February 2020 Catch-Up

Capital One Adds Hotel Transfer Partners

Over the past year Capital One has really added a lot of value to its points by creating a transferable rewards program, adding additional airline partners and now adding hotel partners. While they didn’t add any of the “big” three, they did create partnerships with Accor and Wyndham. While Wyndham’s program isn’t that compelling, Accor does actually provide some decent value as their program is revenue based. Capital One Spark and Venture Miles will transfer to Accor at a 2:1 ratio and Accor points can be redeemed at a rate of 2000 for 40 Euro (~$45 at time of writing). This gives a pretty decent value for hotel redemptions of about 1.1 cents per point. Capital One cards that earn 2x increase that value to roughly 2.25% back towards Accor Hotel stays, which is quite good.

As of early February Capital One also increased the transfer ratio for Jet Blue from 2:1 to 2:1.5. This provides a bit of a boost as JetBlue’s program is revenue based with a value of about 1.4 cents per point.

Alaska Airlines to Join Oneworld in 2021

This is big news for both Alaska and Oneworld. Personally, I felt like this was always going to happen as Alaska had agreements and partnerships in place with a number of Oneworld carriers like American, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, JAL, and Qanats.

Alaska and AA had limited aspects of their partnership in recent years, so this will allow for full partner earning rates between the airlines, which is great for passengers. My fear is that that we will lose both the non-alliance partners (like Singapore and Emirates) and sweet spot redemptions with soon to be alliance partners (like Cathay Pacific and JAL). We also might see the Alaska MVP program revamped to be more in line with AA and other Oneworld airlines as the holders of the status would be open to far more benefits with the new arrangements.

Like a lot of things, this is very much a “wait and see” change. It is expected to go live in the summer of 2021, so details should start emerging later this year and should give people ample time to make bookings and come with new strategies to maximize the new alliance landscape.

United Now Has “New” Polaris Installed in 100 Planes

Back in June of 2016 United rolled out their Polaris product. To me this product wasn’t innovative or particularly interesting, but merely brought their extremely sub-par business product in line with industry standards. Now as of February 2020 (some 44 months later) United has installed the new product in 100 planes. According to the Polaris Tracker on the United site there are still 58 more planes to go. I remember all of the fanfare for this roll out, but it seems like it is taking an awfully long time.

Losing More Fifth-Freedom Routes

Fifth-Freedom routes are some of my favorite routes out there. For those that aren’t familiar with the term, it refers to the Freedoms of the Air and the “fifth” of those freedoms is the right to fly between two foreign countries on a flight originating or ending in one’s own country. An example of this is a flight Cathay Pacific ended on February 18th which was a back and forth between Hong Kong – Vancouver – New York. This was a fantastic way to be able to experience Cathay’s first or business class product on a transcontinental flight. Another flight we will be losing is LATAM’s Madrid – Frankfurt flight that will operate for a final time on June 30th, 2020.

Personally I think we will see more and more of these go away without replacements or new ones popping up. The new planes we are seeing are more fuel efficient and eliminate the need for a hub and spoke system and are much more focused on point to point travel. With that being the primary goal, any flight requiring a fuel stop or a layover with a crew swap becomes much to expensive or inefficient to operate. The upside here is that with these new planes we are seeing more interesting destination matches connecting smaller population centers, which provides more options to travelers.

Lounge News and Rumors

The Washington Business Journal reported that Capital One intends to open a branded lounge at Washington-Dulles Airport in 2021. From the article, it appears they have a space picked out already as the lounge is stated as being 9,100 square feet. This would put Capital One with interesting company – as only they and American Express would be credit card issuers operating proprietary lounges. Unlike other major issuers, Capital One doesn’t currently over a super-premium product with a fee in the ~$500 range.

This now leads itself the question of whether some major product shake-ups are in the works. As noted above, the past year has been big for their rewards program and this lounge could be a fantastic feather in their cap, so check back for further updates on this development.

