As you’ve no doubt heard or experienced, you need a negative antigen COVID test taken no earlier than the calendar day before your flight to board a flight to the USA. In my recent travels I’ve seen people paying $200-$400 for a rapid test at the airport, or about half that for a test at their hotel. You don’t need to do that, and even better you don’t need to have a technician in a sterile room in a foreign country give you a brain tickle to get your test either.

There are two cheap, convenient options that I’ve used, both of which require essentially swirling a q-tip around the lowest part of your nose five times on your own schedule in the comfort of your own room while a proctor watches on your phone or webcam:

  1. FlowFlex tests ($9.99 at CVS, or possibly free from USPS if you’re lucky) with AZOVA proctoring ($20, can be scheduled ahead of time in 8 minute increments) UPDATE: Dr. Jay notes that other over the counter tests are eligible for AZOVA proctoring too, the list of tests is here.
  2. eMed BinaxNOW tests ($150 for a six pack, and it includes proctoring that can’t currently be scheduled ahead of time, but waits to complete a test are minimal)

With both of these, you’ll either use a laptop or a mobile phone application to make a video call to a proctor. The proctor will walk you through performing the test while watching via your webcam, you’ll wait 15 minutes for the test to complete, and then you’ll either take a picture or reconnect to a proctor to read the COVID result.

When you’re done, both services will email you a certified PDF of your test results suitable for getting into the US. In my experience a digital copy of the PDF is all I’ve ever needed, but if you have access to a printer it can’t hurt to have a physical backup I suppose, especially for airlines that haven’t yet figured out how to issue a mobile boarding pass.

One final note, the eMed BinaxNOW test packaging is rather unfortunately large: It’s about the size of a bulky journal. The FlowFlex packaging is much smaller though, about the size of a cell phone external battery. I typically pack two of them in my luggage before I leave the US with the extra one as a backup, though so far I haven’t ever needed the second.

Good luck!

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Let’s start with a correction from Friday’s post: There’s still a phone-in offer for up to 495,000 SkyMiles on existing business Delta American Express cards. I can only assume this is because something happened to the IT person in charge of turning this off when the other versions of the offer were discontinued. I’d guess this week is very much the last shot at this offer, so if you’re going take advantage of it make time to call today.

With that out of the way, here’s your Monday update:

  1. United TravelBank $100 credits from January Clear promotion posted on Friday for me, and for others too. If you were reticent to take advantage of the current 15,000 MileagePlus miles promotion because nothing had posted, perhaps it’s time to reconsider that position now.

    Exchanging a possibly redundant $179 AmEx credit for 15,000 miles isn’t the worst idea in the world.
  2. Marriott’s has a promotion running for 100,000 Bonvoy points and a free Westin Heavily Bed. To enter, open the Bonvoy app, scroll down to “Featured Offers”, then click “Win with Westin”. It’s worth entering just for for the fact that you can say “I #bonvoyed Bonvoy” to win friends and influence people. EDIT: Reader Justmeha sent a direct link for entering the contest.
  3. A site update: I’ve moved to a different email service for the daily newsletter that’s a little less janky and is also easier to customize. Please let me know if you see anything weird with the service over the next week.

Happy Monday!

This crash was spotted just outside the American Express IT campus last week. Perhaps that’s why the Delta business offers are still around?

The existing articles about what resets the expiration of miles in AirFrance/KLM’s FlyingBlue mileage program are all over the board, and they conflict with one another at the surface level. There’s only one thing that’s been certain to this point: crediting an actual SkyTeam revenue flight to your FlyingBlue account will reset expiration and kick the can down the road for another two years.

What about points transferred from partners and from the FlyingBlue shopping portal? You’ll find different information in different articles and they’re all correct at some level. It’s taken several months of experimentation and now with the help of Gary and Connor, I now have a proper test and validation set to explain what’s going on:

  • Some partners reset expiration of transferred miles, and some don’t.
  • No partners reset the expiration of miles earned through flying
  • Miles earned through a FlyingBlue credit card reset the expiration of all miles

Ok, but most of us don’t have a FlyingBlue credit card and don’t want to credit a flight to the FlyingBlue program, so we rely on transferred miles to reset the clock (and transferred miles is probably how we got them in the first place). Here’s the scoop:

PartnerResets Transferred Mileage Expiration
BrexYes
Capital OneYes
ChaseYes
CitiYes
FlyingBlue shopping portalYes
American ExpressNo (UPDATE: This may be YMMV or Yes)

See the stick in the mud there? Our best friend and aspirational colleague American Express is different than the rest. When you transfer miles from American Express to FlyingBlue, it doesn’t reset the expiration on other transferred miles, and that’s why we’ve had mixed data-points about this topic for years.

