Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) American Express

There’s less than a week left (June 30th) to apply for a Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) American Express credit card to get up to 30,000 points after qualifying purchases. The deal is usually for 25,000 points. The SPG card is highly regarded by frequent travelers. Rooms start at 2,000 points for a weekend night. Starpoints transfer to many airlines at a 1×1 ratio. And, SPG tacks on a 5,000-mile bonus when transferring 20,000 points, equalling 25,000 airline miles. The $65 annual fee is waived the first year. If you’re interested, send a message and I would be glad to refer you. Then, you can refer friends and family when the deal comes round again, which it does every 6 months or so. Enjoy!

(Starwood Hotels include: Sheraton, Four Points, Aloft, Le Meridien, Westin, W Hotels, and the St. Regis)

-I also have referrals available for the SPG business card, which is offering the same bonus.

-contact me at:

A Long Weekend in Denver

Friday June 4

Holiday Inn Denver East – Stapleton

$98 (earned 12,000+ IHG points for this stay by stacking 4 promotions)

A convivial hotel with balcony accompanying each room – Great view of sun setting over downtown Denver with Front Range beyond.


Saturday June 5

Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center

$91 (earned a Category 4 free night certificate for this stay)

VIP Suite – Used an upgrade certificate received via a Diamond challenge – Suite included living room, dining room, 2 bathrooms, office, reading room, and bar stocked with free snacks and drinks. Gourmet breakfast included.


Sunday June 8

Radisson Denver Southeast

15,000 points (with Club Carlson credit card, last night of award stay is free – thus 7,500 points per night for 2 nights – lowest award category is 9,000 points per night)

Remodeled hotel – Pleasant staff – Room with unglamorous view of freeway


Monday June 9

Radisson Denver Southeast

FREE (see above)

Isolated hotel location, but adequate accommodation



(View from balcony at Holiday Inn Denver East – Stapleton)

The Road to the West Coast Paved with Deals


What an experience! Three days in the East Bay. Three days in San Francisco. A couple nights in Portland. Another in Humboldt County and one in Eugene. Windshield time in South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana. Too many miles on the truck and too much money to oil companies. Memorable nonetheless.


I won 20,000 Wyndham Rewards points in a contest hosted by a travel blogger. I used 8,000 of those points at a Howard Johnson Express in Evanston, Wyoming, and another 8,000 at the Knights Inn in Berkeley. Neither accommodation blew me away, but it was budget travel at its best.


I had a $25 Hotels Tonight voucher via another travel blogger and used it on a $37 room in Reno. $12 for an amazing view of the sun setting over Reno. I packed sandwiches for the outbound and return journeys, further cutting expenses.


I slept on a friend’s couch in Oakland, and hit up a Holiday Inn Express in Richmond, California for 15,000 IHG points. I spent 2 nights at the Grand Hyatt in San Francisco, with pampering fit for a king. Included were free food and drinks in the lounge (thanks to a Diamond challenge), and incredible views of the city from my 32nd story room.


My final San Francisco night was at the JW Marriott. That night, I attended a Braves v. Giants baseball game. I’d received a $10 coupon from Amazon Local and with it I bought a $40 voucher from Score Big. Armed with the voucher, I headed over to Score Big and bid on a $57 ticket for $35. My bid was accepted. The ticket was thus free. My seat was in the lower level, up the third base line. On the hill for the Giants was Tim Lincecum, former Cy Young Award winner who’s fallen on hard times. Yet, he dominated, striking out 11 en route to a 4-2 victory. I abstained from food and drink at the park, opting for a slice of pizza after the game.


I also hiked through Muir Woods just north of San Francisco. The redwoods had been on my bucket list and didn’t disappoint. Standing still for 2,000 years is some feat. The $7 entrance fee was well worth it.


I left my truck in Berkeley at a relative’s house, and took BART into the city, saving $50+ a day in parking fees. I retreated to the East Bay via Lyft, an alternative to taxis, and used a $50 coupon, again, gleaned from another travel blogger.