Both American and United operate dual lounge systems – Flagship/Admirals Club and Polaris/United Club, respectively. Delta on the other hand only operates SkyClubs, which in my opinion tend to be better than the base clubs of other airlines and not as good as the premium clubs. While Delta isn’t publicly commenting on a new lounge for premium passengers, the new Sky Way project at LAX may see the addition of a Delta One only lounge, if rumors are to be believed. To me this makes sense as it would bring them in line with the other major US carriers and help to elevate their business product.

As of February 24 another Centurion Lounge has opened, this time in Charlotte. This airport has been badly in need of additional lounges for a long time and Amex’s rapidly expanding footprint should be a great fit for this airport. The lounge is 13,000 square feet, so definitely on the larger side of their current portfolio, but time will tell how much and when overcrowding becomes and issue.

Chase and United Renew Partnership, Emirates to Offer First US Credit Card

Airline and credit card partnerships are a big deal because the award programs for airlines are very lucrative and provide massive cash infusions into the airline to help investment in the business. Last year saw Delta and Amex re-up their partnership and now we are seeing United and Chase do the same thing, inking a contract good through 2029. While the specifics of the contract aren’t public, we know that Chase will continue to be the sole issuer of United cobranded cards and we can assume that Ultimate Rewards will continue to be a strong transfer partner for United’s MileagePlus program.

Details may be scarce, but for the first time ever, the US will have a cobranded credit card with a Middle Eastern airline. Emirates and Barclays announced a partnership – but we don’t know if it is a single card, multiple cards with tiered fees, or anything about the earn rates on these cards. I wouldn’t imagine that we get anything super mind-blowing here, but probably more a run of the mill earning and fee structure. However, these still could be very valuable for someone who frequently flies with Emirates. …and who knows….I could be wrong and it could turn out to be an amazing industry leading card (I hope I am wrong!!).

Rakuten Visa No Longer Paying 3x for Gift Cards

This is one of those opportunities that really stings when it goes away. Early in February Rakuten sent out emails stating that they would no longer be paying out 3x on GiftCardMall.com, GiftCards.com, and Raise.com. They will all be 1x from now on. Rakuten’s portal and cobrand Visa card is fantastic as you can earn Amex Membership rewards points and earning 3x with giftcards was essentially printing MRs. Well, all good things must come to an end and I’m certain (as always) there will be something out there to take its places, but I am sad to see this one go.

Marriott’s Capacity Controls, Category Changes, and Hyatt’s “Pay My Way” Feature

Marriott’s capacity controls have always been controversial – it is very much the same as an airline only releasing a certain number of award seats while the rest of plane remains unsold. Up until now, Starwood hotels didn’t fall under the same umbrella as legacy Marriott properties, so if a Westin and a J.W. Marriott both had 100 standard rooms available, the Westin’s would all be bookable with points, whereas the J.W. Marriott could note it as a period of high demand and allow only a subset of those rooms, perhaps 25 to be bookable by points. Well, now the old Starwood properties can limit rooms on high-demand nights. Typically properties have been limited to doing this only 10 nights per year, but could get a waiver for up to 60 nights. While it seems as though Marriott will be holding properties more firmly to the 10 night maximum, time will tell if this ends up being the case.

As they do every year, Marriott makes adjustments to its hotel category listing with some hotels moving to higher categories and some downgrading. One would think that in general you would see moves that see roughly the same number of properties moving up as ones moving down. In my opinion this should be due to a few things. First, keep the hotels to brand standard. I don’t expect a Fairfield Marriott to be a top tier property, nor do I expect a W to be in the bottom tiers. Second, I can understand category moves if there is a major renovation that occurs or if a property has aged in relation to the average portfolio or competitors. This is an inexact science, of course but 2019 saw 5% of the portfolio change category (about 380 properties). Of those, less than 40 moved to a lower category and over 340 moved to a higher category. This year we see a similar trend but with a much larger number of properties. The total percent of the portfolio that changed categories is a whopping 29%. 7% have decreased in cost while 22% have increased. Overall, this is to be expected as programs look to find ways to devalue their points and increase their profits and one more negative data point as Marriott continues to strip value from its program.