UPDATE: Greg from Frequent Miler wrote in with screenshots showing a conflicting experiment on the American Express mileage reset of expiration on FlyingBlue miles. My data-point is from late summer, so either the coding has changed and AmEx now resets expiration, or it’s a your mileage may vary situation.

Now that we’ve tested and validated this, can we collectively move on to something else?

Happy Tuesday!

The “something else” that we’ve apparently moved to collectively. Why did we catalog this, exactly? Perhaps there’s some golden ratio of crust to nugget meat that I don’t understand.

Over the weekend I was in Minneapolis at the first Milenomics meet-up. I saw a few long-time friends, shared war stories with travel hacking veterans, and traded a few insider tips. I was also asked quite a few questions about travel hacking and the blog, but the most common was some variation of “Why do you blog if you’re not trying to monetize it?” That happens to be the most common question that I get from readers lately too. The answer really has two sides:

First: Networks are Everything

Having a partner in crime with whom you can share candid data-points will magnify your earnings and prevent certain failures; you’re each probably looking at different things, you likely have a different set of credit cards, you definitely have a different set of biases in how you look at the world, and you can divide and conquer when you’re probing something new. As a pair you typically amplify each other’s strengths and cover-over many weaknesses.

Obviously if you have a few close, trusted friends the above effects will be even greater still. Have I found deals that no one else had ever mentioned or hinted at? Absolutely. Have I learned about great deals from others that I’d probably have never even thought to look at? Also, absolutely. In this game, trusted colleagues simply make each other better.

So let’s circle back to the blog. I started it to grow my network, which frankly has worked really well and also been a bunch of fun.

Second: I Don’t Hate Money, But I Value Trust More

Do I hate money? Of course not. I don’t put affiliate links or ads here though because I want to make sure that you can trust me; even more so if we start working together on something going forward. I want to make sure that there’s absolutely no question about ulterior motives. If I’m writing about a credit card, you can be sure it’s not because it pays me a commission, but rather because I think it’s genuinely valuable and that it may be worth your attention.

Where does that leave us? Well, I have someone ask me how they can support me or the blog in some way almost weekly. I very much appreciate the thought, and earlier this year I set up a Patreon for the site so people could do so (it’s the little present icon in the upper right of the toolbar). I don’t advertise it because it’s not the primary goal and I don’t want you to feel like you’re not going to get my honest opinion unless you send money my way. You’ll get it either way. If you want to give me money though, who am I to say no?

Bonus: Genuine Connections Mean Free Drinks

Just this weekend I had more than a dozen people offer to buy me a drink because they wanted to say thanks and have a nice discussion about travel hacking and the world in general. Thanks to each and every one of you! You don’t have to buy my a drink, I’ll be glad to talk anyway. Of course, a free beer never hurts anything.

PS: I hear you “Blah, blah, blah, where’s the normal newsletter poindexter?” Don’t worry, we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled content tomorrow and this blog isn’t going anywhere any-time soon, sorry haters (I’ve honestly never heard from a hater but I’m sure you exist, somewhere).

A bonus for running the blog: A new friend bought me this “cheap champagne” while I was waiting to catch my flight. Special thanks to D C Domer of Bonvoy cookie fame.

Let’s chat about bonus miles today with an eye toward gaming the airline mileage programs:

1. Public links are floating around for no lifetime language (NLL), high offer American Express Delta credit cards. You can probably get one to appear yourself by logging into your SkyMiles account and going through the process of booking a paid ticket; you’ll see on offer the last page before paying. In case that’s a lot of work for you, a public landing page has surfaced to check eligibility and skip the dummy booking: Click here and enter your SkyMiles number and last name to check for your account(s). These offers include a statement credit for spending on Delta too. (Thanks to DoC for the link)

Don’t forget that American Express currently has a five credit card limit (not to be confused with the ten charge card limit for cards like the Green, Gold, Platinum, or Centurion cards, they don’t count for this). People have played games to get around the credit card limit in the past, but I’m not one of them.

2. Another round of shopping portal bonuses has surfaced, and Alaska, United, and Southwest are all playing. In case you want to the play the game and win, Visa or Mastercards from Giftcards.com are usually the easiest way to knock these out without really buying stuff; of course the virtual variants work too but come with slightly higher fees.

To save you time, I’ve calculated how much it’ll cost in card fees and shipping to get each shopping portal bonus so you can decide if it’s worth it to you.

