The Points Guy http://thepointsguy.com Fri, 30 Jan 2015 18:14:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 Delta Captain Locked Out of Cockpit Just Before Landing http://thepointsguy.com/2015/01/delta-captain-locked-out-of-cockpit-just-before-landing/ http://thepointsguy.com/2015/01/delta-captain-locked-out-of-cockpit-just-before-landing/#comments Fri, 30 Jan 2015 17:29:38 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=107403 In an awkward (and potentially scary) turn of events yesterday afternoon, Delta’s Flight 1651 ended its 2.5-hour journey from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Las Vegas (LAS) with an emergency landing at the latter airport—because the aircraft’s captain had been locked out of the cockpit.

Having stepped away for a minute, the captain of a Delta flight from MSP-LAS was unable to re-enter his cockpit due to a door jam. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Having stepped away for a minute, the captain of a Delta flight from MSP-LAS was unable to re-enter his cockpit due to a door jam. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Just prior to the final landing approach, the unidentified captain had left the cockpit in order to use the restroom, leaving the plane’s first officer alone at the controls. Upon his return a few minutes later, the captain found the door inexplicably jammed. At about 12:10 p.m., ground control at LAS was notified of the emergency situation, and within 15 minutes, the first officer had safely landed the plane at LAS.

This happy event was met with a spontaneous round of applause from all 168 passengers aboard.

Happily, Delta Flight 1651 landed safely at LAS—despite the emergency situation. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Happily, Delta Flight 1651 landed safely at LAS—despite its emergency. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Commercial aircraft are always able to be landed with only one pilot at the helm, and both captains and first officers pilots are trained for this type of situation. During the entire incident aboard this McDonnell Douglas MD-90, the first officer stayed at the controls on the right seat of the cockpit, leaving the plane’s taxiing controls unmanned once on the ground and requiring the aircraft to be towed from the runway to the gate.

The Federal Aviation Administration says that the plane’s door is being investigated by airline maintenance technicians. Amidst a winter that’s brought us a “nutroversy” and “hot watergate,” this story could be considered simply, “The Door Jam Incident”—and a relief to all of us who love to fly.

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Staying Healthy While Traveling, the CrossFit Way http://thepointsguy.com/2015/01/staying-healthy-while-traveling-the-crossfit-way/ http://thepointsguy.com/2015/01/staying-healthy-while-traveling-the-crossfit-way/#comments Fri, 30 Jan 2015 16:59:19 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=105993 Looking for a good way to stay in shape on the road? Then take a deep breath, lift with your legs, and let TPG Contributor Nick Ewen introduce you to the always-changing, never-boring CrossFit fitness model, which has gyms around the globe. 

It’s been likened to a cult, has its own language (members will talk your ear off about their “dubs,” “box,” and “WOD”), and also happens to be one of the fastest growing fitness trends in the world. The worldwide CrossFit craze can help not only at home but when traveling, as well.

Don't be deceived by the minimalist style of the typical CrossFit gym. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Don’t be deceived by the minimalist style of the typical CrossFit gym. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

CrossFit doesn’t have a single date of inception, and there’s no “big bang” that kicked off the movement. Instead, founder Greg Glassman developed the CrossFit fitness model over many years of personal experience. After running a successful gym in Santa Cruz, California, the CrossFit company was incorporated in 2000, and today, just a decade and a half later, there are more than 4,500 licensed, affiliated gyms worldwide.

In 2007, the first CrossFit Games were held, and every summer since, the competition has sought to crown the “Fittest on Earth.” What started as a small operation has since evolved into a multi-day spectacle, with sponsorship by Reebok, television coverage on ESPN, and over $2 million in prize money for the 2015 iteration.

While you may never top Rich Froning, four-time winner of the CrossFit Games, you nevertheless can gain a lot from joining your local box. Image courtesy of crossfit.com.
While you may never top Rich Froning, four-time winner of the CrossFit Games, you nevertheless can gain a lot from joining your local box. Image courtesy of Crossfit.com.

CrossFit explosion in popularity is due to many factors. The variety of activities incorporated into each Workout of the Day (or “WOD”) appeals to a wide variety of athletes, and the certified trainers at each gym (or “box”) provide support for beginners, experts, and every level in between. There’s also no guesswork: each coach has extensive training in all of the movements, so you never feel like you need to puzzle it out on your own.

Joe Vaughn, owner of CrossFit MouseTrap (near Disneyworld, naturally), cites this guidance as a key factor in setting CrossFit apart from other workouts. “All you have to do is show up and try your best,” he says. “Coaches put a lot of time into optimizing the programming to give the general population the best result possible and teach you all the movements along the way.” His members range from 14 to 72 years old, but he says they share the common goal of “being the best they can be.”

Most importantly, in my opinion, your fellow CrossFitters become like a second family, united in the shared misery of the pursuit of fitness. This is what keeps me coming back almost every morning, whether I’m at home or out traveling. For instance, last week I checked out Joe’s gym while in Orlando for a conference, and while I’d never met any of my workout-mates, they were no longer strangers once the WOD began.

My 6am home for the last 2+ years
My 6am home for the last 2+ years: CrossFit Port St. Lucie.

I first fell into Crossfit by chance. My wife and I, sick of running and our usual gym workouts, were looking for a new outlet for our fitness endeavors. When a discount at a local CrossFit affiliate (CrossFit Port St. Lucie) popped up on my Groupon two years ago, we jumped on the offer—and have never looked back. My wife continued working out until she was 38 weeks pregnant (dialing down the intensity, of course), and she credits CrossFit with helping her enjoy a smooth pregnancy, labor and delivery.

My home box is owned and operated by Edson and Fortune Santos, a husband and wife duo firmly committed to the CrossFit way. “Less than 20% of people who sign up and pay for a long-term gym membership are actively and religiously still working out after the first two months,” says Fortune, who qualified for the 2013 CrossFit games. “With us,” says Edson, “you never train alone.” Proving that this group model works, the Santos’ box has almost no turnover.

Rope climbs and handstand pushups, not exactly my favorite parts of a WOD!
Rope climbs and handstand pushups—not exactly my favorite parts of a WOD!

Since joining CrossFit, I’ve seen an incredible increase in my physical fitness across many metrics. Two days before my very first CrossFit class, I ran a 5k in 28 minutes, 56 seconds. Last month, I set a new personal best: 19 minutes, 21 seconds. Two years ago, I couldn’t do a single pull-up, but now I can crank out 20 in a row. My initial attempt at jump rope double-unders (or “dubs”) would’ve been great fodder for YouTube, but last fall, I managed 76 in a row, mid-way through a workout. Most importantly, I feel better than I ever have in my life.

CrossFit trainers do their best to keep you feeling motivated. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
CrossFit trainers do their best to keep you motivated. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Of course, this fantastically supportive environment with incredibly knowledgeable coaches doesn’t come cheap. Each affiliate sets its own membership options and rates; some allow you to pay-per-visit, while others have punch cards. Some even offer free week- or month-long trials. Just about all have some type of unlimited monthly membership that typically costs $100 or more, though many provide discounts for spouses, military, and/or first responders. While this is definitely more expensive than regular gyms like Planet Fitness and Gold’s, it’s much cheaper than personal training sessions, and I would argue that the community atmosphere of CrossFit makes it the best of both worlds.

Some CrossFit boxes will let visitors work out for the purchase of a t-shirt. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Some CrossFit boxes will let visitors work out for the purchase of a t-shirt.

Your CrossFit regimen doesn’t need to stop when you hit the road. Most boxes allow visitors to come in for a workout, charging a drop-in fee or allowing them to workout for free with the purchase of a shirt (as my gym does). Traveling can wreak havoc on your body, and regular road warriors know how lonely it can be. Finding a local affiliate and meeting like-minded fitness-obsessed CrossFitters can erase both of those concerns with one fell swoop.

