About themrpickles

Joshua Pickles, aka “mrpickles”, has been writing on the Flyertalk.com forum since 2009 and more recently on the MilePoint.com forum telling stories of racking huge amounts of frequent flyer miles in a short period of time. Primarily focusing on American Airlines AAdvantage miles mrpickles found notoriety in December 2009 when The Wall Street Journal wrote a front page article which featured a story that hinted about how mrpickles earned American Airlines lifetime Platinum status without ever stepping on an American Airlines flight. More recently he was featured as one of the Legends of Flyertalk at the Chicago Seminar 2010, a gathering of over 500 frequent flyers learning the tricks of the trade. mrpickles currently holds over 6.1 million miles and points over several programs and this year has top tier status with United 1k, Air France Platinum, Continental Platinum Elite, and American Airlines Lifetime Platinum Elite as well as Starwood Hotels SPG Platinum, Hilton Honors Diamond and Accor Platinum. You can follow Mr. Pickles on Twitter at @TheMrPickles.

No Fuel Surcharges on Hawaiian Airlines to New Zealand using AAdvantage Miles

On February 27 I wrote about new service from HNL to Aukland, New Zealand on Hawaiian Airlines starting on March 13, 2013. I have since received messages from several people asking if there will be a fuel surcharge. Checking on the American Airlines website I found the redemption to be at 37,500 miles and USD$17 in taxes and fees. So I can confirm that there are no fuel surcharges.

From the aa.com website

Using the OneWorld and Other Airline reward chart the redemption values from North America to South Pacific are the same values: 37.5k economy, 62.5k business and 72.5k first class one way. Since HA does not have first class you could redeem say JFK-HNL (with a stop over as the US gateway) and then continue to Aukland in business class for the above rate of 37.5k or 62.5k in business class. Due note that HA Business Class seats are not lay-flat seats.

American AAdvantage award chart

Looking at availability on flights in March on both ExpertFlyer.com and American Airlines it appears to be wide open, although the non stop flight is only 3 days a week and often the booking engine tries to route you through Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne Australia.


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Hawaiian Airlines begins service to Auckland

Hawaiian Airlines have announced that they will begin service Auckland, New Zealand three times weekly service nonstop from Honolulu, Hawaii. Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city and gateway to Air New Zealand flights throughout the North and South islands.

Hawaiian Airlines is an award redemption partner with American Airlines AAdvantage frequent flyer program. The official announcement can be found here: http://www.hawaiianairlines.com/specialoffers/pages/discover-auckland-new-zealand.aspx

Auckland will be the 11th Pacific destination for the airline which was established in 1929, joining Brisbane, Sydney and Pago Pago, Samoa as key destinations in the south Pacific.

The nonstop Hawaiian flights will have easy connections from 10 West Coast Hawaiian Airlines gateway cities starting March 13, 2013. Hawaiian will be the only US carrier flying to New Zealand.

Frequent Flyers will now have an alternative to Air New Zealand-Star Alliance redemption on the US to New Zealand route.

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Singapore Airlines A380 LAX-NRT Part one

Trip Report- January 11, 2013 14:15 departure 18:50 arrival

Singapore Airlines SQ11 LAX-NRT A380 via NRT

Seat 12A Upper Deck

Background on the booking

If you are looking for a trip report with photos of the lavatory and diet coke with lime this is not the report for you.  If you are looking to learn secret tricks for bookings, I doubt that there are any tricks to be revealed, but this just a practical overview of one person’s reward flight experience.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that I am a pretty frugal guy, so booking in SQ Suites or even in SQ First Class seems like throwing away money to me. One of my goals in flying is to stay out of economy class, travel with a certain level of comfort and not be nickeled and dimed by the airlines.  Any references in this report are not endorsements of those companies and I am not being paid any referral fees for this report.

I was fortunate to be made aware of the SQ online booking glitch last July 7, 2012 when SQ was switching their online systems and mistakenly allowed UA Mileage Plus members to book wide open availability on SQ Business Class and First Class seats.  I booked two seats that ultimately migrated into the following ticket: SAN-LAX-SIN-DPS-SIN-LAX-SAN in business class for US$151.00 taxes and fees & 240,000 United Airlines MileagePlus points for 2 passengers.  Being a United Airlines 1k (100,000 miles elite status) passenger allows me a certain amount of leisure in the ability to book flights that are opportunistic, aspirational, and speculative while preserving the ability to cancel and redeposit mileage points with no fees.

Retail value for 2 seats LAX-NRT in business class

I booked this ticket basically because it is a flight that is not supposed to be allowed as a reward redemption using United Airline MileagePlus miles.

