Travel Tuesday Top 10: Gift Ideas
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Frequent travelers are often given lucrative gifts from loyalty programs and credit card companies, which they are often allowed to transfer to other people. So this holiday season, don't think you have to run to the closest crowded mall for a cookie cutter gift- you may be able to go shopping right from your frequent flyer account login! Here are my top 10 unique gift ideas that frequent travelers can give to their loved ones.
1. Elite Status: Most people dread flying, but when you have elite status the experience can improve dramatically. American, Delta and US Airways all allow their top-tier elite frequent flyers to gift status. American Airlines offers Elite Rewards where American Platinum and Executive Platinum members may gift AAdvantage Gold status to a friend if they fly 25,000 miles more than the threshold necessary to earn that status. Delta offers Choice Benefits to Platinum and Diamond Medallions. Platinum Medallions may gift one Silver status and Diamond Medallions can gift one Gold status to anyone they want. This can be a great way to give someone elite status who would not normally earn it. Keep in mind though when gifting status, the person only receives the status and not the elite miles meaning if you gift Silver Medallion, in order to earn Gold Medallion, they would still have to earn 50,000 MQM's on their own. US Airways offers Special Dividends where after flying 85,000 miles in a calendar year Dividend Preferred members can gift Silver Preferred and after flying 125,000 miles you have the option to gift Gold Preferred status to a friend or family member.
2. Elite Qualifying Miles: My favorite type of miles (and the most valuable) are elite qualifying miles (EQM's) and I know many other frequent flyers would say the same. While the most common way to earn them is by good old-fashioned flying, there are some credit cards that will let you gift these elite qualifying miles to friends and family members. The Delta Reserve allows you to gift the 15,000 MQM’s you earn after $30,000 in annual spend and the other 15,000 MQM’s after $60,000 in spend. Though it’s been discontinued now, consumers who have been grandfathered into the old Continental Presidential Plus Card can give the flex EQM’s they earn on that card to whomever they like. Another option is to buy elite qualifying miles. Delta announced the option to Buy MQM's which is limited to a maximum of 10,000 miles for $995. While expensive, it’s always an option if time is running out for your 2013 elite qualification. US Airways has their “Buy Up To Preferred” option in which they sell Preferred miles and segments, and there is no limit to how many you can purchase, and you can actually buy top-tier status on US Airways for $3,999 without even setting foot on one of their planes. Nothing says "happy holidays" like helping someone get to the next elite level without them having to step on a plane!
3. Upgrade Certifcates: We all love getting upgraded and being able to fly in business or first class. When it comes to gifting upgrades, United and American allow those with systemwide upgrades to use them for anyone they like. American offers Executive Platinum members eight complimentary one-way Systemwide Upgrades and they are transferable as the terms state members may designate another passenger to use their upgrades even when the Executive Platinum isn't flying with them. United offers Premier members six Global Premier Upgrades when they reach 100,000 miles of flying each year. Premier members may request an upgrade for any other traveler using a Global Premier Upgrade, even if they are not traveling on the same reservation. In order to sponsor a Global Premier Upgrade for another traveler, the sponsoring member will need to sign in to united.com using their own account, then search for the reservation using the traveling member’s confirmation number and last name. The sponsoring member can then redeem the Global Premier Upgrade by selecting the Upgrade Reservation link. When it comes to Delta, in order to request a Systemwide Upgrade for someone other than yourself, it must be for a companion you are flying with. US Airways offers Chairman Preferred members 2 electronic certificates each year for one way First Class/Envoy upgrades that you can use for upgrades to or from Hawaii, Europe, South America and the Middle East, however they may only be transferred to your companion if they are traveling with you similar to Delta's policy.
4. Lounge Access: Airport lounges are a great place to unwind and get some work done in a quiet setting compared to the terminal. Most airlines sell day passes for about $50, but until the end of the year you can buy four Delta SkyClub passes for $99, which might make great stocking stuffers for the Delta flyer in your life. The United MileagePlus Explorer Card offers two complimentary passes for cardholders each year, which can then be gifted to other people. With American, the Citi Executive AAdvantage Card provides full Admirals Club membership privileges for the cardholder and immediate family or up to two travel companions. However, when it comes to lounge access, my personal favorite is the American Express Platinum since it get me access to all the Delta Sky Clubs, American Admiral Clubs, US Airways lounges and over 400 independent lounges with Priority Pass including the Alaska Airlines Board Rooms. Also with the Platinum Amex, you can add on up to 3 additional cardholders for $175 and they will all receive lounge access. Whether you have one additional cardholder or up to 3, the price is the same so you might as well max it out. But if you want to give someone else lounge access, you can buy day passes with your Platinum Amex and that will count toward your $200 airline rebate fee, so you're essentially getting it for free. The Chase Ink Bold and Ink Plus provide access to the Lounge Club program and your first two visits are free, so this is another option to get into lounges.