After the Bay Area, I headed north to Rohnert Park, in Sonoma County. I stayed at a Best Western, using a $35 Travel Pony voucher. The following night, I stayed at another Best Western, this one in Fortuna, just south of Eureka. The drive to reach it, on Highways 1 and 101, wound past stunning coastline and dense forests. Following this second night, I earned a $50 coupon to use on a future stay.


After Fortuna, I drove north into the Redwoods National and State Parks, hiking through another ancient grove of redwoods. I angled north and east to Grants Pass and Eugene, where I stayed in a king suite at the Holiday Inn Express for 15,000 points.


The next day, I drove north to Portland and found my hotel, a Four Points by Sheraton, which costs 3,000 SPG points per night on weekends. I met up with friends from my time in Portland (2006-2007), and visited Portland State University, where I formerly attended graduate urban planning classes.


I drove from Portland to Belgrade, Montana in one long haul, and stayed at a Quality Inn, using Priceline Express Deals. The next morning I cruised past Bozeman, another former stomping ground, and angled south and east until reaching Pierre. Two weeks on the road and a mere 4 paid nights. The miles and points game paid off. Below is a recap:


Monday May 5

Evanston, WY – Howard Johnson Express

8000 Wyndham points

An adequate place to sleep



Reno, NV – Sands Resort & Casino

$37 – $25 “Hotels Tonight” voucher = $12

Great sunset over Reno



Oakland, CA – couch


Thanks to Friends



Berkeley, CA – Knights Inn

8000 Wyndham points

Better than Expected – Less than a Mile to UC Berkeley



Richmond, CA – Holiday Inn Express

15,000 IHG points

Standard and tidy – Upgraded



San Francisco – Grand Hyatt

Free night certificate

Incredible views and treatment



San Francisco – Grand Hyatt

Free night certificate

More of the same



San Francisco – JW Marriott

50,000 Marriott points

Aesthetically stunning but not particularly warm or inviting



Rohnert Park, CA – Best Western

$102 – $35 “Travel Pony” voucher = $67

Never like paying for a room, but it was discounted and counted toward a certificate



Fortuna, CA – Best Western

$91 (earned a $50 gift card after 2nd Best Western stay)

At least I earned a certificate – Northern Cali rocks



Eugene, OR – Holiday Inn Express

15,000 IHG points

A sweet suite, with fireplace, living room, 2 big screens, soaking tub with jets, kitchen, and comforts of home – same amount of points as regular room



Portland – Four Points by Sheraton

3,000 SPG points – weekend night

Distant from downtown, but connected by light-rail



Portland – Four Points by Sheraton

3,000 SPG points – weekend night

After this stay, 2 more needed this year for SPG Gold Status



Belgrade, MT – Quality Inn

$59 – Priceline Express Deals

Late arrival – Sampled a bit of everything for breakfast



(Note: I received the Hyatt free night certificates as a sign-up bonus on their credit card, and I have Platinum status with IHG as a bonus on their credit card.)


Athens: On Colorful Footings

(What follows is the second in a series of articles on a 2009 adventure through Europe and the Middle East. The previous commentary discussed the vibrancy of Jerusalem).


As my impromptu quest approached the Balkan Peninsula, a foremost sensation arose: supreme serenity, divergent from Jerusalem, palpable nonetheless. Idyllic islands peppering the vast Aegean Sea, wrapped in pine, cedar, and olive. Fishing boats, catamarans, cruise and industrial ships, arriving and departing the port at Piraeus. Arcing toward Athens International Airport, the searing sun overhead glimmered off contemporary towers fraternizing with antiquious remnants, set amidst seven sacred knolls.   


Paging through a guidebook further exposed modernity commingling with antiquity: the Monastiraki Flea Market and the Central Market, each swarming with life. The once-exuberant Ancient and Roman Agoras, the commanding Roman Stadium, the seemingly incongruous Arch of Hadrian, and the enduring Acropolis, a UNESCO World Heritage site, with the imposing and iconic Parthenon standing dignified atop the city. The Municipal Art Gallery, exhibiting surrealist and impressionist pieces, and the National Archaeological Museum, with a myriad of artifacts spanning regions and eras of ancient Greece. Historic neighborhoods at the foot of the Acropolis: Monastiraki, Thissio, and Plaka, an animated bazaar. Anafiotika, a captivating, diminutive neighborhood with Greek isle ambiance, and Pysrri, a former industrial district, renewed with café’s, restaurants, and bars. Omonia Square, within a busy confluence of avenues, and Syntagma Square, the business district, present a mixture of Athenians and visitors from round the globe. The city bristles with dynamism, yet defies comprehension on initial impression.  


