Foreward

A couple of days ago I had a conversation with a family member that went something like this:

  • MEAB (in jest): Do you want to write a guest post for my blog?
  • Family member: What kind of blog is it?
  • MEAB: A travel hacking blog.
  • Family member: Ok.
  • MEAB (falls to the ground, floored): ….

Well, my family member came through without any further prompting, and it’s oddly appropriate for today, the busiest travel day of the year. Please enjoy and we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming tomorrow:

Top Things to NEVER Say in an Airport

  1. I have a bomb in my bag.
  2. I don’t have a bomb in my bag.
  3. I will not say whether or not I have a bomb in my bag.
  4. Please check my bag to see if it has a bomb in it.
  5. Bomb
  6. I was the one who shot and killed John F. Kennedy.
  7. There is a fire in the theatre, run! (loudly)
  8. My life insurance is banking on me dying on this plane.
  9. My enemies are banking on me dying on this plane.
  10. Please arrest me.
  11. Please don’t arrest me for what you find in my bag.
  12. I am being watched and followed the entire time I am here.
  13. I will refuse to answer all questions you ask me.
  14. I am here for revenge.
  15. I am not mentally fit to be flying an airplane.
  16. Many of my friends consider my political views particularly extreme.
  17. I am aware about my past wrongdoing where I accidentally alluded to there being a bomb in my bag.
  18. How far will this flight take me from the White House?
  19. Will this plane fly over the Pentagon?
  20. You will help me get out of this place.
  21. Do those detectors look for bombs?
The luxury of Thanksgiving 2021 travel.

1. Meijer surprises with another 10% back on gift-cards as $5 in rewards for each $50 in gift card purchases, but it’s not like last week’s book-a-last-minute-ticket-to-the-Midwest sort of deal because: it’s not a straight cash discount, you’ll need to buy groceries to redeem, and the rewards expire. What you should know about this one:

  • You get the discount back as Meijer rewards to buy groceries
  • You can buy a single $500 gift card to max out the deal on an account
  • Some gift cards are excluded, but BestBuy isn’t one of them
  • You can (and should) have multiple Meijer accounts
  • The deal runs through December 11

2. Office Depot / OfficeMax doesn’t surprise with its $15 back on $300 or more in Visa gift cards deal. As with other iterations:

  • Link your credit card to Dosh for an extra $10 back per transaction — I use a new Dosh account for each Chase Ink card that I have
  • Try and get multiple transactions in a single trip
  • Buy the “everywhere” variety of cards for lower fees if you have a liquidation channel

(Thanks to DoC)

3. Arizona friends: How does a credit card with no-annual fee and $2,000 back as a sign-up bonus sound? Zions bank has got it. The catch? You have to spend $50,000 within six months to earn it. Did I look into registering a business in Arizona to take advantage of this? You better believe it. Why do I keep asking questions? No idea.

4. The Point debit card has changed their referral sign-up bonus: Under the new structure you get the annual-fee back after spending $200, which isn’t as high as the bonus was in the early summer, but it’s a lower spending threshold then I’ve ever seen. This card is effectively a 2% cash back debit card through the end of the year (once you get the Visa version in the mail) and it’s easy to game. They also occasionally have boosted earnings at selected retailers.

Under the new program, the referrer gets to a code for a free-suitcase after five referrals, which is possibly the lamest bonus for the referrer that I’ve ever seen. My normal position is that you should use a friend’s referral link rather than one from some rando on the internet, but because your friend isn’t likely to earn a suitcase, the public sign-up offer is lower, and because I don’t want a suitcase, I’m willing to post my referral here in case you want to sign-up: Point debit card $99 back after spending $200.

Pictured: Your prize for pushing the Point debit card on unsuspecting friends.

The existing articles about what resets the expiration of miles in AirFrance/KLM’s FlyingBlue mileage program are all over the board, and they conflict with one another at the surface level. There’s only one thing that’s been certain to this point: crediting an actual SkyTeam revenue flight to your FlyingBlue account will reset expiration and kick the can down the road for another two years.

What about points transferred from partners and from the FlyingBlue shopping portal? You’ll find different information in different articles and they’re all correct at some level. It’s taken several months of experimentation and now with the help of Gary and Connor, I now have a proper test and validation set to explain what’s going on:

  • Some partners reset expiration of transferred miles, and some don’t.
  • No partners reset the expiration of miles earned through flying
  • Miles earned through a FlyingBlue credit card reset the expiration of all miles

Ok, but most of us don’t have a FlyingBlue credit card and don’t want to credit a flight to the FlyingBlue program, so we rely on transferred miles to reset the clock (and transferred miles is probably how we got them in the first place). Here’s the scoop:

PartnerResets Transferred Mileage Expiration
BrexYes
Capital OneYes
ChaseYes
CitiYes
FlyingBlue shopping portalYes
American ExpressNo (UPDATE: This may be YMMV or Yes)

See the stick in the mud there? Our best friend and aspirational colleague American Express is different than the rest. When you transfer miles from American Express to FlyingBlue, it doesn’t reset the expiration on other transferred miles, and that’s why we’ve had mixed data-points about this topic for years.

UPDATE: Greg from Frequent Miler wrote in with screenshots showing a conflicting experiment on the American Express mileage reset of expiration on FlyingBlue miles. My data-point is from late summer, so either the coding has changed and AmEx now resets expiration, or it’s a your mileage may vary situation.

Now that we’ve tested and validated this, can we collectively move on to something else?

Happy Tuesday!

The “something else” that we’ve apparently moved to collectively. Why did we catalog this, exactly? Perhaps there’s some golden ratio of crust to nugget meat that I don’t understand.

The Elephant (s) in the Room

Surely you’ve read about the AA elite changes, Marriott point and certificate changes, and Hyatt peak/off-peak changes in a thousand different places so I’m not going to add another “me too” type post, but here are a few concise summaries without all the fluff for your future reference:

  • AA changes (to elite status only, award changes not expected for a long time)
  • Hyatt changes (hotels cost more during peak, less during off-peak, and the same in “normal” times)
  • Marriott changes (#bonvoyed)

What I Really Wanted to Post

With that out of the way, let’s talk about how crazy American Express can be right now, and I hope you can replicate what I did. Background: I opened a Personal Gold card 364 days ago. The annual fee will hit when the statement closes in a few days, so it was a great time to check on a retention offer over chat. I did that, and then a few more shenanigans because reasons:

  • Accepted a retention offer of 30,000 Membership Rewards after $3,000 spend in 90 days
  • Followed this link for an upgrade offer to a Platinum with 25,000 Membership Rewards after spending $10,000 in 90 days, and a bonus 10x on spend at grocery for up to $15,000 in spend from the same card
  • Referred a Player 2 for a new American Express card for a bonus +4x for up to $25,000 in spend for 90 days from the same card

American Express offers stack, and that means that at grocery stores, this card will earn:

  • 24x for the first $3,000 in spend
  • 14x for the next $12,000 in spend
  • 5x for the last $10,000 in spend

You can do this too as long as you’ve got a Personal Gold or Green card that’s been open for at least a year. It’s a good thing that BestBuy gift card resale rates are high right now, amirite?

Basking in the Membership Rewards downpour (with a bonus Easter Egg for Garth)

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.

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.