I assume that the reader is familiar with airline alliances and the ability to book rewards across an alliance so I will not cover that here. If you are not familiar with these terms, check out FlyerTalk.com or milepoint.com and become active in those online communities.  You will learn a lot.  I will also cover my hotel experiences during this trip and how networking at the Chicago Seminars and Frequent Traveler University helped this 30 year experienced frequent flyer learn new tricks.

My original booking was just a straight round trip SAN-LAX-SIN-LAX-SAN.  United Airlines allow redemption of both an open jaw and a stop over on award redemptions.  At the time I booked this ticket it was impossible to redeem international SQ business seats with UA MileagePlus miles. Only do to the online glitch was I able to make this booking.  As of today booking have opened up intra-Asia in business class, but to book the A380 in business class is still next to impossible unless you use SQ KrisFlyer points and book directly though Singapore Airlines. SQ is a transfer partner with Starwood Preferred Guest and American Express Membership Rewards.

As availability opened up on business class I was able to add segments for no additional fees, a business class flight segment from SIN-HKG on the end of my outbound flight and a feeder flight from Denpasar (DPS), Bali, Indonesia that connects to my return non-stop SIN-LAX on the A340-500. This non-stop flight was of particular interest to me as it is the second longest flight in the world, and is due to be discontinues this year.  It is second longest only behind the SIN-EWR flight.  I accumulate United MileagePlus miles via credit card purchases and various opportunities through financial institutions.  I also earn miles with the 100% bonus from flying on Star Alliance carriers.

This booking left me with an open-jaw segment whereby I had to find my own way between HKG-DPS.  This was easily booked using the shitload of AA miles that I earned helping keep our nation solvent by buying one-dollar coins from the US Mint using a Citibank American AAdvantage credit card.  Two one-way business class rewards were 22,500 Advantage points or 25,000 British Airways Avios.  With AA EXP status from the 2012 status match offer used AA miles since it was easier to make changes with no fees.  Taxes came to US$37.00 for both seats.

The actual flight day

The SAN-LAX UA commuter flight was uneventful so I will not really comment on it. The only thing I have to comment on it is that UA changed the flight times and I only had 60 minutes to connect from terminal 7 to the Tom Bradley International Terminal where Singapore Airlines flies out of.  I barely made it and I would suggest if you have any delays you would not make it in 60 minutes. TSA security screening was so long even with an escort, so I opted for the first time, against my better judgment, to go through the scanning machine. I set up online seat alerts via ExpertFlyer.com and on the morning of departure 2 award seats opened up on an earlier connector flight, but I had already committed to my morning schedule and was not able to get to the airport any earlier.

Upon boarding the SQ A380-800 I was welcomed by a Singapore girl and directed to my seat 12A and my companion was in 14A.  Singapore does not have aisle 13 seating. We were on the port side window seats. The flight attendant came to my seat and took departure drink orders.  Pre-departure offerings were champagne or orange juice.  Choice of newspapers were offed and I accepted an LA Times.  The flight took off to the west and was smooth and quick.

View at the gate LAX

Shortly after departure the inflight purser Mr. Goh announced that the passengers in 14 C&D we celebrating their honeymoon and came around with Dom for everyone to offer a best wishes toast.  We got to talk to them and they were a very nice couple, a Kiwi and American. They were very interested in the miles and points game.

Cold mixed nuts and my cranberry juice with vodka was delivered.  The Singapore girl confirmed my book the chef order was onboard.  Hot towel service was brought before and after lunch.

Cold nuts, mine were mixed, my companion only got peanuts.

1:40 minutes after departure the Singapore girl laid out my table setting in preparation for lunch. The dinner setting was Givenchy dinnerware, butter, salt and pepper, cutlery and bottled water.  Yes, the napkins have the highly desired buttonhole that United Airlines First Class flyers are ever so fond of.

White linens, cutlery, water, but no food.

Onboard power options included two USB ports and a 110-volt electrical outlet.  This aircraft was broadcasting a wifi signal, but there was no Internet service offered.  The 110-volt outlet was powerful enough to power a CPAP machine.

Alcoholic beverage offering included:

Champagne Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve

Champagne Henroit Brut Souverain

2009 Clos du Val Chardonnay, California

2010 Weinhaus Ress Rheingau, Germany

2010 St. Hallett Faith Shiraz, Australia

2008 Chateau Preuillac Cru Bourgeois Medoc, France

2007 Bodeagas Rioja Reserva, Spain

2006 Dow’s Lante Bottled Vintage Port, Portugal


All of the usual suspects including Singapore Sling and Silver Kris Sling

I ordered a Singapore Sling and it tasted, and glowed like radiator fluid. Absolutely disgusting.


