Introduction

Major US and world airlines all have some variation of a “flat tire” rule, so named because United Express gets flat tires nearly daily [citation needed]. The gist of these rules is that if you’re late to the airport, miss a flight, and show-up within an hour or two after departure, the airline will reaccommodate you on another flight on a space available basis.

Well, gamers gonna game, so we can take advantage of these rules.

The Game

Let’s say that you’ve booked an evening IAH-LAX-DEN versus a direct IAH-DEN flight because it was a few hundred dollars cheaper than the direct IAH-DEN flight that leaves an hour later, but you’d really still like to take the direct flight. You can see where this is going, right? As long as there’s space on that direct flight, you can probably “miss” the IAH-LAX flight time by a few minutes and be rebooked on the direct IAH-DEN flight under the flat tire rule. Why did I choose this example you ask? Uh, let’s keep it at “because reasons”.

Aside from switching to a direct routing, there are other creative reasons to do this:

  • To extend your time in a city (especially useful when you’re booked on the last flight out for the day)
  • To let you sleep in past that early morning departure
  • To avoid flying on a CRJ-200
  • To miss the last direct flight of the day and be rebooked with a connection, only to backdoor hidden-city ticket and leave the airport at the connection
  • Because upgrade chances on another flight are much better

Airline Rules

When do you have to show up at the airport to qualify for the flat rule?

  • AA: 2 hours after originally scheduled departure
  • Delta: No official policy, but generally anything within two hours is fine
  • United: No official policy, but generally anything within an hour is fine
  • Southwest: 2 hours after originally scheduled departure

Of course, there’s a good shot that if you call in to the airline’s customer service department after your missed departure, they’ll handle everything and you won’t have to go to the airport at all, but ymmv.

Caveats

Obviously playing these games could backfire in several ways, for example: flights are sold out for a few days and you’re stuck, you might end up in a middle seat, you may be routed through Lubbock, TX, and so on. The best defense to problems like these is to know what flight availability and seat-maps look like after your scheduled departure time, so make sure to tilt the odds in your favor.

Happy flying!

Another form of Russian Roulette: Taking your originally scheduled flight on an ERJ-145.

  1. Southwest seems to be counting award travel for A-List and A-List Preferred status as of last week. Is this intentional? I dunno, but my guess is that if you get status this way that you’ll keep it whether or not it’s a just a bug. Notably it still doesn’t count toward earning a Companion Pass.

    Hopefully Southwest is trying to copy Delta’s change that allows award tickets to earn Medallion status. (Thanks to Brian M via MEAB slack)
  2. JetBlue cardholders can now earn a referral bonus for referring new card members. The link to generate a referral is in your inbox from Barclays, if you can’t find it, customer service can have it resent though it may take a few tries to find the right person.

    The referral offer is as good as the best public offer, 80,000 points after $1,000 in spend in 90 days, and 10,000 points for the referrer.
  3. Check your American Express offers for $100 back on $500 or more at Alaska Airlines.

    Buying a non-refundable, non basic-economy ticket that costs around $500, waiting 24 hours, and canceling the ticket will allow you to bank $500 in your Alaska wallet for a net cost of $400, though eventually those wallet funds do expire so this is a short to medium term play, not a long-term one.
  4. Rakuten has 2% back or 2x Membership Rewards on Safeway purchases via their card linked program. I’m sure you can find an interesting use for this one.

A-List and A-List preferred status get you unlimited complimentary upgrades to the economy cabin.