While most CrossFit locations are found in the US, there are hundreds more in various countries around the world.
While most CrossFit locations are found in the US, there are hundreds more in countries around the world.

Locating a CrossFit is incredibly easy with the online locator map, which allows you to search by city, state or ZIP code, or even browse affiliates in out-of-the-way spots. Visiting Iceland (as my wife and I are in May)? You have 10 gyms from which to choose. Fancy a visit to the Canary Islands? There are 15 CrossFits there. Heck, even visitors to the Cook Islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean can stay in shape—Tumuora CrossFit has you covered.

My home box has regular visitors and drop-ins, including one guy from Canada who’s been working out there every year since it opened in 2008. While CrossFit MouseTrap has a large cadre of members who work at Disney, they also have a huge number of visitors: 3,077 last year alone (or roughly 8 per day). “CrossFitters don’t like to miss their workouts,” says Fortune. “It’s too much fun.”

Remember that visiting a box when traveling should only be done after you have joined a local CrossFit and are familiar with the various exercises. When you do visit, here are a few recommendations to ensure things go smoothly:

  1. Contact the gym ahead of time. Make sure you’re aware of their schedule, drop-in policies and any fees associated with a visit. Some affiliates post this information on their website.
  2. Arrive at least 15 minutes early. Give yourself plenty of time to find the gym. Many facilities are relatively small and tucked away in warehouses or industrial complexes, and you’ll want to meet the coach and discuss your experience level prior to the start time. You’ll also likely need to sign a waiver, though some (like CrossFit MouseTrap) allow you to sign one online before arrival.
  3. Respect the local members and the equipment. Don’t infringe on anyone’s space, and be sure to wipe down and put away any weights or equipment you use.
You don't necessarily need equipment to keep up with CrossFit. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
You don’t necessarily need equipment to keep up with CrossFit. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

If all of this sounds like too much hassle, there are many other resources to help maintain the CrossFit ethos without seeking out an affiliate gym:

  • The Traveling WOD: A great collection of CrossFit-inspired workouts that require little to no equipment, perfect for a hotel room with a small or non-existent fitness center. They even mention doing one workout on a plane, though I’d only recommend this when flying in first class on the Emirates A380—given the easy access to a shower afterwards!
  • Tabata Times: This popular CrossFit blog has a great section on working out while traveling, with many great resources linked right on the page.
  • Travel WODs App: Available for both iPhone and Android devices, this app includes over 120 workouts you can do when you have no equipment handy.
  • In addition to the camraderie of teamwork, CrossFit membership offers a points-and-miles angle. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
    In addition to the camraderie of teamwork, CrossFit membership offers a points-and-miles angle. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Finally, in case you were wondering, yes—there’s a points-and-miles angle to play here! Once you sign up and pay for your first class or month, check your online statement to see how your gym is classified. Mine falls under “Entertainment – Sports & Recreation” as far as Visa is concerned, which means that I could earn double points on the Citi ThankYou Premier or Citi ThankYou Preferred. However, I prefer putting the monthly membership fee on my Citi Hilton Reserve card, as it puts me well on my way towards the free weekend-night certificate I earn after spending $10,000 on the card.

My experience with CrossFit has been nothing but positive, and my friends who have tried it say the same thing. Sure, it’s a great way to get in shape (and stay on track with those New Year’s resolutions!), but it’s so much more than that. When you join a CrossFit gym, you become part of a community that motivates you, pushes you, and supports you in digging deep and finding in yourself a level of success and confidence you never knew was possible.

So check it out! The cult gym is waiting…

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Deal Alert: More Cheap $19 Frontier Airlines Fares http://thepointsguy.com/2015/01/deal-alert-more-cheap-19-frontier-airlines-fares/ http://thepointsguy.com/2015/01/deal-alert-more-cheap-19-frontier-airlines-fares/#comments Fri, 30 Jan 2015 15:06:42 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=107388 Frontier Airlines is having a one day sale today with flights starting at $19 for many of their routes, including flights from Atlanta, GA; Chicago-O’Hare; Cincinnati, OH; Cleveland, OH; Denver, CO; Houston-Bush; Miami, FL; New York (LGA); Philadelphia; Phoenix, AZ; San Francisco; Trenton, NJ; and Washington-Dulles for dates this February.

Frontier is offering a one-day sale with $19 fares.
Frontier is offering a one-day sale with $19 fares.

If you are interested in scoring any of these fares for $19, be sure to book sooner than later because during the past several sales that Frontier has offered, the fares usually sell out rather quickly.

I was able to see flights still available from New York (LGA) to Miami for $19, so depending on your dates, you might be able to score a good deal.

New York (LGA)-Miami for $19 one-way!
New York (LGA)-Miami for $19 one-way!

Tickets must be purchased by 11:59 pm Eastern time on Jan. 30, 2015 for domestic, nonstop travel in select markets and dates, Feb. 1, 2015 through Feb. 12, 2015. If you are looking for a quick getaway, you might want to take a look at some of these deals.

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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Which Hotel Rewards Program Is Best for Business Travelers? http://thepointsguy.com/2015/01/which-hotel-rewards-program-is-best-for-business-travelers/ http://thepointsguy.com/2015/01/which-hotel-rewards-program-is-best-for-business-travelers/#comments Fri, 30 Jan 2015 13:08:34 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=107045 I often preach the importance of diversifying your points and miles to improve award travel options and help protect against devaluation. However, sometimes it pays to stick firmly to one program when you know it serves you well. Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Jason Steele applies this principle to hotel loyalty programs to see how they reward their most frequent and loyal customers.

Picking a hotel loyalty program is very different for business travelers than for leisure travelers. While leisure travelers are more likely to earn points and elite status from credit card sign-up bonuses and spending, business travelers earn their rewards the old-fashioned way: through hotel stays.

Furthermore, when leisure travelers do occasionally have to pay out of pocket, they’re more likely to forgo rewards earned through the hotel in order to save a little money by booking through an online travel agency. On the other hand, business travelers who are being reimbursed by an employer or client often prefer to earn additional hotel points and elite status by booking directly with the hotel.

Deciding which loyalty program and credit card combination to choose

Frequent business travelers should carry a co-branded hotel credit card in order to earn as many points as possible from hotel stays. The most valuable loyalty program and credit card combination often depends on how many paid nights (or stays) per year you expect to have.

Today I want to examine several of the major hotel loyalty programs, and find out how many points travelers can expect to earn with a particular number of nights or stays each year when using a co-branded credit card. I’ll then use TPG’s latest monthly valuations to determine the total value of the rewards earned per dollar spent, and see which program offers the greatest return.

park-hyatt-new-york-pool
The Hyatt Gold Passport program offers a solid return, helping you earn points for stays at premier properties like the Park Hyatt New York.

 

Hyatt Gold Passport

Platinum members: General members earn five points per dollar spent at Hyatt hotels, and an additional three points per dollar when paying with the Chase Hyatt Visa card. That card also offers Platinum status, which earns you an additional 15% points bonus. Thus, you’ll earn 5.75 points per dollar from the paid stay, plus three points per dollar from the card, for a total of 8.75 points per dollar.

