It’s Tied Up! Southwest Relents & Allows Hotel Point Transfers to Count Towards Companion Pass Temporarily

Earlier this week, I posted how it’s Southwest 1, Travel Hackers 0 as without any notice Southwest killed off the only feasible option to obtain a Companion Pass if you were over Chase’s 5/24 rule. This wasn’t too surprising as this opportunity was too good to live for long but Southwest removing this option without any notice upset a ton of people. The good news is the score is tied up Southwest 1, Travel Hackers 1 as Southwest must have taken our complaints seriously and will temporarily allow hotel point transfers to count towards the Companion Pass once again! 

This grace period only lasts through March 31, 2017 so be sure to initiate any transfers from Marriott or other program soon so the points hit before the deadline. Since the Companion Pass is valid for two years once earned the sooner you transfer the points to Southwest, the sooner you can reap the benefits of this amazing travel deal.

Kudos to Southwest for doing the right thing! Now only if other airlines/hotels/ banks would follow suit – Hey Chase can we get a temporary reprise of the 5/24 before the Reserve bonus decreases? A blogger can dream…

I’ve included the full statement from Southwest about this change.

“As we began the New Year on January 1, we took the opportunity to close a loophole in our Rapid Rewards Companion Pass terms and conditions related to transferred points from our Partners. This was an effort intended to clarify qualification requirements for Companion Pass, one of the best benefits in travel, as well as to protect the integrity and value of the Rapid Rewards program.

In doing so, we updated our terms and conditions which now clearly state that points transferred from hotel and car loyalty programs, and e-Rewards, e-Miles, Valued Opinions and Diners Club will no longer count toward qualification for a Companion Pass. Members will continue to earn toward Companion Pass benefits through paid flights flown on Southwest, Points earned through spend with Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards credit cards, and base points earned through transactions with Rapid Rewards partners.

Many of you have reached out to us since then, and we greatly appreciate your honest and candid feedback. Because we are a Company that values our Customers and believes in doing the right thing, we are offering a limited window for Customers to earn toward Companion Pass by transferring their loyalty points from these Partners.

To that end, points converted from the above mentioned programs will count towards a Companion Pass until March 31, 2017. This is a hard deadline and we will not be able to make any exceptions beyond March 31. If you have points with these Partners that you wanted to transfer, please do not wait. Make the transfer before the deadline.
We appreciate all of our Customers and look forward to seeing you onboard very soon!”

(H/T TPG)

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My Unbiased Opinion: Yes, You Should Get a Sapphire Reserve Card Before the Online Signup Bonus Decreases to 50k Next Week

The big news that TPG broke yesterday was that 100,000 point signup bonus on the Chase Sapphire Reserve card will be decreasing to 50,000 points on January 12th, though it will remain at 100,000 points for in branch applications till March 12th. Frankly, I’m surprised that the 100,000 bonus lasted this long especially with the card so in demand Chase ran out of the special metal alloy to make the card. Now that we have a known end date for this offer, if you are under Chase’s 5/24 rule and/or are pre-approved for this card, I think it is a sound financial decision to apply for this card before the 100,000 signup bonus goes away. And to show that, I am going to present the numbers from an extreme point of view.

Chase Sapphire Reserve

*Quick side note: I generally don’t put up these types of posts telling people what to do (I’ll leave that to the affiliate bloggers telling you to get every credit card under the sun) but when I see a good deal worth discussing and presenting my own angle on it, I like to bring attention to it for my readers’ sake – something affiliate bloggers struggle with.*

To prove this is a sound financial decision, I am going to assume the extreme, worst case scenario – you don’t travel ever, have no need for the points for anything travel related, no use for the $300 travel credit or any of the other perks. The cash outflow is pretty straightforward – it’s the annual fee of $450.

Now for the cash inflow, this is where it gets interesting. Did you know you can redeem Chase UR points at a value of a penny per point for cash directly into your checking account? Guess what 100,000 points can get you? $1,000.00 cash deposited directly into your checking or savings account. Actually you would have 104,000 points after meeting the minimum spend (again worse case – assuming no bonus category spending!) so that’s actually $1,040.00.

Straight cash homie...

