Curious what they’d come up with, I asked online concierge site ‘FancyHands’ to find out what the best rewards credit card is and let me know — and explain why.

I’m actually impressed with the answer, though I don’t agree with it. They pointed out that the most rewarding card will depend on what you spend the most on (bonus categories).

Then they came back with what are essentially three cash back cards. And that’s a pretty reasonable strategy for most people who aren’t interested in travel, and certainly for people who aren’t interested in premium travel.

  • It’s better to straight-up buy tickets than use miles if you’re going to fly coach to Florida. You’ll probably get as much value for your points and don’t have to worry about award availability (plus you earn miles for the flights!)
  • Cash is better than an airline’s proprietary currency, all things equal.

I’m not inclined towards cash back, I do much better with cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card which has a great signup bonus, some of the fastest points-earning (double points on travel and dining) and some of the most valuable points (since they transfer to several airline and hotel programs).

But they came up with a respectable list. Here are their suggestions, and what I think would be better.

From FancyHands:

  1. Chase Freedom: They called it “the best general rewards credit card” because of the rotating categories each quarter that earn 5 points per dollar. It’s a no fee card, and earns an ‘extra’ 24,000 points per year with the 5x feature. But it’s best as a companion to the Chase Sapphire Preferred in my view because you can transfer the points earned with Freedom to your Sapphire Preferred account and from there to airline miles.

  2. Blue Cash Preferred from American Express: Again they note category bonuses — 6% (capped) at supermarkets, 3% at US gas stations and department stores. The old uncapped grocery store version I’ll concede was better was than most miles cards for supermarket spend.

  3. Citi Double Cash Card: has no annual fee and gives you 1% cash back when you purchase and then another 1% cash back when you pay off the purchase. That’s the strongest cash back card in their list.

A pretty solid list for non-specialists in the field. I the Citi Double Cash Card to be the best overall cash back card — because it gives you value like the Fidelity Investment Rewards American Express 2% cash back card without being an American Express (so offering greater acceptance).

The Barclaycard Arrival+ World MasterCard gets you a 10% better return if you redeem points for travel.

The Discover Miles Card actually is even stronger, since it gets you 3% back for your first year at places that take American Express.

Of course if you invest $100,000 with Bank of America you can get 2.6% on all spend with greater acceptance than discover.

If you’re willing to look beyond cash back, though, here are four cards that deliver superior value.

chase freedom credit cardEditorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of any advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either. Terms and limitations apply to all offers.
chase freedom credit card

A couple of weeks ago I wrote US Airlines Should Shut Up About Having to Compete Against Gulf Carriers.

I thought that would be my last word on the dustup between US airlines and Gulf carriers, with US carriers complaining to the government that they have to face unfair competition and the Chairman of Delta (partner with Saudi Arabia’s national airline) resorting to associating Etihad, Emirates, and Qatar Airways with 9/11 terrorism.

But Alan H. pointed me to this New York Times piece which gives further coverage to the report by airline lobbyists (which they refuse to release publicly) that claims Gulf carriers have received $38 billion in subsidies. (All reports note that the report is 55 pages, though claim not to have seen it.)

When I read this claim:

Etihad alone received $17 billion in government subsidies in the last 10 years, they say. This includes $6 billion in interest-free loans from the government of Abu Dhabi to buy new planes from Boeing and Airbus, and $6.5 billion to cover operating losses.

I was reminded of a nugget in American Airlines, US Airways and the Creation of the World’s Largest Airline about the events leading up to the merger of American and US Airways. Read More…

News and notes from around the interweb:

  • How to put United award tickets on hold

  • French Polynesia’s tourism minister says Air Tahiti Nui will join oneworld. (HT: Jean T. for the article, in French) Already American AAdvantage frequent flyers can spend miles for Air Tahiti Nui flights. It used to be possible to earn AAdvantage miles on Air Tahiti Nui. Interestingly, joining the alliance would raise the airline’s costs allowing for mileage accrual in a variety of programs, though presumably it would help encourage passengers to fly them instead of Air France and Air New Zealand. Seven years ago the rumor was they’d be joining Skyteam.

  • British Airways ‘Hand baggage only’ fares (which don’t even allow elites to have free checked bags – an exception to alliance-wide benefits) will no longer allow advance seat assignments either, including for elites.