The airport was constructed, and Athens Metro expanded, in preparation for the 2004 Olympics. Alas, on our arrival, the metro line to the airport sat idle. Instead, I loaded my pack onto a bus and examined the route into downtown from a window seat. After Palestine, from the Greek, Palaistine, with its’ diverse assortment of culture and custom, Athens bears a decisively Western impression, albeit with a primordial hint of history drifting through the soothing Mediterranean air. Shoppers navigate archaic lanes filled with trendy fashion and home furnishing stores. Modern hotels, pharmacies, supermarkets, and gas stations contour the roads. 

A Tale of Olives

Athens originates with Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, inspiration, and civilization. Plato identified her as Neith, an Egyptian deity. Greek devotees traditionally presented an olive branch in honor of Athena. Sources recount that Cecrops, the first king of Attica, preferred the offering of Athena, a local olive tree, to that of Poseidon, a spring of saltwater, and duly christened the fledgling city in her name.


Olive trees are native to the Mediterranean basin, and wild species continue to thrive here. Differing accounts place the olive’s domestication on the Greek island of Crete, or in the Levant, with the Canaanites. In Greece, a tradition of grafting valued cuttings onto wild olive trees has developed into an art. This method establishes a productive and yet resilient tree, yielding fruit over hundreds or thousands of years. Throughout the Mediterranean basin, natives point to an olive tree of considerable age. In Lebanon, a tree still stands from 4000 BC. In the Galilee, another endures from 3000 BC, and in Sardinia stands a tree from 2000 BC.


Today, the olive branch has morphed into a global icon of peace. This trend also extends its’ roots into Greece, where, historically, victors of friendly games or bloody wars were crowned with olive branches. Olive oil served as eternal flame during the original Olympics, while athletes and royalty were anointed with the esteemed oil. The Games launched not far from Athens, in the Peloponnese, and fittingly, when the modern-day Games returned in 1918, Athens accepted the nomination.

An Athenian Golden Age

The 5th Century BC, an era of powerful city-states, the golden age of Athens. The century began ominously, when the mighty Persian Empire invaded Greece in 492 BC. Two years later, Athenians routed the Persian army at Marathon, on the Greek coast. After the battle, a man named Phidippides sprinted 26 miles to the central square in Athens to publicize the victory and perished on the spot. The race, in his memory, the marathon, thus tracks the distance Phidippides covered that fateful day.


After defeating the Persian army, Athenians unabashedly relocated the regional treasury from Delos to Athens. Soon after, masons began construction on the Acropolis, and in 438 BC, finished the Parthenon. Democracy took firm hold of the region during this monumental century. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, the philosophical triumvirate, called Athens home. So too did Sophocles and Euripides (playwrights), Herodotus and Thucydides (historians), as well as Hippocrates (a renowned physician).   


Athens’ golden era began to crumble at the end of the century, during the Peloponnesian Wars, when Sparta skillfully defeated Athens and ascended to control the local seas. The wars also fostered the Plague of Athens, decimating the population by one-third. The Roman Empire conquered the region in the 2nd Century BC, and today, Roman ruins exist alongside Greek monuments. Athens then tumbled into obscurity for nearly two millennia, subjugated by northern and central European clans, and finally, in 1458, by the powerful Ottoman Empire.

Modernity Arrives

By 1832, the city contained no more than 5000 residents. Two years later, Greeks designated Athens the capital of their neophyte state, and in 1837, constructed the University of Athens, a byline connecting two cultures: golden Greece and this modern version. Schools of theology, philosophy, law, economics, science, and education, once again, offer Socratic instruction. The Propylaea, a building designed to emulate the historic entrance to the Acropolis, where visitors now enter that site, stands prominently, serving as ceremony hall and rectory.   


