Mar 29

Hyatt Announces Second Quarter Promotion

I’ve always felt that hotels’ promotions* were a good indicator of how business is. When promos are good, that means that the companies need to drive business. When business is good, there is no need to offer a decent promotion.

Hyatt Double Points for Being You

hyatt

At least the registration process is easy.

Clearly, things are going well at Hyatt because their new promotion is not particularly inviting. Similar to many previous Marriott MegaBonus promos, Hyatt will offer you double points during the bonus period, but only starting with your second stay. In other words, if you have two stays between April 1 and June 30, make sure that the first one is the short one, since the points won’t get doubled. Make sure that you register through the link above to be eligible for the double points.

Hyatt already ticked off a lot of customers with the changes that they made to their loyalty program. This weak promotion won’t help.

 


*Beginners Hint: While most lodging companies run smaller promotions year round, they usually offer big ones either quarterly or every four months. These are always worth signing up for, but only occasionally worth switching your brand for. Remember, frequent flyer programs are not meant to reward you for past loyalty. Rather, they exist to incentivize future behavior. Before booking based on a promotion, make sure that it’s worth it.

 

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Mar 28

American And China Southern Pair Up

It’s like that uncomfortable moment at the Bar Mitzvah, when the last remaining kids end up pairing to dance, not because they are great together, but rather, they just don’t want to be standing their awkwardly while everyone else is having a good time.

The Deal

china southern

It comes with a really pretty logo.

Okay, it’s not quite that bad, but I wonder if American was after this deal or if it was pushed into it. American Airlines has shelled out $200m to buy a minority stake in China Southern, a deal similar to the one that Delta signed with China Eastern (United already had a partnership with China Air.). China is one of the fastest growing markets in the world and will eventually be the largest, so a position on the mainland is key. Since most countries are reluctant to allow other countries’ carriers to set up shop locally, partnerships often involve codeshares* and acquisitions.

For American, the partnership makes sense by expanding to the continent (It already has a strong partnership with Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific.). China Southern has a hub at Guangzhou, a city of 14 million located just over 100 kilometers from Hong Kong.

China Southern picks up easier access to the US markets, as well as funding to support its growth. I hope they invest a bit of it in their website, which looks like it was programmed by, well, me.

 


Beginner’s Hint: A codeshare is a partnership between two airlines for a single flight. Each airline puts its own flight number on the flight, sells the flight and awards frequent flyer miles. But only one airline actually operates the flight and, of course, receives the lion’s share of the revenue. for example, if you are flying from the US to China, some or all of the trip might be on Cathay Pacific, an American partner, even if you bought the ticket from American. You’ll still get American Airlines miles, of course.

 

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Mar 27

Why You Should Love Paying Taxes

Please note: I am not a tax adviser. I have never been a tax adviser and will likely never be a tax adviser. Nothing in this post should be taken as tax advice and you should consult a professional with tax questions, not some guy on the internet.

As the old saying goes, nothing is certain but death and taxes. But suppose that saying were, “Nothing is certain but death, taxes and frequent flyer miles?” With April 15 around the corner, that’s sounding pretty interesting.

Paying Taxes by Credit Card

taxes credit card

Be sure to find the right fee for your method of payment

Consensus would tell you that you can’t pay taxes with a credit card. That’s not entirely true. You can pay your taxes with a credit card, but you usually can’t do it for free.

The IRS partners with a number of companies that will process your taxes for a fee. Debit cards only cost a few dollars to use, but good luck finding a debit card that will give you miles.* So you’re probably stuck with a credit card. Naturally, the processors are not going to eat the credit card fee for you, so they’ll pass it along to you. As the schedule above shows, the fees range from 1.87% to 2%. I’ve used all three options and they are virtually the same. Might as well go with the cheapest one.

Does It Make Sense?