  • American’s MD80s will be gone by end of 2017. That’s sad, actually — five seats across (2 on the left side, 3 on the right) rather than six; a fantastic ratio of premium cabin seats; that it will be replaced in many markets by the Airbus A319 with half as many first class seats. The “Mad Dogs” are gas guzzlers which were the mainstay of the American fleet for years. They lack inflight entertainment but were a priority for internet when American first began rolling out Gogo’s product.

  • Hilton announced everyone would have to change their password by March 25, and would get bonus points for doing so by March 8. But their IT systems turned out not to be prepared for this. Readers keep asking for updates, two weeks later. I asked Hilton, and was told:

    Still no update unfortunately. I promise to share any further details once I have them. I do know that they are still working on resolving the issue.

  • Awards on Taipei-based China Airlines can now be searched at Delta adds fuel surcharges to these awards. (HT: MileValue)

  • Royal Air Maroc, which has launched New York JFK service, will codeshare with JetBlue. This gets JetBlue some Morocco-originating passengers, and possibly some JetBlue customers for Royal Air Maroc. What is does not do, however, is give JetBlue customers any new options to use their points. JetBlue’s partnership with Emirates doesn’t, either. If there was ever an airline ambivalent about the existence of a loyalty program, JetBlue has to be it.

Several airlines have settled a price fixing lawsuit and you may be entitled to a very small share of the settlement if you purchased a ticket to Asia or the South Pacific in the past 15 years. No doubt the class action share will be small, but it’s not much effort, and you will just be asked for trip details and won’t need to dig up any documents.

In 2009 a class action lawsuit was filed against Air New Zealand, Air France, and Continental for price fixing between the US and Australia, New Zealand, and Pacific Islands. The case later expanded. And in August 2014 there was an agreement for a $30 million settlement with Air France, Japan Airlines, Vietnam Airlines, Thai Airways, Malaysia Airlines, and Cathay Pacific.

In September Qantas and Singapore Airlines agreed to settle — the former for $550,000 and the latter for $9.2 million.

Air New Zealand, Philippine Airlines, Eva Airways Corp., China Airlines and ANA are still contesting the claims, and argue that they’re barred by having filed the fares either with the DOT, or with the Airline Tariff Publishing Company ‘which shares them with the DOT’. (‘Filed-rate doctrine.’) I suspect that’s a stretch because the DOT is not in fact setting or approving the fares.

Here’s how you can receive your payment…

I receive compensation for many links on this blog. You don’t have to use these links, but I am grateful to you if you do. American Express, Citibank, Chase, and other banks are advertising partners of this site. I do not write about all credit cards that are available — instead focusing on miles, points, and cash back (and currencies that can be converted into the same).

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®
CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard®
US Airways® Premier World MasterCard®

Back in October we learned that Barclaycard would issue two American Airlines credit cards once the US Airways and American frequent flyer programs merge. It turns out that was – literally – only half right.

Barclays is losing the ability to issue new US Airways/American credit cards with the merger, and Citi will get that right exclusively in the U.S.

  • US Airways and American are merging frequent flyer programs.
  • The Barclays-issued US Airways card is becoming an American card.
  • You won’t be able to apply for it anymore once the programs merge.
  • This will happen during the second quarter of the year.

Up until now we knew about the AAdvantage Aviator Red MasterCard, which current US Airways cards are supposed to become.

  • Double miles on American purchases
  • A 10% rebate on redeemed miles annually, up to 10k miles
  • First checked bag free (up to 4 traveling companions)

The key for me is that the Aviator Silver card will offer elite qualifying mileage earning at a lower price point than the Citi Executive card and it will also continue to offer a companion ticket benefit. That requires spend, which I’d meet anyway in order to earn elite qualifying miles.

Then there’s the $195 Aviator Silver card.

  • Triple miles on American purchases plus double miles on hotels and car rentals
  • A 10% rebate on redeemed miles annually, up to 10k miles .. this is just like the Citibank American Airlines offering.
  • First checked bag free (up to 8 traveling companions)
  • Companion certificate each year for two guests at $99+tax each with $30,000 in purchases by each anniversary date. The annual companion certificate was a fantastic benefit of the US Airways card, so I’m glad to see it continuing in some form.
  • 5,000 elite qualifying miles for each $20,000 in annual purchases (up to 10,000 per year). This is better than the Citi Executive card’s 10,000 after $40,000 spend at a higher annual fee price point.

