My SwagBucks Points Finally Posted

Swagbucks Staples PayoutOne of the most frustrating parts of using shopping portals for manufactured spending is waiting for the payout. I love the Alaska shopping portal because points usually post within 3 weeks. I wish that were the case for cash back portals. Back in April, I wrote about how you could purchase $200 Visa gift cards from Staples and earn 6 Swagbucks per $1 spent. These points could be converted to Paypal cash at a rate of 1 cent per point. I ordered $3,800 worth of gift cards and received confirmation from Swagbucks that my transaction had been tracked and I should receive 23,592  Swagbucks, though the date wasn’t specified.

The points hadn’t posted on Monday either and there was no indication the purchase was tracked under “My Shop & Earn.” Yesterday, I got fed up with waiting and decided I was going to email them to see what’s shaking. After all, points are supposed to show up in your ledger within 2-7 days and then take another 32 days to post. It had been exactly 3 months since I had made this purchase.

I clicked on the Swagbucks confirmation email, which has a link to the Shop & Earn Ledger. To my surprise, my points had posted! Not only that, but I apparently generated about 13,000 points from referrals as well (thanks guys!). The total 36,000 points is good for about $350 in Paypal cash (useless, now that Paypal has shut down my account for no reason) or Hyatt gift cards. With the trip I’m planning for December and the mattress run I’ll inevitably have to do to maintain my Diamond status next year, the Hyatt gift cards are looking pretty good.

Other worthwhile gift cards include Royal Caribbean, the Global Hotel Card by Orbitz, Amazon, Target, iTunes, Starbucks, along with many other popular retailers and a few non-profit organizations. It’s worth noting that you can only redeem up to two rewards per day. Oddly, the “awarded” date is July 30, though the points posted on July 29 and I was even able to redeem them.

If you got in on this deal back in April and Swagbucks sent you an email confirming that your purchase was tracked and you’d be receiving a certain number of points, you may want to check your account this week. Chances are if you placed the order around the time I did, your points should be posting around the time mine did.

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The Best of IHG Rewards Club’s PointBreaks List July 28 – September 30, 2014

IHG Rewards Club Intercontinental Bucharest

Intercontinental Bucharest
Source: Hotel website

IHG has just released a preview of it’s quarterly Pointbreaks promotion. During these promotions, participating properties can be booked for just 5,000 points per night. For example, the Intercontinental Bucharest (which I listed as one of the best Category 4 IHG Rewards Club redemptions) is discounted from 25,000 points per night; essentially giving you a book-5-nights-for-the-price-of-one deal. Considering IHG’s award chart ranges from 10,000-50,000 points per night, you can get great value out of this promotion no matter which hotel category you book into.

This quarter’s list is pretty vast and includes 5 Intercontinental properties, 13 Crowne Plazas and two Hotel Indigos. There are also several nice Holiday Inn hotels that are worth checking out if you’re traveling to those cities. Here’s a list of the most notable properties on this quarter’s Pointbreaks list:

United States 

Europe

Asia and the Pacific 

Africa and the Middle East 

Americas

Since IHG recently imposed a limit of two Pointbreaks bookings per hotel, hopefully that opens up more space than in the past, when people made speculative bookings spanning several months, leaving the rest of us empty handed.

If you’re interested in any of these hotels, the booking period starts July 28 and runs through September 30, 2014. If you’re short on IHG points, be sure to read this post on how to stock up in time to take advantage of this promotion. Remember, Pointbreaks bookings are limited and available on first-come, first-serve basis so you may want to start the booking process early Monday morning.

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How I Booked a $2,700 Stay at the Hyatt Carmel Highlands for $0

Hyatt Carmel Highlands Entrance

Hyatt Carmel Highlands Entrance

Earlier this week, my extended family and I took a road trip to Monterey/Carmel. My aunt and cousin are visiting from Germany and we wanted to show them around a bit. So 12 of us loaded into a car and took off for the coast. I had looked into possibly booking the Hyatt Carmel Highlands, which is a great property I’ve wanted to stay at for a while. Rates for a standard room are well over $400 per night and that particular day, the My Elite rate hovered around $400 before tax. There was a standard Garden View room for 25,000 points. Clearly, this wouldn’t be enough for a party of 12, so I called the hotel to see if anything else was available. When I got on the phone with the rep, he claimed the Garden View room was no longer available and all they had left was a single Ocean View Townhouse Spa Suite. These were going for $789 each. I was referred to Hyatt Gold Passport to book this as an award.