While Marriott is making it harder for its loyalists to redeem points for stays, Hyatt is making it easier and more flexible. Hyatt introduced it’s new program “Pay My Way” which offers the ability to pay for nights using a mix of payment options. Members can use a combination of cash, points, free night awards, and Points + Cash rates. This opens up a lot more options and a much cleaner way to make a single booking.

January Catch-Up

Some months it feels like the news and activities in the points and travel world are quite mundane – but not so this month. Man oh man did a lot happen! As always, we can’t even come close to touching on all of the stories, but we try to hit some highlights and showcase some some of the quirky tidbits that occurred in the month.

Upcoming Atari Themed Hotel

Anyone who has ever heard of a video game has heard the name “Atari.” Thanks to a collaboration effort between GSD Group and True North Studio “video game-themed hotels” will become reality. At this stage there are plans to break ground on the hotel in Phoenix later this year while other US locations could begin popping up in the future. Current planned cities include Seattle, San Francisco, San Jose, Las Vegas, Denver, Austin, and Chicago. It is a bit surprising to see this popping up in the US, when it seems more at home in a place like the Akihabara neighborhood of Tokyo. This should be a very interesting project to watch.

Boeing’s First Flight of the 777-X, Continued Issues with 737-MAX

The most two most noticeable differences on the 777-X vs prior 777s would be a) the folding wingtips and b) the MASSIVE engines. The great news for Boeing is that the flight was a success and to quote one of the pilots upon exiting the craft after the flight, “it was awesome!”

The 777-X is larger than the current variants of the 777 which allows it to have a greater carrying capacity. Due to that the wingspan must be wider, but Boeing smartly created folding wingtips to allow the 777-X to use gates currently used by the 27 ft narrower current 777s. The new GE9X engines are also much more powerful and about 10% more fuel efficient, so across the board this plane appears to deliver a lot more bang for the buck. The questions will start to arise about the commercial viability and working into route networks effectively. If that can be done and baring any safety issues, this should be a fantastic plane.

The 737-MAX fiasco is still looking large for Boeing and the successful flight of the 777-X isn’t big enough to get out from under that shadow. As things stand currently the major US carriers have announced that June would be the earliest that we would see the 737-MAXs back in service.

Chase Sapphire Reserve Increases Fee and Benefits

Chase’s premium credit card, the Sapphire Reserve increased its annual fee for 2020 and beyond from $450 to 550, bringing it inline with its Amex competitor, the Platinum card. With the extra $100, members do get some key benefits added – but the catch for card members is whether or not they lead a lifestyle allows for capturing the full value of these new perks.

Members will now earn 10x points on all Lyft rides and will offer Lyft Pink membership for one year. Lyft Pink offers a lot of value with 15% off all rides, surprise offers, 3 cancellations fees covered per month, and 3-30 minute bike/scooter rides per month. This is clearly a response to the $200 Uber credits offered by American Express and if you are one who uses Lyft regularly the value gained via the points bonus and 15% discount for a year is worth well over $100.

$60 in DoorDash credits will be available in both 2020 and 2021, but no clear indication if those will continue beyond that time frame. These added benefits are definitely targeting those that live in big cities and favor convenience. Even if you don’t fit that mold, it isn’t hard to extract $100 per year from these benefits.

American Express Opens Phoenix Centurion Lounges and Tests the Waters on Points Transfer Fees

American Express expanded its Centurion footprint once more with a new lounge in T4 of Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport. In addition, an Escape Lounge (also accessible with the Amex Platinum) opened next door and the two lounges share a “flex” space with a wall that can move allowing more or less room in each lounge as needed.

Five other lounges are planned to open this year with both London – Heathrow and New York – JFK scheduled to open during the first half of the year. Charlotte, Denver, and Los Angeles are all listed as “2020,” so one can assume that will be in the latter half of the year.

Early in the month, Platinum card holders in Hong Kong received a notice that beginning April 1, they would be charged a fee to transfer their Membership Rewards points to travel partners. The good (and bad) news here is that the fee is fixed, currently at HK $300, which is around $38 USD. If you are trying to top up a balance with 1,000 points or move 150,000 points for an aspirational award, the fee stays the same, so obviously smaller moves end up costing more on a per point basis.

