Some Final Words…

Well, it’s the good news and bad news piece.

Good news: My (and a friend’s) other blog, The Travel Game, is doing great. Starting off with a base of readers and competent developer definitely helped. I’m spending a lot of time over there.

Bad news: Given the time that I’m spending over there, it has come time to shut this one down. I’ve loved writing it over the past several years, but I can’t give it the time that it deserves.

Everyone, thank you for reading, responding and interacting over time. It’s both humbling and intimidating to know that I’m writing something that’s being read daily by hundreds of people. I hope that I’ve been able to give you at least a little advice that has proven useful.

So What Now?

Fortunately, I get to keep writing, and The Travel Game is exactly the same type of blog, written for the beginner travel. As a spin-off of Las Vegas Advisor, it does have a bit of bias in that direction, but only a bit. You’ll still find the same type of articles and hints. Please check it out. We don’t have a subscription box set up yet, but we’re working on it.

How You Can Help

Obviously, visiting the site and reading the articles is always the best thing you can do.

Like many blogs, we rely on advertising and credit card referrals to pay the bills. If you need a new card (or want to explore what’s out there), we really appreciate it if you use the credit card drop downs found on The Travel Game home page. If you don’t see the card you want, shoot us an email. We probably have a link that just isn’t listed there.

We also have some nifty forums if you want to give us ideas for articles or discuss existing ones with other readers.

Thanks again. It’s been a blast meeting you all.

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Get Great Value For Your Travel Dollar In Baltimore

Get And we’re back! A little bit later than I expected, but back nonetheless.

Every so often, I like to do something different and talk about individual cities instead of the miles and points that you can use to get there. Today, I wanted to look at one of the country’s most underrated locations. It’s a city that not only offers a ton of activities but is also an inexpensive destination. I’m talking about Baltimore, the largest city in Maryland. So why should you spend your time there?

Baltimore Is Easy And Inexpensive To Get To

Gone are the days that US Airways owned the airport. With several low-cost carriers offering flights to the city, including a seemingly endless number from Southwest, you’re absolutely going to find a cheap fare to get there. Once you’re in the city, you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding an inexpensive hotel, either. Fewer tourists means less demand in a city with plenty of supply.

What To Do In Baltimore

Camden Yards, one of the nicest ballparks in the nation.                                        Photo Credit: Creative Commons

So what is there to do in the city? I’m glad you asked.

Sports

Baltimore is a great city for sports fans, even if their teams aren’t particularly good.

My favorite spot is Oriole Park at Camden Yards, which might be the nicest baseball stadium in the country. Completed in 1992, the park was built in a retro style, rather than the multi-use monstrosity approach that has become so common. It’s slightly smaller than others, definitely more intimate and looks like something that would have been built 100 years ago. They were taking a chance at the time, but it ultimately proved to be a success, as several other stadiums have copied the design. Best of all, tickets are often cheap, even on game day.

The Inner Harbor

One of the many residents of the National Aquarium                                                                  Photo Credit: Creative Commons

The Inner Harbor is the place that most visitors start. You have easy access to the sports stadiums above, but

Families have several museums from which to choose. I’m partial to the National Aquarium, which punches above its weight in terms of its host city’s size. Regardless, it outclasses many of its larger competitors around the country. But the Maryland Science Center and Museum of Industry, which traces the industrial history of the city, are also worth a visit.

History buffs also have sites to visit. In the Inner Harbor, be sure to stop by the USS Constellation, now a National Historic Landmark. The successor to the first USS Constellation, the “current” iteration was built in 1854 and lives permanently in the harbor. A couple of miles away is Fort McHenry National Monument. During the War of 1812 and Battle of Baltimore, the Fort protected the city from the British. But it’s probably best known as the location where Francis Scott Key wrote The Star Spangled Banner, which ultimately became the American national anthem. No true Patriot can denigrate the importance of the city and the Fort to America’s history.

Congratulations! You Now Know A Fraction Of Charm City

This note is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.  Here are five other things to see:

 

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Out Of Office Notice

Hi all.

I’m going to be out of town for the next couple of weeks. There will continue to be posts on LVA Travel, so keep up there.

 

 

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Air Canada, Discover And Posts From The Week

Hmm, let’s see, what’s going on these days?

You could be an unfortunate Air Canada customer who got locked on the plane. Anxiety disorder or not, I really wouldn’t want to wake up on an empty plane. And how did they miss a passenger?

