The Points Guy http://thepointsguy.com Thu, 31 Jul 2014 17:32:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 Air France/KLM 50% Off Flying Blue Promo Awards for Oct-Nov http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/air-franceklm-50-off-flying-blue-promo-awards-for-oct-nov/ http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/air-franceklm-50-off-flying-blue-promo-awards-for-oct-nov/#comments Thu, 31 Jul 2014 17:04:03 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=88273

Flying Blue, the mileage program of SkyTeam partners Air France, KLM and Air Europa, offers Promo Awards each month, through which you can book award flights for as little as 50% of the miles normally needed on certain routes and in specific cabins. While these awards used to be released every two months, Flying Blue now updates them each month instead. The list of awards you can book between August 1-31 for travel October 1-November 30 is now up on the Promo Awards page, though you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to start booking them.

Screen shot 2014-07-31 at 9.01.14 AM

The next list of Promo Award cities in North America includes Chicago and Houston.

The current list includes:

  • Chicago to Europe on KLM: 50% off economy class – 12,500 miles each way, 25,000 miles roundtrip, travel dates November 1-30
  • Houston to Europe on Air France: 50% off economy class – 12,500 miles each way, 25,000 miles roundtrip, travel dates October 1-November 30
  • Washington DC to Europe on Air France and KLM: 50% off economy class – 12,500 miles each way, 25,000 miles roundtrip, travel dates October 1-November 30
  • Cancun to Europe on Air France: 50% off premium economy – 25,000 miles each way, 50,000 miles roundtrip, travel dates October 1-November 30
The current list of Promo Awards is bookable until the end of the day today.

The current list of Promo Awards is bookable until the end of the day today.

And in case you missed them, the September/October awards, which are still bookable until the end of today (though I’m finding little to no availability left at this point) are:

  • Dallas to Europe on KLM: 50% off economy class – 12,500 miles each way, 25,000 miles roundtrip, travel dates September 1-October 31
  • Montreal to Europe on KLM: 50% off business class – 31,250 miles each way, 62,500 miles roundtrip, travel dates September 1-October 31
  • Mexico to Europe on Air France: 50% off economy – 18,750 miles each way, 37,500 miles roundtrip, travel dates September 1-October 31

While this round of awards isn’t as exciting as the summer awards, which included 50% off business class from several cities in the US, there are still some savings to be had here, and at least all the awards listed are 50% off instead of the 25% discount that Flying Blue offered on many Promo Awards for the first half of 2014.

If you’re thinking of fall travel to Europe and can get to the gateway cities, it’s worth looking into these Promo Awards since, at least when they first open up, availability tends to be pretty good, and you can score award tickets for half of what SkyTeam partner Delta would charge you for the same awards, despite last year’s Flying Blue award chart devaluation. Plus, Flying Blue lets you book one-way awards, which Delta does not. Note (and this question comes up every time I post about this topic), you cannot use Delta miles for these awards. Likewise, you cannot use Flying Blue miles at these rates to book awards on Delta.

Worth It?

Before you go booking tons of awards, remember that Flying Blue levies fuel surcharges, though they are now less than before on economy and premium economy tickets. I cannot show you Promo Award availability on the new routes just yet, but so you can get an idea of what those costs look like, on a roundtrip economy ticket from Dallas to Amsterdam on KLM in October, you’re looking at about $233 in fuel surcharges and taxes:

Screen shot 2014-07-31 at 9.31.47 AMWhile shelling out a couple hundred dollars on top of the miles may not seem like a great deal, consider that the same ticket would cost $1,302 if you were to book it with cash:

Screen shot 2014-07-31 at 9.33.26 AMSubtracting the taxes and fuel surcharges, you’d still be getting a value of about $1,069 for the 25,000 miles needed for the roundtrip Promo Award. That’s a pretty good value of 4.28 cents per miles.

European Options

Also keep in mind that you don’t have to fly just to Paris or Amsterdam to maximize these awards. They are for travel to/from Europe, so you can continue on to any number of destinations. In Flying Blue’s terms, the Europe region encompasses a couple dozen countries, including some that are not traditionally classified there. Here’s how Flying Blue classifies Europe:

  • Europe 1: Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Switzerland, United Kingdom
  • Europe 2: Austria, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Malta, Norway, Portugal, Spain inc. Balearic Islands, Sweden
  • Europe 3: Albania, Algeria, Belarus, Bosnia-Herzogovina, Bulgaria, Canary Islands, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Latvia, Libya, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Morocco, Poland, Romania, Western Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Turkey, Tunisia, Ukraine.
So, while you can fly to many of the traditional European hubs like Paris, Madrid, or Amsterdam, you can also range farther afield to countries like Israel, Turkey, the Baltic, and parts of North Africa including Morocco.

Within Europe, the following cities are also offering discounted awards, so if you already have your transatlantic ticket booked but are searching for ways to get around the region, these could be useful to keep in mind:

  • Billund on Air France 25% off
  • Edinburgh on Air France 25% off
  • Istanbul on Air France 25% off
  • Moscow on KLM 25% off
  • Sofia on Air France 25% off
  • Marseille-Istanbul on Air France 50% off
  • Nice-Strasbourg on Air France 50% off
  • Montpellier-Paris Orly on Air France 50% off
  • Toulouse-Lyon on Air France 50% off
  • Madrid-Alicante on Air Europa 25% off
  • Palma-Alicante 25% off

Stocking up on Flying Blue Miles

If you don’t have enough Flying Blue miles (or any at all), there are a few ways you can stock up on them relatively quickly. The program is an instant 1:1 transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards, the program of cards like the American Express Premier Rewards Gold and Platinum.

Flying Blue is a 1:1 transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards.

Flying Blue is a 1:1 transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards.

Flying Blue is also a 1:1 transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest, and you get a 5,000-mile bonus on transfers of 20,000 points. So at the Promo Awards  rate, you could book a roundtrip economy award ticket to Europe for just 20,000 SPG points. Just note that transfers can take a few days. The current sign-up bonus on both the personal and business Starwood Preferred Guest cards from American Express are 25,000 points when you spend $5,000 in 6 months. So even if you never fly Air France/KLM, or if you bank your SkyTeam miles elsewhere, there are still plenty of options to top up your account quickly using points you might already have.

Do you plan to book any of these awards? Let us know your thoughts and plans in the comments below!

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My AA Payday for a Canceled Flight and Broken Seat http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/my-positive-experience-getting-compensation-from-american-airlines/ http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/my-positive-experience-getting-compensation-from-american-airlines/#comments Thu, 31 Jul 2014 16:38:23 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=86051

US airlines are pretty stingy with regard to compensation when things go wrong. Compared to strict EU regulations, US airlines are responsible just for getting you to your destination at some point, and they can use “weather” and “air traffic control” to weasel out of situations where compensation is warranted. Nonetheless, even though airlines aren’t legally obligated to compensate you, many will do so if you’re a loyal customer and if you ask the right way. The following is my story of flying to Brazil on American Airlines, and how I think I came out pretty whole from several annoying situations.

