Travel Pony Hotel Booking – $35 Off Your First Stay

Travel Pony

$35 Off your Hotel Stay

Travel Pony is a newer site that’s trying to get a name for itself through referrals. Currently they are giving a $35 credit to anyone who signs up if they are referred by an existing member. If you sign up your friends you can get $25 for each one. Your friends need to spend one night at a hotel booked on Travel Pony for you to get the $25. If you manage to get a couple of friends to sign up you might even get a free hotel night.

Travel Pony does not have a broad a selection of hotels and tends to focus on urban areas. It does however offer deeper discounts on some properties with comparisons to other leading sites. I did a quick compare and they managed to beat Kayak on a couple of properties. In at least one case the difference was quite a bit. The price for other hotels was about the same or worse. I’m certainly going to add them to the list of sites I refer to when looking for an interesting deal.

One thing to note – because they are a members only site you can’t get a Best Rate Guarantee from any hotel based on the price that Travel Pony offers. You probably won’t be able to collect hotel reward points either but that shouldn’t matter with a deep discount.

There have been a few similar offers from start-ups which have good initial referral offers that soon taper off. Hopefully they keep this one going for a while. At the best this will be another great resource for finding good hotel deals. At worst you can get a nice discount for one of your stays.

If you’re looking for a referral to get you started you can use mine and then start referring your friends to Travel Pony.

Marriott Rewards – Calculating Value

Marriott Rewards – Calculating Value

Lately I’ve been thinking of how to best apply my Marriott Rewards points.There seem to be two ways of maximizing value: maximizing number of nights or maximizing point value.

So I decided to decided to look at how it all made sense. I checked out all of Canada and every state in the US for each category for a given day in April. I then looked at the more expensive hotels over a period of months to see what their highest rates were, and verified that you could use points on those nights. I did the same with China, India, Egypt, Australia … and started to realize the numbers weren’t changing much and got bored!

After that I tried to make sense of it all … this is the result.

Earning Marriott Rewards Points

You get 10 Marriott Rewards points per US dollar spent at most Marriott hotels (for some this is only on room spending). At Residence Inn and Towneplace Suites you only get 5 points per US $. In the Marriott Executive Apartments and Execustay it’s only 2.5 points per US $. If you have the Marriott Premier Visa card you can add on another 5 points per $.

You could be earning 10-15 points per US $ spent at a Marriott hotel. This is worth from 5 to 45% of your spending depending on the points earned and how you will use them.

Maximizing Number of Nights

Maximizing the number of nights with Marriott Rewards points is quite straightforward. You simply look for the lowest category hotel you would ever stay in – preferably with a sale. At current rates a category 1 hotel is 7500 points but I’ve seen sales as low as 6000 points. If you ever spend time in a category 1 then you can’t do better than this. Spend cash on your higher category hotels and use the points for the lower category ones.

Maximizing Point Value

The other way to consider the best use of points is how many cents you will save per Marriott Rewards point. This is the standard way that most evaluations are done for points programs. There are approximations of the value of a point (such as 0.84 cents per Marriott Rewards point by nerdwallet) but that is simply an average. An average works if you collect lots of points and use them in an average way. Points get their best value from using them selectively.

Of course, like all rewards points, it’s a bit more complicated than that. You can’t say that you’ll get $300 in value for a hotel if you never spend more than $150 for instance. But if you would regularly get a hotel for $150 on Hotwire would you be willing to pay $180 – $200 – $230 for a much nicer hotel than you would normally get? That’s what you need to value your points at. And don’t forget you won’t be collecting Marriott Rewards points if you’re collecting a reward. Marriott does not have a system where you can split paying for a single night with points and cash.

If you have a free hotel night in a Category 1-4 or 1-5 hotel that comes with the Chase Marriott card then get the highest category, most expensive hotel you can and enjoy! There are no cents per points on those.

Marriott Rewards for Different Categories

You can use your Marriott Rewards points for hotels that are under $100 per night but what’s the purpose. It makes much more sense to save those points for when you need a hotel when prices are high and you can’t get a good cash deal. Let’s look at some of the best deals for your points. This is a snapshot taken in March of 2014. I looked at all the category 1-5 hotels in the US and Canada as well as a few in other countries to get an idea of the maximum value you could ever get from Marriott Rewards points. You will only get this value if you need to stay in one of these hotels at an expensive time and there are no comparable hotels around for less.

In most categories you aren’t going to do much better than 1.5 cents per point. Even those are exceptions. You’re best value is going to come if you want to stay in Baton Rouge in July … you can get over 3 cents per point in value, but don’t go out of your way to do it.

In general, if you find you can get close to 1.5 cents per point and there are no better comparable deals from other hotels or online travel agents then go for it. I didn’t take taxes into consideration nor did I take into account that you won’t be collecting points for your reward – these partially cancel each other out.