This will certainly be something to watch, and while things differ from market to market, Amex has been making a lot of changes to its fees and benefits over the past year. We will continue watching this and will provide updates as they become known.

American Airlines Eliminates Close-In Booking Fees on Award Tickets

Mid-month, American announced that it was doing away with its decades old $75 fee for award bookings made within 21 days of departure. United made a similar move several months back, but effectively replaced it with dynamic award pricing that increased the redemption cost 30 days prior to booking.

My expectation is that we will see American eventually do something similar – either mimicking United’s bumped rates as it gets closer to departure, or obfuscating the increase by becoming more dynamic, akin to Delta. Either way, I fully expect that the overall value per mile redeemed on the portfolio level will go down. It isn’t all doom and gloom though – by having knowledge of award chart sweet spots and being able to pick up award space that opens last minute, you can take advantage of nice last minute getaways, saving some cash at the same time.

Brexit Happened, Now What?

January 31 at 11pm GMT, the United Kingdom officially left the European Union. Change will certainly be coming, but for now travelers can rest easy knowing that nothing will be changing for them until December. The UK and EU must now agree on how borders will be treated, and set up the mechanisms for crossings and transfers.

There is still a very real chance of a No-Deal Brexit, in which case hard borders would be enforced, causing headaches for all. So, if you have upcoming travel this year to the EU transiting through the UK or vice versa, don’t panic as it will be mostly business as usual. For 2021 and onward we are all waiting to see what the final agreement will have in store for us.

FICO 10 T Could Negatively Impact Your Credit Score

FICO (Fair Isaac Corporation) scores are used to help banks, lenders, and others make decisions regarding an individual’s creditworthiness. The formulation of these scores occurs in somewhat of a black box with on general guidance given on how certain aspects affect the final score. For years the keys have been length of history, payment history, utilization, delinquencies, etc. Updates to the scoring method happen every few years and the latest iteration has a major wrinkle. FICO 10 T will be looking historically at how debt levels change over a rolling 24 month period and will focus a lot more on missed and late payments.

The expectation is that the new version of FICO will impact ~110 million consumers with roughly 40 million seeing an increase of over 20 points and 40 million seeing a decrease of 20+ points. A lot of people stress over what their score is at a specific point in time, but in reality it isn’t that important unless you’re actively applying for credit. This new method of scoring may not allow for the “quick” spikes in scores that we have become used to when we pay down a large balance, so planning ahead for those credit inquiries may become more of a necessity.

Social Media Checks for Airbnb Bookings?

We all have heard that having pictures of your heavy boozing college days for everyone to see on Facebook isn’t exactly the smartest. It has been the downfall of many jobseekers in recent times. Now, we may have to deal with something similar from Airbnb – but it isn’t all bad. For the record, I think Airbnb can be a great service, providing access to interesting, niche places in underserved markets. There are also horror stories that make the news of fake rentals and horrific renters. The company has made strides in preventing the former and now is looking to make good on the latter. Back in 2017 they acquired Trooly, which is a company that utilized social media and publicly available and credit history data to verify identities and establish trust.

Airbnb is set to start using this technology and while it isn’t known what the interface looks like for the landlord – or exactly how a prospective renter would be able to view his/her profile, it is interesting to note that Trooly’s data analyzer claims to be able to denote patterns of “narcissism, machiavellianism, of psychopathy.” Perhaps as a landlord you may want to remove that kitchen knife set if your prospective tenant possesses these traits…and maybe add more mirrors??

Profit Sharing and Carbon Offsetting

As a travel enthusiast, I love waxing poetic about amazing first and business class experiences that I have had as much as I do complaining about the state of US airline and hotel loyalty programs and general business practices. Every once in a while there is a nice no-spin (or let’s be honest…minimal spin) story about good things coming out of the industry that benefit everyone.

After merging with Northwest Airlines in 2012, Delta adopted a profit-sharing model that has been paying out for the last six years. Delta employs 90,000 individuals and every employee will be receiving a bonus of equal to 16.6% of their salary – for a total of $1.6 billion. Of the three legacy US carriers, I find Delta to be the most consistent, have the best hard product across the board and the nicest domestic lounges. For the sake of the employees, I hope 2020 is even better.

