Imagining Future Conversations with the TSA

Posted on: July 31st, 2011 by: Gary Leff

Ben blogs about his experience with the TSA at JFK, where every passenger was being asked for their first name and destination.

As he observes, it’s silly when every passenger is being asked the same question and can hear it in advance. Even if the idea was to check for fake IDs (as though this was somehow meaningfully linked to security), the advance notice renders it useless. And of course the TSA document checkers are hardly highly trained behavioral detection officers.

So he pushed back at the questions, asking whether answering was a prerequisite to flying (he was not told that it was), and offering second ID in lieu of an answer.

Now, some will say why give a hard time to the frontline employees? But this is hardly harassment of those employees, and this is the situation in which the passenger is being interrogated in order to exercise their right to travel. But setting aside individual strategy for achieving social change, I’m envisioning a future colloquy between Ben and the TSA that goes something like this:

TSO: Who would cross airside must answer me these questions three, ere the other side he see

Ben: Ask me the questions, Smurf. I am not afraid!

TSO: What.. is your name?

Ben: I am Lucky.

TSO: What.. is your routing?

Ben: TPA-EWR-FRA-ICN-PEK-BKK-NRT-ORD-TPA

TSO: What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen A340?

Ben: Would that be with Rolls Royce or CFM engines?

TSO: Huh? I… I don’t know that. Auuuuuuuugh.

Mommypoints: How do you know so much about Airbus engines?

Ben: Well you have to know these things when you don’t have incredibly cute kids to blog about, y’know.

Free 26 Week Subscription to the Wall Street Journal

Posted on: July 31st, 2011 by: Gary Leff

Sign up here, no credit card required.

This certainly won’t last long.

(HT: Dan’s Deals)

Update: 12 hours later, this is gone…

Your Locked Luggage Isn’t Safe

Posted on: July 29th, 2011 by: Gary Leff

Via Bruce Schneier, how anyone can get into your locked luggage without your knowing: a pretty cool video demonstration after an annoying ad you have to watch at the beginning.

This doesn’t surprise me in the least. I’ve never understood locking luggage, or at least believing that its contents are safe once you do. Being separated from valuables introduces vulnerabilities, entirely apart from airlines losing those valuables and the bag itself being shredded or otherwise breached through less than careful handling. Either don’t bring valuables or don’t trust airlines to transport them as checked baggage.

The TSA’s New Union Takes Sides in the War on Water

Posted on: July 29th, 2011 by: Gary Leff

The TSA now has a union, and oddly though unionization is new for their workers the union’s slogan is:

“On Your Side From the Begining

The begining (sic) of what, exactly?

Still, I expect their website to be a useful source of knowledge. For instance, they’ve posted this memo (.pdf) from the TSA’s Assistant Administrator for Security Operations in the Office of Security Operations explains that each airport’s Federal Security Director (FSD) is authorized to use their government credit cards to buy bottled water for TSA employees. Yes, that’s right. The TSA won’t let you take water through the checkpoint, but the government will buy water for its TSA employees. Clearly, the TSA and travelers are on opposite sides in the War on Water.

The union wants to make sure that TSA employees get access to bottled water, even if we can’t. Perhaps passengers should ‘report issues’ with lack of access to water to the local Union President or AFGE at 866-392-6832?

(HT: scflier on Milepoint.)

Philippine Airlines All You Can Jet Within Asia for $270 EARNS MILES

Posted on: July 28th, 2011 by: Gary Leff

On the heels of JetBlue introducing BluePass, this year’s more limited version of ‘All You Can Jet’ where they’ll let you fly as much as you’d like from either Boston or Long Beach, Philippine Airlines is offering their own an All You Can Jet Pass (so to speak), a “Fly Asia” pass which allows unlimited travel to 12 cities for 7 weeks for only US$270 + taxes/fees. (Unlimited business class is $1070 + taxes/fees.) And it earns miles.

Travel from Manila, Cebu and Davao to Bangkok, Beijing, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Macau, Saigon, Shanghai, Singapore, and Taipei.

They’re seling the unlimited travel pass through August 7 and all outbound travel must be between August 15 and November 30, with all travel complete by December 10.

Within two weeks of purchase you must redeem all your travel under this program, and you must do all your tickets at once.

Here’s the table of taxes and fees:

Regional Routes

Route Fare Surcharges
in USD
Est.
Taxes
in USD
Total
in USD
Manila-Hong Kong-Manila FREE 90.00 19.40 109.40
Manila-Macau-Manila 90.00 13.70 103.70
Manila-Taipei-Manila 90.00 10.40 100.40
Manila-Singapore-Manila 150.00 23.20 173.20
Manila-Bangkok-Manila 150.00 23.60 173.60
Manila-Saigon-Manila 150.00 18.00 168.00
Manila-Jakarta-Manila 170.00 20.00 190.00
Manila-Beijing-Manila 150.00 14.00 164.00
Manila-Shanghai-Manila 150.00 14.00 164.00

Above amounts are subject to change due to conversion rates. 

