The Latest In Travel Hacking, “Volcanic Ash Karma” Edition


I lived in Seattle from 2006-2008 without a car, which worked well about 80% of the time. The other 20% of the time, I spent a lot of time waiting on street corners for the bus to arrive.

It was frequently late, but once in a while, I’d get to the bus stop right when the bus was pulling up. My friends and I called this “good bus karma” which we ascribed to previous 40-minute waits when we had just missed it.

Last month during the British Airways strike, I walked around a deserted Heathrow airport terminal with departure signs reading CANCELLED. Meanwhile, my flight went out as planned, albeit on a chartered “EuroAtlantic” flight where the meal consisted of a paper bag filled with bananas (seriously) and half a bottle of one-euro red wine. I was grateful for the bananas, but mostly for the flight.

Having your flight go out on time when 70% of the others are canceled or delayed is “good travel karma”—but just like waiting for the bus in Seattle, sometimes it goes the other way.

Last week I attempted to go to Belarus and Lithuania, and got stuck in Vancouver instead. Now, of all the places in the world to be stuck, Vancouver is a pretty good one. But nevertheless, it wasn’t where I had planned to be, and I had three tickets stacked together that all depended on the Vancouver-Frankfurt flight.

Instead of going to Frankfurt and then further east, I ended up taking the bus down to Seattle and then the train home to Portland the next day. So much for Belarus and Lithuania… we’ll just have to make another attempt shortly.

Latest In Travel Hacking

Let’s talk about travel hacking—strategies and tactics for seeing the world on a budget. From free elite status in Japan to a bunch of new mileage offers, here are a few things I’ve been noticing recently.

Naturally, I wrote about each of these to my Frequent Flyer Master list first. At some point later in the year I may get my act together and create a more active membership site for fellow travel hackers, but as mentioned yesterday, that will probably be a while due to everything else that’s going on. For now it’s all free here, or in a more timely fashion if you have the low-cost guide.


35,000 Points Bonus on AA Citi Cards. Credit cards aren’t for everyone, but after a drought in good new offers, a few have returned. AA has upped the bonus to 30k on its classic “get-10-a-year” cards. Choose from Visa, Mastercard, or AmEx.

30,000-35,000 AA Citi Card Bonus

The new AA cards offer an additional 5,000 bonus later in the year if you spend enough—that’s a free flight, with either 5,000 or 10,000 miles left over for something else. I got six of these last year at the 25,000 level for a total of 150,000 points. (And before someone asks, my credit score is above the 90th percentile; read this post for the background.)

15,000 AmEx Membership Rewards points. Here’s another new card from American Express—with no annual fee the first year, and can be rolled into another free card with no credit check for the second year and beyond.

15,000 AmEx Points

1,500 U.S. Air Miles.U.S. Airways is offering 1,500 miles to new members who join by July 31. Use promo code NM15 when signing up.

1,500 New U.S. Air Miles

2,500 BMI Mile Bonus. The same deal with BMI—join with a new account, start out with a bonus.

2500 New BMI Miles

Priority Club 1,000 Points Bonus. If you’re staying in a Priority Club hotel, you’ll get extra points with every stay. (The link says it ends April 30th, but it has actually been extended through June.)

1,000 Points Extra for Every Stay

U.S. Air 100% Bonus. Last fall our readership earned at least 10 million miles through the infamous “buy stickers, get tons o’ miles” promo. That one is long gone, but U.S. Air reopened the door to a generous 100% bonus when transferring miles between accounts.

Transfer Miles for 100% Bonus

Just because it’s US Air doesn’t mean you have to live in the U.S.; it’s open to anyone. You can also earn a 25% bonus for being a US Air elite—another free offer we shared with FFM owners a while back.

500 AA Miles. Register for AA’s Mileage Mall and get 500 miles. Easy, free.

500 AA Miles for Any Account

Free Silver Elite Status with JAL Hotels. Because you never know when you’ll be in Japan and need a complimentary newspaper. (Right?)

JAL Elite Status

Free 250 Continental Miles. Continental has had a lot of these lately—you look at a web page and earn 250-500 miles each time. Here’s the latest.

250 Continental Miles

And by the way, if you live in the U.S., did you know you can earn 50,000 miles a year by opening two checking accounts? No credit card required. It’s done on a calendar year basis, so you can do it now and then again in January. Here’s the personal one, and here’s the business one.


Little by little, these things add up: see this screenshot of the current balances from my most active accounts. I have another 75,000 or so lying around in some older accounts, and regularly top up the balances whenever they get low. If you don’t live in the U.S. or don’t like credit cards, you can still earn at least 50,000 miles a year without much difficulty, and another 50,000+ if you put some time into it.

