With Bonus, Buy Amtrak Points Now and Redeem for Train Tickets Later

In general I don’t recommend buying points for travel, since the points needed in order to get a ticket are often more expensive than just getting a ticket outright. But with bonuses, that might not be always the case. Throughout the month of September 2011, Amtrak is offering a 50% bonus for any point purchases over 5,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points, which can be redeemed for Amtrak travel on any of its routes (as well as several other things including hotel stays). 5,000 points plus the 2,500 bonus points is sold for $137.50, and the maximum points you can buy, 10,000 plus 5,000 bonus points costs $275.

Base Points

Bonus Points

Total Points

Price

500 0 500 $13.75
1,000 0 1,000 $27.50
2,000 0 2,000 $55.00
3,000 0 3,000 $82.50
4,000 0 4,000 $110.00
5,000 2,500 7,500 $137.50
6,000 3,000 9,000 $165.00
7,000 3,500 10,500 $192.50
8,000 4,000 12,000 $220.00
9,000 4,500 13,500 $247.50
10,000 5,000 15,000 $275.00

For those of you who travel the Northeast Regional line, which goes through DC, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, buying the points and redeeming them for travel could save you quite a bit money. The price of a one-way ticket on the Northeast Regional varies significantly based on the distance you travel and the time of day, but as an example, a ticket from New York to Washington, DC, this coming Sunday ranges from $78 if you are willing to take an 8 AM train to $134 if you want to travel in the early afternoon. Tickets on Friday afternoon may be even more expensive.

On the other hand, 3,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards points can always be redeemed for a one-way ticket on the Northeast Regional, regardless of the day, time, or distance traveled. So if you buy 7,500 points for $137.50 during this promotion (5,000+2,500), you could redeem your points for 2 Northeast Regional tickets between New York and DC this weekend, and save between $18.50 and $130.50 depending on which ticket you book; and you’d still have some points left over for your next trip. At $275 for 15,000 points (10,000+5,000), you can get 5 one-way tickets on the Northeast Regional, saving even more.

You can find similar savings on the other coast. Tickets on several train lines going through California, including the Capitol Corridor, San Joaquin, and Pacific Surfliner line, can be exchanged for 1,000 Amtrak points each way. With the 50% bonus on purchases, you can get 12 tickets on any of these Special Routes for just $220 (8,000+4,000 points for $220). In contrast, a ticket from Santa Barbara to San Diego this coming Sunday costs $41 at any time, so 12 of them would come out $492, or more than twice as much. Tickets from Sacramento to Oakland are $26 this weekend, so using Amtrak points instead would still save you money.

This 50% bonus promotion is running until September 30, 2011, and Amtrak Guest Rewards points expire only after you go 36 months without purchasing any Amtrak tickets. That means you can take advantage of the bonus now and hold onto your points until you are ready to purchase a ticket any time over the next 3 years. The only downside of this promotion, if you can count that as one, is that tickets exchanged through points cannot earn points themselves. Nonetheless, the huge savings should more than make up for that small loss.

Special thanks to the Loyalty Traveler.

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Go All In on a Trip through Asia this Fall

This deal is most useful for readers who have a lot of flexibility (read: vacation time) in their schedules and are looking to travel this Fall. But if you meet both of these criteria, Cathay Pacific’s All Asia Pass might match your travel plans quite well, as it allows travel throughout Asia in a span of 21 consecutive days with departure dates until November 29, 2011.

Since Cathay’s hub is in Hong Kong, all tickets include a stop there. For $1,880 (including taxes and fees), you can get an All Asia Pass with a stop in Hong Kong as well as two other Asian cities of your choice. The ticket allowing stops in three other Asian cities is $2,231, and for $2,582 you get to visit four Asian cities along with Hong Kong. For all three tickets, these prices are if you leave from Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, or San Francisco, though you can pay extra to leave from other cities. Depending on where you’re flying out from, however, it may be cheaper to just buy a separate ticket to one of the four US departure cities listed above than pay for the add-on. These prices also require you that take the first leg of your flight, from the US to Hong Kong, on Monday through Wednesday during the promotion period; starting your trip on any other day of the week is $100 more.

Cathay Pacific All Asia Pass

Cathay Pacific's current ad for its All Asia Pass

There are 40 cities to which you can fly under any of the three All Asia Passes, all serviced either by Cathay or its sister airline Dragonair. These include some awesome destinations like Bali, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Phuket, Singapore, and several cities in China, Japan, and Korea (for a full list check out Cathay’s brochure).

If you’d like to take advantage of the fact that you’re flying around the world and stop somewhere along the way, you can also include “add-on cities” in your itinerary. For an extra $300, you can add one of 9 cities to your itinerary, several of them in India, but also Dubai (United Arab Emirates), Kathmandu (Nepal), and Dhaka (Bangladesh). And if you want to go all-out and take this trip on a leisurely pace, you can pay an extra fee to extend the ticket for 30 or 90 consecutive days instead, although that may not be worthwhile since you’re effectively paying extra to stay put.

