Point & Center: Book AA Off Peak Awards with US Airways Flights, Two New Hyatt Diamond Benefits & a Southwest Devaluation

It was an exciting week in the points and mile world, highlighted by the craziness of the United first class mistake fare and then the announcement United will not honor those fares. Here is a quick look at what else I missed last week that you should know about:

1) American Airlines Off-Peak Awards Now Include US Airways – I saw this post last night, which now shows that American Airlines off-peak awards, which are a fantastic value, can now include flights on US Airways metal instead of just American Airlines. As a reminder, here is the list of off-peak award destinations and dates:

AAOffPeak

The best values to me are the Europe off peak awards since the off peak period is 7 months or over half the year, including early spring which is a great time to visit Europe. By including US Airways flights now, this opens up a lot of options to Europe from either Philadelphia or Charlotte. I also like the two month window for the Caribbean/Mexico in early fall and Hawaii isn’t bad as well though from the east coast. If you live on the west coast, Avios are a better and cheaper option.

2) Hyatt Adds Two Benefits for Diamond Members In a time when you see programs devaluing, it is nice to see a positive announcement from Hyatt that Diamond members will get two new benefits starting March 1st. The first benefit is called “Guest of Honor” which allows Diamond members to book award stays for others and the guests actually staying will have Diamond status for the duration of their stay. Hyatt is basically encouraging Diamond members to treat non-Diamond members to award stays and will give non-Diamond members “a taste of the good stuff” which includes breakfast, chances at upgrades and a check-in amenity among other benefits. Hopefully you have some friends who are Diamond :).

The other benefit for Diamond members is 2 United Club one day passes annually. Certainly not a huge benefit but its nice to see Hyatt get involved with other partners in the travel space to offer a non-traditional benefit that could benefit some flyers.

3) Potential Southwest Devaluation – It’s never a good sign when an airline announces changes to its frequent flyer program, especially if the changes mentioned are little too vague and don’t give much insight to the actual changes. Southwest announced the following last week:

“Beginning April 17, 2015, the number of Rapid Rewards Points needed to redeem for certain flights will vary based on destination, time, day of travel, demand, fare class, and other factors. However, there are still many flights which will stay at the current redemption rate. And don’t forget that when fares go on sale, so do the points needed for redeeming for a reward flight on those fares”

To me (and other bloggers seem to be in agreement), this news isn’t good news for the value of Southwest points. Southwest points have a fixed value of about 1.4 cents per point when used towards “Wanna Get Away Fares” but this announcement indicates there will no longer be any standard value for points. Southwest will now have the ability to increase the points required for a flight based on “other factors” so my guess is flights to popular destinations (i.e. international destinations) will now cost more and offer a poorer value on a per point basis.

4) Daily Getaways Return Early This Year – The Daily Getaways program, which is a program initiated by the US Travel Association to get more people to travel by offering discounted rates on hotels, car rentals, amusement park tickets and even the opportunity to buy point at a discounted rates, is returning this year on March 23rd. In the past, the Daily Getaways have been offered later in the spring into summer and American Express is usually listed as a sponsor which would entitle American Express cardholders 10% off on any purchase. This year the sales are moved up to the end of March and it appears you can longer save 10% by using an American Express card. The deals and packages should be unveiled by March 16th and I will cover any solid offerings on the blog.

DailyGetaways

Enjoy the rest of this long weekend!

Advertisements

Point & Center: Free Alitalia Miles, Free Etihad Miles, 25% Bonus on Redemptions for Airbnb Gift Cards and More!

In case you missed it, the big news last week was the removal of the Delta SkyMiles award chart. I wrote my angry rant about that on Friday, which I recommend reading but for this post, let’s cover what else went on last week.

1) Free Miles from Alitalia & Etihad – I love free miles, especially when there is little to no work involved. The first offer is from Alitalia for 4,000 miles for joining their frequent flyer program. The link to do so is here.