My sister, who is a Diamond member like I am, got on the phone with them while I stepped out of the car to take in the scenery for a moment. When I got back just 5 minutes later, she said we had two Townhouse Suites booked. I thought they only had one left? It turns out they had two and the Gold Passport rep allowed us to book two Cash + Points award (12,500 points + $150) and use a Diamond upgrade certificate to book into these suites. I was floored.

Hyatt Carmel Highlands Ocean View Townhouse Spa Suite

Hyatt Carmel Highlands Ocean View Townhouse Spa Suite

When we got to the resort, a Garden View room opened up and my sister booked it with her Gold Passport points to ensure there was enough space for everyone to stay. Not only did we score two suites with incredible ocean views, but they offered breakfast for all 12 of us as part of our Diamond benefit, which was beyond generous.

The next morning, the breakfast bill came up to $450 and was automatically deducted.  I charged the stay to my Arrival Plus card and will be redeeming 11,250 miles for it, bringing my grand total out-of-pocket to $0. To recap, here’s what we got out of this stay:

  • Two Townhouse Suites: $896.44 each with tax (total: $1,792.88)
  • One Garden View Room: $465.72
  • Breakfast for twelve: $450
  • 250 Arrival Miles
  • 1,000 point Hyatt Diamond Amenity

Overall, this was a great redemption and I almost feel bad about the ridiculous value I got out of it. I’ll have a trip report up about the property eventually, but in the meantime I wanted to share how my sister and I made it happen.

Disclosure: I will earn a commission if you apply and are approved for the Barclay Arrival Plus card using the link in this post.

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Something to be Aware of If You’re Booking a Rental Car

This week, my aunt and cousin are visiting from Germany. When you’re staying with family and part of such a big clan, it’s often tough to get around and do the tourist thing. So today, my cousin decided he was going to rent a car and go to San Francisco for a day or two. He wanted a rental car so he wouldn’t have to worry about who’s car he’s driving, whether he’s covered under the insurance plan, etc. I searched on Kayak and booked him an economy car from Hertz.

We drive to Hertz and the only employee working there is on the phone with what appears to be an angry customer. He looks tired and “over it” if you can imagine what that looks like. He hangs up and tells us, “If you’re here for a rental car, I’ve got zero cars on the lot.” I tell him I have a reservation and he responds with, “So do the 17 other people I’ve been calling all afternoon.” He holds up a piece of paper with names and phone numbers to emphasize his point. I ask why Hertz was accepting reservations if there were no cars left and he says, “It’s Hertz Oklahoma. They’re clueless about our inventory.”

We leave and drive a block over to Enterprise, which I also remember seeing availability for that morning. We go inside and there’s a customer on the phone with somebody, complaining about how he came “all the way out here” for a rental car and they told him his reservation had been cancelled, and how he wished he’d been notified ahead of time. Hoping this was more of an issue with the type of car he wanted, I walked up to the desk and asked the rep if they had anything. Yes, they do but that car is going to be driven off the lot shortly. If we cone back at 4 PM, they should have a car ready for us.

Next, I call Avis and they tell me they’ve only got an SUV. It’s kind of strange that all these rental agencies in the suburbs are out of cars on a Wednesday, but I keep trying and call Budget next. They tell me they’ve got two cars and I head out to the location, which was thankfully not too far. Oddly, Budget and Avis were not only in the same building, but they shared a desk! You would think the Avis rep would have saved me the trouble and said, “We don’t have anything, but let me ask my colleague at Budget who’s sitting right next to me.” I can’t stand the car rental industry.

Anyway, we picked up the car and the ordeal was over. What I find annoying is that Hertz continued to take reservations even though they were way overbooked. Even Enterprise was showing availability online despite having no cars available. So if you’re ever booking a rental car at the last minute, I would highly suggest you call the agency right after your booking and make sure they have cars available. It would be awful if you were flying into another city, thinking your rental car was taken car of, took a shuttle to the rental office, and found out they had nothing available. Even if you’re booking way in advance, give them a call before you arrive and make sure they have availability.

Has something like this ever happened to you? What was the outcome?

