($300 ain't to shabby for a few hours at the airport), but decided we'd rather just get home. Fortunately for us, we got upgraded to first class before boarding started. It was a nice way to end a trip that started so horribly for my father.

But we got to spend a lot of time this weekend with my friends, Jack and Connor. Aside from a stuffed Chicago pizza dinner and hotel swimming on Wednesday night, we had a July 4th backyard BBQ on Thursday...

Then on Friday afternoon, we went downtown and walked down Michigan Avenue to explore Millennium Park and had dinner nearby at Chicago Park Grille.

Then on Saturday, we met up with my new friend Chase (2 years old) and his parents Matt and Casey in the West Town area of downtown Chicago where I learned how to play t-ball and show off my upper body strength.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Park Hyatt Chicago

Hotel Stay Detail
Hotel: Park Hyatt Chicago
Dates: July 5-6, 2013
Rate Paid: 22,000 Gold Passport Points/night
Regular Room Rate: $402/night (incl. tax)
Total $ Benefit: $402
Point Redemption: 1.8 cents/pt

Since we usually stay up in the northwest suburbs when we're in Chicago, my father thought we'd mix it up a bit this time around and spend Friday night downtown at the Park Hyatt.

As you may recall, my father successfully completed the Hyatt Diamond Challenge in March, and we've been reaping the benefits of Diamond status at Park Hyatts for the past several months, including stays at the Park Hyatt Mendoza, the Park Hyatt Buenos Aires and the Park Hyatt Paris Vendôme.

As Diamond members, we've been getting upgrades to better rooms (sometimes suites) even on award stays. In fact, all our Park Hyatt stays have been on points except Mendoza where the prices were much more modest. We also get a Diamond amenity when we check in - either 1,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points or a food & beverage gift (wine/snack).

But the best perk of being a Diamond is that you get free breakfasts for each guest in the room. As you know, breakfasts can get very expensive at luxury hotels. And at Park Hyatts, you can often get your free breakfast served in the room as we did on this stay.

While we didn't get the best $ per point redemption at the Park Hyatt Chicago (less than 2 cents/point), we decided it would be worth it to remind ourselves how amazing a night at a Park Hyatt can be.

Besides, we earned almost 30,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points from my father's May business trips (15 nights at the Hyatt Place Boise during Hyatt's Q2 promotion and charged it to his co-branded Hyatt Visa credit card). So with all those points in my father's account and no real plan to redeem them anytime soon, he decided to use them even if the redemption value wasn't great.

Located in the River North area of Chicago, we pulled up in the taxi around 3PM. Immediately, the Park Hyatt doorman ran up to help us with our luggage. Despite my father's disheveled (sweaty) appearance and my ugly umbrella stroller, they treated us like valued VIP guests. Take some lessons, Park Hyatt Paris!

We were escorted to the front desk where they checked us in with great expedition. We had booked a regular Park King room, but they "upgraded" us to a high floor with a nice view of Lake Michigan.

The room itself was stylish and exceptionally clean, though not too memorable. Aside from the handful of framed black and white Chicago photos on the wall, you couldn't tell if you were in Chicago or Houston or Los Angeles.

However, the king bed was incredibly comfortable and the wifi was free/fast and they had an amazing chair that form fitted around your body. The room also came with a nice glass desk to work from, a 42" flat screen television and automatic blinds/blackout shades.

The bathroom was quite large and immaculate. In addition to the stand up shower, there was a full bathtub that could fit a few kids to double as a swimming pool. If we ever have a house that we can remodel, I'd definitely want the bathrooms to look like Park Hyatt bathrooms.

Once my mother laid down on our bed, she immediately passed out. My father and I wanted to let her take a quick nap before our friends came over, so we went downstairs to the famous 7th floor restaurant/bar NoMi.

My father had his usual vodka on the rocks with a splash of diet coke. All I got was a lime and some bar nuts. But that was OK, because I was saving room for our Diamond Amenity gift later that night, a free chilled bottle of prosecco and a fruit/cheese plate. We love you, Park Hyatt.

Friday, July 5, 2013

My Father's Bad Day

Hopefully, everyone had a great Independence Day yesterday. Mine was pretty great, spending the day with our Chicago friends (local town parade, backyard BBQ and, of course, fireworks).

While July 4th was great for our family, July 3rd was a mess for my father.

Wednesday started out fine. We got to Newark Airport almost 2 hours before our scheduled departure as there was no traffic coming out of Manhattan at 12:30PM.

We went to the Check In desk and checked 1 roller board suitcase and 1 car seat bag. My father made sure they tagged the bag with the right flight information as well as the bright orange Priority Luggage tag.

So with plenty of time before our 3:10PM flight, we went to the United Club Lounge. After a few beers and cheese/crackers, we packed up our things when my father accidentally knocked over his empty beer glass. Despite the floor being carpeted, the glass shattered into a million pieces. A bad omen of things to come.

He quickly picked up the large pieces and informed the bartender about the accident. Realizing there might be children walking around, he asked the woman sitting next to him if she could just watch out for any kids wandering by.

