For your Saturday evening tripping wanderlust.

This is the video of a guy who walked around Tokyo backwards.. only is shown in reverse.

Of course, walking through Tokyo will always bring up Lost in Translation which – for me – is all about How the Jesus and Mary Chain Influence My Hotel Choices.

Not quite the Munich Airport ‘lip dub’ but still more than a bit surreal.

This video of Air Canada baggage handlers tossing gate checked bags was uploaded on Thursday. It was taken before a flight from Toronto to Vancouver. Air Canada is investigating.

“The gate check, unfortunately, turned into a gate toss,” Stewart said.

The video runs a little over a minute and shows a baggage handler dropping items from the top of a movable staircase into a bin, which a second handler then moves into a nearby vehicle.

I never want to have to gate check bags. I also hate to board first. I don’t want to spend 20 minutes on the plane more than necessary, especially in a coach seat. I’d rather work a few more minutes in the lounge or spend the time picking up a bottle of water or snack near the gate.

The key is to not be last, or rather not to be among the last to board so that you don’t wind up being asked to gate check your bag.

Strategies to avoid having to gate check your bag:

  • Make sure the bag isn’t too large (that it meets the airline’s regulation specs, even fully packed and bulging).

  • Plan ahead. Earn elite status with the airline you fly or one of their partners, or sign up for the co-brand credit card of the airline you tend to fly the most.

  • Consider buying priority boarding, some airlines like US Airways sell it, it may seem frivolous or a waste but it can also be had for just $10.

  • Just board early. Not every gate agent will enforce the boarding order.

  • If asked to gate check, remain polite, mention perhaps that you’re connecting on a separate ticket to an airline your carrier doesn’t have an interline baggage agreement with and you could at least try to find some space?

  • Once on the plane, take any space you can find don’t wait until you get all the way to your seat if you’re in the back of the cabin. You might get glares, but there may be room in the first class bins and that carries the added benefit of your not having to schlep the bag all the way to the back and also that it’s already near the front of the plane when you’re ready to disembark.

  • Worst cast be very nice and again polite and ask a flight attendant at the front of the aircraft if you might be able to store your bag in a closet.

(HT: Hans)

IHG Rewards Club is offering a targeted purchased points bonus (the bonus amount varies by member) on a sliding scale (the more points you buy the lower the price per point).

When you go to the purchase page you have to identify yourself in order to determine the bonus you’re going to be offered.

Does this look familiar, like what US Airways Dividend Miles does sometimes – both the targeting, and the occasionally varying of bonus amounts? Interestingly the IHG Rewards Club manager is himself late of Dividend Miles.

I’m only offered a 25% bonus, however most reports are of people being offered 100% (and even people who were earlier offered 25% now seeing the 100% offer).

Here’s IHG’s points pricing:

You may purchase points in 1,000 increments:
1,000 – 10,000 points for $13.50 per 1,000 points
11,000 – 25,000 points for $12.50 per 1,000 points
26,000 – 60,000 points for $11.50 per 1,000 points

The normal price of 1.15 cents per point (at the highest purchase tier) is crazy to do since you can buy points any time you wish at 7/10ths of a cent apiece by making and cancelling cash and points reservations. (Buy only what you need, manufacturing points purchases in bulk in this fashion could attract unwanted attention to your account and isn’t worth it at this price anyway.)

At a 25% bonus I’d get 75,000 points for $690. That’s just over 9/10ths of a cent per point and not a good deal.

At a 100% bonus you can buy 120,000 points for $690, or 0.00575 per point.

That’s a better price than you can get with ‘the trick’ and it’s completely above-board.

That said, it’s also about the price that I value IHG Rewards Club points. So while you probably won’t get hurt at that price, and IHG Rewards Club has committed not to raise points prices on its hotel awards for the rest of the year, I still prefer cash over these points.

That point of view is further informed by the program lacking an option to redeem points for better than a base room, and that hotels aren’t required to honor most elite benefits on points stays (although many do). As a result I do not love redeeming my IHG Rewards Club points.

Nonetheless there are some fantastic redemption options in the program. In fact, perhaps the single best hotel points redemption may be in IHG Rewards Club.

Purchases are processed by so do not earn credit card bonuses for hotel or IHG-specific spending.

You can no longer buy Vanilla Reload cards with a credit card at CVS.

That was the simple way to load Bluebird.

Buy the Vanilla Reloads with a credit card, put the funds on Bluebird, transfer the funds back to your bank account. It was the lazy way to earn miles with a single trip to the store, with the rest of the work done at the computer, sitting on your couch.

Vanilla Reload cards cost $3.95 per $500.

But you can still accomplish the same thing, with the same $1000 per day load limit, with two store trips and a cost of $4.95 per $500.

