Advice

Here’s How Marriott Could Make SPG Members (Relatively) Happy

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With the Marriott takeover of Starwood now a sure thing, the realization is soon setting in for SPG members that our beloved program will eventually go away. When you look at member impressions of the merger, the general sentiment is that Marriott Rewards members are quite excited about it (“we’ll be able to redeem points at cool Starwood hotels soon, and might even pick up some elite benefits”), while Starwood Preferred Guest members are dreading it (“SPG is special precisely because they’re not Marriott or Hilton or IHG, so like every other merger up until now, things will get worse”).

While Starwood Preferred Guest isn’t supposed to be merged into Marriott Rewards until 2018, I was really pleasantly surprised when Marriott introduced some new benefits earlier in the week, including late check-out, an experiences marketplace, and testing a concierge service for their loyalest members.

Unfortunately Marriott screwed up the execution, and reinforced many of the concerns SPG members had about the merger. As it turned out, the late check-out benefit was worded as follows: “guaranteed late checkout, which could be as late as 4pm.” That’s absolute bull, because that means a hotel would be following the terms in offering an 11:30AM check-out when the check-out time is 11AM.

After quite a bit of customer feedback I’m thrilled that Marriott introduced a real guaranteed 4PM check-out at all their hotels, except resorts and convention hotels (this is the same benefit which Hyatt and Starwood have).

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Are The Annual Fees On The Citi Prestige & Citi Premier Worth It After The First Year?

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Last year Citi really upped their game when it came to their transferrable points currency cards, as they refreshed the Citi Prestige® Card and Citi ThankYou Premier Card. They offered sign-up bonuses of 50,000 ThankYou points upon completing minimum spend on both cards, so I’m sure I wasn’t alone in picking up both cards. That netted me 100,000 ThankYou points, and I’ve greatly increased my balances since then, thanks to the excellent return on everyday spend offered by both of these cards.

The Citi Prestige® Card continues to have a fantastic 50,000 point sign-up bonus upon completing minimum spend, while the Citi ThankYou Premier Card isn’t offering any sign-up bonus at all, which I find to be bizarre, though I shared what I believe to be the logic behind that in a previous post.

I’ve had both cards for roughly a year now, so I’m being hit with the $450 annual fee on the Citi Prestige Card, as well as the $95 annual fee on the Citi ThankYou Premier Card. I figured I’d reflect on the cards as such, and what I’m planning on doing now that the annual fees are due.

This is my single favorite credit cards, hands down.

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Which Hilton Amex Sign-Up Bonus Is Best?

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As I first wrote about a couple of weeks ago, American Express is offering increased sign-up bonuses on their two co-branded Hilton credit cards. These increased offers are valid through May 4, 2016. The details of these offers are as follows:

— Hilton HHonorsTM Card from American Express — 75,000 HHonors bonus points after you spend $1,000 within three months; no annual fee
— Hilton HHonorsTM Surpass® Card from American Express — 100,000 HHonors bonus points after you spend $3,000 within three months; $75 annual fee

These are both good offers — the one on the Hilton HHonors Card is great because it’s a no annual fee credit card with a very nice sign-up bonus, while the one on the Hilton HHonors Surpass Card offers an even bigger bonus. While it has an $89 annual fee, it also comes with a better return on everyday spend, and also Gold status for as long as you have the card, plus Diamond status when you spend $40,000 on the card in a year.

Reader Mike emailed the following question regarding these bonuses:

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Why Don’t Airlines Offer Free Upgrades When There Are Empty Seats?

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Reader John left the following comment on a post the other day about Delta eliminating phone ticketing fees:

‘“By listening, caring and connecting with our customers, we have their backs every time they fly with us.” Right!

We just came off a Delta AMS-SEA flight. There were 16 empty seats in business. But, of course, since their policy is free upgrades for medallion only on domestic, the seats remained empty. I can not understand the business sense if this. Why not make 16 of your best customers feel appreciated for their loyalty? What would this cost them? Ok, maybe they could make the case that they do not have enough business class meal on board… so move me up and give me the comfort class meal. I would appreciate the nicer seat and feel like they appreciated my loyalty.

Loyalty programs seem to be one way streets.’

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Can Airplane Food Actually Be “Restaurant Quality?”

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Airline food tends to be the punchline of many jokes, and the average traveler would probably compare it more closely to dog food than anything else. That’s if you even get food for free on your flight, which is a luxury nowadays.