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Getting compensated for cancelled flights can be difficult. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Miami-Recife Off-Peak
When I went to Fernando de Noronha in April, I needed to fly from Miami to Recife. It’s an overnight, 8 hour flight; the business class cabin was pretty much sold out when I booked, and I didn’t want to shell out 100,000 miles each way for a peak award when saver level awards were available for just 20,000 miles in economy (since off-peak US to Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay is March 1 – May 31 and August 16 – November 30). 

You can contact AA through their complain page.

You can contact AA through their complaint page.

I snagged an exit row window and luckily there was no one sitting next to me; however, the set recline function was broken, which made sleeping on an overnight flight even more difficult. I shot an email off to American to let them know to fix it and to voice my disappointment. I didn’t expect any points, but to my delight they gave me 15,000 AAdvantage miles for the trouble. Score! Total cost of flight from Miami to Recife = 5,000 miles (~$90 based on July point valuations).

Return Flight Recife to Miami
The return flight suffered a mechanical failure of some sort, and we sat on the tarmac for two hours only to find out that American Airlines would be canceling the flight. Around 1 am they unloaded the plane and baggage, and then the entire 757 lined up to be re-accommodated by two agents. Each customer took between 5 and 10 minutes to handle, so it was going to be a long, long night. I immediately called the Executive Platinum line, but sadly they couldn’t do anything to rebook me, as the reservation was under airport control. I called back again and got the same answer: “wait in line to rebook, and to get hotel and other vouchers.”

No thanks; my time (and sleep) is way more valuable than waiting for hours in the middle of the night. I decided to book my own hotel in Recife  (Hotel Jangadeiro, which was extremely bare bones with only a thin sheet on the bed) and keep all of the receipts for my taxis and expenses. I then outright cancelled my return itinerary and decided I’d just rebook myself on a SAAver award for 50,000 miles from Recife to Sao Paulo to Miami with a stopover (back in the good old days when AA allowed stopovers at international gateways), and then keep Miami- LAX- Kauai for later in the year.

After arriving back home, I submitted a complaint to AA on April 3rd through their “Email AA Customer Relations” link. I described the situation and explained that I incurred expenses from having to stay an extra night in Recife. The following day I received a response from a Customer Relations representative who was very apologetic and offered to reimburse me for the expenses I had listed in my complaint, as well as award me with 25,000 miles for the inconvenience.

IMG_0300

AA sent me a check reimbursing me for my travel expenses.

On April 7th I submitted a list of expenses along with receipts totaling $476.19, which I used my Sapphire Preferred card to pay for so I could earn double points on the travel charges and avoid foreign transaction fees.

Hotel Jangadeiro: $139.20
Royal American Limousine: $135
Royal American Limousine: $144
Verizon Roaming minutes calling AA, 39 minutes @ $1.49 per minute: $57.99
I hadn’t heard anything back on April 16th, so I sent a follow-up message that again didn’t receive a response until May 27th, when I finally heard from a Claims Analyst. Once I confirmed my expenses and provided an address, I finally received a check for the full amount of $476.19 on June 18th.
Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 10.19.16 AM

American Airlines deposited 25,000 bonus miles into my account for my cancelled flight and 15,000 for my broken seat.

Although it took about 2 months to get my money back and hours of my time would have been wasted if I had actually waited in the airport for customer service, I think American handled the situation well and was generous in giving me a bonus 25,000 miles. Overall I was able to get from Miami to Recife in economy, Recife to Miami in business class and Miami to Kauai in business class for 30,000 miles total. Once again, the moral of the story is that it never hurts to ask.
Please share your experiences getting appropriate (or inappropriate) compensation on your own travel misadventures!

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Thursday Giveaway: $500 Marriott Gift Card http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/thursday-giveaway-500-marriott-gift-card/ http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/thursday-giveaway-500-marriott-gift-card/#comments Thu, 31 Jul 2014 13:06:47 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=88214

Marriott Hotels is currently promoting their #WIN3NYC contest on their social media channels, which gives one winner the opportunity to experience the “Best of NYC” by winning a three night trip to New York City including three nights at the participating Marriott hotel of your choice, 200,000 American AAdvantage miles, and two Smart Destinations Explorer Passes to visit your choice of three out of 59+ city attractions. 

Enter to win a $500 Marriott Gift Card

Enter to win a $500 Marriott Gift Card

Although the contest ends today, Marriott is giving one lucky TPG reader a $500 gift card to use at any Marriott property! Visit the Sweepstakes Section on our Facebook Page to enter. Enter by 11:59pm EST on Monday, August 4th and one lucky entrant will be picked at random to win.

Last Week’s Winner:

Last week we gave away a travel package from Flight 001 containing a Flight 001 Avionette Check-In suitcase + Spacepak Packing System Set with a combined value is $338.

Flight 001 Giveaway: F1 Avionette Check-In and an F1 Spacepak Set

Flight 001 Giveaway: F1 Avionette Check-In and an F1 Spacepak Set

We had thousands of entries and one lucky reader was picked. Congrats to our winner Dimitris Z., we hope you enjoy the the items and use them on your next flight!

Stay tuned for more great giveaways here on the blog and on TPG TwitterFacebook and Instagram. Safe travels!

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Count Change Fees as MQDs/PQDs – the Weekly Wish http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/count-change-fees-as-mqdspqds-the-weekly-wish/ http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/count-change-fees-as-mqdspqds-the-weekly-wish/#comments Thu, 31 Jul 2014 12:02:48 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=88093

Today TPG Contributor Nick Ewen continues his series The Weekly Wish, looking at flaws, shortcomings, and room for improvement in the world of travel and loyalty programs. Today’s wish: count change fees towards elite qualification on United and Delta.

It sure seems like 2014 has been the year of the “$” in the frequent flyer world. Delta started the ball rolling last January by announcing Medallion Qualification Dollars (or MQDs) as a new requirement for elite status. Not to be outdone, in June, United added a similar requirement: Premier Qualifying Dollars (or PQDs). Both of these new thresholds went into effect this year, meaning that miles and/or segments are no longer the only way to earn (and/or retain) elite status on two of the largest carriers out there.

Determining what counts towards the MQD/PQD requirement isn’t always clear. What about bag fees? Economy Comfort/Plus purchases? Do fuel surcharges count? What about travel on partner airlines? Answers to these questions can be found here for Delta and here for United, but even with that information, I believe that there’s a glaring omission in the policies of both carriers. That brings us to today’s Weekly Wish: change fees should count towards revenue-based qualification thresholds on both United and Delta.

Delta.com displays MQDs for each flight; this New York to Atlanta round-trip would net you $316 MQDs.

