The Trans-Siberian Railway on the cheap

A long-time reader sent me an interesting essay from a travel agency I'd never heard of, which sent their intrepid reporter on a Trans-Siberian cruise from Moscow to Irkutsk.

I had a good laugh at this essay because unlike, say, transatlantic steamer traffic, the Trans-Siberian Railway is a working passenger railroad, with multiple departures each day, and with publicly available prices. That inspired me to put together for my dear readers my suggestions for a Trans-Siberian Railway adventure.

The European Part

Depending on your timeframe and the season, you might want to fly into Saint Petersburg and visit Tsarskoe Selo and Peterhof, and spend as much time as you can in Petersburg itself, a wonderful and vibrant city.

Otherwise, you'll want to arrive in Moscow. There's no reason to take the Trans-Siberian Railway to Vladimir or Suzdal, since those are short day trips from Moscow proper on commuter rail trains that cost just a few bucks each.

Once you've gotten your day trips out of the way, it's time to get on a real train.

Stop in Nizhny Novgorod if you have to, otherwise head straight to Yekaterinburg

Nizhny Novgorod (formerly Gorky) is an important city in the history of Russia but there's no obvious reason for a tourist to stop there if they're not traveling by river. I'd head straight to Yekaterinburg, the gateway to Asian Russia.

Sample Moscow-Yekaterinburg itinerary: depart 12:35 am, arrive 9:18 am the next day, $45.

Yekaterinburg to Novosibirsk

The next leg is 19-24 hours, so you'll need to decide whether you want to leave in the morning and arrive in the morning or leave in the evening and arrive in the evening the next day.

Novosibirsk was a "closed city" during the Soviet period, but has an opera house and a prestigious university located in nearby Akademgorodok.

Sample Yekaterinburg-Novosibirsk itinerary: Depart 7:49 pm, arrive 20:09 pm the next day, $40.

Novosibirsk to Irkutsk

Often described as the "capital" of Siberia, Irkutsk is located on Lake Baikal and in the winter features all sorts of antics on the frozen surface of the lake, while in the summer you can stay at lakefront resorts. Most "Trans-Siberian" journeys end here.

Sample Novosibirsk-Irkutsk itinerary: Depart 11:56 pm, arrive 7:04 am the next day, $45.

Irkutsk to Vladivostok

Now we've come to the "Trans-Siberian" part of the "Trans-Siberian Railway." Siberia is big — really big. Khabarovsk, like Nizhny Novgorod, is an important city in Soviet history but there's no obvious reason to stop there or anywhere else between Irkutsk and Vladivostok. But, you're more than free to, and you're very likely to find a local willing to take you in and care for you if you're so inclined.

Sample Irkutsk-Vladivostok itinerary: Depart 4:17 pm, arrive 11:34 pm 3 days later, $93.


I've always planned to ride the whole Trans-Siberian Railway someday, but when I lived in Russia I was too busy and too poor to take the time off to do it. But you can do it any time you like! The itinerary above comes out to $223. If you roughly quadruple that (Russian train compartments have four beds each), and have a little flexibility in dates, you could ride in a private compartment all the way from Moscow to Vladivostok, on your own schedule, taking as much time as you like in each city along the way.

If you call that $1,000 in rail fares, that means you've got a whole lot of money left over compared to a bespoke tour package.

Plus, your humble blogger is always available to serve as interpreter.

Let's be a little pickier in what we call a devaluation

Judging by the headlines in my RSS reader last week, I was dreading looking into the devastating, unannounced Hilton devaluation that apparently happened under the cover of darkness. Will this change everything? Will I cancel my American Express card? Will nothing ever be the same again?

And, because it's the travel hacking blogosphere, it turned out to be a big fat nothing, as is almost always the case.

Revenue-based earning was a devaluation

When the major US carriers moved to revenue-based mileage earning, that was a devaluation for folks who earned miles through paid flights: previously, miles were earned based on the distance flown and class of service. Now, they're earned based on the fare paid, regardless of class of service.

Revenue-based redemptions were a devaluation

Delta's move towards revenue-based redemptions was a devaluation, since it removed more expensive flights from the pool of seats available for booking at the lowest level, including partner award bookings.

Reduced and eliminated award space is a devaluation

When my blood pressure is too low I sometimes look for award space on American Airlines-operated flights. The fact that American no longer makes low-level award space available is a devaluation compared to the days when they made any award space available, and of course an even more severe devaluation for loyal customers of the former US Airways.