Certain Discover cards offer 5% cash back bonus categories each calendar quarter. Different quarter, different category. July — September is restaurants and PayPal, which aren’t the easiest categories in the world. You can earn a maximum of $75 in bonus cash, so they’ll give you 5% back on the first $1,500.

Some of what we’ve published this past week at LVA Travel:

Looking for a domestic upgrade? Here’s what you need to know about US carriers.

An Alaska Air double miles promo, and why it matters to you.

Points and miles as a form of currency.

Want rebates from Uber or Lyft? Check out the Freebird App.

Not sure what is going on here? Refresh yourself with this blog post.

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Just How Loyal Is Your Loyalty Program?

Some of what we’ve published at LVA Travel:

Cash back shopping is a way to make your purchases work for you. Here’s how it works.

Will your points and miles expire? Take a look at the expiration policies of some major companies. Added bonus: a picture of a monkey looking into a can.

A post on something that I discussed earlier this year: Increasing fees at cruise lines.

What’s the deal with these links? Read my last post here.

 

Are They Really Loyalty Programs?

I’m a big fan of loyalty programs. I generally belong to just about any that will have me, whether it’s a frequent flyer scheme or a punch card at a local sandwich shop. There is, however, one thing about loyalty programs that tends to aggravate me: Their name.

How Loyal Is Your Loyalty Plan?

I write a blog for those who are somewhat new to the world of hotel points and airline miles, and the first issue that I tell people to think about is this: A loyalty program does not exist to reward you for your past business. Rather, these companies are trying to influence your future purchases. And there’s nothing wrong with that. They are all corporations whose fiduciary duty is to make money for their owners. But let’s face it: American AAdvantage sounds a lot better than “American’s device to generate excess profits for its shareholders.”

Really? I Get Nothing?

No, you do get some perks for your past business. Frequent flyer miles or hotel points are all assets that you earn whenever you spend money with the company. And most travel-related vendors also offer some version of elite status, which is based on your travel or spend from the previous year. Of course, most elite benefits require more business with the firm, leading to odd situations like “elite mileage runs,” where passengers will fly just to accumulate miles. This process leads to an endless loop of spending money to maintain status just so you will have the ability to do the same the following year.

Casinos, of course, have become a master of this technique, leading to the necessity for articles like this one, from my friend Michael at Travelzork, which help you beat the system.

How Can I See Their Policies In Action?

The best example of the “influencing future behavior programs” is InterContinental’s (IHG) offer. You can read about the promotion here but here’s the short version: IHG assigns you a series of “tasks,” such as staying a certain number of nights or paying with your IHG credit card, and give you points when you complete them, similar to the rat pulling the lever to get his pellet. The trick with the system, though, is that everyone gets a personalized offer based on your past behavior. If I only stay once or twice per year, they know that they won’t be able to get fifty nights from me. But if a few points will get me to stay a third and a fourth night, they’ve just doubled the revenue that they’ve made from me. And then, I may earn elite status and want to stay even more nights to take advantage of those benefits.

Speaking of elite status, look at what Hyatt did this year. It revamped a perfectly functional program and renamed it “World of Hyatt,” giving the various levels ridiculous names like “Discoverist” and “Globalist.” Want the best benefits? You’re going to have to work for it, even more so than under the previous program. Unlike Hilton and Marriott, where the mid-tier status has almost all of the perks of top tier, Hyatt is saving the best for its Globalists. Hyatt will be the first ones to tell you (In fact, they have, on numerous occasions.) that they’re pushing for you to transfer all of your nights to them. The most loyal customers are the most profitable, and anything that they can do to generate extra nights is going to be incremental revenue for them.

So Should I Ignore Loyalty Programs?

No, of course not. They’re giving you something for doing business with them, so there’s no reason not to take advantage of it. But don’t let the tail wag the dog. Sure, you may be getting points for dealing with your favorite travel company, but could you have gotten better value by going elsewhere? I know that sounds odd from someone who writes about loyalty programs, but what you’re really aiming for is value, not a collection of virtual currency.

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Closing Old Credit Cards (And Some Upcoming Changes To This Blog)

Note: At the bottom of this article, I discuss some upcoming changes to the blog.

I came across an interesting article on CNBC today about closing credit cards. They offered a piece of advice that I don’t see often but is frequently correct.

Should You Close Old Credit Cards?

credit card

Photo Credit: Creative Commons

You’ve got that piece of plastic that you no longer use lying around because you just haven’t gotten around to calling the bank yet to get rid of it. But should you even do so?