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Chase Sapphire Preferred Eliminates 7% Dividend, Adds Collision Waiver

sapphire_preferred_cardOne of the key benefits of the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, aside from the initial sign-up bonus and travel/restaurant category bonus, has been the annual 7% dividend paid out annually on all point earnings. This payout wasn’t significant for folks who were using the card for everyday spend, but for those involved in manufactured spending, this bonus could be big enough to off-set the $95 annual fee.

Chase is doing away with this feature for good. Current applicants will notice the 7% annual dividend is left out of the marketing bullet points altogether. Chase has confirmed that current Sapphire Preferred cardholders will keep their dividend bonus benefit through 2015, with the last dividend payout occurring in February 2016.

With the devaluation of multiple Ultimate Rewards transfer partners and now the upcoming elimination of the 7% dividend on the Sapphire Preferred card, this may leave little incentive to keep the Sapphire Preferred beyond the initial sign-up bonus. The 2 points on dining and travel? I can get that with the Barclay Arrival Plus card or I can more than double my earnings to 5 points per $1 by purchasing merchant gift cards with the Chase Ink Bold card. The problem is, the Sapphire Preferred was one of the first cards for many card churners and so far, there has been some justification for keeping it open. However, now that the benefit is going away and the currency has been devalued, many of us won’t want to cancel the card because it’s one of our oldest accounts. Well played, Chase.

It’s not all bad, since Chase is offering primary rental car collision damage waiver and increasing trip cancellation coverage from $5,000 to $10,000. This is a nice benefit because the next time the guy at the McCarran Airport rental kiosk tries to strong-arm you into getting collision coverage, you just whip out your Sapphire Preferred card and tell him in an equally condescending tone, “it’s covered with the card.”

Overall, these changes aren’t great but not worth creating an angry hashtag over – though that won’t stop some people.

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Winner Announced! $100 Hyatt Gift Card Giveaway

Hyatt $100 egift card giveaway

Thank you to all who participated in this past week’s $100 Hyatt Gift Card Giveaway! By the end of the week, there were 634 entries, which is a great turnout. I’m happy to announce the winner of the giveaway, according to random.org, is Steve K, who indicated he would be using the gift card at the Andaz Maui. Congratulations Steve! I hope this gift card makes your trip to Maui much more enjoyable.

To claim your prize, please reach out and let me know which email you’d like me to send the $100 gift card to. For the rest of you, stay tuned because there will be more giveaways in the near future.

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Mattress Running for Hotel Elite Status: 6 Tips for Doing it Cheaply

Review Park Hyatt Sydney Opera King Room

Mattress running pays off: My upgraded digs at the Park Hyatt Sydney

When you’re just a few stays or nights short of status, you may find yourself contemplating a mattress run. For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s when you check in and out of a hotel just for the purpose of earning points and/or elite status. Why would you do this? Having elite status with a hotel entitles you to room upgrades, bonus points, and perks like complimentary breakfast, wifi and lounge access. Having status can help you improve your travel experience while saving you cash on meals and wifi. It’s easier to qualify for status based on stays rather than nights. For example, Hyatt requires 50 nights for top-tier diamond status, or just 25 stays. The same goes for Starwood Preferred Guest Platinum.

Some mattress runners will actually stay at the hotel, others will leave after checking in, and then there’s another group that will do a virtual check-in (i.e. have the front desk check them in and out without having to step foot in the hotel). Whichever way you decide to go, here are a few tips for scoring a cheap mattress run:

1. Mattress running with credit cards. I’ve covered this topic before. Several credit cards offer cardholders some level of status (often mid-tier) just for having the card. Some allow cardholders to earn additional nights towards status via credit card spending. For example, it’s possible to earn top-tier Marriott Platinum status by putting $180,000 of spending on co-branded credit cards. For more examples, check out this detailed guide I wrote for Frugal Travel Guy.

2. Sign up for a status challenge. Many hotels loyalty programs will offer members elite status if they provide proof of status with another program. Some programs will give you status outright, while others will offer a challenge. A great tool is statusmatcher.com, which has a large database of loyalty programs and the level of status one can obtain by providing proof of status with another program.