Reduced fixed-value currency values is a devaluation

When Southwest moved from "about" 1.7 cents per Rapid Rewards point to "about" 1.6 cents per Rapid Rewards point for Wanna Get Away fare redemptions, that was a devaluation, since the same number of points buy less airfare than they used to.

When US Bank reduced the value of Flexpoints from "up to" 2 cents per point to a fixed 1.5 cents per point, that was a devaluation for many customers, since they lost the ability to stretch the value of their points by booking slightly more expensive, slightly more convenient flights for the same number of Flexpoints.

Reduced per-dollar point earning is a devaluation

When Hilton collapsed their "double dip" earning styles into a single earning method, that was a devaluation for Blue and Silver members who earned more points per dollar spent under the old regime.

Did Hilton undergo a 500% devaluation?

What Gary Leff was freaking everyone out about last week was not a devaluation. It was a repricing of individual properties.

For Gary-specific reasons, he did not ask, "how does this affect the value of Hilton Honors points?" He just said, "hotel cash prices rarely double or quadruple the way they seem to with Honors, which is a loyalty program and not merely a currency" [italics his, for some reason].

The example he gives is the Hampton Inn Columbus-Airport, which used to cost 5,000 points per award night, and now costs 30,000 points, the "500% increase" you may have seen people fretting about online.

Fortunately, I have access to the internet, and can pull up room rates at the Hampton Inn Columbus-Airport. I picked the dates of April 8 through April 22, and looked at standard room rates, plus a 17.5% occupancy tax, and compared them to the award rates on the exact same dates.

First of all, the property does not cost 30,000 points per night. While that's the maximum rate charged, there were also nights available for 27,000 and 29,000 points per night. As you'd expect, those lower rates were available on nights when the paid rate was at the lower end of the range.

What did I find? Redemptions rates during the two-week period I looked at varied from 0.431 cents per point to 0.638 cents per point, with an arithmetic average of 0.56 cents per point.

This is, for lack of another word, totally banal. A 0.43 cent redemption is on the low end of what I would look for from a Hilton redemption, and a 0.56 cent redemption is on the highish end (a 3.36% return on grocery store manufactured spend).

This is undoubtedly unfortunate for folks who were used to getting 3.8 cents per point at the Hampton Inn Columbus-Airport, there's no use denying that. Nobody likes to lose their own personal sweet spot. But what are the rest of us supposed to think about a Hilton property with 0.4-0.6 cent per point redemptions? That's a totally normal Hilton property!

Inflation is not a devaluation

My brother sometimes brags about the great deals he gets on Southwest, saying "it costs me 10,000 points to fly from San Francisco to Salt Lake City." But of course he's not getting a great deal, he's redeeming his Rapid Rewards points for a Wanna Get Away fare at 1.6 cents each.

If the cost of jet fuel spiked and Southwest fares doubled, he'd be redeeming 20,000 points and complaining about how much better Rapid Rewards used to be. But it wasn't Rapid Rewards that devalued, it was the dollar that bought less air travel than it used to!


The right way to think about rewards program is:

  • How many points do I earn per dollar spent?
  • How much value do I get from redeemed points?

A program undergoes a devaluation when the number of points earned, whether through manufactured spend, flights, hotels, car rentals, or movie tickets, falls.

A program also undergoes a devaluation when the dollar value of redeemed points falls, whether that's through reduced award availability, increased award redemption costs, or moving from flexible value to fixed value redemptions.

But a program isn't devalued just because the property you happen to like to stay in increases in cost! That program may no longer be the right choice for you, and if all the sweet spots in the world disappeared (I'm required by blogger law to point out that you can still get 1.39 cents per point on a sample 5-night stay at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island), then that program might not be right for anybody at all.

But some airport hotel in Columbus realigning their award cost with their revenue cost is not even the beginning of the end of the world. Let's save the drama, shall we?

Don't sleep on the next couple weeks of manufactured spend

There are a couple current and upcoming manufactured spend opportunities I want to make sure readers are aware of.

Office Depot/OfficeMax Visa gift card promotion through March 17

This promotion comes around every few months and is always a good opportunity to load up on Ultimate Rewards points for folks who have a Chase Ink Plus, Ink Bold, or Ink Cash small business card. The current iteration of the promotion is $10 off $300 or more in Visa gift cards.

