Advice

We Just Redeemed 150,000 Airline Points For Gift Cards… Oops?

Southwest-Gift-Card

I don’t think there’s more of a mileage faux pas than redeeming your hard earned miles for gift cards or merchandise. With saver level award availability seemingly more limited than ever before, airlines are offering more ways for you to redeem your miles, including for merchandise and gift cards.

For example, through the United MileagePlus Merchandise Mall, you can redeem 40,600 MileagePlus miles for Bose headphones that would retail for $300. That’s like getting less than three quarters of a cent of value per mile.

Or you can redeem Membership Rewards points for gift cards at the rate of one cent per point. Given how many great uses there are of Membership Rewards points, I couldn’t imagine redeeming points that way.

So this isn’t how you should redeem your points… but I also just advised Ford to redeem 150,000 airline points for gift cards. Let me explain.

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Do You Ever NOT Want To Sit Next To Your Travel Companion?

British-Airways-Business-Class-777 - 2

Pretty soon Ford and I will be headed to Italy via London in British Airways business class. This is thanks to a super cheap ~$1,100 business class fare that British Airways published a while back, making this a no brainer.

I’m not a huge fan of British Airways business class, to put it mildly, but at least this time I’m coming in with the right expectations. I’m paying slightly more than economy would cost, and for that I’m getting a great deal in what I consider to be one of the most underwhelming fully flat business class products out there.

However, I still can’t decide whether or not to sit next to Ford on the flight.

Why, you might ask? After all, presumably you’re traveling with someone because you want to spend time with them, and in my case there’s no one I’d rather spend time with than Ford. However, in British Airways business class the window seats are significantly better than the other seats.

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What Everyone Ought To Know About Redeeming Miles

Kauai-Mountains-Hawaii

It’s one of those weeks where I’m answering a ton of questions about the basics of using miles. The mechanics are important of course, and understanding how alliances work and how to transfer points is critical for booking an award ticket.

There are some almost philosophical considerations as well. I think that most people would have a much easier time redeeming miles if they considered some of these factors.

I consider myself to be more-than-decent at ferreting out award space (though many, including my colleagues, are way better). I have a good sense of trends, know what is likely to be available when and on what airlines, know all the transfer partners, and most of the sweet spots.

And sometimes, none of that matters.

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Should You Book Airline Tickets Through An Online Travel Agency?

Ukraine-Airlines-Website

I don’t just redeem a lot of miles, but also book a lot of paid tickets. Lately I’ve been trying to review some unique airlines, and I’ve found myself asking whether to book through the airline’s website directly, or through an online travel agency. It’s a question I also often get asked by readers, so I figured I’d address it here.

First of all, OTAs (online travel agency) refer to sites like Orbitz, Expedia, etc. It’s worth noting that you earn miles just as you usually would for booking airline tickets through OTAs. This is in stark contrast to hotels, as you don’t typically earn hotel points when booking through an online travel agency.

Why is that? Because OTAs take big commissions on hotel stays, while nowadays their margins on airline tickets are minimal, which is why you’ll notice that they’re typically also trying to upsell you on a vacation package, hotel, car rental etc. However, many OTAs now have their own loyalty programs for hotel stays, which some consumers may even prefer to those offered by hotel chains.

The one benefit of booking through an OTA that I really appreciate is that they always allow you to get a refund within 24 hours.

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Why I’ve Started Traveling With A Portable Coffee Mug

Travel-Mug

When I moved into hotels full time in April 2014, I quickly realized the benefits of minimalism. I had only lived in Seattle for about 18 months, but somehow managed to acquire so much stuff that I didn’t really need. The first day I moved out of my apartment I managed to consolidate all my luggage into just a few big suitcases.

I quickly realized it wasn’t practical to travel with all those bags, and eventually I consolidated all of my essential belongings into the below carry-on contraption:

At that point I made the decision to stop buying souvenirs, and for that matter, to only buy material possessions if they’d actively make my life better. Last year I wrote about nine gadgets in my carry-on, and while I’ve replaced some of them, the core of what I have has stayed the same.

