Jul 20

Possible Double/Triple Points At Holiday Inn Express. But Mind The Conditions…

I’ve never stayed at a Holiday Inn Express (HIX), but their commercials tell me that doing so will make me smarter. Well, in that case…

Double Or Triple Points at Holiday Inn Express

Holiday Inn Express

They seem to spend a lot of time talking about their pancakes

This looks like a targeted promotion*, but they let me sign up, so it’s worth a try. Be sure to register ahead of time and, on stays of three more nights at HIX for stays in August or September, you’ll get:

  • Triple points Friday-Sunday
  • Double points Monday-Thursday

Sounds good, but there’s a big “if” in there: that three night minimum. In terms of promotions, that’s the most punitive stay requirement that I’ve seen in a while. True, summer leisure travelers (who are clearly the target of this promotion) will tend to have longer stays than business travelers, but most promotions only require that first night. The actual reward is pretty good, but the conditions to earn it are somewhat onerous.

Does this mean that you shouldn’t sign up? Of course not. You have nothing to lose. But, unless you have an extended stay at a HIX property, you have nothing to gain, either.

 


*Beginner’s Hint: A targeted promotion is one that is only sent to a particular group of customers. Remember, rewards programs don’t exist to reward your past loyalty. Rather, they’re around to influence your future purchasing habits. 

 

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Jul 19

Point Expiration: Your Annual Checkup

Rule #1 when playing the mileage game is to sign up for every free program that you can. It doesn’t matter if you think that you will never use the company’s product/services again. If it’s free, there is simply no downside.

Rule #1a is organizational in nature. Keep a spreadsheet with a list of your numbers. It takes about 20 seconds and will make your life that much easier down the line, when you are making reservations and don’t feel like sorting through 30 membership cards to find your Hyatt number. But there’s one other thing that you have to do, and you only have to spend 10 minutes doing it once per year.

Don’t Let Your Points Expire

Meters enforced annually.                                                            Photo Credit: Creative Commons

Keeping your points going is of utmost importance. Every program has terms and conditions that dictate an expiration policy, which is usually 12 or 24 months without activity. If you don’t extend your rewards, most companies will confiscate your points and may actually close the account. It’s not hard to go a year or two without any activity, either. For example, you may have accumulated tens, or even hundreds, of thousands points on an airline, but if you moved or that airline downsized at your airport, you may not have done anything with them.

Fortunately, it’s generally not difficult to extend expiration, and the same T&C that I mentioned above will also tell you what you need to do to keep your account whole. Usually, you just need to have some activity in the account, no matter how small. Occasionally, a company will limit that activity to earning points, as opposed to redeeming them.

Other than actually flying on or staying with the travel company, here are a few ways that you can usually extend your account with minimal effort:

  • Transfer points into it. For example, if you need to extend your Delta account and have American Express Membership Rewards points, you can transfer those into your SkyMiles account. Likewise, Chase Ultimate Rewards points can become Hyatt or United miles (among others).*
  • Buy something through a travel provider’s on-line shopping mall. Almost every hotel and airline has a shopping area that will give you points or miles to access merchants through its site.
  • Use the travel provider’s credit card to earn points.
  • About a thousand other ways to extend points exist.

The Bottom Line

Don’t let your points expire. It’s easy to keep your account alive, and the best thing that you can do to prevent expiration is to check your list of accounts once per year. Ten minutes could save you thousands of points.

 


*Beginner’s Hint: Most credit card companies not only offer partnerships with a specific company, such as the Chase Marriott credit card, but also have cards that offer their own points, such as Chase Ultimate Rewards points. These proprietary points can generally be used as a credit or transferred to any one of a number of partners.

 

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Jul 18

Things To Do In Denver When You’re With Kids

Several years ago, I visited Denver for a work trip. What I remembered most about the city was how friendly and laid-back everyone was. I suppose that, at that altitude, it could have been oxygen deprivation, but I returned there this summer just to make sure. Turns out it’s for real.

One other thing that we found out, however, was just how good a city it is when you’re traveling with kids. A kid-friendly Denver website served as our guide, but we spent so long at each site that we only made it to a few of them. Sorry, Museum of Nature and Science, we’ll catch you next time. So, in the interest of giving a deserving city some free advertising, here are a few places in the Mile High City that we visited and liked.

The Denver Zoo

This is an elephant. In case there were any questions.

Truthfully, we hadn’t planned on spending much time at the zoo, but it’s always a safe activity with kids and was a good way to fill the day before lunch. Well, so much for that idea.

