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Julie Szpira

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Can You Eat It? Then Declare It: A Customs Declaration Guide for Food

Disclosure: This post may contain references to products from our advertisers. We may receive compensation from products we link to. We appreciate your support.

By: Julie Szpira

Upon landing at Chicago O’Hare (ORD) on a recent return from Europe, I went to the Global Entry kiosk, took a stunning (at least in my mind) customs photo, answered the declaration questions and waited for my printed receipt that would indicate I declared I was carrying food.

Instead, I got big “X” on the form, with the instruction to “Report to Passport Control”. Immediately, my heart began to race.

What did I do wrong?

Was my Global Entry invalid?

Was I going to be denied entry?

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Okay, maybe it isn’t THAT stunning of a photo

I showed my receipt to the nearest Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent, and he asked me a couple questions. The first was regarding when I received my Global Entry, and the second was if I had been arrested since joining the program.  My jaw dropped and I said “Are you being serious, or just trying to mess with me? I’ve never been arrested”.

He walked me over to a workstation and sat down at the computer to check my file.  He asked “Have you had any issues at Customs in the past?”.

I replied “Yes, it was last year at this airport and I didn’t declare I was carrying food. I was carrying chocolates and vacuum sealed hard cheese which are permitted, so I didn’t think it was a problem. When I told the agent I had food, but nothing fresh, he pointed out that the customs form specifically points out “food” and since I had chocolate but didn’t declare it, I needed to go through a secondary screening. Could that be a problem now?”.

The agent looked at the computer, looked at my passport, looked at my Global Entry receipt, slightly nodded his head and handed my items back to me, saying “Okay, you’re good to go. Have a nice day”.

I stammered, “But, but..um…what was the problem?”

He replied “I can’t really tell you why your entry was flagged, but what did you just tell me you did in the past?”. I said “I made a bad customs declaration. Is that it?”

He answered “I’ll just give you some advice. In the future, make sure you always check the “yes” to the food box on the form. That way if you are carrying food that you forgot about, or even items that aren’t allowed, you won’t have an issue with the declaration, the agents will just confiscate anything not permitted.”

What Do You Need To Declare?

When entering the United States, each traveler, or one responsible family member, must provide a customs declaration form that details the the traveler’s name, address, purpose of trip, and the items they are bringing into the US.

The information regarding the items to be declared are to be answered in “yes” or “no” format.

Many of the questions are straight-forward, such as “I am carrying currency or monetary instruments over $10,000 U.S. or foreign equivalent”. Most of us will check “no” because we know that using credit cards instead of cash is the way to go. Also, most of us will check “no” because we simply don’t have $10,000 in cash.

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This is my Customs Declaration from when I returned from Japan in 2012.

After writing about my recent re-entry saga in 10xTravel Insider’s Facebook Group, many readers stated that they will carry chocolates, candy or spices into the US, but not declare they are carrying food.  However, Customs and Border Protection makes clear that all food items must be declared, and provides a list of items are are generally admissible.

The question regarding what is considered “food” can be confusing. While it’s pretty obvious what is considered a fruit, vegetable, or meat, what does US Customs and Border Protection consider “food”?

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As it turns out, pretty much anything that you would put in your mouth is considered food.  When I read the list of items that needed to be declared, my mind was blown. There are many items on the list that I would never had thought to declare, and those items could potentially give me an issue re-entering the US.

Here are some of items that are permitted, but need to be declared:

  • Condiments: ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise
  • Oils: olive and other vegetable oils
  • Bread, cookies, crackers, cakes, granola bars, cereal and other baked and processed products
  • Candy and chocolate
  • Hard Cheese and Dairy: Solid cheese, that is hard or semi-soft, that does not contain meat; butter, butter oil, and cultured milk products such as yogurt and sour cream are not restricted.
  • Soft Cheese: Feta cheese, Brie, Camembert, cheese in brine, Mozzarella and Buffalo Mozzarella.
  • Canned goods and goods in vacuum packed jars, as long those items do not contain meat or poultry
  • Fish: fish, shrimp, abalone and other seafood are allowed and can be fresh, frozen, dried, smoked, canned or cooked
  • Dried Fruit: apricots, dates, peaches, prunes, raisins etc.
  • Liquid milk and milk products intended for use by infants or very young children are admissible if in a reasonable amount or small quantity for several days’ use.
  • Powder drinks sealed in original containers with ingredients listed in English.
  • Juices: provided the juices are commercially canned
  • Tea: commercially packaged and ready to be boiled, steeped or microwaved in liquid.
  • Coffee: roasted or unroasted if there is no pulp attached
  • Spices: most dried spices are allowed.
  • Honey: comb honey, royal jelly, or bee bread
  • Noodles and ramen: The spice packets must be egg and meat free
  • Rice: white rice, basmati rice, brown rice, husked rice, polished rice, rice flour and other products provided they do not have the hull attached
  • Flour: wheat, rice, oat and cornmeal
  • Mushrooms: fresh and dried- above ground parts that are clean and free of soil
  • Nuts: All nuts are allowed if they have been boiled, cooked, ground, oven dried, pureed, roasted, or steamed. Other nuts may be allowed if they are free from their husks (the shell remains), such as almonds, betel nuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, coquilla nuts, filberts (hazelnuts), Java olives, kara nuts, gingko nuts, macadamias, pecans, pili nuts, pine nuts (pinon nuts), pistachios, and walnuts.
  • Bakery items, candy, chocolate, and dry mixes containing dairy and egg ingredients [such as baking mixes, cocoa mixes, drink mixes, instant cake mixes, instant pudding mixes, liquid drink mixes containing reconstituted dry milk or dry milk products (including those that contain sugar), potato flakes, and infant formula] commercially labeled and presented in final finished packaging are generally admissible.

The list above is not comprehensive, however it is important to note that the some items that you would have never thought about declaring can potentially create an issue if they are found in your baggage.

People generally remember if they purchase food to take home for gifts, and remembering to declare the cheese and fruit spread gift basket you bought your grandmother is not a problem.

However, I am guilty of snagging an extra tea bag from the Priority Pass lounge, loading up my purse with free chocolate samples, and I often carry single use Tabasco packets (you never know when you need to give your meal a spicy kick!), and all those items are considered food, and would need to be declared.

What If You Have Food and You Forget to Declare It?

I admit, I used to always check “no” to carrying food. I didn’t want to deal with Customs and Border Protection going through my bags, and I figured if I was selected for secondary screening and they found something, I would just say, “Whoops! I forgot, you can just throw it away!”

You might have heard about the woman who received an apple on a Delta flight, forgot it was in her bag, and when it was discovered in a random search, was fined $500. She tried to explain to the agent she received the apple while in flight, and forgot she received it, and asked if she could eat it or just have it thrown away. The agent didn’t budge, and since the woman committed a customs violation, her Global Entry status was revoked as well!

Obviously, that’s a “worst case scenario”, but any fines or status revocations are it is at the discretion of the Customs and Border Protection agent that you are dealing with.

Perhaps, that agent understands that people forget things, and reminds you of the declaration rules and gives you a free pass. Maybe, you remind the agent of the third grade teacher they hated and it brings up horrible repressed memories and you get a $500 fine! Since each agent is allowed to use their judgement, it’s hard to know what will happen if you forget to declare a food item, and the item is found in your bag.

How Can You Avoid Declaration Issues?

Since my “cheese and chocolate” incident last year, I have always checked “yes” to “I am bringing fruits, vegetables, plants, seeds, FOOD, insects” on my customs form, and I recommend all travelers do the same.

If you declare that you are carrying food, you have met the requirement as set forth by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and any non-admissible items will simply be confiscated.

The Global Entry receipt will print with a circle on the top, with the phrase “Proceed to Baggage Control”.  At Immigration, the officer will look at the receipt and pass me through without a second inspection, as declaring food is a Customs issue, and not a Passport Control issue.

After I collect my baggage, I proceed to the Baggage Control area. The agent will ask something along the lines of “What did you declare?”.

On my way home from Mexico with re-entry at Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW), my response was “I have food, but it’s Skittles and Cheetos, and nothing fresh like fruits or meats.”  The agent kind of smiled and rolled their eyes, because it’s pretty ridiculous that an adult has a bag full of Skittles and Cheetos, but they said “You’re good to go”, and passed me through.

Declaring I had food added less than 15 seconds of conversation to my Customs process. More importantly, I saved myself a huge headache and a potential fine if I was selected for a random screening and food that I did not declare was discovered.

