I recently spent just over a week in Switzerland and although I’d love to talk about that, it’s not really the purpose of this blog. Instead, I wanted to talk about something that I encountered as part of the booking process for both the outbound and the return: I booked a business class award from my home city connecting in Chicago O’Hare to Zurich and the reverse routing for the return.

In it’s eternal crapulance, United often “breaks” business class awards by only offering coach saver awards for most domestic legs, especially when there’s good availability on the route in business class internationally. I consider these mixed-cabin awards broken because it’s frankly punitive to withhold domestic first class seats on international business awards where the business segment is the vast majority of the cost to United, and where the domestic first class cabins are often empty despite the lack of award space. Let me tell you too, there’s nothing quite like flying in a Swiss Throne business class seat only to be followed by a three hour flight in the last row of an E175 with slimline unpadded seats.

How do we fix these awards? You’ve got two options:

  1. Periodically check the United site leading up to your trip to see if they open saver award space on your domestic first leg, then you can call reservations and have them reticket you in the domestic first class cabin for no additional charge (spoiler alert: United almost never opens first class award availability)
  2. Call United and ask to be added to the upgrade waitlist for first class on your domestic legs, which you’re entitled to be on as a business class award ticket holder whether or not you hold any status with United. Note that not all reps know how to do this and you may need to hang up and call again, but fortunately it seems that most reps know how in recent memory.

Note that if you use the second option, you’re considered to be on an instrument supported upgrade which puts you ahead of almost all elite complimentary upgrades on the upgrade list. That also means you’ve got a great shot of clearing the first class upgrade and un-breaking your business class award. You can see the wiki on this post at Flyertalk for more detail on upgrade list priorities.

How did this go for me? Well, because I was flying United I was hit by another form of crapulence: They waited until the last minute to clear upgrades, which mattered because the previous flight to my city was delayed by 8 hours because United is United, and essentially all of the confirmed first class passengers on the previous flight switched to my flight. I went from #1 with 8 seats available in first to #1 with 0 seats available in first within the final hours of my flight.

If Jurassic Park taught us anything, it’s that life will always find a way. My corollary is that United will also always find a way (to break your travel).

Happy weekend!

A picture looking out of an A330 aircraft window at altitude, with a brontosaurus peeking in.
The reason for the previous flight’s delay.

Gift card resale rates have been creeping up toward yearly highs. This isn’t unexpected, Q4 is traditionally the best time of year for rates in the same way that it’s the best time of year to sell tinsel and foam Santa-esque figurines. Here’s what I’ve seen this week:

  • BestBuy gift card rates crept up to 98.75% yesterday. If you combine these with grocery store reward you’re looking at a decent profit even without your credit card spend factored in.
  • Apple gift card rates hit 94.5%. With the new MacBook M1-Pro announcement I expect there’s still room for growth here so start scouting potential buying spots. With Kroger in particular and the 4x promotion that ended yesterday, these rates made Apple gift card reselling rather profitable without considering credit card rewards.
  • Kroger Fuel Point resale rates have crept above $16/1,000 points. Honestly I’ve never seen them this high, and unfortunately I don’t expect it to last. A few back to back 4x general promotions tend to kill high rates, and a couple of those will probably come soon.
  • Home Depot gift card resale rates went to 94.5%. Yesterday’s Kroger 4x promotion could also work with these via Happy cards.

Other gift card brands have followed this trend. The only real exceptions I’ve noted are Gap and Express, which seem to have a flooded supply left over from the summer.

It’s time to dust off your gift card reselling skills and reach out for new buyers. There’s a lot of capacity waiting to be filled out there.

You know it’s Q4 when these beauties start showing up in stores.

1. I’m seeing a 30% transfer bonus for both Marriott and Hilton on my American Express Membership Rewards travel partner page. There’s a report on reddit of a 20% transfer bonus for Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles too, though I don’t have that one. It’s likely worth taking a look at your own profile’s page to see what might be there for you.

2. It’s still raining gift cards, this time from Simon. Use promo code OCT21SAVE45 for 45% off of fees on bulk Visa gift card purchases. You can buy $1,000 Visa gift cards at Simon with low fees, and it’s a decent way to get some spend on Citi cards. As always, remember that American Express doesn’t give you points for spend at Simon.

These continue to work at mid-tier grocery stores and at several online processors. If you don’t have a way to liquidate, keep looking — they do exist.

3. Multiple independent sources are confirming that Hyatt’s peak/off-peak pricing will be implemented on October 26. That gives you six days to book award stays for March 2022 and later at the current prices. Don’t slack too long!

The new redemption chart is here, and unlike most loyalty award changes this one has some good with the bad — if you’re staying in Lubbock Texas on a Wednesday night in July (also known as “as off-peak as it possibly gets”), you might be able to get a night at the Hyatt Place for 3,500 points instead of 5,000 points.

Pictured: Your window view during your off-peak award stay in Lubbock, TX.

1. If you have a Chase Freedom Flex (and really you should, 3x at drugstores like CVS is one of the best ways to earn to Ultimate Rewards), I’d suggest that you take advantage of the new offer for $1,500 in spend at 5x in the category you spend the most on, out of: travel, dining, home improvement stores, grocery stores (except Target and Walmart), drugstores, gas stations, select live entertainment (lol), select streaming services, and fitness clubs. You’re automatically registered as long as you activated your Q4 5x categories.

If any of these overlap with your Freedom Flex’s Q4 bonus categories (PayPal and Walmart), you’ll earn 9x instead of 5x. My current churning life regret is that I only have one Freedom Flex card.

2.There’s a relatively new targeted spend offer on the landing page on the Ultimate Rewards portal for Ink Preferred cards. The offer is 50,000 bonus points for each $50,000 in spend up to $250,000. You can find the terms here. If you can MS in advertising or shipping categories, you’ll end up at 4x with this offer. (Thanks to Danny)

3. The Chase Sapphire Preferred 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points offer with first year’s annual fee waived and a $50 credit at grocery stores is still alive in-branch. My business banker said that they haven’t heard that it’ll be pulled yet, so it could stick around for at least a couple of more weeks. I still prefer the churnable Chase Ink cards to the Sapphire Preferred for almost everyone though.

Ok, but where are Chase’s Tuesday Tacos? Here, duh.

A post is brewing about the new American Express Business Platinum changes. Stay tuned, and in the mean time:

1. Staples has fee free $200 Visa gift cards through Saturday, limit five per transaction. It looks to me like this is just continuing last week’s promo for another week. They’re Metabank/BHN cards, so have a liquidation play in mind. Side note: I’m shocked at how many of these there have been this year; don’t expect it to last.

Remember to link your cards with Payce, sometimes it’ll pay 5% on Staples gift card purchases even though it’s not supposed to and definitely don’t contact support if it doesn’t work.

2. Office Depot/OfficeMax has 25% back in rewards on Happy gift cards, up to $25 total back. Buy one of these for $100 to max it out. Happy cards that swap to Home Depot or Gamestop are your best bang for the buck. (Thanks to GC Galore)

3. Do this now: Register for 1,000 AA Miles when you stay at a Hyatt in Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Nashville, New York City, Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle, or Washington, D.C. between November 1 of this year and January 31, 2022.

If you really wanted to game this promo, you could hop back-and-forth between different Hyatt hotels over the course of your travel and get 1,000 miles per night, effectively. Is that worth it? Sounds like a lot of work to me.

Painting a wall with a q-tip seems is mathematically the same amount of work required to hop back-and-forth between hotels for a week.

I have several friends traveling on Southwest over the next week and a half. Two things: 1) they’re going to miss their first class upgrades, and 2), there’s a decent shot that their flight will be cancelled last minute.

If I had Southwest tickets booked over the next week or so, I’d seriously consider finding another way to travel because Southwest’s current operational meltdown could easily derail your trip and leave you stuck for days without an alternate Southwest flight, and Southwest won’t rebook you on another airline so don’t consider that to be your backup plan.

There are ways to find inexpensive award tickets on the major US carriers for very close travel as a backup or replacement (you can get most bank points into one or more of these currencies with a 1:1 transfer ratio):

In almost all cases, using one of the above currencies will be cheaper for travel starting in the next couple of weeks than using the airline’s mileage program directly, but definitely check and choose the cheapest option. They’re all likely to be better than playing Russian-roulette with your Southwest flight though.

