Aug 29

And Now, for Something Completely Different…

Everybody has their own idea of fun. For me, it’s being locked in a large bookstore for about a week, with nobody to bother me. So when we went to London this summer, our first stop was Foyles, with its 30 miles of books and 100+ year-old history. Sadly, I only got about an hour there before it was time to move on, but it’s worth a stop if you are in London. The shop is centrally located on Charing Cross Road (which is also the site of more than one Harry Potter happening).

Today, Facebook was kind enough to direct me to an article about the Strand Book Store in Greenwich Village. This store is “only” 18 miles around, but any bookstore that has to employ 200 employees is okay with me.

The best part about the store, however, is that employees have to take a quiz about books. While the article implies that the results of the quiz have only a minimal impact on an applicant’s chances, I love the idea that Strand requires at least the pretense of literary knowledge.

Want to test yourself out? Here you go. And, before you ask, no, I’m not telling you what I got. Let’s just say that, apparently, I’m not as well-read as I thought I was.

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Aug 28

Quick Points on Southwest Airlines

While much of my typing is dedicated to the big network carriers, there’s a strong case to be made for building up points on the discount carriers, such as Southwest and JetBlue. At one time, these programs were considered inferior but, as they get better and the legacy airlines’ programs become more about dollars spent than miles flown, the discounters are becoming that much more important, particularly if most of your travel is domestic.

Rapid Rewards

rapid rewards

Southwest Airline’s program is called Rapid Rewards. You earn points based on the dollars you spend and the fare class that you fly (i.e., The more expensive Business Select fares earn a premium over the Wanna Get Away category, which has fewer perks but tends to be cheaper.). You can also use your points for any flight. No blackouts. The cost of a flight in points is based on the underlying cost of the ticket in dollars. Points translate in value as anywhere from 1.3 cents to 1.7 cents in value.

Surveys

rapid rewards

One of the easiest ways to get points on Southwest is by taking surveys through their partner site. It costs nothing to do so (except time) and earns you points easily. I do it while watching TV, so it doesn’t even really cost me time. Most airlines have survey partners, but Southwest is the only one that I know of that offers all three major survey companies.

The surveys are not particularly interesting, but it’s an easy way to grind your way to bonus points. Oh, here’s a hint: Set up a separate email address just for surveys. You can collect all your links at one site without having to deal with them in your main email account. Also, certain sites will give you extra points for signing up for free offers. You don’t need to deal with that spam.

e-Rewards is usually the most lucrative of the three. You earn e-Rewards “dollars,” which have no correlation to real-world dollars, for taking surveys. The fake currency can then be traded in for miles. They send one or two surveys every day and give you a small token reward (usually $.25-$.50 e-Rewards) if you don’t qualify for the survey. Be careful: Every once in a while, they’ll throw a question at you just to see if you are paying attention and not clicking on random answers. You get points just to sign up and take your first survey.

Valued Opinions is similar to e-Rewards. Unlike e-Rewards, though, you’ll need to select your prize when you sign up. If you want gift cards instead of Rapid Rewards points, you can choose that option. Remember, RR points are worth +/- 1.5c each.

e-Miles is slightly different than the above two, and possibly the least annoying. You are given a list of links and get points by clicking on them and, usually, answering 2-3 multiple choice questions. There are other opportunities, such as to sign up for a newsletter, that give you more points. That’s one reason that you want to use a separate email address. e-Miles also gives you points just to sign up.

The Bottom Line

Sometimes, earning miles is about grinding out the small opportunities here and there. These cost you nothing. Go ahead and sign up, and see what you can earn.

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Aug 26

Hilton Double Points Promotion, September 1 – December 31

See? Was that so hard? One thing that I’ve liked about Hilton’s recent promotions: They’re customer-friendly and easy to understand

For the last four months of the year, Hilton is once again doing its double points bonus. Unless I am remembering incorrectly, they have now run this promotion for twelve consecutive months.