Fortunately, the flight to Chicago O'Hare was uneventful, though I did have a few fussy moments on the 2 hour flight. If the woman sitting in seat 10F is reading this, I'm sorry I kicked your seat.

When we landed, I was pretty hungry and didn't want to eat anything my parents brought me. So we decided to get to the rental car as quickly as possible and find somewhere to get me some food. But first, we needed to pick up our checked luggage. So we sprinted to the baggage claim to retrieve our stuff.

We saw both of our bags come out with the bright orange tags, so my father quickly grabbed them off the belt and we rushed out the door. As soon as we got outside, my father saw the Thrifty Rental Car Shuttle pull up so he ran over (with all our luggage) to get on board while my mother and I followed quickly behind him. We made it! What were the odds that our shuttle was there just as we got outside? That NEVER happens to us! So lucky!

The shuttle driver asked if we had a reservation to which my father proudly nodded, "Yeah, of course." The driver said, "OK good, because they're sold out and don't have any cars available if you didn't make a reservation." My father thought smugly to himself, "Sucks for those people."

But then about 10 minutes into the shuttle ride, my father gets a call.  "Hi, this is a bit awkward, but is there any chance you have our car seat bag? Because we see yours here at the baggage claim and it looks very similar..."

Upon checking, my father realizes that he had indeed taken the wrong car seat bag.

My father apologized profusely, "I'm so sorry! We're still nearby, on our way to Thrifty to pick up our rental car. It's my fault, so I will bring it over to you at Hertz." (Ever notice that you only use the word "profusely" for apologizing and sweating?)

So we finally get to Thrifty and despite my father being a Thrifty Blue Chip member, everyone else on the shuttle was able to get in front of him on line. He noticed there was a dedicated Blue Chip member line so he went there and waited. But after the counter agent finished with her customer, she called up the next customer from the regular line while my father waited.

Still embarrassed from taking the wrong bag, my father started to get a bit more stressed as he knew he would be furious if he were on the other side. So he sternly questioned, "Excuse me, what's the point of the Blue Chip line?"  The counter agent apologized but continued to work with the regular customer.

Frustrated, he went to his blackberry to make note never to rent from Thrifty again, when he saw that his car rental reservation was actually NOT at Thrifty. It was at Dollar Car Rental! Uh oh!

My father couldn't tell, but I'm pretty sure the counter agent rolled her eyes and smiled quietly at my father's misfortune.

Desperate, my father threw out a Hail Mary pass, "Aren't Thrifty and Dollar the same company? Can I pick up a car here if I have Dollar reservation?"


"So how can I get to Dollar from here?"

"Well, you'll have to get on the shuttle back to the airport." Great, just great.

So now we had to wait at Thrifty (A) to get back to O'Hare Airport Terminal (B) then get the shuttle to the Dollar Rental Car (C). My father then called the other family back and explained that he was on his way back to the airport and that he would meet them at Hertz as soon as he could. He decided not to sound like an even bigger moron than they already assumed him to be so he said that Thrifty "lost his reservation" and that he had to go back to the Airport to get on the Hertz shuttle.

Looking at the map, Hertz was actually "close" to Dollar, but there wasn't a pedestrian walkway along the road. So my parents agreed to split up. My father would go on the Hertz Shuttle (with all our luggage) and my mother would take me on the Dollar Shuttle to wait for my father.

He imagined how infuriated he would have been if someone took our car seat, forcing us to wait an extra hour at the airport. Given his East Coast upbringing, such a long delay from getting to your destination was absolutely unacceptable. My father was so embarrassed and a bit nervous that he would get yelled at. He took some comfort in the fact that the victim family had a 609 cell phone area code (Chicago suburb) and not a 917 area code (Manhattan).

After getting to Hertz, he found the family of 4 (with 2 young boys) and apologized yet again. They were surprisingly nice about the mistake and were just happy to get their stuff back. They politely comforted him, "It's OK. You seem to be having a worse day."

After getting our car seat back in return, he asked the Hertz shuttle driver if there was any way someone could drive him to the Dollar down the road. Nope.

So off he went, sweating profusely, with 1 rollerboard, 1 laptop bag and 1 car seat bag, down the road. As he was halfway between Hertz and Dollar, the shuttle that my mother and I were on passed him on the road. But he didn't see us because his head was faced down in shame.

Next time, we'll just rent our car from Fisher Price.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Amex Points to the Rescue

My aunt is one of my favorite people. While my father is always teaching me things and my mother is always disciplining me, my aunt has always been the fun person in my family.

So when she was trying to use her American Express points to fly first class to Hawaii this week for her and her boyfriend, I was happy to help.

Fortunately, she found award availability on Hawaiian Airlines for her desired dates (80,000 Hawaiian miles / person for a 10 hour non-stop flight in first class from JFK to Maui, which is a redemption of $0.035 per Hawaiian mile).

Fortunately, she had more than enough Amex Membership Reward points which could be transferred to Hawaiian Airlines to redeem them for the free flights ... if she had the Reward Amex card. So she called Hawaiian Airlines and put the award reservation on hold for a week while she would transfer her Amex MR points to Hawaiian Miles.

