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Sunday, March 31, 2013

AMEX Bluebird Update - Is Bluebird DEAD?


This is the third in the series about Bluebird cards from American Express.  I first wrote about Bluebird in November, calling it the new Killer App.  Several weeks later, I wrote an update about Bluebird entitled "Is Bluebird Worth It Now? To summarize those two articles for those of you not familiar with Bluebird, it is both a debit card and a checking account.  The initial miles and points strategy used with Bluebird was to fund your Bluebird account by purchasing prepaid Vanilla Reload cards from Office Depot and CVS with a miles or points earning credit card . 

Within the first few weeks of issuance of Bluebird, Office Depot discontinued selling vanilla Reload Cards and Walgreens stopped taking credit cards for the purchase of them. That still left CVS in the game and as long as you had a credit card that earned bonus points or miles for pharmacy purchases, you could still rack up tens of thousands of points simply by funding your Bluebird account.  With the money in the bluebird account, you could then pay bills with money that had earned miles or points.  This was a great thing.  I was now paying things like car payments, mortgages, utility bills, etc with money that earned Hilton points. I was buying Vanilla cards at CVS with a Hilton AMEX.  Each dollar spent at CVS was earning 6 Hilton points.  In 6 months time my wife and I had racked up over 300,000 Hilton points from a combination of strategies.  Some involved sign up bonuses, while others involved transfers from other programs like Hawaiian Airlines.

I recently booked a trip for 8 nights in French Polynesia for the Fall of 2014.  We will be spending 4 nights in Moorea and 4 nights in Bora Bora.  All thanks to Bluebird.

Unfortunately, there are several things coming together in the perfect storm that may ultimately kill the Killer App.  First of all, as of your first billing cycle in May the Hilton AMEX will no longer be paying out 6 points/$ at pharmacies.  Secondly, as of March 28 Hilton massively devalued their points currency.  Thirdly, Vanilla Reloads are getting very difficult to find in some areas of the country. 

So where does that leave us now with Bluebird?  The reload cards used to fund the account are hard to find, the primary points earning card will no longer be paying a bonus on pharmacy purchases and now Hilton has devalued their currency.  Is Bluebird Dead?

I think there is value in Bluebird for some people.  If you have a Starwood AMEX card or If you are someone who likes to apply for multiple credit cards per year and have difficulty manufacturing spending to meet minimum spending requirements, then Bluebird is still a great option.  You can apply for many cards at once and have no fear that you cannot meet the spending requirements as long as you have cash to pay the credit card bills at the end of the month.  Remember the value of miles and points is quickly negated if you are paying interest on your credit cards at the end of the month. As Starpoints are considered worth 2.5 cents each by many bloggers, paying $3.95 for the 500 Starpoints still seems worth it to me.

So to sum it up, yes there is still some value in Bluebird, but it is on life support for earning miles and points.  The only thing that would put a stake in its heart would be if CVS stops taking credit cards for the payment of Vanilla Reloads.

About The Points Doctor

The Points Doctor is Bruce J. Wilderman DDS of Artistic Expressions Dentistry.Dr. Wilderman has a practice limited to Cosmetic Dentistry, serving patients of the Philadelphia Area since 1986.He and wife of 30 years enjoy traveling the world for little or no money with the points and miles they have earned from the credit card companies. Dr. Wilderman would love to teach you how to do the same. You may reach him at ThePointsDoctor@comcast.net

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Hyatt Diamond Status is Not Worth It. (Satire)

Disclaimer: No animals were harmed and no trees were destroyed in the making of this blog post. Any resemblance to actual events is purely coincidental. Your mileage may vary. YMMV.

As a new Hyatt Diamond Member, I was anxious to see how my new elite status would get me the upgrade I am rightly entitled to. After all, not everyone is elite like me, or so I thought.

We arrived yesterday at the Hyatt Grand Tampa Bay around 9:30 AM after our early morning flight from Philadelphia. I was tired from having to wake at the ungodly hour of 3 AM. I figured I would use my new status to get in our room early as I had faxed several requests to hotel management in the weeks prior to our stay announcing my arrival. I asked for an early check-in, a late check out and to have our breakfast sent up to the room when we arrived. After all, I figured these were all reasonable requests commensurate with my newly attained status.

