Category Archives: Forum Buzz

Bargain Flights to Istanbul for Under $450!

According to this thread in the FlyerTalk Mileage Run forum, several airlines are featuring extremely low fares between the US and Istanbul, Turkey.

There appears to be solid availability in February and early March, and I’m seeing fares as low as $413! This is great news, especially for those of us who couldn’t get in on the paid first class fare sale to Istanbul and Moscow last week. Scott tweeted about that deal, but the dates (and cash outlay) just didn’t work for me.

Which US cities have these great fares?

I experimented and found good prices leaving from Washington-Dulles, Newark, and Chicago-O’Hare.

What’s the best way to hunt for eligible dates?

The ITA Matrix is my personal favorite. It’s one of the most useful tools to check for available dates and airlines. For a complete breakdown of how to use this great website, check out Scott’s recent post, ITA Matrix: How to Search for Cheap Airfare with Flexiblity.

First go to matrix.itasoftware.com. Type in “ORD”, “EWR”, or “IAD”  as your home airport and “IST” as your destination.

I prefer to search by the length of a trip and one month at a time. It helps me find the lowest fare. To do so, select “See calendar of lowest fares.” In the screenshot below, I’ve asked ITA to search for 3-8 night itineraries leaving in the month of February.

After you click “Search”, ITA takes you to a calendar listing the cheapest flights departing on each date. When I searched, I was able to find a bunch of sub-$500 fares.

Clicking on a particular date will bring up all available flight options on the next page. To see some sample itineraries, check out the screenshot below.

Keep in mind the ITA Matrix is only for finding airfares. You don’t have the ability to book through this site. Write down the dates, flight numbers, and prices that work for you and book directly at the airline’s website that is offering the bargain fare.

Didn’t you mention other US cities with cheap Istanbul fares?

Yes, Newark is also showing some sub-$500 fares. Below is a 3-5 night search in the month of February.

Chicago-O’Hare is also showing some flights for under $550. That’s not as good of a deal as the Washington D.C. flights, but it’s still fantastic for Istanbul. Below is a 3-8 night search in February.

Below are two sample trips on United and Turkish.

I don’t live in Chicago/Washington D.C./New York. Why is this of value to me?

You certainly don’t have to live in the origin airport city to turn this into a vacation. There are many ways to connect you to these major airports. If your schedule permits, you could even spend some vacation time in both the North American gateway city and Istanbul.

If you need to fly to Chicago, New York, or D.C. to start this trip, you should leave several hours (or even more) between your flight to/from those cities and the main Chicago/NYC/D.C. <-> Istanbul roundtrip. If there is bad weather or a mechanical issue with your flight to Chicago, for example, KLM, Turkish, or United isn’t obligated to accommodate you.

There are tons of domestic options to get you to these cities. Both American Airlines and United Airlines offer frequent nonstop flights to O’Hare airport from around the country. Newark and Washington-Dulles are United’s primary East Coast hubs.

If you have some  Southwest Rapid Rewards points to spare, check out Scott’s post on booking a Southwest Award, Anatomy of an Award: How to Book an Award on Southwest. You might be able to book an award ticket to Newark or Chicago-Midway that would save a lot of money.

Also, if you are planning on turning in frequent flyer miles to get to Chicago or Washington-Dulles, don’t forget British Airways Avios. Avios are redeemable on American Airlines, their oneworld partner, and the award chart is distance based. Flights to Chicago/D.C. that are under 650 miles are only 4,500 Avios. For more information on booking American Airlines flights with Avios, see out Scott’s post,Free First Class Next Month: Using BA.com for oneworld Awards.

Will this deal last into next week? I need to do some travel planning first!

This appears to be one of those lightning deals that could disappear at any time. All domestic carriers, including United, now have a 24-hour cancellation policy. My strong advice is to book now to lock in the great fare. If you wait around, the sub-$500 fares will most likely be gone.

If you book tonight and find out the dates don’t work, simply call the airline or cancel online tomorrow. Just make sure you do so before the 24-hour cancellation window passes. Otherwise, you will have to pay a pricey cancellation or change fee!

**Note that airlines like KLM and Turkish Airlines do not appear to have as relaxed a cancellation policy as US carriers. You might end up paying a fee for cancelling with them.

Why is this deal in the FlyerTalk Mileage Run Forum? What exactly is that?

Mileage runs are airline tickets purchased with the sole goal of earning frequent flyer miles. Many FlyerTalkers are able to maintain their elite status by purchasing heavily discounted tickets (such as the fare above). The goal is to requalify for elite status for the least amount of money out of pocket. Elite status with an airline usually brings perks like priority boarding, free checked bags, complimentary upgrades to first class, and a whole host of other benefits. For more info, check out Scott’s post, Free First Class Next Month: Using FlyerTalk’s Mileage Run Forum.

Recap

I’ve never seen low fares like this offered to Istanbul. The fact that you can take advantage from three major US cities is great news. This is a last minute vacation idea that’s hard to beat.

Typically when fares like this are discovered, they don’t last long. If you are interested, you should book quickly and take advantage of United’s 24 hour cancellation policy if your plans fall through. Be warned that international carriers appear to have stricter cancellation policies. You need to be sure when booking through KLM or Turkish Airlines.

Why to Avoid the American Express Business Gold Card and its 75,000 Point Sign Up Bonus

Update: This deal has expired.

According to this thread on FlyerTalk, American Express is offering a limited time 75,000 point sign up bonus for their Business Gold Rewards charge card. If approved, you must spend $10,000 in the first four months of card membership  to unlock the 75,000 Membership Rewards.

Application Link: The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN with 75,000 Membership Rewards after $10,000 in spending in the first four months.

When does this offer expire?

According to the terms and conditions (found at the bottom of the application page), you must apply no later than January 28th. I’m hearing it ends at 11 AM.

Is this offer targeted?

No. It appears this card is available to all interested business applicants.

What is the annual fee for this card?

The card comes with a $175 annual fee that is waived for the first year of card membership.

Does the card come with any category bonuses for spending?

According to the main American Express website, the card earns 3X Membership Rewards points on airfare purchases and 2X points on advertising, shipping, and gasoline purchases. Note that gas must be purchased at “stand alone” stations in the US. There have been reports that gas purchases at discount superstores like Costco have not qualified for bonus points.

This card is listed as a charge card. Is that the same as a credit card?

No. Charge cards differ from credit cards in that the balance must be paid in full every month. With credit cards, you are allowed to carry a balance, but American Express expects all purchases made on charge cards to be settled in full and on time each month.

Will I still be able to receive the bonus if I applied for another American Express card recently?

It depends. The terms and conditions state that the signup bonus is “not available to applicants who have had this product or any other Business Gold, Green or Platinum card account within the last 12 months.” If you have recently applied for any personal American Express card, whether it be the Starwood Preferred Guest credit card or even the personal version of their Gold charge card, you should be eligible for the full signup bonus.

When it comes to signup bonus eligibility, American Express treats their business charge cards and business credit cards separately. The above Business Gold Card is a charge card. The balance must be settled every month. American Express’s business credit cards, such as the Business Delta Airlines and Business Starwood Preferred Guest cards differ from their charge cards. They have set spending limits and the ability to carry a balance (not that you should).

What if I apply correctly but American Express doesn’t give me the correct bonus?

I’ve experienced this problem firsthand and want to offer some advice. Take screen shots of the application page and offer details before applying. When activating the card, make sure to note the date, time, and person you speak with on the phone. Also note the Bonus ID code attached to the offer you applied for. In this case, the Bonus ID is A3P6.

If American Express denies you the bonus or the Membership Rewards don’t post properly, a timely secure message referencing the above Bonus ID should be all the evidence you need to resolve your claim. I have had great success in getting issues resolved by sending secure messages through American Express’ website.

