The Points Guy http://thepointsguy.com Tue, 22 Jul 2014 22:44:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 What Are Points and Miles Worth? July Monthly Valuations http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/what-are-points-and-miles-worth-july-monthly-valuations/ http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/what-are-points-and-miles-worth-july-monthly-valuations/#comments Tue, 22 Jul 2014 18:42:20 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=87491

One of the questions I’m asked most often is “how much is a point or mile worth?” That question varies from person to person and depends on how well you can maximize a particular currency for your needs. Still, some points are worth more than others.

How much are all those points and miles really worth?

How much are all those points and miles really worth?

To give readers – both old and new – some context, I’ve included my valuation of points from 2013 and from the last month, as well as explanations for any changes in value (like devaluations or new fees). The July list now features Avianca Lifemiles and includes a big increase in value for Citi Thank You Points, since they just started adding new transfer partners. I also noted which credit cards out there can help you rack points up fastest, in case you decide you want to focus in on a loyalty currency you haven’t considered previously.

The Calculations I’ll be honest, there isn’t a mathematical formula at work here. At some point I’d like to create a system that could calculate a precise value based on award availability, fees, award levels, and ease of accrual, but for now these valuations are based on a combination of how much I would pay to buy points if given the opportunity, and the overall value I could get from redeeming them. I encourage you to share your thoughts where you think I’m off base (and on point, no pun intended), and I’ll take TPG reader feedback into consideration when I update the list next month. This list doesn’t include every currency under the sun, and I’ll work to add more moving forward, so let me know which you’d like to see featured.

PROGRAM 2013 (cents) June 2014   (cents) July 2014 (cents) What Changed/ News?
American Express Membership Rewards 1.9 1.8 1.8 Hawaiian Airlines transfer bonus. New Uber redemption option (though not great value).
Barclaycard Arrival Miles 0.5-1.1 0.5-1.1 0.5-1.1 Rising TSA fees add an attractive redemption option for fixed value points.
Capital One 1 1 1 40,000 mile limited time sign-up bonus after $3,000 in 3 months
Chase Ultimate Rewards 2.2 2.1 2.1 Shopping portal drops Orbitz, Travelocity, and Priceline bonuses. Sapphire Preferred drops 7% annual dividend.
Citi ThankYou 1.3 1.1 1.5 Added 7 new transfer partners, including one in each of the major airline alliances.
FlexPerks 1.33-2 1.33-2 1.33-2
Aeroplan 1.9 1.6 1.6
Alaska 1.8 2 2
American 1.9 1.7 1.7  Partner Etihad announces new nonstop service between Abu Dhabi and SFO, DFW.
Avianca - - 1.7 Announced program changes (i.e., devaluation) for October.
British Airways 1.6 1.7 1.7
Delta 1.5 1.2 1.2 June 1 devaluation has passed, more potentially on the way in 2015.
Flying Blue 1.3 1.3 1.3
Frontier 1.3 1.2 1.2
JetBlue 1-1.3 1-1.7 1-1.7 Added Mint business class service with better returns. Also, see American above.
Singapore Airlines 1.5 1.5 1.5 Now a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, as well as Membership Rewards and SPG.
Southwest 1.8 1.4 1.4 50,000 point credit card offers give the opportunity for easy companion pass accrual
United 2 1.5 1.5 Announced future change to revenue-based earning program.
US Airways 1.8 1.9 1.9 Minor increases in award levels and increase of domestic first class 3 cabin awards, but continued buy and share miles bonuses kept the value the same as last month.
Virgin America 1.5-2.3 1.5-2.3 1.5-2.3
Virgin Atlantic 1.4 1.5 1.5
Club Carlson 0.7 0.6 0.6 Flash sales allows for banking more points at a good price
Hilton 0.7 0.5 0.5
Hyatt 2 1.8 1.8
IHG 0.7 0.7 0.7 Negative changes to Points Break bookings, but not enough to shift the value fundamentally
Marriott 0.7 0.7 0.7 Announced plans to add Atlantis Resort and Casino to the Marriott Autograph Collection this fall.
Starwood 2.4 2.3 2.6 50% July transfer bonuses to American and US Airways is a short-term boost to value.

Movers and Shakers

There wasn’t too much moving and shaking this month. Citi ThankYou Rewards and SPG went up, while Avianca Lifemiles declined. There was also some lateral movement as several programs announced small changes that weren’t enough to alter point and mile values.

Citi logo

Citi ThankYou Points

June Value: 1.1 cents July Value: 1.5 cents Why it changed: Citi ThankYou Rewards just added 7 new airline transfer partners for Citi ThankYou Premier and Citi ThankYou Prestige cardholders, including Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, and Garuda Indonesia, which gives ThankYou Rewards a transfer partner in all three major airline alliances. All of the new partners transfer at 1:1. ThankYou points also transfer to Hilton HHonors at a ratio of 1 to 1.5. Without one of those cards, points can be redeemed for travel and gift cards for 1 cent apiece, which represents the minimum value you should expect to get for ThankYou Rewards. If Citi were to extend the transfer option to all cards that earn ThankYou points, the valuation would jump even higher. Associated Credit Cards: Citi ThankYou Premier, Citi PrestigeCiti ThankYou Preferred.

Starwood Preferred Guest
June Value: 2.3 cents July Value: 2.6 cents Why it changed: SPG hasn’t made huge program changes, but they’ve been offering a ton of decent deals to use points for concerts and even for a luxury box at the US Open tennis tournament in NYC. There is also a strong promotional offer going on that increases the point values for transfers to American Airlines and US Airways where you can can earn up to a 50% bonus, which can be leveraged into valuable business and first class awards. Associated Credit Cards: Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American ExpressStarwood Preferred Guest Business Card from American Express

Avianca Lifemiles
June Value:
 Not listed July Value: 1.7 cents Valuation: Avianca Lifemiles is a quirky program that I used to count among my top ten foreign frequent flier programs. Lifemiles offer good value on flights to South America, but Avianca just announced program changes (better known as devaluation) planned for October, 2014. It’s not a complete overhaul and there’s still plenty of value to be had, but anyone sitting on a pile of Lifemiles should plan to use them sooner rather than later. Associated Credit Cards: Lifemiles Visa Signature from US Bank.

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Flight Review: Cathay Pacific Economy BKK-HKG http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/flight-review-cathay-pacific-economy-bkk-hkg/ http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/flight-review-cathay-pacific-economy-bkk-hkg/#comments Tue, 22 Jul 2014 14:25:51 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=86945

During his recent round-the-world trip, TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen took a few regional flights within Asia. Here’s how he scored a good-value award on Cathay Pacific, and his review of the service in economy from Bangkok to Hong Kong.

One of the loose ends in my big itinerary traveling around the world was how to get back to Hong Kong so I could catch my continuing award itinerary to Europe and finally to the US as I flew around the world.

I spent about two and a half weeks traipsing through the rest of Southeast Asia, including Bali, Myanmar and Laos, and I had to get back from Luang Prabang to Hong Kong to connect to my award itinerary – though I planned to spend the weekend in Hong Kong before resuming my travel. I didn’t realize, however, how limited my options were for getting back to Hong Kong until I started looking into airfares from Luang Prabang.

It was a stormy day in Luang Prabang, but my Bangkok Airways flight still made it out on time.

It was a stormy day in Luang Prabang, but my Bangkok Airways flight still made it out on time.

Connecting in Bangkok

While the city is becoming a major tourist destination in the region, there are still very few flight options, and travelers are stuck transiting through Vientiane, Bangkok, Chiang Mai or Hanoi from what I could find. Unfortunately, the transit options through Vietnam required an overnight stay (and thus a visa), and connecting from Vientiane or Chiang Mai to Hong Kong required yet another stop. So it seemed like my best option was to try to catch a cheap flight from Luang Prabang to Bangkok and continue on from there.

