Earning Points for Free Hotel Stays

Westin Maui

In the early 1990’s, I signed up for Sheraton’s loyalty program. At the time, I paid $20 per year to upgrade my membership to their Gold level. As a result, I often received free upgrades and access to their Club lounges for free food and drinks. Sheraton was one of the first hotel chains acquired by Starwood, a hotel management company with over 1,500 properties in over 100 countries. In addition to Sheraton, Starwood brands include Westin, The Luxury Collection, Four Points, W Hotels, St. Regis, Le Méridien, Aloft and more. Since 2016 Starwood is a subsidiary of Marriott International following their merger. Starwood’s loyalty program is called Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG). As a member, you earn Starpoints on hotels stays and related spending. While many hotel chains offer similar loyalty programs, most of my personal experience is with Starwood so that’s what I’ll be covering in this post.

SPG Rewards

Earning Starpoints WITH HOTEL STAYS

To begin earning Starpoints, sign up for SPG membership. As a basic member, you earn two Starpoints per dollar spent at Starwood hotels. You earn more Starpoints as an elite member, Gold or Platinum (I’ll cover SPG Elite status is a future post). Whenever you book a room, and at check-in, give your SPG number to make sure you earn Starpoints from your stay. Note that you earn Starpoints on the basic room rate, not including taxes and other fees, such as the notorious resort fee. You also earn Starpoints spending at hotel restaurants and bars, so make sure you put your meal and drink charges on your room account.

Tip #1: I prefer booking my Starwood hotel reservations using the Starwood website (www.starwoodhotels.com) or their SPG phone app. This gives me easier management of my reservations. I can give more information to the hotel to improve the chance of room upgrades, early check-in or late check-out. Additionally, you may not always earn Starpoints or elite benefits when booking your room on a third-party travel site. One exception is that I use the Citi Prestige “4th Night Free” benefit by calling their “concierge” to make reservations of four or more nights. I give my SPG number to the concierge so they can contact the hotel to add it to the reservation.

Tip #2: I use SPG’s “Make a Green Choice” sustainability program to decline housekeeping services during stays. You earn up to 500 Starpoints for each day you opt out of housekeeping services. The hotels typically offer door hangers to show you are opting out of housekeeping services the following day. You can also “opt out” for your entire stay by setting a preference in the reservation on the Starwood site, or asking at check-in time.

Marriott Rewards

Marriott Rewards

Even a couple of years after their merger, Starwood and Marriott currently run separate loyalty programs. Marriott’s loyalty program is Marriott Rewards (clever name, right?). If you have a Marriott Rewards account already, you can link it to your SPG account to enable point transfers and to receive reciprocal elite status. Since I have SPG Platinum status, I was automatically matched to Marriott Platinum status when I linked my accounts. You transfer Rewards points to Starpoints at a ratio of 3:1. Thus if you have 30,000 Marriott Rewards points, you could transfer them to SPG for 10,000 Starpoints. Since you earn Rewards points from spending at Marriott properties and their airline, car rental and credit card partners, these are more ways to earn Starpoints. You can also transfer the other way, if you want to use Starpoints to book a free stay at a Marriott (or Ritz-Carlton) hotel.

TIP #3: Ritz-Carlton Rewards links to Marriott Rewards. As such, wherever I mention Marriott, you may also consider Ritz-Carlton too. Points earned at Ritz-Carlton hotels transfer to Starpoints at the same 3:1 ratio. In addition, Ritz-Carlton’s credit card partner, Chase, offers the Ritz-Carlton Rewards credit card. While the card has a high $450 annual fee, it comes with some great benefits if you like to stay at their luxury hotels, including two free nights at Tier 1-4 Ritz-Carlton hotel after spending $4,000 in the first three months from your account opening.

Earning STARPOINTS WITH Credit Cards

American Express
Amex SPG cards

Since I primarily stay at Starwood hotels, I earn Starpoints for rooms I pay for (up to three rooms per stay), plus spending at hotel restaurants and bars. However, I earn two more Starpoints per dollar using my American Express (Amex) SPG credit card to pay for the rooms. I also earn one Starpoint per dollar using my Amex SPG card to pay regular bills, grocery shopping, and more. You also earn Starpoints using Amex SPG cards to pay for stays at Marriott hotels. Amex offers two versions of their SPG card:

At the time of writing, Amex offers 25,000 bonus Starpoints after you spend $3,000 in the first three months. They also waive the $95 annual fee for the first year.  If you spend more than $30,000 in a calendar year, you are upgraded to SPG Gold elite level.

