Introduction

In what has become an annual MEAB tradition for an unbelievable streak of two years in a row (if you include this year), it’s time for another installment of Travel Hacking as Told by GIFs. The 2020 version was, naturally, a rousing success. Time for another one of those, or something.

Let’s Go!

Virgin Atlantic Devalues its Award Charts and Expects us to Book Anyway

Partner flights on Delta tripled in price in many cases. You know that you’ve gone way too far when Delta SkyMiles award prices to Europe are cheaper than yours.


PayPal Key Blocks AmEx on January 4

Remember how merchant coding didn’t pass properly to AmEx via PayPal and everything was a “global restaurant” when you bought with PPK? I do. sniff


Citi Pay-By-Phone Accepts New Cards

When the new year ticked over, a new year’s worth of expiration dates started to sail through, and we celebrate.


American Express Master Value Injection 2.0

Personal Platinums get $30 at PayPal. Co-brand business cards got $10-$20 off of wireless services. Co-brand personal cards get $10-$25 off of dining. It all resets every month! Also, business Platinums get +4x in four categories. We’re happy at first…


American Express with Master Value Injection Redux

By March, we realize we’re working for American Express to cash out a dozen small monthly credits, and it feels like we’re getting nowhere fast while we try and twirl through our credits.


Bank of America Launches a Spirit Airlines Co-Brand Card

Someone really thinks we’ll go for this? Also, 40,000 miles is stingy, even for Spirit.


Fluz Launches takes it up to the next level.

If you know, you know.


Breeze Airways Takes Flight

We have a new US based air carrier and we got to see its inaugural takeoff roll.


Citi Launches the Custom Cash Card

It’s a no-annual fee card that earns 5x per month on $500 spend in whatever category you spent the most on. Bad? Not at all. Amazing? Not really, but we’ll take it. Unfortunately for me I got a $20,000 credit line on a card that will never see more than $500 in monthly spend.


Visible Sends Us Giant Piles of Mastercard Gift Cards

The Ting to Visible+Rakuten deal landed some over 30 $100 gift cards in their inbox. Now if I just knew where my Creedence was.


The American Express “Three for All” Deal Dies

American Express gave us a bonus three points per dollar, uncapped, for referring someone (like P2) to a new card. Obviously this was abused and became a goldmine.


The American Express “4 for Us” Deal Surfaces

Maybe the “4 for us deal” isn’t quite as lucrative as “3 for all” for heavy hitters, but it’s a great consolation prize to close out 2021. I got one for me and one for P2, but wish I had tried even harder.


American Airline’s SimplyMiles Roller Coaster

We’re all going to get 240 miles per dollar. No wait, we’re not. No, it’s going to post! Then it posts! Then it unposts! Then it posts! Then it unposts!


The Dust Settles and 240 Miles Per Dollar Actually Shows Up

Former US Airways management proves that it can still make a deal that puts other deals to shame, even though they can’t make a sandwich.


Fee-Free MS with Point Dies

You could load cash onto the Point debit card with a credit card using Apple Pay, fee-free, up to $12,500 per month, and then spend the money and earn another 1% on top. It even worked with American Express.


We watch the Marriott Program go from Bad to Worse

After years of devaluation, Marriott gave us something different another devaluation.


Getting Creative with Rental Cars During Carmageddon

Bob at the local mechanics shop will let you rent a fixer-upper for only $150 per day, unlimited miles. What a steal!


Running to Meijer for the Sale of the Year

Meijer announced that they were giving 10% off of third party gift cards for two days, and MSers ran to the Midwest for a feeding frenzy.


Flight Attendants Get Trained on Unruly Passenger Handling

Smh, smh, welcome to flying in 2021.


Debauchery With Reddit Mods and Chase Links

Links were allegedly stolen from source code, reddit /r/churning mods had massive infighting, links were released to the public to hide serious abusers in a crowd, inevitably a bunch of shutdowns occur, and one of the perpetrators walks away unscathed. This could honestly be an HBO mini-series.


Flight Attendants on British Airways Celebrate the Reopening of US Borders

BA1 marked the return of leisure travel to the United States, or at least that was the plan before Virgin Atlantic stole the crown. Fortunately, Miles Earn and Burn has obtained exclusive footage from the safety briefing so we can all take part in the early celebration.


