Using Amex Gift Cards to the Meet Minimum Spend Requirements for Credit Card Signup Bonuses

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

Now that the US Mint has stopped allowing you to buy coins with credit cards with free shipping to earn miles (you used to then just put the coins in the bank and pay off your credit card), I’ve gotten lots of questions about cheap and easy ways to meet the minimum spending requirements for credit card signup bonuses.

See, lots of those great 50,000, 75,000, and 100,000 mile signup offers don’t fully kick in until you’ve put a reasonable chunk of change on those cards. And most folks (including me!) aren’t comfortable playing games like buying diamond rings on the Costco website with a Visa or Mastercard and returning them in-store where they only process American Express. Play that game too many times and you can easily get banned from Costco.

So I thought I’d remind y’all that back on May 3rd I posted about using Big Crumbs to earn cash back buying gift cards. You earn the miles for the purchase, and even after paying any fees and shipping you make money on the deal. The promo code I posted to buy those gift cards fee-free expired June 30th, but thanks to Dan’s Deals you can use promo code EMSVCA through January 31, 2012 to get fees waived.

Search for ‘American Express’ at Big Crumbs and you’ll see that you can get 1.6% cash back for your purchases. The cash back you earn is greater than the cost of shipping which is why you make money on the deal.

Dan’s Deals says you can get free trial next-day air shipping (normally $99/yr). Given the cash back from BigCrumbs, a piece that Dan’s Deals doesn’t mention, I think I’d skip this part. Although you should be able to cancel within the three month trial online, and the next day air shipping really is free…

Now, one caveat is that I can imagine there are some cards out there which would treat this as a cash advance. I know that the US Bank Flexperks Card treated Mint purchases as cash advances. So anyone who has ever seen this, please note it in the comments. But most cards I understand will post this as a purchase, thus earning miles and counting towards your minimum spend.

Of course you now have Amex gift cards which you have to spend, and in general that just means you’ve met your minimum spend for the bonuses, pulling future spending into the present. These aren’t as easy as coins to get funds back into the bank! But if you need spending quick, but don’t have anything to buy, this lets you spread the spend out over a longer period of time.

Where the First Class Award Seats Are

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

When I redeem my own awards, my strong interest is in international first class travel on better airlines. Sure, I’m on the East Coast and so Western Europe is fine in business class. That’s transportation. But the beauty of miles is that they can deliver aspirational rewards, the kinds of experiences I would never be in a position to pay for out of pocket. But thanks to miles and points, getting there can be part of the trip experience too, not just something to ‘get through’.

Now, I should say that I (1) pay attention and accumulate a lot of miles, and (2) am redeeming for only two people, myself and my wife, this would be harder if we were traveling with kids (both because they aren’t usually ‘doing their fair share’ to earn the miles, and because the more seats you’re looking for the harder it is to find what you want).

I’ve got a couple of first class redemptions coming up in future months, one to South Asia and another to Central Asia. Some friends are meeting us for part of one of those trips, and to help out I had occasion to do a full month-long search of availability to present them with some options.

I built a calendar of availability for two passengers, first class, on ANA’s Chicago – Tokyo – Chicago flights and Cathay’s Chicago – Hong Kong – Chicago flights. And it occurs to me that the work I’m doing for friends might be interesting to (some limited subset of) readers, too.

All Nippon has a very nice first class product, in my opinion they have the very best food in the sky (though some complain of recent cutbacks, my claim even accounts for recent meal service changes). Service is excellent. The 2002-era suite is feeling a little dated, it’s narrower than I’d like, but otherwise I have few complaints about the in-air service. It’s just that ANA first class is tough to get most of the year except at the very last minute. But January – March it’s pretty darned available, and especially so on the Chicago – Tokyo route.

Here are the dates in February where two ANA first class award seats are available on the Chicago-Tokyo route as of this writing.

Chicago – Tokyo: Feb 1, 6, 7, 8, 12, 14, 16, 19, 20, 21, 22, 27, 28

Tokyo – Chicago: Feb 3, 7, 10, 11, 15, 16

When I flew ANA Chicago – Tokyo in first class this past February, my wife and I were the only ones in the cabin. Returning Tokyo – Washington Dulles there were two other passengers (so the cabin was half-full).

Here are the dates in February where two Cathay Pacific first class award seats are available on the Chicago-Hong Kong route as of this writing:

Chicago – Hong Kong: Feb 2, 3, 6, 7, 10, 13, 14, 15, 16, 19, 20, 21, 23, 27, 29

Hong Kong – Chicago: Feb 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 24, 25, 27, 28, 29

Cathay Pacific offers one of my very favorite first class products. I’ve slept as well in their seat as on any plane. The entertainment system is endless, the service is good (though less fawning than Singapore, they tend to avoid walking through the cabin so be sure to press your call button when you want something). The food tends to be a bit lacking, but I do enjoy dim sum for breakfast and the energizer drinks are great. Mostly, though, it’s really really available on some routes — Chicago – Hong Kong is new, and the San Francisco and Toronto routes are particularly available.

Overall, here’s my general take on getting first class awards on various carriers, on the whole though very North American-centric:

    Lufthansa: Some of the best first class availability, often made available early. West Coast – Europe can be tough, but routes like Chicago – Munich, Chicago – Dusseldorf, Detroit – Frankfurst, Newark – Frankfurt, Charlotte – Munich are uniquely easy. For awhile first class award space on the 747 virtually disappeared, as Lufthansa was beginning to roll out their new first class, but in general it’s back. Fortunately for me that’s the case on Washington Dulles – Frankfurt. While officially they don’t make first class awards available to partners on the A380, you’ll sometimes see the seats Miami-Frankfurt.

    Swiss: Used to be a gimme for New York/Chicago/Boston – Switzerland but no longer. The Los Angeles and San Francisco flights are pretty much impossible. They only make first class awards available days before departure, it seems, except on the Montreal – Zurich route. Europe – Asia is much more available. Oddly enough I haven’t had occasion o fly their new first class product.

    Singapore: They don’t make premium cabin awards available to their partners at all on the 777 and A380 aircraft, and among US departures only the JFK-Frankfurt-Singapore route is operated by the old-style 747. That flight has pretty good availability a few days before flight. In advance of that is tough, and then only one seat at a time per cabin mostly. If you want Singapore first class, you usually need to be redeeming Singapore Krisflyer miles (an Amex transfer partner, and Starwood Preferred Guest has restored 1:1 transfers).