Sometimes I find myself wondering whether these things are worth it or not. Then I use the miles to book a First Class Cathay Pacific flight to Asia that retails at $8,000 and I think, oh, yes it is.

I hope at least one or two of these rocks your world today, or at least boosts your mileage account a bit. If so, tell someone about AONC—new readers are welcome anytime.

And if you have a question or tip of your own to share, of course, feel free to do so in the comments section. Now, as to how to get to Belarus…


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  • Etsuko says:

    Even if you don’t travel as much as Chris does, collecting miles is totally worth it! Last March we went back to Japan (family of four) and 3 out of 4 tickets were booked with mileage and people were impressed by that. I was like, “well you should read this blog if you want to get more free flights…”

    I’ll check out one of these deals you posted.
    Thanks Chris!


  • linda esposito says:


    I get heady reading your itinerary–I think I’ll grab some more coffee to digest all this great info. Thanks for the useful mileage tips. I’m going to check out the AA Citi Card, and btw, my colleague Wanda would like to thank you as well.

    Enjoy Belarus, and hope your “good bus Karma” prevails!

  • Olivier says:

    The Citicards/AA deal was great while it lasted (which was until Nov/Dec 2009). Please refer to Flyertalk’s thread “Citibak – the jig is up…” I hope that I’m wrong…

  • Chris says:

    I think they are tightening up, but it’s still working OK for some people. I just had another 25k bonus post a couple of weeks ago. I don’t think I’ll do as many AA cards this year, though — probably just enough for 100k or so, to play it safe.

  • daniel says:

    I believe with all the miles karma your getting from from this post you’ll end up with one of John Travolta’s planes – thanks for the tips, this will keep me busy for days

  • Susan says:

    Thanks! My husband and I bought your ebook and ended up with over 50,000 miles and are about to get another 10,000 with some tips you gave. I’m going to check these out, thanks!

  • Marilyn says:

    How do you get around the annual fee after the 1st year on the AA Citi Cards? Do cancel the card after the 1st year? Seems like a fantastic deal, just wanted to get your input on the annual fee situation.

  • Devin says:

    Hey Chris,

    Thanks for the tips. To be honest, while I should be good at travel hacking by now and I understand its value, I still have not focused on upping the mile that I have and haven’t figured out how to combine miles really get much benefit from any of it. I just keep telling myself one of these days. Thanks for the inspiration. I am getting closer.

  • Brock LeMieux says:

    Hey Chris!
    Thanks for more inspiring and informative information. This is my first comment on your blog but I’ve been a faithful lurker for many months. Thanks for changing my life! We were in Spain around the same time this past fall but never could get together. Keep on keeping on and know that you’ve always got a place to saty in Amsterdam.

  • Adam Kornfield says:

    Hey Chris,
    Thanks for all the travel hacking and tips. I tried to the coin ordering from the US Mint this week!

    United currently has an unwritten promotion for their Visa card. They give a 50,000 mile signup bonus and waive the annual fee for the first year. 5,000 more miles and you get a free trip to Europe. A bunch of my friends have signed up, its a great deal.

    Since its slightly tricky getting the card, I give a thorough description how to do it on my website. I know you don’t like links in the body, so if you click on my site and scroll down you’ll see it.

    Thanks for all the writing, look forward to seeing you in NYC next time!


  • Daniel Mick says:

    Hey Chris, wanted to share some traveling hacking updates with you and for others, especially with the AA card usage:

    Last January after your million mile post, I got an AA credit card and 25,000 points. I used it as my sole card, putting every purchase I could on it, plus adding points from other programs. I closed it in January since the annual fee is $85. They would NOT budge on waiving the fee; I tried every negotiating tactic in the book. They DID offer 3,500 bonus miles if I kept the card but paid the $85. Great deal but I didn’t have the spare money at the time.

    Last week, however, I applied for the 25,000 point AA Amex (to double-up on points with my new Costco membership). Despite my previous AA MC account being closed, the site allowed me to use it as a proof/reference for an accelerated approval! I got approved for the Amex in seconds, at double my previous limit, without submitting any of the proofs that Amex usually requires for cards! That’s a big deal right now since I

  • Daniel Mick says:

    since I was between jobs for months and have only been making minimum wage during training for my current job; there was no way I could get the 25,000 platinum status by submitting those pay stubs.

    I may apply for an AA MC again once my Amex points clear, and cancel them both again before the annual fees kick in.

    Finally, while between the AA cards I shifted all purchases to my Amtrak card. Amtrak points redeem for a half to a third as much as airline miles, e.g., Portland to Chicago, 2 zones, is only 8,000 points. I love travel by train and am sure many of your other readers do too. Lots of other mini-hacks through Amtrak also.

