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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Mar 14

SPG Cardholders: Take Advantage of Your Friends

Got a Starwood Preferred Guest credit card? Want a friend to get one? Here’s a little chance to pick up something extra.

5,000 SPG Points to Refer A Friend

Starwood American Express

Banks know that their best advocates are often their current cardholders. That’s why they are often willing to refer you for referring a friend. Starwood will give you 5,000 SPG points when you refer a friend to the card.*

In this case, you get a karma bonus because the SPG American Express is actually an excellent card. In addition to some benefits at Starwood hotels, you earn a point per dollar spent (with a bonus at Starwood and Marriott hotels).  One SPG point is worth 2.5-3 cents toward the cost of your hotel room, so these points are more valuable than your run of the mill rewards. The 5,000 points you earn are worth ~$150, while your friend can earn up to 35,000 SPG points.

 


*Beginner’s Hint: Truthfully, it doesn’t have to be a Starwood Amex card. Most credit cards have some sort of referral program. All it takes is a web link or a phone call. But if you don’t want to refer a friend or need a card yourself, why not get it through the Credit Cards for Charity page? All proceeds from that page go to charity.

 

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Mar 13

Marriott Expands Benefits with United Airlines

In the mid-1980s, United Airlines decided that it was time to consolidate the travel industry. The CEO, Richard Ferris, felt that he could achieve massive economies of scale by buying up hotels and a rental car agency, allowing consumers to book their entire vacation with one telephone call (For my younger readers, a “telephone” is a pre-internet device that allowed individuals to communicate by speaking with each other.). He named the company Allegis”* and sent it on its merry way. Sadly, he didn’t have the finances to pull it off, and the new conglomerate fell apart in under a year.

So now, hotels and airlines have started alliances with each other. Starwood works with Delta. MGM works with Hyatt. Marriott and United work together. The partnerships allow you to earn points and enjoy elite benefits reciprocally.

The New Method

marriott rewards, mileageplus

The pretty picture from Marriott’s web site

Today, Marriott announced a slight change to its benefits with United. Currently, Marriott customers with its top-tier Platinum status can get Premier Silver elite status from United. It’s the lowest elite status on United, but it does get you free bags and the possibility, albeit slight, of getting an upgrade.

Now, however, Platinum Premier members at Marriott get Gold Premier status at United. What’s is Platinum Premier status at Marriott, you may ask. It refers to the double secret probation status that Marriott offers to its very top Platinum members. You can’t earn the status; it has to be awarded for you. But until now, it actually had no discernible benefit over traditional Platinum status. As of today, however, those who have been granted Marriott’s super-secret Platinum Premier status now get United Gold elite status, its second-lowest tier. You’ll have a better shot at an upgrade and more luggage benefits, but the best new benefit is that you’ll get lounge access internationally.

It’s not much, but it’s something. And it’s certainly better than Allegis.

 


*There appears to be a rule in corporate spin-offs and consolidations that each company must come up with a more ridiculous name than the last. In fact, failed businessman and six-time bankruptee Donald Trump (Whatever happened to him, anyway?) said the name “Allegis” sounded like a disease.

Fortunately for Allegis, Philip Morris spun out its US tobacco business and called it Altria, which was supposedly the Latin word for “high (Sorry, Altria, its your competitors products that do that.),” although many people cynically believe that the name was chosen to associate the company with the positive world “altruism.”

It gets worse. When Kraft food spun out its snack division, it called the new entity “Mondelez” which translates as “world of delicious” in no language whatsoever (but sound good).

Bottom line: Allegis can now hide its shame behind several of its spin-off descendants.

 

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Mar 10

Environmental Sins And Mobile Madness…

Citi Violates The Environment…

Okay, look, I try to remain apolitical in this blog, but seriously, Citi, exactly how much cardboard do you need to hold a credit card? My new Citi AA Executive Card came yesterday and, to say the least, it was over-packaged. Keep in mind that we’re talking about a credit card. It had an outer box:

That’s a 20 oz bottle for size comparison purposes

And then it had an inner box:

Inside the inner box, of course, was an envelope full of papers, disclosures and other trinkets that would encourage me to use my card.

If your local forest is missing extra trees, you know who to blame.

Fun with Mobile

Every time you use technology to interact with a travel provider, it costs them less money. Fortunately, they are often willing to reward you for such.* Here are two opportunities:

Marriott: From now until May 31, Marriott is giving you a chance to earn 3.75 million miles whenever you use the Marriott Mobile App. “Usage” is defined as making a reservation, checking in or using the “Mobile Request” feature, and you can enter up to 20 times during the promotion period (no more than one per day).

Hilton: Book a room through the mobile and they’ll give you 500 points per stay through the end of the year. This promotion does require registration.

 


*One of my favorites of these promotions is actually not a technology gig, but rather, skipping housekeeping. At Westin and Sheraton hotels, you can take advantage of the “Make A Green Choice” program. Skip housekeeping and they’ll give you SPG points as a thank you. It saves the company water, chemicals and labor costs.

 

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Mar 09

Citibank Transfers to JetBlue Offering A 50% Bonus

Citibank ThankYou points (TYP)* are not the most valuable currency, but they do transfer to a number of airlines. The most recent airline partner to join is JetBlue, and Citi is offering a bonus to move points to TrueBlue.

Citibank – JetBlue

thankyou points

A sentiment that won’t play well in Boston.

Typically, transferring 1,000 TYP to JetBlue will earn you 800 TrueBlue points. Until April 30, however, that number gets a 1.5X multiplier, exchanging at a rate of 1.2. I value TrueBlue points at 1.5 cents each, which means that, with the multiplier, one TYP is worth 1.8 cents. In a vacuum, that’s not a great rate (a 2% Citi Double Cash card would be better), but if you already have a lot of TYP, this could be the way to go.

JetBlue has clearly been trying to boost its profile. If you look at the number of promotions that it has run recently, it’s easy to see that the company out for market share.

 


*Beginner’s Hint: Banks generally offer a few different types of cards. In Citibank’s case, you can get ones that pay you back in cash, pay you in a partner’s points (such as the Citibank American Airlines card, which earns AA miles) and cards that give you the company’s proprietary currency. In the case of Citibank, the proprietary currency is called “ThankYou Points (TYP).” Based on the type of purchase you make and type of card you have, you’ll earn one or more TYP per dollar spent. The points can be transferred to loyalty programs, used to shop or used to pay your bill.

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