October Catch-Up

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A Mixed Bag of Changes to Alaska’s Mileage Plan

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Alaska Airlines has one of my favorite loyalty programs, so I tend to take careful note when they announce any program changes. In October, they they announced major cuts to the partnership with American Airlines. As of March 1, 2020 you will no longer be able to earn Alaska Mileage Plan miles on AA international flights (note: domestic flights have been ineligible since 2018). You also will no longer be able to redeem Mileage Plan miles for travel with American Airlines. Conversely, AAdvangtage members also will no longer be able to redeem AAdvantage miles for travel on Alaska Airlines.

As for why these things are happening, you need to look back to when Alaska acquired Virgin America. Prior to that the Alaska and AA route networks complemented each other well, but post acquisition, Alaska now competes on several AA routes and AA has been investing in their west coast route network based out of their LAX hub. These developments greatly reduce the need for cooperation between the two airlines. While disappointing, I feel this pull back was inevitable.

Alaska announced back in 2017 that they would partner with Singapore Airlines and offer reciprocal mileage earning as well as redemption opportunities. While reciprocal earning and the ability to book Alaska flights via KrisFlyer began at that time, it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that Singapore showed up as a bookable partner on the Mileage Plan site. It seems as though First Class isn’t available on all routing combinations and it doesn’t seem possible to redeem for flights on Singapore between the US and Europe. Since Alaska does offer a free stopover, there can be some solid opportunities for great award bookings via Singapore.

Speaking of Alaska’s stopover rules…they recently changed them to EXCLUDE stopovers when booking intra-Asia flights. At this time it doesn’t appear that stopovers in Asia between another region are affected. Example: Tokyo – Hong Kong – Singapore with a stopover in Hong Kong will not be allowed, while San Francisco – Hong Kong – Singapore with a stopover in Hong Kong will be allowed.

Global Entry Changes Coming, Bio-metric Security with Star Alliance, and Another Airport Allows Non-Flyers

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Global Entry, which is offered as a benefit on a number of premium credit cards, is stepping up its identification process which should make things easier for travelers and help get through process more quickly. US Customs and Border Patrol is currently testing facial recognition in lieu of fingerprinting at certain hubs and they expect to roll this out to more airports soon.

Star Alliance is also getting in on the facial recognition game and will soon allow passengers to upload selfies to be used for facial recognition. This would be used for check-in, baggage drop, and boarding. Lufthansa has invested in this technology already and non-Star Alliance airlines Delta and British Airways have already been testing and using facial recognition for boarding at select gates.

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Detroit now joins Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Tampa in allowing non-ticketed passengers through security. The current limit is set at 75 people per day, it is only available between 8am- 8pm, and requires pre-registration. It is nice to see that airports are starting to relax some security rules and in general I can’t find a compelling reason why I would want to go to an airport as a non-passenger, but can understand the desire of certain family members to see off a loved one or perhaps meet someone airside on a quick layover. Regardless, I welcome the relaxing of current rules and the option that provides interested individuals.

QF 7879 – The Longest Flight in the World (for a day)

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Qantas flew their new Boeing 787-9 not from Seattle back to Sydney, but detoured to New York in order to make a 20 hour flight back to Australia. But why? Well, for one there is certainly the publicity aspect as the public loves to hear about these ultra-long flights, but for Qantas at this stage it is for research. This flight is part of Project Sunrise, which is Qantas looking at the viability of ultra long distance flights connecting Australia with cities such as New York and London. The airline is studying the effects of ultra long flights on passengers and how to potentially tailor products and services to passengers based on what the observe during their research. At the earliest they say these ultra long flights could go live in 2022-23 (if they do at all).

Citi Adds New Transfer Partner, Earning MR with Rakuten, and Amex Extends (again) Lufthansa Lounge Access

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Citi Thank You points can now be transferred to Aeromexico, which brings the total partners to 14 (not including Jet Privilege of the non-operating Jet Airways). Over the past 24 months Citi has been slowly adding partners and while there haven’t been any earth shattering additions (cough cough American), the value of Thank You points has been gradually increasing and I welcome this latest addition.

Perhaps you are more of a Membership Rewards person…or maybe you want to be a Membership Rewards person? Back in February Rakuten allowed newly created accounts to earn Membership Rewards (while old accounts continued to earn cash back). Well, now those who had accounts prior to the change over can actually go into their account settings and switch over to earning Membership Rewards! The “catch” here is that you’ll need to have an eligible American Express card with Membership Rewards so that you will have a place to transfer the points earned through Rakuten. This is a great change and has the potential to offer tons of value to those who shop online a lot.

If you don’t have an American Express card that earns MR, my favorite one is the Amex Platinum. Over the past 2 years the Amex Platinum has slowly expanded its relationship with the Lufthansa lounges. First debuting in September 2017, lounge access was offered in Munich if you were flying on Lufthansa in any class of service. Then in 2018 they expanded the offer to include Frankfurt airport as well. The offer was set to expire at the end of October, but has yet again been extended until March 31, 2020. I’m not sure if American Express is trying to make this permanent, or if there is a larger partnership with Lufthansa in the works (similar to Delta), but whatever the reason, this is definitely a great perk for Amex Platinum cardholders!

American Airlines Continues to Expand Dynamic Award Pricing

Expected news here – dynamic pricing has continued to expand across the AA route network and calendar. But what does this really mean and should we be changing how we approach award values? Like with most things points related the answer is “maybe”…and “kinda.” At the end of October, we saw UNPRECEDENTED award fares to Australia and New Zealand at 6k AA points one way and 10k RT. Yes, that is not a typo, you could get a flight to/from the US and Australia for 5,000 American AAdvantage points. That. Is. Insane. What else is insane? Well, the fact that flying OW from Los Angeles to Sydney on Dec 18th, 19th, or 20th in Economy will cost 150k AA miles.

This is the “problem” with dynamic pricing. Consumers don’t know what a good vs. bad deal really is. With the old chart I could tell you MileSAAver from US to Australia would be 40k OW in Economy, AAnytime Level 1 would be 70k, and AAnytime Level 2 would be 90k. Unless you were in a dire situation or had tons of points to burn, many would stay away from AAnytime awards and would look to book MileSAAver. 40k points is a reasonable amount for an economy flight, 150k is downright insane (and literally “off the chart” mind you, as the AA chart never went that high for economy). This is the new reality with dynamic pricing, so be prepared to come up with your own value per point and warm up those calculator fingers, because figuring out what is a good deal is much less transparent than it used to be!

Air France Further Limits Who May Book La Premiere Award Tickets

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La Premiere has consistently been one of the best first class products available offering exquisite food, coveted seats, and an unparalleled lounge experience in Paris. It has always been difficult to book La Premiere using points as it has been restricted to Air France’s frequent flyer elites only – Flying Blue Silver, Gold, and Platinum members. Effective immediately Flying Blue Silver status will no longer be enough to allow you to book Air France’s first class product with points. That is now restricted to Gold and Platinum members. On the one hand this is a real shame as it further restricts the number of people that have access to the product, but I think it also does something very smart. The new measure forces those who book first class via points to be individuals that have been loyal to Air France and that is truly the point of a “loyalty” program.

Boeing 777X and Lufthansa’s New Business Class Delayed Until at least 2021

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Boeing really hasn’t had the best year and now it announced that it doesn’t expect its first delivery of the new 777X until 2021. 325 of the planes have currently been ordered with with the two largest orders coming from Emirates and Qatar for 150 and 60, respectively. I would not be surprised to see a large portion of these orders cancelled until timelines are better known. Flight tests still appear to be on track for early 2020, but who knows if that date will slip as well. For me, the biggest bummer here that Lufthansa had planned to install their new business class on these planes. Their current business class is lagging the competition and the new design is a nice 1-2-1, where all seats have aisle access and in the middle section you also get some “throne” seats. Perhaps Lufthansa will adjust and retrofit existing aircraft?

