Well, it’s official, we’ll see a new AAdvantage program in the second quarter of 2015. From my perspective, there’s a lot more to like than dislike. In fact, I can’t think of anything I dislike at this point, but I’m writing that from the perspective of a legacy AA member, with preconceived notions of what I like. For the record, I think there are things to like for legacy Dividend Miles members too. Let’s look at the highlights.

  • Beginning in January 2015, members who have accounts with both programs will be offered the opportunity to match their accounts. This is not a status match in the historical sense of the word, but an opportunity to let AAdvantage know that you have an account with US Airways.
  • The new AAdvantage will maintain three status tiers, Gold, Platinum, Executive Platinum. For legacy Dividend Miles members, their four tier system will transition to three with Silver transitioning to Gold, Platinum and Gold transitioning to Platinum, and Chairman’s Preferred transitioning to Executive Platinum.
  • Effective January 1, 2015, the requirement to qualify for Executive Platinum by segments will rise to 120 from 100 for the 2016 membership year. Other qualification requirements remain unchanged for the AAdvantage program.
  • Once the programs combine in the second quarter of 2015, all elite members will receive complimentary, auto-requested upgrades on eligible American-marketed and operated flights less than or equal to 500 miles. (emphasis mine)

Those are the highlights, so let’s look at things in greater detail.

Elite Status

Elite status tiers will mirror that of the current AAdvantage program, with the segment requirement for Executive Platinum status rising to 120. This is a win against unnecessary complication in elite tiers that have crept into the industry for unknown reasons in my opinion. Here are the elite status tiers and requirements for the new program.

aadvantage elite, aadvantage, new aadvantage program, aadvantage elite status 2015

Elite Upgrades

Executive Platinum members will continue to qualify for 8 VIP upgrades per year, and complimentary upgrades on all domestic flights as is current practice for American. When the programs combine in 2015, American AAdvantage will introduce unlimited, auto-requested complimentary upgrades for Golds and Platinums on flights of 5oo miles or less. For flights greater than 500 miles, Gold and Platinum members will need to use earned or purchased 500-mile upgrades for flights over 500 miles. Between now and when the programs combine in Q2 2015, things will work much as they do today. When the programs combine, the upgrade process will evolve. Here’s how things will work on American Airlines operated and marketed flights.

aadvantage elite, aadvantage, new aadvantage program, aadvantage elite status 2015Until American and US Airways move to a common reservation system later in 2015, upgrades for elite members on US Airways marketed and operated flight will work like this.

aadvantage elite, aadvantage, new aadvantage program, aadvantage elite status 2015

Once American and US Airways are on a single reservation system, all elite upgrades will follow the policy for travel on American Airlines noted above.

Nits and Noids

  • AAdvantage Executive Platinum members will continue to receive a complimentary adult beverage and snack when seated in coach.
  • Starting Jan. 1, 2015, before the programs are combined, bonus miles for AAdvantage members on Business Class tickets on American and US Airways will increase from 25 to 50 percent to align with what Dividend Miles members receive today. Executive Platinum and Chairman’s Preferred members will also enjoy complimentary same-day flight changes on American Airlines.
  • When the programs combine, former Gold and Platinum members of Dividend Miles will roll into 100 percent tier bonus earning that mirrors the current deal for AAdvantage Platinum members. That’s a win.
  • Per my conversation with AAdvantage officials, the 500 mile threshold for upgrades will equal 500 miles. In other words, the exemption for for flights just over 500 miles that resulted in only one upgrade being deducted from original AAdvantage member accounts goes away with the combined program. A 515 mile flight will require 2 upgrades from a member account for Gold and Platinums. A 500 mile (or less) flight will be eligible for a complimentary upgrade.