Most of the reasonably priced flights from Bangkok to Hong Kong on the day I needed to travel were in the morning, but the earliest flight I could get from Luang Prabang to Bangkok landed at about 2:45 pm. The best connection I could hope for was a Cathay Pacific flight that departed at 4:10 pm. I’d be cutting it close, but Cathay has an interline agreement with some Bangkok Airways flights, and I figured I could check my bags all the way through to avoid revisiting customs and immigration and having to check in again during my layover (that is, if things at the airport worked as they should, which I had my doubts about).

My other option would have been to catch a much later flight and get into Hong Kong past 11 pm – too late to meet friends for dinner as I had planned.

The Cathay flight I needed was pricing out at nearly $700!

The Cathay flight I needed was pricing out at nearly $700!

Avios to the Rescue

The other concern, however, was that the connecting Cathay flight I wanted was pricing out at a whopping $678, even for economy! That was way too much money for me to shell out on a connection (and almost as much as my first class ticket has been on the same route on Emirates in November), so I started looking into other options.

My first thought was to log into my Executive Club account on BritishAirways.com and check award availability on the day I was traveling. The site pulled up a ton of flights on partners including SriLankan, Royal Jordanian and, luckily, Cathay Pacific, including the exact flight I wanted.

The award ticket priced out at 7,500 Avios + $46 thanks to BA’s distance-based awards – a value of about 8.4 cents per point. But with the Avios + cash options, I found I could use as few as 2,500 Avios along with a higher cash co-pay of $111. So for an extra $65, I was saving 5,000 Avios, a rate of 1.3 cents per Avios. I was willing to pay a little extra cash to save Avios at that rate, and it brought my redemption value (2,500 Avios accounting for $567 in airfare) up to a whopping 22.7 cents per point!

I ended up spending 2,500 Avios and $111.

I ended up spending 2,500 Avios and $111.

This is just another example of how maximizing BA’s distance-based awards can reap hugely valuable benefits. Granted, this flight was pretty overpriced considering airfares average about $200-$300 on this route, but it was the best option I had and one I was willing to pay for at that rate.

Transiting

At the airport in Luang Prabang, the Bangkok Airways check-in rep was able to check my bag all the way through to Hong Kong, but couldn’t check me in or give me a boarding pass for the Cathay flight, which I would have to do in Bangkok.

When I arrived in Bangkok, I checked the gate information for my new flight and walked pretty much the entire length of the airport to my new terminal, where I found the transit check-in counters of various airlines on the same level as the gates, but before the gate area and lounges started.

No one else was in line at Cathay, so I stepped right up to the counter, was given a bulkhead aisle seat, and had my boarding pass in hand within a matter of minutes.

Waiting to board the Cathay A330 to Hong Kong.

Waiting to board the Cathay A330 to Hong Kong.

The Flight

My flight was aboard a regional A330, configured with two classes. It’s a big dual-aisle plane, but it was only about 40% full, so boarding went quickly and I had no one sitting next to me.

The economy cabins have 267 seats configured in a 2 x 4 x 2 arrangement with Cathay’s new shell recline economy seats installed. Each seat is 17.5 inches wide and has 32 inches of pitch, and “reclines” 6 inches. However, this isn’t your normal seat recline where the seatback swings back. Instead, it reclines somewhat, but the softer part of the seat slides down in the shell and the seat cushion extends out, so it’s more like slumping. This is good for fellow passengers because your knees don’t get banged or your laptop screen crunched if the person in front of you reclines too fast.

Economy seats on the Cathay A330.

Economy seats on the Cathay A330.

However, it basically amounts to hunching in your seat, so I’m not sure I find it any more comfortable than a traditional plane seat. It was comfortable enough for a quick flight, though, and I had extra legroom thanks to being in the bulkhead, so I was content.

Each economy seat has its own video on-demand in-flight entertainment system with a 9-inch touchscreen (there ‘s also a handheld console). There are a couple dozen channels of movies, television shows, music and games. I watched some Game of Thrones on my flight. Flight attendants handed out headsets at the beginning of the flight.

A shot of the economy cabin.

A shot of the economy cabin.

The flight is just over 2 hours long, though because of traffic at Bangkok and Hong Kong, it’s budgeted closer to 3 hours. It took off about 4:10 pm and arrived in Hong Kong just before 8 pm local time, so there was a quick dinner meal service onboard about half an hour into the flight.

The IFE screens onboard my flight - entertainment options were decent.

The IFE screens onboard my flight – entertainment options were decent.

Meal Service

The choices were some sort of steamed fish, and a chicken curry dish with veggies, steamed rice, melon and a Kit Kat bar for dessert. I had a few bites, but the chicken didn’t seem cooked all the way through, so I left most of it (I stowed the Kit Kat for later).

Dinner service concluded pretty quickly – as I mentioned, it was not a full flight – and I settled back to enjoy another episode of GOT and an absolutely spectacular sunset on the descent before we landed.

My dinner tray from the flight.

My dinner tray from the flight.

We got in at the same time as a United 747 arrived from the US, so I tried to book it as fast as possible to immigration and managed to avoid a huge line. My bag took just a couple more minutes to arrive at the carousel, and I was on my way to the Airport Express train and the city. It took me about an hour from when we hit the ground to arrive at my hotel – not bad for a huge city like Hong Kong!

Thoughts

Given the limited options for getting from Luang Prabang to Hong Kong and my tight scheduling, I was actually a little stressed about this leg of my trip, but everything worked out perfectly and I had no issues with my flights whatsoever.

It was also a huge relief to be able to use my British Airways Avios to save hundreds of dollars and keep my travel affordable. (I have a bunch stockpiled thanks to carrying the British Airways Visa as well as the Sapphire Preferred and Ink Plus, both of which earn Ultimate Rewards points that transfer instantly to BA at a 1:1 ratio.)

I was happy with my bulkhead seat for the short flight.

I was happy with my bulkhead seat for the short flight.

If I had to do it again, I might reevaluate the order in which I visited the various destinations on my trip to ease my transit. However, I was happy to get the chance to experience Cathay Pacific’s regional economy service. The cabin was really comfortable, the crew were professional, courteous and diligent, and the flight experience itself was relaxing and pleasant.

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Maximizing Citi Hilton Reserve Free Nights http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/maximizing-citi-hilton-reserve-free-nights/ http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/maximizing-citi-hilton-reserve-free-nights/#comments Tue, 22 Jul 2014 12:16:10 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=87388

Today, TPG Contributor Nick Ewen offers insight into how (and where) to use the 2 free weekend nights that come with the Citi Hilton Reserve card. 

One of the best hotel credit cards out there right now is the Citi Hilton Reserve Visa card. I added it to my wallet just a few months after it was first released, and it has provided a number of key benefits, including automatic Gold status, no foreign transaction fees, and 10 points/$ at Hilton properties (see the above post for full details). However, the one benefit that makes this card a must-have for me is the ability to earn free night certificates.

As a new cardholder, when you spend $2500 in the first four months of cardmembership, you’ll receive two free weekend nights at almost any hotel in the Hilton HHonors portfolio. Then, any year in which you spend $10,000 on the card, you’ll earn another free weekend night upon your account anniversary. In this post I’ll provide some additional details on these certificates, including strategies that will help you get the most out of them.

The all-inclusive Hilton Rose Hall is one resort at which you cannot use your free night certificates.

The all-inclusive Hilton Rose Hall is one resort at which you cannot use your free night certificates.

For starters, it’s important to keep in mind that there are a handful of hotels where you cannot redeem these certificates. They basically include two types of properties: all-inclusive resorts, and so-called “distinctive” properties. The latter of these two are generally smaller (boutique) properties or condo-style properties, many of which are Hilton Grand Vacations locations.

For only 36 “specialty” locations to be excluded is a really small number (less than 1% of Hilton’s more than 3,900 properties worldwide). In addition, many of these locations are ones that you shouldn’t redeem certificates or points at anyways, since they aren’t overwhelmingly expensive. For example, take the all-inclusive Doubletree in Costa Rica, where rooms over Thanksgiving weekend start at just $218 or 50,000 points per night. At less than half a cent per point, this is clearly not an optimal redemption, and you could get much better value from a free night certificate elsewhere.

