The Points Guy http://thepointsguy.com Fri, 19 Sep 2014 12:08:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Unaccompanied Minors: Tips to Help Kids Fly Solo Safely http://thepointsguy.com/2014/09/unaccompanied-minors-tips-to-help-kids-fly-solo-safely/ http://thepointsguy.com/2014/09/unaccompanied-minors-tips-to-help-kids-fly-solo-safely/#comments Fri, 19 Sep 2014 12:08:15 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=92273

Air travel is a bit like riding a bike; after you’ve done it for a while, it becomes second nature. However, the world of airport terminals and baggage claims can be pretty overwhelming to the uninitiated, especially kids traveling alone. So today, TPG Contributor Jason Steele offers guidelines for helping unaccompanied minors get from gate to gate worry free.

As a child, I was always very excited (and a little bit nervous) to fly by myself to visit my grandparents. Back then (in the eighties), arranging for airline staff to escort an unaccompanied minor was free and easy, just like checking baggage. And like checked baggage, there were occasionally some problems, which led airlines to eventually increase safeguards and pass the costs on to passengers.

Like all airline policies and fees, those for accompanied minors vary between airlines and are constantly subject to change. For example, American Airlines recently announced that it would start charging a $150 fee for unaccompanied children ages 12-14, whereas the fee previously applied only to children age 5-11. In this post I’ll explain the unaccompanied minor (UM) policies of some major domestic airlines, and offer recommendations for how to help the kids in your life travel safely and comfortably.

Traveling as an unaccompanied minor can be exciting, but also a little scary.

Traveling as an unaccompanied minor can be exciting, but also a little scary. (Image courtesy of Shutterstock)

Unaccompanied Minor Policies for Domestic Airlines

Alaska Airlines
Alaska’s UM service costs just $25 each way for a non-stop or direct flight with no change of planes, and $50 each way for connecting itineraries. Children ages 5-7 require a non-stop/direct flight, while those ages 8-12 can have connections. The service is optional for kids ages 13 and up. Read their entire policy here.

Allegiant Air
This airline does not accept unaccompanied minors under the age 15.

American Airlines
American charges a $150 fee each way. The service is mandatory for children ages 5-14, and optional for ages 15 – 17. No connections are permitted from other carriers or other nearby airports (co-terminals such as Kennedy and LaGuardia), and children cannot be booked on the last scheduled connection of the day. No connections at all are allowed for children ages 5-7. Read their entire policy here.

Delta Airlines
Delta charges $100 each way for unaccompanied minor service, but otherwise has largely the same policies as American; that is, UM service is required for ages 5-14 and optional for older children, and no change of planes is permitted for children ages 5-7. Delta also stipulates that, with some exceptions, children cannot be booked on red-eye flights. Read their entire policy here.

Frontier Airlines
Frontier’s UM service is required for children ages 5-14, and costs $100 each way. However, the fee is waived for children of Summit or Ascent elite members. Frontier only offers UM service on non-stop flights. A drink and snack are provided, and only one fee is assessed for multiple children on the same reservation. Read their entire policy here.

JetBlue
JetBlue charges $100 each way for UM service, which is required for children ages 5-14, and is only available on non-stop flights. Read their entire policy here.

Hawaiian Airlines
Hawaiian charges $35 for UM travel within the State of Hawaii, and $100 for itineraries that go out of state. Connecting flights are permitted. The service is required for children ages 5-11, and optional for ages 12 and up. Read their entire policy here.

Southwest Airlines
Southwest only requires UM service for children ages 5-11; it’s optional for ages 12 and up. In fact, Southwest will actually allow a 12 year old to serve as an escort for a minor age 5-11. The UM service fee is only $50 each way, but plane changes are not permitted; only non-stop flights and direct flights with one or more stops (but no changes of plane) are allowed. Read their entire policy here.

Southwest has one of the best unaccompanied minor policies, but you can't book a trip with a change of plane.

Southwest has one of the best unaccompanied minor policies, but you can’t book a trip with a plane change.

Spirit Airlines
Spirit offers UM service on domestic flights (including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands). The UM service fee is $100 each way, is required for children ages 5-14, and is optional for ages 15-17. A change of plane is not allowed, but direct flights with a stop and no aircraft change are permitted. A drink and snack are included with the service. Read their entire policy here.

United Airlines
United charges $150 each way for UM service, which is required for children ages 5-11, and is optional for older children. There is no minimum age for traveling with connections. According to their policy, children are offered one free food item, even when food is offered for purchase only. In addition, United has a Young Travelers Club (which is a kid’s lounge dedicated to UM travelers) in Cleveland, Denver, Houston, Newark, and Washington Dulles. Read their entire policy here.

United has special lounges for unaccompanied minors.

United has special lounges for unaccompanied minors.

US Airways
There is a $150 charge for UM service, which is mandatory for children ages 5-14 and optional for ages 15 and up . US Airways does not permit any plane changes with UM service; only non-stop flights are allowed. Read their entire policy here.

Virgin America
UM fees are $75 – $125, depending on the destination, and are required for children ages 5-15. Connecting flights are not permitted. Read their entire policy here.

Canadian Airlines
Air Canada, Porter, and WestJet all have a minimum age requirement of 8 years, and charge a $100(Canadian) UM fee for children up to age 11. At age 12 and up, the service is optional.

Kids

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Tips for Choosing an Airline for an Unaccompanied Minor.

1. Travel with connections. Many cities can only be reached with a connection, but that’s a challenge with UM travel. If you need to send a child ages 5-7 on an itinerary with a connection, you pretty much have to go with United. Otherwise, someone will have to drive (or otherwise travel) to the nearest city with a non-stop flight. Even when a connection is permitted, I think that parents should strongly consider going out of their way to put an unaccompanied minor on a non-stop flight (or a direct flight with a stop, but no plane change), even if it means paying more or driving farther to an alternate airport.

2. Shop around. The prices for unaccompanied minor service vary tremendously, with Alaska being the least at $25 each way for non-stop and direct flights, and the three major legacy airlines charging $150 for the same service. Parents should first consider Alaska and Southwest, which charge at most $50 each way, followed by the remaining carriers, which typically charge $100 each way.

3. Tween travel. Another area where airlines differ is in their policies for “tweens,” which are children ages 12-15. Southwest, United, Alaska, and the three largest Canadian airlines all allow tweens to fly essentially as adults without paying for unaccompanied minor service. Parents need to take into account the travel experience and comfort level of each child before allowing them to travel without the UM service. On a non-stop flight, and with family escorting kids to and from the gate, this can be a great option.

Kid

Escorting kids to and from their gate will help them feel more comfortable. (Image courtesy of Shutterstock)

Other tips for unaccompanied minor travel

1. Plan carefully. It’s worth repeating that parents should do everything possible to avoid connecting flights, as that is where kids will have the highest chance of being stranded or having other travel problems. Many airlines forbid unaccompanied minors from booking the last flight out, but it’s a good idea to avoid those flights even when permitted. In fact, flights earlier in the day are the least likely to be delayed by mechanical and weather issues, and offer the best chance for being re-accommodated in the event of cancellations.

2. Use a checklist. Sending a child off alone can be a bit stressful, and it’s easy to forget one or two important steps. Thankfully, Alaska Airlines offers a great checklist for children traveling alone. Even if your child is flying another carrier, most of the items on their list will still apply.

Alaska airlines has a great checklist that you can use, even if you are traveling on another carrier.

Alaska Airlines has a great checklist you can use to get your child ready, even when flying on another carrier.

3. Give the child a phone. There’s no need to buy your child the latest smartphone, but if he or she is old enough to operate a simple handheld, then you should definitely purchase an inexpensive, no-contract phone just for travel. That way you should be able to reach your child no matter what happens, rather than rely 100% on the airlines, which are far from perfect.

4. Be careful with non-refundable fees. Many airlines make the unaccompanied minor fee non-refundable, so don’t be in a hurry to pay that fee when you book the ticket. Pay it at the airport instead, just in case your travel plans have to change for any reason.

5. Use travel funds and fee credits. To offset the pain of expensive UM fees, there are a few tricks you can use. For example, airlines often hand out travel credit vouchers for service failures, and UM fees often can be covered by these vouchers. UM fees are also eligible for reimbursement using the $200 annual airline fee credit offered by the American Express Platinum card, or similar credits offered by other cards. Finally, you can redeem miles from your Barclaycard Arrival Plus or Capital One Venture Rewards cards to pay for this fee or any other airline charge.