Delta.com displays MQDs for each flight; this New York to Atlanta round-trip would net you 316 MQDs.

Before we get into that, here’s a quick rundown of these new thresholds:

Delta

Silver Medallion

Gold Medallion

Platinum Medallion

Diamond Medallion

MQDs

$2,500

$5,000

$7,500

$12,500

AND

MQMs

25,000

50,000

75,000

125,000

OR

MQSs

30

60

90

140

United

Premier Silver

Premier Gold

Premier Platinum

Premier 1K

PQDs

$2,500

$5,000

$7,500

$10,000

AND

PQMs

25,000

50,000

75,000

100,000

OR

PQSs

30

60

90

120

In other words, both airlines are essentially saying that your tickets need to cost at least 10 cents/mile (or $83.33/segment) in order to earn status that in prior years would have been awarded just by flying.

One one hand, I can see why these two carriers are implementing such policies. Airlines are a business, and their goal is to make money. The number crunchers in Atlanta and Chicago realized that their most profitable passengers might not be getting the most benefits when flying, so they attempted to change that. Remember too that both Delta and United are changing to revenue-based models of awarding miles next year; even though these announcements came long after the MQD/PQD announcements, they’re another big step in the direction of rewarding for dollars spent rather than miles (or segments) flown.

Delta and United are the industry leaders in collecting change and cancellation fees.

Delta and United are the industry leaders in collecting change and cancellation fees.

Here’s where I take issue with the MQD/PQD policies. If the goal really is to reward profitable behavior, then change/cancellation fees should absolutely count towards these new qualifications. I think we can all agree that change fees are not based on any kind of reality; if I book a non-refundable ticket and need to change my departure date more than 24 hours after ticketing, I can say with absolute certainty that it will not cost Delta $200 to make that change for me, even for last-minute changes. Instead, these fees represent a giant profit engine for airlines, totaling over $2.8 billion in 2013 alone!

Not surprisingly, Delta and United topped that list, each collecting over three-quarters of a billion dollars in change fees. Travelers who regularly change their plans are driving Delta and United to profitability, and I strongly believe that they should be rewarded accordingly. Let’s look at a couple of sample scenarios to put some numbers into play:

1)   Flyer A consistently books Delta flights at least a month in advance to secure the best prices. His/her flying pattern looks like this:

  • Roundtrip flights: 20
  • Average MQMs per trip: 4000
  • Average Fare Class: L
  • Average MQDs per flight: $350
  • Total MQMs: 80,000
  • Total MQDs: $7,000

Now let’s assume that you have the exact same stats, with one key difference: five of your trips are postponed and then rescheduled for another date. In other words, you need to change five of the 20 flights at a cost of $200 per change. You and Flyer A end the year with the exact same number of MQDs, even though you’ve given Delta $1000 of additional revenue through change/cancellation fees. In this case, those lost MQDs prevent you from attaining Platinum Medallion.

2)   Flyer B is a little bit different, usually waiting to book United flights until 2-3 weeks before departure. His/her flying stats look like this:

  • Round-trip flights: 20
  • Average PQMs per trip: 5000
  • Average Fare Class: Q
  • Average PQD per flight: $475
  • Total PQMs: 100,000
  • Total PQDs: $9,500

Now let’s say that you try to plan in advance, booking your same 20 trips over a month ahead of time. However, you again wind up needing to change five of those trips, costing you $200 each time. Your average fare class and PQDs per trip winds up being identical to Flyer B. Just like the first scenario, your extra $1000 doesn’t count, and in this case, you miss out on qualifying for 1k.

I’ll be the first to admit that these scenarios are far-fetched; what two travelers truly have the exact same flying behavior in a given year? However, I use these examples to illustrate that many travelers have to change their plans during any given year. Since these change fees are going directly to an airline’s bottom line (and since the MQD/PQD policies were implemented with the express purpose of rewarding profitable customer behavior), they should be factored into the status qualification equation.

Hopefully next time we see a banner like this it will be a change for the better.

If you’d like a real-world example, consider a trip I took from Florida to North Carolina last month. Two weeks before departure, I found out that three days of meetings were reduced to a single day. I immediately changed my flights, and I was rebooked into the exact same fare class at almost the exact same fare (my new one was $0.16 cheaper). I only earned $294 MQD’s despite charges totaling $568.27. Delta had two weeks to resell my vacated seat and took a $200 change fee. My MQDs, meanwhile, didn’t budge. In fact, I have paid $600 in change fees so far this year (and just today learned that I will likely have another $200 coming up). As of now, it looks like I won’t have any trouble requalifying for my desired level of status, but if counting these change fees will make a difference, you can bet that Delta will be hearing from me.

United credit cards

Spending $25,000 on a MileagePlus credit card would waive the PQD requirements for Silver, Gold, and Platinum members.

Keep in mind that there are ways to get out of the new MQD/PQD requirements: credit card spending. Delta Medallion members would need to spend $25,000 this year on a co-branded American Express card like the Gold Delta SkyMiles card. This applies to all levels of status. United, on the other hand, is a little stricter. Members can get out of the PQD requirement by spending $25,000 on MileagePlus cards (like the United Explorer or United Club cards), but this only applies up to Platinum Premier. There is no waiver available for 1k.

It’s important to realize that we are still in the very early phases of the revenue-based elite status qualification model. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some tweaking and/or fine-tuning of the thresholds and other aspects of Delta and United’s programs as this first year comes to a close. Counting change and cancellation fees would be a simple (and obvious!) first step.

What do you think? Should change/cancellation fees count towards MQD/PQD thresholds? If so, do you think we’ll see a change anytime soon? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Promotions Ending Today: Starwood Transfer Bonuses & More http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/promotions-ending-today-starwood-transfer-bonuses-more/ http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/promotions-ending-today-starwood-transfer-bonuses-more/#comments Thu, 31 Jul 2014 05:30:50 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=88275

The following travel-related promotions are ending today, Thursday, July 31. Get ‘em while you still can!

Starwood-USAirways

The 20% bonus compounds with Starwood’s 25% bonus on transfers of 20k points, for a total of 50%.

Starwood Offering Up to a 5o% Bonus for Transferring Starpoints to US Airways Dividend Miles: This promotion (for which no registration is necessary) specifies a 20% bonus, but as this doesn’t include the built in 25% bonus that Starwood offers when transferring Starpoints in blocks of 20,000 points, know that if you plan carefully, you can get as much as a 50% bonus.

US Airways' current bonus

US Airways’ current buy miles bonus offers a big break on its usual cents-per-mile rate.

US Airways Dividend Miles Are 1.88 Cents Apiece With the Current 100% Buy Miles Bonus: The maximum bonus you can earn is 50,000 miles, so any miles purchased beyond that amount will not qualify. This is an excellent opportunity, especially if you choose to purchase all 50,000 miles, as the cost is lowered from 3.5 cents per mile (plus 7.5% tax) to roughly 1.88 cents per mile.