1:50 minutes into the flight starters of Parma ham, with saffron pear, blue chees and baby arugula. Choice of breads, garlic bread and tiny bottles of Colaviita extra virgin olive oil were delivered.

Parma ham, pear, dinner roll and olive oil.

Main selection

The main dish was delivered 2:05 after departure.

The main offering on the menu was as follows:

  1. Beef cheek goulash with baby salad, crème fraiche and paprika potato puree***

Exclusively created by Suzanne Goin of Lucques, A.O.C. and Tavern, Los Angeles

  1. Seared seafood with tomato saffron sauce, spinach crème and boiled potatoes
  2. Cantonese style roasted duck with plum sauce, Chinese greens, carrots and steamed rice

I had made advanced arrangements to “Book the Chef” through the Singapore Airlines Kris Flyer website and selected Japanese Sukiyaki, one of my favorite dishes, second only to a good Cioppino.

Claims to be Japanese Sukiyaki

I found the Sukiyaki main selection to be less than satisfying and when they picked up my empty dished I asked the Singapore girl if I could also order off of the main menu. She was gracious and brought me the Beef selection.

Beef cheek goulash with baby salad, crème fraiche and paprika potato puree

The Beef cheek selection was delicious, tender and melts in the mouth. Surprisingly it tastes very similar to my own brazed short ribs.  The potatoes were smooth and fresh, like they were whipped right on the plane.  I definitely would order this again if I were forced to.


The desert menu was a choice of three of the following:

  1. Gourmet cheese with garnishes
  2. Chocolate ganache
  3. A selection of fresh fruit


Cherry vanilla ice cream

Gourmet coffees and selection of fine teas with pralines.  What was actually delivered was a choice of cherry vanilla ice cream or chocolate cake.  I selected the ice cream with cherry drizzle on top, and it looked like the same Singapore Sling radiator fluid drizzled. There were large chunks of cherries inside of the ice cream.  The serving portion was small but very flavorful.

At about three hours into my flight I asked for my bed to be made which entails the Singapore girl flipping the back of the seat down to create a bed already made with a duvet and blanket.  It was kind of like a convertible sofa, which explains why the seat position felt like there was a metal bar under the seat.   I am not convinced that the seats are very comfortable.

Sunset over the north Pacific Ocean SQ11

I was able to get a couple of hours of sleep and then woke to look outside to a beautiful Pacific sunset.  I got up and walked around the upper deck.  It was actually cramped with all of the business class cubicles squeezed into the plane. When I got back to economy class I could see that they were really shoe horned into the seats.

Mid flight snacks

Selection of snacks including Sour cream and onion chips, apple crisps, Hershey chocolate bars, Ramen noodles, soba noodles, selection of fresh fruit, chicken burritos with guacamole and salsa. I took about 8 Hershey bars and slipped them into my luggage.

Light meal menu (or Last supper)

About two hours prior to landing hot towels were delivered to freshen up and the Singapore girl confirmed my “Book the Chef” order of Crab Raviolis.

I think the Crab Raviolis were the best thing on the menu.

The menu choices were as follows:


Smoked salmon with honey mustard sauce

Smoked Salmon starter, with roll and garlic bread


  1. Bacon cheese quiche with tomato Provençale and grilled vegetables
  2. Thai red curry beef, stir-fried cauliflower, carrot, sugar peas and steamed jasmine rice

Again, I had previously “Booked the Chef” and selected the crab filled ravioli, which was an excellent choice. The crab was not fishy and the ravioli was fresh.  I am not sure what the sauce was but it tasted like a pumpkin sauce.

Crab filled ravioli with fresh steamed vegetables


Chocolate pudding with raspberry compote

Gourmet coffees & selection of fine teas

Chocolate pudding with raspberry compote

We arrive at NRT about 10 minutes early and taxied to Terminal 4 gate 46.  All passengers had to deplane for the two hour layover prior to continuing to Singapore.  All personal items had to be removed from the plane.  We exited quickly and cleared security, carry ons items went through metal detectors and passengers walked through metal detectors. We did not have to remove shoes.  Near gate 44 is the ANA Business class lounge where we were able to catch a quick shower, change, and sample the udon bar, the infamous ANA beer machine and relax prior to boarding the continuation flight.

More to come, including the baggage missing for two hours!


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100-2000 point bonus on all FedEx shipments through Feb 28, 2013

Here is another way to add to passive points earning as described in my previous posts on earning Miles per Minute.