MJ’s Take

The new AAdvantage program is a win for AA flyers, and frankly a lot of US flyers. You know where I stand on “complimentary” upgrades on domestic flights, and I think AAdvantage somehow managed to find the near perfect compromise. I don’t have the statistics, but I’d bet that a large number of US elite flyers average 500 miles or less per segment. There’s no minimum revenue requirement per se, but Elite Qualifying Points remain as a way of rewarding higher spenders. Overall, at first glance, I like the new combined program and think that it is a positive development in the frequent flyer space for many travelers. More details on AA.com.

Coming up – a look at how I did with my “predictions” for the new AAdvantage.

-MJ, October 28, 2014

aadvantage elite, aadvantage, new aadvantage program, aadvantage elite status 2015

It is clear that Citi will be THE issuer of American AAdvantage credit card products in the USA when the AAdvantage and Dividend Miles programs merge. However, it’s just as clear that Barclaycard intends to offer its existing Dividend Miles card members compelling reasons to stay when the combined program emerges sometime next year because they will be able to maintain their existing card accounts. There will be a Barclaycard AAdvantage card going forward.

HT: The Points Guy

Barclaycard is now offering two card products for existing US Airways card members. First up is the AAdvantage Aviator Silver World Elite MasterCard. It offers compelling benefits for its $195 annual fee which include:

  • 3 X miles on US and AA flights.
  • 2 X miles on hotels and rental cars.
  • 1 X miles on other purchases.
  • 5,000 elite qualifying miles on $20K in purchases, and 5,000 more when you reach $40K in purchases. (10K max per year)
  • Free checked bag for yourself and up to 8 other travelers.
  • 10 percent redemption rebate up to 10K miles per year.

There’s also the AAdvantage Aviator Red card, which at an annual fee of $89, will be the most recognizable/familiar to existing Dividend Card members. It will offer:

  • 2 X miles on US and AA flights.
  • 1 X miles on all other purchases.
  • Free checked bag for yourself and up to 4 other travelers.
  • 10 percent redemption rebate up to 10K miles per year.

The list of benefits for both cards is not meant to be all inclusive, and there are other benefits including companion travel, EMV chip, and companion travel benefits that vary by card.

MJ’s Take

I’m impressed that Barclay card is offering some compelling benefits to its existing Dividend Miles cardmembers. The Aviator Silver card is difficult to ignore. with its 3 X miles on AA and US purchases, elite qualifying miles, etc. It depends on your needs and habits, but I think the more expensive of these two cards would be my pick. The 3 X miles and 2 X on hotels and rental cars is attractive to me. I don’t currently have a Barclaycard US Airways product, but this may be enough to move me towards applying while I still can.

usairways mastercard, barclaycard aadvantage, barclaycard usairways, us airways mastercard, dividend miles master card

-MJ, October 27, 2014

Disclosure: I offer a link to The US Airways® Premier World MasterCard® here, and under the “Featured Credit Card Offers” tab. If you apply for that offer through a link on this page, I will receive a commission.

I’m just reporting the facts, not commenting on the validity (or lack thereof) of what has happened. By now, mow travelers are aware that the states of New Jersey and New York have adapted stricter rules regarding the return of anyone into the USA that have been in contact with Ebola patients in Africa. This afternoon, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal announced the state of Georgia’s own tightened rules. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Gov. Deal has declared that –

“any traveler entering Georgia who has had direct contact with an Ebola patient will be “subject to quarantine at a designated facility.” In addition, health care workers who have treated Ebola patients will be “visually monitored” — either by video or home visits — for 21 days.”

Of course, Atlanta is one of five US airports where travelers returning from west Africa are limited to returning to, and that are screening for symptoms of ebola. So, do you think this reaction is overblown, or a necessary precaution given the circumstances?

-MJ, October 27, 2014

I once called Allure of the Seas “Shockingly Awesome.” Allure, along with her sister ship, Oasis of the Seas, are the largest cruise ships in the world, and they’ll be joined by a third Oasis Class vessel sometime in mid-2016. When I last cruised on Allure in 2011, she was a relatively new ship, and there was quite a bit of pent-up demand to sail on these enormous ships. There still is.