If you buy two $200 Visa gift cards with $6.95 activation fees, you'll end up paying $3.90 in activation fees after the $10 discount is applied, or 0.2 cents per Ultimate Rewards point if you pay with a card earning 5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent at office supply stores.

This is worth doing basically regardless of your liquidation method. Even paying Plastiq (you can find my personal referral link on the Support the Site! page) $4.88 per card in liquidation fees brings your cost per Ultimate Rewards point up to just 0.68 cents each — a good deal!

Grocery store gas points on Visa gift card purchases between March 16 and March 22

Slightly overlapping with the Office Depot promotion, via Miles to Memories I saw that Giant, Stop & Shop, and Martin's stores will offer 2 gas points per dollar spent on Visa gift cards between March 16 and March 22.

These stores usually don't offer any gas points on prepaid debit card purchases, so it's potentially lucrative to time your grocery store manufactured spend to periods when these promotions are in effect, if you drive and especially if you have a way of storing extra discounted fuel.

I don't drive but have mused in the past about options for distributing fuel points to folks who do (there are some more great suggestions in the comments to that post).

In memoriam: OPEN savings, selling Membership Rewards points for 2.5 cents each

It's been widely reported in recent days that American Express is ending its OPEN savings program for small business credit cards on June 1, 2018. Long-time blog subscribers know that I've played around with the program in the past with some success, but there's a very strange function built right into the OPEN savings program: the ability to sell Membership Rewards points for 2.5 cents each.

Small business Membership Rewards accounts can sell points for 2.5 cents each

All you have to do is navigate to American Express's OPEN savings page to see the opportunity spelled out explicitly:

"How Returns Work
A returned purchase or credit from an OPEN Savings merchant will result in a reversal of your discount or removal of Membership Rewards points depending on your benefit selection at the time of the return or credit. If you change your benefit selection, your new selection will apply to future returns or credits (including returns or credits relating to transactions made before the change). See the example below.

On May 1st, you select the Discount Benefit.
On May 15th, you make a purchase from an OPEN Savings Merchant that would result in either a $5 statement credit or 200 additional MR points, depending on your selection.
Due to your selection, you will receive a $5 statement credit.
On June 1st, you change your selection to the MR Point Benefit.
On June 15th, you return the purchase you made on May 15th.
Due to your new selection, you will have 200 MR points deducted from your MR program account, instead of having the $5 statement credit reversed."

You get to keep the $5 statement credit, and pay just 200 Membership Rewards points for it, essentially selling 200 Membership Rewards points for $5, or 2.5 cents each.

To take a more practical example, you could select the Discount Benefit, make a $1,000 purchase from, and receive a $50 OPEN savings statement credit. Then by changing your selection to the MR Point Benefit and returning the merchandise, you'll have 2,000 Membership Rewards deducted from your account, keeping the $50 statement credit. You've then have sold 2,000 Membership Rewards points for $50, or 2.5 cents each.


I've never had a Membership Rewards-earning credit card, but I have had small business American Express cards and have enjoyed occasionally using and abusing the OPEN savings program.

It'll be a shame to see it go, but if you have a slew of Membership Rewards points you don't plan to redeem for more than 2.5 cents each, this may be your last opportunity to sell them back to American Express at that price.

The Hyatt-Oasis partnership is live, and won't work for travel hackers

All the way back in October I wrote about the announcement of a partnership between Oasis, a luxury short-term home and apartment rental company, and the World of Hyatt loyalty program. I thought the tie-up could possibly work if Oasis was willing to sell some of its inventory at a slightly lower profit margin in exchange for access to a much broader pool of customers.

They decided to go in a different direction.

You can redeem World of Hyatt points for a fixed value at Oasis properties

When you redeem World of Hyatt points for stays with Oasis, you get a $200 credit towards an Oasis reservation for every 15,000 World of Hyatt points you redeem. You may see folks in the community rhapsodizing about how much more valuable World of Hyatt points are than that, but I don't think they're more valuable than that.

If you can get a better value redeeming World of Hyatt points for Oasis redemptions than on other possible redemptions, or than holding them speculatively, then I think you oughta go ahead and redeem them.

There are structural obstacles to these being good redemptions

However, one factor that adds to the value of hotel award redemptions is that such redemptions cover both the cost of the room rate and any taxes and fees associated with the reservation (usually — the Hilton in Evian-les-Bains charged me a couple bucks in local taxes that I disputed vigorously until I lost interest and gave up).

