Jun 29

$100 in Gift Cards from Wyndham! Sort of…

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Wyndham’s Cool Looking Promo

I'll take it. As long as that scary-looking guy isn't the one greeting me.

I’ll take it. As long as that scary-looking guy isn’t the one greeting me.

Wow, great. $100 in gift cards and up to 25% off the hotel? Sounds great, sign me up.

Wyndham is the Avis Car Rentals of the hotel companies. They have to try harder, since nobody says, “Boy, I really want to stay at the Ramada tonight!” Their brands are not the Four Seasons, and they’re good with that, as are their customers. Rooms are clean, comfortable and very, very affordable. If you don’t care about niceties like room service and evening turndown, you could be very happy here.

Wyndham has one unique aspect, though, that makes their loyalty program great: Every hotel costs 15,000 points, regardless of who and where it is. No more worrying about getting that Category 10 hotel in peak season at 100,000 points per night. There’s a lot to be said for efficiency.

Wyndham’s new promotion looks simple. Stay two nights in the US or Canada before September 6 and they’ll give you $100 in Wyndham gift cards. Great, I’ll take it.

Not So Fast…

The terms and conditions mean that this particular promotion is good, not great. There are a number of restrictions:

  • You must be a US or Canadian resident
  • You don’t really get gift cards. You get promotional codes in your email, which are quite easy to lose. We’ve all done it.*
  • You don’t get one $100 gift code to use. Rather, you get four of them for $25 each. You can only use one at a time and they expire on October 31.
  • As for the 15-25% discount? Again, T&C. You must book it here, finish your stay by September 28 and pre-pay the room, with no cancellations or refunds allowed. You’d better be sure you are going on that trip. No problem, you think, I’ll just book my room for tonight when I’m already there. Not so fast. It has to be booked at least seven days in advance.

Here’s My Point

Promotions are a good thing. A promotion that offers you something is certainly better than no promotion at all. It is imperative, however, that you always read the fine print. You don’t want the promo to end up costing you money.


*Travel nerd hint: Set up a folder in your email where you store all your promotional codes. That way, you’ll know exactly where they are when you are looking for them.

 

 

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Jun 28

JetBlue Sale, 5% Back at Amazon from Discover And Hamilton Tickets

Note: If you got an email asking you to reconfirm your subscription to the site, it is from me, not phishing. I recently changed subscription services due to problems with the old one and, unfortunately, a lot of the bad addresses got carried over.

Please click on the confirmation in your email to reset the subscription. Sorry about the mess, but apparently, not everyone on the interweb is nice.

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Now, on to the show:

JetBlue Flash Sale

Carpture

JetBlue is running another flash sale, one of the two-day variety. Fares are starting as low as $49 each way and are available through 6/29/16.

Here’s why it’s important: A few days ago, I discussed JetBlue’s offer to match your Virgin America account balance. You need to take a flight by August 31, though, to get the match. With each TrueBlue point worth about 1.5c, it makes absolute sense to take a “flight to nowhere” with JetBlue, particularly if you are eligible for a big match. Even better, if you book with the JetBlue credit card, you’ll get an additional three or six points per dollar spent. A Mosaic member could end up earning 15 points per dollar spent, which is worth about 22% of the ticket price.*

Cash Back at Amazon

As you know, I am a big fan of cashback shopping sites online. One of the holdouts, however, is Amazon, which offers no rebates anywhere (although they will make a 0.5% charitable donation if you buy at Amazon Smiles. Discover, however, can help you out, at least in July, August and September. Most of their cards offer rotating categories, which will offer 5% back on up to $1,500 in spend at different merchants. The third quarter promotion is Home Improvement Stores and Amazon. Not going to spend $1,500 this quarter on Amazon? Consider buying an Amazon gift card and leaving the money in your account (There’s nothing in the terms and conditions that exclude gift cards.). Then, you’ll just spend the money down over time, but get your $75 bonus this quarter.

Hamilton Tickets

Want to see Hamilton but don’t want to take out that second mortgage to do so? Well, Marriott will sell you a couple of tickets, along with dinner (and a souvenir poster!) for the bargain price of 450,000 Marriott Rewards points. Wow. Considering that the normal price of a room varies from 7,500 points at the low end to 70,000 at the most expensive Ritz Carlton property, you’ve really got to want to see that play. Even worse, they’re not guaranteeing you seats before Lin-Manuel Miranda leaves. Ouch.