British Airways to Carbon Offsets its Domestic Flights

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British Airways has a plan to be carbon neutral by 2050 and one step towards that goal is them offsetting their domestic flights starting January 1, 2020. As domestic flights are such a small portion of their overall business, my hunch here is that this is sort of a test to see what the costs will run. It doesn’t appear that they are passing any cost directly along to the customer, but I can’t see a way that they don’t increase cost somewhere along the way. That being said, I am somewhat okay with a minor cost increase in order to offset emissions. British Airways’ longer term plans for carbon emission reduction comes through full modernization of their fleet to more fuel efficient planes as well as continuing to partner with fuel producers to create cleaner burning and more efficient fuels. Hopefully others will follow this lead and this will become a more standard business practice.

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September Catch-Up

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American Express Delta Card Updates, Updated Transfer Rules, and Benefits Changes

As we noted in the April Catch-Up, Amex and Delta extended their partnership through 2029, which signaled that there would be some major investment and increased cooperation between the two parties. Instead of re-hasing all of the details, Greg, over at Frequent Miler put together this great article detailing the card changes. These changes take effect in January and to me the Delta Reserve card has a couple of changes that are quite positive. If you hold that card, you have access to Amex Centurion lounges when flying Delta on the same day, which is a very cool and unique benefit for cobrand card. The other interesting item is that you can earn 60k MQMs with $120k in spend each year. That is enough to get you Gold status. If you are doing some heavy spend and want to get that status under your belt, this is an easy way. It also puts you in striking distance of Platinum from the perspective of MQMs needing only 15k MQMs to get to the next tier.

Membership Rewards are extremely valuable to transfer out to partners and one of the benefits of being an authorized user on an American Express card is the ability to transfer points out to your frequent flyer account. As of September 1 Amex now requires all authorized users to be listed on the account for 90 days prior to being able to transfer points to their account. This is obviously a tactic Amex is employing to prevent people from abusing the rewards program and violating terms regarding the sale of points (add someone as an AU, they pay you for points, points are transferred out, AU is removed), and because of this, I don’t have a problem with this change. Keep in mind, you can still transfer points out to your own accounts and book tickets in the name of other people (provided the frequent flyer program allows this). Thus, for the vast majority of members, this change is nothing to be alarmed about and is there to help reduce fraud potential on the rewards program.

As of January 1, trip interruption and cancellation insurance as well as travel delay insurance will be added to a number of cards. Depending on the card that you hold, you will see the delay insurance kick in at 6+ hours on select premium products vs. 12+ hours on other select products. So what are you losing? Amex is pulling back on their purchase warranties and purchase protection reducing warranties from 2 years to 1 on cerntain cards and removing it entirely from other products, while purchase protection will be reduced from 120 days to 90 days. Lastly, travel accident insurance and roadside assistance is being removed entirely. While these items can represent a massive amount of value if they are used, most members never use them and many may not even be aware that they exist. Overall, I think the added benefits are of greater value than the ones removed for the average customer.

What Happened to Thomas Cook?

Thomas Cook’s history stretches back almost 180 years and has been a stalwart in the travel industry in the UK and Europe as far back as any living person can remember. On September 22, this all changed when the company ceased operations leaving roughly 150,000 travelers stranded. So the big question is how did we get here? The short story is while the airline was doing decently well, the parent company had taken on a lot of debt and the Brexit disaster has just been too much for them. CNN did a great piece on how much Brexit played into this, citing a weaker pound (thus hammering margins on company known for budget travel), and fewer customers (again, due to the weakness of the pound against the euro and other currencies). It is still too early to tell how everything will shake out, but it is certainly sad to see such a long-lived and much loved company fall.

Oneworld to Lose LATAM, United’s PlusPoints, and other Alliance notes

Delta has acquired a 20% stake in LATAM and the two will be creating a joint venture. On top of this, LATAM has announced that they will be leaving Oneworld, leaving a massive gap for the alliance in South America. It is unknown at this point as to whether or not LATAM will join SkyTeam or how the current partnership with Alaska will exist moving forward. Another interesting note – Qatar owns 10% of LATAM and seeing how Delta and Qatar having been feuding for years, this could make for an interesting arrangement!

While Oneworld is losing a South American partner, there are reports that Star Alliance is looking at Azul to fill their current gap in Brazil. One has to wonder if Oneworld now has interest in this airline based on their current situation. Assuming Azul does join a major alliance, it will make for a nice addition helping to plug in some of the holes in the South American route network.

United announced PlusPoints, which is replacing the way Platinum and 1K members upgrade. Currently members get Global Premier and/or Regional Premier Upgrades to use to upgrade at time of booking. Moving forward as of December 4th, members will use a point system to book their upgrades. Instead of the “one size fits all” for upgrades that exists now, the points system will be tiered and will allow for more flexibility of usage with a better value proposition. I do see some instances where individuals could be left with a small amount of unusable points at the end of the year, but presumably they would be able to get more value out of the points that were used vs how they would have upgraded under the old system.

American has been really working hard this year adding functionality and partner bookings to their website and now they have announced that you can book Cathay Pacific direct from the website. It used to be that you couldn’t even reliably see availability and would have to call in to book, whereas now flights can be seen across the calendar. Hopefully this trend continues – and this is something I’d hope to see from all major airlines – the ability to book all of your partners with your points currency. You’d think this wouldn’t be too much to ask.

Lounge News

Chicago O’Hare opened the Butch O’Hare Family Lounge in September, which is an 1,800 square foot area for families with seating, toys, climbing structures, funhouse mirrors, and video games. While there is no food, drinks, showers, or restrooms available, it does offer a number of charging outlets so your devices can charge up while your kids expend energy.

In Melbourne and Sydney you will find lounges under the moniker “The House,” and as of last month they have officially joined Priority Pass. These lounges are the old Etihad lounges that have been turned over to a third party to manage, so should be decently nice. The kicker here is that unlike other Priority Pass lounges where admittance is covered under the membership, these lounges charge you 20AUD copay. Both of these airports have a shortage of lounges, so perhaps the purveyors figured the reimbursement amount from Priority Pass wasn’t suitable enough for them? On the other hand, it could be that these lounges offer an elevated food and beverage experience catering to Etihad premium cabin travelers. While I have yet to experience the lounge and see if the 20AUD is warranted, this may signal that going forward additional lounges could be added with copays in other cities. What are your thoughts – how much of a copay would you be willing to shell out for lounge access?

New Cobranded Walmart Credit Card and Changes to a Classic Citi Card

Capital One released a cobranded Walmart card in September which has some compelling earn rates.

  • 5% back on purchases at Walmart.com
  • 5% back on in-store purchases when using Walmart Pay for the first 12 months after approval as a special introductory offer
  • 2% back on Walmart purchases in stores outside of the introductory offer
  • 2% back on restaurants and travel
  • 1% percent back everywhere else

If you are doing in-store purchases the 5% in the first year is great, but after that the offer isn’t as compelling as there are a number of other products in the marketplace that can beat a straight 2% back. However, if you do a lot of volume on Walmart.com or are willing to adjust purchasing behavior to order online and pickup in store, this card could be worth it. Regardless, any card offering 5% cash back should get your attention and is worthy of a second look.

Citi Double Cash Card is a solid product that offers 1% cash back when you purchase and an additional 1% cash back when you pay your bill, for a total of 2%. In September, Citi made changes which allow the Citi Double Cash points to be converted to ThankYou points when you have an eligible card to which they can be transferred (Citi Premier, Citi Prestige). Once the points have been moved, they are eligible to be transferred out to partners. This is a BIG DEAL as Citi has in effect created a 2x transferable points card with no category restrictions. As a comparison, Blue Business Plus from American Express also has 2x on anything, but caps that spend at $50k per calendar year. If you have been on the fence about getting the Double Cash card, this should push you solidly into the “get it” camp. Citi has added several partners over the past few years and really increased the value of TY points.

Global Entry Good for 1 Year Post Expiration

It took me about 6 months to be approved for my Global Entry renewal and while most people don’t require interviews, I did not get so lucky. Now I’m sitting with an approved application and awaiting an interview, yet virtually no interview centers are conducting interviews. The good news for me is that I don’t expire until the end of October and now the grace period has been extended from 6 months to 12 months. My plan at this stage is to get an interview either up in DC or in New York sometime in the next few months, but until then, I need not worry about my Global Entry or PreCheck status. If you are eligible for renewal (from 12 months prior to expiration) be sure to get the application done immediately. You will definitely be waiting for months, so give yourself the flexibility down the road if you are like me and require an interview.