TIP #4: With each Amex SPG card you own, you earn an annual credit of five nights and two stays towards SPG elite status. For example, owning both Amex SPG cards, starts your elite earning year with 10 nights and 4 stays. These credits typically appear in your SPG account in early January. Therefore, to earn SPG Gold status you need only 15 more nights, or 6 stays, compared with the regular 25 nights or 10 stays in calendar year. To earn SPG Platinum status, you need either 40 more nights or 21 stays.

Amex Membership Rewards Logo

In addition to their SPG credit cards, Amex offers its own Membership Rewards cards. Membership Rewards points transfer to many airline and hotel loyalty programs, including SPG. Membership Rewards points transfer to SPG at a ratio of 1000:333.

Amex offers a few charge cards and credit cards that earn Membership Rewards. Charge card balances are paid off in full every month, but otherwise run similar to credit cards. Some examples are:

  • American Express Platinum Card – 60,000 bonus Membership Rewards points after spending 5,000 in the first three months. If you transfer the points to SPG, you will have enough Starpoints for a couple of free nights at an SPG category 4 hotel (10,000 Starpoints per night)
  • American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card – 25,000 bonus Membership Rewards points after spending $2,000 in the first three months. If you transfer the points to SPG you have enough Starpoints for one free night at an SPG category 3 hotel (7,000 Starpoints per night)
Chase

Chase Marriott Rewards

Chase Marriott Rewards

This card earns five points per dollar spent at Marriott and Starwood hotels, and two points per dollar spent on airline tickets, car rentals and restaurants. Chase offers 75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first three months. Chase waives the annual fee of $85 for the first year. Another useful benefit is one Free Night Stay at a Category 1-5 hotel each year after your account anniversary.

Chase Ultimate Rewards

You earn Ultimate Rewards points using one of the following cards:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred – 50,000 bonus points with $4,000 spending in first three months, $0 intro annual fee, after that $95. This is a great starter credit card for anyone wishing to earn points for free travel with a variety of airlines and hotels
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve – 50,000 bonus points with $4,000 spending in first three months, $450 annual fee. This is a premium version of the Chase Sapphire Preferred  card and comes with a premium annual fee of $450. However, there are many ways to cut the real annual cost of this card, including the annual $300 annual travel credit, complimentary airport lounge access and more
  • Chase Ink Business Preferred Card – 80,000 bonus points with $5,000 spending in first three months, $95 annual fee

Ultimate Rewards points transfer to Marriott Rewards at a 1:1 ratio. From your Marriott account, transfer to Starpoints at a 3:1 ratio.

Earning Starpoints with Airline Flights

United Airlines

You earn bonus Starpoints when you register with SPG’s airline partners and buy flights. However, you must have SPG elite status to receive these bonuses.

  • Delta – one Starpoint per dollar spent on Delta flights. Plus, SPG Platinum members enjoy priority check-in and boarding, complimentary upgrades and first checked bag free
  • Emirates – one Starpoint per dollar spent on Emirates flights. SPG Platinum members enjoy priority check-in and boarding
  • China Eastern – one Starpoint for every four Eastern Miles with China Eastern flights. SPG Platinum members enjoy priority check-in, boarding and luggage handling; and access to China Eastern business-class lounges
  • United – while United is not a direct SPG partner, it is a partner of Marriott. As such, United and Marriott offer reciprocal benefits to their members via the RewardsPlus program. United’s MileagePlus elite members (Global Services, Premier 1K, Premier Platinum and Premier Gold) receive Marriott Gold status. Marriott Platinum elite members receive United Premier Silver status. I already have United Premier Gold and Marriott Platinum status so there is no extra elite benefit to me. However, the partnership does enable me to transfer up to 50,000 United MileagePlus miles per calendar year to my Marriott Rewards account at a 1:1 ratio. This isn’t the best conversion rate, but I occasionally use this path to top up my Marriott/SPG accounts when I’m running low on points for specific free hotel stays I want to book

 

Earning starpoints with Car Rentals

Hertz

Hertz – earn 200 Starpoints per rental. In addition, by registering with Hertz, SPG Platinum members are eligible for Hertz Gold Plus Rewards Five Star elite status.