If you’ve got the vacation time and the flexibility, but just need a little more to sweeten the deal, here it is: all of your travel with any of the All Asia Passes accumulates miles just like a regular ticket! It will probably be painful to come back home after a 21-day-long relaxing trip through Asia, but the miles should ease the pain. Especially if the cities you choose in Asia are far from each other, all the city hoping you do with an All Asia Pass might actually already earn you a free ticket back to Asia. This means you can explore another part of Asia in the future, or just relive this Fall’s vacation some other time.

ev’reward: An Awesome Shortcut for Miles and Cashback Comparison Shopping

Late last week, I learned about a great website that I think is worth sharing: ev’reward.

I strongly believe in going through a portal whenever I online shop, so once I find something I want to buy, I put it in my check-out basket and then visit several portals to find out which one is giving the highest mileage or cashback return for that store. As I showed a while back, there isn’t one portal that is always the best – some portals have more partner stores than others, and the highest miles/ cashback yield varies by portal and store. And while I still visit several online portals, I admit that checking every one is a fairly time-consuming process if all you want to do is click “buy” and have an item delivered to your house.

Step in ev’reward. Through this website, you don’t have to decide whether visiting each portal is worth it for you – ev’reward automatically visits them and tells you what their deals are! All you have to do is type the name of the online store from which you’re buying something, and ev’reward gives you a list of portals and the miles or cashback each one will give you for making a purchase from that store. This cuts the research process to just a few seconds, and you can immediately see which portal will suit you best.

ev’reward’s output for Banana Republic: portals for cashback, savings, points, and miles

There are only two caveats that I’ve seen so far. First, some rates are a little outdated. For example, United’s Mileage Plus Shopping Portal is currently offering 2.5 miles per dollar spent at Banana Republic online, but ev’reward is showing only 2 miles per dollar. Second, it doesn’t list every portal out there, so that if you typed in “amazon.com,” you wouldn’t know through ev’reward that Hawaiian’s and US Airways’ shopping portals currently give miles for Amazon purchases.

Nonetheless, if you usually check several portals like I do before buying, ev’reward is a great starting point to find out which ones are even worth looking into. In the case of J.Crew, for example, ev’reward correctly does not list ShopDiscover as a cashback portal, so I know there’s no point in checking, which saves me some time. On the other hand, if you are not planning on investigating each portal before buying, with the ev’reward output, you can at least be sure that if you go through any portal on its list, you’ll get more miles or cashback than if you didn’t go through one at all.

JetBlue’s Boston All BluePass Is Back for a Bit

JetBlue's Boston All Pass is Back

Just two days ago I wrote an update on JetBlue’s BluePassoffer, but here’s a new fact: JetBlue’s Boston All pass, which allows unlimited flying to/from Boston to ALL airports serviced by JetBlue during the promotion period, including those in the Caribbean, is back for 48 hours! If you hesitated the first time around or new plans have come up in the meantime, now’s the time to buy one of these passes. The Boston All price is still $1,999, and allows unlimited travel from August 22nd to November 22nd, 2011.

To Save on Flights, Clicking “Buy” is Not the End

This is an updated version of an article originally posted to our .com blog, which was unfortunately hacked a few months ago.

Doing a price comparison before booking a trip is standard procedure for saving money on travel.  There are search engines such as Kayak that tally up ticket prices for airlines and third-party sites, and even academic theories on when is the best time to buy.  But regardless of when you pull the trigger, there are still ways to save after making that flight purchase.

The third-party travel website Orbitz, for example, offers a price assurance coverage, which promises consumers that, once they book their hotel or flight, if the price drops and anyone else books the same exactly itinerary (same dates, flights, and restrictions) for less through Orbitz from then on, they will be refunded for that difference. Refund values range from $5 to $250 for flights and $5 to $500 for hotels, and there is no need to submit a request.  Orbitz keeps track of all purchases made through its website, and if you qualify for the price assurance, you will automatically get a check in the mail 6-8 weeks after you’ve completed the trip.

But what if you see lower fare soon after you book your ticket?  This happened to me twice recently.  I spent a while tracking flight ticket prices, and as the travel date approached, finally decided to buy.  No less than a few hours later, though, prices for the same exact itinerary had dropped by around $20!  If this happens on the same day in which you booked your ticket, you usually have two options.  First, you can appeal to the company’s “low price guarantee” policy, which essentially is an offer to undercut competitors’ rates. Many travel and airline sites have this, including Orbitz, Expedia, and even United.  All you have to do is submit a claim on the website with links to the lower fare for the exact same itinerary and wait for customer service to verify it.  Remember to also make several print-outs of the screen with the lower fare, so you have proof if you run into trouble having it approved.  Orbitz’s and United’s guarantee apply only to the day of booking, while Expedia gives you 24 hours to find and claim the lower fare.

If you find a lower fare within 24 hours, another option is to simply cancel your original reservation and book the other one.  Most sites give you 24 hours to cancel without any fees. Third-party sites have a policy of retaining their own booking fees if you cancel, but several of them have not been applying fees for the last two years or so anyway. Doing this is a better option if you are afraid your lower fare guarantee claim will not be approved, or if you have a coupon for another site that can now be used.

