You’ve likely heard by now that Chase is offering a limited time 70,000 Ultimate Rewards points bonus for new Ink Plus accounts. This is a pretty awesome deal. To get the 70,000 point bonus, you’ll need to meet the minimum spend requirement of $5,000 in purchases during the first 3 months after account opening.

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In addition to the bonus miles, you’ll receive the following points bonuses for routine purchases.

  • Earn 5X points per $1 on the first $50,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV services each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 2X points per $1 on the first $50,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and hotel accommodations when purchased directly with the hotel each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases—with no limit to the amount you can earn.

I know most people that read blogs and forums don’t need me to say this, but 70,000 Ultimate Rewards bonus points is a good deal. Ultimate Rewards have saved me hundreds, if not thousands of dollars through their transferability to British Airways Avios alone. That’s just one of their benefits. Transferability to United, Hyatt, Marriott, and many other programs tops the list of why Ultimate Rewards are my favorite points currency.

I have the Ink Bold card, and could apply for the Ink Plus. However, I’m following my own advice and not pursuing any new offers at the moment – even offers that are this good. If you’re in a position to act on a card offer, you should take a look at this one. I do not have affiliate links for Chase, so please pick your favorite blogger, and go from there if you’re interested in this great card offer.

-MJ, September 30, 2014

 

 

If you’re looking to top off your Dividend Miles account to redeem an award you’ve had in mind, you have a few more days to collect up to a 100 percent bonus. US Airways has extended its bonus offer until October 12, 2014. Click here for buying, or here for gifting. You’ll find terms and conditions after the links as well.

My advice on buying miles is always the same. Don’t do it…unless you are topping off your account for a specific award.

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If you spend much time around the blogs and message boards, you could be forgiven for thinking that the world may spin off its axis if you don’t dedicate half your life to collecting credit card bonuses, gift cards, and running every bottle of aspirin you buy through an online shopping portal of some sort. These are, of course, great ways to earn miles and points that can enable you to travel for “free” or at prices you can afford. They can also consume your life if you let them. Don’t.

There is a cost to all these “free” things. There’s the cost of time, the cost of not focusing on other priorities, and for far too many I fear, the cost of the debt you are at risk for getting yourself into if you don’t have the discipline to say no. Backing away doesn’t mean quitting. It means taking a step back, evaluating where you are with your miles and points goals, and making sure you are ready for the next play in the game. Being ready in my opinion means this:

  • No credit card/consumer debt beyond your mortgage (I’ll even grant you a car payment too, but I haven’t had one since 1998)
  • Some cash in the bank for a rainy day
  • Cash flow for paying your bills on time
  • The discipline to say no

If any one of these is missing, I would stand down on any new credit cards, funny money techniques, or anything else other than fixing what I need to fix to be ready to get back in. Not all that long ago a confluence of events came together that caused me to take a break from the miles and points “game” and focus on repairing my savings account. I’m not quite where I want to be yet, but I’m getting close. I’ve got enough miles for my immediate and mid-term travel needs, and I fly enough on business alone to maintain some level of elite status. I don’t need to jump at the first bonus offer that comes along, and I’ve been focusing on that discipline to say “no” during my “time off” as well.

In the end, all the points in the world matter little if you’d be unable to make your next mortgage payment if your paycheck gets lost enroute to your bank account. Focus on the things that matter, stay informed, stay disciplined, and you can win at miles and points. And it’s OK to sit out for a few plays if you need to.

-MJ, September 30, 2014

 

TSA is looking to use private sector companies to help vet travelers looking to register for PreCheck access. According to USA Today, TSA plans to meet with interested firms in October.

“I believe our ability to grow the population of TSA Precheck eligible travelers will be dramatically expanded,” Pistole said.

Personally, I’m all for expanding PreCheck eligibility as long as airport security lines are reallocated to PreCheck as the number of eligible participants increases. Admittedly, I’ve always wondered why people would opt for signing up for PreCheck as opposed to getting Global Entry. The article offers a friendly reminder and interesting travel factoid on that question – “200 million Americans don’t have passports required for Global Entry.” That number amazes me….just a little.