  1. There’s a new offer for turning your American Express Platinum and Business Platinum Clear credits into a $75 Uber voucher. In the past you’ve only needed a new email address to get these to work even if you already have Clear, and I assume this time is no different.
  2. Meijer has a promotion for $50 off of $500 in many third party gift card purchases. This is the less lucrative version of this offer versus a straight discount, but still generally very lucrative. Notable exclusions are Apple and Amazon, and worthwhile inclusions are BestBuy and Home Depot. (Thanks to GC Galore)
  3. There are multiple reports in the MEAB slack and elsewhere that Mastercards from MyPrepaidCenter have been fraudulently drained since late last week, likely from a site-hack based on the data-points and given that the site was offline for much of yesterday. If you have any of those cards, I’d suggest you drain them as soon as possible, or at minimum double check the balances. If you have cards that were compromised you should be able to dispute the charges and get your original balance back, but it’ll probably be a slog.
  4. Check your email for a targeted offer from Discover bank for $100 or $150 bonus for brining either $10,000 or $15,000 in deposits into the bank by the end of September, and maintaining an average balance of at least that much through the end of November. The terms and conditions are here. (Thanks to 5 via MEAB slack)

A scammer liquidating a gift card.

Kroger fuel points are an integral part of the bulk gift card reselling market, perhaps more-so in 2022 than any other year. They’ve boosted that bulk market even further by running nearly non-stop 4x fuel points promotions on third party gift cards, including one that started on Wednesday and runs through Tuesday, September 20.

As we discussed in August though, something is rotten in the state of Denmark Kroger: The company is actively targeting suspected fuel points resellers and has seemingly shut down more accounts in the last couple of months than in the entire prior history of the program. It’s gotten so bad that I know of a single individual that had fuel points accounts worth over $10,000 frozen without recourse.

Without further ado, here’s a Q&A session that I held with my alter-ego to address questions that have been swirling around various groups and chat forums:

Q: What’s the trigger for an account that’s shutdown?
A: Datapoints are literally all over the place, and as of now we don’t really have a great idea.

Q: What does a shutdown look like?
A: At the pump when trying to redeem points, you see the message: “Invalid Loyalty ID”

Q: Can my fuel points account be unfrozen?
A: So far, I’ve not heard of a single success story or workaround

Q: How widespread is the shutdown risk?
A: It seems to be a minority of fuel points reseller accounts that are affected, but there’s a big “but”

Q: What’s the big “but”?
A: I’m so glad you asked. Even though it’s a minority of accounts that are shutdown, when a one of reseller’s accounts is shutdown, often so are a bunch of other accounts held by the same reseller

Q: How can I protect myself going forward?
A: I’d say three things:

Q: Should I cut the fuel points game out?
A: I don’t think so, just be careful and follow my usual manufactured spend advice: never have more outstanding than you’re willing to lose if everything goes wrong

Have a nice weekend friends!

Just be careful, and you too can still be the Kroger fuel points GOAT.

  1. Do this now:

    Register for Marriott Bonvoy’s super-lame promotion
    Register for AA eShopping’s sweepstakes
    Register for Alaska MileagePlan Shopping’s sweepstakes
    Register for Southwest Rapid Rewards Shopping’s sweepstakes
    Register for United MileagePlus Shopping’s sweepstakes

    The Marriott one is awful (2,000 points points per stay after your second stay September 21 – December 15, or 4,000 if you’re a Marriott credit card holder). The other ones have low odds, but the prizes are great (250,000 AA miles + $2,500, 100,000 AS miles + $2,500, 100,000 WN miles, 100,000 UA miles + $2,500).
  2. Southwest is opening their booking window through April 10, 2023 sometime this morning. If you don’t already have a spring break travel locked in, this is a good opportunity to get something booked.
  3. Staples online has fee-free $200 gift cards for sale, limit three. Worth noting:

    – Sometimes card linked programs track on staples.com online gift card purchases
    – Sometimes lesser used portals track on staples.com online gift card purchases

    These are Metabank gift cards so have a liquidation plan in place.
  4. Nutella shares that tomorrow is the last day for Citi Dividend card holders to opt-out of automatic conversion to the Custom Cash card. To do so, you have to call Citi at (888) 872-2214 and let them know.

    The automatic conversion date is apparently September 19, although there are mixed reports on whether or not the automatic conversion will actually occur.

Another candid of Citi’s IT room, illustrating why Citi’s CS reps always have their wires crossed.

  1. Southwest has a companion pass offer for booking a single round-trip or two one-way flights by tomorrow evening for travel before November 17. After you qualify, you’ll receive a companion pass valid from January 4, 2023 – March 4, 2023.