  1. Buy a $500 OneVanilla Prepaid Visa for $4.95. CVS still lets you pay for these with a credit card (you can also substitute a $200 PIN-enabled card from an office supply store).
  2. OneVanilla is a Visa gift card. It’s simple to use. The PIN number is whatever 4-digit combination you use first (use it once, then that’s the PIN for future uses, of course there’s no need to use it more than once).
  3. Go to Walmart, find the Moneycenter.
  4. Load it onto Bluebird for free.
  5. You can do up to $1000 per day this way.

You can also buy money orders for 69 cents, although some cashiers at some stores do not like to do this with gift cards that do not show your name pre-embossed.

The economics of this doesn’t work well for me because I do not live near a Walmart. As a result the $1000 per day limit means I can’t spread the cost of time and gas across enough miles and spend to justify the trip.

Update: Apparently Travel With Grant manages to do this in less than 10 minutes.

While the link that I had for Citibank’s 50,000 point bonus for the Hilton Visa Signature card expired yesterday, reader Phil emails to let me know that there’s another link that will not expire until May 31.

It can be found at the top (in the Wiki) of this post.

One person on the thread reports that Citibank initially didn’t have an indication that they were entitled not just to 50,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first four months but also to a $50 statement credit after you spend $50 or more on your first hotel stay within the Hilton HHonors Portfolio during the first six months of cardmembership. Although it appears that’s gotten straightened out.

For the folks in the comments yesterday disappointed because the link I had for this offer was pulled early in the day (I didn’t know when on Friday it would go away — just that it would be Friday), there’s a reprieve and you have until the end of May.

It’s not the strongest card, or even the strongest Hilton card, but it has no annual fee and does get you silver status which means you’re eligible for 5th night free on award redemptions.

A month ago I reported that American planned to eliminate confirmed-at-booking access to extra legroom economy seats for first-tier elites effective March 17.

Only March 17 came and went and several American AAdvantage Gold members and similar tier elites shared with me that they were still able to book Main Cabin Extra seats.

American it seems actually took away the benefit as of April 16th.

As an Executive Platinum I continue to have access to these extra legroom seats at booking, so I don’t have an easy way to confirm that the change has been implemented, but it’s what they’re telling travel agents.

American launched extra legroom seats in coach  two years ago. (Of course 10 years ago they offered ‘More Room Throughout Coach’ – extra legroom throughout the whole cabin.)

United removed the ability for their ‘Premier Silver’ 25,000 mile flyers to reserve extra legroom coach seats at booking. (It may have been these flyers that United had in mind when calling their members over-entitled). Now Silver members get to reserve these seats only at check-in, while higher level elites get to reserve them at booking.

American took a similar approach, announcing that their Gold 25,000 mile flyers could have the benefit at time of booking through the end of 2013 only. Then they extended this benefit through March 1, 2014.

Presumably the delays have been IT-related, so Golds have been getting more than is offered by United and have been getting it for longer than promised. And American has been offering it to partner elites, too, which is also more generous.

So nothing unreasonable here, just noting for readers who are (or know) first tier elite frequent flyers that this change has apparently been implemented.

AP Airline Reporter Scott Mayerowitz asked a fantastic question in the metaphysics of miles on Facebook.

If Twitter is where you speak truth to the world and Facebook is where you lie to your friends, then this seemed a pretty deep and nuanced question for Facebook.. and seemed worth answering here.

Scott’s instincts are right that above a certain level more miles at the margin are worse less because of the time until you use them (present value discount), risk of devaluation (risk adjustment), and opportunity cost (value of alternatives).

The value of a mile changes depending on how many you already have. We can talk about points having a value ‘on average’ but this is misleading.

  1. The value of the first mile you earn is very low since you cannot do anything with it. It may be stranded or even expire unused.
  2. The value of an incremental mile earned goes up substantially as you approach having enough miles for an award. If you have 109,000 American Airlines miles, and you need 110,000 for a roundtrip business class award to Asia, then that last 1000 miles is worth well more than just $18 (1000 miles at 1.8 cents a mile).
  3. The value of an incremental mile earned goes down substantially when you have several hundred thousand or million miles, because you may never get around to spending them at all (and certainly not before award chart changes require more miles for the same award).

I like to have enough miles in multiple accounts so that I have more than one option to redeem for the award I want — I increase my chance of getting the saver award I’m after that way.

But having more miles than you can reasonably spend over the next couple of years may not be a good idea.

That said, I do not follow my own advice. Goodness knows I have more miles than I should in certain programs. Seven figure balances with both American and US Airways — which will ultimately be combined into a single account — are more than ultimately desirable for instance.

