FTU Q&As: credit cards, Delta, cheap Asia flights, favorite countries, and more

FTU is a delightful information exchange. I learned a lot and reciprocated where possible. I owe several answers so am sharing them with you all:

Why do you fly Delta?

Because Delta works best for me at this point in time, given my personal situation. Diamond status is pretty sweet in many respects. And most of the very smart people at FTU are United flyers, I am not going to outsmart them, so best to till a different field.

Will you still fly Delta if the rumored big changes happen?

Since I am NYC-based, I could quite easily shift my travel to United with a status challenge. Then I would have United to love and hate instead of Delta. Since the year after the merger Delta has made no efforts to show they value me as a customer. Million miler status is nearly meaningless since they only grant pseudo-elite silver status, so shooting to finish 1M and get all the way to 2M is too far away to be sentimental. NWA inter-Asia 20k awards and booking those on nwa.com I am sentimental. Delta I feel little.

Where to look for cheap flights in Southeast Asia?

zuji and utiket (courtesy of Wandering Aramean), see this post for more. Air Asia is awesome.

But how about China?

ctrip, elong and travelzen. This is critical because most non-China travel websites only are able to book full-fare tickets for China domestic flights.  See this post for more.

How to plan a trip to Bhutan?

You need an agent, going local is easy and cuts out the middleman. Only hard part is getting your bank to send a wire transfer to a bank account in Bhutan that has little more than a bank name and “Kingdom of Bhutan,” they will keep wanting more address info from you. See here for agents in Bhutan, North Korea and Iran. And a reader mentioned that the airline with the coolest tail in the business, Druk Air, now has online booking, removing a big headache.

South Asia 100

Children in Bhutan

What are your favorite countries that you have visited?

Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Tunisia. But I have never regretted visiting any and always find plenty to love.

How do you book rental cars in the US?

Costco Travel first, then get a baseline from Hotwire and work Priceline. AutoSlash gets a lot of press and I understand that it is supposed to lower prices over time as they apply various discounts, but whenever I try them the initial sticker shock compared to Costco is too high and I have not had had the time to see them through to the end.

Why do you use cash back cards?

For me, I do not care about so-called ‘aspirational travel,’ in the sense that my aspirations are about the destinations I visit, not the plane seat that gets me there or the bed I sleep in. That’s just me. So I value a first or business class award little more than economy and have never redeemed for anything but economy.

Cash I value. Cash in the bank I value. Cash in my brokerage account that I can invest now and potentially have a large return I value. Cash that airlines/hotels cannot willfully devalue or even cancel I value.

Many investors would be thrilled with guaranteed 2% monthly returns. That is a rational calculation that travelers should weigh against the often emotional consideration of other types or earning and rewards, where much of the value is perceived, the old ‘how much would you actually pay for that $10,000 ticket?’ debate. If that percevied value is higher than the rational value of cash back, then go with the perceived.

Burma Sri Lanka South India 075

Tea fields in Sri Lanka

Tell me more about the NY/NJ freeze.

email me or attend next year. 😉 New reader V.M. already had his first success this morning, TUesday (the capitalization is an inside joke for credit card junkies).

Tell me about the Chase Sapphire Preferred and British Airways credit cards, I haven’t heard much about those.

Just kidding, I made that up. But I did get to stroke my first ever Sapphire Preferred card, melted me like a Bill Clinton handshake. Though no surprise that it lost in the first round of the great debate.

See you all next year!

Algeria Tunisia Libya 060

Yes, that is THE cantina, Tunisia

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Comments

  1. Thanks for posting those websites we talked about! It was great meeting you and enjoying lunch with you and others on Saturday!

  2. What do you mean by “guaranteed 2% monthly returns”

    That sounds like you are making 2% on your total investment amount every month. But with a 2% cashback card, you are given 2% of the transaction amount, and then it is up to you to find an investment that can yield 2% monthly return, or 24% annual (compounding ignored)

    I haven’t heard of too many investments with a 24% annual guaranteed yield…

  3. @Sean – a pleasure to meet you as well.

    @Leif Karlen – the analogy is not perfect but I am treating the 2% as money coming in like income, with the underlying expenses that ‘earned’ it as the investment. Yes, this is a simple interest analysis of one period, the 2% does not later compound unless you then find an investment. But the comparison is to earning miles and points that certainly do not earn any kind of interest or compounding either. Choosing miles and points over a 2% cash back card means, in a rational sense, that you should value the potential future benefit of the miles and points earned per dollar spent at more than the present value (to you) of 2 cents. Do you agree?

  4. The Capitol One Venture was one of my first credit cards, and I got alot of value out of it with the 2% travel credits. When the annual fee came due, I cancelled it since I had so many credit cards at that point. Kinda wish I had kept it now. At the time I was annoyed that I had gotten it before they offered the 100k mile match. I had ideas of applying for it again but haven’t gotten around to it.

    BTW, did you see any good Roman ruins in Tunisia?

  5. @guera – oh my, that is a question to get me going. Where to see beautifully preserved Roman ruins to rival Italy and have them all to yourself? North Africa. I was in ecstasy. I shared dazzling Dougga with a few goats, walked the El-Jem Colosseum, and saw Jugurtha’s Table rise on the horizon.

    Carthage is a 15 minute drive from Tunis Airport and down the coast is the Punic ruins at Kerkouane.

    Only thing I didn’t like in Tunisia was the bland French-style breakfasts. 😉

    Some pics of the Roman sites:
    http://bit.ly/JNWBeL
    http://bit.ly/Kq2Frv
    http://bit.ly/Je9ldF
    http://bit.ly/K84DD7
    http://bit.ly/ItYa1d
    http://bit.ly/Je9ttE
    http://bit.ly/K84ZJV

  6. @Rapid Travel Chai:

    Thanks for your follow-up post. Yes, I agree that choosing 2 miles/dollar instead of 2% cash back implies that you value the present value of those miles at more than 1 cent each.

    I don’t know if anyone has calculated an informal historical “inflation rate” for airline miles, but I’m sure it would be much higher than for dollars. Let’s assume it is 12%, versus 2% for dollars. Let’s also assume that you were to invest cash in an investment as risky as an airline, you would demand a 10% real return rate. Hence, you should demand about 20% more miles to be indifferent between cash/miles if you are planning to spend them one year later, compared to if you were going to spend them today.

    BTW I just discovered your blog and already found some interesting links on it- thanks!

  7. Thanks for the Tunisia links. There is one thing that is noticibly absent in your pictures–PEOPLE! I love it. I visited the Museum of Roman Civilization in Rome (really it’s in the suburbs in the EUR neighborhood) several years ago. It has models of the best roman ruins around the Mediterranean, and many of them are located (as you well know) in North Africa and in Turkey. It gave me a lot of travel ideas.

    I can put up with the bland breakfasts if the coffee is good.

  8. @guera – some of my favorite travel sights are the ones where I have to wake up the caretaker to unlock or like these North African sites, where I am alone and can lose myself in the peaceful majesty.

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