Category 1 – 7.5K per night normal rate

The TownePlace Suites Baton Rouge Gonzales tops out at $229 in July with only 7500 points required. That’s slightly over 3 cents per point in value. The regular weekend rate of $119 only has a value of 1.6 cents per point. I’ve seen a discounted 6000 point reward for the Fairfield Inn & Suites South Hill I-85 with a $119 rate. This works out to very close to 2 cents per point.

In Canada only the Fairfield Inn & Suites in Guelph is a Category 1 hotel. It has several dates at $120 (1.6 cents per point) and a last minute price of $139 (1.87 cents per point).

Elsewhere you’re looking at top rates of $80 in India.

Category 2 – 10K per night normal rate

The TownePlace Suites Milpitas Silicon Valley tops out at $319 weekdays but you can’t use points on those nights. Sunday and Thursday nights are normally $269 with only 10000 points required. That’s about 2.7 cents per point in value. The regular weekend rate of $109 only has a value of 1.1 cents per point. Most hotels are about the same value. This property is exceptionally expensive in terms of a Category 2, but you will find other hotels at about $200 per night or a value of 2.0 cents per point.

In Canada the Courtyard Waterloo St. Jacobs can charge as much as $199 which is close to 2 cents per point.

Elsewhere you’re looking at rates of $160 in China, $75-$150 in India so no more than 1.6 cents per point.

Category 3 – 15K per night normal rate

The Residence Inn Sacramento tops out at $309 which is 2.07 cents per point. The regular weekend rate $184 is only about 0.98 cents per point.

There are quite a few for hotels that charge as much as $200 per night. That works out to about 1.3 cents per point.

In Canada the Courtyard Ottawa East and Courtyard Hamilton can run $200 per night for 1.3 cents per Marriott Rewards point. You’ll get slightly better sometimes at the Residence Inn Toronto Mississauga/Meadowvale which lists prices up to $209 (1.4 cents per point).

Elsewhere you’re looking at top rates of $80-$240 in China $45-$240 in Egypt so around 1.6 cents per point.

Category 4 – 20K per night normal rate

SpringHill Suites Denver Downtown has a high rate of about $309, which is a value of a bit over 1.5 cents per point. Most of their rates are far below this.

The Residence Inn Hartford Downtown has some of the highest regular weekday/weekend prices of $229/$199 peaking at $279. This translates to 1.1/1.0 and 1.4 cents per point respectively. The Residence Inn New Rochelle and The Courtyard Fort Worth Downtown/Blackstone have comparable high average rates. SpringHill Suites San Angelo has even higher regular weekday rate of $269 which still only produces a 1.35 cent per point value.

For the most part though, Category 4 hotels are of similar price to Category 3 for a lot more points. In many cases the price per night is under $100 giving a cent per point value of less than 0.5.

In Canada the Courtyard Montreal Airport can have nights as much as $199 yielding about 1 cent per Marriott Rewards point.

Elsewhere you’re looking at top rates of $175-$290 in China, $150-$200 in Egypt, $100-$260 in Australia. You won’t be getting better than 1.45 cents per point in China or 1.3 cents per point in Australia. Egypt maxes out at 1 cent per point.

Category 5 – 25K per night normal rate

Several Category 5 hotels have daily rates that go up to $279 at the wrong time of year provide a value of 1.12 cents per Marriott Rewards point. The Residence Inn Palo Alto Mountain View, Raleigh Marriott City Center, Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center and the Residence Inn Dana Point San Juan Capistrano have several days at $299, providing a 1.2 cent per point value. Marriott’s Villas at Doral don’t book with points so those $399 nights are cash only. You can find the occasional room at the Residence Inn National Harbor Washington DC for $369 which is almost the 1.5 cents per Marriott Rewards point you get with the best Category 4 deal.

There are still many Category 5 hotels with nights under $100 which would be a terrible use of Marriott Rewards points.

In Canada the Vancouver Airport Marriott Hotel will charge as much as $250 (1 cent per mile). The Residence Inn Kingston Water’s Edge regularly charges $236 (0.94 cents per point) but can go up to $296 (1.18 cents per point).

Elsewhere you’re looking at top rates of $120-$320 in China, $60-$260 in Japan. China maxes out at 1.28 cents per point and Japan barely goes over 1 cent per point.

 Summing Up

While on average Marriott Rewards points are worth less than 1 cent per point, you can still get better value than this. Spend cash on the more expensive hotels, earning on average 5-15% (but up to 45%) of that value in points for future stays. Unless you have more points than you know what to do with, save your points for when you’ll get over 1 cent per point. If you are getting 1.5 cents per point or better, and there are no comparable competing hotels with better value, then use your points.