That means a 1.33 cent-per-point redemption against a room rate is actually worth 1.47 cents per point in an area with a 10% lodging tax: 15,000 points are worth not $200, but $220.

But Oasis reservations include not only taxes, but also cleaning fees, which can be substantial. Being forced to redeem hotel points against the full price, after taxes and fees, of your stay puts such reservations at a fundamental disadvantage compared to traditional redemptions.

For longer stays the impact of fixed cleaning fees will shrink, but for shorter trips those per-stay charges constitute a big part of your total bill.

Oasis has a tiny footprint

This is the thing that surprised me most now that the World of Hyatt-Oasis partnership has launched: they still have the same tiny footprint in the same big tourist destinations they had before the partnership.

It's true that Hyatt doesn't have any properties in Barcelona. But Barcelona has plenty of hotels, including Hilton and Starwood properties.

That makes it seem like Hyatt is offering a consolation prize to people who earned their points accidentally instead of purposefully, and the partnership may indeed make sense for folks who don't take any interest or pleasure in aggressively managing their loyalty accounts.

But, for obvious reasons, that doesn't describe most travel hackers.

Earning with Oasis is a no-brainer, if the price is right

At a basic level, you should be suspicious of any company that has to team up with a major brand in order to move their product. If Oasis stays are so expensive that they can afford to buy Hyatt points to reward their customers, Oasis stays are probably too expensive. And if Oasis stays are so unattractive that they need to buy Hyatt points to entice customers, Oasis stays are probably too unattractive.

But if you're visiting a city where an Oasis property is available at the right price (including all taxes and fees) compared to all your other possible paid or award stays, I don't see any reason not to credit your stay to your World of Hyatt account.

But, in all honesty, I don't think it'll ever happen to me.

US Bank Real-Time Rewards are good, not great

I've seen a few posts from folks lately about US Bank's introduction of so-called "Real-Time Rewards," which allow you to book travel reservations with your card directly instead of using US Bank's third-party "Rewards Center" travel agency.

While I am always enthusiastic about banks adding additional benefits, now that I've looked into it a bit, my tentative conclusion is that while the new feature is good, it's probably not going to be a game-changer for me. Here's why.

Real-Time Rewards are a good way to liquidate Flexpoints for 1.5 cents each

The clearest use case for Real-Time Rewards is redeeming Flexpoints for cash at their higher "travel" redemption value. Simply book a fully refundable flight far enough in the future, redeem your Flexpoints against the purchase for 1.5 cents each, wait for the statement credit to appear on your account and then cancel the flight for a full refund.

That turns the US Bank Flexperks Travel Rewards card into a true 3% cash back card at grocery stores and gas stations, and the Altitude Reserve card into a true 4.5% cash back card on mobile purchases (note that card is vulnerable to shutdowns for rewards abuse).

US Bank credit cards aren't ideal for airfare purchases

The Flexperks Travel Rewards card doesn't offer a trip delay benefit, so if your flight is delayed you'll be at your airline's mercy when it comes to accommodation and reimbursement for meals or other expenses during your delay. That's no different if you book flights through the Rewards Center.

Unless airfare happens to be your largest category of bonused spend during your statement cycle, the card will earn just 1 Flexpoint per dollar spent, the equivalent of 1.5% in cash back. Plenty of cards are more generous than that for airline purchases, and many of them offer trip delay insurance as well.

The Altitude Reserve card does have a good trip delay benefit of up to $500 for delays lasting at least 6 hours or requiring an overnight stay, and earns 3 Flexpoints per dollar spent on travel, the equivalent of 4.5% cash back, so Real-Time Rewards can be a solid deal if used with the Altitude Reserve.

Real-Time Rewards redemptions aren't eligible for Flexperks Travel Rewards travel statement credits

When you redeem Flexpoints out of a Flexperks Travel Rewards account through the Rewards Center, each reservation you make is eligible for a $25 statement credit for purchases made with your card during travel. If your flights cost the same whether booked as one-way tickets or round-trip tickets, you can double this benefit by booking your outbound and return flights separately. US Bank makes clear that this benefit is not available on Real-Time Rewards redemptions:

"If you purchase airfare from an airline and use Real-Time Mobile Rewards to pay for the airfare, you will not be eligible to receive the $25 Airline Allowance benefit that is available with this Account; the $25 Airline Allowance is only available for travel rewards FlexPoints redemption made through the Rewards Center online or by phone."

