How to Exploit the Southwest-Airtran Merger

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Deal originally posted April 22, 2012. Deal ends November 1, 2014. Post updated 10/13/14:

Southwest Airlines and Airtran Airways’ three-year merger is almost complete. For over two years, transfers have been allowed between Southwest’s Rapid Rewards loyalty program and Airtran’s A+ loyalty program.

These transfers present an arbitrage opportunity that caps roundtrip award flights at 19,200 Southwest points (the normal cost of a $274 award.)

This is a cool trick that can save you major Rapid Rewards. You can use this trick in conjunction with your Southwest Companion Pass (the best deal in travel).

  • How does this 19,200-cap trick work for the next few weeks?
  • How far in advance can you book Southwest flights?

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Southwest 50k Offers Are Back, Leverage Them for $3,142 in Free Flights

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I’m giving a talk at the Chicago Seminars next weekend about getting the Southwest Companion Pass. Perfect timing because the deal just resurfaced to potentially get the Companion Pass for all of 2015 and 2016.

Southwest is currently offering 50k bonus point sign ups on its personal and business credit cards after spending $2,000 in three months. You can leverage the offers for $3,142 in free flights.

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You can get both the personal and business cards at once, and after meeting their minimum spending requirements, you will have 104,000 Rapid Rewards post to your account.

Southwest has a fixed-value program in which you can get any Wanna Get Away? fare for 70 points for every dollar of the base fare. That means 104,000 points are worth $1,485 in free flights.

Earn another 6,000 Rapid Rewards with the cards or a few other ways–getting to 110k points total–and you will earn the best deal in all of travel hacking: a Southwest Companion Pass.

If you have the Southwest Companion pass, you can designate a companion who flies for $5.60 per direction on every Southwest flight you fly. That’s every Southwest flight–including paid tickets, regular awards, and special loophole awards–for all of 2015 and 2016 if you play this correctly.

The free travel from the 110k Rapid Rewards and Companion Pass are worth at least $3,142 even after Southwest’s recent devaluation.

  • What is a Southwest Companion Pass?
  • How can you get one from two credit cards?
  • How can you time this to make your companion pass last over 23 months?

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Where is the Space? American Airlines New Flat Bed Business Class

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For a long time, a major weakness of American Airlines miles has been that American Airlines Business Class featured exclusively angled lie flat seats. That is changing rapidly.

  • American’s newest plane, the 777-300ER, arrived with fully flat beds in Business Class. The plane serves some flights to Sao Paulo, London, and Hong Kong.
  • American Airlines’ 767 is being retrofitted with fully flat beds in Business Class. The retrofitted plane already flies several routes to Europe, and more retrofitted planes will serve more of Europe in the coming months.
  • American Airlines’ 777-200 is being retrofitted with fully flat beds in Business Class and will arrive “later this year” to serve undisclosed routes.

All three of these Business Class products look nice. The question is: what is the award space picture on these flat beds?

  • Where is the award space on AA’s new flat beds?
  • How can you book AA flat beds?
  • What is the best flat bed space with AA miles on non-AA planes?

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100 Free Award Wallet Upgrade Codes

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New Codes at 7:13 PM ET

Happy Aloha Friday. Enjoy one of these 100 free upgrade codes for six months of Award Wallet Plus. Award Wallet is the free way I track my 35 miles and points balances and store my login information for those programs.

Read more about Award Wallet.

Sign up for Award Wallet.

Click “Continue Reading” to see the codes. You may need to try a few before you find one that is unused.

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Up to 90,000 Bonus Miles on the Virgin Atlantic MasterCard

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The Virgin Atlantic World Elite MasterCard® is offering up to 90,000 bonus miles until October 15, but there are quite a few strings attached.

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The bottom line is that you earn 127,500 Virgin Atlantic miles after spending $25,000 in the first year on the card. The offer breaks down like this:

25,000 Immediate Miles after First Purchase & Annual Fee

  • 20,000 Flying Club bonus miles after your first retail purchase
  • Earn 2,500 Flying Club miles for each authorized user you add to the card up to 5,000 Flying Club bonus miles
  • The card has a $90 annual fee that is NOT waived the first year.

This is 25,000 total miles just for opening the card, adding two authorized users, making one purchase, and paying the $90 annual fee.

  • How can you earn the last 65,000 bonus miles?
  • What are the best uses of Virgin Atlantic miles?
  • Should you open this card?

