Foreward

In 2021, the simplest way to cash out travel incidental credits on American Express cards, PenFed Pathfinder cards, Bank of America Premium Rewards, and UnionBank Rewards cards was to buy United TravelBank credit directly because it can be banked, combined, and used for airfare on any United flight and it didn’t require any weird gift cards or other “one weird trick” style hacking but was still reimbursed by credit card issuers. TravelBank credit also has a long expiration at 5 years so you’ve got time to figure out how best to use it.

Well a few short hours into December 31, reports came in that United TravelBank had been taken offline. There was an ensuing panic in just about every forum that I’m affiliated with. Fortunately the panic was short-lived, TravelBank came back yesterday afternoon and hundreds of hackers rushed to cash out credits within minutes.

Was rushing to cash-out a mistake? Honestly I think so even though it’ll probably work out just fine.

Being Level-Headed

I have a compulsive urge to knock out all of my yearly credit card annual credits as early as possible at the start of a new year so that I don’t have to think about them all the way until December 31, and I have zero doubt that many of you are exactly the same. That said, I’ve learned to hold back and wait for data-points to come in regarding what works in the new year and what doesn’t, and I hope you’ll do the same. There are legion travel hackers out there who have already all tried to cash out their 2022 credits in non-perscribed ways for:

  • Airline incidentals
  • Travel credits
  • Saks
  • Clear
  • Global Entry / Nexus / Precheck

But, there isn’t yet a datapoint that any of the opportunities that worked last year continue to work now, simply because not enough time has passed for a credit to post. In fact, many things change when the calendar does, like, I don’t know, United TravelBank going offline.

So, maybe wait a few days so we know that what worked last year will continue to work so that you’re not stuck with an unreimbursed $200 charge? If you’ve already become the data point, I sincerely appreciate it and I understand it at my core, but that’s not how I’m playing it (anymore). We’ll all learn from your hard work and we’ll all be grateful for your data-point.

Happy travel credit hacking!

Level headed travel credits.

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 power.fluz.app

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!

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.

Hello friends! Let’s start the week off right with a few quick hits and a few big deals:

1. Here’s an updated link for the Delta Platinum 7,500 miles authorized user bonus from last Thursday, give this one a shot in case the other one didn’t work for you.

2. A follow-up from a week ago: my application for the US Bank Business Triple Cash card was approved with a ginormous credit line. How I’m going to play it: Hit the minimum spend to earn $500, lower all of my US Bank credit lines, then apply for three or four more of these before the offer goes away.

3. Rakuten’s card-linked cash back program has added BestBuy, Walmart, Gamestop, and Walgreens cash back at 5%, which blows the Staples 2.5% that we discussed in early December out of the water. Each of these stores sells one or more valuable gift cards, and each of them will let you buy those gift cards with a credit card (like perhaps an Amex that has an 99 employee card for 1.8 million points offer and a +4x offer attached?) Just don’t forget to link your cards to Rakuten and click “Link Offer” in your account.

The last time Rakuten had great partners with their card linked program it all went well for a while until they shut down a few accounts doing major volume in gift card purchases. So, add a kombucha, a banana, and a usb cable to your purchase to mask what you’re doing. At 5% cash-back, you can afford to treat yourself to America’s favorite fruit.

4. I think that Staples has had more weeks with a gift card sale going than weeks without one in 2021. Maybe next year I’ll post only if they’re not running a promo to save everyone time. That said, it isn’t next year yet, so… Staples is having a $200 fee-free sale on Visa gift cards issued by Metabank running through Saturday, limit five per transaction. (Thanks to GC Galore)

Liquidation? Try bill-pay services and try grocery stores that aren’t Kroger or Safeway/Albertsons; also, maybe look at the Western Union agent locator. Remember, the velociraptors in the documentary Jurassic Park found weaknesses in the electric fence that separated them from the money order terminals by probing. Be a velociraptor.

5. American Express has a 20% transfer bonus to Singapore Krisflyer, and Gary pointed out that this stacks with a promotion that Singapore Airlines is running through the end of February for Star Alliance Gold status. I’m calling this out because if you fly United a lot, and I mean a lot, and if you want to redeem a Singapore award for you and P2 (and maybe P3+) in the next couple of months you could get a ton of value because Star Alliance gold status through Singapore will get you into United Clubs when flying United Airlines (and a free checked bag, but if you’re flying United a lot then they’ve already lost your bag so you don’t have one to check, and you didn’t have to pay for them to lose it thanks to your status).

Just do this one on or after January 1 so that you’ve got effectively 25 months of club access (through February 2024).

The victory scene in Jurassic Park when the velociraptors successfully buy a money order.

Cyber Monday fared better than Black Friday for MS opportunities, and it looks like it’s going to continue into today and possibly tomorrow. Stay on top of reselling group messages!

In the mean time:

1. There’s a new PayPal offer for $50 back on $250 in spend at BestBuy when you check-out with PayPal. As usual, I’d recommend buying a BestBuy gift card for liquidation but with a special caveat: BestBuy will ban rewards accounts when a gift card purchased under that account is later used for a purchase flagged as a reseller. To protect yourself, don’t login to your BestBuy account and checkout as a guest if you’re going to buy a gift card for resale. UPDATE: The deal is now $25 back, not $50. Thanks to @BlueCat

2. Alaska Airlines has a good Cyber Monday sale for Tuesday and Delta does too. JetBlue has their own version, and they’re offering $50 off of one-way trips so you may want to replace existing round-trip bookings with two one-ways. Southwest didn’t want to be left out so they’ve got one too, but theirs runs through Thursday. (I don’t think the “Monday” in Cyber Monday means what the airlines think it means.)