6. Consider a meet and greet service. A company called Global Airport Concierge, which meets and greet travelers and assists them with luggage, also offers an unaccompanied minor service. This option might be necessary to fill in a missing step in an itinerary, such as when a child has to connect to a flight on another airline. MasterCard cardholders receive a 15% discount on this service.

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Citi Launches New Expedia Credit Cards http://thepointsguy.com/2014/09/citi-launches-new-expedia-credit-cards/ http://thepointsguy.com/2014/09/citi-launches-new-expedia-credit-cards/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 21:29:51 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=92576

Hot on the heels of the launch of its newly revamped Expedia+ Rewards program this summer, the online travel agency has unveiled two new credit cards in conjunction with Citi, and Team TPG got all the details at a launch event last night. Here are the details on each card and the benefits they include.

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Expedia+ Card

  • 15,000 Expedia+ rewards bonus points after $1,000 in purchases within 3 months of account opening – redeemable for $200 in coupons at +VIP Access hotels or $100 in coupons at other hotels
  • Automatic +silver status as long as you’re a cardmember
  • Earn 3 points per dollar spent on eligible Expedia purchases including flights, hotels, activities and vacation packages
  • Earn 1 point per dollar on other purchases
  • Accelerate to gold+ status – earn one Elite Qualifying Hotel Night toward Expedia+ status qualification for each increment of $2,500 in purchases made on the card between your January and December billing statements
  • 3% foreign transaction fee
  • No annual fee

+Silver status is normally earned after booking 7 qualifying nights or spending $5,000 annually. It includes benefits such as a 10% bonus on Expedia+ base points, +VIP Access hotel bonuses and amenities at +VIP hotels.

Expedia+ Voyager Card

  • 25,000 Expedia+ rewards bonus points after $2,000 in purchases within 3 months of account opening – redeemable for $350 in coupons at +VIP Access hotels or $175 in coupons at other hotels
  • Automatic +gold status as long as you’re a cardmember
  • Earn 4 points per dollar spent on eligible Expedia purchases including flights, hotels, activities and vacation packages
  • Earn 2 points per dollar on dining at restaurants and entertainment (including sports promoters, theatrical promoters, movie theaters, amusement parks, tourist attractions, record stores and video rental stores)
  • Earn 1 point per dollar on other purchases
  • $100 annual statement credit toward airline incidentals on qualified airlines, WiFi carriers or for the Global Entry application fee
  • 5,000 anniversary bonus points after you spend $10,000 in the prior cardmember year
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $95 annual fee

+Gold status is usually earned after booking 15 qualifying nights or spending $10,000 annually. It includes a 30% bonus on Expedia+ base points, +VIP Access hotel bonuses and upgrades, and exclusive amenities.

Both cards help you achieve Expedia+ elite status faster.

Both cards help you achieve Expedia+ elite status faster.

My Thoughts

These look like two solid products from Citi. The premium Voyager version of the card, however, gives an annual $100 statement credit that can easily offset the $95 annual fee, so I would probably apply for that one.

The 25,000-point sign-up bonus for spending $2,000 is the equivalent of getting between 8.75%-17.5% back on your spend, which is pretty decent, depending on the hotels where you choose to redeem those points. The category spending bonuses on dining and entertainment are also a good way to rack up multiple points per dollar.

In terms of the Expedia purchase bonuses, you do have to be a little careful since the terms of the card state: “Expedia Purchases include flights, Expedia® Rate Hotels, Vacation Packages, and activities booked on Expedia.com. An “activity” is anything booked on the “Things to Do” tab on Expedia.com. Expedia Rate Hotels are designated as such in your hotel search. To earn 4 Expedia+ rewards bonus points per dollar spent on Expedia Rate Hotels, your credit card must be charged for the full payment upon reservation. Expedia Rate Hotels reserved through Expedia but paid for at the time of stay, non-Expedia Rate Hotels, car reservations that are not booked as part of a vacation package (via the “Vacation Package” tab on Expedia.com), and cruise bookings do not qualify for the 4 Expedia+ reward points.”

The cards can dramatically up your earning potential on Expedia purchases.

The cards can dramatically up your earning potential on Expedia purchases.

The upshot is that you have to book and purchase prepaid hotel stays in order to earn those bonus points, which might not be a great fit for travelers who value or require flexibility.

What I do find valuable is that you can now earn 4x points per $1 on flight bookings. With Expedia+ Rewards you normally earn 2 points for every $1 spent when booking hotels, activities and packages, and 1 point for every $5 spent on flights. If you can now earn 4 points per $1 on flights, you have just upped your earning by 2,000%.

Orbitz Comparison

The other major OTA that recently launched a points program and a co-branded credit card is Orbitz.

With that card, you earn just a $50 Orbucks statement credit (to use on hotel bookings) when you spend $200 in 90 days, and you can earn up to 10% back on hotel bookings, 7% on air bookings, 6% on air/package bookings and 2% back on all other purchases. It has no annual fee and no forex fees.

In terms of return on spending – Expedia points are worth about 0.7 cents apiece towards hotel bookings, so on your everyday spend, the Orbitz card gives you a higher rate of return at 2%. It also beats the no-fee Expedia card by not charging foreign transaction fees. However, the added perks of the Voyager card including elite status, the $100 annual statement, and 5,000-point anniversary bonus when you spend $10,000 might all make it a better value for folks who can really max out its benefits.

If you have one of the Chase Ultimate Rewards cards – the Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold or Ink Plus – you might also want to log into the Ultimate Rewards portal and check the earning bonuses currently being offered on travel partners including Expedia. Right now, you can earn 1 extra point per $1 with the Sapphire Preferred, for instance, when you click through to Expedia from the UR portal. That would bring your per-dollar earning to 3x points since Expedia is a travel category merchant.

You can currently earn 3x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on Expedia.

You can currently earn 3x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on Expedia.

I currently value Ultimate Rewards points at about 2.1 cents each because of their flexibility with the program’s 11 great transfer partners, including United, Southwest and Hyatt, as well as features like “Pay Yourself Back.” That would make an Expedia booking worth about 6.3% back on spending. In pretty much every case, I would take that over 4 Expedia points (worth only about 2.8% back on spending).

Still, if you’re a frequent Expedia user and want to try out the perks of elite status, and will really max out those extra benefits – like the annual $100 statement credit and bonus points categories – you might want to take one of these new cards for a spin.

Do you plan on applying? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

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How To Maximize Current Club Carlson Promotions http://thepointsguy.com/2014/09/how-to-maximize-current-club-carlson-promotions/ http://thepointsguy.com/2014/09/how-to-maximize-current-club-carlson-promotions/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 19:22:16 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=92583

Club Carlson, the loyalty program of brands including Radisson, Radisson Blu and Park Inn, is running a few different promotions right now that make it possible to rack up thousands of points and miles.

AA_PromoTakeOffwithMoreMiles_header_890x225

7,500 Bonus American AAdvantage Miles

Now through December 15, 2014, when you book and complete two eligible stays at Radisson hotels, you can earn 7,500 bonus American AAdvantage miles. You must register here by October 15.

An eligible stay consists of one or more consecutive nights at a participating property (all Radisson hotels are participating) at a rate eligible to earn Gold Points (so no award stays). You can earn the bonus once per AAdvantage account.

The good news here is that you don’t have to choose to earn miles instead of points on your stay, so you can earn any Gold Points you normally would plus the bonus points for the weekday promo I’ll outline below plus the miles.

AEROPLAN_PromoTakeOffwithMoreMiles_page_header_890x225

7,500 Bonus Aeroplan Miles

If you’re a Star Alliance flyer, you might instead opt to participate in Club Carlson’s promo with Aeroplan where, when you book and complete two Radisson stays by December 15, you can earn 7,500 Aeroplan miles. Registration is open through December 14.

Promo details are here, but they are pretty much identical to those of the AAdvantage promo. Again, only one bonus per Aeroplan account, and this offer should be stackable with Carlson’s other points (not airline) promos.

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Triple Gold Points on Weekday Stays

For stays now through November 30, 2014, when you use the promo code BIZTIME3 at time of booking, you can earn triple Gold Points on Club Carlson stays.

Check-in must be Sunday-Thursday night, and check-out Monday-Friday night in order to qualify. That means instead of the base 20 points per dollar you earn, you will be getting 60 points per dollar. Plus, if you have the Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature, you have Gold status for an extra 7 points per dollar plus 10 points per dollar if you use your card to pay for your stay for a whopping total potential of 77 Gold Points per dollar!