Here are some strategies for using the IRS to your advantage:

  • If you have a credit card that only gives you back 1% on your purchases, first, shame on you. Get the Citi Double Cash card and you’ll get 2% back on everything. You might be able to get as much as 2.62% back, depending on your relationship with Bank of America. It won’t earn you much: The Citi card, after fees, at best, will get you $1.30 per $1,000 spent (2% reward minus 1.87% fee, multiplied by what you are paying), while the BofA card will get you $7.50 per $1,000 spent. Still, there is a certain psychic joy to making money by paying your taxes.
  • You may not necessarily make money on the transaction, but it might be worth your while if you need to hit minimum spend on a new credit card.** Those who don’t spend a ton of money on their cards might find it worthwhile to take a hit on the fee because the sign-up bonus is so good. For example, the Hilton Honors Surpass Card requires $3,000 in spending in the first three months to earn 100,000 Hilton Honors points. But if you only spend $500 per month on your credit card, you’re going to come up $1,500 short. If you decide to pay taxes with your card to make up the difference, it will cost you $28.05 ($1,500*1.87%). You’ll earn 4,500 Hilton points, which are worth about $18 (3 points per dollar, each point worth about 0.4 cents). You just lost an addition $10, right? Not so fast. The 100,000 points that you get for signing up are worth $400. So you’re now ahead of the game by $390 or so.

The Bottom Line: Paying taxes isn’t fun, but it may be profitable.

 


*Fun Fact: SunTrust bank used to offer a debit card that gave you one mile for every dollar that you spent on it. One way that people took advantage of it was to pay their taxes, annual or estimated, with the card. The fee was a whopping $2-3 but, depending on the size of your tax bill, it could earn you a ton of miles. Sadly, that opportunity has long-since died.

Beginner’s Hint: Credit cards will generally give you large sign-up bonuses, but only if you spend a certain amount of money, generally $1,000 – $5,000, in the first three months (total, not per month). 

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Mar 25

Alaska And Virgin America Announce More Details

With Alaska Airlines having defeated JetBlue in a battle for Virgin America, it’s time for the integration to begin. Most of the nuts and bolts take place behind the scenes, but they’ll give you details along the way about the stuff that matters to you. The big one for now is that the Virgin America brand will be going away, forever dissolved into Alaska Airlines.

A Few Details…

alaska air virgin america

Cool, an easy to read diagram

Alaska and Virgin America are actually starting from a pretty good position, since the two are among the few airlines to have good reputations among consumers. But truthfully, we’re not getting a lot of info at this point, which is fine, since it’s early. They’re keeping the programs separate for most of 2017, although you can convert your Elevate points to Alaska Air miles at a rate of 1 to 1.3, Elevate to Alaska. If you don’t convert the points yourself, they’ll do it for you in 2018, although they don’t advertise the conversion rate. Much of the press release is the warm and fuzzy stuff, e.g., mood lighting being introduced to Alaska.

virgin america

Say your goodbyes now

One downside: The really comfy, huge Virgin America first class seats are going away. Of course, Alaska lists the reconfiguration as a benefit, since they’re adding more seats. But more seats means less rooms per seat. Goodbye, big, white chairs. We’ll miss you.

 

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Mar 23

Hilton Brings Back Big Bonuses On Two Cards

Yesterday, I wrote about increased sign-up bonuses on several credit cards, including a Marriott Rewards Credit card that is now offering 80,000 points. Today, we’ve got Hilton cards offering up to 100,000 points.* I’m not sure we’re quite ready yet for your first million point card, but who am I to rule it out? Just imagine the annual fee on that one, though.

Two Hilton Cards, up to 100,000 Points

hilton

Hilton Aruba Resort & Casino

Another day, another bonus. Hilton is now offering two cards, the standard American Express card and the Surpass American Express, which are giving sign-up bonuses of 80,000 and 100,000 points, respectively. You’ve got plenty of time on these, with the rates good for more than two months, until May 31.

Hilton Honors Card from American Express

The card has raised its bonus to 80,000 points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months as a cardholder. Sadly, Hilton has eliminated its award chart, but it’s safe to view the points as worth 0.4 – 0.5 cents apiece. The card offers decent spending rewards, including 7X points at Hilton properties; 5X at restaurants, gas stations and supermarkets; and 3X on all other purchases.

Elite Status: You’ll get Silver status automatically and Gold status if you spend $20,000 in the card in a calendar year. For most people, I think that, like love, Gold is all you need (although Diamond is always nice).

Bonus: There is no annual fee on this card.

Hilton Honors Surpass Card

This is the higher octane of the two cards. It comes with a $75 annual fee, but also has a host of other benefits:

  • You’ll get a free weekend night on your card anniversary. Best as I can tell, it’s a one-time benefit.
  • Your earnings rate goes up. It’s now 12X at Hilton properties; 6X at restaurants, gas stations and supermarkets; and 3X points for all other purchases.

