Saturday, July 25, 2015

My First Mets Game

My parents are Yankees fans, especially now since there's a Korean rookie on the team, but last night, we took advantage of some cheap tickets for the Mets vs. Dodgers game.

Our seats weren't that great (upper, upper deck in far right field), but for less than $20 each, that's a great deal for major league baseball in New York City. Since they were so affordable, we decided to bring my grandmother too.

We decided to take the 7 Train out to Citi Field so that we'd arrive just before the first pitch. Tip: Definitely wait for the Express 7 Train as it's a lot faster than the local 7.

We entered around 6:45PM, so we had some time to visit the Mets Museum and the Team Store where I posed for a few pictures with a Mr. Met statue.

We then went over to the food court area out by center field. We skipped the Shake Shack and Blue Smoke options and went instead for the Pat LeFrieda Meatball sandwich ($14).

Our seats were in the upper deck and facing the setting sun, so we decided to take our time enjoying Citi Field and its amenities before taking our seats. I was able to take a few swings at the Kids ballpark near the food court.

Then we found a hidden little snack that was pretty unique in all our travels. Bacon on a stick by Pig Guy NYC. Not the cheapest bacon out there, but absolutely delicious.  We went with the Salted Caramel ($8.50).

Finally, we took our seats in Section 502, Row 11. While the baseball game was nice to watch, spending time with your family on a beautiful summer night was the real experience.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Hyatt Anniversary Staycation

My parents are the lame type that always hug and kiss each other (and me) in public. I'm pretty sure I'm going to find that embarrassing as I get older, but I'll put up with it for now.

Later this month, the love birds will have their wedding anniversary, so my father is looking for ways to make it special.

However, we're not looking to travel like we did last year (Italy & Greece), so my father decided to enjoy our hometown New York City as if they were visitors (and have my grandmother come in to babysit me for 24 hours).

Since we were burning through our beloved Starwood points pretty quickly, we decided to save our SPG points and burn some Hyatt points instead. Fortunately, we had a friend who had both (a) Hyatt top tier Diamond status and (b) the Hyatt Visa Credit card that offered 20% rebate for points bookings through July 31st.

We were fortunate enough to have already visited the Park Hyatt New York a few months ago as well as the Andaz Wall Street a few years ago. So for this time, we decided on the Andaz 5th Avenue right by Bryant Park.

Clearly, it's a bit odd to stay at a hotel in your own city (especially if it's just 10 minutes away by taxi), but my parents think it's better to do a fun staycation locally rather than spend time/money traveling to most cities in the United States. I mean, with all due respect to Atlanta, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Denver...they're no Manhattan.

It also helps justify getting a hotel in your own city when you have a stash of Hyatt Gold Passport points, or Chase Ultimate Reward points in this case. My parents were able to save $339 for the room ($293 base rate + $46 taxes) by using our Chase UR points.

Our friend has to book the hotel using 25,000 Hyatt points, but will then get a 20% rebate (or 5,000 points) because of the special promotion mentioned above.

Since she made the reservation, my parents will get to enjoy top tier elite status benefits, including room upgrade, late checkout and free breakfast.

But how to pay our friend back for the net 20,000 Hyatt points she redeemed?

Well Hyatt Gold Passport is a very generous loyalty program, because it allows any member to freely transfer points to any other member. By comparison, Starwood only allows free transfers only to members with the same household address. Hilton allows transfers but charges $25 cash for every 10,000 points transferred.

For Hyatt, you just need to fill out this form and email it into Hyatt with the signatures of both the donor and recipient parties.

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Flight Deal Good Fortune

The Flight Deal is an amazing website/blog that posts great opportunities to travel very cheap. For example, they were the ones that told us about the $400 flights to Buenos Aires that we took in 2013 and the $400 flights to Tel Aviv that we booked (but ultimately had to cancel).

Because their search algorithm finds such amazing fares, my father has it on his Feedly Blog Reader. He's constantly checking for deals on flights that might be of interest to our family because if a deal appears, you have to quickly pull the trigger before the window shuts.

Around 11PM on Thursday night, they posted a deal for cheap flights between NYC and Chicago.