Global Entry and Customs Declarations

The Global Entry program is a designed to pre-screen low risk travelers and provide those travelers expedited re-entry into the United States after traveling abroad. Those who hold Global Entry status are held to a higher standard than other travelers, as it is expected that Global Entry members are familiar with customs and immigration rules, and will follow the rules without exception.

Therefore, if there is an incident where the Global Entry member does not abide by customs and immigration law, the Global Entry status can be revoked. Attempting to bring a passenger who is not Global Entry approved through the Global Entry line, copping an attitude with a Customs and Border Protection agent or forgetting to declare goods or food can result in your Global Entry being revoked.

I was incredibly fortunate to receive a stern warning when I didn’t declare my cheese and chocolate, but since that warning is now on my passport record, I am acutely aware of following the rules perfectly.

Family Travel and Customs Declarations

If you don’t have Global Entry and are traveling as a family, only one (1) customs declaration is needed for the entire family.

While it’s helpful to not have to fill out separate forms for each child, remember that the declaration is applicable to all family members. So while Mom was filling out the form and indicating that the family has no food to declare, Toddler Tommy was stuffing the remainder of his in-flight sandwich into his tiny backpack.

If the family is randomly selected for secondary screening, BOOM, that half eaten sandwich constitutes a customs violation. In any event, Mom should have indicated that the family had food, because what family doesn’t travel with snacks when flying with kids?!

Bottom Line

Customs declarations are not likely something that keeps most people up at night. For the most part, the process of re-entering the US from abroad is pretty simple, and Global Entry can make that process even easier.

However, mistakes related to food declarations have cost many members their Global Entry status, and sometimes result in fines.

As the Customs and Border Protection definition of “food” is quite broad, declaring that you have food everytime you enter the US is the best way to avoid any issues. If you declare you have food, you have met your legal requirement, and then an agent can decide if the food you have is permissible or if it needs to be confiscated.

It might be a bit overkill to declare your Snickers bar, but rules are rules, and declaring is much easier (and cheaper!) than paying a fine!

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What is a Cash + Points Hotel Booking?

Disclosure: This post may contain references to products from our advertisers. We may receive compensation from products we link to. We appreciate your support.

By: Julie Szpira

When you are ready to use your points to travel, the number of options for booking can be overwhelming. Should you use one of the credit card portals? Use points? Use a discount rate?

One booking option people might not be familiar with is the Points + Cash option provided by many chain hotels. This option allows you to redeem points from your account in combination with a cash co-pay. This can be tremendously useful if you are short on points, but want to book an award stay.

Fixed Value Points + Cash Rates

World of Hyatt and Starwood Preferred Guest offer fixed Points + Cash rates, based on the hotel category.

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World of Hyatt Points and Points+Cash rates

The cash + points rate at Hyatt and Starwood hotels allows you to “buy” points for a set rate. For example, at a Hyatt Category 4 hotel, you would use 15,000 points, or use 7,500 points, and “buy” the other 7,500 points for a cash rate of $100 USD.  That would mean that you are buying your points at a rate of 1.33 cpp.

This is calculated by dividing the amount of the cash co-pay by the number of points saved by using cash. For a Hyatt Category 4, the calculation would be $100 USD / 7,500 points = 1.33 cpp.

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Starwood Preferred Guest Points + Cash Rates

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Five Credit Cards That Are Newbie Traps

Disclosure: This post may contain references to products from our advertisers. We may receive compensation from products we link to. We appreciate your support.

By: Julie Szpira

If you are new to the points and miles hobby, it can be difficult to figure out how to get started in the game. There are advertisements for many different credit cards on TV, in magazines and on the internet. Trying to figure out what card to open first (or even second and third!) can be overwhelming.

At 10xTravel, we know that everyone was a newbie to the game at one point. Heck, most of the staff made some beginner mistakes at the start of the hobby.

Our main goal is to help people join the fun, while providing advice that will guide them down a path to maximize their points and miles earnings from credit card sign-up bonuses and more.

We usually focus on the best cards to open for those just getting started, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred, or two Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards to earn the Southwest Companion Pass.

However, this article is about credit cards to avoid when you’re getting into the game.

Now you’re thinking, “Wait…I just read the free e-book, and it said that applying for a lot of credit cards won’t hurt my credit score, why would I avoid applying for credit cards?”

Let me clarify, it’s not that I don’t want you to open credit cards, I just don’t want you to open the wrong credit cards.

Natural instinct leads us to want to get as many points as possible, but not all points are created equal. Using 10xTravel founder Bryce Conway often says, “would you rather have 2 pennies or 1 dollar?”