UPDATE: Miles (awesome name, right?) pointed out that these fees were calculated for physical gift cards, not virtual gift cards. So, shipping needs to be factored in, also some of math on physical gift cards requires taking a penny off in order to hit the lower fee amount, despite the posted schedule; but that doesn’t affect portal thresholds since the fee is included in the portal payout. Shipping fees are $1.99 per card, so updating is easy enough, the tables are now correct, and the article has been corrected. 🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️

United

Bonus ThresholdGift Cards PurchasedFeesMilesCost Per Mile
$1001 x $100$5.94100 + 5000.990 cents per mile
$3501 x $100 + 1 x $250$12.88350 + 1,5000.696 cents per mile
$6001 x $100 + 2 x $250$19.82600 + 2,5000.639 cents per mile
corrected

Southwest

Bonus ThresholdGift Cards PurchasedFeesMilesCost Per Mile
$1251 x $125$5.94125 + 2501.584 cents per mile
$3001 x $50 + 1 x $250$12.88300 + 9001.073 cents per mile
$5501 x $50 + 2 x $250$19.82550 + 2,0000.777 cents per mile
corrected

Alaska

Bonus ThresholdGift Cards PurchasedFeesMilesCost Per Mile
$1501 x $150$5.94150 + 3001.237 cents per mile
$3001 x $50 + 1 x $250$10.88300 + 6001.208 cents per mile
$5002 x $250$13.88500 + 1,2000.816 cents per mile
corrected

There are two big caveats to remember: 1) I didn’t include any miles or cash back you’ll get from your credit card spend, and 2) I didn’t include potential liquidation fees that you may pay; hopefully that one is zero but YMMV.

At the highest threshold of each of those portal bonuses I’m a mileage buyer, even for United. But honestly, just barely for United.

Not the type of airline games I meant, but sure, why not?

I’m on vacation and have been since Friday afternoon, and I’m punch drunk on California beach vibes so I went experimental today. Without further ado, here’s my review of the new American Express Platinum card changes, in haiku form.

Huge annual fee
is unjustifiable
find another card

Clear reimbursement
could save 55 minutes per year
if you are lucky

Equinox credit
useful in almost no cities
use YouTube instead

One lifetime bonus?
terms and conditions are lies
bonus will come

New York Times is saved
by entertainment credit
otherwise no-one pays

Fine Hotels and Resorts
credit does not earn you status
better than nothing

Air incidentals
credit was hard to abuse
but was worth real cash

Lounge access is great
until you realize that
many cards grant it

Will not renew
personal cards will be golds
business cards will cease

Vacation vibe vibes.

1. Office Depot OfficeMax is offering 25% back in rewards on Happy Gift Cards, limit $25 back per account. In case you’re a Happy GC newb like I used to be, these cards are basically Visa debit cards that work only at certain stores, and there are multiple varieties that work at a different set of places. An example: Buy a $100 “Happy Treats” gift card which can be at GameStop and at a few other places, then go to GameStop and buy two $50 Steam cards with the Happy card. The Steam cards resell at 90-93%, so you can really come out ahead if you can make good use of OD/OM rewards and have more than one account. Often you can liquidate the Happy cards online too, no need to make an in-person trip in many cases.

If you don’t yet have a liquidation channel for manufactured spend gift cards, several good options include SCO GC and TheCardBay. Shane at SCO GC announced this weekend that they’re onboarding more gift card resellers focused on MS, so email him at [email protected] with the subject “JOIN” to sign up if you need another outlet.

2. Danny points out that there’s a really, really great $1,500 sign-up bonus for the no-annual fee “AmaZing Business” Visa Card, provided you live in Colorado or in California. Too bad the scope is so limited on this one. Side note: what name is worse than Office Depot OfficeMax? The answer is clearly AmaZing Business. Why the capital Z in the middle friends? WHY?

3. I had a request from reader Jeff for email subscriptions to daily blog posts, because for some reason it seems that a few of you think it’s a good idea to give me a direct line into your inbox. In case that description resembles you, you can sign up on the Email Subscriptions page.

A weird ice cream sundae that looks like an animated character -- M&Ms for eyes and nose, licorice for a mouth, and bananas with raspberries for arms and an extra banana sprouting out of the top of its head.
This abomination is apparently the Sponge Bob embodiment of a triple. I can’t say I understand, but I can say definitively that it’s scary.

Valentine’s Day shopping portal bonuses have arrived just in time for, err, Valentine’s Day. The bonuses are actually at high multiples for this time of the year, but they’re also low total payout so overall bang for the buck doesn’t quite reach the “11” setting.

  • Southwest, 1,000 miles for spending $300, or 500 miles for spending $100
  • AA, 500 miles for spending $150
  • United, 500 miles for spending $150
  • Alaska, 500 miles for spending $150

I would definitely hit the Southwest version of this first, or if you’re only going to do one, make it that one — you can buy a single Visa or Mastercard gift card at Giftcards.com for $100 and get effectively 5.5x plus the credit card spend, and the virtual Mastercard variety works really well in lots of “from home” techniques.

A dial with the label "VOLUME I" and settings between 0 and 11. The dial is pointed at 11.
Pictured: Better deals than this one.