Thursday, June 30, 2011

Prepping For Tokyo/Vietnam

I'll be leaving today for my big Asia trip, hitting up two places that I've been meaning to visit for some time now: Tokyo and Vietnam. This is my first crack at a full-blown trip report, so any suggestions and comments are appreciated.

Monday, June 27, 2011

AwardWallet

Over the past year, one of the most indispensable tools in accumulating miles and points I've found is AwardWallet. When starting out in the miles game, we typically try to stash miles/points away in one or two rewards programs. However, as we expand the number of credit cards we apply for and the number of programs we belong to increases, it becomes exponentially harder to keep track of all our account balances.

That's where AwardWallet comes in... set up an account, and you can store all of your airline miles and hotel rewards program balances in one place. You can choose to store your account username and password locally or with AwardWallet. However, if you store the information on your own computer, each time you clear your cache, all of that information will be deleted. So far, I have 14 accounts that I've stored with AwardWallet, and it's been working out great. It even pulls upcoming flight itineraries and hotel stays from your accounts.

AwardWallet also gives you the option of upgrading to AwardWallet Plus. The best part of the upgrade is that it will list out all the expiration dates of your miles and points. In addition, it allows for export to Excel and displays historical account balance data for each of your programs. The great thing is you choose how much you want to pay for the upgrade. Think of it as a donation instead since they've done such a great job providing this free service.
 

Right now, AwardWallet is generous enough to provide upgrades to all first-time users who register through a referral link. The upgrade is good for 6 months. Access Award Wallet through the link below, then click through to sign up and the free upgrade code should be pre-populated.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Chase Sapphire Preferred 50,000 Points Becomes 100,000 Points (YMMV)

I posted previously about the Chase Sapphire Preferred 50,000 points promotion on May 28, 2011. This is a great offer that effectively gives $500 cash back or up to $625 worth of airline tickets booked through the Chase airfare tool - all for $3000 of spend within three months.

Just last night on Flyertalk, word began spreading that there is now a targeted 100,000 points promotion for the same card for only $500 spend within three months. Since this is targeted, you can only apply if you have a specific invitation number and offer code (people have already tried calling in to apply with no success). However, many who already applied and was approved for the 50,000 points offer sent in a secure message via the Chase online messaging center asking politely to be matched to the new promotion, and low and behold, within hours most received a positive reply and an additional 50,000 points instantly posted onto their Ultimate Rewards account! Remember, this is in addition to the 50,000 points they will or have already received after spending $3000 within three months - for a total of 100,000 points.

Granted, this is a highly YMMV (your miles may vary) case, and everyone should tread carefully. Nobody knows if this points grab free-for-all will last another week or even another day. Unfortunately, I only applied for the Sapphire Preferred card last week since I was still finishing up my spend for the Citibank AA card. I was not instantly approved, so I'm still sitting around waiting. However, if/when I am approved and the card shows up on my online account, I will immediately send in a secure message asking to be matched to the 100,000 offer. Either way, this is a great promotion and I will be happy whether it's 50,000 or 100,000. If you haven't already done so, I would recommend applying now!

(EDIT: This trick has officially been shut down. All agents are now denying the extra 50,000 bonus points and requiring the specific invitation code in order to take advantage of the 100,000 points offer. For those that received the extra 50,000 I doubt Chase will revoke the points so enjoy them soon. And unfortunately for the rest of us, looks like the the normal offer will have to do.)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Alaska Airlines 40,000 Visa Signature Card

Related to yesterday's post about Alaska Airlines' Northern California promotion, if you currently don't have an Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card, now is the best time to apply. They have been offering 25,000 bonus miles on this card for years now, and this is the first time that have bumped up that bonus to 40,000 miles upon approval - no spend threshold required! Although it is not specified on the application page, word of mouth suggests this offer will expire on July 30, 2011.

There are some great perks associated with this card in addition to the 40,000 bonus miles. Upon approval and annually, you will receive a $99 companion ticket that can be used on any published fare - even first class. This in itself can pay for the annual fee. Also upon approval, you will receive two Alaska Airlines Board Room lounge passes that can be used at select airports with an Alaska lounge presence.