And holding cash makes more sense than holding (versus spending) miles. You can earn a rate of return on cash while the value of miles will tend to depreciate along with changes to award charts. The only arguable exception is that the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card awards a 7% annual bonus on points earned during the prior year, which serves as something of a 12-month offset.

  • Diversify your points holdings. Don’t put all your miles in one account, once you have enough points for the award you want start building up in another account.

  • Hold more bank points that transfer to miles than airline miles or hotel points. The flexibility helps hedge against any one airline or hotel progam devaluing.

  • Continue to use points cards when the value of those points in the worst devaluation scenario is greater than the value of cash back. In other words, miles remain valuable — their value doesn’t approach zero when you earn too many points — their value simply changes at the margin and may well be lower.

    • Use your spend for big mileage bonuses on new cards.
    • Use your spend when bonused by your points-earning card (eg 5x from Ink Plus outweighs any cash back option, natch).
    • In general cash back outweighs earning just 1 mile per dollar. Whenever you are earning just 1 airline mile per dollar you are actually buying that mile for 2 cents because of the opportunity cost (you could earn 2 cents instead).

I think the three reasonable cards to consider for unbonused spend, especially once you’ve accumulated a large stash of miles, are:

Barclaycard Arrival World Mastercard.

    You get an effective rebate towards travel of 2.2% since you earn 2 points per dollar on all spend (each worth a penny towards travel) and you get a 10% rebate on points used when redeeming for travel.

    This is the best card if you value paid domestic coach travel that earns miles and where you face no blackout dates or capacity restrictions.

    The annual fee is $0 the first year, $89 thereafter and comes with 40,000 points after $3000 spend within 90 days. It also has no foreign transaction fees.

    So it’s hugely valuable the first year ($400+ in value, 2.2% effective rebate, and no fee).

    After year 1 (if you don’t value the other features of this card, like TripIt Pro) you’d have to spend at least $44,500 on the card to cover the annual fee with extra earnings versus the Fidelity card.

Fidelity Investment Rewards American Express.

    This is the gold standard of cash back cards. You earn a straight 2% cash back — not 1% or 2% to use on travel — actual money.

Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express.

    I can pretty much always get 2 cents per point back with a hotel redemption.

    And if I value the most valuable mile that Starwood points transfer to at 1.8 cents, then with the 5000 point bonus for transferring points into 20,000 miles, each Starwood point is worth 2.25 cents.

    The card has a $0 fee the first year, $65 thereafter

This same analytical framework holds, by the way, when deciding when to earn miles or cash back through an online shopping portal.

(Note that the Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard and the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card offers referral credit to me if you’re approved for it using my link. Thanks for your support!)

Starting this Sunday and for bookings made by May 3, for travel between May 1 and June 12, 11 hotels in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean will be available to redeem for half the usual number of points.

Here are the properties that are supposed to offer 50% off redemptions:

  • InterContinental® Presidente Ixtapa Resort, Mexico
  • InterContinental® Playa Bonita Resort & Spa, Panama
  • InterContinental® Presidente Cozumel Resort Spa, Mexico
  • Crowne Plaza® hotel Acapulco, Mexico
  • Holiday Inn Resort® Aruba
  • Holiday Inn Resort® Grand Cayman
  • Holiday Inn Resort® Acapulco, Mexico
  • Holiday Inn Resort® Los Cabos All Inclusive, Mexico
  • Holiday Inn Resort® Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
  • Holiday Inn® hotel Cancun Arenas, Mexico
  • Holiday Inn Express® hotel Playa del Carmen, Mexico

This is, of course, low season — when most people don’t want to be there. But I’ve always been a fan of low season, because I don’t really love vacationing when hotels are busy. I’m just not a people person that way, at least if it means having to get up at 8am to place a book on a beach chair.

I updated a full top 10 list of best current credit card signup offers last month, and have made some changes to links below.

As always I try my best to compile the best available offers. Please let me know if you’re aware of others that should be on this list (in some cases we’ll disagree, and that’s cool too, it makes for a great comments section).

Here’s what I consider the current 10 best credit card signup bonuses currently available:

  1. Citi Executive / AAdvantage World Elite MasterCard 100,000 miles after $10,000 spending within 3 months. It’s a $450 annual fee card which comes with American Airlines lounge access, and has a $200 statement credit as well in the first year.

  2. Ink Plus Business Card is a small business cards that both offer 50,000 point signup bonuses after $5,000 spend within 3 months. It has a $0 fee the first year, $95 thereafter.

    Points transfer to United, British Airways, Korean Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Southwest, Hyatt, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, IHG Rewards, and Amtrak.

    If you’re wondering whether a small business card makes sense for you, read Why You Should Add a Small Business Card to Your Wallet.

