Thursday, May 18, 2017

Delta bonus promo

If you haven't done so already, you should sign up for the Delta partner bonus promotion.

Once you're registered, you'll earn 1000 bonus SkyMiles for each new Delta partner you earn miles with until June 30th. A list of the partners is here.

I fly Delta fairly regularly for domestic travel, and I generally avoid United at all costs. But United's miles are still so much more useful that I pretty much only use the United Mileage mall and United Mileage Dining websites when I'm shopping or eating out.

That turned out to be perfect for this promo, since I'm both a Delta SkyMiles shopping AND a SkyMiles Dining virgin. Once I was signed up for the Delta SkyMiles shopping program, I used it to buy a few things from Walgreens.com and collect my first 1000 point bonus. (Do note the dates – the bonus takes 6 weeks to post).



Last month when we needed to take an emergency trip to Seattle, I transferred Starwood points to Delta to pay for the flight. Lo and behold, that also counted as new partner earnings and I got another 1000 points for that.

But even if you're a big Delta fan and have already used most of their partners to earn miles, you can still sign up for their new Lyft partnership and hopefully land yourself another 1000.

Delta says it qualifies 😀
















Thursday, May 11, 2017

Bye-bye Aeroplan!

Big news today that Air Canada is dropping its 3rd party Aeroplan mileage program in favor of an in-house solution in 2020.

I don't normally fly Air Canada, but here's why I care: Aeroplan one of the few Star Alliance transfer partners for American Express points. Of the other two partners: ANA still only allows round-trip rewards, and Singapore doesn't permit partner reward booking online - you have to call in.

We used Aeroplan miles for ANA Business Class to Tokyo in 2015

Cathay Pacific, British Airways, and Iberia have a similar setup where a separate company (Asia Miles, Avios) administers their points program. Air Canada sold their program off to a company called Aimia after 9/11 to earn some cash in a tough economic climate, but times have changed and this is a multi-billion dollar business they want to repatriate.

My recommendation:
  • Spend any Aeroplan miles you have before 2020. The miles are NOT going to roll from the old plan into the new one, and everyone is predicting a massive devaluation
  • Unless you're chasing Air Canada elite status, I'd start crediting all of your future Air Canada flying to United (or other Star Alliance airline).
  • Or at least have a plan to spend most of miles you earn before the cutoff date.

Six or seven years ago Aeroplan used to be a great place to redeem for Star Alliance Business Class flights, but like so many other programs they've devalued their points multiple times and added high fuel surcharges to awards. The other maddening aspect of their program is that it almost never offers you the option to redeem for a direct flight. Despite assurances that their site shows unfiltered Star Alliance availability, on multiple occasions I've seen a direct flight available on United.com or ANA.co.jp but not on Aeroplan.

Once the transition is complete, let's hope they have a USA credit card with a big signup bonus and that they stay an Amex transfer partner!








Tuesday, May 9, 2017

OMG Shoes!

It's unfortunate, but American department store and malls in general are on the verge of dying. In an effort to stay relevant, many old school retailers are making various kinds of online offers to lure you to their website instead of Amazon.com or specialty online shops like Bluefly or Jet. The bonus points from my last big shopping portal victory just cleared (5400 United points and 1100 Amex points for a pair of shoes!) and I thought I'd share a few tips.

Airline shopping portal tips:
  • Be patient. High markup retailers have specials in the 8-12 points per dollar range
  • Low markup retailers (Amazon, Jet, BestBuy) rarely have specials
  • Stack promos whenever you can (Amex offer + portal + portal bonus!)
  • Don't buy anything you wouldn't have bought otherwise (this is the hardest part!)
  • Comparison shop so you know if you're overpaying (have you seen Wikibuy?!)
  • Utilize free shipping options whenever possible
  • Turn off adblock before using the shopping portal
  • Use shopping portals to generate activity and keep miles from expiring
  • Spend 2 minutes a week reviewing Amex offers and shopping portal bonuses when you have a big purchase in mind. 
  • Use EVReward.com to compare the rate each portal is currently offering (but know that they generally don't update for daily specials)

My 6600 mile shoes

I've wanted these super cute Gucci shoes for a while now but I was holding out for Neimans or Bergdorf Goodman to have a good shopping portal bonus before I bought. Normally these high-markup retailers offer 2 points per dollar through the United, Delta, or Alaska shopping portals, but I know they run specials for 10 or 12 points per dollar several times a year. Besides, it was cold out and these are very summery shoes so I wasn't in a hurry.
So cute!