What are your feelings on expanded PreCheck access?

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-MJ, September 29, 2014

Let me repeat that – loyalty programs were not meant to be good for you. They were meant to be good for the airlines, hotels, and whoever else has started one since the Green Stamp days. Perceived benefits aside, they were (and still are) meant to enhance the bottom line of the companies that control them. Back in the days of 60 percent load factors being a banner year, your run of the mill “frequent flyer” program made perfect sense. The spread between top and bottom fare was lower. The internet as we know it did not exist. Tossing a seat to a program member that was otherwise empty anyway was easy. All was well.

The scene shifts to the current reality. Load factors are routinely north of 80 percent. You, me, and our mothers are minting miles like candy, but excess inventory for redemption is like finding a knitting needle in a smallish stack of hay – not impossible, but not all that easy either. Worry abounds, but that hasn’t stopped our friends at the programs from selling miles to card companies and flower shops, nor us from finding ways to earn as many as possible. Enter the “revenue-based” loyalty program.

While I’m not as in love with the new reality as many think, that doesn’t mean I can’t see what’s going on around me. Ballooning mileage balances vs. shrinking redemption opportunities. We’re all addicted – the airlines to the quick sale of a point, us to the high of making a point out of thin air. The companies have the upper hand now. I don’t know if it will last forever, but I do think it will last long enough for American AAdvantage to join the rest of the domestic US industry with a revenue based program. All the crying in the world won’t stop it, but I’m almost certain there’ll be another game to play. Things change, just stay informed. If the new reality results in more rational economic decision-making for the majority of us, I’m all for it.

-MJ, September 29, 2014

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On Elliott at BA

Monday morning random musings – first, on word the consumer advocate Chris Elliott is considering joining the BoardingArea team. While I disagree with a lot (not all) of everything Chris Elliott has ever said about loyalty programs, I like the idea of having him on BoardingArea. The mix of miles and points, general travel, and travel tips at BoardingArea is great, and having Chris here will be one more plus, I think. Balance has never been a bad thing.

On Airline Service

I’ve read a couple of articles lately that lead me to think that I’m either extremely fortunate, have low standards, or spoiled by the trappings of elite status. Apparently, this past summer was horrid for airline performance, but somehow I missed out on the fun. It surely isn’t because I wasn’t traveling, believe me, I was. I experienced one notable delay over the summer, and that was my first in recent memory. Maybe I am just fortunate. Maybe it’s because I fly Delta most. Maybe it’s because I avoid NYC and Chicago. On the other hand, the coach seat squeeze is real, and elite status does enable me to avoid the worst of that. (I know Elliott loves that. :) ) I know the accountants have the upper hand at airlines nowadays, but seriously, there are enough seats on the airplanes already.

On the Week Ahead

Watch for continued challenges in and around Chicago. Ugh.

-MJ, September 29, 2014

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When I arrived at the gate in Atlanta on Friday, I noted on my Twitter feed that for the first time in nearly 2 months, I’m not flying next week and I’m not all that sad about it. James at The Forward Cabin blog asked if I was feeling OK? :) I am. I’m certain that I’ll be twitching in my office chair by Friday afternoon, but I need a week in town. My office is in shambles. My home office is in shambles. Frankly, I need an admin week, and most of all….I need a week at home. It happens to the best of us. Heck, maybe I’ll even manage to blog more. I’m not sure about the rest of us, but for me, it seems that traveling for work can sometimes be an inhibitor to blogging. That’s probably a case study for another time. Here’s a look at last week.

….and this week at MJ on Travel.

  • Thoughts on Customer Service
  • Cruise Line Loyalty – NCL
  • Cruise Line Loyalty – My Cruise Rewards (Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Azamara Club Cruises)

These travel topics and no doubt more, this week at MJ on Travel.

-MJ, September 28, 2014

The next Frequent Traveler University event is scheduled for December 5-7 in the Washington, DC area. The host hotel will be the Hyatt Crystal City, located near Reagan National Airport. It’s a good location, with access to all the great things our Nation’s capital offers. I was excited to hear about another event in the DC area, and had every intention to make the trip….until I realized I’ll be on a cruise. :) Don’t miss the opportunity to network with likeminded individuals and learn more about the world of miles and points.