The second offer is from Etihad which requires just a bit more work. You will receive 1,000 Etihad miles for signing up for their frequent flyer program as well but you need to have some sort of qualifying activity to activate those miles. The easiest way to do this is to do a hotel review on HolidayCheck which should only take a few minutes. You will receive 150 miles per hotel review and that activity will trigger the 1,000 welcome bonus on your Etihad account, so you will end up with a total of 1,150 miles. (HT to Euflyer)

2) 25% Bonus on Redemptions for Airbnb Gift Cards – American Express is currently offering a 25% bonus for redeeming American Express Membership Rewards points for Airbnb Gift Cards. I wrote about this new redemption option from American Express when it became available and suggested it wasn’t a great use of Membership Rewards points since it valued them at only a penny per point. The normal redemptions amounts were 10,000 points for a $100 gift card and 25,000 points for a $250 gift card.

Airbnb Airbnb2

With this sale, you will still use the same amount of Membership Rewards points as before but earn a 25% bonus on the gift card amount, so now the gift cards are worth $125 or $313. This offers a 1.25 cents per point in redemption which is obviously better but still not my preferred way of utilizing Membership Rewards points. I generally prefer to transfer points to airlines or hotels where I will get more value out of my points.

That advice also holds true for the 25% Discount on Membership Rewards Redemptions for Hyatt Gift Cards.

3) American Express Transfer Bonus to AeroMexico – I admit I know next to nothing about the AeroMexico frequent flyer program, Club Premier, but American Express is offering a 20% transfer bonus to AeroMexico which is good until March 6th. Instead of the normal transfer ratio of 1:1, the transfer ratio is now 1:1.2.

AeroMexico

I won’t be making a transfer during this bonus period but if you are considering it, Travel Summary has a great writeup on the AeroMexico program. There are some hidden gems such as 67,000 miles roundtrip for a business class ticket to Europe.

4) Amex Business Gold Changes Effective Now – Late last year, I wrote about how the earning structure of the American Express Business Rewards Gold was changing for the better in which you could select the category that earns 3x bonus points. Well, American Express has rolled out this change and cardholders are now eligible to make their selection for the 3x category.

The following categories are eligible to be chosen for 3x points and the ones not chosen will earn 2x points.

  • Advertising in Select Media
  • Gas Stations
  • Airfare (when purchased directly from the airline)
  • Shipping
  • Hardware, Software and Cloud Computing purchases from select vendors

I’m not a current cardholder of the Business Rewards Gold but if I were, I’d probably choose gas stations since I don’t spend much money in the other categories.

Point & Center: $400 Flights to Italy, American Express Transfer Bonus to Virgin America, Last Call for Hyatt Reservations & More!

Sorry for the lack of post the past few days – I was down in Aruba for the long weekend and my schedule didn’t allow me to post any of the news going on from the past week or so. Here is quick roundup of some of the more notable news and developments that I missed.

1. 35% American Express Transfer Bonus to Virgin America – American Express is offering a 35% transfer bonus for all transfers of American Express Membership Rewards points to Virgin America. The normal transfer ratio is 2 Membership Rewards points to 1 Virgin America Elevate point (2:1) so with this promotion, it becomes 2:1.35. Virgin America points are worth ~2.2 cents each since that is the approximate rate they can be redeemed for travel on Virgin America. As in most cases when there is a transfer bonus (with perhaps the exception of the current 40% British Airways transfer bonus), I would not make any speculative transfers unless you needed to top off your account for an award you about to book. In general, I don’t recommend taking advantage of this offer for most people.

VATransfer

2. ~$400 flights New York to Milan on Emirates & United – Emirates is running a promotion in which you can snag a non-stop flight from JFK to Milan for only ~$400 a person roundtrip. United quickly matched the fare for Newark to Milan though availability seems to be more limited than Emirates. The catch for this promotion is this is valid for only groups of exactly of 2 people (Emirates) or 2+ people (United). A single traveler will price out at ~$660. You can travel from February to May though you will need to search to see what dates are eligible for the $400 fares. Here is more information from The Flight Deal.

 

3. No Foreign Transaction Fees on Barclays US Airways MasterCard – I recently received an email from Barclays informing me that they will no longer charge a foreign transaction fee on purchases made outside of the United States. Previously they would charge 3% for this but in what I’m guessing is an attempt to lure more customers to acquire the US Airways MasterCard before they are unable to offer it anymore, they have removed this fee completely. I’m glad to see another credit card offer no foreign transaction fee but there are much better cards to use for foreign purchases already so this announcement doesn’t make a big difference to me.