Virgin Atlantic and British Airways Orchestrate Simultaneous Takeoff

After the safety briefings, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic organized a coordinated takeoff at London Heathrow. Later VS decided that it didn’t want a synchronized landing, it wanted to win; so, yay teamwork?


American Express Shuts Down Some Cardholders

It’s always the ball you don’t see coming, right? American Express shut down accounts for cardholders that had opened one or more business cards with the help of a particular employee, and without regard to literally anything else. Imagine opening a single Business Platinum card in 2018 and then having this happen in 2021…


American Express Reinstates Shutdown Cardholders

It turns out that if you’re persistent and if you ask enough times, you’ve got a great shot of AmEx reinstating your accounts. Just make sure you wear your Sunday best.


Screenshotting Offer Terms and Conditions

Sometimes we need to have a picture of what we’re offered to keep a company honest. I prefer using a phone or computer’s built-in tool, but if you’re part of any Slack or WhatsApp groups, you’ll know that not everyone feels the same way.


Your Friend Asks You What It’s Like to Fly Eleven Hours in Coach

Uh, we literally have no idea. If it’s not a lie flat, then we haven’t done it. We might look rugged and experienced, but honestly we haven’t been past row 16 or so on a widebody aircraft since, I don’t know, ever.


GoBank Discontinues Its Card

When notice came in mid-August that GoBank was shutting down in favor of Go2Bank, MSers swiped repeatedly at Walmart to offload gift cards (including Metabank) while they still could.


Brex Gives us Hundreds of Thousands of Points for Very Little Effort

It took me under five minutes on the phone to link PayPal to Brex for 100,000 points. And then there was the 110,000 point sign-up bonus in early February. Oh, and you could do it multiple times with multiple business. In my state, you can register a business for only $70, so there’s that too. (It’s not quite as good, but you can keep the party going in 2022 with the TravelBank 75,000 points after spending $1,000 offer.)


BestBuy Disables Auto-Checkout Bots During Black Friday

BestBuy knows that auto-checkout bots exist, and has countermeasures to disable them. Why does it turn them on for only a week or two a year? I have no idea.


American Express’s Secret 1,900,000 Membership Rewards Offer

Employees that shared your name but with roman numerals were never more exciting! This deal is still scheduled to run well into 2022 on many business cards by the way; you just have to call and ask, because I guess you’re just supposed to know that AmEx has phone only offers and to check periodically?


BravoPay Tries to Fix the 2% Liquidation Loophole

I literally think every day about how badly BravoPay’s programmers built the app and how they tried several times to repair it but kept failing. “It’ll buff out, right?”


Airline Customer Service Teams Try and Keep-up

Apropos of nothing, do you remember how the CARES act was supposed to keep everyone employed at airlines? Anyway, I’m sure that worked out well and nine-hour hold times are how it’s always been, right?.


Pre-check and Clear Make Us Complacent About Timing

Leaving your house 26 minutes before your airline’s schedule departure is prolly fine right?


Getting excited for the Capital One Venture X Card

… and then getting denied.


Staples Runs Another $200 Fee Free Gift Card Sale

It only comes around for two to three weeks a month, so the excitement is hard to summon.


The GivingAssistant Portal Falls Apart

A few probers out there knew that GivingAssistant was really good at awarding cash back even when other portals wouldn’t, like buying Apple Products on BestBuy.com. Did our experimenting cause it to fall apart?


Miles Earn and Burn Celebrates a One Year Anniversary

You may have figured out by now that I’m not big on ceremony for the sake of ceremony, so you probably won’t be surprised to learn that I spared you all from another “WE JUST TURNED ONE YEARS YOUNG!!” blog post. But, the anniversary technically did occur.


The Worst Credit Card Takes a New Tact

I don’t yet have a formal Unsung Villains series to match the Unsung Heroes series, but if and when I do the Mastercard Black Card card will be at the top of the villains list. The thing is, they know that their card is bad so their marketing department has to stretch. Recently they’ve started advertising that their card is heavier than the competition. Wow, you mean my wallet can get even thicker?!? Sold!


Thank You!