3. Location. Some of the cheapest hotel markets in the US are in Dallas (TX), Orlando (FL), and Norfolk (VA). You don’t need to live in or travel to these locations to benefit from their low rates. Some hotels will check you in and out without you having to step foot on the premises. I’ve done this successfully at several properties and for the most part, the front desk agents understand why. Simply call after making a reservation (if rates are non-refundable, call first) and provide your reservation number, then ask if they can check you in without you being present. The hotel gets paid, they don’t have to service the room, and you get your points/elite night credit. Everybody wins.

Hotels abroad often have lower rates than US hotels during low season, though whether you can pull off a virtual check-in abroad likely varies by hotel. I personally would’t do it because it’s much more difficult to communicate with hotel staff abroad, and they may not be as familiar with the concept of mattress running as their American counterparts.

4. Pick the right day. Airport hotels get plenty of business during the week, so rates tend to be lower on weekends. The same goes for hotels in big cities and those catering to business travelers (i.e. in the financial district or hotels near corporate centers). Sundays stays are usually the cheapest day of the week across the board.

5. Pick low-category hotels. This isn’t always the case, but usually the lowest category hotels are also the cheapest to book on cash. Location and average rates factor into a hotel’s category designation, so you can bypass some of your research from #3 and 4 by going straight to the hotel’s award chart and checking for the lowest category hotels. Doing this will also be useful for the next tip…

6. Book on points. Loyalty Traveler did a great post about hotels that count award stays towards elite status. If you’re mattress running with a program that counts award nights towards status, it may make sense to book award stays at low category hotels. Starwood Category 1 redemptions, for example, start at 2,000 points per night and the sign-up bonus from the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card (a total of 30,000 points after $5,000 spent within 6 months) can get you to Gold status or halfway to Platinum stats.

A good alternative if you don’t want to unload your points on a mattress run is to book with cash + points. This may or may not be a good idea with Starwood, depending on cash rates.

At Hyatt, for example, you can book a Category 1 hotel for 2,500 points + $50 as opposed to 5,000 points per night. You can charge the $50 to the Arrival Plus World MasterCard, then redeem 4,500 Arrival Miles for a statement credit to cover the cost. A great trick with Hyatt is to book your stay at a hotel that has a lounge (Hyatt Regency, Grand Hyatt) on a weekend. If the lounge is closed on weekends, Diamond members get 2,500 bonus points as compensation. Pair this with the 1,000 point welcome amenity for Diamond members and you’ve largely covered the cost of your stay. This method, of course, only works if you’re on a Diamond trial or you have status and are looking to obtain it.

As a Hyatt Platinum and Diamond member (or as someone participating in the Diamond status challenge), you can also get 20% off standard rates with the My Elite rate, which can translate to substantial saving if you want to bypass cash + points.

These are just a few tips to help you save on your next mattress run and secure your hotel elite status. I’d love to get your feedback about how you maintain your hotel elite status each year.

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Deal Alert: Four Seasons Resort Lanai from $173 Per Night!

Four Seasons Lanai Travelzoo $173 per night

I ran a post on this last week on Frugal Travel Guy, thinking it would end soon but it’s still around: Travelzoo is running a pretty amazing promotion on the Four Seasons Resort The Lodge at Koele, with rates of just $173 per night, including daily breakfast for two and wifi. This is pretty incredibly, considering the hotel usually goes for around $500 per night. The rates are valid on travel between October 20 – December 17, 2014, with the only blackout dates listed as November 24-29.  You can extend your stay by purchasing additional packages:

  • $519 for 3 nights in a Garden Deluxe Room; $1035 for 6 nights
  • $879 for 3 nights in a more spacious Koele Deluxe Room; $1755 for 6 nights

Rates at the Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay are a bit higher, but that is to be expected from a hotel that has rates of around $800 per night. For just $200 extra, you can tack on two additional nights, plus breakfast and wifi:

  • $1079 for three nights in a Classic Garden Terrace Room; $2155 for six nights
  • $1579 for three nights in a Classic Ocean Terrace Room; $3155 for six nights

Blackout dates for this resort are a bit more restrictive, including October 15-19 and November 24-29. Getting a package like this at a luxury resort for a third of the price is pretty incredible and worth taking advantage of if you’ve been thinking of heading to Hawaii. If these purchases get coded in the travel category, you could charge it to your Barclay Arrival Plus card and redeem 15,570 Arrival miles per stay. However,  I don’t know if that’s the case. Either way, you’ll be hard pressed to find a Four Seasons rate of $173 per night anywhere else, let alone Hawaii.