Domestic Routes  

Route Fare  Surcharges ASF1 TSC2 VAT Total
in PHP
Manila-Cebu-Manila or Cebu-Manila-Cebu FREE 500.00 15.00 50.00 68.00 633.00
Manila-Davao-Manila or Davao-Manila-Davao 700.00 15.00 50.00 92.00 857.00

While you have to buy all your tickets up front, changes are permitted for a change fee. And if you buy this deal and want to back out prior to taking your first trip, you can get your money back for a $150 fee.

Philippine Airlines Mabuhay Miles may not be of interest to very many readers, but for the two of you that are interested this could be a huge mileage running opportunity.

Update: The economy fare is not such a great mileage run opportunity — I don’t really keep up on changes to the Mabuhay Miles program and not all fares earn full mileage (apparently this change went into effect in 2009). So assuming these tickets book into U, W or P they won’t earn full miles. If I were doing this and planning to fly heavily, I’d argue that the business class option looks more attractive.

Chase Bank’s New Secret Weapon to Keep You from Getting Big Credit Card Signup Bonuses

Posted on: July 28th, 2011 by: Gary Leff

Chase has really stepped up its game with its targeting of offers. For years they would set up a link, send it to a group of people, and call that targeting. No matter what they said in the terms and conditions of an offer, anyone using that link would have its promotion code attached to their account and they’d receive the offer.

Well, they seem to have figured out how to do their targeting much more effectively.

Chase launched its standard offer for the United Explorer card, which only includes 25,000 miles up front. Additional bonus miles are available for taking additional action like adding a cardmember and for hitting an annual spending threshold on the card.

Now it seems there’s a new, more lucrative offer: 50,000 bonus miles up front. But the trick is you may click the link and not see this offer, you may get re-directed to the standard offer. See, it’s targeted to United elite members. It’s being advertised on the Mileage Plus website. And if you aren’t an elite member logged into your Mileage Plus account, you don’t see richer offer.

Frankly I didn’t think Chase had it in them to implement this sort of technology, they’ve never shown any aptitude for it in the past. And now that they have a new toy, someone is going to want to use it again for future offers and with other co-branded partners. Which doesn’t bode well for jumping on targeted jumbo offers in the future.

I’m An Idiot Who Doesn’t Know How to Find His Own Blog URL

Posted on: July 28th, 2011 by: Gary Leff

I never bothered to register a domain name for this blog. I started it back in 2002 on blogspot, and back then it seemed neat.blogspot.com (my original URL!) was fine.

Then I transitioned over to being hosted by Randy Petersen, this blog could be found at webflyer.com/blog. Simple, right? That’s when this blog left behind its original name, “More Room Througout Coach” and took on “View from the Wing” – actually, Randy suggested the name.

It then transitioned over to blogs.flyertalk.com but somehow folks always seemed to find it and I never really worried to much about how.

BoardingArea started up and the blog moved again. And ever since then I’ve been typing out the URL viewfromthewing.boardingarea.com and I figured it would probably be a good idea to get a domain name but somehow never bothered.

I’ve even seen folks in the media list this blog at viewfromthewing.com and I’ve always sorta freaked out, what a shame! That URL won’t take you anywhere! I guess I won’t get any visits off that plug…

So today I saw someone list my blog at viewfromthewing.com, and it occurred to me maybe it’s finally time to grab that domain. Thinking someone was probably squatting it by now (hubris on my part, perhaps?), rather than even look up the DNS information I typed in viewfromthewing.com and that redirected me to… this blog.

So I queried the whois information, and it looks like Randy and his team grabbed the URL back at the beginning of 2008, a full three and a half years ago. ViewFromTheWing.com has been live, functional, and forwarding all that time and I literally had no idea, I’ve been telling people “just Google my name” rather than giving them a website address.

I share this with you in case you didn’t realie you could find this blog at ViewFromTheWing.com, and also to let you know that no matter how much I may figure out (or not) about this or that to share on this blog, I’m still a ‘tard…

A Oneworld Mega DO in the Future?

Posted on: July 28th, 2011 by: Gary Leff

With the third Star MegaDO approaching in little more than a month, frequent flyers are talking about what a oneworld version of the event might look like.

Maya Leibman, the President of American’s AAdvantage program, chimed into the discussion.

Wow – how cool is this!? We can’t wait for our first (and sure to be the best) Mega DO. You definitely have to come to DFW – we’ll take you through the SOC, the flight training academy (simulators), the tower and more. And whether in DFW or Toulouse, Airbus will definitely love to show you the new aircraft we’re buying (youngest fleet in 5 years baby).

She says they won’t actually give Executive Platinum to everyone who shows up (Hyatt is giving all participants to who stay in the official hotels for the event Diamond status…) but she promises “we’ll definitely do something you’ll like.”