Nearby, the National Archaeological Museum, founded in 1889, preserves relics from the regions’ colorful past. Vivid statues, expertly sculpted reliefs, gleaming jewelry, and a stunning Egyptian collection greet visitors. The museum incorporates an open-air café in the center of the property. Situated a level below the first floor, it peers into the afternoon sky. Throughout the enclosed square, displays from the museum mingle with lush vegetation. For those seeking coffee and a reprieve from the masses above, an ever-welcoming environment awaits.


Athens, like many modern metropoli, ballooned in the 20th Century. In 1921, a war with Turkey uprooted more than a million Christian Greeks living in Turkey, many who settled in Athens. Immigrants helped expand the city’s population and boundaries. More than a third of Greek nationals, 4 million, now reside in the metro region. Walking Athens and its neighborhoods today provides an indispensable glimpse into the life of Greece’s most heralded municipality. Modernity dominates, and urban sprawl swells, but the remnants of a previous era, a golden era, live on.

Lasting Impressions

My final night, wandering to and fro, I chanced upon the Exarcheia Neighborhood, an enclave with anarchic traditions, quaint café’s, dingy bars, and crowded comic book shops. Intuition guided me down a few steps to a used bookstore in a decrepit, yet well-kept basement. Here, I studied the sometimes archaic, often eccentric material. After an hour of browsing, and a few intriguing discussions with the shopkeeper, I selected an esoteric text, A Walk With the Gods. Not until a mountainous Peloponnesian train-ride from Diakopto to Kalavyrta, and a hike to Mega Spilaio, a cliff-hanging monastery, could I properly reflect upon the book, and this, my first taste of Athens.



Valuable Airline Miles for US Residents


Valuable Airline Miles for US Residents

(“Partner awards allowed” – Example: Alaska Airlines miles can be used to book flights with designated partners by calling Alaska Airlines)

Major Players:

  • Alaska Airlines – Mileage Plan
    • Hubs: Seattle, Portland, Anchorage, Los Angeles
    • No alliance, but many partners
    • Partner awards allowed – includes Delta, American Airlines, British Airways, Air France, Aero Mexico, LAN, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Qantas, and a few other airlines
    • One way awards allowed – starting at 12,500 miles
    • Credit card option:
      • Bank of America – Alaska Airlines Visa Signature
  • American Airlines – AAdvantage
    • Hubs: Dallas, Chicago, Miami, JFK, LAX
    • One World Alliance
    • Partner awards allowed – includes Iberia, Cathay Pacific, LAN, JAL, Qatar Airways, Qantas, among others
    • One way awards allowed – starting at 12,500 miles
    • Credit card options:
      • Citibank – AAdvantage World MasterCard (Executive or Platinum Select)
  • British Airways – Executive Club
    • Hub: London Heathrow, London Gatwick
    • One World Alliance
    • Partner awards allowed – see American Airlines partners
    • One way awards allowed – starting at 4,500 miles
    • Credit card option:
      • Chase – British Airways Visa Signature
  • Delta Air Lines – SkyMiles
    • Hubs: Minneapolis, Detroit, LaGuardia, JFK, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Salt Lake City, Amsterdam, Paris, Tokyo
    • Sky Team Alliance
    • Partners awards allowed – includes Air France, KLM, China Airlines, Alitalia, among others
    • Round-trip awards required – starting at 25,000 miles
    • Credit card options:
      • American Express – Delta SkyMiles (Gold, Platinum, or Reserve)
  • United Airlines – MileagePlus
    • Hubs: Denver, Newark, Chicago, Washington Dulles, Cleveland, Houston, LAX, San Francisco, Tokyo
    • Star Alliance
    • Partner awards allowed – includes Air Canada, Asiana Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, EVA Air, Singapore Airlines, SWISS, Turkish Airlines, among others
    • One way awards allowed – starting at 12,500 miles
    • Credit card options:
      • Chase – United MileagePlus (Awards or Explorer)
  • (US Airways – Dividend Miles)
    • Hubs: Charlotte, Philadelphia, Washington Reagan, Phoenix
    • Star Alliance – US Airways merges with American Airlines in March of 2014 – US Airways miles become AA miles (One World Alliance)
    • Partner awards allowed – see United and AA partners
    • Round-trip awards required – starting at 25,000 miles
    • Credit card option:
      • Barclays – US Airways World MasterCard


