June Catch-Up

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Boeing 737 MAX Update

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

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

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

Russian E-Visa and New Requirements for a US Visa

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

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

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

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

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

American Express Updates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Global Entry Interview Delays

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

Citi Removes Valuable Benefits

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

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

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

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

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

Other Airline Tidbits Only I May Find Interesting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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May Catch-Up

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Asiana and Korean Air Getting Rid of First Class

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

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

New Partnerships

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

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

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

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

Interesting Changes at American Express

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

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

Airport Changes Part of a New Trend?

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

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

Odd New Way to Earn and Burn Points?

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

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

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

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

British Airways Avios Award Chart Devaluation

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

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

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Knowing The Rules

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

The 5/24 Trap

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

Inhospitable Istanbul

Well, those rules seem pretty clear!

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

Confusion at The Club

The Club at ATL Reception

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gift Card Gaffe

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

Bottom Line

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

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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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Apple Card – A New Player in the Credit Card Space

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Available this summer, the Apple Card is a co-branded Mastercard issued by Goldman Sachs. This is somewhat of a major move for Apple as the slowing of device sales creates the need for additional diversified income streams.

What Apple Card Offers

Apple Card promises no fees, low interest rates, and a simple rewards structure that delivers the cardholder’s cash back when a purchase posts. The card is tied to the user’s Apple Wallet and doesn’t have a card number or CVV2 code. Apple also promises that Goldman Sachs will not be selling customer information to third party vendors as a nod to the increased privacy and security focus of the card.

The rewards structure is extremely simple and users will see the cash back once a transaction posts. The card offers 3% cash back on purchases made from Apple, 2% cash back on purchase made using Apple Pay, and 1% cash back on purchases using the physical card. While the physical card looks quite impressive, the rewards structure is geared towards using the card through the app. The physical card is intended for use only with vendors that don’t accept Apple Pay.

Interestingly (to me at least), Apple is promising no late fees, no over limit fees, no annual fees, no FX fees, and interest rates that are “among the lowest in the industry.” When pressed on the interest rate Apple responded that the rates are variable and “the lowest rate you might expect today would be 13.24%, all the way up to 24.24%. But these rates are subject to change by this summer’s launch.”

What’s Missing?

There are a few things missing that a “normal” credit card would offer. The first is a sign up bonus and Apple has no intention of offering one. Second, the ability to add authorized users will not be present when the card is launched and it is unclear if that functionality will be added in the future. Last, and most important, this card will only be available to those with iPhones that support Apple Pay. Due to the need for Apple’s proprietary Security Element it is unlikely that we will see this card available on non-iOS devices.

My Personal Take

Apple loves fanfare and has a rabid following and because of that, this card got a lot of press this week. Take a step back though, and look at what the card offers in terms of rewards, sign up bonus (or lack thereof), interest rate, etc. If Citi or Chase issued this exact card, would the reception be the same? Would you be excited? I wouldn’t be and this card doesn’t seem to provide much to me. We know that we can do far better than 3% cashback on Apple devices by using gift cards (easy 4x-5x) AND you can sometimes stack with portals for a nice double dip. On top of that, transferable rewards offer outsized value when compared to simple cash back.

I will say that I do appreciate the security and privacy moves that the virtual card offers and can’t say that I have any complaints about the lack of fees. The interest rates on the other hand are in no way groundbreaking and are in-line with essentially every major credit card on the market.

There are two questions I have regarding this product: Will Apple be able to keep their no-fee promise – and if so, at what point do they start closing accounts for consistent abuse of late payments and over limit activity? The second question is what sort of credit score will be necessary for approval on this card? Credit scoring is a solid indicator of behavior, but for a card that offers noncompetitive rewards will high credit score individuals accept noncompetitive interest rates as well?

What are your thoughts on this new product? Do you think other cards will follow with fee reductions? Do you plan on getting this card? Let us know in the comments or on the Credit Card 101 Facebook group!