But there are actually (4) cards.

  • There’s the no annual free (‘downgrade’) card, AAdvantage Aviator (no ‘color’ in the name) which earns 1 mile per $2 spent.
  • There’s the AAdvantage Aviator Blue which offers 1 mile per dollar (2 on American Airlines spend) but without the add-on benefits of other cards – I will be curious to see if this is the card issued to former US Airways Bank of America credit card holders (Barclays acquired the old BofA portfolio left over from before US Airways-America West merger).

So in addition to the personal Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® (currently offering 50,000 points after $3000 spend within 3 months as a signup bonus; my theory being that they need to compete with Barclays until the two frequent flyer programs merge) and the business card version CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard® there will be four different Barclays AAdvantage products — although in order to have one of these you’ll need to be a Barclays US Airways cardholder before the Dividend Miles program goes away.

(HT: Chasing the Points)

Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of any advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either.

United is putting a ‘ps’ Boeing 757 onto one of its two daily Boston – Los Angeles flights this summer.

Between July 2 and August 17, United will fly:

    8:30am – 5:01pm, Los Angeles – Boston, UA528
    6:00pm – 9:11pm, Boston – Los Angeles, UA717

This move is interesting for several reasons:

  • United ran Boston – Los Angeles with this premium ‘international-style’ seating for several days in November.
  • When they have extra capacity with the aircraft to fly a roundtrip cross country flight, they seem to decide to put it on the Boston route.
  • It’s fully flat seating, but with the standard domestic product and upgrade rules. Elites can get complimentary upgrades on these flights.
  • Boston – Los Angeles is a high yield route compared to other cross country flights (aside from New York – Los Angeles and San Francisco which normally get these aircraft).
  • JetBlue has been considering using its similar ‘Mint’ product on the Boston – Los Angeles route.

    JetBlue’s “Mint” business class seat

While I expect that United’s decision to place the aircraft on Boston – Los Angeles is opportunistic as much as anything else, it serves as a test to see whether they can win business on this ultra-competitive route away Delta (2 flights), American (5 flights), Virgin America (3 flights), and JetBlue (3 flights).

    American’s premium cross country seat — very similar to United’s

Although I expect it will serve only as the most modest of tests, without the ramp up of service (catering) that comes with its premium products out of New York and without converting both of the airline’s flights to premium aircraft. They can’t easily market this with only one of their two flights, the message gets muddled and too many customers would be disappointed.

Sit-ins, refusing to leave the aircraft, are becoming a thing in Iran to protest poor operational performance of Iranian airlines.

Iranian news media have cited several recent incidents in which passengers enduring prolonged delays have refused to leave aircraft once their planes belatedly arrived at their destinations, sometimes as much as 22 hours late.

In some cases, the on-board sit-ins have lasted for several hours, according to media reports here.

When you’re frustrated that your airline isn’t getting you to your destination on time, what you want to do when you finally get there is get of the plane not prolong your flight by hours.

Passengers blame ‘top officials’ for chronic delays, though they are circumspect when doing so.

“People got very angry and exchanged insults with local officers and even started criticizing top officials for mismanagement,” said Farzane, 53, a passenger who asked that her family name not be used for privacy reasons. “Finally, with great hesitation we boarded and prayed for God to care for us. When we landed, we all breathed a deep breath of relief.”

For their part, Iran blames… the U.S. (Great Satan) for economic sanctions which make it difficult for them to buy new planes and parts for existing ones. Of course, government leaders are also circumspect when blaming the US as the official line is that the US has no power to influence Iran.

In last week’s Friday prayers in Tehran, Hassan Rahimpour Azghadi, a leading pro-government ideologue, praised the impromptu protests and condemned the epidemic of flight tardiness.

“We are disrespecting the rights of passengers,” declared Azghadi, a member of Iran’s Supreme Council for the Cultural Revolution, a powerful oversight body. “We are wasting their time and disregarding their dignity.”

Now we know that passengers shouldn’t protest delays by delaying themselves further. But what about an airline, what shouldn’t they do when their computer systems go down?

News and notes from around the interweb:

IHG Rewards came out with internet for everyone a year ago (though of course most of their hotels already gave it to everyone as a brand standard, only the upper-tier ones did not and in certain regions).

And Marriott announced this two months ago, with a restriction of having to book through Marriott channels.

