My Top 10 Points and Miles Travel Wish List for 2016
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Happy New Year! With the new year upon us, I decided to reflect on the past year in the points and miles world — both good and bad. So, I ended up coming up with a points and miles wish list for 2016 that I can only hope comes true.
In 2013, I told you about my wish list for the coming year, and I was happy that some — although not all — of my wishes came true. The American and US Airways merger has gone smoothly thus far and some credit cards have announced great sign-up bonuses (like the Chase Sapphire Preferred's 50,000 point sign-up bonus after spending $4,000 in the three months). So for this year, I'm going to continue with the tradition and share my top 10 wishes for 2016 in the points, miles and travel world.
1. Award Redemptions in Major Airline Programs Remain Distance-Based
Airlines are switching their frequent-flyer programs from the leisure traveler-friendly distance-based model to the more rigid revenue-based systems. In November, American Airlines became the latest carrier to announce a switch to the revenue-based system, joining the likes of Delta and United.
These new programs specifically affect mileage accrual, and while redemption amounts have increased overall — even when it comes to once-valuable Avios awards — frequent flyers can still redeem miles based on flight distance (with the globe divided into several zones), rather than the cost of a revenue ticket. So in 2016, I'm hoping for no more devaluations from airlines, and no change to the current redemption system.
2. SPG Remains a Program on its Own
When Marriott announced that it would be acquiring Starwood, many SPG-loyal hearts — including mine — sank. SPG is one of my favorite rewards programs, as you can transfer Starpoints to more than 30 airlines and they're consistently worth a lot in my monthly valuations.
At this point, all we can do is speculate, but it seems obvious that all SPG loyalists are hoping the program retains its independence like Kimpton Karma Rewards did when the chain merged with IHG (though rumor is that may soon change). Marriott's CEO Arne Sorenson released a message attempting to comfort loyal members by saying the merger allows for the "ability to take two great companies and keep the very best of each of them." That's better than no word at all, but I'm taking it with a grain of salt. In 2016, I'm hoping the program changes as little as possible — the Kimpton-IHG approach to a merger is the ideal situation.
3. The US Government Encourages Competition
One of the many things I'm concerned about is the US government giving in to the pressure of domestic carriers. If the government gives in to the lame OpenSkies coalition, we're in for a rude awakening as US-based travelers. The three major US carriers – Delta, American and United – have an extremely sub-par product as compared with their international counterparts.
The US carriers are making record profits, so the least they can do is invest in their hard and soft products – both of which lag severely behind the rest of the world, especially ME3 carriers (Emirates, Etihad and Qatar). I'm hoping the government takes a stand to the US airlines in 2016 to increase competition and make traveling a better experience for us all.
4. Healthier Food in the Skies
It's a constant debate — who has the best airline food? No matter who comes out on top in terms of taste, I usually draw the same conclusion: When I'm flying, I don't want to be subjected to greasy, fatty and sodium-saturated foods. I really want to see some healthier options.
Now, I'm not saying to do away with the desserts and cheesy pasta dishes entirely. But instead, airlines should offer passengers something they could find at a healthy restaurant or from a supermarket if they were on the ground. Even if the healthy option doesn't sound appealing to you, at least you — and those who are looking for something healthier — would be able to choose.
5. No More Fees!
Fees, fees, fees. We see them everywhere. Annual fees for credit cards, fees for foreign transactions, fees for checking bags, fees for printing tickets, fees for overweight bags — the list could go on. Perhaps the worst offenders are the low-cost carriers that seem to charge customers for anything and everything they can.
It's absolutely crazy to have to pay all of these fees for things that should be free of charge (printing a boarding pass!) — and, in many cases, have been fee-free for years. What's next, fees to use the bathroom, as Ryanair one suggested? I'm hoping this whole fee trend comes to an end in 2016 once and for all.