Hilton defines a "weekend night" as either Friday, Saturday, or Sunday night.

Hilton defines a “weekend night” as either Friday, Saturday, or Sunday night.

Next, let’s go through some logistics of these certificates. According to Hilton, “weekend” night means these certificates are valid on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday nights. Another important detail is the actual spend. Like most credit cards, the $95 annual fee does not count towards your spending requirement, so be sure to factor that in if you’re cutting it close.

Also, for the anniversary certificate, it’s important to note that the $10,000 spend must be completed in the cardmembership year (as opposed to the calendar year). In other words, if you open your card on August 2nd, you have until August 1st of the next year to meet the $10,000 spend threshold. (Note that the $95 annual fee again doesn’t count towards this spend.)

Probably the most important logistical question is when and how the certificates are delivered. After meeting the minimum spend, whether it’s $2500 for the two sign-up bonus nights or $10,000 for the anniversary free night, you must wait for your statement to close. In other words, if you meet the minimum spend with a purchase on September 12th and your statement doesn’t close until October 9th, you’ll have to wait at least until then to receive the certificates. This is different from other cards (like the Barclaycard Arrival) that reward the sign-up bonus as soon as the qualifying transactionposts; with this card, the statement that contains the qualifying transaction must close to trigger the free night certificates.

Free night certificates like this are e-mailed to cardholders.

Free night certificates like this are emailed to cardholders.

From there, when you actually receive the certificate varies (unfortunately). The official T&C do not give a timeline for the sign-up bonus free nights, but they do say to allow 6 to 8 weeks from the membership anniversary to receive the free night certificate:

In practice, it appears that most of the sign-up bonus free nights are delivered (via e-mail) to the cardholder approximately 2-4 weeks after the qualifying statement closes. Mine arrived approximately two weeks after the statement closed, though this may vary. Each certificate will come in a separate e-mail. The anniversary certificate, meanwhile, has some greater variation in delivery time. This thread on FlyerTalk has some reports of two weeks, others of the 6-8 weeks described in the T&C, and still others at 12 weeks or longer. So what gives?

You’re basically at the mercy of Citibank and Hilton communicating properly. The free night certificates are connected to your Hilton account, but Citibank must tell Hilton HHonors that you have spent the $10,000 needed to earn the anniversary bonus. Apparently, something gets lost during this process. Fortunately, the aforementioned thread includes posts from Hilton HHonors’ new FlyerTalk rep, Anthony (“HHonors Representative” is his handle). He indicates that Hilton is aware of these issues and is working to resolve them. He also encourages members to send him a personal message if they haven’t received their certificate within the published timeframe.

One other thing to keep in mind; I have found that the free night certificates come to the email address listed on my credit card account, not the one on my Hilton HHonors account (in case they’re different). Since I travel predominantly for work, my company email is the one I use for Hilton, whereas my personal address is on file with Citibank. Even though the certificates come from Hilton, they’re delivered using Citibank’s email, and not the one used by Hilton HHonors.

Using Free Night Certificates

Every certificate from the Hilton Reserve card has a unique certificate ID associated with it, and you’ll need these when making a reservation. The certificates are valid for one year from the date of issuance, and mine have always arrived in my inbox on the date they were issued, so (ideally) the expiration clock won’t start until then.

Even though the certificates are connected to your Hilton account, they’re not listed anywhere online, in sharp contrast to the free night certificates offered by the Hyatt Visa. However, I have found that the Hilton HHonors phone reps can see these certificates when calling to book, so while it’s always nice to have a physical copy of them, you don’t need to worry about losing them permanently if you accidentally delete the email(s).

If you wanted to redeem your certificate(s) at the Conrad Maldives, you would need to find standard room rewards.

If you wanted to redeem your certificate(s) at the Conrad Maldives, you would need to find standard room rewards.

As I mentioned earlier, the certificates are valid at any Hilton property aside from the all-inclusive and “specialty” resorts linked to above. However, they can only be redeemed when a “standard room reward” is available. As a result, the first step towards actually using them is to open up the Hilton HHonors website and make sure that your desired property has a standard room available on the dates you want to travel. For example, if you wanted to use your free night certificates at the Conrad Maldives (following TPG’s example from last year), you would need to make sure they have either a King Beach Villa or a Twin Beach Villa at 95,000 points/night. A King or Twin Deluxe Villa falls into the “Premium Room Rewards” category, and thus cannot be booked using the free night certificate.

Once you’ve chosen a hotel and dates, all you need to do is call up Hilton HHonors at 1-800-HHONORS. Unfortunately, there isn’t any way to make these reservations online.

If you’re at all worried about availability, there is a way to make a speculative booking before you actually have the certificates in hand. As long as you have the necessary number of points in your account, you can make a standard Hilton HHonors redemption at the desired property. This will immediately deduct points from your account and generate a new “certificate” for the stay. Then, when you receive the free night certificate(s), call the number above and explain to the rep that you have an existing reservation and would like to use the certificate(s) for the stay instead of points. They should be able to swap out the certificates and refund the points to your account.

My wife and I redeemed free night certificates at the stunning Waldorf Astoria in Park City, Utah.

My wife and I redeemed free night certificates at the stunning Waldorf Astoria in Park City, Utah.

My wife and I used this technique when we redeemed our two free nights for a President’s Day skiing trip to Park City, Utah, where we wanted to spend two nights at the Waldorf Astoria. Figuring that standard rooms would likely sell out, I made an advance reservation for two nights at 80,000 points/night. Then, a little more than a month ahead of our arrival date, I received the two free night certificates from the card. As expected, there were no more standard rooms available using points. However, I called the Diamond line, and the rep was able to refund the 160,000 points, apply the two free night certificates, and keep the reservation intact. This was well over a year ago, so things may have changed since then, but this could be a way to lock in a reservation and then use the certificates once you have them.

Maximizing Free Night Certificates

Now that we’ve gone through the logistics of earning and redeeming free night certificates, it’s time to take a look at the best ways to maximize them. In no particular order, here are some things to consider:

The low paid rates at the Hilton Bonnet Creek made using the certificates a less valuable proposition.

The low rates at the Hilton Bonnet Creek make using certificates a less valuable proposition.

1) Look for expensive room rates. At the end of the day, any time we can use points or certificates, we’re keeping money in our pocket. I generally find that these certificates are (or at least seem to be) much more valuable when used for more expensive rooms. For example, my wife and I recently took a one-night “staycation” to Orlando, and we were looking at both the Hilton Bonnet Creek and Waldorf Astoria. However, paid rates at the two properties were only $107 and $168, respectively. It felt like a waste to use a certificate when the paid rates were so low. We wound up booking the Hilton Bonnet Creek at the paid rate.

2) Use over special events or holidays. I’ve found that Hilton HHonors is pretty good about their no blackout dates policy. If there is a standard room available, you can use points (or certificates) to book it, and generally speaking, this should apply even during peak periods when the paid rates are exorbitant.

There are still standard rooms available in Munich for Oktoberfest!

There are still standard rooms available in Munich for Oktoberfest!

For example, take the Hilton Munich City during Oktoberfest. As a Category 8 property, redemption rates are 70,000 points/night in September, and there are actually still some dates with standard rooms available at the end of that month (Oktoberfest starts on 9/20). However, the revenue rate jumps from just  106 per night on 9/14 to  559 per night after 9/20! If you can book early enough, the free night certificates can be very valuable around special events.

As a Category 10 property, the Hilton Labriz in the Seychelles is a terrific property at which to redeem your certificates.

As a Category 10 property, the Hilton Labriz in the Seychelles is a great candidate for redeeming free night certificates.

