In what seems to be a recurring theme for 2021, another airline is having an anniversary contest in an attempt to generate marketing buzz, and, unfortunately, it’s working. (It worked for AA and United too.) Who’s next? If it’s a big US carrier, the only real option is Delta. I’m resolving right now to not fall into writing about a Delta anniversary scheme because at least once this year I don’t want to be played by an airline’s marketing department.

Anyway, Southwest has a 50th anniversary game going between now and June 18 at this link. You can enter once per day per Rapid Rewards account. My P2 won 50 Rapid Rewards points and I won nothing and got played. (That said, I did end up winning about 18,000 miles in the AA sweepstakes, so I will be playing this Southwest one daily, unless it plays me, amirite?)

Live capture of Southwest’s marketing department scheming.

Remember AAdvantage’s 40th anniversary? United has tried several times and mostly failed to copy the buzz it generated; this time they came close, really close. Even I’m writing about it, and let’s face it, I’m not the biggest United fan. They’re giving away a year of free flights for two in any class of service to five vaccinated grand prize winners. To qualify:

Don’t use your dog’s United account on this one, you won’t be able to explain it away if you win (unlike most instances of your dog’s account). Watch out for the 1099 tax form from United if you win too, and contest the valuation they give you. It’s not hard to do.

By the way, I personally “internet know” someone that one a million miles in the AA 40th sweepstakes, it does happen.

A cadet in United’s wheelchair assistance training program.

Delta SkyMiles are famously sucky in terms of overall value; for example, it’ll cost you 120,000 miles in business class each way between the US and Japan using SkyMiles (vs. say, 60,000 miles on Alaska). I don’t talk about SkyMiles much for that very reason, nor do I think you should hoard them. However, for domestic and short haul international travel they’re worth a floor of 1.127 cents per mile, and sometimes more when there are award sales. Delta lets you buy essentially any domestic or short haul international ticket with miles, so you’re not really fighting award availability in those cases either.

Take the above, and consider that currently it’s possible to get a Delta Reserve American Express card with a 125,000 mile bonus using this link (I stripped away any affiliate information so it’s completely clean, no one is going to get a commission with it.) Note: The link is subject to the American Express random number generator, so you may have to go incognito, try a different browser, and/or connect to a VPN. In my experiments, I was able to see it in Safari Private mode on the first try, and it didn’t come up in Brave’s Incognito mode in the first try. You can also try searching Google, Baidu, Bing, and Yahoo for “delta credit card” and clicking on a few of the resulting links.

Where am I going with all of this? The Delta Reserve card has a $550 annual fee, and you’ll earn 125,000 miles as a sign-up bonus after meeting minimum spend. That means you’re spending $550 for 125,000 miles * 1.16 cents per mile, or a total of $1,408 in Delta tickets for $550 out of pocket, which works out to a 61% discount on travel on Delta. As JustinV loves to say, America loves math.

Keep in mind that American Express has a 5-ish credit card limit (and a 10-ish charge card limit). Hint: The “ish” comes into play due to shenanigans.

Talking about skirting card limits.

1. Avianca LifeMiles has a 15% transfer bonus when transferring from American Express Membership Rewards between now and May 31, 2021. The LifeMiles award chart has some sweet spots, and it’s a currency that you can game; in fact this was perhaps the most gameable airline mileage program after US Airways ceased to exist, though some of the best loop-holes have since closed. The current award chart has relatively decent prices to Europe at 63,000 miles for Business class or 87,000 miles in International First class, with lots of availability through Star Alliance partners. AwardWallet has a nice tabular LifeMiles Partner Award Chart, and Region Definition.

2. Make sure that you’ve added a Membership Rewards earning credit card to your Amazon account, then check here for a widely targeted offer of between 20 and 40% off at Amazon when using at least one membership rewards point. I would buy a BestBuy gift card, use exactly one point at checkout, and resell instantly for 96% (or higher with a consignment sale). Correction, I wouldn’t do that, I did do that.

