Thursday, May 27, 2010

My recent US Mint success story

In order to increase my Virgin America Mileage account I started the US Mint game again. It's been a few months since I used it the last time.

By now, the US Mint is aware of my permanent address and my wife's parents address so they will not ship large quantities to these addresses anymore. I am blocked in the system to receive any more coins from them there. :(

However, I realized that I can have US Mint coins shipped to my work as well - Woohoo! This is a complete new address for the US Mint online system so I can order anything I want.
I went for it all the way- 25 boxes of $250 each - Native American $1 coins....totaling: $6250

That will give me 6250 Virgin America miles once my statement posts in a few weeks (+300 miles credit card bonus for every $5000 spent - so actual mileage haul: 6550 - that's roughly what you normally get for 1.5 roundtrips to NYC from SFO, not bad). US Mint coins seem the only good way to earn VA miles right now since they hardly have any promotions. I applied and received the VA Visa credit card a few months ago but it only had a low 2700 miles sign up bonus.

I am gearing up Virgin America miles for free tickets to DC this Fall. Redemption is easy but the points required are a lot....I mainly started focusing on it since I will have 760 VA miles expire in December and I hate expiring miles.....

Now, about the logistics - I went to the US Mint online website - shopped online - went to the "DIRECT SHIP $1 coins" page and selected 25 kits of the native american coins. All coins are backordered because more and more people are using this for easy miles or won't be charged until the coins actually ship so make sure you know your statement closing date and buy coins right after if they are not backordered, if they are backordered I would order them a few days before your statement closing date. That way, you statement closes - you have a full month until the next closing date and about 7 weeks until payment is due. Plenty of time....

I can still get another 25 kits of the native american coins in a few weeks because there's a 50box household limit. Don't worry - FREE SHIPPING even though it says 4.95 for shipping on the first screen, that charge disappears once you order. However, 25 boxes weigh a total of roughly 36lbs so consider the weight of it all.

I will save myself the presidential coins for future credit cards that need a minimum purchase to get miles.

Monday the coins arrived at my work and were delivered to my cubicle. I went to the bank, deposited $3000 at one branch, $3250 at another. I like to spread it out and reduce the teller's, since the US Mint is probably tracking the non-circulation of coins and mapping the hotspots I want to stay under the radar. Most likely this governmental service is going to stop at some point but for now it's a gold mine. REMEMBER: You are not doing anything illegal - you just don't use the coins for the intended use: circulation. Plus, I highly suggest depositing the coins into a savings account until your credit card payment is due to get an extra little interest boost (which the government then will tax automatically anyway - everybody wins).

So even though a few months ago some were saying this deal is dead - it is very much alive for most credit cards out there. The Virgin America card is a Barclay Bank co-branded card so no problem there....
Amex and Chase may or may not work these days - there are mixed results. The British Airways Chase Visa still seems to work, however, I already have over 112000 British Airways miles - I don't need any more for now.

If you need help figuring out the details of the US Mint deal - let me know.

By the way - you can pay your taxes with your Airline credit card as well... :) You even sometimes get a bonus from the Airline if you do....I have never done it but I will post about it during next year's tax season.

Until then, enjoy the US Mint gold rush while it lasts!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

New Airline Fees Just in Time for Summer Travel

From a news story:

Some airlines are making travelers pay surcharges for peak travel days. USA Today reports that the surcharge ranges from $10-$30 for each one-way domestic flight and is included in the cost of a travelers' ticket. Customers who fly Southwest and JetBlue Airways don't have to deal with these surcharges. It's a different story for people flying American, Delta, Continental, United and US Airways.
Great - we were planning to go to DC for 4th of July's going to be pricey it seems.
Seriously, no meals, no free bags, no blankets, no they won't be seats and you'll have to stand during the whole flight....jokes aside...NOW more than ever, the value of collecting miles is critical. Faced with a $500 ticket to the East Coast your 25000 award mile redemption possibilities will be looking very attractive in the future.