Real-Time Rewards would be ideal for Altitude Reserve award bookings, if trip delay insurance applies

Over the course of writing this post I spent several hours trying to figure out how the Altitude Reserve's trip delay insurance benefit works. Eventually I even found an online copy of the card's Guide to Benefits, which is where US Bank instructs cardholders to find details on the trip delay benefit.

The guide to benefits says a flight is covered by trip delay reimbursement if "you charge your trip's entire Common Carrier fare to your eligible Visa Infinite card and/or with rewards points earned on your covered account." That's it.

Are the taxes and fees charged on an award ticket a "Common Carrier fare?" Frequent Miler has done yeoman's work on this question (see also here), but until we see people actually filing claims for delays on trips they've booked with miles, we're not going to have a definite answer.

This matters because if award tickets aren't covered by the Altitude Reserve's trip delay insurance benefit, you need to either pay with a different credit card (foregoing a Real-Time Rewards redemption) or forego trip delay coverage, losing a valuable benefit you've already paid for with your $450 annual fee.


All this can be boiled down to a few basic considerations:

  • if your only Flexpoint-earning credit card is the Flexperks Travel Rewards, then book flights through the Rewards Center, preferably as separate one-way tickets, in order to claim one or more $25 travel statement credits;
  • if you don't have a card that offers trip delay insurance on award flights, then Real-Time Rewards should allow you to pay for the taxes and fees on award redemptions with a Flexperks Travel Rewards card and redeem your Flexpoints at full value;
  • if your only Flexpoint-earning card is the Altitude Reserve, then Real-Time Rewards can potentially save you a phone call and unwanted aggravation by allowing you to pay for the exact ticket you want on your choice of carrier while redeeming your Flexpoints at full value and triggering trip delay insurance;
  • if paying for the taxes and fees on an award ticket does not trigger the Altitude Reserve's trip delay benefit, then you should pay with a card that does have trip delay insurance and either monetize your Flexpoints through fully refundable reservations or on non-award tickets;
  • if you have both cards, then whether to book through the Rewards Center with your Flexperks Travel Rewards card or through Real-Time Rewards with your Altitude Reserve properly depends on how much you value trip delay insurance. If you value $500 in trip delay coverage at more than $25 in travel statement credits (or $50 if you're able to book each leg separately at the same price), then you should book with the Altitude Reserve. If you value it at less than $25 ($50) then you should book with the Flexperks Travel Rewards card.

More benefits and options for redeeming points are always better than fewer, so kudos to US Bank for continuing to experiment with additional benefits, but there's just nothing game-changing about Real-Time Rewards.

How worried should Delta American Express cardholders be about RAT?

I've been watching with interest as datapoints have rolled in of American Express signup bonuses being denied to people who meet the minimum spend requirement with manufactured spend techniques, particularly gift card purchases at unbonused merchants like Simon Malls and I was disappointed to see another datapoint yesterday from Vinh at Miles per Day, who keeps close tabs on this stuff, reporting that a promotional high spend offer on the Starwood Preferred Guest Business American Express card wasn't triggered by Simon Mall gift card purchases.

Will gift card purchases count towards Miles Boost?

I'm about halfway to my first 2018 $25,000 spend threshold on my Delta Platinum American Express card, and have seen my miles post as normal on my first two statements this calendar year. Additionally, my statement accurately shows my year-to-date purchases.

That makes me modestly confident that I'll earn my 10,000 bonus SkyMiles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles when I reach $25,000 in spend — I'll post an update in April or May when I hit that threshold.

Will gift card purchases count towards Medallion Qualification Dollar waivers?

There is a potentially confusing coincidence for Delta Platinum American Express cardholders, since the card accelerates your path to Medallion status in two totally distinct ways:

  • at $25,000 and $50,000 in annual spend, you receive 10,000 bonus Medallion Qualification Miles;
  • at $25,000 in annual spend, you receive a Medallion Qualification Dollar waiver for the Silver, Gold, and Platinum Medallion tiers (a Diamond Medallion Qualification Dollar waiver requires $250,000 in purchases across all your co-branded Delta American Express cards).

For Delta Reserve cardholders the situation is less confusing, since the Miles Boost thresholds are at $30,000 and $60,000, while the Medallion Qualification Dollar waiver is still triggered at $25,000.

