Flights

Starwood Preferred Guest Program Review

Starwood Preferred Guest Program review

With the negative press Air Miles has received the past few months and now Aeroplan set to undergo major changes in 2020…

Many consumers are starting to rethink their travel rewards program.

Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) is an incredibly flexible travel rewards program that allows consumers to earn “Starpoints” to use on either their next hotel stay or a plethora of other attractive rewards.

In fact, it’s my all time favourite travel rewards program that I once used to fly Maria and I to Paris for 10 days with most of the airfare and hotel expenses paid just with Starpoints.

Read on to find out why it’s so good:

SPG Membership Tiers

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5 Ways to Save Money on Airport Parking and Transit

5 ways to save money on airport parking and transit

Travel costs can fly high - even on the very first day of your long-awaited vacation.

The one thing that’s often overlooked?

It’s the cost of going between house, airport and hotel.

Paying for parking at the airport adds up after a few days. And yes - it can be expensive. But then again…

I live on the opposite end of the city from the airport so a cab ride is heavy on the wallet as well. When I travel, this is one of the aspects of a trip that requires me to plan ahead.

One strategy I use is to try to stay at hotels that offer a complimentary airport shuttle when we arrive in our destination. But this solution may not be for everyone.

So what are other alternatives?

Consider these 5 ideas...

1) Car Rentals

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Intro To Points And Miles For Travel Hacker Wannabes

Intro to points and miles for travel hackingTravel hacking is like some sort of mystical promised land flowing with milk and honey…

It portrays a life spent floating in first class suites in the sky, free gourmet food and drinks galore, and unlimited hotel upgrades to fancy hotel rooms complete with turn down service and a chocolate on your pillow every night - all practically free - *sigh*...

The truth is, achieving all of that is a lot of work and requires jumping through all kinds of hoops. Many beginners get put off by the crazy language barrier (hello acronyms!), the insane points strategies, and the attention to detail it takes to pull it all off.

The upside is you CAN start small and work your way up.

This guide will ease you into the points and miles game. You'll learn to earn miles faster and redeem them smarter so you can jet off on your next vacation much sooner than you ever thought possible. Keep reading » about Intro To Points And Miles For Travel Hacker Wannabes

The Best Sites For Finding Cheap Flights

The best sites for finding cheap flightsLet’s face it, trying to find a good deal on airfare can be intimidating!

There are so many sites to look at from airline sites, to online travel agencies, to third party comparison services. Ultimately, you’re left wondering if you are getting the best price and that isn’t a good feeling.

The best place to start is always with comparison websites that don’t actually let you book directly. The reason for this is because not only do they have access to the same inventory as the others, but they also partner with a wide array of online travel agencies to ensure you get the absolute lowest price.

In fact, most sites should have very similar prices and inventory because they all use a small shared set of backend systems. Therefore, the biggest savings come when you either find an interesting booking that is a mish-mash of multiple airlines or one of the online travel agencies decides to get aggressive on their pricing and pass on some of their usual profit to you.

Top Airfare Comparison Websites

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What Is An Aeroplan Mile REALLY Worth?

What is an Aeroplan mile really worth?With all the negativity surrounding Aeroplan lately, some people might say they are worthless actually!

Believe me, I’m frustrated too: lack of availability, bad connections, high taxes and fees, and big fuel surcharges (when oil prices were higher) are REAL. Amia needs to wake up and fix these flaws before they lose all their members due to frustration!

However, if you know how to work Aeroplan to your advantage, Aeroplan miles are actually VERY valuable. If you follow the suggestions in my complete guide to the rewards program linked above, then you will easily avoid most of the major pitfalls and start getting maximum value for your miles.

Want to get the best value for your Aeroplan miles? Download the PDF version of this analysis.

The Quick Answer: 3 Cents

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Lost Luggage: How To Minimize Your Losses

Lost luggage: how to minimize your lossesI travel a few times a year (some trips for business, some for pleasure) and have been lucky with my luggage - it's only been lost twice in the past 5 years and both times the airline was able to quickly recover the luggage.

Others aren't so lucky. They wait for their bag to arrive and when it doesn't show, they are sent to airline customer service to go through the long process of claims and paperwork related to finding the bag. Each year about 2% of lost bags aren't recovered, and it's important to know what to do if it happens to you.

Reporting Lost Baggage

Most airlines have a customer service area in major airports (located near where the bags come out in the arrivals level) that deals specifically with baggage issues. If your bag doesn't arrive your first step is to go here. It's important you report the lost bag immediately - if not, the airline won't be responsible for it.

If you had connecting flights with a different airline, the airline that you last flew on is responsible for your bags. For example, if you flew Westjet to Toronto and then American Airlines to Florida, then American Airlines would be responsible for your baggage.