Obviously, you’d take the 1 dollar, as it is more valuable than 2 pennies. The same theory applies to points and miles. Just because a credit card sign-up bonus offers a lot of points, that doesn’t mean that the sign-up bonus is the most valuable.

The following credit cards are common newbie “traps” that can trip you up as you start your journey into the world of miles and points.

Capital One Venture Card

Due to excellent advertising, the Capital One Venture Card sounds like a perfect credit card for those looking to travel.

The card earns 2X miles on every purchase and those miles can be used for any airline or hotel, with no blackout dates.

You can redeem the points for travel purchases at a rate of 1 cent per mile, so a $200 hotel stay would require 20,000 miles.

On the surface, this seems perfect. You’ll earn 2X on every purchase, and you’ll have so many points that you’ll never have to worry about paying for travel again!

Well, that’s what Capital One wants you to think.

In reality, being able to redeem the points at only 1 cent per mile makes maximizing the value of the miles extremely difficult.  When cash prices for flights and hotels are high, you have to redeem many more miles to cover the cost. Continue Reading

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Why You Should Get the Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card

By: Julie Szpira

Disclosure: This post may contain references to products from our advertisers. We may receive compensation from products we link to. We appreciate your support.

At 10xTravel, our goal is to set people on the right path to earn as many points and miles as possible, then use those points and miles to maximize their travel.

Getting started can be overwhelming, so our first advice is always to earn the highest bonuses on the best cards available.

After starting with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, two Chase Southwest credit cards—for those who want the Southwest Companion Pass – and the Chase United MileagePlus Explorer, we often have readers ask, “What card next?”

When the Chase Marriott Rewards Premier card is suggested, many readers will explain that they only stay at AirBnB’s, so they don’t see any value in getting the card.

After I recover from my tiny panic attack, I calmly explain all the reasons for getting the Chase Marriott Rewards Premier credit card. Here’s what I tell people who don’t initially see the value in this card…

Chase Marriott Rewards Premier is a Chase 5/24 Restricted Card

Due to the Chase 5/24 rule, the Chase Marriott Rewards Premier credit card cannot be opened if you have opened more than 5 credit cards, from any bank, within the last 24 months—business cards from banks other than Capital One and Discover are an exception.
When starting out in this hobby, it is recommended to maximize your Chase 5/24 slots by only opening Chase cards, until you have opened 5 cards. Once you’ve done that, you can move onto other cards.

For many readers, they just don’t see how they can get value out of Marriott Rewards points, so they get to 3/24 or 4/24 and just start opening cards from other banks, leaving them unable to get the Chase Marriott Rewards Premier card if they change their minds.

While you may not see how you can find value in Marriott Rewards points right now, you want to maximize the cards you are able to open and the bonuses you can earn, and that means opening the Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Card before you get to 5/24.

The points can be used in variety of ways, and you’ll be glad to have them down the line.

Marriott Rewards Points Can Become SPG Starpoints

In September 2016, Marriott International and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide completed a merger that combined the hotel brands and linked their loyalty programs—this last bit is key.

If you are at all familiar with the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program, you know that SPG Starpoints are generally considered to be the most valuable rewards currency on a point by point basis due to reasonable hotel redemption rates and the ability to transfer SPG Starpoints to more than 30 airline programs.

Since the merger, members have been allowed to move points between Marriott Rewards and SPG at a ratio of 3 Marriott Rewards points to 1 SPG Starpoint.

If you are someone that never stays in hotels, you can earn the sign-up bonus from the Chase Marriott Rewards Premier credit card, transfer those points to SPG, and then transfer the SPG points to your airline of choice.

With the conversion between Marriott Rewards and SPG being 3:1, 60,000 Marriott Rewards points would be needed to transfer to SPG for 20,000 points.

SPG points can then be transferred to more than 30 airline partners at a 1:1 ratio. There are a few airline programs such as Air New Zealand Airpoints, Gol Smiles and United MileagePlus that do not offer a favorable 1:1 transfer ratio, and should be avoided.

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SPG Starpoints Airline Transfer Partners

When transferring SPG points in increments of 20,000 points, you are rewarded with a bonus of 5,000 points for each multiple of 20,000 points transferred. For example, transferring 20,000 SPG points to American Airlines would result in 25,000 American AAdvantage miles deposited in your account!