Hertz Marriott-SPG Partnership

Five Star status offers upgrades and bonus points.

Hertz Gold Plus Rewards Benefits

Sixt Logo

Sixt – you earn 250 Starpoints for every rental. Members also earn 500 Starpoints for Sixt Limousine Service.

Earning Starpoints with Broadway Shows

With SPG’s Audience Rewards partnership, you earn up to 2,500 Starpoints per Broadway show ticket. Starpoints may also be redeemed for show tickets.

Earning Starpoints by Hosting Meetings or Events

Meeting Modern Conference Room

When you host a wedding reception or a business meeting at a Starwood hotel, you earn Starpoints for all your spending. You may also benefit from Starpoints earned for booking your guests’ rooms too.

Special SPG Promotions

SPG Great Weeks

Starwood promotes bonus offers and challenges throughout the year. Check for the most up-to-date offers on their web site. Occasionally, SPG sends out email notices of these extra earning opportunities although I have found this is not dependable. The current offer is for double Starpoints starting with your second stay, and 500 bonus Starpoints when your stay includes a weekend night. For most SPG offers, you must register using your SPG number and email.

Buying Starpoints

SPG Buy Starpoints

You can buy up to 30,000 Starpoints per calendar year. The regular price is 3.5 cents per Starpoint. However, SPG is currently offering 35% discount for 5,000 or more Starpoints. With the discount, the rate is more attractive at about 2.3 cents per Starpoint. If you decide to buy Starpoints, make sure to pay with an Amex SPG credit card to earn even more Starpoints!

Summary

While there are several ways to earn SPG Starpoints, I recommend starting by registering for the SPG program and applying for the Amex SPG credit card. After you earn the Amex SPG card signup bonus, you will be well on your way to free Starwood hotel stays. Check out the redemption cost for hotels and dates you want to book using either the Starwood web site or the SPG phone app. If needed, top up your account using airline mile transfers and earn bonus Starpoints from SPG partners. You’ll be amazed how quickly you can earn tens of thousands of Starpoints for a vacation stay home or abroad.

 

Spending Miles for Free Flights

In my earlier post I introduced a travel planning example for a trip to London. I discussed how to earn miles for an American airlines AAdvantage award from credit card signup bonuses from Barclaycard and Citi. Economy MileSAAver awards to the U.K. cost 30,000 (30K) miles per flight. I’m going to search for a roundtrip costing me 60K miles. During my research, using Google Flights, I found American offers non-stop flights from my local international airport (LAX) to London Heathrow (LHR).

Searching for Award Flights

First, I go to the American Airlines web site to search for available award seats. Let’s see how I do:

AAdvantage Award Search

I log into my AAdvantage account to check how many miles I have. This will also help me to save time booking an award. I sometimes select the Advanced Search link, just below the Search button, to add more airports to the search criteria. Also, there are options to set travel time preferences and class of travel.

Fortunately, I am searching for award travel ten months ahead of my travel dates and there are Economy MileSAAver awards available. Of course, some of the flights are with American’s partner airlines. To adjust my departure or return dates, I select from available dates in the table. Each date displays the price in miles for available award flight(s).

Selecting Travel Dates

AA Awards Select Dates

Selecting Flights

I click on the CONTINUE button at the bottom of the table to display a list of possible flights.

AA Select Flights

In fact, there are four pages of possible flight combinations (departure and return) due to partner flights and alternate airports. I deselect other airlines and airports to focus on American flights from LAX to LHR. The display shows two non-stop departure flights:

  • AA 108 departing at 6:10PM
  • AA 136 departing at 7:50PM

I select flight AA 108 since to get into London early enough for a power nap. Once refreshed, I like to seek out a pub for fish and chips and some cellar-temperature beer!