While my purchases have so far been earning miles and my year-to-date purchases have been shown on my credit card statements, my Delta SkyMiles account has not been updating to show any progress towards the Medallion Qualification Dollar waiver. That makes me modestly confident that my manufactured spend will not trigger a Medallion Qualification Waiver this year.

Which combination of benefits would justify keeping a co-branded Delta American Express card?

My Delta Platinum American Express card is easily the card I have the most trouble deciding whether or not to keep each year. So far, I've narrowly come down on the side of keeping it, due to:

  • the annual economy companion ticket (subject to fairly onerous fare bucket restrictions);
  • the Miles Boost benefit which brings the earning rate on $25,000 and $50,000 in spend up to 1.4 miles per dollars;
  • the Medallion Qualification Dollar waiver.

I fly Delta often enough and exclusively enough that those benefits have so far convinced me to keep the card.

However, without a Medallion Qualification Dollar waiver, I would only occasionally qualify even for Silver Medallion status, which requires $3,000 in MQD's each calendar year. That would neuter the value of Miles Boost since my Medallion Qualification Miles would expire at the end of any year I didn't reach at least Silver Medallion.

And while I have so far been able to redeem the annual economy companion ticket for flights which retail for more than $195, $195 in airfare is worth just a small fraction of that to me, given my ability to manufacture cheap paid airfare with the US Bank Flexperks Travel Rewards card and Chase Freedom Unlimited and Ink Plus cards. In fact, the new ability to redeem US Bank Flexpoints at full value for flights under $400 makes the companion ticket even less valuable since, as I've explained at length in the past, "companion tickets are a bad deal because they require you to purchase a revenue ticket directly from the airline."

If you can sell your companion ticket to someone planning to purchase an eligible Delta economy ticket for $195 or more, then that's an easy workaround. However, note that friends and family tend to be extremely unamused by such antics!


Delta's exclusive partnership with American Express puts folks who fly Delta by preference or necessity in a bind. If it's not worth carrying a high-annual-fee co-branded Delta credit card, it might still be worth carrying a Membership Rewards-earning credit card, especially one that earns bonus points in easily manufactured categories like supermarkets, since those points can be transferred to SkyMiles (with the payment of an additional excise tax).

However, if American Express is serious, as they seem increasingly to be, about cutting down on the rewards they grant for manufactured spend, then the Delta flyer is ultimately fighting a rearguard action. If manufacturing SkyMiles becomes too onerous, the obvious solution is to stop manufacturing SkyMiles.

I've resisted that step so far because of my fondness for Medallion status, but at the end of the day, if they're not willing to play along, $195 per year can buy a lot of status, and I have plenty of other options to pay for the flights I want or need.

Some recent redemptions, from good to mediocre

I usually try to write up a post for each award trip I take, both to share my thinking about my points and miles strategy and to keep myself honest about the value of the rewards currencies I earn. I've been doing quite a bit of redeeming lately, so I thought I'd cobble together those redemptions into an overview of the value I've been getting from my points lately.

Hilton Prague Old Town

After spending a few days in Karlovy Vary, we're going to return to Prague to use as our base for the last part of our trip this summer. Back in the days of last-night-free Club Carlton stays my go-to property in Prague was the Park Inn, but that property has no appeal whatsoever if you're not paying half price (although cash rates are just $166 for the nights of our stay).

That left a few options:

  • InterContinental Prague for 40,000 IHG Rewards Club points per night, or $260 per night if buying points at 0.65 cents each.
  • Hilton Prague for 40,000 points per night, or $200 per night if buying points for 0.5 cents each.
  • Hilton Prague Old Town for 36,000 points per night, or $180 per night.

There are also two Marriott properties in the city centre, but a quick glance showed both their points and cash rates were too high, as usual.

The Hilton options were especially appealing because our stay will be exactly 5 nights, making this possibly the first time I'll ever have taken advantage of Hilton's fifth-night-free benefit on award stays.

By the way, I'm using 0.5 cents per point as the price I purchase Hilton Honors points at, since a dollar spent at grocery stores earns either 6 Hilton Honors points or 2 US Bank Flexpoints, worth 3 cents towards travel. In other words, the opportunity cost, not the out of pocket cost, of the Hilton Honors points.