Before you go booking stays all over the place, only properties in certain countries including the US and Mexico, but none in Europe, for example. You can find all the promo details here, but as I mentioned, this should be stackable with either of the mileage promos above, and the app-booking promo below.

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3,000 Gold Points For App Bookings

Club Carlson is also offering a promo where you can earn 3,000 bonus points just by booking and completing a stay through the Club Carlson promo app now through November 16, 2014.

Promo details are here, but in short, you must be an existing Club Carlson member and book and pay in full for a Gold Points-earning stay (no award nights and no Points + Cash stays) completed by November 16. You can earn multiple bonuses through the promo period. The app is available for both IOS and Android.

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Earn Triple Southwest Points Through November 20 (Targeted) http://thepointsguy.com/2014/09/earn-triple-southwest-points-through-november-20-targeted/ http://thepointsguy.com/2014/09/earn-triple-southwest-points-through-november-20-targeted/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 15:57:04 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=92562

Southwest recently launched a targeted offer where Rapid Rewards members can earn triple points on flights between now and November 20, 2014. You must register by November 20 and then book and fly by that day as well.

rreu_triple_hero_630x470_rev The terms are clear that the offer is targeted to recipients of the email that Southwest sent out, but members of Team TPG were able to register for the promotion even though they had not received the email and got the following screen. It reiterates the “only the recipient language,” but appears to show that registration was successful, so you might want to try registering even if you did not receive the email.

You might still be able to register even if not targeted.

You might still be able to register even if not targeted.

With this promotion, your points-earning is bumped to the following levels based on the kinds of fares you purchase:

  • Wanna Get Away: 12 bonus points per dollar – for a total of 18 points per dollar
  • Anytime: 20 bonus points per dollar – for a total of 30 points per dollar
  • Business Select: 24 bonus points per dollar – for a total of 36 points per dollar

In terms of value, you can redeem Southwest points at a rate of 70 per dollar for Wanna Get Away fares, or 1.4 cents each. So the return on your spending with this promotion just on Wanna Get Away fares is right around 25% – not bad!

To earn the bonus points, you must register prior to travel, and it is valid on new reservations booked within the promotional period only. The good thing about Southwest, though, is that all its fares are basically refundable. So if you have already booked travel during that time period and the airfare is still comparable, you can simply cancel your reservation and rebook after you have completed registration to earn the triple points.

Now the bad news. Per the terms, bonus points do not count toward A-List, A-List Preferred or Companion Pass qualification, which is too bad since this could have been a good way to make a final push for 2015 qualification.

Also, you do not earn bonus points on award, Companion Pass, Southwest Vacations Packages, Jackpot Deals or rewards travel, or on Southwest flights booked through AirTran – so be sure to book through Southwest!

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Thursday Giveaway: 75,000 Hyatt Gold Passport Rewards Points http://thepointsguy.com/2014/09/thursday-giveaway-75000-hyatt-gold-passport-rewards-points/ http://thepointsguy.com/2014/09/thursday-giveaway-75000-hyatt-gold-passport-rewards-points/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 14:29:30 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=92393

Last year, Hyatt and MGM Resorts formed a strategic partnership in Las Vegas between their two in-house loyalty programs. Hyatt Gold Passport members are able to earn and redeem points at 12 M life destinations in Vegas, and members are also be able to earn credit toward tier status for eligible stays and eligible nights at participating M life destinations.

The Bellagio, the crown jewel of the Vegas Strip...image courtesy of Shutterstock

The Bellagio, the crown jewel of the Vegas Strip…image courtesy of Shutterstock

Earlier this summer, Hyatt Gold Passport launched #MakeVegasYours, a digital hub that helps consumers explore Las Vegas and make the most of of the Hyatt Gold Passport and M life relationship. It features daily content around all things Las Vegas, from activities, wellness, restaurants and bars, entertainment, accommodations, shopping, and more. In honor of this new hub, Hyatt and M life are providing one lucky TPG reader 75,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points which equates to a three night stay at one of the participating MGM Resorts in Las Vegas including the Bellagio, MGM Grand and the new Delano Las Vegas. To enter to win, visit our Facebook Page, Remember, when you share it on your wall, tweet it out or send an invite, every time one of your friends enters, you get an extra entry!

Enter today to win 75,000 Hyatt Gold Passport Points which is good for 3 nights at a Hyatt / M life property in Fabulous Las Vegas! Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Enter today to win 75,000 Hyatt Gold Passport Points which is good for 3 nights at a Hyatt / M life property in Fabulous Las Vegas! Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Last Week’s Winner: Following the completion of the 2014 US Open, last week we had an amazing swag bag from Starwood Preferred Guest and American Express with some incredible signed items including a hat signed by mens double’s champions Mike and Bob Bryan plus a $200 Amex gift card. We had thousands of entries, and a big congratulations to TPG reader Tony on winning!

An autographed hat by 2014 Men's Doubles Champions the Bryan Brothers and an autographed tennis ball by legend Billie Jean King...congrats Tony!

An autographed hat by 2014 Men’s Doubles Champions the Bryan Brothers and an autographed tennis ball by legend Billie Jean King…congrats Tony!

Congrats to our winner, and stay tuned for more great giveaways here on the blog and on TPG TwitterFacebook and Instagram. Safe travels!

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Transferable Points from Bank of America: The Weekly Wish http://thepointsguy.com/2014/09/transferable-points-from-bank-of-america-the-weekly-wish/ http://thepointsguy.com/2014/09/transferable-points-from-bank-of-america-the-weekly-wish/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 12:08:55 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=92221

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: a transferable points program from Bank of America.

2014 has seen its fair share of improvements on the loyalty front. Sure, there have been devaluations (ahem, Delta and United, ahem), but I’ve been excited to see Citibank improving the benefits on the Citi Prestige card, and Chase adding Singapore Airlines as an Ultimate Rewards transfer partner. Taking the cake so far has been the emergence of Citi ThankYou Rewards as a transferable points program after the addition of new transfer partners (10 and counting). There are now three major credit card issuers with transferable point currencies (Citi, Chase, and American Express), as well as Starwood Preferred Guest.

The proliferation of transfer partners has highlighted a big hole in the offerings of one major credit card issuer: Bank of America. Despite being one of the largest card issuers in the U.S. (#3 in 2011, according to CardHub.com), I believe that they are missing the boat by not having a “premium” card, and with the new changes to Citi ThankYou Rewards now in effect, Bank of America risks being left in the dust. This serves as the impetus for today’s Weekly Wish: that Bank of America releases a card with transferable point options.

Bank of America may be one of the biggest banks in the U.S., but their credit card offerings leave a bit to be desired.

Bank of America may be one of the biggest banks in the U.S., but their credit card offerings are still mostly small potatoes. (Image courtesy of Shutterstock)

To be honest, I was a little surprised at how high Bank of America ranked in the article linked above, as their card offerings are relatively unheralded. They do have some decent options that TPG has written about before; namely, the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature and Virgin Atlantic MasterCard. However, consider some of the cards offered by the other top issuers:

  • American Express: Platinum, Premier Rewards Gold, EveryDay Preferred, multiple Delta cards, Hilton HHonors and Hilton Surpass, Starwood Preferred Guest;
  • Chase: Hyatt, IHG, British Airways, United, Southwest, Ink, Sapphire Preferred, Marriott;
  • Citi: Premier, Prestige, ThankYou Preferred, multiple AA cards, Hilton HHonors and Hilton Reserve.

These cards give you many ways to earn and redeem points with a variety of airlines, hotel chains, and other travel providers. Name a domestic loyalty program, and chances are their co-branded credit card is issued by one of these three players.

Now contrast that with Bank of America. Aside from the Alaska Airlines and Virgin Atlantic cards, they really aren’t a factor in the travel market. They have the Travel Rewards Visa card (a cash-back option akin to the Barclaycard Arrival Plus), which comes with a 10,000 point sign-up bonus, has no annual fee, and offers 1.5 points/dollar on all purchases. However, cash-back cards just aren’t as potent as those with transfer options. Adding a new premium card with transferable points would create huge potential for Bank of America for two main reasons that I’ll explain below.

1. Bank of America has existing relationships with unique transfer partners among card issuers:
Virgin Atlantic was added as a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner last year (and was already a transfer partner of Membership Rewards), but Alaska isn’t a part of the other transferable credit card programs (I’m leaving out SPG here, since technically it’s a hotel loyalty program and isn’t in direct competition with Bank of America). Based on TPG’s August valuations, Alaska miles are worth 2 cents apiece, so having a new method for acquiring those valuable miles would definitely increase application flow.