    BTW, stopped by the Waffle Window Saturday. =)

  • Matthew Stewart says:

    Hi Chris,
    Thanks for the great info, that JAL Elite Status offer was timely. We are about to head to San Francisco and were going to book into the Hotel Nikko there. We’ll be able to book under this offer. So, you don’t have to be in Japan to get the free newspaper! there are JAL and Nikko hotels around the world.

    On a related note, can you, or others in the AONC tribe, point me in the direction of some good credit rating information seeing as that’s important for taking advantage of these offers. I will be moving to the States later in the year so would love to know some good hacks to establishing a rating from nothing.

  • Luke says:

    @Adam – I just signed up for the 50,000 mile one you mentioned. Thanks for the tip!

    Chris – How did you sign up for 6 of the Citi / AA cards last year. Is that biz + individual and also MC, Visa and Amex?

  • Etsuko says:


    Interesting question – where are you moving from??
    Enjoy the stay in Hotel Nikko in San Fransisco!
    I’ve stayed there a few times in the past.


  • Jessica Sideways says:

    I’m hoping that I can join a proper Naturopathic Women’s Health clinic once I get my ND so I can afford to travel the world. And I do want to go to some obscure places in the world too… like North Korea and Chernobyl.

  • Mike Choi says:

    Hello Chris

    This might be a bit off topic from traveling hacking, but the “volcanic ash” in your title made me think of my brother’s recent trip to helsinki that was canceled due to the volcano erupting. I was wondering if you have ever purchased “trip insurance” for any of your trips? Or what is your thought on trip insurance? Would you purchase trip insurance for lets say you have a mega big trip for hiking to everest or trekking mt Kilimanjaro.


  • Steven says:


    I am happily planning a trip to Europe next year. I will use the 100,000+ miles I received from the Chase – British Airways card you told us “Frequent Flyer Masters” about. Thanks so much for the information. It will be so much fun booking a flight! I can’t wait to go!! Keep up the good work!

  • Silvia says:

    Thanks for sharing your “bus-karma” story. I got one for you:
    My best friend Judith who passed away of cancer, always, always, always found a parking-spot. Christmas day at the mall, sold-out Bon Jovi (in the 80’s) concert, you get the idea. It lives on as “Judith-luck” or “parking-karma” and works anywhere. So next time you get the perfect parking place, thank her and pass it on 🙂

  • Adam Kornfield says:

    @Luke That’s awesome! 50k miles is a great deal.

    I have the card already, otherwise I’d definitely sign up!

  • Web Designer Scott says:

    Hey Chris, thanks for the new frequent flyer tips. I tried applying for 2 Citi AA cards and they approved one but denied the other, and I have a really good credit score. They said I needed to wait a full year before applying again, but I might try with the Visa you mentioned in this post.

    You mentioned a membership site…I build membership sites in WordPress if you need help with yours email me 😉

    Keep the great info coming!

  • The Dame says:

    I start my travels in a couple weeks. I dont have credit cards and Im not a citizen of the country Ive been living in for the past two years. How do I rack up the miles wit my Qantas account?

    My dream has always been to fly long haul first class!

  • The Dame says:

    Is your FF master book only relevent to US people? I have British Passport but am based in Australia with Qantas, Velocity and KrisFlyer with Singapore Air FF accounts.

  • Erica says:

    I have the opportunity to get a debit card with my bank that offers mileage. One is for Continental, the other United. I’m planning on doing most of my traveling outside the US, starting this fall. Which one will be the most advantageous? Thanks!

  • Ben says:

    Thanks for the tips!
    Traveling is my long-time dream, soon-to-be reality, so I’m just getting signed up for these programs.
    If anyone is grabbing that Chase preferred debit card, be sure to register for Continental’s Mileathon promo. It looks like an easy 2500 – 5000 miles can be added through this depending on which sponsored activities you participate in. (I signed up, registered for e-mails, and nabbed the Chase card. Expecting 2500 miles for that.)
    I might try to beef up this bonus by sending flowers to myself at the office. Only for the miles, of course.

  • Wilson Usman says:

    Wow Chris this is great karma, I just can’t wait to I start traveling this will be so helpful.

  • Cheryl in Europe says:

    We need a European travel hacking expert – the airmiles deals you mention are never available in Europe. Do you know someone local who can spot similar good deals we can make the most of ?

  • Chris says:

    Many of the deals mentioned above are available worldwide — and in fact, most travel hacking folks look at the worldwide market irrespective of where they live.

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