Screen-Shot-2014-07-08-at-5.12.24-PM

This promo earns you the same number of bonus miles when you purchase between 55,000 and 80,000 AAdvantage miles, so 55,000 is the wisest buy.

Buy AA Miles and Earn up to 16,500 Bonus Miles: To maximize this promotion, buy only 55,000 miles for a total of $1,660.94 ($1,512.50 plus a $35 transaction processing charge and applicable taxes), which will effectively net you 71,500 AAdvantage miles for (a not particularly impressive) 2.3 cents apiece

Want to hate on Spirit Airlines? Get 8,000 free miles for doing so.

Want to hate on Spirit Airlines? Get 8,000 free miles for doing so.

Complain to Spirit Airlines and Get 8,000 Free Miles: Spirit Airlines will give you 8,000 frequent flyer miles if you complain about them, or any other airline for that matter. This shouldn’t be hard for all you frequent flyers out there – I know I can think of several complaints about Spirit (and airlines in general) right off the top of my head.

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Hotel Review: W Bangkok http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/hotel-review-w-bangkok/ http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/hotel-review-w-bangkok/#comments Wed, 30 Jul 2014 15:49:54 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=87750

TPG Foreign Correspondent Lori Zaino is off on a whirlwind trip to Southeast Asia. She recently stayed at the W Bangkok. Here’s her review of the hotel

Bangkok, Thailand is a city of six million. For my two day stopover en route to other destinations in Asia, I simply wanted a hotel where I could escape from the crowded city to recover from my jet lag and chill out after touring the temples in the summer heat. I chose the W Bangkok.

IMG_6536

Arriving at the W Bangkok (thankfully before monsoon number 1)

The Location

The hotel is located in a commercial area of Bangkok, near the BTS stop Chong Nonsi. It’s conveniently set next to a Starbucks, for all the American coffee you might ever desire, as well as a short walk from several street food vendors, a 711 convenience store and a variety of restaurants.

The location of the hotel could be perfect or really out of the way, depending on what you are looking for. It’s a bit far from the main tourist attractions, such as Khao San Road, the temples and Chinatown. However, it was perfect for me because I didn’t want to be right in the middle of the backpacker, party action (sorry, officially too old to be a backpacker). Instead, I preferred to pop over to the busy tourist spots, and then head back out to my hotel haven following. I loved that you could take the BTS two stops to the river, and then take the ferry up the river to all of the tourist spots. In fact, this was really useful, because we realized that especially during rush hour, no taxis want to take you back to the area where the hotel is located because of heavy traffic, not to mention they try to cheat you on the price. The ferry/train combo was a sure bet, easy and quick, and no haggling necessary. So, if you don’t mind a further trek to the tourist attractions, or if you’re a business traveler the location is excellent. If you are hoping to have a crazy nonstop party vacation Hangover 2 style, it’s probably best if you choose a place in a more touristy location of the city.

The W Bangkok glowing at night

The W Bangkok glowing at night

The Hotel: Check In and Lobby/Lounge

The check in area

The check in area

This Starwood property is a Category 4, and the building is a tall high rise with 31 floors, featuring 403 guest rooms and 34 suites.The huge metal doors that open as you walk in are mildly reminiscent of a New York Night club. Upon entering, the ambient music and pink mood lighting continue to contribute to the night club feel. However, as the bell hops outside bow to you and pleasantly offer greetings as you enter, you realize that yes, you are in Asia, and yes, this is a hotel. (I never know whether to bow back?)

Giant W at the door of the W Bangkok, just in case you forgot where you were

Giant W at the door of the W Bangkok, just in case you forgot where you were

Upon entering we were greeted by several employees (more bowing). After passing a large “W” statue piece in the middle, you can head straight on for check in, right for the W shop and elevators, or left towards the bar/lounge to the left. The W store features items for sale such as the Bliss amenities, pillows, jewelry and other items.

The store area

The store area

The lobby and bar, in typical W fashion, are both sexy, dark and ambient. I checked in on a Wednesday and checked out on a Friday evening, and the bar never seemed to be full, but was most happening as we left (bummer!) on Friday. The patrons seemed to be mostly locals from nearby office buildings, probably enjoying what seemed to be an after-work happy hour. A neat touch was the Jenga blocks on some of the bar tables. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to play.

Bummed I never got the chance to play Jenga

Bummed I never got the chance to play Jenga

The W Lounge

The W Lounge

The people at the check in counter were friendly and immediately informed us of our upgrade from the Wow Room we had booked to a Studio Suite (the person I was traveling with has Platinum benefits). However, the catch was: it was a Smoking Room. The lady politely informed us that she could not provide us with an upgrade if we did not accept the smoking room, as there were no non-smoking suites left. However, she did call the housekeeping to “refresh” the room. Although I have a major aversion to the smell of cigarette smoke, as does my travel companion, we both decided to forgo our respiratory health for the promise of an upgrade (hey, priorities).

The total cost of the WOW room that we booked for two nights including tax was 11,487.52 Thai Bhats, which comes out to about $361 for two nights, $180.50 per night, though technically we ended up in the Studio Suite. It’s also possible to reserve those rooms for 10,000 Starpoints per award night. My companion paid with his Chase Sapphire Preferred Card in order to get double points on travel, plus no foreign transaction fees.

The Room

IMG_6538

The studio suite room

One of the bellhops accompanied us to the suite, located on the 30th floor (which to my surprise did not smell of smoke at all—sweet!) and showed us how to work the safe and the tablet. The room was large and well designed, with plenty of space for large suitcases.

Cool sequined boxing glove decor

Cool sequined boxing glove decor

The tablet was located on one of the bedside tables and through it, we were able to control the lighting in both the bathroom and bedroom area, select our “do not disturb” preference, control the AC, set an alarm and send messages to the front desk. There were several lighting options, including dim, reading lights, all on, and all off. I found this to be fun and modern, especially the lighting part, although occasionally the light switches seemed to get overwhelmed and you had to “start over”. It seemed to work fine for all the other aspects we used it for, like the AC.

Too many lighting options!

Too many lighting options!

The tablet

The tablet

In addition to the tablet and the safe, there was also an ironing board and iron, two bathrobes, two pairs of slippers, a coffee maker, an expresso maker, an iPOD dock with Bose sound system, a large desk with chair, a large flat screen TV, an L-shaped sofa, a fully stocked mini bar, a king sized bed and armchair. The room was beautiful and fun, with trendy touches like sequined boxing glove pillows and a Thai dragon bedspread (the sequined boxing gloves are available to purchase in a variety of colors at the W Store downstairs ).

I may or may not have tried these on for a few sequined upper cuts

I may or may not have tried these on for a few sequined upper cuts

The TV and mini bar are of the room

The TV and mini bar area of the room.