The Details

Fortunately, there’s not much to worry about.

  • You’ll receive double base points on stays until the end of the year. Bonus points, such as those you get for elite status, are not doubled.
  • You need to register. In theory, you should be able to register here or through the link in your email. In practice, the link is not working yet. Wait a week.
  • All hotels are participating. None are allowed to opt out.

And that’s it. The promotion starts September 1, so you can try the link again or search your inbox.

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Aug 25

A Unique Airline Status Match Offer

Note: Even if you haven’t heard of WestJet, please read this post. Given the rate at which they are launching inexpensive international flights, you’ll want to know a bit more about them.

WestJet Status Match

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Today’s “winner of the day” is WestJet, the second-largest Canadian carrier. First, they get props because the basic tier of their elite status is teal. Few other airlines could pull that off.

They get more points, however, for a unique status match proposition: If you have top tier status in any travel program, whether it is air, hotel, car rental, rickshaw, etc., they’ll match you to Gold status in WestJet rewards, a feat that normally takes $6,000 in annual spend. Among other benefits, you’ll get:

  • Two free checked bags
  • Ten airport lounge passes
  • No fee same-day changes
  • Advance boarding
  • Priority screening
  • Four advance seat selection vouchers

WestJet is known for being a bit offbeat. That shouldn’t be a surprise, since one of its founders, David Neeleman, went on to found JetBlue (among others). The airline places a lot of emphasis on customer service, employee relations and having a sense of humor.

While they have traditionally been a Canadian low-cost carrier, they have quickly expanded the amount of north-south flying that they do, particularly between the US and Canada.

In addition, and possibly more important, WestJet is expanding overseas, with flights to London Gatwick (again, among other locations). Given the number of connections that are possible, you may now have another cheap way to get to Europe.

To get Gold status, simply send them a copy of your membership information from another program by September 23 and then fly them once before October 31. Previously booked and code share flights count.

Even if the promotion doesn’t work out to be a huge financial success, Westjet earns kudos for trying something a little different in an industry that rarely takes chances.

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Aug 24

Chase Sapphire Reserve: Up to $1,500 Sign-Up Bonus

I wasn’t going to bother writing about this card, mostly because I have written too much about credit cards recently, but I got enough questions about it that it seemed worthwhile. And, let’s face it, being able to say “up to $1,500” sounds kind of cool.

Chase Sapphire Reserve

Oooh, it's pretty!

Oooh, it’s pretty! And don’t worry about that annual fee. We’ll discuss it later.

The card in question is the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the high-end version of the Chase Sapphire card, a card that I have grudgingly begun to pay attention to as its competitors have weakened their perks. Chase created the card to compete with other luxury cards such as the American Express Platinum or Citibank Prestige and, for the most part, they have succeeded.*

Do I Really Need This Card?

I usually do this section at the end, but I’m moving it up due to all of the card’s moving pieces. Nobody needs a particular credit card, so the question is what use you’ll make of it. The sign-up bonus covers the annual fee several times over, so you’ll make a nice profit right away. After that, it’s up to you. This may now be the best card on the market for those who spend heavily on dining and travel. Otherwise, the 100,000 point offer is its biggest attraction.

The Sign-Up Bonus

Spend $4,000 in the first three months and they’ll give you 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points, Chase’s proprietary currency. You can do lots of fun things with 100,000 points, including:

  • Getting $1,000 sent to your bank account. The points are worth a penny each.
  • Getting $1,500 worth of travel. If you use Chase’s travel portal to book your next trip, they’ll value your points at 1.5 cents each.
  • Transferring to a number of hotels and airlines. The airlines are the best bang for the buck and should get you enough for a business class round trip ticket between the US and Europe. There are a lot of really nice airlines that serve as a Chase transfer partner.

