Well dear readers, it has been an interesting few months here at Points Envy. The harsh reality is that we have spent most of the last hundred days or so in a not-quite-first class prison camp somewhere outside of Pyongyang, Korea. Thankfully, it seems we have not missed anything exciting in the points world, with the exception of another unexciting cash back card from Barclays that has the usual suspects in the blogosphere all hot between the loins.
By way of background, we point you to a revolutionary points-earning strategy we pioneered in December of last year. Given how well this method was working in “the States,” we decided to expand our operation overseas, confident that human physiology and DNA everywhere dictate that drugs are awesome. Coincidentally, we had been eager to try Asiana’s new first class suites, so we decided on Korea as our first stop and booked a ticket from ORD to ICN in late December.
Asiana’s new suite, with some gibberish.
Given that it was our inaugural trip, we kept things simple and only took along five pounds of “points.” The flight was predictably luxurious and boring, aside from a few nice views of Siberia. Maybe it’s just us, but we find few things in life more comforting than sipping a nice Scotch in a cozy suite while peering down on an icy wasteland.
The only Scotch on the rocks we tolerate.
Upon arrival in Seoul we grabbed our bags and headed towards the Priority Lane at customs. On the way, we stopped by the Priority Information Desk and asked the agent where we might find the Koreans most in need of medicine. She mentioned a place in northern Korea called Pyongyang, so we began to look into flights while still at Incheon. We quickly found space in Air Koryo’s premium cabin direct to Pyongyang, and we were even able to redeem some old Cubana miles we had lying around from our “Hemingway years.”
Our flight was strange in that it lacked champagne and had only a single channel of IFE starring a pudgy but likeable Chinese man, but ultimately it was rather uneventful. Upon arrival in Pyongyang we searched for the Priority Lane for roughly an hour before finally relegating ourselves to waiting behind a couple people in the normal customs line. Although the customs official did address us as “sir,” he did not seem to otherwise recognize that we were first class passengers and people. More importantly, it seems they have never heard of The Constitution in Korea, as these corrupt officials felt free to invade our G-d-given privacy rights by searching through our designer luggage.
Unlike in most other world countries, Korean officials apparently cannot be bribed with points, and we were summarily sentenced to thirty years in prison because of our desire to help the sick and needy. With our one phone call we naturally dialed the American Express Platinum Card Concierge line. Apparently Platinum Card benefits are not limited to just getting reimbursed for airline gift certificates and replacing “broken” electronics, because within a few months our new best friend Jennifer had secured our release and also booked us a return flight in Cathay first class via Hong Kong. We would have been home sooner, but there was no first class award space available, and while we have yet to experience economy class, we imagine it to be a far worse place than prison.
The Korean prison’s kimchi was surprisingly delicate and fragrant.
The flight home was slightly less pleasant than the flight to Seoul, but we were overjoyed to be back in our natural element, and particularly pleased to see our favorite Cathay purser onboard (shout out to Grace!). After our awful experience, we realized we should focus our efforts in areas where people better understand service, so our next expansion will be to Singapore. In the meantime, we hope to be more productive here on the site, though that is probably too much to ask.
Points Envy had a blast at the StarMegaDo4 this week. It was a wonderful chance to see how the sausage is made at United and to finally meet some of the most infamous points bloggers around. Most importantly, it was nice to have easy access to the buffet line from which said bloggers were all eating. Our last experiment failed, but we will rule this world yet!
The miles blogs have been filled with talk of an upcoming 30% Membership Rewards transfer bonus to British Airways, but the bonus does not begin until December 3. This reminds us of the way our dead parents used to start mentioning Christmas in November. This type of teasing did not end well for them.
Points Envy brought you an exclusive look, via Lucky (via Gary), at a 25% award redemption sale in the Avios program.
Dan’s Deals provided an excellent guide to maximizing this week’s Staples promotion whereby you receive a $15 Staples Gift card for every $100 Visa or Mastercard gift card purchased. So far, we have bought $30,000 worth of gift cards at our local Staples stores, and this afternoon we are flying to Nebraska to visit a few more Staples. Nobody in Nebraska is in the game yet, right? We assume it is like living in the 1990s there.
As predicted, Lucky has given us the beginnings of a stellar review of Lufthansa first class. Not to be outdone, MommyPoints also flew the most German of all airlines this week, and the full review of her A380 trip is forthcoming.
Million Mile Secrets provided a nice rundown of some ways in which to maximize the fourth quarter Chase Freeom bonus on hotels and airlines by purchasing gift cards. We plan on using this method to max out the $1500 bonus on all sixteen of our Freedom cards.
Last, but not least, our friend George was mentioned in a critical post by The Frugal Travel Guy, and has responded with a couple posts of his own. Rick then engaged George and his readers in a vicious catfight in the alley (aka comments section) of George’s most recent post. As a wise man once said: hate hate hate hate.
United is offering discounted award tickets to Europe for travel between January 15 and March 13, the precise timeframe in which nobody wants to go to Europe. But if braving cold weather and flying a U.S. carrier transatlantically are worth saving 12,000 miles to you, then by all means, have at it!
Via Million Mile Secrets, a new Ink Bold/Plus deal is on the way from Chase, requiring only $5,000 in spending within three months to receive the 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points bonus. This surely means that soon nobody will be able to find Vanilla Reloads at Office Depots, except of course those of us who are already bribing our local store managers.
Small Business Saturday is back on November 24 this year, and registration begins November 18. Last year we convinced our local wine dealer to let us split purchases on multiple cards and managed to get several bottles of fine champagne gratis. Between this and Bluebird, we are having trouble figuring out how American Express stays in business. Is the entire bank just some elaborate money laundering front?
Lucky is back in the sky, and we are looking forward to yet another mouth-watering review of Lufthansa first class. We particularly love reading his reviews of Lufthansa first class while flying Lufthansa first class. We are meta like that.
The Points Envy assistants sent in another photographic update from their latest vacation, this time from Moscow:
The entire (points) world is abuzz this week with the arrival of Bluebird, the newest Airbus model powered solely by the collective sadness of the French. (Zing!) No, Bluebird is allegedly the best thing since buying dollar coins from the U.S. Mint: a new scheme to manufacture “millions” of points. While the prospect of mere millions doesn’t usually entice us, we at Points Envy decided to spend a few minutes browsing other blog posts about Bluebird to find out what all the hubbub was about. Below we have compiled that information into a completely superfluous post repeating useful bits of what other bloggers that you follow have already told you. We are a points and miles blog, after all.
Bluebird seems to be a new offering from American Express, the folks who periodically give you money to not use a superior points-earning card. We can’t understand the real reasons behind their launching this product, but the key for the points world is that you can use Bluebird to pay for things you cannot normally use a credit card for, like your mortgage, credit card bills, and drugs (assuming your dealer will accept a check).
For the best value, all you really need to do is: (1) have a Chase Ink card that earns 5x Ultimate Rewards points on office supply store spend; (2) find an Office Depot that stocks Vanilla Reload cards; (3) purchase all of the Vanilla Reload cards in stock with said Ink card; (4) load Bluebird with said Vanilla Reload cards; (5) immediately withdraw all of the money from your Bluebird account at an ATM; and (6) head to the nearest club and have the time of your life, knowing you are earning five points for every dollar bill you use to make it rain!
So, there you have it. As Amex continues to roll back many of the most beneficial features of its cards, they appear to have thrown the points world a bone with this one. If history has taught us anything, Amex will soon cancel Bluebird and then also revoke the lounge privileges associated with its Platinum card, just for good measure. Get while the gettin’ is good points fiends! That is, until American Express gets sued by Twitter.
How well do you know your avian silhouettes?
Well, you got us. We tried a devious scheme and it almost worked, but those damn Windy City engineers and architects seem to have designed Chicago buildings well enough to keep our fellow points bloggers safe.
You see, we’re tired of being nationally and internationally famous for being the third-and-a-half-biggest travel blog in the world. We would like to move up to at least number two or, G-d willing, the top spot. And so when we heard the world’s top travel bloggers would all be gathered in Chicago for the big seminar, we saw our chance to make things right.
We are not old school gangsters, just classy gentleman of leisure. But we definitely wanted to kill the competition. So we thought back to an article about some guys in Abu Dhabi who learned how to control the weather. They were using their machinery to make rain in the desert for food or something, but we figured we could use it for something far more noble: a murderous tornado. But sadly, our mission failed, and the bloggers who actually have insight and real knowledge of the travel industry lived to write another day.
It was such a simple plan.
On the whole, however, the undertaking was not a total loss. We paid roughly $350 million for the machinery and setup, with $35,000 on our Sapphire Preferred and the remainder on our Platinum card (thanks for no limit Amex!), so at least we earned over 350 million points (350,037,450 after the 7% dividend on the Ultimate Rewards points). And luckily we’ve already found a buyer for the tornado machinery in executive producer and all-around nice guy Steven Spielberg, who begins shooting Twister 2: More Twisters soon. You read that right folks, Bill Paxton is not dead.
But if you know anything about the editors here at Points Envy it is that we never give up. Maybe next time, the elite bloggers of the points world won’t be so lucky….
In a sad story this week, we have learned that Boston resident Alayna Croft has filed for divorce from her husband David after he decided in late February to apply for the American Express Platinum card without using her as a referral. “It was just the last straw for me,” said Croft, who noted that her husband of thirty-six years had also frequently failed to use the “correct” card when making various purchases over the past decade. “I don’t think that idiot even plans on using his airline fee credit either,” she continued, referring to the Platinum card’s annual statement credit of $200 towards fees (or gift certificates) on an airline of your choice.
American Express generally offers bonuses when a cardholder refers a new user and that person is approved. In this situation, Croft stood to gain 5,000 Membership Rewards points from her husband’s approval. Moreover, Mr. Croft could have gotten a 50,000 sign up bonus with Ms. Croft’s referral instead of the 25,000 bonus tied to the best publicly available offer. Prior to filing for divorce, Croft says she considered simply booking tickets at different award levels in the future – business class for herself and coach for her husband – in order to “teach him a lesson.” Ultimately, however, she decided that her husband’s “lack of consideration with the Amex referral just showed that he had lost all respect for [their] marriage.”
We report this heartbreaking story in the hope that you will be able to avoid similar mistakes in the future. Please, never apply for a new card without first checking whether your friend or loved one (or the writers here at Points Envy) might be eligible for a referral bonus as a result of your application. The world will truly be a better place for all when this shameless wasting of points finally comes to an end. In the meantime, we hope that Ms. Croft makes the right move with the couple’s points and miles balances heading into divorce.
Not to be outdone by Chase’s recent Ultimate Rewards promotions, American Express has partnered up with Twitter to offer savings with numerous merchants, including Whole Foods, FedEx and Best Buy. For a complete rundown of these offers, we refer you to The Points Guy’s recent post on the subject.
While most of the deals have received a fair amount of press, we’d like to point out a special offer that seems to have been less broadly publicized: Amex has yet again teamed up with Mercedes-Benz to offer an incredible discount for its members. Cardholders who tweet “#AmexMercedes5” will save $5 on any single purchase made with Mercedes-Benz of $125,000 or more. Like the Mercedes-Benz Platinum card, this deal provides a fantastic bonus for anyone already planning to purchase a new Benz, which we assume is a large proportion of our readers.
Attainable with Amex!
We can only hope that the Mercedes promotion is an indication that Amex will expand the Twitter partnership to include more luxury brands in the future. As good as it feels now to buy those new Dolce & Gabana stone-washed calf leather Mocassins, it will be just that much sweeter when you know you’re also saving money thanks to Amex.