As it turned out, we were planning to visit our friends in Chicago later this fall, so we took the Flight Deal post as an omen. After searching on Google Flights, we found a great weekend fare for just $189/person. While not as amazing as the $166 fares marketed by The Flight Deal, those flights were for mid-week departures which made it tougher for my family due to work/school schedules. Normally, flights between NYC-Chicago usually go for $250-350/person, so this was a steal.

Citi Thank You Points
Plus, we had another opportunity to get these flights for FREE. Because we had about 165,000 Citi Thank You points, we were much better off using these points instead of cash.

Each Citi Thank You point is worth 1.0 cent usually, but since my mother had the mid-level Citi Thank You Premier credit card ($95 annual fee), we could redeem them at 1.25 cents each instead. So for the 3 of us in my family, we had the following payment options:

A. $568 in cash ($189/each)
B. $568 in United credit (which we bought for just $473 thanks to American Express)
C. 56,760 Citi Thank You Points (if we didn't have the Premier card)
D. 45,408 Citi Thank You Points (because we had the Premier card)

Clearly, we went with Option D and saved 11,352 Thank You points and saved the money/credit for another day.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Points and Mile Totals

Some of my classmates at pre-school have been asking me lately how many points and miles we have. I generally just say "this much" as I stretch out my hands, but in the interest of transparency, I'm willing to share our family totals to all 3 loyal readers of Lap Child Diaries.

American AAdvantage - 600,000 miles
United MileagePlus - 400,000 miles
British Airways Avios - 215,000 miles
Aegean Airlines - 60,000 miles

IHG Rewards Club - 113,000 points
Hilton HHonors - 104,000 points
Starwood SPG - 102,000 points
Club Carlson - 18,000 points
Hyatt Gold Passport- 600 points

Bank Rewards
Chase Ultimate Rewards - 392,000 points
Citi Thank You Points - 165,000 points

Now clearly, there are families (and even individuals) out there that have 1,000x more than we do, so we're really not trying to show off. We're just answering a question we get often, and there's no shame/pride here.

The truth is that these points and miles will only decrease in value over time. Programs "devalue" their points from time to time by increasing the prices for award redemptions, so we recommend not hoarding these rebate currencies. Cash you can save, but with loyalty points and miles, you should "earn and burn" as quickly as possible!

Any good redemption ideas for us?

Monday, July 13, 2015

Amex Offers - Free $50 on Airlines Spend $300 or more, get $50 back

American Express is one of our favorite credit card companies. In addition to having some great points-earning cards, such as the co-branded Starwood credit card, they have wonderful and frequent offers (such as Small Business Saturday) that can save you significant money that more than compensates for the $95 annual fee.

Earlier today, my father was on his Amex online account, looking at the various Amex Offers his cards were available for.

As it turned out, there were a few that were of interest to our family, including one that was on both my father and mother's Starwood Amex accounts.
Save On Your Air Travel Purchase - Spend $300 or more, get $50 back
Details. Get a one-time $50 statement credit by using your enrolled Card to spend a total of $300 or more on purchases made directly with any airline by 9/15/15. See terms and conditions for details and exclusions. 
But before we clicked to add the great offer, we first opened up different web browsers for each of our Amex cards that had this offer. This way, we could sign up for the offer on each of the cards. Otherwise, it will only go to the first card you sign up.

Immediately, we received the confirmation email from Amex Offers. However, given we just booked a flight for Phoenix in October, we weren't sure if we'd have another flight to purchase before 9/15/15.

But of course, my father had another trick up his sleeve.

So instead of buying a flight before we were ready, we locked in the $50 savings by going onto United Airlines Gift Registry and contributing $300 to my father's Registry.

That meant our Amex card would be immediately charged the $300 required to trigger the $50 statement credit without having to book a non-refundable flight right now. The $300 of Gift Registry balance is basically credit towards for future United flights - which in my family are as good as cash. Soon thereafter, my father received the Congrats email.

Since we have the same offer on 2 of my parents' other American Express cards, we can save another $100 for making another $600 of Gift Registry contributions. But we'll wait a few days until after the first $50 statement credit safely hits my father's Starwood Amex account.

UPDATE 7/16/15 - The statement credit just posted on my father's American Express account.

