Saturday, March 31, 2012

Taiwan's EVA Airways Accepted Into Star Alliance

As I posted last June, Taiwan's EVA Airways has been in the process of joining Star Alliance for many months now. Finally, this past Thursday, they were officially accepted into the world's largest airline alliance, with full membership expected in early 2013. This follows on the heels of China Airlines (Taiwan's biggest carrier) joining SkyTeam in late 2011.

Adding EVA Airways strengthens Star Alliance's position in greater China. The extremely lucrative cross-strait route between mainland China and Taiwan (in which foreign carriers are not allowed to fly) gives Star Alliance a huge boost, since Air China and EVA Airways alone account for more than 30% of the total capacity. For people wanting to visit mainland China, EVA Airways operates dozens of daily nonstop flights from Taipei to 19 destinations.

As Frequently Flying pointed out, EVA Airways currently serves six destinations in North America, with daily nonstops to Los Angeles and San Francisco, four times weekly to New York and Seattle, and three times weekly to Vancouver and Toronto. In addition, EVA Airways also serves London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Vienna in Europe. Those of us in the States now have a real alternative to fly nonstop to Taipei with Star Alliance, and also visit cities such as Kaohsiung in Southern Taiwan and Surabaya in Indonesia that were previously off limits. Best of all, EVA Airways now gives us a brand new one-stop route to many popular destinations in Southeast Asia.

With Shenzhen Airlines also becoming a full member in late 2012, Star Alliance would arguably have the best reach in all of Asia, and perhaps even trump SkyTeam in terms of domestic China routes. It also offers those of us who collect United Airlines Mileage Plus miles or US Airways Dividend miles greater ease and flexibility in redeeming for award flights in the region.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Couple Of Things...

I'm sitting in Cathay Pacific's The Wing lounge at Hong Kong International Airport right now, and I must say, the past 20 hours or so has simply been some of the most enjoyable I've ever experienced - at least when it comes to air travel. We had very strong headwinds going from LAX to HKG, so I was able to savor almost 15 hours non-stop in Cathay Pacific's new business class seat. And let me just say... it was absolutely fantastic. I'll have much more in my full trip report down the road, but I honestly can't think of anything more I could ask for in a business class seat. It was comfortable, spacious, and intelligently designed with tons of room to place your personal items.

I've read plenty of complaints about Cathay Pacific's business class food, but I was pleasantly surprised at how delicious everything tasted and how nicely it was presented. And the service was impeccable - in fact, I would not hesitate for a moment to say that this was hands down better than the first class service I received on Cathay Pacific last July. More details to come when I get back!

A quick note about The Wing... it's definitely much improved compared to last year. Although the first class lounge is still in the process of being renovated, they do have a temporary area called The Atrium for first class passengers only. Since opening up both levels six and seven for business class passengers, it's gotten a lot less crowded all around. I can't wait to see the finished product in a few months time.

Finally, I saw this on Virgin America's Facebook page and literally bust out laughing. Simply too awesome for words :)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Prepping For Cambodia

I'll be leaving for Cambodia today, and I'm especially excited for this trip because of all the different airlines I get to sample, including Cathay Pacific in their new business class, Dragonair, Cambodia Angkor Air, Bangkok Airways, Thai Airways in first class, and Asiana Airlines in both business and first class... just to name a few. I booked a rather complicated return route so I could squeeze in a visit to the Thai Airways Royal First Class Lounge in Bangkok, and also try out Asiana Airlines' first class service from Seoul to Los Angeles. Of course, a full trip report will be forthcoming once I return in early April.

I'm also extremely excited to finally be able to see the famed Angkor Wat. Many of my friends have recounted their amazing experiences there, and I've wanted to visit as soon as possible - before more renovations and access restrictions take effect. Unfortunately, I actually had to cut this trip shorter than planned, as it originally included another week in Laos. The month of March turned into an absolute nightmare at my day job, and I didn't want to give my manager a heart attack by telling him I'd be taking two and a half weeks off! Hopefully I'll be able to visit Laos within the next year or two.

Finally, I'm slightly nervous since this is my first solo trip in about five years. Typically I'm very comfortable navigating around large cities by myself anywhere in the world, but Cambodia might just be a little more adventurous. I will continue to post pictures and updates sporadically, although WiFi access might be spotty depending on where I'm at. Wish me luck, and I'll see you guys again in April!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Air New Zealand Business Premier Amenity Kit Winner

Thanks to everyone who entered the contest, and a huge thank you to Darren over at Frequently Flying for helping me spread the word! I've used an online random number generator, and the winner is Kris Z with comment #25. He's thinking about doing a day trip to Hong Kong later this year... which might be a little hectic, but I certainly hope you can make it happen! You will receive an email from me shortly with a request for address information, and I will get the amenity kit shipped out within the next day or two. Thanks everyone!