AA Select American Flights Only

At the time of writing, there are no award flights with American for non-stop service on October 15th. However, I have flexibility for my return date so I select October 16th to search for a non-stop flight. In this case I find a flight AA 109 departing LHR at 12:15PM.

Completing the Reservation

Next, I click on the CONTINUE button at below the flight list. The site asks me for passenger details – the default are the details saved in my American AAdvantage account. If I am spending miles for award flights for others, such as family members, I enter their details here. Once I have checked the passenger details, I click CONTINUE and select seats for each flight. I must still pay Taxes and Carrier-Imposed Fees of $188.61 for this award trip. I use a credit card that earns me a few more miles to numb the pain! There it is – spending miles earned from a credit card signup bonus for a free trip to London. How cool is that?

As the saying goes “wash, rinse, repeat”. The process is similar for other U.S. airlines so you can follow the outline above for United, Delta, Alaska, and others. International airlines have their own challenges and vary considerably in terms of ease (or lack of) of booking award travel. And, sometime, a higher bill for those dreaded Taxes and Carrier-Imposed Fees (did I mention British Airways?).

Until next time…fly free little birds!

Earning Miles for Free Flights

London Street

For many years, earning miles required buying tickets and sitting on real flights. I could easily estimate the miles I would earn from a trip by looking up the flight distance. If I flew more than 25,000 or 50,000 miles with one airline in a calendar year I would earn elite status. At that point, I could use elite bonus multipliers to calculate how many more miles I was earning for a trip. Ah…the good old days! Unfortunately, over the past few years, major U.S. airlines have moved to a revenue-based system, using the base fare, to calculate earned miles. Base fares do not include airline or government-imposed surcharges or taxes. Travelers who have no elite status in an airline’s program typically earn five miles per dollar. However, elite members continue to earn bonus miles. For example, United MileagePlus Premier Gold members earn an extra three miles, for a total eight per dollar spent. In addition, airlines are devaluing their miles by steadily increasing the redemption cost of awards. As a result, it is more difficult earning miles for free flights. But, this is really the old way of earning miles. Rather than spending cash to buy tickets and sitting for many hours in cramped planes, there are easier methods – one of which I’ll discuss in this post.

What’s Your Travel Goal?

Even if you eventually earn tens of thousands of miles, it may still be difficult to spend, or redeem, them for award travel. You may find your favorite airline doesn’t have award seats available on the dates you want to travel. Or, you may discover the redemption cost is double what you have saved for. Why is this the case? One of the reasons is you are competing with thousands of smart travelers, with more experience than you. They have plans for earning miles to meet their travel goals, and book early – often up to a year in advance. In addition, airlines are quite clever at limiting award seats on popular routes since they would prefer to sell tickets for as many seats as possible to boost their profits – after all, isn’t that what their shareholders expect? If you need to fly at short notice or to a popular destination with few flight options you should prepare to redeem miles for higher cost standard awards than the early-bird specials, or saver awards.

Hope

Making a Travel Plan

So, let’s take a look at travel planning step-by-step. Firstly, set your goals for destination and timeframe that match your interests and availability. If you can fly during an off-peak season, or even a less popular day during the week, you will have an improved chance to score lower cost award seats. Are you traveling alone, with a partner, or with a family?

Secondly, research flight routes from your local airports to your target destination. One great search tool I like to use while researching flights for a trip is Google Flights. By entering my nearest major airport, Los Angeles International (LAX in airport code language) and the city nearest my target destination I can get a quick list of potential airlines that serve the route I want to take. In the example for this post, I set my destination for London (LHR). Next, I enter target dates for travel. For this trip, I have flexibility to avoid the Summer peak travel season so I enter October 1st to October 15th as a baseline. Below, you’ll see the first results displayed by Google Flights.

Google Flights

I typically look for airlines that offer nonstop flights and I note the general range of ticket prices. Nonstop flights from the West Coast to Europe help to cut to likelihood of connection issues due to bad weather or incoming plane delays. Next, check how many miles you will need to redeem for an award ticket with these airlines. Here are links to some of major U.S airline award charts to start your research. Note: Delta doesn’t publish an award chart but you can get an estimate by doing a Google search, such as “Delta award chart”.