Is this a good deal?

For the vast majority, I would say no.

This card isn’t for everyone. Not everyone owns their own business or engages in activities that can be construed as a business.

Although this offer is marketed as “Limited Time Only!”, we have seen it pop up in the past–usually every few months for one day at a time. The offer isn’t unique, and I would bet on it returning in the next several months. In fact, Scott wrote up the Gold card (and its bonus) back in September.

Most importantly, though, not everyone can charge $10,000 in four months to satisfy the Gold card’s steep spending requirement. At MileValue, our primary credit card strategy centers around clearing signup bonuses quickly. We aren’t big spenders (I charge less than $30k per year), so hitting the signup bonus on a card quickly is paramount. You are earning many more miles per dollar when working towards a signup bonus instead of focusing on which card is best for certain merchants.

If I had to choose, I would definitely recommend the Mercedes-Benz American Express Platinum card. The card comes with 50,000 Membership Rewards after only $1,000 in spending. Though 75k is clearly a juicier incentive than the 50k Platinum bonus, you will need to spend an additional $9,000 to unlock the last 25,000 Membership Rewards. That’s not good value unless you’re a big card spender–$100k+ per year.

For those that argue about the Platinum’s $475 annual fee, I’ve discussed the card’s host of benefits before. Lounge access to several carriers is invaluable. You also receive an annual $200 airline credit that can be used to purchases gift cards. Reimbursement for the Global Entry fee can be a real lifesaverThe Platinum card is also a personal charge card. You don’t need to have a business to apply.

Recap

The 75,000 sign up bonus for American Express’ Business Gold Rewards card should turn heads.

Remember that this is a business charge card. Many people engage in business activities, such as selling items on eBay part-time, that would qualify them for this card. Just remember that you can’t carry a balance on the card. American Express requires immediate settlement when each statement closes.

Even though the 75k bonus is high, the spending required to unlock the points is equally steep. For low spenders, I would recommend going for the Mercedes-Benz American Express Platinum instead. $1,000 in charges will net you 50,000 Membership Rewards points along with a host of other card benefits. Comparing the two, the $9,000 required to unlock the last 25k Membership Rewards is a huge turnoff for me.

Application Link: The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN with 75,000 Membership Rewards after $10,000 in spending in the first four months.

US Airways Targeted 100% Buy Miles Promo

According to this thread on FlyerTalk, US Airways is offering a 100% bonus on purchased or gifted miles to Dividend Miles members who bought or gifted miles in 2012. This promotion runs through January 31.

Who is eligible?

It appears if you purchased, gifted or shared miles in 2012, you should receive this promotional email from US Airways. A sample email is posted below.

I didn’t get the email, how can I tell if I qualify?

The only way is to log into your Dividend Miles account and attempt to buy miles. On the US Airways main page, click on “Dividend Miles” and then “Buy, share, & gift miles.”

After clicking “Buy, share, & gift miles” you should then be taken to a page where you can select  “Buy miles” and enter your Dividend Miles account information. You will then be taken immediately to the Buy miles page.

As you can see in the red square above, I am eligible for the 100% bonus promotion. If you don’t see this square when you log in and attempt to purchase miles, you won’t be able to participate. If the promo banner appears, you should see the 100% miles bonus reflected in the “Number of miles” drop down menu and on the final payment screen.

Do I earn a travel category bonus points for buying miles?

No. Unfortunately buying, gifting, or sharing US Airways Dividend miles is processed through points.com. You will not get any category bonus points for travel purchases if you use the Chase Sapphire Preferred or American Express Premier Rewards Gold cards.

If you happen to have a Barclay’s US Airways MasterCard, you will not earn double miles for buying, gifting, or sharing US Airways miles. I verified this when sharing some Dividend Miles last year and paying with my US Airways MasterCard.

Why are you eligible for the bonus?

As mentioned above, US Airways sent the 100% bonus email to all Dividend miles members who bought or shared miles in 2012. I didn’t buy a single mile last year, but I did fully leverage their incredible share miles promotion in October. For full details on that, make sure to check out my post, Buy US Airways Miles for 1.1 Cents through 100% Share Miles Bonus.

 Is this a good deal?

It’s not nearly as lucrative as the share miles bonus that was offered in October. With this current 100% promotion, you are buying Dividend Miles for 1.88 cents regardless of the quantity you select. Purchasing the maximum will net you 100,000 miles (50,000 + the 50,000 bonus) at a cost of $1,881.25.

The Mile Value Leaderboard values US Airways miles at 1.95 cents. Their routing rules are generous, they have plenty of sweet spots in their award chart, offer off peak awards to South America and Europe, and miles can be used on great airline partners in the Star Alliance.

For specific examples of recent award redemptions using US Airways miles, check out our posts below:

Even though US Airways is selling miles at 1.88 cents (less than our 1.95 cent valuation), I wouldn’t advise purchasing a huge block of miles unless you have a specific redemption or vacation in mind.

The chances of an upcoming devaluation is too high to purchase large amounts of Dividend Miles speculatively. Also, US Airways offered the same 100% bonus in September and November and ran a targeted 100% bonus promotion in October. They are very aggressively marketing their miles, so I suspect that we see more offers like this in the coming months.

Also, with no specific redemption in mind, I value the flexibility of cash and already maximized the share miles deal back in October. Purchasing more US Airways miles in bulk might limit my ability to acquire miles at an even cheaper rate should a good deal surface in the near future. Buying the maximum 50,000 miles could make you miles-rich and cash-poor, which is not always an ideal situation.

What about off peak awards to Europe and South America?

The timing of this promotion is very interesting, especially in terms of booking awards to Europe and South America. The official off peak award calendar is listed below to show you why.

Coincidentally, yesterday was the first official day of off peak awards between North America and Europe. The dates listed above are the eligible travel dates. You could book these discounted awards well in advance if you wanted. Note that if you have  a flexible schedule, there is still availability on many popular routes. Some quick searches yielded encouraging results.

All of my searches were for two award tickets. Any dates highlighted in blue still have off peak award availability. Philadelphia <-> Madrid was still wide open!

The same ample award space was available on the Charlotte <-> Frankfurt route.

Philadelphia to Dublin wasn’t too shabby, either.

Our friends on the West Coast got some love, too. Los Angeles <-> London-Heathrow had some useable offpeak award space.

It’s important to note that business space on all of the routes mentioned above was scarce. Economy awards were much more plentiful.

What about South American off peak award dates?

The off peak dates for travel to South America are slightly different than the European schedule, but you can still buy miles and take advantage of the chart. I found some off peak space on the coveted Charlotte <-> Rio de Janeiro nonstop in March.

Unfortunately off peak space in May was almost picked over.

US Airways announced last month that they would begin nonstop service between Charlotte <-> Sao Paulo, Brazil beginning May 5th. That date also happens to be in the middle of the South American offpeak calendar. Scott actually wrote up this new route in his post, Roundtrip to Sao Paulo or Rio for 30k Miles. At the time of posting, off peak economy space was fantastic.

Now it appears they have blocked off the entire month of May. There is no award space, business or economy, available.

I was definitely thinking about taking a vacation to Europe soon and there is offpeak award space on the dates I want. Should I just buy the miles and book the trip?

Not necessarily! Be very careful before booking with newly-purchased Dividend Miles. You need to factor in several things. How much did it cost to purchase the miles? You need to add this amount to the taxes and fees you have to pay on award tickets. Unless you are a US Airways Gold elite or above, you also can’t escape US Airways $50 per ticket award processing fee nor their $75 “quick ticketing fee” if you book an award within 21 days of departure.