Monday, March 26, 2012

25,000 AAdvantage Bonus Miles For DIRECTV

First, a warning that I have never tried DIRECTV, so I can't vouch for the quality or customer service. However, this does appear to be the largest bonus offer I've ever seen for signing up with DIRECTV (or any other cable or satellite TV option for that matter). You might not want to immediately ditch your current provider if you're happy with them right now, but if you are thinking about switching, then this is a great promotion to take advantage of.

Right now, earn 25,000 AAdvantage bonus miles by signing up for a two-year contract with DIRECTV. For just $29.99/month for the first 12 months, you get over 140 channels, including three free months of HBO, Starz, Showtime, and Cinemax. For the final 12 months, the rate goes up to $54.99/month. In addition, you'll get HD and HD DVR for free. Installation is free, there are no start-up costs, and you will also save an extra $20 by signing up online. There are a number of other packages at a range of prices you can choose from. Note that this offer is for new customers only, and it ends on July 18, 2012.

I'm actually seriously contemplating switching over to DIRECTV since I'm paying an arm and a leg right now for Comcast cable service. Check out the promotion website below for complete details:

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Automatic Platinum Elite Status With The Chase Priority Club Visa

As if it weren't easy enough to get already, now Chase and Priority Club have added a new benefit to their co-branded Visa: automatic Priority Club Platinum Elite status for as long as you keep the card (previously it was only Gold Elite status). If you are currently a cardmember, log into the Priority Club website to check if you have been upgraded to Platinum Elite status.

There is some confusion as to whether or not this new benefit only applies to current Platinum Elite and Gold Elite members, but until I get confirmation to the contrary, it does seem like it is open to everyone. Please let me know if you are a current cardmember without status, and you have not been upgraded.

Since you can already achieve Platinum Elite status by earning 60,000 points in one year, and there are current Chase Priority Club Visa bonus offers for up to 80,000 points, having this added benefit isn't exactly groundbreaking. However, if you do keep this card past the first year, having automatic Platinum Elite status renewal is definitely an added bonus.

I must say, I typically don't keep many credit cards that have an annual fee after receiving the sign-up bonus. However, I've already held on to my Chase Priority Club Visa way past the one-year mark, and now I will for sure keep this account open indefinitely. They've really done an excellent job with creating an array of benefits and perks that people actually enjoy:
  • An annual free night at any InterContinental Hotels Group hotel worldwide 
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • A 10% rebate on all Priority Club point redemptions - up to 100,000 points back each year
  • Earn 5 points per dollar spent at all IHG hotels, 2 points per dollar spent on eligible gas, groceries and dining, and 1 point per dollar spent everywhere else
  • The $49 annual fee is waived for the first year
  • And now, Platinum Elite Status for as long as you keep the card

Be aware that Platinum Elite status is recognized at all IHG hotels except for InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, which offer their own distinct Ambassador loyalty program. While severely devalued and rather easy to achieve, Platinum Elite status still offers a few good benefits such as:
  • 50% bonus on base points earned
  • Complimentary room upgrades when available
  • Guaranteed room availability with 72 hours advance notice
  • Priority check-in and exclusive Platinum Elite customer service line

When I stayed at the Crowne Plaza Times Square, I was upgraded to a Times Square view room as a Platinum Elite member, plus access to the concierge lounge. So depending on the hotel, you can actually receive some nice perks.

There is a Chase Priority Club Visa offer for 80,000 bonus points after your first use that has been floating around for some time now. Apparently, it is a targeted offer. However, anecdotal evidence on FlyerTalk has shown that anyone applying from that link has been able to get the same offer confirmed. Note that the application page does not have any indication of the 80,000 bonus points offer. But once you are approved, you can call in to reconfirm your sign-up offer. If you run into any problems with getting the 80,000 bonus points offer, you can still refer to the 60,000 bonus points offer that is publicly available to everyone.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Easy 1,000 Virgin America Elevate Points Via Facebook

Virgin America is running an easy promotion on Facebook. In celebration of their 2,000,012th Elevate member, you can enter to win one of 20 grand prizes of 100,000 Elevate points. And just for entering, you will earn 1,000 Elevate points!

Entering is simple. All you have to do is sign into your Facebook account, then head on over to Virgin America's Elevate Rewards Yearbook page. Be sure to first "like" the page by clicking the "like" button on the upper right hand corner. Then go down and follow the link to put a page in the yearbook and earn 1,000 Elevate points. Your profile picture should automatically appear, and all you have to do is fill out some additional information (be sure to include the email address that is already linked to your Elevate account). Once you enter, you should see a confirmation page stating that your photo made the yearbook.