View from the window at the scary monsoon coming

View from the window at the scary monsoon coming

The window was enormous and the view was great. It was a typical city view, buildings and lights, and if you looked straight down (mildly frightening) you could see the pool which was on the 6th floor. In any case the view was great and during daylight hours the room was filled with light, minus the several storms that darkened the natural daylight.

In case you get winded on the way to the bathroom, you can plunk down in this armchair

In case you get winded on the way to the bathroom, you can plunk down in this armchair

The Bathroom (and ahem, the Bathtub)

IMG_6547

His and her sinks

The bathroom was large, with a separate toilet area and a double sink area with long mirrors. In typical W fashion, the Bliss amenities were there, and not just the small mini bottles—they had large bottles available.

The small toilet area

The small toilet area

I found out when talking to a few male friends recently that they despise the Bliss amenities at the W hotel. I thought this was rather surprising, as I actually love the face wash and have being using it for years, purchasing it at the Bliss store in New York well before they partnered with the W (all you ladies and gents out there with combination skin—just give it a try!). Anyway, the big bottles were interesting, although for my two night stay, rather unnecessary…how much conditioner can two people really use in two days!

The shower area of the bathroom

The shower area of the bathroom and you can see the larger Bliss bottles

My favorite, the freestanding tub

My favorite, the freestanding tub

There was also a separate shower area with an amazing freestanding bathtub. Now, having lived in big cities for most of my adult life, I am used to having very small bathrooms and in my current apartment in Madrid I have only a shower stall. When I saw this large-and-in-charge bathtub, my heart swooned a little, visions of relaxing bubble baths clouded all judgement in my jet lagged haze. The tub and rainfall shower were located next to the window, so you could bathe or shower while overlooking the city (same view as the bedroom offered). The shower was one similar to ones I have seen all over Asia, no real “doors.” Somtimes I end up basically flooding the bathroom when using these particular types of showers will no doors, but this one had good drainage so it was fine. Not bad W, not bad at all. (Might I add that the bathtub was everything I had dreamed it might be).

All in the all, the suite was pretty gorgeous and I had very few negative thoughts in general on the experience (see the misses section below).

Pool/Gym/Spa

Deciding to do a five week trip through southeast Asia in summer…whose crazy idea was that? Although heat typically doesn’t really bother me, I must admit, the humidity combined with the long pants and shirt I had to wear to visit the temples left me LITERALLY melting and I was dying to spend the remainder of the afternoon by the WET pool. The pool is rather small but creatively designed and was shockingly empty. The amount of tourists roaming Bangkok craving sun combined with the 100 degree temps ensured a packed pool in my mind, but apparently not.

The WET pool

The WET pool

That’s fine with me, as we got a perfect spot in the sun with two chairs. The pool is designed in a rather different style, with a sparking curved wall behind it. Chairs are available on the bottom level (mostly shade) and the higher level (sun), and there are also a few cabanas on the higher level. Next to the pool is the WET Deck, where you can sit to order food and drinks or they will bring you drinks and snacks to your pool chairs. Lounge music plays softly in the background and it really would be a great party spot, but as I mentioned before, no one was there! So I promptly sprawled out on a lounge chair and fell asleep. After I made the below video, of course.

The gym is inside next to the pool, and was fairly large for a hotel gym. I didn’t use it (I prefer to let my Pad Thai rest comfortably on my hips) but my travel companion did and found it to be well equipped with free weights, ellipticals, bikes, treadmills and some weight machines. There is a monitor there that will bring you water and help you if you need anything.

Some machines at the W hotel gym

Some machines at the W hotel gym

I didn’t get a chance to try any treatments at the spa. The spa menu in the room didn’t have prices, which I always find rather irritating, so I am not sure of the price range, but I am certain you could find a great (or awful, for that matter) massage or spa treatment for cheaper at one of the many spas or massage parlors in Bangkok. The spa menu had the typical services available, such as nails, face and body treatments and massage–nothing out of the ordinary. I did see the spa in passing to get to the pool and it did look peaceful, or at least the reception area did.

Restaurants

We didn’t try either of the restaurants while there. Unfortunately due to jet lag, we didn’t wake up in time for breakfast, and usually when I am in a new city I try to aim for local, hole in the wall spots so I didn’t manage to eat lunch or dinner there either. The Kitchen Table and the Kitchen Pantry are the two main restaurants which offer a variety of Western and Thai dishes. You can also order some light bites in the lounge or on the WET deck by the pool.

All in all, I wouldn’t hesitate to stay at the W Bangkok again. Normally, I prefer boutique hotels (I will be staying in plenty of those for the remainder of my five week Asia trip), but I think if you are looking for a larger, luxurious hotel experience, the W Bangkok would be a good choice. Next time, I will be sure to play Jenga at the lounge!

Has anyone ever stayed at the W Bangkok? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Delta to Offer Free Entertainment on Domestic Flights http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/delta-to-offer-free-entertainment-on-domestic-flights/ http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/delta-to-offer-free-entertainment-on-domestic-flights/#comments Wed, 30 Jul 2014 14:55:58 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=88167

America’s number 3 airline is making a ratings grab. Starting this Friday, August 1, Delta Airlines will roll out Delta Studio, the carrier’s own branding of a Gogo wireless in-flight entertainment (IFE) system called Gogo Vision, and will begin offering free access to movies, TV shows, music and video games on all of its domestic flights that last 90 minutes or more. Delta passengers can access free Delta Studio entertainment through seat-back screens where available or via a video player app downloaded on their own smartphones, tablets or laptops.

Delta features embedded in-flight entertainment on 140 of its planes

Delta has embedded in-flight entertainment on 140 of its domestic aircraft, and will now make them free to most passengers. For aircraft without IFE, free access to entertainment will be provided via video player apps for mobile devices.

On Delta and Delta Connection domestic aircraft that are equipped with IFE (in-flight entertainment), Delta Economy Comfort, BusinessElite and First Class  passengers will get free, unrestricted access on their seat-back systems to in-flight entertainment that includes live satellite TV channels, music and games, as well as premium movie and TV selections. Regardless of whether seat-back IFEs are available, passengers in these classes will also receive free streaming access to movies and TV shows on their mobile devices via the Gogo video player app (for iPhone and iPad as well as Android) or Delta’s Fly Delta app for iPad, either of which must be downloaded pre-flight.

For Economy passengers, access to a limited selection of free on-demand movies and TV shows will be available, while premium entertainment content will cost $6 per movie and $1 for each TV episode.

At present, Delta has 140 domestic aircraft equipped with embedded IFE, and as part of its fleet-wide interiors upgrade program, the airline plans to add these seat-back entertainment systems to more than 150 additional domestic narrow-body planes through 2016; these planes will include many of Delta’s 757-200s, 737-800s and Airbus A319s. Additionally, Delta’s 100 new Airbus and Boeing aircraft scheduled for delivery through 2018 will also be equipped with embedded IFE.

