Sep 24

You Can Now Link Your Marriott And Starwood Accounts

With final approval having been granted, Marriott and Starwood have started the integration process. And now, you can link your accounts.

Benefits Of Linking

It'll be that much easier to get to the St. Regis Maldives now

It’ll be that much easier to get to the St. Regis Maldives now

Linking your accounts will let you move points back and forth between the Marriott Rewards (MR) program and Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG). You can also match elite status between the program. To get started, head here and enter your account information. The sites will walk you through the process.

  • Points will transfer between accounts at a ratio of 1 SPG point equals 3 Marriott Rewards points. In terms of value, that number is about right. And it makes sense from a corporate point of view. If consumers sensed an arbitrage opportunity, they would move points from the expensive program to the cheap one.
  • The programs themselves are not merging until at least 2018 and may never merge, although I believe that they eventually will. There’s no real downside to merging your accounts now.

Elite Status

You can also match your elite status from one program to the other. It’s a bit of an odd construction, although they make it work. Here is the exchange:

Marriott Rewards Silver <–> SPG Preferred Plus
Marriott Rewards Gold <–> SPG Gold
Marriott Rewards Platinum <–> SPG Platinum

Neither of the lower levels gets you much, but it gets interesting at the Gold level. Starwood Gold members, who traditionally don’t get much in terms of benefits, get a hefty increase by moving to the Marriott Gold level. In particular, Marriott Gold members receive guaranteed lounge access, which is not available to SPG gold members.

The Platinum levels also match. One thing to note: If you have Marriott status and match to Starwood, you will only get the lowest of the three SPG elite levels (discussed in the link above).

What You Don’t Get

You can’t earn points at each others’ programs, i.e., no SPG points at Marriott properties and vice versa. Likewise, you can’t spend points at the others’ hotels. You can, however, transfer points between the two and then use those points for a reward. So if a particular Marriott reward costs 30,000 points, you can get those points by transferring in 10,000 SPG points, at the 3 to 1 ratio.

 

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Sep 22

A Word on Hotel Promos: Marriott And Hilton

One more day before I board my petri dish with wings and head back to my primary side of the globe. Something they never say about flying: It doesn’t matter what class you are sitting in. If the flight is long enough, you will pick up somebody’s germs.

On that happy note…

Oops, They Did It Again

A few weeks ago, I mentioned Marriott’s MegaBonus. It was a “choose your own adventure” promotion. You had to select one and complete the assigned tasks to get your points. There was an “easy” choice for fewer points, and a “hard” option for more. That’s it. Two options. I picked the easy one. Naturally, I got a confirmation the other day that I had chosen the hard one. To their credit, they responded within 24 hours to the email that I sent to customer service and promised to make sure I got the right amount.

Yesterday, I got this:

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-3-12-47-am

Yup, two choices and they still messed it up. So if you registered for a promotion and actually read your email, fear not. A correction is coming.

Hilton/Delta Combo

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-3-06-28-am

This promotion won’t help everyone, but it’s awfully easy and might influence a few people to switch. One of the nice things about Hilton is that you can “double dip” with your points. Based on how much you spend per night, you can either get hotel points and airline miles or simply extra hotel points.

For those of you who choose Delta as your “Double Dip” partner, they will give you 250 miles toward elite status and double redeemable miles for every stay of two or more nights between October 3 and the end of the year. You can earn up to 10,000 elite qualifying miles through the promotion. Don’t forget to register first.

(Credit Inside Flyer for the link)

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Sep 20

Bonus Miles And A Discount with Avis And Budget

A quick hit:

Miles for Driving Miles

It's a bird! No, it's a plane! Actually, just a car.

It’s a bird! No, it’s a plane! Actually, it’s just a car.

Avis and Budget are offering some big (It’s all relative.) mileage earning opportunities for renting a car. From now until October 15, rent a car for three or more days and not only will you get a discount (up to 30% or 35%, depending on who you rent from) but you will also receive bonus miles. 2,500 American miles if you rent a smaller car, 5,000 for a larger one. That’s actually a pretty good deal, depending on how you value your American miles.

screen-shot-2016-09-20-at-8-45-01-pm

Be sure to read the terms and conditions to get an idea of what you need to do. The promotion is relatively straightforward, but don’t lose out because of a technicality. Two things to remember:

  • You should not be paying retail for a rental car. There are deals to be found everywhere.
  • Customer service among the various car rental agencies varies greatly. Don’t trade off a premium experience for a few dollars.
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Sep 17

On The Road Again…

Hi folks,

I’ll be traveling for most of the next two weeks, so posts will be infrequent. Until then, I leave you with this video of a 787 doing a near-vertical takeoff.

