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In this hobby, any announcement of impending changes to a program or credit card tends to breed panic. Ideally we’re given notice before a devaluation (like the upcoming changes to the Aeroplan program), but as Delta continually demonstrates, that isn’t always the case! Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen takes a look at some of the most recent changes — both good and bad.
This summer has seen a slew of these changes on a variety of popular travel rewards credit cards, so I wanted to quickly recap these changes and provide some analysis of whether these cards should now earn (or retain) a spot in your wallet.
Back in June, American Express announced several changes to both the personal and business versions of the SPG credit cards:
- No Foreign Transaction Fees — You can now enjoy international travel without foreign transaction fees from American Express when using the card for purchases abroad.
- Complimentary, Unlimited Boingo Wi-Fi — You’ll get complimentary, unlimited Wi-Fi access when you enroll in the Boingo American Express Preferred Plan. Receive Wi-Fi access on up to four devices to more than a million hotspots worldwide, and pay no Wi-Fi roaming fees.
- Complimentary Premium In-Room Internet Access — You won’t miss a beat while away from family, friends, or the office with complimentary premium in-room internet access at participating Starwood hotels.
- Sheraton Club Access — If you have the Starwood Preferred Guest Business card, you’ll get free access to Sheraton Clubs when you book rates that are eligible to earn Starpoints.
These changes kicked in on August 11th and actually led TPG to pay for an international hotel stay with the card for the very first time shortly thereafter! Of course, the added benefits weren’t completely free, as the annual fee was raised from $65 to $95.
This card is very popular among points and miles enthusiasts, mainly because Starwood points are so valuable. They regularly top TPG’s valuations (pegged at 2.5 cents apiece in his most recent version), so it’s no wonder that he recommends this card for everyday non-bonus spending. Even if this card is the only one in your wallet, you’ll still unlock incredible redemption options after just a year, though the limited-time sign-up bonus offer of 30,000 points is now expired.
The waived foreign transaction fees benefit has been a long time coming; in fact, the card topped Jason Steele’s list of cards that he hoped would get rid of these fees in 2015, so kudos to him and his foresight! Before August 11th, cardholders would pay 2.7% for transactions outside the US, an added fee that isn’t present on so many other top credit cards. I also really like the new Boingo benefit (similar to the perk offered to cardholders of The Platinum Card from American Express).
Whether these changes justify the additional annual fee depends on your specific situation, but the card is quite valuable and represents a solid value proposition. I (personally) always thought the $65 annual fee seemed a bit low in comparison to other top travel cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card ($95 annual fee waived the first year), so I was excited to see these benefits added with just a small increase to the annual fee.
Another card recently announced some changes that will go into effect November 15th: the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard will no longer charge foreign transaction fees as of that date (though the card will be losing the $100 American Airlines flight discount after spending $30,000 in a calendar year). This change will save cardholders 3% on foreign transactions and is also long overdue. The United MileagePlus Explorer Card hasn’t charged these fees since June 2013, and the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express removed them just last year.
This new benefit just adds to the value proposition of the card, which is currently offering 50,000 AAdvantage bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening. You’ll also enjoy travel benefits like a free checked bag and priority boarding, and will get 10% of your redeemed miles back (up to 10,000 miles every year).
On the negative end of the spectrum, in July Barclaycard announced some pretty significant devaluations to the Arrival Plus card. The redemption bonus will be dropping from 10% to 5%, and at the same time, the minimum threshold to redeem your miles for travel expenses is increasing from 5,000 miles to 10,000 miles. These changes go into effect in November for cardholders who got the card prior to September 30, 2014; if you got the card on or after October 1, 2014, you’ll enjoy the old rules until August 2016.
This final one isn’t so much a formal change to a card’s benefits as it is a change in policy for approval, and unfortunately it’s a negative one. Over the last few months, it’s become evident that Chase has started restricting applicants with a significant number of new accounts (from any issuer) from being approved for a card that accrues Ultimate Rewards points. This also includes the Ink Plus Business Card, which is currently offering an increased sign-up bonus of 60,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
The Sapphire Preferred is a TPG favorite, so it’s a shame that many out there might not have a chance to experience the wealth of benefits it provides (including primary rental car insurance). For more information on the card and why you should apply sooner rather than later, check out TPG’s post on 5 reasons to get the Sapphire Preferred now.
These changes come on the heels of many others over the first half of 2015, including the loss of the bonus night award benefit on the Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature Card and the addition of several new benefits to the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card. I’ve typically found that the points and miles hobby is at best a zero-sum game; whenever an airline or credit card improves its program, another goes in the opposite direction. While it’s nice to see some enhanced benefits on certain cards, it’s equally frustrating to see others lowering their value propositions. Fortunately, there are plenty of other options out there!
What do you think of these changes?
Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Named Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2016
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
- No foreign transaction fees
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
- No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards