I’m going off-brand with today’s post, but stick with it, it’ll be worth it I promise.

Introduction

I use ITA Matrix essentially every single time I’m looking at airfares and often for reference when I’m searching for award travel. Not only that, but it’s quite possibly the most powerful tool that exists for an advanced travel hacker when dealing with airline tickets: It’s great for hidden city ticketing, fuel dumps, free one-ways, forced fare buckets, aircraft selection, forced routing through a particular hub, and avoiding married segments to name a few. There’s so much to this tool, and I’m going to make this post the first in a series about ITA Matrix for travel hacking, starting with Delta companion tickets.

There are two types of Delta companion tickets: 1) The domestic Main Cabin variant that you get with the Delta Platinum card, and 2) the domestic Main Cabin, Comfort+, or First Class variant that you get with the Delta Reserve. There’s a lot of nuance to where you can use these tickets, but for the most part just assume that you can use them on any round-trip Delta route within the continental US’s lower 48 states.

Fare Codes

When you purchase airfare or redeem miles, you’re booking into a specific fare class which is potentially different for each and every leg. Delta companion tickets require specific fare bucket availability for your itinerary:

  • Platinum: L, U, T, X, and V
  • Reserve: I, Z, W, S, L, U, T, X, and V (W & S have further restrictions that in practice don’t really matter)

So, to look for Delta Companion ticket availability, you need to be able to look for specific fare buckets. This is child’s play with ITA Matrix. It also gives you better results than Delta’s booking engine will, and often lets you find cheaper tickets that qualify for the companion fare than you’ll find on Delta.com or by talking to an agent and having them search for you.

The Actual Search

  1. Visit matrix.itasoftware.com
  2. Make sure “advanced controls” are enabled (the link to enable them is right under the destination city)
  3. Enter your “Departing From” and “Destination” airport codes (e.x.: LAX and ORD)
  4. Enter DL+ in both the “Outbound routing codes” and “Return routing codes”, which forces the engine to return only Delta flights (bonus tip: enter DL without the ‘+‘ if you want only direct flights)
  5. Enter the fare buckets for a companion certificate in both the “Outbound extension codes” and “Return extension codes”. This one is rather obtuse, so cut and paste the following:
    1. Platinum variant: f bc=L|bc=U|bc=T|bc=X|bc=V
    2. Reserve variant: f bc=I|bc=Z|bc=W|bc=S|bc=L|bc=U|bc=T|bc=X|bc=V
  6. Enter your dates
  7. Choose 2 adults
  8. Click “Search”

I’m going to break my “one picture per post” rule in this series because I know some of you are visual learners. My search box for a Reserve companion ticket will look like this:

Sample search for Delta Reserve companion ticket

Booking

Normally I use bookwithmatrix.com for booking anything from ITA Matrix because you just cut and paste the booking results table into that website and it’ll forward you to Delta (or another OTA if you choose) with the exact flights and fare buckets already pre-filled. With companion tickets though, Delta doesn’t let you do that; instead, you’ll have to start your booking at delta.com/redeem and go from there.

If you can’t replicate the results ITA Matrix produces with Delta’s booking engine, first try setting up your airfare using a multi-city search. If that doesn’t work, you can call and give the agent each of the exact flight dates, flight numbers, and fare codes and they can manually book it for you. I’ve only had to do that a single time though, so it’s likely a rare occurrence.

Fin

I use all of my Delta companion certificates every single year, and they’re really valuable.

A final travel hacking tip: Delta says you need to use your co-branded Delta American Express card to pay for airfare when using a companion ticket. Don’t trust them, they lie. Any American Express will do, like the Personal Platinum which awards 5x on airfare.

Delta’s companion ticket rules aren’t always, uh, rules.

Happy Thursday.

Simon

Simon has a promotional code for 48% off of all fees when ordering Visa and Mastercard gift cards online, use code FS48JUL. Don’t use an American Express to buy these; sure, it’ll work but you won’t get any points or meet any spend thresholds.

I usually prefer to MS just about everything on my American Express cards so I in turn tend to ignore Simon, but now I have a need to run up a bigger balance on my Citi card portfolio and some of my normal methods aren’t currently cutting it. And no, this isn’t because of the AA mileage transfer partnership.

Southwest

2. Southwest is having a decent fare sale that ends today. Yes, they have those a lot, but this one is interesting because it encompasses the Thanksgiving holiday season and it’s likely that the free change window will pass over Thanksgiving in the next several days. So, let’s get hacking!

For a quick primer on the Southwest free change window, see Spring Break, Southwest Style.

Kroger

3. Kroger 4x Fuel Points on gift cards is back, and yesterday I saw Best Buy gift card rates jump as high as 97% for about 12 hours. Let me tell you, I dropped what I was doing and made a run to several Krogers in my area. If your gift card buyers weren’t offering at least 96% yesterday, consider whether you should seek another buyer?

Just don’t forget to add the coupon to your Kroger account and make sure you use the right Alt-ID. I don’t know why I was off of my game yesterday but I managed to do each of those once. 🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️

Bonus

Bonus content: Delta seems to have devalued domestic SkyMiles award prices yesterday. Hopefully it’s a glitch, but if not, you can always get at least once cent per mile with Delta’s Pay with Miles as long as you have at a co-branded Delta American Express card, so always do the math!

