A story that has gotten some play but not nearly enough is that the system for issuing US passports and visas has broken down.

Passport issue times have slowed down, and visa issuance has broken down as a result. Foreigners looking for permission to travel to (or return to) the U.S. are stuck waiting.

Problems began July 19, although it wasn’t the year’s first system crash.

The Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) at the State Bureau of Consular Affairs “is currently experiencing technical problems with our passport/visa system,”

…The issues, she said, have resulted in significant backlogs. Visas are approved, recorded and printed through the CCD. “Until the system comes back online, we are unable to print visas.

While H1B status can be approved for 3 years (renewal once), the length of time that any given country’s citizen is given on their visa depends on where they’re from. Citizens of most of the world get their Visas for 3 years. That’s true for places like Pakistan. Citizens of Mexico only get visas one year at a time. So a colleague is down in Mexico renewing his visa (or else he wouldn’t be able to travel outside the country and return, as he does tend to need to do). And he’s stuck there. He writes,

I am still in Mexico. The US Bureau of Consular Affairs has been dealing with technical issues that prevents US Consulates to print Visas. That includes mine. There is nothing wrong with my petition/file. It is a worldwide system problem. If you want to be “amused”, look here:

A reader looking for advice on changing flights due to the issue writes,

I have some friends who are in Guangzhou, China now finalizing an adoption. They are working in getting the baby a US visa, but apparently the US consulate there is having technical issues and they have been delayed several days.

The State Department says they’re working on it.

As of July 27, the Department of State has made continued progress on restoring our system to full functionality. As we restore our ability to print visas, we are prioritizing immigrant cases, including adoptions visas. System engineers are performing maintenance to address the problems we encountered. As system performance improves, we will continue to process visas at U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide. We are committed to resolving the problem as soon as possible.

This is a very big deal, for obvious reasons, and so I will refrain from the obvious snark.

Among hotel chains, Hyatt Gold Passport has the best elite breakfast benefit and Hilton has the easiest breakfast benefit to get.

Perhaps the most generous elite offering was the Park Hyatt Aviara which wound up comping their Mother’s Day $95 per person buffet.

Here are the very best breakfasts I’ve been provided for free as a result of elite status — the hotels that are the most generous, how they do it, and the lessons we can draw. Read More…

The Park Hyatt New York is one of the more anticipated luxury hotel openings of the year. It has 210 guest rooms and is accepting reservations for August 12 and beyond.

But is it ever possible to redeem points for a room here? Is Hyatt playing games? Read More…

My favorite barbecue – anywhere – is Black’s in Lockhart, Texas.

I believe barbecue is all about the meat, and that meat is brisket. Sauce shouldn’t be necessary, it just hides the taste of good barbecue.

I’ve had Franklin Barbecue in Austin and it is amazing. Technically perfect, even. But I find Black’s brisket more flavorful.

Austin-area barbecue has to be the most densely competitive enclave in the world, and that makes nearly all of it excellent. ‘Bad’ barbecue for the region is still ‘good’ in some objective sense, or at least relative to what you’ll find in most places.

I was excited to try the new Terry Black’s in Austin, only just opened.

This isn’t Black’s. This is Terry Black’s. And the subtle distinction underscores a huge family dispute. The two members of the family that opened up on Barton Springs in Austin worked in the business in Lockhart, but did this on their own. Their uncle Kent Black drew up a cease and desist order over their planned use of the Black’s name, and so they changed it to name the new location for their father Terry Black.

Kent Black is supposed to open his own Austin location on Guadalupe later this summer, and also offer a food truck. Their plan is to bring in the meat from Lockhart, while Terry Black’s cooks on-site.

I ordered brisket, pork spare ribs, and sausage (to share). They had disposable plates and most people were using those. They do have butcher paper, however.

There’s paper towels and sauce at the tables, get your own drinks once you order a cup and bring over plastic utensils such as to cut the ends off of a sausage.

The brisket was, on the whole, fairly dry. It was good, the bark was nearly perfect, but it wasn’t nearly as good as Black’s in Lockhart. Just not moist enough, unless you ate only the fattiest pieces.

The sausage just wasn’t juicy. I tried the jalapeno cheese sausage. It was extra large, but lacking in flavor.

The pork spare ribs, though, were sensational. Some of the best I’ve tried. They were sweet, falling off the bone, seasoned perfectly.

Unfortunately, Black’s in Lockhart is known for their beef rib (in addition to brisket of course), but while the beef rib was on the menu in Austin it wasn’t available when I was there.