Scotiabank Gold Amex Bonus Extended to June

Scotiabank Gold Amex Bonus Extended

The Scoop

The March 31st deadline for the Scotiabank Gold Amex card has been bumped. Scotiabank wasn’t on the ball the morning of April 1st and continued to have their 15K point, first year free offer with the date of March 31st. What would normally have been thought of as an April Fools joke appeared that afternoon. The deadline was extended to June 31st 2014. Seriously! I’m not certain what calendar they are using but here’s the screenshot:

ScotiaBank Gold Amex Date Error

The competition amongst travel cards in Canada is certainly the strongest it’s been. BMO extended their deadline recently and CIBC removed the deadline for their Aventura based cards.

The ScotiaBank Gold Amex Bonus

The current bonus is 15 000 points with the first year fee waived. ScotiaBank points have a straightforward value of 1 cent per point. They function just like the points from the TD First Class Infinite and the Capital One Aspire in that you buy travel and your card and redeem points afterwards for a fixed value. If you are just hunting for bonuses there are far better offers and this one is probably not worth the credit hit.

Targeted Offers for the ScotiaBank Gold Amex

A number of people have received pre-approvals from ScotiaBank with an added $300 bonus. If you get one of these offers you should jump on it. A $450 sign up bonus with the first year free is huge.

Worth Holding On To?

With 4x points on gas, groceries, dining and entertainment this is a strong card if your grocery store accepts Amex and/or you spend enough in those areas to justify the $99 annual fee. The competition is the TD First Class Infinite and the Capital One Aspire. The TD First Class Infinite offers a 1.5% return on all purchases and 3%/4.5% on phone/internet booked travel with TD. That card has a slightly higher fee at $120 which is waived if you have an All Inclusive account. The Capital One Aspire also has a $120 fee but with 10K points awarded every year you are only paying $20. It provides a 2% return in the form of points on all purchases.

From a points perspective the ScotiaBank Gold Amex card is great if your grocery store takes Amex, if you eat out a lot, use a lot of gas and go out to shows frequently. The additional features, especially the travel insurance, are excellent.

Should You Get The ScotiaBank Gold Amex Card?

If you can get this card with the $300 pre-approval then without question you should sign up for the card. If you spend a lot on gas, restaurants and entertainment and your grocery store takes Amex then you should sign up even if you don’t get the pre-approval bonus.

Medieval Sweden – The Annual Visby Festival

Medieval Sweden

The Annual Medieval Festival in Visby

I’m going to try to write occasionally about some of the interesting but less well known places I’ve visited. This time around it’s the annual Visby Medieval Festival. This is an annual affair that takes place from Sunday to Sunday in the 32nd month of the year (beginning of August). There are about 22 000 people who live in this lively Medieval city. The number of visitors during the festival however is close to 40 000! Visby is on the Swedish island of Gotland in the middle of the Baltic Sea.

Medival play in Visby - a Jester watches a KingAbout Medieval Visby

UNESCO calls Visby “the best-preserved fortified commercial city in northern Europe”. It was the centre of Baltic commerce from about the 11th to 14th centuries. Visby was partially burned in the 15th century but retains 17 Medieval churches (2 outside the walls). There are also over 200 other buildings with substantial Medieval elements remaining. The 12th century Visby cathedral predates the city wall. There is also the 3.4km long 13th century wall remains intact today.

The Medieval Festival

The Medieval festival in Visby is taken a bit more seriously than the more touristy Carcassone in south-western France. It was interesting to see that some of the visitors left their money “somewhere else” and camped rough in the Botanical Gardens, taking on the role of Medieval beggars. The tourists wearing Medieval clothing appeared to outnumber those of us who foolishly wore jeans and t-shirts. Perhaps this is an exaggeration, but there are thousands who do dress up. Those who forgot, can buy or rent their clothing and sandals, made locally in the Medieval tradition. Much of the food and drink offered is the same as was offered in the 14th century. And of course those selling crafts during the festival can only sell those they made themselves using Medieval techniques.

Medival peasants in Visby sit at a tableNo Medieval festival would be complete without jousting, jesters, music and the occasional reenactment where a woman gets built into the wall for having let the Danes in.

Visby Medieval Festival - Death stalks a peasant girlWhat Else for the Tourist?

Visby boasts some very nice restaurants that are far from Medieval by any standards. The Botanical Gardens are another must see (Swedes call Visby the City of Roses). The island of Gotland is quite flat with a sparse population. This makes it an ideal place for cycling from place to place. There are a number of sights including Medieval churches (if you didn’t get enough in Visby) and some pleasant beaches. Visby and the rest of Gotland make an excellent 1-2 week escape from modern times.

