Award Toolbox

There are many tools I find indispensable when planning or executing my travels. Here is a list of the ones I consider the most useful.

Award Wallet – storing the loyalty program account info

TripCase – storing my trip itineraries

Google Flights – finding the best cash prices for flights

Momondo – booking cash flights – helps me decide which frequent flyer program I should credit my flights to

Awardace – which loyalty program to use for an award booking

AwardMapper – finding award hotel nights

Trivago – finding best prices for cash hotel stays – booking non-chain hotel stays




My next trip…Birding in Latin America

I usually start planning a trip about 11 months ahead which is when flights open. The way I construct the trip is by finding awards for the longest segments and then filling up the shorter connections. This particular trip is a bit of “last minute” for me as it starts in 3 months.

Here’s the map:

I’ve always been attracted to the biodiversity hotspots so Costa Rica was always on top of my dream list. I’ll spend 3 weeks in this little country with big fauna. Then I move “next door” to Panama which is another birding heaven.

After a few days in Cartagena I will proceed to another great biodiversity destination – Galapagos Islands. I hope 10 days should be enough and Im hoping to score a last minute cruise, otherwise will island hop.

Finally, I wanted to visit the southern tip of South America (Terra del Fuego) so I will base myself at Punta Arenas for a while before flying back to Australia.


Flights from Melbourne to Costa Rica are booked using Lifemiles as are the trips within Central America (apart from Costa Rica to Panama hop which I paid cash for). Flights within the South America are either on Avianca (redeeming Lifemiles purchased some time ago for 1.4 cent per mile) or on LAN (some using Advantage miles and some are paid flights).


Cheap Avios on

Test your understanding of Spanish and get Avios at a decent price of 1 eurocent per point.



How much?

To get the lowest price buy either the 4,000 Avios or the 8,000 Avios package and use a code VIVEGRPN to get 20 euro off giving you effective price of under 1.2 US cents per point.


Why buy?

Avios are great for short-haul flights as both British Airways and Iberia have distance-based charts.



You can search for award flights here.

Some examples:

Sydney (SYD) to Melbourne (MEL) 4,500 Avios plus A$17.50 in taxes.

New York City (JFK) to Boston (BOS) – 7,500 Avios in Economy (15,000 in Business) plus U$5.60 in taxes.

In general, I would not use Avios for any flights longer than 3,000 miles.

You can check the distance between any city pairs here.



Is IHG loyalty program for you?

It is by pure coincidence that so many of my recent posts are about IHG. They happen to have a new Accelerate promo which netted me a lot of points in the past. They released what is definitely the cheapest award nights promo, PointBreaks, which I have used over and over. And they are selling their points at one of the lowest prices ever.

Curiously my loyalty started with IHG Rewards Club  so it may be the program I have a soft spot for.

But is IHG Rewards Club right for you?

It, of course, depends.

If you happen to be staying in Holiday Inns or Crowne Plazas  by booking it through third-party websites (,, Expedia, Orbitz and various others online travel agents, OTAs) then YES!


Firstly, IHG Rewards Club guarantees the lowest price. If you are like me you would check the offers on Trivago and work out the lowest price available. IHG’s price should be no higher.

By booking via IHG website you earn loyalty points – 10 points per every U$1 spent on the nightly rate (excluding taxes). Remember that 1,000 IHG Rewards Club is worth about U$7 so a U$100 stay will effectively net you 7% rebate. This is not as good as the 10% you get with but bear with me.

You can only earn points if you book via IHG. Stays booked via OTAs won’t get you any points.

Members of the IHG Rewards Club who book via IHG website or using the IHG app get free internet. It breaks my heart when I see people who booked via OTAs pay for hotel internet during the check-out.

You cannot earn any bonus points through Accelerate or any other IHG promos unless you book direct.

And finally, by being loyal you can earn elite status.

After 10 stays you become IHG Gold member. Further stays will get you Platinum status. And the ultimate status in IHG is Spire.

This table illustrates the perk which come with the IHG status.

I happen to be a Platinum Elite. I always book the cheapest room knowing I get an upgrade. I get 500 welcome points and 50% bonus points. There is nothing in particular about the Spire Elite which would make me go out of my way to choose IHG as opposed to Hilton, Starwood or Marriott given I hold top status in each (Hilton Diamond, SPG Platinum and Marriott Platinum, respectively). Ultimately I compare the value proposition of staying at an IHG property with whatever else is available. I factor in the location, lounge access, points earnings and nightly rate and make a decision where to stay.

Perhaps my adventures in award travel started with the IHG because they offered a short-cut to status – I became Gold Elite after my first stay.

Until end of August you can get IHG Gold Elite too without a need for 10 stays – see the offer here.

Good luck and see you!

How to buy IHG Rewards points


Given the current IHG Rewards Club promo for purchasing the points I thought it may be a good idea to write a step-by-step guide.

But first a bit of advice – don’t buy the points just because they are on sale. Many programs offer bonuses or discounts and IHG is one of the few which runs some promo almost every month and this year alone has offered 100% bonus on purchased points twice.

However, if you want to book the 5,000 PointBreaks (or any other award nights which normally cost between 10,000 and 60,000 points per night) and have no or not enough points then it may make sense to top up your account.