Allure of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas, Oasis cruise reviews, allure cruise reviews

The statistics of these ships can seem daunting – over 6,000 guests and over 2,000 crew, 20+ dining venues, etc. The onboard spaces are visually stunning, if for not other reason than it is immediately obvious that these ships are huge. While there are a lot of things you can do to maximize your enjoyment of your Oasis class cruise, I think three tips rise to the top.

Do your homework – research the options available. It is entirely possible (likely) that there will be areas of the ship you won’t even see in 7 days. That’s one reason MrsMJ and I booked a back to back. :) Pick your favorite activities and focus on those. You can read my review of Allure of the Seas here and there is plenty of additional information available on other cruise-related websites.

Book your entertainment in advance – Oasis of the Seas debuted a reservation system for entertainment. You can certainly attend a show without a reservation, but that will be on a space available basis, meaning you’ll be waiting in a queue until 15 minutes prior to show time when they release open seats. Even if you’ve seen the show before (Cats on Oasis or CHICAGO on Allure) there’s something about seeing a Broadway style show at sea. Don’t miss the aquatic show either. I really enjoyed Blue Planet (Allure) as well. If you’re going to partake of the zip line, complete your waiver in advance too.

Allure of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas, Oasis cruise reviews, allure cruise reviews

Keep an open mind on dining, and book most (but not necessarily all) of your specialty (and Dynamic) dining in advance – Currently, Oasis and Allure offer traditional dining with specialty options. Oasis will soon switch to Dynamic Dining, and Allure will follow next year. Dynamic Dining is an unknown for me, but I will rectify that next month when I sail on Quantum of the Seas. Assuming you intend to try one of the specialty restaurants on board, go ahead and book it in advance online, and rest easy knowing you have your desired restaurant and time. Here’s where the keep an open mind part comes in – if your desired time is not available, book something that you can tolerate (or don’t book at all) and then head to that restaurant on embarkation day. They hold some reservation times for onboard booking. In keeping with the open mind concept, don’t just follow the crowd to the buffet on embarkation day. Multiple venues are open, some free, some not. Many swear by Park Cafe. Solarium Bistro is a favorite of mine on Allure. We also enjoyed Rita’s Cantina on our first embarkation, the peace and quiet were well worth the modest upcharge.

I could say more, but I believe taking these three tips to heart in advance will accomplish the most for you in ensuring a well-enjoyed Oasis-Class cruise. These ships are like no other currently sailing, and I highly recommend at least one Oasis-Class experience for most cruisers. Cruised Oasis or Allure before? What would you add to these tips?

-MJ, October 27, 2014

My last week in the office before a very busy November begins. I’ll be traveling most of the month, and I’m looking somewhat forward to it even if I’ll be busy with work. Let’s take a look at the week we’ve had.

And this week at MJ on Travel –

  • Cruising – A Look at the Value of Premium Beverage Packages
  • My Plans for Loyalty in the Year Ahead

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

-MJ, October 26, 2014

new AAdvantage, Loyalty, cruising rewards, cruising, cruise vacations

Recently, I was asked what I thought about options for redeeming hotel points for cruises. I have not previously given this option a good look, though I tacitly knew it was available with Marriott Rewards. Turns out that you can cash in your Hilton HHonors points for a cruise too. Let’s take a look at what’s available.

Marriott Rewards

I’ve been an on and off customer of Marriott’s over the years. Just depends on my travel patterns. I appreciate Marriott’s consistency of service as much as anything. I’ve collected a few points here and there, most of which have been redeemed for hotel stays. Like many airline programs, you can book your cruise using Marriott’s portal and earn bonus rewards points. Currently (ends 10/31/14), if you book an oceanview or higher stateroom, you’ll earn 6 points per dollar spent. Better than a stick in the eye if you’re booking a cruise anyway. Here’s the example provided.

marriott rewards cruise

Actually paying for your cruise is a much less attractive deal.

hilton hhonors cruise

You can book a $5,000 cruise for 1.25 million points…..wow. Or knock $500 off for 125,000 points. For just 105,000 points, I can book a room for 3 nights at the JW Marriott Marquis in Miami in January. Currently, the hotel is pricing at $431 per night if you’re paying. My point? The only way I’d spend a Marriott Rewards point on a cruise is if they really, really, really annoyed me beyond the point of no return, and I wanted to liquidate…. something that I never envision happening. Actually, I’m not even sure I’d pay for a cruise with points under that circumstance either! :) If you’re minting points left and right, then have at it.