Total points per dollar: 8.75
Value of Hyatt points: 1.8 cents
Total value of rewards per dollar: 15.75 cents

Diamond members: Diamond elite status gets you a 30% points bonus, worth another 0.75 points per dollar spent. Diamond status normally requires 25 eligible stays or 50 eligible nights in a calendar year; however, Chase Hyatt Visa cardholders receive two stay credits and five night credits toward Diamond status upon spending $20,000 in a calendar year, and an additional three stay credits and five night credits toward Diamond status upon spending $40,000 in a calendar year. If a frequent business traveler is able to earn both bonuses, the Platinum threshold comes down to 20 stays or 40 nights. See also: How Much is Hyatt Gold Passport Elite Status Worth?

Total points per dollar: 9.5
Value of Hyatt points: 1.8 cents
Total value of rewards per dollar: 17.1 cents

City view king guest room at the Crowne Plaza Auckland.
IHG offers a lot of points, but points are worth less than those of many other programs.

IHG Rewards Club

General members earn 10 points per dollar spent at most IHG properties, and 5 points per dollar at Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites. If you tend to stay at those properties, you’ll need to adjust the value below accordingly.

Using the IHG Rewards Club Select card from Chase offers an additional five points per dollar spent at IHG properties, and gives cardholders Platinum Elite status, which earns an additional 50% bonus on top of base points.

Total points per dollar: 20
Value of IHG points: 0.7 cents
Total value of rewards per dollar: 14 cents

Ma
The Marriott Rewards Premier card offers automatic Silver elite status.

Marriott Rewards

Silver status (0 -34 nights with the credit card): General members earn 10 points per dollar spent at most Marriott brands (only five points per dollar at Residence Inn and TownePlace Suites). The Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card from Chase offers another 5 points per dollar spent at Marriott and Ritz-Carlton properties. In addition, cardholders receive 15 nights of elite credit, which is enough for Silver elite status and the corresponding 20% bonus on base points, for a combined total of 17 points per dollar spent.

Total points per dollar: 17
Value of Marriott points: 0.7 cents
Total value of rewards per dollar: 11.9 cents

Gold status (35 – 59  nights with the credit card): With the 15 nights toward elite status from the credit card, you’d need another 35 nights to reach Gold status, which offers a 25% bonus on base points. Note that cardholders also receive one night stay credit for every $3,000 spent on the card, potentially lowering the number of nights needed.

Total points per dollar: 17.5
Value of Marriott points: 0.7 cents
Total value of rewards per dollar: 12.25 cents

Platinum status (60 or more nights with the credit card): With the 15 nights toward elite status from the credit card, you’d need another 60 nights to reach Platinum status, which offers a 50% bonus on base points. Again, cardholders also receive one night stay credit for every $3,000 spent on the card, potentially lowering the number of nights needed. See also: How Much is Marriott Rewards Elite Status Worth?

Total points per dollar: 20
Value of Marriott points: 0.7 cents
Total value of rewards per dollar: 14 cents

The Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort is a hacienda style resort.
Hilton Diamond members using a premium co-branded card receive an excellent overall return.

Hilton HHonors

As a general member, you earn 10 base points per dollar spent at most Hilton properties (Five points per dollar at Home2 Suites by Hilton), plus an additional 5 bonus points if you choose not to earn airline miles (2.5 additional points per dollar at Home2 Suites by Hilton).

There are four different Hilton HHonors credit cards offered by two different card issuers (Citi and American Express).  The Hilton HHonors Surpass card from American Express confers automatic Gold status, which offers an additional 25% bonus on base points (not bonus points), for a total of 17.5 points per dollar spent at Hilton. The card also earns its own bonus of 12 points per dollar spent at Hilton properties.

Gold status with the HHonors Surpass card from American Express: This card offers 12 points per dollar spent at Hiltons, for a total of 29.5 total points.

Total points per dollar: 29.5
Value of HHonors points: 0.5 cents
Total value of rewards per dollar: 14.75 cents

Diamond status with the HHonors Surpass card from American Express: Cardholders who charge $40,000 within a calendar year, complete 30 stays or 60 nights, or earn 120,000 HHonors Base Points, will receive Diamond status, which offers a 50% bonus on base points. See also: What is Hilton HHonors Elite Status Worth?

Total points per dollar: 32
Value of HHonors points: 0.5 cents
Total value of rewards per dollar: 16 cents

Earn double or triple points with SPG More For You.
Starpoints are the most valuable loyalty currency out there, but they’re not easy to earn.

Starwood Preferred Guest

General members earn two points per dollar spent at Starwood properties, plus another two points from the Starwood Preferred Guest card from American Express (or the business card version).

General Member

Total points per dollar: 4
Value of Starwood points: 2.4 cents
Total value of rewards per dollar: 9.6 cents

Gold or Platinum status: As a Cardholder, you can earn Gold status by spending $30,000 on your card within a calendar year, or by completing 8 stays or 20 nights annually (since cardholders receive credit for 5 nights and 2 stays each year toward SPG elite status). Both Gold and Platinum members earn three points per dollar spent at Starwood properties. See also: How Much is Starwood Preferred Guest Elite Status Worth?

Total points per dollar: 5
Value of Starwood points: 2.4 cents
Total value of rewards per dollar: 12 cents

Grand Hyatt San Diego
Overall, Hyatt Gold Passport offers the best return.

Summary

Here are the values (in cents) of combined hotel and credit card rewards for paid stays, in ascending order:

  • 9.6 – Starwood general
  • 11.9 – Marriott Silver
  • 12 – Starwood Platinum
  • 12.25 – Marriott Gold
  • 14 – IHG Platinum
  • 14 – Marriott Platinum
  • 14.7 – HHonors Gold
  • 15.75 – Hyatt Platinum
  • 16 – HHonors Diamond
  • 17.1 – Hyatt Diamond

Analysis

While Starpoints are generally considered to be the most valuable loyalty currency, I was surprised to see that the Starwood Preferred Guest program is the least rewarding for paid stays. Marriott and IHG both offer cardholders slightly more value for their paid stays (according to TPG’s valuations), but it’s hard to quantify the fact that both programs have capacity controls that restrict the availability of awards for standard rooms.

In contrast, Hyatt, Starwood, and Hilton each offer any unsold standard room as an award. This is certainly an issue for business travelers who may be unable to use their points during the holidays for personal leisure travel. On the other hand, Starwood offers the invaluable feature of being able to transfer points to airline miles at a 1:1 ratio or better.

The most valuable programs for paid stays with a co-branded credit card turned out to be Hyatt and Hilton. By sending your loyalty to Hilton and getting the Hilton HHonors Surpass card, you can immediately start receiving 14.7 cents in value per dollar spent, and move up to 16 cents per dollar if you earn Diamond status. If you pay for rooms at Hyatt properties with the Chase Hyatt Visa, you’ll start with a return of 15.75 cents per dollar spent, and can go up to 17.1 cents per dollar when you reach Diamond status.

IHG, Hilton, and Marriott each offer far more properties than Hyatt and Starwood. If your business leads you to the same locations regularly, then you’ll need to consider what’s available before how many points you’ll earn. Road warriors have to weigh many factors when choosing a hotel loyalty program; hopefully this analysis will shed some light on where you can receive the most valuable rewards for your hotel dollars.

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10 Things We Learned On Our First Trip to Cuba http://thepointsguy.com/2015/01/10-things-we-learned-on-our-first-trip-to-cuba/ http://thepointsguy.com/2015/01/10-things-we-learned-on-our-first-trip-to-cuba/#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 22:10:20 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=106863 My recent weekend in Cuba was amazing, as you’ll see in my recent posts on Who Can Go to Cuba?Tips For Traveling to CubaHow to Get to Cuba (and Back): Flight and Award OptionsWhere and How to Book Hotels in Havana, CubaWhat to Do and See in Havana, my review of the Hotel Occidental Miramar, and my review on the Super Exclusive Salon VIP Havana airport lounge. Our journey was also full of surprises, teaching us a great deal about Havana and Cuba as a whole.