Starwood launched announced free internet in December and started offering it a month ago. They require bookings to be made through a Starwood channel to be eligible.

Days later Hyatt announced free internet — no loyalty program membership or booking channel requirement whatsoever.

That left Hilton dangling out there as the only major US chain still charging the bulk of its guests for internet. That couldn’t be sustainable, and indeed they emailed this morning to say they’re going to offer free internet starting in August:

  • To Blue and Silver HHonors members (Gold and Diamond already get free internet). In other words, program membership is necessary, this will help them build their member file.
  • Who book through a Hilton channel or through corporate travel partners. This helps them reign in distribution costs, creating a reason for customers not tied to their points program to book direct instead of their paying commissions to Expedia, Orbitz, etc.

Diamond members will get unthrottled internet speeds starting in the second quarter. (Hyatt and Starwood give that all elites. Net net this is a minus for Hilton Golds who will have more guests competing for their same level of throttled bandwidth.)

Free internet will not apply at hotels with a resort fee. Apparently they don’t want to interfere with those hotels’ narrative for what the resort fee buys you. If members of the Hilton HHonors program who booked through a Hilton channel were entitled to free internet at these properties, there’s be a run of guests protesting that they shouldn’t have to pay the resort charges since they were already entitled to a key ‘benefit’ of these bogus charges.

I’ve asked for clarification on which corporate bookings that will be eligible for free internet.

Hyatt just updated its terms and conditions for Gold Passport. I cannot emphasize enough that loyalty programs should share with members when they do this, and explain the changes that they’re making, even when the changes are innocuous or consistent with other announced changes to a program that have been made.

Here’s what Hyatt has done. Read More…

The Marvel — and Tradeoff — of Inflight Internet

Inflight internet is one of the truly amazing advances that’s made a direct difference in life over the past few years.

Some people hate it, it makes them feel obligated to stay connected whereas flying was one of the few times where they could turn off their life. They couldn’t be reached. It was an opportunity to read a book, or even to nap during the business day. Cherished personal time.

In some ways inflight internet is one example of the trend towards eliminating the distinctions between work and personal time, although much (though certainly not all!) business travel is done during the work week.

For me, it’s not only made me more productive it’s generally reduced my overall stress level. I used to hate landing after a long flight during the business day to an avalanche of urgent emails requiring immediate attention. Even if none were truly urgent, having 30 or 50 messages that need at least cursory scanning, many needing at least a perfunctory reply, ate up time and caused immediate anxiety. After all, I’d have to go through all of them to know whether any crises happened.

Continue reading to see what will happen in the future for inflight internet…

The ethics of traveling to certain parts of the world — places where human rights aren’t respected, where a sex trade exists (perhaps illegal but unfettered) or where ‘guest workers’ have their passports taken on arrival and have little choice but to toil in unsafe conditions – can be complicated.

I think it’s difficult, and certainly uncomfortable, for a world traveler to ponder how their choices affect the people they meet. And it’s even tougher to ponder the signals their choices send — does visiting Turkmenistan endorse that regime? Does it provide hard currency that sustains the regime? Is your tourism in some way fostering terrible conditions that people live under?

Sometimes that might be the case, although rarely does one person’s decisions materially affect the situations of people on the ground and rarely would one person’s decisions prop up or undermine an abusive structure.

Still, don’t we have some obligation just not to participate or at least not to derive enjoyment from situations and places that generate misery for others?

Read More…

JetBlue is winning Hollywood. Not the studio contracts, of course. If you have a deal with Paramount, you’re flying American on the lucrative Los Angeles – New York route. But the ‘real’ Hollywood. The actors and directors and producers and independent talent who work for a living, aren’t traveling on a studio’s dime, but view the world through the lens of those who do.

One of the best sources of clients for my award booking business has been Hollywood – recognizable actors who have had many small roles in film, or recurring roles on cable TV, comedic directors whose shows we know but that we wouldn’t recognize in an airport.

They travel in circles with actresses and actors who fly private, or who are flown in international first class all over the world. They want to travel this way, but they frankly can’t afford to. And they love miles and points as a result because it opens up the world that they’re otherwise merely on the fringes of.

One really great client who I like a lot recently emailed,

Boy, JetBlue Mint is great for the money.

He’s otherwise picking and choosing flights based on which airline, day, and time has confirmable upgrade space. He’s buying the cheapest coach ticket, spending miles, and a cash co-pay. By the time he does that roundtrip, he’s effectively paying at least as much as just buying the seat outright from JetBlue.

