Monthly Archives: August 2012

Free Priority Club Points!

No hotel chain, or really loyalty program at all, gives away more free points for doing nothing than Priority Club does. The loyalty program of Holiday Inn and InterContinental Hotels seemingly hands them out for free on quite a regular basis, in addition to giving ridiculous bonuses when you actually DO stay with them.

Two quick ways to score 1000 points each:

1. Take this survey (Warning: worst designed survey ever. It will take you a while for the flash graphics to load).

2. Watch this commercial (use code MSPAOQR6F2).

Done!

Also, New Girl in the Air put together a very handy and consolidated list of those many bonus possibilities I mentioned earlier. There’s some ridiculously amazing values here, especially if you plan a stay at one of the “PointBreaks” hotels on this list since it’s only 5K points per night!

Sky Tea at the Burj Al Arab in Dubai

Not long ago I had the opportunity to have afternoon tea at the Skyview Bar on the top floor of the Burj Al Arab in Dubai. It was quite an experience, even for a non-tea-drinker like myself.

But unfortunately, it wasn’t a cheap experience. The hotel regularly sees room rates from $1,000 USD per night up to $27,000 USD per night (!), so I wasn’t exactly expecting a cheap few hours. There are actually several afternoon tea options at the hotel. The one I chose was the most expensive option, at the top of the hotel with what promised to be some of the best panoramic views of the city. The total was AED 425, or just about $115 USD. Yeah, it’s a ton of cash, but how often am I in Dubai, right?

Note: I tried getting a reservation for lunch at one of the restaurants but it was booked solid my entire stay in Dubai. Plan WELL in advance, and note the food is ridiculously expensive.

The front of the Burj Al Arab

Walking up to the Burj Al Arab is pretty cool. It’s the 4th tallest hotel in the world, and it definitely looks like it’s that big. Note the round helicopter pad/tennis court sticking out at the top of the building. There’s some awesome pictures of Roger Federer and Andrei Agassi at the top. Gives me the willies just seeing how high up they are. Google it!

Upon entry, you immediately see why this hotel is so expensive.

I was in Dubai in the Summer. The hot part of the Summer. It was 105 degrees Fahrenheit and extremely humid, so I couldn’t wait to get inside. As soon as I did, I was greeted by some dancing fountains, golden pillars, royal blue ceilings, and white walls (couldn’t come up with an expensive-sounding description for white). Honestly, this hotel looked gorgeous. It was one of those buildings where you kind of just stand and look around for 10 minutes in order to appreciate everything before you move on.

Looking at the ceiling was impressive as well.

Looking directly upwards, you see the ceiling of the building about 600 feet up. I’m not sure, but this has got to be the largest atrium of any hotel in the world. And again, the colors are just amazing to look at.

A look from the top of the fountains down to the entry doors.

Going up the escalator to the second main floor wasn’t much different. There were more fountains and artwork and all kinds of things that catch your eye and make you wonder how much it all costs (about $650 million when it was built, btw).  The view downward gives you a better idea of the other colors used in the carpet and even the fountains themselves.

But now, on to the tea. After some sight-seeing around the hotel and a not-so-quick elevator ride to the top of the hotel, I arrived at the check-in area of the Skyview Bar. The place was mostly empty, though it definitely started to fill up as we finished up.

TIP: Be sure to book your tea reservation well in advance of your trip. Space has been known to fill up well ahead of time.

The Skyview Bar, which was pretty empty when I got there.

Again, I love the colors. The entire room was colored and accented with blue/green/aqua colors, which fit really well considering how great the view of the water was. It’s worth noting that the Skyview Bar is not a full 360 degree room. The room takes up half, or less, of the entire floor, but it’s still plenty to provide views of the city and the water.

The floor-to-ceiling glass windows provided some great views.

As I mentioned, the views were pretty great. They would have been even better if it weren’t for a bit of haze, but we still had some good visibility. In the picture above you can see the Palm Jumeirah island, which is a man-made island in the shape of a palm tree, in the distance.

A close up of the Palm Jumeirah island.

I know the picture above doesn’t really add much value here, but I wanted to show it for two reasons. First to show that the haze does affect the view if you’re looking into the distance. Second, in the center of this picture, on the far end of the island, you can see a shadowy figure of what looks to be a castle. No, it’s not Sleeping Beauty’s castle at Walt Disney World in Orlando (too hazy to see that far). It’s actually the “Atlantis, The Palm” hotel, which is modeled after the “Atlantis, Paradise Island” hotel in the Bahamas.