I don’t say it enough, but I appreciate everyone’s support over 2021. Thanks for your emails, your Telegram messages, your Slack and Discord groups, and your Patreon memberships. I’m really here because of you.

Until next year, friends!

I’m focusing my efforts on tomorrow’s Travel Hacking in 2021 as Told By GIFs post and this is the slowest time of the year for our hobby, so let’s have two quickies to get us through Thursday:

1. Do this now: Register for IHG’s widely targeted Q1 2022 promotion. This is possibly the lamest promotion in all of 2021 with its one time 5,000 point award after two nights. (thanks to TravelBloggerBuzz)

2. MS hint: Many MS techniques will live and die by the expiration date of the card you’re trying to liquidate — cards that expire in 2028 or earlier may sail through, while 2029 or later expiration dates fail. When the calendar turns, usually you’ve got a whole new year of valid expiration dates. Huzzah for Saturday I guess.

As a corollary of the above, if got a failure when probing a particular liquidation method, you may be getting an expiration date related failure rather than a blanket failure, so that’s another dimension to consider.

The excitement for 2022 in this room full of LAN party gift card gamers is palpable.

At the end of the year, banks can be wonky with when they apply charges and statement credits. This is especially true if the bank name rhymes with Beermerican Supress. So, if you haven’t finished working through your year-end housekeeping for statement credits and bonus spend, I’d consider today a soft deadline for 2021 spending. Don’t forget:

  • Wireless credits
  • Saks credits
  • Dell credits
  • Clear credits
  • Global Entry credits
  • Spend bonuses
  • Card linked offers

And another word of caution: Dell doesn’t charge a credit card until they ship, so if it’s not digital, your chances aren’t good for 2021.

Stay classy out there.

American Express’s algorithm for determining in which year a charge made on December 30th should post

Introduction

Reader Ryan reached out to me and asked if I had any thoughts on how to book a flight for the same day that might be cancelled. I loved this question, because it’s exactly the kind of out of the box thinking that makes some travel hackers extremely successful.

Why did Ryan want to do this? The short answer is that airlines that cancel flights are, in most circumstances, obligated to give you a refund for a cancelled flight if you ask, and for other instances you can get a newly issued travel voucher with a new expiration date far out in the future. So, it’s a nice hack for extending an expiring voucher.

Finding Flights Likely To Be Cancelled

Over the 2021 holiday season, it seems like you’ve got about a one in five shot of having your flight cancelled without doing anything special, but normally that’s not the case. You can still tilt the odds in your favor though. To find flights that are likely to be cancelled:

  1. Check Flightaware’s misery map for the top three miserable airports
  2. Check the FAA’s national air status map for the top three airports experiencing traffic management issues
  3. Combine the above to come up with a route that passes through at least two of those airports, and even better a connecting flight in a third

When I looked for Ryan yesterday, Seattle (#1), Denver (#2), and Atlanta (#3) were having major issues, and Ryan’s expiring voucher was on Southwest. With Denver and Atlanta being Southwest hubs, I guessed the best option would have been either: SEA-DEN or DEN-ATL; but even better yet: SEA-ATL-DEN or SEA-DEN-ATL.

By the way, if you really want to tilt the odds in your favor, see where each individual flight is coming from on Flightaware and book one that’s already delayed or cancelled upstream. I didn’t do this yesterday though because I was in a hurry.

How’d That Work Out?

Let’s see how I did:

  • SEA-DEN: Southwest had six scheduled flights, none were cancelled, five were delayed
  • SEA-ATL: Turns out this route doesn’t exist
  • DEN-ATL: Southwest had four scheduled flights, none were cancelled, two were delayed

Ok, so I failed — but only a little:

  • SEA-DEN: All but one of the flights was delayed over an hour
  • DEN-ATL: Both delayed flights were over an hour delayed (or seemed to be as of this writing)

Alright, so if Ryan followed my advice, he’d still have a 5/6 shot of the first leg being delayed by at least an hour and a 1/2 shot of his second flight being delayed by at least an hour. There’s also decent chance misconnect in Denver. With an hour plus delay, calling Southwest is likely to get you at least a refund to a new travel voucher with a year later expiration, and it’s less likely but still possible that you could get a full refund. So, Ryan would have been in good shape even though we didn’t find the cancelled flight he was looking for.

