All posts by alex

End of year travel points planning

A little like taxes and paperwork, december is busy and is the perfect time for end of year points planning.

Hotels points: usually there is maximum points you can buy per calendar year. Hhonors is 40000, spg is 25000. And usually it does not make sense to buy hotels points with cash. But planned accordingly, you can top up accounts to reach a sweet spot redemption easier if you just buy the missing points.

Example, with hilton, the best value are for 5 nights redemptions, it is cheaper. So if you are short on hhonors points to make that 5 night swet spot, then just buy it, as long as you can minimum redeemed for more than on cent per point.

Spg: sometimes it make sense to buy spg points, if you plan a biz class or first class redemption very soon and are short on points.

Usairways: with their flexible routings rules, but incompetent and inflexible agent, with a lot of patience, you can just buy the points and go to australia in first class for same price as economy.

Credit card or other bonus end of year: similarily, amex offer each calendar year $200 travel credit. Remember to book through amex for anything travel related, for example, a hotel worth more than $200, to get $200 credit. It has to be done before calendar year end.

Hotels status stays: december bring evaluation and last minute hotel stay rush to get or keep top hotel status. Some people , cough cough, have even booked, checked in and stayed for 15 minutes then check out, just to keep or maintain status. Why? The marginal hotel one night cost is a lot less than the value of the benefits of certain hotel status (free suites, free internet, late check out, more point etc..) stay in hotels just for status, that is what we call : “mattress run”

“Mileage run”: december also bring last minute flight booking, to anywhere cheap and far, to rack up status miles for air status. Why? Same as mattress run, the marginal cost of the flight is considered against the benefits of air status ( priority lines, saving time, upgrades !)

Example, before, we flew to singapore in for a few days just for fun, just to get status miles to be air canada 35k elite. Back then, it was worth it: for one or two flight to singapore : we got star alliance gold, lounges access, free luggage allowance, extra luggage allowance, lie flat business seat upgrades twice a year.. Good times… Years Later Air canada realize that it was too good, so they devalue the requirements and benefits, and change it completely.

As usual, you have to keep in mind redemptions sweet spot, the missing points requirements, and calculate if it is worth the extra money, effort and time to reach or maintain status. You have to keep in mind the difference between the IN and the OUT.

Round the world in first class, diving maldives, bangkok, singapore, paris trip planner

We booked another (!) rtw trip in f class with aeroplan for 175k, before the devaluation increased to 225k per person. It is so tempting to go around the world in first class for same price as an economy cash ticket… Hence we fly around 200k-300k miles per year in first and biz class.

Trip planner with links, pictures, and post later:

Na- cdg with air canada lie flat b767
Cdg-bkk thai tg a380 first
Stay st regis bangkok, 2 bedroom suites upgrades
Eat at nara bangkok
Fly bkk-sin- mle sq biz
Male maldive traders hotel transit one night
Conrad maldives on hhonors points
Diving conrad maldives : underwater pictures and videos: from super wide angle panoramic, to 3d pictures, to fluo night dive pictures,  to 4k video, to super macro !!

Fly mle-sin sq biz
Sin fairmont plaza suite upgrades.
Eat Singapore restaurants : nara, paradise dynasty, jumbo, waku ghin, food court desserts

Fly sin-bkk-cdg thai a380 first
Stay westin paris
Stay park hyatt paris
Eat: le hide, pur park hyatt paris, bistro volnay
Fly cdg-muc-yul lufthansa first

Cost of flight pp: 175k aeroplan, + 30k usairways (sin-mle sq biz return)
Compared to cash cost : $15k-20k, + $1500 sin-mle flight

Advantage of flying first class: you can bring per person: 3 luggage each weight 70lbs each, great for divers and underwater photographers. (Camera brought: nikon 1, 3 d camera, 3 d camcorder, go pro 4k)

To avoid paying fees for sin-mle luggage (inside asia, sq weight is very limited, even in biz class), we had star alliance gold from tk air, obtained with status match last year, ( and maintained valid for 3 year until 2016, with only 25000 miles flown, instead of the usual 50000 miles flown requirement per year). It is hard for us to get 25000 miles flown, paid, as we usually travel in first class with points.

To avoid paying luggage fees for the seaplane, i negociated a package with the conrad resort before arrival (past frequent customer), so i avoided paying $1000 in luggage fees. (It is a little embarassing to see our 6 luggage taking half of the cargo space of the seaplane)

Why all this info? Like the movie cartoon ratatouille, where the chef said: anyone can cook? Well luxemiles say: anyone can fly first class.

