January Catch-Up

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At the beginning of each month we will be writing a “catch-up” article highlighting important or noteworthy events from the prior month. While this certainly won’t be a recap of everything that happened across all airlines, hotels, banks, and credit cards, the hope is that we will be able to touch on the things about which you should be aware as well as others that may have slipped through the cracks in the prior month.

In no particular order…

1) American Express and Chase Issuing 1099s for Referral Bonuses

Starting on January 30, some American Express and Chase customers that had received referral bonuses for having friends/family sign up with their links in exchange for receiving points have reported receiving 1099s from the banks.

This is problematic as the banks have effectively applied a valuation to the points given. This reddit thread shows several examples and breaks down the valuations.

What can you do about it? First and foremost, consult your CPA or a tax professional. For some individuals it may have no impact, while for others that have a lot of referrals it could add thousands of dollars of income.

2) Bank of America Adds 24-Month Language to Certain Credit Cards

Similar to restrictions places on bonuses by Citi and Chase, Bank of America joins in by adding restrictions to four of their cards. Below are the cards and the specific terms.

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature : “This card will not be available to you if you currently have or have had the card in the preceding 24 month period.”

Bank of America Premium Rewards: “This Premium Rewards card will not be available to you if you currently have or have had a Premium Rewards card in the preceding 24 month period.”

Cash Rewards: “This Cash Rewards card will not be available to you if you currently have a Cash Rewards card unless you have had that Cash Rewards card for at least 24 months.”

Travel Rewards: “This Travel Rewards card will not be available to you if you currently have a Travel Rewards card unless you have had that Travel Rewards card for at least 24 months.”

3) Herb Kelleher, Founder of Southwest Airlines Passes Away at 87

An innovator in the air travel space, Herb Kelleher passed away on January 3, 2019. Southwest published this notice honoring their founder and his accomplishments.

4) American Express Restricting Centurion Lounge Access

Beginning March 22, Centurion Lounges will become pre-departure lounges only. From their website:

NOTE: FOR PLATINUM CARD MEMBERS ONLY The Centurion Lounge is a day of departure lounge. We will not admit arriving Platinum Card Members with boarding passes for flights that have just landed. We will admit Platinum Card Members with layovers or connecting flights who produce proof of connecting flight.

 We will not admit Platinum Card Members more than 3 hours before the departure time on the Platinum Card Member’s same-day, confirmed boarding pass. This does not apply to Platinum Card Members with a connecting flight.

 We will admit children under 2 years of age free of charge, provided an accompanying parent or guardian is able to produce a “lap infant” boarding pass or proof of age. “

I think this is a reasonable move for American Express to make and will help to control overcrowding while not affecting most lounge users. These changes were inevitable as the number Platinum Card holders has increased and the lounges are some of the best in the United States.

5) Citi Prestige Begins to Rollout New Features

As of January 4, the Citi Prestige earns 5x on dining and airfare and 3x on cruising. While these changes have been viewed as positive, more changes are coming.

  • May 1: Cell Phone protection will be added
  • August 31: The 2x entertainment category will be dropped
  • September 1: The highly coveted “Fourth Night Free” benefit will be capped to two uses per year
  • September 1: The annual fee will increase to $495
  • September 1: Fixed-value redemptions of ThankYou points using the Citi Prestige drops from 1.25 cents to only 1 cent per point.

This is quite a mixed bag of changes and the strategy for maximizing the card’s value becomes slightly different as well. I will be looking closely at my usage of the card in its new state and will be making a determination before my annual fee comes due (mid year) as to whether or not I’ll be keeping this card. The fourth night free benefit has been majorly devalued, but still offers extremely high potential value compared to the annual fee.

6) Citi Offers New Fee-Free Rewards+ Credit Card

Highlights of this new card include:

  • 15,000 points sign-up bonus
  • Rounds up purchases to the nearest 10 ThankYou points
  • Earns 2x ThankYou points at gas stations and supermarkets, on the first $6,000 per year (similar to the Amex Everyday card)
  • Provides 10% rebate on the first 100,000 ThankYou points redeemed each year

Be aware that the language regarding the bonus covers the Premier AND Prestige card: Bonus ThankYou® Points are not available if you received a new cardmember bonus for Citi Rewards+℠, Citi ThankYou® Preferred, Citi ThankYou® Premier/Citi Premier℠ or Citi Prestige®, or if you have closed any of these cards, in the past 24 months.

7) Marriott Overhauls Co-Brand Credit Cards

This visual shows the current and new cards for both American Express and Chase.

While there are a lot of changes as a result of the acquisition of SPG by Marriott and the rebranding to “Bonvoy,” the most immediate for bonus seekers will be the fact that both the SPG Amex and the Marriott Premier Plus Business cards will stop accepting new applicants on February 12. So if you have been considering grabbing those while they still exist, act fast!

In the interest of full disclosure, we will earn a referral bonus for anyone that is approved from our links.  These are publicly available offers and all claims made in this post as of the posting date can be found in the offer language for the card.  We only provide the best publicly available offers and thank you for your continued support.

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Comparison of Amex Membership Rewards vs. Chase Ultimate Rewards vs. Citi ThankYou Points.

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It is a known fact that Amex, Chase & Citi are big players when it comes to issuing credit cards. These banks not only have co-branded cards but also issue cards under their  proprietary rewards program. These are considered as flexible currency as they offer a lot of flexibility in terms of how we can spend these points.