We were also able to barely see The World islands in the distance. Too far and too much haze to get a decent picture, but it was cool knowing it was there. For those that don’t know, they’ve built a series of man-made islands in the shape of the countries and continents of the Earth, and each island was sold individually. It’s really quite impressive what this country has managed to build.

The view of the city.

Looking the other direction you see the city itself. Besides the hotel in the foreground, there’s really not much to see. Even within several miles of visibility there are no trademark, monster-sized Dubai buildings in sight. This wasn’t a big deal at all to me, but be wary of this if you were hoping/expecting to see a spectacular city view.

Oh yeah…I came here for tea! On to that…

Our tower of tea snacks.

We were given a very small drink menu that included a few different teas, cappuccinos, and a few other random options. I mentioned I’m not much of a tea drinker, so I opted for the “sparkling juice” which really wasn’t that great. Along with the drink came a very cool looking tower of snacks for the tea. As you’ll notice, the tower is shaped like the hotel, which was a pretty nice touch.

There were various pastries, biscuits, cookies, and cakes on the several layers. None of them were that great, at least not to my taste. Perhaps my palate isn’t as refined as a tea-drinker’s would be, but I know a good pastry when I have one, and these weren’t it. There were a lot of them, though…way more than even two guys who just dropped $115 each to eat pastries could finish. I’m not sure if groups of 3+ get a single tower or not, so definitely inquire if you plan to bring a large group.

The service was not what I expected it to be, especially for a room that was only at about 20% capacity. It seemed like there were only a couple of servers, and besides taking our drink order and bringing the food tower to our table, they didn’t really even ask us how things were. We didn’t have any issues with our food, but I could see how it might become difficult to get a hold of your server if the room were full (which I hear is usually the case).

After spending a couple of hours having tea and enjoying the view (and really, just milking the time to get my money’s worth), I decided it was time to finish up. We paid and headed back down the elevator to the main lobby for a few last looks around before leaving the hotel.

Your guess is as good as mine as to whether or not the floor is real gold.

And, of course, what kind of report would this be without a couple of quick pics of the parking lot out front.

When I walk out and look left I see…

Whoever drove that BMW sure must have been embarrassed!

And when I turn to the right I see…

Speechless…

So I asked the valet to pull up my black Audi R8 and then headed back to my hotel…kidding! Who am I trying to fool…I actually WALKED up to the hotel and had to walk back since they restrict entry to drive up to the hotel. A taxi dropped us off at the gate, which seemed like a quarter mile walk to the hotel, and we made the same walk back to catch a taxi on the main road. And yes, it was hot.

One other note regarding the tea. It was “suggested” that we wear semi-formal attire to attend the afternoon tea in the Skyview Bar. I did, but noticed several others that were much more casual. Dress casually at your own risk, however. I know I’d hate to get turned away for my appointment after coming from so far away to see this place.

All in all, it was a good experience and I got some great pics and cool views out of it. If you don’t care for the views at the top or the tea and crumpets, then by all means skip the afternoon tea up top. There’s still plenty to explore at the hotel and it’s worth a visit just to look around the lobby and pool area. The people watching isn’t too bad either (it’s fun to figure out how a person is so insanely wealthy (or just insane?) that they can afford this hotel).

Important Note: They don’t just let anyone walk up to the hotel. You have to have “business” to be there, meaning either you have to be staying there or you have to have an appointment at a restaurant or for tea. They verify your appointment at the front gate (a quarter mile away from the hotel itself), so bring a confirmation of some sort just in case.

And no, there are no hotel loyalty points that could get you any free nights at this hotel. Cash is king in this oil rich country, and staying at this hotel will require you to drop a few G’s in order to say you’re one of the few who stayed there overnight.

What was your experience like at the Burj Al Arab? Are you one of the few that stayed here overnight?

Beginners Guide Part 2: Do Not Underestimate the Importance of Timing

In life, they say that timing is everything. This definitely holds true in the points world, and examples abound. If you’re not on your toes, or if you’re not properly informed, you might not get the most “bang for your buck” on deals or opportunities with credit cards.