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Sep 16

The Cruise Ships Just Keep Growing…

A few days ago, Carnival Corporation (the parent of the Carnival, Princess and Holland America brands, among others) announced an order for three new ships. Nothing unusual, except for the size of the ships: 180,000 tons, 5,200 passengers.

Size Matters

carnival

Not exactly the Love Boat, although it is related                                   Photo: Carnival Corporation

With the new mega-ships, the largest in the brands’ fleet, Carnival Corp is making a bit of a splash in the mega-ship trend. A few years ago, a huge ship was one that carried 2,000 passengers. Now, that’s a canoe compared to its brethren. Starting in 2018, it will be hard to find a new, small ship: Of the 35 ocean cruiseliners slated for delivery in or after that year, exactly six of them will have fewer than 2,500 passengers. And the small ships are front-loaded: 11 ships are currently contracted for 2021 – 2024. Only one of those is smaller than 2,500 passengers. On the other hand, 17 out of the 35 ocean liners, almost 50%, can carry 4,000 passengers or more. Okay, I cheated a bit. 2018’s Carnival Horizon will carry only 3,954, although that number is based on double-occupancy. The actual number of passengers on the ship at any time will probably be 4,100-4,200.

But Why?

carnival

A Royal Caribbean loft; add another item to the bucket list     Photo Credit: Royal Caribbean

Because they can. And because they’re trying to change the nature of cruising. Once considered the domain of only the wealthy, cruises are increasingly targeting middle-America. When many people think of cruises, they think of passengers dressed in tuxedos and eating bad desserts at the midnight buffet. Those days will soon be gone. Now, you wear what you like to dinner (more or less) and can eat bad desserts at numerous restaurants around the ship.*

The larger ships are also tremendous revenue generators for the cruise lines. At one point, cruises were almost entirely all-inclusive. Now, you can pay for additional activities, eat at specialty restaurants or shop at on-ship malls. Harmony of the Seas, which can hold over 6,000 passengers (and 2,000+ crew members) is divided up into “neighborhoods,” with 20 dining options, a zip line and two rock-climbing walls (the cool wall and the one you wouldn’t be caught dead at). Want something a little tamer? The ship also has a full-sized basketball court, ice-skating rink and multi-story waterslides.

There are, of course, still plenty of small ships out there, although they tend to be on the luxury end of the spectrum. The service is a little more personal and the food is better. But who wouldn’t want a cruise with 4,000 of their soon-to-be closest friends?


*If you never believe anything else I say, please believe this: Very few desserts on the mass cruise lines are worth the calories.

 

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Sep 15

What Is “Manufactured Spending?”

This is a topic that I’ve covered in the past, but it is worth repeating.

There’s one overarching rule when it comes to earning points and miles: Nothing is free. Yes, you will see headlines saying things like, “How I flew First Class around the world for free!” Yes, it’s possible to do so – I just used Citibank points to upgrade to first class on Cathay Pacific. But it involves a lot of time, great attention to detail and a certain level of obsessiveness. Get something wrong and you could end up paying interest on a credit card, annual fees or get stuck with thousands of dollars of Home Depot gift cards.*

Manufactured Spending

manufactured spending

Thanks for the memories                                                              Photo Credit: Creative Commons

Accumulating miles goes beyond credit cards. At one point, mileage runs were very popular, but now that airlines have tied the amount of miles that you get to the amount you paid, the mileage run became a lot less useful. So people turned to Manufactured Spending.

Manufactured Spending, or MS for short, is a way of accumulating credit card points (From here on out, “points” will refer to miles, cash back, etc.).  Like counting cards in blackjack, MS can be profitable if you do it right. But, also like counting cards, most people make plenty of mistakes along the way. The object was to spend money on your credit card without spending any money.  In other words, make a purchase, dispose of the goods and get 100% of your money back in cash. Huh?

Like counting cards in blackjack, MS can be profitable if you do it right. But, also like counting cards, most people make plenty of mistakes along the way and could end up losing more than they were set to gain.

The easiest way to explain it is by example. One of the most famous examples of MSing took advantage of that beacon of fiscal irrationality, the government. Just under a decade ago, the Mint decided to take another run at one of its long-suffering projects: trying to replace dollar bills with coins. In an effort to get the coins circulated, they offered to sell boxes of coins directly to the consumer. You would order them by mail, at face value and, if you bought enough coins, the mint paid for shipping.

It took the frequent flyer community only days to start exploiting the system. Individuals began ordering thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars worth of coins. The coins would arrive two days later, at which point the customer would take them to their bank and deposit the stash. Then, it was simply a matter of paying the credit card bill for the coins you bought with the proceeds of the deposit. You weren’t out any money but earned the points for the face value of the coins you ordered. I know of one person who earned in excess of two million points this way, but I’m sure there were many who ordered multiples of that number.