Las Vegas to Institute Flat Rates for Cabs between the Airport to the Strip

Taxi cab drivers taking the “scenic route” to a destination is nothing new. Sometimes it may be to get the passenger there in a way that avoids traffic and other times it is to generate a couple of extra bucks. Las Vegas is well known for these types of antics and companies such as Lyft and Uber have added some transparency in this regard and now we are seeing the city responding by instituting flat fares between the Strip and the airport to be fully phased in by Jan. 1, 2020. The zones are as follows:

• Zone 1 — $19 from Sunset Road north to Tropicana Avenue (think Luxor and Mandalay Bay)

• Zone 2 — $23 from Tropicana Avenue north to Flamingo Road (think Bellagio and Aria)

• Zone 3 — $27 from Flamingo Road north to the Stratosphere Hotel (think Stratosphere and Sahara)

When it comes to tourism and travel, greater transparency is always better and I applaud this measure.

You Will NOT be Receiving $125 from the Equifax Settlement

For those not familiar with class action lawsuits they essentially work like this: claim is filed and the case is argued in court, judge finds for plaintiffs, judge awards damages, damages split among parties. Now yes, that is EXTREMELY simplified, but is important in this case. The ruling against Equifax was for between $575-700 million (the range is depending on claims made). The FTC sent out an e-mail stating people could claim their share, which would be $125. The problem is there were 147 million individuals identified as having their data breached…so the math for $125 just doesn’t work unless only 4.6 million people file claims. Well, for those that did file a claim, an email came through in early September that stated the following:

According to our records, you filed a claim for alternative compensation of up to $125 in connection with the Equifax data breach settlement and certified on the claim form that you had some form of credit monitoring or protection in place and will continue to have the credit monitoring in place for a minimum of six months from the date of your claim filing.

You must either verify or amend your claim by October 15, 2019.

If you do not, your claim for alternative compensation will be denied.

To verify your claim for alternative compensation, you must provide the name of your credit monitoring service that you had in place when you filed your claim.

– OR –

You can amend your claim to request free credit monitoring instead of alternative compensation.

The easiest way to verify or amend your claim is by visiting the official Settlement Website here.

Please note that if you do not take action by October 15, 2019, your claim for alternative compensation will be denied.

It seems as though there are a few more hoops through which we must jump and at the end of the day, I wouldn’t hold my breath for that $125…

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August Catch-Up

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Chase Adds Emirates as its Newest Ultimate Rewards Transfer Parter

Emirates Skywards is now the 13th program to which Ultimate Rewards can be transferred. On the surface this may not seem very exciting – noting that the best ways to fly Emirates on points is generally not through their own program, but it is important in my opinion for 2 reasons. First, with this partnership, Citi Thank You points become the last major points currency from which you cannot transfer to Emirates. Second, it shows us that Chase is still working to bolster its partnerships. I was disappointed when last year Korean was removed, and this certainly is not an equal replacement, but does offer hope.

Emirates redemptions are somewhat lackluster on their own metal (and can come with some significant surcharges) but do offer more interesting options with their partners. For example one way flights on JetBlue can be had for a mere 7,500 points, while one-way flights on Gol can be even cheaper at 4,500 points. Emirates also partners with airlines that service more exotic destinations, such as Air Mauritius.

Delta is About to go on a Flight Attendant Hiring Spree

Delta is planning on hiring 1,000 flight attendants in 2020, so if you have ever had the itch, now might be the time. If you’re 18 or older by January 1, 2020, hold a high school diploma or equivalent, are authorized to work in the United States, and are fluent in English, feel free to apply! Also, you might want to have some interest in planes, flying, airports or something like that. Oh, and I hope you have a lot of patience because in my opinion that is probably the most important trait that the best FAs have in common! You can apply HERE.

British Airways Adds $600 Award Surcharge Rebate to their Co-Brand Credit Card

At first it would seem this makes the decision to pick up the British Airways Signature Visa from Chase a no-brainer. However, the fine print shows a less compelling deal and to me smells like a money grab.

We all know British Airways has some painful surcharges which make certain redemptions almost pointless. These surcharge rebates can help in this arena but their are some specific conditions that can be met.

  1. There is up to a $200 rebate for an award flight in first or business class
  2. There is up to a $100 rebate for an award in economy or premium economy
  3. The credit is limited to 3 uses per year (hence the maximum of $600, if one was to use it three times on first/business class booking)
  4. The award flight must be operated by British Airways, be transatlantic, and must originate in the United States (the award ticket may have connecting flights that are non-BA operated)
  5. Taxes and fees must be paid with the Chase British Airways Visa Signature card
  6. Award must be booked from the cardholder’s British Airways Avios account

I say this seems like another money grab because it seems to be a passive acknowledgment from British Airways that their surcharges are high, but instead of reducing them, they shift the revenue burden from the fee to the co-brand card agreement with Chase. Either way, they are making that money somewhere.

The fee restrictions aren’t really that unreasonable, but is it worth it just to fly British Airways? A JFK-LHR one-way has a massive difference in fees on an award ticket between BA and AA with BA flights charging ~$530 vs. AA charging $5.60. I’m not here to argue which airline is better, but merely to point out how much higher the BA fees are than competitors on the exact same route. In order to get the maximum rebate of $600, you’d need to shell out over $1,500 AND pay the annual fee on the card. It is an interesting development, but a pass for me at this time.

British Airways Pilots Set Strike Dates

On the topic of BA, the British Airline Pilots Association announced that British Airways pilots will strike on September 9, 10, and 27th, so if you are planning on fly British Airways on those dates, call the airline and make other arrangements. I don’t intend on getting into the nitty gritty of this strike, but it is interesting to point out that this will be the first time British Airways pilots have gone on strike.

New Restrictions on “The Club” Lounges and Opening Schedules for New Centurion Lounges

For those that don’t know, The Club is a network of lounges located in 12 airports around the US that participate in Priority Pass. As of September 1 they will not allow entry prior to 3 hours before boarding. A similar change was made by American Express in their Centurion lounges for the same reason – to control overcrowding. I am not against this change, but it may mean a bit more wandering around for someone with a long layover.

A potentially more painful terms change is that of allowing children 12 and under in free of charge to now only allowing children 2 or under free of charge. Priority Pass members are typically allowed themselves and 2 guests in for free and in this case young children were not counted. Now, a family of 5 with 3 children over the age of 3 will need at least 2 Priority Pass memberships to enter the lounge. This change also went into effect on September 1.

Some brighter news is that American Express has provided a little bit more clarity on opening dates for the newest additions to the Centurion Lounge portfolio. Phoenix will be the first to come online, targeting a November 2019 opening. London – Heathrow and New York – JFK are both slated for the “first half of 2020,” while Charlotte, Denver and Los Angeles are all tarted as just “2020,” which leads me to believe they will be in the latter half of the year.

While we only have month and year for one of lounges, it should be noted that on average these lounges are larger than the ones currently in operation. Dallas and Miami are currently the largest, both at around 12,500 sq. ft., whereas the other six US lounges range from 4,500 – 8,500 sq. ft. LHR and PHX will be the smallest lounges in this new batch at 7,000 and 9,500 sq. ft. respectively, but the other four all come in between 13,000-15,000 sq. ft. which shows me that American Express is committed to expanding the both the portfolio footprint and the footprint of the individual lounges.

United Miles No Longer Expire

Great news, right? For those who rarely accrue MileagePlus miles, yes it is, but if you’re reading this you most likely don’t fall into that camp. United is certainly taking on greater liability by eliminating miles expiration, but I fear they are (and will be) mitigating that with less transparency with award redemptions and future devaluations. Delta was the first to do this and as airlines remove close-in booking fees, mileage expirations, and other items which on the surface are beneficial to customers they are pulling levers elsewhere to ensure their loyalty programs remain profitable. This profitability comes from “dynamic” award pricing, lower earn rates on each ticket class, and fewer available award seats. Of course I hope this isn’t the path down which United intends to go, but I am not holding out much hope.