Inspired by the recent and exciting news from the White House regarding more relaxed travel restrictions to Cuba, TPG International Correspondent Lori Zaino and I were off to Havana within just a few hours, which didn’t give us much time to research what to expect. As a result, we found many aspects of Havana surprising, educational, and even amidst full of fun and laughter. Read on below to see what we discovered—it may just help you out on a future trip to Cuba.

Outside on the tarmac at HAV for pre-boarding
After a crazy day organizing travel, we ending up in Havana, and had a great time there.

1. Booking travel between the U.S. and Cuba is not an easy feat.

Booking travel to/from and within Cuba is very difficult—especially last minute. We highly recommend organizing your trip in advance and with a travel agency that focuses specifically on Cuba. Canadian agency A Nash Travel helped us get things organized quickly and efficiently (and other TPG readers have reported success with them, as well). Once the new rules are more clearly defined, charter agencies will be able to assist you with booking non-stop flights, as it will likely be quite a while until you can do so yourself online. For instance, although online-travel agency Kayak.com has just announced that they’ve begun to list Cuba trip-planning research, for the time being it still won’t be possible to book hotels or flights through their site.

Despite its state of deterioration, Havana is gorgeous.
Despite its state of deterioration, Havana is a feast for the eyes.

2. Despite its crumbling state, Havana is absolutely gorgeous.

Shabby-chic takes on a whole new level in Havana. The city seems caught in a time warp, a vibrant whirl of artfully-detailed buildings with rusting ironwork and boarded-up windows, all deteriorating in the humidity and warm sunshine.  

The malecon (coastal road) provides blue-green ocean waves to the left and decaying high-rise apartment buildings to the right. Any other city with this kind of scenery would have an abundance of luxury hotels and expensive apartments along its promenade, but here in Havana, everyone gets to enjoy the marvelous sea views—not just wealthy citizens and tourists. This is bound to change in the near future, though, so if you want to enjoy a more sleepy, less commercial version of Havana, visit soon.

Vintage Cars
I feel like I’ve stepped into a 1960’s California suburb. Nope, just Havana.

3. So. Many. Fabulous. CARS.

I like cars—especially modern ones, with air conditioning and automatic locks and windows—but I wasn’t really a car person until I got to Cuba. I had no idea how awed I’d be by the non-stop parade of amazing vintage cars in Havana. Since U.S. imports stopped in 1960, thousands of old ’50s vehicles have been immaculately maintained, with diesel engines installed for future staying power. Some are employed as taxis, like the 1957 Ford Barbie-pink convertible we rode in for about $25, but some locals also use these cars for their own transportation. You’ll see them everywhere in Havana, and they only reinforce the feeling that you’re stepping back in time.

The White House says that credits card usage will eventually be allowed in Cuba—but it isn't yet a reality.
The White House says that credits card usage will eventually be allowed in Cuba—but it isn’t yet a reality.

4. Really, no places accept credit cards. Even foreign-issued ones.

At every restaurant and bar we visited in Havana, I asked: “Aceptas tarjeta?” Each time, though, I got a friendly and apologetic no. During our entire trip, the only business that accepted a credit card was our hotel, and it was Lori’s Spain-issued card rather than any of my own, which were all issued in the U.S. The good news? MasterCard is reportedly allowing transactions as of March 1, 2015. However, who knows if that little marisco restaurant overlooking the ocean will accept your card(s)? Sorry to dash those dreams of foreign-transaction-fee-free spending with your Barclaycard Arrival Plus or your Chase Sapphire Preferred, but in Cuba, it’s better to be prepared with cash.

Some Cuban Convertible Pesos CUC
Some Cuban Convertible Pesos CUC

5. Things are not quite as cheap as one might think.

I had the impression that Cuba would be a bit like Southeast Asia, where everything is ridiculously cheap. However, I soon realized that while it isn’t as expensive as London or Paris, it’s no budget destination. Expect prices similar to those in the U.S., and keep in mind that you’ll get just 87 CUC for each dollar.

LZ and Bk Cristo Blanco 2
Having a fun time hanging out with Cuba’s version of the Christ Redeemer statue

6. Havana has a mini version of Rio’s Christ Redeemer statue.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is one of my favorite destinations, and I was thrilled to see that Havana had a mini-version of Rio’s Christ Redeemer statue, called the Christ of Havana. It’s way less touristy than Brazil’s version and provides amazing city views from its post in the hills surrounding the Fortaleza San Carlos de la Cabaña (known locally as La Cabaña). Created by Jilma Madera and inaugurated on December 24, 1958, the statue’s been through some trauma and survived; the head of the statue has reportedly been hit by lightning a few times, but each time has been lovingly repaired.

Although we didn't get to stay in Old Havana, our hotel, The Occidental Miramar, did have a pretty nice pool.
Although we didn’t get to stay in Old Havana, our hotel, The Occidental Miramar, did have a pretty nice pool.

7. Havana fills up fast, so book ahead.

If you’ve been following my posts, you know that my trip was very last-minute and we were unable to get a hotel in Old Havana because they were all booked. If you want to stay in the Old Havana city-center, definitely book ahead of time. Note that high seasons in Havana are November-March and July-August. April is sunny, May is rainy but often cooler, and June is typically hot, while September and October bring the risk of hurricanes.

They are not a fan of U.S. dollars in Cuba. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
They are not a fan of U.S. dollars in Cuba. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

8. Cubans like U.S. citzens, but not U.S. dollars.

Be prepared to exchange your beloved U.S. currency for CUC—at a pretty crummy rate. In 2004, the U.S. dollar was banned in Cuba, and the country adds an exchange penalty tax of 10%, giving you only 90 CUC (Cuban Convertible Pesos) for $100 US. I was told that they love the U.S. dollar in Cuba, but since it’s not usable anywhere in the country, it’s more of a burden to locals.

This plaza could be in Spain, New Orleans, Puerto Rico, but here I am in Cuba!
This plaza could be in Spain, New Orleans, Puerto Rico, but here I am in Cuba!

9. Havana is a delightful combination of many different places.

Havana is such an unexpected, eclectic mix of places. The ornate iron railings remind me of New Orleans, the bright colors and fortaleza bring me back to San Juan, Puerto Rico, the cobblestone streets take me to Sevilla, Spain, and for Lori, the crumbling, deteriorating state of most buildings evoked some spots she visited in Southeast Asia. Despite its similarity to other destinations, though, Havana very much holds its own.

I can't wait to visit Trinidad, Cuba. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
I can’t wait to visit Trinidad, Cuba. Photo courtesy of Anna Jedynak/Shutterstock.

10. I loved Cuba and can’t wait to explore the rest of the country, especially Trinidad. 

I was completely unprepared for how much I would adore Cuba, and the excitement and enthusiasm I would feel about future exploration of not just Havana, but also other parts of the country. My next trip will be to Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage site that dates back to the 1500s and is situated on the south coast of central Cuba’s Sancti Spíritus province. Note that I’ll be avoiding the resort town of Varadero which is set on the north coast of the northern Matanzas province and according to locals (as well as several TPG readers), is extremely touristy. To find the “real” Cuba, I was advised to visit the more pristine, white-sand beaches of Cayo Santa Maria, an island off Cuba’s north-central coast in the Jardines del Rey archipelago. Sounds good to me!

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Thursday Giveaway: LSTN Headphones and $50 iTunes Gift Card http://thepointsguy.com/2015/01/thursday-giveaway-lstn-headphones-and-50-itunes-gift-card/ http://thepointsguy.com/2015/01/thursday-giveaway-lstn-headphones-and-50-itunes-gift-card/#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 20:46:52 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=107278 For this week’s Thursday Giveaway, we are giving away 5 pairs of LSTN Troubadour Headphones with microphones plus $50 iTunes Gift Cards for each winner.