Elite Status: You’ll automatically get Gold status, but they’ll bump you up to Diamond if you spend $40,000 on the card in a year.

The Bottom Line: There are a couple of good offers out there. You can get any cards through the Credit Cards for Charity page.

 


*Beginner’s Hint: Travel providers like to throw large numbers out there, but the absolute number means nothing. you have to look at the per point value. For instance, what’s worth more, 100,000 Marriott points or 50,000 Starwood points? The former may be a larger number but, the Starwood points are worth more, since their rewards levels are also much lower. In fact, Marriott would be the first to admit that fact. They now own both brands and will give you Marriott Rewards points at a 3 to 1 for SPG points. 50,000 Starwood points are actually worth 150,000 Marriott points!

 

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Mar 22

60/70/80: Credit Card Offers Are Heading Up

One of the benefits of intense bank competition is that they are willing to pay increasingly higher costs to acquire each new customer. In the case of credit cards, those acquisition costs include the sign-up bonuses that they will pay you when you get approved for the card and meet a minimal level of spending. Here is what I call the 60/70/80 plan, based on the number of points that you will get per card*:

60,000 Delta Miles for The Gold Card

Delta Airlines

Photo Credit: Creative Commons

Delta has doubled its base offer on its Gold Skymiles Credit Card from 30,000 to 60,000 miles. Make $1,000 in purchases in the first three months and they’ll give you the 60,000 miles bonus. That number of miles will get you a nice domestic trip with miles left over to put toward a second. It could also get you most of the way to a 70,000 mile one-way business class ticket to Europe.

In terms of benefits, the card comes with a bunch on Delta, including a free checked bag for each of the first four people on your itinerary, priority boarding and bonus miles on Delta purchases.

The card is free for the first year, with a $95 annual fee after that. You also get a $50 statement credit if you make a purchase on Delta in the first three months. The offer is good until April 19.

70,000 United Miles (Maybe) For Their MileagePlus Card

united

Photo Credit: Creative Commons

As I previously discussed, there is an available offer for the United MileagePlus card. The email that I got said 70,000 miles in the title and then promptly brought me to a link for one that offered 50,000 miles. If you get the email or the 50,000 miles offer through the link above, I’d recommend calling Chase directly and requesting the 70,000 miles version.

80,000 Marriott Rewards Points

You’ll obviously need a place to stay when you burn your miles, so Marriott is currently running a promo to get 80,000 points (after you spend $3,000 in the first three months), which should cover a few nights or more. Technically, it’s an easy 87,500 points, since you’ll also get 7,500 for adding an authorized spender in the first three months. You’ll also get 15 nights toward elite status each year, which automatically earns you Silver Elite status.

The card has an $85 annual fee, but you also get one free night every year at a Category 1-5 hotel on your anniversary.**

No matter where you go or how you get there, enjoy your trip and take advantage of free travel when you can.

 


*Beginner’s Hint: Credit cards may be a fast way to earn miles, but they come with a few catches. The biggest “gotcha” is the interest rate that they charge. If you carry a balance each month and pay interest, you should not, under almost any circumstances, have a rewards card. One of the ways that they pay for those rewards is by charging consumers outrageous interest rates. Let somebody else pay for your bonuses.

**Beginner’s Hint: Lodging companies divide their hotels into categories. It is usually based on the cost of a room at that hotel (i.e., rooms at a high-category hotel are generally more expensive than those at a low-category property) and the higher the category, the more points it will cost you. In the case of Marriott, there are nine categories.

 

 

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Mar 21

Travel Ban 3.0: New Electronics Restrictions on Certain Routes

Another day, another new government regulation. This one likely won’t affect you, but here are the details.

Carry-On Electronics to be Limited on Some US-Bound Flights

dubai

Dubai International Airport                                                                     Source: Creative Commons

Last night, the US announced limits on electronic carry-ons from several mostly-Muslim countries (Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the UAE). Not all the details are out, but here’s what I know so far:

  • The new policy limits the size of electronic carry-ons. Cell phones and pacemakers are allowed, but anything larger has to be stowed in luggage. Items such as laptops contain lithium ion batteries, which the FAA forbids in cargo holds. That issue remains outstanding.
  • According to an AP Report, there was no proximate cause for the ban. Other news agencies indicated that it was part of ongoing security threats, whatever that means.
  • The restrictions apply only to non-stop flights from those countries. Since no US-based carriers have non-stops from the restricted airports, it will only affect international carriers.