Marriott to Eliminate Single Use Toiletries by 2021

Last month I wrote about IHG’s decision to stop issuing single use toiletries in their hotels and now on the heels of that comes Marriot’s similar announcement. I wholeheartedly praise this move and while I admit that from time to time I like to take some home with me, I am thrilled to see Marriott flex their corporate responsibility muscle and play a role in creating more environmentally conscious business practices. Marriott currently estimates that annually they stock 500 million small plastic containers, which equates to 1.7 million pounds of plastic waste. About 1,000 properties within North America have already switched over to the larger pump-type dispensers and most properties worldwide will move over to them by December of 2020.

Chase Pay App to Shut Down in 2020

The Chase Pay app, which allows users to to pay with their credit card using their cell phones at select retailers will be shut down in early 2020. Chase stated they will be focusing more on online payment methods as they look for ways to take on competitors like PayPal. If you have any credits in your Chase Pay account, those too will expire in early 2020, so be sure to cash them out!

Apple Credit Card – Not Suitable for Wallets!

Well, Apple is going to do things their way – always…and the Apple credit card is no exception. We did a deeper dive into the card back in March but noted that the design and intended use of the card was based around the use of ApplePay and purchases of Apple media and hardware. Apple did note the need for a physical card and in Apple fashion set out to make sure their card was sleek and secure. The card is coated with titanium and very quickly card users noticed that their cards weren’t up to the task when it came to the daily rigors of…well…being a credit card. Apple issued a statement that due to the card’s titanium finish, it shouldn’t touch certain materials such as denim or leather as it will discolor the card shouldn’t be stored in a wallet with other cards, in pockets with any loose change, keys, or other objects, and in general should not be placed on or near hard objects that can cause chipping. So there you have it, Apple created a beautiful card that effectively can’t be used as a normal person would use a card!

Status Update on United Polaris Roll Out

It was over 3 years ago that United unveiled the Polaris product and still at the end of 2019 only about one third of their wide body aircraft have been reconfigured. As of now United states that roughly 50% of wide body aircraft will offer the new product by the end of 2019 with the remainder being retrofitted/delivered (new aircraft) in 2020. To me a four year roll out of a product that only brings your airline on par with others isn’t exactly impressive. The lounges, on the other hand are far and away the best business class lounges offered by any US carrier (albeit with heavy restrictions on who may use them).

Only 5 Polaris lounges have been opened – LAX, IAH, ORD, SFO, and EWR. One is currently under construction at IAD and future locations are planned for HKG, LHR, and NRT but without targeted open dates.

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July Catch-Up

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American Express Airline Credits – Where Are We Now?

Over the past few years data points would crop up of gift card purchases not triggering the annual airline credit offered on a variety of American Express cards, only to quickly be reconfirmed as working. It would appear now that those days are over. Ranging from $100-250 annually, these credits have always been a great way to get a few extra bucks for travel. To me this was always a “when” as opposed to an “if,” – so with the gift card loophole closed, what options still exist for using these credits?

The intention of these credits has never been to be used to purchase airfare, yet there data points that suggest airfare under $100 from Southwest and Jet Blue has triggered the credit. It doesn’t seem like this is a 100% guarantee, but is an option worth exploring. Also, airfare from Delta purchased partially with Delta gift cards appears to trigger the credit. The thought here is that the coding of the purchase comes through slightly differently than a normal ticket and thus Amex picks it up as non-ticket spend.

More in line with the benefit design, the following items are reported to still be working:

  • Baggage Fees
  • Ticket Change and Cancellation Fees
  • Phone Reservation Fees
  • Seat Selection Fees
  • On-board Food and Beverages
  • Pet Fees
  • Lounge Passes and Memberships
  • Southwest’s “Early Bird” Check-In
  • TSA Security Fees UP TO $5.60 (data points suggest award tickets with segment fees above $5.60 are not triggering)
  • United On-board WiFi (other carriers’ wifi is billed from the provider, not the airline)

For some card members these changes could be the difference between keeping and dumping a card. This will vary from person to person, but to me, these credits were effectively as good as cash. Now, I find myself in a position of seeing how best to use these credits with a designated airline without changing habits too much. It is worth the time to look at how the credits can work for you and if the value still remains on these cards.

American Express to Stop Allowing Points Earning on 3rd Party Gift Cards?

Right now, file this one solidly in the “maybe” column. It has always been bad news to try and hit a sign-up bonus on an Amex card by buying gift cards as they have expressly forbidden this, but it has more or less been open season on regular purchases (Simon Malls excluded). The language below has been on several cards for over a year and has crept onto a few more in recent months :

Eligible purchases are purchases for goods and services minus returns and other credits. Eligible purchases do NOT include fees or interest charges, balance transfers, cash advances, purchases of travelers checks, purchases or reloading of prepaid cards, purchases of gift cards, person-to-person payments, or purchases of other cash equivalents.

Knowing this, how should you act? On the one end of the spectrum, this language has been around for a while and Amex hasn’t taken action across the board. My view is that this isn’t targeting the casual purchaser of gift cards, but the true manufactured spender. This language allows Amex to deny points and even trigger financial reviews and other account limiting maneuvers. Depending on how risk tolerant you are, you may decide to move gift card spending to another card or continue as is. For now, this is something to watch and it would also be prudent to take a peek at those statements and see if gift card purchases are still tracking for you.

American Airlines Updates – Award Bookings, Fees, Legal Disputes and More!

Some good news regarding AA awards – JAL award tickets can now be searched and booked on AA.com, becoming the 16th partner for AA currently bookable via the website. As of now only economy, business, and first class show up, with premium economy not being bookable.

On the flip side, AA flights are again showing up on Iberia Plus. This is great news as it opens up some sweet spots where using Avios (distance based chart) is typically more favorable than the AA zone based (soon to be dynamic) chart. Unlike British Airways Avios, which are charged per segment, Iberia Plus Avios can be used on connecting itineraries, increasing their value over their UK brother.

A couple months back Citi added 48 month language to some application links for American co-branded cards, while other remained at 24. It appears now that Citi has changed all of its applications for AA cards to 48 month restrictions. This may change one’s strategy going forward, so be sure to read the fine print on those applications.

AA has been fighting for months with its mechanics union and while there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight, American did recently win some additions to their restraining order against the union. The restraining order essentially relates to behavior from the union meant to delay flights for mechanical reasons. The courts stepped in and listed out what the union was allowed and not allowed to do in regards to AA’s requests. In short, this is a temporary win for AA customers hoping for limited mechanical delays on flights.

It appears that close-in booking fees will be disappearing from American’s award booking system in the near future. As with most award terms changes there is good and bad. The good news is pretty obvious – lower fees. The bad news is a bit hazier – American is shifting to a dynamic award chart, so while they may be dropping a $75 fee for booking within 21 days of departure, they could jack up the price of the ticket by 20k points in that time frame. This would not at all surprise me and would give award bookers fewer low cost options. While it isn’t set in stone, it certainly is a move away from transparency.

Air France’s Plans for a Post A380 World

Air France announced last month that they will be retiring all of their A380s by 2022. This comes as no surprise as the plane will be ending production in 2021 and with the advent of more efficient plane and engine designs, the behemoth has fewer and fewer profitable routes left. The A350 and 787s have opened up smaller cities for profitable direct routes, limiting the need for a major hub and spoke system. This is not unique to Air France, but they have been one of the few to succinctly lay our\t their plans for the next few years.

They are currently looking at both Airbus and Boeing to order as many as nine A330-900, A350-900 or 787-9 aircraft to replace the A380s. Air France is also replacing its A318s and A319s with the new A220-300. The airline is looking to streamline operations by both lowering fuel burn per seat and standardizing fleet products and configurations. Seeing as how the airline already has 787s in its fleet and about 30 A350s on order, it would seem the airline would go that route over new A330-900s (for the sake of standardization).

It is interesting insight into the future of air travel and a world without the super-jumbos transporting passengers. While I am sad to see the A380 (and 747) go, having flown in some of the newer generation aircraft I am happy to say they offer a higher level of comfort and do so with less negative environmental impact.

