I asked readers to share what’s on their mind and one reader mentioned earning miles for a hair loss consultation even though she had a full head of hair.

That’s a famous one. The offer was 20,000 Delta miles for going in to see Bosley, I did it (with more hair then than I have today) and picked up my own miles as well.

I’ve done a lot of crazy things in my life to earn miles. There are things that some people only think are crazy — like buying coins from the US mint with a credit card, depositing those coins in the bank and paying off the credit card; like opening online checking accounts and funding them with a credit card (with banks coding the transactions as purchases) and using the new checks to pay off the credit card; like taking endless surveys or renting and returning cars that you do not need and don’t actually drive.

Then there are things that are actually crazy. Like:

  • A Lasik eye exam for 5000 Delta miles.. I wasn’t the only one who went despite not even wearing glasses.

  • Dumpster diving for Wendys sode cups when those were redeemable for Airtran A+ Rewards credits.

  • Donating blood.

  • Child support payments. Apparently Mastercard and Discover are accepted by Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin. (This settles a mystery of ‘what merchants take Mastercard but not Visa..?) Visa and Mastercard are accepted by Arizona, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. Surprisingly this revelation didn’t lead to a rash of frequent flyer pregnancies or divorces.

Which ones have you done? What’s the craziest mileage-earning scheme you’ve taken part in?

I had an interesting dilemma this morning and I’m not sure I handled it the right way.

Last week I wrote about being downgraded from Diamond to Silver status, missing the ‘soft landing’ to Gold that I expected.

And I missed several opportunities for quick and easy Gold status (from Milepoint’s premium membership, from American Express Platinum, and from the Hilton credit card that I gave up).

I had breakfast this morning with Mark Weinstein, a Hilton Vice President for the HHonors program. We’re both in Seattle for the same events. By the way I’m at the Marriott by the airport, he came to me, and as the only one of us registered at the hotel and able to earn points I insisted on picking up the check.

Unsurprisingly, like any good executive he did his homework and knew I had been downgraded to Silver. And he wants me engaged in his program. My account was already upgraded to Gold.

I told Mark that wasn’t necessary, that I don’t ask for special favors and experience travel the way anyone else does. I thanked him but said I really prefer not to get status that way.

But I also didn’t want to be rude. And I was taken by surprise. It didn’t jump up and down on the table, insisting that the Gold status be taken away. (Incidentally, two readers offered to give me their MIlepoint premium comped status. And as Frequent Miler pointed out I could have asked for a Diamond challenge and simply taken the Gold for not meeting it.)

As it stands right now, I have Gold status in the HHonors program. It’s the best mid-tier status but it’s also a ‘gimme’ level. I wouldn’t have taken Diamond.

But I’ve still also found myself, without asking or wanting to, being in the uncomfortable position of having violated my own approach.

I know that there are hotel chains that would give me status, and airlines too. I also know that on the frontlines of travel none of that matters, outside of my status, because I get treated just as badly as anyone else with similar status all the time.

In this case though, should I insist on removing the Gold status or taking the free breakfast on my (very) occasional Hilton stays? What do you think?

The Atlantic runs a piece that argues the real allure of a service like Silver — a car rental company that offers uniformly good cars, filled with features, and all-in pricing — is avoiding other people and not having to see Ford Tauruses.

I disagree. Luxury services nearly always require seeing and being seen by others if they’re about making the customer feel better than someone else. It’s a novel theory indeed that Silvercar is selling the luxury of not interacting.

That’s especially strange when Silvercar offers more service from people. In Austin at least you get picked up by a person and driven to their off-airport location. You are taken in a car, for sure, but you are driven rather than walking directly across to your car there where the major agencies are located. And you’re checked into a vehicle by that person, instead of just getting into your assigned car (Hertz, Avis) or choosing your own car (National) and going.

Joining a frequent renter program with the major agencies is the true path to not interacting with others… not Silvercar.

They’ve got a personality that’s different though. Avis eliminated their ‘we try harder’ slogan (perhaps they no longer do) but Silvercar greets customers brashly:

For Silvercar, “not sucking” means not being like traditional rental car companies. The rest of my on-arrival text message drives the point home. At the end of their detailed instructions, Silvercar urges me: “do NOT go to the purple ‘rental cars’ sign. That’s for those who’ve already given up ;)”

But in a world where no publicity is bad publicity, I’m happy for Silvercar that it’s being marketed presumably to The Atlantic’s core customer base because I hope it succeeds. I want competition over quality and not just price or more specifically I want competition over both in order to provide a strong package of both quality and price.

The shared rental bus does “suck” and getting Taurus after Taurus (or even Sentra) may be the ultimate in first world problems but for someone who rents a car and drives a lot dozens of times a year it is certainly less pleasant than driving a nicer car. Little luxuries on the road can be really comforting.

I’ve rented from Silvercar twice.

  • The first time the rate for one day was $59, and I used a $50 off coupon. The price was $9 plus tax or $13. And I earned $25 for being referred by a reader.
  • The second time I used a 30% off coupon code (that I got for filling out a survey) and that made Silvercar $2 per day more than my next alternative.