On a separate front, I periodically check my Amex Offers to add deals to my card and I spotted this gem: an extra Amex point for shopping through Bergdorf Goodman's website. I added it to my card and waited... 



A few days later, yet another bonus popped up: United's shopping portal sent me an email saying I could earn 1000 bonus miles on top of anything else I earn if I his their spending target by Friday. Luckily this email also showed that Bergdorf was having a special: 8 points per dollar. It was time 👟


I purchased the shoes through United's shopping portal (yes, they're expensive shoes but I would have bought them anyway!) and once all of the bonuses had cleared I made 5400 United points and 1100 Amex points.

While I rarely fly United, I still think they have the best mileage plan in the US, so I happily collect their points and then spend them on ANA, Asiana, Lufthansa, Singapore, LOT, etc.








Saturday, May 6, 2017

You can now earn JetBlue miles flying Iceland Air

One of the weakest things about JetBlue is their mileage program – they have very few options for earning and redeeming miles beyond their own flights. 
 
You can earn TrueBlue points when you fly on:
  • Emirates
  • Hawaiian
  • JetsuiteX and Silver Airways
  • Singapore
  • South African
  • and now Iceland Air!
To celebrate Iceland Air being added to the family, they're running a special double-miles promo through July 7th. If I were flying soon, I'd probably take the 2x credit to JetBlue, but once the promo is over and it's back down to 1x, I'd probably choose to credit any Iceland Air flying to my Alaska account. They have lots of great redemption partners, whereas JetBlue doesn't.

 
 
When you want to redeem your TrueBlue points, you still only have two options: JetBlue and Hawaiian. When you redeem for JetBlue flights you get a fixed value of around 1.4¢, which works out to a 4% rebate on the purchase price of your flight. (If you have their credit card, attain Mosaic status, and hit all of their bonuses, you can bring that up to 13%).

Redeeming for Hawaiian airlines flights can only be done over the phone, and yields you around 1¢ per TrueBlue point. More information about that over at TPG.
 
I hope this is part of a series of enhancements to JetBlue's loyalty program. JetBlue (and the combined Alaska/Virgin) is on the cusp of becoming a real nationwide carrier and stepping up the value of their TrueBlue program is an essential part of that.
 
 




Sunday, April 23, 2017

Some great deals on Business Class fares to Europe


As I've mentioned before, in spring you can often find great deals Business Class fares for summer travel to Europe. Some years, like last year, they're harder to find, but I just now snagged a June round trip from New York to Berlin on Scandinavian for $2200. It's a one-stop itinerary via Oslo, with the long leg in their new(ish) lie-flat seat on an A330. I bought directly from SAS's website using my Amex Gold card for the 3x airfare bonus.

SAS lie-flat Business Class
$2200 isn't a great fare, but it's definitely a good one. The rest of the year these flights are usually in the high $3000s. With all of the recent mileage devaluations, this flight would have set me back 140,000 United miles. Using the mileage math, that comes out to 1.6¢ per mile when the flight is $2200. Since I'm always aiming for 2¢ a point at the bare minimum, doing this with miles didn't make sense.

Furthermore, I'll earn nearly 20,000 miles for this flight (split between Amex and United), and I wouldn't have if I'd redeemed miles instead of paying. That effectively lops another $300-ish off the price. I don't chase status, but this would also move you closer to your next elite tier and the reward seat wouldn't.

I just priced out several other dates throughout the summer and there's lots of seats in low $2k's – in August there were even cheap seats on direct flights on United and Delta. I tried a few other destinations and from New York it looks like Prague, Paris, Madrid and Warsaw had flights around the $2500 mark. Again, good but not great.

If you've been thinking about going to Europe this summer, you might want to poke at Google Flights for a few minutes and see if you find a Business Class bargain.


June
July

August


I should add here for the nerds that my dates were super inflexible, so I was unable to find any Saver Business seats on a United-operated flight, which would have been only 115,000 points – 1.9cpm at $2200. And since I've had pretty crummy experiences with United internationally, I honestly think I'd rather take SAS with a stopover for 140k than United on a direct flight for 115k…

Also, for the life of me I couldn't get the Amex travel portal to show these fares so I won't get the extra point for booking through them.  