JetBlue announced that it will be carbon offsetting all domestic flights in the US starting July 2020. They aren’t just throwing money at a carbon offset fund, but have specific projects that they are supporting. As of now they are focused on forestry, landfill gas capture, and solar/wind. On top of this they will be purchasing sustainable aviation fuel for flights out of San Francisco. This fuel is made by Neste and is made from waste and residue raw materials and has a roughly 80% smaller carbon footprint than conventional jet fuel.

Continued modernization of JetBlue’s fleet also plays into their environmental initiatives. New fuel efficient A321neos and A220s play a large role in reducing fuel consumption, but JetBlue has also been advocating for changes to the air traffic control systems as they claim that current inefficiencies account for up to 12% of current fuel usage.

December Catch-Up

AAdvantage Account Shutdowns

December saw a slew of AAdvantage accounts locked, award flights cancelled, and subsequently a handful of passengers stranded. The main reason for this was the fact that the account holders had knowingly purchased and used generated mailer codes to get around Citi’s sign-up bonus restrictions on American Airlines credit cards.

What struck me though was that there were very few comments to the tune of “well damnit, they caught us…oh well” from those who engaged in the scheme, but many diatribes of self-justification as to why American Airlines OWED them the miles regardless of this obvious fraud. Personally, I passed on this scheme, but I don’t judge anyone who chose to engage. The justification from many of these individuals was that the mailer bypassed Citi’s restrictions, not AAs and thus it should be Citi shutting them down/reprimanding them as opposed to AA. That seems like a pretty lazy argument completely sidestepping the fact that the account holder engaged in what is at best a heavily dark gray-area scheme.

While this is now mostly behind us, I believe there are a couple of valuable take-aways. First, understand the risk certain behaviors in this hobby before acting. We all know that Chase is sensitive to cycling and Amex is sensitive to gift card purchases to hit SUBs. Thus, we avoid these behaviors or if we choose to act , we do so in a way that aligns with our level of risk tolerance. I’ve had my fair share of clawbacks and minor account shutdowns, but would never risk my larger, more important accounts. The second thought that somewhat nags me is whether or not AA laid this trap. Citi had been slowly closing loopholes in their application system, but this “hammer down” effort seems to be almost too perfect a way to snag those who chronically game the system. I have no proof of this and am certainly not trying to stir up anything, but we know the folks running these programs aren’t stupid, so it certainly begs the question. Regardless, understand the risk of your actions and always be ready to accept the consequences.

Hyatt Adds Properties for Award Stays, Changes WOH, and Rewards Globalists

Hyatt added 56 additional properties as part of its Small Luxury Hotels of the World partnership. This is obviously great news for members of World of Hyatt as the footprint of Hyatt is the programs largest deficiency. These 56 properties fall between category 3 and 8, costing from 12k to 40k points per night.

Marriott’s changes over the past two years have left a sour taste in customers’ mouths and when WOH announced program changes there were several aspects that sounded similar to the changes in the Bonvoy program. There is a bunch of good news though. First, free-night certificates will be tied to the hotel category, NOT point value, like Marriott. This means that even with peak pricing, a specific property will still honor the certificate. On the topic of peak pricing, unlike Marriott, individual hotels will not set these pricing dates, but it will be done centrally by Hyatt. So, don’t expect to see year-round peak pricing at certain high-demand properties, in the same way that certain Marriott hotels game the system.

For some Globalists members Christmas came a few weeks early this year as they were awarded complimentary Executive Platinum status with AA. This is no token award as there is major value to be had here. Perks of the status include complimentary upgrades, four systemwide upgrades, priority check-in and boarding, free checked bags, waived fees, Oneworld Emerald status, and more! If you were targeted, let us know and also let us know how you plan to use the status!