American

Alaska

United

In my example, I’m going to research American’s award chart (see below).

AA Award Chart - Main Cabin

I find a range of award redemption prices for Main Cabin (aka Economy) travel for my target destination region, Europe. Yes, I know the UK is now Brexiting from the European Union (EU) but, geographically speaking, it is still technically in Europe. Most airline award charts only give you the cost for a one-way trip. You’ll need to double the number miles to get the total cost for a roundtrip flight. In my example, I am able to travel to and from London for as low as 45,000 AAdvantage miles to as many as 130,000 miles. From my experience, I’ll most likely be able to find MileSAAver awards for off-peak travel a few months in the future at a cost of 60,000 miles roundtrip. For this trip, that’s a reasonable target for earning miles. If for some reason, you have earned miles for many years, especially via business paid travel, you may already have enough miles to redeem your award ticket already. Super cool – go get ’em cowboy! Or, you may want to consider the fares at this time are actually quite low – I would typically pay for this trip by credit card and not use miles. There are a couple of benefits buying the ticket with a credit card: first, I don’t need to wait to earn enough miles for the trip; and, secondly, I’ll earn more miles toward future free travel.

Earning Miles FROM CREDIT CARD SIGNUP BONUS

In the case of American Airlines, we have several options for earning miles from credit card signup bonuses – via co-branded credit cards, or indirectly through points transfer partners.

Credit Cards

American AAdvantage Co-branded Credit Cards

Citi® AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®

Barclaycard® AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®

At the time of writing this post, Citi and Barclaycard both offer 60,000 AAdvantage bonus miles worth around $800. However, they have different methods of earning miles from a signup bonus. Firstly, with the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard (try saying that fast) you earn bonus miles after making $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening. Citi is waiving the annual fee of $95 for the first 12 months. On the other hand, the Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard (just as difficult to say fast) offers bonus miles when you make your first purchase in the first 90 days and pay the annual fee of $95 with your first statement. Bonus miles are deposited to your AAdvantage account at the end of each monthly billing period. I received bonus miles from Barclaycard only 22 days after I applied for the Aviator Red card – I made my first purchase within a few days of receiving the card. In the case of Citi, I received bonus miles almost seven weeks after I applied for the Platinum Select card, even though I met the minimum spending requirement within a couple of weeks of receiving the card.

With both cards, you earn 2 miles per dollar spent on eligible American Airlines purchases. All other purchases earn you 1 mile per dollar spent. Neither card is the most flexible card in terms of earning miles for multiple airlines or hotels but, in terms of signup bonus and annual fee, for a targeted free flight with American they are among the best options to begin. In addition to the bonus miles, I also like the following benefits that come with both cards when traveling with American:

  • First checked bag free for the primary cardmember and up to four companions on eligible bags when flying domestically. Fortunately, for our target destination to the UK, American doesn’t charge a baggage fee for the first bag. But, if you are planning to fly to Hawaii, such as, this card benefit is valuable and will likely pay for the annual fee in one roundtrip. American’s regular domestic baggage fee is $25 per bag. So, a family of four with one bag per person needs to pay $200 to check their bags roundtrip. Compared to the annual fee of $95, this is an easy decision.
  • Preferred boarding for the primary cardmember and up to four companions on their reservation. Why is this important? If you are traveling with carry-on bags, such as wheelies, or get stressed out waiting in long lines, this benefit makes your travel a bit more enjoyable. Since many travelers do not check their bags, above-seat storage space is often limited on crowded flights. If you can board your flight earlier you have a better chance of finding space for your carry-ons directly above your seats.
  • 25% savings on in-flight purchases – for example, food, beverages and headsets.
  • 10% redeemed miles back per year – up 10,000 miles are credited back to you AAdvantage account when using miles for award travel when you have either of these cards. For example, if you use the 60,000 bonus miles for an award trip, your account is credited with 6,000 miles – that’s like getting a 10% discount on your awards!