    (Thanks to the ineffable Brian M’s report via MEAB slack)
  2. Barclays has increased its personal JetBlue card’s sign-up bonus to 80,000 TrueBlue points after $1,000 in spend in 90 days. The card has a $99 annual fee and isn’t waived the first year. (Thanks to DoC)
  3. The Citi Shop Your Way Mastercard (a MEAB Unsung Hero) has been sending out targeted offers since last week. We’ve seen:

    – $40 back after six purchases of $50 each month for three months
    – 4,000 ThankYou points after six purchases of $50 each month for three months
    – 15% in statement credits up to $60 in travel purchases each month for three months
  4. Meijer online has $5 off of $100 Visa gift cards, limit 10. They’re Metabank gift cards, but Kroger, Walmart, and Safeway still universally allow $99 swipes with these and the cards will auto-drain a small balance at most grocery stores, so liquidation is possibly more straightforward than is typical.

    Unfortunately I have to counteract the good Metabank news with some bad: These are fulfilled by BlackHawk Network and won’t code as grocery for any credit card category bonuses.

Good news: Meijer sells sushi for less than a dollar and will auto-drain your Metabank gift card. Bad news: This is the sushi.

Editors note: Sometimes I can’t help but get academic and nerdy; but stick with me, the results are good. There’s good stuff in the academic community, and we can apply it directly to your travel to make it better. I don’t know of anyone else doing anything like this, so here we are.

Introduction

There’s an interesting statistics thought experiment that comes up in academia called The Monty Hall problem. The gist of the problem is:

  • You have three doors with something behind each door, 2 doors have something lame and 1 has something great
  • You choose a door but don’t yet know the results
  • The game-master tells you that one of the doors you didn’t pick has a lame prize, and shows you which door

Ok, so there are two doors left: The one you picked and the other door. Unless you’re trained in statistics, you probably think you’ve got a 50% chance that your door has the great prize and a 50% chance that the other door has the great prize, because there are only two left. But, the math behind the Monty Hall problem says that your door is 33% likely at that point to have the great prize, and 67% likely to have the lame prize. (See the Wikipedia page for the math behind the result if you’re interested.) In other words, the other choice is now twice as likely to be the best choice, so choose it if you can!

Applying This Result to Flights

We can apply this result to airline delays with some fuzzy mapping: one door is your on-time departure (your original choice, a delayed flight might be un-delayed and is thus still an option), one door is your delayed departure, and the third door is a an alternate flight.

Based on the math behind the Monty Hall problem, if you’re told that your original flight is delayed, then switching to an alternate flight is more likely to get you to your destination without a late arrival; twice as likely all things being equal (which they’re not). If you’ve ever experienced rolling delays on your original flight, you’ve got some intuitive feel that switching to another flight is probably less likely to lead to an arrival delay too.

Making it Real

There’s a problem with that analysis though: It’s highly unlikely that you’ve got an alternative flight to switch to that leaves at the same time as your original flight. So, to make this actionable for real-world scenarios, we’ve got to factor average delay time into our analysis. To do that, I downloaded the last 12 months worth US airline flight on-time data for a deeper-drive.

First, let’s assume that your airline posts a delay of 45 minutes or longer. In the last year, this is what each major carrier’s average arrival delay looked like:

Operating
Airline
Average Arrival Delay, August 2021-July 2022
(For Departure Delay ≥ 45 Minutes)
AA2 hours 13 minutes
Alaska1 hour 36 minutes
Delta2 hours 1 minute
Frontier1 hour 51 minutes
JetBlue2 hours 17 minutes
Spirit1 hour 49 minutes
SkyWest2 hours 21 minutes
Southwest1 hour 23 minutes
United1 hour 53 minutes

So when your airline posts a delay of at least 45 minutes, if you’ve got an alternate flight that leaves within an hour and a half or so, you should switch to that alternate flight (especially if your flight is operated by SkyWest).