Bottom-line is this was good barbecue, but it wasn’t great barbecue. I don’t think Franklin is worth the 3 hour wait, so this place fills a niche for bus-your-own-tray barbecue in Austin-proper (no need to drive out to Lockhart). But overall I would rate Lambert’s downtown as better. And the ‘real’ Black’s in Lockhart as better still.

Skift reports that JetBlue is considering a first checked bag fee.

The challenge they currently face is that they need upgrade their tech to offer different fare options.

A fee may be part of JetBlue’s new fare structure, Powers said yesterday, as the New York-based airline creates classes of tickets whose price would include services such as one free piece of checked luggage. While fliers could still choose a cheaper seat, they would have to start paying for any baggage, not just their second suitcase.

Only in the airline industry is adding a fee considered not nickel and diming customers.

“If you chose to buy a bucket without attributes and show up with a bag, you probably should pay for it,” Powers said. “It’s a terrific way, and in a JetBlue-friendly way, of monetizing all the excellent product attributes we have without doing what we’re absolutely opposed to — nickel and diming and gouging customers.”

I don’t love Southwest (and even more the case after they devalued their points), but I do love that:

  • They offer first and second checked bag free to everyone.
  • They offer a companion pass which credit card signup bonuses and hotel points transfers can help you earn.
  • Their awards redeposit without penalty.

Southwest was even earlier to the internet game than JetBlue, largely because of JetBlue’s novel earlier investment in inflight live tv.

JetBlue’s performance has lagged the industry this year. But just like United managing by doing what Delta does, it’s not clear that undermining your unique selling proposition will make you more attractive to consumers.

Still, I suspect that JetBlue hasn’t gotten enough credit from consumers for not charging these fees. If they don’t earn extra business or a revenue premium foregoing the revenue, it’s hard to justify continuing to do it.

Registration is required and you can earn 1000 United miles per stay up to 5 stays through October 31 at JW Marriott, Autograph Collection, Renaissance, Gaylord Hotels and Marriott properties in the U.S., Mexico, and some Caribbean islands.

One nice thing is that you don’t change your earning preference to miles, you can still earn your regular Marriott points for your stays. Only bookings made by September 5 are eligible for the bonus.

This offer extends the United-Marriott tie-in that includes reciprocal elite status and seems to be meant to encourage United members to participate in Marriott Rewards.

Existing Marriott members link their United and Marriott accounts and then register. New members enroll for Marriott Rewards, link their United account, and register for the promotion at the same time.

(HT: Loyalty Lobby)

News and notes from around the interweb:

Be careful how you express yourself on board an aircraft.

A 25-year-old Canadian man is in custody after two U.S. fighter jets escorted a Panama-bound flight back to Toronto on Friday.

The passenger complained how much he hated Canada due to the high cost of cigarettes. (Canada increased cigarette taxes more than 20% this year, and applied the tax even to ‘duty free’ purchases.) He ended hyperbolically, “I just want to bomb Canada.”

CTV news has video of law enforcement boarding the plane in the form of an armed assault.

While officers stormed the plane, they yelled orders at passengers “heads down! Hands up! Show me all your hands.. Keep your hands up!”

The man has been charged with “mischief to property, mischief interfering with lawful enjoyment of property, uttering threats and endangering the safety of an aircraft.”

Basically the whole thing went down like this:

(HT: Reason Hit & Run)

Citibank made Thank You points useful again, at least if yo have a Citi Thank You Premier, Prestige, or Citi Chairmans card.

That’s because they now allow points transfers to airline miles.

If you don’t currently have Citi Thank You points, the quickest boost to that balance is here.

I really like transfers to Singapore Airlines. They have a good award chart for US domestic flights (including Hawaii) on United, and they offer much much better award availability using Singapore miles for flying on Singapore Airlines in premium cabins than they’ve ever offered to their partners. You can actually book Singapore Airlines first class awards with Singapore miles (I have Singapore Suites reserved for a trip in the near future myself).

You can now transfer points from American Express, Chase, Starwood, and Citibank into Singapore Airlines. Singapore’s program is also a good place to credit the occasional United Airlines flight once United goes revenue-based for earning next year.

And Frequent Miler offers this good reminder about Thank You points:

And, I love the fact that Citi allows people to share ThankYou points with others. While other transferable points programs only allow sharing within the immediate household, Citi allows anyone to share with anyone.