In this case the decision was easy to redeem 180,000 Hilton Honors points for 5 nights at the Hilton Prague Old Town. The actual paid rate for the room I booked was almost $2,000 after taxes, giving a shocking 1 cent per point redemption value, but even using the more realistic $1,200 total at the Hilton Prague yields a redemption value of 0.67 cents per point, or the equivalent of 4% cash back on grocery store spend.

One interesting thing this highlights is the difference between the absolute number of high-value redemptions you make and the volume of high-value spend you do. For example, if you only make a single high-value Hilton redemption each year, whether it's the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island (3.8 cents per point in December), or the Grand Wailea Waldorf Astoria (1.9 cents per point over New Year's), you may be earning a substantial return on a high amount of spend — $63,000 in the case of those two properties, which cost 380,000 points for a 5-night stay.

Many travel hackers think of Hilton as a "backup" chain to their preferred program, whether that's World of Hyatt or Starwood Preferred Guest. What I'm trying to point out is that Hilton Honors points may be worth earning even if it's just for the occasional stunt redemption, and not as a core part of your travel hacking practice, precisely because those high-value redemption turn the Hilton Honors Ascend American Express card into a powerhouse for uncapped grocery store bonus spend.

Park Hyatt New York

Since my World of Hyatt Globalist status is ending this month, I decided to put together a final stunt redemption as a Globalist and took the train up to New York City for Presidents Day weekend.

The Park Hyatt New York costs 30,000 World of Hyatt points per night, and the cash rate for our stay was about $860, giving a respectable 2.9 cents per transferred Ultimate Rewards point. We were upgraded to a one-bedroom suite and abused the hell out of the breakfast benefit, so in terms of maximizing the value of Globalist status, mission accomplished.

However, I can't imagine any reason to go back to this hotel. Besides the unavoidable Hyatt service gaffes, the room's elaborate electronic bells-and-whistles were a source of constant frustration, and the location doesn't have any particular advantage over the 25,000-point Andaz 5th Avenue a mile away.

Obviously a $300 hotel night in New York City isn't unreasonable, especially with $100+ of breakfast included every morning as a Globalist, but there's no way to argue the Park Hyatt New York is a value play.

Hyatt Regency Lexington

For an April trip to Lexington, Kentucky, I booked four nights at the Hyatt Regency Lexington, which is my preferred place to stay in Lexington during Keeneland. They didn't have points-only award availability, but I was able to book a Points + Cash stay for 16,000 World of Hyatt points and $255. A cash stay would cost $900, for a respectable 4 cents per transferred Ultimate Rewards point.

The Hilton across the street wants 160,000 points for my stay, which would give a value of just 0.56 cents per Honors point, so the Hyatt was clearly the way to go.

Note that if points-only award space was available for 8,000 points per night, I would have made a Guest of Honor reservation instead, even though the per-point redemption value would fall to just 2.8 cents each.

Mediocre Delta redemptions

Finally, I've made a few sad-sack Delta redemptions lately:

  • I redeemed 80,000 SkyMiles and $55 for my partner's roundtrip flight to Prague. As I noted in my original post about the redemption, the price jumped from $953 to $1409 while I was watching it, which changed it overnight from a terrible 1.12 cent per mile redemption to a mediocre 1.7 cent per mile redemption.
  • For my flight to Lexington I redeem 23,000 SkyMiles for flights that would have cost $321 in cash, for a 1.4 cent per mile redemption. It would have been narrowly superior to redeem US Bank Flexpoints for the flight at 1.5 cents each, but I chose not to in order to build a bigger, more versatile Flexpoints balance. Since Flexpoints can only be redeemed for the full price of an itinerary, the risk of having too few Flexpoints is the total inability to redeem them, while the risk of having too many is having some leftover for a future redemption. Delta SkyMiles, on the other hand, are not valuable enough to hoard, so redeeming them is always my first choice, within reason.

Can you use this one weird old trick to get more value from World of Hyatt Globalist status?

Last year in one of my subscribers-only newsletters I suggested the possibility that you could enjoy the benefits of top-tier World of Hyatt Globalist status after the official expiration of your status.

In principle, World of Hyatt status expires on the last day of February, and your status drops to the tier you earned during the previous calendar year. Suite upgrade awards expire on the same date, and can't be redeemed for reservations taking place after the expiration of your status (even if you requalify as a Globalist).