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The Benefits of Chase Sapphire Reserve

I have to admit, I got spoiled the perks at Citi Prestige, but this card hits most of the main bullet points for a high-end card. Here’s what you get for your $450 annual fee:

  • A $300 annual travel credit. Okay, listen up. This is important. They’ll give you a $300 credit every year (Sadly, it’s based on your billing cycle, not the Gregorian calendar.) toward airfare, hotels, taxis, etc. That’s any travel, not just travel-related fees. If you’re reading this blog, it’s almost a certainty that you are spending at least $300 on travel. Congratulations, your annual fee is now effectively $150.
  • Triple points on travel and restaurants. That’s as good as I’ve seen anywhere (The Costco Anywhere card also offers that 3% back.) and is worth 4.5% back per dollar spent if you use it on travel.
  • $100 toward Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. Please. I’m begging you. If you don’t have PreCheck now, get it. It’s only going to get worse.
  • You’ll get Priority Pass, although I don’t know which version it is.
  • Among the best, if not the best, travel and rental car coverage among cards.

The Bottom Line

Spend a lot on travel and restaurants? You get the green light.

Want to play the sign-up bonus game and see where it takes you? Yellow light.

Don’t want to bother or don’t know if you’ll make the $4,000 spend in three months? Skip it altogether.


*I discussed the gutting of the Citi Prestige card here and have decided that mine will be getting a visit from Dr. Scissors before the annual fee hits. Sorry Citibank. That lounge access was important to me.

 

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Aug 23

Two New Promos: JetBlue and Starwood

Part of the fun of this game is finding all of the promos that are out there. Today, I saw two new ones, including one that doesn’t require any stays, flights or dollars spent on your part.

JetBlue “Go All Over”

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Before we get started, I’d like to remind my readers of one thing: I write about these promotions. I don’t name them. I don’t know who came up with the promo title “Go All Over,” but I’d wager a week’s salary that they have an infant in the house. It rivals Pizza Hut’s 2001 tagline for its stuffed-crust pizza, “We’ve put cheese in places you’ve never even dreamed of!” for the title of “Worst Tagline Ever.”

Fortunately, the promotion itself is quite good. Go All Over gets you 20% off domestic base fares and 15% off international. There are a few restrictions, including blackout dates and no discounts for Sunday or Friday travel. Be sure to buy your tickets quickly: The sale ends tomorrow night.

The promotion is not good for previously booked flights, but that doesn’t necessarily have to affect you. If you have JetBlue Mosaic elite status, changes are free. They’ll honor the lower fee for the price of a phone call. Likewise, if you booked within the past 14 days, they will give you a credit for the difference. Again, you need to contact JetBlue for the credit.

Starwood’s “More For You”

 

Two promotions in the same email? Show-offs.

Two promotions in the same email? Show-offs.

Starwood also announced some upcoming goodies for guests (and non-guests). First on the list is its More For You promotion, which runs from September 12 until December 18. It’s a big one, with weekday stays of two or more nights getting you double points and weekend stays getting you triple points. The two night minimum is frustrating, but the payoff is a good one. Remember, only your two base points per dollar are doubled (or tripled), not bonus points.

But there’s a second promotion at the bottom of the page. Simply enter your Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) number for a chance to win points instantly. You can win 1,000 – 10,000 points or a free night. You’ll also be entered to win the grand prize, five free nights and 50,000 points. This game costs nothing to enter and you can play it every day. Please, set a calendar reminder and do so. It could be to your benefit.

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Aug 22

20% (Or More) Rebate on Every Purchased JetBlue Flight

Every once in a while, I see an offer from a hotel, airline or credit card company that is too good to last. I wrote an article about it for InsideFlyer here, mentioning a few that would get shut down. Shortly after writing about the excessive Citi Prestige perks, for instance, they announced a serious devaluation, albeit not the one that I thought would come. Sadly, though, companies aren’t willing to lose money forever.

I don’t want to say that JetBlue is an exception, but they do tend to place more emphasis on customer satisfaction than most (Management, in fact, gets compensated in part on customer scores.). Thus, I don’t see changes happening as quickly as they would elsewhere.