Another important benefit for your international trips is:

  • No foreign transaction fees when you make purchases outside the U.S. While many credit cards in the U.S. now offer this benefit, it’s best to check what’s in your wallet otherwise you may find yourself being charged up to 3% of purchases made while traveling internationally. Since our target trip is to the UK, I highly recommend taking a credit card that has this benefit with you and making as many purchases on your trip using this, or similar, card. You will also earn more miles to use on future free or upgraded trips – getting the hang of this miles and point game?

There are other travel benefits with each card. I recommend you to check out the offers yourself and decide which works for your circumstances. In particular, read the benefit descriptions for Trip Delay and Trip Cancellation coverage. The Aviator Red card offers $1,500 trip cancellation coverage for when an illness or other covered reason forces you to cancel your flight or trip purchased with the card. The Platinum Select card offers $5,000 trip cancellation coverage and trip delay coverage up to $500 for lodging if you experience a flight delay of  12 hours of more.

Note: I do not receive any compensation for recommending these cards – I’m simply using them as example and passing on my own personal experiences of using them.

American AAdvantage Transfer Partner

American Express® Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card

At the time of writing this post, American Express (Amex) is offering a signup bonus of 25,000 Starpoints® after you use their Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first three months. I typically value Starpoints at 2.5 cents so this offer is nominally worth just over $600. Amex is waiving the $95 annual fee for the first year. The Amex SPG card is one of my favorite credit cards for general spending. I can typically receive the best value using my Starpoints for hotel stays at Westin, Sheraton, W and other Starwood branded hotels. However, for the purpose of my example I am looking at the transfer value of Starpoints to American AAdvantage miles. Starpoints transfer at a conversion rate of 1 point per mile, but you also get a 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 points you transfer. So, if you transfer the full 25,000 bonus Starpoints, you will receive 30,000 AAdvantage miles in your frequent flyer account. This is an insufficient number of miles, in itself, to redeem for a free flight to Europe. However, you may consider using this as an option to top up your AAdvantage miles, if you are running low for an upcoming trip.

Other American AAdvantage Partners

As mentioned in my earlier post, American Airlines is a founding member of the oneworld global alliance. As such, you can redeem free award flights via American’s airline partners. Each airline has its own redemption award charts and partner award travel inventories. In addition, several premium credit cards have established their own travel points that are earned and redeemed within their travel portals to buy airline tickets and book hotels and rental cars. I’ll be covering these topics in future posts.

Happy travel planning.

List of Airline Frequent Flyer Programs

I joined two frequent flyer programs in 1990, shortly after arriving in the U.S. from the U.K. I was flying with American and United with my job as a technical consultant. Fortunately, both airlines survived despite many mergers in the industry. Many airlines offer frequent flyer programs. You can find comparisons of these programs on various frequent flyer discussion group web sites, such as FlyerTalk. However, just as with wine, where many experts will tell you “drink what you like”, I say similarly about frequent flyer programs – “fly with who you like”. There’s no cost to join a frequent flyer program, so why not join as you book flights? Earn miles when you fly and earn more for dining, shopping, staying at hotels, renting cars, using credit cards, and more. Many airlines have frequent flyer program partnerships with other airlines via one of the three global alliances or with other cross-marketing agreements.

The primary airline frequent flyer programs I use are American AAdvantage. United MileagePlus. I joined other frequent flyer programs for specific regions or routes where the airlines are not members of the three global alliances. For example, I often take Southwest flights to San José and San Francisco, so I’m also enrolled their Rapids Rewards program.

Global Airline Alliances

Alliances provide expanded networks with more destinations, while enabling me to earn miles with my primary frequent flyer programs. Through my elite status with American and United, I can also upgrade my travel experiences with their partners. Priority check-in and boarding, free checked bags and, for international flights, access to airport lounges. I can also redeem miles for flights operated by alliance partner airlines. This is very useful when my primary airlines do not offer flights between my preferred departure and destination airports. It’s important to note that some airlines are joint marketing partners with other airlines, even though they do not work within one of the major alliances. In these cases, the partnership may include reciprocal benefits in their frequent flyer programs, code-share flights or other joint activities. And, there are some airlines, such as Southwest, that do not include any airlines within their frequent flyer programs.

