April Catch-Up

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April Devaluations Don’t Bring May Flowers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Delta Renews Partnership with American Express

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

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

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

Chase offers First Transfer Bonus; Rocky Relationship with United?

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

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

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

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

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

Extra Fee to Guarantee Entry to Priority Pass Lounges?

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

Currently, these are the lounges offering this option:

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

T-Mobile Introduces Mobile Banking Paying 4% APY!

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

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

New Benefits for All Holders of World and World Elite Mastercards

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

From Mastercard, here are the new benefits:

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

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

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

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