Saturday, February 27, 2016

Just what I needed to hear: British Airways plane infested with bedbugs.

Seriously someone shoot me now. If you get to know a long-time New Yorker well, they'll eventually tell you their bedbug story. And yes, everyone has one. And yes I have an irrational fear of them. Now that Telegraph is reporting that they're infesting planes, I have a whole other reason to quarantine all of my luggage upon arriving home until I can wash and dry everything. (Seriously I'm so paranoid right now I do that). If you scroll down on this link they have some quarantine tips for your luggage.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Churning credit card bonuses just got a lot harder

The best way to earn miles and status is flying on someone else's dime. Probably the second best is by signing up for credit cards that have a big signup bonus – a single signup can earn you up to 100,000 miles without ever setting foot in an airport. There are whole tutorials online for how to sign up for various cards, meet their minimum spending requirements (google "manufactured spend" sometime...), cancel the card, and do it all over again. As I've said before, the harder you play the mileage game the more it starts to be about having more time than money... so I've only just sorta dabbled in this pastime (called "churning"). In the past 10 years I've probably churned 15 cards between my and my husband's accounts.

When the economy was down, the airlines and the credit card issuers were generous with bonuses, fares, and awards. But now that the economy has picked up, all we've seen for the past 4 years is increasing stinginess. (Sidenote: the one nice thing I have to say here is that at least the airlines are spending their record-breaking profits on new, fuel-efficient planes...) This month we've seen both Chase and Amex change their rules to drastically curtail churning. Amex has moved to "one bonus per lifetime for each of their cards" and Chase is moving to "No new approvals for anyone who's opened more than 5 credit cards in the past 24 months from any institution"

Amex comes out with new products fairly regularly (like their new Everyday cards) so there might be some churn opportunity there. But with Chase looking at your whole credit report that's going to be tough. We've churned both our Chase United cards twice, as well as Chase Ink Business Cards twice, and a set of British Airways cards... 

So I guess for now my strategies are:

Hold on to the cards with the best bonus categories – keep my Chase Sapphire Preferred for dining, miscellaneous travel expenses, and point transfers to United and Korean Air. Also keep my Amex Gold for 4x points on airfare (3x if you don't book through Amex), 2x on groceries, and point transfers to a list of airlines much longer than Chase's.

Wait for specific, targeted offers. My husband's last Chase Ink churn was from a targeted offer with a much more generous bonus than the ones available online to the general public. I'm also going to start calling in advance to verify bonus eligibility. After the bonus SNAFU in this post I'm not going to take any chances. 

Given the whole time vs. money thing, I'm probably going to skip the more obscure bank offers. For example, US Bank offers a Korean Air Visa with a 15,000 point signup bonus, but I don't know if 15,000 is worth the hassle or using one of my "sponges" that might delay getting a future Chase card. 

UPDATE: hahaha no, for real, I just wrote this ^^ and what shows up in the mail just now? Ayyyup - a targeted offer for 40,000 Korean Air points from US Bank! Since my last Korean Air redemption priced out at 8¢ per point, this is essentially $3200 in free money, depending on how you look at it.
I also need to start keeping better track of when I get new cards so I can be sure I'm eligible when a good targeted offer comes.

Chase airline transfer partners include United, Korean, and Southwest 
Amex airline transfer partners

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Uber and Lyft officially banned from Newark Airport and Train Station

UPDATE (Jan '17): the ban has been lifted and the lawsuit challenging the lifting of the ban has failed. 

As a Manhattanite, I hate Newark Airport (EWR). If I take a car I have to crawl through Soho to the tunnel, which can literally take hours if you're flying anywhere near rush hour. Or I schlep my bags to the F train, walk two avenues over to Penn Station (hope it's not raining, snowing, or sweltering hot out!) get on the line for a ticket machine, wait up to 30 minutes for a Newark Airport-bound train, then switch to that verkachte Monorail thing that has a top speed of 7 miles per hour while praying that my terminal isn't at its last stop because it's literally 25 minutes between the first stop and the last stop.

And getting back to Manhattan is no picnic, either. Taxi lines are long, there's always some kind of brouhaha between the taxi line manager and several of the cabs, and to top it all off the only way you can pay with a credit card is to pre-pay at this crazy yellow machine at the taxi stand. It's ridiculous. Even the fancy new food options can't make up for all of its inconveniences. 

