If I’ve got two passions in life, they are making snarky comments about the Padres and accumulating miles and points. A lot of people tell themselves that getting into miles and points is just too complicated or they are too worried about credit or it just seems too easy. These are valid concerns that are pretty easily mitigated if you don’t bite off more than you can chew. When I first moved back to San Diego, my wife was still waiting for her job to transfer, and we knew in advance that there’d be an unknown gap that we’d be living on different coasts. So in 2011, I started accumulating as many points and miles as I could to facilitate twice monthly flights to and from Washington DC for free. Even after she moved here, I was fully addicted to the freedom having miles affords. Fast forward to today and I can truthfully say I have not purchased a flight since 2011. Since then, I’ve flown about 300,000 miles free, including trips to Thailand, Korea, Hawaii, Italy, Spain, Costa Rica four (soon to be five) times, and Mexico, not to mention all over the US. One trip I particularly value is my yearly trip to see the Padres play away somewhere with my high school friends. These have included trips to see them play the Astros in Mexico City, seeing the opening series of Suntrust Park in Atlanta, and seeing the Padres play at Nationals Park from the PNC Club. I’ve also used points to fly in and out of Phoenix and to pay for the hotels for Spring Training. And here’s the thing, if you don’t think banks would take advantage of you every chance they could, you’re crazy. This is your chance, with a little discipline, to carve out a little something for yourself at the expense of the banks’ margins.
I’ve coached up quite a few people at work and even in the Padres Twittersphere (hi @beeringwithcook!) on some more advanced techniques including how to get a Southwest Companion Pass. Thought I’d start a little simpler here and keep it very focused on short term Padres travel goals.
Here are a few disclaimers. A lot of people think they don’t have good enough credit or that applying for credit cards will hurt their credit. I think most people would be surprised at how free banks are in granting revolving credit. At most levels of the process, bankers are finacially incentivized to find a way to approve you. On the second point, if you ever look at a pie chart of what affects your credit score, recent inquiries is a factor but a small one. As a result, when you apply for a card and they run your credit, your score will drop 5-7 pts for a few months. This will then be offset by a much larger (the largest) piece of the pie chart, which is credit utilization. If you get approved for a credit card with $10k of credit line, the denominator in your credit utilization formula gets bigger and your score goes up. In the end, not carrying a balance (if you’re going to carry a balance, this game isn’t for you) and holding these cards will lead to drastic improvements to your credit. I have upwards of 40 credit cards in a baseball card binder in my office and a credit score well above 800. The only exception is if you’re buying a house in the next 6 months. You are about to have a rectal cavity search of credit reviews so maybe hold off until you close.
Last disclaimer: the links to applications are my referral links. I’ll get some miles thrown my way if you apply and are approved. Like I said, everyone is incentivized in the finance game to find ways to get you approved for stuff.
Padres Spring Training in Peoria, AZ
This is an easy one, and it’s easy to plan for since the Padres will always be in the Phoenix area. The basics behind the scheme are to apply for credit cards with big bonuses. In many cases the annual fee is waived for the first year, so cancel the card before the fee hits in a year. Even with an annual fee, I think of it as a heavily discounted Groupon for the miles/points. Most bonuses are reliant on spending some amount of money within x number of months. A lot of people are scared off by the minimum spend, but I think if most people just shift most of their spending onto a card they’re working on a bonus on, it isn’t really that difficult. There are more advanced techniques related to buying gift cards that time shift spending that I’m happy to discuss offline, but it’s beyond the scope of this intro.
So for Spring Training, I’m working under the assumption that you want to fly and you need a hotel. Obviously, the flying could be turned into driving, but you’ll still need a hotel, and preferably not one like the Padres and Pints guys select with a hole where a hot tub used to be filled with dirt and carpets likely stained with semen.
First things first, let’s get the flight. This one is easy because it’s using the card I use as my primary. It’s my go to. The Chase Sapphire gives you 50k Chase Ultimate Rewards points that can be transferred 1:1 into Southwest, United, British Airways (usable for Alaska and American flights), Korean Air (usable on Delta flights), and Hyatt hotels (there’s others but the value is questionable). As a result, Chase points are arguably the most valuable currency in the points game. It requires $4,000 in spending in 3 months which is steep, but so worth it. It also gets 2 miles for every dollar you spend in restaurants or bars or travel, which is better than the individual airlines’ cards give you. The $95 annual fee is waived for the first year, although this is the one I happily pay hte annual fee for every year. Being transferable into multiple programs gives you flexibility to spend on whatever has availability at the time. As a test, I plugged in an average March weekend to Phoenix and got as low as 10k miles for a roundtrip from SAN-PHX, or 15k for more typical flight times. The Sapphire is important because it’s the backbone for your new points accruing wallet strategy.
Now for hotel. Peoria has a lot of dumpy, mid to lower tier hotels nearby the fields. I prefer the Hampton Inn which is geographically the closest to the stadium and dependably not terrible while still being across the street from the Moon Saloon. It’s also a Hilton property that goes for over $250 over Spring Training weekends despite only being a Hampton Inn. Luckily, you can get 100k Hilton Hhonors points in one fell swoop, plus Hilton gold status which gets you free breakfast at all Hilton properties you stay at. This is good for at least 2 nights at the Peoria Hampton Inn going for 40k/night in Spring Training. It has a $75 annual fee not waived and needs $3,000 in spending in 3 months, but as part of it, you get gold status. This is another one I just pay the fee every year because I get a lot of value out of free breakfast when I travel. It also accrues WAY more points for me when I am sent somewhere for work and stay at a Hilton.
This is enough to live large in Peoria for free. But as beginners, getting $3k or $4k in spending in 3 months may seem daunting. If so, this card is a good starter as it has no annual fee, has a small minimum spend, and still gives you enough to get a free night at the Hampton Inn Peoria, and almost enough to get 2 nights (after a few months of putting your normal spending on the card you’ll easily have 80k points for 2 nights at the Hampton Inn Peoria)(in part two, I’ll have a nice way to spend those extra 20k points). It doesn’t come with gold status, but it’s 75k Hhonors points for only $1k in spend over 3 months, and another $1k in spend over 6 months, plus no fee. No fee means you can sign up for this card and throw it in a sock drawer while it helps your credit score. If you’re feeling saucy, you could just get both Hilton cards and be sitting on 175k Hhonors points, plus gold status. Keeping in mind that two nights at the Hampton Inn Peoria is about $600 after taxes for two nights, it’s remarkably little work to do to essentially be paid more than this amount by just shifting where you accrue your normal spending on.
So that’s it, an easy way to get started in the points game, and an easy way to go to Padres spring training for free so you can run up tabs at the Moon Saloon with Darren Balsley. As always, I’m always happy to discuss miles and points with you, just DM me.
This is the basic strategy with an easy objective of Peoria, AZ. In part two, we’ll look into how to go to the rumored Padres-Dodgers series in Mexico City on points.