Minor Changes That Make Large Impacts

Several interesting tidbits caught my eye this past month look to elevate/differentiate brands in the world of travel. First, Dubai International Airport has opened a new lounge that is exclusively for children traveling as unaccompanied minors. As I read this, (and admittedly, I had never thought of it) I was shocked that it hadn’t been done before. It is such a great idea to provide a safe place that can entertain children on layovers and take some of the anxiety out of flying alone at such a young age.

While not nearly as meaningful of a change, it is still noteworthy that Delta is finishing up its fine tuning of changes to its international economy food and beverage service. They will soon start providing hot towels, beverages from a tray, premium appetizers, more choices, and other small touches such as post-meal chocolates. This doesn’t take the economy experience to a level on-par with business class (or even premium economy), but does elevate it to a point where as a passenger you will notice and appreciate the little bit of extra care. It will be interesting to see if and how other US carriers respond.

As of the end of July, IHG has fully eliminated miniature bath amenities at its properties around the world. According to the CEO, they currently place around 200 million units at their hotels each year. That is an incredible number and by stopping this practice they will be eliminating a lot of waste and fulfilling a portion of their company-wide green initiative. This of course means that we can expect to find bulk amenities going forward at IHG properties. A lot of folks don’t like that idea, but when the hotels take care to make sure that a) they are filled, b) they don’t have gunked up dispensers, and c) they are presented in a classy and clean way I am all for it.

United and CLEAR Announce Partnership

First, what is CLEAR? CLEAR is a service that saves time by allowing you to bypass the first step of the TSA process, the ID check. You scan your fingerprints and are immediately escorted past the TSA ID checker. At larger, busier airports this can save a lot of time, especially for a frequent traveler.

The service normally costs $179 each year, but for United MileagePlus members the pricing is as follows:

  • Global Services and Premier 1K members will receive a CLEAR membership free of charge
  • Premier Platinum, Gold, and Silver members, as well as most United credit card members, will receive a discounted membership rate of $109
  • All other MileagePlus members can purchase membership for $119

Delta also has a partnership with CLEAR and the pricing seen here closely reflects that of Delta. Overall, this is a great development – especially for United elites at a busy hub airport.

Another Data Breach – This Time Capital One

I feel like we are all so numb to data breaches – at this point is there ANYONE that hasn’t had data affected? I guess the answer is yes if you have never had credit, don’t have a social security number, have never shopped at Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot, Lowes, eBay, Adobe, Marriott, or don’t use Facebook, Yahoo….you get the point. The latest major breach hit Capital One to the tune of 100 million US customers and about 6 million Canadian customers. While data that was accessed varied by person, Capital One, like so many others is offering free credit monitoring. Updates on the situation can be found here: https://www.capitalone.com/facts2019/

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June Catch-Up

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Boeing 737 MAX Update

Southwest, who is currently the largest operator of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft announced that the they have kept the aircraft off of the schedule until at least Oct 1. Both United and American Airlines stated they would consider extending the grounding if warranted.

The reason for this grounding extension comes from new FAA findings of an additional software flaw that is related to runway stabilization. This was found as part of the testing the FAA is doing on the Boeing software enhancements and highlights the importance of these tests and checks for crew and passenger safety.

Boeing is continuing to work on a solution and airlines are ready to extend their grounding of the 737 MAXes if necessary.

Russian E-Visa and New Requirements for a US Visa

Having applied for multiple Russian visas in the past, I was thrilled to hear that they are going to be moving to an e-visa in 2021. The visa would be single entry, valid for 16 days, with an expected cost around $50 USD. My personal experience obtaining this visa in the past has been painful with multiple trips to the consulate, an inability to get clear answers, and costs in the neighborhood of $250 for just the visa (no processing or outside firm usage costs).

My firm belief is that visa fees only punish tourists and those in the tourism industry. Many times these fees are used as retaliatory measures – country A imposes higher visa fee on country B, country B in turn raises fees on country A. It is a lose-lose in my book. Seeing Russia drop their current effective $198 visa fee to $50 while also providing an easier process for travelers is fantastic.

The United States however, is now requiring visa applicants to disclose social media accounts, which as expected has brought mixed reactions. On several occasions I have been asked about my cell phone when entering a country, but I have never had to answer questions about, or show my social media accounts. On the one hand, I have nothing to hide, yet, there is so much content that could be misinterpreted.

As with most changes like this, the question of HOW they will be used is key. There are the obvious indicators, such as posts regarding ones plans to attack the United States, but then there are other items, such as an individual arriving on a tourist visa who is a member of Facebook or LinkedIn groups about working or doing business in the United States.

I do believe that we will see more countries looking to tie physical individuals to their online presence and monitor them under the guise of state security. This is already done internally in China, and I think it is only a matter of time till this is expanded.

American Express Updates

June seemed to be a busy month for American Express with some new features and updates to existing products.

First up, the American Express Hilton Ascend will revert to its prior name, Hilton Surpass. I can’t figure out much of a reason for this, beyond the fact that the name was too close to the Hilton Aspire and that consumers were confused. It seems this re-re-branding will end up being a expense that American Express would rather not make, but that they feel is worth it in the long run.

Speaking of the Aspire, American Express mildly devalued the annual $250 resort credit as it no longer can be applied towards advance purchase rates. Typically these rates are less expensive AND enabled individuals to use the resort credit at the end of the year without losing it if they planned a trip in the future. I say this is a slight devaluation as the $250 credit remains intact, only now it’ll only apply to charges run during the stay.

The personal Gold Card has been a favorite of mine after it’s revamp late last year, but a common complaint was that it only coded US restaurants at 4x. Well, that has changed as now American Express had added this feature as of June 6. Keep in mind that the awarding of 4x depends on how the card processor is coded, so be mindful of that as you look at your statement. I have had some success calling Amex when I haven’t gotten the points I felt I deserved, but as with most things in this realm, YMMV.

In what I believe is an attempt to reduce abuse of the Membership Rewards program, Amex will now not allow transfers of points to authorize user frequent flyer accounts until that AU has been on the American Express account for 90 days. This will go into effect on September 1. Related to this is that as of September 28, no longer will business card authorized users be able to have their own Membership Rewards accounts. Points accrued will all be pooled under the main account.

American Express also announced that if card members don’t pay their bill on time they will forfeit the points earned during that billing statement. While we have always said carrying a balance is the first big no-no in the points game, this really adds an incentive to make sure the bill is paid on time!

Another interesting development is that it appears Ebates is working to bring Membership Rewards earning possibilities to CURRENT Ebates members. Under the current setup of the partnership it has been impossible to convert or select whether you earn cash back or Membership Rewards. It was required to create a completely new Ebates account and then select MR as your earning preference. Ebates is currently working with American Express to be able to offer this to current members. While I don’t know what all is involved in such a move, I am glad that both companies are working to make it happen.

Last, but certainly not least, the American Express Gold Card has its limited edition rose gold option back until July 17th! The catch here is that it is only available via referral from an existing member. The good news for you all is that I am a member with a referral link. While the best public offer currently out there (of which I am aware) is a 50k sign-up bonus, this link offers 40k, BUT also the rose gold card. I will say though, I do get a lot of comments when I pull out this card, and I do believe it is the prettiest of all of the cards in my wallet. So, if you are interested, feel free to use my link!

Global Entry Interview Delays

Through September 30, it is going to be a lot more difficult to find an opening for the required Global Entry interview with a Customs and Border Patrol officer. Due to the ongoing humanitarian crisis at the Mexican border, staff from around the US has been re-assigned there causing delays in normal operations. As with most things it is always better to start early than to wait until the last minute. My Global Entry expires at the end of October and I submitted my renewal application back at the end of January and it is still in review. At the rate things are going there is a very good chance that I will lapse before being able to interview. So if your window to begin the renewal process is coming up (1 year prior to expiration), jump on it, as we don’t know how long the wait will be!