Bank of America has some quirky credit cards, including those of Spirit and Asiana.

Bank of America has some quirky credit cards, including co-branded offerings from Spirit and Asiana.

In addition, Bank of America is the issuing bank for several other airlines and cruise lines that are not connected to any transferable point program, such as:

  • Spirit
  • Asiana
  • Royal Caribbean
  • Celebrity
  • Norwegian

These aren’t particularly valuable transfer partners, but as a points & miles enthusiast, I like having options. Since Bank of America already has existing relationships with these travel providers, it seems natural that they would be part of a new transferable points program, and being the only credit card issuer with access to cruise redemptions could be a huge bump in business.

Of course, Bank of America would want to explore other transfer options, including loyalty programs that are already connected to Chase, Citi, or Amex. Flying Blue, for example, is a transfer partner of both Citi ThankYou Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards, while British Airways partners with both Membership Rewards and Ultimate Rewards. However, starting with existing partners would be a good jumping off point, and would allow plenty of room for expansion later on.

2. Relationship Bonus:
Banks and other credit card issuers have an obvious incentive to gain you as a customer. The more money you spend on their credit cards (or the more money you deposit into their checking/savings/money market/investment accounts), the better. This is why some banks offer relationship bonuses to their cardholders that incentivize a broader banking relationship. Until recently, a prime example of this was the Chase Exclusives program offered by the Chase Freedom card, including a 10% point bonus plus 10 extra points per transaction for customers with a Chase checking account. This was replaced with a simple 10% bonus, but even that will be discontinued at the end of 2015.

Another relationship bonus is currently offered by Wells Fargo, who recently announced a foray into the travel credit card market with their Propel World and Propel 365 cards. Cardholders who also bank with Wells Fargo can enjoy a 10%, 25%, or 50% bonus depending on the type (and size) of the account.

To me, this is where Bank of America could make a statement. By giving cardholders access to flexible, transferable points, and throwing in a yearly relationship bonus for banking customers, they could poach both credit card and banking customers from the other card issuers. This would hopefully push other banks to reevaluate their programs and look for more ways to improve benefits.

The Bank of America Travel Rewards card offers a 10% bonus every year for checking/savings customers.

The Bank of America Travel Rewards card offers a 10% bonus every year for checking/savings customers.

Keep in mind that Bank of America already does offer a banking relationship bonus on the aforementioned Travel Rewards card. If you’re a checking or savings customer, you’ll automatically earn a 10% point bonus each year on your total purchases. Unfortunately, the points you earn on this card are essentially worth 1 cent apiece and cannot be transferred, but issuing a premium card with a similar (or ideally, more rewarding) relationship bonus would be a good starting point.

So how might this work on Bank of America’s new card? I envision a tiered structure, where you would earn a 5% bonus on all points earned each year for each of the following conditions:

  • Having a checking and savings account
  • Having a CD with at least $25,000
  • Having an investment account
  • Average annual account balance of all accounts >$250,000
  • Average annual account balance of all accounts > $500,000

That would mean that a high roller with all of the aforementioned accounts and over $500,000 in total would be able to earn a 25% bonus. Someone like me, who has just a checking & savings account with the bank, would only earn a 5% bonus. Still, even that extra amount would be an interesting enticement, and depending on the other benefits of the new card (annual fee, bonus categories, etc.), I would be tempted to apply.

Is Bank of America missing out by not having a premium card and transferable points program, or would a new card like this just add white noise to the market? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Six Top Credit Cards For International Travel http://thepointsguy.com/2014/09/six-top-credit-cards-for-international-travel/ http://thepointsguy.com/2014/09/six-top-credit-cards-for-international-travel/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 20:27:14 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=92500

International travel often involves extra planning to make sure your trip goes smoothly. TPG Contributor Eric Rosen recently wrote about how to prepare for international travel, and among his considerations was the importance of bringing the right credit card. There are some obvious factors to consider, like whether a card levies foreign transaction fees, and some less obvious ones, like whether it offers purchase protection, trip cancellation insurance, and more. With that in mind, I thought it would be useful to put together a list of the top current travel credit cards to carry with you when you go abroad, outlining the specific benefits of each one and why it might come in handy on your next trip. This is by no means a final list of cards that are good for international travel, but these are 6 solid cards that offer valuable earning, redeeming and perks. I also included a range of fees- from $59-$450 per year to give a wide cross-section of the different levels of cards available. As always, feel free to comment with the top card you use when criss-crossing the globe.

Picking a credit card for international travel goes beyond waived forex fees.

Picking a credit card for international travel goes beyond waived forex fees.

None of my picks charges foreign transaction fees, and all have decent coverage for things like trip delays and lost luggage, as well as little-used perks like concierge service. Some even offer primary car rental insurance. The table below summarizes the benefits of each card for a quick comparison of how my choices stack up. Read on for more details.

  Annual Fee Trip Cancellation Trip Delay Lost Baggage Delayed Baggage Car Rental Insurance Purchase Protection
Sapphire Preferred $95 $10,000 $500 $3,000 $500 Primary $500/$50,000
Arrival Plus $89 $1,500 $500 $300 $300 Secondary $1,000/$25,000
Amex Platinum $450 None None $3,000 $1,000 Primary* $10,000/$50,000
ThankYou Premier $125 $1,500 $500 $3,000 $500 Secondary $1,000/$50,000
Ink Bold Ink Plus $95 $5,000 $300 $3,000 $500 Primary** $500/$50,000
Venture Rewards $59 None None $3,000 $500 Secondary $500/$50,000

* An additional $24.95 fee is charged for primary insurance per rental ($17.95 in California)
** Primary insurance is only for work-related rentals

Top Credit Cards For International Travel

The Sapphire Preferred recently announced new travel benefits.

The Sapphire Preferred recently announced new travel benefits.

1. Chase Sapphire Preferred
Current Sign-up Bonus: Earn 40,000 points after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months. You will earn another 5,000 bonus points when you add an additional cardholder and make a purchase within the first 3 months.
Annual Fee: $95 waived the first year

Why take it with you?
This card has been one of my top all-round travel credit card picks practically since it launched, thanks to great benefits like 2x points per dollar on travel and dining purchases, 11 travel transfer partners (including United, British Airways, Southwest and Hyatt), and no foreign transaction fees. There have also been more recent developments like including EMV Smart Chip technology and primary rental car insurance.

However, the card also carries a host of other benefits that make it a smart choice for international travel. As an all-round card for traveling abroad, this one is hard to beat:

Trip cancellation and interruption: Chase recently increased these two benefits from $5,000 to $10,000 for Sapphire Preferred cardholders.
Travel accident insurance: When you pay for your trip using this card, you are covered in the event of accidental death or dismemberment up to $500,000.
Lost/delayed luggage: Each passenger on an itinerary paid for with this card is covered up to $3,000 in the event that carry-on or checked bags are lost or damaged. Passengers can also be reimbursed for essential purchases like toiletries or clothing for baggage delays over 6 hours. Reimbursement is offered up to $100 per day for 5 days, up to a total of $500.
Trip delay insurance: If your trip is delayed more than 12 hours or requires an overnight stay, travelers and family members are covered for non-reimbursed expenses (meals and lodging) up to $500 per ticket.
Travel emergency assistance: Visa Signature offers cardholders (as well as spouses and children under 23) a variety of emergency services including medical and legal referral assistance, emergency transportation assistance, translation service and ticket replacement, among others.
Rental car insurance: Chase also recently improved this benefit from secondary to primary coverage on rentals paid for using the Sapphire Preferred, and coverage now includes physical damage, theft of the rental vehicle, loss-of-use charges claimed by the rental company, and towing expenses.
Purchase protection: New purchases are covered up to 120 days out against damage, up to $500 per claim and $50,000 per account.
Return protection: In the event that a store won’t refund an item within 90 days of purchase, your card will refund you up to $500 per item and $1,000 per year.
Visa Signature Hotels benefits: Booking through the Visa Signature Hotels portal can score you value-added freebies like daily breakfast and complimentary internet, potentially saving you hundreds of dollars per stay.

Arrival Plus offers added benefits, including Chip and PIN technology.

The Arrival Plus offers tons of great features for international travel.

2. Barclaycard Arrival Plus
Current Sign-up Bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 or more in the first 90 days.
Annual Fee: $89 waived the first year

Why take it with you?
The Arrival Plus is packed with great benefits like earning 2x miles per $1 on all purchases and the ability to redeem those miles for travel at a rate of 1 cent apiece (with a 10% mileage refund) – even on expenses that you cannot usually pay for with miles, such as limos and tourist attractions. Add to that a TripIt Pro subscription and enhanced capabilities like ultra-secure Chip + PIN technology (one of the few US cards that has it), and you have a great all around travel credit card.