First of all, make sure your credit is in good standing. I cannot stress this enough. Quite simply, your gateway to nearly free travel is your credit score and how you manage your credit. There are thousands of people who travel using nothing but points they earned for free plus a little cash for taxes, but they would not be able to do so without solid credit scores and constant management of their credit.

It is also worth mentioning that no person I’ve come across or read about carries a balance on any credit card. They all pay off everything, every month. The reason for this is because carrying a balance poses some risk to the bank. The fact that you’re borrowing on credit means you’re willing to pay more (interest) in favor of waiting longer to pay, presumably because it would be easier to pay at a later time. NOT a good idea. You want the banks to think you’re a NO RISK person. That way, they’ll issue you more credit without having to think twice.

I’m not going to claim to be an expert on credit scores. The Points Guy has a great article on creating/improving your credit, and there are tons of other resources out there. Google is your friend!

So why does this really matter? Because when your credit is in good standing, you’ve paved the way to what people in the points game call “credit card churning.” Basically, it’s signing up for multiple credit cards at a time (usually 2-5) several times a year, but spaced out intelligently so that your credit score remains as high as possible, and for the sole purpose of earning lots and lots of points.

The magic number here is 3 months. After you apply for 3-5 credit cards in a single day, you should wait 3 months before applying again. There are multiple reasons for this. To start, I’ll quote The Points Guy who said it’s a good idea to do all applications in a single day “since credit inquiries are only reported once a day, which means none of the companies would know that I was applying cards with the other credit card companies, thus increasing my chance of getting approved with each.”

Also, credit issuers seem to care less about hard inquiries on your credit after the 90 day mark, making it easier to apply for more cards at that point. This also happens to have the added benefit of spreading out the minimum spend requirements and allowing you to take advantage of any limited time bonus offers.

I think it’s appropriate now to give you a step-by-step process of an actual credit card churn:

  1. Know your credit score.
  2. If you’re score is good enough, decide which credit cards will help you achieve your travel desires. See Part 1 for figuring out what you desire.
  3. Determine if you can meet the minimum spend requirements – This one is important.
  4. Apply.
  5. Travel for nearly free!

I’ve already covered Steps 1-2. Step 3 is extremely important because your churn would be useless if you can’t meet the spend requirements. Issuers of credit cards usually require you to spend a certain amount, say $5K, within a certain time period, say 3 months, in order to earn the special bonus points that you want. In recent years the trend has been increasing spend requirements, but luckily there are plenty of ways  to achieve them. Still, not everyone can sign up for 5 credit cards and drop $30K in spend in 3 months to earn all those points. If you can, awesome. If not, it’s time to get creative.

It’s worth noting that there are TONS of ways to meet your minimum spend requirements. Some of them are obvious, some less obvious, and some border on being unethical to some (while others think it’s fine). Much smarter people than I have written about this topic, so I’ll defer to their expertise here and here, while Frequent Miler has seemingly made a profession out of doing it here and here, and lots of other places. Oh, and Target seemingly made it easy for us a couple of weeks ago, which I wrote about here.

Now for a couple of other tips and tricks that will help you get started with your first churn.

CHASE – Has some of the absolute best offers, and very wide variety of cards, but it can be tough to get approved over and over again. To improve your odds, I recommend applying for only ONE chase card every 3 months. People have definitely been approved for more than one, but it’s usually one personal and one business. For best results, apply for a personal card first, then a business card after 3 months, then a personal card after 3 more months, etc. etc. to infinite. This will increase your odds drastically.

If you get denied, don’t give up! You can actually convince them to approve you by shifting credit from one card to a new one, or saying that you need the new card for whatever benefit it comes with (i.e. I said I wanted the Sapphire because it has no foreign transaction fees, which was important since I travel abroad a lot). They’ll work with you! Call them at 1-888-245-0625 for personal cards and 1-800-453-9719 for business cards.

Of course, there are no actual “rules” for applying for Chase cards. Like I mentioned, they’ll work with you. I applied for 3 Chase cards in 5 months and got approved for all 3, but had to call the reconsideration line for the last 2. It’s not advisable to do that, however, but what I mentioned above is a very good strategy for being approved consistently.

American Express – The other major source of lucrative credit card offers is from Amex. Thankfully, Amex is generally MUCH easier than Chase, though you can still have some difficulties. You can generally apply for multiple Amex cards in a day and get approved for all of them. You’ll be much better off if you can mix in some business cards with personal cards, and anything beyond 3 cards in a day is really pushing it. I recommend doing 2 cards max, and if possible do one business and one personal.