A picture of a king chess piece laying down on a chess board, with lots of opposing chess pieces tying it down with string.
Avianca LifeMiles trying to hold down loop-holes.

1. I know that there’s mixed love and hatred out there for AirFrance, but in my opinion they’re an absolutely wonderful airline for Business Class or La Premiere. (Yes, I’m even including the older shrinking fleet with angled lie flat cabins, just make sure you sit in the middle section of Business Class for direct aisle access.) The food and wine is hard to beat, and the service for me has always been outstanding. AirFrance is also great for racking up Delta MQM and MQD on mistake or ultra-cheap business fares. To help with that, AirFrance has a new promo code: SPRINGAF21 for $70 off of your next flight to Europe or Africa, just book by May 14, 2021 for travel between May 1 and October 31.

The code is ok, but honestly I’m writing about this principally because Spring AF is about the funniest thing I’ve seen out of an airline in years. If it was any other code, I’m not sure I’d write about it. Well played AirFrance, though I’m pretty sure it wasn’t played on purpose.

2. Do this now: Register for bonus points at Hilton. It’s a snoozer at 2x or 3x points, but you never know when you might end up at a Hilton anyway and it may be too late to register or you may forget register. Don’t be in that boat!

3. Thanks to the AA 40th’s sweepstakes, you can get 20% off of standard rates at Hyatt properties booked by May 31 for stays through September 12, 2021. Use code AA40TH.

Hot AirFrance. Wait, that’s not what it means.

1. American Airlines has reduced mileage awards for AA credit card holders back on the table. These are actually a great deal and worth a look, especially because in most cases you can cancel and redeposit the miles with no fees if your trip doesn’t work out. Steps:

2. Southwest is having a nice fare sale with quite a few $50 fares out there. Remember that if the cash fare is cheap with Southwest, so is the mileage cost, and with mileage awards you can cancel and redeposit at any time for no fee. If you book something cheap in early June, you’ll almost certainly be able to change it to any other flight ±30 days in a week or two when the next free schedule change window opens. What a time to be alive!

Final note: The AA 40th contest is still going — lots of people are winning 4,000 mile awards recently. For best results, spin the globe as early as possible after 12:00 AM Eastern time. Since it’s a new week, you can get a bunch of new buttons by logging in and clicking all the blue buttons.

A woman in a riding outfit (flannel shirt, pants, tall socks, boots, and a black riding cap) on top of a cow jumping over a post.
Flying Southwest compared to flying other legacy carriers is a bit like riding a cow instead of riding a horse.

Introduction

I’ve avoided writing about the United Quest credit card for a while because honestly the card annoys me (see below), and United really annoys me (also see below). That said, it can be a decent deal for the first year if you’re going to redeem for United flights, and there’s now a mostly public offer for 100,000 miles after $10,000 in spend. You can also use a referral link or get a referral from a Chase United card holder. (I’d chose TravelBloggerBuzz’s link, but you could get a link from another blogger you trust too, just not me. I don’t personally push referral links, that’s not why I’m in this.)

Why Quest Sucks

Rather than going over the positives of the card like everyone else, let me address the negatives, especially as compared to the mid-tier American Express Personal Gold card:

  • Quest’s spend bonus categories are weak for a card with a mid-tier annual fee ($250). I get bigger and better bonuses and bonus categories at the same price point with the American Express Personal Gold (e.g. 4x vs 2x at restaurants, 4x vs 1x at grocery, 3x on all airlines vs 3x on only United)
  • Quest’s annual “credits” are 5,000 miles after you take an award flight on United, twice a year. The Personal Gold gives $120 in Uber/Uber Eats credits and $120 in GrubHub/ShakeShack credits a year whether or not you redeem miles
  • Quest doesn’t give you two United Club passes, unlike its cheaper sibling, the MileagePlus Explorer card
  • Quest opens up “XN” fare bucket award availability, but so does the $95 annual fee MileagePlus Explorer card, as does the no annual-fee MileagePlus Gateway card
  • A modified double dip is a much better deal than the Quest if you’re under 5/24, and you can still turn those miles into United MileagePlus miles — you’ll also get 3x on all travel with a Sapphire, not just on United like with the Quest card. The American Express Personal Gold doesn’t care about 5/24 at all and also gives 3x
  • For a whopping $72,000 in annual spend, Quest will give you 3,000 PQP — uh, ok. For those of you fortunately not sucked into United Elite speak, a PQP is part of obtaining elite status, and 3,000 PQP is what you earn by spending approximately $3,300 on airfare. Trust me, your $72,000 in spend in the right places can earn you $3,000 in actual cash. Wouldn’t you rather have that than stupid PQP? I would
  • Quest gives you exactly one currency, MileagePlus miles. The Personal Gold gives you membership rewards, which you can transfer to less sucky airlines or cash out at a decent rate

Why United Sucks

Look, I get that some of you like United, and that’s ok, it’s definitely not all bad. United will usually get you where you’re trying to go, you might get a stroopwaffle, and they do offer many loopholes to those in the know (example: I once used same day changes every day to extend a trip by a week). I also get that some of you live in Houston or Newark and you’re a hub captive, and that’s also ok. But United:

  • Flies more cramped regional jets with gate checked bags than any other major domestic carrier, though this may have changed due to COVID (if you’re lucky enough to get the CRJ550, the cramped part doesn’t apply)
  • Often flies regional jets routinely between large cities with 3+ hours of blocked time, that’s a long, long time on a regional jet between two major business hubs like Atlanta and Denver
  • Often flies worn-out 737s or A319s on non RJ segments, and believe me when I say worn-out — some of these planes haven’t seen any love with respect to passenger comfort in a decade
  • Has Scott Kirby running the show, and Scott is famous for pinching every penny possible to ensure that you’re not getting any more than absolutely necessary
  • Offers dynamic pricing for award tickets, and many times charges more just because they can, though to be fair so do the other major domestic US airlines at this point
  • Often overbooks landing slots at crowded airports, leading to massive system delays
  • Still flies business class seats without direct aisle access

So, do you really want to get 100,000 miles and subject yourself to all of that with no other option? Honestly, I don’t unless it’s a last resort. But maybe if you’ve got a use for those 100,000 miles and don’t want to do the Modified Double Dip for some reason, this is still ok.

A pie chart with 29% filled with "CRJ-200" and 82% filled with "CRJ-700". Yes, that's over 100%.
My empirical measurements of United’s domestic fleet.

1. Staples is offering another sale on its Visa Gift Cards starting on Sunday, but this time the deal isn’t nearly as great as it typically is. You can purchase $200 Visa Gift Cards for a $1.95 fee. It’s still a mostly good deal with an AmEx Business Platinum 5x or Chase Ink 5x, mostly. Honestly, it’s better than a pile of rocks.

2. The Southwest free change window is back between May 9 and June 5. Book the cheapest fare between your preferred cities somewhere within that date-range, then change it to ±30 days for the actual flights you want for no additional fees.

3. I’m sure you’ve heard it elsewhere already, but American Express Centurion Lounges are disallowing guest access to guests on February 1, 2023 unless you spend $75,000 on your American Express Platinum card. As Windbag Miles says, look into the Morgan Stanley Platinum which gives a free Authorized User Platinum card also with lounge access benefits. Little known fact, a decent balance at Morgan Stanley for Platinum card holders gives an annual credit to offset the annual fee on this card.

4. Today is the last day for the Citi Premier card’s 25% uplift in point values on travel redemptions (1.25 cents per point today vs 1.00 cents per point starting tomorrow), so lock any bookings in now before it’s too late. Hint: Disney park tickets are a decent way to lock in the 25% uplift for a long while.

Rocks from a rock-slide covering a canyon road.
A nice leisurely weekend drive to Staples.