Conclusion

If you have an expiring travel voucher, try and find a flight likely to be cancelled and book it. It could go well for you. Your odds will definitely be better than inflation dropping below 3% in 2022.

It turns out that planting a rabbit on your flight won’t cause it to be cancelled; he’ll just get an upgrade while you’re #1 on the list sitting in economy muttering to yourself and watching him from afar.

Hyatt got drunk on holiday eggnog (with bourbon of course) and we’re all benefiting. They’ve been:

  • Giving bonus points for Club Access Awards that expire on December 31, 2021
  • Extending the validity by six months of Suite Upgrade Awards that expire on December 31, 2021

I saw this first in private forums and later on Flyertalk and Reddit, and the number of successful datapoints is staggering. All you need to do is call Hyatt and ask for points in exchange for the expiring certificates, or ask for an extension on expiring Suite Upgrade Awards. In case calling someone is below the line, you can also chat via the website or mobile app. The number of points for Club Access Awards you’ll get depends on your status:

  • Globalists get 500 points each (presumably because Globalists always get club access anyway but Hyatt didn’t want to alienate their top tier members)
  • Explorists get 1,500 or 3,000 points each

There are multiple reports that this is a new policy, let’s hope it sticks for 2022.

(H/T D C Domer)

Hyatt’s other holiday surprise was scheduled to be this cursed snowman. Fortunately for all of us he melted in the Regency Club.

I noticed it’s busy out this week, anyone know why? Anyway:

1. You may remember that Chase gave a year of DashPass to cardholders starting in January 2021, and for many of you that year is almost up. You can get another year as long as you do the following before January 1, 2022:

  • Deactivate your DashPass membership
  • Remove all your Chase cards from DoorDash (I had to do this from the website, I couldn’t figure out how in the app)
  • Wait one day
  • Add a new (different from the one you used in January) Chase card to DoorDash

(Thanks to Viper3773)

2. A helpful tip courtesy of discussion at Flyertalk, and it’s definitely applicable to some of the fares I’ve already booked — in today’s pandemic-era airline environment:

  • Almost all fares are changeable with no fee
  • Almost all fares can be cancelled and held as expiring travel vouchers
  • Paying for a First Class upgrade with cash or miles has gotten more expensive

So, if you’re considering paying for a seat up front with a ticket you’ve already booked, check the original cost of the ticket paired with the cost of an upgrade and compare that to the cost of a new ticket booked directly into First Class. If it’s cheaper to book directly (right now it usually is), cancel your existing ticket, take the voucher, then use the funds to book into a proper First Class fare.

3. VanillaGift.com has fee-free e-gift cards through this evening with code EGIFT2021. I’m praying to the holiday gods that this one sticks around post expiration exactly the way that FLASH2021 didn’t, though being e-gift cards makes these slightly less useful so my prayer voice is more of a whisper.

4. SoFi is giving $20 for checking your interest rate on a personal loan, and it only requires a soft-credit pull. It took me about 60 seconds to run through the motions, but a SoFi rep called my voicemail twice afterword so keep that in mind. By the way, this deal barely made the cut I’m still trying to figure out exactly where that line is ($20 for one minute is above the line, but the phone calls almost pulled it below).

Happy holidays to you and your families!

Pictured: American Airlines’ First Class “holiday ham cake”, which thanks to this post, you can get for even less.

I’m sure you’ve already figured this out, but travel hacking slows down this time of year because reasons. As a result, we have just a single item for today:

Giftcards.com has 5% off of virtual Visa Gift Cards through the end of the year with promo code VV5T216. The maximum face value is $250, and the promo code only works for up to $750 total in purchases. Buying $750 in cards will cost $730.35, and should earn cash back or miles when purchased through a portal. A few notes:

  • These are Metabank gift cards, have a liquidation (cash-out) plan in-mind
  • If your order gets cancelled, your email address is probably burned — just create a new account with a new email
  • These will earn rewards on American Express cards

Because this is the only item today, let’s talk liquidation (cashing-out gift cards). There are a few options that aren’t exactly secrets but aren’t well published either; most of them involve a fee of some sort, and the loan options carry a risk of default that you can largely mitigate but not eliminate. They are:

  • Bravo (works with MetaBank)
  • Money orders (needs a physical GC unless you’re really crafty, sometimes works with MetaBank)
  • Kiva (works with MetaBank)
  • Plastiq (doesn’t usually work with MetaBank)
  • Kickfurther (works with MetaBank)
  • Melio (doesn’t work with MetaBank)
  • Local utilities (often they accept debit cards, and often they’re required to refund any overpayments by local law)
  • Amazon in a pinch (works with MetaBank)

Of course there are other options too, but they’re more closely guarded. You can find them with some digging. Check bill payment services, fintech companies, and payment processors.

Waiting for deals this week is like waiting for coffee at Dutch Bros on a day that ends in ‘y’.

Introduction

I’ve written before about cell phone burners and churning as an integral part of travel hacking, but it’s been a long time since then and there are some recent opportunities available right now that are likely to go away when the calendar turns. So, a refresher on why you should have burner phone numbers:

  • Many FinTech companies tie their account to a phone number, so scaling them requires new numbers
  • Many referrals and referral bonuses work by referring another phone number
  • Many online stores use a phone number for two factor authentication and as a back-door way to quantity limit
  • If you’re shutdown by, I don’t know, Dell or AA, a new phone number is a big part of spinning up a new account
  • Many amazing mobile phone deals or mobile service deals require porting in an existing phone number

Burner phone numbers give you scale, access to great deals, cheap phone swaps and upgrades, and help you recover from different types of account shutdowns.

Getting New Phone Numbers

Burners are part of the game, but not all burner telephone numbers are equal. For example, free phone numbers from TextNow can’t be ported out, and often companies and services will recognize and block these and other VOIP numbers. Phone numbers from Google Voice usually aren’t eligible for referrals, referral bonuses, or porting out bonuses. Companies have closed the obvious loopholes.

To make sure your burner phone number works with essentially everything out there, you’ll want to get a new number from one of the providers on this list published by Visible, which is mirrored by essentially all the services out there. There are a few easy and cheap options on that list:

  • Ting: Most of the year you can get a SIM card with a new phone number for $1 at BestBuy and Target. The SIM card comes with $30 in credit which covers all the time you need to port out a number
  • Google FI: Using a referral code will get you $20 in service credit, which will more than cover the couple of days that you’ll need to hold a number to port out
  • Mint Mobile: You can get a seven day “trial” service for $2, also at BestBuy and Target. Unfortunately you have to ask customer service for your account number for porting out so I prefer the above options to Mint

Once you’ve got phone numbers from the above, you can either hold them for long-term use or use them to unlock new deals.

Holding Phone Numbers

If you want to hold a phone number long-term, there are a few cheap options:

  • Google Voice costs $20 to port-in, but there aren’t further fees afterword
  • Tello costs $5 per month with free port-in

December Deals

Talk about burying the lead eh? Everything above was to bring us to this point. December has some crazy good phone deals, and I’ve linked to some of the best ones here but others are available. Note that if slickdeals says one of the below deals is dead, it’s lying. As always, if you go for one of these deals make sure you use a portal for cash back.

With the T-Mobile deals, you can open a “Talk and Text only” plan for $20 per month, or switch to that plan right after opening. T-Mobile will automatically unlock phones after about 45 days but will do it sooner when asked. Visible will unlock phones automatically after 60 days. Metro will unlock phones after six months. There’s also a way to unlock phones with AT&T SIM cards if you’re crafty.

Coincidentally, The Daily Churn Podcast just released an episode on flipping iPhones which is quite complimentary and relevant to the above.

What Scale Looks Like

I’ve been through at least three dozen Ting phone numbers in 2021 alone, and I feel like I could have done quite a few more but frankly I just focused on other things. With most of these deals, you can do five to ten in a single sitting, so it doesn’t have to be a slog.

I also know of a particular reader who did over a hundred lines with a particular Visible deal in a single month, and I’m sure there are people out there who’ve done more than that.

Good luck out there!

You may love your iPhone 13 Pro Max and I can’t fault you, but I’m holding out for a port-in deal on one of these beauties.