Amtrak Guest Rewards

I am not one for train travel.  I like to get places quickly and I really enjoy flying.  As my dad says, “It’s always a sunny day when you’re flying.”  My mom on the other hand is none too pleased with all of the “scanning” that TSA is doing now.  And she is refusing to fly within the U.S. as a result.  So she asked me if I knew of any deals with Amtrak.  I told her I would look into her options.

Right now, I don’t see any incredible deals on Amtrak.  There are some deals, but none that I would list as outstanding.  Here’s a link to their deal site.  One that families may be interested in is that kids ride this summer for $19 on the Auto Train with a paid regular fair adult.  Tickets must be purchased by June 5, 2011.

There are also credit card options for getting Amtrak Guest Reward points.  Amtrak has a credit card with First USA, but it’s not your best option.  There are several credit cards that allow you to transfer points to Amtrak Guest Rewards.  Here are the 2 best options that I see right now:

  • Chase Sapphire – This credit card comes with a 50,000 point sign-up bonus.  These points can be transferred to Amtrak 1:1.  You have to spend $3,000 on the card in the first 3 months to get the bonus.  There is a $95 annual fee which is waived the first year.
  • Chase Continental - This credit card comes with a 30,000 mile sign-up bonus.  These miles can be transferred to Amtrak 1:1.  This card will go away with the merger with United, so it’s a good card to get now.  You get 25,000 miles after first purchase and another 5,000 if you add an authorized user within the first 2 months.  You also get a $50 credit after first purchase.  There is a $85 annual fee which is waived the first year.

Tickets on Amtrak require less points than tickets on an airline.  Here is a link to the Amtrak Guest Rewards Redemption site so you can see how many points you’d need for a trip.

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Best Use of British Airways Miles

UPDATE: Given the change to Avios, I have created a New Best Use of British Airways Miles page.  From a high-level, the best use is now short-haul trips.

Many of you may have a lot of American Airlines and British Airways miles given the big bonuses they had in the last year.  Their redemption options are very similar but there are differences that I talked about in the British Airways post.  So what are some of the best uses of British Airways miles over American Airlines? (Note: All redemption costs below assume you’re traveling from the U.S. unless otherwise noted.)

  • Hawaii during peak season (April – August) - British Airways charges 17,500 miles each way.  American Airlines ups their redemption cost to 22,500 miles each way for peak season.
  • Bermuda - BA only charges 25,000 round-trip to Bermuda.  American charges 35,000.
  • International Stopovers – If you travel to international locations either just on British Airways, British Airways and 1 partner, or just 1 partner, you can use the standard redemption chart (i.e. not the oneworld award chart) while still doing unlimited stopovers.  I talked about this in a previous post.  While traveling to Europe on BA may cost you a lot in fueling charges, going to other locations (such as South America) may not.
  • Domestic Stopovers - BA allows unlimited stopovers.  I talked about how you can use this to your advantage on international flights.  But you can also use this to your advantage on domestic flights.  Let’s say you wanted to make a tour of the U.S.  You could travel Boston to Chicago (stopover) to LA one way.  And then on the return, you could go LA to Denver (stopover) to Boston.  You can add in many stopovers within reason and you should keep the flow of your flights in one direction (don’t zigzag across the country).  You will need to call to book a trip with stopovers (800) 452-1201.

This is not meant to be an extensive list of how you can use your British Airways miles.  It is meant to give you some of the differences between British Airways and American Airline redemption.  You can still use some of the techniques I talked about in the American Airline redemption series with your British Airways miles.

Any American Airlines MileSAAver flight can be booked using British Airways miles.  If you have more than one connection or are incorporating stopovers into your trip, you will need to call British Airways to book the flights.  I have found that it’s best to do your research before calling.  You should know the flight numbers you want before you call.  I booked our first trip to Hawaii using BA miles.  When I called them to book the flights, the customer service representative told me that there were none available.  I asked her if I could give her the flight numbers one by one.  She said yes.  After I told her all of the flight numbers and dates, she was surprised that the trip was available.  You can do your research using the search engines I talked about yesterday.

Feel free to comment on the post or email me at travelsavvyfamily@gmail.com with any questions.

