Monthly Archives: July 2015

Changes to Discover Card Benefits

Discover CardI recently received an email from Discover notifying me that my card’s benefits would be reduced on August 1. Here’s the text of the email:

At Discover, we want you to be happy. That’s why periodically review the valuable benefits that are built in to your Discover card. We have decided to retain some benefits – like purchase protection and price protection – and discontinue others.

What this means for you:
Effective August 1, 2015 Discover card will discontinue the following benefits: 24/7 Travel Assistance, Baggage Delay Insurance, and Emergency Roadside Assistance. If you have a loss or incident that occurs on or after August 1, 2015, it will not be covered by these benefits.

I confess I didn’t even realize my card had these benefits that are being taken away. And really, it won’t impact me because I don’t use my Discover Card for travel. I have other cards that give me greater benefits for travel-related purchases.

Still, it’s never good for benefits to disappear but Discover has probably decided people aren’t using them enough to continue to offer them.

My Discover Card is the second-oldest card I own so I’m definitely not getting rid of it. It has some very good quarterly bonuses and their shopping portal often offers terrific deals. And no-annual-fee cards are always keepers.

Did you even realize Discover offered these benefits?

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Bonus on Purchased Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Miles

2015-07-27 Alaska Airlines Purchase BonusFrom now through August 9th, you can earn a 20%-35% bonus when you purchase (or gift) Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles. Miles must be purchased in 1,000 point increments with a minimum purchase of 10,000 miles and a maximum of 40,000 miles.

Buy or Gift Bonus

  • 10,000 – 19,000 miles 20% bonus miles
  • 20,000 – 39,000 miles 30% bonus miles
  • 40,000 miles 35% bonus miles

Each 1,000 miles costs $27.50 and there is a 7.5% Federal Excise Tax charged per order. If you are Canadian resident GST/HST will also be added.

Is It A Good Deal?

Getting the 20% bonus means your miles will cost 2.29 cents each (plus the taxes). The 30% bonus brings the price down to 2.11 cents per mile ant the 35% bonus is the best value as it lowers the price to 1.78 cents per mile.

My go-to guys for point valuations are Ben of One Mile At A Time and Brian, The Points Guy. Ben values Alaska miles at 1.6 cents each while Brian values them at 2 cents each. That’s a pretty big discrepancy but means that, depending on your needs, buying with a 35% bonus could be a good deal indeed.

But I Don’t Live Anywhere Near Alaska!

You might think you have no use for Alaska Airlines miles and maybe you’re right…but maybe you’re not. Alaska Airlines is not in one of the three major alliances but they have a number of airline partners that are in oneworld, SkyTeam or are other independent airlines. This makes Alaska miles very valuable.Alaska Airlines Partners

Want to fly Emirates Airlines in First Class and take a shower in the sky? You could transfer Membership Rewards points to Emirates’ own Skywards program. It would take 155,000 miles plus large fuel surcharges to fly from Dubai to Los Angeles. By contrast it only takes 90,000 Alaska Airlines miles – and no fuel surcharges – for the same seat thanks to their partnership!

Domestically, Alaska miles can be used for flights on both American and Delta (and vice-versa). That’s great news for those of us in parts of the country that Alaska doesn’t serve directly.

Final Take

As always, this is only a good deal if you need the miles. The best deal is buying 40,000 miles and getting a 35% bonus but if you need to top off your account to round out an award, it can still be a good deal.

Miles purchased through this promotion are processed by Points.com and as such do not qualify as airline spending if you have credit card with that category bonus.

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Sapphire Preferred to Lose First Friday Dining Bonus

CSPOne thing I’ve mentioned quite often on this blog is that on the first Friday of each month, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card earns an extra Ultimate Reward (UR) point per dollar spent on dining; that’s 3 points per dollar instead of the usual two.  When this feature was introduced in 2014, I thought it was a great boost – and then I realized that an extra 10-20 points per month wasn’t all that big a deal.  Especially since during three months of the year the Chase Freedom card I earned 5 URs per dollar on EVERY dining purchase.  Still, it was nice when Chase extended the program into 2015, noting on their website that this was a limited time offer.

Now comes word via both The Points Guy and One Mile At A Time that the program will not be continued into 2016.  While it’s never great to lose a card benefit, as far as these things go this is a pretty mild one in my book.  But if you want to stock up on your URs, you can always buy gift cards at a restaurant on the first Fridays for the rest of the year and use them on other days.  What was that I said yesterday about things changing?  Yep, here we go again.

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Changes Are Coming for Barclay’s Arrival Plus

While I’ve only played the points and miles game for about three years, one thing I’ve learned for sure is that things change – and usually NOT in the favor of those of us who try to maximize the value we get for our points and miles.Barclay Arrival Plus

Several weeks ago it was noticed that the Barclay’s Arrival Plus card had disappeared from the Barclaycard website. Speculation ran rampant as to what that meant. Some thought maybe the product was being discontinued while others thought perhaps the benefits were being changed. As it turns out, those in the second group are correct. As reported in several blogs, including by Amol on Travel Codex, the product is being devalued.