Two of my Favorite Tricks Vanish in 2020

So much of this hobby is exploiting favorable terms, finding ways to scale great deals, and crossing your fingers hoping that inevitable program changes don’t cut off your favorite plays. My luck has run out on two mini-plays that I always enjoyed. The first is Marriott removing the 10 night credit for booking your first meeting of the year. Up until a few years ago this was uncapped, meaning you could book 10 meetings and earn 100 nights. Then it changed to only allowing it on the first booked meeting of the year (which was reasonable), and now it is gone all together.

The value of Marriott status has continued to decline, but the ease of attaining it and the ability to get lifetime status made it at least partially compelling. While the ability to earn one elite night for every 20 rooms booked on a meeting contract still exists, that offer is far less compelling.

The more painful loss for me came from Plastiq. While still a fantastic service, offering the ability to pay any bill with a credit or debit card, as of January 1 Plastiq will no longer allow the use of prepaid debit cards. This had been a boon for me for years as I would load up on fee-free or fee-negative gift cards earning me 5x Chase Ultimate Reward points and then liquidate those cards paying my monthly bills such as mortgages, utilities, etc. With frequent promos and offers, it was fairly easy to get the Plastiq fees down to 1%, netting 4% profit if one only values URs at 1 penny each.

While the Marriott change is more of the same and stings a little, the Plastiq change is much more of a punch in the gut.

Boeing 737-MAX Updates

In mid-December Boeing announced that it would be suspending production of the 737-MAX production line in January. Up until now Boeing had been continuing production but with a backlog of roughly 400 orders and no where for them to go, Boeing had to shut of the spigot. Also of note is that it roughly the same number of planes will need to go back to Boeing to implement and test whatever fixes are deemed necessary.

Passengers won’t feel any impact from this new development, but there will be ripple effects in the airplane manufacturing industry as upstream suppliers and related vendors goods and services will not be needed until production resumes.

Southwest has extended its grounding of the 737-MAX and anticipates an April return as of now. We have seen similar grounding extensions from other US based carriers and the potential for further extensions is not out of the question.

New Qantas Partnerships, Edible Cups on Air New Zealand, LATAM’s new Codeshares, and Korean’s Awful Award Chart Changes

Qantas (a Oneworld airline) announced a partnership with Flying Blue, the frequent flyer program of Air France and KLM (SkyTeam). Qantas members will now have access to 60 new destinations and will earn Qantas points and tier benefits when when flying with Air France and KLM. There continue to be more of these cross-alliance partnerships and they open up the door for more interesting award bookings and indirectly increase the value of transferable points that partner with the affected airlines.

While it doesn’t provide for more award space like its Oceanic neighbor, Air New Zealand has rolled out edible coffee cups in its lounges and on its planes. Touting sustainability, Air New Zealand partnered with “twiice” to create these cups and estimate they will help prevent roughly 15 million cups from going to landfills each year. The cups have proven to be popular with customers and have also been used as dessert cups by twiice in other applications. I don’t know what the budget impact is of the switch will be, but I have to assume these cost significantly more than cheap plastic or styrofoam cups. Regardless, it is always great to see sustainable innovation in an industry that is known for the opposite.

As we discussed in prior posts, LATAM will be leaving Oneworld in October of 2020, but will begin codesharing with Delta early in 2020, dropping American Airlines at the same time. This is a major blow to the Oneworld route network of South America and conversely a major win for Delta. We are still waiting to see how Oneworld responds – while Star Alliance has been recently sniffing around various airlines in the region as well.

Korean Air used to be one of the best transfer partners Ultimate Rewards offered, but when that relationship was cut off back in 2018, many forgot about the carrier as other transfer options were less valuable. Despite this, the value of their redemptions were still great – with the ability to nab North America to Asia in first class for only 80,000 points.

In April of 2021, Korean will be moving to a distance-based chart which is a massive devaluation. While the economy redemptions on international routes will mostly decrease (64 will require fewer miles, 12 will remain the same, and 49 will increase mileage cost), the premium and first class charts are devalued significantly.