  3. Ink Bold Business Card is nearly identical to the Ink Plus card above, except that it is a charge card (must pay bill in full each month) rather than a credit card (should pay bill in full each month). Like Ink Plus, it has an offer of 50,000 points after $5,000 spend within 3 months and has a $0 fee the first year, $95 thereafter.

    Both cards earn 5 points per dollar on telecommunications (cable tv, cell phone, internet) and at office supply stores; earns 2 points per dollars at gas stations and hotels; and has no foreign currency transaction fees.

  4. Chase Sapphire Preferred Card offers a $0 fee the first year ($95 thereafter); 40,000 points after $3000 in spend within 3 months, 5000 additional bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening.

    It has no foreign currency conversion fees, double points on travel and dining, points transfers to United, Hyatt, Southwest, Amtrak, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Korean Airlines, Marriott, IHG Rewards, and Ritz-Carlton. Probably the best all-around credit card, and with a great signup bonus.

    This is the card I recommend most to beginners in the hobby for getting started, but it’s one that beginners and experts alike can benefit from.

  5. Citi American Airlines MasterCard: 50,000 bonus points after $3000 spend within 3 months, no fee the first year.

  6. British Airways Visa Signature® Card: 50,000 points after $2000 in purchases within 3 months,

    If you spend $30,000 on the card in a calendar year you earn a companion certificate so you can redeem miles and a second passenger travels on the award for no additional miles (but does pay the taxes and fuel surcharges). Here’s my full discussion of this offer.

    British Airways offers family accounts so you can pool your miles. One person could get the card, spend $30,000 on it this year and earn 87,500 points (signup bonus plus 1.25 points per dollar for spending). A second person gets the card, and spends only enough for the 50,000 point bonus. Together they then have 140,000 points that can effectively be used twice for 280,000 points worth of travel as long as they fly together and exclusively on British Airways.

  7. Mercedes-Benz American Express Platinum card: 50,000 American Express Membership Rewards points after $3000 spend within 3 months, $475 annual fee (which also gets you a $200 airline fee credit, $100 credit if you are signing up for Global Entry, and lounge access with American, US Airways (both ending March 22) and Delta — plus a Priority Pass Select card for Alaska Airlines and many international lounges).

  8. United Explorer Card: There’s a 50,000 mile signup bonus with additional miles possible, it is targeted but many have been able to get the card. I love that the card comes with primary collision damage waiver benefits for rental cars. If the offer was generally available to everyone it would be higher up on my list. There’s also a small business version of the card — log into your MileagePlus account and click on the Explorer card for business. Some people click around to other cards and back and see the 50,000 point card offered to them.

    There’s also a business version of the card that offers 50,000 miles after $2000 spend within 3 months, $0 fee the first year.

  9. Southwest Airlines® Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card: 50,000 points after $2,000 within 3 months, that’s ~ $714 worth of airfare, and it’s even incrementally better than that because you only pay the segment (security) taxes and not the excise taxes you’d be out of pocket for on a paid ticket.

  10. US Airways Mastercard 40,000 points after first purchase, $89 fee (not waived the first year).

Reasonable people can disagree on the ordering — how you will value points depends on how many you already have and what awards you’re after.

(About half of the card links in the list above offer referral credit to me if you are approved after applying through the links in this post. I appreciate your support.)

News and notes from around the interweb:

(Note that cards in this post offer credit to me if you’re approved using my links. The opinions, analyses, and evaluations here are mine. The content is not provided or commissioned by American Express, by Chase, by Citibank, US Bank, Bank of America, Barclays or any other company. They have not reviewed, approved or endorsed what I have to say.)

In 2013 (and in prior years) I was a Hilton HHonors Diamond member by virtue of spending $40,000 on their premium co-brand credit card.

I had somehow internalized that Hilton offers their elites soft landings. I figured I would be a Gold in 2014 without any spending or credit card membership.

I was recently downgraded to Silver.

Here’s why I care. In general the smaller hotel chains are more rewarding. I love Hyatt Gold Passport and I think that Starwood Preferred Guest is pretty good too (albeit somewhat ungenerous with earning for in-hotel spend). But they aren’t everywhere and so I need another program — like Marriott, Hilton, or IHG Rewards Club.

Of those, Hilton offers the most generous and easy to reach mid-tier status level as a ‘backup’ to receive decent treatment on those occasional stays. So despite their absolutely gutting the HHonors reward chart a year ago, I’ve viewed Hilton HHonors as a backup program.

HHonors Gold means free breakfast and internet and the possibility of a modest upgrade, or at least a good shot at avoiding the worst room in the house.

HHonors Silver means eligibility for fifth night free on a five-night award redemption.

There are so many paths to Hilton Gold that it’s sort of amazing I don’t have it.