Here are some of the other benefits to keep in mind that come as part of the World Elite MasterCard benefits package.

As a World Elite Mastercard, the Arrival Plus comes with a host of added benefits.

As a World Elite MasterCard, the Arrival Plus comes with a host of added benefits.

Trip cancellation and interruption: World Elite MasterCards offer Mastertrip protection, which includes travel assistance, replacement of lost tickets, documents and luggage when you are traveling 50 miles or more from home. It can transfer up to $5,000 to you to cover travel emergencies. The service also helps to locate luggage (though it is not baggage insurance). They also provide assistance to people in emergencies, including referrals for doctors or lawyers, ATM locators and more. Trip interruption or cancellation insurance provided by the card includes a maximum benefit of $1,500 per trip to reimburse the cardholder for non-refundable expenses incurred while traveling.
Travel accident insurance: When you pay for your trip using this card, you are covered in the event of accidental death or dismemberment up to $1 million.
Lost/delayed luggage: Each passenger on an itinerary paid for with this card is covered up to $100 per day for up to 3 days for amenities if your bags are delayed more than four hours, with an annual maximum of $3,000.
Trip delay insurance: If your trip is delayed more than 12 hours or requires an overnight stay, travelers and family members are covered for non-reimbursed expenses (meals and lodging) up to $500 per ticket.
Rental car insurance: Master Rental insurance is secondary insurance, and pays for physical damage and theft of most rental vehicles with a value of $50,000 or less when the World Elite MasterCard is used to pay for the entire rental. There are some excluded countries such as Israel and Ireland. This kind of coverage kicks in when any other coverage is exhausted, such as that provided by your personal car insurance or a policy you buy from the rental agency.
Purchase protection: This includes coverage of lost or damaged items within 90 days of purchase up to $1,000 per purchase and $25,000 annually per card.
World Elite MasterCard luxury travel benefits: The program has a number of luxury travel partners, including hotel groups like Mandarin Oriental and Shangri-La, where members can score extra perks like complimentary breakfast and room upgrades, and includes discounts with car rental partners including National, Avis and Sixt.

The Amex Platinum card comes with great benefits but you have to spend the $200 reimbursement by January 1.

The Amex Platinum card is one of the best travel credit cards out there.

3. American Express Platinum Card
Current Sign-up Bonus:Earn 40,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
Annual Fee: $450

Why take it with you?
With a $450 annual fee, the American Express Platinum card is one of the most expensive credit cards out there. There have been some pretty significant changes to the card over the last couple of years, most notably in April, when it stopped providing access to US Airways and American Airlines lounges. However, the card does still give you access to Delta lounges and Priority Pass Select, and American Express occasionally adds new features, like unlimited Boingo Wifi and a statement credit for TSA Pre-Check, in addition to the existing $100 free Global Entry credit and $200 in airline rebates.

This card has made #3 on my list not because of its travel protections – it does not offer automatic trip cancellation/interruption or travel delay benefits. You can get these benefits by paying an add-on fee when booking through Amex travel, but there are other cards with adequate coverage out there, so you might want to use those to book your travel separately. Where this card really shines, though, is in its purchase protections and rental car insurance, which is how I would primarily use it abroad.

Trip cancellation and interruption: No automatic coverage, but additional coverage is available for a fee when booking through Amex Travel.
Travel accident insurance: Up to $500,000 per cardholder and family member for necessary medical, surgical and hospital costs if you  are injured or lose your life during your trip.
Lost/delayed luggage: Platinum cardholders get up to $850 per article and $3,500 per person in lost, damaged or stolen luggage benefits. For baggage delayed  more than four hours, cardholders can be redeemed up to $500 per person on their card, and an additional $500 if the bag still hasn’t shown up after 48 hours.
Trip delay insurance: No automatic coverage, but additional coverage is available for a fee when booking through Amex Travel.
Rental car insurance: Amex offers premium coverage policies for a flat fee of $24.95 ($17.95 for California residents) per rental period (not per rental day), offering primary coverage (meaning you won’t have to file a claim with your insurance company) of up to $75,000 for damage or theft and up to $750,000 for medical and legal fees.
Purchase protection: New purchases are covered up to $10,000 per occurrence and up to $50,000 total per card member account per calendar year within 90 days of purchase.
Return protection: In the event that a store won’t take back an item within 90 days of purchase, your card will refund you up to $300 per item and $1,000 per year.
American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts benefits: Booking through the FHR Hotels portal can confer valuable benefits like daily breakfast and resort spa or restaurant credits, worth potentially hundreds of dollars per stay.
The Global Assist Program: This is an extra Amex feature that offers a helping hand when you are over 100 miles from home. The program provides assistance for all US Amex cardmembers. Services include emergency services (such as arranging medical transportation, travel and legal assistance), and destination information such as weather reports, currency exchange rates, etc.

I'm giving the City ThankYou Premier another look thanks to its new transfer partners.

I’m giving the City ThankYou Premier another look thanks to its new transfer partners.

4. Citi ThankYou Premier Card
Sign-up Bonus: Earn 50,000 points, 20,000 after $2,000 in purchases in the first 3 months, and an additional 30,000 points after another $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of the second year.
Annual Fee: $125 waived the first year

Why take it with you?
Not only does this Citi card waive forex fees and offer the suite of Visa Signature benefits, it also earns 3x points on dining and entertainment, 2x on airfare, hotels and travel agencies, and 1x on all other purchases. Plus, the ThankYou Rewards program has just added a slew of new transfer partners, including Flying Blue, Singapore Krisflyer and Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, making them more useful than ever – which is why I’m giving ThankYou cards another look.

Trip cancellation and interruption: Up to $1,500.
Travel accident insurance: When you pay for your trip using this card, you’re covered in the event of accidental death or dismemberment up to $250,000.
Lost/delayed luggage: Each passenger on an itinerary paid for with this card is covered up to $3,000 in the event that carry-on or checked bags are lost or damaged. Passengers can also be reimbursed for essential purchases like toiletries or clothing for baggage delays over 6 hours (up to $100 per day for 5 days).
Trip delay insurance: If your trip is delayed more than 12 hours or requires an overnight stay, travelers and family members are covered for non-reimbursed expenses (meals and lodging) up to $500 per ticket.
Travel Emergency Assistance: Visa Signature offers cardholders (as well as spouses and children under 23) a variety of emergency services including medical and legal referral assistance, emergency transportation assistance, translation service and ticket replacement, among others.
Rental car insurance: Secondary insurance up to $50,000 for damage to the car or theft.
Purchase protection: New purchases are covered up to 90 days out against damage, up to $1,000 per claim and $50,000 per account.
Return protection: In the event that a store won’t take back an item within 90 days of purchase, your card will refund you up to $500 per item and $1,000 per year.
Visa Signature Hotels benefits: Booking through the Visa Signature Hotels portal can score you value-added freebies like daily breakfast and complimentary parking or internet, potentially saving you hundreds of dollars per stay.

I always carry my Ink cards with me when I travel for business.

I always carry my Ink cards with me when I travel for business.

5. Chase Ink Plus and Ink Bold
Current Sign-up Bonus:Earn 50,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months.
Annual Fee: $95 waived the first year

Why take them with you?
These two business cards are also part of the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, with 11 travel transfer partners (including United, British Airways, Southwest and Hyatt). Like the Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold and Ink Plus waive foreign transaction fees, and they offer category spending bonuses like 5x points per dollar on office supplies and telecommunications, and 2x points per dollar on hotels and gas.

These are also Visa Signature cards with all the attendant travel benefits, and have other cool individual perks like Lounge Club membership and two free annual passes to member lounges. I’m sure to carry my Ink cards with me when I know I’ll be traveling for work.