    ANA: Only seems to release first class awards US-Japan in advance during the US winter, otherwise it’s days before departure, Chicago – Tokyo is most available followed by Washington DC – Tokyo.

    United: Surprisingly hard to get first class awards, at times good availability San Francisco – Seoul and Osaka, decent space on the West Coast – Tokyo flights and occasional space Chicago – Tokyo as well as Beijing and Shanghai. Chicago – Amsterdam is doable, now that Newark-Zurich is a United flight it’s accessible. Washington Dulles – Frankfurt and London are possibilities. In the end it’s a good (not great) seat, good entertainment, with erratic service and business class food and amenities. Avoid the 777 until they’ve all been updated.

    Thai: Doesn’t offer first class from the US. Europe-Bangkok flights are for the most part quite available, especially Munich, Paris on the days they offer two flights (currently operated by leased Jet Airways 777s), and Rome (non-daily). Three-cabin Hong Kong flights are gimmes, sure they’re short but you’re really interested in the ground service departing Bangkok anyway. Oddly they seem to only make one first class seat available on the Tokyo flights at a time, and then release more seats somewhere between 9 and 18 days prior to departure (even when the cabin remains otherwise empty). Beijing-Bangkok, usually operated by a 747 with old first class seats, is usually doable.

    Asiana: Only the JFK and Los Angeles flights have first class (And only one of the Los Angeles flights at that). JFK is a tough get for two seats, usually not more than one flight a week is available. Los Angeles is much easier, but it leaves earlier enough in the afternoon with a long required connection time that it can be tough to connect to same-day from all but the West Coast when heading to Asia. The easiest availability is usually Frankfurt – Seoul. Really outstanding food, I give a slight edge to ANA but I think Asiana probably does Western food better than anyone (oddly enough). Excellent amenities, very good service albeit generally with limited English. A good seat but not the most private.

    Air China: I don’t really want to fly them, which is good because they don’t make it easy to get first class award seats from the US, though occasional availability Europe-Beijing does exist.

    British Airways: No one offers as much award space as BA. There’s no way to get around fuel surcharges when redeeming for flights on BA, and those can hurt especially when connecting through London to other long-haul destinations such as Africa (think taxes and fees around $1000). But these seats are just so darned available, even from the West Coast (e.g. San Francisco) and if you want half a dozen first class seats on the same flight who else is going to give you that? While availability is good from Phoenix, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Dallas, etc. in a pinch check out Houston and Philadelphia. First class is easier than business. If you’re willing to pay the fuel surcharges you can get awards (multiple seats) from the US to London most any day of the year. Oddly, it’s often intra-European flights that can be tougher to find, their Italy connections can be the bane of my existence.

    Cathay Pacific: This used to be a tough award, proverbial needle in a haystack, but as the Great Recession hit availability thawed and started to get very good around May 2009. Around 2008 they started making seats available out of Toronto on Tuesdays, and then it became many routes on many days, though Toronto and San Francisco often still have the best availability (hint: neither is a oneworld hub to the flights survive on local traffic). And connecting availability beyond Hong Kong is good to most destinations, though Vietnam I usually only find in coach and can rarely find space direct to Phuket. I’ve got a couple of upcoming Cathay Pacific first class redemptions booked for myself. The only thing to not here is that while you can dine across from a companion as though in a restaurant, the seats are so private that you won’t really be able to see or speak to a travel partner otherwise.

    Qantas: Australia is the toughest award to begin with. Qantas isn’t generous with availability on top. Finding one seat can be done, but two is very very hard. It’s easier London – Asia and on to Sydney and Melbourne, but finding US-Australia in first class is a really difficult thing to do. Qantas loads its schedules around 355 days out, their own members and those of British Airways and Cathay Pacific can access seats at that time. Alaska Mileage Plan members, too, even though Alaska doesn’t load its own schedules until 330 days out. American AAdvantage members, though, can’t book partner flights until American’s own flights load 330 days out, which makes getting the few seats loaded when the schedule opens tough. I haven’t flown Qantas first class since 2005.

    American: Who buys these first class seats? Presumably not many people, because American first class transpacific can be quite doable and also to South America — those South America flights, and especially from Miami, are really really easy to get and not just for two seats but often even for four. Europe can be harder, although the trick here is that American tends to release those much closer to departure rather than when schedules load. I’m not really that into flying American first class, I’d consider it more of a business class product, but I’d definitely redeem for American first class over British Airways to save the fuel surcharges and certainly American first class over British Airways business — the cash savings plus the more quiet, peaceful, smaller cabin. And for South America, there aren’t a whole lot of great first class options and this one is a really easy get.

Obviously this isn’t a comprehensive list of airlines, it only covers major Star and Oneworld carriers and doesn’t touch on non-aligned airlines like the Middle Eastern offerings. And I don’t address Skyteam, since the US member Delta doesn’t even offer first class redemptions as a feature of their program. That’s my biggest beef. Delta miles are in general harder to use and less valuable than most other carriers, but they are exceptionally useful for the toughest two awards out there, Australia (because of partner V Australia which has great business class award availability) and French Polynesia (because they partner with both carriers flying Los Angeles – Papeete). Air France has great availability on some routes, but I don’t like their business class, though ever since the A380 came online at Washington Dulles that’s a gimme.

So is KLM’s Privatair Houston-Amsterdam flight. Onward flights to Africa can even be had without going through too many backflips. But no first class awards, so it’s beyond the scope of this post (and outside of my personal interest).

What am I missing, and what would you like to hear more about here?

Amex Stopped Charging Taxes to Transfer Points to Miles

Posted on: July 23rd, 2011 by: Gary Leff

An interesting side effect of the failure of Congress to re-authorize the FAA, in addition to airlines not charging federal taxes on ticket sales, is that the American Express Membership Rewards program is not charging their fee (which ostensibly recoups taxes) on transfers to U.S. frequent flyer mile programs.

Normally Amex charges $0.0006 per point (capped at $60 per 100,000 miles transferred) when moving points to U.S. airline mileage programs. The fee isn’t charged when transferring to hotel programs or to non-U.S. programs like British Airways and Singapore Krisflyer.

That means if you’re considering a transfer to a U.S. program like Delta or Continental (before the Amex-Continental relationship ends September 30), this is a good time to do it – save yourself up to $60.