  1. You have to have an IHG Rewards Club account – if you don’t have one yet sign up here.
  2. Open the promo page here.
  3. Populate the pop-up window with your IHG details.
  4. Select number of points you want to purchase.
  5. Enter your credit card details and billing address.
  6. Check the box that you’ve read Terms and Conditions.
  7. Click on Pay Now button.

Voila! Your points should be in your account in 24-48 hours.



Free Marriott Rewards points!

This won’t make you rich but if you are 2,000 points away from an award night Marriott is running two offers.

(If you are not a member yet contact me and I’ll send you a referral link which will get you up to 10,000 free MR points)


Get 1,000 MR points for connecting your Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts with Marriott Rewards here.


Get 1,000 MR points for signing up for VisaCheckout here.

IHG PointBreaks – stay for U$35 a night!

Every 3 months InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG) releases a list of properties where you can stay for 5,000 IHG points.

The current list of PointBreaks properties is here.

These can be booked for stays till October 31.

If you are not a member of the IHG Rewards Club you can join here.

You can earn points by staying at the IHG properties, participate in very lucrative promos (click here to view the current Accelerate promo).

You can also purchase IHG points outright at any time and as it happens IHG is currently running a promo offering up to 80% bonus points.



New IHG Accelerate promo now live!

IHG stands for InterContinental Hotel Group and includes a dozen of brands ranging from budget (Holiday Inn Express) to luxury (Intercontinental). The other well known brands are Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn.

Every quarter IHG launches a new global promo for the members of their loyalty programme, IHG Rewards Club (which you can join here).

Each member gets their individual set of tasks ranging from easy 500 points for simply downloading the IHG app if you are a new member.

To view your offer register for Accelerate here.

In the previous quarter participating in the Accelerate promo has earned me 39,000 points for 6 nights (in addition to points earned in the usual fashion i.e. 10 points per U$ spent plus 50% bonus for being an IHG Platinum elite member). Just to give you an idea of the value IHG frequently sells their points with 100% bonus for U$7 per 1,000 points. So 39,000 points would be worth almost U$280. My last quarter stays (I have been travelling through Alberta, British Columbia and Yukon) cost me ~U$500 and resulted in a haul of 48k IHG Rewards Club points (worth ~U$340) which means the average cost per night was ~U$27.

My new targeted offer is shown below:


It looks like I can get 43k points (I have no plans to visit NYC) in as few as 4 nights of which 2 have to be either Friday and Saturday or Saturday and Sunday.


Have you checked your offer?


How I used to travel and what changed

Five years is a long time. And things change. They certainly did for me.

I vaguely recall what my trips were before. There would be a destination, some way of getting there and back, and some accommodation for the duration of the stay. Being based in the UK during the onset of the cheap airlines (PC term these days is “low-cost airlines”) any overseas travel involved either EasyJet or Ryanair. Except going to France which usually involved Eurostar (train) or Eurotunnel (also train but you sit in your own car). Flights were obviously limited-service (extra charge for luggage, good onboard, etc) and accommodation was commonly via

Fast forward to my current strategy. I am no longer based in the UK – I call Australia home. This is far, very far from anywhere (even New Zealand is 3 hours away by air; North America is 15 hrs away and the UK is over 20 hrs away). Flights are mostly one-way segments and flown on full-service airlines. Short-haul flights, anything under 4 hours, are in Economy. Anything longer than that and/or overnight is flown in Business, sometimes First. Stays are booked with hotels chains earning loyalty points and elite status except if it out in the wilderness in which case I opt for (getting 10% rebate toward future bookings). If we need a car rental it is done via unless there is some fabulous promo from one of the major players (Hertz, Avis, National, Europcar) in which case I would still use auto to track my booking in case the rate gets better.

How did this change come about?

Well, I have (re-)discovered loyalty programs. It used to be that you would hold a frequent flyer card with a particular airline and you would only ever earn a free flight only by flying with this particular airline. And flying a lot too! Then came the airline alliances and you could suddenly fly with various airlines but credit to one loyalty program. In the process you would also earn elite status which would define your chances of getting a free upgrade. More recently airlines started selling their miles for cash. Yes, instead of earning the miles by flying you can buy miles outright. As crazy as it may sound you can fly in Business for not much more than the cost of Economy.

Similar changes have take place in the hotel loyalty programs. And some of the hotel points (which you can buy outright as well) are extremely useful for redeeming for flights.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you can get airline miles or hotel points by signifying up for specific credit cards. After a minimum expenditure over a period of time you get a large miles/points bonus. Now, that’s as close as you get to free travel.

In future posts I’ll deal with using the loyalty programs to fund travel. And I will explain how to leverage your credit rating to get free miles and points. I will tell you about status matches, hidden city airfares, and many other tricks which will help you travel better.


Top 250 Global Destinations

There are many places in the world worth visiting and each of us may choose differently based on our personal interests. It is hard to find a comprehensive list of Top Destinations but I think I might have stumbled upon one and I encourage you to have a browse here.

I consider myself lucky to have been to 145 of the destinations and the good news is that there are (according to this list) another 105 destinations.

Have you found anywhere you fancy going?