 

*Both of these cards can be found on the “Credit Cards for Charity” page. Scroll down to the third banner, the travel banner. Discover should be one of the first options. For the JetBlue card, go up to the Card Type dropdown at the top of the page and choose “Barclays.”

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Jun 26

Tidbits from around The Industry

Not A Good Day To Be A British Airline

As seen at Yahoo Finance

As seen at Yahoo Finance

Think you lost some money in the market on Friday? It could be worse. You could be a British airline. With Brexit having been approved, investors lost faith in the British Pound, as well as  the region’s economy and consumers’ ability to get around it (to make a long story short, of course). Since economic growth is one of the key drivers of airline stocks, well, look out below.

Ryan Air was the big “winner” on the day, with its stock price dropping just over 4% after having started the day down 15%.

Others didn’t fare so well. Discounter easyJet started the day down 20% and ended down 14% on the day. But the loser among losers was British Airways parent IAG, which started the day down by a whopping 34% and finished down almost 23% on the day. There’s a reason that one of the better airline analysts that I know once described the industry by saying, “Investing in airline stocks may be hazardous to your wealth.”

Southwest Airlines Increased Credit Card Bonus Still Available

Southwest Airlines still has its 50,000 Rapid Rewards points credit card bonus available. As I discussed about six weeks ago, this card is extraordinarily valuable for Southwest frequent flyers, given its assistance in getting you to a free companion pass.

To get the card, click on any banner at the bottom of the Credit Cards for Charity page. In the drop down menu at the top, click on “Card Type” and then “Chase,” as seen here:

Screen Shot 2016-06-26 at 3.46.53 PM

New And Improved Subscription Link

New. And Improved.

New. And Improved.

My technical skills are close to zero so, when my subscriber page broke down, I had to outsource it. I’m pleased to say that I have a new, and dramatically improved, subscription page so, if you haven’t already subscribed to receive your daily update, now is a great time to do so. You’ll get an email letting you know when there’s a new post, and I limit it to one per day, regardless of the number of posts that day. It’s in the upper right-hand corner of the page.

 

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Jun 24

JetBlue Will Match Your Virgin America Points Balance

Every once in a while, an airline or hotel decides to do something that makes absolutely no financial sense. Today was JetBlue’s turn.

The Points Match

10,000 - 30,000 is the sweet spot

10,000 – 30,000 is the sweet spot

Forget a status match. Today, JetBlue announced a points match. Got points with Virgin America’s Elevate frequent flyer program? Good. JetBlue will match them. At least they were smart enough to put a cap on it. Just look at the chart above to find out how many points JetBlue will give you based on your Virgin America Elevate account. Yes, they could end up matching your Elevate points balance three-fold.

Note: You are not trading Elevate points for JetBlue points. JetBlue will give you points, simply by showing them your Virgin America Elevate statement (and taking a flight). With TrueBlue points worth about 1.5c each, they are essentially giving you up to $1,125.00 in travel on JetBlue just for having an account with a competitor.

So why on Earth are they doing this? Seems to me like something that the marketing department came up with, without actually thinking about the cost involved. Both JetBlue and Alaska Air wanted to buy Virgin America, and Alaska eventually won. So, as a consolation prize, JetBlue is giving money to the public instead of VA shareholders.

The Rules

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 9.30.52 PM

 

Take a screenshot of your Virgin America account and email it to JetBlue before July 4. After they send you the confirmation that you have been enrolled, book and fly one roundtrip on JetBlue by 8/31/16, and they’ll give you your bonus. Hopefully you’ll need to take a flight anyway. But even if you had no plans to do so, if you are eligible for one of the better bonuses, it makes sense to find the cheapest roundtrip out of your hometown and fly it. Yup, fly out, turn around and fly right back.

What If I Have No Virgin America Points?

No points? No problem. No Elevate account? No problem. Head over to Virgin America’s website. Open an account if you don’t already have one. They may or may not give you a 500 point sign-up bonus. But even if they don’t, you have other ways to get a few points (or more than a few points), namely by converting them from other programs. Starwood will allow you to transfer points 1-1 to Virgin America, with a 5,000 point bonus for every 20,000 you convert. American Express will transfer Membership Rewards points at a rate of two MR points per 1 Elevate point. While the former may sound like a better deal, it isn’t. One Starwood point is worth more than two membership rewards points. And those points will likely become Alaska Air points after the merger is consummated.