Unfortunately, she had closed her Rewards Amex card earlier this year and only had a no-fee Amex card. So now, she could only use her points to get statement credits ($0.01 per point). Boooo!

She immediately applied for a new Rewards Amex card so that she would be able to transfer her Amex MR points to Hawaiian Airlines. Even though she was approved immediately online, it was going to take a few days for the card to come in the mail and be activated. And her award reservation hold was going to expire soon, and the cash price was just too much to pay out of pocket for.

When I heard about this situation, I immediately got my father involved. This was June 25 for a flight departing on July 3.

As a result of his January Amex Platinum card (100,000 point sign up bonus) and his May Business Gold card (75,000 point sign up bonus), he had more than enough to transfer over to my aunt's Hawaiian Airlines account.

Also, American Express was running a special promotion where they would give you 20% extra Hawaiian miles for every 1,000 Amex MR points transferred to Hawaiian Airlines. So instead of having to transfer 160,000 Amex MR points, he only had to transfer 134,000 MR points (a great redemption of $0.043 per Amex MR point).

My father went online and linked his American Express MR account to my aunt's Hawaiian Airline account*. The website said that it would take Hawaiian Airlines up to 2 weeks to approve and process the link. That wouldn't work.

Never taking no for an answer, my father called American Express and explained the situation. The super helpful Amex phone rep did his magic and expedited the link approval process immediately. He then asked my father if he would like to make a transfer over the phone. So instead of waiting 2 weeks, he transferred 134,000 Amex MR points to 160,800 Hawaiian miles on a 5 minute phone call.

My aunt then called Hawaiian Airlines and redeemed her new miles to confirm the award booking.

July 4th Disaster averted! Enjoy Hawaii, Auntie!

* It's unclear if American Express MR transfers into other people's frequent flyer accounts is officially allowed, but American Express seems to allow it. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Mother's Credit Card Update

As you may recall from a few weeks ago, my mother had her round of credit card applications (known in the community as an "App-o-rama" or "Credit Card Churn") where she applied for 4 new cards and negotiated a retention offer for a card she was going to close before the annual fee hit.

In case you're too lazy to click on the link above, here's a quick recap:

New Card Applications
  • Chase Ink Bold (Business Card) - $95 annual fee but waived the 1st year; 60,000 Chase UR points after spending $5,000; 5x on telecom, office supply spend; 2x on gas stations and hotels (Marriage Card) 
  • American Express Starwood (Business Card) - $65 annual fee but waived the 1st year;  25,000 SPG points after spending $5,000; 2x on Starwood hotel spend; 5% OPEN Savings at select merchants (One Night Stand Card) 
  • Citi Thank You Preferred - No annual fee; 15,000 Thank You points after spending $1,000 (One Night Stand Card) 
  • Discover IT - No annual fee; rotating 5% cash back categories every quarter (Booty Call Card)
Cards to Close/Retain
  • Citi Thank You Premier - $125 annual fee; allows you to use Thank You Points at 1.33 cents/pt for airline redemptions 
  • Chase United MileagePlus Explorer - $95 annual fee; provides primary insurance for car rental; United Airline benefits (free checked bag, priority security and boarding, 2 annual United Club Lounge passes)
Approval Update

I'm happy to report that my mother went 4-for-4 on the New Cards (after calling the Chase Automated Application Status Line) and negotiated a partial $75 statement credit to keep her Citi Thank You Premier card after spending $1,000 in 3 months.

While we didn't have to close our Chase United MileagePlus Explorer card, we will do that anyway to avoid paying the annual fee. Since my parents both have elite status with United (Platinum and Silver), we didn't need most of the card's airline benefits.

Hitting Minimum Spend

Now, we have $12,000 to spend to hit our requirements to earn the sign up bonuses (100,000 points + $75 statement credit). Here's how we're going to do it without overspending.
  • Chase Ink Bold - $3,000 via Amazon Payments in August, $1,200 in July & August donations to our favorite charities over the next 2 months, $800 in regular spend (groceries, diapers, metrocards)
  • American Express Starwood - $3,000 via Amazon Payments in July, $600 in June donations, $1,000 using Vanilla Reload cards, $400 in regular spend
  • Citi Thank You Preferred - $1,000 via Amazon Payments in August
  • Discover IT - no minimum spend required
  • Citi Thank You Premier - $1,000 using Vanilla Reload Cards 
In case you're not familiar with Amazon Payments or Vanilla Reloads, you can click the links for a great overview on each.

Amazon Payments:  Million Mile Secrets - Fast-Track Your Credit Card Sign-Up Bonus (July 7, 2011)

Vanilla Reloads:  Frequent Miler - Bluebird Takes Flight (October 16, 2012)

Travel Update

So as we approach the 4th of July, you can bet we're going somewhere. This time around, we're off to Chicago to visit my new friend Connor who was born about 2 months ago.

We'll be flying United (LGA-ORD) and staying at a combination of the Sheraton Elk Grove Village (Starwood), Park Hyatt Chicago (Hyatt) and Aloft O'Hare (Starwood).

So expect a few more daily blog updates over the next week or so as we're back on the road for the 4th!