  1. At the end of 2013 the American Express Platinum card was offering cardmembers complimentary Hilton Gold status. However that benefit offer had a short window and went away December 31.

      I have an American Express Platinum card, but when they were offering Gold I was already Diamond with an expectation of at least Gold.

  2. I cancelled my American Express Hilton Surpass Card since I didn’t figure on needing to pay the annual fee to keep Gold status. Just holding that card would have given me Gold.

  3. Hilton Gold was a benefit of Milepoint Premium membership on offer at the end of the year. You could even have purchased a package for $49 and waited to redeem the benefit. I gave away packages in November and I gave away more packages in December. In all I gave away at least 13 Milepoint Premium packages, which included as a result at least 13 Hilton HHonors Gold statuses.

Here I was, with at least three paths to Gold and not expecting to need any of them. At least 13 readers now have Gold because of blog giveaways.

And I don’t. Don’t I feel like a schlub! I suppose a credit card signup is in my future.

I thought this was a fantastic articulation of Spirit’s business model. Anyone who flies Spirit should understand what they’re getting. I love that they exist, they represent an option in air transportation that’s different. It isn’t for me but I believe it’s great to have options.

What’s never good is buying something without being presented with an easy way to understand how the product may be different than what you’re expecting.

I find that Spirit does a really good job on its website making clear what fees you’re paying, and what fees you’ll pay later unless you follow a very defined set of behaviors.

Of course if you book Spirit tickets through another channel you won’t get that same level of expectations-setting.

Here’s Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza’s response to their having the highest rate of Department of Transportation complaints.

It seemed worth sharing almost in its entirety, because it really is that clear and crisp. And as much as I don’t want to fly the airline, I have a hard time arguing with the logic.

What about you? Read More…

I love loyalty program surveys. At least I love ones that:

  1. Don’t take very long
  2. Offer insight into the strategic thinking that a program is going through

So I always at least try to start surveys, though sometimes I give up along the way. I used to play all the time with e-Rewards, opinionplace, e-miles, and the other survey programs but for those the rewards were never worth the time.

I liked having a stash of points with e-Rewards and e-miles that I could transfer on demand to generate partner activity in a mileage account when there was a bonus for doing so, but even those offers have been fewer and farther between. But at least that provided some leverage. The straight-up earning for time is weak.

That said, I’ll check out surveys done directly on behalf of a program because I’m interested in what they’re surveying.

So I saw a survey link posted at Milepoint and ostensibly IHG Rewards was offering 500 points for completing it. I value that at about $3, but I was more interested in seeing what the questions were.

In fact I don’t know whether I’ll get credit for it or not. The survey can be accessed here and you can then reload the page adding your IHG Rewards account number at the end of the URL string. That may or may not wind up delivering points to you (my guess is that it will, that they won’t check the survey against their original email list to see who was targeted. But points didn’t post instantly.

The survey seemed to want to know about three things:

  1. What the IHG Rewards program makes you feel. There were only a variety of positive options to choose from, so this may give them adjectives to use but isn’t a survey aimed at constructive understanding of customer perception.
  2. What kinds of rewards you want most. I selected upgrades, something the program doesn’t currently offer. You shouldn’t redeem your miles for merchandise anyway.
  3. How you use your smartphone and social media while on vacation. I surmise this is the real meat of the survey from a strategic perspective, with the other questions attempting mostly to classify members or figure out what to offer to and how to engage smartphone and social-engaged members.

IHG Rewards strikes me as on the whole behind in the social and mobile space. Not that any hotel chain does it especially well, although they do for the most part at least have an app.

This survey, judging from the URL string, was aimed at Ambassador members of the program (paid members seeking better treatment at Intercontinental-branded properties). And at least it shows your progress along each page, something that I resent any survey for leaving out (I have to know how close to done I am if I’m expected to complete it).

There were 20 questions in all. If you’re interested you can certainly take a stab for a possible 500 points. And you’ll find out whether or not they post in 4-6 weeks.

This has nothing to do with American’s elimination of stopovers at North American gateway cities and distance-based oneworld awards>

I’m not talking about American making changes that reduce how we value their miles.

I’m talking about changes to how they value miles when reporting prizes for tax purposes.

There was a story in 2005 that garnered significant attention about a man who turned down a prize offering him 12 roundtrip coack tickets for two to anywhere American flew.

He won American’s ‘We Know Why You Fly’ contest. I always found that to be one of the creepiest ad campaigns, in a pre-Snowden and before the NSA was cool kind of way.

The man turned down the prize because American reported that each ticket would be worth $2200, and so his tax liability was going to be ~ $800 per ticket. The tickets expired within a year, and he quite reasonably didn’t think he’d get as much value out of them as he’d be liable for in tax.

That’s the first time I wrote about disputing the reported value of a prize.