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Strategies to Meet Minimum Spending Requirement to Earn Sign Up Bonus on new Credit Cards

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Does your excitement of getting a shiny new credit card and an excellent sign-up bonus boil down quickly with the thought of meeting a high spending requirement? Are you someone who holds themselves back from applying for great cards because of a high spend requirement? You might want to think again and consider these options to quickly meet your minimum spend requirement.

PS: I won’t talk about methods where a huge sum of money is blocked for a couple of months or so. Most of these ideas are reliable (though, as always, YMMV), and with fairly quick turnaround time.

1.    Bluebird/Serve

Your mileage will vary highly based on the store, location and the customer service representative assisting you when trying to load these giftcards to serve or converting them into money orders as they are pin enabled. If they say you can’t do it, simply walk away without arguing much. It also helps to start slow, with say a $100 load or a $500 load. You can pay back your credit card directly from the funds loaded on to the serve account or even send payments to Mortgage lenders, car payments, utility companies that do not accept credit cards, IRS to name a few.

Serve and Bluebird are prepaid re-loadable cards issued by AMEX, and they basically act as a debit card. The way to use this to your benefit is to buy visa gift cards from a store like Staples or Office Depot/Office Max when they run the no-fee visa gift card promotion using your credit card (Ink Business Cash gives you a 5% return, which makes this a profitable venture). You then visit a Walmart and use these prepaid visa gift card to load your Serve card. Not all Walmart are friendly with the use of visa gift cards to load these prepaid cards. You can buy Visa giftcards from giftcards.com for $500 denomination (limit $2500 a day including fees) and make sure to go through a website like Topcashback, Ebates and Mr. Rebates to get back 1% of the purchase price bringing down the cost of these giftcards. Make sure to not purchase Mastercard brands as they are difficult to liquidate with these strategies.

Topcashback offers 1% cashback on Visa Giftcards

Amit used sign up bonus from the Hyatt Credit Card for 50K points and Free night certificates with the old Hyatt card (good for any Hyatt worldwide now limited to category 1-4) to spend 5 nights at Hyatt Ziva Cancun.

2.    Plastiq

A lot of expenses, like rent, utility payment, etc. usually require you to pay via a debit card or check and do not generally accept a credit card. In cases like these, you can use a service called Plastiq (this link will get you $500 fee free dollars). You can make these payments through Plastiq, which will charge your credit card and make your payments, usually for a fee that ranges between 2-3%. This method is usually only used when you are very short of meeting your minimum spend and will lose out on a bigger sign-up bonus rather than the 3% fee. We also recommend keeping an eye on their promotions, which offers fee-free transactions frequently.

Do check out our detailed post on Plastiq .

You can visit the leaning tower using points from several portals such as Ultimate Rewards, Thank you points, membership rewards, City National bank Rewards
Business Class seat North America to Italy for 55K United miles just from one sign-up bonus

3.    Gift Card Reselling

Most online and brick-and-mortar stores, especially grocery chains, have discounted gift cards every now and then or provide you with a multiplier rate on fuel-points. You can simply resell the gift cards on portals like raise.com, gyft.com, cardpool.com etc. and will break even or even make a slight profit with your discounted gas and the money you received from selling the gift card. In fact, Amit never pays a full dollar to top off two of his cars. You can actually profit by purchasing these gift cards if your local store has a rewards program that earns points towards groceries or fuel.

Note: It is never a good idea to head to a store and get thousands of $$$ worth of gift cards. Please be cautious especially with American Express, who do not want their customers buying gift cards to meet minimum spend requirements for the sign-up bonus.

4.    More Gift Card Tricks

Additionally, not only can you use gift cards to resell or for personal use, but you can also buy visa gift cards and convert them to a Money Order in a store like Walmart. These are highly YMMV, depending on the cashier and store-policy.

5.    Tax Payments

If you’d like to meet minimum spend and are okay to spend some money on fees, you can pay federal taxes using any of the sources that the IRS mentions on this link. One of the processors on the IRS website charges a 1.87% fee and paying a small fee out of pocket may make sense for some based on the card used and sign up bonus offered. Not only can this help you meet MSR but also provides some float on the funds.