3) Redeem at high category properties. In addition to considering the paid rate for a stay, you should also look at the redemption rate using points. Using a free night certificate will always result in out-of-pocket savings; however, it will also save you Hilton HHonors points. Some of the more popular resorts at which to use these certificates are the eight Category 10 properties:

  • Doubletree New York
  • Grand Wailea
  • Conrad Koh Samui
  • Conrad Maldives
  • Conrad Tokyo
  • Hilton Bora Bora
  • Hilton Labriz
  • Hilton Maldives

You’ll also get good bang for your buck at many Waldorf Astoria properties, like my wife and I experienced in Park City last February. I generally don’t consider using free night certificates on rooms that require fewer than 50,000 points per night, but you can determine what redemption value works for you. The Hilton HHonors website has a handy standard room pricing tool that will help you decide. Remember that many properties now offer seasonal pricing, so a Category 8 hotel may require more points than a Category 9 property at certain points during the year.

The Hilton Quebec costs more points in June than May, so I thought about using the certificate for the last (most expensive) night of our stay there.

The Hilton Quebec costs more points in June than in May, so I thought about using the certificate for the last (most expensive) night of our stay there.

4) Redeem for stays that spill over into a month with higher pricing. With the new seasonal pricing model of the program, you may find that a stay with dates in two months has a rate change in the middle. This actually happened to me earlier this year. My wife and I spent three nights  (May 30 to June 1) at the Hilton in Quebec City, which is a Category 6 property requiring 30,000 – 50,000 points/night. They charge 40,000 points per night in May, but the rate jumps to 50,000 points/night in June.

Since the last night of the stay was more pricey, I thought about redeeming 80,000 points for the first two nights and using the certificate for the last night. I wound up not going in this direction, but it was nice to have as an option. Granted, 10,000 points isn’t a huge savings, but depending on the property, the difference could be much higher. The Grand Wailea, for example, jumps from 70,000 points/night in June to 95,000 points/night in July.

5) Extend AXON or five-night stays. There’s no question that four-night AXON stays are no longer as valuable as they were in the past, and with last year’s devaluation, elite members no longer have access to GLON redemptions that offered a consistent discount for stays of six nights or longer. Instead, with the program’s new fifth night free option, five- or ten-night stays are now the sweet spot in terms of trip length. If you’re looking for a six- or seven-night vacation, book a five-night stay using points (essentially offering a 25% discount) and then use the certificates for the extra night or two instead of being forced to pay the standard points rate for those extra nights. Just remember that the fifth night free benefit only applies to elite members (though you’ll earn automatic Gold status through the Reserve card).

Everyone has their own way of valuing these certificates, and what represents an optimal redemption for one person may be a total waste to another. However, this card really is, in my opinion, a must-have, even if for the free night certificates alone.

How have you used (or how to do you plan to use) your free night certificates from the Citi Hilton Reserve? Please share your own experiences and questions in the comments below!

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Citi ThankYou Rewards Adds New Transfer Partners http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/citi-thankyou-rewards-adds-new-transfer-partners/ http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/citi-thankyou-rewards-adds-new-transfer-partners/#comments Tue, 22 Jul 2014 01:25:46 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=87565

Citi ThankYou Rewards has for a long time been the pipsqueak little brother to the major transferable points programs: Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest. Without transfer options, the most you could hope to get from ThankYou points was about 1.25 cents apiece, and that was only for Citi Premier and Citi Prestige cardholders who redeemed for travel through the ThankYou Rewards travel center. Otherwise, ThankYou points were generally worth just 1 cent each toward gift cards or travel for other cardholders.

Now it seems Citi is stepping up its game with the introduction of 7 new transfer partners to go alongside its one existing partner, Hilton HHonors.

The new partners include:

  • Cathay Pacific
  • EVA Air
  • Etihad
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Qatar Airways
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Thai Airways

The standouts are Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific, plus Garuda Indonesia, which helps give ThankYou Rewards a door into all three airline alliances (Star Alliance, OneWorld, and SkyTeam, respectively). All of these partners transfer at a 1:1 ratio, while Hilton transfers at 1,500 HHonors points : 1,000 ThankYou points).

While the new transfer options are still restricted to Citi ThankYou Premier, Citi Prestige, and Citi Chairman cardholders, they open up a world of possibilities for ThankYou Rewards, adding massive value not only to the points themselves, but to the Citi credit cards used to earn them. The Citi ThankYou Premier, for example, comes with a sign-up bonus of 50,000 ThankYou points: 20,000 after you spend $2,000 in the first three months of cardmembership, plus another 30,000 after spending $3,000 in the first three months of the second year of cardmembership. The annual fee of $125 is waived for the first year, but not the second.

Formerly, those 50,000 points were worth about $625 in travel. I would now value ThankYou points at no less than 1.5 cents apiece, and probably slightly higher due to their flexibility. That means the Citi ThankYou Premier now offers at least $750 worth of value, 20% more than before these transfer options were available.  The same could be said of points earned from other ThankYou Rewards cards, like the Citi ThankYou Preferred. Since ThankYou points can be combined between accounts, all the points you earn on other cards will also be eligible for transfer partners once you have the Premier, Prestige, or Chairman cards.

Citi ThankYou Premier 50k

The Citi ThankYou Premier just got a lot more interesting.

It’s always nice to be able to report an increase in the value of points and miles. This improvement by Citi is only good news for frequent fliers, as it not only increases the value of ThankYou Rewards, but also puts a new, legitimate competitor in the ring of transferable point programs. Hopefully this is a sign of more good things to come from Citi.

Hat Tip: View From the Wing

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Malaysia Airlines Offers Refunds on All 2014 Flights http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/malaysia-airlines-offers-refunds-on-all-2014-flights/ http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/malaysia-airlines-offers-refunds-on-all-2014-flights/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 20:53:32 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=87537

Like most people, I’m still struggling to comprehend the tragedy that is Malaysia Airlines flight 17. Unlike the last Malaysian Airlines tragedy where endless questions remain unanswered, this incident looks to be exclusively the handiwork of terrorists, and the full effects are yet to be seen.

This incident could have happened to any airline, and arguably there isn’t much that Malaysian could have done to avoid getting shot out of the air by a missile. However, they recently announced a customer refund policy that will likely cause huge losses for the already struggling carrier. Today through Thursday, July 24, 2014, Malaysian Airlines is offering its passengers the opportunity to cancel or postpone all tickets that are valid for travel until Wednesday, December 31, 2014, including those booked as non-refundable.

Image of Malaysia Airlines' planes at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL) courtesy of Faiz Zaki/Shutterstock

Image of Malaysia Airlines’ planes at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL) by Faiz Zaki/Shutterstock

The following policy is effective immediately and will be honored until Thursday, July 24, 2014:

- Passengers who wish to postpone or cancel their travel plans (including those booked with non-refundable tickets) can obtain a refund;

- Members of Enrich, Malaysia Airline’s frequent flyer program, will also receive fee waivers for any changes to their travel itinerary, as well as refunds of miles should they choose to cancel their redemption tickets.

Passengers are encouraged to contact Malaysia Airlines’ call center if they wish to to cancel or change their bookings.

Note that since the MH17 tragedy, Malaysia Airlines has continued to operate daily services between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur – the route taken by flight MH17 – but it and all of the airline’s flights that formerly passed through Ukrainian airspace have since been rerouted. The flight number MH17 has been retired and replaced with MH19 AMS/KUL.

Our thoughts and prayers go to the families and friends of everyone on MH17.

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Daytripping Through Brittany in the Summertime http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/daytripping-through-brittany-in-the-summertime/ http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/daytripping-through-brittany-in-the-summertime/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 19:10:22 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=86645

We love the rewards perks we get from loyalty programs, but we also know that some of the best travel experiences are off the beaten path where nary a points hotel can be found. Contributor Adee Braun takes us to France’s bucolic Brittany region, shows us the sights and offers us affordable accommodations.