I updated that advice last weekend as folks were scrambling to finish their taxes. It’s important because just because a travel provider says a prize is worth a certain amount, doesn’t mean it is worth that amount. And you should only be obliged to pay taxes on what something is actually worth (the price at which a transaction would occur between a willing buyer and seller).

It seems though that American may only be reporting mileage prizes now at 1.5 cents per mile at least some of the time. And if they’re doing it even occasionally, going through the dispute process we should be able to get reported prices that are higher reduced.

I believe they have. Last year when I won the MoTown the Musical Sweepstakes from American Airlines they valued the 100,000 AAdvantage miles at $1990 or 1.99 cents/mile. I have the paperwork and had to pay taxes on it.

Fast forward to the Fly Like Your Famous Sweepstakes from AAdvantage Shopping, and now the T&C list ARV of 100,000 at $1500 or 1.5 cents/mile.

Remember that the IRS does not tax miles — except when they are reported as prizes.

The lower American’s valuation, the easier it is to pay a lower tax.

With US Airways miles set to become American miles in the near-term, and US Airways offering occasionally sales for as little as ~ 1.2 cents per mile, it’s difficult to justify a higher reported price — or at least it’s reasonable to take the lowest demonstrable price.

That’s a whole lot better than reported valuations of over 3 cents per point — at which point I would decline a prize, too!

Starwood’s new promotion, Earn Away, Get Away, is double points for three months — with stays that include a Sunday night earning triple points (stays in the Middle East that include a Saturday night will earn triple points instead).

Registration is required by June 30, but there’s no reason not to register now — just in case — even if you don’t expect to make any eligible stays during the promotion period. Perhaps you’re like me: I often find that I don’t know where my future self is going to stay…

Here’s the list of non-participating hotels, which is to say that Starwood Preferred Guest isn’t picking up the whole cost of this promotion out of its own marketing budget and so hotels had to be solicited to sign on and had to be willing to spend some money for the bonus points. Nearly 90% of hotels did, though.

Double points are better than single points, of course, but given the modest base rate at which Starpoints are earned for in-hotel stay this promotion isn’t strong enough to encourage me to shift any business.

That said, I’m seriously considering picking back up my Starwood Platinum status this year so I’ll likely find myself in some of their properties during the promotion period.

(HT: Wandering Aramean)

Citi® Hilton HHonorsTM Visa Signature® Card

  • 50,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first four months
  • $50 statement credit after you spend $50 or more on your first hotel stay within the Hilton HHonors Portfolio during the first six months of cardmembership

This is the best offer for the no annual fee Hilton card that I’ve seen and it expires tomorrow.

This free card gives you free Hilton Silver status. Better to walk into Hilton as a silver than as a base member. First, because of the bonus points and in some cases free bottled water. But second and more importantly is that it serves as a reason not to be given the worst room on property, the one above the HVAC system or overlooking construction. That’s not a guarantee, but it helps.

It also entitles you to 5th night free on standard room awards, a benefit that only applies to Hilton elite members (silver status qualifies).

This no-fee card is useful to have for the bonus, and to be eligible for fifth night free on standard room redemptions.

(Note that cards in this post offer credit to me if you’re approved using my links. The opinions, analyses, and evaluations here are mine. The content is not provided or commissioned by American Express, by Chase, by Citibank, US Bank, Bank of America, Barclays or any other company. They have not reviewed, approved or endorsed what I have to say.)

Many things can go wrong after you make a reservation. You don’t want them to go wrong for you, and you want to be able to fix them proactively when they do. Don’t get caught off-balance.

Just yesterday American Airlines posted this advisory for travel agents about making double booking mistakes.

American loves issuing debit memos to travel agents. Point is, though, ticketing problems happen.

  • You may never really have a confirmed reservation in the first place. A third party hotel booking site may not have properly communicated with the hotel you’re staying at, or a problem especially common to United an award ticket may never have been issued in the first place.

  • Schedules change. Sometimes it’s a modest change but even 15 minutes could change when you’d want to leave for the airport.

  • Schedule changes can ruin connections. You can’t always count on being automatically rebooked to the next-best flight combination. Sometimes your reservation will have an impossible connection, other times you’ll be rebooked to something entirely undesirable.

  • Upgrade requests can disappear as a result of schedule changes, or maybe you’re in first class but get moved to a flight with no first class cabin or one that’s full. It may be the best you can do, but a modest change that works for you could keep you in the desired cabin.

  • A ticket might need to be reissued. It’s a pain to turn up at the airport to find that your ticket is not in sync with your reservation. That can take time to sort out, time you may not have at the airport.