4. Last Call for Hyatt Reservations for Affected Hotels Before Award Category Changes on 1/22 – I posted last month a list of some of the key hotels that are changing categories (Park Hyatt Maldives, Andaz Amsterdam, Park Hyatt Seoul, Baha Mar and more) in the Hyatt Gold Passport Program as a result of Hyatt’s annual evaluation of category levels. The change in award category will occur on 1/22 so if you are targeting a reservation at one of the affected hotels, I recommend booking them now even if you don’t exactly have firm dates. There is no cost to cancel award bookings (as long as you do it before the hotel’s cancellation deadline) and generally, Hyatt has allowed you to change dates to a reservation made before the category change without charging you the increased amount of points (though this is a YMMV situation). Basically, I see no downside to making a speculative reservation now to save points.

Here is the complete list of affected hotels.

Point & Center: 100 Free American AAdvantage Miles, Only 26,250 Miles Roundtrip for a Award Flight to Europe and More!

Welcome to the first Point & Center feature of 2015. Let’s get to it with some real quick updates of what’s going on in the points/miles world.

1) 100 Free American AAdvantage Miles for Joining PointsHound – PointsHound, which is a site that offer miles or points for booking hotel rooms through them, is offering new users 100 Free AA miles simply for signing up – no purchase required. You will also get an additional 2,000 miles if you actually reserve a hotel room by March 31st. I definitely recommend signing up to get the free 100 AA miles but if you do book a hotel room through them, remember you will most likely not earn stay credit with the hotel program nor have your elite benefits recoginzed. I mainly use PointsHound if I have a non-chain hotel stay. (H/T View from the Wing)

AA100Miles

2) How to Fly to Europe for 26,250 Virgin Atlantic Miles Roundtrip…with a catch – Virgin Atlantic is having an award sale that is discounting the amount of miles needed for an award flight by 25% for ALL destinations. If you orginate on the East Coast of the United States, that means a roundtrip award is only 26,250 miles but with one major issue – fuel surcharges of $500 per person.  The other approach is to use this for a one way TO London where the cost would be 13,125 miles + $134 in fuel surcharges (its more expensive departing FROM London). You must book your tickets by January 22nd and this is valid for economy only. This is similar to their award sale last year that I wrote about here.

Cost of Discounted Awards

Cost of Discounted Awards

3) Starwood Best Rate Guarantee Improves – Starwood has one of the easiest Best Rate Guarantees as you don’t need even need a current reservation to make a best rate claim to get a cheaper rate at Starwood branded hotels. Starwood recently announced an enhancement to their best rate guarantee by now offering customers 20% off the lower rate if it is found outside the Starwood reservations channels (website, mobile app & phone reservations). The old discount used to be 10% off. You also still have the option to select 2,000 Starpoints instead of the 20% discount.

4) A Pretty Awesome Club Carlson Promotion – Club Carlson is enticing its members to stay at Club Carlson hotels (Radisson, Radisson Blu, Country Inn & Park Plaza) in Q1 2015 by offering 15,000 points after staying 2 nights or 30,000 points after staying 3+ nights for stays from January 12 to March 29. This promotion called “Extend Your Stay, Earn 30K” is by far the best promotion of Q1 across all major hotel chains. Additionally, some Club Carlson members were sent an email offering them an extra 10,000 points on top of the bonuses if they registered by January 12th. Here is the link to register.

5) Starwood Q1 Promotion – Starwood has also announced their Q1 promotion which is open for registration as well called the SPG Double Play Promotion. You can earn double points on stays of 2+ nights and 1,000 point bonus after every 5 nights. The 5 nights do not have to be consecutive to earn the 1,000 point bonus. Compared to the Club Carlson offer, this pales in comparison but is still worth registering for.

As always, I recommend registering now even if you don’t think you’ll have an applicable stay in the period because if the need for a stay unexpectedly arises, chances are you won’t remember to register for these promotions (this applies to the Club Carlson offer above as well).