The article mentions something that I’ve touched on before: Credit scores take into account both how much credit you have and the length of your credit history In fact, those two factors account for almost half of your score.

Of particular importance is your “utilization,” or the percent of your total credit that you have outstanding. So if you’ve spent $5,000 out of $100,000 available, your utilization is 5%. But let’s say you close half of your cards. You’ve still only spent $5,000, but your utilization is now 10%. The bank views that as more risky than someone who has only used 5% of their total credit, even though the absolute number is the same.

My Method for Tracking Cards

I don’t make it too difficult. If my card has no annual fee, I’ll never close it, since it keeps my total available credit (the denominator in the equation above). Annual fee with no other benefits, like a free hotel night? Forget it. It gets closed.

Upcoming Blog Changes

I’ve had a lot of fun writing this blog over the past several years. And now, I’ve got an opportunity to expand my reach. I’ve been approached by Anthony Curtis of Las Vegas Advisor and Michael Trager of Travelzork to build out the points and miles section of Anthony’s LVA site. It’s hard to get that kind of exposure, so I was happy to take them up on it.

So I’m happy to announce that we are rolling out Las Vegas Advisor Travel, aka “The Travel Game.” We’ll be writing about points and miles; travel and all kinds of other fun stuff. And while the existing site is all about Las Vegas, our portion will be global.  In addition to checking out the site, you should also join the Facebook group, which will allow you to discuss the articles with other travelers.

Here on FFMiles101, I’m going to make a few changes. I’ll still post a few times a week, but the posts will be thematic, like the one above, rather than “event” driven, like the announcement of a promotion. I’ll also be providing links to The Travel Game, so you’ll still get to read event-driven pieces.

Thanks for reading and joining me in continuing this journey!

 

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And finally, you can apply for credit cards through the Credit Cards for Charity link above. All card proceeds are donated to charity, so please do well by doing good!

Forget Previous Years’ Empty Threats: This Summer Might Actually Be A Travel Disaster

Every year around this time, a media outlet or two writes an article predicting an upcoming “summer from hell,” predicated on record passenger volumes and airport staffing shortages. And while summers are definitely tougher when it comes to wait times, we can generally fumble our way through. In fact, the last true summer from hell that I remember is 2000, when we’d feel fortunate to be 26th in line for take-off. Thus, we’ve become immune to the cries of wolf every year. This year, though, might actually be different. There is a confluence of events that may lead to longer wait times and more cancelled flights in the summer of 2019.

The Boeing 737 Max Will be on the Sidelines

Photo Credit: Creative Commons

This was supposed to be the first big year for Boeing’s 737-Max, the newest narrow-body in the fleet. With the plane now sidelined as the FAA inspects it, airlines are pulling it out of their fleets. Boeing had originally hoped that it would return to service by sometime in June, but that may get pushed back until at least August.

That creates two problems. First, three of the “Big Four” carriers (Southwest, American and United) will be pulling back six dozen of the planes (Delta does not have it in their fleet.). It doesn’t sound like a lot, but these jets are workhorses.

Under normal circumstances, airlines could have made up much of the difference, but we’re likely dealing with a record number of travelers. Planes are flying out full, so I’m not sure where they’re going to put these people. There simply aren’t many empty seats.

Homeland Security Steps in with a Gut Punch

I’m not seeing as many people talking about the TSA, but we could be dealing longer lines at security. According to the linked Bloomberg article, Homeland Security could be sending as many as 400 TSOs to the southern border to prevent undocumented immigrants from bringing bottles of water into the country. That represents fewer than 1% of the total TSOs in the system, but we’re already pretty stretched at the airport. I’m also not convinced that 400 TSOs is going to be the final number. These things have a way of taking on lives of their own.

Congress is presenting the transfer of screeners as a threat to aviation security. It isn’t, but if it keeps the screeners in place for the summer, I’m happy to play along. No word on whether there will be a pre-check line along the border.

The Bottom Line

Hopefully, the gaps will get filled in, but in the meantime, just keep an eye on the news and on your flight. It might mean getting to the airport even earlier than usual, but that’s better than missing your flight. After all, they have no place to put you.

 

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Radisson Rewards Mid-Year Promotion: 3,000 Bonus Points Per Night

Radisson Rewards, the loyalty program for the Radisson Collection and six other brands, has announced its mid-year promotion. It’s pretty straightforward and lasts from May 27 — August 31. Starting with your second stay, you’ll earn 3,000 bonus points per night. It’s not the best promotion that I’ve ever seen from them, but it’s strong compared to its competitors.