Budget Airlines:

  • Frontier Airlines – Early Returns
    • Hub: Denver
    • No alliance – no partners
    • Round-trip awards required – starting at 20,000 miles
    • Credit card option:
      • Barclays – Frontier Airlines World MasterCard
  • Hawaiian Airlines – HawaiianMiles
    • Hubs: Honolulu, Kahului
    • No alliance, but many partners
    • Partner awards allowed – includes ANA, AA, China Airlines, Korean Air, JetBlue, Virgin America
    • One way awards allowed – starting at 7,500 miles for inter-island flights
    • Credit card option:
      • Barclays – Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard
  • JetBlue – TrueBlue
    • Focus Cities: Boston, Newark, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Long Beach, San Juan (PR)
    • No alliance, but many partners
    • Partner awards allowed – includes BA, AA, Singapore Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa, JAL, Cathay Pacific, El Al, Etihad, among others
    • One way awards allowed – starting at 5,000 miles
    • Credit card option:
      • American Express – JetBlue Card
  • Southwest Airlines – Rapid Rewards
    • Focus Cities: Denver, Dallas, Houston, LAX, Phoenix, Atlanta
    • No alliance – no partners
    • One way awards allowed – starting at 1,800 miles
    • Credit card option:
      • Chase – Rapid Rewards Plus Visa
  • Spirit Airlines – Free Spirit
    • Hub: Fort Lauderdale
    • No alliance – no partners
    • One-way awards allowed – starting at 2,500 miles
    • Credit card option:
      • Bank of America – Spirit Airlines World MasterCard
  • Virgin America – Elevate
    • Hub: San Francisco (secondary: LAX)
    • No alliance, but partner awards allowed – Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia
    • One way awards allowed – starting at 2,500 miles
    • No current credit card option

Credit Card Bonuses for Budget Travelers

Image –Etihad Airways – Business Class

Credit Card Bonuses for Budget Travelers

I’m Matthew, a travel writer and business owner. Over the past three years, I’ve acquired airline miles & hotel points via credit card bonuses, plus an array of online opportunities, from simple promotions to register a new account, to dreadful surveys. If you enjoy this article, follow my blog, or find me on Twitter, Facebook, or at Check out for details of an online business I own. Tread lightly…

Initial Questions to Consider

What’s your credit score? Slowly building credit often presents the first step in reaping credit card rewards. 700 and above will reportedly qualify for certain applicants on specific applications. Annual Credit Report offers one free report per year. Maintaining current status with banks fosters the ability to generate miles & points, or cash back.

Upon pursuing an application, other considerations arise. A card with a large bonus frequently includes a variable APR, and its rate regularly exceeds that of a card with no bonus. Is the gamble worth the risk? Next, determine the annual fee, if applicable, and whether the fee is waived the first year. Additionally, what are the spending requirements to receive the initial bonus? Requirements range from making one purchase to spending $5000 or more. After meeting this threshold and receiving the bonus, how can you use the miles & points? With partner airlines or hotels? Does the airline allow one-way awards? Each bank, and its affiliated partner(s), has a set of rules, and customer questions perpetually arise. The following is a list of cards that appear most favorable to a budget traveler’s wallet:

Airline-Affiliated Credit Cards

  • Alaska Airlines Visa Signature (Bank of America) = 30k miles upon approval for Bank of America customers (25k for new clients) + an annual companion pass. One-way awards are available, and can be booked with partner airlines (including Delta, American, & Cathay Pacific). The ability to book one-way awards, and on a partner, both occurred recently. Avid mile collectors apply for this card and its business equivalent for the adaptability of Alaska miles. As well, each bonus could eventually be tied to a robust spending requirement. Cardholders receive 3x points for purchases with Alaska. The $75 annual fee is not waived the first year.
  • Citi Platinum AAdvantage World MasterCard (Citibank & American Airlines) = 30k miles after spending $1k in the first 90 days. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year, and cardholders receive a 10% discount on award flights with AA. The value of AA miles depends upon the itinerary. The airline does allow one-way awards, as well as awards with partners (One World Alliance).
  • British Airways Visa (Chase) = 50k avios (BA’s equivalent of miles) after spending $2k in the first 3 months. One-way awards are allowed, and can be booked with partners (One World Alliance). Fees for award flights are unusually high (though exceptions exist). There are no foreign transaction fees, and patrons receive 1.25 avios per $1 spent, and 2.5 avios per $1 on purchases with British Airways. Chase will waive the $95 annual fee the first year.
  • United Mileage Plus Explorer Visa Signature (Chase) = 30k miles after spending $1k (50k miles after spending $2k occasionally surfaces). One-way awards are allowed, and can be booked with partners (Star Alliance). Flight availability is rather simple to piece together on the United website. The card includes 2 annual United Club Lounge passes. There are no foreign transaction fees, and cardholders receive 2x miles on purchases with United. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year.
  • US Airways Premier World MasterCard (Barclays) = 40k miles after first purchase + an annual companion certificate, and a yearly US Airways Club pass. Cardholders receive 10k bonus miles after each anniversary. US Airways requires round-trip awards, but allows booking with partners, and has a sometimes-generous award chart. If the US Airways/American Airlines merger goes through, these miles will become more valuable. The $89 annual fee is not waived the first year.

Hotel-Affiliated Credit Cards

  • Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature (US Bank) = 50k points + Club Carlson Gold Elite status after first purchase. Includes 35k additional points after spending $2500 in the first 3 months. The crème de la crème transpires upon booking 2 or more award nights. In that case, the last night is free. At the lowest award level, it’s possible to book 9 free nights after one purchase with this card! The card also includes 40k points at each anniversary. A last perk is 5x points on groceries and 10x points on Club Carlson purchases. The $75 annual fee is not waived the first year.
  • Hilton HHonors (American Express) = Spend $750 in 90 days and receive 50k HHonors points. 50k hotel points rarely compares with 50k airline miles, and Hilton recently downgraded the value of its point system. Nonetheless, the annual fee is $0. The card offers 3x points for goods & services, 5x points at restaurants, supermarkets, and for gasoline, and 7x points for purchases with Hilton!
  • Marriott Rewards Premier Visa Signature (Chase) = 50k points after spending $1k in the first 3 months + 1 free night upon approval, and another free night after each anniversary. There are no foreign transaction fees, and Marriott Silver status is included. Chase waives the $85 annual fee the first year. The card includes 5x points with Marriott, and 2x points for travel.
  • Starwood Preferred Guest (American Express) = 10k points after first purchase + 15k points after spending $5k in 6 months. Hotel rooms start at 2k points per night. Customers can trade 1 x 1 with a healthy list of airlines, including Etihad, Singapore, United, Delta, & American. An extra windfall ensues after transferring 20k Starpoints. Starwood tacks on an additional 5k points for the transfer. 20k Starpoints thus equates to 25k airline miles, a rarity in the industry. The $65 annual fee is waived the first year.

A Final Option

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred = 40k points after spending $3k in the first 90 days. Points transfer 1 x 1 with United & British Airways, among other airlines, and 1 x 1 with certain hotels, including Marriott, Hyatt, & Ritz-Carlton. There are no foreign transaction fees, and cardholders receive an annual 7% points dividend (example: earn 10k points over a year and receive an additional 700 to close the year), as well as 2x points for dining and travel. The $95 annual fee is waived the first year.

Use your new card(s) for any and all qualifying purchases. Rent or a mortgage payment can quickly erase a spending requirement. Carry a balance, if at all, on the card with the lowest percentage rate. Make everyday purchases with 1 or 2 cards, to ensure ease of tracking expenses. But if a card offers 3x, 5x, or 10x the points in a category, take advantage.

Finally, don’t apply after seeing an offer for the first time. Offers do expire, but another perpetually takes its place. Uncover the opinion of a mile & point guru. Do a bit of homework to get the best offer on that card. Credit card companies often target individuals with a better promotion than the public offer. Chase branches recently offered customers superb bonuses not available to the general public. Research reveals whether a company repeatedly serves up the same bonus. If so, don’t rush to apply. If you discover an irresistible offer, fill me in!


(Disclaimer: this article presents my perspective only)