Travis is my first new contributor to the blog, who will be writing a post every Wednesday to start. The idea behind adding guest contributors is to add different perspectives to the blog. Travis has a unique approach towards travel, given that he travels almost exclusively with his wife and young children, which is in stark contrast to my travels, which are usually alone.
You can find more posts by Travis here:
- Earn Rebates On United Flights By Joining The United.com Club
- Earn A $75 Hotel Credit By Booking Flights
- Earn Mobile Bonuses From Your Computer
- Review: United’s Streaming In-Flight Entertainment
- To Lap Child, Or Not To Lap Child — That Is The Question
- Travis Joins One Mile at a Time
Contrary to Ben’s advice in July, I recently applied for a Citi Prestige card.
And I did it for mostly the wrong reason. You see, we have a big trip coming up where we’ll be flying multiple hops on an airline without sufficient credentials to gain lounge access. The horrors.
So I was keeping my eye out for an inexpensive (or ideally free!) way to obtain a Priority Pass membership. Then Frequent Miler pondered that it might be possible to earn $700 in travel credits from the Prestige card in exchange for a $450 annual fee. The revamped Prestige benefits would also include Priority Pass.
The Plaza Premium Lounge in Vancouver is a Priority Pass lounge
Now before everyone gets too excited, that particular opportunity is no longer available. But more importantly, I think he’s being overly optimistic and will likely come away with $450 in credits, rather than $750. We shall see. If you’re curious, you can read about his theory in the post.
Anyway, the Prestige benefits recently changed significantly on this card. This post is intended to share my recent experience with Prestige — and solicit yours — rather than be a full recap of the new card.
Aside from Priority Pass, I was also interested in this card for the following benefits:
- 30K ThankYou point sign up bonus
- $200 airline fee reimbursement (now $250)
- Companion ticket (no longer a benefit for new cardholders)
The key here is the airline fee reimbursements. Frequent Miler notes that purchases of gift cards up to $99.99 ($100?) from a variety of airlines are reimbursed automatically and without issue. It is also important to note that this is an annual benefit, meaning you get to claim it once per calendar year.
I should be able to get $200 in airline fees reimbursed during calendar year 2014 (before December 31, 2014) and then another $250 in fees reimbursed during calendar year 2015 (before my card anniversary date). By my math, that’s $450 in gift cards which will directly replace cash purchases, and therefore I had now convinced myself that the card would incur no net cost to me during the first year.
As a result, I was getting a year of Priority Pass for free. Mission accomplished.
Companion Airfare Benefit (not available to new cardholders)
Then I started to explore the other benefits of this card. The companion airfare intrigued me because I’m almost always flying as a family of four. But some of these companion ticket offers stink — they either have blackout dates or you’re required to buy a full fare ticket to qualify or some other hook that virtually eliminates all the value.
It turns out that that the companion benefit on Prestige is (or was) pretty good. It’s also no longer a benefit for new cardholders, so this will only be applicable to those who had the card prior to October 18, 2014. In fact, information about booking the companion ticket is confusing and a little murky.
The airfare companion benefit is available to those who held the card prior to October 18. Those cardholders have until their anniversary date to use that benefit. After October 18 (i.e. now), those cardholders will have to call Citi customer service to book their companion ticket.
Because the T&C’s were ambiguous, there was quite a bit of uncertainty about what would happen to the benefit on October 18. Since Citi used a company called Spirit Incentives, and since that relationship was supposedly ending, some believed that the benefit might just disappear completely. Not wanting to miss out, I decided to strike while the iron was hot.
As fun as it is to swing for the fences, sometimes a single will win the game.
Booking via the website
I ended up booking a trip that my family had planned for next spring. I shopped for my flights using ITA Matrix as usual. Then I went to the Spirit Incentives website to attempt to book myself and a companion. You only got to specify the city pairs and dates of your travel — then you click submit, and see what shows up. Spirit Incentives claims that they can only book the lowest fare available, so it’s sort of airline roulette.
The first time I
spun the wheel hit submit, the exact United flights I had in mind came up. In fact, the only flights offered were United, perhaps six to eight options including non-stop and connections. They were the lowest in the market, but I was still impressed.
Of course, I was too busy to finish the booking right then. When I returned a few hours later, I entered the same airports and dates, but this time I saw only American flights. Perhaps new airfares had just been loaded and American was now a few dollars cheaper? Now I was annoyed.
I returned the next day and sure enough the original United flights were back. At least almost. I wanted a bit longer connection which had been available, but was no longer offered. Both United.com and ITA confirmed that the longer connection was the same price as the shorter one, but Spirit Incentives was determined that I should run from one terminal to the other.
Booking via the call center
Despite my reluctance to talk on the phone, I was curious as to whether an agent would be able to get me the flights I wanted. So I called, and after giving her all the information, she advised me that she can only book what her computer shows, no exceptions. So would her computer show the same options as mine? No, it did not. She had the exact itinerary I wanted, while my screen (which I had refreshed) still had only the short connection.
Having learned my lesson about not booking immediately, I told her to book it. She tried. She failed. Her system came back and said it wasn’t actually available. Lovely. She read her script advising me that airfares can change at any time and that there must now be a new low fare in that market. And Spirit Incentives wanted me to get the lowest fare. Whatever.
I assumed this call was going to end in about 10 seconds but then she offered to speak to her supervisor to see why it would not book. After a long wait where I was hoping they had manually booked my tickets, she came back and said that her supervisor had suggested that she submit the booking request again. Really? I just waited on the phone for eight minutes for that?
But sure, please do try again, what do I have to lose?
And this time it went through.
So that’s my experience with Spirit Incentives. With a little luck, I’ll never speak of them again.
The tale of the tape on my companion benefit looks like this.
- The tickets retailed for $290 per person.
- Spirit Incentives requires you to pay the taxes on the second person as well as some mystery fees, so my total for both tickets was $400.
- I ultimately saved $18o with this benefit.
Was $180 savings the best use of the companion airfare benefit? Definitely not. I’m sure I (or you!) could do much better.
But it’s better than $0 which is what I feared it might be if I didn’t book it by Oct 18. Sometimes a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
Also note that the benefit only covers base fare so a lot of international tickets (which can be dominated by fuel surcharges, taxes, and fees) will often not result in significant savings. I imagine that the best value might be achieved by using it for a close-in domestic ticket. Of course, I don’t book many of those. So I’m happy with my $180.
15% Airfare Discount (not available to new cardholders)
There is also a 15% airfare discount benefit. Like the companion ticket, it was handled by Spirit Incentives, but presumably is now booked via Citi for cardholders of record prior to October 18.
From a few quick searches on the Spirit Incentives website, I would say that some savings could be obtained, but given the mysterious fees that Spirit would apply, it wasn’t 15%.
For the tickets I was looking at, the savings were not much different than what I would achieve from using my united.com Club benefit. Perhaps the “15%” will be more like 15% now that Citi is doing the booking?
We’ll have to wait and see. But the fact that it cannot be done online will probably deter me from even trying much of the time.
My experience with Prestige has been positive so far. At this point, I have saved $180 on an airline ticket and have plans to recover $450 using the airline fee reimbursement benefit.
That’s $630 of value from a $450 annual fee card and we haven’t put a value on the 30K ThankYou points yet. And I’ve got my Priority Pass for free, which is really what this all started with.
Oh, I almost forgot the three free rounds of golf…. I wonder if it covers Putt Putt? My son would really enjoy that.
Do you have the Citi Prestige? What has your experience been? Have you used the companion airfare benefit? Do you like the new benefits?