The contest runs from March 19 to April 6, 2012, and you will receive the 1,000 Elevate points four to six weeks after the end date. For complete contest rules, click here. I previously posted about the recent enhancement to Virgin America's Elevate program, where you can now redeem Elevate points on international partner flights. While not a great redemption value in my mind, it does give you plenty of new opportunities to use your 100,000 Elevate points if you just so happen to win the grand prize ;)

Air New Zealand Business Premier Amenity Kit Giveaway

When I completed my New Zealand trip report last week, I realized that I had two sets of Business Premier amenity kits. One of them I have already opened to review for the report, and the other is brand new (never opened) in its original packaging. If I kept the new one, it would just sit in the closet collecting dust, so I thought what better way to put it to good use than giving it away on my blog!

Although it comes in a small box and not a reusable pouch, the contents inside are actually quite useful. There are three small tubes of La Prairie skin care products, including a cellular eye contour cream, intensive cellular time release moisturizer, and moisturizing lip balm. There is also a colorful pair of socks - although the material is quite thin since it's meant to be worn on the flight only. I really like the comfortable eye shades with the funny line "Beware I sleep walk" printed on the front. Finally, there are the typical amenity kit contents like ear plugs, toothbrush and toothpaste, and an Air New Zealand pen.

All you have to do to enter the random drawing are the following:
  • Be living in the contiguous United States.
  • Leave a comment below with your first name and last initial and one place you'd like to visit this year. Do not leave your email address in the comments!
  • Send an email to me at that includes the same name you left in the comments and place you'd like to visit this year. Make sure it is sent from an email address I can contact you at in case you win!

After the contest ends at 11:59 pm PDT on Monday March 26, 2012, I will use an online random number generator to pick the winner from the comments below. If I cannot match the winning comment to an email, I will pick another winner using the same method. I apologize for the roundabout way of doing this, but Blogger doesn't allow a private email field when leaving comments for some reason.

Once the winner is chosen, I will contact him/her directly and request a mailing address. I will cover the shipping cost. Good luck everyone!

EDIT: A big thank you to Darren over at Frequently Flying for helping me spread the word!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Chase Sapphire Preferred Bonus Lowered To 40,000 Ultimate Rewards Points

Many bloggers have posted about this today. It looks like Chase has finally lowered the sign-up bonus for the Sapphire Preferred card. For almost a year, they ran a 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points bonus offer for spending $3,000 within three months. Now the website is showing only 40,000 bonus points.

Your last chance to sign up for the 50,000 bonus points offer may be to use an affiliate link that many bloggers have to earn a commission. Since I do not earn any money from my blog and refuse to post affiliate links, you won't be able to find them here. However, I will gladly direct you to one of my favorite blogs out there, View From The Wing, who is offering up his link for sign-up.

I have written extensively about the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, but here are the basics:
  • 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points can be directly cashed out into a $500 check or statement credit. Or if you book through the Chase travel tool, you can use the 50,000 points to redeem for airfare worth up to $625. Otherwise, the more preferred way of utilizing these points would be to take advantage of the 1:1 transfer ratio and move them over to one of the many partners they have, including United Airlines, British Airways, Korean Air, Hyatt, Marriott, Priority Club, etc. There are a number of other ways to redeem your Ultimate Rewards points through their website as well.
  • Earn one point per dollar spent anywhere, and two points per dollar spent on travel and dining
  • The annual fee of $95 is waived for the first year
  • You get a 7% annual bonus on all the points you accumulated in one calendar year, regardless of if you have already redeemed them or if they are from the sign-up bonus. Since they total the points at the end of the year (December 31st), you can still get this bonus before your annual fee hits (around March 2013 if you apply now).
  • No foreign exchange or foreign transaction fees

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Easy 1,000 Bonus Hilton HHonors Points - Plus An Additional 4,000 Bonus Points

This is an old promotion, but it's still ongoing and great for people like me who have Hilton HHonors points expiring soon. The first part is very straightforward: simply register your mobile phone and an eligible Visa card and agree to receive up to two special offers each week via text message (messaging and data rates may apply - check with your mobile phone carrier). Just for enrolling, you will earn 1,000 bonus points. You must register between January 20 and June 30, 2012, so there is still plenty of time to take advantage of this offer.

I registered about a week ago, and since the first few confirmation text messages that I received, I have not yet seen any additional texts. You can also choose to opt-out of the enrollment at anytime here (although I would only suggest doing so after receiving the bonus points).

Next, you can also earn an additional 4,000 bonus points by spending a minimum of $100 using your enrolled Visa card at any participating U.S. hotel or resort in the Hilton Worldwide portfolio after enrolling in the program. The spend must be completed by June 30, 2012.

Allow up to six weeks after enrollment for the 1,000 bonus points to post in your Hilton HHonors account, and up to six weeks after completing the minimum spend for the additional 4,000 bonus points to post. You must be a Hilton HHonors member and enter a valid account number when enrolling to receive the bonus points. You can also enroll up to three Visa cards in this promotion (but only one enrollment bonus will be given).