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The Transfer Calculation of SPG points to American AAdvantage miles

You can transfer a maximum of 79,999 Starpoints to an airline within a 24-hour timeframe. To maximize the transfer bonus, you should stick to transferring no more than 60,000 Starpoints in this timeframe if at all possible.

Marriott Rewards Points Transfer Direct to United

One notable exception to the SPG airline transfer program is United, as SPG points transfer to United at a 2:1 ratio. That is a horrible use of SPG points, so it is recommended to avoid that transfer at all costs.

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The Transfer Calculation of SPG points to United MileagePlus miles

However, if you are someone that is looking to fly on United, and you want to convert your Marriott points to United MileagePlus miles, you can transfer your Marriott Rewards points directly to United at a more favorable rate.

Using the Marriott Airline and Travel Rewards program, you can transfer 56,000 Marriott Rewards points to United to gain 25,000 MileagePlus Miles. This transfer ratio is almost similar to that of the SPG transfers for 1:1 airlines.

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The Marriott Airline and Travel Rewards program is only valuable for United MileagePlus transfers. If you are planning to transfer your hotel points to other airlines, it is better to first transfer your Marriott Rewards points to SPG points.

While this is an option, we strongly recommend considering other options for earning United MileagePlus miles such as transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

Earning 25,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles through the Marriott Airline and Travel Rewards program would require 70,000 Marriott Rewards, rather than the 60,000 that would be required by first transfering through SPG.

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Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Card Free Night Certificate

The Chase Marriott Rewards Premier card offers one free night stay at a Category 1-5 hotel every cardmember anniversary. The credit card annual fee is $85 per year, so you are essentially getting a fixed rate night at a Category 1-5 hotel.

The free night can come in handy when you need a hotel for just one night due to a positioning flight, or you are planning a hotel stay during a high demand event (college football games, holiday travel, festivals), and you can almost always get far more than $85 in value for the night.

For example, a great college football rivalry occurs at the end of November when Michigan plays Ohio State. For a big rivalry game, you can expect that many people will travel to the city of Columbus, Ohio, and accommodations will be scare or very expensive.

Using the free night certificate at the Category 5 Renaissance Columbus Downtown Hotel will save you the $247 nightly rate. You can then extend your stay for just 25,000 Marriott Rewards points per night.

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Using a Category 1-5 Anniversary Free Night Certificate can save you a ton of cash!

Marriott Hotel + Air Packages

Marriott Hotel + Air packages are a great way to redeem Marriott Rewards points for a week’s hotel stay and airline miles.

At the most basic level, you trade in 200,000-270,000 Marriott Rewards points, and in return, you get a 7-night stay at a Category 1-5 hotel, plus 50,000-132,000 airline points or miles, depending on the airline miles you would like to earn..

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Marriott Rewards points redemption for Hotel+Air Packages

In most cases, the best use of Marriott Rewards points is to exchange for the most amount miles for each package. Using Hotel+Air Package 1 as an example, the 7 nights + 50,000 miles package costs 200,000 Marriott Rewards points. However, the 7 nights + 120,000 miles package costs just 270,000 Marriott Rewards points. So, for an extra 70,000 Marriott Rewards points, you get an extra 70,000 airline miles. That’s an excellent exchange for Marriott Rewards points.

If you recall in the example above, 60,000 Marriott Rewards points is worth 25,000 airline miles using the SPG transfer program. Being able to get extra airline miles at a 1:1 ratio for Marriott Rewards points is a great use of Marriott Rewards points.

American Airlines is one of the Hotel+Air Package 1 airlines. For 270,000 Marriott Rewards points, you would earn a Category 1-5 certificate, which is good for a 7-night stay, as well as 120,000 American AAdvantage miles.

If you were just going to use the SPG transfer program, you would transfer 270,000 Marriott Rewards points to SPG, which would give you 90,000 SPG Starpoints.  SPG only allows you to transfer 79,999 points to an airline per day, so you would have to transfer 60,000 SPG points in one transfer, and the remaining 30,000 SPG points on the next day.

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The Transfer Calculation of 90,000 SPG points to American AAdvantage miles

Transfering 60,000 SPG points to American Airlines would give you 75,000 AAdvantage miles and transferring 30,000 SPG points would give you 35,000 miles, for a total of 110,000 AAdvantage miles.

