Meet Ben Schlappig

Very recently, one of the pioneers of the travel hacking hobby, Ben Schlappig, was featured in an interview with the Rollingstone. Him, along with Flyertalk forum, were my sources of inspiration, and how I started the miles collecting games. I learned everything from credit churning, spending, miles running, manufactured spending, and tricks to maximize the flight experience… etc

To get an idea of what he does and how he does it, I strongly suggest that you check it out in the link below

http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/ben-schlappig-airlines-fly-free-20150720

Though, the title is quite misleading, as you can never travel for free, everything comes at a cost. But when you truly enjoy flying and traveling, this simply becomes a non-issue ūüėõ

Policy Change for American Express

So the day has finally come – American Express Canada is following suit to it’s U.S. counterpart, putting an end to credit card churning. For those of you who are not familiar:

churning – practice where people sign up for a credit card with the purpose of obtaining the sign up bonus, then cancel the card after 6-12 months. Repeat the process once every 1-2 years.

There is now an extra item on the terms and conditions when you apply for a new card:

  • This offer is only available to new American Express Gold Rewards Cardmembers. For current or former American Express Gold Rewards Cardmembers, we may approve your application, but you will not be eligible for the welcome bonus.

This obviously changes the game a bit, so you should be looking at other ways to collect points instead of churning with American Express. Don’t get me wrong, Amex cards are still great to have, and you can still earn points through purchases, referrals, and occasional bonus events. In addition, it actually will take you a while to go through their entire offerings

amex_personal Amex_business

All the cards here are great to have, it will still take you 4 years to go through all the cards and sign up bonuses if you apply 2 each year. After 4 years, you would be eligible for sign up bonus again from the first card, then repeat the cycle.

Again, a rule of thumb with credit cards and loyalty points is to earn and burn. The game is constantly changing, so you will need to adapt. Spend the points once you’ve reached your goal, don’t wait on it!

Tips on Choosing the Best Seat for Your Next Trip

Most airlines allows you to pre-select your seat for free¬†before the flight, especially on International routes. I always pick my seat as soon as possible,¬†to make sure I don’t end up with a shitty seat that’s randomly selected by the check-in agent. One of the tools I use is SeatGuru.com, simply plug in your flight number to see the good seats and bad seats on your flight. Remember that not all seats are created equal – here are some tips on how you can choose a better seat for yourself.

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Sample seat selection screen for EVA Airlines

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Deal Alert – Toronto to Osaka, Japan Roundtrip Only $786 after taxes

Wow, just as I’m about to leave Japan, a deal popped up for Toronto – Osaka on Air Canada Rouge, for only $786 after taxes. Not only Osaka is a fun city to visit, it’s also very close to the beautiful city of Kyoto, it’s only a half an hour train ride away. I was just in Kyoto for 2 days, where I took the Shinkansen there from Tokyo.¬†Kyoto is an amazing place to get yourself immersed in the Japanese culture, it’s tourist attractions are incredibly¬†famous that even Japanese nationals go to Kyoto for vacations and visiting.

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To get the deal, please click here to visit the YYZ Deal page. Note I am in no way affiliated with YYZ Deals, it’s simply a nice deal alert site that I follow religiously, and I do recommend you to check it out.

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As a general rule of thumb, if you are interested, book first, hesitate later! You have 24 hours to cancel for free, use that time to think! Link to the AC cancellation policy here. 

 

Mid-trip report

Greetings from Tokyo!

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View from my hotel, the iconic Tokyo Tower (photo shot at f11/15s/ISO 200)

I’m in the middle of my mini around-the-world trip, where I departed from Toronto, visited Paris for 4 days, ¬†stopped in Beijing for a day, Tokyo and Kyoto for 6 days, Shanghai for a week, then back home to Toronto. All flights in business class, redeemed with only 150,000 Aeroplan miles, and around¬†$500 in fuel surcharges and taxes as¬†my out of pocket expenses. To learn how to book this trip, please refer to this post here. I’d like to re-iterate¬†that although using points and miles will greatly reduce your costs, traveling and seeing new things will never be free, they will cost you. My goal is to show you how you can follow my steps, and enjoy traveling with a smaller dent to your wallet ūüėČ

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Eiffel tower at night (hand-held shot at f7.1/1/30s/ISO12800, please excuse the poor photo quality)

Once you accumulated enough points, 150,000 for business class and 75,000 for economy; the difficult part, or rather, the Dark Arts of award booking, will be the routing and choosing of flights. Below are the flights and routing I picked for this trip, you may totally think I’m crazy for some of the routing and decisions I make. These are just what worked out for me, and may be different for each scenario and destination. The purpose of this is just to give you some exposure on what goes through my mind during the trip-building process. I will hopefully eventually publish all my knowledge on this, so stay tuned!