Maxwell’s Equations can be used to figure out SkyMiles redemption values. Don’t see it? You’ll have to trust me on that one, or just assume they’re worth a penny in the worst case.

Let’s boost a few things today:

1. Check here for 40% off at Amazon, up to $40 back when using at least one Membership Rewards point at checkout. Third party gift cards with a face value of $100 are a great way to take advantage of this one to boost your wallet.

2. According to an email in my inbox this morning, Brex has apparently been running a 20% transfer bonus to all partner airlines since July 12, and the promotion runs through August 8. News to me!

To make it easy to decide if it’s worthwhile to you, here are their partners and the normal saver Business Class cost to Europe:

  • Aéromexico: 95,000 miles each way
  • Air France/KLM: 53,000 miles each way
  • Avianca LifeMiles: 75,000 miles each way
  • Asia Miles: 70,000 miles each way
  • Singapore Airlines: 95,000 miles each way

When you factor in promotional awards or award chart and region loopholes, those numbers can come down even further. There are also particular sweet spots for Asia Miles to Asia (shocking), and for Avianca to Europe or the South Pacific. I will be taking advantage of this one.

Even this turtle is getting a boost.

1. Check Office Depot or Office Max stores for $15 off of $300 in Visa Gift Cards between now and July 31, which will net you $1.10 or more on the purchase itself. Also, note that the “Everywhere” versions of these cards can be a bigger bang for your buck but will work at a smaller set of retailers. Finally, make sure you link your card with Dosh too. It’s not supposed to pay out on gift card purchases but almost always does anyway, netting you even more.

I’ve been waiting for this to appear for a while and I’m glad it finally showed up. I know where I’ll be visiting a few times a day each day this week. (Thanks to GC Galore)

2. GoBank cards have been a good way to liquidate gift cards at a Walmart register, fee free. About a week and a half ago, Walmart started charging $3.74 per load which made the card much less useful. That appears to have been a mistake and we’re back to fee free loads of up to $1,000 again.

Is it a coincidence that the above two bullets showed up on the same day?

Is it a coincidence that these lines are coincident? Ugh, math jokes.

For the second time this year, Flyertalk had a unique find that I haven’t seen anywhere else. What even is 2021? I used to read Flyertalk every single day, and now I’m lucky to visit once a week. Anyway:

1. There is a Hyatt Globalist status challenge available to anyone right now, and you’ve got through November 30th to register. This one is slightly harder than normal because you’ll have to call a full service Hyatt’s sales department and ask to register, so you can’t just clicky-clicky your way to status. When you register you’ll get Explorist status through 2021 no matter what. But you can earn status through February 2023 pretty easily:

  • Stay 10 nights to keep Explorist
  • Stay 20 nights to earn Globalist

My usual advice is that Globalist is absolutely worthwhile and valuable, and lower status with Hyatt is barely worth mentioning and you can replicate most of it with a nice “please” to the front desk at check-in. (Why yes, I have been called cynical before. Why do you ask? Actually, maybe they just called me apathetic, I can’t be bothered to remember which.)

2. Meijer has a $5 reward for every $50 spent on gift cards, up to 10 per account through August 14. I hope if you live in Meijer land that you’ve gotten a few MPerks accounts by now. Make sure to add the offer to your account UPDATE: MJ let me know that there’s no need to add the offer to your account on this round.

Do note that several gift cards are ineligible, but Home Depot and Best Buy are both eligible so there’s lots of juice to squeeze. (Thanks to Stephen at GC Galore)

I’m also too apathetic to create funny caption.

I didn’t understand what Happy Cards were or how they worked for a few years and I missed out on plenty of deals as a result. Don’t miss out like me. They’re an obtuse product on the surface, but it’s all actually quite easy. There are two flavors:

Flavors

Physical Happy Cards

These cards are made of genuine, bona fide electrified, six-car monorail plastic, just like non-premium credit cards, debit cards, or most other gift cards. These are the less desirable version for a gift card reseller because you have to go through a third party store (i.e. GameStop) with the Happy card to buy a gift card that you can actually sell. Often you can shop online at that third party store rather than making a trip to a brick and mortar location though. My favorite use case for the physical flavor is to use a “Happy Treats” card at gamestop.com to purchase an electronic Steam gift card, which has resale rates of 90-93%. Often you can buy Happy Treats cards at a 20-25% discount.

An interesting side note: these gift cards are really just Visa gift cards that are hard coded to work only at certain merchants. As a result, there were loopholes that let you cash them out in the past. Happy has since plugged all the holes that I’ve seen discussed in private groups, but there may still be more.

Electronic Happy Cards

These cards are really just an email with a digital code. You use the digital code at happycards.com to exchange it for a store gift card, which is also electronic and directly resellable. These are great because after a few clicks, your deal is complete and you can move on, no physical cards or trips to the store to worry about. I always prefer this flavor to the physical because it literally takes about two minutes and you’re done.