Turns out that we had stumbled into one of the best zoos in the country. The zoo has over 4,000 animals, and I’m pretty sure that we saw every single one of them, including elephants, several types of monkeys and a red panda, not to mention a dinosaur exhibit. There are helpful volunteers everywhere and they seemed to have endless patience for the litany of questions that my kids threw at them.  We saw several shows, but I was particularly impressed when the staff had to cancel one of them because the animal didn’t feel like performing. It’s nice that they care.

They also do one thing well that most child-friendly locations don’t: The food is decent. There are several dining areas on site, but they served far more than the standard burgers and chicken fingers. We went to the Kamala Cafe, but could have gone to one of several other locations.

We were there on July 4 and the sun was particularly brutal, but we ended up staying six hours. The Denver Zoo was definitely worth our time.

The Money Museum

The original plan had been to go to the Mint and watch money get made, but when tickets sold out an hour before they opened, we went with Plan B, which was conveniently located around the corner from our hotel. The (very small) museum is located in the Denver Federal Reserve Building and was definitely a better choice for us than the Mint would have been. You can learn about the history of US money (and see old currency), design your own bills (with your face in the middle) and get them emailed to you and learn about the Federal Reserve, among other exhibits. And they even give free samples: Everyone is entitled to a bag of money on the way out. Sorry, all the bills are shredded.

The Money Museum was right downtown on the 16th Street Mall and does not charge admission. You don’t need more than an hour to explore the entire museum, and it’s an excellent midday activity while you are walking the Mall.

The Denver Art Museum (DAM)

denver

The DAM museum. No, seriously: Denver Art Museum.                  Photo Credit: Creative Commons

We weren’t sure about the wisdom of taking a pair of 8-year olds to an art museum, but they had been asking to go and it looked like there would be plenty for them to do there. It turned out to be one of the big hits in the city. The global exhibits were spread out over several levels, but we spent a good bit of our time in the European and American section, where there were puppets based on the art for the kids to play with (and give a puppet show, whether we wanted it or not). We also made it to the Asian and Middle Eastern exhibits, where the kids made miniature lamps (that actually work and survived the flight home). There was also a first-floor Kids Corner, where younger kids could dress up in costumes, color and make masks.

There are two buildings in the museum and someone more knowledgeable about art than I am could probably spend days doing both. But for us, it was a perfect way to spend a few hours with a couple of curious kids.

Added bonus: The restaurant in the museum was a bit sophisticated for our family, but the plaza outside had at least a dozen food trucks. You won’t go hungry.

Coors Field

Coors Field is the home stadium for the Colorado Rockies. The park holds over 50,000 people and is located downtown, which means that it’s easy to walk to. Denver isn’t necessarily a baseball city, so tickets are always plentiful and cheap. You can get a seat for as low as a few dollars but, if you have ever wanted to sit behind home plate, this is the place to do so, with tickets running as low as $30-40 in the secondary market. Rockies players were happy to come out of the dugout before the game and chat with and sign autographs for the fans. The employees are excellent, there is traditional and non-traditional baseball food and the altitude of the park means that the balls fly farther than they would at any other stadium.

Bottom Line: I had never thought about Denver as a first option for families before, but a visit to the city changed my mind. We’ll definitely be back.

 

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Jul 17

eMiles Ups Its Game With New Site

I’m a big fan of doing surveys to earn extra points. You won’t earn a ton of miles overnight, but the surveys are generally quick, and it never hurts to pick up a few hundred points here and there. They’re gimmes. I do mine while watching TV.

eMiles Relaunches Its Site, And It’s Better

emiles

My list of redemption partners

eMiles has always been one of my favorite survey sites. Clicks and surveys generated fast miles and the site had a variety of redemption partners, both airline and non-airline. Most of the points came from clicking on advertisements, but there were other opportunities, as well. My only problem with the site was its poor graphics and user unfriendliness.

They’ve fixed that problem with the new site, however, which is much easier to use. Mileage earning opportunities are listed by category, allowing you to choose a particular method of earning or even what types of offers you get. The reward options haven’t changed, and the option to redeem at Starbucks or Amazon gives you choices if you don’t want to redeem for miles.

In terms of how to earn, the previous iteration of eMiles had been to get five points each time you clicked on an advertiser’s link. Not exactly exciting, but steady. The new version has fewer of these clicks, but it does have more opportunities to earn a higher number of points through surveys or shopping. My feeling is that the surveys are the sweet spot, particularly because you can choose whether you want to take a longer or shorter one. It’s also helpful to fill out your profile on the page, which will give you that many more options to earn.