Trip cancellation and interruption: Up to $5,000 per person.
Travel accident insurance: When you pay for your trip using this card, you are covered in the event of accidental death or dismemberment up to $500,000.
Lost/delayed luggage: Each passenger on an itinerary paid for with this card is covered up to $3,000 in the event that carry-on or checked bags are lost or damaged. Passengers can also be reimbursed for essential purchases like toiletries or clothing for baggage delays over 6 hours (up to $100 per day for 5 days).
Trip delay insurance: If your trip is delayed more than 12 hours or requires an overnight stay, travelers and family members are covered for non-reimbursed expenses (meals and lodging) up to $300 per ticket.
Travel Emergency Assistance: Visa Signature offers cardholders (as well as spouses and children under 23) a variety of emergency services including medical and legal referral assistance, emergency transportation assistance, translation service and ticket replacement, among others.
Rental car insurance: Provided you have used the card to pay for the rental and are driving it for work purposes, these cards offer primary rental insurance up to $50,000.
Purchase protection: New purchases are covered up to 90 days out against damage up to $500 per claim and $50,000 per account.
Return protection: In the event that a store won’t take back an item within 90 days of purchase, your card will refund you up to $500 per item and $1,000 per year.
Visa Signature Hotels benefits: Booking through the Visa Signature Hotels portal can score you value-added freebies like daily breakfast and complimentary internet, potentially saving you hundreds of dollars per stay.

Capital One Venture Card

The Venture is a solid fixed-return card for international travel.

6. Capital One Venture Rewards
Sign-up Bonus: Earn a one-time bonus 40,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months.
Annual Fee: $59 waived the first year

Why take it with you?
This card earns easy-to-track, fixed-value miles. You earn 2x miles per dollar on all purchases, and can redeem them at a rate of 1 cent apiece for travel, giving you a solid 2% return on spending. Venture Rewards waives foreign transaction fees and is a Visa Signature card with the attendant benefits, though this is the last card on my list because it lacks certain benefits like trip cancellation and travel delay coverage.

Trip cancellation and interruption: None.
Travel accident insurance: When you pay for your trip using this card, you are covered in the event of accidental death or dismemberment up to $250,000.
Lost/delayed luggage: Each passenger on an itinerary paid for with this card is covered up to $3,000 in the event that carry-on or checked bags are lost or damaged. Passengers can also be reimbursed for essential purchases like toiletries or clothing for baggage delays over 6 hours (up to $100 per day for 5 days).
Trip delay insurance: None.
Rental car insurance: Secondary insurance with coverage up to $50,000 on the value of the car.
Purchase protection: New purchases are covered up to 90 days out against damage up to $500 per claim and $50,000 per account.
Return protection: In the event that a store won’t take back an item within 90 days of purchase, your card will refund you up to $500 per item and $1,000 per year.
Visa Signature Hotels benefits: Booking through the Visa Signature Hotels portal can score you value-added freebies like daily breakfast and complimentary internet, potentially saving you hundreds of dollars per stay.

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10 New Things To See in Miami This Fall http://thepointsguy.com/2014/09/10-new-things-to-see-in-miami-this-fall/ http://thepointsguy.com/2014/09/10-new-things-to-see-in-miami-this-fall/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 19:06:35 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=92437

Seasons change and new and exciting openings pop up in cities across the country. I asked Lifestyle Editor Shayne Benowitz to tell us what’s new in Miami.

Fall is perhaps the most relaxing time to make a visit to Miami. It’s the calm before the storm of “season” and crowds (as well as hotel room rates) are at their lowest, plus the sweltering humidity of summer starts to give way to, well, slightly less sweltering temperatures (read: highs are still in the 80s).

There’s also plenty to explore by way of new restaurants, bars, hotels, art exhibits and more. Here are 10 new things to see and do in Miami if you make a visit this fall.

A guest room at the new and stylish Hilton Cabana

A guest room at the new and stylish Hilton Cabana

1. Hilton Cabana & L’echon Brasserie

While there are many hot hotel openings on the horizon in Miami’s mid-beach slated for Fall/Winter 2014 and early 2015 (Edition, Thompson South Beach, 1 Hotel & Homes, Faena), the best laid plans in Miami’s hotel scene often get delayed. For points collectors in general, and Hilton HHonors members in particular, the 231-room oceanfront Hilton Cabana Miami Beach is newly open and taking reservations. With two pools, modern guest rooms designed with the beachgoer in mind and a dining concept by Pubbelly Group (responsible for Miami mega hits Pubbelly, Pubbelly Sushi, Barceloneta and more), it’s more than your average Hilton. At L’echon Brasserie executive chef Jose Mendin presents a modern and truly creative take on classic French fare with a distinctly Miami twist. The result is absolutely craveworthy dishes, like the soupe d’oignan gratinee, suckling pig with summer squash remoulade and a mustard sherry jus, or simply the L’Echon burger. Save room for the decadent chocolate croissant bread pudding for dessert. The property is a Hilton HHonors category 9 and is offering 1,000 bonus points per night through December 19, 2014. Free nights start at 50,000 HHonors Points.

Peekaboo showers are part of the equation at Vintro Hotel & Kitchen

Peekaboo showers are part of the equation at Vintro Hotel & Kitchen. Photo by Shayne Benowitz

2. Vintro Hotel & Kitchen

For a boutique hotel experience and the intersection of hospitality and art, consider a stay at the newly opened Vintro Hotel & Kitchen, tucked away in desirable Collins Park in South Beach (right near the W, but not on the beach). With guestrooms and common areas curated like a contemporary art gallery, all of the art is for sale and listed in an in-room catalogue. The rooms are spacious and decidedly sexy with peek-a-boo showers and plush white beds. While the hotel is intimate at 50 rooms, the smartly conceived public spaces beg to be lingered in and make the hotel feel larger than it is. Have a drink in the lobby’s Scorpion Bar, linger in the adjacent library or enjoy a meal at the restaurant overlooking the Collins Canal. TPG just went last week and raved about the octopus, tuna tartare with egg and mushroom risotto are must tries. The rooftop, with a plunge pool and rainbow-colored hammocks, makes for an excellent spot to watch the sky change color at dusk.

Drunken Dragon's spin on the lobster roll

Drunken Dragon’s spin on the lobster roll

3. Drunken Dragon

The hottest new restaurant in South Beach is located far from the typical glitz and glam of the trendy hotels and clubs of Collins Avenue. You’ll find Drunken Dragon in a derelict strip mall on construction-laden Alton Road behind blacked out windows and a glowing sign that reads “Market,” flanked by Dominoes Pizza and Subway. Once you set foot inside, though, it’s an entirely different story. The bustling restaurant is awash in a subtle golden glow with an intricate Douglas fir wood bar and heavy ropes for décor. The Korean barbecue joint features select tables with built-in grills for DIY bulgogi (request one when you make a reservation), as well as modern Asian small plates by executive chef Xavier Torres and boozy, tiki-style cocktails by local mixologist Gui Jaroschy. If you’re there with a group, a good ordering strategy is one of everything, but not to miss items include the tuna tataki pizza, peking bao duck and the tenderloin and octopus for the grill.

Artist Nick Gentry at work

Artist Nick Gentry at work

4. James McNabb and Nick Gentry at Robert Fontaine Gallery (Wynwood Arts District)

It’s safe to say that Miami has one of the most exciting contemporary art scenes in the country and it can be found in the Wynwood Arts District, a neighborhood swirling in mural art with over 70 galleries, as well as hip bars and restaurants. Start at one of its top galleries, Robert Fontaine Gallery, showcasing a range of emerging, mid-career and master artists from the origins of Pop Art to today’s cutting edge international street artists. This fall, he presents two solo shows by two very different artists. Come out October 11 to 31 for Philadelphia-based artist, designer and craftsman James McNabb. Most famous for his “City Series” featuring complex, geometric urban landscapes derived from scrap wood representing a woodworker’s journey from the suburbs to the city. From November 8 to 14, the gallery’s marquee artist, London-based Nick Gentry will be back with new works created with obsolete pieces of technology, such as floppy discs and film negatives. The result is a hauntingly realistic portrait that’s not quite human. This method is meant to tell a collective story of the data and information stored on the technology manifested as a traditional portrait. If you’re in town on the second Saturday of the month, come to Wynwood in the evening for Art Walk and the opening parties of both shows.

Did someone say oysters?

Did someone say oysters?

5. Mignonette (Edgewater Neighborhood)

The brainchild of chef/owner Daniel Serfer, who brought crave-worthy comfort food to Miami’s Upper East Side with the laidback Blue Collar, Mignonette is his take on classic oyster bar fare just north of downtown on NE 2nd Ave. With a rotating selection of fresh oysters (as well as a Rockefeller preparation baked with Pernod), seafood towers, shellfish and caviar-galore, the menu also offers prime rib, chicken “Thanksgiving” and a variety of seafood entrees. The lunch menu features a selection of sandwiches including a lobster roll and fried conch po’ boy. Order a bottle of Champagne or rosé from the excellent wine list, and you’re all set. TPG went last week as well and couldn’t say enough good things about the monkfish and fish roe entree!