Stays Or Nights

The key to understanding the offer is knowing the difference between a “stay” and a room night.

  • A stay is one-check in and check-out. If you check in on a Tuesday and out on a Friday, that is one stay which lasted three nights. Note that you usually have to move to a different hotel if you want it to count as a second stay. This system prevents people from breaking one long stay into multiple shorter ones to get around the “second stay” condition.

Radisson Rewards: 3,000 Points Per Night, Starting With The Second Stay

radisson rewards midyear bonus point promotion
I’m not sure what the deal with the compass is, although they do have brands on every continent

The summer promotion gives you 3,000 bonus points per night that you stay at one of their hotels. Most properties award you 20 points per dollar spent (more if you have elite status), so 3,000 points is the equivalent of having spent an extra $150 per night. That’s a generous offer.

The only downside is that the bonus only starts with your second stay. Your first stay during the promo period will only earn you the regular number of points.

Using Radisson Rewards Points

radisson rewards award night chart

Radisson Rewards award nights are easy to use. Depending on the category of the hotel and the type of room, the award chart above will tell you how many points your night will cost.

Don’t Forget To Register

Just because you got an email doesn’t mean that you can sit back and wait for your bonus. You have to manually register using the link above. Heaven forbid that you “accidentally” earn bonus points.

So should you bother to do so if you never stay at any of their properties? Absolutely, even if you don’t think you will use it. It only costs you about 30 seconds, but could earn you some free nights, even if you do so accidentally.

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And finally, you can apply for credit cards through the Credit Cards for Charity link above. All card proceeds are donated to charity, so please do well by doing good!

Clear: Your Accelerated Fast-Pass Through Security

I was flying out of Boston’s Logan Airport today when I noticed an addition to the TSA checkpoint: The airport is rolling out Clear lanes in Terminal A. I’ve talked about Clear before, but here’s a quick reminder, since it’s now closing in on four dozen locations.

What Is Clear?

If TSA precheck is the “elite status” for checkpoints, then Clear is the VIP. It’s a private company (partially owned by Delta) that verifies identities for passengers and speeds them through the checkpoints. Registration is easy and available at locations that offer Clear. Fill out an online form, scan your fingerprints & eyes and you’ll be all set to go.

The advantage to Clear is speed. With TSA pre-check, there’s still a line to get to the ID check, and there’s always the chance that you will be “randomly selected” to go through the regular screening. With the Clear lane, there’s none of that. Once they verify your fingerprints and scan your eyes, they’ll march past the ID checker and right to the metal detector. It almost takes you back to the days when you could arrive at the airport 15 minutes before boarding and still make it onto your flight.

What’s The Cost?

Clear membership cost

Clear is not free, of course. In return for your time, you’re going to have to fork over your credit card. The list price is $179 per year, and allows you to add up to three family members for $50/year each. You can bring the under-18 crowd with you for free.

Fortunately, there’s no need for you to pay sticker. Because Delta owns a small percent of Clear, they’ve arranged for their SkyMiles members to get a discount.

clear de

Be sure to negotiate off the sticker price

  • General members pay $119 per year.
  • Elite members, except for Diamond, pay $119, a $10 discount.
  • Diamond members get Clear access for free.

 

Now, if only somebody could tell me how the ID checks make anyone more secure. But that’s a topic for another day.

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American Airlines Lowers Some Bag Fees?

Well, this is something that you don’t see every day. According to the Dallas Business Journal, American Airlines is lowering some bag fees. Don’t get too excited if you are an everyday passenger, though. These fees are only on specialty oversized items such as certain musical instruments and sporting equipment. Instead of paying $150 for the items, you’ll pay the standard $30 fee. The reduction is so limited that I normally wouldn’t mention it, but how often do you see an airline cut a fee? That in itself is noteworthy.

american airlines

Keep charging for bags and this is what you’ll eventually see…

The article does note, though, that hang gliders and antlers will still be considered oversized items, leading me to ask the obvious question about who, exactly, is trying to carry through a set of antlers. Is this common? And what if it’s from a really small animal? Can I squeeze those into my backpack?

They also note that American is the only airline to generate over $1 billion in baggage fees, although that represents just under 3% of total revenues. Compare that to Spirit, for whom bags (including carry-ons) represent a whopping 19%.

 

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