5. Utilize the American Express $200 Airline Credit: Every calendar year, Platinum Amex cardholders get a $200 airline credit to use on the airline they designate (so if you don't already have the card, now might be a great time to apply since you get $200 now and another $200 on January 1). This credit is automatically rebated as statement credits on airline purchases and is meant to be used on things like baggage fees, seat assignment fees, in-flight food and drink, flight change fees and lounge day passes, full lounge membership and award ticket fees. However, airline gift cards are often reimbursed, even though they technically don’t qualify, because of the way they are coded on the credit card statement. Read through the 70+ comments on my post last year to read examples of TPG readers who have had success purchasing gift cards from American Airlines and Delta and gotten the rebate on them, as well as some who have even purchased cheap airline tickets. This could be a great way to extend the life of the benefit if you don't have travel coming up right now but you or the person you want to give this gift to might in the future. If you're nervous about getting credit for an airline voucher, consider buying four Delta SkyClub passes for $99, which will definitely count toward the airline rebate and are on sale now through December 31, 2012, and make a great stocking stuffer.
6. Gift Miles for a Trip: The easiest way to book awards for friends and family is to book them directly from your own account as opposed to paying the transfer fee and processing charge to transfer miles to their accounts. A lot of people think that they can only book for themselves or must pay to transfer the miles to other person’s mileage account in order to book travel for someone else, which is not true. Most airlines allow you to book awards for anyone from your own account, which is free to do (apart from the taxes and fees you'd pay on an award ticket for yourself anyway). An additional benefit it that let’s say you hold elite status on Delta and are a Delta Platinum, if you book an award for a general member, you would still be able to cancel or change the award without paying fees since the miles came from the Platinum account. United takes it a step further and actually transfers your elite status to the person you book a ticket for- I recently used miles to book a non-status friend on an international flight and was able to select them an Economy Plus seat for free. If you are just looking to share a few miles rather than the entire amount necessary to book an entire award ticket, airlines sometimes offer mileage sharing bonuses. For example, US Airways recently had a Share Miles promotion where you transfer miles to another account and they would receive a 100% bonus, so if you do plan on transferring, try and take advantage of one of those offers but generally my best advice is just book awards from your own account for others since transferring miles is usually an expensive proposition.
7. Corporate Frequent Flyer Programs Gifts: Many airlines offer a business frequent flyer program which is in addition to individual accounts. American has the Business ExtrAA program that is open to companies with two or more employee travelers. British Airways has the On Business program, United has the PerksPlus program and Delta has the SkyBonus program. When you open a business frequent flyer account, you double dip by racking up both frequent flyer miles as an individual as well as points based on the money you spend on tickets you buy for members of your business account. You can then redeem these points for gifts starting with drink certificates all the way up to premium travel and elite status. Delta’s SkyBonus points can be redeemed for Silver Medallion status starting at 100,000 SkyBonus points, for example, while American Business ExtrAA requires just 2,400 points to gift Gold status. United's program also allows you to redeem points for either Premier Silver (50,000 points) or Premier Gold (150,000 points) status. Also keep in mind that if you work for a big corporation with its own travel department, the agents there often get perks from the airlines they book a lot of travel on like elite status to gift to employees, so be nice with your travel department rep and see if they might have a few spare status gifts to hand out at the end of the year.
8. Companion Tickets/Passes: A few airlines such as British Airways, Delta and Southwest offer companion passes ether after flying a certain amount or by spending a certain amount of money annually one of their co-branded credit cards. One of the main benefits of the British Airways Visa is the “Travel Together”companion ticket you get when you spend $30,000 within a calendar year. The Travel Together Ticket works a little differently than most other companion tickets, because rather than having to buy a full-fare ticket and get the second one for free, you use this one in combination with an award redemption, so you’re basically getting two half-price awards. The Delta Reserve Card gives cardholders a free Reserve Companion Certificate that entitles them to bring along a travel companion on a roundtrip first/business or economy. Also, Southwest offers a companion pass once you hit the 110,000-point threshold and your pass is good not only for the rest of the calendar year, but also for the following calendar year, meaning if you scored those points in a hurry, you could have a companion pass for almost two years rather than just a one-use ticket. Here's a list of the Top 10 Credit Card Companion Passes.
9. Gift American Express or Chase Ultimate Rewards Points: I love transferable points such as American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards not only because of the flexibility they give me to transfer points into the frequent flyer or hotel loyalty programs of their numerous travel partners, but also because of the added flexibility to transfer them to practically anyone else. This becomes even more lucrative when Amex is running a transfer bonus like recent ones of 40-50% to British Airways (currently there's a 30% one), or 30% one to Virgin Atlantic and a 50% bonus on Virgin America transfers. Chase has been getting a bit more strict lately about transferring Ultimate Rewards points into either other Ultimate Rewards accounts or airline/hotel accounts of people who are not your spouse, relative or employee. I have not had a problem transferring points into other people's partner program accounts, which makes this a very convenient option, though I would suggest being careful about it.
10. Various Elite Gifts: Besides elite status, when you earn American Elite Rewards, Delta Choice Benefits or US Airways Special Dividends, you have other choices of gifts as well. With American, Platinum members who earn 75,000 elite qualifying points are entitled to Elite Rewards and can choose 4 Admirals Club day passes or a 15% systemwide discount code that can be used on reservations of up to 6 people - that can be huge savings. Executive Platinums who earn over 125,000 elite qualifying points get a choice of 2 additional systemwide upgrades, a 20% systemwide discount code. The list of Delta Choice Benefits can be found here and includes systemwide upgrades, 20,000-25,000 SkyMiles (which you have to claim yourself, but can use to book someone else an award ticket), or $200 gift cards at Tiffany or as Delta travel vouchers. US Airways Special Dividends include US Airways Club day passes, US Airways Club membership for a spouse, first class upgrades on award travel (though the Dividend member must be traveling), wine club discounts and more.