Whenever I've tried to use Uber, it always gives you this "cover their ass" message at Newark about calling your driver to negotiate a pickup spot... Well it looks like now EWR has gone a step further and fully banned them and Lyft from doing pickups. And, as usual, there's a bunch of back-and-forth about how enforced it will be. 

United doubled-down on Newark a few years ago and moved everything – including their flagship PS service – to Newark. Their CEO lost his job trying to bribe convince NJ officials to extend the PATH train all the way to the airport, but sadly I'll probably be dead before that could ever get built.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Aeromexico adding peak dates

Aeromexico is (apparently?) taking a cue from British Airways and adding Peak/Off-Peak dates to their reward calendar. The one bright spot is the co-pays for rewards are dropping a bit.

My Aeromexico 787 trip report is here and my review of the AirFrance JFK lounge they use is here. My most recent points booking saga with them is here. Aeromexico periodically has transfer bonuses from American Express. They also have an interesting process for bidding on an upgrade to First Class via a site called Optiontown – several of my friends have used it and about half of them have scored super cheap FC seats.

A couple of other useful Mexico links: 

on board Aeromexico's new 787
Onboard Tequila!
Aeromexico 787
Access the AirFrance lounge at JFK when flying Business Class on Aeromexico

Let's earn some bonus points together!

If you don't have a Chase Sapphire yet, please consider using my affiliate link to sign up for one. You get 50,000 bonus points after you meet the minimum spend, and I get a 10,000 mile referral bonus! 

I've had one for several years now and in addition to the normal bells-and-whistles, it has two great features that make it my go-to card: double miles on dining and travel, and the fact that it can transfer points to a bunch of places that my Amex can'tUnited Airlines, Korean Air, Southwest and Amtrak. Our 2015 First Class trip to Asia happened because of this card. I also use their shopping portal to rack up lots of bonus points on toiletries and household cleaning on 

in-flight cocktails in the Korean Air A380 lounge thanks to our Sapphire

Thursday, February 4, 2016

When weather messes up your flight...

Winter storm Jonas just blew through the Northeast, dumping record amounts of snow on the region and canceling thousands of flights. We had paid First Class seats on Delta's direct service from JFK to Puerto Vallarta on Saturday, departing right about the time the storm was due to hit. As we didn't have refundable seats (yes, even First Class charges a ridiculous premium for that) my first call to their call center on Wednesday ended with the rep wanting $1200 per person in change fees PLUS we'd be flying on Friday in Economy. No thanks. The rep then told us we should wait for a weather travel waiver and try again. Several hours later Delta issued a travel waiver and we were able to leave a day early for no fees, but we did have to downgrade to Premium Economy for the JFK-LAX leg.
Yes, please
  • if for some crazy reason you have a fully-refundable fare, call before the weather advisory goes into effect! You'll be able to snag exactly the seat you want before the teeming masses start calling in for their free changes.
  • monitor Twitter for information about travel waivers, for better or for worse Twitter seems to be where the airlines are focusing most of their attention these days. The goal here is to get into that phone queue as soon as possible after the waiver goes out
  • if you have elite status, use the airline's elite status line to make your changes, it'll have shorter queues. If the queues are long, you can sometimes skip around them by calling one of the airline's international offices over Skype. 
  • while you're on hold, use Google Flights to find alternatives so you can suggest a preferred alternative when they pick up. 
  • be flexible. sometimes just getting there at all is more important than how you're getting there
  • while there is some concept of getting a refund if you're downgraded from First Class, remember a few things: if you're on a discounted (i.e., anything that's not a fully-refundable) fare, that the fare difference is likely going to shrink very quickly as all the alternate flights fill up and the prices shoot up. Also keep in mind that during bad weather, the airlines' first duty is to get you where you're going as quickly as possible. If you want to wait an extra day or two to keep your seat in First Class you can do that, but if you choose to take a coach seat you're committing a voluntary downgrade and they don't technically owe you any money back. But if you're nice about it, you can probably get them to put you at least into Premium Economy.
  • be nice to the people on the phone. I worked in a call center for years and this is spot-on. Decide before you call if you want results or if you want to yell at someone making less than minimum wage to make yourself feel better, because you don't get to do both.
  • Do exactly the opposite of this if you're already in sunny Mexico and your flight home to grey and slushy New York might get canceled. We had several folks at our hotel who got told the earliest rebooking option was (gee, darn!) 6 days after their original departure date. 

Some great detail about each airline's policies and contact information over at The Points Guy. Some of his weather tips are here.