Citi Removes Valuable Benefits

All I can say about this one is – WOW. Citi, like many issues offers a host of ancillary benefits for holding their cards, most which are seldom used by cardholders, but when used can provide a huge amount of value and ease of mind. As of September 22, Citi is removing the following benefits:

  • Car Rental Insurance
  • Trip Cancellation and Interruption Protection
  • Travel Accident Insurance
  • Trip Delay Insurance
  • Baggage Delay Protection
  • Lost Baggage Protection
  • Citi Price Rewind
  • 90-Day Return Protection
  • Roadside Assistance
  • Travel and Emergency Assistance
  • Medical Evacuation
  • Missed Event Ticket Protection

While navigating some of these benefits can be time consuming and a tad cumbersome, there is a lot of value being stripped away from Citi’s cards with the removal of these benefits. Price rewind and 90 day return protection are two major items that really hurt.

Citi stated that these benefits weren’t being used often and effectively that is why they removed them. To me this is a cop out. IF they weren’t being used, THEN there would be no cost to Citi. Citi could claim all of this value by offering them, but not have to actually pay for it. It is a win-win. What is actually going on (in my opinion), is that a small number of people were using the benefits in a major way (within the rules of the program) and Citi wanted to put a stop to it. Like with most things, this is about cost savings. Nothing else. My prediction here is Citi may lose a handful of customers, but will see some major spending shift away from their cards and onto their competitors with the removal of the purchase protections.

What do you plan on doing with your Citi cards now that these benefits are going away? Let us know in the comments!

Other Airline Tidbits Only I May Find Interesting

You may find them interesting as well, but really these are items that are noteworthy, innovative, or generally worth keeping an eye on.

KLM opened a paid restaurant in its business class lounge in Amsterdam. I think this is great. Most business lounges don’t offer a sit down restaurant with table service, and now that option exists with an menu with a decent amount of choices. All of the traditional lounge amenities are still in place, so this hasn’t been done at the expense of the buffet. I like it when airlines innovate in a positive way and I think this is a great example of that.

Jet Blue just purchased 13 Airbus A-321 XLRs. Why is this important? This means that Jet Blue will have a fleet that easily capable of penetrating into Europe. This coupled with the London announcement heavily hints at Jet Blue working to become a larger player in trans-Atlantic air travel.

Emirates announced that it will begin to “unbundle” business class tickets on certain routes. What does this mean? Well, it means you can purchase a business class ticket that is effectively just the seat and the on-board experience. You don’t get the lounge access, the additional multiplier on your flight miles, and you can’t select your seat ahead of time. I think for a lot of flights this could be a very solid value proposition, especially if it saves a decent amount of money. The question is – will others follow suit?

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20% off (max $50) anything at Amazon using just 1 Membership Reward point

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Membership Rewards (MR) points from American Express can be earned using several credit cards such as the American Express Blue Business, Business Gold and several version of the Platinum Cards.

Every few months Amazon rolls out a promotion that offers discount on anything that Amazon sells (excluding Amazon giftcards and items sold via third party sellers) when at least 1 (MR point) is used for the purchase with a linked card to Amazon account. With the current promotion (targeted) you can get 20% off (max $50) by using atleast 1 MR point at checkout. In theory, using points for shopping at Amazon is really a bad idea because the value is under 1cpp and with travel redemption you can easily get upwards of 2cpp or much higher.

Go to this link to see if you are targeted for the promotion. You need to add a membership rewards earning card for this deal. If you do not have one and are looking to apply I highly recommend the American Express blue business card (no annual fees, 2X MR points on the first $50k spent each year and 0% APR for 15 months).

In past I’ve purchased gift cards to places like restaurants, Uber, Netflix to take advantage of savings for places I already eat or shop. Below is an example of how I am using just 1 point to get 20% off ($50) on my purchase. Note in my purchase I have used Amazon giftcards purchased from Kroger to earn fuel points and you may have read my blog where I have paid next to nothing on gas for the last two years. So I am not required to charge the balance of this purchase on the credit card but I can use a combination of credit card (that earns MR points) along with gift cards to further improve my returns and savings.

If you are not targeted for the promotion you may try chatting or calling Amazon as some have reported that Amazon was able to manually add this offer to the account. If you already have a MR earning card make sure to link it now so you can participate in future deals

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May Catch-Up

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Asiana and Korean Air Getting Rid of First Class

As of June 1, Korean Air has removed first class from 76 of its 111 international routes while Asiana has stopped selling first class seats on flights from September 1 onward. I am generally not a fan of this move but there are a couple of things to consider. First, across the board business class has improved to a point where many airlines have business classes that surpass the first class product of other airlines, and certainly the first class products from years past. Second, with the that in mind, it makes sense to reconfigure and increase revenue, filling otherwise empty (first class) seats. Lastly, and specific to Korean – they had such an odd and inconsistent first class hard product. They had planes with large but extremely open seats, others with extremely private “suites” with doors, and planes that had the exact same hard product for business and first class with the only difference being food and amenities.

Both airlines offer a super solid business class, so while I am not concerned on that front, it does make me wonder what we will see from other airlines. Recently both Emirates and Singapore released gorgeous first class suites, but we have also seen US based airlines remove their international products. The elevation of business class products is promising and my hope is that we continue to see innovation and improvements in these areas along with a solid selection of fun and interesting premium products for international travel.

New Partnerships

Capital One made a splash when it added the ability to transfer points to airline partners last December, elevating their rewards program. Since that time they have continued to impress by phasing in new partners and offering some solid transfer bonuses. With the addition of JetBlue, Capital One now has a total of 15 partners and while most have transfer rates of 2:1.5, JetBlue’s will be 2:1. JetBlue also partners with American Express, Chase, and Citi, with transfer ratios of 1:0.8 for American Express and 1:1 for both Chase and Citi.

Speaking of Capital One bonuses, from June 1 – June 30, Capital One is offering a 20% bonus on miles transferred to Flying Blue. While they do have dynamic award pricing in place, Flying Blue also has great promo redemptions that can provide outsized value, especially if you are willing to re-position for a flight.

Aeroplan and Etihad announced a partnership for reciprocal earning between the loyalty programs. Star Alliance status benefits will not be honored on Etihad flights and it is unclear what the ultimate state of this partnership will be. There have been a number of rumors swirling around about Etihad moving away from its partnership with American Airlines and even rumors of it joining Star Alliance. I find it very unlikely that the latter would happen as Turkish Airlines has invested a lot of money recently into their new airport and expanded route network and I don’t see them being okay with a close competitor in the region added to the alliance. That being said, having Etihad award flights bookable via Aeroplan in the future would be something nice and would allow for easier access via Amex’s Membership Rewards.

American Express has added it’s 19th partner in Qantas, which while not a super exciting addition, still shows that Amex is out there looking to expand its partnerships. I’ll have to give Qantas a second look and see what sweet spots exist, but at the end of the day, more partners is ALWAYS better then fewer partners, so this is easily chalked up as a win.

Interesting Changes at American Express

The big (and bad) news here is that as of August 1, Priority Pass Select memberships issued via American Express will no longer be accepted at Priority Pass restaurants. This change affects both American Express branded and co-branded cards with this benefit. Before you panic, Chase and Citi affirmed that they were not changing this policy, so cards such as the Citi Prestige, Chase Sapphire Reserve, etc still will provide access to the restaurants. For those not as familiar with this aspect of the program, there are a number of airport restaurants (mainly in the United States) that offer a credit (usually about $28) per member and authorized guest per visit. It is great benefit and allows Priority Pass to exist in airports/terminals where lounge space is limited or non-existent. There is nothing to celebrate here and no silver lining to this announcement on its own, from what I can tell.

However, the bigger picture (in my opinion) is different for American Express vs. the competition. American Express has, by far the widest lounge network of any of the cards on the market and are the only credit card issuer that owns and operates their own permanent lounges (18 total between Centurion and non-Centurion lounges). They have announced plans to open 4 additional Centurion lounges in the US (JFK, LAX, DEN in 2019 and CLT in 2020) and have been making interesting acquisitions to round out their lifestyle branding. Most recently American Expressed acquired Resy, a restaurant reservation platform that focuses on high-end and high demand restaurants offering elevated dining experiences. With American Express backing it, I think the expectation here is for Amex customers to get some sort of priority, adding to the exclusiveness of the cards.

Airport Changes Part of a New Trend?

I remember growing up that anyone at any time could go to an airport gate if he/she was willing to go through airport security. That was of course prior to September 11th which necessitated the restricting of airport access. As of May 4, the Tampa airport joined Pittsburgh in allowing non-ticketed individuals beyond security. While there are a limited number of passes available, it is nice to see airports finding ways to relax the rules without affecting safety.

If you happen to be one of those non-ticketed individuals that goes through security (or if you are ticketed as well!) you may start seeing antimicrobial trays at security starting as early as July in roughly 30 airports around the country. SecurityPoint Media and Microban International worked to create the new “SecureTray,” that will hopefully work to reduce the spread of bacteria and viruses between airport goers.

Odd New Way to Earn and Burn Points?

Uber, or should I say scUber through June 18th is offering lucky riders with a chance to book a submarine rideshare for hour long rides off the shore of Queensland, Australia. It is required to book for 2 people at a cost of roughly $2,065 total. While that is steep perhaps they’ll honor the $15 monthly Uber credit on the American Express Platinum!

If you’re short on miles, or just want to pad your earning stats for bragging rights, consider signing up with NASA to have your name sent to Mars in 2020. You have until September 30 to register and you’ll be able to collect a cool 313 million miles. I haven’t gotten word on what the award chart looks like for these miles, but I’d imagine it isn’t that great, so I would advise diversifying your portfolio!

Capital One Venture Card Adds Global Entry/TSA Pre-Check Benefit

Over the past 6 months I have been very impressed with Capital One as they introduced the ability to transfer points to partners, then expanded the number of partners and now have announced that as of June 12, their Venture Rewards card will come with a $100 credit towards Global Entry or Pre-Check. What makes this deal even sweeter is that the $95 annual fee is waived for the first year, meaning you can pick up Global Entry for free! While I would not recommend getting this card if you are below 5/24, it could be a solid addition for those that are over and are looking to get Global Entry for themselves or gift it to someone else.

British Airways Avios Award Chart Devaluation

British Airways announced last month that May 30 would see a change to award redemptions. While we all held our breath assuming the worst and hoping for the best – the end result isn’t really all that painful. For years British Airways had been a fantastic option for short-haul flights on partner metal and while they may no longer be as much of a steal as they once were, they still offer some sweet spots. Luckily, most pricing didn’t increase beyond 10% and the new rates can be seen below in a chart from Dan’s Deals.

I’ve said it once, and I will say it again – charts will devalue and prices will always rise. Don’t horde your points, USE your points. This increase was pretty mild and didn’t really affect a lot of my usage, but serves as a nice reminder to stay on top of those point balances.

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Knowing The Rules

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Over the past couple of weeks I have had several people come to me with curious cases involving interactions where a person of authority/subject matter expert has been blatantly incorrect regarding a policy. I wanted to share these experiences as a reminder that we can’t always rely on company representatives to know the ever-changing rules regarding points/miles, status, or other programs in this hobby.

The 5/24 Trap

The first of these instances involves a friend of mine that applied for the Amazon credit card from Chase and was told by a customer service representative that the card was NOT subject to 5/24. She applied and was promptly rejected – due to being over 5/24. She called the reconsideration line and of course they reaffirmed the decision on the same basis and stated that the customer service representative had been wrong. It USED to be that the Amazon credit card was not subject to 5/24, but that has not been the case for quite a while. While this isn’t the biggest deal, had she done some searches online or posted on a forum, this information would have come out and she could have avoided an unnecessary inquiry.

Inhospitable Istanbul

Well, those rules seem pretty clear!

The second involves semi-frequent traveler friend of mine who recently messaged me stating that he had been turned away at the new Turkish Airlines Miles&Smiles Lounge in Istanbul. While my friend was flying economy, he does hold Star Alliance Gold status. The agents kept telling him that he had to be flying in a premium cabin to access the lounge and his response was that he had always been granted access at the lounge at the old airport. While I chalk this up to being confusion on the part of the agent due to the being a new lounge at a new airport, it is still totally unacceptable. He and I got into a discussion about how I have come to prepare for a lot of these types of things and routinely screenshot or bookmark terms and conditions so that I can quickly diffuse or bypass these situations. I provided a link to the Turkish Airlines website showing that he does in fact have access.  Hopefully on his return flight back through Istanbul he will be granted entry as he is armed with the entrance policy.

Confusion at The Club

The Club at ATL Reception

Back in March I was flying home from Houston and had a stop in Atlanta. I had been chatting with a guy on the flight from HOU-ATL and as we both had layovers in ATL, I offered to bring him to The Club at ATL lounge as one of the 2 guests I am allowed using my Priority Pass card via my American Express Platinum. Upon arriving, we found a fairly quiet lounge with the usual friendly host at the front. I presented my card and the exchange went something like this:

Host: “Thank you so much, just so you are aware, there is a charge for guests.”

Me: “I am allowed 2 guests free of charge with Priority Pass Select, I have done that at this lounge before on several occasions.”

H: “Well, we do restrict access due to capacity issues and cannot always honor the guest allotment or even all Priority Pass members.”

M: “Yes, I understand all of that, but a) you didn’t say we couldn’t come in, you are saying there is a fee, and b) from what I can see there are no capacity issues at the moment. Is there a supervisor here, with whom I can speak so that I can understand what terms have changed on my card?”

At this point the host did something on her computer and looked up with a smile and said, “Oh, I see…there is no issue, please come in and enjoy yourselves!” I was somewhat baffled by this interaction as it wasn’t until the end that she actually scanned my card, so I am not sure from what sort of logic tree she was working. In the end, she was very friendly, and the result was at it should have been, but just took a while to get there.

Gift Card Gaffe

Just two weeks ago I stopped into an Office Depot/Office Max to purchase some gift cards (using my Ink Plus, of course for 5x) and was told at the checkout counter that I couldn’t use “that card” to pay for the gift cards and was told that I would need cash or debit. I pushed back hard on that and asked for a manager. Typically I don’t like to draw attention to gift card purchasing activity, but in this case, I had dealt with the manager several times and this store had been typically friendly to purchasing. The manager came up, recognized me and asked what the problem was. I explained and he said it wasn’t a problem and the cashier explained that he “thought I was using a gift card.” This was odd to me as the card is CLEARLY a credit card and he never mentioned to me that he thought I was trying to pay with a gift card.

Bottom Line

I truly don’t believe that any of these individuals were being malicious, but in each case they were all ignorant to the policies, or made incorrect assumptions without asking the right questions. The common theme here is to arm yourself with a solid understanding of what your rights are and how the various programs work. In Atlanta, I think most people would have paid the money or walked away because why would the person who WORKS at The Club be less informed of the policies than a visitor? The good news for my friend who attempted the Turkish lounge visit is that he will be flying back through in a week or so and now has the policies from the Turkish Airlines website to show if he gets pushback again. As always, use the resources available, and when in doubt phone a friend or post to the Credit Card 101 page for quick answers from those in the know!

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4 HelloFresh Meals and $43 Amazon giftcard for $20

Swagbucks.com is offering 4 HelloFresh Meals + $43 Amazon Gift Card for $20. Free shipping.

Follow the directions below:

  1. Click this link here and login/signup for Swagbucks
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Note: Valid for new HelloFresh customers. Your Swagbucks will appear as Pending for 32 days. Deal ends soon.

April Catch-Up

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April Devaluations Don’t Bring May Flowers

Last month we touched on United’s move to dynamic award pricing and Korean Air’s removal of the stopover benefit. This month, as expected, American blindly followed United into the world of dynamic award pricing. On top of that we have seen announcements of devaluations/changes/enhancements (whatever you want to call them) from British Airways, JetBlue, and Avianca.

American’s switch is not at all a surprise, but this coupled with the loss of the 10% discount (up to 10,000 miles per year) on award redemptions for holding AA cobranded credit cards really stings. As I have said many times before – dynamic pricing hurts customers as it makes it impossible to plan for award redemptions and to set targets. It is an opaque (at best) system that leaves customers guessing. Like United, partner awards remain unchanged (for now), but only because implementing such a system with partners is difficult. It will be something to watch for across the carriers over the next year.

