Weekly Review: March 25, 2017

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Last weekend I returned to the US after a two week trip to Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Kuwait, so have been spending the past week on the ground catching up on sleep, given that I typically don’t get all that much rest when traveling to Asia. I also plan on publishing the trip report from this trip very shortly. Fortunately I’m now all caught up on sleep, and am plotting my next adventure.

On the travel front, the biggest story of the week has been about the electronics ban, which will potentially have a huge impact on many peoples’ travel. Other than that we’ve seen increased sign-up bonuses introduced on the Amex Hilton, some great business class fares to Paris, and more.

With that out of the way, here’s a recap of this week on the blog:

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Should You Get The Amex Hilton Surpass Or Citi Hilton Reserve?

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Earlier I wrote a post comparing the increased sign-up bonuses on the no annual fee Hilton Honors™ Card from American Express and the $75 annual fee Hilton Honors™ Surpass® Card from American Express. The cards are offering increased sign-up bonuses of 80,000 Honors points and 100,000 Honors points, respectively.

However, one unique aspect of the Surpass Card is that it’s also offering a free weekend night certificate valid at just about any Hilton hotel on your card account’s first anniversary. This is a benefit I don’t ever recall seeing on one of the Amex Hilton co-brand cards before, but rather this is a benefit that might sound familiar with the Citi® Hilton Honors Reserve Card.

So in this post I wanted to address the differences between the two premium Hilton co-brand cards — the Hilton Honors™ Surpass® Card from American Express and the Hilton HHonorsTM Surpass® Card from American Express.

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Etihad’s Puzzling Approach To The Electronics Ban

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With the US electronics ban about to be implemented, airlines are outlining their policies for how they’re going to deal with this. Both Emirates and Turkish have announced that they’ll let passengers take their electronics all the way to the gate, and will then allow passengers to check them there. They’ll be securely packaged, and upon arrival in the US they’ll separately be brought out to passengers.

I appreciate the effort they’re putting into the system. While it doesn’t totally solve the problems the electronics ban causes, at least I feel they’re doing what they can to minimize the risk of electronics being stolen or damaged, and are also minimizing how long passengers will be separated from them.

Well, now Etihad has announced their electronics ban policy, and it’s… confusing.

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Delta Is Cutting Complimentary Elite Upgrades On 2 Transcon Routes

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Delta has just announced that they’re cutting complimentary Medallion upgrades on their routes from Washington to Los Angeles and Boston to San Francisco. Actually, they didn’t announce that directly, but it can be inferred when reading between the lines. Delta will be launching two additional transcon routes over the coming months:

— Starting April 24, 2017, Delta will launch nonstop flights between Washington National and Los Angeles
— Starting June 8, 2017, Delta will launch nonstop flights between Boston and San Francisco

We already knew that these routes were coming, and that they’ll be operated by internationally configured 757 aircraft. These flights will feature fully flat seats up front, which we’ve also known.

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How Amex’s Plan To Reduce Lounge Crowding May Actually Make It Worse

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Earlier this month, American Express announced that the guest policy for their network of Centurion Lounges would be changing as of March 30th. Whereas Platinum members could previously bring in two guests or their immediate family, they’ll now only be allowed two guests, period. This is presumably being done to alleviate crowding, which can certainly be a problem at times.

Yet it’s hard for me to believe that restricting families is really going to fix the issue. And in fact, I’m going to argue this silly policy is actually going to make things worse.

I’ve had The Platinum Card® from American Express for a while now in part because my family gets pretty good value out of the lounges.

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How Turkish Airlines Is Handling The Electronics Ban

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This week we’ve learned about electronics bans being instituted for flights from select countries to both the US and the UK. Airlines are having to institute these new policies this week, so it’s interesting to see the different approaches airlines take to coping with this situation.

Royal Jordanian has been putting effort into throwing shade at the situation, as they’ve been doing since Trump was elected president.

Meanwhile Emirates yesterday announced a new laptop and tablet handling service. Emirates is introducing a service that enables passengers to use their laptops and tablets until just before they board their US-bound flight. At the gate there will be security staff who will carefully package your electronics in boxes before boarding, and then you can collect them on arrival.

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Which Limited Time Hilton Honors Amex Bonus Is Best?

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Yesterday American Express unveiled two fantastic, “best ever” sign-up bonuses on their co-branded Hilton cards.

The Hilton Honors™ Card from American Express is offering 80,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after spending $2,000 in purchases within the first three months, and has no annual fee.

Meanwhile the Hilton Honors™ Surpass® Card from American Express is offering 100,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after spending $3,000 in purchases within the first three months. You also get a free weekend night valid at any Hilton Honors hotel on your first cardmember anniversary. The card has a $75 annual fee.

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Emirates Is Introducing Free First Class Helicopter Transfers To Monaco

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Emirates is the world’s largest operator of the A380, with a total of 140+ of these planes on order. So while other airlines operating the A380 are super selective about the routes on which they deploy the plane, Emirates can afford to send them just about anywhere.