Straight cash homie…

Remember the $300 travel credit which you thought was worthless since you don’t travel? You could buy American Airlines gift cards and re-sell them to an exchange at 81.5% of face value easily. Or buy and re-sell Marriott gift cards at 80.5% if you prefer (though I don’t why you would). It is an easy, quick process to sell the cards to these exchanges so that’s another $244.50 in the bank. But it gets better because you can actually do this twice because the travel credit is annual, resetting with the close of your December statement. So if you opened the card now, used the $300 travel credit in say March and your last statement closes something in early December, you can use the $300 travel credit again before next year’s annual fee comes due! You can also call Chase and have them move up the statement date to ensure this happens. That’s another $244.50 in the bank.  And actually you just earned another 1,800 points for spending $600 across the two travel credits, which is worth $18. The final numbers are…

Cash Outlay:

  • – $450 for the annual fee

Cash Inflow:

  • + $1,040.00 cash (signup bonus)
  • + $244.50 (first travel credit)
  • + $244.50 (second travel credit)
  • + $18.00 (points earned for buying gift cards and using travel credits)

Net Inflow: $1,097.00

The above shows that for opening a single credit card a person could reap rewards at the very minimum of almost $1,100 in cold hard cash! Now if you travel even just a little bit or can redeem the points in a more valuable way (such as transferring to airline/hotel partners or redeeming at a value of 1.5 cents a point for travel directly through Chase), then your net inflow is even larger.

Summary:

Obviously I had a little fun writing this post and showing the benefits from a very non-traditional point of view as I truly do think this card is one of the best on the market… even if you are not a traveler. I hope I don’t come across like an affiliate blogger in this post as you can clearly see I don’t have any affiliate links or any links to the card in general. In fact, I strongly debated on whether to even write this post as I didn’t want to send the “wrong message” but I decided to because it benefits my readers who may have been on the fence about the card (plus it was kinda fun to write).

Due to 5/24 and not being pre-approved, I’m on the sidelines for this deal but is anyone who is eligible going to get the card who doesn’t have it already?

My Advice: Use Your 2017 American Express Airline Credit Now

Last year there were tons of negative changes to the miles/points landscape as banks made obtaining credit cards more difficult, devaluations were rampant and many manufactured spend techniques were killed off. As we saw yesterday, 2017 is not off to a good start either. Therefore, I am recommending anyone who has an American Express airline credit from their Platinum card ($200) or Premier Rewards Gold card ($100) and plans to use them on airline gift cards, should use them as soon as possible.

My argument is a simple one. It is widely known that airline gift cards are not eligible for the airline credit per the terms & conditions. However for years, the automated system American Express uses to determine what is eligible has nonetheless processed certain e-gift card purchases as being eligible – usually small amounts such as $50 (Delta) or $100 (Southwest/American/Alaska) or if purchased a part of a registry (United). Right now, we know this is still working as the recent posts to Flyertalk demonstrate (see end of post) but there is no guarantee this will work for all of 2017. I have no inside knowledge to this but I do think there is a non-zero chance American Express changes this at some point in 2017. I did say the same thing last year & I was obviously wrong but I’d rather lock my credit in to be safe. 

As a reminder, you can change your airline selection until the end of January using this link. To show that I follow my own advice, I purchased two $50 Delta e-gift cards yesterday on my PRG card and I am hoping the credits post shortly after (I will update this post once it does).

$50 E-Gift Card Purchases

$50 E-Gift Card Purchases

To be clear, I have absolutely zero inside knowledge that this ‘trick’ to buy airline e-gift cards and have them be eligible for the airline credit will end soon. In fact, it probably won’t end this year as that chance is quite small (but not zero either) in my opinion. I have always had success buying $50 Delta e-gift cards or $100 American Airlines e-gift cards but I would check the latest reports on the Flyertalk threads below before selecting any of those airlines. After all that has changed in the last year or so, I’d rather be months earlier getting my airline gift cards reimbursed than a day late.

Links to FlyerTalk Threads with recent reports of success/failures

Readers, feel free to post your success/failures below!