Upon arrival I was disappointed to see there was no fanfare, no big fuss, nothing!  Didn't they know who I was?  I went up to the diamond check-in area and approached the gentleman at the desk. In a pleasant voice he said "how may I help you sir?"   I told him I was checking in and could someone please take our bags to our room as I would really like to lay down now. He had a slightly puzzled look on his face when he said that it was only 9:30 and our room was still occupied by another guest. He promised to call me on my cell phone the minute our room was ready. I returned that same puzzled look, when I said to him, "don't you know who I am?"  Once again in a very courteous voice he replied, "of course Dr. Wilderman, you are The Points Doctor". At this point I was starting to get a little frustrated.  "But I have Diamond status, doesn't that mean something"?  I sent 4 faxes to you in the last week with all my requests just like I learned from reading Milepoint everyday. He then proceeded to tell me the bad news. There was another Diamond member in MY suite.  He had the nerve to ask for a 4pm check out this morning! In fact the entire hotel was filled with Platinum and Diamond members thanks to the new Chase Hyatt Visa card they were advertising all over the lobby. Surely my Diamond status trumps the lowly Platinum status that comes with a credit card.  Couldn't they remove someone out of a room to make room for us?  He then proceeded to tell me that ever since it was announced that the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay would be hosting the Fall FTU (Frequent Traveler University for those non Milepoint readers) the hotel was booking up all the suites before the room block was closed out. I am so glad I jumped on our tickets to the event and reserved my suite for that September weekend!

Very disappointed we went outside to sit around the pool until our suite was ready. About 5 minutes later, that nice young man from the Diamond desk showed up to tell me that they have solved the problem. Our room still wouldn't be ready until near noon, but they had upgraded us to a large corner suite. SCORE!

I guess making a pest of yourself pays after all! Maybe next time I will try to get the property manager's home phone number to avoid these problems in the future.

In all seriousness, the staff here at the Grand Hyatt has been wonderful. We do have a beautiful corner suite on the 11th floor  overlooking the water. (what? they could give me the club floor?) We had a wonderful dinner at Oystercatchers last night. Great seafood. The Calamari fries were awesome and the fish was very fresh. I can see why it was rated in the top ten out of 800+ restaurants on Trip Advisor in Tampa.  We look forward to our return for FTU in September.


About The Points Doctor

The Points Doctor is Bruce J. Wilderman DDS of Artistic Expressions Dentistry.Dr. Wilderman has a practice limited to Cosmetic Dentistry, serving patients of the Philadelphia Area since 1986.He and wife of 30 years enjoy traveling the world for little or no money with the points and miles they have earned from the credit card companies. Dr. Wilderman would love to teach you how to do the same. You may reach him at ThePointsDoctor@comcast.net



Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Miles and Points - A One Year Perspective


I started collecting miles and points in the mid to late 1990's with an American Airlines AAdvantage credit card.  Over the years I earned enough miles for American to give me lifetime Gold status.  My wife is just a few miles short of earning that same lifetime status.  We also belonged to a couple of hotel programs like Marriott and Starwood, but neither of us had any status as our stays were infrequent at best.  While we traveled somewhat frequently, we had no loyalty to any Loyalty program.

One year ago, I started getting serious about maximizing our miles and points. A year ago we started with a combined total of around 300,000 AA miles and a few hotel points along with my status with AA.  One year later, we have over 1.5 million miles and points in our combined accounts!  The most amazing thing is the amount of travel we have already done, and the amount of travel that we currently have booked.

Here are the totals for the past 12 months:

The number of hotel points and airline miles redeemed - approximately 1,000,000.
The number of RT flights booked - 19.  (4 Int'l 1st Class and a mix of 1st and Coach Dometic)
The number of FREE hotel nights booked using Free night certificates - 8 nights
The number of FREE hotel nights booked using points - 18 nights
The number of paid nights that were upgraded to suites - 12 nights
The number of non-paid nights upgraded to suites - 8 nights (so far!)