Emirates has announced that they’ll be introducing daily A380 service between Dubai and Nice as of July 1, 2017. This is just in time for the busy summer season, and makes Nice the second A380 destination Emirates will serve in France, after Paris.

The route is currently flown by a Boeing 777-300ER, so the A380 represents a 44% increase in capacity on the route.

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Egypt Won’t Raise The Cost Of Single-Entry Tourist Visas After All

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As I wrote about late last month, Egypt was planning on raising the cost of tourist visas on arrival from $25 to $60 as of March 1, 2017. That’s a 140% price hike, which is substantial, especially for a country that is trying to rapidly grow their number of visitors after a rough several years.

A couple of days later, Egypt decided to postpone their visa on arrival fee hike until July 1, 2017. This was the second time in a couple of years that Egypt has backtracked on introducing stricter visa policies. In 2015 Egypt planned on discontinuing visas on arrival for tourists, though they quickly postponed that, realizing the impact it would have on tourism.

Well, it looks like Egypt has changed their planned tourist visa fee increase again. After a government meeting:

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Less Than 2 Weeks Left To Earn 70K+ Starpoints

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For a bit over a month now, we’ve seen great increased sign-up bonuses on Starwood’s co-branded American Express cards. Both the personal and business versions of the card are offering sign-up bonuses of up to 35,000 Starpoints upon completing minimum spend, as follows:

— For the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, earn 25,000 Starpoints after spending $3,000 within three months, plus an additional 10,000 Starpoints after spending another $2,000 within six months; $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95
— For the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express, earn 25,000 Starpoints after spending $5,000 within three months, plus an additional 10,000 Starpoints after spending another $3,000 within six months; $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95

While 35,000 points might not sound like a lot, keep in mind that Starpoints are among the most valuable points currency out there, so 35,000 Starpoints are worth more than that many points in just about any other points currency.

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Frankfurt Airport Now Has An Airside Transit Hotel

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I seem to transit Frankfurt Airport quite a bit, and when I have a quick overnight my preference is to stay at the Sheraton Frankfurt Airport. It’s a great way to earn stay credits towards SPG status, the hotel is connected by a walkway to the airport terminal, and the club lounge is one of the better ones out there.

So on one hand my Frankfurt Airport overnight needs are more than taken care of. However, I also appreciate a good airside transit hotel. An airside transit hotel lets you get some rest without having to leave security or immigration, and there’s no denying that there’s something especially convenient about being able to head straight to your gate, rather than have to factor in security, etc.

For a while I’ve been hearing rumors about a transit hotel opening at Frankfurt Airport (I first heard about it in Daniel’s interview with Frankfurt Airport’s director of operations).

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Limited Time: Biggest Ever Sign-Up Bonuses On Hilton Amex Cards!

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At the moment Hilton’s co-branded American Express cards have the biggest sign-up bonuses I’ve ever seen, valid for applications through May 31, 2017. Specifically:

— The no annual fee Hilton Honors™ Card from American Express is offering 80,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after spending $2,000 in purchases within the first three months
— The $75 annual fee Hilton Honors™ Surpass® Card from American Express is offering 100,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after spending $3,000 in purchases within the first three months; you also get a free weekend night valid at any Hilton Honors hotel on your first cardmember anniversary

Both of these cards have the best ever offers we’ve seen, so let’s look at them a bit more closely:

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Emirates Is Introducing A Laptop And Tablet Handling Service For US Flights

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With the US having implemented an electronics ban for passengers traveling nonstop to the US from Amman, Abu Dhabi, Cairo, Casablanca, Dubai, Doha, Istanbul, Jeddah, Kuwait City, and Riyadh, it’ll be interesting to see the ways in which airlines adapt to the situation. This potentially has a huge impact on the demand for travel on these airlines, as checking electronics is not only a huge waste of time (in terms of lost productivity, waiting at baggage claim, etc.), but comes with the risk of electronics being damaged or stolen.

With that in mind, Emirates is the first airline to announce a somewhat creative solution to this situation. Emirates is introducing a service that enables passengers to use their laptops and tablets until just before they board their US-bound flight. At the gate there will be security staff who will carefully package your electronics in boxes before boarding, and then you can collect them on arrival.

What I’m not sure about is:

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Richard Branson’s Open Letter About Virgin America’s Demise

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Yesterday we learned a lot of details about the future of Alaska and Virgin America, following the two airlines formally merging late last year. Essentially Alaska will be the surviving brand and airline, though they’ll include some minor Virgin America touches, like mood lighting and hip uniforms.

However, if you’re used to Virgin America’s spacious first class and TVs at every seat, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

Alaska flyers should be excited about these updates, as I don’t think it could have worked out a lot better for them. Most significantly:

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