September Catch-Up

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

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

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

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

What Happened to Thomas Cook?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lounge News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Global Entry Good for 1 Year Post Expiration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Will NOT be Receiving $125 from the Equifax Settlement

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

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

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

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

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

– OR –

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

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

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

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

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