With the President of oneworld’s largest frequent flyer program personally onboard, it’ll be something to look forward to. And I’ve got to love the competitive spirit, wanting to outdo the events hosted with the Star Alliance…

List of Hyatt Properties Whose Award Categories Are Changing

Posted on: July 27th, 2011 by: Gary Leff

Earlier today Hyatt said that they’d be announcing the hotels which would be going up and down in award category on August 4.

But the list is now available:


    Hotel Current Category New Category
    Grand Hyatt Jakarta 1 2
    Hyatt Place Atlanta/Downtown 1 2
    Hyatt Place Chesapeake/Greenbrier 1 2
    Hyatt Place Freemont/Silicon Valley 1 2
    Hyatt Place San Antonio NW Med Ctr 1 2
    Hyatt Regency Buffalo Hotel/Conf Ctr 1 2
    Hyatt Regency Fukuoka 1 2
    Hyatt Regency Kolkata 1 2
         
    Hyatt Place Chicago/Hoffman Estates 2 1
    Hyatt Place Dallas Garland 2 1
    Hyatt Place Dallas/Plano 2 1
    Hyatt Regency Dearborn 2 1
    Hyatt Place Jacksonville Airport 2 1
    Hyatt Place Richmond/Arboretum 2 1
    Hyatt Place Sacramento/Roseville 2 1
    Hyatt Summerfield Suites Dallas/Las Colinas 2 1
         
    Hyatt Place College Station 2 3
    Hyatt Place Saratoga/Malta 2 3
    Hyatt Place Seattle/Downtown 2 3
    Hyatt Place Secaucus/Meadowlands 2 3
    Hyatt Regency Louisville 2 3
    Hyatt Regency Minneapolis 2 3
    Hyatt Regency Perth 2 3
    Hyatt Summerfield Suites LAX.El Segundo 2 3
         
    Hyatt Place Greensboro 3 2
    Hyatt Place Princeton 3 2
    Hyatt Place Tampa Westshore 3 2
    Hyatt Regency Bonaventure 3 2
    Hyatt Summerfield Suites Bridgewater 3 2
         
    Grand Hyatt Mumbai 3 4
    Hyatt Hotel Canberra – Park Hyatt 3 4
    Hyatt Regency Hangzhou 3 4
    Hyatt Regency Hua Hin 3 4
    Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa 3 4
         
    Grand Hyatt Shenzhen 4 3
    Hyatt Regency Belgrade 4 3
    Hyatt Regency Bishkek 4 3
    Hyatt Regency Dubai 4 3
    Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach 4 5
         
    Grand Hyatt Dubai 5 4
         
    Andaz Wall Street  5 6
    Hotel Victor 5 6
    Hyatt Regency Hakone Resort & Spa 5 6

On the whole this isn’t bad. Andaz Wall Street goes up to Category 6, that seems high to me considering that their weekend rates tend to be quite low. And it’s sad to see Hotel Victor become category 6. But the two Dubai properties drop a category.

I’m sad to see Hua Hin jump to category 4, it was a category 1 property less than a year ago and much of the year rooms can be had around $100 although the prices do really spike during their peak season.

Mostly a lot of Hyatt Place properties moving up and now. So on the whole, not really big news, just part of the usual re-categorization of properties. Nothing I’m too disappointed about, nothing I’m elated about, just housekeeping more or less.

Official Word on Upcoming Hyatt Gold Passport Changes

Posted on: July 27th, 2011 by: Gary Leff

I posted this morning that changes would be coming to Hyatt Gold Passport — some benefits changes and also some properties going up in points for redemption and others going down.

Now we have a few more details. Hyatt Gold Passport has announced:

  • Guaranteed 4pm late checkout for Diamond members (but still subject to availability at resort and casino properties). This brings them up to Starwood, though we’ll see how they do in practice because Hyatt has long had difficulty meeting expectations with late checkout. No doubt this new policy will come along with training of hotel properties. In my earlier posted I noted being turned down for 2pm at the Andaz 5th Avenue back in May as a Diamond, I really appreciate Gold Passport putting 4pm in writing. This will mean a great deal for Hyatt’s top elites. (Meanwhile, 2pm late checkout – which was never guaranteed for non-elite members – is no longer a benefit of base membership in the program.)

  • Nightly room refresh for Diamonds. Love the 4pm checkout but this one I don’t quite get, Diamonds get “light housekeeping and bedroom turndown service” which is something many full service hotels inconsistently deliver on for everyone already. Again, I imagine some retraining comes along with the new benefit, so more consistent service delivery for Diamonds will improve the travel experience.

  • New amenity choices at lower end properties. In lieu of 500 points, Diamonds can choose a $5 credit in the Guest Market at Summerfield Suites or complimentary beverage at Hyatt Place. I’ll still take the points.

And as previously reported, 25 hotels will go up in points to redeem and 18 hotels will go down. The change won’t take place on August 4, though, the list will be published then so we’ll have about four weeks notice before the change goes into effect on September 1. That I can live with.