We highly recommend a card like the Amex Blue Business Plus Card where you can earn 2 MR per dollar spent, up to $50,000 per year, in any category.

6.    Everyday Spending

Perhaps the most uncreative way to meet your minimum spend requirement, but if you are only a few hundred dollars short of meeting the spend requirement, it might make sense to hit your nearest wholesale club or grocery store and stock up on non-perishable items. If you have friends or family who are okay with you paying for them in return for cash or a bank transfer, this could minimize the effort required to meet the spend requirement by doing things that you already do.

7.    Spend With Delayed Reimbursements

We previously covered a couple of methods that the members of the Credit Card 101 community are using. The first and more consistent option is to use RebateKey, where you buy products from Amazon and get refunded for the cost of the product after a month. The rebates on these products vary and some are 100% free. Even if you do not have a need the products can be donated to charity or given our as gifts.

The second option is to buy special edition coins that the US Mint releases time and again and sell them, at least at break even, though most times it’s at a decent profit. PFS Buyers club is one company that several members of Credit Card 101 have successfully used in the past.

We’ve covered both these methods extensively on our website here for RebateKey and PFS Buyers Club.

JAL Business class can be scored from North America to Japan for 80k to 90k miles depending on program

8. Electricity and Gas Bills

To specifically pay for your gas and electricity bills, be sure to check Arcadia Power . If you sign-up for Arcadia energy, they will source 50% of the energy from renewable resources, and as an incentive eat up the credit card fee that your utility provider would charge otherwise. This helps you earn points on your card, buys you time with the payment, and save the environment. All this without spending an additional cent!

9. Flipping Items on Amazon and eBay

The founder of Credit Card 101, Amit Desai has been using this strategy for the last two plus years to not only generate profit but a whole lot of credit card miles and points. Again, there is risk involved with starting any business and credit card points should not be the sole reason for starting any business, let alone e-commerce, with the risks involved. But if you ever want to learn more on how to get started, Amit recorded a podcast for Side Hustle Nation

We have specialists in our Premium Group who can guide you with the most ideas discussed above. You can also learn other tips, tricks, and opportunities to help increase credit card rewards.

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Brexit and Travel

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We are only a handful of days away from Brexit and at this point the British Parliament still has yet to approve a deal. So, what does this mean? The short answer is we don’t really know. What we do know is that one of three things will happen on March 29th – 1) Parliament agrees to a deal with the EU, 2) The UK requests an extension, or 3) The UK crashes out with what is known as a “Hard Brexit.” While many articles could be written on each of these scenarios, we are going to focus on some of the travel related aspects and how your trip(s) may be affected.

Businesses and certain government entities are preparing for the unknown. Airline caterer Gate Gourmet is stockpiling meals in the UK to avoid an potential disruption while Heathrow is making sure they have enough of the various EU-sourced goods that allow them to properly do their jobs, such as gloves and scanners.

British Airways stated that customers should expect to see no disruptions of service and that they will continue to service all of their destinations regardless of whether a deal is reached. easyJet created a new company, easyJet Europe and physically moved planes to the continent as the uncertainty grows. Going back to BA, they are in an interesting spot, as their parent company IAG has stakes in a number of European airlines – Iberia, Aer Lingus, Norwegian, and Vueling. With IAG’s headquarters located squarely in the UK – they are currently decidedly British. IAG is currently working to ensure that it is seen as a European company post-Brexit in a no-deal scenario to protect its European routes.

The part that most readers will care about is the future state of air travel to and from the UK. The best case scenario (in my opinion) is that everything stays the same. In a no-deal scenario would certainly lead to higher fares and immigration issues. On top of those unwanted affects, there is the potential for as many as 5 million tickets to be canceled due to flight caps that could be imposed in the face of no-deal.