Average Age Of Credit Cards With Multiple Cards

Average Age Of Credit Cards With Multiple Cards

Part of your Credit Score

The Average age of your credit cards is a factor on your credit score. If you regularly apply for new credit cards it is worth understanding how it might affect your score. This is primarily an exercise in crunching numbers to get a feel for how opening new credit and cancelling credit might change the average ago of credit cards and other credit accounts. There is no conclusion, just a better understanding of the numbers.

Impact on Your Score

The length of your credit history will account for 15% of the average person’s credit score. This 15% is not a hard and fast rule as the percentages change based on your profile. The score includes the following:

  • the age of your oldest account
  • the age of your newest account
  • the average age of all your accounts
  • how long ago specific accounts were established
  • how long ago since specific accounts were used

Even with the potential variation in that 15%, the average age of credit cards is going to account for a small percentage of your overall credit score. This is especially true if you have other accounts, such as lines of credit, which also factor into the average age.

Impact of Cancelling on the Average Age of Credit Cards

The age of a credit card (or any revolving account) is based on the month it was opened. When you cancel an account it does not immediately impact the age of the account or the average age of credit cards and other accounts you hold. The account will continue to age until it drops off of your credit record. In Canada this normally occurs 6 years after being closed. In the United States it is 10 years for an account closed in good standing. The maximum age of an account is therefore 6 years plus the age at which you cancelled it in Canada.

Calculating Average Age of Credit Cards

I tried calculating the average age of credit cards with a spreadsheet but it was just too difficult. After thinking about it (always a good thing) I realized that the math was very simple. As an exercise, let us assume you have no credit cards and apply for any number of cards today and cancel them in one year. The average age of those cards in 1 year will be 1, in 5 years will be 5 – it doesn’t matter how many cards as long as it’s the same number every year. The oldest those cards will be is 7 years, just before they age off (1 year open + 6 years closed before aging off). If you don’t cancel them, then after 7 years your average age of credit cards will keep going up.

If you apply for the same number of cards (let’s say 3) at the same time every year and cancel them after 1 year, the average of your cards will be:

  • year 0: 3×0/3 = 0 years
  • year 1: (3×1 + 3×0)/6 = 3/6= 0.5 years
  • year 2: (3×2 + 3×1 + 3×0)/9 = 9/9 = 1 year
  • year 3: 18/12 = 1.33 years
  • year 4: 30/15 = 2 years
  • year 5: 45/18 = 2.5 years
  • year 6: 63/21 = 3 years
  • year 7: 84/24 = 3.5 years

Note that the age is actually done in months, not years, but the numbers are bigger and look a lot more ugly. What you will find is that after 7 years the average age will climb from 3 to 3.5, then drop to 3 and repeat as cards age off. If you get a different number of cards every year then there are way too many options and you’ll have to do the math yourself ;).

If you have cards you plan to keep then add all their ages to the numerator and the number of cards to the denominator (remember those pesky math terms?). The numbers above will go up any time you don’t cancel a card. If you have a 20 year old card when you start cycling 3/6 cards per year, the average age of your cards would be:

Cycle 3 cards Cycle 6 cards
year 0 20/4 = 5 years 20/7 = 2.9 years
year 1 23/7= 3.3 years 26/13= 2 years
year 2 29/10 = 2.9 years  38/19 = 2 years
year 3 38/13 = 2.9 years  56/25 = 2.2 years
year 4 50/16 = 3.1 years  80/31 = 2.6 years
year 5 65/19 = 3.4 years  110/37 = 3 years
year 6 83/22 = 3.8 years  146/43 = 3.4 years
year 7 104/25 = 4.2 years 188/49 = 3.8 years

So the more cards you cycle through, the less effect older non-cancelled cards have. That’s pretty obvious. But if you’re always cycling through the same number of cards you won’t ever drop below an average of 3 years after you reach year 6.

Summary

What does all this mean? That depends on a lot of factors. You don’t need an average age of 2 years to have a score over 700 if you manage the other factors well.

Not cancelling cards that don’t cost you money will help the average age. Just use them occasionally as if they aren’t used they factor less into your score and may be cancelled.

A higher average age of credit cards (or rather all your accounts) will help. How much better is an average of 3 over an average 2, or worse than an average of 10? Unfortunately I’ve not found much out there that tells you. The formulas are proprietary and there isn’t enough data showing people who have an old credit card, a variety of credit products, keep low balances and yet have a low average age of credit cards.

Keep in mind that the average age of accounts includes more than your credit cards. This should at least give an idea of the effect on the average age of credit cards if you get new cards regularly.

AeroplanPlus Gold Bonus to drop by March 31?

AeroplanPlus Gold Bonus to drop by March 31?