Let’s take Philadelphia <-> Madrid as an example. Buying the 20,000 miles (+20,000 mile bonus) needed for an off peak award will cost $752.50.  You will also pay $181 for this ticket in fees ($56 in taxes, $75 for booking within 21 days, and a $50 for the award processing fee). Don’t forget the approximately 7,300 miles foregone by booking an award ticket.

A quick check on Kayak shows the very same flights on US Airways going for $745! That’s less than the cost of buying the miles outright. As always, do your homework and consult the Mile Value Calculator if you are unsure whether to use miles or cash to book a ticket.

Recap

US Airways is running a targeted promotion for purchasing, gifting, or sharing miles. If you bought or shared miles in 2012, you are eligible to receive a 100% bonus on purchased or gifted miles through January 31st.

This isn’t a promotion I would jump on speculatively. US Airways has a habit of running these 100% bonuses frequently, and the risk of an award chart devaluation makes stocking up on miles a poor investment.

If you have a specific award redemption in mind, crunch the numbers to see if you are coming out ahead. US Airways allows some favorable routings and their off peak awards to Europe and South America are showing solid availability in economy.

Wyndham: Another Hotel Program Devaluation?

According to this thread on FlyerTalk, the Wyndham hotel group has devalued their loyalty program in a big way.

This is terrible news, especially coming on the heels of Priority Club adjusting their award chart for the worse by introducing a whopping nine redemptive tiers. For a complete breakdown of that change, check out my post, Priority Club’s Big Award Chart Devaluation.

What does the new chart look like?

I have attached a screen shot of the new award chart below:

That looks fairly innocuous.  What has changed?

Previously, the vast majority of the Wyndham hotel brands in the United States were grouped into four tiers, with redemptions available from 6,000-16,000 points. The only exceptions were Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Dream, and Tryp brands which required anywhere from 10,000-45,000 points/night.

The rest of Wyndham’s portfolio (Wingate, Ramada Inn, Super 8, Knights Inn, Days Inn, Travelodge, Mircotel Inn & Suites among others) isn’t very aspirational, but at least free night awards were capped at a reasonable 16,000 points.

There were some good sweet spots, too, especially in New York City where room rates are always notoriously high. You could grab a free night at a non-Wyndham Hotel property in the heart of Manhattan for only 16,000 points, even if rates were astronomical.

Unfortunately, that loophole appears to have closed with no notice. I did a quick check of New York hotel rooms in the summer and was taken aback by the results.

Previously, both of these properties were capped at 16,000 points/night. The top option, the Wingate, now requires nearly triple the points for one free night than it once did. This is very disappointing news for those of us with Wyndham points, as New York City is a place where you could really extract value out of your hotel points.

Do you see any other areas where this new chart is hurting travelers?

I checked some major metropolitan areas in the United States, including Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, San Diego and San Francisco. I am still seeing all non-Wyndham hotels capped at 16,000 points/night. That’s the good news.

What’s the bad news?

This change came with no notice–a huge pet peeve of mine. At least with Priority Club’s award chart adjustments they allowed travelers a grace period to book rooms at the old rates before the new the new chart was instated.

Wyndham has eliminated a great redemption option in New York and we don’t know if there are more changes on the way. The rest of the US looks safe for now, but it’s likely that other expensive cities will be adjusted as well. It might be time to start burning your points if, like me, you have a sizable balance.

How did you initially stock up on Wyndham points?

I purchased my points through the annual Daily Getaways promotion where you could buy blocks of hotel points for deeply discounted prices. I was able to grab 82,000 Wyndham points for $227.70.

Why did you even get them?

At the time, Wyndham points had strategic uses for me. I wanted to transfer a small amount to my US Airways account to count as a “hit” in their annual Grand Slam promotion.

By doing simple things like renting a car and crediting the miles to US Airways, transferring hotel points to US Airways Dividend miles, or even buying flowers and attaching your frequent flyer number to the order, you accumulated “hits.” Accumulate enough hits, and you could receive over 100,000 US Airways Dividend Miles.

Unfortunately, you know the old saying about the best laid plans. US Airways decided not to have a Grand Slam promotion, and I was stuck with a large amount of hotel points.

I also spent some at the lovely Days Inn-Clemson for a Clemson/N.C. State football game in November. Room rates were, as you can imagine, sky high, but I burned 32,000 points for two nights in a room that retailed at $400+/night. The other options weren’t palatable: either out of my budget or too far out of town. I was satisfied with that redemption.

What’s the plan with the remaining balance?

I’ve been procrastinating, but it’s probably time to convert my Wyndham balance into frequent flyer miles.

As I wrote in my post, How to Proceed on the Wyndham 0.8 Cent Airline Mile Deal, Wyndham hotel points have an excellent transfer ratio (2.5 Wyndham points=1 mile) when converting to airline miles. The list of North American transfer partners is below.

Wyndham points can be transferred to frequent flyer miles in 8,000, 17,500, and 30,000 point increments only. The transfer ratio stays consistent no matter the transfer amount–2.5 Wyndham points will always convert to 1 airline mile.

My remaining 50,000 (which were purchased for exactly $128.70) will go to American Airlines miles or United miles. I will transfer 48,000 points and receive 19,200 miles. Remember I can only transfer in the three increments above. I will figure out something else for the 2,000 orphaned Wyndham points.

If we use the Mile Value Leaderboard, 19,200 American miles are worth $339.84 at 1.77 cents/mile. Using our 1.81 cent/mile valuation, transferring Wyndham points to United miles yields even more value at $347.52. I did very well on my initial $128.70 investment and bought the miles for a mere .6 cents.

Recap

Wyndham appears to have changed their award chart in New York City without notice. Properties that were once 16,000 points/night are now 35k-45k, a huge increase.

Other North American cities don’t appear to be affected, but that doesn’t mean they won’t increase in the future. It could be time to liquidate your balance.

Wyndham, unlike most other hotel programs, offers a favorable transfer ratio to frequent flyer miles. If you have a large balance or bought large blocks with the Discover America promotion, you should be able to reap a lot of value out of the switch.

Will Citi Have the Next Hot Transferable Points?

According to this thread on FlyerTalk, Citi has announced that ThankYou Points earned from  its own ThankYou Point credit cards can now be transferred to Hilton HHonors points.

There some huge pros to this announcement but also some really troubling concerns that need further clarification. Read on for my analysis.

What is the transfer ratio of ThankYouPoints to Hilton HHonors points?

According to the Hilton website, ThankYou Points (TYP) can be transferred to Hilton HHonors at a ratio of 1:1.5. The minimum number of TYP that can be transferred is 1,000. They also must be transferred in increments of 1,000.

Is this transfer ratio better or worse than other possible HHonors transfer partners?

The 1:1.5 ratio falls in line with the American Express Membership Rewards transfer ratio. Take note that until January 31, American Express is actually offering a better 1:2 transfer ratio. For more details on that, check out my post Hilton HHonors-33% Bonus on Membership Rewards Transfers.

Starwood Preferred Guest points transfer to HHonors at a 1:2.5 ratio, but it takes some legwork. In general, this is a really poor way to spend your SPG points. However, if you are desperate for HHonors points and close to topping off an aspirational award, it might make sense.

To pull this off, you will need to transfer your SPG points to either Virgin Atlantic or Hawaiian Airlines.

Starwood Points transfer to Virgin Atlantic or Hawaiian Airlines at a ratio of 1:1.25 when you transfer in increments of 20,000. For example, converting 20k SPG points will net you 25k Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles. Virgin Atlantic miles then transfer to HHonors at a ratio of 1:2. For a step by step, check out Scott’s post Transferring Virgin Atlantic Miles to Hilton HHonors Points and Transferring Hawaiian Miles to Hilton.

In a basic example, transfer 20k SPG points to Virgin Atlantic to net 25k Flying Club miles. 25k Flying Club miles then convert to 50k HHonors points.

If the ratio isn’t that great, why is this announcement a big deal?