The 4pm late checkout for Diamonds is huge, it’s an area that Hyatt really needed to work on and I’m glad to see that they have. The hotel recategorization is likely to be a fairly standard affair, we’ll have to wait until August 4 to find out precisely. The rest is a bit of non-news, I’d think.

I still expect more to coming over the next few weeks, like the announcement of new Gold Passport promotions. Stay tuned!

Most Airline Ticket Taxes Still Suspended, Who Gains and Who Loses?

Posted on: July 27th, 2011 by: Gary Leff

On Friday I wrote a long post explaining the reasons for the logjam in Congress over re-authorizing the FAA, and what it would mean for airline ticket taxes.

At the time, I suggested that any tax savings would be very short-lived for consumers.

Besides, an elementary understanding of tax incidence theory suggests that people are paying roughly what they’re willing to pay in airfare now. One would expect prices to rise much of the way to compensate for removal of taxes. Contra Rick Seaney, I would expect any savings – were taxes to go uncollected — to quickly fall, prices rise, and the difference in price would be far less than his projected 13%.

I did flag, however, that

[N]ew fares aren’t filed in real-time, so even if airfares do adjust that will happen over the coming airfare feeds, so no doubt there will be an opportunity to book tickets with those systems and carriers not charging tax and at prevailing airfares (ie without a corresponding airfare increase).

And indeed that’s exactly what happened. There was a period of time on Saturday, basically the morning, when you could buy tickets at the old fares and without taxes. And then most airlines raised their fares to offset the reduction in taxes.

Notably, JetBlue, Alaska, and Frontier have maintained that they haven’t raised their fares. Which is more or less a publicity stuny, truth is that fares change all day long across various routes and change every day, the longer Congress goes without re-authorizing these taxes the less meaningful these claims become. Since fares certainly won’t be across the board what they were before the taxes lapsed.

Of course fares went up. A passenger paying $500 for a ticket inclusive of taxes was willing to pay $500 for the trip. They weren’t willing to pay an amount less than that, plus taxes to the government. The market price prevails here, and what that suggests is that the airlines were really the ones paying the taxes all along and not the consumer, the consumer was paying the amount they were willing to pay for the service and out of that came a tax bite.

Presently airlines are charging the same price for their service as before, and not being taxed. (Of course they are still going to be paying income taxes on any profits, and taxes on the fuel they purchase, and all other taxes — just not the 7.5% excise tax and the per-segment taxes, or the 6.25% cargo tax.)

Whether or not that’s ‘fair’ is a normative question, it’s not obviously unfair, considering how heavily taxes airlines are and despite relatively healthy past year, just how unprofitable the industry has been the past two decades overall.

Me, I was just happy to make some ticket purchases on Saturday. If you want to ‘understand’ the issue of who really pays a tax, consider reading up on tax incidence over at Wikipedia.

The Points Guy wants airlines to pass the tax savings on to consumers.

He quotes West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller as being “deeply perplexed” that most airlines have decided to keep the money. Which is especially ironic, because as I explained last week, Rockefeller is one of three Senators obstructing re-authorization from the upper chamber of Congress. House Republicans want to pare back subsidies for the three most costly (per-passenger) rural airports, one of which is in West Virginia. Laughably, Rockefeller is urging airlines to voluntarily hold onto the funds that would have been collected in taxes had Congress re-authorized the FAA, and give the money to the government later.

Kathleen Pender has a piece in the San Francisco Chronicle rounding up how airlines are handling taxes collected with ticket purchases prior to expiration of the tax, but for travel while the tax is not in place. If you paid taxes on tickets you bought prior to Saturday, but are traveling today, you’ve paid a tax you theoretically don’t owe.

When I spoke to the reporter, one of the outrages was supposedly that the airlines were pocketing that tax money. I pointed out that the taxes collected were going to the US Treasury. The IRS has asked airlines to refund those taxes, and report having done so with future tax filings. Although the IRS also points out that the airlines are under no obligation to do so. Overall, airlines have said (1) the funds are held by the government, so go get your money from them, and (2) it’s cumbersome and expensive to set up this process which is hardly our fault, so go direct your outrage to the government and get your money back from them. (The exception is JetBlue which is apparently processing tax refunds.)

Apparently, the IRS plans to develop some procedures to handle refunds.

[P]assengers who are unable to obtain a refund from the airline may obtain a refund by submitting a claim to the IRS.” It adds that travelers will have to submit proof of taxes paid and travel dates to the IRS under procedures that are under development.

But as Pender has me pointing out in the article, don’t go looking for refunds on most award tickets,

Most airlines do not collect these taxes from passengers using frequent flyer miles to get a free domestic ticket, says Gary Leff, co-founder of milepoint.com.

In my post on Friday, I foresaw another issue that the IRS is now warning about. We don’t actually know what will happen to tickets sold now for future travel when the taxes are put back in place. Congress could write the law requiring payment of those taxes. As I noted,

it’ll be relatively simple for a legislative fix to simply retroactively authorize the taxes. And the authorization issue would seem to apply to when travel is consumed, rather than purchased… If they stopped collecting taxes, they might be facing either (1) eating the cost of the taxes themselves or (2) passing on an add-collect to the passenger.