Better Days have come to Brickell

Better Days have come to Brickell

6. Better Days (Brickell)

The pop-up bar phenomenon has found its way to Brickell with Better Days, tucked away through a vintage shop on the first floor of the 500 Brickell Building with a kooky dead flamingo logo. The eclectic digs feature wood-paneled walls, a kitschy mish-mash of furniture, oriental rugs, TVs and a pool table, as well as an outdoor space, creating something of a friendly hipster hideaway. The bar serves a menu of craft cocktails and beers with special attention to Mexican libations, like the Paloma (made with tequila, grapefruit juice, soda and lime) and Micheladas (cerveza with a hit of lime, spice and peppers). Swing by for post-work cocktails or as one last stop on a night out, as the bar stays open until 5 a.m.

PAMM is not to be missed on a trip to Miami. Photo by Iwan Baan

PAMM is not to be missed on a trip to Miami. Photo by Iwan Baan

7. Beatriz Milhazes retrospective at Pérez Art Museum Miami (Downtown)

The Pérez Art Museum Miami opened just in time for Art Basel last year, forever shifting the landscape of downtown and the city’s art scene. As it makes its way towards its first anniversary, there are a number of new exhibits not to be missed. The structure, itself, is something to marvel with minimalist lines, hanging gardens, a giant portico and picture windows overlooking Biscayne Bay. Opening Friday September 19, Brazilian artist Beatriz Milhazes (born 1960) will have her first major U.S. retrospective with “Jardim Botânico.” Her unique and colorful acrylic painting style mimics collage, graffiti and applique. While at the museum, take a break at the cafe Verde for new menu items, like snapper tiradito with citrus and aji amarillo or saffron spaghettini with tomato and parmesan butter. The museum, with its permanent collection and various rotating exhibits, is a manageable size to conquer in an afternoon visit without fatigue.

Head to Lincoln Road for the latest INTERMIX location

Head to Lincoln Road for the latest INTERMIX location

8. INTERMIX Lincoln Road

South Beach’s Lincoln Road is still ground zero for shopping, idle strolling and people watching, and there’s a new fashion boutique along its pedestrian promenade. While the uspscale, multi-brand women’s apparel shop, INTERMIX isn’t exactly new to Miami Beach (there’s locations in Bal Harbour Shops and on Collins Avenue in South Beach), it’s new to this highly-trafficked, locals friendly shopping stretch. Featuring brands like Rag & Bone, Chloe, Missoni and Valentino, you can shop a new look from head to toe for your stay to Miami.

Nightlife is back in the heart of Little Havana. Photo by World Red Eye

Nightlife is back in the heart of Little Havana. Photo by World Red Eye

9. Ball & Chain (Little Havana)

Nightlife in Little Havana is seeing a resurgence with the reopening of the historic Ball & Chain bar and lounge on Calle Ocho. The long shuttered site was once a venue for jazz greats like Billie Holiday and Chet Baker in the 1930s and ‘40s. Now, Ball & Chain is back, thanks to a trio of local entrepreneurs committed to neighborhood preservation. The new venue hopes to emulate its predecessor with today’s tipplers in mind, featuring live music and expertly mixed classic Cuban cocktails created by veteran mixologists Julio Cabrera and Danny Valdez.

Try a new workout at The Viceroy with Surfset

Try a new workout at The Viceroy with Surfset

10. Hydrafacials and Surfset Workouts at The Spa at The Viceroy (Downtown)

If it’s a little rest, relaxation and rejuvenation you need during your stay in the Magic City, look no further than the 28,000 square-foot Philippe Starck-designed Spa at The Viceroy downtown. Their new Hydrafacial MD machine delivers medical grade facials with a wand (similar to microdermabrasion) that works in a sucking and cleansing fashion for lymphatic drainage, detoxification, exfoliation and extractions. Before your treatment, get an endorphin rush from their new Surfset group fitness class utilizing surfboard-like machines for instability training focusing on the core. After all that, it’s time to hit the hotel pool, the longest in the city, to soak up Miami’s fall sunshine and magnificent views of Biscayne Bay.

What are you looking forward to checking out in Miami this fall?

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Deal Alert: $19 Fares on Frontier Airlines To and From Phoenix http://thepointsguy.com/2014/09/deal-alert-19-fares-on-frontier-airlines-to-and-from-phoenix/ http://thepointsguy.com/2014/09/deal-alert-19-fares-on-frontier-airlines-to-and-from-phoenix/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 15:05:41 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=92462

Frontier Airlines is making a push for the Phoenix market and just announced 3 new non-stop routes from Phoenix Sky Harbor to Salt Lake City, Houston, and San Francisco.

Score a $19 fare on Frontier.

Score a $19 fare on Frontier.

To celebrate, they’re offering a limited number of $19 fares for flights from December 2nd through January 27, 2015 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, for travel purchased by 11:59pm Eastern tonight, September 17, 2014.  

Frontier is running $19 fares on their new routes from Phoenix.

Frontier is running $19 fares on their new routes from Phoenix.

Tickets must be purchased by 11:59 pm Eastern time on Sep. 17, 2014 for domestic, nonstop travel on:  Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Saturdays, Dec. 2, 2014 through Jan. 27,  2015. The following blackout dates apply:  Dec. 19, 2014 through Dec. 28, 2014 and Jan. 3, 2015 through Jan. 4, 2015.  Fares are one way and do not require roundtrip purchase.

While Frontier may not be a part of a major alliance and these cheap flights won’t help towards any major elite status, you can still bank extra credit card points by using a card that maximizes airfare purchases, like 3x on airfare with the American Express Premier Rewards Gold or 2x on the Chase Sapphire Preferred. Check out this post for more on maximizing airfare purchases.

Report your success if you can actually snag any of these!

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Is the Amtrak Guest Rewards MasterCard Worthwhile? http://thepointsguy.com/2014/09/is-the-amtrak-guest-rewards-mastercard-worthwhile/ http://thepointsguy.com/2014/09/is-the-amtrak-guest-rewards-mastercard-worthwhile/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 14:10:07 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=92212

Today TPG Contributor Nick Ewen takes an in-depth look at the Amtrak Guest Rewards MasterCard, including its earning potential, redemption options, and unique features, to see whether it deserves a place in the pantheon of award travel credit cards.

Most of the content at TPG involves tips for maximizing free travel with award flights and hotel rooms. However, there are many other programs and credit cards out there that provide alternate routes to free travel. One such program is Amtrak Guest Rewards. While our train network here in the U.S. is nothing compared to those in Europe, Amtrak is still a viable way to travel in comfort and enjoy the scenery between two cities. Like most loyalty programs, Amtrak has a co-branded credit card, and in this post I’ll review the Guest Rewards MasterCard to see if it’s worth adding to your wallet.

The Amtrak Guest Rewards MasterCard comes with 12,000 points and a companion certificate as a sign-up bonus.

The Amtrak Guest Rewards MasterCard comes with a bonus of 12,000 points and a companion certificate.

Let’s start with the basics. Currently, the Guest Rewards MasterCard offers a sign-up bonus of 12,000 Guest Rewards points after spending $500 within the first three months of cardmembership, plus a free companion coupon valid for one year after issuance. You earn 2 points for every dollar spent on Amtrak purchases and 1 point per dollar everywhere else. The card has no annual fee, and it provides a 5% rebate to cardholders for Amtrak redemptions.

Amtrak's fall promotion allows you to earn double points on all paid tickets through mid-November.

Amtrak’s fall promotion allows you to earn double points on all paid tickets through mid-November.

Of course, all of this is meaningless without considering the value of these points. Fortunately, Jason Steele wrote a nice overview of earning points and redeeming points through the Guest Rewards program back in 2012, and very little has changed. You still earn 2 points for every dollar spent on Amtrak travel (with a 100-point minimum on all tickets). For tickets booked on the Acela line between certain cities in the Northeast, you earn 500 points for business class tickets or 750 points for first class tickets. In addition, Amtrak is currently in the middle of its Double Days fall promotion, where you can earn 4 points/$ on all trips now through November 14, 2014.

The redemption rates have also remained unchanged. Amtrak uses a Zone Map to calculate how many points are required for a free ticket:

Amtrak zone map

As you can see, there are three “official” zones: East, Central, and West (the Northeast is essentially a zone within a zone and has discounted rates). The table below shows the number of points required for one-way travel in the four different classes of service offered on standard Amtrak trains:

  Northeast One Zone Two Zone Three Zone
Coach 4,000 points 5,500 points 8,000 points 10,500 points
Business 6,500 points 6,500 points 10,500 points 12,500 points
Roomette 15,000 points 15,000 points 20,000 points 35,000 points
Bedroom 20,000 points 25,000 points 40,000 points 60,000 points

One of the interesting things about these zones is that certain cities (like Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Denver) actually “straddle” two zones, which means that you can choose which zone they are in to price your journey accordingly. In other words, Denver to San Francisco is treated as a one-zone redemption, but Denver to Chicago is as well, since Denver is either in the Central or West Zone.