I’m sure that more details will make their way to the forefront over the next several days, but for now, here are some of the winners and losers:

Winners

  • Travel ban advocates. This is President Trump’s third bite at the apple and the third time may be the charm. A ban on larger electronics in the cabin would be tantamount to a travel ban. Given travelers’ understandable reluctance to check laptops, iPads, etc., non-stop travel to the US from the affected airports would drop load factors to the point where those flights bled massive red ink.
  • All non-Middle East, long-haul carriers. Over the past several years, the three major Middle East carriers (ME3) have grown at a tremendous rate. They’ve been stealing East-West connecting traffic through a combination of lower prices and better service. That’s been killing Singapore Air and the European flag carriers,* who normally connected those passengers through their own hubs. Morocco doesn’t have the same level of connecting passengers but would still be hurt on non-stops.

Losers

  • Passengers and carriers from the affected countries. The passengers would have to choose between non-stops without their electronics and the risk of theft or breakage and connections, while the carriers will lose gobs (an official term) of passengers and money.
  • Frequent Flyer redemptions. Not only would passengers have fewer choices and fewer available seats but they’d also lose some of the best product in the air.
  • The US as a travel destination and the leisure industry. It will directly affect those from the listed countries but may also leave a sour taste in the mouths of all potential international visitors.

Beginner’s Hint: A flag carrier is a national carrier that has particular rights, particularly internationally, in a given country. They may or may not be owned by the government and often include the country’s name in their own name (e.g., Air France, British Airways).

 

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Mar 20

Skip The Upcoming Sexual Harassment by Paying $85

Hey, good news: The TSA is enhancing its security procedures! Okay, not good news.

Getting Intimate with your TSO

TSA

But do you need to buy your TSO dinner and flowers first?         Photo Credit: Creative Commons

In the name of “airport consistency,” which seems diametrically opposed to its normal “planned inconsistency” policy, the TSA is consolidating its five funky search methods into a single, more “comprehensive,” one. In other words, be prepared for even more touching. In fact, it could get so invasive that the TSA is taking proactive steps to address passengers who feel violated. From the linked article:

Yup. They called the police to say, “By the way, you’re gonna be getting a lot of sexual assault accusations in the near future. You should just ignore those. We’re cool.”

And why, pray tell, are they making such a change?

The pat-down change, first reported Friday by Bloomberg News, is “intended to reduce the cognitive burden on [employees] who previously had to choose from various pat-down procedures depending on the type of screening lane,” the ACI-NA wrote in its notice.

 

I like that. “Cognitive burden.” It’s a much more polite way of saying “Our employees aren’t bright enough to figure out how to search a passenger. Our next step will be to drop breadcrumbs from the checkpoint to the break room so the TSOs don’t get lost.”*

Remember, this is an organization that recently failed 95% of its internal checks. I don’t expect that number to change for any reason other than regression to the mean.

Avoiding The Hassle

It’s impossible to fully escape the TSA, but they’ll let you buy your way out of the worst of the lines. Of course, almost all of them will cost you (or somebody else) something. Here are the most popular:

  • The most effective method is Clear, which scans either your eyes or your fingerprints as a method of identification. The benefit to Clear is that you have a separate line, and/or are guided to the front of the pre-check line. The downside? Clear is only in about 18 airports at this time and charges anywhere from $99-175, although Delta Diamond Medallion members get it for free (Delta is a shareholder in Clear.).
  • The “official” TSA product is PreCheck/Global Entry. PreCheck, which costs $85, gets you the special line at the airport which uses a metal detector, allows you to keep your shoes on and your laptop in your bag. For another $15, you get Global Entry, which gets you a fast pass at customs and immigration. While the programs exist at almost every airport, you can still get a “random” beep that requires a patdown, and the sign-up process for getting your card could drive you mad.
  • If you don’t want to pay directly for Global Entry directly, several high-end credit cards include a $100 credit toward the benefit, essentially making it free. Most of these cards cost $450-550 per year, so they’re not worth getting just for Global Entry.

The Bottom Line

Rule of thumb: Every time the TSA gets embarrassed in public, the organization will take it out on the only people it can: passengers.

 


Beginner’s Hint: I’m not a fan of the TSA. It’s a bloated organization that exists solely for the purpose of self-perpetuation, and operates by fear and obfuscation. It generates and enables bullies and thieves. I believe that we need airport security. There are clearly bad people out there who want to harm us. But this is not going to be the organization that catches them. They will, however, prevent The Force from taking over a plane.