Though I’m still less than thrilled about Delta’s recent changes to its loyalty program, it’s great to see the airline offering such a welcome perk aboard its domestic flights. In an industry that’s often monkey see, monkey do, I can only hope that more domestic airlines will soon follow suit.

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Which Are The Best Hotel Credit Cards For Free Nights? http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/which-are-the-best-hotel-credit-cards-for-free-nights/ http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/which-are-the-best-hotel-credit-cards-for-free-nights/#comments Wed, 30 Jul 2014 12:08:52 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=86621

Today, TPG Contributor Jason Steele analyzes current credit card offers to see which ones can get you free hotel nights fastest among the top brands.

Hotel awards can can be underrated. Unlike most airline frequent flier programs, many hotel loyalty programs offer awards with no blackout dates or capacity controls. Furthermore, most hotel award nights are truly free, with no taxes or surcharges. Even when hotels impose a “resort fee” on award nights, these charges are far more affordable than the typical airline fuel surcharges.

Many reward travel enthusiasts, like myself, earn most of their hotel loyalty points through credit card spending, and only a minority through paid stays. So it seemed like a good idea to analyze which credit cards offer the fastest free nights for general spending outside of hotel stays or other bonus categories. This seems especially useful since different hotel credit cards offer different numbers of points per dollar spent, and their free night award charts vary wildly compared to frequent flier awards, which still have some lingering standards.

How fast you earn a free night depends on the number of points per dollar you earn, and the award chart. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

How fast you earn a free night depends on the number of points per dollar you earn, and the award chart in question. (Image courtesy of Shutterstock)

How the top hotel credit cards compare

I looked at the credit cards offered by the leading hotel brands including Hyatt, Marriott/Ritz-Carlton, IHG Rewards (formerly Priority Club), Hilton, Starwood, and Club Carlson. As a reminder, the chart below shows TPG’s latest valuations (in cents per point) of points in the major hotel loyalty programs. Note that for Starwood I used valuations from June, since the July values are inflated due to the current American Airlines and US Airways transfer bonuses.

Hyatt Marriott & Ritz IHG Hilton SPG Club Carlson
1.8 0.7 0.7 0.5 2.3 0.6

Using these point values, I calculated which hotel branded credit cards provide the greatest value per dollar of base spend. I then looked at the least and most expensive standard room awards, not counting any limited time promotions, and the spending requirements to reach those respective awards. The chart below shows my results.

Card Base Earning Value / $ spent Base award Spend for base award Top Award Spend for top award
Hyatt 1 1.8 5,000 $5,000 30,000 $30,000
Chase Marriott Rewards 1 0.7 7,500 $7,500 70,000 $70,000
Ritz-Carlton Rewards 1 0.7 7,500 $7,500 70,000 $70,000
IHG Rewards 1 0.7 10,000 $10,000 50,000 $50,000
Citi HHonors 2 1 5,000 $2,500 95,000 $47,500
Citi HHonors  Reserve 3 1.5 5,000 $1,667 95,000 $31,667
Amex HHonors 3 1.5 5,000 $1,667 95,000 $31,667
Amex HHonors Surpass 3 1.5 5,000 $1,667 95,000 $31,667
Amex SPG 1 2.3 2,000 $2,000 35,000 $35,000
Club Carlson Prem./Biz 5 3 9,000 $1,800 70,000 $14,000
Club Carlson Rewards 3 1.8 9,000 $3,000 70,000 $23,333

Analysis and Limitations

My analysis provided both some expected and unexpected results. This comparison doesn’t consider the annual fees and extra benefits of the various credit cards being discussed, nor does it factor in the availability of low and high end rewards in each program. Thus, this isn’t a complete picture of how much value the cards offer. Still, there’s insight to be gained by comparing what they offer just through basic spending. Here’s what my results tell me about each of the hotel branded loyalty cards listed above.

Hyatt – The Hyatt Credit Card from Chase
The Hyatt card offers just one point per dollar on base spend, but even the high end 7th tier Hyatt recently added to just a few properties are reasonably priced at 30,000 points a night. Most of their luxury properties are a more affordable 18,000 – 25,000 points per night, including their new all inclusive resorts at 20,000 points per night. Base awards starting at just 5,000 points per night are accessible, and while the category 1 hotels aren’t in desirable locations, at least there’s a decent number of them.

Hyatt offers great value on mid to high end awards.

Marriott – Marriott Rewards Premier Visa Signature
This program did reasonably well at the low end with just $5,000 of spending required for a free night at their budget properties. Nevertheless, there’s a reason why TPG values these points at only 0.7 cents apiece, as their high end Ritz-Carlton properties can require an astronomical 70,000 points per night. Other top tier properties in the Marriott family require as much as 45,000 points in their 9-tier award chart.  Another reason for the low value of Marriott points is that awards are subject to capacity controls, just like airline awards. To the program’s credit, it is very generous when it comes to awarding points for paid stays at 10 points per dollar, so it appeals more to actual business travelers than those who just use their credit cards to earn award nights.

IHG (Priority Club) – IHG Rewards Visa
Awards with this program, which include brands such as Intercontinental and Holiday Inn, start at a rather high 10,000 points per night. Considering that their credit card only offers one point per dollar spent, and these low end properties are typically part of their Candlewood and Staybridge Suites brands, this is especially disconcerting. On the high end, IHG award nights top out at 50,000 points, which means spending $50,000 on their credit card. That’s toward the high end compared to the other cards discussed here.

Hilton - Citi Hilton HHonors Visa SignatureHilton HHonors American ExpressCiti Hilton Reserve Card, and Hilton HHonors Surpass American Express
Hilton does pretty well in this comparison, mostly because three of its four co-branded credit cards offer three points per dollar spent. On the low end, awards can start at just 5,000 points, or $1,667 of spending, but these are really low end hotels. Basic Hampton Inns and Hilton Garden Inns are much more likely to require 20,000 to 30,000 points, which is not too bad when you are earning three points per dollar spent. The problem is that many of the high end hotels have recently gone up in price, and now require as many as 95,000 points per night.

If your goal is to get a free night stay using your credit card, here is what you need to know. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

If your goal is to get a free night stay using your credit card, here is what you need to know. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Starwood – Starwood Preferred Guest Card From American Express
When I looked recently at How to Get the Best Value for Starwood Hotel Redemptions, I found that some of the best values were in the mid to low range properties that required just 4,000 – 10,000 points. Certainly, there are some great values at the low end, where rooms start at just 2,000 points per night, or $2,000 of spending on the Starwood Preferred Guest card from American Express. Nevertheless, there aren’t too many properties at that first tier. On the high end, award nights require as many as 35,000 points, which is steep when the card earns only one point per dollar, but better than man of the other cards considered here.