I don’t actually expect this, because it would be hugely unpopular and this isn’t a Congress given towards doing utterly unpopular things especially as the next Presidential election season approaches.

So bottom-line is that the government isn’t currently taxing the airlines on ticket sales, beyond the taxes paid by most businesses. That’s great for the airlines for now. Whether that’s fair, when the government imposes tremendous costs as well as provides benefits to this heavily regulated industry, is probably a pretty complicated question.

For consumers, there may be some tax refunds in the offing for those willing to jump through hoops to get them.

But overall, sanctimonious members of Congress railing against airlines in all of this probably deserve a ::rolleyes:: at best.

More Changes to the Combined United-Continental Frequent Flyer Program

Posted on: July 27th, 2011 by: Gary Leff

The sheer volume of changes that have to move forward to integrate the United and Continental frequent flyer programs are staggering, I’ve provided updates recently here and here on some of what we now know.

In the past few days several other minor progress items and changes have revealed themselves.

  • United Systemwide upgrades (upgrades which can be used on any United flight, including internationally, provided you buy a W coach fare or higher; given primarily to 100,000-mile flyers) can now be used on Continental.

  • Continental Onepass members get to keep their current 8 character account numbers. Presumably United members keep their 11-digit numbers. Unclear is which number members will keep when they have both a United and Continental number and accounts are merged. (US Airways and America West members kept their own numbers with that merger, I believe technically my 7-digit US Airways number has leading zeros in their system.)

  • United Premier members can now pre-reserve exit row seats. Previously this benefit was limited to Premier Executive (50,000 mile flyers) and higher.

  • Free and easy extension of your United miles. Via Keith if you transfer your United miles to Continental, that counts as activity that resets the expiration date of your miles. Then of course you can move your miles back. When Northwest and Delta combined, everyone got 1 mile which extended the life of their miles. Of course, Delta Skymiles no longer expire.

More to come!

Changes Coming to Hyatt Gold Passport

Posted on: July 27th, 2011 by: Gary Leff

Last night Milepoint member chanp posted an email from his Private Line Representative saying that 43 hotels would be changing award categories on August 4 — 25 will require more points, and 18 will require fewer points.

So this is how it works…

  • If you currently have a reservation at a hotel that is going up in points, it will not change how you have booked it, even if your stay is after 8/4.
  • If you currently have a reservation at a hotel that is going down, and your stay is after 8/4, GP will be refunding you the difference in points.
  • If you need to change your dates, you will get the better option of the two, however anything changed after 9/3 (30 days later) will have to adhere to the new point chart.
  • We don’t know which hotels are going up and which are going down yet. Best strategy is, if you’re considering a reward booking, make it now. If the price goes down, you get points back. If the price goes up, you protect yourself against the increase. And for all properties that I know of except the Park Hyatt Maldives, the reservation is cancellable so consider making your booking speculatively (check cancellation rules, of course).

    Within three hours of this posting, at about 11:30pm Eastern, Jeff Zidell the Vice President of Hyatt for the Gold Passport program posted that there would be changes coming to the Gold Passport program but they weren’t prepared to share them yet. These changes would be announced “this week and next.” The Private Line rep wasn’t supposed to email the members that that they are responsible for taking care of, apparently, I hope they don’t get in trouble for doing so.

    (High value Gold Passport members can have a dedicated reservations representative assigned to them, a person they can call or email with for all of the reservation needs, to have someone follow up on missing points, to talk to a hotel for you for specific needs, etc. At least in the past Diamond members could request one, I don’t know if the program is still open to any Diamond member who asks.)

    My pet peeve, perhaps more than anything else with loyalty programs, is changes without significant advance notice to members. Especially to elite benefits. Members spend a year earning status, making their decision based on benefits being offered by a program. After putting in the effort, the stays, nights, segments or butt-in-seat miles, the program says “sorry, just kidding, we’re actually giving you what’s behind door number 2.”

    I’ve long wished for a year‘s notice of changes to elite programs, so members could make informed decisions about the benefits that make sense to them to shoot for. And at least several months’ notice for changes to award charts, so that members could ramp up their earning to reach their reward goals. Playing Lucy, Charlie Brown, and the football, increasing reward chart requirements right as members are about to have enough points for a booking isn’t cool.

    So what changes are coming to the program, besides re-categorizing certain properties? I don’t know. But:

    • I expect a third-quarterish promotion to be announced.

      Could they be adding a new, higher reward category? I’d hate to think so, it’s only been about a year since they increased point requirements across the board in advance of introducing a points-earning credit card. So I certainly hope it’s not wholesale increases or a new, higher category for their exceptional and exceptionally expensive properties like the Park Hyatts in Paris and the Maldives.