Brittany is a rustic, seafaring corner of France where crepes, oysters and cider reign supreme. Bretagne, as it’s called in French, or Breizh, in the local Breton language, is a region of northwest France that is somewhat overshadowed by its cousin to the east, Normandy with its D-Day beaches and slightly closer proximity to Paris. In Brittany–just three to four hours from Paris–you will never be far from a charming town or a dramatic shoreline. Dairy cows graze in the lush pastures, sunshine yellow canola flowers puncture the landscape, and long stretches of beach reward any weekend traveler to the region.

End the day with a stroll along the St. Malo ramparts

End the day with a stroll along the St-Malo ramparts

St-Malo is the gateway to Brittany for most visitors to the region. It’s a fortified town on what was originally an island with mazes of streets connecting to small squares with meticulous, grey brick row houses. While its walls were built for centuries of militaristic defense (namely, to keep the English out), today St-Malo is a thriving tourist destination and the walls add to its aesthetic charm. Though crowded in the summer, it’s well worth an overnight stay to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere after the day-trippers vacate. Then it’s just you and the stones and the sea.

Small boats line the narrow beach and tourists stroll along the ramparts as the sun sets over the tiny islands that dot the surrounding waters. St-Malo has plenty of wide, welcoming beaches where you can take in some sun. If you’re looking to get a little windswept, try roller surfing or sand yachting (windsurfing meets go carting) with the local sailing school.

You can’t throw a rock (or a discarded oyster shell) without hitting a seafood restaurant or creperie in St-Malo. At Crêperie le Tournesol get a lunchtime galette (buckwheat crepe) with different savory filling options and wash it down with a kir Breton (cider with blackcurrant liqueur). Complete the crepe experience with a dessert crepe of honey and almonds or flambé it up with a dash of calvados (apple brandy).

Where to Stay: There are many hotel options within the intra-muros (walled city) whose population can quadruple during the summer. Cheaper options lie outside the walls, but are not easily accessible without a car. However, local buses do run regularly from the train station to the old city. If you are driving, the lovely Château du Colombier is an indulgent option 15 minutes from the old city with rates starting at $230 in the summer. Within the city walls, the pleasant and conveniently-situated Hotel Bristol Union is run by an amiable couple and offers simple and comfortable rooms at reasonable rates (doubles $120-147 during the summer).

How To Get There: A few trains run direct from Paris (Montparnasse station) to St-Malo each day, taking a little over 3 hours. Otherwise, you’ll have to make a quick change at Rennes, the regional capital. Tickets are $94-$127 for standard class seating, depending on the time of day. On busy weekends, it’s best to book at least a day in advance.

With St-Malo an ideal entry point to the region, you can plan a series of day trips or overnight stays to Cancale, Mont St-Michel and Dinan.

Canacle port

The Cancale port teems with many opportunities to taste its world-renowned oysters

Oyster Feasts on the Seashore in Cancale

Cancale is pure paradise for oyster lovers. You’ll find dozens of seaside spots to dine on the briny bivalves, from rustic stalls to upscale restaurants. Au Pied d’Cheval (10 quai Gambetta) started out as one of those stalls and now serves up oysters and all types of shellfish in a few homey dining rooms across two floors. Breizh Cafe, the popular Parisian crêperie, has an outpost in Cancale offering decadent galettes with a Japanese twist as well as lots of local catch.

Getting There: Public buses depart from the St-Malo train station for Cancale frequently. The trip takes about 40 minutes and costs a couple dollars, making it a great lunch destination from St-Malo.

Mont St. Michel

Join the 44 permanent residents and many visitors of the island of Mont St-Michel

Spectacular Sights in Mont St-Michel

Mont St-Michel is an undisputed top destination of the region and arguably of the entire country. This densely built island topped by the spire of a gothic abbey, rises from the vast mud flats of the Bay of Mont St-Michel. While technically in Normandy, the mount is only about 45 minutes from St-Malo just across the Brittany border. Arrive early before the crowds and you will get a sense of why those Medieval monks chose this remarkable island for their home.

The steep hike up the mount is not for the faint of heart. But trudge past the cheesy trinket shops, and you will be rewarded at the top with spectacular views of the surrounding quicksand. Accommodations on the mount are limited and pricey, as are the food options, but enjoying a drink outside at one of the terraced restaurants as the dramatic tides rise is a true delight.

Getting There: Buses depart to Mont St-Michel from St-Malo frequently. The trip takes about 45 minutes if you catch a direct bus, $27 roundtrip. If you come from Paris: There is no train station on the mount or anywhere nearby, so you either take a bus direct from Paris, or take the train to Rennes and then a bus to the mount. The entire trip will take about 3 hours and will cost $75-$150. Book in advance in the summer.

View of Dinan and the Rance River

The walled Medieval town of Dinan looms over the Rance River and port below

La Belle Vie in Dinan

Dinan is a town in two parts: the walled Medieval part atop a hill and the port below along the Rance River. It’s perhaps the definition of a charming French town, and one of the best preserved in Brittany. An overnight stay in Dinan allows you to really enjoy the place after the tourists have left. The shops and galleries close, and the picnic tables in the Medieval streets fill up with cider drinkers as the riverside restaurants welcome diners. The robust Thursday outdoor market has an array of local meats, cheeses, breads and vegetables perfect for cobbling together a picnic that you can enjoy in the lovely English garden by the basilica where shaded benches come with great views of the river below.

The walking trails that run along the river make a great afternoon stroll beneath the poplars or sit back in a converted river barge and take a short ride down the river. Don’t miss a chance to finish lunch with a kouign amann, a Breton pastry of flakey dough, caramelized sugar, apples and plenty of butter, fresh from the ovens of La Maison de Tatie Jeanne (82 Rue du Petit Fort).

Where to Stay: Dinan has plenty of accommodations within the old town for a range of budgets. The Hotel de la Tour de l’Horloge is a quirky, Moroccan-themed hotel right in the heart of things, lovingly run by its accommodating owner. The rooms are colorful, comfortable and quite large (doubles from $106-$120, including breakfast). If you don’t mind a short hike, Le Logis du Jerzual is a charming B&B just outside the city gates with a lovely garden (doubles from $115-$133).

Getting There: Trains from St-Malo to Dinan run often. The journey takes about 45 minutes (change at Dol) and costs around $15. If you come from Paris: It’s about a 3.5-hour train ride (also with a change at Dol) and costs $100. But trains only run once a day in the morning, so plan accordingly. The train station is at the bottom of the hill, so springing for a short taxi ride will save you a world of suffering.

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Avianca Lifemiles Program Changes & Share Miles Last Day http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/avianca-lifemiles-program-changes-share-miles-last-day/ http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/avianca-lifemiles-program-changes-share-miles-last-day/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 15:29:21 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=87299

Sometimes I hate getting emails from airlines. While some contain information on bonus promos, others are like the one that Lifemiles, the mileage program of Star Alliance carrier Avianca, sent out to members yesterday announcing sweeping changes to its award chart.

Big changes are coming to Lifemiles.

Big changes are coming to Lifemiles.

Here’s what the email said:

To maintain a reasonable relation between the miles we charge for redemptions and the commercial fares available in the market, adjustments are necessary at times.

In this occasion, we are announcing changes to our redemption fares for flights with Avianca and Star Alliance member airlines. With these changes, some destinations will require more miles and others will reduce the amount of miles required. Some routes will not have variations.

To be sure that our members have the opportunity to understand all changes before these take place, all modifications will be effective from October 15th, 2014.”

Well, at least they’re giving us about 3 months notice this time around (the airline also raised some redemption levels last year without notice).

Some of the new pricing from Lifemiles.

Some of the new pricing from Lifemiles.

The email then linked to this page with “illustrative” examples of how many miles you’ll need on certain routes from North America to various places around the world, but they’re just round-trip economy numbers. The page outlining the changes goes on to say:

As for changes in air ticket redemption with Star Alliance member airlines, these include increases up to 13.000 miles in Economy Class and up to 26.000 miles in Business Class. Both cases apply for roundtrip flights from North America.

