Happy 2014 everyone! Let me just start by saying that I hope this is a happy, healthy, points-filled year of wonderful travel, experiences and joy for us all. Now on to practical matters. As the elite status odometer resets with airlines and hotels, spending threshold counts go back to zero on credit cards, and major news comes down the pike, here’s what I think we can all expect in 2014.
1. The US Airways – American Airlines merger takes longer than planned. I don’t think this is too much of a surprise call given how rocky the pre-merger lead-up was, what with various court decisions, merger pauses and settlements so far. And we haven’t even gotten to the point of integration of two enormous companies, cultures and frequent flyer programs, so I think we’re all in for the long-haul, with plenty more headaches thrown in. There are some positive points, however, including the fact that we’ll still be able to book Star Alliance awards using US Airways miles through March and that means award chart sweet spots like 90,000 miles in business class to North Asia, and 110,000 miles roundtrip in business class to South Africa and the South Pacific, will still be bookable for a few more months (as long as you can find availability). It also means that the Barclaycard-issued US Airways Mastercard should still be available for a while – I’m going to predict another year – which means that you can score that 35,000 first-purchase bonus, and enjoy perks like reduced-price mileage awards, companion tickets and the chance to earn 10,000 elite-qualifying miles when you spend $25,000 in a calendar year, so there’s still time to leverage the card before the merger.
2. More devaluations…and more ways to earn. Unfortunately, 2013 was the year of the devaluation, with Aeroplan, Alaska, Delta, United, Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott and more all devaluing their awards programs and/or elite status status benefits so that award flights and nights are more expensive while frequent travelers see their loyalty translate into fewer and fewer perks. However, on the plus side, there are more ways than ever to earn points, miles and even elite status than ever. Credit card bonuses hit all-time highs this year with 100,000-point offers on the Platinum Amex and British Airways Visa, and several 75,000-point offers on the Amex Premier Rewards Gold and Business Gold Rewards cards, not to mention 60,000-point offers for the Chase Ink Bold and Ink Plus, and a bevy of bonuses at the 50,000-point or mile level. Not only that, but it’s easier than ever to get elite status, whether it’s through spending on a card like the Delta Reserve, Citi AAdvantage Executive World Mastercard, or US Airways Mastercard; or even just carrying the Platinum Amex, which awarded Gold status with both Hilton (if you called in by December 31, though this could possibly be extended) and Starwood. And while some airlines like Delta have made it harder to earn elite status on their partners, others, like Alaska, have expanded their partner points-earning opportunities, or those like Qatar and EVA have joined alliances so that flyers have more opportunities to earn and redeem miles on more airlines.
3. Amex will introduce a new credit card. Once the undisputed heavyweight of the travel credit card market thanks to the dominance of its Membership Rewards program and various transfer partners as well as perks-heavy cards like the Platinum and Business Platinum cards, Amex has seen its market share diminish lately thanks to upstarts like Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program and cards like the Sapphire Preferred and Ink Bold and Plus, as well as the versatile Barclaycard Arrival. But don’t count Amex out just yet. Though its stable of cards is still strong and it has some great co-branding partners like Delta and Starwood, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw the issuer strike back with a new credit card product that will shake up the whole marketplace. Personally, I’d like to see a card whose annual fee is under $100 like those of Chase, Barclaycard and Citi for the most part, that doesn’t carry foreign transaction fees (this is a big issue for Amex cards since the Platinum card is the only major travel credit card from the bank without forex fees) and that still provides great category spending bonuses like the Premier Rewards Gold‘s 3X on airfare and 2X on gas and groceries.
4. Chase launches a premium card to compete with the Platinum Amex. For its part, the one major kind of card I see missing from Chase’s stable of products is a premium product that offers perks competitive to those of the Platinum Amex. Sure, certain cards provide airport lounge access like the United Club card or the Ritz-Carlton Rewards card, which is actually pretty similar to the Platinum card in terms of benefits, but because those cards are co-branded, their versatility is more limited than the Platinum Amex in my opinion. Chase does offer the Palladium card to private banking customers, but in my opinion, the real game-changer would be a card that earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points and provides the same premium customer service and benefits as the Platinum card from Amex or possibly a few more thanks to Chase’s relationships with United (club access!), Hyatt (automatic elite status!), Marriott/Ritz-Carlton (automatic elite status!) and other co-branding partners.
5. American Airlines – US Airways award chart changes. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I think we can all agree that there are going to be some major negative changes thanks to this merger, including to their award charts. I think we’ll be stuck at American’s higher levels of 100-110,000 to Asia, 125,000 miles to the South Pacific and a whopping 150,000 miles to Africa. For American’s part, we might see the disappearance of its off-peak saver awards that mean redeeming only 40,000 miles for roundtrip economy award tickets to Europe and Southern South America at certain times. That is, until the new airline possibly announces another major devaluation that brings its new award chart in line with the recently devalued ones of Delta and United. On the positive side, I do see the new airline keeping some good elements of American’s program including systemwide upgrades and one-way awards.
6. American Airlines and Hyatt link up. Maybe this is a pipe dream, but this past year, we saw Delta and Starwood team up on the Crossover Rewards program to offer elites of the airline and hotel chain benefits and perks when flying and staying, and more recently, United and Marriott linked up with their similar RewardsPlus joint program for elites. I would love to see a partnership between two of my preferred travel brands, American Airlines and Hyatt, so that elites of both programs earn reciprocal benefits when flying or staying with the other. The popular thinking goes that Delta and Starwood both have Amex co-branded cards, and United and Marriott both have Chase co-branded cards, making this partnership easier, but although American is with Citi and Hyatt is with Chase, I still see this as a possibility and think that whether its with Hyatt or another brand, the new American Airlines will be looking for a hotel partner to get into bed with…so to speak.
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