To me the transfer fees are annoying, but the lack of fees aren’t a reason to transfer now — unless you were already going to move points over to Continental before their relationship ends, and this just accomplishes that goal for less money. I’d rather pay the fee later and retain the flexibility of having points in Amex than transfer now and lock in where my miles are while not knowing who is going to have the award availabilty when I need to book.

In other words, for most this won’t influence behavior a whole lot. But I’m glad to see Amex not ‘recouping taxes’ that they aren’t being charged.

Presumably mileage purchases with airlines directly shouldn’t incur a fee either, but I haven’t checked whether the airlines have removed taxes from these transactions or not.

(HT: SFOCanuck)

If Your Underwear Doesn’t Speak, You Can’t Fly Today

Posted on: July 22nd, 2011 by: Gary Leff

In one of those bizarre “there must be more to it than that” sort of stories, a woman is suing JetBlue for making her prove to them that she was wearing underwear. Apparently she was, but the Captain wouldn’t fly with her and she wound up taking another flight four hours later.

Ms Knowles said she was wearing a baggy blue T-shirt over a pair of short dark denim shorts she had put on for the flight on July 13, last year when she was forced off the plane at LaGuardia Airport.

She was taken to a hangar, where she lifted up her T-shirt to prove she met the dress code.

The supervisor seemed surprise at her shorts and she was allowed to return to the flight, but was then told the pilot refused to fly with her onboard

The especially bizarre claim is that “a JetBlue supervisor put a walkie-talkie between her legs to see what she had on under her baggy T-shirt.” The first time I thought that I wondered, was he hoping that her underwear would speak? (“Breaker One Nine, All Present And Accounted for!”)

Although I suppose the suggestion is that a walkie talkie was used as an instrument to move aside other clothing and inspect?

Surely there’s more going on here?

(HT: uggboy.)

Is There a Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity to Buy Airline Tickets Tax Free?

Posted on: July 22nd, 2011 by: Gary Leff

The U.S. House adjourned for the day without a temporary extension or re-authorization for the FAA.

The last full re-authorization was four years ago, and 20 short-term extensions have been passed since then. The latest one runs out at midnight tonight.

This is expected to mean the furlough of 4000 employees, but does not affect air traffic control. Which of course leads me to wonder about the usefulness of those 4000 employees anyway.

Republicans in the House, led by Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica, are at odds with Senate Democrats — primarly over the Essential Air Service program.

I’ve explained in the past just how wasteful this this program is, and that it really can’t be made more effective.

Mica doesn’t propose to gut much from the program, just to end subsidies that amount to more than $1000 per ticket. Which doesn’t amount to much, certainly not real reform. But it just so happens to affect only 3 small airports which are represented by three powerful Democrats. (Wouldn’t want to cut subsidies for Republicans, after all!)

Unsurprisingly all Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) are unenthused.

They won’t go along with the House on re-authorization without protecting their subsidies, and the House has been unwilling to authorize without killing those subsidies.

As I say, it’s a bit of a canard since the House really isn’t even reforming the “Essential” Air Service program. They’re just paring back the subsidies from three political enemies. (First rule: always remember that all politics is fake.)

Republicans also want to overturn a National Mediation Board decision which lowers the bar for unionizing airlines. Previously, a union had to obtain a majority of employees to unionize, the recent changes is that they only have to get a majority of those employees actually casting a ballot to vote in favor of a union. Republicans would like to reverse that change, and President Obama has threated a veto over it.

Meanwhile, several Senators was additional slots beyond the currently 1250 mile perimeter at Washington National airport. The current law is antiquated, originally intended to support long-haul traffic at Dulles it had the opposite effect, delaying the development of Dulles as a hub for a decade. (With more short-haul traffic shifted to National airport, there wasn’t nearly as much feeder traffic for Dulles’ longer flights, which meant that the airport could support only those flights necessary to carry DC-origination/destination traffic.)

Of course, the perimeter was cleverly set at 1,250 miles, which allowed flights to Dallas (anyone remember House Speaker Jim Wright?) but disallowed flights to, say, Denver.

Subsequently a series of exceptions have been made. John McCain, who represented the home state of then-America West airlines, was the chief proponent of flights beyond the perimeter (and in particular, those flights being awarded to America West).

No one proposes to eliminate the perimeter, incumbent carriers with exempted slots find those valuable and benefit from the legal monopoly they receive, competitors are not permitted to enter the market. And politicians benefit from handing out exemptions to constituents and contributors. So it isn’t just a matter of how many more slots are permitted to fly beyond 1,250 miles — it’s a fight over which Senators gets to hand them out to their favored airlines. The Senators hold the legislation hostage, demanding to be bought off.

Rick Seaney echoes the Secretary of Transportation in saying that failing to re-authorize the FAA means they aren’t permitted to collect taxes on airline tickets. He says that passengers could begin saving 15% or more on their tickets beginning early in the morning on Saturday, and that passengers with existing tickets traveling before the FAA can again collect these taxes should be entitled to a refund.

I’m not so sure.

Seaney acknowledges that under similar circumstances in the past, Courts have ruled that airlines didn’t have to return the overpaid taxes. And who is going to go through the hassle of trying to get the money back from the government? (Not to mention, my own feeling is it’s always a good idea to attract as little government attention as possible when it comes to taxes!)

My own guess is that no one will stop collecting ticket taxes at midnight. I’ve reached out to press people at Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, and United Airlines but it’s Friday afternoon in summer — not surprised I haven’t heard back. Still, this would take programming changes to implement and I doubt anyone has been proactively working to removetaxes from airfares, especially since no one expects such a thing to be long-lasting. Besides, assuming that the airlines don’t stop collecting taxes, 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, so how will United or Expedia know which tickets to collect the taxes on and which not to? 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.

Either Congress will mandate that they remit the taxes paid during the period where FAA was without re-authorization or extension, or the agencies or travel providers will get to keep the taxes. Either way, they’re likely to want to continue collecting the taxes. And doing so should be cost free, at least to the extent that Seaney’s understanding of how courts have treated this issue in the past is correct.

So my bet is no reduction in airline ticket cost at midnight.

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%.

In other words, nothing to see here, move along. We’ll know whether I’m right or Rick is right in about 8 hours!

Update: Looks like at least some systems are being prepared not to charge taxes. And of course new 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). Developing..

Update 2: Travelocity responds. According to Joel Frey, Travelocity spokesperson, “No, we will not display or include the government fees and taxes in the price of airfares if the bill expires at 12:01.” Sweeeeet!