The thing is, American, United, and Delta are regularly selling seats at these prices. Just not to you, and not to him.

Corporate contracts on these routes are much more cost-competitive with JetBlue than the prices you see quoted on an airline’s website, or on Orbitz or Expedia.

JetBlue will sell seats to anyone. And that’s why the A-listers may fly American, but the B-listers choose JetBlue.

Premium cabin travel used to be priced several multiples that of coach on domestic flights. And as a result, no one bought the tickets. 90% of domestic first class seats were taken by upgraders. Now with airlines generally reducing first class fares, they unsurprisingly sell more first class tickets.

That doesn’t mean the seats are cheap. JetBlue gets $600 each way. But it’s much less than what competitors are charging on the route.

There’s a premium market where prices modest multiples of economy. That’s a market that legacy carriers are currently ceding.

Revenue-based frequent flyer programs are good for consumers — just not in the way airlines would have you believe.

Frequent flyer programs are the most successful marketing creations ever. And as such they get consumers to behave irrationally. Customers buy more expensive tickets than they otherwise would. And not even for the elite benefits, non-elites do it too and low level elites who may not get much incremental value from their status. Frequent flyer programs turned airline seats, which were otherwise commodity products, into differentiated products, and differentiated products consumers were willing to buy at a premium.

But when you commodify the relationship, and you turn the frequent flyer program into a straight rebate there’s little advantage to choosing one program or another.

What’s more, the leader in the revenue-based space — Delta Air Lines — actually turns out to be the loser in this game when all of their competitors reward high fares as well.

  • Delta awards more miles to higher fares, but the miles they award are worth less than their competitors’ currency. That makes them the less rewarding airline program for the high spenders.
  • Trust is incredibly important in a revenue-based program. And when consumers understand the program as a rebate in fares, cuts to the value of miles sting even more. Delta has reminded us over the past month that they begin with a huge trust deficit, and are doing everything possible to signal to consumers that they’re doubling down instead of doing anything to make up for it.

Delta runs a good airline operation, and it makes sense for customers in Atlanta and the Upper Midwest to fly them as a result. Planes are full so airlines don’t need to spend a lot to fill incremental seats.

Big data can even project what changes may happen at the margin, that a given cutback will save more on costs than it will cost in business. But there’s a temptation towards scientism, to believe that the data tells you more than it does, e.g. if there’s any misspecification of the question, or you’re just finding support in the data for your own priors and missing second and third order effects. (See generally, Karl Popper and also Hayek’s Counter Revolution of Science).

What’s more there’s a tendency to isolate a single change, and determine that there’s little customer attrition driven by that change. What customer gets driven away by American’s choice of domestic first class cookie? But taken together, a series of changes influences a consumer’s view of the product even if no single change moves the needle.

By taking away the loyalty aspect of frequency programs, the revenue-based approach takes the blinders off consumers and allows them to act more in their rational self-interest. That’s not good for the airlines, it’s not good for those consumers who could approach programs rationally in earlier eras, but it’s probably good for consumers as a whole. Of course no airline would knowingly go down that road. But their big data blinders and self-confirming hypothesis lead them inexorably towards it.

For years (here I am writing about it in 2009), Sixt Rent a Car has offered elite status to customers who have status of some kind with a variety of airline or hotel programs.

And rental car status is one of the most important things you can have to make your experience better.

Sixt will give their Platinum status to (among others):

  • United Premier Executive 50k and higher
  • Turkish Airlines Miles&Smiles Elite and higher
  • US Airways Dividend Miles Platinum and higher
  • Starwood Platinum, Hilton Diamond, Hyatt Diamond
  • Delta Skymiles Gold and higher
  • Club Carlson Gold
  • Best Western Diamond

Their list is way out of date, since they offer to comp Kingfisher elites and Continental Platinums. And their list shows a misunderstanding of the programs they’ll comp, since they make the offer to Marriott Diamonds.

Platinum benefits include:

  • Up to 15%* discount on Sixt rent a car and Sixt rent a truck.
  • Free upgrade to the next higher car group and a double upgrade in U.S. locations**.
  • No Rental Formalities: Your personal data is stored behind the card, no waiting time at the arrival location and easy payment due to your stored credit card information.
  • Preferred Mobility: Forgot to reserve? No problem. Call up to 24 hours before the rental, and we will provide a car.

