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Christmas is upon us, and like all good boys and girls, I have a little holiday wish list of my own for Santa when it comes to points and miles. Here are some of the things I’d like to see happen (or not happen!) this coming year – so let’s all be a little less naughty and a little nicer so these come true!
1. No more devaluations! Unfortunately, 2013 turned out to be the year of the devaluation thanks to major program changes from Hilton (especially), Marriott, Delta, United, Flying Blue, Aeroplan and even Starwood and Hyatt. All in all, it’s been a bit demoralizing, but at least with some programs like United and Hyatt there is still a little more time left to get those last-minute current-priced awards booked before the changes come into effect. And with the sweeping announcements of this past year, hopefully there are no more huge program changes to come because these programs have already given us a lot to think about in terms of loyalty strategy, and I for one will be adjusting my travel plans accordingly.
2. More transfer bonuses. Compared to 2012 and especially 2011, the transfer bonuses offered from programs like American Express Membership Rewards – the points you earn on cards like the Premier Rewards Gold, Platinum and Business Gold Rewards cards – have been a bit sporadic and lackluster, with most clocking in around the 30% mark instead of 50% and even 67% we’ve seen in previous years. However, Amex has been showing signs of new life by adding new partners like Emirates, and hopefully they will be able to work out some bigger transfer bonuses for 2014.
It’s not all about Amex, though. More and more of my credit card points strategy has revolved around Chase Ultimate Rewards, which you can transfer to any of 10 travel partners if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold or Ink Plus cards. While the program has continued to add transfer partners, it hasn’t to date offered a transfer bonus to any of them. Not only would offering transfer bonuses keep these cards in the active rotation in my wallet by making those Ultimate Rewards points more valuable, but they would also be a way to stay relevant given recent devaluations from some like Hyatt and United.
3. New perks for the Platinum Amex. The Platinum Card from American Express is one of the most valuable cards in my wallet thanks great, valuable perks like an annual $200 airline rebate, Global Entry application fee reimbursement and airline lounge access. Unfortunately, that last one is changing in March 2014 so that it no longer includes American Admirals Clubs or US Airways Clubs, though it will still include Delta SkyClubs and Priority Pass Select membership as well as entry to Amex’s two (so far) Centurion lounges. Not only would I love to see the opening of additional Centurion lounges to make up for that, but I’d also love to see the Platinum Card add some more perks – maybe more hotel co-branded discounts, or even airline discounts, a partnership with another airline like Alaska and maybe even bumping the value of pay with points on the personal card back up to 1.25 cents instead of 1 cent per point.
4. More airline and hotel link ups. This year, Starwood and Delta launched Crossover Rewards that give elite members of the airline and the hotel chain privileges and points bonuses on each other, and United and Marriott launched a similar program called RewardsPlus over the summer. I love the opportunity to earn hotel points on flights and award miles on hotel stays, not to mention enjoying elite status perks you might not otherwise get based on your status with just an airline or hotel alone. So I’d love to see more link ups like perhaps between American and IHG Rewards, or Southwest and Carlson so that all of us start earning more points and miles (and get things like free checked bags, priority boarding, space-available upgrades and more) on every trip.
5. The American – US Airways merger goes smoothly. Probably the biggest question mark for the coming year will be the roll-out of the American-US Airways merger since there are uncertainties about the linking up of operations, frequent flyer programs, elite status, alliances and more. Basically, I think we’re all in for a lot of headaches, but here’s to hoping that these two enormous organizations find a way to integrate their cultures, operations and various programs as smoothly as possible so that we flyers can continue to get where we need to go and enjoy the elite benefits we’re due.
6. Great new credit card sign-up bonuses. 2013 saw some great sign-up bonuses come and go including a one-day 100,000-point sign-up bonus on the Amex Platinum Card last January, various flash 75,000-point bonuses on the Amex Business Gold Rewards card, a one-week sign-up bonus of 60,000 points on the Ink Bold and Ink Plus, and a bonus of up to 55,000 points on the Sapphire Preferred, and more. Though these bonuses came and went quickly – by paying attention and strategizing, a lot of folks were able to rake in the points and miles this year like never before and as the economy continues its slow upward progress and credit card companies ramp up the competition for those high-value consumers, I think we’ll see more of these offers pop up in 2014 – at least we can hope so!
7. More airlines join alliances. It’s been a pretty interesting year for alliances. Oneworld gained Qatar Airways and is set to absorb US Airways come March 31. Star Alliance got EVA, and announced that Air India was under consideration again, while Garuda and SkyTeam announced that the Indonesian carrier’s join date would be March 5. All in all, travelers are getting some more interesting options to use their miles across the world, and I’m hoping that one of the other Middle East carriers like Etihad (I doubt it for Emirates) will join an alliance as well, and that we’ll see some other airlines expand their options for miles earning and redeeming outside of alliances like Alaska recently did by allowing flyers to earn elite-qualifying miles on all partners.
8. More ways to load Bluebird and that you can buy them at Office Depot. Amex Bluebird is one of the best points- and miles-earning tools out there since you can buy Vanilla Reloads and then put the value of them on your Bluebird card then use it to pay bills and expenses you can’t normally use a credit card for. This was especially lucrative when you could buy them at Office Depot and earn 5X points per $1 with the Ink Bold and Ink Plus. Sadly that ended a while ago and now it’s a matter of finding a CVS that carries Vanilla Reloads regularly, which can be a hassle. My two wishes are that Bluebird adds more reload partners like Green Dot MoneyPaks, and that office stores like Staples and Office Depot bring them back into inventory. A pipe dream? Perhaps, but that’s my Christmas wish.
9. Hotel WiFi becomes a standard free benefit. While hotel elite status often covers wi-fi it can still be a huge expense when staying on properties where you don’t have status. I’d also like to see hotels increase their bandwidth- so many properties offer such slow wifi, that I wish they’d advertise no connectivity at all so people could avoid the hassle and just tether to their phones!
10. A Safe Travel Year. We saw one major airline crash in 2013 in the US with the Asiana crash in San Francisco (which appears to be pilot error on multiple levels). Just this week the wing of a British Airways 747 smashed into a building while the aircraft was taxiing in Johannesburg and there have been a number of other incidents around the world. Not only that, but over the past few years there have been some cruise ship accidents like the Costa Concordia, so my biggest wish is for a safe travel year in 2014!
What are your wishes for the 2014 travel year?