Welcome back to Good Points, a Q&A about credit card points, the people who collect them, and where they take us. This week’s guest is Tony Restuccia, a self-described travelholic and self-made points and miles guru. You can follow his travels over on Instagram, and even DM him your questions if you’re looking to fund your own vacation with points.
What first got you hooked on collecting points?
The Chase Sapphire Reserve 100,000 point bonus (ed. note: now 50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months) was the game changer for me. Before that, I passively used my credit card, or even worse, foolishly used cash or debit cards. Once I got those 100,000 points, I was instantly hooked on rewards. I love to travel, I love a deal, and I love sticking it to the big banks, this hobby is the intersection of all three.
What are you trying to accomplish by collecting points? Pay for all of your small trips? Splurge on vacations that you wouldn’t otherwise take? Somewhere in between?
Generally, I do this for travel flexibility, but the endgame for me is epic, long, luxury vacations. As a person who enjoys travel, and as an Avgeek since childhood, I tend to hoard my points for long haul business flights. While friends around my age (mid-twenties) may backpack across Europe staying in hostels and flying Ryanair, you can find me in the front of a Lufthansa plane, and enjoying myself in a Hyatt or Marriott. And that’s the real thing; comfortable travel done affordably. All it takes is a little thinking ahead.
What credit cards do you currently hold, and why’d you get them?
I’m a firm believer that overkill is underrated, and my credit card holdings reflect that. I sign up for the lower level hotel cards with free night awards to bring down vacation costs, and its almost impossible to not get value from the free nights they offer. I made a massive mistake and didn’t understand the chase 5/24 rule initally, so I haven’t been able to get the Chase Freedom card yet. Almost all my spending goes on my Chase Sapphire Reserve, while gas station purchases goes on my Citi Premier Card to get 3x points on gas, and groceries (ed. note: at U.S. supermarkets only, up to $6,000 per year) goes on my Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express to maximize those at 2x.
Here’s my full list of cards, and why I got them. (Editor’s note: not all of the welcome offers Tony references are still available, so be sure to double check before applying).
The Business Platinum® Card from American Express - 100,000 point bonus (not currently available), lounge access (Priority pass, Delta Sky Lounges, Amex Centurion lounges. The card pays for itself between Amex offers, up to $200 in airline credits, and up to $200 in Dell statement credits, annually.
Chase Sapphire Reserve - 100,000 bonus (now 50,000), 3x points on travel and dining, Priority Pass lounge access, and most importantly, travel insurance.
IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card - Annual free night.
The World of Hyatt Credit Card - Annual free night at a category 1-4 property.
Citi Premier Card - 60,000 point sign up bonus after spending $4,000 in three months, and flexible currency.
Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard - 50,000 point sign up bonus after spending $2,500 in three months.
Citi Aadvantage Business - 70,000 point sign up bonus (ed. note: no longer available).
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card/Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Business Credit Card- Alaska miles are tough to come by, and super useful. Also their companion pass is an amazing deal
Amex Starwood Preferred - Free night up to 35k points (ed. note: no longer available)
Amex Starwood Preferred Business (now Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card) - Free night up to 35k points
Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express - 0% APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers; then a variable APR of 15.24% to 26.24% applies.
Barclay Aviator Red - 60k points with one purchase plus the annual fee, so like $96 total.
Are you planning to get the Chase Freedom Unlimited too, for 1.5% back on all purchases?
I’m actually not. Currently I’m at least a year away from Chase cards being a viable option again because of 5/24, so I’ll prioritize one of the more lucrative sign up bonuses. I’m eyeing the Ink Business Unlimited Credit Card, or if they offer 70k sign up bonus again, I’d love to pick up a United card. United has an easy to use portal and lots of partner availability, and I really value their miles.
What point redemption are you most proud of?
It’s more a series of redemptions that amounted to my #pointscation. I redeemed hundreds of thousands of miles across five programs to take an epic, mostly free vacation to Europe. For my efforts, I got a an 18 day vacation, visiting Stockholm, Berlin, Dresden, Munich, Vienna, Salzburg, and Zurich. All the nights were spent in luxury hotels like The Grand Hyatt Berlin, and I even flew round trip business class, which included my first time flying in the upper deck of a 747, and getting to ride in the throne seat on Swiss air. The trip’s value was well over $15,000, but only cost me $2,000 out of pocket, which was mostly spent on food, train tickets, and trinkets.
Say someone’s planning a trip to Europe similar to yours, but they don’t have enough points to book nice hotels and nice flights. Which would you recommend prioritizing?
This depends on the location. If you are from the east coast, I’d splurge on good hotels in centrally located areas. A six or seven hour flight is manageable in economy. However, if you’re making the journey from west of the Mississippi, then you’ve got to splurge on those flights. You’re looking at 10+ hours in economy, which just saps the life out of you. What you do from there is get on a rotation for hotels. Split your time 67/33 between hostels and decent hotels, that way you save money, but still have that one day to have some privacy to take care of yourself
What point redemption are you least proud of?