Lower tier elites — like most airline and hotel silver (first-tier status) — can get free Sixt Gold status.

This is such a gimme that comped Hilton Silvers who have signed up for the free version of the Hilton Citibank credit card can do this. American Express Platinum cardholders who have taken the free Starwood Gold status can do this.

This is most useful in Europe, but Sixt also has several airports in the U.S. and has other locations as well. I’m not the biggest fan of Sixt’s Miami airport location, although commenters share a variety of experiences both good and bad. Sixt does have some nice cars.

Back in August, the knee defender guy touched off a media firestorm.

The fight started when the male passenger, seated in a middle seat of row 12, used the Knee Defender to stop the woman in front of him from reclining while he was on his laptop…

A flight attendant asked him to remove the device and he refused. The woman then stood up, turned around and threw a cup of water at him, the official says. That’s when United decided to land in Chicago. The two passengers were not allowed to continue to Denver.

For about a week there was a ‘national conversation’ about how bad things have gotten with air travel, whether there’s a right to recline your seat, and the need to be polite (“we’re all in this together”).

There were even other incidents in quick succession, and the original perpetrator even claimed he’d do it again.

Last year I even sat next to a woman who was written up with an inflight disturbance report. She brought her own wine onboard and didn’t want to relinquish it.

The crazy thing? There were fewer passenger incidents reported to airline authorities since statistics for this began!

Domestic flight crews reported 121 unruly passengers to federal authorities last year. These include incidents in which a passenger assaults, threatens, intimidates or interferes with an airline crew member in the course of his or her duties while aboard an airplane. Reporting is at the discretion of crew members.

There were over 200 such incidents in 2001 and 2004. Most do not lead to fines.

While there are theories posited as to what’s led to the reduction in reported incidents, such as “Flying has become so undignified and degrading that the airlines have successfully cowed their passengers into submission” and “The FAA adopted stiffer penalties for passenger disruptions in the year 2000, and airlines adopted zero-tolerance approaches to bad behavior in the years after 2001″ none of this actually explains the year-over-year variation in the data or that 2014 would see the fewest incidents on record.

Whether 120 or 300, the number of reported incidents is dwarfed by the number of domestic airline passengers. These incidents have always been rare, and generally defy a single unifying cause.

Whatever the reason, though, there are fewer of them!

I receive compensation for many links on this blog. You don’t have to use these links, but I am grateful to you if you do. American Express, Citibank, Chase, and other banks are advertising partners of this site. I do not write about all credit cards that are available — instead focusing on miles, points, and cash back (and currencies that can be converted into the same).

Citi Thank You Premier is changing its spending bonuses and reducing its annual fee, effective April 19.

The fee drops from $125 to $95 (it’s still $0 the first year) which makes it competitive with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.

The signup bonus remains up to 50,000 points as a signup bonus — 20,000 points after $2000 spend within 3 months and 30,000 more after $3000 spend in the first 3 months of your second year with the card. And it still has no foreign transaction fees.

What’s changing are the spending bonuses.

Starting April 19 it will earn triple points on travel including gas (the travel category for Sapphire Preferred doesn’t include gas). And it will earn double points on dining and entertainment.

Basically they’re flipping the double and triple categories from what was previously offered, while broadening the definition of what is travel for the purpose of awarding bonus points.

No doubt there will be people that preferred triple points on dining, but I view this as a net positive since it seems clear more bonus points will be rewarded overall for regular travelers.

Citibank Points Have Gotten Much More Valuable This Year Thanks to Airline Mileage Transfers

Citibank introduced airline miles as an option for redeeming Thank You points over the summer, instantly increasing the value of their Citi Thank You Cards points substantially.

And a month later they even added a transfer partner, signifying that they weren’t done building the program.

Then in January they added another partner still, and told me “there will be more news soon…” Since then they added Qantas.

Thank You Premier and Prestige cardmembers can now transfer points to:

  • Air France-KLM
  • Asia Miles
  • Etihad Airways Guest
  • EVA Air Infinity MileageLands
  • Garuda Indonesia GarudaMiles
  • Hilton HHonorsTM
  • Malaysia Airlines Enrich
  • Qatar Airways Privilege Club
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus
  • Qantas Frequent Flyer
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

Of these, Singapore Airlines has the broadest and best uses in my opinion. You can now transfer points from Chase, Starwood, American Express, and Citi over to Singapore. And that’s a really great option.