Most of the individual TSOs, though, seem pleasant enough. 90% of the time, we chat for a minute and then I go merrily on my way. It’s the other 10% that gives the TSA the reputation that it has.

 

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Mar 17

And Now, for Something Completely Different…

In 2007, Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman published what would become perhaps his best-known work, “The World is Flat; A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century.” The book addresses the issue of globalization and the continuing phenomenon of the world becoming more interconnected. Air travel, economic expansion and the internet have certainly made the planet a smaller place (figuratively, of course). Mr. Friedman addresses both the positives (the potential to help the impoverished, for instance), as well as the negatives (environmental impact), but it leaves the reader in no doubt of one thing: No matter where we live, for better or for worse, we’re all stuck with each other.

The “flattening” of the world lasted approximately another decade before the walls started to go back up. First the UK voted for Brexit and then, in a classic “Hold My Beer” moment, the United States voted in the evil version of Carrot Top. And just like that, the world began to grow again.

If you’re not terrified by the current administration’s “America First” rhetoric, you should be.* Millions of citizens have become disenchanted with both major political parties, whose members seem to spend much of their time trying to get reelected. Mr. Trump, if nothing else, gave voters somebody to blame. It became about the “illegal aliens (people who look different)” stealing jobs and “Radical Islam (people with a different religion)” making you unsafe. No mention of the impact of technology or the fact that the most dangerous part of any trip is the drive to the airport. It became about dividing people.

And now, we have a group of people with a different religion who don’t speak the language trying to come to the United States because a return to their home country could mean death. And the first thing that the new administration does is shut down the airports. We’ve been there before. It could be German Jews in 1939, whose ship the St. Louis was turned around and sent back to Europe. It could be the Chinese in 1882, who were prohibited from immigrating to the US by the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Or it could be the Irish immigrants escaping the potato famine in the 1840s, a time when immigrants were laughed at for their poverty, their appearance, their language and, of course, their religion. Nina was seen everywhere, but it wasn’t because the name was particularly popular. Rather, it was a job qualifier, standing for “No Irish Need Apply.” They took the work that nobody else wanted and were accused of stealing jobs. As Catholics, they were feared as potential traitors because they were viewed as subordinate to a foreign religious leader (the Pope). Does any of this sound familiar, because now, we have our very own Know-Nothing party.**

So what’s all this doing in a travel blog? Personally, I find it highly appropriate, because it’s travel and interaction with people from different backgrounds that will flatten the world again. It’s easy to hate or fear people that you’ve never met, and many people find solace in a politician who will tell them what they want to hear. But that doesn’t change reality, and it is only through more communication, not less, that we can fix our problems.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

 


*While I understand the reasoning behind naming an airport terminal after Charles Lindbergh, the celebration of the man casually ignores the dark side of the man.

**And, in an ironic twist on the hunted becoming the hunter, the organizers of the South Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, did everything it could to keep a gay and transgender military veterans group from marching, before surrendering their position under the threat of boycotts.

 

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Mar 15

American Brings Back Main Cabin Meals on Some Flights

Remember the old joke about airline food, how it tastes awful and there’s never enough of it? Well, we’ve taken another step toward those days again, as American Airlines announced yesterday that it is joining Delta in bringing back meals in Economy on some flights.

Eating Wraps at 30,000 Feet

airline food

Note: This will NOT be your onboard meal. Not even close.

American Airlines announced yesterday that you will get fed again in the air, but only on certain flights. If you are flying between New York and either LA or San Francisco, congratulations, you’re in luck. You’ll get either a continental breakfast or a sandwich wrap.* Okay, your choice of meals won’t exactly be “chicken or fish,” but rather, “yes or no,” but it beats the alternative.

Airlines aren’t known as being the most generous companies in the world, but there’s a reason for that: Air travel is a very tough business. Over time, prices go down and costs go up, so making a margin is more difficult than ever. Thus, it’s important to remember that a profitable airline is a good thing. When the airlines make money, amenities come back. Guess what happens when they don’t.

 


*Beginner’s Hint: The airlines will still offer means for sale onboard. Here’s a tip: If you are a frequent purchaser of onboard meals, you should get your airline’s preferred credit card, since they will usually offer you a discount on your purchase.

 

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