The End of Buying $1 Coins from the Mint to Earn Miles

Posted on: July 22nd, 2011 by: Gary Leff

Via Million Mile Secrets, the US mint deal is officially dead.

They’re no longer accepting credit or debit cards for the purchase of $1 coins, and they say it’s precisely because people were buying the coins to earn frequent flyer miles and depositing the coins in the bank to pay off those credit cards.

But they’ve known for a long time that this was going on. I first wrote about it in June 2008. In the summer of 2009, the deal exploded as the Mint lifted the per-person cap on purchases. Scott McCartney learned all about it on the first Star Mega DO and wrote a Wall Street Journal column about it. That was nearly two years ago.

After attention in the press, the Mint took some heat for letting the practice continue. And they started to scold some people for doing it in some pretty extreme ways.

By the summer of 2010, they had placed a limit of $1000 in purchases every 10 days.

But, of course, people continue to purchase what they mint continued offering to sell. Some credit card programs, like US Bank Flexperks, stopped awarding points for the purchases. And Chase closed down accounts from some very high volume purchasers. But on the whole, things were still chugging along fine, thank you very much, even a couple of years after the deal had gotten public scrutiny.

Most people I spoke to assumed the deal was long dead. After all, it has been talked about in the media and they hadn’t heard about it again! Then a week ago NPR ran a story explaining that the deal was still alive and well. And the Mint continued to get a little too much spotlight for their comfort. So they have finally ended the opportunity.

May she rest in peace.

This wasn’t the first time you could charge money to your credit card and pay if off with that money. There were savings bonds, and Visa debit cards (that you’d turn into money orders), and funding Citibank (and other) online checking accounts by credit card…. those charges counting as purchases rather than cash advances… I opened many a Citi checking account, Citi didn’t limit the amount of initial deposit, and I had a particular Visa with an $80,000 credit line.

So one more in a long string of deals has ended, but none of the other ones in the past was the last one, this probably won’t be either. And in fact it isn’t, there remain other things you can do though in general the scale is too limited to be a bonanza and broadly useful.

100 Free ANA Mileage Club Miles

Posted on: July 22nd, 2011 by: Gary Leff

One Mile at a Time beat me to the punch, I got an email last night from ANA that I didn't read and I saw a thread on Milepoint but I was pretty tired… Ben was more on the ball. So he posted about an All Nippon Mileage Club Survey offering 100 points. It’s 16 quick questions about their website and about social media.

The real value in the offer, as Ben points out, is that ANA has a great website to search for Star Alliance awards but that they’ve implemented a restriction requiring you to have some miles in your account before you can use the search tool without extra effort for a workaround. This should get you the 100 miles you need to save you effort down the road.

I really liked the first question of the survey, “Please tell us how often you access ANA’s website…” Me? Umm, a whole heckuva lot! I suspect I’m one of their all-stars. ;)

Earning free miles in the program is nothing to sneeze at, too, because collecting miles with them is quite useful. It’s an American Express transfer partner, for instance, with a distance-based chart so some real award values. And with Continental leaving the Membership Rewards program at the end of September it’ll be a program that many will investigate in particular for awards that have gotten very expensive under Aeroplan’s reward chart. Of course, ANA adds fuel surcharges to awards (except where the partner airline doesn’t have any) so that’s a downside. But online booking is easy, they have some good partners (like Virgin and Etihad) beyond the Star Alliance. And some awards are relatively ‘cheap’ like East Coast to nearer Europe and also to Israel.

250 Free Starwood Points

Posted on: July 22nd, 2011 by: Gary Leff

The recent free points offers for ‘liking’ Starwood hotels on Facebook haven’t worked out too well, they get much greater response than expected and they end the offers early.

I haven’t blogged any of them, because I’ve been busy and haven’t seen them until maybe 8-12 hours after they’re posted on various other websites… and they’re already dead.

It seems that hotels expect to narrowly target, say, guests at the hotel with a sign in the lobby — connect with their existing guests. But they just say ‘like us on Facebook and we’ll give you points’ with no other qualifying criteria, the offers get posted online, and we all go, “Free points??? YEAH!” And then a motel in Heth, Arkansas all of a sudden has 15,000 fans (most of whom would never be willing to set foot in the motel, or for that matter in Heth, Arkansas).

Well, Mommy Points stayed in the Aloft Austin in the Domain and discovered that liking their Facebook page is worth 250 points. After liking them on Facebook, email your name and SPG number to: krista.langley@aloftaustinatthedomain.com

I have a feeling that Krista will be getting lots of emails. As of this writing, the hotel has 210 likes. We’ll see how high it goes before they pull the plug. The offer says it’s valid through July 31. We’ll see!

We have friends, but now we need fans! Our Facebook is officially moving to our new fan page. “Like” Aloft Austin at the Domain now through July 31st, and receive 250 SPG bonus points! Email your name & SPG number to krista.langley@aloftaustinatthedomain.com and we will verify that your points have been added.

Update: As expected, they decided to end this early after coming into the office in the mroning and seeing a bit of an avalanche, they picked up about 700 new ‘likes’ in a few hours. They gave about 30 minutes notice that they would be pulling the offer and they have since said that they will honor the points for everyone who got in before then.

792 Free US Airways Miles

Posted on: July 21st, 2011 by: Gary Leff

Via UnRoadWarrior, the US Airways online maill offers 792 miles for signing up for Rebtel, an international dialing service.

Importantly, no credit card or other payment information is required for setting up the account, so it’s just free miles (which will also be good enough to reset the expiration date on your account, if you don’t acquire US Airways miles often).

2 Free Nights at Grand Sierra Resort & Casino, Reno

Posted on: July 21st, 2011 by: Gary Leff

The Grand Sierra Resort & Casino in Reno is offering two free nights, bookable through December 23rd.

You have to enter your zip code when searching for reservations, because the offer is restricted to guests from outside their local area.

A “Luxury Summit Suite” upgrade is $25 per night. Although I don’t quite understand how the website describes a standard room as ‘amost 500 square feet’ and then the more expensive suite as being ’420 square feet’. Meanwhile, a Grand Suite is listed at $55 per night additional and clocks in at ’558 square feet’.

It looks as though the offer is aimed at regular diners of Charlie Palmer’s Steak House, though appears bookable by anyone. The property itself looks ‘fine for Reno’ which is to say that I wouldn’t make a special trip because of free hotel nights. But if I was going to be in Reno anyway, it’s probably a decent enough place to stay relative to alternatives.

(Thanks to reader Stu for the pointer.)