Club Carlson - Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature, Club Carlson Business Rewards Visa, and Club Carlson Business Rewards Visa Signature
Those who are familiar with this program won’t be surprised to learn that the Club Carlson credit cards did very well in this comparison. The Club Carlson Premier and Business cards offer an outstanding five points per dollar spent on all purchases, which equates to just $1,800 of spending for a 9,000 point award on the low end of their award chart. Even on the high end, their top properties are 70,000 points, which is just $14,000 in spending at 5x per dollar. In contrast, the same amount of spending barely gets you into the local Holiday Inn Express by the highway using the IHG Priority Club card.

Furthermore, these calculations underestimate the value of Club Carlson points, since credit card holders receive a free last night stay with all award redemptions. So these amounts of spending can actually be cut in half for two night stays, or by a third for three night stays. If only Club Carlson had more high end properties in the United States, it would represent an unbeatable proposition.

Radisson Blu is part of Club Carlson. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Radisson Blu is part of Club Carlson. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Conclusions
For those who travel mostly on award bookings, the Hyatt, Starwood, and Club Carlson programs offer the best value for the least amount of credit cards spending. Credit cards from IHG, Hilton, and Marriott appeal most to those who are loyal to those brand and frequently stay using cash. By considering the best hotel loyalty programs for earning free nights through credit card spending, travelers can choose the best cards for their individual needs.

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Five Countries You Can Only Visit Through Government Sanctioned Tours http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/five-countries-you-can-only-visit-through-government-sanctioned-tours/ http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/five-countries-you-can-only-visit-through-government-sanctioned-tours/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 20:39:01 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=88076

 Steve Gempeler and Peter Gulas of Allied Passport & Visa are back with their expert knowledge of all things visa and passports. Today, they’re tackling the complicated topic of traveling to countries that only allow Americans through government sanctioned tours. Read on for everything you need to know about traveling to these countries and obtaining the appropriate visa.

There are currently five countries that allow American visitors entry only if traveling on government sanctioned tours. These countries are Cuba, North Korea, Bhutan, Tibet (not officially a country but we’ll include for the sake of this story), Turkmenistan, and Iran.

If after reading the above list of countries you’re thinking, “I wouldn’t visit any of those places even if I were paid to do so,” stop reading immediately. However, for those of you with even the slightest interest in immigration procedures and countries that Americans don’t often visit, this article will intrigue you immensely.

Note: The below focuses solely on tourist travel for USA citizens. Non-USA nationals may face similar stipulations for several of these countries.

passport and travel

Cuba

In recent years, the US Government has offered more legal ways to enter Cuba. Today, we will be focusing on traveling as a tourist to Cuba (or as the government calls it “people to people” travel).

In a phone interview with Tom Popper, President at Insight Cuba, Tom was able to provide some “insight” on the process of US Citizens legally entering Cuba.

Insight Cuba, or any other US tour operator, for that matter, offering such Cuban tours, must obtain a “People to People” license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control, which is sanctioned by the US Treasury. This license is valid for only two years, but can be continued if the operator qualifies and remains in good standing.

For tours to qualify for P2P, three to four activities must be arranged by the operator for each full travel day. For travelers to be considered legal visitors to Cuba, they must participate in all activities (unless fallen ill or other circumstances arise). Simply put, you cannot book a tour, ditch the tour group and head straight to the beach or do your own thing.

The actual paperwork of the traveler to enter Cuba is quite easy. Once you’ve booked your licensed tour, you simply send a scanned copy of your passport information page to the operator. There is no true visa to acquire for US citizens. Since the tour operator is already licensed, you being accompanied by them is all you need to be a legal traveler. With your tour, you will also need to purchase a charter flight package. If you were to look on Expedia, Orbitz, etc., you’d see no such offerings for flights to Cuba from the USA. The tour operator has contracted with private carriers that are required to provide the US Treasury any information they request, i.e. passenger manifests.

Tourist Card – Any US national entering Cuba will be required to purchase a Tourist Card. In the case of a US charter flight, this Tourist Card will be included with your flight package. If flying from outside the US, these Tourist Cards are sold by your airline before boarding your flight. The cost is approximately $35.

North Korea

US Citizens will most likely enter North Korea through China for two reasons. One, the Pyongyang airport has limited international destinations and two; Beijing is likely where you’ll obtain your North Korean visa. So first, Americans will need to acquire a multiple entry China visa (with Allied Passport ideally!) since a visa-free transit is not applicable in this situation, according to the State Department.

North Korea does not have representation in the United States (meaning there’s no embassy in Washington, DC) so tour operators offering North Korean tours, such as popular Koryo Tours, arrange your visa usually a minimum of four weeks before entry. Once you’ve booked a tour, to start the visa processing you’ll need to fill out a questionnaire, provide a scan of your passport and also email the operator a passport-like photo. From that point on, the tour operator will take care of the grunt work (including your airfare from Beijing to Pyongyang) with the North Korean Foreign Ministry.

So your tour is booked, and you’ve made it to Beijing and are boarding your flight to Pyongyang. Now what? Here’s the fun part. When boarding you will hand over your passport to your tour operator and won’t see it again for the duration of your North Korea trip! Best of all, there is no visa or documents you are shown to verify you are eligible to enter North Korea. Also, when you arrive back to Beijing and your passport is returned, expect not to see a single entry or exit stamp or fancy visa label inside.

On your tour you’ll be escorted closely. There are no options to roam about solo. The only time you’ll feel truly independent is inside your hotel. Also, make note when departing the country your digital cameras will be inspected by border patrol agents and don’t be surprised if some of those photos get deleted.

Bhutan

According to the US State Department Bhutan Travel webpage:

All visas are approved in the capital, Thimphu, and are only issued to tourists who have booked travel with a local licensed tour operator, either directly or through a foreign travel agent. Applications for tourist visas are submitted by the local tour operator (See the Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators website for further information). All visitors, including those on official U.S. government business, must obtain visa clearance from Thimphu before travelling to Bhutan. Visa clearance takes at least 10 days to process and airplane tickets to Bhutan cannot be purchased without visa clearance. At your point of entry into Bhutan, immigration authorities will stamp a visa into your passport upon payment of $40 U.S. You will also need to provide two passport photos. Tourist visas are usually granted for the scheduled travel period.

What is exclusively unique about travel to Bhutan is this country sets a minimum daily tariff for its visitors. This tariff is an all inclusive rate which includes your accommodations, transportation, meals, local travel guides, essentially paying for everything outside of non-essentials (e.g. mementos).

Bhutan’s largest airport serves limited international destinations including very select cities in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Thailand, and Singapore giving visitor’s an excuse to visit other exotic countries on the same trip!