Of course it’s a different story for premium travelers, as many airlines are trying to differentiate their premium cabin products through food & wine. This brings us to the question that Matt78 asked in the Ask Lucky forum:

“I do most of my flying in economy and am looking forward to trying premium cabin flying and was wondering how the quality and taste of their meals compare with medium to high priced restaurants on the ground?”

This is an interesting topic, as I’ve sometimes used the term “restaurant quality” to refer to especially good airline food. Admittedly “restaurant quality” is a bit of a fluff term, since it doesn’t actually describe what you should expect. Applebee’s and The Capital Grille are both restaurants, so which establishment does “restaurant quality” describe? Beyond that, there are all kinds of independent restaurants which put The Capital Grille to shame.

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Should You Purchase IHG Rewards Club Points For 0.565 Cents Each?

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Daily Getaways is returning for the next five weeks, which is an opportunity to purchase discounted hotel points and travel packages. Daily Getaways packages go live at 1PM ET every weekday, and the more popular packages sell out very quickly, so you’ll want to be fast, if interested.

Earlier today IHG Rewards Club points went on sale. Unfortunately I didn’t have the chance to write about the promo earlier, though none of the packages have sold out (probably due to there being over 7,000 available), meaning you can still take advantage of this promotion.

Below is a chart with the details of the packages, how many packages you can buy, etc.

This is the single largest promotion available during Daily Getaways; as mentioned above, there are over 7,000 packages available for sale. Last year this promotion didn’t sell out at all, as there were still packages available at the end of five weeks.

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Do You Cancel Trips When Sick? That’s My Dilemma Right Now…

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I’d like to think I have a pretty strong immune system, which is probably a result of spending my life on planes and in hotels. It’s not often that I get sick, and when I do, it’s usually just a common cold, where I have a sore throat for a few days, followed by a runny nose for a few days. I don’t really believe in prescription medication for things like this, though I do take natural supplements like echinacea, vitamin C, etc.

Well, right now I’m sick for the first time in several months. I got back to the US from Beijing on Monday, and felt like crap. It was an especially rough trip for me in terms of jetlag and sleep deprivation, which probably contributed to my cold. I’ve had an extremely sore throat for the past couple of days. It’s much better this afternoon, so I suspect the runny nose will be starting very shortly. Regardless, I feel lightheaded and weak.

That brings me to the dilemma I’m facing — I’m scheduled to fly back to China tomorrow morning, thanks to a cheap fare I booked a while back, which I was able to immediately upgrade to business class. I don’t remember the last time I’ve canceled a non-refundable trip due to being sick, and I’m going back and forth about what to do here.

On one hand:

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Amex Surpass Vs. Citi Reserve: Which Hilton Sign-Up Bonus Is Better?

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Yesterday I posted about how we’re seeing the highest ever sign-up bonuses on the Hilton HHonorsTM Card from American Express and Hilton HHonorsTM Surpass® Card from American Express. The cards are offering sign-up bonuses of 75,000 and 100,000 points, respectively, which are much higher than usual for these cards.

The first comment on that post was by reader Ryan, who asked the following:

“When looking primarily at the sign-up bonuses, even at 100,000 points, wouldn’t getting the Citi® Hilton HHonors Reserve Card card be better even with the additional $20 AF compared to the Surpass? Two free nights at any Hilton could easily be way more than 100,000 points right?”

It’s a great question, as Hilton is unique in having co-brand agreements with both American Express and Citi. I’ve written in the past about the Citi Hilton Reserve Card, which is the premium co-brand credit card offered by Citi.

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Can You Still Visit Cockpits On Airlines?

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Reader Jacob asked the following question in the Ask Lucky forum, about visiting the cockpit when flying on an airline:

“Hi! I recently did a round trip ORD-SLC on American Eagle operated by Envoy in F (CR7) . On the flight back, I got in a conversion with the pilot as the crew was in the cabin. The pilot then asked if I wanted to go up in the flight deck. I happily said yes and spent a good 20 minutes up there just before the boarding door was closed. I’m writing this question as I’m wondering what the rules are on going into the flight deck in the future. Thanks!”

For most airlines, long gone are the days where you can visit the flight deck inflight, and possibly even sit in the cockpit for takeoff and landing. Several years back I was on a Thai Airways flight and asked the flight attendant if I might be able to visit the cockpit after landing. To my surprise she returned 10 minutes later and said “how would you like to visit now?” I was floored, and spent about 20 minutes in the cockpit while we were enroute to Bangkok. It almost felt scandalous, given that I’m so used to the post-9/11 security mentality.