Here is a comparison of all the features of the three programs – Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards & Citi ThankYou points.

  Amex Membership rewards Chase Ultimate Rewards Citi ThankYou points
Cards that will earn the reward points
  • Amex Platinum Card
  • Amex Business Platinum
  • Amex Premier Rewards Gold card
  • Amex Business Gold Rewards Card
  • Amex Everyday
  • Amex Everyday Preferred
  • Amex Blue Business Pus Credit Card
  • Amex Green Card
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve
  • Chase Freedom
  • Chase Freedom Unlimited
  • Chase Ink business preferred
  • Chase Ink business cash
  • Citi ThankYou Premier
  • Citi Prestige
  • Citi ThankYou Preferred
  • AT&T Access Card From Citi
  • AT&T Access More Card from Citi ( possible with product conversions only)
Airline Transfer Partners (1:1 except as noted)
  • AeroMexico Club Premier: 1,000 MR points =  1,600 Premier points
  • Air Canada Aeroplan
  • Flying Blue
  • Alitalia MilleMiglia
  • ANA
  • Asia Miles
  • British Airways
  • Delta SkyMiles
  • El Al: 1,000 MR points = 20 Matmid points
  • Emirates Skywards
  • Etihad Guest
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Iberia Plus
  • TrueBlue points (250 MR Points = 200 TrueBlue Points)
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
  • British Airways Executive Club
  • United MileagePlus
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards
  • Singapore KrisFlyer
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
  • Flying Blue
  • JetBlue TrueBlue: 1,000 TY points = 800
  • Turkish Airlines Miles & Miles
  • Asia Miles
  • Avianca Life Miles
  • Etihad Guest
  • Eva Air
  • Flying Blue
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Jet Privilege
  • Malaysia Airlines Enrich
  • Qantas Frequent Flyer
  • Qatar Privilege Club
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Thai Royal Orchid Plus
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
Hotel Transfer Partners (1:1 except as noted)
  • Choice Privileges
  • Starwood Preferred Guest (1000:333)
  • Hilton  Honors (1000:1500)
  • IHG Rewards Club
  • World of Hyatt
  • Marriott Rewards
  • Ritz Carlton Rewards
Cash Redemptions 0.6 Cents per point towards Statement Credit 1 Cent per point towards statement credit or ACH transfer 1 Cent per point towards statement credit
Redeem towards travel (Air travel, Hotel and Car Rental on the respective portal) 1 Cent per point. (Get 35% of the points back if you hold Business Platinum card and booked with qualifying airline) 1.5 Cents/Point with Sapphire Reserve or 1.25 Cents/Points with Sapphire Preferred 1.25 cents per point (with Prestige or Premier card)
Points Sharing Points Sharing not allowed Points can be shared with another household member Can be shared with anyone holding ThankYou card. Transferred points expire after 90 days of transfer


Key Things to note:

Some of the cards offer all the features when combined with a premium card. For example, Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited alone can not unlock the full potential of Chase Ultimate Rewards program, but when combined with Chase Sapphire Preferred or Sapphire Reserve. Similarly, Citi ThankYou preferred offers full value when combined with ThankYou premier or Prestige card

It is generally not a good idea to redeem points towards Merchandise or gift cards

Singapore Airlines Krisflyer, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club & KLM/Airfrance – Flying Blue are common transfer partners for all 3 reward programs – so you could pool points from the three rewards programs for something big.

Which rewards program is best?

The true answer is “It depends“.  Each program has its own advantage depending on your requirement and type of cards held. For example, if you have Chase Sapphire Reserve card – you get more value when redeeming towards travel rewards like flight, hotel & car rentals.

You should also consider that the card issuers have recently tightened the rules around the new card approvals, so it may be worthwhile to invest in all the 3 programs.

But, here are some of the strong aspects of each program in different scenarios:

Best program for transferring points to Hotel loyalty programs:

World of Hyatt is associated with Chase Ultimate Rewards and could offer great value when redeemed thoughtfully.  Transferring to Marriott Rewards, Ritz Carlton Rewards and IHG Rewards Club is not generally NOT recommended as it is very easy to earn these  points at less than 1 cent/point.

Best program for transferring points to Airline loyalty programs:

This is very tough one, as there are sweet spots with each airline loyalty program. But, here are our recommended Airline transfer partners for each program that could offer great value

Amex Membership Rewards: Air Canada -Aeroplan, Delta Sky Miles, British Airways Executive Club, ANA Mileage Club, Singapore Krisflyer, Asia Miles

Chase Ultimate Rewards: United MileagePlus, British Airways Executive Club, Southwest Rapid rewards, Singapore Krisflyer

Citi ThankYou points: Avianca Life Miles, Singapore Krisflyer, Etihad Guest, Asia Miles

Best Program for Travel rewards:

All three programs allowing Flight, Hotel & Car rental bookings through their respective portal. In this case, the best program would be Chase Ultimate Rewards (If you hold the Chase Sapphire Reserve – 1.5 cents/points) or Amex membership Rewards  (If you hold Amex business platinum cards – 1.54 cents/point).

If you do not hold the premium cards, then Citi ThankYou Points (1.25 cents/point) and Chase Ultimate Rewards (1.25 cents/point) offer great value.

What is your favorite program and your consideration for choosing that program?

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