Anyway, during my recent trip to Russia I added something to my carry-on for the first time in months. I was at a Starbucks in St. Petersburg and saw this cute travel mug, that looked sort of like a Matryoshka doll. I don’t know what made me buy it, since I almost never pick up material possessions, but for whatever reason I did.

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Maximizing Your Chances Of Being Approved For The Chase Sapphire Reserve

Park-Hyatt-Maldives-3

The Chase Sapphire Reserve Card launched yesterday morning, and it’s hot. Between the sign-up bonus, perks, and return on everyday spend, people are going nuts over the card. I’ve received a ton of questions from readers asking about whether it’s worth it for them to apply given their circumstances.

The reality is that there’s a lot of information out there, with hundreds of data points. That’s a good thing in theory, but also leads to information overload, especially for the casual consumer. So I figured I’d share my consolidated thoughts on getting approved for this card. I’m not claiming to be any more right than anyone else, but am rather just sharing the information I’ve gathered based on the hundreds of data points that readers have shared with me.

First let me provide a bit of background, and for those of you who already know about Chase’s 5/24 rule, by all means skip this section.

Long story short, Chase typically won’t approve consumers for new cards if they’ve opened more than five cards in the past 24 months. While that doesn’t impact a vast majority of consumers, for those who have opened more cards than that in the past 24 months, it could lead to an instant denial. There are a few things to note about what qualifies towards the restriction:

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How Does The Chase Sapphire Reserve Impact Your Existing Ultimate Rewards Points?

Korean-Air-777

Yesterday online applications became available for the new Sapphire Reserve Card, which is offering an incredible 100,000 point sign-up bonus. That’s in addition to the long term value the card offers, like a $300 annual travel credit, plus triple points on dining and travel.

The card is a no brainer in every way, though for some people the only “catch” is that those who have opened more than five credit cards in the past 24 months aren’t generally eligible to be approved for the card (though they may be able to upgrade an existing card to the new Sapphire Reserve).

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the points earned on the new Sapphire Reserve Card, so figured I’d go into a bit more detail on that.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve Card earns Ultimate Rewards points, which can be transferred at a 1:1 ratio to the following 11 airline and hotel partners:

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Can You Upgrade An Existing Chase Card To The Sapphire Reserve?

Singapore-Suites-1

This morning online applications became available for the new Sapphire Reserve Card, which is offering an incredible 100,000 point sign-up bonus, and also seems like it will offer a lot of long term value for cardmembers, between the triple points on travel and dining, plus all the long term perks.

A vast majority of consumers are eligible for the card, and we’ve already heard data points of a lot of people getting approved. However, due to Chase’s “5/24 rule,” those who have opened more than five credit card accounts in the past 24 months aren’t eligible to be approved. If you’re in that boat, you do have one option for getting the Sapphire Reserve — you can do a product switch to it, rather than outright applying for it.

You can upgrade another Chase issued personal card to the Sapphire Reserve, though it can’t be a co-brand card, like the Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card. This means you can upgrade the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, Chase Freedom® Card, Chase Freedom® Unlimited, etc., to the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

You do need to have a credit line of at least $10,000 on a card in order to upgrade, though.

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Three People Who Should Buy Alaska Miles (And One Who Shouldn’t)

Emirates-business-bar

Last week Alaska launched a Mystery Bonus for purchases of Alaska Mileage Plan miles. The bonuses are specific to individual accounts. You earn between 35% and 50% bonus miles when you buy Alaska miles.

Ben went over the details of the promotion last week, so I won’t rehash whether or not this is a good deal in general. I did, however, want to draw attention to the types of people who should consider buying miles — and those who shouldn’t.

Let’s say you’re looking at taking a honeymoon or anniversary trip to the Maldives, for instance. Checking random dates in April, business class fares from New York are at least $4,500 per person:

Flights on Emirates, which has a great business class product on their A380, start at ~$5,000, but you’re looking at ~$6,000 for the one-stop routings through Dubai:

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What To Do During A Stopover In Iceland

IcelandicWaterfalls5

Iceland is a highly unique country. Despite its remote location and relative inaccessibility, five times the population of the country is estimated to visit this year alone – a jaw dropping 1.7 million tourists. This is an increase of 30% over last year!