Related: Top Aeroplan Credit Cards Compared

Once at customer service you'll be asked for your baggage claim ticket that was originally given when your bags were checked while checking in for your flight. It's a small barcode that has all the tracking information for your bag. The airline can still look up your bag's information without it, but it takes longer to search the system and isn't as accurate.

A customer service rep will then ask you for the details on your bag. Important details on you baggage are the approximate size, colour, contents, identifying marks (such as a ribbon), where your trip started and what connections you had (if any).

This information is entered into the system and delayed baggage form is given to you with a unique reference number and a toll-free number you can call to find out the status of your bag. At this point your bag isn't technically lost - it is "delayed" and you'll need to give the airline a chance to find it first before claiming it as a lost bag.

Delayed Baggage Compensation

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Travel In Heaven Instead Of Hell

Travel In Heaven Instead Of HellThe act of traveling abroad, particularly by air, can be a grating experience. Long lines, delayed flights, customs forms, expensive food, small uncomfortable seats, endless waiting at airports, getting almost naked to clear security, lack of affordable cell phone coverage, overpriced hotels … the list goes on. Fortunately, there are lots of little hacks to make it MUCH more seamless and enjoyable.

Although I'm not a business road warrior by any means, I've had my fair share of experience traveling to far-off destinations thanks mostly to airline miles, reward points, and cheap hotel tricks. I am currently at the airport on my way back from FinCon 2014 which took place in New Orleans, so it's the perfect time to share all the little hacks I've developed over time.

Before You Leave

  • Be sure to pack the following:
    • Noise isolating headphones (i.e. ear buds). These will help you sleep, relax, entertain yourself, and get work done. That way you won't have to pay to buy something cheap and inferiour.
    • Pen and paper. You'll need a real pen to fill out those customs forms and for jotting notes if your cell dies.
    • Portable phone charger. There are usually outlets at airports and sometimes on planes, but do you really want to be stuck in one place charging your phone? Portable chargers are so cheap, just get one.
    • Empty water bottle. You can fill it after you clear security so you can always stay hydrated without buying expensive drinks.
    • Credit card(s). There a many things you just can't do while traveling without one. More than one is preferred in case one gets frozen, which commonly happens while traveling.
    • A good book. Electronic devices often aren't allowed during takeoff and landing on most airlines but books are fine.
  • Figure out a better plan for your cell phone. You actually don't need to pay through the nose for talk, text, or data in foreign countries (see how here).
  • Get your hotel accommodations in order:
    • Check Trip Advisor for traveler tips and photos for your hotel so you can request a newly renovated or well-located room. Not all rooms are created equal.
    • Call and confirm reservation and dates to make sure the hotel has you in their system, especially if you booked through a third party. Mix-ups do happen!
    • Give your rewards program number if they don't have it already, especially if you have some sort of status.
    • Get the right room. Ask for the type of room you want or even an upgrade. This is also the time to provide them with any special requests you may have.
    • Ask for a discount. If you're booking directly with the hotel, you can try calling them and asking for a discount instead of booking online. Tell them you'll just go to Priceline or Hotwire if they can't give you a better rate.
    • Print out your reservation confirmation to take with you.
  • Check-in online 24 hours in advance:
    • Many airlines don't let you choose your seat until the time of check-in unless you pay extra. Checking in online as soon as you can gets you the pick of the best seats.
    • Your goal is to have your seats chosen, your boarding passes in hand (or on your phone), and your baggage tickets ready before you hit the airport.
    • Now you'll be able to skip through the check-in line and get to security much faster.
    • All of this can usually be done via your phone if you want to take the time to set it up.
  • How to pick the best seat on any airplane:
    • You typically want to be near the front of the plane:
      • You can get off the plane much faster, which also helps with lines at security, customs, baggage claim, and getting a taxi.
      • You get food and beverage service first so you can settle in or go to sleep faster.
      • There is less engine noise at the front of the plane.
      • Your window view won't be obstructed by the plane's own wing.
      • You'll probably be closer to bathrooms (at least on larger planes).
    • Type your flight number into Google or sites like SeatGuru to see the exact plane type and layout along with information about each seat:
      • Some seats have more leg room (exit rows or bulkheads).
      • Avoid seats that don't recline (back of plane).
      • Make sure you get an electrical outlet.
      • Avoid seats without a window and more…
    • If you can't find your exact flight on SeatGuru, figuring out the plane model using your flight number through Google and then punching that directly into SeatGuru can help.
  • Dream of this while you sleep...Sleep really well the night before you leave. Pack a few days early and force yourself into bed at a reasonable hour the night before you leave. You'll have a much better time when you arrive if you do.
  • Learn how to put your electronic devices in airplane mode. Do this when you are on the plane and after you land to both conserve battery (it drains really fast when the phone can't get a signal), comply with airline regulations, and avoid costly data charges in foreign countries.
  • Confirm flight departure times. Type your flight number into Google to make sure it is on schedule. Call the airline if you want to be extra sure.
  • Check airport parking rates and options before you leave.
    • You might be able to find a coupon online, especially if you're using Park 'N Fly.
    • Get a friend to drive you or take public transit if that is possible.
  • Research airport transfer options at your destination airport:
    • Options typically include bus, subway, shuttle, taxi, or limousine.
    • For some airports, getting a taxi is totally worth it. For others, public transport is quick, cheap, and easy. Be smart and not excessively frugal here.
    • Look for coupons or discounts if you book in advance.