Current card benefits:

  • Earn 2 points for every $1 spent
  • Each point is worth $1 for travel-related expenses
  • Redeem a minimum of 2500 points, which will cover expenses of $25 or more
  • When you redeem, you get a 10% rebate on points. So after redeeming 2500 points, you’d get 250 restored to your account
  • A TripIt Pro subscription

Future card benefits:

  • Still 2 points for every $1 spent
  • Each point is still worth $1 for travel-related expenses
  • Now you must redeem a minimum of 10,000 points, which only covers expenses of $100 or more
  • The rebate is reduced from 10% to 5%
  • TripIt Pro is no longer included

According to a letter received by a Travel Codex reader and shown in Amol’s post, these changes will become effective November 3, 2015. Even though I have the card I have not yet received notification from Barclay’s and the card is not currently available on the Barclaycard website.

Raising the minimum redemption to $100 really hurts. On my ski trips I check two pieces of luggage. The first piece is free thanks to holding an airline co-branded credit card but I always have to pay for the second piece (unless flying first class, of course) and that was a perfect opportunity to use my Arrival Plus card. Now I’ll either use the co-branded card or my Chase Sapphire Preferred, both of which will earn double points for the transaction.

I also hate the loss of TripIt Pro. I loved the free version of TripIt for a couple of years before gaining TripIt Pro. I now use it to track all my points across a multitude of airline, hotel and credit card programs. TripIt Pro also proactively notifies me of flight and gate changes. I’ve read anecdotal evidence of people being notified by TripIt Pro before being notified by their airline!
I’ve only had my card since December 2014, so hopefully the subscription is good at least a year. At that point I’ll have a decision to make whether or not to pay for it.

In the next couple of years I’m hoping to take a couple of group trips where I won’t be able to use the usual types of points to pay and I’d planned on using Arrival Plus points to help reduce the expenses but not I’m not sure that’s the way to go.

Buying $10,000 of gift cards at my local mall for a $79 fee earns me 20,158 points, which can cover $201.58 in travel expenses and then I’d get a 2015 point rebate (or 1007 after the changes). That’s a 39% discount – though there is that $95 annual fee.

By contrast the Capital One Venture card is free the first year and $59 thereafter. It also earns 2 points per $1 spent and allows a redemption rate of 100 points per $1. While I wouldn’t use the Venture card (or the Arrival Plus, for that matter) for premium cabin airline tickets, for cruises and tours they Capital One card may be the way to go.

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Bonuses When Purchasing Points or Miles

Right now there are two loyalty programs offering a bonus on purchased points or miles. These are not new deals but will be expiring soon.

American Airlines Logo

American Airlines is offering both a discount and bonus miles if you purchase between now and Monday, July 13. You’ll get a 15% discount on the purchase price and a tiered bonus, depending on how many miles you buy.
2015-07-09 AA Bonus on Purchased Miles

Looking at the cost at a per point basis, here’s how that works out:
1,000 + 0 bonus = 1,000 for $25.08 = 2.50 cents per mile
15,000 + 0 bonus = 15,000 for $376.13 = 2.50 cents per mile
16,000 + 5,000 bonus = 21,000 for $401.20 = 1.91 cents per mile
30,000 + 5,000 bonus = 35,000 for $752.25 = 2.14 cents per mile
31,000 + 10,000 bonus = 41,000 for $777.33 = 1.89 cents per mile
45,000 + 10,000 bonus = 55,000 for $1128.38 = 2.05 cents per mile
46,000 + 15,000 bonus = 66,000 for $1153.45 = 1.74 cents per mile
60,000 + 15,000 bonus = 75,000 for $1504.50 = 2.00 cents per mile
61,000 + 20,000 bonus = 81,000 for $1529.58 = 1.88 cents per mile
75,000 + 20,000 bonus = 95,000 for $1880.63 = 1.97 cents per mile
76,000 + 27,500 bonus = 103,500 for $1905.70 = 1.84 cents per mile
100,000 + 27,500 bonus = 127,500 for $2507.50 = 1.96 cents per mile

(These prices do not include applicable taxes or a $30 processing fee.)

So the sweet spot – where you’d pay the least per mile – is at the 46,000 mile level.

You may purchase up to 100,000 miles in a calendar year.

Is this a good deal? Actually, it can be! As usual, I defer to Ben of One Mile At A Time and Brian, The Points Guy as to the current value of points and miles. Ben has AA miles valued at 1.8 cents apiece while Brian values them at 1.7 cents each. So if you buy 46,000 miles and get the 15,000 bonus miles you’ll be spot-on. If you only need a few miles to top off your account, it’s not a really great deal – unless you’re going to get more than 2.5 cents of value from the award ticket you’ll get.