Register for the main FTU sessions here.

Register for FTU Advanced (more focused sessions not for beginners) here.

Book a hotel here.

Enjoy and learn!

-MJ, September 28, 2014

Introduction

Cruise Line Loyalty – Carnival Cruises

Cruise Line Loyalty – World’s Leading Cruise Lines (Other Carnival Corporation lines like Princess and HAL)

Cruise Line Loyalty – NCL

Cruise Line Loyalty – Royal Caribbean MyCruise Rewards (including Celebrity and Azamara)

Cruise Line Loyalty – How the Bank Rewards Programs Stack Up

The World’s Leading Cruise Lines is the marketing “moniker” for the Carnival Corporation owned lines. These companies include Costa Cruises, Cunard Line, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Seabourn, and of course, Carnival Cruise Lines. We’ll focus on Holland America and Princess in this post because they offer a credit card product. Last week, we looked at Carnival with its Very Important Fun Person (VIFP) Club loyalty program, and it’s FunPoints® program based on The Carnival™ MasterCard®. We’ve reviewed the elite status loyalty programs of Holland America and Princess in this space before. Holland America’s Mariner Society has 5 status levels, with qualification being based on days at sea.

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On the other hand, Princess Captain’s Circle is based on days at sea OR the number of cruise you have take. Further, Captain’s Circle members have just 4 status levels to work through.

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Like all the cruise line loyalty programs, the perks you get rise along with your status level. You can review the Holland America program in detail here, or the Princess program here.

About the Points

Like some other cruise lines, both HAL and Princess offer co-branded credit cards that allow you to earn points that you can redeem towards discounts, onboard credits, or even a “free” cruise. Unfortunately, like most of the other cruise line credit card programs, these are mostly straight penny per point programs that do not offer great values unless you happen to live on a cruise ship. :)

The Holland America Line Rewards Visa® is available, and it does have some redeeming qualities like no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees. It currently offers a 5,000 point first purchase bonus. You earn 2 points per dollar for purchases with Holland America, and 1 point per dollar for other purchases. In perusing the benefit brochure, I found that you can actually get 1.25 cents in value if you redeem towards a cruise. The example given was a $500 statement credit when redeeming 40,000 points towards a cruise purchase. There are better deals out there that we’ll talk about soon.

The Princess Cruises® Rewards Visa® Card is remarkably similar to the HAL card. It is free of an annual fee and carries no foreign transaction fees. You earn 1 Princess Point per dollar for routine purchases and 2 Princess Points per dollar for all Princess Cruises purchases. Currently, the card offers a 5,000 point first purchase bonus. You can get 1.5 cents in value if you redeem a remarkable 200,000 Princess Points for a $3,000 discount towards a cruise purchase. You can review the rewards example guide here. Other examples were straight penny per point redemptions like 5,000 points for a $50 beverage credit or 50,ooo points for a $500 airfare credit.

The Bottom Line

I don’t want to rag on these card products too much. If you rarely fly, live near a port, and cruise a lot….and could use a no-fee card with no foreign transaction fees, then one of these products might be OK for you if you’re brand loyal. There are better deals in the bank programs and cash back if you want to use points to pay for your cruises. We’ll power through the remaining cruise line points programs this week and next, then tie things up with a look at the one branded cruise line credit card that might be worthwhile for certain cruisers. Finally,  we’ll cap things off with the bank program cards.

-MJ, September 27, 2014

I know it barely shines through, but I’m seriously stoked for our upcoming cruise aboard Quantum of the Seas. I posted about her conveyance down the River Ems, and the ship is now undergoing sea trials. There have been a lot of Quantum videos, but I think this is my favorite. Video using an unmanned aircraft (aka drone), this video is very well done. Quantum of the Seas is a beautiful ship, and I can’t wait to sail. Enjoy your Friday night, and enjoy this great video!

-MJ, September 26, 2014

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