Note that not all Visa cards are eligible for this promotion, including Visa Buxx, Flexible Spending Account (FSA) Visa cards, EBT Visa cards, and other Visa-branded cards whose transactions are not processed through the Visa U.S.A. payment system.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Hilton HHonors Q2 2012 Promotion Already Announced

Hilton is moving quickly with their Q2 promotion this year. Register for the Double Your HHonors promotion, and you can earn double base points or double miles for stays at participating hotels and resorts in the Hilton Worldwide portfolio from April 1 through June 30, 2012.

You can only register for either double base points or double miles, and once you make your choice, your selection cannot be changed. Bonus points do not count toward tier qualification. There is a very long list of hotels that have opted-out of participating in this promotion, so make sure you take a look before making your bookings!

Remember that the Hilton HHonors program offers three methods of earning points/miles you can choose from:
  • HHonors Points + HHonors Points: 10 base points + 5 bonus points per eligible dollar spent
  • HHonors Points + Variable Miles: 10 base points + 1 airline mile per eligible dollar spent
  • HHonors Points + Fixed Miles: 10 base points per eligible dollar spent + 500 airline miles per stay

Note that the list above does not apply to Hampton Inns & Suites, Homewood Suites, and Home2 Suites, which all have reduced earn rates! Click here to see the full earn rate details for those brands.

So with this promotion, if you select the points-only option, you will earn 20 base points + 5 bonus points per eligible dollar spent. If you select the variable miles option, you will earn 10 base points + 2 airline miles per eligible dollar spent. If you select the fixed miles option, you will earn 10 base points per eligible dollar spent + 1,000 airline miles per stay. Be aware that double points and miles at Hampton Inns & Suites, Homewood Suites, and Home2 Suites will be based on their specific earn rates. Miles earning rates may also vary by airline, so take a look at this full list of partners for details.

This is not a terribly good promotion from Hilton, and I would personally wait for all the other Q2 2012 hotel promotions to be announced before making any bookings. However, it never hurts to register for these promotions in advance just in case you forget later on.

Redeem Virgin America Elevate Points For International Partner Flights

Starting today, you can redeem Virgin America Elevate points for international flights on Virgin Atlantic. And starting on March 22, 2012, you can redeem for flights on Virgin Australia as well. Before you get too excited, let me just say that the taxes and fuel surcharges involved with these redemptions might shock you.

The Virgin America Elevate program is one of the least lucrative loyalty programs out there. The number of points needed for an award ticket is tied directly to the cost of the ticket, and you will never see the value of a point exceed 2.5 cents. So unlike legacy carrier programs, where you can stretch the value of a point by redeeming for premium class seats on partner airlines or getting creative with routing rules, the Elevate program is typically hard set in the return you get.

One of the worst features of the Elevate program, however, was that there was no way use your points for international flights, even though Virgin America is technically part of the Virgin family of airlines, including Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia. Finally, that policy has changed. Right now, you can go to the Virgin America website and calculate exactly how many points you need to travel anywhere the Virgin brand flies. To book your ticket, you must call Virgin America at 1-877-FLY-VIRGIN (1-877-359-8474). A $20 phone fee will apply.

At first glance, I was actually surprised at how few points are needed to book a long-haul award ticket. For example, only 15,000 points are needed to fly round-trip from New York to London Heathrow in economy, and 40,000 points to fly round-trip from Los Angeles to Sydney in economy. What really made me do a double-take, however, are the absolutely exorbitant taxes and fuel surcharges that are tacked onto the award tickets. More and more airlines are starting to include these fees, and I'm afraid it's only a matter of time before the legacy carriers follow suit (some already do, in fact). Here are just a few examples of the fees you will be paying when booking an international round-trip award ticket with Virgin America:

  • Economy: 15,000 + $650
  • Premium Economy: 25,000 + $750
  • Upper Class: 35,000 + $1100
  • Economy: 25,000 + $650
  • Premium Economy: 30,000 + $750
  • Upper Class: 50,000 + $1200
  • Economy: 30,000 + $650
  • Premium Economy: 45,000 + $800
  • Upper Class: 60,000 + $900
  • Economy: 40,000 + $749
  • Premium Economy: 60,000 + $790
  • Business: 80,000 + $849

Given that you can often purchase a round-trip revenue ticket from New York to London for around $800, that means you are basically redeeming 15,000 points to make up a difference of $150 - at a value of one cent per point. Not to mention the points you are not earning on an award ticket. Definitely not worth it in my opinion. There is also the option of redeeming for one-way award tickets, but the value there is even worse, as Virgin America will charge you more than half the points required for a round-trip.

All in all, it's still a positive thing that Virgin America is adding more redemption options. But at these non-favorable rates, I wouldn't recommend anyone start collecting Elevate points at this moment. Stick with the legacy carriers in large global alliances for now as you'll find much better redemption values there.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

25% Off Southwest Flight (One-Time Use Only)

For those of you who subscribe to Click 'n Save email alerts from Southwest Airlines, you might have received a one-time use promo code today for 25% off your next flight purchase. If you didn't receive a promo code but need one, I'm giving away mine right here in this post!