Points may drop from 30K to 20K

NOTE – APRIL 2: Looks like it was just a rumour … bonus points no longer count for Distinction but the referred bonus has stayed at 30K. The non-referred bonus has gone up to 25K from 20K until July 14th but it’s still better to get referred.

It’s just a rumour for the moment but there is the possiblilty that the Amex AeroplanPlus Gold Bonus may drop back to the regular 20K points. Hopefully this is not true but the possibility must be considered. The date provided was March 31, 2014.

The Aeroplan Plus Gold card is also currently free for the first year as are supplemental cards. After the first year the card is $120 for the primary and $50 for supplemental cards. You can cancel this card after 6 months if you don’t wish to pay the annual fee. The card earns 1 Aeroplan point per $ for the first $10K spent, and 1.25AP per $ thereafter.

If you are not referred by someone with the card then the bonus is currently 20K Aeroplan points. However, there is an added 10K (30K) total if you are referred by someone with an card of the Amex Aeroplan family (AeroplanPlus, AeroplanPlus Gold, AeroplanPlus Platinum).

The only official word from Amex is that the AeroplanPlus Gold bonus may be Aeroplan Distinction eligible until April 1, 2014. If you don’t already have this card it might be better to err on the side of caution and get it, as the bonus is one of the best available in Canada. The bonus is awarded after spending at least $500 in the first three months after acceptance.

Get Referred Now for Points and Distinction

If you have a friend or family member with the Amex Aeroplan Gold card have them send you a recommendation through their account. You will get an extra 10K points and your friend or family member will get an extra 10K as well (15K if they have a the AeroplanPlus Platinum card). If you don’t know anyone with the card you can use my Amex AeroplanPlus Gold referral to get the bonus 10K (I won’t complain about any extra points :-) ).

Once you have your card you can start to refer friends and family right away to get bonus points. There is no need to make your minimum spend for the 30K points before you start referring. If the rumour is true then you and your friends/family can get the extra points. If the rumour isn’t true, then you should at least have Aeroplan Distinction eligibility.

Business Gold Rewards from Amex Free No Longer

Business Gold Rewards from Amex Free No Longer

Today Amex has changed the terms of their Business Gold Rewards card. They have removed the first year free offer and have increased the annual fee to $250. Furthermore the required spending to receive 25 000 reward points has gone from $3000 to $5000 in the first three months.

The Amex Business Gold Rewards card is no longer an interesting offer for Amex points. You would be much better off getting the Amex Platinum card with offers 60K points on referral for $699. If you make use of the 2x $200 travel credits you will be effectively paying $299 for 60K points with a minimum $1K spend instead of $250 for 25K points and a minimum $5K spend. You would also have much better benefits!

BMO World Elite Bonus Deadline Extended

BMO World Elite Bonus Deadline Extended

Offer is good until June 1, 2014

The credit card competition is going strong in Canada, at least relative to the traditional situation. The latest is the Bank of Montreal extending their deadline for the BMO World Elite bonus of 30K points and first year free from March 3, 2014 to June 1, 2014. There are a number of competing offers and it looks as though BMO doesn’t want to be the first one to pull back their offer. Not when CIBC and TD are posting that new credit card sign ups are exceeding expectations.

Is this a good card to get for the bonuses? Without question it is.

The highlights of the sign-up

  • 30 000 points that can be redeemed for $300 via BMOs travel service for flights, hotels etc
  • First year free
  • Priority Pass lounge membership with 4 free passes

What makes the card interesting to use

Points are a clear 2% of all purchases (not just groceries/gas/pharmacy) like some cards. Depending on your spending, it may be worth keeping this card even if you have to pay the $150 per year fee. The Capital One Aspire is the competition.

The BMO World Elite insurance for trip cancellation, trip interruption and rental car collision is valid if you pay with points or the card and even if you only partially pay with either. Most credit card insurance policies require the full purchase to be made on the card.

Travel medical insurance on the BMO World Elite Mastercard is valid up to 21 consecutive days (extendible to 31 for $29 per trip if you and your spouse are under 65), unlimited times per year. While no where close to the National Bank Platinum’s 60 day limit, this is free insurance for the first year.

Conclusion

The $300 is easy to use for anyone who travels while the lounge passes and Prioity Pass membership may have additional value for others. The extension of the deadline means you can sign up for other cards now and have three months for your credit score to breathe.

Petra and Highlights of Jordan

Petra and Highlights of Jordan

Adventure Off The Beaten Trail

Jordan is one of the more under-rated destinations and perfect for anyone who likes a bit of adventure … and unlike Egypt they actually obey traffic laws. Sure I was nearly run off a cliff when a transport decided to pass another on a blind curve, nearly was turned into pizza when the brakes failed on the Land Rover as we threaded the needle between oncoming trucks and someone did throw some dynamite into a bar in Ma’an that I had just visited … but they do stop at red lights, even at night!