 
2015-07-09 Hilton Discount on Purchased Points

Meanwhile, Hilton is offering a 25% discount when you purchase their points from now through Wednesday, July 15. The discount brings the price to 0.75 cents per point (plus applicable taxes and fees). It’s interesting that the website allows the user to choose to buy 80,000 points, but the terms and conditions state that an HHonors member may only buy 40,000 points in a calendar year.

Is this a good deal? Not really. Ben values HHonors points at 0.4 cents apiece and Brian values them at 0.5 cents each. But if you need just a few points to top off an award, it may be the route to go.

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Travel Tuesday Photo: Jack the Ripper

For over a year now I’ve been sending out a picture of the week on Twitter.  (Follow the blog @2BTraveling if you don’t already!) Sometimes 140 characters isn’t enough to provide the story behind the photos so I expect this to be an occasional series with a little more about the photo of the week.

Jack the Ripper

Jack the Ripper

In 2006 I was fortunate to take a 2-week trip to visit New Zealand and Australia, spending roughly a week in each country.  It was a whirlwind tour to be sure.  While we stayed in Queenstown, NZ with a couple of day trips, in Australia we split our time between Sydney and Cairns.  Of course neither area can be fully explored in 3-4 days but we saw as much as we could.

While in Cairns we visited the Rainforestation Nature Park, which was lovely.  Our introduction to Australian wildlife kicked off a bit earlier than expected when we saw a giant monitor lizard in the grass just off the parking lot.  Fortunately it was far enough away that it didn’t disturb anyone but it drew quite a crowd!

Once inside we saw the expected cuddly koalas and more lizards and snakes.  And then there was Jack.  He’s a 17-foot saltwater crocodile who weighs over 1600 pounds and is thought to be over 50 years old.  Over the years they provided him with 12 females as mates, but he killed every one of them, thus earning his name.  Now he’ll be a bachelor for life.  Something tells me he likes it that way.

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Two Starwood Opportunities

SPG Logo
Starwood Preferred Group is the hotel group for hotel brands like Sheraton, St. Regis, Westin, Four Points, Le Meridian, aloft, element and W Hotels. While Starpoints are incredibly valuable, they’re not necessarily easy to earn, other than by staying at one of the hotels.

Right now Starwood is running a promotion where you can earn 1000 Starpoints for every weekend stay between now and August 31, 2015. All you need to do is register and start collecting bonus points. A weekend stay is defined as a Friday, Saturday or Sunday night, except in the Middle East where it’s defined as a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night.

One of the great things about Starpoints is they have a number of airline partners, including airlines that are not partners with American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards. Look at all these airlines:
SPG Airline Partners

Most of these partners transfer at a 1:1 ratio. The exceptions are Air New Zealand (65:1), LAN Airlines (1:1.5) and United Airlines (2:1). Obviously you want to stay away from transferring to Air NZ and United unless you’re desperate to top off an award.

In addition, most of the airlines offer a 5,000 point bonus when you transfer 20,000 Starpoints. So 20,000 Starpoints becomes 25,000 American Airlines miles after the transfer.

From now through August 7, 2015 there’s an additional 20% bonus for transfers to American Airlines. This means in addition to the standard 5,000 point bonus, you’d end up with an additional 5,000 miles in your AA account. For example:

20,000 Starpoints = 20,000 AAdvantage miles
5,000 Standard SPG bonus = 5,000 AAdvantage miles
AAdvantage 20% mileage bonus = 5,000 AAdvantage miles
Total = 30,000 AAdvantage miles

That’s a great deal if you have plans for redeeming your AAdvantage miles. It’s not worth making a speculative transfer because the main thing that makes Starpoints so valuable is their flexibility.

Starpoint transfers are not instant, so if you find seats on the flights you want, put them on hold until the transfer is completed. The terms and conditions state it may take up to 7 business days for the points to transfer. That can be an eternity when you’re trying to get the last award seat or two on your flight, so plan accordingly.

Note that that 5,000 point bonus is awarded only when 20,000 points (or more) is transferred in the same transaction. So you can’t transfer 5,000 points today and 15,000 points tomorrow and expect to get the bonus.

Starwood allows a max of 79,999 points to be transferred in a single transaction. Both the SPG account and the airline account must have identical names. All transfers are one-way, non-reversible and non-refundable.

SPG CardOne way to rack up Starpoints quickly is with the SPG American Express card. Simply make $3000 in purchases in the first three months and you’ll earn 25,000 Starpoints – which will translate to 35,000 American AAdvantage miles if you earn the points quickly enough for the offer above. Otherwise, they will still be worth 30,000 miles on most airlines or you can use them at one of the hundreds of SPG hotels worldwide.

If you allow me to refer you for the card, I’ll receive a 5,000 Starpoint bonus if you are approved. Just send me your email address to 2btraveling@gmail.com and I’ll be happy to refer you.

Categories: American Airlines, SPG Amex | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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