Your best bet to earn the most miles on American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Airlines, Alaska, Air Canada, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic is to transfer all your SPG points to Marriott and book through the Hotel+Air package so you can get tons of miles plus a 7-night hotel stay.

Final Thoughts

For those of you who think “I don’t even stay at hotels, so the Chase Marriott Rewards Premier credit card isn’t valuable to me,” I hope the above examples have made you reconsider.

The Marriott Rewards points earned from the sign-up bonus can help you achieve your flight goals through transferring points, and the anniversary free night certificate can be utilized to reduce the cost of accommodations during peak travel season.

Pick up the Chase Marriott Rewards Premier card before you hit 5/24. I’m sure you will find a use for the Marriott Rewards points you earn!

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Why You Should Get the United MileagePlus Explorer Card

By: Julie Szpira

Disclosure: This post may contain references to products from our advertisers. We may receive compensation from products we link to. We appreciate your support.

When starting in the points and miles hobby, most people want to sign up for credit cards that offer the largest bonuses and best perks.

Due to the Chase 5/24 rule, there are a handful of cards that are best acquired at the outset of beginning the hobby. Despite our advice to pick up 5/24 restricted cards we routinely hear of readers that choose to pass on signing up for the United MileagePlus Explorer Card.

The reason is almost always the same; “I don’t like to fly United.”

It’s understandable that a bad flight or poor customer service can lead to a customer choosing to take their business elsewhere.

Besides, we all have our preferred airlines, but the sign up bonus from the United MileagePlus Explorer Card can provide incredible value when flying on United or with one of their partner airlines.

Use United MileagePlus Miles to Fly Star Alliance Partners

If you don’t want to fly United, a fantastic use for United MileagePlus miles is to fly on any of the 27 Star Alliance airlines or even Aer Lingus. Star Alliance is the largest global airline alliance and serves more than 1,300 airports worldwide.

In the United States, United reigns supreme in Star Alliance. However, when traveling overseas, Star Alliance offers a variety of partners on which your MileagePlus miles can be redeemed.

United MileagePlus miles can obviously be redeemed for flights operated by United; but they can also be used to book awards on partner airlines. You will notice that the number of miles required for a particular route is sometimes different based on whether you’re flying United or one of their partners.

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United’s Star Alliance/partner award chart will be useful as you travel around the world.

For economy class, the same number of miles is required to fly on flights operated by United or one of their partners. For business class or first class flights, the number of miles required to fly one of their partners is slightly higher.

I used 90,000 United MileagePlus miles to book a business class flight from Chicago O’Hare (ORD) to Auckland (AKL), and I will not be on a single United flight for the entire trip.

If I were able to find availability on a United flight, the cost would have been 80,000 United MileagePlus miles. However, my routing includes partner airlines, so the number of miles required was slightly higher.

Now, my routing is a bit crazy, as I will fly on EVA Air from ORD to Taipei (TPE), ANA from TPE to Tokyo, and Tokyo Haneda to Sydney (SYD), and then complete my trip to Auckland on Air New Zealand.  This was by choice, as being on a plane in business class is just as fun for me as sightseeing when it comes to vacation!

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Chase Sapphire Preferred: Why It Should Be Your First Rewards Card

By: Julie Szpira

Disclosure: This post may contain references to products from our advertisers. We may receive compensation from products we link to. We appreciate your support.

For those who are new to the points and miles game, “Where do I start?” is probably the common question we hear. Once you’ve read our free e-book for beginners, you may still be left wondering how everything works.

As you might expect, there’s a bit of a learning curve to understanding the process of applying for credit cards, meeting minimum spends, earning sign-up bonuses and redeeming points for some fun travel experiences. Like anything else, this all becomes much easier as you learn more.

Unfortunately, “you’ll learn more as you go” doesn’t answer your question about where to start. So, to help you start off on the right foot, I’ll tell you the best place to start.

Get the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. (Learn more)

Valuable Sign-Up Bonus, Waived Annual Fee

Each month, the 10xTravel staff discusses the current best credit card offers, and the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card has had a stronghold at our top spot for a number of months.

The current offer terms are:

  • 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
  • 5,000 bonus points when you add an authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months
  • 2X points per $1 spent on dining and travel, 1X point per $1 on all other purchases
  • Trip delay insurance
  • Primary rental car insurance
  • $95 annual fee, waived the first year

(Full card details here: Learn More)

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card also earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which can be redeemed through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal for 1.25 cents per point, or transferred 1:1 to travel partners such as United Airlines or Hyatt.