Airplane etiquettes

You would normally think that problems with airplane “etiquette” occur mostly in the cramped secrion of economy… Wrong. It happens everywhere.

Sometimes, business class are the worst offender: they either get too stressed out from work, too drunk, to dykwim too important… They think that because they have more space, paid more, they deserve more attention and better treatment from eveybody, including fellow passengers.

There are many differents ways to view etiquettes on a small space like inside an airplane: like not to kick the seat, share the arm rests for the middle seats, put up the seat at meal services, no perfumes, share space on overhead bins etc…

Simplest way is just ask yourself if the same irritating situation happens to you, would you like it? In a small space, Even normally considerate persons can forget the simplest etiquette: think about other people’s feelings first.

Seat kickers: we have seen lots of parents that do not care if their kids kick other people seats. But one time, a mom simply ask his son if they kick his seat, would he like it? He replied No. Then they ask him why he do it to others?

Seat recliners: even in biz class, non lie flat, please do not recline at meals times, and recline very slowly and even ask if it is ok if you see the other passenger have their laptop out. When getting up, do not lean or touch on their chair.

Overhead bins: if the flight attendant announce the plane is full and ask for consideration, some people still stuff their winter jackets in the bins, instead of putting them on the seats or on top of the luggage.

Even in international business class lie flats, Some people still think that the overhead bins right above them is theirs, and no one else can leave anything in that space! If they want private bins, then Fly private then! Even in first class, on some planes, you still need to share bins!

Be considerate, put your carry on in a way that take the least space as possible. It is not because you are in biz class that you can spread your whole wardrobe and belongings in the bins, taking all the space.

I have seen some great flight attendants going around telling people how to put the luggage to make space for everybody else. If they know how to stack it, then suddenly there is a lot more space for eveybody.

Even in international first class, in suites class, there are passengers that treat the common bathroom as if they are at home, even worse: they leave toothbrush, towels etc on the counter, instead of simply putting them in the garbage. if you want FA staff to clean after you after each passenger, then fly first class asiana ana then (no matter how busy they are, asiana first FAs always clean the toilet after each passenger).

What’s up with walking around the plane barefoot? I have seen first class passengers, well dressed businessman walking around barefoot, no socks, even in the toilets. They must be very immune to germs, and immune to other’s people glances.

Singapore airline arrival from bangkok, airport worker abuse

As part of our trip, we flew sq from bangkok.

The flight was uneventful. Business Seat non lie flat, recliners.

At arrival in singapore, the local authority imposed an arrival security screening for all passengers, screening and xray their carry on as if you are departing on another flight. Except that it is just simply arrival screening.

There were only one way out of the plane. It is to follow the pathway.

So there was a gentleman from our flight, in business class seating. He requested a wheelchair at arrival. He can obviously walk, but maybe have problems with long distances.

The young airport worker lady was helping him, and was pushing him through the only pathway.

He then repeatedly YELL at her to slow down, as he was not sure if his other relative from economy class can see him. He said they may take the automatic walkway and may not see him.

He did not realized that it is impossible to take the automatic walkway, as it was blocked by security. Everybody have to walk, everybody have to take the same path.

Abuse situation?

Does he have the legal or moral rights to yell at an unrelated airport worker, just because he was in business class seat?

Is it justifiable for him to yell at the worker, based on a wrong assumption about the automatic walkway?

Golfing in bangkok thailand, female caddies: cheap or expensive?!!

I always want to try to golf at all countries that i visited. usually it is hard to find the time, even on vacations or trips to play golf, especially when you are in asia.

In bangkok, There are just too many things to do, shop, eat, visits, massages that it is hard to find 5-6 hours for golf.

We managed to book a golf course, recommended by our friendly and excellent st regis bangkok concierge. Cost is around $100, caddy fee are cash only, for $10. All thailand caddies are mostly female, with varying degree of youth and experience.

Usually the younger caddies are more interested about their faces and make up then their games, while the older ones are more serious and knowledgeable about golf. They can tell you where to put, as they have seen that put break hundreds of times.

So i ended up with 2 caddies, one young, one old. The younger one is with my walking partner non player. I had the older one.

She was really good, clean your golf balls, clean your clubs, give you advices and distances without any gps or high tech intruments. Her english is of course limited, so the advices could have been better.