Delta Releases Animated Rendering of New JFK Terminal 4

Posted on: July 21st, 2011 by: Gary Leff

Delta has released a new Youtube video, an animated rendering of their new JFK Terminal 4 project.

The main terminal itself looks great, clean lines, high ceilings, plenty of light. Roughly speaking it reminds me of an Asian airport. We’ll see what it looks like in practice, how the materials hold up to use, and how well it’s treated by my fellow New Yorkers (I no longer live there, but I’m still a New Yorker).

The concourses themselves though don’t look nearly as nice, much lower ceilings, although anything new in New York is bound to be an improvement.

Some of the marketing copy in the video, though, just seems to set expectations a little bit too… high

  1. “We’re investing $1.2 billion of renovations and innovations that will turn JFK into a state of the art hub.”

    In New York, I think $1.2 billion buys a third floor walkup. Seriously, it’s a big investment, but I doubt JFK will ever be a ‘start of the art’ anything. It’s certainly not groundbreaking, even taking the imagery at face value. It will however be much nicer than anything else airport-wise in New York and I suppose that’s all they’re really going for as part of the desire to ‘win New York.’

    I’d rather fly out of this new terminal than fly from American’s terminal, assuming same class of service for the actual flight. And this’ll be nicer than JetBlue’s airport experience, Delta’s planes are even more pimped out than JetBlue’s in my opinion, but I’d still prefer JetBlue’s legroom. In the end though as a customer who would strive for status I would pick Delta for those privileges rather than for the terminal, and American for the earn and burn features of its program over Delta. Even if Delta’s terminal is nicer.

  2. “Sky Priority check-in lounge adjacent to security”

    Wow, this looks nice, a great idea in the video. It conjures images of the Thai Airways first class check-in lounge in Bangkok, where you have a seat while agents process all of your paperwork for you.

    In reality, though, I don’t think Thai-style service will be offered by Delta. And certainly not for all Gold elites and higher and premium cabin passengers. Instead, the lounge will get crowded and wear out quickly, few people will avail themselves of it as a lounge, rather it’s just a dedicated checkin area that elites will pass through with furnishings as an adornment that aren’t ultimately part of the premium experience.

    I’d love to be proven wrong, especially since it looks so nice in the video!

  3. “Extra checkpoint lanes at central security will help you speed through to your gate”

    If you build them TSA will staff them? Perhaps, with unionization will come more union jobs and just having the lanes will speed us through. Time will tell.

  4. “Ample supply of power and usb outlets”

    Anything is better than status quo, I’m glad they’re paying attention to this basic need.

  5. “Additional customs and boarder protection inspection booths will make returning from overseas just as easy as returning from.. Chicago”

    Umm… Who wants to fly Chicago – JFK? Delta serves the route, but with four regional jets. Jetblue offers two regional jets and an Airbus. American has a single regional jet. United, based in Chicago, doesn’t even fly to JFK. Seems like an odd place to pick.

    But the number of ‘booths’ has rarely been the binding constraint for passing through immigration formalities. Just as often it’s been the government’s computers going down, or shift changes, or unstaffed booths. I don’t think additional booths, though, will make “returning from overseas” just like any ‘ol domestic flight. Only British Airways really has that down with its US immigration preclearance in Shannon, Ireland for the London City Airbus A318 flights.

    That’s not a rant about Delta, it’s just that there are some things not in an airline’s control. At least they limited the claims about ease of US immigration to those who are returning to the States. When it comes to Visa processes and questioning of non-residents, even Delta’s marketing execs and consultants couldn’t spin that one!

Interestingly, there were no comments in the video about on-time departures and air traffic congestion, a terminal won’t fix New York’s least pleasant travel features!

Still, great to see, JFK could be a lot better experience… even if it remains too far from Manhattan. And Delta’s investment here is huge. A Delta ground experience should be something that actually does meaningfully create some product differentiation in what many consider to be a commodity market.

Are We About to See an End to Naked Images at the Airport?

Posted on: July 21st, 2011 by: Gary Leff

Apparently the TSA has been testing software which will display a generic person instead of your naked body when going through a nude-o-scope. (HT: legalalien on Milepoint.)

The idea is to display hidden items under clothing but instead of against an image of your naked body, against a generic naked body drawing that will tell the TSA where to look in secondary screening.

They’ll be rolling out the software “in the comming months” to millimeter wave machines, but not yet to backscatter machines.

My guess is that this will satisfy many privacy advocates, it’s a brilliant PR move, but does little to address the underlying problems of the TSA — its wasteful inability to do things that actually promote security — all the while making us used to submitting to inspections by the state as part of our daily lives.

Naked images aside (for which you ‘assume the position’) are incredibly easy to fool and a determined terrorist could easily sneak weapons through undetected. The TSA doesn’t believe that the liquids confiscated at the security checkpoint are dangerous. That’s why they toss confiscated liquids into a bin at security. They don’t, y’know, engage in hazardous materials protocols.. And the TSA has never even caught a terrorist or would-be terrorist. There are far more criminals working for the TSA than ever discovered by the TSA.

The TSA is designed for politicians to look like they’re doing something to protect us, all the while security companies are profiting off sales of expensive, useless equipment to the government. We didn’t get rid of the silly and useless puffers until there was a new boondoggle being promoted by a former Secretary of Homeland Security in the nude-o-scopes.

The key things to remember about the TSA, and the war on terror more broadly, are that:

  • The risk of terrorism is small. Any investment, at any cost, makes no sense.
  • And those approaches don’t work.

There are over 300 million people in the US. Horrible things happen every day, and terrorism isn’t one of those things. Statistically speaking the chances of a terrorist attack happening to anyone are pretty much zero. You’re more likely to be struck by lightning than be the victim of a terrorist attack. But what we get is an arms race for would-be terrorists in which we’re perpetually behind.

Security checkpoints screened for bombs before 9/11. Those hijackers used boxcutters. So no more boxcutters, Richard Reid stuck a ton of wires in his shoes that probably wouldn’t have blown up anything, but now we all have to take off our shoes. So then there was the liquid plot and we get the War on Water. So the underpants bomber brought PETN through security. His plot wouldn’t have worked, but it was airline passengers – not the TSA or air marshalls – who subdued him.

As Bruce Schneier says, “This is a stupid game and we should stop playing it.”

Does that mean we don’t do anything? No, it means that the tactics we’re using don’t protect us so we should look elsewhere. I don’t think it’s a generally good idea that the US is fighting three simultaneous wars with Islam (and pretending that we’re not).