Hilton HHonors

Hilton offers earning and redeeming options as well through their cruise booking portal. Again, if HHonors is a program you play in, then you may as well pick up a few points for doing something you’re going to do anyway. Earnings are currently based on the number of nights booked with double points for oceanview and higher staterooms. Currently, cruises of 1 to 5 nights are offering 12,000 bonus HHonors points, while 13 or more nights earns 100,000 bonus points. On the redemption side, you can spend 120,000 HHonors points for $250 off your cruise or up to 480,000 points for $1000 off!

hilton hhonors cruise

Some of the points amounts Hilton wants for a room nowadays are so mind-blowingly shocking that I might actually be tempted to throw a few HHonors points at a dollars off coupon for a cruise, that is if I had any HHonors points left. Cruising brings me joy. Paying 582,000+ points for 3 nights at the Hilton Miami Downtown, not so much.

Conclusion

Both Hilton and Marriott offer you the opportunity to earn points if you’re booking a cruise, much like the airlines do. If you’re playing in a program, there’s no harm in picking up a few extra points for something you’re going to be doing anyway. Redeeming hotel points for a cruise is a bad deal as far as I can tell. I say just don’t do it.

Up next in cruising coverage – a look at the value of premium beverage packages.

-MJ, October 25, 2014

A recent Milepoint thread renewed an old debate between the co-CEOs here at MJ on Travel World HQ – How far is too far for a weekend trip? Personally, I would think nothing of Rome for the weekend, punching out Thursday night, and returning Sunday. MrsMJ sees Savannah as the maximum distance for a trip of that length. Keep in mind, we live in Atlanta. Some of us have different pain thresholds when it comes to travel, and that’s what is coming into play here. Personally, I think my penchant for long-haul weekends is a factor of two things:

  • I’m an ex-airline employee
  • I’ve been known to take a mileage run from time to time

Being the ex-airline guy in the group has impacted my views on travel. Those non-rev benefits were great, but I frequently found myself with only short periods of time off. I knew people that would take the first flight to Miami of the day, go lay on the beach all day, and take the last flight home. I may or may not have participated in such schemes from time to time. :) For a few years, I traveled very frequently on company business with the airline. Fly to Zurich, arrive in the morning, work all day, sleep, fly home with the same crew that you had on the way over.

Now that my airline career is behind me, I’ve come to appreciate elite status with my favorite airline. I don’t do a lot of mileage running, but I don’t think much of a west coast turn with a quick stop at In-N-Out for good measure. I’ve not done an international mileage run because I haven’t had to….but that’s not to say I’d never do one. Seems like a fun idea for a reader poll on a Saturday morning. What’s your pain threshold for a weekend trip?

What's the longest flight you'd consider for a weekend trip?

View Results

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I struck a nerve a while back when I opined that I really hoped the current upgrade system in place with American AAdvantage remains in place following the combination of the AA and US frequency programs. OK, I struck a nerve recently as well. Most recently this issue has resurfaced thanks to a rumor (and I believe that’s probably all it is) about comp upgrades at Delta. There’s also the rumor that we’ll be seeing a new combined AAdvantage program soon. In my post on the Delta rumors, I called the idea of “complimentary” upgrades for all “folly” and I stand by that. I’ve never thought the forward cabin should be “given away” and I’m not just saying that to get a few clicks on a Friday night.