Warning - Clearly, I would not encourage anyone to speculatively spend $900 to save $150. My parents are willing to take the risk, because we know we have a flight to Israel each year. Let's just say those tickets cost more than $300/person.

Besides, we actually were planning on visiting our friends in Chicago later this summer. The timing works out well.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Retention Check In

It's actually been a (relatively) long time since we applied for new credit cards. Instead, we've been focused on maximizing earnings with the credit cards we already have.

But our current Extra 2x Citi Thank You promotion was coming to an end on July 31st. So we decided to stir up the pot and see if we could get another one.

Attempt #1
My father called the phone number on the back of his Citi Thank You Premier card. Even thought we paid the $95 annual fee in April, we haven't used the card since earning our Year 2 bonus.

My father: "Hi, I'm not sure we're using this card anymore. Are there any incentives for me to use it more on purchases?"

CSR:  "I'm sorry, sir, but I just don't have anything available for you. You should call back in 6 months."

My father: "OK, then can you check on my other Citi cards as well?"

According to her, there were no offers available from the representative.

That could have been the end of the story, but you know my father loves the HUCA (Hang Up Call Again) tactic.

Attempt #2
A few minutes later, we called back and this time, my father changed his approach.

My father:  "Hi, I'm not sure continuing to pay the annual fee on this card is something I want to do. I'd like to cancel the card."

CSR: "OK, I can help you with that. Please hold while I transfer you to a specialist."

Specialist:  "You've been a loyal customer of ours since 2013. I may have an offer that you want to consider..."

They offered my father (i) a $95 statement credit and (ii) 1,000 extra Thank You Points for spending $1,000 each month for 3 months.

Of course, he asked if there were other offers. He was given a slightly different one where he would get just a $95 statement credit if he spent $3,000 within 3 months. The first offer was better, even if it was a little more complicated to execute. But if you know my father, he loves these kinds of puzzles.

Before hanging up, my father then inquired from the Specialist if she could check his other Citi credit cards for other offers and promotions.

Low and behold...

Specialist:  "Well, it looks like there are 4 offers you're eligible for..."
  1. 10,000 Thank You points for spending $3,000 in 6 months
  2. 15,000 Thank You points for spending $4,500 in 6 months
  3. 7,500 Thank You points for spending $1,000 in 3 months
  4. An extra 2x on your spending for next 6 months up to 35,000 bonus points
So of course, my father picked #4.

Never take "No" for an answer with credit card companies. While the first line of Consumer Service Reps may not be authorized to make any offers to retain you, so sometimes you have to HUCA and get to a Specialist by saying those magic little words..."I"d like to cancel."

Friday, July 10, 2015

Beware of Fare Classes

I guess we all make mistakes. After going through a complicated analysis to find the perfect Phoenix flight itinerary to allow me to get my first United Silver elite status, it turns out I'll still miss out.

The other month, we flew back from Israel via Europe. We booked a connecting flight because it saved us a lot of money, but we had the choice of stopping in either (a) Brussels, Belgium or (b) Zurich, Switzerland.

We had already been to Zurich before (also on a 1 day stopover), so my father thought it would be fun to visit a different city together, even if it was for a short over night stopover. Plus there was a very convenient Starwood Sheraton hotel connected to the Brussels Airport.

However, not all flights earn miles equally.  Since we were flying on Brussels Airlines in Fare Class T (a deep discount economy fare), it only earned us 50% Elite Qualifying Miles with United Airlines.

So that 2,022 mile Brussels Airlines flight from Tel Aviv to Brussels only earned us 1,011 EQM. That really threw off our calculations!

Had we chosen to stop in Zurich instead, however, we would have flown Swiss Air and their T Fare Class would have earned the full 100% mileage credit!

That meant that because we innocently chose Brussels over Zurich, both my mother and I will fall short of the 25,000 EQM we need for United Silver elite status.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

United Airlines Pricing Tricks

While some people like using third party online agencies such as Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, etc to book their flights, my family prefers to book directly on the airline's own website.

Should any issue arise with the flights, we can go directly to the airline to fix the problem. If we went through Orbitz, we'd have to call Orbitz to have them contact the airline. Since the prices are the same (ignoring shopping portals), it's not in our interest to have a middleman involved.