I’m excited about the news from Citi merely on the hope they add more transfer partners. Having just one transfer partner isn’t very exciting. It won’t tempt me to apply for the cards outright. However, if Citi can add more potential partners, especially airlines, then the value of a ThankYou Point could be mentioned in the same breath as American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards Points, two flexible point programs with many great airline and hotel transfer options.

As you know, we have a great Award Booking Service here at MileValue and love tackling all types of difficult and complex awards. When clients contact us, having flexible points like Chase or American Express gives us options. It opens up routes that wouldn’t be otherwise possible. It makes bookings much easier.

If Citi becomes the third flexible bank point currency, then more potential award redemptions are accessible to frequent flyers.

Wasn’t Citi rumored to have added some airline transfer partners last year?

Actually, yes. In March of 2012, FlyerTalk was abuzz about Citi potentially adding British Airways and Singapore Air. The supposed partnership was to take place in April but never materialized. The addition of Hilton to Citi’s portfolio hopefully rekindles some of those rumors. To read about that big letdown, check out the FlyerTalk thread here.

Do all Citi cards that earn ThankYou Points qualify for transfers?

No. According to Citi’s own terms and conditions listed below, you must have a Citi Premier or Prestige card to be eligible for transfers. Other cards that earn TYP such as the Preferred, Forward, and Standard cards, do not qualify.

Anything else worry you about the terms and conditions?

Yes! There is some real concern about T&C #3 on the list above. It appears that TYP earned through sign up bonuses are not eligible for transfers to Hilton. I can’t overstate how much of a dealbreaker this is. But I also am not sure that it’s true.

The vast majority of my Membership Rewards balance was earned through the sign up bonus. I’m sure Scott can say the same about his Ink Plus and Ink Bold cards. We simply don’t generate enough spend to accumulate the points for premium cabin redemptions. Sign up bonuses are the clear-cut best method in quickly attaining premium cabin awards.

According to this thread on FlyerTalk, the Citi Premier card was offering a 50,000 TYP sign up bonus as recently as last year. The card now as a standard 25k sign up bonus.

The possible sign up bonus exclusion from Citi TYP transfers is a massive negative for the program. The data points are still pretty scarce on FlyerTalk, so feel free to comment if the TYP earned through your sign up bonuses are eligible for transfer to Hilton.

If I can’t transfer ThankYou Points, what are they good for?

TYP can be redeemed for a variety of gift cards at a rate of $0.01/point. Citi Premier and Prestige cardholders can also redeem them for airfare at a rate of $0.0133/point. Using TYP for airline tickets gives you much more value and allows you to earn redeemable and elite qualifying miles on the trips. Citi is essentially purchasing the ticket for you.

Recap

Citi has added Hilton HHonors as a transfer partner to a select few of its ThankYou Point earning cards. The transfer ratio is not a good deal, in my opinion.

The potential for Citi to add additional transfer partners is extremely exciting. They were rumored to have an agreement with British Airways and Singapore Air, but that never materialized last year. If they were to add more hotel and airline partners, Citi could give American Express and Chase a run for their money when it comes to “Best Flexible Bank Point.”

I’m still very concerned about the language in the terms and conditions excluding sign up bonus points from transfers. If that turns out to be true, the strategic value of TYP diminishes greatly.

Priority Club Big Award Chart Devaluation

According to this thread on FlyerTalk, the Priority Club hotel group will be changing their award chart to mirror other hotel loyalty programs. Read on to see why this change isn’t good news for frequent guests.

What does the new chart look like?

I have attached a screen shot of the new award chart below.

Priority Club has decided to split their hotels into nine categories. In comparison, Hyatt has six hotel categories. Starwood and Hilton have seven. Marriott was the previous high with eight tiers, but Priority Club now holds that ignominious crown.

When do these changes go into affect?

According to Priority Club’s website, the new award chart will go into effect starting January 18. They are offering a grace period, though. If the number of points it would take to book your award night increases, you can call Priority Club directly through March 18 and ask for the original point price. Note that that this can’t be done online. You will have to call their customer service line to receive the old price.

What did the old award chart look like?

Priority Club differed from other hotel programs in that each chain had a specific redemption price. For example, Candlewood Suites, no matter the city or room rate, could be booked for either 25,000 or 35,000 points. The “old” chart can be seen below:

Loyalty programs like Starwood Preferred Guest adjust their award charts based on demand and prevailing room rates. For example, a Sheraton award night would cost more points in a city like London that is notorious for high room rates. The Sheraton brand doesn’t have a fixed point price like Priority Club’s old chart.

How can I see which hotels will be increasing or decreasing in price?

You can’t, unfortunately. You will have to check property by property to see whether a hotel was negatively or positively affected starting on January 18.

What does Priority Club’s change mean for travelers?

An end to sweet spot hotel redemptions, to a certain extent. Under the old award chart, you could book a room at the Holiday Inn Express-Times Square or Staybridge Suites in New York for 25,000 points. Room rates in New York are sky-high, especially during the holidays, but those properties represented a great value in terms of points per dollar and location in the city.

I have a sinking feeling that properties such as this (and even the Hotel Indigo in Chelsea) will now require more points for an award night. After January 18, I will report back and see if my suspicions were confirmed.

When the news broke of this change, my first thought was actually to Miami. One of my favorite hotels is the Z Ocean Hotel in South Beach. The property has a loose association as a Crowne Plaza, but I love it for its location, spacious suite-like rooms, and atmosphere.

I had booked the hotel several times in the past for 35,000 points/night because it was labeled as a Crowne Plaza by Priority Club. Now I fear that it will become a 45,000-50,000/night hotel, especially because I routinely see room rates at the Z Ocean fluctuate between $400-$600 during peak travel times. Again, I will wait and see, but I’m certainly not expecting it to remain at the current redemption level.

With nine award categories to play with, Priority Club can now meticulously tweak each property to match with demand and prevailing room rates in the area.

Has Priority Club made any other negative changes to the program recently?

Actually, yes! This new award chart is actually one year removed from another award chart adjustment. Like I discussed above, Priority Club assigned a point value to each brand in its portfolio, though it was fixed.

Last January Priority Club announced point redemptions would vary within each brand. For example, Hotel Indigo properties were always 25,000 points. Under the 2012 change, they could be 25k-35k depending on the day or city.

For a complete discussion of Priority Club’s 2012 award chart devaluation, check out the FlyerTalk discussion here.

Are PointBreaks still intact?

Yes, but the lists of participating hotels appear to be shortening each year.

PointBreaks hotels can be booked for 5,000 points, which can represent a huge savings. Some Intercontinental properties normally cost 50,000 points per night, so 5,000 is a 90% discount.

Priority Club typically announces new lists after their old lists expire and gives a booking deadline. If you are flexible with your dates or a hotel on the list coincides with your travel plans, there are some great deals to be had.

Make sure to check out Scott’s great post on How to Book Any PointsBreak Hotel for $35/night.

Can Scott’s method be applied to normal award night bookings?

Yes. This little workaround has been discussed quite a bit throughout the points-collecting community, so I won’t rehash too much. If you use this trick for a standard award night with the new chart, you will pay the following amounts:

  • Category 1          $70
  • Category 2          $105
  • Category 3          $140
  • Category 4          $175
  • Category 5          $210
  • Category 6          $245
  • Category 7          $280
  • Category 8          $315
  • Category 9          $350
I had a weekend stay at the Intercontinental-Times Square in December. I used 50,000 points for one night and the other was my award night certificate for paying the $49 annual fee on my Chase Priority Club Visa. When I booked my stay, room rates in the city were all $500+. Paying $350 for a night certainly isn’t palatable, but in certain situations, it could make sense.

Recap

Priority Club has made a drastic change to their award chart. The chart is no longer sorted by brand. Each individual property will be sorted into one of nine categories.