I have to say when I added it all up the 19 RT flights kind of blew me away.

One or both of us also now have the following status.

AA - Lifetime Gold status
Star Alliance Silver courtesy of Aegean Airlines
KLM/Air France Flying Blue Gold status

Hyatt Diamond
Hilton Diamond
Starwood Gold
Accor Platinum
Club Carlson Gold
Emerald Club Executive

It's been a pretty amazing year.  I want to thank the following bloggers for their teachings.  Gary Leff, Lucky, Mommy Points, Frequent Miler and the entire Milepoint community. I could not have done this without them.  I am still somewhat of a novice in this endeavor.  We are looking forward to the Frequent Traveler University in Tampa in September.  Maybe we will see some of you there!

Happy Anniversary to us!


About The Points Doctor

The Points Doctor is Bruce J. Wilderman DDS of Artistic Expressions Dentistry.Dr. Wilderman has a practice limited to Cosmetic Dentistry, serving patients of the Philadelphia Area since 1986.He and wife of 30 years enjoy traveling the world for little or no money with the points and miles they have earned from the credit card companies. Dr. Wilderman would love to teach you how to do the same. You may reach him at ThePointsDoctor@comcast.net

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The True Value of Miles and Points Part Two



I wrote in the past about the value of points and why I thought the “experts” were wrong.  My position on the subject had to do with how each of us makes an unconscious decision when purchasing an item with cash based on what we intuitively know is the value of a dollar.  Each of us has our own perspective on what that is based on our past experiences.  The value of a point or mile is not so clearly understood by most of us.  Some of the “experts” have tried to put a value of a particular program's point or mile based on the average of the many types of possible redemptions.  The problem with this approach is that there is so much variation in redemption methods, so many ways to acquire points, and different subjective values that each of us place on different types of travel, so as to render their valuations almost worthless for an individual.

I propose a different way to look at this situation.  I am a Cosmetic Dentist and have no formal business training, but I do run a small business.  All businesses have a cost to acquire goods, and a price at which they sell their product.  The difference is our profit. 

If we look at miles and points in the same way, it gives a much more accurate “value” to each mile or point.  In my opinion, Starwood points are valuable points when you go to redeem them, but they have a high acquisition cost.  The ONLY ways other than a sign up bonus to earn Starpoints is 1:1 spending on a credit card or by staying at a Starwood property.  On the other hand, Ultimate reward points and Hilton points are very EASY to earn in large quantities due to the multipliers for certain spending categories.  The cost of acquiring those points is relatively low.  I can go into an office supply store and “buy” 10,000 UR points for around $20 by purchasing $2000 in gift cards to be redeemed at a later date. Now that’s not the only cost of those points, but surely the “cost” to buy 10,000 Starpoints is several orders of magnitude higher. 

Depending on how we PERSONALLY redeem our miles and points, will determine how much “profit” we have. This is the unconscious decision making process we use to determine, should I pay with points and miles, or should I put it on my credit card?  If we have a large “profit” from the redemption of points, we use points.  If not, it may make sense for us to charge it.  Each person redeems their points and miles differently.  If someone ONLY redeems their points and miles for aspirational first class travel, they are going to have a much higher profit margin on their redemptions than someone who uses their points and miles for budget domestic travel.  How does an individual determine the value of staying in a suite or flying first class?  I’ve heard some well respected bloggers say “even though this hotel room costs $500/night, I value this hotel redemption at $300/night because I would never pay more than that for a room so I wouldn't stay here if it weren't for the points.  How subjective is that? I've heard one young blogger say he doesn't like to redeem his Starpoints, because they are so valuable.  What he is saying is that they are really hard to earn back once they are gone, so he spends them very carefully. The real test of value is which points do you redeem most often?  For me, It’s UR points.  They are so easy to earn, that I don’t mind spending them. I know I just need a trip to the office supply store to earn them back!