They’re not the cheapest, but they are at least attempting a value proposition that’s new and different. Their customers are most likely to be business travelers booking away from expensive mid-week airport options, not the super wealthy who don’t need to drive themselves.

In any case, the last thing we need is a right wing or left wing perspective on the subject of rental cars.

News and notes from around the interweb:

Yesterday I wrote about frequent flyer programs rolling back unpopular changes they’ve made to their programs.

One reaction was that the example I gave was atypical. I focused on a 2008 announced change by American to begin charging a $5 fee to redeem miles online.

Here’s one comment,

That’s a valid point but this is just one example from 6 years ago. Pretty thin argument IMHO.

It seemed relevant to me, but as far as American’s changes go it was a change in the past made by American and contemporaneously with the last major change they made to their overall award pricing. But more importantly it was just an interesting case study in how a frequent flyer program can learn while still attempting to save face.

There are plenty more examples of where consumer outrage has led progrms to roll back unpopular changes. Here are five:

  • United required a Saturday stay on a roundtrip ticket in order to redeem a saver award. They rolled back the change amidst consumer backlash (while Northwest slipped in their own version of the change – which stuck for many years).

  • United made systemwide upgrades redeemable only on nearly full fare (H and above) tickets in 2003. There was enough of an uproar that they even issued additional sweet spot certificates valid on nearly any fare for the same year, and had less restrictive international upgrades the following year (that still excluded the cheapest fares). That policy remains in force today.

  • US Airways planned to count only full fare tickets towards elite status. The public face of the airline explaining this change is now the CEO of Spirit Airlines. At the time he described customers buying the inexpensive tickets they offered as not having the kind of loyalty they were interested in. Ironically Baldanza only wanted the highest fare passengers, and now he only wants the highest fee ones!

  • US Airways announced the end to flight bonuses for elite members in 2008 and reversed course. And they even did so retroactively. At the end of 2008 elites all received the flight bonuses they would have earned while the change was in place (May 1 – November 19).

  • In December 2002 Delta announced they would stop giving full elite credit to discount fares. Two years later they rolled back the change and also rolled back award fee increases.

To be clear, I don’t think American is going to roll back its own recent changes, but I do believe it is at least in their best interests to learn and do better both considering what changes to make and communicating those changes in advance. This is a billion dollar business on a standalone basis and they’re too smart to risk that golden goose.

At this morning’s Global Flight conference, Randy Petersen reminded the audience of a change that American AAdvantage put forward in May 2008 to begin imposing a $5 for booking award tickets on its website.

This announcement — which was to go into effect the following month — set off a firestorm.

The old argument was that reservation centers were more costly than web, an airline wanted to (a) push its reservations online to lower costs and (b) charge a fee for the ‘extra’ service of having a person handle the booking.

This proposed change turned that on its head. And it’s worse than Spirit imposing a fee for buying paid airfare everywhere except the airport ticket counter… because it actually served as a tax on those who had accumulated miles in a past, a fee to redeem a free ticket.

And in fact American didn’t wind up implementing the fee. June 22 came and the fee just wasn’t there. There wasn’t ever an announcement (and many members who heard about the fee assumed it was there, others just assumed they were waiting until American got the IT right).

American decided to back off. But they decided not to tell anyone. And they gave up a huge PR win in the process..

  1. To listen to their members
  2. To reduce fees

They had already relented on the change. Why not claim credit for it? But sometimes it isn’t easy to publicly say you’re sorry.

Ironically, US Airways Dividend Miles has such a fee now, and it’s more than just $5!

Their award process fee (waived for Gold elites and higher) is:

  • $25 U.S. except Hawaii and Canada
  • $35 Mexico and the Caribbean
  • $50 Hawaii and other international

No doubt one of the things that AAdvantage will be looking at, as it aligns policies with Dividend Miles and prepares to combine programs is its fees.

American backed off its fee, US Airways came later and imposed one, which is often how these things work. United once tried to impose a Saturday night stay requirement for booking a saver award ticket. There was an uproar and then the airline backed down. Northwest came in after United, imposed the same thing on its Worldperks members, and that change stuck.

Companies don’t like to publicly admit when they’re wrong, but they could earn a lot of goodwill from members when they do it.

I moderated an interesting panel this morning at a loyalty industry conference. We had a technology provider talking about the different ways to engage customers well, a survey specialist talking about who loyalty members are and where to find them (programs are often surprised at how many programs their own members belong to, it’s easy to think members pay attention to all of your messaging rather than being busy and inundated with multiple messages) and loyalty executives from a hotel chain and an airline.

While taking questions from the audience, someone from a credit card issuer asked the panel about Delta’s move towards a more revenue-based program (next year miles will be earned based on the cost of a ticket rather than distance flown, and already earning elite status requires a minimum amount of spend with the airline).

The question was directed at United’s David Oppenheim, who manages United’s partnerships — including their credit card partnership with Chase (United Explorer card and others) and with other card companies around the world.