“For roundtrip flights from Mexico, there will be reductions up to 15.000 miles and increases up to 14.000 miles in Economy Class, also reductions up to 20.000 miles and increases up to 28.000 miles in Business class.”

And then these unhelpful tidbits:

  • “The table shown above is illustrative only; its intention is to summarize the amount of miles that will be required per region for the X class in economy cabin. The amount of miles required for a ticket redemption is calculated based on a specific origin and destination and could not match with the amount of miles shown on the table above, it could be higher.”
  • “The amount of miles required could vary depending on the date, route and redemption product.”

So if I’m following all this correctly, tickets to/from the US will go up as much as 13,000 miles round-trip in economy and 26,000 miles round-trip in business class, except when “it could be higher.” Awesome, Lifemiles, way to be clear about all this.

For a quick, specific example: According to Lifemiles’ current award chart, a round-trip economy award from North America to Europe would be 60,000 miles. However, according to the page that outlines the changes, the new amount from Dallas, Newark, New York, Washington, Chicago, Houston and Toronto will be 80,000 miles. So the difference will be 20,000 miles, not 13,000 miles.

On the other hand, round-trip awards in economy from those same cities to Southern South America will remain unchanged at 45,000 miles.

There are some other strange inconsistencies, like separate pricing from Miami and Orlando and Florida in general, as well as differences between flying from Los Angeles versus San Francisco on specific routes.

All this makes me think that instead of a new award chart from Avianca, we’ll see a distance-based award system where you’ll enter your city pairs into a calculator, and the amount of miles will depend on how far you’re flying, and possibly whether you are flying Avianca versus a Star Alliance partner (much like United introduced different pricing for awards on its own metal versus partner airlines last year.

However, there seems to be no way to tell exactly what we’re going to see come October 15, so if you’ve been holding off booking a Lifemiles award, I would do so before then, especially if you’re looking at award chart sweet spots like the ones I’ll discuss below.

Lifemiles promo

100% Share Miles Bonus

Avianca Lifemiles is offering a 100% bonus on shared miles until July 21, 2014. This offer is not targeted, so all you have to do to participate is go to the promo page and transfer your miles to participate. There are, however, a few conditions. Here are the most important (check the link for the complete list):

  • Minimum transfer miles: 1,000
  • Maximum transfer miles: 75,000
  • The miles must be transferred in multiples of 1,000
  • Maximum transfer miles per member per year: LM 150,000. (Includes promotional transfer miles bonuses).
  • Transfer fee for each block of 1,000 LifeMiles: USD $17.70 including local taxes*
  • The amount paid for the miles’ transfer is not refundable
  • The miles transferred and earned with this promotion do not apply to achieve Elite status

There are a few things to note here. First, the price to transfer miles is now 1.77 cents each. That’s like paying 1.77 cents for each new mile you generate. The price on transferred miles used to be 1.5 cents, so this isn’t as good a deal as in the past. Nor is it as good a deal as purchasing Lifemiles at the time of booking, since you can buy up to 60% of the miles you need for an award for as little as 1.5 cents per mile (though the cost can be up to 3 cents per mile depending on how many you purchase).

Though the bonus terms also say you can transfer up to 75,000 miles (with the recipient receiving 150,000 miles), it looks like you can only transfer 50,000 at a time. Otherwise you get an error message that says “the amount of miles you wish to transfer exceeds the maximum limit.” 50,000 seems to be the max the system can handle.

There are also a couple of other things to remember about Lifemiles and the awards you can book using them.

On the positive side:

  • There are no fuel surcharges – this is a big plus over other loyalty programs like Singapore Airlines Krisflyer and Air Canada Aeroplan.
  • You can book one-way awards for half the price of round-trips
  • You can purchase miles at 1.5 cents each for up to 60% of an award ticket with their cash & points option

On the negative side:

  • You cannot redeem for mixed-cabin awards, so if you want a business class award, you must find availability in business class on all legs

As with all deals like this, it’s important to have a specific, high-value, imminent and attainable award to make buying miles worthwhile. That’s especially true given the upcoming changes to the Lifemiles award chart.

As I mentioned, Avianca is a member of Star Alliance, and you can view their award chart here. There are a couple sweet spots worth noting.

For instance, round-trip business class from North America to Southern South America (Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia) is 100,000 miles as opposed to the 110,000 United now charges.

An example cash/miles award on Brussels Air and Lufthansa.

An example cash/miles award on Brussels Air and Lufthansa.

North America to Europe  redemptions have gone up recently to 105,000 miles in business class and 145,000 in first class. However, it’s a bargain compared to what United would charge you: 116,000 miles round-trip in business class and 160,000 miles round-trip in first on its own metal, and 140,000 miles or 220,000 miles in business and first, respectively, on partners like Lufthansa or Swiss!

To put that in another context, let’s say you had 25,000 Lifemiles sitting around and transferred them to someone else for a total of 50,000 miles at a cost of $442.50. You could then look for business class awards to Europe this summer, like the following itinerary on Brussels Airlines and Lufthansa, where you can use your 50,000 miles and pay a cash co-pay of $825. So your out-of-pocket cost for a round-trip business class ticket to Europe comes to $1,267.50. That’s much cheaper than the cash price, but it’s still a big outlay.

LogoAvianca2005FondoBlanco

Just remember, if you book a cash and miles ticket like this and then cancel it, youll get refunded in miles, not money. That’s handy if you want to buy miles cheaply, especially because they don’t count toward the annual limit of miles you can buy, but it’s expensive if you simply change your mind and want your money back, so be certain of your plans before you consider that option.

Also worth noting: Lifemiles purchases are processed directly by the airline, so they count as an airline purchase and should earn you bonus points if you pay for it with a credit card with airline or general travel category bonuses, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Barclaycard Arrival Plus.

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Chase Sapphire Preferred Ups Auto Coverage, Nixes Dividend http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/chase-sapphire-preferred-ups-auto-coverage-nixes-dividend/ http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/chase-sapphire-preferred-ups-auto-coverage-nixes-dividend/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 14:16:16 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=87452

The Chase Sapphire Preferred card is one of the top all-around travel credit cards- offering both valuable earning capability (2 points per dollar spent on travel and dining) and strong redemption options with 11, 1:1 transfer partners and 1.25 cents per point when redeemed for travel through Ultimate Rewards.

Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partners

Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partners

Benefit Changes
This weekend, Chase made some changes to the value proposition by beefing up auto rental coverage and trip cancellation/interruption, but also discontinuing the 7% annual dividend for new cardholders (and phasing it out by 2016 for existing cardholders). These changes will be communicated to existing cardholders over the next couple months, but I just got the new membership packet from my contacts at Chase, so here are the details. If you have any questions, feel free to comment and I’ll see if they’re listed in the extended packet; if not, I can ask my contacts at Chase for more information.

Details:

1) Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver coverage goes from secondary to primary, meaning if you rent a car with your Sapphire Preferred, they will cover a loss of the vehicle (with some exclusions) before your insurance, meaning you don’t need to pay for coverage when renting a vehicle.

2) Trip cancellation/interruption coverage increases from $5,000 too $10,000.

3) The 7% Annual Dividend is no longer offered as a perk to new cardholders. Existing cardholders (who got the card before July 20, 2014) will still get the 7% dividend for 2014 and 2015 (so the last dividend payout will be in the first quarter of 2016).

My Chase Sapphire Preferred and Barclaycard Arrival Plus are my key cards- especially when traveling abroad

Chase Sapphire Preferred and Barclaycard Arrival Plus are my key cards- especially when traveling abroad

Key coverage details from the new Sapphire Preferred Benefits Guide:

What steps do I need to take to ensure that Auto Rental CDW is in effect when I rent a vehicle? 