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4 Business Class Award Seats Every Day Between USA and Asia

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There are four Business Class award seats available every day in June 2015 on Japan Airlines’ flight from Los Angeles to Osaka, Japan. Hat tip to reader Oren for passing along the tip.

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The award space is bookable with American Airlines and US Airways miles much for as low as 50,000 miles each way. There are excellent connection options to and from Los Angeles and Osaka, so this space effectively connects all of the United States with all of Asia.

Unfortunately the seat servicing the route is angled lie flat. I’d wryly note that there’s a reason it won a 2009 design award and not a 2014 award.

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  • How can you search for the award space?
  • How can you book the award space?
  • How good is the seat?
  • What are your connection options in Los Angeles and Osaka?

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20 Percent Bonus on Marriott to American Airlines Transfers

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Reader Steve passes along a great deal for people with lots of Marriott points.

Until October 31, 2014, you can get a 20% bonus when you transfer Marriott points to American Airlines miles.

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This includes Marriott-points-to-miles transfers and transfers of Marriott points to hotel and air packages.

  • What are hotel and air packages?
  • Why are hotel and air packages often a better deal than just transferring to miles?
  • What airline transfer partner of Marriott points is always 10-20% better than other options?

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$10 Credit for New and Existing Uber Users

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Uber is my favorite way to get around. I no longer call or flag down taxis. On a recent trip to San Francisco and Los Angeles, I didn’t rent a car, using Uber to get around instead.

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Uber is the world’s best taxi service because it has clean, courteous drivers and the easiest ride-ordering app imaginable. Tap, tap, tap, and a car whose progress you can track towards you is on its way.

American Express is currently running a promotion with Uber during which new and existing Uber customers can get a $10 American Express statement credit. Sync an American Express card to Twitter and use it to pay for an Uber ride in 2014 to get the $10 credit.

This $10 credit for new or existing users is in addition to the massive $30 in free credit to new users who sign up through a referral link. (Sign up with mine and I’ll also get one free ride up to $30. Leave your referral link in the comments if you’d like.)

Here’s how to get the $10 credit:

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Lufthansa MasterCard Now Offering 50k Bonus Miles for Two Free Roundtrips

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The 50,000 mile bonus offer has returned on the Premier Miles & More® World MasterCard® from Barclaycard.

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The Premier Miles & More® World MasterCard® now comes with 50,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 in the first 90 days. After meeting the spending requirement, you’ll have enough Lufthansa Miles & More miles for a roundtrip in business class to Europe.

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We’ve seen the same bonus run three times in the last two years, and it has been overwhelmingly popular. The normal bonus on the card is only 20,000 miles.

On the earning side, I think every aspiring traveler should get the Premier Miles & More® World MasterCard® for its:

  • sign up bonus
  • frequent targeted category bonuses
  • potential secondary spending bonus

Beyond the 55,000 miles you’ll get for spending $5,000 on the card in the first three months, occasionally the Lufthansa Miles & More card offers targeted category bonuses. For the first three months of 2014, I earned 3 miles per dollar at grocery stores with my Lufthansa card. Others were targeted for 6 miles per dollar.

And many of us also were offered 15k Bonus Lufthansa Miles for Spending $500 or $750 Per Month for Three Straight Months on the card.

With these promos, I earned over 73,000 Lufthansa miles on the card in less than a year.

On the redemption side, Lufthansa Miles & More miles can be used on any of the 27 Star Alliance airlines including United, Lufthansa, and Air New Zealand. There are three types of awards where Lufthansa miles shine:

  1. Mileage Bargains awards (30k miles roundtrip to Europe in economy, 55k miles roundtrip to Europe in Business Class)
  2. Awards without fuel surcharges (Alaska, Hawaii, domestic, Caribbean, Central America, and South America)
  3. Awards you can’t book with United miles (Lufthansa First Class more than 15 days in advance, Condor flights)

But the card is not for everyone. It depends on how you want to redeem the miles because for some awards, Lufthansa miles are a terrible value.

In this post, I will go in detail on the three classes of high value awards with tons of specific examples to show the best uses of the 50,000 mile sign up bonus.

This post is also a full primer of the Miles & More program for people who don’t know much about it and explains how to book online and by phone, two ways to save miles on a Miles & More booking, and comparisons between Miles & More and United MileagePlus.

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Asiana Sweet Spots: Lufthansa First Class for 50,000 Miles

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Asiana has the best award chart in the Star Alliance. That means that you can book any of the 27 Star Alliance airlines, including United, for fewer miles on many routes with Asiana miles than with better known programs like United, Lufthansa, LifeMiles, Singapore, and Air Canada.

