I will remember 2018 as the year I started to hit my stride with miles and points. I’m counting here the award flights I booked along with the trips I took, since I learned a bunch of stuff while traveling.
January—no travel. I noticed that AA miles were going cheap, so I started opening some cards to accumulate those for an aspirational redemption to South Africa on Qatar. It took longer than I expected, mostly because of the obtuseness and intransigence of Barclay’s, but late in the year I finally got the 300k I needed and found decent award availability in February-March 2019. Qsuites here we come! Opening these cards shut me out of the new Chase Business Ink, though, because of 5/24.
In February, I started the month out right with a ten day trip to Colombia. This was a cash fare I found in fall of 2017 with a roundtrip price of $385.00 AUS-BOG. As it turned out, this was the cheapest fare I’d ever find to South America in 2018. Although I loved Colombia, I tried to do too much on this trip, flying to three different cities. Lesson: flying takes a lot longer than you think, even if it’s a short flight.
Also in February, spent a week in Puerto Escondido for a movement retreat. Used three different Mexican airlines to try to save on the fare, and it ended up backfiring on me when VOLARIS cancelled my flight ten days before travel and then refused to do anything about it. Lesson: sometimes it’s better to bite the bullet and pay a little extra. And don’t fly on Volaris. Puerto is a fantastic location.
March: Spent five days in Tulum, Mexico. Used points to book this SWA flight after discovering they fly direct from SAT to CUN. Good to know for future travel; if memory serves, it’s possible to fly to Cuba from CUN. Otherwise, the Mayan Riviera no longer holds any magic for me, having gotten impossibly touristy. In cards, opened up Chase Hyatt card for an aspirational redemption at the Andaz Tokyo.
April/May: This was the month for my longest trip of the year, my first and second first class flights, and some good to great travel redemptions. In late 2017, I used 190k Chase points to book a Korean first class roundtrip award flight from Dallas-Hanoi. I also booked a week long excursion from Hanoi to Sydney on Thai first class, spending 80k Chase points for the roundtrip. This also included two overnights in Bangkok, which was an interesting place to have a 2:00 am dinner. Fascinating destinations, excellent food. Chase is no longer a transfer option for Korean, so I’m glad I got in on that before the window closed.
No travel in June or July, used the hot San Antonio summer weather to go to the pool and work on my skin color. But then the travel blogosphere went crazy over the Iberia “buy 10 flights and get 90k Avios” promo, and I decided to give it a shot and it actually worked, so I booked two roundtrip business class tickets on Iberia for 2019’s trip to Spain and Portugal. Yeah, I know it’s Iberia and I don’t expect a lot. Less than $600 total for a roundtrip business flight to Europe is an interesting win in my book. Also booked business class roundtrips on KLM to Portugal and Italy for next May, using another Amex discounted points transfer and some Air France miles left over from a paid business class flight in 2017. Hate those AF surcharges on award flights!
August: Spent two weeks traveling in Colombia with girlfriend. This was my first realization that Mexico City, as bad as that airport is, is going to be my gateway to South America, because United is completely uncompetitive out of Houston. Since there’s three carriers flying direct from SAT-MEX, the prices do tend to be lower, and Aeromexico is at least bearable for short(ish) flights. Opened a Morgan Stanley investment account but didn’t fund it, solely to get the MS Amex platinum card, which worked perfectly. Amex has a large number of platinum cards, and there’s no reason you can’t get each one of them. While booking hotels in Japan, I noticed Avianca Hotels was having a five hour sale, and some of the points awards for nights in Kyoto and Tokyo were staggeringly high. Took advantage of this and ended up with an extra 105k LifeMiles. This was just a couple of weeks after I booked a three week trip to Asia next summer, using a simultaneous LifeMiles sale on points and discount on the LM award chart to get a roundtrip in Asiana F from LAX-ICN. Added some Citi ThankYou points to make the deal sweeter.
With September and early October came the two week trip to Japan. Of the award redemptions I’ve made, I think this one is the best and it’s still replicable. 93K Amex points for a roundtrip ANA flight in F, IAH-NRT, is simply amazing. Thoroughly enjoyed the food, drink and service aboard one of the top airlines in the world. Speaking of amazing, loved the Tokyo Andaz, so much so that paying cash for a couple of nights extra seemed like actually not a bad way to splurge.
In November, paid cash for a ten day trip to Peru. Upgraded on Aeromexico through their interesting bidding system. J class on Aeromexico is nothing to write home about, but at least you get the extra space. Peru is one of the top food destinations, and I found out why. Also had a positive encounter with the Peruvian private healthcare system when I sprained my ankle.
December: another trip to Colombia to visit girlfriend, this time a week in and around Medellin, which is one of the more interesting cities in which you can find yourself. Wandered into a Michelin-starred restaurant and after being seated without a reservation, was treated to an outrageous thirteen course meal with wine pairings for two, all for less than $250.00 US, including tip. The two free tours we took were amazingly informative, and the small towns around Medellin are well worth visiting. At the end of December, flew to Puerto Escondido for a month long stay in January.
Well, that was my 2018 in travel. Looking forward, I’m thinking that 2019 will be more about accumulating miles and points rather than spending them, although I’m coming around to the idea of using the Chase travel portal to book those stupid positioning flights from SAT-IAH, since UA has foreclosed on any other options, like awards booked through Avianca LifeMiles. As was the case this year, I’ll be using my Amex Blue for Business to pay for taxes, since I’m getting 2X points for every purchase, which more than makes up for the 1.85% processing fee. I have two free SPG (now, Marriott) award nights with the two SPG cards I opened, so I’m going to explore that. I’m also going to try to keep the travel schedule for 2020 a bit more open, the better to take advantage of sudden mistake fares or interesting promotions that may come up; I had to pass up a few in 2018 since the travel schedule was so full. Also, I have a strong feeling that I’ll be going back to Europe in 2020, maybe several times, and not just for travel.