An Example Trip: Using Credit Cards to Get to the Maldives

The Maldives are probably the place we went that draws the most questions from people.  That’s probably for several reasons.  One, it is almost literally on the other side of the planet – or the antipode of us.

A little fun sidebar…Here are two sites that show the antipode of specific locations.  So the next time someone comments that they are digging a hole to China at the beach, you can be the asshole that points out that you’d actually be digging a hole to the middle of the Indian Ocean…Everyone loves that guy.

Anyway – back to what I was saying.  The Maldives are far away.  It took us nearly 20 hours to get to our hotel from Singapore.  People were also fascinated with it because people love beaches, and the Maldives may be the most beautiful tropical location on the planet.

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Elite Status Basics

Ever notice signs at first class checkin at airports welcoming some sort of special airline person to go check in there?  Or how about an upgrade list for the flight?  Who’s rear do you have to kiss to get on that?

Those are all perks of airline elite status, among many others.  How do you get status?  Typically by flying a whole lot and spending a lot of time in hotels.  That said, there are several ways of getting status through credit cards – mainly hotel status.  Though for airlines, you can get several of the more meaningful benefits from credit card perks.

Frequent Flyer Status

I’m not going to cover the benefits of status in too much detail for a couple reasons.  First, if you are actually in a position to earn elite status on airlines (say flying for business), you most likely are already familiar with it…far more so than I could explain in a single blog post aimed at an audience who is vaguely familiar with the idea of frequent flyer status.  If you don’t fly that much, you really have no need to know about it other than to make yourself envious.

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Hotel Booking Tips and Hotel Points

Hotel bookings are kind of the opposite of flights, i.e. award bookings are really simple and revenue bookings are where you can really take advantage of things.

Award Bookings

For the most part this is pretty simple…Pretty much every chain has moved to a system whereby if a base level room is available, you can book it for the required amount of points.  That’s it.  And you can book these right on the hotel chain’s website.  Yawn.

I will offer a couple tips…Cash and points awards are generally the way to go when they are available, but it is pretty rare to find them.  Several chains offer a stay X nights on points and get the [X+1] night free.  That is something to be aware of.  Another one is a points and miles combo redemption.

Basically, read the hotel award rules of whatever points you have.  It is really pretty simple.

Starpoints are my favorite hotel points, but I avoid actually redeeming them at hotels in most circumstances (I save them for airline transfers).  I also really like Hyatt points and have redeemed a bunch of them (transferred through Ultimate Rewards).  I used to like Hilton, but they just did unspeakable things to their award chart – making the best redemptions up to 3 times more expensive than they were a couple months ago.

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Flight Booking and Frequent Flyer Mile Tips

Let me start off with this – unfortunately, there aren’t any major tricks to booking airfare.  I’ve read this book – Decoding Airfare.  And while it was an informative book, it hasn’t been too useful for my type of travel; and I guess the same would apply to most reading this.

That said, there are some tips to help you get the best airfare possible.

I use the ITA Matrix Search to find airfares.  This is what all other aggregator sites use, so you will definitely find as good of a price anywhere on ITA Matrix.  Plus it has a ton of search options.

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Credit Card Sign Ups (including a discussion on credit score)

Disclaimer…This post is long…and it is pretty much all words.  So put your reading hat on if you want to learn about the basics of credit card sign up bonuses.  I’ll include a random picture or two for motivation.

Disclaimer #2…Proceed at your own risk because there is some risk to this – though minimal if done right.  Further, know your situation.  Looking to buy a house within a year? Move a little slower with this than you would otherwise.  Planning on putting 5% down on the maximum loan you can qualify for on that house?  Reconsider your need to sign up for credit cards because you’re likely to be scrutinized far more than someone who puts down 20% on a loan that they easily qualify for.

What is the one easiest way to earn tons of miles/points in a very short time?

It’s not actually flying all that much, nor is spending on your American Express.

Signing up for credit cards is the correct answer.  I went through my latest round of applications a week ago (as of writing this).  I signed up for 5 credit cards; Alyce signed up for 4.  This was a little higher than our typical application round, but it had been a little longer than usual since our last applications.

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How We Pulled It Off

So…You may have wondered while reading the blog how we pulled off some of this stuff.  Fair Question.

While I’d like to think that Alyce and I have both worked very hard to set ourselves up for the future, there is no way we could have afforded this vacation if paying anywhere near retail prices for a lot of what we did.  Hell, the one-way flight from New Orleans to Hong Kong in first class on Cathay Pacific would have cost in the neighborhood of $25,000 alone.


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Travel Planning Tips and Resources

Here are some of my best tips.  They are just my opinion, but they have served us well throughout our travels.  This is what I can think of at the moment; I’ll try to update the post if I forgot anything important.  It’s long and mostly words, but I threw in some random pictures along the way.  Also, I’ll do separate posts on money saving tips.

Stay Organized

Especially if you are taking a longer trip…I had an excel workbook with a sheet for every destination and a couple for general stuff (flights, hotels, etc.).  Again, you need to stay organized or you could be faced with some major issues if you accidentally mess dates up or forget to book something.

As a check when booking vacation rentals/non-chain hotels, I always give the date, year, and day of the week.  That way, if I screw up the year when looking at a calendar (or anything else), the person booking will hopefully catch it by noticing that the day of the week is off.  It also helps to keep them from making a mistake.

Print out every hotel, flight, rental car, etc. reservation.  Don’t feel like it?  Too bad – do it.  You never know when you will need it.  For us, the biggest occurrence was trying to enter the airport in Bali.  To get in the airport, you needed your ticket; to check in, you needed to get in the airport.  You can see how this could be a problem.  Fortunately, they accepted my printed out confirmation.  There were also several other countries that wanted to see proof of onward travel, but that is pretty standard.

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