At hole 12, i ended up in the woods, on the side. Mis hit, hit some trees. The approach shot was a five iron, it was too strong and it it ended up near the other players in front ahead. No injury happened.

They were not happy, and they were local thai members.

We apolozized profusely, but the local members said to me: the fault is your caddy, she should have told you not to hit and wait. I will report her and she will not caddy for minimum 2 weeks. He then ordered her to turn around as punishment, facing away from him in order for him to hit his shot. All while swearing in thai.

I of course pleaded it was my fault, my decision, my shot that was mis hit and ended too far, and pleaded him not to report her.

He quit the game right after that hole, and supposedly went and reported her to the clubhouse.

The caddy cries discretely and tries to hide her emotions for the next few holes, all while still pretending to caddy and clean clubs, balls.

In thailand, caddies wait the whole day for clients in the sun. They are responsible to clean and care for their uniform. They have to bring their own food and drinks. They get paid around 200 bath, $7 usd per round from the golf course. Most players will then tip another $10-$30 (usually $10). It is not much, but it is important for them.

If they are not caddying, they have to help out on the golf course maintenance, if and only if they are selected.

It is relatively hard work for western standard, easier work for thai standard, so there are many people wanting to caddy.

2 weeks without pay, without money to provide for her family, it is just simply inhumane. Especially when the fault is not really her.

I understand that the expectation of a thai caddy is to know the distance, the golf course, and advise the client accordingly. But it is hard for them to know a new client, how far and how variable the client’s shot are and act accordingly.

Any golfer that is mad enough to quit a golf game, yell at people, mistreat other humans beings, just make the golf game looks bad. Especially when the golfers are much more financial fortunate than the caddies.

Anyway, she received a tip from us, big enough for her not to worry, stay at home and still have much more money then even working working as a caddy for the whole 1-2 month.

The big tip was not asked, pressured or expected. It is just a sign of our displeasure of treatment of other human beings.

When you travel to lower income countries, please tip well accordingly. Please avoid making small unimportant complaints toward the workers. Just because they are late in serving you your foods or drinks, or did not smile as big and sincere as you would like, please avoid the temptation of reporting them.

It is not worth it and can cost them a lot more than your temporary happiness…. Unless you purposedly went there to make you feel a higher status than your relative socialist homonegeous western country. If you do, then think what if someone, make a stupid complaint that can easily cost you your job? Is it nice? Is it fair?

Are points useless or it is an “international currency” ?

I just heard a comment from a well known business analyst on a tv show : “lots of people go crazy collecting points, i don’t. I do not see the need or value in it”

Humm.. What is the definition of a currency?

Is bitcoin a currency? Yet many compared the similarity of points to currency: it allow you to buy things, services, and trade for even cold hard cash.

And if you use a flexible points like hotels points, or transferable credit card points, you can “buy”, trade goods and services all over the world: you can get hotels rooms anywhere, transfer and redeem for mechandise reward at almost any country.. Etc

http://skift.com/2014/10/27/loyalty-program-fraud-can-cost-travelers-and-providers-a-fortune/

http://www.oliverwyman.de/pdf_files/MMJ22_New_Economics_Loyalty.pdf

http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/07/the-coming-branded-currency-re/

That tv business analyst seems to forget that the “market” for points is huge! Billions and billions.

He is right that because of the variable nature of the redeemed value of each points, it is hard to put an exact value on it. Most people will not be able to get good value from the reward points.

But he forgot that The exact lack of transparency of the points value system can actually favor few savvy “collectors” and “redeemers”. The tax free nature, and “international” transferable nature of the points can be sometimes worth more than his cold hard cash.

It is ironic that he would spend lots of energy and effort to chase a slight higher return of 1-2 percent on his stocks, all while he could have easily get MINIMUM guarantee return of 2 percent (and up to 20%) value back TAX free for just carefully and easily funnel credit card spending

Supposed he have a 1 millions porfolio, 2 percent return : $20000, then minus the TAX on it : (supposed fixed interest income, at max maginal income tax) : $10000. (How hard it is to get net 2 % return after expenses!!)

supposed he go out and buy or trade things with that cash (example hotel rooms) : he does have to pay 5-15% sale or hotel tax !

If the hotels cost $500 per night, he would have 20 nights if he paid cash ,(with the $10000 return) plus he have to pay sales and hotel tax.