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Asiana is a 1:1 transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints. As usual with Starpoints transfers, you get 5,000 bonus Asiana miles for every 20,000 Starpoints transferred.

If you can get your hands on Asiana miles, you can book insanely cheap awards like:

  • Lufthansa First Class between the United States and Europe for 50,000 Asiana miles one way vs. 110,000 United miles
  • United First Class between the continental United States and Hawaii for 27,500 Asiana miles one way vs. 40,000 United miles
  • United Global First between the United States and Southern South America for 45,000 Asiana miles one way vs. 70,000 United miles

Unfortunately some Asiana awards have fuel surcharges, and it took 17 days for my transfer of Starpoints to reach Asiana miles. Continue reading for:

  • Comparison tables of United award chart versus Asiana award chart
  • Fuel surcharge info on Asiana awards

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Delta Ends Round the World Awards Effective 1/1/15

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According to Delta’s website: “Round-the-World Award Tickets will not be issued on or after January 1, 2015.” (Hat Tip Delta Points)

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I called Delta at 800-323-2323 to ask about booking a RTW award, and the agent said that it was just announced today to representatives that RTW awards would no longer be bookable starting January 1, 2015. She said it was a short communique announcing their demise.

I mused aloud, “I wonder why,” to see if she had any insight into the thinking. She didn’t, replying with “I wonder too.”

Delta RTW awards are a specialty of the MileValue Award Booking Service, and a good value since they were untouched by last year’s double devaluation of the Delta chart.

I”ll give a brief rundown of the rules and prices for Delta RTW awards, so that you can book or plan one before the January 1, 2015 ticketing deadline.

  • What are the rules for a Delta RTW award?

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Citi ThankYou Points Free Sharing Between Accounts

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Citi ThankYou Points, which transfer to nine airlines plus Hilton, can be freely shared among ThankYou accounts.

Right now the Citi ThankYou® Premier Rewards Card offers up to 50,000 bonus ThankYou® Points.

  • Earn 20,000 points after $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn an additional 30,000 points after another $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of your second year of being a cardmember

If you and your travel partner have both offered this card or if you have opened the ThankYou Premier and the Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card, you can freely combine balances before redeeming the points for airline miles or free flights.

  • What is the one big restriction on shared points?
  • What are the two best ways to redeem ThankYou Points?

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Bonus US Miles on Gas Stations, Dining, and Department Stores

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Barclaycard sent me a targeted email because I have The US Airways® Premier World MasterCard®. My email offers me 2 bonus miles (3x total) at gas stations, restaurants, department stores, toy stores, and game stores until December 31, 2014.

Screen Shot 2014-10-03 at 5.44.20 PMCheck your email now for the subject line “Three easy ways to earn bonus miles.” In past promotions, US Airways® Premier World MasterCard® cardholders have been offered 2x to 10x bonus miles, so you may have a higher earning rate than me.

  • How can you activate the bonus categories?
  • What’s the cap on bonus miles earned during the promotion?
  • Will the US Airways card crack the Three Cards in My Wallet?

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End of Amazon Payments Free $1,000 Transfer

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You have one week left to make your last free $1,000 transfer on Amazon Payments with a credit card. The ability to manufacture spending this way ends October 12, 2014.

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Tricks to Get the Guy in Front of You Not to Recline

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My former law professor penned a fascinating article for Slate that touches on the Coase theorem, endowment effects, and social norms.

I’m sharing it here because I think the article has some amazing nuggets on how to get the guy in front of you not to recline your seat.

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My last Allegiant flight, this guy on the left is praying no one reclines

The last few times I’ve flown economy, I got my own row or ponied up for Allegiant’s Giant Seats, but the next time I’m not so lucky, I may try one of these moves.

Basically these two law professors set up some online questionnaires and asked people:

  • How much would you pay the person in front of you not to recline if they have the right to recline?
  • How much would you pay to recline if the person behind you had the right not to be reclined upon?
  • If someone offered you $X, would you abstain from reclining? What if they offered to buy you a drink or snack that costs $X?

The results were fascinating, and I think I’m going to be having a conversation with the person in front of me on my upcoming economy flights. (I’ve got eight (!) coming up in the next six weeks, which will definitely be the most economy I’ve flown since I flew around Europe to a different country every day for a week.)

  • How much do people value reclining?
  • How can you get them not to recline on you?

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