Bottom line: The redesigned eMiles is a home run. It’s easier to earn points, there are more opportunities to do so and the redemption options are not only varied but also easy to achieve. Signup is free, which means you should do so even if you don’t plan on using the site frequently. You never know when a few extra miles will come in handy.

 

 

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Jul 16

A New Cause Of Flight Cancellations: Global Warming

Oh, good. As if the airports and environment didn’t have enough working against them, here’s one more issue: Global warming could lead to more flight cancellations.

Short version: The hotter it is outside, the less lift a plane can generate, meaning the more fuel it needs to carry to get to where it’s going. According to this article from UPI, we’re already seeing the weather’s impact and, if temperatures continue to rise, the number of cancellations and delays will too, as well.

While there is some protection for passengers on flights of with more than 60 seats, I have no doubt that the airlines will claim that these displacements are weather-related and try to get out of providing compensation to those who are entitled to it.

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Jul 14

JetBlue Introduces Its Mosaic Challenge

Few airlines make their elite status as easy to achieve as JetBlue. You can make it through flying on the airline or spending enough on the fantastic JetBlue credit card. But what really helps you get the good stuff is the frequent promotions that they offer for tier points.*

Mosaic Challenge

Mosaic

The Mosaic Challenge

It’s easy enough. Well, not that easy, but that’s why they call it a challenge. But if you register and then earn 3,750 tier points over the following 90 days, they’ll give you Mosaic status with the airline through 2018. Not coincidentally, 3,750 equals 15,000/4. 15,000 is the number of points that you need each year to earn Mosaic, but this promotion will let you do it in a compressed time frame. You earn three tier points for each dollar that you spend.

What’s Mosaic Worth?

JetBlue’s Mosaic status is a powerful tool. You get a host of benefits, including a special check-in line, priority boarding and free checked bags. You also get a Mosaic-only phone number. And best of all, your status also applies to your traveling companions.

But my personal favorite perk is the ability to go “fee-free.” Need to make a change to your ticket or cancel it altogether? No problem, they will do that for you at no charge. As far as I’m concerned, this may be the single best benefit of elite status at any airline, now that upgrades at the majors are so difficult to get. Speaking of which, Mosaic members can upgrade to Even More Room seats for next to nothing, and you can use the 15,000 points that they give you when you achieve the status to pay for those upgrades. Enjoy.

 


*Beginner’s Hint: Airlines offer two types of points, redeemable and tier points. The redeemable points are what you’re most familiar with. Accumulate enough of them and you’ll go somewhere for free. Tier points are different. They usually reset to zero at the beginning of every year and aren’t redeemable for anything. But if you earn enough of them (and it varies by airline), you’ll earn elite status with that carrier, as well as benefits in its alliance with other carriers. Almost every flight you take will give you both types of points, although they don’t necessarily accumulate at the same rate.

 

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Jul 13

Airfares Continue To Rise Into Summer

Airlines continue to show strength through the summer, as every major airline in the US seems to have generated positive RASM for the second quarter and looks strong into the third quarter.

Airlines Gone Wild

RASM

American was the first to go positive

It’s happening again. After the down years of 2015 and 2016, airlines are finally seeing pricing begin to stabilize. Once again, the quarter was led by American, who saw second RASM growth of 5-6%. Most others saw growth a few points below that, but the story remains the same: Planes are flying full, which gives the airlines some ability to raise prices. It’s not all bad (or good, if you’re an airline): Almost every route has some competition on it, which means that what airlines can charge is, to some extent, a function of what others will allow.

Nobody likes to pay big bucks for their tickets, but a profitable airline is good for consumers. When the industry is weak and the various players are bleeding red ink, the companies take away amenities and lay off people. When times are good, you get in-seat entertainment and the occasional snack. Which would you prefer?

And look on the bright side: Since mileage earnings are now almost entirely based on the dollar amount that you pay instead of how far you fly, you’ll earn that many more miles.

 


*Beginner’s Hint: “RASM” is an industry term that stands for “revenue per available seat mile.” It measures how much an airline makes by flying one seat for one mile, regardless of whether that seat has a butt in it, and gives an indication of both how full the flights are and how much people are paying to be in those seats. For instance, I could charge outrageous fares but would likely only get a few passengers. On the other hand, I could charge next to nothing and get full planes, but I wouldn’t make very much money. RASM is a combination of those two factors.