I just checked my Elevate account and found out that I had about 3,800 points. Only 480 of those points actually came from flying on Virgin America. The rest were freebies that they gave away. 250 points here, 500 points there. I transferred enough MR points to bring my Elevate account up to 10,005 points.

The Bottom Line

JetBlue correctly reasoned that Virgin America customers will pick Alaska as their new airline, since that’s where their points are going. They want those customers, so JetBlue incorrectly reasoned that, by matching those points, they will pick up the customers. They are wrong. Passengers pick airlines by price and convenience. Once Alaska buys Virgin, guess who’s more convenient for customers.

Don’t wait on this one. Eventually, JetBlue will begin to wonder why there are so many people who have Elevate balances with numbers like 10,005 or 50,001 and change the promotion.

 

 

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Jun 22

Reader Question: Pay with Points Or Cash?

Reader Question: We are currently booked at the Hilton Sukhumvit Bangkok for a total of 120,000 HHonors points for five nights, at 30,000 points per night, plus the fifth night free on an award stay bonus. We could also pay with a combination of points and cash, which would cost us 60,000 points, plus approximately $260 in taxes and fees. Which one is the better deal?

Thanks for the question, since it’s one I get frequently. How should I value points, and how do I determine whether using the points are a better deal than paying out of pocket? It becomes more difficult with hotels, which offer straight cash rates, straight points rates or a combination of cash and points. Since we are talking about a reader who wants to use at least some points, we’ll worry about the latter two.

Option 1

 

Total Points Value of Points Spent Dollars Spent Value of Pts Earned  Cost
Option 1 120,000 600 0  $ 600.00
Total Cost  $600.00

The first option is simple: Redeem the 120,000 points. Since I value Hilton Hhonors points at $.005 each, the “cost” to the traveler would simply be the value of the points, or $600.

Option 2

 

Total Points Value of Points Spent Dollars Spent Value of Pts Earned  Cost
Option 2         60,000                              300                258                            15  $ 542.52
Total Cost  $542.52

The second option, 60,000 in points and cash out, is not so simple. We can calculate the value of the points, which comes out to about $300. Add that to the $258 in cash and your total cost is $558. But the customer is paying with the Hilton Hhonors Surpass card, which awards 12 points per dollar spent at Hilton properties. $258 will result in 3,096 points, worth approximately $15. It’s worth noting that Hilton itself doesn’t let you earn points on the Points & Money rates. Likewise, the Surpass card comes with a 2.7% foreign transaction fee. I have factored those issues into the calculation.

What Else Do We Need To Know?

Without taking into account any other factors, it appears that the better option is Option #2, which comes out slightly cheaper. But that number is based on an estimate of Hilton points at a value of $.005 each. If we were to get only $.004 per dollar in value for those points, it’s a break even proposition. Obviously, you don’t want to commit to any redemptions with such little return.

But here’s the final point, and this is what tips me into the “use the points” category: Points don’t earn interest. In fact, they devalue over time. The sooner you can use them, the better.

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Jun 21

The New Costco Anywhere Visa Card

It’s finally available. With Costco having dumped American Express as a partner and moved on to Citibank, the Costco credit card is changing and, for the most part, it’s changing for the better.

costco anywhere

New and Improved Rewards

The Rewards

The Costco Anywhere card comes with a nice mix of rewards. It starts off with 4% back on gas purchases. It’s also worth noting that it does not have to be a Costco gas station; any old station will do. Once you’ve spent $7,000 on gas, the reward drops to 1%.

Other types of shopping provide different benefits. Restaurants and travel will get you 3%, while shopping at Costco (or costco.com) is worth 2%. Outside of those merchants, everything is a 1% return, and there are dozens of cards which will give you back more than a percent, so use one of those when not shopping in a bonus category.

What To Know

  • The card has no annual fee, but you do need to be a Costco member to get one. It comes in both a standard and business version.
  • While benefits may be worldwide, fees are, as well. The card has a 3% foreign transaction fee so, if you are abroad, be sure to use one without a fee.
  • You can use any Visa card at Costco, not just the Costco Visa. So if you have a Visa card with rotating 5% categories, such as the Chase Freedom card, be sure to use that card at Costco during the period when warehouse clubs are the bonus category.