  1. Initiate and complete the entire rental transaction using your card that is eligible for the benefit.
  2. Decline the rental company’s collision damage waiver or similar provision if it is offered to you. The company may refer to the collision damage waiver as CDW or LDW in their contract or when speaking with you. if you accept the collision damage waiver offered by the rental company, you will not be eligible for Auto Rental CDW.

Who is eligible for coverage?

You, a person to whom a United States (U.S.) credit card has been issued (“Cardholder”) and your name is embossed on the card. You are then covered as the primary renter of the vehicle and any additional drivers permitted to operate it under the terms of the rental agreement (“Authorized Person”) are also covered. 

What is covered?

Auto Rental CDW reimburses you for covered losses to the rental vehicle while it is in your control or in control of another Authorized Person. The benefit only covers vehicle rental periods that do not exceed or are not intended to exceed thirty-one (31) consecutive days within or outside of your country of residence.

Covered losses are:

  • Physical damage and/or theft of the covered rental vehicle
  • Valid loss-of-use charges assessed by the rental company while the damaged vehicle is being repaired and is not available for use, as substantiated in the company’s fleet utilization log
  • Reasonable and customary towing charges related to a covered loss to take the vehicle to the nearest qualified repair facility.Auto Rental CDW is primary coverage and provides reimbursement up to the actual cash value of the vehicle as it was originally manufactured. Most private passenger automobiles, minivans, and sport utility vehicles are eligible for coverage, but some restrictions may apply.

What types of rental vehicles are not covered? 

  • excluded worldwide are: expensive, exotic, and antique automobiles;certain vans; vehicles that have an open cargo bed; trucks; motorcycles, mopeds, and motorbikes; limousines; and recreational vehicles.• examples of excluded expensive or exotic automobiles are these brands: Aston Martin, Bentley, Bricklin, Daimler, DeLorean, Excalibur, Ferrari, Jensen, Lamborghini, Lotus, Maserati, Porsche, and Rolls Royce. However, selected models of BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, and Lincoln are covered.• An antique automobile is defined as any vehicle over twenty (20) years old or any vehicle that has not been manufactured for ten (10) years or more.• this benefit is provided only for those vans manufactured and designed to transport a maximum of eight (8) people and which are used exclusively to transport people.

    My 9,179 point dividend from 2011.. will be sad to see this benefit go away

    My 9,179 point dividend from 2011…will be sad to see this benefit go away.

7% Dividend
The 7% dividend has been a great perk of the card and I’m sad to see it go. Though I have to say I’m happy they’re keeping it for the remainder of 2014 and 2015 as well for existing cardholders. I can see how they’ve opted to increase the auto/trip cancellation coverage, because those are more tangible benefits for travelers that are easier to advertise. The 7% annual dividend is a nice “cherry on top” type of benefit, but was never a major driver because there are other cards that offer more lucrative incentives, including Chase Freedom‘s 10% bonus for checking customers and rotating 5x categories. 

Trip Interruption and Cancellation Coverage
When you book a trip with your Sapphire Preferred, the coverage amount of interrupted/cancelled trips due to certain events is now upped from $5,000 to $10,000. Here are some key details:

Who is covered?

You, the Primary Insured Person, and your Immediate Family Members are automatically covered. Immediate Family Member means your Spouse or Domestic Partner and their children, including adopted children or step-children; legal guardians or wards; siblings or siblings-in-law; parents or parents-in-law; grandparents or grandchildren; aunts or uncles; nieces or nephews. 

What is Trip Cancellation insurance?

Trip Cancellation insurance reimburses you or your Immediate Family Members for up to ten thousand ($10,000.00) dollars for each Covered Trip if a Covered Loss prevents you or your Immediate Family Members from traveling on or before the departure date and results in cancellation of the travel arrangements.

If any or all of the Covered Trip was paid for using redeemable Rewards, the Company will reimburse the Insured Person for Rewards used. The Company’s reimbursement shall equal the monetary value of the redemption through the Common Carrier, Tour Operator, Travel Agency, or Travel Supplier up to the Benefit Amount. 

Covered Trip means any pre-paid tour, trip or vacation when some portion of the cost for such travel arrangements less any redeemable frequent flyer miles, points, coupons or certificates, or other types of redeemable Rewards has been charged to your Account:

  • while the insurance is in effect
  • to a destination of greater than one (1) mile from your primary residence
  • and is for a time period that doesn’t exceed sixty (60) days in duration
  1. Covered Loss means one of the following events that occur when you or an Immediate Family Member is insured under the policy and the event causes cancellation of the travel arrangements: • Accidental Bodily Injury, Loss of Life, or Sickness experienced by you, a Traveling Companion, or an Immediate Family Member of you or a Traveling Companion • Severe weather, which prevents a reasonable and prudent person from beginning or continuing on a Covered Trip • Change in military orders for you, your Spouse, or your Domestic Partner • A terrorist action or hijacking • A call to jury duty or receiving a subpoena from the courts, neither of which can be postponed or waived

    • Finding your or your Traveling Companion’s dwelling to be uninhabitable

    • Quarantine imposed by a Physician for health reasons

    • Financial insolvency of the Travel Agency, Tour Operator, or Travel Supplier whose services you booked 

  1. What is not covered by Trip Cancellation insurance? It does not apply to a Covered Loss caused directly or indirectly from:
  • travel arrangements canceled or changed by a Common Carrier, Tour Operator, or any Travel Agency unless the cancellation is the result of severe weather or an organized strike affecting public transportation
  • change in plans, financial circumstances, and any business or contractual obligations applying to you, your Traveling Companion, your Immediate Family Member, an Immediate Family Member of your Traveling Companion
  • a Pre-existing Condition
  • Additionally, this insurance does not apply to any Accident, Accidental Bodily Injury or loss caused by or resulting from, directly or indirectly: the commission or attempted commission of any illegal act including but not limited to any felony
  • any occurrence during incarceration
  • being engaged in or participating in a motorized vehicular race or speed contest
  • participating in any professional sporting activity for which a salary or prize money is received
  • traveling or flying on any aircraft engaged in flight on a rocket propelled or rocket launched aircraft
  • suicide, attempted suicide or intentionally self-inflicted injury
  • when: a) the United States of America has imposed any trade or economic sanctions prohibiting insurance of any Accident, Accidental Bodily Injury or loss; or b) there is any other legal prohibition against providing insurance for any Accident, Accidental Bodily Injury or loss
  • a declared or undeclared WarThe Trip Cancellation benefit is excess over any travel insurance purchased by the Insured Person for the same Covered Trip or other indemnity by the airline, cruise line, railroad, station authority, occupancy provider available to the Insured Person.

My Thoughts
Overall, I’ll be sad to see the 7% Dividend go away, but I’m glad they’re keeping it for 2014 and 2015 for existing cardholders. The auto coverage is definitely a valuable perk that will make the Sapphire Preferred my go-to card when renting cars since it gives 2x points and has no foreign transaction fees.

Even though the 7% dividend is no longer a perk, the card still has a strong value proposition for travelers- especially since the sign-up bonus is 40,000 points after $3,000 spent within 3 months and the $95 annual fee is waived the first year. I’d like to see Chip+ PIN technology and some new transfer partners added in the future, but I’m currently happy as a cardholder and don’t think the loss of the 7% dividend will be a deal breaker.

What are your thoughts on these changes?

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Best Transfer Partners For Flights To Hawaii http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/best-transfer-partners-for-flights-to-hawaii/ http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/best-transfer-partners-for-flights-to-hawaii/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 12:08:13 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=86355

Today TPG Contributor Jason Steele looks at the best points and miles transfer options from Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest for travel to Hawaii.

When it comes to redeeming miles for vacation, for many people, Hawaii is the dream destination. Perhaps that’s why Hawaii is also one of the hardest award tickets to redeem. When booking an award to Hawaii, or any other popular vacation destination, it helps to have points in one or more of the three flexible point transfer programs – American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and the Starwood Preferred Guest program – because you can use those points for travel on a variety of airlines, or to top up your frequent flyer program of choice. To maximize your transfer options, it’s important to know which partners offer the best deals on award flights to Hawaii as well as inter-island service.