So when we went to book our flight to Phoenix for Columbus Day Weekend, we went directly to and input our flight details. But in addition to having a direct channel to United for any flight issues, we also had a small (tiny) benefit from being members of Club. Club
We signed up for the Club earlier this year. This Club is not the same thing as the United Club (Lounges). The Club is a program where you pay $25 per year to be a member, then you receive $5 reward per ticket each time you book on These rewards go into your Travel Bank which can be used for future bookings. And since we always travel as a family of 3, that's $15 of rewards each trip.

Interestingly enough, each "ticket" is counted based on a reservation number. So instead of booking a round-trip on a single reservation, we will sometimes book the trip as two separate one-way tickets. So instead of $15 per trip, we can get $30.

Now, the downside is that if we needed to make a change to both legs or cancel the trip completely, we'd have to pay 2 change fees which are $150/person. But my father likes to live dangerously!

So for our Phoenix trip, we booked (a) one reservation Newark-Phoenix non-stop and then (b) looked for a return flight back to New York.

Creative Routing
Now, most rational people prefer non-stop flights because it reduces both (i) travel time and (ii) risk of missing your connection if there are any delays. However, when you live with my crazy father, you understand that frequent flyer status benefits may be worth the price of a few extra hours of transit.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my United elite qualification was 5,917 miles short from achieving Silver status for the rest of 2015 and all of 2016. Knowing that we'd be making a trip to Chicago at some point this year, we knew we were secure for an additional 1,466 miles, but that left needing 4,451 miles.

A round trip Newark-Phoenix would get us VERY close, but that would only be 2,133 miles each way (4,266 miles total). So I would miss the 25,000 mile mark for the year by just 185 miles!

We now had a few options:

(A) Abandon the plan to get United Silver elite status
(B) Book another flight in 2015
(C) Buy Elite Qualifying Miles from United
(D) Get creative

Most rational adults would just choose Option A. Status obsessed individuals, however, would likely go for Options B or C, but my father couldn't justify the costs.

After all, since I was the one that needed extra miles, I'd be the one who would have to go on another flight. But being just under 4 years old, I couldn't go alone. Plus, the really short flights (NYC-Philadelphia) are the ones that are most expensive relative to the distance flown, not to mention the time and additional cost required (including getting to/from the airport).

Option C would save us time/hassle, but would also be very expensive, since United is smart enough to know now to sell exactly the # of elite qualification miles you need (185 in my case). Instead, they sell you a bulk package such as 9,000 miles for almost $1,500. Clearly, we had no need for the extra 8.815 miles, so this option didn't make sense to us either.

So we went with Option D. Instead of flying back from Phoenix direct to Newark, we he decided to take the scenic route back to New York by connecting through Houston. Using the principles of trigonometry, the sum of these two segments (2,425 miles) will be greater than the direct Phoenix-New York (2,133). Now I should barely get over the 25,000 mark to hit Silver Status through Feb 2017.

Plus, since United flies Houston to LaGuardia, we could fly into a more conveniently located airport. Sounds like a very compelling alternative. Now, we'd have to make the connection, but 50 minutes between flights seems pretty reasonable, though we'll see how far the boarding gates are at the massive IAH Airport.

Now to price this connecting segment.

One-Way vs. Multi-Destination
Most people would punch in PHX and LGA then let the website figure out the connection options which would include (Denver, Chicago and Houston). Then they would select the itinerary they wanted (Houston) and click to purchase.

This method would price out this return flight at $230/person. That was actually $60/person MORE than the direct PHX-EWR flight. Suddenly, the idea of (a) paying $180 more, (b) taking longer to get home and (c) risking a mis-connect seemed a lot less attractive.

However, my father knew a trick. Instead of inputting the search as a "One-Way" he chose "Multiple Destinations." This brought him to a new page where you could run more detailed searches.

So then he input two separate flights. First PHX-IAH and then IArH-LGA with the same departure date of Monday, October 12.

Now when the search was run, he had to choose the options for each leg. He quickly found the same flights (1:29PM PHX-IAH and the 7:00PM IAH-LGA). Low and behold...

$192 per person. For the same exact flights. We just saved $40/person simply for searching in a different way.