  • A schedule change may cause the whole thing to cancel, or another problem might. United is especially bad at not passing ticket numbers through to partners properly on award tickets, the partner doesn’t see you ticketed and you no longer have an award reservation. This doesn’t happen every time of course but it happens surprisingly often, United does know about the problem but it continues. When you can get a sufficiently empowered supervisor on the phone they’re generally pretty good about opening up space on their own flights to re-accommodate but that’s less than desirable, takes time, and isn’t something you want to try to figure out at the airport.

It really amazes me how frequently problems creep up. And how helpless many travel providers seem to be at least initially when you contact them. I am more or less a professional when it comes to travel and my reservations get screwed up, not all the time but not infrequently either and I often wonder how the inexperienced traveler can possible handle getting from A to B with all of the roadblocks thrown up in front of them.

Virtually every problem is fixable if it’s discovered in advance. The key is to make sure you know the status of things before they become too difficult to fix.

  1. Always look over your confirmation, make sure the flight or hotel information matches what you expect and the travel dates do as well and also class of service or room type.

  2. Confirm, check, and double check anything that doesn’t match, with more than one agent. If everyone says you’re fine you probably are. If anyone is unsure you likely have a problem.

  3. Check on your reservations frequently, if you book really far in advance then it’s worth pulling it up at least monthly to see if anything is different. That gives you plenty of time to fix things like misconnections or flights that disappear from your reservations.

  4. Especially in the case of international award travel with airline partners, since that’s where most of the problems I encounter are, check with each operating airline that they see your reservation and they see the ticket number. Get seat assignments. Any time there is a schedule change call again to make sure they still see the reservation and ticket number and that your seats are still intact. Don’t trust the website of the airline whose miles you used.

  5. Whenever possible, check in online far in advance. Having a problem checking in doesn’t necessarily signal a problem, but it signals it’s worth checking to see whether there’s a problem (and also a flag that you may wind up having to get to the airport super early to sort through any problems that cannot be verified and corrected in advance).

This just never gets old for me.

You know you think about miles too much when:

  • You hear the words “mile a minute” and find yourself pondering the concept of earning bonus miles as a function of time.

  • You answer the question, “How many miles per gallon do you get?” with “It depends on what credit card I use.”

  • You unthinkingly ask your non-frequent flyer friend why she is taking the nonstop flight to London instead of the connection through Syracuse.

  • You check 4 times a day to see if another partner has posted for the US Airways Grand Slam.

  • One half of your brain keeps trying to calculate the cost/mile value of a mileage run against a baseline of a $24.98 San Francisco – Paris ticket, leading to a temporary conclusion that a $507 New York – Singapore trip is “expensive”.

  • You criticize your spouse for not spending enough (“doing your share”) on the credit card last month.

  • You see a lone shopper in the grocery store place a box of Nutrigrain bars in his cart — and you have to bite your toungue not to ask him if he will be using the 100 miles on the box.

  • Your teen learns that the best way to ask for something is “It’s on sale, and you’ll still earn miles for it!”

  • When all your friends are in debt to you because you always pick up the check at lunch.

  • One of the first things you do with the person you are training is to go over the airlines and routes out of their local airport, and which mileage programs will work best for them.

  • When you have not only YOUR frequent flier and credit card numbers memorized, but also the numbers for family and friends that you book travel for.

  • You know all your mileage balances within 50 miles, but can’t remember your phone number.

  • Even though the “low fuel” light on your dashboard has been on all day, you drive past half a dozen gas stations and ten extra miles to the Shell that takes Diners Club.

  • The only thing you use Excel for is tracking miles, and you write to Microsoft asking them to include class-of-service bonus spreadsheet function to the next version of Office.

  • You walk into a meeting at the office and people ask, “So where did you go LAST weekend?”

  • You buy flowers for your wife so you will get your 5th Northwest Fly Free Faster partner. What’s worse is when she asks you if the florist is a partner.

  • A loved one passes away and you think that the funeral home accepting your miles-earning credit card mitigates your loss.

  • You book an international trip because you don’t want to waste a Systemwide Upgrade domestically.

  • You plan day trips to cities you find boring just because there’s a websaver and you can get free booze in the lounge.

  • You get a big goofy smile when you hear “Rhapsody in Blue”

(* Culled from multiple folks, these do not originate with me but I don’t have all the attributions unfortunately.)

This is all advice I’ve shared before but really does bear repeating — we take trips but do we get the most out of them? Or are we traveling, putting too much pressure on our trips, and letting great opportunities go to waste?

The best advice comes down to: spend time planning vacations, take more trips, work while you’re gone, and experience new and unusual things.

  • Planning vacations contributes more to your happiness than actually taking them. Of course you may need to go on vacation to justify all of the planning time, and to convince yourself that the planning is meaningful.

