May Catch-Up

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Asiana and Korean Air Getting Rid of First Class

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

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

New Partnerships

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

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

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

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

Interesting Changes at American Express

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

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

Airport Changes Part of a New Trend?

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

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

Odd New Way to Earn and Burn Points?

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

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

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

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

British Airways Avios Award Chart Devaluation

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

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

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