Next, let’s assume your airline posts a delay of 90 minutes. In the last year, you’re looking at an average arrival delay of:

Operating
Airline
Average Arrival Delay, August 2021-July 2022
(For Departure Delay ≥ 90 Minutes)
AA3 hours 23 minutes
Alaska2 hours 35 minutes
Delta3 hours 19 minute
JetBlue2 hours 54 minutes
Frontier2 hours 54 minutes
Spirit2 hours 49 minutes
SkyWest3 hours 36 minutes
Southwest2 hours 19 minutes
United2 hours 59 minutes

The conclusion from this one: If your departure delay is posted as 90 minutes or later, switch to an alternative if you can get one in the next three hours or so.

Finally, let’s look at the data by major airports instead of by airline, sorted by the total number of delayed flights (these major airports are also the airports most likely have alternative flights):

AirportAverage Arrival Delay, August 2021-July 2022
(For Departure Delay ≥ 90 Minutes)
DEN1 hour 42 minutes
ORD1 hour 52 minutes
DFW1 hour 49 minutes
ATL1 hour 43 minutes
MCO1 hour 50 minutes
CLT1 hour 42 minutes
LAS1 hour 37 minutes
LAX1 hour 50 minutes
PHX1 hour 40 minutes

The statistics aren’t very different for other major (top 50) US airports. However delays are much more likely to extend beyond two hours at small airports, where you likely don’t have another option anyway.

And for my last analysis, I looked at the reason for the delay when it was available. In cases where the data is available, the longest delays are caused by (from the biggest contributor to the smallest):

  1. Carrier delays (crew problems, mechanical, etc.)
  2. Late aircraft delays (delayed inbound flight)
  3. Airspace delays (ATC traffic management programs, etc.)
  4. Weather delays

tl;dr

The internet: “Ok poindexter, enough with the nerdy stuff, how about a summary without all the goo?”

MEAB: Sure thing boss, also here’s the data in CSV form in case you want to be a nerd too:

  • If your flight posts a delay of 45 minutes or longer, switch to an alternate if there’s one available in the next two hours
  • If your flight posts a delay of 90 minutes or longer, switch to an alternate if there’s one available in the next two and a half hours
  • If you’re flying out of a major airport, a delay isn’t likely to carry on past two hours
  • If you’re flying out of a small airport, that delay is probably going to be a long one, sorry
  • If the reason for your delay is a carrier or late inbound aircraft issue, the delay is likely to be longer than for weather or other reasons

Happy Tuesday friends!

When United Express inevitably has a delay for something like this, switch flights (trust me, been there).

On Saturday there was a great opportunity at a major grocery store chain that gave 20% off of convertible gift cards, and as far as I know it was never made public so unfortunately there’s no place out in the open for reading more at this moment. But, we can learn a lesson for finding future unicorns: When a sale is advertised for a particular type of gift card, sometimes other gift cards in the same family will also be on sale. Trying with a small dollar amount could be extremely rewarding.

  1. Meijer $10 off $150 or more in Visa gift cards. Larger denomination gift cards aren’t excluded so I’d go for $500s. Meijer carries both Metabank and Sunrise gift cards, so you’ve got options on the liquidation front from home and in-store.
  2. The giftcards.com promo for 5% off of the total cost of Visa eGift cards for up to $1,500 in spend per transaction has one week remaining, expiring on September 11. Use promo code ENDOFSUMMER since the portals list that code in particular.

    I’m bringing this one up again because it’s a new month and that means a fresh $2,000 in monthly spend for major shopping portals, including 3x at AA. The Capital One shopping portal still lacks the $2,000 monthly restriction found on other portals, so go for that one after you hit the first $2,000 in spend.
  3. US Bank has increased its business checking account bonus from $300 to $400 without changing other requirements. To get the bonus:

    – Deposit $1,500 within 30 days
    – Enroll in online banking
    – Make 10 qualifying transactions on the account (which practically speaking means 10 ACHs or 10 $0.50 Amazon gift balance reloads from your debit card)

    If you don’t live in US Bank’s territory, open a brokerage account first in order to be eligible to open a checking account.

A hot gift card sale can have unintended consequences.