Citizens of the United States will need to obtain travel authorization to enter the EU beginning in 2021 and a no-deal scenario would certainly place British citizens in the same boat. While the financial burden would amount to under $10 USD for a 3 year authorization, this process and cost is a far cry from the free movement to which British citizens are currently familiar.

I am no expert on any of these matters, but from where I sit it appears that the uncertainty isn’t receding and anxiety is only growing. Perhaps one of you smarter readers can figure something out for Europe??

…so, if you want to read the 585 page agreement as it currently stands, please go right ahead!

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2019 State of the Wallet Address

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I tend to do a lot of my personal financial reviews at the beginning of the year – preparing my taxes, checking my retirement investments, managing recurring bills (cable, cell phone, etc.), and looking at my open credit cards. While I’m sure you all want to hear about my home office deduction, my 1099-INTs, and the like…I’ll just keep this focused on the credit cards. 

I broke down my analysis into three sections:

  1. Open Cards I am Keeping
  2. Open Cards I am Closing/Converting
  3. Cards I am Considering

There are so many fantastic products available to us these days and with every company competing for market share there is a lot of overlap among products.  Each reader has his/her preferred airlines, hotels, and lifestyle needs and for me there are a few important items to note. First, I live in a secondary market (Richmond, Va), so our airport has no lounges, and I have no airline loyalty.  Because of this, co-branded airlines cards don’t have as much value as they would for someone consistently flying American Airlines out of Charlotte, for example. Second, I value transferable points above all else and look to maximize value in that way as opposed to maximizing cash back.  Third, diversification is important, as to allow for more options when it comes time to book award travel.

Open Cards I am Keeping

American Express Gold – In its revamped form, this is a recent addition to my wallet.  With its 4x dining and 4x grocery (up to $25k) per year, it makes the short list.  To add icing on the cake, the airline ($100) and dining credits ($120) take quite a bite out of the $250 annual fee. While the card also offers 3x on airfare and 1x on everything else, this card doesn’t see action in those areas

American Express Platinum – I recently wrote an article on why this card is so valuable to me.  It simply comes down to the fact that while I don’t do a lot of purchasing on the card (aside from airfare at 5x), the benefits offered by American Express make the $550 annual fee seem insignificant.

American Express Blue Business Plus – With no annual fee and 2x on all purchases up to $50k per year, there is nothing not to love about this card

American Express Bonvoy Brilliant – This is the odd one out on my “keep” list.  The earn rates aren’t competitive, it has a high fee (albeit with some decent perks), and I think the name is stupid, but this card performs two very important duties for me.  First, I do enjoy SPG Marriott Bonvoy points as they offer access to unique transfer partners with an amazing array of award chart sweet spots.  The second thing this card provides is a nice path to Platinum Elite status.  By spending $75k the cardholder obtains that status for the remainder of the year and for the next calendar year.  While I don’t stay in hotels as often as most, it is nice to have that in my back pocket. This card may be jettisoned if Marriott continues to water down the statuses and have inconsistent delivery of benefits from their hotels.

Chase Ink Plus – As long as Chase continues to keep this card “active” it’ll have a home in my wallet.  Offering 5x on phone, cable, internet, and office supply stores up to $50k per year, it is easy to justify the $95 fee

Chase Ink Cash – Ink Cash matches the Ink Plus in categories and while it does have a lower cap at $25k per year, there is no fee, making this card a no-brainer.

Chase Ink Preferred – Offering 3x on up to $150k annually on travel, shipping, phone/cable/internet, and online advertising provides a great way to pull in major Ultimate Rewards hauls each year.  It also offers the most comprehensive cell phone protection of any major credit card.

Chase Freedom – Rotating quarterly 5x categories capped at $1500 per quarter, the ability to pool points between accounts, and no annual fee make this an easy keeper

Balance Transfer Cards – I hold a slew of other no-fee cards as well that have very high limits that I don’t intend to close.  These cards routinely send me access checks which can allow me quickly to invest in something or create cash if needed.  Additionally, the high limits and 0 balance currently on these cards helps keep my overall credit utilization in check, leading to a more stable high credit score.