What if he has a business where he spends $1 millions, charged on credit cards = min $20000, 2% min value as cash equivalent back tax free. ( but Usually 5-15%).

If he spent 1 millions dollars, he woud have get min 1 millions spg points. And if he used those points to book hotels rooms, NO tax, no sales tax (usually no hotels tax too) = min 50 nights free at top hotel (IF cost 20000 spg points per night).

Then Why are the points not as valued as hard currency, for example as “retirement” or “investments” currency? It is because points issuers can easily change the equation anytime and devalue the value of the points, by asking more points for the same goods, room, flight, or service.

MDs doctors make more or ups drivers? Process of Thinking outside the box

I like to have debates about this subject with different people: MDs make more or ups driver?

Or, who do you think is “richer”? The doctors, or the rcmp police agent? At 30 years old, 45, 50, 60… Etc…

That er usa doctor would have flipped in his chair if he learned:
1. Most doctors in canada make more money now than usa doctors

2. The canadian doctors graduate with much less debt, or very minimal debt, as MD education is subsidized. While usa doctors have massive student debt, sometimes totalling -$200 000 or even half a million for dentists.

3. If he compares usa MDs lifetime earnings and a canadian federal rcmp police agent, because of the pensions guarantees and cost of living adjustments guarantee, the rcmp agent would already retire after 25 years of service, average at 50 years old, with a pension worth around 2 millions dollars at 45 years old.

How hard it is to save 2 millions dollars for retirement ONLY at 45 years old? That is 2 Mil outside the value of the home, cars, etc.. Only for retirement!

So at 45 – 50 years old, the rcmp agent is a lot “richer” than an usa MD, considering that :

A. The MD dr usually only start practising after 7-10 university years, at around 28-33 years old

B. So the DR would need to save lots of money, and he only have 15 years to save (especially even more so if the usa MD start with massive student loans debt.)

C. What is the likelihood that that MD dr CAN actually save 2 millions dollars , ONLY for retirement at the age of 45? (Do not forget that since he spent soo much time in school, got in soo much debt, work soo much hours, that he will usually feel the need to reward himself with expensive cars, big trips, and big home, all while worrying about saving for retirement or bad days)

D. while the rcmp agent can actually spend 100 % of his take home after tax expenses, without really worrying about the need to save for retirement.

4. MDs : stock market crash? Or massive inflation? The MD lose a lot of his retirement account value.
Rcmp or federal workers: stock market crash? No problem, no change, same amount indexed for inflation for life.

MDs: no pension, so if he live until 90 or longer, he need more money saved.
RCMP: if he live much longer, no worries, same pension same amount indexed for life.

5. “Job guarantee”:
MDs can get fired, lose insurance or hospital access.
Canadian police rcmp ? Usually, once you’re in, you’re IN. May be moved around…

Which jobs “pays” more at 46-50 years old? Which jobs is more secure?

It is intereresting to see through those “debates” that most people is too focused on the short term, the IN: how much money the MD make, how much they can potentially save with that big income; instead of focusing on the OUT value: what is the final value? What is the retirement value? What is the opportunity costs?

It is interesting to see the way people think and argue depending on their preconceptions, past experiences, or on society labels.

It is the same about spending money, time. People usually spends resources according to certain preconceptions, or outside influence without consciously aware of those influences.

People like to reject ideas, say no to new things especially if those ideas challenge their comfort zone, their preconceptions, or their decisions.

They are usually quick to Label certain advanced travel thinking as : too complicated, or i do not not want to spend time connecting, or i prefer cash back, i do not use features on that cards, too time consumming, etc..

Instead of asking the question: HOW to make it work? they usually will say it will not work for them, focusing only on the problems. Instead of enjoying the journey, the learning process, they usually only want to “arrive” at the destination asap. People usually like to get the fish, instead of learning how to fish.

It takes a lot of energy to view things from a different angle, to question the status quo.

It is always harder to try to think outside the box, but the learning process to think outside the box is more valuable. It brings value and sometimes….First class tickets :-)

Get another $15 off when spend min $60 at participating merchants = almost free groceries for us! Or 25% off gas stations

Amex just send a mass marketing email to us :

Enroll at amexnetwork.ca/swipeenjoy

Get $15 off when spending $60 at some gas stations, some restaurants, and … Safeway! (Limit of max $45 rebate per card enrolled)

Combined with the 200 airmiles (airmiles.ca) that my local safeway give for spending $100, it is just like early xmas, almost free groceries!