The current sign-up bonus offer is 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after meeting the minimum spend. Additionally, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card also provides 5,000 bonus points for adding an authorized user, bringing your total bonus points to 55,000 points just for hitting the minimum spend and adding an authorized user. To top it off, the annual fee is waived for your first year with the card.

Using the 1.25 cent per point valuation through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, this bonus is the equivalent of $687.50 to spend on travel. If you’re strategic in your use of the points, you can get even more value out of those 55,000 points by transferring the points to one of the airline or hotel transfer partners.

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Why You Should Get Two Southwest Credit Cards

By: Julie Szpira

Disclosure: This post may contain references to products from our advertisers. We may receive compensation from products we link to. We appreciate your support.

The Southwest Companion Pass is one of the most valuable credit card perks out there.

With two credit card sign-ups and a little extra spending, you can accrue the 110,000 Rapid Rewards points required to earn the Companion Pass, which allows you to designate a companion to fly with you for free (except for taxes and fees) for the duration of your Companion Pass validity.

Due to the value provided by the Companion Pass, the Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards (Plus, Premier and Business versions) are often ranked high in our “Top Cards” list. If you qualify for the Southwest cards based on the Chase 5/24 rule, these cards and the Companion Pass should be on your radar.

However, when we have readers asking advice on what card to get next, we have many that completely nix the idea of getting Southwest cards.

There are a few reasons why some people think the getting the Companion Pass now wouldn’t be good for them:

  • They are planning an international trip and Southwest doesn’t fly to their destination
  • They don’t travel that often
  • They usually travel alone
  • They don’t like that they can’t choose a seat in advance
  • They want to wait until the end of the year so they can get the Companion Pass for 24 months

With that said, Southwest Rapid Rewards points and the associated Companion Pass are most valuable for those traveling with their designated companion to a final destination that Southwest Airlines serves.

However, your Southwest Rapid Rewards points can be used in other ways to reduce the cost of travel.

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Getting A Skeptic Partner Into Points and Miles

By: Julie Szpira

Disclosure: This post may contain references to products from our advertisers. We may receive compensation from products we link to. We appreciate your support.

I’ll admit it. Some of the stuff we do here at 10xTravel can seem crazy. If you’re not familiar with points and miles, you might be surprised by the lengths we’ll go to earn some extra points.

From opening credit cards to using shopping portals, the quest to accrue points and miles can incite fanaticism in travel enthusiasts.  So, what happens when points/miles people, like our own Bryce Conway or Luke Sims, fall in love with non-points and miles people?

Well, I spoke with Bryce’s wife, Alexandra, and Luke’s wife, Libby, to ask them about their experience in getting to know their husbands’ hobby.

It turns out that their experiences are very similar, and they helped me understand the hesitation some people might have about jumping into this hobby.  

Skeptic Problem #1: I Don’t Even Know What Points and Miles Are!

Even if you have read the free e-book for beginners, read every article we’ve published and have been talking about all the great credit card bonuses that are being offered, your skeptical partner might be hesitant to jump into the hobby because they just don’t “get it.”

For Alexandra, her knowledge of points and miles was very limited.   

“I had zero knowledge prior to Bryce introducing me to the hobby! I went to college out of state, and my first time in an airport alone was coming home for Christmas. That first time changing planes alone felt like such a win! My parents booked all my flights so I’m not sure if points were involved.”

Libby was similarly unfamiliar with the game.

I did not have much knowledge of points and miles before Luke started his obsession. My dad always flew Delta for work, so he had accrued miles through that. However, he didn’t really understand their value, so I had no idea the depth and breadth of possibilities.”

Now that they have each enjoyed multiple trips both domestically and internationally, I was curious to know if they had expanded their knowledge of points and miles.

Well, despite being married to points and miles gurus, Alexandra and Libby both remain fairly removed from the points and miles hobby.  

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Flight Delays and Cancellations…What Compensation Is Appropriate?

By: Julie Szpira

Disclosure: This post may contain references to products from our advertisers. We may receive compensation from products we link to. We appreciate your support.

Air travel is easy when everything goes right. Things like great weather, on-time departures, and early arrivals are what travel dreams are made of.

However, if there are travel dreams, that means there must be travel nightmares. Most travel nightmares begin with flight delays or cancellations.