David wouldn’t answer about United’s plans specifically, but did offer a really cogent explanation of why the simple formulation of ‘the customer that’s paying more is the better customer’ or the one you want to reward doesn’t always hold.

In each case here I’m characterizing and expanding on what David was suggesting, and I’m sure he wouldn’t offer these explanations the same way, but he did provide outstanding food for thought.

  • A flyer may buy one expensive ticket with you because you are the only airline who flies non-stop on the route. Does it make sense to reward them? You’re essentially just lighting money on fire if they’re going to pick your airline anyway.

    (This didn’t come up, but the same point holds for business travelers who are part of managed travel programs, if they aren’t choosing their airline then what are you rewarding?)

  • In general a high revenue passenger is probably better for an airline than a low fare one.

    But a high fare passenger may trade off with another high fare passenger (for instance they both buy the last seat available on a flight). That high fare customer wouldn’t actually be profitable in an economic sense (opportunity cost basis).

  • On the other hand a low fare passenger may fill empty seats and be pure profit — or they may ultimately displace a high fare passenger and be very costly if the airline didn’t get their revenue management right.

  • Low fare customers may also engage with an airline’s ancillary products. Base airfare isn’t the only contribution to revenue that matters, and other products are often higher margin than the actual airline seat.

  • Meanwhile third party partner customers are profitable too. A member who carries an airline’s credit card and uses it, credits points for their non-air travel to the program, and uses their shopping portal may be a profitable customer.

  • And ultimately the program needs to try to influence incremental business. You may reward a high spend customer but not get additional business from them than you would otherwise have gotten. But you might be able to move the needle with some of your other customer segments.

So despite Delta’s big move, frequency matters and wallet share matters. And we shouldn’t be so quick to assume that the simple model of rewarding high spenders is all there is in the future.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be more of it, but it’s not all we should see.

I’ve already written about the cards that are currently going places with me in my wallet.

Now I’ll share the cards that I have, but are currently stuck in a drawer.

There’s a third place that I have some cards — such as small business cards related to my employer, Bluebird and my American Express Student Edition card, and my Suntrust Delta Debit card — but that’s potentially the subject of a different post still.

Here’s what’s in that drawer:

Let me describe how I think about each of these.

American Express Premier Rewards Gold

    I’ve been using this card for its triple miles on airfare. I book enough tickets for myself but mostly for others that I spend $30,000 on the card and earn the annual 15,000 point bonus that comes with it. I consider that bonus worth the $175 annual fee for the card after the first year.

    I’m not sure I’m going to do that again. I only consider 3 Membership Rewards points to be marginally better than the 2.14 Chase points that the Sapphire Preferred Card brings, for instance (and with no foreign transaction fees, to boot).

    American Express Membership Rewards points are one of the three best points currencies in my view, so I’ve wanted to ensure I have a good stash of those. But the introduction of the Amex Everyday cards may leave Premier Rewards Gold as only the second best Membership Rewards-earning tool.

American Express Business Gold Rewards

    I’ve had this card more than once in the past, there are sometimes really strong offers for signing up (I’ve gotten 50,000 and 75,000 points, respectively). And there are attractive category bonuses. But I tend not to maximize those — for instance, I don’t spend heavily on advertising. So it probably doesn’t make sense to keep in my personal staple of cards.

United Mileage Plus Select Card

    This is the oldest card I have. I’ve had this account for more than 15 years. I’ve never upgraded it to the United Explorer card. And I’ve never downgraded it to the no fee card (to preserve the credit history). I do at least get 2500 bonus miles each year that helps the card’s annual fee go down easier.

    Mostly I think I’m too emotionally attached to it to give it up, even though this legacy product that’s no longer offered to new customers doesn’t make sense any longer.

Virgin Atlantic MasterCard

    Bank of America has long been generous with signup bonuses, and over time I have had this card more than one time.

    In general Virgin Atlantic miles aren’t considered among the best currencies out there but they have some surprisingly good uses.

    Many people used to transfer these points to Hilton HHonors, but first Hilton devalued and then the transfer ratio was reduced.

    I suppose I just like collecting large mileage balances. I’ll do that with generous signup offers but I’m not sure I want to do it with ongoing spend. Hence why it’s in the drawer.

US Airways Premier World MasterCard

    I’m earning 10,000 miles each year just for keeping the card so I’m happy to pay the $89 annual fee (buying miles at 9/10ths of a cent apiece).

    I also keep it because it will become an American AAdvantage card, and one of the benefits – at least as of now – is earning elite qualifying miles based on spend.

    This card gives 10,000 qualifying miles after $25,000 spend. That’s a lower requirement than the Citi Executive card has (which requires $40,000 in spend).

    Even though American doesn’t know when they will combine elite qualifying miles from AAdvantage and Dividend Miles accounts I’ve actually put $25,000 of spend on this card already this year. Having reached that personal goal, I stuck it in a drawer for the rest of the year.

    I want to hold onto this card because soon you won’t be able to apply for it, but existing cardholders will be able to keep it.

British Airways Visa Signature

    The card offer currently is 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.