Enter to win a pair of LSTN headphones plus a $50 iTunes giftcard.
Enter to win a pair of LSTN headphones plus a $50 iTunes giftcard.

LSTN is a for-purpose company that connects individuals, families and communities through sound. For every pair of headphones they sell, they help restore hearing to a person in need through the Starkey Hearing Foundation. In under 2 years, LSTN has been able to give the gift of sound to over 15,000 people through Starkey in the U.S., Peru, Kenya and Uganda.

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

Last Week’s Winner:

Last week, we gave away a $500 American Airlines Gift Card to one lucky TPG reader. Thousands of entries were received, and one lucky winner was chosen at random. Congrats to TPG reader Crystal S. on winning!

Screen-Shot-2015-01-21-at-4.46.52-PM

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

We’re excited for this giveaway this week and hope you’ll enter!

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United Devalues Partner Earning Structure http://thepointsguy.com/2015/01/united-devalues-partner-earning-structure/ http://thepointsguy.com/2015/01/united-devalues-partner-earning-structure/#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 19:18:38 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=107211 On the heels of the recently announced British Airways devaluation, United has updated the partner earning charts on its website for flights taken on or after March 1, 2015. Similar to other airlines switching to revenue-based programs, expensive first and business class fares will earn the most, whereas discounted economy fares will earn only a fraction of the miles flown.

United has updated their partner earning charts.
United has updated its partner earning charts.

Here’s a look at the new earning structure on the following airlines for travel after March 1, 2015. Note that if your ticket was purchased directly from united.com or over the phone with United, from a United rep at the airport, or through a United ticket office, then the ticket should start with a 016 number, which means it will fall under United’s earning structure even if it’s operated by a partner airline.

The earning structures below are for tickets that do not fall under those categories, such as those booked directly with a partner airline.

Air Canada

Air Canada earning structure
Air Canada earning structure

 

When it comes to earning on Air Canada, be on the lookout for discounted Economy fares, as they will only earn 25% mileage accrual for flights within Canada.

Lufthansa

Lufthansa earning
Lufthansa earning structure

 

For United MileagePlus members flying on a Lufthansa ticket, deeply discounted economy fares earn 50%, and discounted economy fares earn 75%, so be sure to check your fare classes when booking.

Turkish Airlines

Turkish Airlines  earning
Turkish Airlines earning structure

 

Think earning 75% or 50% mileage credit is bad? If you’re a MileagePlus member flying on Turkish Airlines on a W, G, or P fare, you’ll earn no mileage credit at all if you credit to United.

How This Compares to Delta’s Partners:

Here are the earning structures of several Delta partners when booking with the partner airline directly.

Air France

Air france
Air France earning structure on Delta

 

If you’re a Delta SkyMiles member booking through Air France, you may find yourself only earning 25% of the mileage flown on cheap R, G and V economy fares. Economy fare classes H, L, Q, T, E, and N are better, but offer a still dismal 50% of mileage flown.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines earning
Alaska Airlines earning structure on Delta

As a Delta SkyMiles members booking with Alaska Airlines, you’ll earn only 50% mileage on economy fares in the K, G, T, and R classes.

Virgin Australia

Virgin Australia
Virgin Australia earning structure on Delta

 

The majority of Virgin Australia economy fare classes only earn 50% mileage, including E, N, V, Q, T, U, S, and M fares.

Is Alaska Airlines Any Better?

The short answer is yes, since Alaska Airlines offers full mileage credit for flights on partners like American Airlines, British Airways, Air France, and others. However, crediting partner flights to Mileage Plan isn’t always the best idea, as Alaska does reduce mileage earnings on Delta (as well as Korean Air, Cathay Pacific, and others).

Delta

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 12.58.41 PM
Delta earning structure on Alaska

If you thought you could get away with crediting to Alaska as a Delta Air Lines flyer, think again. You’ll be earning earning 25% of the actual miles flown for E class fares, and 50% of the actual miles flown for L,U, T, X, V. However, you’ll earn a 100% mileage credit if you’re on a F or P class fare.

Despite not earning full mileage on Delta, I think Alaska offers the best value among US carriers with respect to earning mileage and elite credits on partner airlines.

How Do American Airlines Partners Compare?

American does discount mileage earnings from some partners, but only for the cheapest fares, and for partners I would rarely use for revenue flights anyway. Overall, I think the hit to mileage credits is less damaging than on United or Delta.

Qantas:

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 1.02.17 PM
Qantas earning structure on American

If you were to purchase a Qantas ticket as an American AAdvantage member, you would only earn 25% mileage credit on O and Q fares (the airlines discounted economy classes), and 50% credit on N, G, S, K, L, M, and V fare classes.

Cathay Pacific

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 1.04.23 PM
Cathay Pacific earning structure on American

American Airlines AAdvantage members flying on Cathay Pacific on K, M, L, V, Q, S, G, and N fare classes will earn no mileage when crediting to American.

My Thoughts

If you want to maximize your points earning, it’s a good idea to book through the airline that you want to earn miles on. For instance, if you’re a Delta SkyMiles member and want to fly on a cheap Air France flight, instead of booking with Air France directly (and only earning 25% mileage credit), book with Delta as a codeshare flight operated by Air France to have this fall under Delta’s earning structure.

While United’s recent change to partner earnings is negative for passengers who mainly purchase cheap economy fares, it’s not much worse than the partner earning structures on other airlines.

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Passenger Sues Southwest for $49,000 After Getting Hit With Bag http://thepointsguy.com/2015/01/passenger-sues-southwest-for-49000-after-getting-hit-with-bag/ http://thepointsguy.com/2015/01/passenger-sues-southwest-for-49000-after-getting-hit-with-bag/#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 16:29:35 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=107034 Upon landing, plane passengers have come to expect a flight attendant warning them to open overheard bins carefully in case luggage has shifted during the journey. But what about before the flight?

A man named Jeffery Reinhardt claims that during the boarding process on his recent Southwest Airlines flight from Portland (PDX) to Las Vegas (LAS),  he was clubbed by an oversize, overweight bag that fell on him as a flight attendant and another passenger attempted to unsuccessfully stuff it into an overheard bin. Reinhardt is now suing Southwest for $49,000 for his injuries, which include a compressed disc and tears to his back and neck muscles.

Falling suitcase injuries can cause many problem, including mild traumatic brain damage. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Falling-suitcase injuries can cause many problems, including mild traumatic brain damage. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

According to the lawsuit, these injuries have also resulted in other health issues for Reinhardt, such as headaches, nausea, dizziness and decreased range of motion. The breakdown of damages he’s claiming is $10,000 in medical expenses, $5,000 for lost income, and $34,000 for pain and suffering—totaling the $49,000.

The suit claims Reinhardt is requesting damages from the airline and not the fellow passenger because it was the airline that should be enforcing their carry-on bag rules and aware when a carry-on is simply too big for an overhead bin. A controversial Twitter campaign called @CarryOnShame (created by San Francisco Chronicle Travel Editor, Spud Hilton) has been making a similar assertion since June 2014, inviting people to share their photographs of fellow travelers/passengers who appear to be toting and storing excess baggage.

A 1998 study from FlightSafety.org explains that there are, on average, 4,500 incidents of baggage falling on passengers per year, and that “minimal traumatic brain injury” is one of the consequences. Apparently, though, it’s not just passengers who are getting injured from tumbling luggage: a survey from the Association of Flight Attendants to its members suggested that 80% of flight attendants have reported injuries from falling overhead bin items, like cuts, bruises, sprains and strains.