This change brings Priority Club’s chart in line with the other major hotel chains, but it’s probably not good news for travelers. The old chart allowed for sweet spots in certain cities with traditionally high room rates.

Hotel point valuations are still in the works, but Priority Club points have an easy ceiling with Scott’s trick highlighted above. They can be freely bought at .7 cents and should be valued no higher than that rate.

Delta Ends Partnership with e-Miles and e-Rewards

Delta Airlines has severed ties with both e-Miles and e-Rewards according to this thread and and this thread on FlyerTalk. As of the New Year, you are no longer be able to redeem currency accrued in either program for Delta SkyMiles.

For those unfamiliar, both e-Miles and e-Rewards are websites that reward visitors with miles or fun money for filling out surveys in a wide range of categories. After earning enough currency in their respective loyalty programs, you have the option of transferring your points/miles to Delta or a host of other frequent flyer and guest programs.

Is this announcement a big deal?

I’m not too terribly caught up by this news. I used both e-Miles and e-Rewards primarily as “hits” for the now-defunct US Airways Grand Slam Promotion. The Grand Slam Promo was extremely popular and very lucrative with the frequent flyer community. By doing simple things like renting a car and crediting the miles to US Airways, transferring hotel points to US Airways Dividend miles, or even transferring e-Miles/e-Rewards to Dividend Miles, you accumulated “hits.” Accumulate enough hits, and you could receive over 100,000 US Airways Dividend Miles.

I participated in the Grand Slam in both 2010 and 2011. For about $500 out of pocket, I was able to bank about 120,000 Dividend Miles each year. This valuation doesn’t account for my time spent nor the value of hotel points lost when transferring miles, but I still came out well on top using the Mile Value Leaderboard valuation of Dividend Miles at 1.95 cents/mile.

I have plenty of free time, how do I sign up for e-Miles?

The e-Miles sign-up page can be found here. At the time of registration, make sure you choose your transfer airline/hotel partner carefully. It actually takes some considerable circumstances to make a switch after the fact! Don’t believe me, check out their own FAQ below:

You would have an easier time extricating yourself from a gym membership. With that being said, I would select US Airways or United as my transfer partners. The two carriers both rank highly on the Mile Value Leaderboard and have a host of partner airlines with which you can book award tickets.

How do I sign up for e-Rewards?

The e-Rewards home page can be found here. You actually have to receive an invitation from a hotel or airline loyalty program to join.

Keeping your email address on file with your loyalty programs increases the chances of receiving an e-Rewards invite. When I first signed up for a Delta SkyMiles account and a Hilton HHonors account, I received e-Rewards invites from both programs a few weeks after the fact.

After receiving an invite, filling out the registration and answering a few surveys on your interests and spending habits, you should begin to receive emails alerting you to eligible surveys.

What’s the difference between the two programs?

Both programs offer surveys for miles. e-Miles typically earn 5 miles per mini-survey which consists of about 3 questions. Because the minimum transfer is 500 e-Miles, it will take you a very long time to extract any sort of value out of the program. I’m not sure it’s worth the time/effort unless the US Airways Grand Slam is involved.

e-Rewards is actually a bit more interesting. Instead of earning miles, you earn fake currency that can then be redeemed for frequent flyer miles. Unlike e-Miles, e-Rewards doesn’t restrict you to one transfer partner, either. They have a host of airline and hotel options. Below are the programs available to me.

Surveys at e-Rewards earn anywhere from about $0.25-$20.00 (or more) in currency, depending on the length of survey and number of participants needed. To see the typical redemption structure, I pulled up their American Airlines chart.

In the beginning, I was routinely getting 3-4 surveys a week and the extra miles were rolling in. Unfortunately, I haven’t received a new survey offer in nearly a year. I even emailed them to find out why but was told there weren’t any surveys for my demographic. Very strange. Hopefully the well isn’t permanently dry!

Any other catches with the e-Rewards?

Actually, yes. Though e-Rewards has a host of hotel and airline transfer partners there is one issue you need to be aware of. Signing up for e-Rewards via a hotel program invitation meant that you can only transfer e-Rewards into that frequent guest program. You can still transfer to any e-Rewards airline partner, but all other frequent guest programs are essentially blacked out for you.

If, for example, you joined via an invitation from Hilton, you can transfer to any e-Rewards airline partner, but the only frequent guest program you can transfer to would be Hilton. I couldn’t, for example, transfer my e-Rewards into Priority Club points.

I signed up for e-Rewards via Hilton’s invitation. As you can see in the transfer list above, they are the only frequent guest program that I am allowed to transfer e-Rewards.

This FlyerTalk blog entry discusses how that restriction may be lifting. Just to play it safe, though, I would try to join e-Rewards via a hotel program invitation like Priority Club or Hilton. The list of airline transfer partners is too extensive and valuable!

Recap

Though Delta is severing ties with both e-Miles and e-Rewards programs, that shouldn’t stop you from using them to supplement your frequent flyer account balances.

In my opinion, e-Rewards is a lot more useful than e-Miles. It takes forever to reach the minimum 500 mile transfer threshold with e-Miles, and the time commitment just isn’t worth it. e-Rewards can be more lucrative though nothing outstanding.

Transfers from either program can be used to top off your account for an award redemption or keep a mileage balance from expiring. The flexibility of e-Rewards many partner programs is also very useful. Both sites certainly aren’t going to help you reach an international award ticket by themselves, but by supplementing your travel miles and credit card sign up bonuses, they can help you reach your award goals.

 

US Airways MasterCard Lucrative Bonus Miles Offer

According to this thread on FlyerTalk, Barclay’s has been sending targeted emails to US Airways MasterCard holders. The emails offer up to between 2X-10X bonus points in certain spending categories, including grocery stores and movie theaters. FlyerTalkers are reporting that bonus miles are being capped at  2,500 miles during the promotional period between January 1-March 31st.

According to the terms and conditions, you must activate the offer by January 20 in order to be eligible to earn bonus miles. Bonus miles earned through the promotion will post to your account 6-8 weeks after the promotion ends.

How do I know if I’m eligible for this offer?

The most important eligibility requirement is having a Barclay’s US Airways MasterCard. Most on FlyerTalk are posting that they received an email communication, literature in the mail, or both. I actually received both a little over a week ago and am eligible for 5X Dividend miles on certain purchases. The full details from the email are below.

After clicking “Activate Today” you will be brought to a simple sign up screen. Check the box and hit Submit. You should receive an activation email shortly after.

Barclay’s offered me 5X points at grocery stores, movie theaters, and utility bills.

It’s disappointing that this offer is capped at only 2,500 bonus miles (or $500 in spending), but Barclay’s is clearly being aggressive in trying to retain their current cardholders. They clearly want your everyday spending to stay with them! This promo might even be an experiment: we could see similar promo emails in future quarters with different spending categories.

Will you be taking full advantage of this promotion?

Absolutely. $500 should be a relatively easy threshold to reach. I rarely go to the movies, but will shift my cable/internet bills to my US Airways MasterCard. I had previously been using my American Express Hilton HHonors Surpass card which offers 6X HHonors points on utility bills.

At the Mile Value Leaderboard, we value US Airways Dividend miles at 1.95 cents. Though our hotel point valuations are still in the pipeline, 5 Dividend miles much more than 6 HHonors points (which are somewhere between .4 and .6 cents each).

I will either shift my regular grocery spending to the US Airways MasterCard or simply purchase some gift cards to quickly reach the $500 spending cap. Either way, maximizing this promotion should be easy.

I am a US Airways MasterCard holder and didn’t get a letter or an email. What should I do?

Definitely call the customer service number on the back of your card. You should (politely) chat with a customer service rep and see if there is any way you can be registered for the promotion. In limited encounters, I’ve found Barclay’s reps to be very reasonable and receptive.