The 25% discount is for one-time use only, and applies to the total amount of a round-trip Wanna Get Away Fare purchase before taxes and fees. Purchase must be made between March 17 and March 18, 2012, for travel between April 10 and May 16, 2012. Blackout dates apply system-wide on April 15, 2012, and for travel to/from Florida from April 10 - April 16, 2012, and on May 6, 2012. . If any portion of travel falls on the blackout dates the discount will no longer apply. Changes made to the itinerary after purchase may eliminate qualification for this promotion.

And here is my one-time use promo code for anyone who would like to use it: STJJCY2HT7. If anyone else still needs a promo code, I recommend going to this Flyertalk thread and asking nicely... perhaps someone who doesn't need theirs might be willing to share with you.

EDIT: Sorry, looks like the promo code has been redeemed.

Friday, March 16, 2012

50% Transfer Bonus From American Express Membership Rewards To British Airways Executive Club

This is the first great transfer bonus opportunity of the year. A few days ago, I posted about the US Airways 50% transfer bonus from hotel partners. However, the only partner worth transferring from was Starwood Preferred Guest... and even then, it made very little sense to trade in valuable Starpoints for Dividend Miles, despite the significant bonus.

In my opinion, the best value for Membership Rewards points is the airline miles transfer program, and the best time to do a transfer is when they run a promotion such as this one. From now until May 31, 2012, earn a 50% bonus when you transfer points from Membership Rewards to British Airways. There is no need to register, and you can transfer as many times as you like before the promotion ends. The smallest increment you can transfer is 1,000 points.

As you may already know, British Airways massively devalued their award chart last November, and I documented the aftermath in great detail here. However, despite the huge increase in Avios points required for long-haul flights, there is a silver lining to be found in short hops all around the world, especially when they involve partner airlines that don't tack on a fuel surcharge.

The highest yields can be found on popular tourist routes that are typically short in distance but high in cost. For example, the San Francisco to Los Cabos route is quite popular, and Alaska Airlines can charge upwards of $500 or more for this three-hour flight. However, only 20,000 Avios points are needed to book a round-trip award ticket, while using other frequent flyer programs typically will run you 35,000 miles. Likewise, flying Los Angeles to Honolulu on American Airlines costs only 25,000 Avios points. Even shorter flights such as San Francisco to Los Angeles, New York to Toronto, Miami to Cancun, Lima to Cusco, all only cost 9,000 Avios points round-trip! Read my previous post to find out how to price out specific award itineraries on the British Airways website.

If you have a large stash of Membership Rewards points just waiting to be used, I would highly recommend converting at least some into Avios points before May 31, 2012. Although others may disagree, I would do the transfer even if you don't have any award travel planned. Typically, transfer bonuses don't get any better or simpler than this. Membership Rewards did run another promotion last year where you could effectively earn a 67% bonus on Delta Skymiles transfers, but it turned out to be a logistical nightmare, and people had to wait months before they actually received the bonus points in the form of a rebate certificate. Plus, I have not seen any transfer bonuses higher than 50% for Membership Rewards to British Airways.

I don't doubt that another 50% transfer bonus promotion will occur sometime in the future, but I say take advantage of the offer now, and make use of those Avios points for high-value redemptions before another devaluation comes!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Another Virgin America 20% Off Promo Code

To celebrate their newest destination of Philadelphia starting on April 4, 2012, Virgin America is running a Facebook promotion where you can enter to win free flights on the new route, passes to their Ultimate Tailgate party, and two-night hotel stays. Also, just for entering, Virgin America will send you a promo code good for 20% off your next flight between April 4 and June 15, 2012.

This offer ends on March 28, 2012, and your booking must be completed by April 30, 2012. Tickets require advance purchase of three days. Blackout dates are May 25 and May 28, 2012. Promo code is only valid for nonstop or connecting travel (not multi-city itineraries) on non-refundable Main Cabin tickets in fare classes S, L, M, U, E, H, B, or V.

EDIT: There was some confusion regarding this promotion. First, you must be logged into your Facebook account. Then once you click on the link below, you must first "like" the page by clicking the "like" button on the upper right-hand corner of the website. After that, you can submit your entry by filling out the relevant information. Once you enter, you will see a confirmation page, and you should receive the 20% off promo code in your email within a few minutes.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Marriott Hotel Category Changes Tomorrow

This is extremely last minute, but don't forget that changes to the Marriott hotel categories takes place on March 15, 2012. Today is the last day to book reward nights at the old rate. If you haven't already yet, take a look at the official list of all hotels that will have a category change tomorrow. This is especially urgent for those who have free nights that were earned via the Chase Marriott Rewards Visa or through the MegaBonus promotion. Those free nights are only good for Category 1-4 hotels. Since 96 hotels are rising from Category 4 to Category 5, make sure you redeem those certificates by tomorrow!