A couple of caveats regarding this promotion to keep an eye out for:
  • This offer was originally targeted via email to certain individuals. However, there was no individually specific offer code to enter, so it does look like it's open to everyone. Anecdotal evidence on Flyertalk suggests that that's the case as well.
  • The annual fee is NOT waived for the first year. Bank of America has a habit of never waiving the annual fee, and in this case it is $75 per year for the Visa Signature card.
  • In addition to the annual fee, Bank of America also has a bad habit of sometimes automatically downgrading an application to a lower-level card that offers significantly less benefits. For example, if I apply for the Visa Signature card, BofA may deem me "not qualified enough" for that card, but instead of an outright rejection, they will send me their Platinum Plus card, or even their Preferred card, which offers only 6,000 and 4,000 bonus miles, respectively. Definitely frustrating and not worth it in those cases. However, if you have excellent credit and high income, you should have no problem getting the Visa Signature card.
  • Bank of America will hit two credit bureaus instead of just one. If you have been applying for a lot of credit cards lately, be aware of this.
I don't have much experience redeeming miles with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, but just briefly glancing at their award chart, it actually looks extremely reasonable. And like I mentioned yesterday, Alaska partners with numerous airlines on all three global alliances, so your miles can take you quite far. One Mile At A Time offers some good advice on how to use Alaska miles.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Promotion For Northern California

This promotion actually started the beginning of May prior to my blog so I forgot to mention it, but there is still a lot of time left. If you reside in Northern California, specifically in the zip codes that begin with 923, 932, or 934-961, and are not a member of Alaska Airline's Mileage Plan, now is the time to sign up.

Enroll from this link and they will automatically start you off with 500 miles. And from now until October 1, 2011, new members who book and fly an Alaska Airlines roundtrip flight from Northern California to Hawaii will receive 25,000 bonus miles (That's already enough for another roundtrip award flight anywhere in the Continental US). New members who book an Alaska Airlines roundtrip flight from Northern California to anywhere else Alaska flies will receive 12,500 bonus miles. See terms and conditions in the link for details.

Alaska Airlines is trying to heavily promote it's Bay Area presence through this offer, and I would definitely try to take advantage of it. Bonus miles can only be earned once. Mileage Plan miles are actually quite versatile because even though Alaska does not belong to any major alliance, they have partnered with a number of global airlines, and you can redeem through them. Partners include Cathay Pacific, KLM, Delta, Air France, Korean Air, LAN, American Airlines, British Airways, and Qantas.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Interesting Read About The Current State Of Airlines

There's a news report out today about the $3.4 billion airlines collected just with baggage fees in 2010, up a staggering 24% from 2009. Add in reservation change fees and that number jumps to $5.7 billion, not to mention the dozens of other ancillary fees not included in those figures. In fact, fees alone made up more than 80% of the $2.6 billion in profits that the industry eked out in 2010, after years of record losses. So why, with oil prices high but not nearly at 2008 levels, are airlines predicting major losses again for 2011?

The blog at Airfarewatchdog takes an interesting look at the industry today versus the 1970s and offers some reminders as to how we got into this current predicament. We all feel nickel-and-dimed nowadays when we head to the airport, but it may surprise you just how much we're actually paying in inflation-adjusted terms.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Free Hilton Gold Status With Visa Signature Card

Hilton is offering free gold elite status if you have a Visa Signature card... any Visa Signature card in fact. Just head to this link and enter your credit card number and you should be instantly upgraded to gold status through 8/31/2011. And if you accumulate 3 stays by 8/31/2011, your gold status will be extended until March 2013. The website is apparently a little buggy, so you may need to try signing up a few times before it works.

If you already have gold or diamond status with Hilton, you will receive 5000 points for signing up, even though these terms are not specifically stated on the website (EDIT: this bonus seems to have ended due to some people taking advantage of both offers within minutes of each other). Gold members receive room upgrades based on availability, complimentary breakfast, in addition to bonus points for Hilton stays.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Big Transfer Bonuses From Membership Rewards

Membership Rewards is the proprietary rewards program for American Express charge cards (green, gold, platinum). While MR offers many ways to redeem for rewards, perhaps the best way to use these points is by transferring them to any number of participating airline frequent flyer programs. Currently, AMEX has agreements with Delta Skymiles, Continental OnePass, British Airways Executive Club, Air Canada Aeroplan, and many more (most at a 1000:1000 ratio). It's usually a good idea to keep your points in the MR program and only transfer when you actually have a need to book an award flight. And if for some reason you have an urgent need to transfer points, I would always recommend Continental Airlines, since OnePass miles are generally more valuable.

However, there are two great promotions going on right now for transferring MR points into Delta Skymiles and British Airways Executive Club:
  • From now through 9/30/2011, transfer any amount of MR points into the Delta Skymiles program and receive a 50% bonus. Transfer 100,000 points or more and also receive 25,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQM) - enough to qualify for Silver Medallion status. MQMs are NOT redeemable for awards and are only used for status qualification. Silver Medallion status will give you bonus redeemable miles, waived baggage fees, seat upgrades and more when traveling on Delta. Note that this is for first-time transfers only!
I must add a word of warning though... because I normally would not recommend either program as a means to accumulate miles unless there is a large promotion like in this case. Delta Skymiles is notoriously stingy about releasing saver awards, especially on international flights. I've done some searches before for fairly popular international routes that Delta flies, and have seen zero saver award availability for an entire year! Domestic routes through their main hubs tend to be slightly better... but still far behind the competition. So even though it is extremely easy to accumulate, you often will end up spending double or even triple the amount of miles you originally thought. Hence the term "Skypesos".