I was going to cancel the card when the $89 annual fee came due back in May. The rep I talked to was very aggressive in trying to keep me as a card holder and offered to reduce my annual fee to $25. Because my version of the card comes with 10,000 Dividend miles each year, I was happy to pay $25 for 10,000 miles (though I would have paid $89 for the same 10K as well!)

I am not a US Airways MasterCard holder but am thinking of applying. Do I have a shot at signing up for this promo?

As always, it can’t hurt to ask. The worst that you get is a firm “no.” Scott actually did a great write up of the new 40K US Airways MasterCard offer earlier this month, including discussing their incredible value and sweet spot award redemptions.

Since that post, Scott even broke down US Airways newly announced route between Charlotte <-> Sao Paulo  and how US Airways MasterCard holders can book that award (or Charlotte <-> Rio de Janeiro) for a mere 30K miles. See his post, Roundtrip to Sao Paulo or Rio for 30K miles for a complete step by step.

If you are thinking about applying or have recently been accepted for the card, give Barclay’s customer service a call and try to register for this bonus promotion. This is a great time to own the card.

Recap

Barclay’s has been sending promo emails to targeted US Airways MasterCard holders. Eligible cardholders can earn between 2X-10X bonus points in certain spending categories between January 1-March 31st. Registration is required by January 20th.

If you have the card but didn’t receive an email, give Barclay’s a call and try to register. There is absolutely no downside in trying.

We love US Airways Dividend miles because of their offpeak awards to South America and Europe. They also have several sweet spot redemptions, such as 90K miles from the US to North Asia in flatbed business class. United charges 120K miles for the exact same award. They are currently tops on the Mile Value Leaderboard for good reason.

Application Link: US Airways MasterCard (this does not have a 10k annual bonus)

Application Link: US Airways MasterCard (may have a 10k annual bonus, though I was told by an agent it did not, also targeted to top-tier elites and employees)

 

Southwest Announces New Fees That Make Perfect Sense

According to this thread on FlyerTalk and this thread on Milepoint, Southwest will now start charging a no-show fee for those who fail to cancel their tickets before the flight departs.

Extra fees, especially on traveler-friendly Southwest, are never a good thing. But I am shocked that a fee like this wasn’t in place before. Now that it is, I honestly can’t blame them for implementing it. It makes sense to penalize when Southwest could resell the seat for a higher price at the last minute. You can still cancel a ticket before a flight with no penalty. Scott actually booked a Rapid Rewards award ticket for me to attend Frequent Traveler University a few weeks ago. When my plans changed, he was able to get back the points without any issues or charges.

Southwest also announced that its Early Bird Check-In fee would increase from $10 to $12.50. This isn’t an extra that ever struck my fancy. I am always diligent about checking in right at the 24 hour mark before my Southwest flights and usually ended up with a decent A or B zone boarding number. That’s enough to get an aisle or window somewhere on the plane. This move will help Southwest capture a bit more revenue for a service many people enjoy.

Of greater concern, though, is the fact that Southwest will begin charging more for a third checked bag. A third bag will now be $75, up from $50. The first and second bag remain free. Overweight baggage will also cost more ($50 fee is now $100).

This move can be seen as a way to minimize the lack of revenue from the first two free checked bags. A pessimist might view it as the beginning of the end of free checked bags on Southwest…..even though their “Bags Fly Free” mantra has endeared them to leisure travelers. For now, they remain the most friendly airline with regard to baggage and fees.

Marriott Reveals New Lifetime Status Requirements–You’re Happy

Marriott Hotels announced that they are changing the requirements for lifetime elite status. The FlyerTalk thread discussing Marriott lifetime benefits can be found here. Shockingly, the changes are all positive. When word came from a Marriott Rewards forum post that lifetime elite criteria would be changing, there was some apprehension. However, I can tell you that the changes are actually beneficial to travelers. The new requirements are listed below with changes in bold.

Lifetime Silver

250 (previously 600) nights at Marriott properties &  1,200,000 Marriott Rewards points earned

Lifetime Gold

500 (previously 800) nights at Marriott properties &  1,600,000 Marriott Rewards points earned

Lifetime Platinum

750 (previously 1,000) nights at Marriott properties &  2,000,000 Marriott Rewards points  earned

The requirement that you had to be a Marriott Rewards member for at least 12 years was also eliminated. Marriott has the toughest nights requirement to qualify for top tier elite status of all hotel chains and is notoriously stingy with room upgrades. I have avoided them in the past, but work commitments might change my hotel choices in 2013. Make sure to check out my upcoming posts on the program as I spend more nights at Marriott properties.

Hyatt Publishes Award Chart Update; Hold the Pitch Forks

According to this thread on FlyerTalk, Hyatt has tweaked the award chart category for 17 of its properties. Hyatt’s complete award chart can be found here for reference. These changes will go into effect on February 7th. Room reservations booked prior to this date will still be at the previously published award level.

The complete list of changes:

At first glance, none of these changes stick out as drastic. The Hyatt 48 Lex in New York City changing from a category 4 to a category 5 might be disappointing to Chase Hyatt Visa cardholders. Cardmembers receive a voucher for one free night at a category 1-4 Hyatt hotel each year. The Hyatt 48 Lex was definitely a great use of the voucher, especially during the holidays when hotel rates are outrageous. Now that it’s a category 5 hotel, you won’t be able to redeem the voucher at the property after February 6th.

The Grand Hyatt Tokyo also jumps from a category 5 hotel to the highest category 6. It will now require 22,000 Gold Passport points to book a standard room. This change aligns the property with the exclusive Park Hyatt Tokyo, another category 6 hotel.

Alaska Airlines 5,000 Mile Bonus for Board Room Membership

According to this post on Milepoint, Alaska Airlines is offering 5,000 bonus miles for all travelers who sign up for Board Room memberships by December 31st. Alaska brands its club lounges as Board Rooms (in the same way that Delta calls its lounges Sky Clubs). A complete list of locations can be found here.

Standard one year memberships are $450 (this price includes the initiation fee) and are reduced for Alaska MVP and Gold members.

Board Room members actually have access to all domestic Delta Sky Clubs when traveling same day on an Alaska or Delta ticket. Even with that perk, this isn’t a good deal. Alaska only has five Board Room locations, and the best way to get access to Alaska and Delta lounges is still with the American Express Platinum card. That card has been discussed several times on MileValue, including here and here. It also ranks highly on our Best Card Offers by Absolute Value.

With the American Express Platinum card, you have access to Delta and American lounges when traveling same day on those carriers. You also have access to US Airways lounges anytime. The card even comes with Priority Pass Select membership, giving you access to the Alaska Board Rooms. You get all of this access for a $450 annual credit card fee, the same price as signing up for an Alaska Board Room membership only.

Note that with the Priority Pass Select membership, you must pay $27 per guest. At American, Delta, and US Airways lounges, up to two guests are admitted for free.

New 45k Delta Credit Card Offer: The Pros, Cons, and Good Redemption Ideas

I received an interesting credit card offer via email yesterday and wanted to share it with readers before it expired on December 23rd. Delta Airlines is currently offering 45,000 bonus SkyMiles for signing up for the Delta Gold American Express card. To get the bonus, you must spend $3,000 in the first three months of card membership. The card comes with a $95 annual fee that is waived for the first year.

The link to both the personal and business versions of the card can be found here.

Is this the best Delta Gold credit card offer you have ever seen?

Not by a long shot, though it’s certainly better than the standard offer of 30,000 SkyMiles that is always floating around.

According to this thread on FlyerTalk, Delta was offering a targeted 70,000 Skymiles and a $100 statement credit after $5K in spending during the first six months of card membership

Where does this current 45k offer stack up on the Best Current Credit Card Offers?