    The reason this card is in my drawer now is that I’m not going to go for the companion award ticket (“travel together ticket”) this year. And in general I do better earning British Airways points via an American Express Membership Rewards-earning card (with category bonuses), Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (again, category bonuses), and my Ink Plus card (for the same reason).

Korean Air Skypass Visa

Citi AAdvantage World MasterCard

    There’s a great 50,000 mile signup bonus available on this card. There are a bunch of flight benefits as well, but I get all of them anyway as an AAdvantage Executive Platinum.

    The reason I keep this card in the drawer is that each year when I redeem 100,000 AAdvantage miles I get a 10,000 mile rebate — and that’s worth more than the card’s $85 annual fee.

Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card

(Some these cards cards offer credit to me if you’re approved using my links. I either do not have my own links for some other cards, or the best available offer is not my link so I haven’t posted mine here. 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.)

A couple of weeks ago I wrote that American Express Platinum cards would still get you into US Airways and American lounges through the end of April.

Platinum cards lost access a month ago. Citibank is now the sole issuer of cards that offer lounge access with the new American Airlines.

And they’ve got – by far – the best credit card offer in the market with a 100,000 mile signup bonus for their Executive Card which bundles American and US Airways lounge access.

This month they’re ready to tell you about this card in American and US Airways lounges. If you come in with a card that used to come with lounge access, they’ll give you a club pass (valid for a year).

They’ve also given me plenty of miles and club passes to give away here on the blog! Read More…

Norwegian booking site Wideroe has dirt cheap flights from many US cities to Tel Aviv, Israel.

This is available from many cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, and Washington DC.

When you go to their site, switch the currency to US dollars.

I’m seeing prices between $499 and $750 roundtrip for travel on US Airways, depending on travel dates and the US city you start in.

Even at their most expensive, I’m seeing real savings. For instance, Los Angeles – Tel Aviv roundtrip on US Airways in July appears to be running ~ $1700… but on Wideroe closer to $1000.

Here’s the month of July for a 5-7 day trip:

But here’s if you price such a trip at Wideroe.

What’s going on is that Wideroe appears to be dropping the fuel surcharge out of the fare on US Airways tickets to Tel Aviv.

This won’t last of course, but it’s interesting to say the least.

  • US Airways didn’t used to charge fuel surcharges at all, that’s new in their pricing structure.

  • This only appears to work for Tel Aviv flights.

  • Back in the fall Wideroe was pricing most United tickets to Europe without a fuel surcharge. There was even speculation that once they had discovered the glitch that they were the ones behind spreading the word about it online in order to generate booking revenue from United.

If you make a booking, be sure to use a card that has no foreign transaction fees because even though you’re buying a US Airways ticket you’re doing so from a non-US website.

And though I have a hard time imagining that tickets sold to and from the US won’t be honored (and even if they weren’t it’s hard to imagine that any inconvenience costs incurred wouldn’t be covered by the booking site or more likely the airline), it’s advisable to wait a few days to see how things shake out before making additional non-refundable travel plans.

(HT: Dan’s Deals though it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it turns out the deal leaked from the Wideroe folks in Norway!)

When Christopher Elliott loves your loyalty program, you know you’re doing something wrong.

He loves Delta’s planned changes for 2015 to go revenue-based, even though he doesn’t seem to get that they take what he hates about loyalty programs in an even more extreme direction.

The way I square this circle is that I actually think he:

  • Hates the people who like and benefit from loyalty programs.
  • Finds that writing provocative things generates traffic and kudos from his employers, even when those things are utterly non-sensical.

The thrust of the over complaint of ‘Elliott-the-Populist’ is that frequent flyer programs reward some people and not other people. And those who benefit from the program reap unjustified benefits.

To Elliott, it doesn’t matter that those are the most profitable customers that airline has. Those benefits must come at the expense of other travelers, rather than perhaps even in the extreme benefiting other travelers by providing a cross-subsidy, allowing the average traveler to buy inexpensive seats that would otherwise go unsold at the margin.

Loyalty programs may be the single greatest scam pulled on the traveling public.

Want to segment customers into castes of “haves” and “have-nots”? Create legions of blindly brand-loyal passengers? Lift your profits to avaricious new heights?

Nothing does it like a clever frequent flier program.

At the same time, Elliott argues that the frequent flyer who is being well-treated is also getting taken for a ride because they aren’t getting more, or geting more consistently for free. (Presumably the frequent flyer is being harmed by the passenger who pays for premium cabin travel.)

Yet, as a consumer advocate, not a day goes by that I don’t receive a despondent email from a platinum cardmember who spent every travel dollar with a company, only to come up empty-handed, betrayed by a program’s vague promises.

Nothing is ever the fault of the traveler. And anything that an airline does is underhanded.

Who wouldn’t be fatigued after hearing from thousands of unhappy passengers whose miles expired or were denied “elite” status or were banished to the back of the plane on a Transpacific flight? Who wouldn’t be furious at the travel companies whose adhesion contracts allow them to pull this barely legal bait-and-switch?