The bottom line is that each of us has different preferences in our travel, and differences in the way we earn and redeem points.  If we look at the situation from the perspective of how much did it cost to acquire the points and how much perceived value we are getting from the redemption, then this seems to be a more accurate way to place true value. 


About The Points Doctor

The Points Doctor is Bruce J. Wilderman DDS of Artistic Expressions Dentistry.Dr. Wilderman has a practice limited to Cosmetic Dentistry, serving patients of the Philadelphia Area since 1986.He and wife of 30 years enjoy traveling the world for little or no money with the points and miles they have earned from the credit card companies. Dr. Wilderman would love to teach you how to do the same. You may reach him at ThePointsDoctor@comcast.net





Sunday, March 17, 2013

Why You Should Spend your Hilton Points NOW

 
Earlier this month Hilton did a major devaluation of its points currency effective March 28, 2013.  That got me thinking about what I wanted to do with our Hilton points.  We have a combined 350,000 Hilton points and two free weekend nights left over from the Citi Hilton credit card sign up bonus.  Of course the value of the weekend night certificates won't become devalued, we just have to use them before they expire later this year.  I see another weekend in NYC in our future!

See this post to maximize the value of Hilton points using VIP and AXON awards.  If you find yourself running out of time before the March 28th deadline and are in need of points, a transfer from Hawaiian Air Miles is a great way to accumulate Hilton points. Hawaiian Air Miles transfer 1:2 to Hilton points.  In other words, 10,000 Hawaiian miles transfer to 20,000 Hilton points.  Please understand that it could take two weeks or more for them to post into your Hilton account.  No one ever accused Hawaiian Air of being efficient! The transfer process is not a seamless one to say the least.

The above idea was the strategy used to book our 8 nights in French Polynesia in the Fall of 2014.  We will be staying at the Hilton Moorea for 4 nights and the Hilton Bora Bora for 4 nights.  We used one AXON7 award that requires 145,000 points (my wife has the Hilton Amex Surpass) and one VIP award  (Courtesy of my Diamond status) which requires 170,000 points.  You don't need Diamond status to book a VIP award though.  You only need some kind of status with Hilton.  Status can be easily attained by one of their hotel branded credit cards

So how was I able to book 8 nights at the Hilton in French Polynesia when the Hilton website typically only allows booking one year in advance? Read this post from Lucky.  He details how to book Hilton awards into 2015. 

There you have it!  Book your Hilton award stays now before your points become massively devalued on March 28th, 2013.
 
About The Points Doctor

The Points Doctor is Bruce J. Wilderman DDS of Artistic Expressions Dentistry.Dr. Wilderman has a practice limited to Cosmetic Dentistry, serving patients of the Philadelphia Area since 1986.He and wife of 30 years enjoy traveling the world for little or no money with the points and miles they have earned from the credit card companies. Dr. Wilderman would love to teach you how to do the same. You may reach him at ThePointsDoctor@comcast.net

2013 Chase Freedom 5% Cash Back 2nd Q Bonus



Registration for your Chase Freedom card 2nd quarter (April-June) bonus of 5% cash back began on March 16th, 2013.  Bonus categories for the 2nd quarter are restaurants and movies theaters. If you haven't maxxed out your first quarter bonus for Gas stations, drug stores and Starbucks, get to the stores before the end of the month and buy some gift cards.  Maximum bonus is 7500 UR points or a $1500 spend. 

If you have a Chase Ink or Sapphire card already, you can transfer that 5% cash back into valuable Ultimate Reward (UR) points. UR points are best to redeem for United Airlines or Hyatt stays, but they have many other transfer partners as well.

Click here to activate your bonus.




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About The Points Doctor

The Points Doctor is Bruce J. Wilderman DDS of Artistic Expressions Dentistry.Dr. Wilderman has a practice limited to Cosmetic Dentistry, serving patients of the Philadelphia Area since 1986.He and wife of 30 years enjoy traveling the world for little or no money with the points and miles they have earned from the credit card companies. Dr. Wilderman would love to teach you how to do the same. You may reach him at ThePointsDoctor@comcast.net