Southwest & Jetblue - i have no points/miles in either airline. I have flown JetBlue and liked it. However, since their tickets are cheap most of the time - collecting miles never seemed a good idea. I might rethink - since there are less and less big players and competition is taking a dive. It's just a matter of time until US Airways folds as well and we will be left with American, Delta and United. Let's hope not.

Monday, May 24, 2010

I might repeat myself here....

I might repeat myself with these tips but just to recap:

If you have a cash-back or points card like Capital One/Discovery/etc... you are wasting your time & money. At any time these Banks can change their redemption program (Capital One just recently did by downgrading the point worth).

It is highly advisable to be a member of every airline program you can think of - joining a program doesn't cost any money - just 2 minutes to fill out the registration on the airline's website and then they will send you your membership number (keep an Excel spreadsheet for easy management).

Determine where you want to travel to. Living in San Francsico Bay Area - your best bet is to be a United Mileage Plus member (SFO is a United Hub). In LA it would be advisable to mainly acquire American Airlines AAdvantage miles (LAX is a AA Hub)....and so on...nevertheless, we are members of many different airlines so you have to keep your options open.

You want to get to Europe for free (almost free, you always have to pay taxes/airport fees and the like - roughly $100 per ticket) then UNITED is nice from SFO because it code-shares with Lufthansa. You want to go to London? American Airlines miles can be used for British Airways flights....
Want to sip some wine in Paris - then Delta miles, which can be used with Air France are for you....
 These are all code-share/partner airlines. There are 3 major partnerships: Star Alliance (United, Continental, US Airways, Lufthansa, etc...), One World (American Airlines, British Airways, Aeroflot, etc..) and Skyteam (Delta, Air France, etc..) - there are so many options out there....go grab the opportunity.

How do I earn miles? 
1) by flying the airline and showing/submitting your membership number pre-flight during booking or check-in.
2) By using a co-branded credit card (United Chase Visa Signature Card for example) and earning 1mile or 2miles/dollar spent. AND you receive HUGE sign-up bonuses for getting the card and using it following all instructions to get 20000, 250000, 300000, 350000 or even 50000 miles after first using your card by buying a stick of gum or by spending a minimum amount in the first few months of owning the card....this is how we get most of our miles - it's a real gold rush and who knows how long that lasts - so get in on it!!!
3) By using a credit card for dining (participating restaurants - see rewardsnetwork) you can earn up to 10 miles/dollar ( $80 dinner=800 miles, that's more than what you would earn for a flight from SFO-LAX).
4) By using the online shopping portal of an airline. Shoebuy 6miles/dollar, Macy's 2miles/dollar....whenever you buy anything online - you could probably earn miles by doing so.
5) Renting a car - some car rental companies give you a bonus & discount by renting through the airline website or using special discount coupons offered quite widely by airlines (20% or 1000 mile bonus are common)
6) participate in promotions (check your emails closely) - sometimes you get an email announcement by an airline that state that for the next 4 weeks, if you fly between SFO and JFK and you register for the promotion, you will earn 25000 bonus points....there's a lot of fine print involved but this is potentially very lucrative for miles.
7) by following this or other blogs - there are deals and promotions all the time. Some are really small (100 points for filling out a survey) some are huge. To maximize your miles you have to follow a blog. The best message board is

How do I use my miles?

Well, first congratulations for having this luxury. You are now member of an exclusive club of people that can get a ticket for almost nothing.

However, getting those tickets is not easy - there's high demand so PLAN, PLAN, PLAN AHEAD!!
If you wait 1 month before takeoff to get your ticket you may very well be out of luck. 6 months, your chances are good, 12 months you almost certainly will be successful. The more flexibility you have the better of course.