With Southwest in particular, it’s a good time to book your Spring Break travel because they’ll likely change the schedule anyway and let you switch to any other flight ± 2 weeks from the original booking when that happens.

3. Office Depot/OfficeMax has $15 off of $300 or more in Mastercard gift card purchases between now and Saturday. Don’t forget to link your cards to Dosh for an extra $10 cash-back.

4. The web framework behind my favorite travel tool, ITA Matrix, is deprecated and going to have to be yanked by Google one day soon. Fortunately for all of us, a dedicated team of Google travel hackers are building a replacement with a modern web framework and they’re making good progress. You can find it here:

ITA Matrix Beta

At this point it’s less buggy than the primary interface for some of my searches, though others just spin. I’d consider it a rapidly improving work in progress. Now we just need book with matrix to be updated too.

An image of a November calendar with 35 days.
The calendar used by airlines for Cyber Monday.

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.

I got a few questions about cashing out Membership Rewards on the heels of yesterday’s post, so now is as good a time as any to talk about the current ways to cash out Those points. Some are above board and some are, shall we say, a titch less so. First, the obviously allowed and supported options:

  • With the American Express Schwab Platinum card, you can cash-out at 1.1 cents per point
  • With the Morgan Stanley Platinum card, you can cash out account for 1.0 cents per point
  • With the Miles Earn and Burn Unsung Hero no annual fee Morgan Stanley card, you can also cash out for 1.0 cents per point
  • Without any special card, you can always redeem directly for a statement credit at 0.6 cents per point using Pay with Points. This is a terrible deal, though, don’t do it

And now, the travel hacker ways:

  • Book refundable travel through American Express Travel and pay with Membership Rewards, then cancel the itinerary and it will be refunded as a statement credit at 1.00 cents per point (Hint: with the Business Platinum’s 35% rebate and a long time, like crossing over the boundary of a year, sometimes you can do better but you may end up angering AmEx)
  • A variation on the above: Book a ticket with American Express Travel and pay with Membership Rewards, but don’t buy a refundable ticket; instead by a ticket that can be canceled to an airline’s wallet or as an e-credit/travel voucher and use that credit sometime in the future for airfare that you’d normally pay for with cash (generally non basic-economy tickets fall into this category in the COVID-era travel world, but be sure to double check with your airline of choice). For rules on airline travel vouchers and wallets, see this post at Milenomics

Finally, the ways that are almost certain to get you in trouble eventually (Let me reiterate — these are bad ideas and will almost certainly cause you problems or catch up to you, don’t do them without understanding how risky they could be):

  • Sell travel to your friends and family, then book the itineraries with them using your Membership Rewards
  • Sell your Membership Rewards to a points broker, you’ll earn 1.3 to 1.5 cents per point

Happy hacking!

I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I’m starting to feel like I was scammed when I sold Jimmy 8,000 Membership Rewards and got this.

Background

On Monday I was scheduled to fly home on a short-hop Delta flight paid for with 5,000 SkyMiles. As I’m sure you can figure out from the post’s title, that didn’t really go as planned. The short story is that my aircraft had big dent in the airframe from the inbound flight to the airport. Delta posted an initial delay of an hour right when we were getting ready to board.

If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s dealing with IROPS when traveling. If there’s another thing I’m good at, it’s making the best steel cut oats based breakfast bowl that you’ve ever had, but why would you care about that? Let’s stay on topic people!

I have a cardinal rule when it comes to flight delays:

If the delay posted is an hour or longer, you need to have a backup option in place.

The moment the delay was announced, and I mean that very moment, I speed-walked to the SkyClub to avoid any lines at the gate, and simultaneously I made a call to Delta Reservations in case they’d come back more quickly than the SkyClub (spoiler alert: they didn’t). When I got to the SkyClub, I scanned my boarding pass and asked immediately to be “protected on the next flight” to my destination. The agent was able to do that in about 15 seconds.

Flight Protection

What is flight protection? It’s when an airline holds a seat for you on another flight without giving up your seat on your original flight. Then you’ve got the option to take either flight, whichever departs first. With most airlines, you can select a seat on both flights and you’ll be on the upgrade list for both flights too if you’re eligible.

All you have to do to get protected on the next flight is to know how to ask. And asking is as simple as “My current flight is delayed. Would you please protect me on the next flight to XXX?”

Caveat: Some airlines will cancel any remaining flights on your itinerary if you miss a flight (I’m looking at you United, the only airline that’s screwed me multiple times with this), so after I scan my boarding pass on whichever flight departs first, I double check to make sure that the other flight drops out of my itinerary in the airline’s mobile app. If it doesn’t, then I ask the gate agent or another employee to take it off of the itinerary so the rest of my flights don’t auto-cancel.

My Conclusion

As you’d probably guess, a dented airframe is more than an hour long fix. Delta ended up flying in another plane and crew to operate the flight, and it departed 6 hours and 5 minutes past the original schedule which is frankly pretty good for an event like this at a non-hub. I was already home and on my couch by the time that original flight departed though — I got there via the protected flight.

Bonus: Delta proactively gave me 7,500 SkyMiles for the delayed flight without me contacting them, making that ticket a 1.5x SkyMiles earner. If only I could replicate that at scale.

It’ll prolly buff out, right?