Sign up to earn bonus points on eligible shipments through February 28.FedEx Rewards is offering a 100 point bonus for every eligible domestic FedEx shipment and 2000 bonus points for every eligible to China, Hong Kong and Korea between now and February 28, 2013. I signed up my employers FedEx account and have passively earned over 125,000 FedEx Rewards points in the last 12 months.  FedEx reward have a low redemption value, but for me nets out to about 1-2 $100 Home Depot gift cards which can be used in conjunction with the 10% off Lowe’s coupon given out like candy in the free moving kits at the US Post Office.You do not have to be a FedEx Rewards member to browse their online catalogue.

To open a free FedEx Rewards account click here. I do not receive any commission or renumeration from this offer.

Linking an American Express Gold Rewards card to your FedEx account also earns 2 points per dollar.

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COSTCO Refund Update

A week ago I blogged about COSTCO’s Incredible refund policy. One of the comments was that the commenter spoke to her husband’s friend who had a friend who…..and he is a manager at COSTCO and he says they don’t give refunds any more.

Well I went to my local COSTCO store and interviewed the manager specifically proposed the following:

1) My company wants to buy 4 new custom computers from the online store.

2) We are not sure if they will workout because two of the employees want to go with Apple computers.

3) If we bought them and had to return them what would the policy be? Do we get stuck with a gift card?

She immediately answered that I would only get a refund on a gift card if that is what I wanted. I could also get it in cash or a check. Except if I used an American Express card, then they would have to refund it on the American Express card that I used.

I am thinking about returning the crappy windshield wipers and the cart that I used when I ordered all of those coins from the US Mint because it bent.

So there you have it!

As always Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV).

Oh, and one last word for George…. Bluebird.




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New $500 Citibank credit card

Just a quick note, my Citibank personal banker said to me Friday that he just came back from training session about a new version of Citibank Thank You Prestige Mastercard that will be testing in January in the San Diego, Seattle, and NYC markets.  The current Prestige card has an annual fee of $500 and comes with an annual companion ticket.  He did not have a lot of the details, but put me on the email list for when he had information he could release.

He also implied that it would come with TWO free tickets annually, that could be used for domestic or international travel.  Sounds to me like a lot of hot air, but I will be keeping my eye out for the offer.

I have not really been a fan of Citibank credit cards other than the AAdvantage mileage earning cards, he siad the relationship with AA has been strained since the bankruptcy filing. Citibank appears to be testing the market in high end cards.

Disclosure: I do not recieve any compensation from Citibank for any credit card promotional offers.

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COSTCO’s incredible refund policy

COSTCO has an incredible refund policy. I knew I could refund just about anything but earlier this summer I saw with my own eyes something that even I thought was beyond the pale. I saw a Costco member return an old barbecue grill. I mean old. The member complained that it had rusted out the bottom while sitting outside and was defective.

The grill showed marked wear and tear and the bottom was disintegrating. The representative happily applied a defective return label and took the item back, giving a cash refund to the member.

Returned barbecue at my local Costco store

Last year many people discovered that Costco.com purchases made with a MasterCard and Visa credit card could be returned to a Costco store and would be refunded in cash or check.  This caused a run on diamond engagement rings bought for tens of thousands of dollars to get frequent flyer miles or 2% cash back rewards. I did this once to verify that it actually worked, but I know of others who have done this several times.

1.) Purchase a 3.11 kt. diamond engagement ring at Costco.com


2.) Return the ring to a Costco store and get a check for the full amount including sales tax, take to bank to pay off credit card.

Soon Costco changed their policy to require that jewelry with a diamond larger than 1 caret in size was to be returned on the credit card that the item was purchased on.  
I want to emphasize that this pretty much does not work anymore for large diamond rings.
The reward for one large purchase was more than enough frequent flier miles on American Airlines for an off peak economy ticket to Europe or Asia or a one way business class ticket to Europe or Asia. 
Using the example purchase above, if you bought the one item with a Fidelity Visa 2% cash back credit card you would net a $1,072.27 rebate deposited into your Fidelity Brokerage account. Rebates apparently are non taxable income.
Some miles and points enthusiasts have discovered that there is a workaround (just don’t buy diamonds) and have continued to earn thousands of points and miles
They just <hidden> every possible option, if my MEMORY serves me right.
We will refund your membership fee in full at any time if you are dissatisfied.
We guarantee your satisfaction on every product we sell with a full refund. The following must be returned within 90 days of purchase for a refund: televisions, projectors, computers, cameras, camcorders, touchscreen tablets, MP3 players and cellular phones.

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