Tibet

In order to visit Tibet you’ll need to obtain a China visa first. Secondly, booking an organized tour is mandatory. Your tour operator, after receiving a copy of the traveler’s passport information page and China visa, will apply through the Tibet Tourism Bureau, for your Tibet Travel Permit. When taking a train or flight into Tibet you’ll be required to show this permit during check-in.

China Visa

The ordinary Tibet Travel Permit is only valid for travel within Lhasa City. Any travel outside the city, you’ll be required to apply for additional permits. For Lhasa tours, you’ll be assigned a tour guide. “Tours” can be as small as one person. Even though you are required to be on a tour, unlike some other countries on this list there are no activity requirements and if desired, you can explore the city unsupervised.

Turkmenistan

In order to visit Turkmenistan as a tourist you’ll need to book an organized tour. Once booked, your government authorized tour provider will request a copy of the traveler’s passport information page and will apply for a tourist authorization through the Turkmenistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Generally, this authorization is never valid for more than three weeks and is date specific. Meaning, your stay in-country is limited to the exact dates the visa is written for and the visa cannot be extended in country. Once you’ve finally obtained that authorization, you will then need to apply for the visa itself either directly through the embassy or using a visa service in Washington, DC. Visa processing takes two weeks in Washington.

Your tour guide is required to accompany you throughout your travels with the exception of sightseeing in the capital, Ashgabat. If you plan on visiting only the capital, a transit visa is potentially a better option.

A transit visa is usually valid for only five days and you’ll need to submit your application directly to the embassy in Washington DC. Transit visas are not available on arrival.

Iran

Your visa to Iran, surprisingly, is no more difficult to obtain than any other country we’ve discussed.

Here are a couple passport questions to ask yourself before booking your mandatory tour and applying for your Iranian visa:

  • Does your passport have any evidence of Israeli travel? If yes, Allied can assist in either renewing your passport or applying for a 2nd passport.
  • Does your passport expire soon? Your passport must be valid for 6 months beyond your exit from Iran.

Once you’ve okayed these questions your next step is to book an endorsed tour and begin the visa application process.

All nationalities are required to have an entry visa to Iran. For Americans, the visa validity will only be granted for the actual length of stay of your tour. If you decide to spend a few extra days in Iran before or after your formal tour, this can be arranged by the tour company and added to the length of the visa.

The most grueling aspect of obtaining a visa to Iran is getting a visa reference number which comes from the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Fortunately, your tour operator will process the paperwork for this. You’ll need to fill out a Reference Number Application (supplied by the operator) and a scanned copy of your passport.

Once your visa authorization number is granted, it is only valid for 30 days; therefore, you’ll need to apply for your visa at your most local Iranian consulate as soon as possible. Although, Washington, DC doesn’t have an official embassy, Iran does have an “Interest Section” located within an office building leased by the Government of Pakistan.

Once your application has been submitted to the consulate (either by you personally or by a third party service) it usually takes five to seven business days to process.

Here are the consulate submission requirements:

  • Three completed Iran visa applications (write the authorization number on the top of each page)
  • Three passport type photos
  • Physical passport with 6 months validity beyond trip completion and one blank visa page
  • One copy of flight itinerary – proof of entry and exit from Iran
  • Copy of your tour voucher
  • Payment in the form of a money order

Once you have arrived in Iran (for Americans) you’ll be assigned a mandatory escort at the airport who will transport you to your hotel. In Tehran you are able to explore independently, but anywhere outside the city you’ll be required to stay with the tour group.

For more information on obtaining international travel visas and receiving a special $5 TPG discount on your order please visit Allied Passport & Visa. Do you have any questions? Ask away in the comments section below.

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Up to $1,050 in Statement Credit with Amex Plum Card http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/up-to-1050-in-statement-credit-with-amex-plum-card/ http://thepointsguy.com/2014/07/up-to-1050-in-statement-credit-with-amex-plum-card/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 18:00:48 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=87098

One of the key tenets of maximizing miles and points is that you should try to get something back for every dollar you spend- whether that be miles, points or cash.  Personally, I like racking up miles and points because I know how to maximize redemptions and get more than 2% back for every dollar I spend.

Earning points, miles or cash back on every purchase Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Earning points or miles on every purchase is my main goal. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

However, with all of the program devaluations we’ve seen over the past year, I’ve started to diversify- recently getting the Barclaycard Arrival Plus and Capital One Venture cards, since those points can be used toward travel expenses like taxis, car services, trains, amusement parks, fuel surcharges on award tickets, bed and breakfast stays and more - costs that traditional miles and points generally don’t cover.

As the owner of several small businesses, I also have a number of business credit cards, and recently wrote about the top points-earning business cards back in March. Since then, business credit card sign-up offers have been heating up, for both points earning and cash-back cards.

American Express Plum Card New Offer

In the cash-back business card space, American Express OPEN recently launched a limited time sign up bonus for The Plum Card, which gives up to 3.5% cash back on up to $30,000 on your card within the first 3 months. If you’re able to spend $30,000 within three months, you’d net statement credits worth $1,050, which is even more substantial since the $250 annual fee is waived the first year.

Amex Plum LTO

The bonus works out like this: you always earn a base discount of 1.5% “on the portion of your eligible purchase balance that you pay within 10 days of your statement closing date as long as you pay at least your Minimum Payment Due.” On $30,000 that would be $450 back.

Plus, the current limited-time offer provides a $200 statement credit for every $10,000 you spend on the Card within the first 3 months of card membership, up to $600 back. $30,000 within three months would trigger the full bonus of $600, so in addition to the base 1.5% early payment discount, you’re looking at $1,050 back on $30,000 in spend (3.5%), which is pretty generous. This offer expires on October 27, 2014.

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The card also does not have foreign transaction fees, provides employee cards for free, and is a part of OPEN Savings, which gives additional discounts at certain vendors like FedEx, Hertz and Hyatt. Note: the welcome bonus offer is not available to applicants who have or have had this product within the last 12 months.

The Plum Card is a charge card, which means you’re supposed to pay off your statement balance in full each month. However, this card gives you up to 60 days to pay with no interest as long as you pay at least 10%  of the balance from new activity on your billing statement, plus the entire amount of any previously deferred payment by payment due date.

 Is It Worth It?

$30,000 may seem like a lot to spend in three months in order to get just $1050 back in statement credits, but cash back can be a better option for some businesses instead of earning points in a certain program. For strict cash back, this is one of the top business credit cards if you can hit the max spend. Other top competitors are Ink Cash which offers $200 cash back after $3,000 spent within the first 3 months, and the Capital One Spark Cash Credit Card that offers $250 cash back after $5,000 spent in the first 3 months plus a $50 cash back bonus when you sign up an employee card within the first 60 days. The Amex Simply Cash Business credit card doesn’t offer a signup bonus, but there’s no annual fee and good earning categories like 5x points on office supply stores and telephone services from US providers.

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