This is definitely an unpleasant sight!

An hour delay is irritating, but when it causes you to miss a connection or results in an overnight stay in a strange city, it becomes a major inconvenience.

Thankfully, there are 10+ credit cards that offer trip delay protection, so you can enjoy a hot meal and warm bed if your flight is cancelled, or the delay becomes extended.

Even if you have a credit card with trip delay protection, you might find yourself wondering “What kind of compensation should I get from the airline?” when you are faced with a lengthy delay or flight cancellation.

Reasons for Flight Delays or Cancellations

Flight delays or cancellations can be caused by a variety of reasons. Common causes include:

  • Inclement Weather
  • Natural Disasters
  • Air Traffic Control Congestion
  • Airline System Glitches
  • Crew Delays or Timeouts
  • Maintenance Problems with an Aircraft

Delays or cancellations caused by weather, natural disasters or air traffic control are generally regarded as being out of the control of the airline. While the airline will help you rebook your flight, it is rare for them to provide compensation.  

The last three causes are generally considered “airline problems”, and when flights are delayed or cancelled for these reasons, requesting compensation from the airline would be appropriate.

Airline system glitches are IT problems that range from software outages within the check-in system, to printer issues that prevent the flight plan from being printed (True story, I was once delayed for over an hour because of a broken printer).

If there are glitches that cause extended delays, that can result in what is known as “crew timeouts.” 

Crew timeouts happen when the maximum number of hours allowed for a crew member to work is reached, resulting in that employee being barred from flying anymore that day.  If there isn’t a relief employee nearby, the flight may continue to be delayed, or even cancelled.

Maintenance problems are pretty self-explanatory. Sometimes cargo doors can’t close, toilets don’t flush or the engines won’t turn on. Those are some pretty important parts of the plane that the airline wants to ensure are operating correctly! If there is a maintenance issue, a flight will be delayed until the issue is resolved, or cancelled if the aircraft is not fit to fly.

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Baggage delay claim process with Citi Prestige

 

By: Julie Szpira

Disclosure: This post may contain references to products from our advertisers. We may receive compensation from products we link to. We appreciate your support.

In September, I spent two weeks exploring Europe. I booked a flight on Aegean Airlines from Amsterdam (AMS) to Rhodes, Greece (RHO), with a connection in Athens (ATH).

The connection time was about 55 minutes, but since Aegean Airlines offered that connection time as acceptable, I wasn’t worried about missing my flight. Well, the flight from Amsterdam was delayed. I started to get a little antsy and thought, “What if I don’t make my flight to Rhodes?!”

Luckily, the pilot made up some time in the air, and I was able to quickly transit through the Athens airport to arrive at the gate for the next leg of my trip just as boarding started.

I landed in Rhodes and waited at baggage claim, watching bag after bag arrive and be happily reunited with their owners, until no bags remained. No sight of my bag. “This is not good,” I thought.

I approached an airport employee with my baggage claim ticket, and she replied “Oh, yes. I am so sorry, Miss Szpira, but your luggage did not get transferred correctly. We will put it on the first flight in the morning and have it delivered to your hotel.”

It turns out my bag was not as good at navigating the Athens airport as I was, and it didn’t make it onto the flight.

Fortunately, I booked my flight with the Citi Prestige Card, which provides baggage delay insurance.

Baggage Delay Insurance

There are many credit cards that offer trip delay insurance and those benefits are often used by flyers when weather or mechanical issues delay flights.

Due to enhanced technology being implemented by airports across the world for baggage handling and tracking, baggage delay insurance is a less commonly used benefit.

Airlines will reimburse a traveler if checked baggage is completely lost, however, a delayed bag usually comes with a “sorry” and maybe a toiletry kit. Airlines also have different definitions of what is considered a reasonable baggage delay.

For the major US carriers, Delta is the most generous. They provide $50 per day for up to five days if your baggage is delayed. United does not offer anything for a baggage delay, however if the bag is still missing after three days, they will consider the bag lost, and compensate you $1500. American rings in dead last, with compensation only being provided after the bag has been missing for five days.

If you and your checked luggage don’t make it to your destination at the same time, that can leave you without a change of clothes, shoes, or essential toiletries. While the airlines will work to locate your luggage, any replacement items you purchase in the interim would be out-of-pocket expenses.

Unless, of course, you booked your trip with a credit card that provides baggage delay insurance.

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