Two important caveats:

  1. Singapore Airlines Krisflyer miles expire three years after they are earned. Validity can be extended for 6 months for a fee (12 months if you have status with Singapore Airlines).
  2. Citibank points transferred to someone else expire if they aren’t redeemed within 95 days.

Don’t transfer Citibank points into someone’s else account until they are ready to move those points to miles.

And don’t transfer points into Singapore Airlines unless there’s a clear use in the near or medium-term, because those points could expire.

Nonetheless, the combination of points transfers to anyone you wish that also has Citibank Thank You Points, and then the ability to transfer points to miles (especially Singapore Airlines) is really useful indeed. And makes me want some.

News and notes from around the interweb:

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. 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).

Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card

I’ve been recommending the Marriott Rewards co-brand Visa signup bonus when it hits 70,000 points for years such as here back in November and here from 2011. For those who care about such things, in both of those cases it was not a referral link, and I received no credit for it.

70,000 points plus a free night (up to category 4) is now the standard public offer for a limited-time, and for avoidance of doubt it does now offer referral credit. It’s being much discussed across blogs, so it’s worth repeating what this card is good for (and isn’t good for), the advice I’ve been offering for some time.

  • The signup bonus is 70,000 points and after $2000 spend within three months, and a free night at a hotel up to category four.
  • There is a $0 annual fee the first year and $85 thereafter
  • The card has no foreign transaction fees.
  • You also get 15 nights’ credit towards elite status each year, and an additional elite night credit for each $3000 spend on the card.

For a Marriott person, it’s worth keeping the card for help towards elite status and the annual free night in a hotel up to category 5 is worth the annual fee.

But I wouldn’t otherwise put spending on the card — earning 1 Marriott point is worth less than earning an airline mile with most carriers, and certainly worth less than earning a Chase Ultimate Rewards point or Starwood Starpoint (and worth less than earning on a 2% cash back card, since a Marriott point isn’t close to being worth 2 cents).

But the signup bonus can go farther than with many other hotel cards:

  • It’s worth two nights in a category 7 hotel plus a night in a category 4. Or 4 nights in a category 4 with 10,000 points leftover (you can convert those to miles, or save them – Marriott points do not expire in practice even though the rules say they will).
  • Or it is 1 to 2 nights in a Ritz-Carlton plus a category 4 night.
  • And you can also, of course, top off a Marriott account with Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfers. That’s not generally the best use of Chase points but if you’re close to an award it can make sense.

Get the card for the bonus. Keep the card for the annual free night.

But put your spend on higher value cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.

Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card

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.

If you have an Iberia frequent flyer account, if it’s three months old, and if you have earned any miles in that account then you can save on fuel surcharges — because you can transfer British Airways points over to Iberia, and then redeem the points for travel on Iberia. Fuel surcharges are miniscule compared to what British Airways would charge for the same thing.

Here’s why fuel surcharges are a big deal, and how having an Iberia account can save you.

You need an Iberia account, and you need that account to have miles in it. Here are free Iberia points to make that happen. Read More…

Last night I wrote that business class award space on the new Turkish San Francisco flight was wide open.

And even so, at the time I wrote the post I didn’t even realize just how wide open it was.

I showed that there were at least 4 business class seats available on every flight that Turkish would run on the route in April.

They’ll begin San Francisco – Istanbul service April 13, 2015 — initially 5 days weekly.

Here’s what availability looks like on those flights for seven business class seats:

In other words, every single flight they’ve loaded has at least 7 business class seats available during that first month in which they’re operating.

Remember, this is a business class cabin aboard the Boeing 777-300ER that only has 28 business class seats. This will not last. Book those Star Alliance awards to Europe, Middle East, Asia, and Africa now.

Chris McGinnis writes that Turkish Airlines is launching San Francisco – Istanbul service on April 13, 2015.

Flights will initially be 5 times weekly, and then going daily May 11th.

The Turkish 777-300ER has just 28 business class seats, so you’d expect business class awards to be difficult to get.

Although right now — and this cannot last — business class award space is wide open. Read More…

Malaysia Airlines tweeted out a message about flight MH17 yesterday and it’s taken me a day to decide whether to say anything about it or not.

When I saw the tweet I hid myself away, because I don’t do tears, and I cried.

I don’t have any direct connection to the flight, I’ve flown Malaysia Airlines before of course and I feel a certain bond with travelers as such, and much more so in the airport and on planes. in a way that I can’t really describe.

But I have no special right to cry over this. I was shocked by what happened as the whole world was. And when I saw this simple message I Just. Broke. Down.