Applying

While Costco Amex members should have already received their new Citibank card, it is now possible for anybody with a Costco membership to apply. To do so, click on the banner below:

 

At the top of the screen, you’ll see a set of drop downs. Click on the one labeled “Card Type” and choose the Citi option. The Costco cards will be the first ones. Enjoy!

Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.


 

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Jun 20

An Uber Deal, Free Accor Points And Hotel Tips

Happy Monday to everyone. Here’s a bit about what’s going on in the world of travel.

Uber Deal with Capital One

Capture

It’s not as good as last year’s 20% rebate, but Capital One Quicksilver is partnering again with Uber to offer a rebate on all Uber rides that you book to the card. This year, though March 2017, every 10th ride you take on Uber is free when you pay with your Capital One Quicksilver or QuicksilverOne Card.* The maximum freebie is $15, but the almost-equivalent of 10% back is still a great deal. You can get the card through the banner here:

 

Accor Points

Capture

If you’re based in North America, chances are good that you haven’t heard of Accor Hotels, although you may have heard of their brands, which include Sofitel and Novotel (as well as the recently acquired Fairmont Hotel Group). In the rest of the world, however, they are one of the largest chains, with over a dozen brands. The hotel dominates many of the “inexpensive brands” categories so, if you want to travel abroad but don’t want to pay a fortune, they’re a good place to start.

If you want to get started with a few points, they’ll give you 1,000 if you sign up as a meeting planner. Then, if you book any events, they will give you more points based on the size of your spending. Definitely worth noting.**

Cheap Hotel Rooms

Business Insider wrote a story with a few tips for getting an inexpensive room at a hotel. True, some of them make no sense (Don’t tell a hotel clerk that you are happy to stay in any type of room, for instance, or you risk ending up in the small room near the ice machine.), but there are a couple of points that stuck out to me:

Book Another Guest’s Cancelled Room: If a hotel is sold out, call it a few days before you arrive to see if there have been any cancellations. You may or may not get an inexpensive room, but it may help you get into a sold-out hotel.

Opt for A New Hotel: BI advises you to opt for a hotel that has recently opened, since it is trying to build up its clientele. True, but be careful about one thing: Hotels often don’t open on time. If you book for the first couple of weeks that the property is open, you may end up without a room due to a construction delay. The property is supposed to take care of you, but you can’t count on it.

 

 


*My apologies to the person who first discover this deal but I forgot where I initially read it.

**First seen at Doctor of Credit and View from The Wing

 

 

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Jun 18

Free And Easy Points & Miles

I do a lot of posts about ways to earn big points or miles, but they usually involve, you know, work, which I am opposed to. So today’s post will be about a couple of ways to pick up points, but they will require no more than a few taps of your keyboard.

500 Points from Marriott

Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 9.15.32 AM

Follow Marriott on Instagram and they will give you 500 points. That’s it. You have until June 21 to do so which, for people like me, could actually involve setting up an Instagram account. The details on the promotion are here, but it’s simply a matter of entering the email associated with your Marriott Rewards account.

Free Miles from airberlin (topbonus)

You may have never heard of topbonus, the frequent flyer program from airberlin (which you may never have heard of, either), but they are a good program to join because they give away a lot of free miles, usually for doing little or no work. They are a member of the oneworld alliance, meaning you can use their miles on any allied carrier, including American, which makes them instantly valuable.

Today, they are offering a 1,000 point sign-up bonus and referral program. Sign up for the program through my referral link and click the button to receive the newsletter and we’ll each get 1,000 points (Free intra-Europe flights start at 1,500 points.). Then, you’ll get 1,000 points for everyone you refer who does the same, up to 10,000 points for the calendar year.

The Bottom Line

The best things in life are free. Be sure to take advantage of these two quick offers.

 

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Jun 16

Easy And Less Easy Way To Pick up 50,000 United Miles

I got a pair of emails from United today with alternatives to pick up 50,000 miles.

Lots of Clicking…

united airlinesIn the past, I’ve discussed e-Miles, a points for clicks program. The concept is simple: They’ll send you links to click. You click through them. They give you points. Most links are worth five points, some more. It’s a somewhat mindless activity, but it’s easy enough to do. Generally, you can trade in 500 e-Miles points for 500 miles. Southwest, United and American, among others, are partners.