Schneier talks about intelligence and investigation, largely invisible, being the best ways to foil plots. I actually disagree, I think the intelligence bureaucracies aren’t especially effective either. Which is why we want systems which aren’t designed to foil every conceivable past plot, but which are resilient to lapses in effectiveness.

Reinforced cockpit doors, passengers ready to pounce, It’s sad to say but we cannot with 100% effectiveness prevent terrorist plots. But pretending like what we’re doing even attempts that is silly. It’s meant to pacify citizens into complacency and make government contractors rich.

Besides, making airplanes safer – if we were even doing that – would only shift terrorist efforts to less secure but equally high profile venues. Stadiums, public transit, government buildings, other icons like the World Trade Center. We don’t have the resources to secure everything, even if we knew how and genuinely had that as our aim. But in a magical world of such resources, we would need to develop a nationwide Benthamite panopticon to do it.

While the naked images are troubling, especially for my younger female colleagues who are often designated to go through the machines even before getting to the front of the security line, as the TSA agent ‘picking people’ does his buddies a solid, they really are just the smallest problem we face with airport security.

Reduction in Benefits Coming for the Continental Presidential Plus Mastercard

Posted on: July 21st, 2011 by: Gary Leff

In a big week for credit card changes, United has announced details of what will become of the Continental Presidential Plus Mastercard, the high-end card that includes lounge access, no foreign currency transaction fees, and on which spending counts towards elite status.

This week we already learned that the combined United-Continental frequent flyer program will have expiring miles and that last seat availability for standard (additional miles) awards would be restricted to elites and credit card holders, plus that cardholders who are elites would be eligible for complimentary upgrades on domestic coach awards.

Now we know more details on the high-end card product, which incorporates all the benefits of the United Explorer Visa (aka Continental Onepass Plus Mastercard) and includes additional benefits.

As expected, the Continental Presidential Plus Mastercard will continue substantially in its present form.

However, while there are no new benefits exclusive to this card (new benefits are the same as those introduced for the cheaper Explorer card), some benefits are being taken away or restricted.

  • The card used to earn unlimited elite qualifying miles, 1000 miles for every $5000 in spend, those wouldn’t expire and you could drop them into a mileage account whenever you wanted. Now these qualifying miles earned from January 1 onward will expire “39 months after they are deposited.” Further, it appears from the card’s website that they’re now capping the elite qualifying miles earned at 5000 per year — perhaps the biggest gutting of benefits of this card:

    You now earn 1,000 Flex EQMs for every $5,000 spent on your Presidential Plus Card. Flex EQMs can be combined with the EQMs you earn when you fly to help you maintain your Elite status or move up to the next status level (up to $25,000).

    I’d love it if this was just a misunderstanding, especially because it wasn’t included in the official announcement.

    The other piece of the benefit being taken away is that these qualifying miles can’t “be applied beyond the 75K EQM threshold.”

  • No more additional elite mileage bonus for cardholders. Elites with the card were earning an additional 25% of flown miles, this was a benefit that encouraged members to get the card when elite bonuses were reduced a few years ago. The proposition was, “get the card and keep your full elite bonus.” Now that goes away. This is also a huge reduction, a 100,000 mile a year flyer loses 25,000 bonus miles.

  • The free checked bag benefit will be limited to one additional person on the same reservation, not everyone on the same reservation. A reduction in benefits for families traveling together.

No word yet on whether Hyatt Platinum and Avis Presidents Club status remain benefits of the card going forward. Both are still listed on the Continental website (which seems to have been updated with other changes) so there seems to be a strong chance that they continue. Hyatt Platinum is basically free internet and comes with the Hyatt credit card also issued by Chase, so it seems like an easy no-brainer. Avis Presidents Club is quite useful, it can’t be earned from rentals for most people and entails a two category upgrade (in practice it’s enough juice to do better) and guaranteed availability.

We (or at least I?) also don’t know what the card will be called in the future!

So many outstanding questions. The value proposition of the Presidential Plus Mastercard does decline come the beginning of 2012, and while I expected some of the special-ness of the card to go away (some unique benefits like double miles for shopping through the Continental online portal has already been pulled from all Continental credit cards) I’m rather surprised to see only takeaways from the premium product and not any new benefits unique to that product. This was one of the really great cards, which I think would have appealed to a whole base of United Mileage Plus elites in the new program, that now more or less remains a bundled Visa plus lounge membership, and it no longer provides meaningfully better elite status qualification earn than the United Visa Signature Platinum Class which is much cheaper and also even free to some grandfathered 1K members.

Update 1:00pm Eastern: Looks like a website snafu, apparently the language on the website which says there is a cap of 5000 elite qualifying miles per year is incorrect and needs to be updated, supposedly no cap is being introduced despite what the website says.

Tequila Happy Hour Thursdays in Delta Lounges and Lifestyle Co-Branding

Posted on: July 20th, 2011 by: Gary Leff

Via Points, Miles, & Martinis, Delta is offering tequila happy hours on Thursdays from 5pm – 7pm in several of their clubs:

  • Atlanta (Concourse A center 2nd level, T6, B25, & C37)
  • New York-JFK (T2 & T3 gate 11)
  • New York-LGA (Concourse near gate 2)
  • Detroit (Terminal across from gate A38)
  • Boston
  • Miami
  • Los Angeles*
    * Los Angeles tequila hours: Thursdays 7-9pm.
  • Here’s the promo video:

    What’s interesting isn’t free drinks in a departure lounge. And I suppose pushing happy hour during the key “end of business travel work week” time block makes perfect sense.

    It’s more that it represents the re-introduction of lifestyle co-branding to airline lounges. I used to see quite often product sample giveaways, mostly circa 2002 and 2003 although certainly I still pick up my McCormick & Schmick $20 off coupons on Alaska flights and in United clubs each year.

    But the product placements, presumably a revenue source for the airlines who are providing access to high income customers who are have a loyalty tie-in, might just be coming back.

    Hotels certainly pick branded bath amenities, and the placement represents a huge opportunity for the product line to showcase themselves. I started using Bliss products after staying in Ws, and I’ve only recently fallen away from those. They certainly picked up several years of purchases from me (and countless other hotel guests) by introducing them in hotels.

    Some months ago I detailed my habits of drinking crtainloffee from mugs identical to those at the Andaz Fifth Avenue, designing a condo bathroom inspired by W, using L’Occitane amenities, etc.