It still haunts me to this day, squandering that 100,000 point Sapphire Reserve bonus, relatively speaking. I booked 5 nights in the Park Plaza in London, as well as 3 nights in the Sofitel in Montreal. Great vacations, however, I only got 1.5 cents per point, whereas I can easily squeeze 3+ cents out of Chase Ultimate Rewards today. In some cases, I’ve gotten over 7 cents per point.
Where’d you get 7 cents per point? I’m jealous.
One-way business class flights are egregiously priced, sometimes at the same price as the round trip ticket. I redeemed 70k united miles Zurich- Boston, in the famous throne seat no less. These tickets retail at around $5,000. Same goes for my flight out to Stockholm from Boston, which was in the upper deck of a Lufthansa 747-8.
Do you chase status at a specific airline or hotel chain, or do you just shop around for the best deals, locations, and flights?
I don’t chase, I never find its worth it, and to be honest with all my lounge access I don’t need a low level status. And I find high level status unattainable for most people who don’t travel for work. Yes, it would be nice to have my own personal concierge with United or Delta, but I think I’ll live.
What’s the first card you recommend to people who are interested in getting into points, and why?
Definitely the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, along with the Chase Freedom. The latter will get you rotating 5% cash back categories (ed. note: on up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter that you activate), and the former gives you the ability to pool and transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Prioritize the Chase cards before you succumb to the 5/24 rule. You’ll also want the Citi Premier and the Amex Every day. Once you have all these, you have almost all transferable points in the main currencies (except Capital One). This is going to give you the most flexibility in your travels, and that the key to this hobby.
What’s one piece of advice you wish you’d known before you got into points collecting?
Understand and plan around the 5/24 rule. Chase personal and business cards (yes business cards; Its free to get a FEIN from the IRS. And they don’t count as a hard pull from Amex and Citi) offer the best transfer partners in my opinion, so prioritize them.
How do you keep track of things like points, bonus categories, free nights, and annual fee dates?
Nothing fancy, Google Calendar and a spreadsheet will suffice. People always say that they don’t have time to organize, but that’s BS, it only takes a few minutes a week to stay organized.
What’s the next trip you have planned?
I’m heading to Asia for my birthday. I managed to find a Cathay Pacific business flight out of Newark to Hong Kong. The amazing part here is that I booked this flight using British Airways Avios, most of which i acquired through the bonkers 90,000 point Iberia promotion earlier this year. So essentially, this flight cost me $400, which is an absolute steal by any measurement. From there, it’s off to Singapore to stay at the Mariana Bay Sands, one of the most famous hotels in the world, though sadly not bookable with points. Then I’m wrapping up in Shanghai with a flight back in Hainan business class, which you can get by redeeming 50k Alaska miles. All of this possible with a little foresight, diverse credit card reward points, and above all, flexibility.
Let’s finish off with a few rapid fire questions. I give you enough points to take three flights anywhere in the world in economy, or one flight anywhere in the world in first class. What do you choose?
One first class long hall. If you can get 13+ hours in Singapore Suites, Cathay first, or Qantas first class, you take it no question asked. I’ll take economy around the local area once I get done with first class. I did 13 hours in a LAX to TPE united flight last year with my girlfriend in economy, and I vowed never again.
Top three items on your travel bucket list?
- Monaco Gran Prix (it falls close to my birthday, as an added bonus).
- Fly in a Singapore Suite.
- Visit Ho Chi Minh City.
Favorite city you’ve ever visited?
Obviously, the big cities like London, Tokyo, or Sydney were my absolute favorites, but the city that surprised me the most was Vienna. It’s grossly underrated in my opinion. Amazing history, great museums, surprisingly good and diverse food.
Zurich. Huge airport, amazing Swiss business lounge. The lounge had a chef cooking hot food, along with all the other usual things.
Berlin-Tegal. That a city as great as Berlin has that as an airport is a national embarrassment for the country.
Favorite hotel you’ve ever stayed in?
Hotel Bristol in Vienna. Centrally located next to Stephenplatz, across the street from the Vienna Opera and a stones throw away the Hofburg and Naschmarkt. The best part was I got the 5th night free due to SPG redemption rules. It’s over a hundred years old, and has hosted royalty on a number of occasions. My shower was made out of marble! It really was elegant and memorable.
Airplane drink of choice?
In domestic economy, water. In international business: the best whiskey you’ve got. Neat.
Three items you can’t travel without?
A passport case. I received it for a Christmas gift. It’s just a leather folder with a map of the world drawn on it, with enough room to carry both priority passes, my AmEx platinum, as well as my Global Entry card, all the necessities.
Suitcase of choice?
Osprey Porter Travel Bag, 46L. It’s overhead approved, and can fit 4 days worth of stuff if you are smart.
Can you sleep on a plane?
In economy, not even with an Ambien. Even with a lie flat bed its still a struggle.
Window seat or aisle seat?
Aisle all day, the people will live without my posting a picture of the wing.
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