At The Airport

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Giveaway & Review: Travel Hacking For Canadians

Travel Hacking For CanadiansI've been travel hacking and churning credit cards for big rewards myself since about 2006. As a result, I've taken several very nice trips paid for primarily with miles and points including Paris, Toronto, Niagara Falls, Chicago, Los Angeles, the Philippines, Vancouver multiple times, and more.

In 2012, Steve Zussino, the founder of Grocery Alerts approached me about a joint venture related to travel hacking specifically for Canadians. I was intrigued by the idea and initially accepted, but it was soon apparent that I didn't have the necessary time to devote to the project so he had to continue the endeavour alone.

Now, 2 years later, Steve has successfully launched the website Canadian Travel Hacking and his new book Travel Hacking For Canadians has just been published.

5 Copies To Give Away

Just before the book was set to launch, Steve contacted me about doing a review and I readily agreed with the simple condition that he provide me with some free copies to give away to my readers. At the time, I thought he was publishing an eBook and it wouldn't cost him much to give away a few copies. However, when my own copy arrived in the mail shortly thereafter, I discovered that it is a beautiful 200 page soft cover book - thanks for being so generous to my readers Steve!

How To Win Your Copy

For a chance to win one of the five copies, all you have to do is leave a comment below sharing with Steve and I what your dream vacation is that you haven't yet been able to realize or afford. I guarantee you can use the information found in this book to help make it happen for a lot less money than you thought.

When you leave your comment, be sure to use your primary email address, because that is how I will be contacting the winners. I will randomly select 3 winners from the list of comments using Random.org and 2 additional winners that I think shared a really compelling dream vacation or travel story.

The giveaway will close in one week on Tuesday, August 26th, 2014 and I will contact the winners shortly thereafter.

Buy The Book

My Review Of The Book

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The Aeroplan Star Challenge: Earn 16,500 Aeroplan Miles Basically Free

The focus of this site is mostly on learning repeatable strategies that can save you tons of money in the long term. It isn’t about the latest deal that crops up and goes away just as quickly, as there are lot of other sites that cover those deals. However, when a deal comes along that essentially gives you hundreds of dollars in free money, it’s hard to ignore and I just have to write a post about it. This is one of those deals.

Aeroplan has launched a new promotion for the month of May (May 1st to May 28th 2012) called “The Aeroplan Star Challenge” where they are giving you a chance to earn up to 16,500 miles for shopping at their partners. Normally there are big catches with these types of promotions in that you need to shop at 5-10 different partners, only get 1 credit for shopping at the same partner multiple times, have to spend a minimum of $20 at each partner to qualify, and the list of terms and conditions goes on and on.

Not the case for this promotion! I have read through the entire terms and conditions myself and it has been confirmed by an Aeroplan employee as well that you can shop at the same partner as many times as you want and still get credit and there is no minimum purchase other than you have to buy enough to earn 1 aeroplan mile in a transaction to qualify.

How The Promotion Works

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Using The MBNA Alaska Airlines MasterCard To Earn Nearly Free Flights Fast

flying for freeA few weeks back, I mentioned booking a pair of flights to Los Angeles for my wife and I using rewards points as a way to save money on our vacation. At the time, I indicated I would follow up with more details on exactly how we did it and, although it took a little longer than expected, here are said details:

What Would These Flights Normally Cost?

Before I go into all the details about the rewards points, you should first know the stakes. How much exactly would the flights have cost us if we were to have booked them through regular means without spending many hours hunting down a once in a lifetime seat sale?

Well, seeing as this is pretty much a coast to coast flight across North America, these tickets do not come cheap. Comparable seats were going for $856.50 per person including all taxes and fees. For both of us, that works out to be $1713.00 – clearly a lot of money!

How Much Money Did We Save By Using Airline Miles?

Most people know that booking reward flights is not 100% free. There are always taxes, fees, and the odd surcharge that has to be paid on top of the actual fare for the ticket. Also, when dealing with rewards points, there may be some costs associated with obtaining the rewards. I’m not talking about spending money you would have spent anyway to earn rewards on your credit card, but instead additional costs associated with obtaining the reward miles or points.

In this particular instance, I calculated the final cost of our flights including all taxes, fees, surcharges, and rewards acquisition costs to be $323.76, which is a savings of 81.2%.

What Steps Were Taken To Make These Cheap Flights Possible?

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