6. Credit Card Bonuses Continue to Be Strong
This year, we saw some great credit card bonuses. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card increased its sign-up bonus from 40,000 points to 50,000. In September, Chase increased the sign-up bonus for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card from 25,000 points to 50,000 after you spend $2,000 in the first three months. For a brief time, the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express and the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express upped their sign-up bonuses from 25,000 to 30,000 — however, the offer is now 25,000 for both cards.
New players like Citi keep upping the pressure by adding new transfer partners and increasing sign-up bonuses. We saw some other increased offers in 2015, but in 2016, I'm hoping more cards continue to up the ante with their sign-up bonuses — and keep the bonuses for longer periods of time.
7. The TSA Security Theater Stops
I get it — the TSA is there to protect us. They're tasked with keeping us safe during our travels — wherever those travels may be. But that being said, the SSSSecurity theater needs to stop. Back in August, I had an uneventful flight to Turkey — everything went smoothly and the trip itself was great. But for my next flight when I got back, my boarding pass was flagged with an "SSSS" label, which stands for Secondary Security Screening Selection — meaning I would go through enhanced screening for every flight until the label was removed. It was something I came to dread every time I traveled — so much so that I even started ranking the best and worst pat downs at each airport I traveled through. And come to find out, more travelers than I could have imagined, including many TPG readers, also had similar experiences after traveling to Turkey. Then — finally — in late September, the dreaded SSSS tag was lifted from my name.
In 2016, I hope the TSA is able to rework its policies to avoid targeting average travelers. I get that they're protecting us, but there has to be a more efficient way to screen passengers who are really a threat versus harassing everyday people.
8. More Fuel-Efficient Planes
I can't stress how important it is to have more fuel-efficient aircraft — not only to me, but for our environment. This year, many airlines took to ordering the new Airbus A350, which is a lighter (and therefore more fuel efficient) version of its successors, the A330 and A340 – not to mention it's constructed with a majority of composite materials. The A350-900 is extremely expensive upfront for the airline, but its two Rolls Royce Trent XWB engines make it fuel efficient and could end up saving an airline about 20% per seat in operating costs. Also, this year SWISS announced plans to start replacing its A340s with the much more fuel-efficient 777-300ER.
If every airline were to take the necessary steps to switch their fleet to include more fuel-efficient aircraft, it would benefit all parties involved. The airline may have to pay more upfront, but in the end, they'll get a larger return by spending less for fuel. Passengers will ultimately win because of fewer additional fees (a solution for #5), mainly those pesky fuel surcharges. And, most importantly, the earth will come out on top with fewer emissions from the aircraft roaming its skies.
9. Better Rail Options in America
Yes, we have Amtrak, but that doesn't really stack up to rail options in other parts of the world. However, it looks like that may change soon. In November, a privately operated rail company called All Aboard Florida announced plans to connect Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando via a 235-mile express train — the Brightline. It's expected to be complete by mid-2017 and will connect passengers from Miami to Orlando in just three hours. No traffic and no hassle; it really sounds ideal.
This got me thinking: Why aren't there more rail options like this to connect our country, and to an even larger extent, the continent? There's a $68 billion high-speed train project underway in California to connect Los Angeles and San Fransisco, and there have been private groups pushing for high-speed trains between Dallas and Houston and Las Vegas and Los Angeles. It makes sense to me, and I'm hoping to see more options like these announced in 2016 to connect us with less driving and more railways.
10. New Routes to Minimize Travel Time
Airlines are constantly expanding their routes — and in some cases ending others. By doing the former, it creates more options for the traveler to make the most of their time in the skies. Although long-haul flying can be a lot of fun, there's few things that I enjoy more than being able to fly nonstop from my origin to my destination.
In 2016, I hope the airlines will continue with the route expansion. I love seeing airlines expanding their reach — who really expected Norwegian to fly nonstop to the Caribbean?! On the top of my list, I'd like to see nonstop routes from Miami to different cities in Africa, as well as to Tokyo, which is one of my favorite cities.
I can only hope that at least a few of mine come true, only making travel better for us all in 2016 and beyond. Happy New Year, and happy traveling!
What's on your 2016 travel wish list?