  • A distance of 500-999 miles costs 37,500 miles
  • A distance of 1,000-1,499 miles costs 45,000 miles
  • A distance of 1,500-1,999 miles costs 52,500 miles
  • A distance of 2,000-2,999 miles costs 67,500 miles
  • A distance of 3,000-3,999 miles costs 82,000 miles
  • A distance of 4,000-4,999 miles costs 97,500 miles
  • A distance of 5,000-6,499 miles costs 120,000 miles
  • A distance of 6,500-9,999 miles costs 135,000 miles

I always appreciate some heads up from a company regarding a change and the ~1.5 year heads is pretty good. So, if you were like me and pro-actively moved miles to Korean prior to the severing of ties with Chase, it would be wise to start coming up with a plan to use them!

November Catch-Up

Better Dining Reservation Ability via Capital One and American Express

For years Amex has positioned themselves as not only a financial partner, but a lifestyle company. Their acquisitions, partnerships, and offers fully reflect this commitment, and from their acquisition of Resy earlier this year they are finally rolling out the ability to make exclusive restaurant reservations. In early 2020 Centurion and Platinum cardholders will be able to make reservations directly through the Amex app. There will be about 10,000 restaurants available to book when the system goes live and the the space currently available by calling the Amex Concierge will be able to be booked via the app.

Capital One has gone a step further and has partnered with OpenTable to offer exclusive reservations for their cardholders for weekend dining in 15 cities. Those cities are currently:

  • Atlanta
  • Austin
  • Boston
  • Chicago
  • Dallas
  • Denver
  • Houston
  • Las Vegas
  • Los Angeles
  • Miami
  • New Orleans
  • New York City
  • Philadelphia
  • Portland
  • Richmond
  • San Francisco
  • Seattle
  • Washington

To find the participating restaurants and make reservations, go to www.opentable.com/capitalone.

While Amex has gone and made their current exclusive availability easier for cardholders to book, Capital One has created new opportunities for card members and thus should be viewed as a much bigger deal. These are both great additions and hopefully Capital One will continue to expand the value it offers to its customers.

Major Changes to Amex Centurion Card, a Potential Product Gap Created and the Amex Business Platinum Loses Benefits

As an invitation only charge card, the Centurion Card from American Express probably isn’t on most people’s radar as a realistic option in this hobby. However, some major changes to the card may have potentially opened the door for something new. First, the changes. The sticker shock on this card has gotten even larger as the initiation fee will increase from $7,500 to $10,000 and the annual fee will increase from $2,500 to $5,000. The bad news is that the card is losing the Gogo Wireless passes, the Boingo Wireless membership, and the $200 annual airline fee credit. The GOOD news is that the added benefits are quite handsome, assuming you live in the right geographic area.

The Centurion Card will be adding a $250 quarterly credit to Saks Fifth Avenue, similar to the $50 semi-annual credit available to Platinum Card holders. Additionally CLEAR membership is included for the card holder, a value of $259 per year. The potential value limitation here is if your home airport or airports which you frequent don’t have CLEAR lines to use. Most major airports do have these and we are starting to see more stadiums and arenas being outfitted with the kiosks. In my opinion, the most interesting of the benefits is the Equinox membership. For those that aren’t familiar, Equinox is a super-trendy luxury fitness company that owns well-known outfits like PURE Yoga and SoulCycle. Starting in 2020, Centurion Card holders will have access to Equinox Fitness via their complimentary annual membership. There are only around 100 Equinox Fitness gyms around the US, so this again is where the geographical limitation to the value comes into play, but normally this membership would set you back $500 in initiation fees, and $300 per month. If you live somewhere like New York City though, this could offer a lot of value.

What strikes me those most about these changes is that there is now a much wider gap between the Platinum Card and Centurion Card in terms of fees (moves from ~5x to ~10x the cost). This potentially allows American Express to position a new card right around that $2,500 (5x Platinum annual fee) mark. American Express has been doing so much this year to drive the “lifestyle” brand that it offers, and this would be another great opportunity for them to target another market segment.

Just as the Centurion Card axed the Gogo and Boingo Wireless benefits, the Business Platinum card will follow suit as American Express is ending those partnerships as of January 1, 2020. Over the years I have gotten a lot of value out of these partnerships, with free wifi in many public locations around the world thanks to Boingo and for a decent allotment of annual Gogo passes for in-flight Wifi. While the Business Platinum retains many great benefits and credits, the loss of these two stings quite a bit.