United upped the game by offering the above sweepstakes. Using this link, you can sign up for e-Miles and not only receive points for each offer you complete but also be entered for a sweepstakes to win up to 50,000 miles. Hey, a little extra incentive never hurts.

Or Swiping

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that United is offering 50,000 miles to sign up for its credit card and hit the minimum spend. That offer expires in two weeks, so take advantage of it. Do yourself a favor, though, and use the link directly from their site, where you’ll earn the full 50,000, rather than the one in my credit card section, where you’ll only get 30,000.

 

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Jun 14

On Orlando And Other Current News…

Warning: This post is going to be a bit longer than the typical one and will come closer to politics than I normally like to get.

When I lived in Minneapolis, one of my favorite sights was watching airplanes take off as I drove to the airport. Flight plans often took carriers over Route 5 which, at its closest point, was only about a quarter of a mile from the runways. The planes were still so close to the ground that I felt like I could reach up and touch them. But after 9/11, watching those planes clear the area became a little threatening; rationally, I knew that the chances of a similar event happening was extraordinarily slim, but viscerally, that airplane brought just a bit of agitation that hadn’t been there before. It was about a year before that airplane became, well, just an airplane to me again.

I wonder how long it will take to feel the same way about Orlando. The world has been an increasingly scarier place, but it’s never possible to be completely inoculated against tragedy. It couldn’t happen in Orlando. Orlando is home of The Most Magical Place On Earth. It’s where you bring your kids to escape from the real world. What do I tell them when they ask if it is safe to go to Disney World because there are bad guys there? As a parent, you are told that these are Learning Opportunities for your kids. But it’s not so easy. How do you explain to a child that sometimes, bad things happen and there are just no reasons for it.

I guess the only thing that you can stress is that there are many, many more good people than bad. Not only professionals, like police officers, fire fighters and soldiers, but also regular people, such as those who lined up for hours to give blood (or tried to give blood but, ironically, couldn’t, because they were gay).

As usual, John Oliver puts it best, in this NSFW video:

 

I wish that there were a way to protect them from everything in the world, but they live in it, too. And the plus side is, the little ones are far more resilient than we give them credit for (as evidenced by the fact that mine survived 7+ years of very shaky parenting). We’re going to live our lives and not let them be dictated by fear of all the Bad Things that could happen.* As far as I can tell, that’s the long-term solution to beating the terrorists.

Speaking Of Which…

Here’s where I’m going to get closer to politics than I really would like, but it has to be said. Yesterday, one of the major presidential candidates announced that he was cutting off access to the Washington Post because he didn’t like what they were saying. I shudder to think about the ramifications of such action. Do we want to live in a society where our leaders choose who they will or won’t talk to, based on what the media source writes? How long will it be before they simply dictate what newspapers are allowed to print?

The First Amendment is clear: The press is vital to the success of a democracy. Our media, particularly our newspapers, are synonymous with freedom. Print journalists, television reporters and yes, even those of us who blog about frequent flyer miles (Remember, the amendment says nothing about “good journalism.”) are exercising the rights that on which the country was founded. Cutting off the Washington Post is the first step in that direction. You don’t have to like every media source, but it is imperative to protect them, particularly the ones that have unpopular opinions.

My Solution

Words are too important to censor, something that both the political left and right find themselves guilty of at times. Fortunately, there is a solution that will show your support for the rights of the media to give us the news: Subscribe to your local newspaper (Nothing against television news, but it is influenced by ratings to an extent that newspapers are not.). It is only a few dollars per month to do so online, but the print edition gets you the good coupons on Sundays (and comics the way that they were meant to be read). I remember poring over Red Sox box scores as a kid. The stakes are much higher now.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————-

*The TSA remains a constant source of frustration to me. One of the great myths about those who are opposed to the TSA are that we are also opposed to all airline security. Nothing could be further from the truth. I wouldn’t step foot on an airplane if there weren’t some way of screening passengers (even though we are all willing to get on, say, an Amtrak train without the body cavity search). But we need effective security, not an organization that exists as a form of security theater, whose employees have near dictatorial power. In this case the terrorists did what they wanted to: While travel has not quite come to a standstill, the TSA has cost us billions of dollars in productivity saving us from the world of cupcakes, while failing 95% of screening tests.

 

 

 

 

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