    • Some sort of replacement for “G bonuses.” There used to be property-specific bonuses, a few thousand points per stay, and those were pulled after March 31. Jeff Zidell explained at the Randy Petersen Travel Executive Summit in April that the bonuses were a manual process, they frequently didn’t post, it angered members and created significant work to correct — so they needed to replace it. To me, those certainly sounded true and fair, but having no bonuses was certainly not better than having manual bonuses. Presumably some replacement will be coming.

    • My pipedream? Confirmed suite upgrades used on award nights, not just on paid stays.

    • Late checkout. Hyatt has been working on the late checkout benefit, trying to get properties to apply it more consistently. I’ve had my own problems getting it honored — as a Diamond at a hotel I’ve stayed at regularly and where I’ve had correspondence with the property’s General Manager even. Supposedly properties should honor early check-in if they have rooms, and late checkout isn’t supposed to be optional. But the benefit is unclear and isn’t applied consistently enough. A stronger, clearer, more forceful benefit would be great here. It’s one of the things that Starwood Preferred Guest does exceptionally well, even for Gold members.

    What changes do you expect to Hyatt Gold Passport? What changes would you like to see?

    The Freddie Awards Will Return in 2012!

    Posted on: July 26th, 2011 by: Gary Leff

    The Freddie Awards were the airline, hotel, and credit card loyalty program awards. Running from 1988 through 2009, hundreds of thousands of program members cast their ballots for the most rewarding efforts in miles and points during the previous year. They created a meaningful way to answer the question of which program was actually the best, as determined by the members of the programs themselves.

    Randy Petersen discontinued the awards after the 2009 ceremony, and a group of frequent travelers got together to found a replacement, the Frequent Traveler Awards. The idea was that it’s important to recognize what’s good in miles, points, and loyalty. Doing so actually nudges the programs themselves at the margin to do better for members, and highlights those things which frequent flyers most value. It gives voice to the frequent traveler.

    That’s certainly a sentiment that’s been echoed to me by programs that I’ve spoken to in preparation for the two past Frequent Traveler Awards ceremonies. And it did seem to influence Priority Club’s decision to keep PointBreaks awards this year, those were widely speculated to be on the chopping block but they were voted a Best Promotion award and spared at least for now. We can continue to cash in just 5000 Priority Club points for award nights at select properties.

    After two years hosting successful Frequent Traveler Awards, we’ve worked out with Randy to revive the Freddies. And so going forward, the Freddie Awards will be back! And they’ll be in their traditional time slot, with an award ceremony held the last Thursday evening in April.

    Here’s a recap of the 2011 awards held at Citi Field and hosted by Emmy award winner Robert Wuhl. And here’s a recap of the first Frequent Traveler Awards, held in Houston in November 2010.

    Here’s my commentary on the 2009 Freddie Awards, the 2008 results, the 2004 results, and my pleasure at having attended my first Freddie Awards ceremony in 2003, where I took home a 4-night stay at the then-Wyndham El Conquistador in Puerto Rico as a door prize. Here is a notation of the passing of Sir Freddie Laker in February, 2006.

    I’m excited, honored, and humbled to be continuing the role that I had with the Frequent Traveler Awards, as Chair of the Nominations Committee, now with the Freddie Awards going forward. It’s a tremendous legacy to be a part of, and am thrilled to have Randy’s continued advice and counsel as we proceed to build an even better award program. Just couldn’t help sharing the news with y’all, the Freddies are back!

    Starwood American Express 30,000 Point Signup Bonus is Here!

    Posted on: July 26th, 2011 by: Gary Leff

    There’s been quite a bit of buzz over the past week or so about the return of the Starwood American Express 30,000 point signup bonus. Trick was that you had to be referred by an existing cardholder to get it (and the person doing the referring would get some points as well). That restriction is no longer in effect, and the 30,000 point bonus offer is available to everyone.

    The offer is 10,000 points after first purchase and 20,000 more points after spending $4500 within the first three months of cardmembership. That’s better than the ‘standard’ good offer of 10,000 points after first purchase and 15,000 more points after spending $15,000 within six months — the new current offer is both more points (30,000 vs. 25,000) and has a lower spend requirement to earn those points ($4500 vs. $15,000).

    As with all Starwood Amex signup offers that I’ve seen, the first year $65 annual fee is waived. This offer is expected to last through August 22, though of course there’s no guarantee that it will (nor any guarantee it won’t be extended).

    For years the Starwood card has been the generic all-around go to card for spending, because of the value and flexibility of the points. In addition to hotel stay redemptions, Starwood offers a tremendous number of airline points transfer options, most at 1:1 (United/Continental is 2:1 unfortunately, because Chase bank won’t allow another credit card product to be better for earning United miles than theirs is, and Chase carries tremendous sway having provided billions in financing and prepurchasing half a billion dollars in miles a few years ago to provide liquidity). Transfers to LAN are 1:2 which creates some interesting mileage redemption values. The card also gives bonuses for transfers, the standard bonus is 5000 miles for each 20,000 points transferred over. So with most airlines you’re in effect earning 1.25 miles per dollar spent instead of the standard one mile per dollar.