However, when Hyatt Gold Passport transitioned to World of Hyatt, they introduced a new benefit called "Guest of Honor," which allows top-tier Globalist members to share their elite benefits (room upgrades, breakfast and lounge access, waived resort fees, late check-out, and a few others) with friends and family when booking points-only award stays.

Astute readers may have identified the key question by now: if a Globalist member no longer receives Globalist benefits after the expiration of their status, and Globalist suite upgrade awards are not redeemable for stays after the expiration of their status, might it still be possible that Guest of Honor benefits are honored after the expiration of their status?

Having booked a number of such stays, I now believe the answer is yes. On the reservations I have booked, the "GUEST OF HONOR" designation appears on the reservation under "Preferences and Policies." I don't know whether that's manually entered by the reservation agent (you have to make Guest of Honors reservations over the phone) or is applied to the reservation some other way, but I believe it's more likely than not that it won't be automatically removed once the Globalist's status expires.

For folks who travel as a pair or more, nothing could be simpler than making a Guest of Honor reservation in your companion's name rather than your own. But even when making plans for solo travel, remember that many parents and children, aunts and nephews, uncles and nieces, also share the same name.

Finally, note that most Hyatt properties see vanishingly few Guest of Honor reservations, which fact combined with the very recent introduction of the benefit means you should anticipate maximum confusion when checking in on any Guest of Honor reservation.

All(?) 25 non-lounge Priority Pass locations

[updated 3/5/18: added MSP PGA Lounge]

Longtime readers know that once I start thinking about a project I'm not satisfied until I've completely exhausted it. Over the last couple days I've written about non-lounge Priority Pass locations multiple times, and it was bugging me so much I decided I needed to finish the job. So, here are all 24 non-lounge Priority Pass locations around the world. I identified them by searching this PDF of all Priority Pass locations for the string "off the bill," which they consistently use to describe the benefit, i.e., "Cardholders can use their lounge visit entitlement to receive AUD$36 off the bill."

After writing this post, but before posting it, I saw via Doctor of Credit that yet another restaurant had been added, at New York's JFK airport in Terminal 8. Bobby Van's Steakhouse is not yet showing on the Priority Pass app, but is already showing on the Priority Pass website.

In other words, these non-lounge locations are getting added pretty quickly, which is nice for folks who have either limited or unlimited free access to Priority Pass locations. Let me know in the comments if I've missed any.

United States

Portland International Airport

  • Capers Cafe Le Bar, $28
  • Capers Market, $28
  • House Spirits Distillery, $28

Denver International Airport

  • Timberline Steaks & Grille, $28

Blue Grass Airport

  • Kentucky Ale Taproom, $28

Miami International Airport

  • Corona Beach House, $30

Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport

  • PGA MSP Lounge, $15 off either your golf experience or food bill (cannot be combined across both)

St. Louis Lambert International Airport

  • The Pasta House, $28
  • The Pasta House & Schlafly Beer, $28

John F. Kennedy International Airport

  • Bobby Van's Steakhouse, $28


Brisbane International Airport

  • Bar Roma, AUD $36
  • Graze Grill & Bar, AUD $36
  • Corretto Cafe & Bar, AUD $36

Melbourne Airport

  • Bar Pulpo by MoVida, AUD $36
  • Cafe Vue, AUD $36
  • Urban Provodore, AUD $36

Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport

  • Better Burger, AUD $36
  • Mach2, AUD $36
  • Peroni Bar, AUD $36
  • Bistro 2020 & Bar, AUD $36
  • MoVida, AUD $36
  • Bar Roma, AUD $36
  • Wok on Air, AUD $36

United Kingdom

Gatwick Airport

  • Grain Store Cafe & Bar, GBP 15


Kansai International Airport

  • Botejyu, JPY3,400


In addition to these restaurant locations, you can also use your Priority Pass membership for yourself and up to 3 guests for an hour-long stay at "Minute Suites" locations at the Atlanta, Dallas/Fort Worth, and Philadelphia airports.

It's also interesting to note the variable value of Priority Pass redemptions in different currencies:

  • 15 GBP are worth $20.73;
  • JPY3,400 are worth $31.28;
  • and AUD $36 are worth $28.23.

And even within the United States a redemption is worth more in Miami than at the other domestic locations.

Finally, note that for now you're able to use Priority Pass at multiple locations within the same airport on the same day, so in Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, Portland, and St. Louis be sure to treat yourself right.