Remember, if you get stuck and you paid for your airfare with a premium card (Chase Sapphire Preferred/Reserve, American Express Platinum, Citi Prestige), you’ll likely be covered for hotel and meal expenses while you wait to get home. None of these cards will cover alternate airfare though, so don’t fall into that common trap and expect to be reimbursed for booking a new ticket home.

It’s going to be a cluster-hug over the next week or two out there, good luck!

Lizzy Air Lines currently has a better completion ratio on flights than Southwest. Unfortunately, no major bank rewards program partners with Lizzy’s Juice Box Miles™ program.

Do this now: Book any speculative AA and Hyatt awards today for any potential travel in the next year.

Why? Both Hyatt and AA are expected to make major award price changes over the next few days.

1. Hyatt is going to introduce peak and off-peak pricing for hotel award bookings sometime in mid-October for stays in March 2022 and beyond, and last I checked October 14 probably counts as sometime in mid-October. The new chart can be found here. I’d book absolutely every hotel stay with Hyatt that you may possibly take next year, assuming your point balances allow it. If the price goes up you’ll be locked in at the old rate, and if it goes down you can get the lower price and the difference in points back, so the downsides are minimal.

2. AA is going to devalue AAdvantage mileage awards really soon, according to twitter personality JonNYC who has inside sources and is almost always correct. As a result, I’d book any business/first class international awards that you may possibly take in the next 330 days right now. If the trip or timing doesn’t work, you can always cancel the trip and redeposit the miles with no fee under current AA policies, but if you end up taking the trip you’ll be locked in at the current prices.

Remember when Citi added AA as a temporary transfer partner for ThankYou Points in July? It brings me absolutely no pleasure to report this, but the prediction that AA would devalue soon as a result of this partnership seems to be correct. I’d say that the US dollar would be good hedge against AA devaluation, but that seems to be undergoing a major devaluation of its own. I guess it’s time to hedge with pumpkin futures, just remember to sell them before Halloween.

A shriveled-up, moldy, carved pumpkin
AA miles are currently on-track to mimic pumpkins in mid-November.

I got a few questions about cashing out Membership Rewards on the heels of yesterday’s post, so now is as good a time as any to talk about the current ways to cash out Those points. Some are above board and some are, shall we say, a titch less so. First, the obviously allowed and supported options:

  • With the American Express Schwab Platinum card, you can cash-out at 1.1 cents per point
  • With the Morgan Stanley Platinum card, you can cash out account for 1.0 cents per point
  • With the Miles Earn and Burn Unsung Hero no annual fee Morgan Stanley card, you can also cash out for 1.0 cents per point
  • Without any special card, you can always redeem directly for a statement credit at 0.6 cents per point using Pay with Points. This is a terrible deal, though, don’t do it

And now, the travel hacker ways:

  • Book refundable travel through American Express Travel and pay with Membership Rewards, then cancel the itinerary and it will be refunded as a statement credit at 1.00 cents per point (Hint: with the Business Platinum’s 35% rebate and a long time, like crossing over the boundary of a year, sometimes you can do better but you may end up angering AmEx)
  • A variation on the above: Book a ticket with American Express Travel and pay with Membership Rewards, but don’t buy a refundable ticket; instead by a ticket that can be canceled to an airline’s wallet or as an e-credit/travel voucher and use that credit sometime in the future for airfare that you’d normally pay for with cash (generally non basic-economy tickets fall into this category in the COVID-era travel world, but be sure to double check with your airline of choice). For rules on airline travel vouchers and wallets, see this post at Milenomics

Finally, the ways that are almost certain to get you in trouble eventually (Let me reiterate — these are bad ideas and will almost certainly cause you problems or catch up to you, don’t do them without understanding how risky they could be):

  • Sell travel to your friends and family, then book the itineraries with them using your Membership Rewards
  • Sell your Membership Rewards to a points broker, you’ll earn 1.3 to 1.5 cents per point

Happy hacking!

I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I’m starting to feel like I was scammed when I sold Jimmy 8,000 Membership Rewards and got this.