To take advantage of this deal, simply purchase a voucher from Travelzoo, then call the hotel directly to book your stay.

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Giveaway: Win a $100 Hyatt Gift Card

Hyatt $100 egift card giveaway

Anyone who knows me know what a huge Hyatt fan I am. They don’t have the largest hotel portfolio or the most generous award program (that honor goes to Club Carlson), but they do make up for their small portfolio with quality. Not only do they have some amazing properties worldwide, like the Park Hyatt Sydney, but their elite perks are pretty great. Just over the past six months alone, I’ve been able to save several hundred dollars thanks to the Hyatt My Elite rate available to Platinum and Diamond members. The ability to upgrade four stays annually with suite upgrade certificates is another perk I love as a Diamond member.

Anyway, this isn’t an advertisement for Hyatt, it’s about rewarding my readers. I thought it was high time for a giveaway and what better prize to offer up than a $100 Hyatt e-gift card? Maybe an all-expense paid vacation, but unfortunately this isn’t Oprah’s farewell episode so we’ll have to settle on a gift card instead.

To enter for a chance to win, simply leave a comment in this post, telling me where you’d like to put the $100 Hyatt gift card to use. There is no cap on the number of entries per person and the giveaway will run through Friday, July 18 at 8:00 PM (PT)/11:00 PM (ET). A winner will be chosen via random.org and announced on Saturday morning at 9 AM (PT)/6 PM (ET).

Please note, Hyatt as a company is not sponsoring nor are they in any way affiliated with this contest.

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Gilt Deal: Up to 57% off First Class Tickets on Delta Air Lines

Gilt Delta Airlines First Class

Today at 7 AM (PT)/10 AM (ET) Gilt is offering discounts of up to 57% on First Class tickets on Delta Air Lines. The discounted tickets are available for the following routes:

  • One-Way First Class
    • LA (LAX) to Austin (AUS) or Austin (AUS) to LA (LAX): $200 on Gilt City
    • NYC (JFK) to Austin (AUS) or Austin (AUS) to NYC (JFK): $300 on Gilt City
  • Round-Trip First Class
    • LA (LAX) to Austin (AUS) or Austin (AUS) to LA (LAX) roundtrip: $400
    • NYC (JFK) to Austin (AUS) or Austin (AUS) to NYC (JFK) round trip: $600

These discounted fares are inclusive of taxes and fees and members earn an additional 500 Skymiles for their purchases. Up to 8 one-way/4 round-trip tickets can be purchased per customer and the following blackout dates apply: August 28 – September 2, 2014, November 20–30, 2014, December 18, 2014 – January 4, 2015.

If you’ve got “mileage run” on the brain, you should know these discounted Delta fares do not earn Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) or Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQD’s). Considering economy fares between these city pairs often run around $300 round-trip, you are essentially paying $100-$300 round-trip for an upgrade to first class. Is it worth it? I would absolutely pay $50 each way to upgrade from economy to first class, not just for the comfortable travel experience but for the savings on baggage fees as well.

I don’t know if Gilt gets coded as a travel merchant, but if it does and you book one of these flights on your Arrival Plus card, the $400 ticket would require 36,000 miles (after the 10% travel redemption discount) while the $600 ticket would require 54,000 miles. That’s pretty reasonable for a round-trip first class flight, considering the 3-tier award chart and the difficulty of booking saver space with Skymiles. Again, I don’t know if Gilt gets coded as a travel merchant, so the above estimates may be irrelevant.

If you don’t have a Gilt account, you can earn 1,000 Skymiles after registering through Delta and making your first purchase of $50 or more. Skymiles members also get the following benefits with Gilt:

  • Access to Gilt.com for free on any Gogo Inflight Internet-equipped Delta flight.
  • 1 mile per $1 spent on Gilt or Gilt City, while Medallion members earn 2 miles per $1 spent.
  • Exclusive members-only access to Gilt City’s local deals at your city’s best restaurants, spas, concerts and more.

So if you are planning a trip to any of the routes that are eligible for this promotion, it might be worthwhile to book this deal instead of a regular old economy seat. You’ll travel more comfortably, have a smoother airport experience, and you may save on baggage fees.

What do you think of Gilt’s Delta promotion?

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