The Rebate

Base

When it comes to redemptions, JetBlue is easily the most generous airline out there. Its points are worth about 1.5 cents each, +/-, and the cost of redeeming points is not fixed like it is at other airlines. Rather, you redeem based on the underlying fare of the flight that you are buying. For example, a flight from Boston to New York with cash costs $75-$175, based on the fare bucket and amenities that you choose:

fare

If you purchase that same ticket with points, however, the cost varies in miles, but they will get you approximately 1.5 cents each in flight value:

fare

As the cost of the flight rises throughout the day, so does the number of points that are necessary to purchase that flight. By the way, get used to that system: I believe that the majors will begin operating that way by 2018.

The plus side to this system is that you can use points on any flight you want, since you are “purchasing” the flight, just with an alternative form of currency.

Since you earn a minimum of three points per dollar spent on a JetBlue flight, every dollar spent will get you 4.5 cents in value, or a 4.5% rebate when you redeem points.

Adding on from There

It gets better. When you book your flight on jetblue.com, you get six points per dollar spent, instead of the normal three. You rebate when you redeem is now up to 9% (6*1.5c each).

Doubling It with The Credit Card

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So now what? If you fly JetBlue, ever, you must have the JetBlue credit card. I don’t care where you get it (Okay, I do care; I hope you get it through the banner below, since proceeds will help to get needy kids new clothes and school supplies.), but you must have it. You can get the card through this banner:

 

 

There is a lot to like about this card. It gives you a 30,000 point sign-up bonus (which will get you $450 worth of flights). You get Mosaic status if you spend $50,000 per year on the card in a year. You (and three others in your party) get your first bag checked for free. It does cost $99, but you get 5,000 points each year when you renew, which is worth $75.

But the single best benefit might be the bonus points that you get when spending on the card. You get one point for most purchases, two at restaurants and grocery stores. But when you make JetBlue purchases, such as flights, with your card, you get a whopping six points per dollar spent. That’s in addition to the six you already earned, giving you a total of twelve points per dollar spent. That’s 18% of the cost of your flight coming back to you in TrueBlue points for future flights. And it gets better. JetBlue refunds you 10% of the points that you spend on flights, bringing you up to a total of a 20% rebate. See why I like this card?

Two Other Things To Know

First: There is a no-fee version of the card, as well. You get fewer benefits, a lower sign-up bonus and only three points per dollar spent. As far as I’m concerned, the sign-up bonus alone (an additional 25,000 points, or approximately $375 in flight value) is reason to get the card with the fee, not to mention the 5,000 points each anniversary.

Two: If you earn Mosaic status, you get an additional three points per dollar spent. That brings your total rebate for each flight up to 25% (15 points per dollar, plus the 10% points bonus).

The Bottom Line

There are very few credit cards that I describe as “must-have.” The only other one that I can think of is the IHG Rewards Club card, which gets you a free night every year at any InterContinental product. And the JetBlue card won’t do you a lick of good if you never fly JetBlue. But if you do, the card is a huge money-maker for you.

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Aug 20

InterContinental (IHG) Back with Accelerate Promotion

A few times per year, IHG, owner of InterContinental, Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza (among others) offers some version of its Accelerate promotion. The program is unique for each customer and gives you a list of “tasks” to complete. The more you complete, the more points you get. If you complete a certain number, you get an additional bonus.

Accelerate 2016

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Loyalty programs really are named incorrectly. They should be named “influence your future behavior” programs. It’s nice that you get points and elite status for past stays, but what the company is really trying to do is get you to stay more with them in the future. Thus, for IHG’s promotions, people who stay infrequently generally get fewer, or less difficult, tasks. IHG knows that you’re not going to go from two or three stays per year to 25, but it’s happy if it gets you from 2-3 to 4-5. On the other hand, if you’re already staying with them 50 times per year, chances are that you’re doing all your travel through them. There’s not much left to get, so the promotions are often more difficult.