Do you think flight attendants need to crack down on bag size? Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Do you think flight attendants need to crack down on bag size? Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

With so much baggage falling from on high, it’s good to know that law firm Boher & Lukeman specializes in aviation incidents, including “accident and injury caused by overhead bin malfunction.” It’s unclear whether Reinhardt is represented by this law firm, but we can all sleep tight now knowing there’s someone out there to help in case we, too, are injured by clobbering overhead bags.

Have any of you been clubbed by an overhead bag? Do you agree with Reinhardt and his decision to sue Southwest Airlines? Please share your (respectful) comments in the section below. 

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How Much is Starwood Preferred Guest Elite Status Worth? http://thepointsguy.com/2015/01/how-much-is-starwood-preferred-guest-elite-status-worth/ http://thepointsguy.com/2015/01/how-much-is-starwood-preferred-guest-elite-status-worth/#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 14:59:06 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=106577 Whether you qualified for elite status in 2014 or fell short, the new year presents an opportunity to assess just how much that status means to you, and whether to pursue it again this year. Today, TPG Contributor Nick Ewen evaluates each level of Starwood Preferred Guest elite status to help you decide.

Hotel status can be quite valuable, but that value isn’t always easy to quantify. In posts earlier this month, I analyzed the value of elite status with Hilton HHonors, Marriott Rewards, and Hyatt Gold Passport. Today, I’ll take a crack at Starwood Preferred Guest, offering my thoughts on just how much SPG Gold and Platinum elite status are worth.

What is Starwood Preferred Guest elite status worth to you?
What is Starwood Preferred Guest elite status worth to you?

While this analysis is similar to the recent posts analyzing the value of airline elite status, there are some notable differences. For starters, it’s much easier to switch your loyalty from one hotel chain to another, given the global reach of their various brands. The same cannot be said for airlines, as you might be a hub captive or fly regularly to a city that’s only served by one or two carriers.

Another key difference is the level of complexity that many hotel loyalty programs provide. Airline elite status benefits are more consistent; they generally don’t change based on the departure city or arrival city. Hotels are the opposite. You might earn the same number of points when you stay at a St. Regis or Four Points, but the on-property benefits (and thus the value you get from each night’s stay) can vary widely.

As a reminder, I’ll be making a number of assumptions as I analyze the value of hotel elite status. For SPG, I assumed the following:

  • You qualify on stays, but your eligible nights are halfway between the stay/night requirements (this is the same criteria I used for Hilton and Hyatt). I’m sure many of you qualify based on both stays and nights, but I wanted to keep the estimates conservative to account for those who frequently stay in hotels for just one night.
  • Your average rate per night is $175. Like Hilton HHonors (but unlike Marriott Rewards and Hyatt Gold Passport), award stays with Starwood do count toward elite status, but in my experience it’s much harder to find inexpensive properties in the SPG portfolio than with other chains.
  • Approximately half of your nights are in higher-end (full service) hotels like Sheraton and Luxury Collection locations, while the other half are in budget properties like Four Points. Again, this is a conservative estimate.
  • For the “enhanced” Platinum levels, I’ll calculate the benefits based on 50, 75, and 100 nights, but will use the same 25 stays (for consistency and the sake of remaining conservative).

Your stay and spending patterns may be quite different, so feel free to adjust these numbers up or down. There’s no single right way to conduct this type of analysis; running the numbers for yourself is an important step in determining whether it’s worth going for the next level.

Finally, I rounded valuations to the nearest whole dollar for simplicity. Read on to see what I determined.

Gold status gives you a variety of benefits at hotels like the Sheraton in Rio De Janeiro
Gold status gives you a variety of benefits at hotels like the Sheraton in Rio De Janeiro

Starwood Preferred Guest Gold ($319)

As the lowest level within the Starwood Preferred Guest program, Gold status is still relatively valuable. You earn this status with 10 stays or 25 nights, but it’s also included automatically as a benefit for American Express Platinum cardholders. You also earn credits for 2 stays and 5 nights annually with the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express, and another 2 stays/5 nights with the business version, which puts you 40% of the way to Gold status if you have both cards. For my valuation, I’m assuming 18 nights split evenly between full-service and discount properties (9 nights and 5 stays each).

  • 50% points bonus ($76): As an SPG Gold member, you earn 3 Starpoints per dollar spent (50% more than regular members). TPG’s most recent valuations of points and miles pegged Starwood points at 2.4 cents apiece, so with 18 nights at $175 per night, you’re looking at 3,150 points more than a standard member would earn, giving you a value of $75.60.
  • 4 pm check-out ($25): Like Hyatt, I’ve found that Starwood properties are very good about proactively offering a late check-out, and they extend this benefit to all elite members (subject to availability). Assuming a value of $25 each time you use it, and with the same utilization criteria I used for Marriott (10% utilization across your 10 stays), you would take advantage of this benefit once, for a total value of $25.
  • Upgrade to “enhanced” rooms ($125): Gold SPG members are entitled to room upgrades at check-in, including corner rooms, rooms on high floors, or rooms with a view. This will occasionally include a suite or club level room, but generally speaking these rooms don’t sell for a huge premium. I’m assuming a 25% success rate (rounded up to 5 nights) and a value of $25 per night.
  • Complimentary premium internet ($36): In the past, complimentary internet access for Gold members was only available if you selected it as your welcome amenity at check-in. However, beginning on February 2, 2015, all SPG members will enjoy free internet access, and Gold and Platinum members can utilize premium internet service. While this internet may retail for $10 or more per day, I’ll use the same $2/day value that I used for Marriott and Hyatt.
  • Welcome gift ($45): At check-in, SPG Gold members can choose a welcome amenity of either points (250 for full-service locations and 125 for Aloft, Element, and Four Points properties) or a complimentary beverage. Assuming you select the points every stay (this is The Points Guy, after all!), you would earn a total of 1,875 additional Starpoints over the 10 stays, valued at $45.
  • Delta Crossover Rewards ($12): This benefit is tough to pin a value to, as its usefulness depends on how much you typically spend on Delta flights in a given year. SPG Gold members earn 1 Starpoint for every dollar spent with Delta, but I’m sure some Gold members spend exactly zero (especially if you’re unhappy with the 2015 SkyMiles program). Still, it’s a nice benefit if you do fly Delta often. I’ll assume $500 in yearly ticket purchases, which equates to 500 additional Starpoints. If you’re a frequent flyer on Delta, adjust accordingly.
The breakfast spread at the St. Regis Bal Harbour was varied and plentiful.
Platinum status gives you complimentary breakfast as one of your welcome amenity choices at properties like the St. Regis Bal Harbour (pictured)

Starwood Preferred Guest Platinum ($1,465)

Technically, there are four different levels of Platinum status with SPG, but this first one (the “standard” Platinum level) is earned with 25 stays or 50 nights. For this analysis, I’ll assume 38 nights across 25 stays, with 19 nights and 13 stays in full-service properties, and 19 nights and 12 stays in discount properties.