In 2017 It’s Southwest 1, Travel Hackers 0

Update: After much outcry, Southwest is allowing hotel transfers to count towards the Companion Pass to 3/31/17

I’m sure you probably saw the big news yesterday that effective 1/1 and without any warning whatsoever, Southwest will no longer count hotel transfers or bonus points from other partners towards qualification for the Companion Pass. This is pretty big news, especially for those over Chase’s 5/24 rule, as it kills an easy way to get the Companion Pass. We are only a day into 2017 and we’ve already seen the first major negative development this year.

No More Easy Companion Pass

No More Easy Companion Pass

The timing of this isn’t coincidental – the folks at Southwest are very aware of the plans many travel hackers use to earn the Companion Pass. Each plan, if you weren’t aware, involves acquiring 110,000 Southwest points as quick as possible at the beginning of the year to maximize the Companion Pass as it is good for the year it is earned in and the following year. The more popular plan was for folks to signup for 2 Southwest credit cards with a 50,000 point signup bonus and after meeting minimum spend, that would give them 104,000 points. To cover the remaining 6,000 points many people transferred points from hotel programs to Southwest and boom a Companion Pass was obtained.

The newer plan, which was discussed heavily on blogs when the Marriott-SPG merger was announced, involved redeeming 90,000 SPG Starpoints for a Companion Pass by transferring those points to Marriott (which turned into 270,000 Marriott points due to the 1:3 transfer ratio) and then redeeming the Marriott points for a flights & nights package. This gave you 120,000 Southwest points, the Companion Pass AND a 7 night stay a category 1-5 Marriott. That was a pretty amazing deal – especially if you were over Chase’s 5/24 rule and couldn’t complete the other plan. However, some would argue this was too good a deal and that is what led to Southwest cracking down on this easy way to acquire a Companion Pass.

The best way for many of you to earn the pass going forward if you are under 5/24 is to still acquire the two Southwest credit cards when the bonus is 50,000 points and put an additional $6,000 of spending on those cards. The 100,000 signup bonus points + 4,000 points for meeting the minimum spend + this extra 6,000 points in additional spend will result in the Companion Pass. If you can’t or will struggle to spend the extra $6,000 you could always use a service like Plastiq to pay bills you are normally not able to with a credit card such as a mortgage, student loan etc. They do charge 2.5% of the payment so if you had to spend all $6,000 through Plastiq, that would be $150 in fees – less if you can put normal, everyday spending on the card and only supplement the extra amount needed via Plastiq. If you are over 5/24, I think you can effectively say goodbye to earning a Companion Pass unless you have a TON of paid travel on Southwest.

With the timing of the New Year, Southwest knew very well that many people were gunning to acquire a Companion Pass at the very beginning of 2017. They effectively beat travel hackers to the game and cutoff the option while many of us were recovering from our New Year’s hangover. Therefore to start the year off let’s score it as Southwest 1, Travel Hackers 0.

*Note that is my referral link for Plastiq and for every person who registers with Plastiq via my referral link and makes a payment of at least $20, I’ll get 400 fee free dollars and you will get 200 fee free dollars. Fee free dollars are dollars that can be sent through Plastiq without any fees.

2016 Year in Review: Miles Earned, Miles Burned & More

First and foremost – A Happy New Year to all my readers!

Things have been quiet here for a while now but I’m looking to change that going forward and what better way to start with a post about my 2016 travels and miles/points activity. Some would argue 2016 has been quite a rough year with all the notable deaths (and even the deaths of several competing blogs) but it will always be most memorable to me for one little reason.

krista

She has certainly changed the way I think about travel and my miles goals/balance. In fact, she is largely responsible for some of the reduced numbers below even if she doesn’t know it (its ok kiddo). Gone are my days of flying off to Thailand for two weeks with just my wife and instead will be soon replaced with trips to Disney and other family friendly resorts closer to home.

The point of this is to not brag about my activity or balances as many people have far exceeded what I’ve done below. As a reader of many other similar blogs, I always find these types of posts interesting and historically my readers have as well as it offers a more detailed, personal analysis into how your favorite blogger (I am your favorite blogger right? :P) handles his own miles situation.