 

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Jul 12

Why JetBlue May Be The Best Airline For Families

Airlines want you to view miles as a fungible currency. According to them, you should be able to use them for whatever you want, whenever you want, like money (as long as that whatever/whenever is travel-related). But when I go to a store, there’s nothing to stop me and my wife from combining our money to make a purchase. Miles? Not so much.*

Except JetBlue’s Family Sharing…

JetBlue

Let’s hope that the little girl doesn’t forget her teddy bear.

JetBlue is the only national carrier that allows you to share your miles with anyone (although there are a few regional carriers that are flexible, as well, but nobody with JetBlue’s scale). And yes, I mean anyone. By setting up a family sharing plan, you can combine your miles with another adult and five designated children, even if that person isn’t a blood relative. They even have a nifty video that explains the process, but it’s simple: You choose a head of household up front, decide how many miles you want to contribute and then go. Afterward, you can designate a percentage of earned miles to go into the pool.

Example: Let’s say that I have 15,000 points and my wife has 45,000. If a free ticket costs 30,000 points, I can get two with JetBlue. But on most other airlines, I’d only be able to get one, with my wife’s account, leaving us each with 15,000 “orphan” miles. This may seem like a small matter, but it makes a big difference when it comes time to redeem.

 


Beginner’s Hint: Technically, that’s not true. Most airlines allow you to share miles with anyone you please. Naturally, however, they charge for it.

 

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Jul 10

IHG Bumps Up The Rewards On Its Card

Credit card bonuses come and go, even as they get better over time. Every travel card has a base offer when you sign up for a card, but most of them offer an extra bonus every so often. IHG Rewards, the program for hotel brands such as InterContinental and Holiday Inn, however, has been a holdout for a while.

An Extra Credit Card Kicker

IHG

Intercontinental Sydney

But they finally gave in. The card, which normally offers 60,000 points to sign up, will now give you 80,000 for a limited time. You’ll only need to spend $1,000 over the first three months to earn the bonus, so it’s not a particularly difficult threshold to hit.*

I have the IHG credit card. I use it exactly once per year to make sure that my IHG points don’t expire. That’s it. It’s a lousy card for earning points, and IHG points aren’t worth a heck of a lot to begin with. So why bother?

The card has one benefit that nobody else can match. In exchange for paying your $49 annual fee, you get a free night at any Intercontinental property, starting on your first card anniversary. Several other hotel cards offer a free night or two every year, but they are only at certain category hotels. With IHG, you can book at any category, meaning that a hotel room that would normally cost $500-$600 is yours for the price of the annual fee. That’s one of the best ongoing bonuses out there.

Sure, the card does have other benefits, such as Platinum Elite status (which gets you next to nothing) and a 10% rebate on all your award redemptions (up to 100,000 per year). And hey, those 80,000 points are also good for a free night anywhere, since IHG awards max out at 60,000.

You may never use the card, but it’s worth it, just for your free night anywhere.

 


*Beginner’s Hint: Credit cards will usually make you spend a bit before giving you your giant sign-up bonus, just to ensure that you actually use the card. Note that the spend that you need to achieve is for the entire period. In other words, you need to spend $1,000 over the three months, not $1,000 each month.

 

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Jul 09

Get Extra Hotel Points For Having A Messy Room!

It’s every teenager’s dream: Not only do you get to have a messy room but you also get rewarded for doing so! And now it can be your dream, too.

Going Green for Points

Photo Credit: Creative Commons

Corporations are winning points for environmental awareness. Consumers are increasingly concerned with a company’s impact on society and are rewarding those companies who are taking a stand. Hotels are getting on the bandwagon. Most large chains have rolled out some form of a “go green” program to at least some of their properties, which rewards you with extra points for skipping housekeeping. You’re saving water and using fewer chemicals by remaking your own bed and skipping the extra laundry. Marriott, Starwood and Hilton will all give you 250-500 points per day that you participate, or they may offer you a food & beverage credit. And this isn’t like an airline’s Basic Economy product, where you surrender many of your civil rights to fly cheaper. If you need extra towels or soap, just call, and they’ll deliver the items to your room.

The Hotel Will See More Green, Too

Hotel chains, of course, aren’t doing this out of the goodness of their hearts. Housekeeping is expensive and, by skipping the chore, you are saving the hotel money. That’s what they’re really rewarding you for. They make a few extra bucks and pay you for the privilege.

Ultimately, you’re both doing good and picking up a bonus for doing so. No wonder everyone is happy about this offer.

 

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