If you have a current reservation for a hotel that is moving down a category, you can receive a points rebate after the changes take place. According to Marriott Rewards, 3% of their hotels are decreasing by one category (100 hotels), while 15% are increasing by one category (526 hotels). Burn those points at the lower redemption rate while you still can!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Book Priority Club Reward Nights At The Old Rate Before March 18, 2012

A few months ago, I posted about Priority Club's reward chart changes that took place on January 18, 2012. If you weren't already aware, new tiers were added on the reward chart for each hotel brand, most of them at higher redemption rates. Because only two week's notice was given before the changes took place, Priority Club decided to allow a two-month grace period, where anyone could still book reward nights at the old rates - albeit via phone reservations only.

That two month grace period is about to end on March 18, 2012, so make sure you book as many reward nights as you can before the deadline. One big problem, however, is that Priority Club doesn't published a full list of redemption rates for all their hotels. And since their website now only reflects the new rates, it's impossible to know what the old rates were unless you already jotted it down prior to the change.

Fortunately, LoyaltyLobby has compiled a list of all the InterContinental Hotels and Resorts that have changed tiers. For Candlewood Suites, Staybridge Suites, Crowne Plaza Hotels and Resorts, and Hotel Indigos, the old reward chart only had a single tier for each brand, whereas the new reward chart added a higher tier to each. Thus, it's very easy to see if the redemption rates have changed since any hotel currently showing the higher rate means it was bumped up on January 18, 2012. And finally, ChongCao has compiled a list of old redemption rates for Holiday Inns and Holiday Inn Expresses, which might be extremely helpful. You can also try calling Priority Club and asking, but many people on FlyerTalk have reported agents actually asking them what the old rates were!

Also, when booking reward nights at the old rate, the phone agents are effectively charging you the new rate, and then crediting your Priority Club account with a goodwill adjustment for the difference. Just be aware that if you decide to cancel the booking later, the goodwill adjustment will also be removed from your account.

New Priority Club Reward Chart (from January 18, 2012 onward):

Monday, March 12, 2012

50% Bonus For Converting Hotel Points To US Airways Miles

Right now, you can earn a 50% bonus on all hotel points that are converted into US Airways Dividend Miles. US Airways has a number of hotel transfer partners, including Starwood Preferred Guest, Hyatt Gold Passport, Hilton HHonors, Marriott Rewards, IHG Priority Club, and many more. However, since almost all of them involve truly abysmal conversion rates, the only one worth talking about here is Starwood Preferred Guest.

Starwood Preferred Guest offers a 1:1 conversion ratio into US Airways Dividend Miles, and even includes a 5,000 miles bonus for every 20,000 Starpoints that you transfer. Hence, taking into account both offers, every 20,000 Starpoints transferred will net you 37,500 Dividend Miles (a total bonus of 87.5% and a transfer ratio of 1:1.875). Usually, I would jump at such an opportunity... but the fact that we are dealing with Starpoints makes this a much tougher call.

Starpoints are among the most highly valued loyalty program points/miles out there, and with Starwood Preferred Guest's cash and points options, you can often redeem them for more than five cents per point! That is almost unheard of when it comes to hotel award charts. So unless you have a huge stash of Starpoints or you have a Dividend Miles redemption in mind already and don't have enough miles, I would say hold off on any transfers.

Other blogs have also discussed taking advantage of the current American Express Membership Rewards transfer bonus to Starwood Preferred Guest. Typically, the transfer ratio is 3:1. However, through March 31, 2012, you can earn a 50% bonus, so the ratio becomes 2:1. If you were to transfer 40,000 MR points into 20,000 Starpoints, and then convert that into 37,500 Dividend Miles, you would effectively be transferring MR points into Dividend Miles at a ratio of 1:0.9375.

I would highly suggest not doing this unless, again, you have more MR points than you know what to do with. Membership Rewards often runs promotions for 30-50% bonuses when transferring to Delta Skymiles or British Airways Avios (with transfer ratios at 1:1.3 to 1:1.5), which would be a much better value.

If you do decide to take advantage of this promotion, note that you must complete all points transfers by March 31, 2012. This means that the activity date of the mileage transfer as recorded by the hotel must be by March 31, 2012. Be very careful as some hotels may have a delay in generating the activity date, so it is probably a good idea to give yourself at least a few days cushion just in case. US Airways must receive the hotel partner activity date information by April 10, 2012 in order to be eligible for bonus miles consideration.

Also, the terms and conditions state that only one transfer will receive the 50% bonus during the promotion, so don't expect to do multiple transfers and get the bonus on each one! No registration is needed, and bonus miles will post 6-8 weeks after the eligible activity date.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

New Zealand December 2011 - Air New Zealand 8 Business Premier (AKL-SFO)

***This post is the conclusion to a full trip report. The index can be found here*** 

The gate area was already packed when I arrived. Scanning the crowd, I was relieved to be traveling in Business Premier since a majority of the passengers appeared to be vacationing families, many with infants and toddlers in tow (no offense to vacationing families with infants and toddlers!). There looked to be a large high school sports team traveling back to the States on this flight as well.