Elite frequent flyers of course, in most programs, don’t find their miles expiring because by their very nature they earn or spend miles at least once every 18 (or 24 or 36) months. Not all programs’ miles expire.

Outside the U.S. of course actual expiration of miles is more common. For instance, Singapore Airlines Krisflyer miles expire 3 years after they’re earned if they aren’t used (and can be extended for a fee).

But denied elite status? There’s generally a pretty clear criteria for how it’s earned and those who follow that criteria receive it, and those who do not usually don’t receive it (although perhaps exceptions are made).

I can think of only one case where things have been really less than clear for US frequent flyers (although perfectly clear for readers of this blog).

And as for barely legal, well, the Supreme Court disagrees with Mr. Elliott’s analysis.

But what’s the upshot of all of this?

And that is why I love Delta Air Lines’ new loyalty program.

Mr. Elliott makes controversial statements. Even when they make no sense.

What program in the U.S. is going to be the ultimate in rewarding the haves over the have nots?

A revenue-based program that awards elite status based on a minimum level of spending (United followed Delta in announcing this) and a revenue-based program that awards miles based on ticket price.

Elliott should hate this. I can only surmise he likes it because many frequent flyers don’t.

Best I can tell from the argument, he actually likes it because it’s bad for flyers. And they’re finally going to wake up and give up on frequent flyer programs entirely as a result of Delta going off the deep end.

Me, I’ve got my Plan B.

But we now know that Christopher Elliott revels in things that are bad for consumers on purpose. And takes a Leninist view of the overarching history of loyalty programs — that it is necessary for those programs to exacerbate their internal contradictions and enter crisis in order to finally collapse.

So he’s much more of a scholar than I ever realized.

Two weeks ago American AAdvantage made several changes to its program:

That’s stuff we knew about, or at least that American publicly acknowledged. There wasn’t a single web page with the changes that they made, and the email they sent out didn’t detail them either.

It turns out though that there was another change made at the same time that’s gone mostly unreported on — and as far as I can tell, hasn’t been officially acknowledged until now.

American has eliminated the option to make a request for award space when none is available. (I first saw this referenced at Traveling Better.)

Previously, requests “to complete a party” (e.g. 2 seats were available but you needed 3) or “to complete an itinerary” (you had most of the flights you needed but were missing, say, a domestic segment) could be made by an agent to a system called QMAX.

And appeals could also be made manually to inventory management.

Several years ago I redeemed an award to Barbados. Flights from New York to Barbados and Barbados to Miami to DC were available. But I needed a flight segment from DC to New York to start the trip. The agent on the phone said, “let’s see if I can ask for this to be released” and moments later I had the complete itinerary that I needed. (I was just an AAdvantage Gold member then, and only based on lifetime miles earned and not from having flown.)

More recently it’s been far more difficult to have success — more valuable customers might see success more often, and usually only within a couple of weeks of travel.

But it was a useful feature. You might find the Cathay Pacific flight from Chicago to Hong Kong to Bangkok, have your whole award together, but not be able to get that domestic connecting flight on American. If there were seats available, the flight wasn’t likely to sell out, American might just accommodate you. No longer.

Based on rumors that a change had been made along with the other changes to the program on April 8, I asked American and a spokesperson confirmed it.

Processes have been revamped to generate the correct availability of MileSAAver redemption seats automatically. As a result, the time-consuming manual workaround has been discontinued.

Seeking manual review by inventory management might have been costly. But the ‘QMAX’ system wasn’t a manual workaround (and I specifically asked about it) and it wasn’t time consuming in any meaningful way (it did take an extra minute for an agent to inquire, I suppose).

The courtesy of opening up award space for valuable customers to finish off an award, sadly, appears to be gone.

This was a fairly unique formal courtesy that American had in place and helped to set them apart. It’s not something that was done often by other programs. So I suppose they didn’t have to keep it. In some sense it was a throwback to an earlier era and less useful in recent times. But I’m still sad to see it go.

It also wasn’t a published feature of the program, so I’m not surprised they didn’t announce it. But I’m quickly learning that if you want to know something specific about American Airlines, you need to specifically ask.

News and notes from around the interweb:

The TSA wouldn’t allow a purse with a designs of guns on the side to be publicly viewable as a personal item when clearing the checkpoint at the Columbus, Ohio airport.

..TSA said it would “offend their travelers.” They made her put it in her carry on.

..She stood in the security line, but when she placed her purse on the conveyor belt, they stopped her.

…“We are just going to ask you to keep your purse in your bag where it cannot be seen by other travelers. I know these are not ACTUAL guns, but they may offend some of the other people traveling.”

I am not a lawyer let alone one specializing in free speech law. My initial impression, though, is that the Supreme Court’s Cohen v. California ruling would be clear on this point.

That’s the 1971 case where the Supreme Court overturned a disturbing the peace conviction for a man wearing a jacket that read “[F-] the draft.”

Relately, the 2011 case of Snyder vs. Phelps ruled 8-1 that ‘outrageous’ speech in a public forum on matters of public concern could not be subject to a tort of emotional distress.