    The downside to airline mileage transfers is that they don’t happen instantly, or in some cases even quickly, in contrast to American Express Membership Rewards point transfers. When Membership Rewards points you can generally set up an award and then transfer over the points to book it. While Starwood points are incredibly flexible, taking 5-7 days to transfer to an airline like American and a full 2-3 weeks to transfer to one like Alaska means that you have to transfer your points before booking an award… so you do run some risks that the seats will no longer be there by the time the points show up. For this reason I’ve been a bit more of a fan of the American Express Premier Rewards Gold card lately, plus it earns bonus points for gas and groceries and airline tickets and the Membership Reweards program often has transfer bonuses such as the current 50% bonus on transfers to British Airways.

    The card itself does come with some real benefits, Starwood elite members like that it adds 2 stays and 5 nights each year to your account, making it a bit easier to qualify towards status ($30,000 in spend on the card nets Gold status, as well). Get the personal and business cards and you’ve got 4 stays and 10 nights towards status. And just having the card gets you most of the benefits of Gold status, like late checkout, without the 50% bonus on in-hotel spending.

    Here’s the personal card offer and here’s the small business card offer.

    Of course, now any cardholder can submit referrals, not just those who were targeted. The referrer gets 5000 points and the person that is referred gets the current generous offer of up to 30,000 bonus points. I had plenty of people ask me to refer them last week but I could not. Now I can, but you don’t actually need me to… Referrals have to be submitted by August 10 and applications must be completed by August 22.

    (HT: Rick.)

    67% Bonus on Transfers from American Express to Delta

    Posted on: July 25th, 2011 by: Gary Leff

    Via The Points Guy, Delta and American Express are effectively offering a 40% rebate on Membership Rewards points transfers through September 30th (registration required).

    For every 50,000 points you transfer from Amex to Delta Skymiles, you’ll receive an electronic certificate to deposit 20,000 Amex points back into your account.

    Only 50,000 mile increments count, so if you transfer smaller amounts that total more than 50,000 points you’re out of luck. A 60,000 mile transfer and a 90,000 mile transfer won’t get (3) 20,000 point rebates, just two.

    The rebate doesn’t come right away, but rather 6-8 weeks “following registration in promotion” (which I assume is an error in the terms and conditions, and that they actually mean either 6-8 weeks from making the transfer or 6-8 weeks from the end of the promotion).

    That means you don’t get any bonus right away. You need to have the full Amex point balance in your account now if you want to make a transfer and use the points right away. You’ll get the points back later.

    This is actually a very rich bonus, since it means that a net of 30,000 Amex points yields 50,000 Delta miles. That’s a 67% effective transfer bonus — the largest that I’ve seen outside of the mistakes that Amex and Delta have made in the past (such as the 80% transfer bonus that some members were eligible for in January and the 150% bonus which didn’t include Amex and wasn’t actually supposed to get launched).

    The nice thing is that all members are open to this not, not just those doing a transfer from Amex to Delta for the first time as with the current 50% bonus offer which also awards 25,000 elite qualifying miles for making a transfer of 100,000 points or more.

    Still, for most members I wouldn’t suggest jumping on the offer. It really is going to depend on your award goals. I tremendously value the flexibility of Amex points, they let you decide where to put your miles later, once you know where you are going to need them — generally because you know the award you’re going to book and who has the availability you need. You’re giving up tremendous option value when you make a speculative transfer ahead of an actual award booking you need to make.

    Now, if you need to make a booking during the promotion period it makes Delta miles incredibly cheap. Say for instance you wanted two business class awards from Houston to Europe, you could likely do it via Amsterdam on KLM and instead of being 100k points apiece it would cost you just 60,000 points per ticket (net). You’d transfer 200k Amex points to Delta, book your tickets, and get 80,000 points back later. Not bad.

    Again, I’d look very closely for Delta award availability during this promotion if I were using Amex points for the booking. If I could make the award work with Delta that would likely save me some points.

    If on the other hand you live in Washington DC and want to fly Air France, you may want to build up your Delta miles even speculatively, there are just so many darned Air France business class seats DC to Paris (now that they’ve added an A380 to the route in particular). Or if you wanted Los Angeles – Bribane in business class on V Australia, though even there I am a little bit skittish because that’s one of those routes where the inventory is just too good, it tells me that either it won’t last or Delta will start restricting access to it. That’s another reason I love keeping points in Amex Membership Rewards until I need them, I’m less exposed to the devaluations which go on across the various programs.

    Still, a 40% rebate which is equivalent to a 67% bonus is a tempting thing, and I pass it along for your consideration. The bonus sorta makes up for the fact that you are getting Skypesos, after all!

    US Airways Mastercard 40,000 Mile Signup Bonus and Fee Waived First Year

    Posted on: July 25th, 2011 by: Gary Leff

    The best offer I had been aware of previously was a 35,000 mile offer.