There are a few exceptions to the above chart. Acela Express trains have their own rates: 8,000 for one-way business class and 12,000 for one-way first class. In addition, there are some “special routes” that have discounted rates of 1,500 points for coach class or 2,000 points for business class. These include the Cascades (Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver), the Pacific Surfliner (between San Diego and San Luis Obispo, CA), and the Heartland Flyer (between Fort Worth and Oklahoma City).

Finally, Amtrak does allow you to redeem points for any unsold seat or bedroom, so no need to suffer through looking for “Saver” inventory like you would with an airline. However, there are blackout dates that mainly fall on or around the holidays, so be sure to check those out as you plan your trip. (Select Plus and Select Executive members can get around those blackout dates by using “Rule Buster” rates that are ~75% higher.) In addition, no one can redeem points on Acela trains on weekdays before 9 am or from 2-6 pm.

Guest Rewards allows you to redeem points for numerous gift cards, but the value tops out at 1 cent/point.

Guest Rewards allows you to redeem points for numerous gift cards, but the value tops out at 1 cent/point.

Amtrak Guest Rewards also has many other redemption options, including gift cards to various retailers and restaurants as well as car rental certificates for Hertz. You can view all of these options here. However, as Jason Steele found, the best bang for your buck comes in redeeming for train travel, as the vast majority of other redemption options are at or below 1 cent per point in value.

To focus on travel,  I’ll consider the sign-up bonus in the context of Amtrak redemptions. 12,000 points would be enough for any of the following:

  • Six one-way business class redemptions on the “special routes” mentioned above: Tickets between Portland, OR and Seattle, WA on a range of dates this fall cost $52 to $69, giving you 2.6 – 3.45 cents/point.
  • Three one-way coach class redemptions in the Northeast: Tickets between Washington and Boston on a range of dates this fall cost $76 to $199, giving you 1.9 – 5 cents/point.
  • A single one-way first class redemption on the Acela Express: Tickets between Boston and Washington on a range of dates this fall cost $360 to $420, giving you 3 – 3.5 cents/point.

These values seem to be consistent with Jason’s findings from a couple of years ago, with average redemption values right around 3.2 cents/point. Keep in mind that these values tend to drop if you make reservations far in advance, as lower fares (in the “Saver” or “Value” categories) are more likely to be available. At the end of the day, your 1.9 cents/point redemption or 5 cents/point redemption will get you the same seat on the same train.

Why travel alone when the Guest Rewards MasterCard includes a companion ticket as a sign-up bonus?

Why travel alone when the Guest Rewards MasterCard includes a companion ticket as a sign-up bonus? (Image courtesy of Shutterstock)

In addition to the 12,000 points from the sign-up bonus, the Guest Rewards MasterCard gives you a free companion coupon valid for one free companion fare when traveling on a paid ticket (regular adult, senior citizen, or disabled adult). The coupon is valid for a year after qualification, and is subject to the same blackout dates linked above (for a full list, please visit this link and scroll down to footnote #3). While it isn’t valid on award redemptions, it can still be a compelling discount if you have a trip coming up. The companion coupon is also a great option for business travelers whose travels are paid for by their company, since the companion coupon allows you to bring your companion for free regardless of who is footing the bill.

Another interesting thing about this credit card is that it offers cardholders 5% back on all Amtrak redemptions. This functions much like 10% travel rebate on the Barclaycard Arrival Plus in that it is credited automatically; as soon as you redeem your points for an Amtrak ticket, you’ll be recognized as a Guest Rewards MasterCard holder, and will be refunded 5% of the points you spent.

There is one final aspect of the card and Guest Rewards program worth mentioning. If you browse through the redeem page of the program, you’ll see two other options that may be useful to award travelers:

  • Redeem 5,000 Guest Rewards points for 15,000 Choice Hotels Privileges Points
  • Redeem 5,000 Guest Rewards points for 10,000 Hilton HHonors Points

You can also redeem Guest Rewards for Starwood Preferred Guest one-night stay certificates, though the redemption rates aren’t very good. These options claim to only be available to elite travelers (Select status or higher); however, they’re also available to Guest Rewards MasterCard holders who spend $200 per calendar year on Amtrak purchases. Since these must be transferred in increments of 5,000 points, you could transfer 10,000 points from the sign-up bonus to get 30,000 Choice Privileges Points or 20,000 Hilton HHonors Points. The latter would be worth at least $100 according to TPG’s most recent monthly valuations, though you may be able to find higher values for specific properties and/or dates. The same goes for Choice Privileges, as Jason Steele demonstrated in his recent trip to Rome, where he redeemed for more than 3 cents/point in value.

So, is the Amtrak Guest Rewards MasterCard worth having for the vast majority of us? My verdict is no. There are a number of factors here:

  1. The only bonus category on the card is Amtrak. You may be thinking that this would be great for those of us who consistently travel on Amtrak. However, 2 points/$ is the exact same earning ratio that you would receive on the Chase Sapphire Preferred (since Amtrak purchases are classified as travel expenses). You could then transfer those points to Amtrak at a 1:1 ratio, so every Amtrak dollar charged to the Sapphire Preferred would earn you the same number of Guest Rewards points. However, the benefit of using the Sapphire Preferred is that it offers you flexibility. You’re not locked into Amtrak Guest Rewards points; instead, you could transfer your points to any of 10 other partners (including United, British Airways, and Hyatt).
  2. The best redemption values are for longer distances. I would venture a guess that most of those who frequent Amtrak do so on shorter routes (like Boston to New York or Washington to Philadelphia). These routes tend to have relatively inexpensive fares, but require the same amount of points as longer trips (e.g., Philadelphia to New York, a trip that takes about 90 minutes, requires the same number of points as a train from Washington to Boston, a 7-8 hour journey). As a result, the points become a little less useful, especially when redeemed in advance. Remember that the Barclaycard Arrival Plus offers 2 points/$ on everything and gives you 10% back on all travel redemptions. You can thus book train tickets using the Arrival Plus, still earn points in the Guest Rewards program, and then get 2.2 cents/point of value by covering the cost of the ticket with Arrival points.
  3. Applying for the card would “use up” a Chase account. There’s no question that Chase has a huge variety of credit card options with incredible earning and redemption potential. While there isn’t a known limit to how many you can have, there are many other Chase cards that I would recommend long before this one, and you would hate to be turned down for one of the more valuable cards later because you opened this account. Of course, Chase is great about shuffling around credit lines to get new cards approved, but I would still be hesitant to “waste” a hard inquiry on this card.

That being said, there are some situations where it might make sense to have the card:

  • If you have an upcoming trip for which you would like to bring along a companion.
  • If you are a VERY frequent traveler on Amtrak and would benefit from the 5% rebate.
  • If you frequently book last-minute tickets where the revenue cost can be very high (but the points required remain the same).

Other than that, I wouldn’t recommend it.

The Guest Rewards MasterCard COULD be an intriguing option with a few tweaks.

The Guest Rewards MasterCard COULD be an intriguing option with a few tweaks.

However, there are some very simple things that would make this a much more valuable offering than it currently is. In no particular order:

  1. Include elite status. Many cards out there offer elite status with their co-branded credit card, including the Hyatt Visa (Platinum) and Citi Hilton Reserve (Gold). Amtrak’s lowest level of status, Select, doesn’t offer a boatload of benefits, but the 25% earning bonus and priority customer service line would be a nice deal sweetener that could convince a somewhat regular Amtrak traveler to open the card.
  2. Up the Amtrak earning ratio to at least 3 points/dollar. Right now, the math just doesn’t make sense. There’s no incentive to earn 2 Guest Rewards points/dollar when I can earn 2 Ultimate Rewards points/dollar and then convert them into Guest Rewards points when it suits me. If they upped the earning ratio to 3 points/$ (like Chase offers with their Hyatt Visa card) or even 5 points/$ (like the Marriott Rewards Premier card), this would make the card much more attractive for potential applicants.

What do you think? Do you have the Guest Reward MasterCard, or are you thinking of getting it? Please share your thoughts and personal experiences in the comments section below!

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