It seems to me that offending travelers with items brought through a security checkpoint can’t possibly be grounds for official action. Whether the intent of the woman carrying the purse was actually meant to make a political point, I can certainly imagine carrying an identical handbag to make a point about security. Surely choice of accessory is expressive conduct.

I’d love to hear, though, from those whose knowledge of this area of law is greater than mine.

As they say, a few bad apples who in no way undermine the hard work that thousands of men and women at the TSA do to keep us safe, day in and day out.

I love getting custom-made suits done in Southeast Asia. I’ve done it multiple times in Thailand. Labor is cheap, skill level is high, and competition is intense.

That translates into a great opportunity for consumers. But it isn’t the same opportunity that many think it is.

  • Tailor shops will make clothes for you in whatever time you have. But if you don’t have 4-5 days you probably aren’t really getting custom-made. Suits aren’t being properly made for you in a day.
  • Suits are cheap but they aren’t dirt cheap if you want quality. Don’t buy a suit with shirt and tie thrown in for $99. It’s going to be a $99 suit, and more or less wastes your time getting it and the opportunity foregone for something better. Expect to pay for quality — while labor is cheap, good materials won’t necessarily be.

I’d expect to pay ~ $300 for a good quality suit in Thailand. Hong Kong will be more expensive.

The biggest challenge is knowing where to go, whom to trust. Most of us aren’t experts in suits. And you can’t always trust recommendations — you don’t know who is writing online most of the time, the online review could be out of date, a hotel concierge could be getting something in return for the recommendation.

I generally take a recommendation, hopefully more than one, and then make clear at the shop that I’ve been through the process before. I know I’m going to pay for quality, I’m probably not going to get the very best price I could (I’m going to get ‘taken’) but it’s still going to be a great price for a great suit compared to what I’d be able to buy at home.

I also make sure to have enough time to go in for a first fitting (where I’ll pick design and materials), a second fitting, and a final fitting. Many tailor shops will come to you for the second and the third (remember, labor is cheap).

And at each stage I will insist on whatever changes I need. The suit should be perfect. And you shouldn’t pay until the job is done. That keeps the tailor incentivized to get things right.

Always keep contact information for the tailor shop, they’ll keep your measurements on file. Three years ago I had three suits made (with second set of slacks each) in Phuket. One suit had threads begin to bunch after a couple of dry cleanings. The tailor shop acknowledged they had other reports of problems with the material of that suit, and they sent me a replacement that was a close approximation of the material. Separately I realized it had been a very, very long time since I had gotten my tuxedo and it no longer fit right… so I emailed, negotiated price, and received a new tux in the mail. A perfect fit, and at a better price than I would have paid at home.

A trustworthy tailor that expects repeat business is a very valuable thing indeed. So when you have a good experience, write about it so others may benefit.

Fly and Dine got suits made in Hong Kong recently and offers his rules for buying custom-made suits in Asia.

Rule #1: Don’t get anything made if you don’t have the time for multiple fittings.

Rule #2: Don’t base your choice of tailor off of one blog post.

Rule #3: You will get what you pay for, even if you’re getting ripped off.

Rule #4: When you feel like you’re getting so much “Sales Speak” that it feels like you’re buying a used car, walk away.

Rule #5: Insist that the person you first dealt with will be the one you always deal with.

Rule #6: Know the right questions to ask.

Rule #7: Don’t accept the final product if you’re not satisfied.

Each of his rules gets a longer discussion in the post.

A visit to Southeast Asia is a great opportunity for custom-made clothes — for me and for women, bring your ideas, they’ll usually be able to make most anything you wish.

Last week Starwood announced their double and triple points promotion for May through July. (If you’re new to Starwood, sign up with free instant status.)

Hilton is now out with their competing promo, Double Your HHonors.

Hilton’s current promotion runs through April 30th. Like Starwood’s their new promotion runs May 1 through July 31.

You have to choose between earning double points or double miles.

And then you’ll want to have your ‘earning preference’ set accordingly.

Of course, since Hilton killed points and fixed miles as an option, you are now either earning the standard 10 base points plus 5 points per dollar or the 10 base points and 1 mile per dollar.

Under this promotion you can either earn a bonus equal to your base points earned (an extra 10 points per dollar) or double miles (an extra 1 mile per dollar). Even post HHonorsmaggedon, 10 Hilton points are worth more than one airline mile. So the strong choice for most members will be double points.

Still, choices are good.

There’s a big list of non-participating hotels — more than 600 with ~ 95% of those in the United States. So check that list to see if the properties you’ll be staying at will earn the bonus or not.

U.S. hotels have been doing well, and clearly would have to be spending money on this promotion, so it’s not surprising that many have chosen not to do so. But a big list like this is an embarrassment, I think.

No one should choose Hilton because of this bonus but if you’re going to stay at Hilton you should register.

You can only make your selection of double points or miles once, so if you’re not sure what you want I suppose it’s better to wait. But I’ll be registering now. And I’ll be choosing double points.

When American Express announced the loss of American and US Airways lounge access for their Platinum and Centurion cardholders, they recognized that this would be a big blow for many of their members.