Though Citi has several truly unique partners, not duplicated by other programs. In general they aren’t going to be as valuable as some other mileage programs, but there are niche uses, such as redeeming Etihad Guest points for Philippine Airlines business class awards.

Do you view the changes to Citi Thank You Premier as net positive as I do?

Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of any advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either.

News and notes from around the interweb:

Commenter Dan writes,

I used to do Strategy and Analytics for an [Online Travel Agency] and had an offer for a similar title [tp General Manager, SkyMiles Strategy & Analysis] at United Mileage Plus.

This is much more an analytics role than a strategy role. At all these firms, they need a business person who can run data models to tell them what is making/not making money. Sometimes I was able to put together small changes or run promos that helped the bottom line (my biggest was probably an international fare sale on select foreign carriers), but the overall direction of the program is guided by the higher-ups. This person would just tell the higher-up how much money they would be making off the decision.

That being said, 100% of the decisions made come down to the bottom line. One of the most common analyses I would run would be based on net revenue improvement vs. volume decline from adverse decisions. Very rarely was it not profitable at the end of the day to do a customer unfriendly move, as people get angry but rarely change decisions enough to offset the new cash being brought in.

(Emphasis mine.)

Relatedly, reader Alan H. pointed me to “Every Time a New Fee is Announced, a Fairy is Born

Ancillary revenue grew 7% in 2014, the most since 2010. 2015 is off to a good start with January up 9% as reported by A4A this week. There are more opportunities by tweaking current offerings and by exploring new ones. We list 10 potential new fees in this note, including charging for sodas (US Airways tried this unsuccessfully in 2008), first checked bag fee on int’l routes, and fees for customers that lie and try to cheat the rules. Many of these could be lucrative.

Inconvenient truth: customers like fees. Maybe that sentence would be better received if we had said “customers like paying only for what they use.” Well, guess what…that’s the same thing. Part of the airline evolution is about airlines segmenting their customers and treating good customers better than bad customers. Hotels do this well. Some airlines are just getting into that as they overhaul loyalty programs, for example, to dollar-based awards.

If a company can charge you more and give you less, and you don’t materially change your behavior, well then they probably should do just that. It’s in their interest.

If you aren’t going to move your business to products offering you better value propositions, then you get exactly the program and fee structures you deserve. No sense complaining.

Of course there’s a collective action problem: you may move your business, but unless enough business moves then it’s not going to matter. You need to do more than move your business — you need to move the needle. So you need to amplify your voice.

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Reader B. wanted to know,

Is it worth spending $40,000 on the Citi Hilton reserve to get Diamond status?

No, in my opinion it is not.

I think that the Citi Hilton Reserve Card is definitely worth getting, and worth keeping.

It provides a signup bonus of two free weekend nights at almost any Hilton property after $2500 in spending and each year you put $10,000 spend on the card you get an additional weekend night.

    The Award Room — an Ocean View Standalone Villa With Private Pool — at the Conrad Koh Samui

And you get HHonors Gold just for having the card.

I think it’s worth having the card for Gold status – modest upgrades, breakfast, free internet — and it’s worth putting $10,000 of spend on the card for the extra free weekend night.

    Breakfast and a newspaper at the Conrad New York

But in my view Hilton Diamond just isn’t that much better for most members than Hilton Gold. There’s no suite guarantee. You’re guaranteed lounge access (at most properties) but Golds get breakfast anyway if you don’t get into the lounge. There’s no suite upgrade entitlement (only the generosity of specific hotels, no requirement) and no guaranteed late checkout.

I say this as someone who used to put $40,000 of spend on a Hilton co-brand credit card (the premium Amex, which has a $20 lower annual fee but doesn’t have as rich a signup bonus) and decided to stop. And who also lucked into Diamond status a different way.

It makes no sense to me to actually earn Hilton status via stays. It makes no sense to me to put $40,000 in spend on a card for Diamond. But since there aren’t Hyatts and Starwoods everywhere it makes sense to have a backup status in a program with hotels most places you’ll go. And I believe the best route is Hilton Gold just for the $95 annual fee from the Citi Hilton Reserve Card

chase freedom credit cardEditorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of any advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either. Terms and limitations apply to all offers.
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