Delta’s 45k bonus doesn’t even place on the Best Current Credit Card Offer list! Using the Mile Value Leaderboard, 45k Skymiles are worth only $549. Delta miles are worth less than any other type of mile we’ve valued at only 1.22 cents each.

Why even mention this offer to readers?

Several reasons, actually. First is that this seemingly large offer from Delta should act as a cautionary tale. On the surface, 45k is a huge amount of miles for one credit card. When we dive into the numbers though, it’s clear that this credit card isn’t one you should speculatively sign up for. We have seen larger offers in the past for this specific card, so it’s best to be patient and strike when a truly great offer is announced, such as the old 70k sign up bonus.

I don’t want to categorically dismiss the card nor its bonus, though. For travelers on Delta who can’t fly enough to qualify for elite status, it actually makes some sense.

Having the card means the cardholder and up to eight others on the same reservation can get one checked bag for free. The card also comes with Zone 1 priority boarding on all Delta flights. I avoid checking a bag on flights at all costs, so that benefit holds little value to me. Zone 1 boarding is nice, as you can secure precious overhead bin space and avoid unexpectedly having to gate check your carryon.

What are some good redemptions for SkyMiles?

Scott has written several great and informative posts on SkyMiles, including his recent Master Thread: Free Oneways on Delta Awards. That article speaks more about routing rules and ways to exploit permitted stopovers and open jaws on the same award. If you are looking for specific great uses for your SkyMiles, look no further than two notoriously difficult and in-demand award booking requests: Australia and Tahiti.

Scott covered using Delta Skymiles to get to Australia in his post, Delta Still Not Charging Surcharges on Virgin Australia Awards and Space to Australia over Christmas. For 150k Skymiles, you can get a great business  class award to Australia from the continental US. The good news? Award space has been generally reported as excellent, even during peak travel times like Christmas and New Year’s. Fuel surcharges on Virgin Australia, once near $1,000 per seat, are no longer being charged by Delta.

I wanted to test out a Virgin Australia booking myself, so I logged on to Delta’s website and plugged in Los Angeles <-> Sydney as my desired route. Delta’s award search is a buggy mess (more on that in a second), so it’s important to search leg by leg when constructing an itinerary. I live in Baltimore, so my booking strategy is to secure the toughest leg first and figure out how to get from Baltimore to LA later.

Delta has three levels of miles prices to Australia–low, medium, and high. The roundtrip business class price is 150k/240k/370k for low/medium/high redemptions. But if you see Virgin Australia space, it will always price at the low-level price like all partner award space.

The award chart above looks very favorable. Green indicates there is low level award space on Delta. Unfortunately, Delta’s availability and Virgin Australia’s are treated separately. That is, a day displaying only high (the most expensive) type of awards might still have 150k business class availability on Virgin Australia.

To test this theory out, I clicked on October 7th which was a “high” day. There shouldn’t be any available awards for 150k Skymiles.

I was in luck! Above are two great itineraries available for the minimum amount of miles. Both are operated by Virgin Australia which is exactly what we wanted. The day was initially listed as having only high availability on the award calendar. The reason for that is below.

Because there are no low-level awards on Delta directly, the entire day is displayed as being high. That means you will have to search for Virgin Australia space on delta.com one day at a time regardless of how availability is displayed on the award calendar.

What about getting to Tahiti with SkyMiles?

Scott’s comprehensive post, Getting to Tahiti with Delta Miles, answers all of your questions on using SkyMiles to book award tickets to French Polynesia. Searching for availability on partners like Air France and Air Tahiti Nui is easiest with Expert Flyer, and Scott details how to search using that site. Business class tickets are more difficult to find and Delta imposes fuel surcharges on Air Tahiti Nui, but with some advance planning, you can find seats on those two partner carriers.

My vacation aspirations are a little more grounded than Australia and Tahiti. Do you know of any good domestic redemptions?

I will speak from recent personal experience on this one. Delta’s online award search can be difficult to search and availability at the low level is very sparse. With that being said, I booked a great award ticket last month, and it wasn’t even at the low level.

I needed to fly a friend down to Sarasota in March, and I was able to secure a domestic award ticket for 40,000 SkyMiles. Before I’m tarred and feathered by the frequent flyer community, know that my dates weren’t flexible nor were my times. Delta offered the only itineraries that would work. Also, paying for the ticket with cash wasn’t a palatable option. Flights were over $650! After plugging in my numbers to the Mile Value Calculator ($652/$10/40,000/2,152) I received 1.52 cents in value for this redemption. That’s quite a bit more than the 1.22 cents we value SkyMiles.

I didn’t artificially inflate the value of this redemption, either. I would have paid the $600+ for this ticket if I didn’t have SkyMiles. It was an urgent redemption and I got a decent return on the miles I spent.

Recap

Sometimes “exclusive” credit card sign up bonuses aren’t all they appear to be. In the case of Delta’s 45k SkyMiles card, we crunched the numbers and showed you that it isn’t as enticing as it seems.

If you have goals of getting to Australia or Tahiti, two notoriously difficult and in-demand awards, then accumulating SkyMiles does make sense. Virgin Australia availability using SkyMiles is excellent, though can be difficult to search for.

Though Delta also gets a bad wrap for its domestic award availability, I wanted to show a real life example of the numbers making sense in some cases, even when there are no low level awards.

Hawaiian Airlines Exciting New Route to Taipei, Taiwan

According to this thread on FlyerTalk, Hawaiian Airlines will be adding an interesting new route to their network in July of 2013. Hawaiian will add nonstop service between Honolulu and Taipei, Taiwan three times weekly. They will be flying this route with their 294 seat A330-200 aircraft.

Scott actually just wrote a mini review of Hawaiian’s A330 product in economy.  You can read it in this post, 20k Points Roundtrip to Hawaii, 45k Roundtrip to Asia, 55k Roundtrip to Australia. The economy seat looks really solid with personal TVs and decent food offerings. First class, though, doesn’t appear much better than domestic first class. Hawaiian’s first class product on all flights that leave Hawaii is a recliner with 42″ of pitch. That means only 4″ more leg room than most domestic first class.

As Scott detailed in his post, Getting to Tahiti with Hawaiian, United, and US Airways Miles and Membership Rewards, there are two big issues with spending Hawaiian miles for an award ticket. First, they charge 20k miles each way from the continental US to Hawaii. That’s what other carriers are charging, but if you live on the west coast, you can actually get to Hawaii for 12,500 British Airways Avios oneway.

In Scott’s very recent post, 20k Points Roundtrip to Hawaii, he discovered that you can actually use Virgin America Elevate points to fly Hawaiian airlines from the continental US to Hawaii for far fewer miles than what Hawaiian charges their own frequent flyer members.

The other big issue is that to get from the continental US to Asia or the Pacific on Hawaiian will cost the price of US-Hawaii plus Hawaii-Asia/Pacific. This method of pricing makes awards for mainlanders to Asia/Pacific on Hawaiian way more Hawaiian Miles than American miles, which can also be used for Hawaiian flights.

For example, a Hawaiian award from the continental US to Japan would be 60k miles oneway–20k from the mainland to Hawaii and 40k from Hawaii to Japan. That same exact award could be as few as 50,000 AAdvantage miles roundtrip if you fly during off peak times! For a great step-by-step on booking Hawaiian awards with AAdvantage miles, especially for beginners, make sure to check out Scott’s post, Free First Class Next Month: Award Searches on AA.com.

Hawaiian’s complete award chart can be found here, but I posted Hawaiian’s chart from the US-Philippines below. This is most likely the chart that will be used when the Taipei route officially opens up. 60k for awards originating in the continental US and 105k for first class award tickets. As I mentioned above, the first class seats aren’t that much of an upgrade over normal domestic first class seats. They aren’t angle-flat and they certainly don’t convert to lie-flat seats. I would save the miles in this case. The upgrade just isn’t worth the additional cost in miles.