And so they targeted various ‘extra’ bonuses, perhaps based on the frequency with which their card had been used to access these lounges.

I was offered an extra $200 airline fee credit. Some of the offers were for as much as $500. Some folks report having called in and being rewarded with as much as 30,000 Membership Rewards points. (And others, a goose egg.)

My assumption is that I was using my British Airways Gold status to access American lounges too much, to the exclusion of my Platinum card, and that’s why I got the lower offer.

At the $500 level American Express was basically buying you a club membership to replace the access you were losing from the card.

The key is that you couldn’t use the fee credit right away. You had to wait until after March 22 when the lounge membership ended.

Some members, receiving their offer in December, may have decided not to cancel their card because they were mollified by this gesture… but with three months passing may have forgotten.

The fee credit, if you’ve been targeted for one, needs to be used by December 31. If you don’t know if you were targeted, call American Express to find out.

American Express is clearly willing to reimburse larger amounts than with their standard fee credit, at least in some instances, since they’ve offered the suggestion to some to actually buy a club membership with their additional credit that comes on top of the annual $200 airline fee credit offered with the Platinum card.

Nonetheless I approached my fee credit the way that I do my annual credit, which is to buy airline gift cards and to do it in a smaller denomination.

Here’s my purchase, and my credit:

It took 3 days for the credits to post.

If you have an American Express Platinum or Centurion card, remember that you may have an ‘extra’ fee credit to use in 2014. Use it.

Over the weekend I explained How to Use Bluebird in a Post-Vanilla World.

It was a simple explanation of what card to buy, and how to put the funds onto your Bluebird, and then get the funds back into your bank account. No Vanilla Reloads required.

It’s $1 more expensive than the Vanilla Reload approach was.

But it requires more work since you need to go to Walmart to load the funds onto Bluebird, and there’s a $1000 per day limit so you have to go to Walmart each day you want to do it.. instead of sitting on your couch at home or desk at work.

Lots of commenters — correctly — pointed out that the economics aren’t ideal for most (other than for Grant, at least).

So here’s how you can do it and cover your costs or even make money in the process.

To review, you can load money onto Bluebird by:

  1. Going to CVS and buying a $500 OneVanilla Visa with a credit card for $4.95.
  2. Going to Walmart and using that Visa to load Bluebird. The card is easy because the PIN number for a debit transaction is automatically whatever 4 digit combination you use first.

The complication is the trip to CVS and then the trip to Walmart. And that some Walmart locations will push back against using a card that does not show your name pre-embossed.

You can add a step and make money in the process.

Buy American Express gift cards online going through a cash back shopping portal. You can often earn 1% (covering the cost of the OneVanilla Visa) or even 2% (making $5 so presumably covering your gas going to Walmart and back).

Over time most readers have had the best luck with rebates on American Express gift cards through BigCrumbs. Sometimes the best deals can be had with Top Cash Back. In either case with coupon codes waiving purchase fees and sometimes free shipping.

Frequent Miler’s QuickDeals today listed current shopping portal payouts and discount codes for these cards.

Here are the current best rates:

  • Barclaycard RewardsBoost 4X (Requires Arrival card)
  • Alaska MileagePlanShopping 3X
  • Delta SkyMiles Shopping 3X
  • TopCashBack 3% Cash Back

    And, here are two codes to try for removing gift card fees other than shipping costs:

  • FPADMIN (through April 29th)
  • This adds a step. And your CVS needs to allow you to pay for a prepaid product with an Amex gift card, not just with a credit card.

    As a result, more folks are likely ruled out by the vagaries of individual locations, needing both a CVS that will take gift cards and a Walmart that will as well.

    For me, time is the binding constraint. With Walmart 30 minutes away, an hour of my time kills the value proposition.

    I’ve written frequently about the Fidelity Investment Rewards American Express.

    It’s a no annual fee card that earns 2% back on all spending (that you deposit into a Fidelity investment account).

    There’s now even a $75 signup bonus after $500 spend within 60 days for the card.

    Over the weekend @TheMrPickles tweeted me that he prefers the Fidelity Investment Rewards Visa over the American Express.

    The Fidelity Visa is a no annual fee card that offers 2% cash back also — but only after spending $15,000 on the card in a year. Before that it’s just a 1.5% rebate card. That means you are giving up 0.5% on that first $15,000 spend ($75).

    The upside of course is that the card has greater acceptance as a Visa than it would as an American Express.

    I assume, though, that MrPickles prefers the Visa because he can buy things on Costco’s website with the Visa and then return them in-store where they don’t take Visa.

    …Costco.com purchases made with a MasterCard and Visa credit card could be returned to a Costco store and would be refunded in cash or check. This caused a run on diamond engagement rings bought for tens of thousands of dollars to get frequent flyer miles or 2% cash back rewards….

    Soon Costco changed their policy to require that jewelry with a diamond larger than 1 caret in size was to be returned on the credit card that the item was purchased on….