  • 50% point bonus ($160): Starwood Platinum members enjoy the same 50% bonus that Gold members do, so for 38 nights at $175 per night, you earn 6,650 additional Starpoints, worth $159.60.
  • 4 pm check out ($75): The late check-out benefit (when available) is identical for Gold and Platinum members. With a 10% utilization rate, you would use this benefit on 3 stays each year.
  • Room upgrades ($500): As a Platinum member, you’re entitled to the “best available room at check-in” at all properties, and this includes standard suites. While this can be an incredibly valuable benefit at certain properties, I’ll use the same conservative estimates that I used for past posts: $50 per night and a 25% success rate (rounded up to 10 nights).
  • Welcome amenity ($380): Like Gold members, Platinum members receive a welcome gift upon arrival: bonus Starpoints (500 and 250 at full-service and discount properties, respectively), a local amenity, or continental breakfast. I’ve found that breakfast tends to be the best value, especially because it’s offered daily (rather than once per stay). I’ll assume this choice for all nights, and use the same conservative value as in past posts ($10 per night)
  • Complimentary premium internet ($76): The same premium internet provided to Gold members is also granted to Platinum members, so for 38 nights at $2 per night, you get an additional $76 in value.
  • Complimentary club access ($130): Even if you don’t get upgraded to a club- or executive-level room, you still have guaranteed access to the lounge, which includes health club access (a valuable perk at certain luxury properties). Not all locations have a health club, but it still can be a nice value-added benefit. I used the same valuations as I did for Hilton HHonors Diamond ($50 for lounge access and $80 for health club access)
  • 72-hour guarantee ($20): Starwood Platinum members have a guaranteed availability benefit similar to that provided in other programs, though the three day advance window isn’t as generous as what you’ll get with other top tier status.
  • Delta Crossover Rewards ($124): Platinum members also are a part of the Crossover Rewards program, earning one Starpoint for every dollar spent on Delta flights. In addition, they also enjoy many of the perks of Delta Silver Medallions status, including priority check-in/boarding, a free checked bag, and complimentary upgrades. However, this isn’t straight-up status (like it is for the Marriott/United partnership). TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Jason Steele wrote detailed valuations of Delta elite status back in December, but the value you get from these benefits as a Platinum member will depend entirely on how often you fly Delta. To account for the fact that Platinum members probably travel more than Gold members, I’ll value these benefits for a casual Delta flyer: $1,000 in yearly spend (for 1,000 Starpoints, worth $24) and $100 for the additional benefits (adjusted downward from my Marriott valuation due to the fact that it isn’t full status).
50-night Platinums can use a Suite Night Upgrade to a suite, like TPG did at the Westin in Madrid
50-night Platinums can use a Suite Night Upgrade to a suite, like TPG did at the Westin in Madrid

“Enhanced” Platinum levels

If you hit 50, 75, or 100 elite qualifying nights with SPG, you’ll move beyond the standard Platinum benefits to unlock additional rewards. These options provide an incentive for Platinum members to continue staying at Starwood properties past the regular qualification threshold. For each of these three levels, I’ll use the same assumptions and criteria as above, and extend them across the additional nights.

Starwood Preferred Guest 50-night Platinum ($2,329)

  • 50% point bonus ($210)
  • 4 pm check out ($75)
  • Room upgrades ($650)
  • Welcome amenity ($500)
  • Complimentary premium internet ($100)
  • Complimentary club access ($150): Same valuations as Platinum with an additional $20 of benefits (due to the higher nights)
  • 72-hour guarantee ($20)
  • Delta Crossover Rewards ($124)
  • Suite Night Upgrades ($500): This is the benefit granted to Platinum members who reach 50 nights (compared to those who qualify with 25 stays). You earn 10 awards that can be used to confirm a suite within 5 days of check-in. Personally, I was less-than-impressed with these, as you can’t use them at booking and you must use one per night (so a maximum of 10 nights annually). I was only able to use 3 this past year and had to let 7 expire. I know others may have had more success, but I’ll assign a conservative value of $50 apiece to each upgrade.

Starwood Preferred Guest 75-night Platinum ($3,469)

  • 100% point bonus ($630): This is the first enhanced benefit for 75-night Platinum members, as they receive 2 extra Starpoints per dollar spent. 75 nights x $175 x 2 points = 26,250 additional Starpoints (over what a regular member would earn).
  • 4 pm check out ($75)
  • Room upgrades ($950)
  • Welcome amenity ($750)
  • Complimentary premium internet ($150)
  • Complimentary club access ($170): Same valuations as as Platinum with an additional $40 of benefits
  • 72-hour guarantee ($20)
  • Delta Crossover Rewards ($124)
  • Suite Night Upgrades ($500)
  • Your24 ($100): This is the other added benefit for 75-night Platinum members. It gives you the ability to choose your own 24-hour window for your stay (subject to availability, of course). I have generally heard that this works better in theory than in practice, so I’ll give it a conservative value of $100.
After 100 nights, you have access to SPG Ambassadors, though their usefulness may be limited.
After 100 nights, you have access to SPG Ambassadors, though their usefulness may be limited.

Starwood Preferred Guest 100-night Platinum ($4,399)

  • 100% point bonus ($840)
  • 4 pm check out ($75)
  • Room upgrades ($1,250)
  • Welcome amenity ($1,000)
  • Complimentary premium internet ($200)
  • Complimentary club access ($190): Same valuations as Platinum with an additional $60 in benefits
  • 72-hour guarantee ($20)
  • Delta Crossover Rewards ($124)
  • Suite Night Upgrades ($500)
  • Your24 ($100)
  • Ambassador ($100): When you reach 100 nights, the only additional (published) benefit is access to SPG ambassadors, who can provide assistance with just about anything before, during, or after a stay. TPG was underwhelmed with his ambassador experience back in 2013, but I’ve read reports from other folks who get a lot of value out of it. Like Your24, this benefit is likely better in theory than in practice.

Bottom line

As you can see, all of these levels in the SPG program carry significant value, and the higher levels really take off, especially with the additional Starpoint per dollar spent once you hit 75 nights. I find it especially interesting to compare Marriott Platinum status to 75-night SPG Platinum status. Even though both are earned after 75 nights (regardless of the number of stays), my estimates give SPG and additional $1,359 of value, or a 64.4% premium compared to Marriott!

Again, feel free to adjust my assumptions and valuations based on your own typical stay and spending patterns. I’d like to hear your feedback about which benefits you think are more or less valuable than what I’ve indicated, so please share your thoughts in the comments below!

How much do you value elite status with Starwood Preferred Guest?

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Maximizing Chase Hyatt Visa Free Night Certificates http://thepointsguy.com/2015/01/maximizing-chase-hyatt-visa-free-night-certificates/ http://thepointsguy.com/2015/01/maximizing-chase-hyatt-visa-free-night-certificates/#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 13:08:44 +0000 http://thepointsguy.com/?p=106504 Today, TPG Contributor Nick Ewen offers insight into how (and where) to use the 2 free night certificates that come with the Chase Hyatt Visa card, as well as the anniversary free night at category 1-4 properties.

Last July, I wrote a detailed post about the free nights that you can earn on the Citi Hilton Reserve card (both as a sign-up bonus and an annual spending bonus). Fortunately, this isn’t the only co-branded hotel credit card that offers this type of benefit; it’s also included on the Chase Hyatt Visa, though with some slight differences. Today I’ll go through some tips and strategies for making the most of these Hyatt free night certificates.

Top-tier Hyatt redemptions like the Park Hyatt Sydney can be tremendous values.
Free nights from the sign-up bonus can be used at top-tier properties like the Park Hyatt Sydney.

First, let’s quickly review how you earn these Hyatt free night certificates. The first two are offered as a sign-up bonus on the card after you spend $1,000 in the first three months after opening your account. Unlike their Hilton counterparts, however, these certificates are valid at all Hyatt properties, as well as participating M life resorts in Las Vegas (more about their partnership here). They’re also valid any day of the week, as opposed to the weekend (Friday – Sunday) restrictions on the Hilton certificates. Diamond members are no longer allowed to book directly into a suite, but there’s still tremendously valuable.

You also earn a free night certificate each year on your cardmembership anniversary. This doesn’t require any type of spending in the previous year; all you need to do is pay the annual fee of $75 (which is waived for the first year). Unfortunately, these renewal certificates are only valid at Category 1-4 properties in the Hyatt Gold Passport program, but you can still get a lot out of them.