First leg: Toronto – Warsaw on LOT

3 hours layover

Warsaw – Paris

4 days stopover

There are lots of options going to Europe from Toronto, however, many of them involve a ridiculous amount of fuel surcharge, such as Air Canada and Lufthansa. Please see this page for a list of carriers without fuel surcharge. One way trip from Toronto to Paris, with Air Canada direct will cost you almost $500 extra.

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This is because Air Canada levies over $400 in fuel surcharge! A roundtrip will cost you double that. If I went with the direct flight, it will cost me almost $1000 in extra expense, not exactly traveling for less is it now? So my first priority was to avoid Air Canada and Lufthansa, secondly, I wanted a good business class seats and service. Remember, not all seats are created equal! While AC has a decent business cabin and service compared to North America airlines, it’s rather average when compared to European and Asian airlines. My top choice was taking Turkish Airlines through Istanbul, or Swiss through Zurich. Unfortunately they were not available for my travel dates. Then I explored LOT Polish, they do have fuel surcharge, but it is only $90 one way, in addition, they are flying the new 787 Dreamliner planes to Warsaw. The LOT 787 has an amazing business class cabin from what I heard, so I decided to go with LOT and route through Warsaw instead of flying AC direct. Result of this: 3 more hours of flying, $300 less per person, better food and seats on a new plane! Looking back, that was a great decision.

 

Second leg: Paris РBeijing on Air China

21 hours layover in Beijing

Beijing¬†–¬†Tokyo on All Nippon Airlines (ANA)

6 days stopover

I had several choices for this, I knew I had to go from Paris to Tokyo. Since Paris is not a Star Alliance hub, the only direct flight would be on ANA, though, they levy a heavy fuel surcharge. I wanted to see what other options I have, I had choice of taking Turkish through Istanbul, Swiss through Zurich, Air China through Beijing or Shanghai. All 3 of these airlines do not have any fuel surcharge, I ended up picking Air China, because that gives me a chance to visit my home city for a day, eat some Peking duck, visit my grandparents. I also used 30,000 Marriott points for a free night at Ritz-Carlton Beijing (courtesy of Chase Marriott Visa).

 

Third leg: Tokyo РShanghai on All Nippon Airlines

11 days stopover

This was rather straightforward, I would have preferred Air China, but the savings was only $50. ANA has much better service and meal on board, in addition, they are flying the new 787 Dreamliner!

 

Final¬†leg: Shanghai¬†–¬†Taipei on EVA Airlines

3 hours layover

Taipei¬†–¬†Toronto

I originally had Shanghai to Toronto direct on Air Canada booked. I didn’t like it, one reason was due to the $200+ fuel surcharge on this leg, another was Air Canada… their product is just average, and I’ve tried a few times before. What interested me was EVA Airlines going through Taipei. I later called Aeroplan, and changed my routing from direct, to a transfer through Taipei. I had several reasons for this – save $200 fuel surcharge, the reverse herringbone business cabin is much better than AC, transiting in Taipei means I get to visit their awesome lounge again, finally, I would get a Rimowa amenity kit! (This goes for $50-$100 in ebay!)

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The Rimowa amenity kit I would be getting

Now I hope you don’t think I’m some crazy maniac for tossing out a direct flight for a transfer ūüėČ

 

 

Beginner’s Guide to Quickly Boost Your Aeroplan Miles

Every so often, people ask me, how do you accumulate so many miles to fly around the world? How much do you have to fly to get all the miles?

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The answer is, majority of my miles portfolio is made up from sign up bonuses from credit cards, and out of those, a huge chunk is from American Express cards. The rest of the miles come from casual flying, credit card spending, promotional events… etc. But they barely add up to 50,000 per year. In comparison, I redeemed 500,000 miles in the past year: a mini-around-the-world trip for 2 in business class(150K miles x 2), a trip to China and HK for a bachelor party with my best buddy (150k miles), and a roundtrip from Toronto to Vancouver in¬†business class on the new 787-9 Dreamliner (50k miles).

This game is not for everyone. First, you need a decent annual salary, since most credit cards require 40-50k annual income. Secondly, you need a solid credit history, that means, you have not defaulted credit or declared bankruptcy in the past few years.  Lastly, and most importantly, you need to understand how credit score works, and how applying credit cards can affect your credit score. I have previously posted a guide on this, please check it out here.

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