Essentials for the Visitor

If you want to do Jordan right here are the highlights, more or less in order:

1. Visit Petra

I cannot stress how amazing Petra is – without a doubt it is the highlight of Jordan. Do not miss it. You should book 2-3 days for your visit with perhaps additional days in between visit days to relax. More on this below,

The Treasury in Petra, Jordan

2. Rent/hire a car

Driving in Jordan is easy and it’s reasonably safer than having a driver who might fall asleep on the highway (it happens a lot) or drive off a cliff (also happens more than it should). Drivers will use their signals/indicators to let you know if it is safe to pass (left signal means don’t pass, right means all clear), they use their lights at night (unlike Egyptians) and follow the rules reasonably better than some places in Europe. Don’t be bothered if the highways suddenly widens to become a landing strip (unless a plane is coming) and be prepared to pull over if there’s a big sand storm. You can cheaply cross the country by taxi as well, which isn’t bad if you get a good driver (I’ve been in a cab with two drivers who took turns when they were tired – very impressed). Coaches will not get you everywhere you want to go.

3. Overnight in Wadi RumWadi Rum in southern Jordan at Dusk

Wadi Rum lies in southern Jordan, not far from Aqaba. While I didn’t actually overnight there I did at least stay until nightfall. I relative of mine did overnight there and verifies that the sunrise is as impressive as the sunset. Instead I camped out in the ruins of a 2000 year old Nabatean bath house while doing archaeology elsewhere in Jordan and it was certainly a highlight.  Do not go into Wadi Rum unless you have 4 wheel drive. Point of fact, an old Land Rover will hold about 13 people as long as some of you are willing to ride on the roof or hang off the sides/back – great to know if your other vehicle gets stuck.

Land Rover in Wadi Rum Jordan4. Follow the Desert Loop

Do a loop east of Amman to visit the black desert and Qasr Azraq, a Roman fort in eastern Jordan where T.E. Lawrence wintered before pushing on to Damascus. On the way you can stop and visit Qasr al-Kharrana, Um-al-Jamal.

Jordanian Qasr al-KharranaYou can also see Qasr Amra with possibly the oldest picture on the celestial sky in the round.

In the round

Qasr Amra – the oldest known picture of the celestial sky in the round.

5. Tour the Roman City of Jerash

Visit the Roman city of Jerash in northern Jordan. An easy drive from Amman.

6.the Dead Sea & Crusader Castles

Drop by and visit the Dead Sea and stop at the crusader castles such as Shobek and Kerak.

A Quick Guide to Petra

Petra needs a mention on its own and it is worth the trip to Jordan just to see it. If you have only five places to visit in your lifetime then Petra should be one of them – I’ll let you choose the other four (though the temples at Siem Reap and a felucca ride from Aswan to Edfu could contend). You should plan to spend two days in Petra, with an optional day of rest in between. A third day would allow you to explore some of the less visited areas, but is not necessary.

Essentials for a Petra Visit

Petra is an adventure, not a cruise ship so dress and pack appropriately. You will be best off with very comfortable footwear, preferably hiking boots and socks that wick away sweat. Long sleeves and trousers are preferred both to risk offending the locals and to avoid sun burn, however this is one of the few areas in Jordan where shorts will be less likely to cause offense. Water and snacks would also be a good idea as the site is enormous and you may not be able to find a vendor when you want one. If you get off the beaten trail you will want to have a reserve. Also pack a map and a camera (you shouldn’t need a compass as the geography is fairly obvious).

The Siq

All visits to Petra start with a walk through the narrow gorge called the Siq, on a slight downward grade and an uneven surface for about 1.2km. You will need to conserve enough energy to make it out as the slight grade is a killer if you tried to pack everything into a single day.

Don’t expect to see much inside any of the ruins apart from the amazing colour of the stone.Coloured rock of Petra Jordan

The Treasury

When you arrive at Al Khazneh (the Treasury) the path to the rest of Petra will continue to the right. Turn to the right as you emerge from the Siq and look for a way to climb up the cliff opposite the ruin. There is a way that isn’t too difficult if you’re careful and it gives you an excellent view from above.