I decided I should share it as well, in case it touches anyone else out there too that hadn’t yet seen it.

Somehow the image of these flight attendants holding hands through all of this affected me in a way I can’t even describe, thinking not just about the passengers and their families but the airline’s staff going through another tragedy before even getting through the last one.

I hadn’t cried for MH17 before. I don’t like to admit when I do. But now I have, and I guess I’ve told the world that now too.

Southwest Rapid Rewards is offering a 40% bonus on purchased miles through the end of the month.

The price of to buy points with this offer is 1.96 cents apiece. At most Rapid Rewards points are worth 1.42 cents (plus some option value in that Southwest award tickets are cancellable without penalty).

Don’t buy speculatively, even revenue-based programs can devalue.

The only reason to take up this offer would be if you had a very specific award you needed a small number of points to redeem for. Even then recognize the more you buy, the less value you’re getting for your redemption since every mile purchased loses over half a cent.

Points.com processes Southwest points purchases so they do not earn airline purchase bonuses that your credit card may offer.

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. 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).

Chase Ink Plus Business Card Card

  • 50,000 points after $5000 spend within 3 months
  • $0 annual fee the first year, $95 thereafter

A 70,000 Point Offer Reported for Chase Ink Plus

Doctor of Credit wrote last night that he found that by going into a Chase branch he could sign up for a limited-time offer of 70,000 points after $5000 spend within 3 months. The annual fee applies even during the first year with this higher bonus offer so this offer is $95 more expensive than my link offers. He guesses this opportunity might last “approximately a week” based on when something similar was done inside of Chase branches before.

This means an incremental 20,000 points for an extra $95, which will appeal to some. I would consider it worth it but for the time and effort to get to a Chase branch — there’s no Chase branch within 100 miles of where I live (although I could seek one out during my travels over the coming week).

If you are near a Chase branch and want to make the effort to go in, that may be the best route. And Chase has been getting more and more aggressive lately in promoting their new signup offers, their limited-time offers, and the Ink cards especially. So I would be surprised if this was the last shot at something like this!

The Best Credit Card Value Out There From Ink Plus

This is one of the very best business cards, and indeed one of the very best all-around credit cards.

It offers 5X points per $1 on the first $50,000 spent annually at office supply stores, and on cellular phone, landline, internet, and cable TV services. It has no foreign transaction fees.

Points transfer one-to-one into:

  • Airlines: United Airlines, British Airways, Korean Air, Virgin Atlantic, Southwest Airlines, Singapore Airlines
  • Hotels: Hyatt, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, IHG Rewards Club
  • Ground: Amtrak

For more background, see:

Chase Ink Plus Business Card Card

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.

Via Lucky, Japan Airlines is swapping out a Boeing 787 (angled business class, no first class) for a Boeing 777-300ER on their San Francisco – Tokyo Haneda route effective December 1.

  • The Boeing 777-300ER has first class suites and true flat business class on this aircraft.

  • And first class award availability is wide open from the time they make this switch through the end of the schedule. Read More…

Last month I wrote the Ultimate Guide to Constructing an International Award Ticket Using American AAdvantage Miles.

It already needs to be revised! Read More…

Via TravelingBetter I learned about an interesting consumer complaint to the Department of Transportation against American Airlines and an even more interesting response.

It strikes me that there’s a ton of disingenuousness on the part of lawyers for a major air carrier but also some interesting insight into how their systems work at the same time. So I thought it was worthwhile unpacking.

  • American accused the consumer of “creat[ing] fictitious reservations..to block premium seats for the sole purpose of obtaining AAdvantage upgrades.”

  • American took 60,000 miles as a penalty. Read More…

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View from the Wing is a project of Miles and Points Consulting, LLC. This site is for entertainment purpose only. The owner of this site is not an investment advisor, financial planner, nor legal or tax professional and articles here are of an opinion and general nature and should not be relied upon for individual circumstances.

Advertiser Disclosure: Many (but not all) of the credit card offers on the site are from banks from which we receive compensation if you are approved. Compensation does not impact the placement of cards other than in banner advertising (we do not currently control the banner advertising on this blog). We don’t include all US credit card offers available on this site. Instead, I write primarily about cards which earn airline miles, hotel points, and some cash back (or have points that can be converted into the same).

Editorial Note: The opinions, analyses, and evaluations here are mine and not provided by any bank including (but not limited to) American Express, Chase, Citibank, US Bank, Barclaycard or any other company. They have not reviewed, approved or endorsed what I have to say.