    This new offer is 40,000 miles with first purchase, no fee the first year, and 10,000 miles with each account anniversary (i.e. you incur an annual fee and get the bonus miles, though presumably those would post while you could still get your fee back).

    As with other offers, it comes with a lounge pass per year; the ability to earn 10,000 elite qualifying miles based on spend; a $99 companion ticket for use with up to two companions as long as you meet the minimum spend requirement on the paid ticket; a 5000 mile discount when redeeming awards solely on US Airways flights; and zone 2 boarding privileges. So it’s actually a fairly rich credit card for those who fly US Airways.

    For those who churn credit cards, 40,000 miles isn’t a ginormous bonus these days but it’s from Barclays so you aren’t maxing yourself out on offers from Chase or Citibank with this one. I know I’ve been avoiding any new Chase applications, not wanting to forego whatever their next big offer is, which is a shame because I need to get myself a Chase Sapphire Preferred card at least now that it’s offering double miles on dining (hotel and airline spend too, but in most cases I have other cards I’d use instead).

    Of course, some folks aren’t big Barclays fans because if they don’t like your credit or the way you look or dress they might approve you for a lesser card with lesser bonus. But still I suppose that’s better than rejecting you outright!

    Rental Car Discounts and Mileage Bonuses

    Posted on: July 25th, 2011 by: Gary Leff

    Throughout 2010, my favorite car rental bonus was 3000 US Airways miles on a 3-day (or longer) Avis car rental. And even when American had a similar offer, I stuck with the US Airways bonus because it overlapped with their ‘Grand Slam’ promotion, so each Avis rental also counted towards their 100,000-mile offer.

    The offer was originally scheduled to run through March 31, 2011 but it was extended through March 31, 2012. The offer says it’s intended for US Airways Dividend Miles elite members, but I’m not one and can confirm that it works for anyone. You just have to use coupon code MUAA044 and provide your Dividend Miles number with the reservation.

    The promo also promotes the US Airways ‘discount code’ (AWD) but you do not need to use this in order to get the bonus miles. And I generally don’t. My own corporate discount code gets a reasonable price much of the time, and it also gets me credits in the Avis Corporate Awards program where every 15 rental days earns a free rental day. So I get to double dip that way.

    I get excited, then, when I have a 3-day car rental. I usually have one- and two-day rentals. So I tend to credit those to Virgin Atlantic, which offers a flat 1000 miles on a 1-day rental.

    Sure, Avis doesn’t always have the very best rates or the best mileage deals. But I’m an Avis junkie because they treat me well (elite status) and so they get my business, the rest is just bonus as it were.

    Still, for a more comprehensive look at currently-available offers, it’s worth booking the FrequentFlyerBonuses page which catalogs a pretty good up-to-date list of mileage offers for car rentals, sorted by rental agency.

    And of course for the best rates, try AutoSlash. It’ll apply publicly available coupons to find you the best price. Most of the time it’s not all that different than what you’ll find elsewhere, but the real trick is that they’ll keep checking rental rates daily and if the price drops they’ll adjust your booking automatically — and they’ll keep checking other agencies as well, and invite you to switch if they find a better deal elsewhere.

    Avis doesn’t participate with AutoSlash, so you won’t see their rates when you search. But AutoSlash has a pretty neat feature where you can provide them a car rental booking you made elsewhere and they’ll still track it for you (this feature does include Avis). So even if you don’t originally book through AutoSlash, they may still be able to save you money on your rental.

    Not as much money, perhaps, as just booking through Hotwire or Priceline — which sometimes offer really good deals if you’re willing to prepay, and I tend to prefer Hotwire which tells you the price and vehicle type but not rental agency though Priceline sometimes will beat Hotwire by about 10% — but of course Autoslash bookings aren’t prepaid, there’s no credit card required, you can totally walk away…

    Even rental cars can help rack up the points towards your next trip!

    36% Discount on Travelocity Hotel Stays By Stacking Discounts

    Posted on: July 24th, 2011 by: Gary Leff

    Travelocity is offering 20% off a minimum $800 hotel purchase using promo code AMEX20H (purchase by August 16 for travel through December 31). Price is reduced instantly.

    Then, if you’re traveling by September 30, the American Express Link, Like, Love promotion can get you another 20% off in the form of a statement credit. (Minimum $350 spend and 3 nights. This can only be used once per cardmember.)

    These two combine for a 36% discount.

    Sadly, I don’t believe that the Travelocity American Express is eligible for the Amex Link, Like, Love promotion (because the card is issued by Barclays), or else you could get another 10% rebate on your actual spend. Wow.

    But without that, an $800 3-night stay consumed by September 30th will cost you $512. Not bad.

    500 Free Hawaiian Airlines Miles

    Posted on: July 24th, 2011 by: Gary Leff

    They’re offering 500 miles for connecting your Hawaiian Miles account with your Twitter handle.

    I figure that since you can now earn 2 Hawaiian Airlines miles per dollar spent at Amazon, for some of you every Hawaiian mile now counts.

    (HT: toddreg on Milepoint.)

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