Hawaii is a very difficult award to ticket to book. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Hawaii can be a difficult award ticket to book. (Image courtesy of Shutterstock)

Special considerations for booking awards to Hawaii

It used to be that most flights to Hawaii from the mainland arrived in Honolulu, and travelers to other destinations were expected to change planes there and board a short island hopper flight. Today, most of the larger islands (Hawaii, Maui, Kauai, and of course Oahu) can be reached by non-stop service from the mainland. Nevertheless, it’s sometimes easier to piece together a trip arriving on one island and transferring to another. You can do this by booking an award on an airline that has a code share with inter-island operators such as Hawaiian and Island Air, or by booking a separate award between islands. As hard as it is to find award space to Hawaii, it’s actually very easy to find award seats on flights within the islands. In fact, it’s rare that I find inter-island flights without the award seats I request, and even when that is the case, there’s usually another flight with availability within hours.

In most North American frequent flier program award charts, Hawaii is in its own zone, with a unique number of miles required to book tickets there. So the mileage needed to book an award on a particular flight can vary greatly depending on which program you use. In contrast, Hawaii tends to be lumped in with the rest of the United States for the purpose of booking tickets to award zones outside of North America. So if a program offers both a stopover and an open-jaw, you can often add a free, one-way flight to Hawaii before or after an international trip.

Another factor to consider is that travelers from the West Coast and Alaska are within 3,000 miles of the islands, or about half as far as travelers from the East Coast. Thus, those closer to Hawaii can take advantage of distance based frequent flyer programs like British Airways.

Hawaii is within 3,000 miles of the west coast.

Hawaii is within 3,000 miles of the West Coast.

Best Starwood transfer partners for flights to Hawaii

Economy class
There are three options among Starwood transfer partners that can get you a round-trip ticket to Hawaii for just 30,000 miles, or just 25,000 Starwood points with the 5,000 point bonus for redeeming 20,000 points: Alitalia, GOL, and Flying Blue (Air France/KLM). All three of these programs are partnered with Delta, and Flying Blue is also an Alaska Airlines partner. In the Star Alliance, Asiana has the lowest priced awards at 35,000 miles.

In OneWorld, American offers off-peak awards for 35,000 miles from January 12 to March 8, and from August 22 to December 15. Interestingly, a round-trip award need only begin during the off-peak time period, and can return outside of it and still be only 35,000 miles. Otherwise, most of the other OneWorld options (and ANA in the Star Alliance) are distance based, which can make sense for those traveling from the West Coast, such as the 25,000 mile round-trip award on British Airways using flights on American, US Airways, or Alaska.

Hawaii is many people's dream vacation. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Hawaii is the dream vacation for many people. (Image courtesy of Shutterstock)

First class
In the Star Alliance, Singapore offers first class awards for 60,000 miles, while Alitalia’s award chart is still the best for Delta awards, also at 60,000 miles. American is the best OneWorld option at 75,000 miles for first class on two-class aircraft. Finally, you can book first class on an American three-class aircraft for 80,000 US Airways miles rather than 95,000 American miles, and you can use 75,000 Asiana miles for three-class United Airlines flights rather than 90,000 United miles.

Inter-island flights
7,500 Hawaiian miles is all you need for inter-island flights in coach, or 15,000 miles if you have to be in first class.

Best American Express Membership Rewards partners

Economy
Those redeeming Membership Rewards will also find great deals when they transfer their points to Virgin America, which offers round-trip awards on Hawaiian Airlines for a mere 20,000 miles from the West Coast, and only 35,000 miles from the East Coast. This is even better than the 25,000 mile round-trip award from British Airways for flights from the West Coast on American or Alaska.

Virgin America awards on Hawaiian are only 20,000 miles from the west coast, round trip.

Virgin America awards on Hawaiian are only 20,000 miles from the west coast, round trip.

Since Singapore and Alitalia are also Membership Rewards transfer partners, they still represent some the best deals to Hawaii at just 30,000 miles round trip, with Flying Blue close behind at 35,000 miles. With OneWorld carriers, Membership Rewards points can only be used for distance-based awards on BA, Iberia, and Asia miles. The only other option for awards using American flights is to redeem 45,000 Hawaiian miles.

First class
The first class Hawaiian awards from the West Coast are a great deal at 50,000 miles. Next are the Singapore and Alitalia first class awards at 60,000 miles. Hawaiian awards on American or US Airways are expensive at 90,000 miles each, so most travelers will be better off with distance-based award using BA, Iberia, and Asia miles.

Inter-island
Again, Hawaiian is your only option for stand-alone, inter-island flights at 7,500 miles in coach and 15,000 in first.

Using Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partners

Economy class
Singapore still looks good for United Airlines flights at 40,000 miles in coach, as opposed to 45,000 when booked through United. However, United does have a partnership with inter-island carriers if you need to book one ticket with a connection. To book American, US Airways, and Alaska flights with Ultimate Rewards points, the British Airways distance-based chart is your only choice.  Korean SkyPass transfers are the lowest price for SkyTeam awards at 35,000 miles, but Virgin Atlantic’s program will be much easier to deal with for only 40,000 miles. Virgin Atlantic is also an option for awards on Hawaiian at 40,000 miles.

First Class
The 60,000 mile award from Singapore will work on United two-class flights, or you can go to 80,000 miles for first class on three-class aircraft. These options are always better than transferring miles to United. First class Virgin Atlantic awards are 75,000 miles on Delta, and 80,000 miles on Hawaiian. British Airways’ distance-based chart is your only choice for flights on American, US Airways, and Alaska flights.

Inter-island
Here, United miles really shine, as you can use just 6,000 miles (12,000 in first class) for a one-way ticket on any inter-island flight, even with connections. Frankly, this is a great use of small balances of Ultimate Rewards points or leftover United miles. Just be aware that Hawaiian and other inter-island carriers charge their own additional baggage fees when your ticket is not attached to your flight from the mainland.

What’s your preferred way to get to or around Hawaii? Please share your ideas and questions in the comments below.

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What’s The Best Way To Find AA Awards For Use On US Airways? http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/whats-the-best-way-to-find-aa-awards-for-use-on-us-airways/ http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/whats-the-best-way-to-find-aa-awards-for-use-on-us-airways/#comments Sun, 20 Jul 2014 18:08:54 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=87271

This week, TPG reader Monica sent me a Facebook message with a great question:

“I’ve read several of your articles about US Airways miles eventually transferring to AA miles. Is that option getting closer? We have US Airways miles that we want to use, but the flights we can afford are on AA. When I called US Airways, they said AA didn’t open the flights up. Ugh! They said to call back every day until the awards open up, but by then they may no longer be affordable. Do you have any suggestions for me?”

It’s frustrating to have to call an airline every day, so what’ I’d recommend is to go on AA.com and try to find Saver level awards from your city to Hawaii, and be prepared to be a little flexible with your schedule. (USAirways.com can be very buggy, and though it should show American Airlines awards, sometimes it doesn’t.) You may be surprised by what’s available on American’s site, as it sometimes prices out connections that US Airways doesn’t.

You could also check ExpertFlyer.com, which will allow you to set flight alerts for a monthly fee. The second those Saver level awards open up on American, you’ll get a notification email, and then you can either book them on USAirways.com or call US Airways and book over the phone.

American Airlines Saver level awards *should* show up in US Airways' system - but sometimes they don't.

American Airlines Saver level awards *should* show up in US Airways’ system – but sometimes they don’t.

Often times, US Airways reps – and those at any other airline, for that matter – are wrong. You need to guide them as much as possible. Try to find the Saver level awards – which should be available to US Airways – and then hopefully you’ll find yourselves on vacation!

Hopefully, these tips were helpful. Please feel free to write me with additional questions by messaging me on Facebook, tweeting me @ThePointsGuy, or sending me an email at info@thepointsguy.com.

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