Can A Credit Card Be Sexist?

In short, as an inanimate object, it really cannot be sexist – but perhaps the algorithm that assigns credit lines on said card can be. I do enjoy making fun of the Apple Card (remember, it shouldn’t be stored in wallets, pockets, or next to other cards!), but this latest development is actually concerning. Credit decisioning is somewhat of a black box for customers (and even a lot of customer service reps) – we may have a sense of where we fall on a credit worthiness scale, but we rarely know exactly how a company weighs data like number of cards opened, utilization, stated income, age, etc.

In early November reports popped up on Twitter and other sources that couples were seeing instances where males were receiving 10-20x the credit lines as their female counterparts. While Goldman Sachs, the issuer of the card has said that gender plays no role in credit decision making, Apple, along with New York’s Department of Financial Services is investigating these consumer claims. We would love to hear if any of our readers have experienced anything like this with the new Apple card.

LATAM to Leave Oneworld

As expected, with the 20% stake in LATAM purchased by Delta, LATAM has announced that it will be leaving Oneworld on October 1, 2020. While there is still no conclusive evidence that LATAM will join SkyTeam, this is still a major loss for Oneworld and American Airlines. LATAM will be a close partner with Delta, much like Virgin Atlantic and WestJet. It is important to note that neither Virgin Atlantic nor WestJet are SkyTeam members.

This loss creates a major hole in the route network for Oneworld airlines in South America and certainly helps bolster Delta’s position on the continent. A lot is still unknown and it will be interesting to see how Oneworld and American Airlines respond.

Boeing Expects 737-MAX Aircraft to Return to Service in 2020

Boeing has not gotten the best press lately and the handling of the 737-MAX situation has been pretty terrible. They currently expect the FAA to clear the planes to return to commercial flight in January, we have already had this anticipated date pushed back, so another delay wouldn’t be a surprise. The bigger challenge for Boeing will be the longer term public relations impact of the groundings along with decreased confidence from potential buyers. My hope from this situation is that the FAA allows less self-reporting and self-regulating from manufacturers and that return to seeing innovation from the US’ largest aircraft manufacturer.

Hyatt Joins the No Single Use Club

We discussed both Marriott and IHG phasing out single use toiletry items in their properties and now Hyatt has confirmed that it will do the same. The target date for the completion of this transition is June of 2021.

On top of the replacement of single use toiletries, Hyatt will be moving away from bottled water in meeting/event space and will be installing more water stations for filling reusable bottles to encourage guests to make sustainable choices. The CEO of Hyatt, Mark Hoplamazian had this to say about their corporate shift:

“At Hyatt, our purpose – we care for people so they can be their best – guides all business decisions, including our global sustainability framework, which focuses on using resources responsibly and helping address today’s most pressing environmental issues. Plastic pollution is a global issue, and we hope our efforts will motivate guests, customers and, indeed, ourselves to think more critically about our use of plastic.”

Air France Retires its First A380

This past month Air France retired its first of its 10 A380s. The plan is to have all of the planes retired by 2022. The planes have only been flying in Air France’s fleet since 2009, but they just don’t fit the airline’s plans going forward. The A380 is expensive to operate and maintain and requires larger and different gate configurations and longer runways to safely operate. With other options such as the 787 and the A350, more efficient routings can be made without needing to operate a hub-and-spoke system as is done by Emirates in Dubai. I truly love the A380 and am sad to see them slowly go, but to be honest, Air France never did anything interesting with theirs. The 777 offers a more private first class experience and unlike Etihad or Emirates they didn’t offer any innovative experiences on the A380 like a bar or showers.

Stories such as these will become more common as the last A380 is scheduled to be delivered in 2021 and from then we can expect to see the fleet numbers dwindle quickly as airlines around the world switch to more fuel efficient aircraft.

October Catch-Up

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.

September Catch-Up

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…

August Catch-Up

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.

July Catch-Up

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/

June Catch-Up

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?

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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