    Some miles and points enthusiasts have discovered that there is a workaround (just don’t buy diamonds)…

    This is a strategy that I have never been comfortable with and haven’t done.

    But it’s worth highlighting that there’s a no-fee 2% rebate Visa, not just an American Express. The tradeoff is better acceptance but lower return on the firrst $15,000 spend.

    Since I offer advice on earning frequent flyer miles, often with credit cards and sometimes other financial techniques, I think it’s only fair to share my own strategies.

    And the best window into what I do is to share with you my wallet. Because that will shows you what I carry with me through my daily life, and is a great opportunity to explain my thinking about each choice I make — a choice that’s constrained by space and that reveals a lot about me.

    Here’s my wallet:

    I should say that my wallet just shows what is most important to me right now. I have cards in two other places as well — a drawer at home (cards I have but am not using currently) and then another place I keep some specialized products (e.g. cards for work, Suntrust debit card, American Express student card).

    Allow me to explain why each card pictured has a slot in my wallet.

    Chase Sapphire Preferred

      I continue to view this as the best card for frequent flyers and also
      the best card for beginnings in the hobby

      The points are among the best you can earn because of their flexibility (transfers to airlines in all 3 alliances and more, plus hotel transfers) and you earn them quickly with a strong signup bonus (40,000 points after $3000 spend within 3 months; 5000 more for adding an authorized user and making a purchase; double points on all travel and also all dining; 7% annual bonus on points earned.

    Chase Ink Plus Business Card

      Ink Plus is probably my favorite card.

      It’s got a fantastic bonus of 50,000 points after $5000 spend within 3 months.

      The points are among the best you can earn because of their flexibility (transfers to airlines in all 3 alliances and more, plus hotel transfers) and you earn them faster probably than with any other card with 5x at office supply stores and on telecommunications (internet, cable/satellite tv, cell phone) and 2x on gas and hotels. There’s no foreign transaction fees, either.

    BankDirect ATM card

      I’ve used a BankDirect checking account since July 2003. It earns 100 American AAdvantage miles for every $1000 average balance each month (no 1099 at the end of the year).

      They’ve added a $12 per month fee that you cannot avoid with a minimum balance and they’ve capped the earning at 5000 miles per month. But in a low interest environment and since I wind up with big expense reimbursements sitting in a checking account until I pay off my credit card bill, it makes good sense for me.

      There’s a signup bonus of up to 22,000 miles and they not only don’t charge out of network ATM fees, but also offer a rebate of fees that other banks charge you for use of their cash machines.

    Security card for my office building, elevator, and suite

      This one is pretty self-explanatory.

    British Airways Executive Club Silver membership card

      I was recently downgraded from British Airways Gold. My Silver card gets me into American Airlines lounges when flying domestically. Losing Gold means I no longer have access to American’s Flagship (first class) lounges during domestic travel.

    Drivers License

      I really only carry this to show to the TSA, and because I’m supposed to have it with me when I’m driving a rental car. Bizarrely, I’m either flying somewhere or within a mile of my home most of the time (unless I’m eating here).

    Citi American AAdvantage Executive Card

      I signed up for the card because of the

      100,000 mile signup bonus and $200 statement credit. I’ve earned the bonus, and even met the $40,000 in spend that gets me 10,000 elite qualifying miles. It gets me access to American’s lounges, but my British Airways Silver card does too (and that gets me two chits for premium drinks or bottled waters). So it’s time to cycle this out of my wallet.

    Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Business Card

      Starwood points are the currency I value most (my three favorite are Chase, American Express, and Starwood points but I do think 1 Starpoint is worth the most). That’s because of the lucrative points-to-airline miles transfers.

      I’ve had a Starwood American Express (personal card) since 2001, and it was the first card I ever recommended on this blog in 2002.

      I do have both the personal and the business card open, each gives me 2 stays and 5 nights towards status and I want to be Starwood Platinum by the end of the year.

      The one I carry currently is the business card because of OPEN savings, which I use primarily for domestic Hyatt stays (5% rebate).

    Hyatt Visa

      I’m carrying the card because I plan to hit $40,000 spend on it this year. That gets me 10 nights towards requalifying for Diamond elite status (which requires 50 nights). That’s a lot of spend for just 10 nights considering that Hilton gives you their top tier at $40,000 spend. But it saves me from ever having to mattress run while I plan to earn top tier this year with both Hyatt Gold Passport and Starwood Preferred Guest.

      This is a good but not great credit card. I tend not to use it for my domestic Hyatt hotel stays because small business American Express cards rebate 5% on those in addition to earning points.

      The signup bonus of 2 nights in any Hyatt in the world is good (use the nights at the Park Hyatts in Park or Sydney, for instance) but do have to be used within a year. There’s an annual free night (up to redemption category 4) that’s worth more than the $75 annual fee. And the card has no foreign currency transaction fees.

      It’s frequently possible to sign up for the card with a statement credit by walking through the process of making a reservation on the Hyatt website.

    American Express Platinum Card

    (Note that two cards in this post – Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Ink Plus Business Card – offer credit to me if you’re approved using my links. I appreciate your support! 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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