2016 Miles Earned: 1,003,413

Not only do I use AwardWallet to track my miles balances in dozens of programs (p.s. signup soon & pay $10 to be grandfathered for the premium version before it increases to $30) but I also keep a detailed spreadsheet with my miles balances over time as well a detailed credit card application tracker. This is how I’m able to compare data year over year and get very accurate figures.

In 2016 my wife & I applied for only 13 credit cards with total signup bonuses of 479,600 miles/points which is a stark difference from years past as I’ve attempted to make things “simpler” this year instead of chasing every deal or miles currency out there. The remaining miles came from everyday spending, reselling (see below), referrals (e.g. Starwood Amex), manufactured spending, various spending promotions (e.g. Barclays AA 15k miles for spending $500/month for 3 months), mileage shopping portals (including their lucrative bonuses from time to time) and a few paid stays at hotels (mostly using the Citi Prestige 4th night free benefit).

2016 Miles Burned: 570,195

I was first surprised at this low number (last year was over 1.2 million miles + several free night certificates) but considering I took only a handful of trips this year, I guess it’s not that surprising. It’s no shock why we traveled less with a pregnant wife in the first half of the year and raising a newborn in the latter half of the year. Here is a break down by currency:

  • 300,000 Hilton HHonors Points for 6 nights total (2 rooms for 3 nights each) at the Hilton Hawaiian Village
  • 120,000 Marriott Rewards Points for 2 nights at the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel
  • 20,000 American AAdvantage miles for 4 intra-Hawaii flights on Hawaiian Airlines
  • 30,000 Hyatt Points for 3 nights points & cash at the Hyatt Clearwater Beach Resort (combined with DSU)
  • 6,875 Hertz points for full-size SUV rental in Oahu (3 days) and full-size SUV rental in Kauai (one week)
  • 2,475 Hertz points for convertible rental in LA for weekend trip to Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel
  • 25,633 Southwest Rapid Rewards points for 2 roundtrip Islip to Tampa flights
  • 65,212 Citibank ThankYou Points for 2 roundtrip, non-stop flights JFK to St Lucia (2017 trip)

You might be questioning why you don’t see any miles listed for say the flights to Hawaii or the hotel in Kauai but those were booked in 2015 so they technically didn’t count as miles burned in 2016. This low number also underscores a problem I have where I am not burning enough points compared to what I’m earning. I plan to address more of this in a future post.

Reselling Endeavors:

This was my new gig for 2016 and is another reason why I’ve spent less timing blogging in 2016. I got into reselling in late 2015 and started small with some simple gift card reselling as well as easy electronics to flip including iPads and Apple Watches. In 2016, I’ve taken the next step and expanded my reselling to still include gift cards due to the easy, “do it in your pajamas” factor but other products. Some have worked out well – others not so much (Hess trucks for one). I’ve also joined several groups to learn more about reselling which has been quite interesting to see how some people make this their full time job.

When I start reselling (and especially with gift cards last year), I was happy to break even as long as my “profit” was the credit card rewards. Think buying $1,000 of gift cards on a credit card that earned 5x and reselling them for $1,000 – my cash pnl is $0 but I netted 5,000 points in the process. I think the biggest take away from this year was to stop focusing on just earning points and learning to focus on deals that actually made money as well. In fact that should be the number one focus with the points being an extra perk on top. This is something I hope to expand in 2017.

Summary:

2016 was definitely a year of transition for me in how I approach miles/points. In years past, I’ve easily burned millions of miles a year to go on some amazing trips, flying first class and staying at 5 star hotels around the world. This year I struggled to redeem miles as my travel was more focused on domestic travel early in the year and then stopped completely after my daughter was born this summer.

I definitely plan to travel with my daughter before she is a year old but there will be no crazy trips to Asia, South Africa etc. that will require a huge burn of miles. Instead, it will be focused again mostly on domestic trip with maybe a Caribbean/Mexico trip mixed in. I’m going to expand on this in a future post but my miles needs have shifted drastically and I think I’ve actually failed to account for that change until recently with my miles strategy. This is definitely something I’m working on for 2017 and I think my numbers above will look a lot different come next year.

Good luck and best wishes to all on your success in the miles/points game in 2017!