It’s not shocking that this scheme occurred. Only a few years earlier, the government stopped selling savings bonds by credit card. What is surprising is that it lasted for as long as it did. Most manufactured spend schemes last a matter of months, if not weeks. This one went on for years and only ended when the Mint was publicly embarrassed on TV.

What Not to Do

Use them for good, not evil

Use them for good, not evil                                                         Photo credit: Creative Commons

MSing is advanced mileage accumulation. It’s not something that I recommend to most people because of the potential for everything to go pear shaped. It used to be as simple as buying gift cards at CVS and turning them into money orders at Walmart. But both the credit card companies and retailers have caught on.

Complication leads to, well, complications. Not only have fees gone up the point where MSing is mostly unprofitable but there’s also too much room for error. Miss a payment and the credit card company will ding you for fees and interest, not to mention potentially confiscating your points for that earnings period.

The Bottom Line

Traveling is never truly free. It may not cost you money, but accumulating miles has the potential to cause you significant aggravation.

 


*There is no short version of this story, so this could take a while. A few years ago, somebody discovered that you could buy Home Depot gift cards using your credit card at Office Max. Why does that matter? Because the Chase Ink card pays 5X rewards on office supply purchases. But it got better. People soon discovered that you could use those cards at Walmart to load an American Express Bluebird card, which is a form of prepaid debit/ATM card. In other words, buy a $500 Home Depot gift card at Office Max using your Chase Ink card. You get 5X rewards, or 2,500 Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Take that Home Depot gift card to Walmart and use it like it’s a generic debit card to load the Bluebird card. Then, just use the Bluebird card to take the cash out of an ATM to pay your credit card bill. You get the points for free, minus a few dollars for the ATM fees.

Then it all fell apart. Home Depot or, more likely, the bank that issued the Home Depot gift card, discovered what people were doing. Obviously, you weren’t supposed to be able to use a Home Depot gift card anywhere other than Home Depot. So they blocked your ability to add a PIN and take money off the gift card at Walmart. People were stuck with thousands of dollars of Home Depot gift cards, and no way to get the cash off.

 

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Sep 14

Register Now for SPG More For You

SPG More For You

spg more for you

I’m good with this, as long as more for you doesn’t mean less for me

SPG has opened registration for its fourth quarterish promotion, More For You. The bonus is will give you double base points during the week and triple on weekend stays that include a Friday or Saturday night. But be sure to check out the fine print:

  • There is a lengthy list of non-participating hotels, except you’ll never see it. They were, however, kind enough to provide the list of hotels that are participating. So if you’re interested in booking a hotel that includes the bonus, be sure to check the list here.
  • You need a two-night stay to qualify. What, one night stands aren’t good enough for Starwood? Yes, I know you’re trying to encourage longer stays. Deal with the rest of us.
  • And finally, don’t forget to register. Otherwise, it won’t matter how many consecutive nights you stay.

 

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Sep 13

Fun Stuff from around The Travel Industry

 

Let’s take a look at some of the interesting news from around the travel industry…

New Hotel Policy: BYOS (Bring Your Own Sheets)

Photo credit: Creative Commons

Photo credit: Creative Commons

Eww. Inside Edition is not my traditional news source, but a recent video from the company was, well, gross. At a Residence Inn in New York City (They didn’t name which one, but the video makes it appear to be Times Square.), the crew spray painted a sheet with an invisible substance and then had different people book the same room the next night. You can guess what they found on the sheets, because it wouldn’t have been much of a story if the sheets had been washed. Its corporate parent reassured IE that “it takes these issues very seriously.” And how will they prevent it from happening again? “They are now inspecting the room to ensure this does not occur again, they said.” Probably should check a few other rooms, as well.

The World’s Busiest Airport

They say that, even when you die, you have to connect in Atlanta. Possibly true, as ATL has been the busiest airport in the world for as long as anyone can remember. Fun fact: Apparently, the airport is within a two-hour flight of 80% of the US’s population. You can read more here, including why they object to the term “busiest.”

A Really, Really Big Indoor Amusement Park

Fight Mojo Jojo in style; Photo credit: Creative Commons

Fight Mojo Jojo in style;                                                                  Photo credit: Creative Commons

Every year, we go to the Mall of America to spend a day with the kids at the indoor amusement park there. Next year in Dubai, perhaps? It might be worth it to see the new IMG Worlds of Adventure in the Mideast hub. With several adventure zones based on cartoon themes such as Marvel or Cartoon Network, not to mention dining with similar themes, it may be a good place to kill a day or three.