If you get denied, fear not! Amex also has a reconsideration line. Call 1-800-582-6471 for both personal and business cards, but go here first to confirm your application status.

Citi – Not nearly as many offers from Citi as the two above, but there are still some opportunities to be had. The trick with Citi is called the “two-browser trick” in which you can apply for two cards simultaneously for minimal credit impact and maximum approval chances. Million Mile Secrets has a detailed explanation of how to go about doing this.

Other – Everyone else includes the likes of Bank of America, US Bank, Barclay’s and the like. There are no real rules for these ones, so generally pick just one of these at a time. Options are limited anyway, so it’s doubtful you’d want more than one.

When you put it all together, You can potentially apply for a Chase card and two Amex cards today and have a business class ticket to Europe along with hotel stays for almost FREE after you hit those spend requirements. How? Glad you asked!

Churn Example

Chase Ink Bold Business Card- You’ll get a 50K points signup bonus. That’s a one-way business class trip to Europe on a Star Alliance carrier if you transfer the points to and book through United Airlines. Score!

Amex Mercedes Benz Platnium – Another 50K signup bonus. Transfer the points to Singapore Airlines for another Star Alliance business class flight back home. Score again!

Amex Starwood – Only a 30K signup bonus, but these are the most valuable points in the points world. How about the Sheraton Istanbul Maslak Hotel? This bonus will get you 4 nights there, and you’ll still have 2K points leftover! Wooohooo!

You just got a 5  day, 4 night, business class vacation to Istanbul, Turkey for nothing but good credit, smart use of credit card applications, and a few hundred dollars in taxes. Not bad!

But remember…timing is everything!

Your Room at the Sheraton Istanbul Maslak Hotel

Next up in the Beginner’s Guide series will be Part 3: It’s Good to Diversify…Usually. Look for this post in the coming days!

Beginner’s Guide to Points – A 6-Part Series

Part 1: Starting Out – REALLY Know What You Want

Part 2: Do Not Underestimate the Importance of Timing

Part 3: It’s Good to Diversify…Usually

Part 4: Know Your Spending Habits Really Well

Part 5: If an Amazing Offer Comes Around, Don’t Wait!

Part 6: There are LOTS of Ways to Earn Points

Personal Growth: TED talks

This is a guest post written by frequent contributor B.Positive.

This week I’ve come across some amazing TED talks that have left a lasting impression on me that’d I’d like to share with all 3 of you readers (this joke won’t get old for a while).

First: 

Imagine the possibilities that are enabled by making the best education free and widely available! At least we won’t have an excuse on why we couldn’t learn something or try harder in school (or in this case, in personal learning and in life). Simply amazing. I’ll be sure to write reviews on any online courses I take.

Second: 

I thought this video was simply amazing. Whether you love or hate conflict, it shows us the importance of arguing productively and professionally to help you and those you engage with raise your level of awareness, thinking, and being. We all need conflict to help us challenge our beliefs and grow as people – sometimes, we lose perspective of that and try to take comfort in seeking out others who would easily agree and affirm our beliefs, values and our identity. Sometimes, stepping out of your comfort zone and seeking that which is completely different  will help you more than you can imagine.

Just a quick share of these videos today. I thought it was too important not to share with you readers.

B.Positive

P.S. Some amazing photographs are coming out of the London Olympics. The Olympics are an incredible way to take a glimpse at participants from all parts of the world and to share in the experience of admiring what mankind is capable of  together.  Here are a few of my favorites:
1.

The image captures the emotion and intensity of the moment so elegantly from such a unique perspective. Photo Source: http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2012/08/2012-london-olympics-the-first-9-days/100347/#img40

2. http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2012/08/london_2012_olympics.html#photo27
http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2012/08/london_2012_olympics.html#photo59

Great Britain’s Anna Watkins displays the gold medal she won in the women’s rowing double sculls in Eton Dorney, near Windsor, England, Aug. 3, 2012. (Chris Carlson/Associated Press
Photo Source:http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2012/08/london_2012_olympics_one_week.html#photo14

A part of one of the biggest photoblog articles I’ve seen covering the Olympic athletes and locations during the event. Amazing.

Just simply amazing. If you haven’t been watching the Olympics, live it through these photoblogs!