6) Start Linking Your American & US Airways Frequent Flyer Accounts – The next step in the merger of American and US Airways is to combine the frequent flyer accounts of both program so members will have just one resulting frequent flyer program (which will be your American AAdvantage account and you will keep your existing AA number). However, before they can completely merge the frequent flyer accounts, American is asking members to link their AA account to their US Airways account.

Per One Mile a Time, American announced the following:

“The time has come – beginning tonight, members with accounts in both programs will be able to match their accounts on aa.com and usairways.com (full sites only; not on the mobile sites or the app). Members will automatically be presented with the option to match their accounts on either site when they log-in or by selecting the Match My Account link in the My Account section. Once a customer has successfully matched their account, they will see a success message online, receive an email and will see a success message in the My Account section on both sites. Matching accounts is simply a way to self-identify, so the process to merge the accounts in second quarter of 2015 is easier on the business.”

Hopefully this is a sign that members will soon be able to transfer miles back and forth between programs but this has not been announced yet. Here is to hoping its sooner rather than later!

Point & Center: Hyatt & Starwood Hotels Now Offer Free Internet, Bonus $50 for Buying Hyatt Gift Cards, & The Hyatt Diamond Challenge Returns!

This Point & Center update is heavy on Hyatt news from the past week, so let’s get to it!

1) Free Internet at Hyatt & Starwood Hotels – Following the lead of MarriottHyatt and Starwood hotels both separately announced they will begin to offer free internet to all guests! For Hyatt, free internet will begin in February 2015 for all guests while elite guests (Platinum & higher) will be entitled to a faster, premium internet for free.

Starwood will work a little differently and more resemble the Marriott model in which in order to receive the free internet, you must book through Starwood directly via their website, the individual hotel’s website or their mobile app. Any stay booked on travel agency websites (Hotels.com, Orbitz, Priceline etc.) will not entitle the guest to free internet. Elite members will receive a faster internet for free, similar to Hyatt.

2) Bonus $50 Gift Card for Buying Hyatt E-Gift Cards – Similar to the promotion earlier this month, Hyatt is running a special promotion that expires TODAY (12/24) that by using code SANTA14, you can earn an extra, free $50 bonus gift card when purchasing $500 or more of e-gift cards ONLY. If you order a $500 e-gift card exactly, this $50 bonus gift card represents a 10% bonus. If you rather take 10% off the purchase of gift cards, you can use promo code GPGIFT14. Since these are Hyatt E-Gift cards, there is no waiting time involved to receive these certificates. Remember to use an American Express Business Open Card to save an additional 5% (in the form of a statement credit).

Use PromoCode SANTA14

Use PromoCode SANTA14

3) The Hyatt Diamond Challenge is Returning! – This is possibly the most exciting news to me as per One Mile at a Time, the Hyatt Diamond Challenge will be returning sometime in early 2015! For those who don’t know the Hyatt Diamond Challenge allowed you to status match to top tier Diamond status at Hyatt if you had at least mid-tier status at competing hotel chains, such as Hilton, Starwood etc., Hyatt would give you temporary Diamond status for 60 days, along with 4 suite upgrade certificates, and if you stayed 12 nights in that 60 day period, you could keep Diamond status for the next year. While nothing has officially been announced from Hyatt, this time for the challenge it appears anyone could be eligible and no prior status at other hotels will be required!

Hyatt Diamond status provides you with free breakfast, free upgrades (when available), guaranteed 4pm late checkout, free internet and 30% bonus points so what a lot of people did (including myself) was enroll in a Diamond Challenge right before a long stay at Hyatt hotels. I did my challenge last year for a 6 night stay at the Andaz Maui and for a 4 night stay at the Park Hyatt Paris. With breakfast costing $44 a person at the Andaz Maui and 49 EUR (~$61 USD) a person at the Park Hyatt Paris, doing the Diamond Challenge saved me over $1,000 in breakfast costs!  I definitely maximized my Diamond Challenge even though I did not complete the challenge since some of those nights were award nights. Here is to hoping I can re-register for the Diamond Challenge this year for stays at the Andaz Maui (yes again as this is my new favorite hotel) and the Park Hyatt Maldives.

Lastly, posts might be less frequent over the next few days with the holidays. Happy Holidays to all!