    Now, I doubt I’ll go out and stock Avion tequila. But the people in the video sure seem happy to be drinking it!

    Cash Back for Liking American Express on Facebook

    Posted on: July 20th, 2011 by: Gary Leff

    Via Carol, if you ‘like’ the American Express Facebook page then you can take advantage of their “Link, Like, Love” promotion: link any Amex card and then you can register for a bunch of different offers including receiving a $40 statement credit for $100 Sheraton spend on the card by the end of August and a separate $40 statement credit for $100 Westin spend by the end of August.

    There are a few others that may be useful depending on your interest, $5 back on $20 spend at Whole Foods or maybe there’s some non-zero chance of spending $25 at Outback Steakhouse by August 18.

    I do see $15 off $50 at 1-800-Flowers, presumably you could do a $50 order with full mileage earning through one of the shopping portals, and all that Amex sees is that you’re spending $50, and you’ll get $15 back. While the offer does say “cannot be combined” it doesn’t seem as though that would mean couldn’t be combined with mileage or cash rebates through online shopping portals.

    You can sign up for as many offers as you’d like (keep clicking more offers down at the bottom of the list). So sign up for all of them just in case you spend $10 at Dunkin’ Donuts or $75 at H&M.

    Big Changes to United Mileage Plus Revealed By New Credit Card Launch

    Posted on: July 19th, 2011 by: Gary Leff

    Yesterday I uncovered details on the new United Explorer credit card from Chase, a bit before they had intended to launch it, and divined some details on the future of the Mileage Plus program from the card’s terms and conditions.

    One of the interesting things was that holding the card would prevent miles in your account from expiring due to inactivity (I guess this would be useful to people who keep the card and never use it, pay the $95 annual fee for the card, and never earn or redeem miles in their account, there can’t be that many of those people).

    That was a giveaway that in the combined United-Continental program, miles would expire. United has had 18 month mileage expiration. Continental hasn’t expired miles. I fully expected that this would be the approach the combined program would take, though I doubt they intended to roll out expiring miles through the launch of the Chase credit card, and in that card’s rather buried terms and conditions.

    Well, the card has officially launched today, and United has more details to share on Milepoint.

    And there are some bombshells.

    • Upgrades on Reward tickets for Elites. Unlimited domestic upgrade benefits apply the same to award tickets as to purchased tickets “beginning in early 2012″ for those elite members with the card. Presumably for upgrade prioritization, award tickets will be treated as the lowest fare class, so Premier Executives on award tickets will be below Premier Executives on paid tickets but about Premier members.

    • Last seat availability on standard awards will be restricted to elite members and cardholders. This is a huge break in the value proposition of the program — previously any Mileage Plus member willing to spend enough miles could have a seat on any United flight. That is no longer true. Following the Continental model where only their elite members had true last seat availability for additional miles, the combined program will offer this only to their own elites and now also to cardholders. Everyone else will have additional inventory for more miles, but not any seat on any flight.

    These are big changes to the program, and unsurprisingly it represents a huge incentive towards getting members to adopt the card. In the case of non-expiring miles with Continental and last seat reward availability on standard (extra mileage) awards with United, it represents taking away benefits that were previously part of the program for everyone and telling members that they can only retain those benefits if they adopt the airline’s co-branded credit card.

    None of which is surprising, I’ve long said that United flew through bankruptcy in order to support the underlying credit card business. The issuer of the United Visa provided debtor-in-possession financing for the airline entering bankruptcy, it provided their exit financing, and pre-purchased half a billion dollars worth of miles to provide liquidity. The card product is a major revenue source, and angling to get its combined 80 or 90 million members engaged with the card is a priority.

    Still, and while I don’t like taking away benefits or holding them hostage in exchange for members taking specific actions like getting a credit card, I understand it and do like offering upgrades on award tickets. United is going a step farther than anyone else in the US market. Delta offers an option but prioritizes award tickets lower than othersof course with Delta full fare at lower status trumps even paid fares, here your status matters regardless of the fare paid. In other words, a loyal customer is important every time they step on a United or Continental aircraft, not just when they pay enough. The miles are the rewards for the behavior that the program incentivizes, just like Priority Club / Intercontinental Ambassador refusing upgrades on award nights I’ve never understood making elite members sit in back just because they were using their points.

    So by the beginning of next year, this benefit would seem to suggest that every Mileage Plus member likely to fly domestically on an award ticket ought to get the card.

    That means, interestingly enough, that members may recalculate a bit their purchase versus redemption decisions. Sure, they’ll need to purchase enough tickets to requalify for their status or reach for the next level. But 100,000 mile flyers might start using their miles more on domestic flights for personal travel instead of buying tickets out of pocket, when they’d previously likely have purchased those tickets in order to receive upgrades.

    Apparently, Continental Onepass Plus cardholders will just ‘get the benefits’ without switching to this card, they do seem to see this card as a re-branding of the Onepass Plus card for the new combined airline (albeit with a $10 higher fee). United Visa holders can switch to this card with a phone call to Chase (provided Chase agrees).

    Earn US Airways Miles for the Amazon Purchases You’ll Make Anyway

    Posted on: July 19th, 2011 by: Gary Leff

    Yesterday Hawaiian Airlines sent out an email announcing that you could now earn Hawaiian Miles through their shopping portal for making Amazon purchases, two miles per dollar spent.

    This created a bit of an online stir because most folks didn’t realize that you could earn miles for Amazon purchases, while most online merchants have some sort of rewards affiliation — be it through the various loyalty program affiliate malls or through cash back sites like Big Crumbs and Ebates (I usually still use EV Reward to identify who is offering the most lucrative cash back or mileage rewards deal for a given purchase) — Amazon hasn’t really needed to pay out referral commissions which these sites kick back a portion of to consumers.

    JohnDeere19 posted yesterday on Milepoint that Amazon purchases actually earn one mile per dollar through the US Airways shopping mall (powered by Skymall). I was aware of this but hadn’t realized what a big deal this was for people until how excited I saw folks get over earning Hawaiian Miles of all things.

    Now, Hawaiian offers two miles per dollar and US Airways only one. But unless you’re specifically topping off an existing Hawaiian Miles balance I’d stick with US Airways with its much broader array of international partners and ability to combine partners on awards.