Open Cards I am Closing/Converting

American Express Everyday – While I have no specific plans to close this card (as it has no annual fee), it only offers 2x on grocery up to $6k per year and a 20% bonus on all points if 30 or more purchases are made in a calendar month.  My plan with this card is to potentially convert to another Amex product or wait to see if something new comes out that is worthy of an Amex slot.

American Express Hilton Ascend – This card made the long march from a Citi Hilton Honors to an Amex Hilton Surpass to now its current form.  I can see where some would get value from this card, but for me it is just taking up room and has an annual fee (that I have been able to get waived for the past 2 years).  It its current state it doesn’t add much value to me, but I am still contemplating what my hotel moves will be for the latter half of 2019 into 2020

Chase Sapphire Preferred – For some it is probably shocking to see this card in this section of my list but compared to the other items on this list and my spend patterns, this card is eclipsed in each of it’s spend categories by another card with only 2x dining and travel.

Citi Premier/Prestige – I am lumping these two together as I will only be closing one, but at this stage I don’t know which.  Why am I keeping one?  Although Citi has some odd rules about combining ThankYou points, keeping open a card that allows access to transfer partners is important.  The Citi Premier has an annual fee of $95 and for that price point, some solid earn rates with 3x travel and 2x dining and entertainment.  The Citi Prestige is a premium card with a $495 fee with some very solid earn rates (5x airfare, 5x dining, 3x hotels and cruises), but the big winner on this card is the coveted 4th night free benefit.  With Citi limiting this benefit to two uses per year, it does put a damper on what was a 4th night bonanza, but the $250 travel credit is still very much alive.  At this point I am leaning towards keeping the Citi Prestige and dumping Premier.

Cards I am Considering

Citi Rewards+ – If you haven’t heard of this card, listen up!  This is hands down the best points card for a person that makes a lot of small purchases.  It earns 2x gas and grocery (capped at $6k per year), but the kicker is that all purchases are rounded up to the nearest 10 points.  That $4 coffee = 10 points, the $1 soda = 10 points, the $0.01 Amazon reload = 10 points. You COULD say that this card earns 1000x on certain purchases!  Regardless, this is a great card and since I haven’t opened OR closed Premier or Prestige in the past 24 months, I AM eligible for the bonus. 

Chase Ink Unlimited – I have every other Ink card under the sun, so what’s one more?  The reality here is that when I’ve maxed out my Amex Blue Business Plus, am not working on a sign-up bonus, and am not purchasing in a category with a bonus this card (and Freedom Unlimited) offer the best value at 1.5x on everything.  What is even better?  This is a no fee card and the points can be pooled with my other Chase accounts.

American Express Hilton Aspire – I have the Ascend card and it isn’t do anything for me now.  If I move away from Marriott, the EASIEST place to go is Hilton, as the Aspire card has a slew of great benefits and credits and provides Hilton Diamond status just for holding the card.  While it is a less generous program, many of the changes to Marriott are lowering the value of the program, so if I can grab status for no spend, that is a better bargain in my opinion.

Chase World of Hyatt – Much like the Aspire if I move to Hilton, this is card to grab if I move to Hyatt.  Hyatt’s top-level status – Globalist is the best of the top tier statuses out there, but Hyatt doesn’t have as many properties, so sometimes you have to go out of your way to stay in their properties.  The spend required to hit that top tier status is at least $125k, depending on your current Hyatt status.  Earn rates on this card aren’t fantastic, but along the way to gaining status there are multiple free night certificates to be picked up.  For a fee of only $95 per year, it may be the way I go.

Conclusion

There you have it…I have bared my um…wallet?…to you all and I’m curious as to what you all think.  On what points do you agree?  Where do you think I’m a total idiot (let’s keep it specific to credit card and points to save on time)?  What would you do differently? 

I’ll be revisiting this later this year when I have a better idea as to what I’m going to do with hotel loyalty.

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