View of the Treasury from Above in Petra Jordan

View if you climb the cliff opposite the Treasury in Petra

Looking back at the Siq from the Treasury in Petra Jordan

The Monastary

After visiting Al Khazneh go to Ad Deir (the Monastery). Do not stop for anything else – if you have the energy you can visit other places on the way back (don’t be tempted by the Nabatean theatre). The first time I went to Petra I made the mistake of visiting the High Place and then Ad Deir and was too exhausted to appreciate it. Ad Deir is second to Al Khazneh in terms of sights you will see (and second only because it doesn’t have that famous view from the Siq). To arrive there you need to descend into the valley (remember, you will need to go back again), cross the valley with its temples and Roman colonnade, then climb up into the mountains on the other side. View of from the side of The Monestary at Petra JordanYou can follow a path that is to the left when facing Ad Deir and climb to the top but be careful – this is one of the places that tourists have been reported falling to their death and it’s a good 50m to the bottom. Expect that rocks, scaffolding etc may break apart and stay away from edges anywhere high.

On top of Ad Deir in Petra Jordan

Do not slip off!

Other Highlights of Petra

If you are visiting for two days you can come back the way you came and visit some of the sights on the way out, and if you have the energy as you climb back out of the valley stop by the tombs to your left (Urn, Silk, Corinthian, Palace). If you are only at Petra one day then your first priority after Al Khazneh and Ad Deir, if you have enough energy, is the High Place of Sacrafice. In a one day visit you should head to the path near the Temple of the Roman Soldier and the Garden Temple, after returning to the valley from Ad Deir, and return via the path near the theatre. In a two day trip you should start with the path near the theatre and head to the High Place early and choose what else to visit based on your energy level.Petra theatreDon’t bother with the Crusader Castle at Petra – it’s really not worth the effort unless you are there for 3-4 days.

Summary

That’s it – I hope you get to experience this wonderful location. Oh yes, while you can get away shorts at Petra please be respectful of local sensitivities … modest attire and learning a couple of words of Arabic will work wonders in how you are received.

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Afterward

I had been thinking of doing an article “Egypt Done Right” as that’s a country with some amazing hidden gems, but unfortunately I’ll have to skip that considering circumstances. That being said you are more likely to die in a car accident in that country than be killed in a terror attack. I was in Egypt four months before the Hatshepsut massacre and in that time saw one tourist coach turned over after it crashed into three camels and another burned out at the side of the road after it had hit a transport whose driver was likely asleep.

$2400 in Bonuses Since January and Counting

Note: Before applying for multiple cards please read Maximize Credit Cards for Travel which discusses the various considerations including how your credit score may be affected.

Last night I got the call from BMO regarding my credit card approval and amongst their questions was if I had any other credit cards. Hmmm … where to start.

I came into the game with a Visa, US$ Visa and Mastercard. The game started at the end of December. It started with my other half getting the Amex AeroplanPlus Gold card. This card is not the best card for daily use nor for its benefits but it does have a great sign up bonus and is free for the first year. Normally the bonus is 20K Aeroplan points but if you are referred by someone with the card you will get an extra 10K (30K in total – Distinction eligible for until April 1 2014), worth about $450 if you value points at 1.5c/point (a good starting point … you can get higher than this). You need to spend $500 in the first 3 months from the application date in order to get any points. I used the referral of someone who helped me learn about the some of the better ways to use Aeroplan points as the person referring also gets 10K Aeroplan points. If you need a referral you can use mine, or that of a friend, or that of anyone else who has helped you out. This card can be cancelled after 6-14 months if you don’t want to pay the annual fee (I have been told that Amex will refund annual fees in the first two months from the point the fee is charged).

Next up I applied for the Chase Marriott Visa card, also with the first year free, at the start of January as they had a 50K signup bonus, after your first purchase, plus a free night in a category 1-4 hotel (no purchase necessary) worth about $100-$150 if used correctly. The Residence Inn in Westmont, Montreal is 15K points per night and is a category 3 hotel that lists for $200 (although you can probably get something similar on Hotwire for $100-$150) so your 50K Marriott points are worth about $500 in that situation. TownPlace Suites in Richmond VA is 6K points or $89US per night so 50K Marriott points are worth $800 Canadian there. That’s just a quick search – you may be able to find a better deal for your points. I got the coupon for the free hotel night with the credit card but the 50K points only posted with the first statement. Let’s be conservative and say that the signup bonus is worth $600, but it could be close to $1000 depending on your need. I plan to keep this card as I’ll get a free category 1-5 hotel every year which covers the $120 annual fee, Silver Eltite status with Marriott, and it’s one of just two credit cards in Canada that I know of (the other being Chase Amazon Visa) that doesn’t hit you for 2.5% for every foreign transaction. I will only use the card for foreign transactions and at Marriott Hotels. After getting this card my Equifax score dropped 6 points for the hard pull.