Only the first 20000 people registering for the promo can enter. So enroll asap! You do not lose anything.

Btw, one card : one enrollment. So if you have 3 amex, you can enroll 3 times and get more than $45!

3x $45 !

For just buying things that you normally would buy anyway, gas, groceries, food.

Why it is waste not to funnel money through credit card spending?

Why it is waste not to funnel money through credit card spending?

Well, as a retailer or merchant, you are not allowed to charge customers extra if they pay with some credit cards. Everybody pay the same price for the same product. For reference and example $100. It does not matter if you pay cash, debit, check, credit, all customers pay the same price :$100

Yet the cost to the retailer is greater if you pay with premiums credit cards (the ones where max value for customers : amex spg, amex rewards, premium visa etc). For example, if you pay with amex, it cost the merchant min 2-4 percent as transaction fee, (3% usually) so the $100 product is only a sale of $97 for the merchant.

While visa and mastercards cost are lower, at 1-2 %. You pay with visa, merchant get a sale of $98.5

You pay cash for the products? Merchant get a sale of $100.

So indirectly, if you are not using the most valued credit cards to pay for the purchase, if you pay with cash debit, even visa, you are indirectly subsidizing the customer that pay with expensive amex or premium visa cards.

And that amex or premium visa customer get an indirect minimum rebate of 2% to 10% (if properly redeem points), all thanks to all other customers paying cash or with cards costing less!

Is it fair to the merchant? Is it fair to the customer paying cash? It is fair to the amex customer?

Depends on which type of customer you are… :-)

That is why in some countries, like australia, merchants and goverment are moving to alllow to charge customers that pay with premiums cards.

Of course luxemiles assume that you will pay your credit card in full and on time, avoiding bank fees.

Are you a business owner? Or self employed? If yes, you should act like luxemiles

Are you a business owner? Or a tennis star? Or an althlete? Or anything where you are self employed?

If yes, then You should be aware that:

Since you are spending money anyway for your business or travel, or supplies, you should get some value back as points. You should “funnel” all spending on the credits cards that offer the most value back. Why?

Because it would be a waste not to. And because you can indirectly get minimum 2% value out TAX FREE!

Tax free : would you like it if you can automatically earn 2 percent tax free, ie equivalent to withdrawing money from business tax free?

Supposed these following options:

A. Supposed If you had paid business supplies with your company check, and did not get rebates for not using credit cards from suppliers,

B. or even if you get rebate from suppliers at a usual rate of 2% for not paying with credit cards, pay with check.

C. Or Pay business spend with credit cards cash rewards (with cash back rewards)

D. Or if you had paid those supplies with a credit card earning frequent points reward, especially the amex rewards or spg rewards,

which one bring the most value?

It is D. Pay with credit cards earning strategic points. Why? Rewards points are not taxable.

While option C. cash back rewards for business credit cards spending may be taxable, (as the reward is Cold hard cash, or cash equivalent, it can be taxable) !!

Option A. Is obviously not the best, no cash back, no value back for spending. Option B. Sounds good, but 2 percent back in a company, taxable is worth less than the same amount out of the company, tax free.

Option C. The cash back is usually capped at maximum 2%, while smart travelers can usually get MORE than 2 percent value back with strategice redeemed points.

Not all credit cards offer the same value. Even in different frequent traveler reward points, not all points are the same. (Future post)

The minimum value that you can get through points should be 2%, but if you use the points properly, it can be much more.

How would you like to feel if your normal business spending pays for either yours or your staff luxurious vacations and trips… Tax free??!!

It is always funny to see people of all backgrounds, rich to poor, to dismiss the points collection scheme. For them, they are too “rich” or too busy to focus on minor details intangible like points reward maximization. But yet, the same peopke would do anything to gain 1-2 extra percentage points return on their stock porfolio… All while they could have consistenly gain min 2% value back for just spending or funneling on credit cards.

There is one person that managed to get each year, 20 MILLIONS spg points.. Apparently rumours are that he is in NBA… So when he spend to book the players rooms, parties, supplies etc, he made sure to get lots of value back, even if obviously he could have said he is too “rich” or too “busy” to collect points.

What is 20 millions spg points? Well even at the max rate (there are ways to lower) 30000 points spg get you one free night at one of the TOP hotels in paris ie : prince de galles, or top hotels in maldives, tokyo etc.

For around 200 k spg points, you can go around the world in first class.

But you need to pay your credit card balance in full.