oneworld

American Airlines

American Airlines, British Airways and Qantas launched their oneworld alliance in 1999. It is the third-largest global alliance in terms of passengers. Here is a list of the alliance’s current members and their respective frequent flyer awards program (with links):

Star Alliance

United Airlines

Star Alliance was the first global airline alliance formed in 1997. It is now the largest alliance by passenger count. Founder members are United, Lufthansa, Air Canada, Thai Airways and Scandinavian Airlines (SAS). The alliance’s current members include:

SkyTeam

SkyTeam is the most recent major airline alliance, and the second largest by passenger count. The original members of the alliance are Delta Airlines, Air France, Aeromexico and Korean Air. The alliance’s current members are:

Other U.S Airlines

Several airlines in the U.S. are not in any of the alliances. However, several of these airlines are partners with other major airlines. As such, you may earn and redeem miles within their respective frequent flyer programs when flying with these specific airlines or with their partners.

Other International Airlines

There are many other airlines around the world offering frequent flyer programs and benefits. Among those that have flights to and from the U.S. are:

Summary

Bottom line: I recommend that you join an airline’s frequent flyer program when you book your flights. I add the airline contact information, including website link and phone number along with the frequent flyer number in my phone contacts app. This makes it easier to find your membership number when you book later flights. You should always include your membership number when make travel reservations. Some airlines offer travel benefits only to their frequent flyer members. You do not want to miss earning valuable points and miles. You should also book your flights with a credit card to earn extra points and miles. Most credit cards also offer extra travel benefits, such as free checked bags, travel delay and lost baggage insurance. I’ll be covering some of these other benefits in subsequent posts.

I wish you safe travels.

Collecting Miles and Points for Free Travel – Part 1

In 1990, my wife and I moved from the U.K. to the U.S. with our two young children. I remember being asked by our travel agent what date she should use for our return trip. I said “never, it’s a one-way trip”! A high technology company hired me as a technical consultant in Silicon Valley. As part of my job, I traveled often – domestically at first and then, within a few years, internationally. My manager was well versed in the American Airlines AAdvantage travel awards program. He traveled much more than I did, living in Southern California and attending company and customer meetings across the U.S. As a result, he was an AAdvantage Platinum elite member. His generosity was outstanding and would treat me to First Class using upgrade coupons he received. With colleagues like this, I was in heaven – literally! He encouraged me to sign up for AAdvantage membership during a visit to the airline’s Admirals Club lounge in San José airport. I joined United’s MileagePlus program the same year. This is how I got started on a fun hobby my wife and I refer to as #upgrademylife.

So, after almost thirty years I should be a points millionaire by now, right? Well, collecting miles and points during the early nineties was tedious. I had to actually get on a plane and travel somewhere – what an inconvenience. There were airline credit cards available, but I had no one educating me how useful they were. I used my bank’s no-fee Visa card for business expenses and checks for everything else. It took a lot of time to collect enough miles to get free flights for all the family members. So, I just kept saving miles and not taking much interest in them. We eventually spent most of them on a trip to Disney World traveling first class with American.

In-flight View

One frequent flyer benefit when you travel a lot with one airline is you can earn elite status. Traveling as an elite flyer comes with benefits that you can use on every flight you take. These benefits may include priority check-in and boarding, upgrades, free checked bags, and free food and beverages. Also, you earn miles at an accelerated rate based on combinations of flight distance, ticket class and amount spent. Traveling for business, I regularly attained AAdvantage Platinum and Premier Gold elite status. This definitely improved my travel experience when flying. By the late 90’s, I had traveled enough with American to earn Million Miler status, and recently achieved United’s Million Miler stats too. I’ll discuss this aspect of airline awards programs in a future post.

Hotel Lobby

A related aspect of business travel was getting to stay at many hotels around the world. Hotel chains have their loyalty programs too. Each program comes with varying points earning and redemption rates. And, of course, multiple levels of elite status and related benefits. Unfortunately, during my early career I wasn’t able to focus my stays on just one or two chains. My corporate travel agent booked my business travel. I could only stay at specific hotels per place. So, it took a lot of trips to earn enough points to get a free hotel night. But, I remember you could buy Starwood Gold membership for $20 per year in the early 90’s. Today, that takes 25 nights or 10 stays in a calendar year to achieve. However, with improved planning, I have now achieved Starwood Preferred Guest Platinum status over the past few years. The benefits of this status include regular upgraded rooms, free breakfasts, and lots of bonus points.