When I met and spoke to the CEO of Icelandair, he said that Icelandair is experiencing a 15% annual growth rate, even though WOW Air has burst into the market.

One way that many people get to see Iceland is on their way between Europe and North America. Almost one third of Icelandair passengers opt to use their up to 7 day free stopover program.

I visited Iceland in May when I found some incredible fares from Gothenburg, direct on Icelandair’s beautiful 757. The trip lasted four full days, and it fit perfectly between my last IB exam and the Airbus Innovation Days 2016.

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How Much Extra Are You Willing To Pay For First Class?

Delta-First-Class

The US legacy airlines seem to be doing everything in their power to destroy the value of being loyal frequent flyers. They’d rather always give consumers exactly what they pay for with each transaction, without much consideration for the overall business customers provide to the airlines. I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad long term strategy, but the speed at which these changes are occurring is insane.

Just looking at Executive Platinum status with American this year. For my favorite redemption preferences miles are worth ~30% less than they were last year, my favorite Executive Platinum perk (eight systemwide upgrades) got cut in half, and the average person is probably earning about half as many redeemable miles as they used to, thanks to American’s new revenue based frequent flyer program. How much more value can you take out of a program in a single year?

While that’s bad for frequent flyers in theory, there’s a silver lining. Airlines want to sell first & business class seats rather than upgrading people to them, and as a result we’re seeing a trend of much lower paid premium cabin fares than before.

Would I rather get a free upgrade than pay for first class? Of course. But there’s also something to be said for paying a reasonable premium for first class so you don’t have to sweat out the upgrade and can fly whichever airline has the most convenient schedule for you.

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10 Credit Cards That Reimburse You If Your Flight Is Delayed

Chicago-Delays

Flight delays happen. Whether due to tech meltdowns, poor crew scheduling, mechanical issues, or just bad weather — delays and cancelations can be pretty common, even on the simplest itineraries (I was delayed nearly four hours last week for a Los Angeles > San Diego flight, which is just annoying).

I’ve written before about how to react to travel disruptions, and all that advice is still valid for getting through the day and getting where you need to go. Ultimately, you want to control your own destiny as much as possible, versus waiting to receive help from the airline.

One useful tool in the travel self-help arsenal is the credit card you used to purchase your tickets. Several of the best travel rewards cards will reimburse you if your flight is delayed (not even canceled, just delayed!). With all the travel disruptions we’ve been discussing on OMAAT lately, I figured it would be helpful to go through how these programs work.

On a big trip you might consider travel insurance, which can be valuable even with award tickets. If you’re traveling to/from/within Europe, or on an European carrier, you may be eligible for compensation under EU261.

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Why Do Some Premium Credit Cards Offer Big Annual Credits?

Citi-Prestige-Airline-Credit

Last night I posted about Chase officially confirming the details of the new Sapphire Reserve Card, which looks like it might be one of the most compelling credit cards we’ve ever seen. The card will offer triple points on dining and travel, meaning it’s 50% more rewarding in those categories than the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

Reader Mike asked the following question in regards to the card:

“Lucky, one thing I don’t understand is why the card has a $450 annual fee and $300 travel credit, which seems good as cash. Would they not get more people to sign up if they just made the annual fee $150? Since registration is not required to use the travel credit, I assume most cardmembers will use the credit.”

It’s an interesting question, as American Express and Citi have similar airline credits on some of their cards.

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The 5 Best Credit Cards For Dining Spend

Moscow-Restaurant

In order to maximize your points, you’ll want to have a credit card that offers bonus points in the categories you spend most in. There are cards out there offering bonus points on dining, travel, gas stations, grocery stores, etc. Obviously different bonus categories will hold different value depending on your spend patterns.

For example, there are plenty of people who always cook and therefore get lots of value out of earning bonus points at grocery stores. Others have a big commute everyday, so would benefit from bonus points at gas stations (I recently wrote a post about the eight best credit cards for gas station purchases).

Meanwhile in my case, it’s travel and dining that I spend the most on. After all, I spend a vast majority of my time in hotels and on planes, and it’s not exactly practical to cook there.

I’m almost always eating out, either at a restaurant, or otherwise ordering something through Postmates, which also qualifies as dining.

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