What I got

You can go here to find out what your individual targets are, or to sign up for the IHG program. Usually, mine are achievable with only a couple of stays, but I got a slightly more difficult one this time.

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I also got an offer for an extra 5,000 points if I stay in September, giving me a total potential bonus of 84,300 points. That’s a good, not a great, number, getting me two nights at just about any InterContinental property (or several nights at lower-quality brands). But I’m used to finding a way to finish these promotions in only one or two nights. This one is going to take five nights to hit the 23,000 Achievement Bonus. I need a night at two different InterContinental properties, so that’s two (expensive) nights. I also need to stay at three different brands. Combine that with the above task and I’m up to four nights needed. In theory, I could join the Ambassador program, but my goal is to minimize out-of-pocket expenses. Thus, I’d probably stay a fifth night, preferably at a cheap brand. As long as I pay with my IHG credit card, that’s enough to hit the Achievement Bonus.

The Bottom Line

You might as well take a look at the promotion. You may be able to get a ton of points with only a few easy tasks.

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Aug 19

The World’s Youngest Million-Miler

Some babies are born under the right star. Others are born on the right airplane. So congratulations to Baby Haven, born at the right time, halfway between Dubai and Manila at 36,000 feet.

The Big Winner

Photo Credit: Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Creative Commons

I think that we can all agree that the real gold medalist on this flight is Baby Haven. According to The Guardian, the lucky lady will walk away with one million GetGo points from the airline’s rewards program. Truthfully, that seems a little unfair to me, since it was the mother that did most of the work but, as Baby Haven will no doubt learn, life isn’t always fair. It really doesn’t matter in the end, though. GetGo allows the little one to pool miles with up to eight people, so hopefully, she’ll share with her family. No word on whether the airline is waiving the Php. 150 fee to join, which would give a whole new meaning to the term SkyPesos.

Unfortunately, Cebu Pacific is not part of one of the three major alliances, so Haven and her family probably won’t be taking the world tour anytime soon, but it’s nice to start off with a bit of a nest egg. My attempts to interview the newborn have gone fruitless, so I cannot confirm where her first trip will be. Rumor has it, though, that the youngster proclaimed, “I’m going to Disney World!” shortly after learning about her grant.

And The Silver Goes to Cebu Pacific

Kudos to the airline, who takes second place on the podium of winners. No doubt that the free publicity that it garnered will far exceed the cost of the miles.

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Aug 17

Yes, The Airlines Are, In Fact, Watching You…

In case you were wondering whether the airlines know what’s going on when people attempt to game promotions…

Yes. Yes They Do.

But sometimes they have a little fun with it. About six weeks ago, I discussed a JetBlue promotion where the airline decided that if it couldn’t beat ’em, it would match ’em. After having failed to buy Virgin America, it offered to match the account balances of Virgin America travelers, in hopes of wooing them to change allegiance. At least they were smart enough to put an upper limit on how much they would match. People who had never flown VA or had accumulated points through other means simply had JetBlue match those points. But the fastest way to accumulate Virgin America points – and, therefore, JetBlue points – was to transfer them in, from either hotel points or proprietary credit card points. Again, you receive Virgin America points (which will become Alaska Airlines miles) and thus, JetBlue points after the match. Double dippers united and the the promotion went viral.

The E-Mail

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And then came the email. Anyone who transferred points to their JetBlue account during the promotion received the following email::

Nice match, my friend. Someone was using their noggin. As a little thank you for transferring your points to Elevate, we’re offering 25% off fares fares when you book by August 29 and fly through October 15, 2016. Use this one time promo code just for you and take off with movies, food, and happy hour on-demand.

Yes, Virgin America began to question why so many people had started transferring in points, and it probably took them two minutes to become aware of the JetBlue promo. Instead of getting upset that it was being “used,” Virgin America had some fun with it, launching a fare sale.

Good for them. It’s nice to see an airline with a sense of humor.

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