    The overall point remains, always check to see what points or cash back you can earn from online purchases. Even Amazon offers something. So don’t leave points on the table. And be a little bit strategic about what points you earn, especially for purchases that will yield just a few miles — can you use the purchase to extend the validity of an account (credit to an account whose miles will expire in a few months and that you don’t have other planned activity in) or to top off an account you’re looking to redeem an award with, and compare who is offering the most lucrative incentive e.g. 2 versus 5 miles per dollar.

    Glad to share the Amazon offer with y’all, since I know that so many make purchases through them in the regular course of their week.

    Update: I see that Million Mile Secrets has also posted about earning miles from Amazon purchases via the US Airways mall.

    Juicy Details on the New United Credit Card, and What it Says About the Future of Mileage Plus

    Posted on: July 18th, 2011 by: Gary Leff

    United’s New “Explorer” Visa was supposed to be embargoed until tomorrow but they’ve already got the application page up.

    Current offer is 25,000 miles with first purchase, 5000 miles for adding an authorized cardholder, and then 10,000 miles after $25,000 in spend each year. First year fee is waived. Personally I wouldn’t jump on the offer just yet, I’ll hold out for something more lucrative. Especially since the headline 40,000 mile signup bonus isn’t really a 40,000 mile bonus..

    The card comes with priority boarding (after elites but before general boarding, but since United stuck with zone boarding presumably this means boarding with Premiers but after Premier Executives and higher) and first checked bag free. It also comes with 2 club passes annually, like the Continental Mastercard did. But the annual fee (waived the first year) is $95, so an increase. Also interesting that this is a Visa, whereas Continental’s card was a Mastercard. It looks like going forward they will be offering Visa.

    One strong point is that like the Continental Mastercard, they’re keeping primary collision damage waiver coverage for rental cars. In other words, if you ding your rental car the credit card’s coverage pays first before your insurance. Most credit card programs offer secondary coverage, which usually amounts to just paying out your deductible. I still use my Diners Club card for car rentals, precisely for the primary coverage. But Diners Club isn’t even open to new applicants currently. This is the cheapest card offering this coverage and a good option for folks who rent regularly.

    Buried in the card details, though, is this clue about the future of the combined United/Continental program:

    Your miles don’t expire*
    Your miles don’t expire as long as you are a Cardmember with no limit to the number of miles you can earn.

    Continental miles didn’t expire. United miles expired after 18 months of inactivity. This tidbit means that the combined program will have expiring miles. Jeff Foland told us as much at the Randy Petersen Travel Executive Summit in New York in April. But it hadn’t been official. Technically it hasn’t yet been announced, but the credit card offer makes it clear — miles will expire, but if you have this card they won’t. Of course even $1 charged to the card every 18 months would keep your miles from expiring. People with co-branded credit cards generally don’t have their miles expire in the account their credit card charges are dumping miles into. So it’s a marketing gimmick rather than a meaningful benefit for most cardmembers. Still, it gives away details of the program plans going forward.

    There’s a business version of the card as well, with 25,000 miles after first purchase and 10,000 more miles after $25,000 in spend each year — plus first year fee waived just like the personal card.

    While it’s nice to see a ‘new’ credit card product, especially for credit card churners because that makes it much more likely to get signup bonuses again, the terms and conditions here explicitly say otherwise — past United credit card holders are not eligible. We’ll see how that works in practice. Regardless, though, I wouldn’t jump on this offer — I’d wait and monitor — because these offers themselves aren’t that compelling, certainly in a world where 50,000 seems the new baseline and 100,000 has been done by at least 3 different cards.

    $150 for a Tumi Carryon

    Posted on: July 18th, 2011 by: Gary Leff

    Via Lucky, Bloomingdales.com has the Tumi Voyageur Avignon 20″ carryon for ~ $150 (~ $179 + $13 in shipping + taxes – $50 with promo code SURVEY).

    Though I don’t know whether the promo code will mitigate miles earned through a shopping portal, Continental offers 3 miles per dollar through their shopping portal, and through tomorrow Continental Mastercard holders still receive double miles for such purchases.

    Of course, hurry anyway if interested, I don’t expect this deal to last. The bag actually does retail for $495. I don’t have an opinion as to its quality, but it’s as cheap as I’ve ever seen a Tumi carryon. Personally I think that Tumi has slipped a great deal over the past 5+ years, and it isn’t worth the full retail price, it commands it based on past reputation in my view.

    Still, if you’re looking for a Tumi rollaboard it’s hard to imagine you’ll find one for less.

    American Introduces High-End Mastercard with Lounge Access, Help Towards Elite Status

    Posted on: July 18th, 2011 by: Gary Leff

    American AAdvantage broke the news on Milepoint this morning that they’re launching a new high-end credit card through Citibank, the Citi Executive AAdvantage Mastercard.

    Key card elements are:

    • Admirals Club Membership
    • No Foreign Currency Transaction Fees
    • 10,000 elite qualifying miles each year after $40,000 in spend
    • Double miles on spend with American

    And then for elite members of the program, priority check-in and boarding and waived first checked bag fee.

    For the most part, these are benefits that their competitors offer through at least some of their card products. United, Continental, and Delta all offer cards that bundle lounge access. All of their major domestic competitors have cards which offer progress towards elite status based on spend. And it’s fairly standard across both airline and hotel programs to bonus spend with the bo-branded partner.

    It’s been amazing that American and Citi have taken so long to jump into this game. They haven’t done anything revolutionary with the product, but they’ve brought themselves up to par and this card will be of interest to American Airlines elites who want the boost towards status re-qualification, and certainly to folks who are buying lounge membership from American (since buying it through the card will help justify the hefty $450 annual fee).

    Non-elites will find it cheaper to buy lounge membership through this card, and it’s at least a break-even proposition for Gold members who don’t already have lounge membership. Platinums and Executive Platinums still pay incremental cost over their lounge membership cost in order to have this card.

    Now, I’m an AAdvantage Platinum based on lifetime miles earned in my account, I don’t expect to make a run at Executive Platinum status, and I get my American Airlines lounge access through an American Express Platinum card. So this one isn’t for me. But there’s a strong core of American’s elite flyers for whom it will make sense.

    Unless one needs to make progress towards their spend for elite qualifying miles or their lounge membership is now expiring, it might make sense to hold off a bit to see whether there are new big signup offers for the card. But it’s great to see American doing this, it’s long seemed odd that cardmembers didn’t even earn bonuses for spending with American and that the oldest frequent flyer program was the only one not recognizing the importance of the credit card relationship by making it a part of earning elite status.

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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.

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