Boarding was absolute chaos, which really surprised me since it was quite orderly when I flew Air New Zealand out of LAX two weeks earlier. Perhaps due to the sheer number of families with small children, the lines quickly became a giant mosh pit of people all jostling towards the gate door. To make matters worse, announcements were haphazardly conducted, with Business Premier customers called up even before families with small children were halfway done boarding. Add to that a healthy mix of gate lice milling about, and you truly have a nightmare boarding scenario.

Air New Zealand 8
Boeing 747-400
Auckland (AKL) - San Francisco (SFO)
Saturday December 31, 2011
Departure: 7:30 PM (scheduled) / 8:04 PM (actual)
Arrival: 10:30 AM (scheduled) / 10:47 AM (actual)
Duration: 12h 00m (scheduled) / 11h 43m (actual)
Seat: 5K (Business Premier)

After finally boarding, I made a left through the aft Business Premier cabin and into the nose of our 747-400. On my previous flight to New Zealand, I sat in 5A on the port side. This time, I chose 5K, directly across the aisle. The Business Premier seats were identical to my last flight, albeit with slightly more wear and tear. I will skip the detailed photos and discussion regarding seat functions and comfort since it was covered in a previous post. Take a look at it if you are interested in knowing how the herringbone flat-beds stacked up.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

100,000 Bonus Miles Capital One Venture Card Returns!

...with a couple of major caveats, mind you.

Last year, Capital One ran one of the most lucrative credit card promotions ever. They essentially matched the miles you had in any major airline loyalty program, up to 100,000 miles. All you had to do was get approved for the Venture Card, submit proof of the existing miles you had in another program, spend $1,000 on your card within 90 days, and Capital One would match your miles. It was simple, straightforward, and best of all, they were lenient in terms of the documentation needed to show your airline loyalty program account balance.

Not only that, Capital One also honored their usual promotion of 10,000 bonus miles after completing the spend requirement (or 15,000 bonus miles for the business card). So at the end of the day, people were receiving up to 110,000 miles for their new account. Since the promotion ran for both the personal as well as the business Venture Card, up to 225,000 miles were handed out just for two credit cards! It was, quite honestly, a little mind-boggling. Since you could redeem your miles for travel purchases at one cent per mile, that translated to $2,250 in free money. Initially, some people found an even better redemption opportunity for Hyatt gift certificates, but that offer was pulled as Capital One quickly realized the loss potential.

Many people took advantage of the 2011 Match My Miles Challenge, and those who missed out wondered if it would return again for 2012. Well, yes, the Capital One Venture Card 100,000 miles promotion has indeed returned - in the form of the Double Miles Challenge. But unfortunately, for most people, it's not going to be nearly as exciting or lucrative as last year.

Instead of matching the total miles you have in an airline loyalty program, Capital One has wisely decided to award your bonus miles based on the total annual spend amount from a competing travel rewards credit card. And as proof, you must submit a 2011 year-end summary. Then, after completing the required spend of $1,000 within 90 days on your Venture Card, Capital One will award you two miles per dollar that was spent on your competing travel rewards credit card last year, up to a maximum of 100,000 miles.

Capital One has stated that this promotion will run until they've given away one billion miles, or until May 1, 2012 - whichever comes first. Last year, the billion miles lasted less than a month as people realized how incredibly generous it was. I have a feeling this year's offer, however, might last all the way through to the end. Here are a few more points regarding the Double Miles Challenge:

  • Within 7-14 days after you are approved for the Venture Card, you will receive an email with registration instructions. You must reserve your miles by registering online within 7 days of the date the email was sent. Submit your 2011 year-end summary as proof of how much you spent on the other card in 2011 within 30 days of the date the email was sent. Once you complete the required spend of $1,000 within 90 days of approval on your Venture Card, you will receive your double miles within two billing cycles.
  • This offer is only open to new Venture account holders who meet the eligibility criteria and whose applications are received before the promotion ends. Existing Venture customers and 2011 Match My Miles Challenge participants are not eligible.
  • All major U.S. consumer travel rewards credit cards are eligible (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover). Travel rewards cards include all credit cards that earn rewards that can be redeemed for travel purchases (flights, hotels, rental cars, etc.). Purchases on small business cards, debit cards, fleet cards, private label credit cards, corporate cards, prepaid cards, and Capital One credit cards are not eligible.
  • You will need to submit your 2011 year-end summary from your eligible credit card account on which you are listed as an account holder. A year-end summary is a summary of your annual transactions provided by your credit card issuer. Your summary must include your name and the total amount you spent in 2011. They can be submitted online or by fax. Individual monthly statements will not be accepted.
  • If you cannot obtain a year-end summary or do not want to participate in the Double Miles Challenge, but would like to get a Venture Card, you are still eligible to earn 10,000 bonus miles if you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first 90 days of approval. You will not receive the 10,000 bonus miles if you participate in the Double Miles Challenge.