For us the thinking goes: Where do we want to go & when? E.g.: Hawaii (Kauai)- labor day weekend
Who flies there? (United, Hawaiian Airlines, etc...)
Do we have enough miles for a free ticket? (yes on United, no on Hawaiian Airlines)
Do we want to use our United miles or save them for a Europe flight? (save them....get Hawaiian Airline miles)
How many Hawaiian Airlines miles do we need? (at least 17500 each for one-way, most likely 25000 one way each)
How do we get that much together fast? Answer: credit card sign up bonuses. Hawaiian Airlines issues 2 credit cards, one with Bank of America, one with Bank of Hawaii. each have a $50 annual fee but give you 20000 Hawaiian miles after first use. That's 40000 miles total.  
Is that enough? yep, there's a sale so flying to Kauai and back (stopover in honolulu) "costs" only 17500 miles one-way - 35000miles total. So we have 5000 miles to spare.
What are the next steps? Both of us sign up for both cards. They arrive in about 10-14 days. Buy something small (stick of gum) right away. Wait for next statement...about 3 weeks. all miles should post then. Go to Hawaiian Airlines website and purchase tickets. Total price to go to Hawaii per person: 2x $50 annual fee + $10 airline fee/taxes = $110 roundtrip SFO - KAUAI per person (planning started in Feb/March - tickets purchased end of April - trip is in September)

That's just a short example of how you could be doing this.....same applies to go to the Carribbean, Europ, Africa, Australia....just have a plan, figure out who you want to fly with preferably and see if it's possible to get the miles together cheaply so you don't have to fork out $500 to $1000 each......

Just ask me and I'll get you on the right track.

What about my CREDIT SCORE, won't all this credit card applications hurt my score?
Welcome to Mythville, where myths are spread without connection to reality. Yes your score is important and I always advise people that they have to be careful and responsible with their credit.
However, my score has recently gone UP by doing all this I just described (I have applied to approx. 6 credit cards in the past 4 weeks - my score went up 13 points),sometimes it may drop a ridiculous amount for 3 months (3 points or so) but there's not big hit or drop.
Remember, you can have 30 credit cards with no problem if you pay your balances in full. And that's certainly easy if you get a card, buy chewing gum and pay the bill when it comes in. Let's say you have 10 credit cards (all airline or hotel related) - each card has a credit limit of 5000 dollars. Your personal access to credit is 50000 dollars. What's your balance: 0 to 200 dollars perhaps at any given time. The credit bureaus calculate the ratio between how much credit you have and how much you use. Using 200 bucks out of 50000 is not bad so you are not a risky person to the credit bureaus. So, don't worry about your score too much. Make sure you don't spend uncontrollable. Pay off your balance in full, don't miss payments, etc...
You should get a free credit report online (remember is has to be FREE by law) and maybe check your score at (sign up for trial period, cancel right away so you won't be charged after the trial ends) so you have an idea where your score is. If you are at 700 or higher you won't have too much trouble getting a credit card....and that's it....

Finally..... ENJOY YOUR BONUS MILES & FREE FLIGHT! :) And think of us when you enjoy your complimentary nuts & beverages on your way to .........(fill in the blank)!!

Delta American Express Card holders - 1st bag fee waived

Good news - some airlines already offered this but now Delta has joined the club. If you own any of the Delta American Express credit cards - your 1st bag flies free. So even if you have an annual fee on the card - you just saved yourself at least $23(online bag check) to $25 (at counter). A nice benefit. Too bad it came to late for our recent Delta trip to New York. :(

50000 Marriott Points for Chase Marriot credit card

Here's the link - 50000 Marriott points after first purchase (stick of gum) & $65 annual fee gets you at least 2 free nights in most Marriotts around the world.... (cost benefit analysis: $65 buck for 2 nights ....not bad)


UNITED Visa Signature Credit Card - 50000miles sign up bonus

This deal seems to be down at the moment - I was able to get me and Nadia signed up in time, she was denied - I was approved - we'll see if the points will post since I already had this card a few years ago.

Good luck to all of you who got it.