  • You get all of your relaxation benefits on the trip itself, but don’t expect to be relaxed when you get back. We quickly snap back into the stress of daily life, sans any benefit from the vacation. Go in knowing you’ll enjoy yourself while you’re gone, but don’t set the bar for “needing a vacation” that you expect to be reset, relaxed, and in a different place with work upon your return.

  • Being on vacation can actually be stressful. We put pressure on ourselves to enjoy, quickly, in a compressed period of time. After all, unless you travel frequently, you only get one shot per given period of time and you have to make the most of it.

    Take more trips, and take the pressure off of each trip to be perfect. Don’t try to do everything, it’s better to leave some sites un-visited and have some experiences left for the future. Leave yourself longing for more.

  • People actually enjoy trips more when they’re interrupted by real time, as counter-intuitive as it seems. Many short trips mean work punctuates your travels. For longer trips consider staying connected a little bit (with defined times) each day.

  • Look for intense or unusual experiences, things that will stand out in your memory. You’ll get more lingering value out of the trip than just a general sense that you must have been relaxed but where did the relaxation go? You’ll have something to hang onto.

  • Make travel part of the trip. And since planning contributes to happiness spend time working through contingencies so you know how you’ll handle things like missed connections along the way.

How do you approach your travels? What makes you happiest — and leaves you happiest once the trip is done?

I carry both the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the Ink Plus business card.

Both have fantastic signup bonuses, a $0 fee the first year, and great earning –

  • Sapphire Preferred earns 2x points on travel and dining, plus a 7% annual bonus on points earned
  • Ink Plus earns 5x on telecommunications and at office supply stores, and 2x on gas and hotels

Both have no foreign transaction fees, and points that transfer to airline miles (United, Korean, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Southwest), hotel points (Hyatt, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, IHG Rewards), and Amtrak.

But after the first year each has a $95 fee. Most people are better off with just one of these cards and with the no-fee version of the other.

The ‘no fee version’ will earn points that do not transfer to miles. But if you have both cards, you can combine points from the no fee card whose points don’t transfer to miles, over to the premium card whose points do. And from there you can transfer points to miles.

In other words, you can get most of the best features of both cards, while only paying an annual fee for one card.

There have been two versions of the no fee small business card, Ink Cash and Ink Classic. Ink Classic is no longer available for new applications. It’s not on the Chase website, by phone, or in-branch although you may be able to find an old application by Googling. (HT: Deals We Like)

    Ink Classic Has Vanished From This List!

So the no-fee option that remains is Ink Cash which earns 5 points per dollar at office supply stores, and on cell phone, landline, internet and cable tv bills. And it earns 2 points per dollars on gas and at restaurants. Just like Ink Plus.

The differences between Ink Cash and Ink Plus are:

  • Lower signup bonus, 20,000 points after $3000 within 3 months (advertised as $200 cash back) for Ink Cash
  • Double points on restaurants instead of hotels (when you pay the hotel directly) with Ink Cash
  • Bonuses on your first $25,000 of spend in the 5x and first $25,000 of spend in the 2x categories for Ink Cash – instead of capping your bonus earning in each at $50,000 with Ink Plus

So someone with a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, who isn’t going to max out in the 5x categories at the higher $50,000 level, would want to pair that card with an Ink Cash instead of Ink Plus.

Similarly, if you decide to keep Ink Plus (probably because you do max out in the bonus categories at the higher spending level), then instead of the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card you can go with the Chase Sapphire instead which has a signup bonus of 10,000 points after $500 spend within 3 months, and still earns 2x at restaurants (but not on travel).

For many people I think the best combination is Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Ink Cash — especially folks that have already first gotten the Chase Ink Plus card and found that they’re not using it at the levels which will justify an annual fee on that card.

(Note that cards in this post offer credit to me if you’re approved using my links. The opinions, analyses, and evaluations here are mine. The content is not provided or commissioned by American Express, by Chase, by Citibank, US Bank, Bank of America, Barclays or any other company. They have not reviewed, approved or endorsed what I have to say.)

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View from the Wing is a project of Miles and Points Consulting, LLC. Some links to credit card and other products on this website will earn an affiliate commission, and this website has a financial relationship with several credit card issuing banks. All content unless otherwise noted or quoted is the author's own, and not provided or commissioned by any other entity. Opinions have not been reviewed, approved, endorsed, or likely even edited for typos and grammatical errors by any other entity. Occasionally a travel or other product provider may offer a complimentary item, most often that is the source of giveaways, but the author of this blog may also occasionally benefit from the blog's popularity and your travel experiences may differ This site is for entertainment purpose only. The owner of this site is not an investment advisor, financial planner, nor legal or tax professional and articles here are of an opinion and general nature and should not be relied upon for individual circumstances.

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