Businessman Airport

Now if all the above sounds like a very bleak environment for collecting miles and points, it wasn’t really. Flying was a lot less stressful due to lower levels of security requirements. Another reason that it wasn’t the Dark Ages of Frequent Travel was that airline awards programs were simpler. It’s a more complex environment today, with airline award programs shifting to revenue-based models. Changes in the hotel industry, for example Marriott’s acquisition of Starwood, is causing uncertainty for loyal fans of their respective award programs. In addition, frequent devaluations within award charts are being announced regularly. Fortunately, there are many good strategies to improve your earning and redemption power to counter these changes.

Hotel Pool

So, you may ask, what is the point of all this nostalgic time travel? I want to give you a sense of my early experiences collecting miles and points. From this background, I will fast forward to today and share my experiences from the past few years. The environment for collecting miles and points for free travel has never been better. Financial and travel companies are in a heated battle for your business. They are willing to deliver rich rewards for your loyalty. In future posts, I’ll discuss how credit card sign up bonuses can supercharge your miles and points balances. Also, I’ll share with you some tips I’ve learned about smart use of credit cards for shopping and bill paying. In addition, I’ll cover how to use your airline, credit card and hotel miles and points effectively. Along the way, there will be reviews of places, hotels and restaurants that we visit. And, more…

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Please subscribe to my newsletter so you can keep updated on my posts about collecting miles and points. And, perhaps more importantly how to redeem them effectively for free or upgraded flights and hotels. I’ll also include reviews of the places where we visit, stay and eat.

So remember, #upgrademylife is the name of the game – play well my dear readers!

Home of #upgrademylife

You might be wondering where the name for our site came from. Well, that’s a pretty easy one to answer.

My wife and I were born and bred in a part of Northern England called Yorkshire. Many local folk may refer to Yorkshire as “God’s Own County” or “God’s Own Country”. Proving this particular title has been the goal of Yorkshire folk for centuries with food, sports, and entertainment among many cultural battlegrounds. Perhaps you’ll recognize some these famous products of the culinary and entertainment world that originated in Yorkshire:

Yorkshire Pudding
Yorkshire Pudding

Ed Sheeran
Ed-Sheeran

Monty Python’s “Four Yorkshiremen”

Anyhow, I could go on all day about all the brightest and best from my home county but this site isn’t about Yorkshire – it’s about sharing our tips and tricks and experiences for traveling in style, eating out, cooking and finances..

We moved to California almost 30 years ago – primarily to get more sunshine, but also to take part in the emerging high technology world of Silicon Valley. We’ve been fortunate to have been around when British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee introduced the Word Wide Web. Can any of you dear readers remember when there was no web browsers, Google or Facebook – oh, what did we do with all that free time? We now have four adult children and are very proud of each of them in their own accomplishments. Raising kids is a lot of work, especially while you’re working too, but we have made a great effort to enjoy all the “fun stuff” that life has to offer. We especially like to visit new places, swoon to the amazing dishes from celebrity chefs (Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver and others), concerts and movies, home cooking and drinking (if you ask nicely we’ll share our experiences in winemaking too). Over the years, we’ve developed some effective strategies to get to visit and stay in nicer places by taking advantage of the multiple offers that financial and travel companies are making all the time. So, we’ll spend some time introducing you to one of our hobbies – collecting and using point and miles, and what we do with them. We use the term #upgradmylife quite a lot when we are traveling since we are often staying in upgraded rooms for free, or not seated at the back of a plane. In the UK, Yorkshire folk are known to be frugal with their money (see article) and our “working class” backgrounds taught us to be forever grateful about what we have now. But we have come a long journey to get where we are today and we are always planning for more good times on the road ahead.

We hope you enjoy reading about our journey and can take advantage of some of our experiences to “upgrade” your lives too.

Sithee (to find out what this means checkout the BBC’s Yorkshire Glossary)

Yorkshire Traveler