Both types of certificates expire one year from the date of issuance, so you do have a decent window in which to redeem them. In addition, I’ve read several reports on FlyerTalk of cardholders requesting (and being granted) a 30-day extension to the expiration date. This is critical, since they cannot be used on stays past the expiration date.

As for actually receiving the certificates, the ones from the sign-up bonus should appear in your Hyatt Gold Passport account about 10 days after you meet the minimum spending requirements, and the free anniversary certificate should appear as soon as you’re charged the annual fee. I’ve received e-mail notifications of both, but you’ll want to double check your spam folder as well as your account e-mail notification settings to make sure they show up.

To find the certificates (once issued):

  1. Log in to your Hyatt Gold Passport account
  2. Click on “Account Detail”
  3. Select “MY AWARDS” on the left side of the page

For Diamond members, this section of your account site should be familiar, since it’s also where you’ll find your four Suite Upgrade Awards.

Hyatt Credit card annual night certificate
Free night awards are shown in your Hyatt Gold Passport account online.

In the past, using these awards required calling Gold Passport customer service, but Hyatt recently added the ability to book these online.

However, before you go through the online booking process, I strongly recommend that you check standard award availability at your desired location/property first. This is a very easy process. From the homepage, simply search for your desired date(s) and be sure to check the “Show Hyatt Gold Passport Points” box from the search results page:

Hyatt Savannah search results
Hyatt Savannah search results

 

I was aiming to redeem my anniversary night certificate at the Andaz Savannah, and I was excited to see award availability for an Andaz King room on my desired dates. You may think this step is unnecessary, but it can definitely help (as you’re about to see).

To redeem these certificates online, you’ll simply click on the “RESERVE” icon from the “MY AWARDS” page of your account, and that will take you to the search page:

Hyatt certificate search
Hyatt certificate search

 

When I typed in “Savannah, GA,” I got the following results:

Savannah Hyatt
Savannah Hyatt

Here’s where things get interesting. I’ve found that sometimes availability won’t show up during this process, even if you’ve confirmed that a standard award room is available. When I clicked the “CONTINUE” icon above, I got the following message:

Andaz Savannah no availability
An error message says there’s no availability at the Andaz Savannah.

 

This is strange, considering I already verified award availability, and they also had standard rooms available at the Hyatt Daily Rate of $299. Why is the site trying to push me into the much higher Guaranteed Availability benefit of my Diamond status?

A quick call to the Diamond desk confirmed my suspicions: the website simply wasn’t accurate. They could see the availability and were able to apply my free night certificate with no problems.

A couple of other things to keep in mind:

  • When trying to use the two free nights from the sign-up bonus, if you don’t see award availability (but you’ve verified that it exists), try searching for one night at a time. I’ve read numerous reports indicating that free nights must be booked separately online to properly display the applicable rooms.

So now that the gritty details are out of the way, let’s talk about maximizing these certificates!

Consider using the sign-up bonus certificates at a Category 7 property like the stunning Park Hyatt Maldives
Consider using the sign-up bonus certificates at a Category 7 property like the stunning Park Hyatt Maldives.

Sign-up bonus

We’ll start with the two free nights earned from the sign-up bonus, since those can be used at any Hyatt location worldwide on any day of the week (again, as long as there is standard award availability). The first (and most obvious) way to get the most out of this bonus is to look at the eight Category 7 properties:

  • Park Hyatt Beaver Creek (rates in February start at $799/night)
  • Park Hyatt New York (rates in February start at $675/night)
  • Park Hyatt Sydney (rates in February start at AU$980/night, or $776)
  • Park Hyatt Tokyo (rates in February start at ¥49,000/night, or $416)
  • Park Hyatt Maldives (rates in February start at $1,270/night)
  • Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome (rates in February start at €600/night, or $673.50)
  • Park Hyatt Milan (rates in February start at €490/night, or $550)
  • Park Hyatt Zurich (rates in February start at 560 CHF/night, or $638)

All eight have at least some award availability for the month of February, so even on the low end of the spectrum, you’re still getting over $800 of value out of the sign-up bonus.

Properties in big cities, like the Andaz 5th Avenue, tend to have high revenue rates and are thus a great redemption option as well.
Properties in big cities (like the Andaz 5th Avenue) tend to have high revenue rates, making them great redemption options.

Another great option is to look at properties in big cities, as these tend to be more expensive than properties elsewhere. This is an even better option around special events. For example, at the time of writing, the Andaz 5th Avenue in New York still has standard award rooms available for December 30th and 31st, giving you a prime NYC location for New Year’s Eve. Revenue rates for those nights are a whopping $925! Even though this property is “only” a Category 6 location, with the right redemption, it can easily surpass the value offered by some Category 7 hotels.

Another strategy that may help you utilize these certificates is good for when you’re afraid of availability disappearing at your desired property. While this isn’t foolproof and may vary from one hotel to another, I’ve read reports of booking a reservation with points to “hold” the standard award while you’re waiting for the sign-up bonus certificates to appear. Then, once you’ve hit the minimum spending requirement, you call the hotel (or Gold Passport customer service) and ask that the stay be switched to the certificate. Again, this may not work for all locations, but it could be a good way to guarantee availability when it comes time to use the certificate!

Finally, to extend your stay, consider signing up for the card along with a traveling companion, be it a spouse, family member, or friend. You can book two back-to-back stays of two nights each, and call the hotel (or Hyatt Gold Passport customer service) to request that the reservations be merged or linked so you don’t have to check out and then back in after the first two nights.

The Hyatt Escala Lodge at Park City is a great redemption spot for your anniversary certificate, even in the summer!
The Hyatt Escala Lodge at Park City is a great redemption spot for your anniversary certificate, even in the summer!

Anniversary certificate

As stated above, the anniversary certificate is a little more restrictive, in that it only applies to Category 1-4 properties. Thus, the best uses tend to be at the higher-end Category 4 locations. You’ll often see rates of $250 or more at these hotels; as you saw earlier, I booked a reservation for my anniversary certificate at the Andaz Savannah over Easter weekend, when revenue rates were $299 per night. That’s not a bad use considering it only cost me the $75 annual fee!

Other desirable Category 4 locations include:

  • Hyatt Escala Lodge in Park City, UT
  • Park Hyatt Toronto
  • Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort (Costa Rica)
  • MGM Grand, Monte Carlo, and New York-New York (Las Vegas)

The same strategies apply to this certificate as to those from the sign-up bonus: you can book a room on points to “hold” a reservation, and use certificates back to back when traveling with a companion who also has the card.

Here's hoping my plan for a "suite" stay at the Andaz Savannah works!
Here’s hoping my plan for a “suite” stay at the Andaz Savannah works!

A final strategy that I’m hoping to use for my Savannah stay in April is available to Diamond Gold Passport members: combining a paid stay of one or more nights (upgraded using a Suite Upgrade Award) with a one-night stay booked with my anniversary certificate. My hope is that since the first night is confirmed in a suite, the hotel will allow us to keep the room for both nights. This same strategy could also be used with the sign-up bonus certificates, though paid rates for the higher category properties will likely be much higher.

Bottom line

This credit card has a permanent spot in my wallet, and the free night certificate is a big part of that. With an annual fee of just $75, it’s easy to more than make up for that fee, as even the cheapest Category 1-4 properties almost always cost more than that. Add in the complimentary Platinum status, 3x points at Hyatt properties, and no foreign transaction fees, and this card should be a no-brainer to just about anyone who travels.

Where would you use the Chase Hyatt Visa free night certificates?

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