Types

There are dozens of types of Happy cards, for example: “Happy Treats”, “Happy Mom”, “Happy Dad”, “Happy You”, etc. The only difference between all of the types is where they can be used. For example, Happy Treats can be used at Regal, GameStop, Cold Stone, Yankee Candle, Ulta, and Sally. You’ll also find that the same stores will appear on multiple types of Happy Cards: GameStop shows up on Happy Treats, Happy You, Happy Dad, Happy Grad, and probably others.

Fin

There are great deals to be had on Happy cards throughout the year, especially around major holidays (like I don’t know, maybe Labor Day for example?) Watch for them — they’ll almost always turn into credit card spend, profit, and sometimes portal cash back.

A genuine, bona fide, electrified six-car monorail.

Let’s talk about making an easy $794 today, spread across a couple of deals:

Chase

A new link has surfaced for generating yourself a Chase Business $750 bonus code, this one is good through October 21 and requires $10,000 held in the account for 90 days. I really like this iteration of the bonus because there’s nothing in the Terms & Conditions about existing business accounts with Chase, so you can use an existing business and just open a new account for the bonus (provided that the business hasn’t had a checking bonus with Chase in the last two years).

If you’re not going to do this deal immediately I’d suggest generating yourself a bonus code now in case the offer disappears, then you can take advantage of it any time between now and October 21. Honestly this is probably going to be one of the easiest big bonuses you can earn this year, easy like lemon grass.

For those of you that don’t have a business, you can just open a Sole Proprietor account with an anticipated annual revenue of $0.00. That said, I’m not a CPA, lawyer, or otherwise qualified to offer anyone any type of advice so take that suggestion as a thought experiment.

Walgreens

Have you installed Google Pay yet? If not, I’d suggest it — my app on iOS is showing an offer for 20% back at Walgreens up to $50 (a total of $250 in spend for the non-math inclined). I’d buy a Visa or Mastercard, or a Home Depot gift card for resale in a pinch.

How do we make this better? For some of you, Walgreens is showing up in the American Express Shop Small tool. The Walgreens stores in my area aren’t showing up so I can’t directly test it, but almost certainly the 5x/10x/15x Shop Small will combine with the Google Pay $50 since the Google offer is linked to the card number and doesn’t require using your phone at checkout. After a Visa or Mastercard fee, you’ll have about $44 in your pocket and another 3,800 Membership Rewards at 15x.

My purchase of a Vanilla Visa tracked in the Google Pay app instantly after using my card in store, so no waiting on this one. That leaves you plenty of time to see what else you might be able to do in the way of MS at Walgreens while you’re there. Hint: the answer definitely isn’t “nothing”.

A lemon grass plant.
What makes lemon grass easy? I literally have no idea.

By now, I think you all know how I feel about the American Express Platinum changes, but in case you don’t the short overview is: “great for sign-up bonuses, awful for ongoing value.” Along with that mantra, there are a few things you should know about the American Express Platinum cards and maybe it’s time for you to consider going for a few of them for the sign-up bonuses or for the spend bonuses:

  • The Personal Platinum card has a 125,000 points offer with another 15x at restaurants or small businesses up to $25,000 in spend. I’d definitely use the AmEx Shop Small lookup tool to explore how to take advantage of this. Obviously if you can buy gift cards at a local “small business” grocery store you can easily make this a multiple thousand dollar card after maxing out your 15x capacity.
  • The Business Platinum card has a generic 150,000 points targeted offer that shows up sometimes in your “offers” section of the card. Login to American Express first, then click the link so you don’t have to hunt for the offer, it’ll tell you if you’re targeted or not.
  • The Brokerage Platinum cards from Morgan Stanley and Schwab both offer 100,000 Membership Rewards and 10x at restaurants and small businesses up to $25,000 in spend, in case you’re not eligible for the 15x offer you may still be eligible for one of these.
  • If none of those work for you, referring a friend or a P2 to a Platinum card will get you 5x at restaurants and small businesses up to $25,000 in spend, so there’s still a way to maximize the shop small ecosystem.

Now, how do you know if you’re eligible? Try and apply, and before submitting your final application you may get a pop-up window telling you that you may not be eligible because you’ve already had or you have the card. Or, you may get a pop-up telling you that due to your past relationship with American Express, you’re not eligible for the card. Here’s the thing though: If you get the first type of pop-up, you may still be eligible for the bonus. I’m not suggesting that you should do this, but recently people have been getting their bonuses despite getting the first type of pop-up during application (definitely only the first type). If you’re gutsy and you want that 5x/10x/15x shop small spend really badly like me, you may consider it worth the risk to try anyway.

Unrelated: Yesterday my table showing cost per points for portal bonuses didn’t take shipping into account. I’ve updated that so please take another look, and thanks again to Miles for letting me know. The punchline is that Southwest miles can be had for 0.777 cents per mile, United for 0.639 cents per mile, and Alaska for 0.816 cents per mile. I’m a buyer for Southwest and Alaska at those prices, I have too many United miles though to care.

A framed blackboard displaying the words "Small Business".
If I put one of these signs up by the register, will it count?