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How to Search for Award Tickets for Oneworld Airlines

In a previous post, I mentioned which search engines you could use to find award tickets on oneworld airlines.  I didn’t mention when you would want to use one search engine over another so I wanted to cover that today.

  • www.aa.com – This is the American Airlines web site.  It is free and you do not need a frequent flyer account to search on this site.  This site only shows availability for American Airlines.  It does not show partner airline availability.  If you can find a MileSAAver award on the American web site, you can book that flight using British Airways miles.
  • www.britishairways.com – This is the British Airways web site.  It is free but you do need a frequent flyer account to search on the site.  Creating a frequent flyer account is free and you do not need to have any miles in the account to search.  The down side to using the British Airways site for searching is that it always looks for British Airways flights flight and it tries to route you through London.  However, after that initial search, you can include partner airlines if BA flights are not found.  And unlike some other sites, this site does show Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific availability.
  • www.qantas.com – This is the Qantas web site.  It is free but you do need a frequent flyer account to search on the site.  Creating a frequent flyer account is free and you do not need to have any miles in the account to search.  This site is good for searching for European flights, since unlike British Airways, it does not try to force you on a British Airways flight.  However, this site is not good for Asia awards since it does not show availability for Japan Airlines and the Cathay Pacific results are sometimes unreliable.
  • www.expertflyer.com – This is a paid site.  It has a lot of flexibility in how you can search for awards and it will tell you have many award tickets are available.  However, it only shows information for the following oneworld partners: American, Alaska, Qantas, and economy Finn Air.
  • www.kvstool.com – This is a paid site.  It shows award availability for all airlines in the oneworld alliance.
  • www.awardnexus.com – You must be a member of Flyertalk to access this site.  It is not as advanced as Expert Flyer or the KVS Tool, but it does include all of the oneworld alliance airlines.

Feel free to comment on the post or email me at travelsavvyfamily@gmail.com with any questions.

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Hawaii Sale from East Coast

There are some fare wars going on for trips to Hawaii from the East Coast (some flights less than $500).  Check out the posts on The Points Guy and View From the Wing for more information.  They both are saying the fares may only be available today, so be sure to check them out today if you’re interested.

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American Airline Redemption – South America

UPDATE: I created another post with screen shots to show you how this tack on works.

In a previous post, I talked about how you can tack on a trip to Hawaii for free when traveling to Europe.  I have another twist on that same concept.  Off-peak travel between North America and South America on American Airlines is 15,000 miles each way.  (And I love that off-peak is during the winter – exactly when you’d want to travel to South America.)  That includes ANY North American location, including Hawaii.  That is less than the 17,500 miles needed to travel between the contiguous U.S. to Hawaii!

How can you use this to your advantage?  American Airlines allows you to stopover in your U.S. gateway city when traveling internationally.  For American Airlines, the gateway cities are Dallas/Fort Worth, Miami (most likely candidate for South America), JFK, and Chicago.  Let’s say you wanted to travel to Lima, Peru.  You would redeem a one-way award ticket from your home airport to Lima.  For your return flight, you would redeem a one-way award ticket from Lima to Hawaii.  You wouldn’t actually travel all the way to Hawaii on that return flight.  Your ticket is good for one year after issuance.  You can change the dates of the U.S. gateway to Hawaii flights for free as long as the routing remains the same and the same level of award redemption is available within that 1 year.

With enough planning, you could execute this technique with every award redemption outside the U.S.  For example, combining the Europe redemption and the South America redemption, could look like this:  Travel from your home to Europe one-way (20k miles).  For your return, travel from Europe to Hawaii with a stopover in a U.S. gateway city (20k miles).  You would stop in your U.S. gateway city for up to 1 year.  Then you would travel from your U.S. gateway city to Hawaii (free).  Travel from Hawaii to Lima with a stopover in a U.S. gateway city (15k miles).  Stay in your gateway city for up to 1 year.  Then travel from your U.S. gateway city to Lima (free).  Travel from Lima to your home city one-way (15k miles).  Or you could continue the technique and instead of going to your home city, you could book a trip from Lima to Hawaii and so on.

Feel free to comment on the post or email me at travelsavvyfamily@gmail.com with any questions.

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