Clearly, Capital One is targeting high credit card spenders with the Double Miles Challenge, and it certainly makes a lot more business sense compared to last year's Match My Miles Challenge. However, for most of us who do not put tens of thousands of dollars each year on one card, this promotion becomes a lot less attractive. I maxed out at around $15,000 on my Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card last year, so that would net me only 30,000 bonus miles if I were to get the Venture Card. Definitely not worth it, especially when Capital One is known to pull from all three bureaus when checking your credit history. If you've managed to spend more than $30,000 last year on one card, however, you might want to think about taking advantage on this offer.

Also, word from Flyertalk suggests that Capital One is now taking a hard-line approach towards account approvals. Many people with higher number of credit inquiries (and who on Flyertalk doesn't have that these days) within the last few months or even years are getting instant rejections. Carefully consider your credit risk before applying! 

For the FAQs about the Double Miles Challenge, click here. For the full terms and conditions, click here. To apply for the card, click below:

EDIT: This offer has already expired!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

1,000 SPG Points For Completing A Quick Survey

Via this Flyertalk thread. Complete a very quick survey about your social media habits and earn 1,000 Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints! You must complete the survey by March 9, 2012. Starpoints will be credited to your account within 30 business days. Employees of Starwood Hotels and Resorts are not eligible.

Most importantly, remember to enter your name, email address, and Starwood Preferred Guest account number in the last box of the survey! If you fail to enter your information, you will not receive the Starpoints.

EDIT: Wow, that went unbelievably fast. The survey is already closed, I'm guessing because it went viral and Starwood Preferred Guest quickly realized they'd be losing a lot of Starpoints on this!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

New Zealand December 2011 - Air New Zealand AKL Koru Club Lounge

***This post is part 15 of a full trip report. The index can be found here***   

My three other travel buddies were all booked on Air Pacific back to LAX via NAN. Since their flight was scheduled to depart a couple of hours prior to mine, we headed over to the Air Pacific counters to get them checked-in first. Holy cow, we were met with a line that looked more appropriate for Disneyland than an airport! I reminded myself to avoid Air Pacific at all costs in the future. Obviously, this was going to take a while for them, so I decided to go get checked-in for my Air New Zealand flight in the meantime.

AKL International Terminal

Air Pacific economy class check-in cluster#@*!

Talk about night and day! Air New Zealand's premium check-in counter was in a completely separate area. There was not a single person waiting in line, which meant I was able to get my bags checked-in and my boarding pass printed out in less than five minutes. Afterwards, I walked back to the Air Pacific counters and saw my friends not even half-way through the line yet.

Air New Zealand premium check-in counters

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Easy 250 Priority Club Rewards Points

Simply fill out a survey and receive 250 Priority Club Rewards points. This looks to be open to everyone who is a current Priority Club Rewards member. Only one response per member will be accepted, and the survey must be completed by March 31, 2012. Points will be deposited into your member account 4-6 weeks after completion of survey. Priority Club Rewards members who have chosen miles as their earning preference will still be awarded points.

When I took the survey less than an hour ago, the website was running extremely slow, so be prepared to test your patience. However, it did finally go through without any other issues. There are 12 pages of questions to answer, with about one to five questions per page.

New Zealand December 2011 - Air New Zealand 418 Economy Class (WLG-AKL)

***This post is part 14 of a full trip report. The index can be found here***  

At checkout, I was asked if we needed a taxi to the Wellington airport, to which I responded yes. When we got to the entrance though, I noticed it was actually a nice-looking hotel car that had pulled up. I thought for a second about asking if there was a price difference, but decided just to go with it. The driver was an older gentleman, quite chatty and very friendly. He took a longer route to the airport along the harbor, but we didn't really mind since it was a nice scenic drive, and we hadn't experienced much of Wellington at all. Seeing the beautiful waterfront really made me wish we had a few extra days to explore the city.

The taxi ride ended up being a pricey 56 NZD, but split among four people, it wasn't too bad. Check-in was very similar to the domestic terminal in Auckland, being that it was entirely self-service. Baggage tags were printed out at the kiosks and self-applied. You then carry your checked luggage over to the bag drop area and place them on the conveyor belt. Security was located at each individual gate (at least for domestic departures), and even then, it was a quick and painless two-minute affair. As always, no need to remove shoes or belts!

For a smaller airport, I was quite impressed with the passenger facilities. There were plenty of dining options as well as shopping opportunities before reaching the gate area. In addition, there were tons of tables and seats available, some with great views of the tarmac for plane spotting.