The following card was an Amex Gold Rewards card for myself, also free the first year. The signup bonus was 25K, after $500 is purchased in the first 3 months, which can be converted 1:1 to Aeroplan or Avios or could be used directly at 1c/point for travel booked through Amex – I peg the value at $375. Unlike the AeroplanPlus Gold, there is no bonus for getting referred but you can still make someone’s day by using their referral. This card is much better than the Amex AeroplanPlus Gold card as you get double points on groceries, gas and pharmacy purchases (and that includes gift cards for other types of stores that you purchase in those types of stores). Alas, Costco and Walmart do not count as grocery stores for double points.

After that was the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite card – 15K Aeroplan points for just a single purchase with points worth $225. With my other half getting one as well we were up to $1875 in sign up bonuses. TD doesn’t tell you that the first year is free but currently it is. Just phone them up (or ask at the bank – if they don’t know have them call Visa). If you sign up before May 9th 2014 you also get a free companion flight on a short-haul rewards flight – but it has to be on Air Canada metal and you need to pay fees and taxes which may make the flight more expensive than paying cash with an alternative airline. If you plan to fly to Nunavut from Ontario then that companion flight is worth a good $1500 though as would the 15K Aeroplan points which is enough to fly Ontario-Nunavut. There are other perks too but I’m only counting the value of points so far.

My fourth card, signed up for at the beginning of February, was the CIBC AeroGold Visa Infinite. Like the TD card, it has a 15K Aeroplan bonus for making one purchase and it has an advertized first year free if you sign up in time. It also provides you with an additional 5K Aeroplan points if you spend $500 in three months on the card. Total value of $300.

The latest card I was accepted for was the BMO World Elite Card. Another first year free card and a $300 sign up bonus that must be used for travel booked through BMO. It also has a bonus of a Priority Pass membership and 4 free passes to their airport lounges per year, but I’m not counting that value. This is a card that may be worth keeping if you spend enough.

So here we are, in less than 2 months with more than $2400 in rewards and still only a 6 point credit hit (you may see a much greater hit depending on your credit history – monitor your credit with Equifax – they have a free trial that will get you your score and you can phone them up before the month is up to upgrade to a free month of the premium monitoring). This week I plan to get the Amex AeroplanPlus Gold myself and for the better half to get the Business version of the Amex Gold Rewards (they don’t check if you have a business but we do have one – you need to spend $3000 in 3 months but you can always get Costco or Esso gift certificates is needed to complete the spending). Including the points for referring each other we will have another 75K Aeroplan points worth $1125. I’m hoping to add a CIBC and BMO cards for my spouse as well. That would take our Aeroplan total to: 30Kx2+25Kx2+15Kx2+20Kx2+10Kx2=200K Aeroplan points. The value of all our sign ups at the end of the week should be $4125.

Later in the year I will get the Amex Business Gold Rewards card and my other half the regular Gold Rewards card for 70K 35K more points worth $1050 $525. I also plan to get the Amex Platinum Card – a $700 fee but with $200 in travel credits each calendar year it means I’m only paying $300 for a 60K signup with referral and the 10K for the referral with is $1050 in value … net $750.

So the total by mid year should be 350K 3150K Aeroplan points (not counting spending), worth $5925 $5400 for long-haul economy travel on Star Alliance airlines (such as United and Swiss) without big fees and taxes, including other signup bonuses. If we cancel the Amex cards we got at the start of the year after we’ve had them for 6 months, and assuming the sign up bonuses are still there a year from now we should be able to get another 150K Aeroplan points taking us to 500K 465K total. With 600K you can get 4 business class tickets to Asia (with fees as low as $200 each) and do a mini round the world trip (mini RTW– see my database of actual miniRTW trips taken by FlyerTalk members) with a potential ticket value of $10 000 each. Worth the trouble? I would say so ….

UPDATE

Equifax is a bit slow with the point drops but they do drop. After 5 cards applied for & approved for myself, three hard pulls reporting (one card had no hard pull and one was pulled at Trans Union) and fourfive new credit accounts (one left) showing up in Equifax there has been almost an 8085 point drop. It is just starting to creep back up 2.5 months later In theory this should start to disappear in 3-6 months but there may be some outstanding points to come off still for the credit that hasn’t yet reported. If you don’t have long established credit this will take a lot longer to recover. The last card reporting dropped the score by 7 points after it had recovered a point. There are two cards still showing “not used or too early to report”. The scores should start to recover after they report in.

UPDATE March 2014:

Amex removed the first year free for the Business Gold Rewards card (not a big deal as they may bring it back) before I could apply and also increased the minimum spend from $3000 to $5000 (changes reflected in strikeouts above). This was done without warning. I will be applying for the Amex AeroplanPlus Gold using the referral before the month is over. Amex has a promotion for the bonus counting towards distinction that expires at the end of March. I am concerned about a rumour that the extra 10K you get from a referral may disappear as well at that time.

UPDATE April 2014:

Managed to get 6 points back out of 85 lost … slowly but surely.