Maybe I’ll even take the kids with me when I go.

 

 

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Sep 12

When A Great Deal Isn’t

It’s no secret that one of my core rules around accumulating miles is to use credit card sign-up bonuses to your advantage. But that doesn’t mean that every deal is equal, and what looks like the best of deals may not be. Here’s one example.

Virgin Atlantic: “Earn up to 90,000 bonus miles!” Well, Maybe…

virgin atlantic

Wow, what a deal! Actually, maybe not so much.

I have a friend who flies to Australia annually and is always on the lookout for deals that will get her there for free. As soon as I saw this one, I knew that it was  the one for her. Virgin Atlantic miles, while not the most valuable, could play a role with a partner in getting her there.

Then I saw the T&C of the card and tossed the offer. The headline reads “90,000 miles,” but the details run up the cost for you.

90k

20,000 miles to start. Not so bad. But it gets worse from there.

The biggest chunk is that $12,000 in required spend on your credit card within six months of the open date. That’s a pretty good slug of cash for most people. It’s certainly the highest spending requirement that I have seen.

15,000 each anniversary. The card carries a $90 fee, so you’re paying the fee twice now.  But in the terms and conditions of the offer, it also tells you that they won’t simply give you the miles.

 

7,500 anniversary miles will be posted to your Flying Club account after you spend a minimum of $15,000 in Purchases within the anniversary year with your card. An additional 7,500 anniversary miles will be awarded after you spend a total of $25,000 in Purchases within the anniversary year with your card. Earned Anniversary miles will be posted to your Flying Club account each year within four to six weeks of the anniversary of your card’s open date. The value of these rewards may constitute taxable income to you. You may be issued an Internal Revenue Service Form 1099 (or other appropriate form) that reflects the value of such rewards. Please consult your tax advisor, as neither we, nor our affiliates, provide tax advice.
Ouch. That’s an additional $13,000 in spend in the first year. To get the full 90,000 miles (Actually, it would be 127,500 when you include the miles you earn from spending.), there is a long list of requirements. Even worse, if you use Virgin metal, as opposed to one of their partners, you’ll pay heavy taxes and fees (the majority of which is fees). On a flight in coach, from the US to Australia, you’re still looking at close to $1,000. Hint: Use Virgin miles to fly Delta. Or any other partner.

What Else Caught My Eye Today

Both of the below were found on Gary Leff’s VFTW. Wish him a happy birthday.

How to Be A Considerate Passenger

American is currently running a campaign about how to be among the world’s greatest flyers. Personally, I find the whole thing a little creepy, but it comes from the same airline that did the “We know why you fly” campaign over a decade ago. This airline wants to know way too much about me. Or maybe already does.

In any case, this article of 16 rules for every kind traveler is an amusing read. My pet peeves include #2 and #14. I disagree with #6. You can recline your seat. It’s your space. But the kind thing to do is to let the person in back of you know that you are doing so and recline slowly so as not to crush their laptop. If they give you attitude after that, let the FA handle it.

Be careful with #8. Yes, you should be kind to those in coach, but switching seats with your spouse to let them sit up front could be a no-no. Of course it’s generous, but many employers take the attitude (and rightfully so, I believe) that they bought the ticket so that their employee could be well-rested to work, not for the employee to share with their spouse. Likewise, I’ve heard of people refunding their business class ticket and picking up two coach tickets with the money. Not only is that a no-no for the above reason but it may also be a taxable event.

And Finally…

Those of you who know me personally know that I am a political junkie. And while I try my hardest to keep politics out of this blog, it saddens me to see how what this election has done to the country. It’s unfortunate that it often takes a tragedy to unite us.

There’s a story for each of us for 9/11. It doesn’t matter where you were at the time, you still remember exactly what you are doing, even 15 years later. And every year, we learn a little more about the day and some of the people who played roles.

Today, I read one of the most powerful tales of sacrifice and duty that I have ever seen. I may not always remember where I was when I read it, but I’ll never be able to forget the story itself.

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Sep 10

A Reminder about Quarterly Promotions

Just a reminder: If you plan on taking part in a promotion, you almost always have to register for it. Even if you complete everything that the promo asks you to do, if you haven’t signed up for it, you won’t get anything. It may seem like overkill, but it’s not a bad idea to save the email confirmation or take a screen shot telling you that you have been registered, just in case. You never know when it will come in handy.

Speaking of which, remember to sign up for your 5% back categories if you are a Discover Card holder. The fourth quarter includes Amazon, which is an easy place to pick up holiday presents. You can get 5% back on up to $1,500 in purchases.

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