Monday, April 10, 2017

A few tips from our recent emergency trip

We had a family emergency last week and had to find a flight to Seattle from New York City in a big hurry. We all know that as the flights fill up, the prices go up. But I'd forgotten that if you're buying TWO (or more) seats, they're both billed at the price of the most expensive seat

(FYI the flights were so full because the airlines had already issued a weather-related travel waiver for Saturday - meaning that lots of people were trying to leave a day early)

 

TIP 1: Sometimes it's cheaper to book two separate tickets!

In my specific example: if I searched for two seats, they were $1800 each. But when I changed the search to just one seat (on the very same flight), the price dropped to $718. Once we purchased that seat, the other seat (the last one one the plane) jumped up to $1800. Now at $1800 all kinds of terrible domestic point rewards start to make financial sense. What I ended up with was a 3¢ per point redemption (60,000 points) – not great but given the circumstances I'll take that over paying $1800.



If you're looking several months out for a flight, this likely won't apply because both seats will be in the same fare bucket, but if you're looking on a very full flight, it's probably worth it to do a price check.

Keep in mind now that all of those prices are for a ONE WAY flight. We still had to get home when the emergency was over (and we had no idea when that was going to be...). Flying home we had quite a few more options and all of them much more reasonably-priced.

 

TIP 2: Some domestic Economy Class seats are better than others


For a domestic flight with my husband, a 2-abreast seating area in Economy is largely indistinguishable from First Class. Except for a few of the premium runs between SF/LA/NYC, nothing about the domestic First experience warrants much extra money. We realized a while back the most of what we liked about domestic First is not having a third person trying to crowd in between our wide shoulders and generally "invade our space".

The problem is that most of the domestic planes are in a 3+3 configuration in Economy. Aside from smaller regional jets, the exceptions are:
  • Airbus A330 (American)
  • Boeing 717 and 767 (American, United, Delta)
  • MD-90, MD-80, and MD-88 (American, Delta)
  • Embraer 170 and 175 and 190 (United, JetBlue, Alaska)
  • Bombardier CS100 (Delta)
An A330 or 767 on a Domestic route is pretty rare, but if you use Kayak.com you can quickly check for this by clicking 'More' next to 'Top Filters' and check the 'Wide-body jet only' option. To look for the others, you can click 'Show Details' next to each of the flights that work for your time and budget and see if any of them match.

In our case we noticed that one of the Delta flights from Seattle to NYC was actually a 767 with a 2-3-2 configuration that continued on to Madrid after stopping in New York, so we bought two seats together and saved ourselves about $1000 over paying for First.

Use the 'More' button to look for wide-bodies

Show Details to look at the plane type

found a 767 with 2-3-2 seating!

 

TIP 3: Quickly view and filter every flight available to your destination with FlightAware.com


A much nerdier option is to use FlightAware.com to search a particular route and then filter the list by plane type. (Note that FlightAware converts your airport selection to the official airport code before searching - e.g., JFK becomes KJFK). Once you see the search results for a specific airport, you can use the "[cityname] area?" link to expand the list to a whole area (e.g., JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark).

FlightAware has much more advanced options



Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Beware hotel resort fees


During our recent trip to Hawaii, we found ourselves suddenly in need of a hotel in Kona. I fired up Kayak and Hotel Tonight and Hilton Waikoloa Village was the cheapest option. But once we arrived it became clear that quoted price of $256 was just the beginning.

The hotel has a mandatory $30 a day "Resort Fee" per room. For that $30 you get:


On top of the resort fee, you have to pay $30 a day for parking. Since it's on a private road there's literally no option to park in a public space and then walk to the hotel. The only parking lot is a full 20 minute walk from our room, so it's clear that you're supposed to spring for the valet option which costs even more. (And if you're not a complete cheapskate, you can also add in a tip for the valet each time s/he fetches the car for you as you come and go).

Now, given how far away your car is, you're also somewhat captive there, and they completely take advantage of this fact: a single, Don Julio silver margarita was $17 before tax and tip. So you're going to be paying midtown Manhattan prices for literally everything.

Now, add standard hotel and sales tax, and our price out the door (without bar or food tab) was more like $330 a night.

When we booked our previous hotel in Honolulu, I used my AARP discount to save as much on our base hotel rate as the resort fee they tacked on. Unfortunately Hilton's AARP rate for same-day, peak reservations wasn't any cheaper than the normal rate. I wish hotels and rental cars were subject to the same laws that airlines are about publishing prices, but given our current political environment, I doubt this will happen anytime soon.