British Airways, on the other hand, actually has fairly
good award seat availability, especially on their own metal. However, they also tack on an obscene amount of fuel surcharge fees to award flights. First class flights going through London can have upwards of $700 in fuel surcharges, in addition to the miles they deduct from your account! They even collect fuel surcharges on partner awards flights such as Cathay Pacific or Japan Airlines, whereas American Airlines never does that for award redemptions. Partner award fuel surcharges can run upwards of $400 roundtrip.

If you are interested in Membership Rewards, there is
a thread on Flyertalk right now that details a promotion for 75,000 MR points after completing the spend requirements on an American Express Premiere Rewards Gold Card. I won't go into details about this here because this is not a straightforward application, and you may run into several obstacles trying to get the bonus points. Do read through the entire thread before deciding whether or not it's worth the risk!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Global Alliance Options To Taiwan

With my affinity for Taiwan (since my parents are from there), and having visited a number of times the past few years, it's always been a frustration of mine that neither of the two major Taiwanese carriers, China Airlines and EVA Air, belonged to any global alliance. Well, soon that will no longer be the case.

China Airlines will officially become a member of Skyteam on September 28, 2011. And although CI has long been a partner of Delta Airlines and one could redeem Skymiles with them, formalizing the alliance relationship should make award seats more readily available for all members of Skyteam as well as standardize the miles needed for redemption (which I believe has already been reflected in the new Delta award chart). However, due to reciprocity agreements, Delta Skymiles members will still be unable to redeem for F seats due to the lack of an international F product on Delta itself. It's a shame since CI's F suites for the LAX-TPE route actually look fairly decent.

Even more exciting, however, was EVA Air's announcement on February 23, 2011 that they have formally applied for entry into Star Alliance. As great as CI joining Skyteam is, the thought of accumulating more Skypesos is a tough pill to swallow. But with the possibility of EVA joining Star Alliance, the more valuable United/Continental miles just got even better. I think EVA will nicely compliment the routes that OZ, NH, CA and SQ already fly, and ultimately give Star Alliance the edge in terms of global reach in Asia. And best of all, it finally gives us Bay Area folks a real redemption alternative for SFO-TPE nonstop. Granted, EVA doesn't have a first class offering, but the announcement of them revamping their Premium Laurel Class is welcome news, and hopefully they will finally go with fully flat beds to catch up with the business standards of late. No word yet on when they might become a full member (assuming they are even accepted), but my best guess would be early 2013.

And finally, though not directly related to a Taiwanese airline, Malaysia Airlines just announced yesterday that they have been formally accepted into the OneWorld Alliance. The official entry date will most likely be mid to late 2012. The main reason why this is relevant is because of MH's route from LAX-KUL via TPE. This will allow members of American Airlines AAdvantage program or British Airways Executive Club (if you took advantage of the Chase BA Visa 100,000 mile promotion) to finally redeem for a USA-Taipei direct flight on the 3rd largest global alliance. MH offers a fairly decent J product on their 2-class 777-200ER out of LAX, though it is an angle-flat seat.

If anything, the integration of Taiwan's airlines into the global alliance system should benefit business travelers, who can finally receive reciprocal lounge access and earn miles in their "native" FFP, as well as allow for tourists to perhaps consider Taiwan as a vacation destination their accumulated miles can now reach with more ease. And finally, it gives us travel enthusiasts the means to try out the premium offerings of airlines that were previously off limits.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Easy 250 Virgin America Points

This doesn't look like a targeted promotion, so anyone can get the free points. Sign up for a new Gilt City and Jetsetter account and receive 250 Virgin America points.

Granted, Virgin America's Elevate is one of the least rewarding frequent flyer programs out there, but with one-way award flights starting at 2,500 points, 250 points will get you started or top off your account nonetheless. If you make a purchase at Gilt City, you can receive another 250 points... and an additional purchase at Jetsetter nets you another 500 points for a total of 1000 points. Quickly browsing through their websites, it doesn't look like there are any "cheap buys" per se, so the additional 750 points may not be worth the effort (EDIT: On Gilt City, if you change the location to New York near the top of the page, you can find 2 ice cream sandwiches on sale for $5, and that will net you the extra 250 points :)).

VA's product is arguably the best in the domestic skies, but Elevate is truly a pathetic program. And it was only last year that they finally joined virtually every other FFP out there and eliminated the hard expiration date on points earned even with activity! All VA points have a fixed rate for redemption tied to the cost of the actual flight, so it's really impossible to redeem for more high-value awards like you can with legacy programs. Hence, even though I love the in-flight experience at VA, I still tend to stick with AA or UA, unless VA is quite a bit cheaper (and that doesn't happen too much anymore).