Lately, cash prices to fly economy have gotten so cheap for international flights that points bookings are a terrible value proposition. At the same time, airlines are selling more and more business class seats at reduced cash rates relative to a few years ago, meaning award availability is more difficult on the routes that I want to fly. The options for someone loathe to pay cash for flights (and who mostly has fixed dates and locations in mind), therefore, have gotten fairly slim.
Last year was something of a turning point for me in terms of my travel habits. Whereas two years ago I let my travel be largely dictated by mistake fares and other sales, this past year I had a very explicit list of places I wanted to go, and I used my miles and ‘hacking’ in order to reduce the cost as much as possible (and/or fly in premium cabins).
It’s pretty evident why this would be the case for someone. Once you have built up miles and points balances through credit card signups and manufactured spending, means are less of a bottleneck. Traditional award charts offer fixed miles prices for flights irrespective of the cash price, which means that (assuming you can find availability), a $500 flight to a random U.S. city near a national park costs you the same as a $200 ticket between to major domestic hubs. For premium cabins, the value proposition can be even greater, because the miles prices are typically marked up 50-150% relative to coach, whereas cash prices can differ by up to a factor of ten.
2017 has only just begun, but I feel like I’ve said the phrase, “Wow, this game has changed” more times in the last two weeks than all of last year. This, despite all of the ‘deaths’ and devaluations that made 2016 a pretty bad year to be a travel hacker.
One thing that remained relatively unchanged last year was Delta’s Skybonus program. Skybonus is a rewards program for businesses as an incentive for them booking flights for their employees. Like AA’s equivalent, Business Extra (United’s is explicitly limited to corporations/large companies), rewards are earned as multipliers on ticket price, with higher multiples for higher fare classes.
At the beginning of the year, I did a reflection on 2015 and made some projections about what statuses I had earned, whether they’d be useful, and if I’d aim to re-qualify for them by the end of the year:
Which of my predictions reached fruition?
I certainly reaped the benefits of Alaska status, whether they be the extra ~50,000 redeemable miles I earned, the Premium Economy seats on my upcoming AA flight to Madrid or the occasional exit row seat on Delta that isn’t considered part of its Economy Comfort offering. I also got upgraded a few times on Alaska metal itself, which, while nice, was nothing mind blowing. I still consider it an auxiliary benefit more than anything, although it might be more valuable now that Virgin America’s SFO-JFK route will be owned by Alaska. We’ll see when the upgrade policies coallesce.
I’m back! Well, sort of. Like Michael, I have a little more time around the holidays to write, so I’ll been getting my pen out and cranking out some posts. It’s also a welcome distraction from all the news that routinely induces aneurysms, although I don’t have much choice but to keep on keepin’ on and fighting the good fight.
Over this year, my involvement in travel hacking transitioned from raw churning (credit card sign-ups to receive the bonuses) to generating large stashes of miles and points by manufactured spending (buying cash equivalents like gift cards and selling them or otherwise converting them to cash). This was rooted largely in pragmatism. Going into this year, I had exhausted a lot of the low-hanging fruit in terms of credit card signups, and moreover, banks weren’t taking too kindly to all my new accounts and credit inquiries (I wouldn’t if I were them, either).
Many of the top of the line credit cards from the various issuers offer various roadside assistance benefits for free. Benefits include towing assistance, jumping a dead battery, bringing you emergency gasoline, and more.
Cards that include these benefits include the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Ritz Carlton Rewards, the Citi Prestige, and the Amex Platinum/Premier Rewards Gold card. But how are you supposed to remember what your benefits are when you’re already in an emergency situation, and may not have internet access or need assistance quickly?
As you all know, the Alaska Airlines / Virgin America merger was finally approved recently. Alaska is taking more steps to merge the two airlines, and part of that process is a merger of the two frequent flier programs.
Many people got the following email stating that their Virgin America Elevate accounts and Mileage Plan accounts would be merged on January 9.
We have some exciting news about Virgin America’s integration with Alaska Airlines. Starting today, Elevate members can now earn points when flying on Alaska Airlines.
Yesterday, Yelp announced a brand new Yelp Cashback program. You can earn up to 10% cashback on select Yelp partner restaurants. The program is brand new, so I haven’t had the chance to play with it or see if the restaurants I would typically frequent are part of the cashback program, but might as well sign up as it is free.
First, sign up for the program by going to https://www.yelp.com/cashback
This isn’t really a travel-related post, but I really wanted to share this deal. A lot of people know I’m a huge fan of my Instant Pot electric pressure cooker. It’s right up there with my iPhone and Macbook Pro Retina as one of my favorite devices in my life.
Click here to see the deal on Amazon ($68.95, normally $120+): https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00FLYWNYQ/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B00FLYWNYQ&linkCode=as2&tag=defl03-20&linkId=a4812c3c24004ad16e503b13eb924d09
I recently received updated cardholder agreements for all my Citi cards. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal and I tend to skip reading these, but I noticed a big clause about a new arbitration provision. It also said:
You have the right to reject this arbitration provision. If you reject, your account will no longer be subject to an arbitration provision. You can reject arbitration by writing to us at PO Box 6195, Sioux Falls, SD 57117-6195 stating that you would like to reject the arbitration agreement. Your letter must be postmarked on or before [various dates in end of December or early January]. We will not close your account if you reject this change.