Last week, I chose to just cancel my reservation and re-book it.  Earlier in the day, I had booked my flight through Orbitz because it had the cheapest fare for the exact itinerary I wanted (United did not even show that itinerary when I searched for it in the morning).  But when I ran the same search in the afternoon, the fare had both dropped on Orbitz and was now showing on United for the same price.  Orbitz offers a $50 coupon valid on your next trip through its “low fare promise,” but I had a coupon for 10% off a purchase on United (earned through an old United promotion).  I decided 10% off now was better than a potential $50 in savings in the future, since the latter would depend on validation from Orbitz’s customer service.  I canceled my Orbitz reservation online without any penalties, and re-booked my itinerary on United. Ultimately, I saved $50 from what I would have spent had I kept the reservation I made that same morning.

Price comparison does not end when you click “buy.”  If you keep track of prices on your itinerary for another 24 hours, you may find a pleasant surprise.  Who knows – it could even be that the fare on an itinerary you liked even better than the one you booked drops too. And if you book on Orbitz, the search keeps going; their price assurance means you could get a check later on if someone else books your same itinerary for less.  And if you can’t find a lower fare and don’t get any money back, by doing this follow-up you can at least rest assured that you got a good deal on your travel plans.

Now, Go Through a Portal to Buy on Amazon

To save when shopping online it is well established that you should (1) run a quick search for coupons and (2) shop through an online portal if you can. But until recently, if you were buying anything on Amazon, there was no way to double-dip. You could of course get points/miles through your credit card, but there wasn’t any portal offering points/miles or cash back for Amazon purchases. This changed very recently: now, US Airways’ Shopping Mall now gives 1 mile per $1 spent on amazon.com and Hawaiian Airlines’ eMarket gives 2 miles per $1 spent!

If you are a member of any of these two airline programs and make a lot of purchases on Amazon, this is amazing news. All you have to do is register at the respective portal, and remember to reach Amazon by clicking through the portal link rather than typing it on your browser bar directly when making a purchase.

Amazon.com now on Hawaiian's eMarket

If you shop on Amazon frequently but are not a member of US Airways’ Dividend Miles or Hawaiian’s HawaiianMiles frequent flier programs, there may still be something in it for you. Depending on how much you shop, it may be worthwhile to set up an account with either of the two programs and start accumulating miles anyway. A purchase here and there may not seem to make a difference, but given that membership is free and, for both programs, miles do not expire as long as you have an activity in the account every 18 months, if you buy stuff on Amazon there’s really no reason not to set up an account. In the worst case scenario, your miles expire and you earn nothing – and lose nothing. In the best case scenario, you either shop frequently enough to keep the account going and accumulate miles for a ticket eventually or, even better, you learn that you spend more on Amazon than you anticipated and earn a free ticket in no time.

When deciding for which of the two programs to sign up, there are some things to consider. On one hand, US Airways is a larger airline with more partners, so if you are looking for a mileage program in general, it’s a good bet. Once you’ve set up the account, you can always credit flights you take on US Airways as well as on other Star Alliance members, including United/Continental and international carriers such as Thai and Lufthansa, and accumulate miles even faster.

On the other hand, while Hawaiian is not in an alliance and only has 4 airline partners (Delta, Island Air, Korean Air, and Virgin Atlantic), its portal offers twice as many miles per dollar spent on Amazon. So, if you don’t fly on any of US Airways’ or Hawaiian’s partners, or already have your favorite frequent flier program, Hawaiian may be a good option just for earning those Amazon miles.  Also, as has been pointed out by some very savvy people who know the ins-and-outs of frequent flier programs, every 5000 HawaiianMiles can be converted into 10,000 Hilton HHonors points, making this a compelling deal for Hilton HHonors members too.

Amazon’s new participation in US Airways’ Shopping Mall and Hawaiian’s eMarket portals is exciting news in general.  For members of HawaiianMiles, US Airways’ Dividend Miles, or Hilton HHonors benefits could be great. But even if you aren’t a member of any of these programs, if you shop a lot on Amazon, there are probably still gains to be had by going through one of the two portals. And if you’re still not convinced, you could also sit back and wait: maybe Amazon’s participation in these two portals is a sign of even better times to come, when Amazon is giving miles, points, or cash back on every shopping portal out there.

JetBlue’s BluePass: Only 2 Weeks and 2 Pass Types Left to Buy

If you live in Boston and expect to travel frequently around the East Coast between August 22nd and November 22nd, 2011, or live in the East Coast but will be traveling out to Boston a lot during the next 3 months, you should check out JetBlue’s current BluePass sale. The same goes for those of you who live in the LA area and are looking to travel around the West Coast or to Chicago, Vegas or Austin.

I wrote about the BluePass a couple of weeks ago, but, as an update, the Boston All ticket is sold out now. The Boston Select ticket, which allows unlimited travel between Boston and 13 airports in the East Coast plus Bermuda from August 22nd to November 22nd is still available for $1,499. The Long Beach Select is $1,299 and allows unlimited travel during the time period to 9 different cities. For a list of cities or to learn more about the terms and conditions, check out my previous post.

If you choose to get the BluePass, note that the offer is no longer showing on JetBlue’s homepage but is available until August 31, 2011 and can be found here.