JetBlue’s change may have been somewhat minor, affecting only their Mint product, but does show that they can value points used on their products differently. Historically JetBlue points have been worth roughly 1.3-1.5 cents per point when it came to award bookings. Last month JetBlue has been setting award prices on their Mint product to provide a point value closer to 1 cent per point. This represents a ~15-33% devaluation on those seats. JetBlue points have never been the most valuable, but the Mint product is one of the best ways to fly across the country. This devaluation makes it 33% more expensive to book and potentially out of the reach of the average JetBlue customer.

LifeMiles (Avianca’s loyalty program) announced that they are adjusting rates on their US award redemptions starting July 15. Currently US redemptions cost between 7.5k-12.k with a flat fee of $25. That will be expanding to 6.5k-13.5k and with a fee between $10-25. Overall these changes aren’t bad and they provided this example chart (which does show both increases and decreases).

I’m not entire sure how this would work, but my gut tells me this chart “adjustment” is somehow related to United’s move to a dynamic award pricing model. Avianca claimed this was to align the program with other award programs. Let’s take a guess at what Avianca’s only US partner is…. yup. United! Again, these changes are pretty benign and for short-hauls are actually positive, but the timing is a tad suspect.

Right at the end of April, British Airways announced that it would be changing its award chart as it relates to partner redemptions. Avios historically has been one of my favorite currencies to use for short-haul flights. Although the days of 2.5k point flights are long gone, there were still a number of very reasonable routes clocking in at 4.5k and 7.5k. There have been a few leaks over the past few days surrounding this new chart (which is formally being released on May 30th), and we will have a separate article addressing those changes and how to best maximize Avios going forward.

Delta Renews Partnership with American Express

Delta and American Express have renewed their partnership through 2029. This relationship has been in existence since 1996, so a 10 year renewal will push this relationship to over 30 years. WOW. Delta expects to see a financial benefit of roughly $7 billion per year by 2023 from this relationship. DOUBLE WOW. That is massive and is double what they are seeing today. But what does all mean for current cardholders, prospective cardholders, and passengers?

According to Delta, we can expect to see continued investment in Delta SkyMiles benefits offered by American Express. They will continue to offer Sky Club access for their Delta Reserve cardholders as well as American Express Platinum Card Members. This also provides reassurance of the continuance of SkyMiles as a transfer partner of Membership Rewards.

In some ways this sounds as business as usual (and it is). This is a good thing though and doesn’t leave customers wondering what will happen to the cards, benefits, and relationships as we have seen with AA/US Airways and Citi/American Express, Marriott/SPG and Citi/American Express, and Hilton with Citi/American Express.

Chase offers First Transfer Bonus; Rocky Relationship with United?

First the good news – Chase has launched its first transfer bonus, a 30% bonus when transferring Ultimate Rewards to British Airways’ Executive Program. In the past American Express had routinely had some handsome Avios bonuses (most recently 40%), so seeing Chase enter this type of promotion is welcome news – especially in the face of a potential Avios devaluation.

This bonus offer is good until June 16th and Ultimate Rewards members can partake as many times as they’d like. While I generally dissuade speculative transfers, this could be a good opportunity to do so if you are relatively certain of upcoming travel utilizing British Airway’s program.

During United’s Q1 earning’s call the topic of the United-Chase relationship came up and the response was essentially that United was keeping their options open. They acknowledged that the MileagePlus program is
“one of our single biggest margin growth opportunities,” but that it was felt that the co-brand performance didn’t match that of their peers. That is an interesting note, especially in the face of the renewed Delta-American Express partnership.

With American Airlines with Citi, that doesn’t leave many choices for United. I can’t see United moving to Barclay’s (with AA having products there as well). In my mind that leaves the door ajar for banks such as Capital One, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, or US Bank. Bank of American has a fairly cozy relationship with Alaska, which may have some protective covenants preventing a United Relationship. Capital One has dabbled in co-branding over the years, but has never had an large airline. Wells Fargo and US Bank just aren’t competitive in the reward space, so it is unlikely that they would make such a commitment, but I could be completely wrong on this one.

I think passengers care very little about with which bank the cobranded card is affiliated. Cardholders want benefits and value. The airlines want the cash and the multi-channel marketing opportunities. This will come down to whomever can offer the best. For what it is worth, my money is on United staying with Chase.

Extra Fee to Guarantee Entry to Priority Pass Lounges?

I am not so sure what to think about this one, but early in April a handful of UK based Priorty Pass lounges began offering the option to pre-pay a £5 reservation fee per person to guarantee entree. On the one hand, having been in some really crowded lounges (and turned away from others), I like the idea of this nominal fee. The other side of me has me wondering how much exclusivity is left to the lounge benefit if everyone else also has access. It is clearly a double edged sword. For roughly $7, it seems like a small price to pay to guarantee entry and presumably some snacks, drinks, and more comfortable seating than would be found elsewhere in the terminal.

Currently, these are the lounges offering this option:

  • Birmingham (BHX)
    • No1 Lounge
  • London Gatwick (LGW)
    • My Lounge (North)
    • No1 Lounge (North)
    • No1 Lounge (South)
  • London Heathrow (LHR)
    • No1 Lounge (T3)

T-Mobile Introduces Mobile Banking Paying 4% APY!

T-Mobile officially rolled out their mobile banking program that they had been piloting since late last year. The notable pieces of this program are that they pay 4% APY on balances up to $3,000 provided the account holder deposits at least $200 per month into the account. The balance above $3,000 earns a much more modest 1% APY.

There are no fees with this account and T-Mobile will even cover the first $50 if you overdraft, provided you repay that amount within 30 days. The account is fully insured by the FDIC and is run by Bank Mobile. Users will have access the Allpoint network of ATMs, which currently number about 55,000. Users can withdraw there for no fee and will have access to traditional services like mobile check deposit and bill pay.

New Benefits for All Holders of World and World Elite Mastercards

In the same way our card issuers (American Express, Chase, Citi, etc.) provide us with benefits such as travel insurance, price protection, the network owner, Mastercard has announced a long list of new benefits coming to their World and World Elite cards on July 1.

From Mastercard, here are the new benefits:

  • Lyft : World Elite cardholders will receive a $10 credit for every five rides taken in a calendar month, which will be automatically applied to the next ride, capped at once per month.
  • Fandango : World Elite cardholders will earn double Fandango VIP+ points for the movie tickets they buy. This means cardholders will get 500 Fandango VIP+ points (worth $5) for every two movie tickets they purchase via the Fandango app or Fandango.com, which can be used towards purchasing movie tickets on Fandango or towards streaming movies and TV shows on FandangoNOW.
  • Boxed : World Elite cardholders will earn 5% Cash Rewards on their Boxed purchases, which can be used towards future purchases on Boxed.
  • Postmates : World and World Elite cardholders will receive $5 off every order of $25 or more.
  • Cell Phone Insurance: World and World Elite cardholders will be eligible for Mastercard Cellular Telephone Protection when they charge their monthly telephone bill to their World or World Elite Mastercard. This benefit—with a maximum liability of $600 per claim for World cardholders and $800 for World Elite cardholders—covers stolen or damaged mobile phones as well as cosmetic screen scratches even if they don’t affect the ability to make or take a call. Cardholders simply have to submit a claim if they incur a loss, up to $1,000 per year.
  • Mastercard ID Theft Protection™: Cardholders who register for Mastercard ID Theft Protection will have access to an enhanced Mastercard ID Theft Protection™ benefit suite that provides end-to-end digital servicing to monitor their personal information. Additionally, cardholders have access to a team of identity theft resolution specialists, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year to help quickly resolve any identity theft incidents that may occur.

To me the Lyft, Postmates, and Boxed deals are the most enticing, especially if the cardholder is already using these services on a regular basis. The Postmates offer is great as it is effectively unlimited in regards to the number of times it can be used. If your orders are consistently around $25, this is a nice free 20% off on every purchase.

So how do you know if your Mastercard is a World or World Elite? It isn’t consistent from card to card, but look for the words “WORLD” or “WORLD ELITE” either above or below the Mastercard logo on either the front or back of the credit card. Looking at my cards I have found multiple variations. If you are unsure, you can always call the issuing bank using the number on the back of the card and ask.

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