But even for airlines which were previously lenient about inflight visits, I suspect they’ve gotten even stricter lately, following the Germanwings crash last year. For the most part even pilots can’t freely enter and exit the cockpit inflight anymore.

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Best American Airlines 787 Business Class Seats

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Over the past week I’ve flown roundtrip on American’s 787 between Dallas and Beijing. I booked this thanks to some very cheap fares American was offering, which I managed to upgrade to business class using some systemwide upgrades.

This was my first time flying American’s 787-8. I recently flew American’s reconfigured 777-200 for the first time, which features the same business class product as the 787-8. It’s worth noting that American has halted reconfiguring their 777s with this product, given the issues they’re having with the seats; they’re now seeking out a new vendor.

Anyway, I figured I’d share my thoughts on the best business class seats on American’s 787, given that it was a point of confusion for me before I took this flight.

American’s 787 business class cabin consists of a total of 28 seats, spread across seven rows in a 1-2-1 configuration. There are five rows in the forward cabin, then there are two lavatories and the walk-up bar by the entryway, and then two more rows in a rear mini cabin.

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Why I Always Take Snacks “To Go” On International Flights

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People always ask me how I deal with jetlag, and the simple answer is that I don’t. Because of my work I always try to be up at least partly during US east coast business hours, since that’s when I’m busiest, and it’s also when most of the news in the airline and hotel industry breaks.

This can get tricky when I’m in Asia, which is largely 12 hours ahead of the US east coast, since 9AM-5PM in New York is 9PM-5AM in Beijing.

Given that I maintain a weird time schedule when traveling, I have a bad habit of getting hungry in the middle of the night. And usually when I’m exhausted and jetlagged, I don’t make the healthiest decisions in terms of what I order. Often there aren’t even very many fresh options on the overnight menu, since there’s often not a chef, but rather just items the overnight crew can reheat.

The thing is that I’d probably settle for a snack, but when you’re in a hotel room, your snack options are limited.

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The Case For Spinner Bags

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There are few things in the frequent flyer world as controversial as luggage. Everyone has a preferred brand and style, so whenever I’m asked for a recommendation I’m always a bit reticent.

Especially because I am basically a suitcase pariah — I use a spinner suitcase, which, depending on who you ask, is an even worse crime than checking luggage on domestic flights or using a Capital One card.

But I do fly a couple hundred thousand miles a year with my spinner suitcase, and it works very well for me.

And depending on your circumstances, a spinner might work well for you too.

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Dear Alaska Airlines: This Is How You Win Back The Loyalty You Lost Today

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Early this morning I posted about the horrible devaluation Alaska Mileage Plan made to their award chart for travel in Emirates first class. The cost of Emirates first class award tickets increased between 67% and 100%. Those are some insane increases. It’s one thing if they had provided notice of these changes, but they didn’t, which I have a serious problem with.

When I first wrote about this, some people responded by saying “it’s their program, they can do as they choose.” That’s definitely true. All mileage programs are solely at the discretion of the airlines — they can change any aspect of the program at anytime without even having to provide a reason. Given what a commodity miles are becoming (and the direct opportunity cost to earning them, in many cases), that can be worrisome.

For example, over the weekend a friend of mine spent ~$1,000 to purchase Alaska miles so he’d have enough miles for a one-way Emirates first class ticket, as flying Emirates first class was his dream. He was planning on booking it this weekend, as he was just firming up his travel plans. And this morning he’s pissed, and texted me a bunch of four letter words — he spent cold hard cash on those miles, and based on the redemption he was pursuing, the value of those miles was halved overnight.

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How To Maximize Starpoints For Free Night Redemptions

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The biggest ever sign-up bonuses on the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express are only available for one more day, through tomorrow.

Both the SPG Personal Amex and SPG Business Amex are offering sign-up bonuses of 35,000 Starpoints upon completing minimum spend, with the card’s $95 annual fee waived for the first year.

I value Starpoints at ~2.2 cents each, meaning 35,000 Starpoints are worth $770 to me.

Starpoints are so valuable thanks to how versatile they are, including the ability to convert them into airline miles, redeem them for Nights & Flights packages, and redeem them for free night hotel stays. While we’ve talked about several types of ways to redeem Starpoints, I figured I’d talk about the most popular redemption of Starpoints in a bit more detail — how do you maximize Starpoints for free night redemptions?

If you’re exclusively looking to redeem Starpoints for hotel stays, you have three main options:

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