Each Way Price

Can I include a stopover in Hawaii with either an American or a Hawaiian award?

Yes to both! Because Hawaiian prices the two legs of the award individually, you can build a stopover of whatever length you want into your award. If you are using American miles to book an award on Hawaiian, you get a stopover in each direction at the international gateway city. In this case, it would be Honolulu if departing from Los Angeles. For more information, be sure to check out Scott’s post How to Book Free Stopovers Online: American Airlines. You should probably also brush up with The Five Cardinal Rules of American Airlines Awards.

If getting to Taiwan from the US is the only goal, other carriers offer better options. United Airlines, for example charges 32,500 miles for a oneway ticket. That same itinerary would be 60,000 miles with Hawaiian. Check out the dummy booking I was able to pull up on United’s website below.

Even though an award ticket using Hawaiian miles will probably be a bad deal, there are no nonstop flights offered from Hawaii to Taiwan: most carriers include a stop in Seoul or Tokyo. Hawaii’s new service could add a creative way to break up your long journey from the US to Taipei. You can break up the trip with a stopover in Hawaii before continuing on the 5,000+ mile journey to Taiwan.

How do I get Hawaiian miles?

Hawaiian Airlines is a Membership Rewards transfer partner at a 1:1 ratio. If you have Starpoints (through Starwood Preferred Guest), you can transfer in increments of 20,000 and receive 5,000 bonus miles, a nifty 25% bonus. It’s important to note the delay when transferring Starpoints. It can sometimes take 1-2 weeks for the Hawaiian miles to post to your account, meaning the award you really want might not necessarily be there when the transfer is finally complete.

To really turbocharge your Hawaiian miles balance, there are two credit card signup bonuses you can take advantage of. Both Bank of America and Bank of Hawaii offer cards with a 35k bonus: 20k is awarded after first purchase, and you earn 15k more after spending $1,000 in the first four months of card membership.

FlyerTalkers have discovered that you can get both cards. The Bank of Hawaii card can be found here and the Bank of America version here. For our complete breakdown of the signup bonuses and the other benefits that come with the card, check out the Best Credit Card Offers by Absolute Value.

What other international cities does Hawaiian fly from Honolulu? This could be a great double vacation opportunity.

Check out the chart below to see which cities Hawaiian serves from their main hub at Honolulu International Airport.

The other route I am watching with great interest in the coming Honolulu to Auckland route.

Recap

Hawaii ‘s recently announced expansion to Taiwan is an interesting development for Asian travelers. You could theoretically include a long stopover in Hawaii before continuing on directly to Taipei–no other airline offers that option.

Redeeming Hawaiian miles for this award, though, this probably won’t make sense for those in the continental US. Hawaiian’s award chart combines regions to create a more expensive award ticket. You are far better off spending United or US Airways miles if you want to get to Taiwan from the US. If you truly want to fly on Hawaiian, though, you will spend far less using AAdvantage miles to book your award ticket.

British Airways Improved Online Award Search Tool

According to this thread on FlyerTalk, British Airways has tweaked the functionality of their website for the better. Searching for award tickets, especially on oneworld partner airlines, is quite a bit easier now. I had to see for myself, so I tried out a few dummy bookings.

Scott has actually written up a helpful post on this for newbie travelers. To read his step by step, check out Free First Class Next Month: Using BA.com for oneworld Awards. Using BA.com to search for partner awards can be really useful. As we have mentioned before, Avios are great for short haul domestic awards on American Airlines. Expensive short haul flights within South America, South Africa and Australia are another great use for Avios. For more reading, check out Scott’s post, How Much Are Avios Worth? The Value of British Airways Avios.

In this post, I want to show you some sample partner bookings and how the award search process has vastly changed for the better on BA.com, though the improvements aren’t necessarily that obvious at first.

The first thing you need to do is to log in to your British Airways Executive Club account on BA.com. British Airways won’t let you search for award space if you aren’t logged in.

After logging in, you are taken to your Executive Club account summary page. There are a host of options here, but you want to burn some of your hard earned Avios on partner awards. Click “Spending Avios.”

You will then be taken to a spending Avios page. Click “Book flights with Avios” to be taken to the actual award search page and booking tool.

I wanted to show you a simple domestic search, so I plugged in an award that I am contemplating. Baltimore’s dreary weather in January is downright depressing. I would rather be relaxing on Miami Beach and strolling down Collins Avenue.

Let’s enter Baltimore <-> Miami as our city pairs and some random January dates.

Previously, this search would have yielded an error message that said “British Airways does not fly all or part of this route.” You then had the option of searching another route or including oneworld partners in the search. We know that British Airways doesn’t serve Baltimore to Miami directly, so this error message was an annoying and unnecessary step in the search process. Now, the message has been eliminated. Availability on American Airlines pops right up!

There are several other changes to the partner award search. Now the logo of the partner airline is clearly displayed (it was previously only shown as text). That’s just a cosmetic tweak, but it still helps when trying to book a specific carrier.

The real improvement is in how you search for dates with availability. As you can see at the top of screenshot above, you can now hop around by date or jump to a different week. That’s a huge benefit, especially when availability is scarce and you are flexible in your travel days.

I happened to luck out. There was space from Washington-Reagan to Miami on the days I wanted. I selected the best flight times and was taken to the booking page for payment.

Avios award chart is distance based. Flights under 650 miles cost a mere 4,500 Avios. Flights 651-1151 miles cost 7,500 Avios. No other program can match those redemptions for low mileage cost. This award would be 25,000 miles if booked using American Airlines miles!

Are there any other partners you can search for using BA.com?

Absolutely! Japan Airlines, or JAL, is another oneworld partner that displays availability on BA.com. To test out the improved award search functionality, I plugged in a route that JAL serves directly: Boston <-> Tokyo-Narita in January.

With the old BA.com award search tool, you would have to first check British Airways routings (always via their hub at London-Heathrow). Only then could you include partners like JAL. Now, partner award space is included along with British Airways flights.

Cathay Pacific is another oneworld carrier that is easily searchable using BA.com’s booking tool. I was pulled up Cathay’s Chicago <-> Hong Kong direct flight in October. My initial dates weren’t available, but I could hop around days quickly using BA.com’s improved functionality.

As I mentioned earlier in the post, intra-South America flights are another solid use of your Avios. I plugged in Buenos Aires, Argentina <-> Lima, Peru. This route is served by oneworld partner LAN Airlines. I tried a sample date in October of next year.

Instead of immediately being told their was no availability on British Airways, I was immediately shown several great nonstop options on LAN.

At the booking page, I only had to pay 20,000 Avios + $103 in taxes/fees for the itinerary. A cursory check on Kayak showed nonstop itineraries for $545 and up! By booking using Avios, I would be redeeming them for 1.85 cents in value according to the Mile Value Calculator (545, 103, 20000, 3910). Flights within South America can be surprisingly expensive. Avios are one great method to hop around the continent.

Recap

British Airways’s Avios offer great redemptive value for shorthaul domestic flights as well as flights within South America, Australia, and South Africa. Unfortunately, searching for oneworld award availability on the site used to be an exercise in frustration.

You were initially forced to search British Airways availability before including partners in your query. Now, partner itineraries display along with British Airways flights. You can also jump around by day or week.

These are simple changes, but as I outlined above, the booking process is smoother and it is now a little bit easier to spend your Avios on otherwise very expensive short haul flights.

Avios aren’t the best currency for long haul flights from North America to Asia, but using BA.com is still a great method to search for Cathay Pacific and JAL award space, even if you plan on booking the flights with AAdvantage miles.