Yes, road warriors deserve something for all that time spent with an airline, but a “free” seat in the front cabin has never been my idea of what that should be. Let’s back out the meal changes AA made not too long ago and then backtracked a good bit. There’s a reason AA has historically offered a bit more in the domestic first class meal arena – it was funded, either through earned upgrades, paid stickers, or (gasp) people buying the product….yeah, that actually happens. The other airlines went the “comp” route for reasons I’ve never quite been able to determine, and in the process cheapened their product. AAdvantage came up with a reasonable compromise in my book, complimentary upgrades for top tier Executive Platinum elites, and earned upgrades for others. The end result was that Executive Platinums got a little something extra for the extra flying, and the rest of us got a system that worked well enough…..offering lower tier elites a real shot at clearing the upgrade because every single elite on earth wasn’t on the list.

No matter what choice American (or Delta) makes, I’ll still sleep well at night. There are a lot of opinions and emotions at play, and I completely respect those who don’t agree with me. But the mere fact that a lower level elite has had a real shot at an upgrade with a truly comprehensive network airline is reason enough for me to support the idea that the current AAdvantage elite upgrade system is the way to go.

-MJ, October 24, 2014

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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

In my final post of this series on cruise line loyalty, I’m focusing on the bank rewards programs – Barclaycard Arrival Miles, Amex Membership Rewards, and Chase Ultimate Rewards. Personally, I think these programs represent a better value than the cruise line cards, especially the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard. This like all things depends on your personal situation.

Arrival Miles

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard is one of my favorite card products. You earn two miles per dollar for every purchase, and if you redeem for travel, you’re getting 2.2 percent cash back thanks to the 10 percent mileage rebate for redemptions. They’re a better deal than most any cruise line card unless you live on a cruise ship because you earn 2 miles per dollar for every purchase, not just a specific cruise line. I’m a simple guy who appreciates simple things…and Arrival Miles are simple.

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Cruise expenses show up as travel, and then I redeemed for a travel credit. No muss, no fuss.

Membership Rewards

I’ve said before that I’m not a big Membership Rewards player, and I’ve never used the MR points I have collected to cover cruising expenses. When you book with American Express Travel you can pay for all or a portion of your cruise fare with Membership Rewards points. You can book online or call, but either way, a phone call is going to be required to redeem points for your cruise fare. The bad news is that your redemptions are worth a penny per point. So a $300 cruise fare would be 30,000 points, and there are no rebates or points discounts for booking travel. If you happen to use the Business Platinum Card, then you are still eligible for the 20 percent redemption bonus on Membership Rewards that used to apply to the personal card as well so that cruise would only cost you 24,000 points. Membership Rewards, as great as they can be, aren’t quite as good as Ultimate Rewards or Barclaycard Arrival Miles for cruise expenses in my opinion.

The real benefit of Amex and cruising is the Cruise Privileges Program, a feature of the Platinum and Centurion charge card products. The basic benefits are an onboard credit of anywhere from $100 to $300 depending on your accommodation choices. You’ll also receive other amenities that vary by cruise line. For example, my wife and I received a complimentary specialty dining as well as a bottle of wine from Celebrity, and the wine wasn’t cheap stuff. We were given a list of options, and we went with Cakebread Chardonnay. If you’re a Centurion cardmember, you may receive more benefits from some cruise lines. You do not have to book with Amex Travel to enjoy these benefits, but you do need to pay with an Amex card. Any travel agent can call Amex, get a tracking number, and then have your benefits applied to your booking. You can find participating cruise lines here.

Ultimate Rewards

I love Ultimate Rewards! They’re great for transferring to airline programs to book award travel, and they’re great to use for paying for travel, including cruises, too! While I prefer to use them for airline transfers, UR points can be used to book a cruise, and like other travel modes, you get a 20 percent discount on redemptions too. In other words, a $1000 cruise will cost you 80,000 points. You do have to call Ultimate Rewards travel for cruise bookings, but other than that, it’s a pretty straight forward deal. It’s also important to keep in mind that if you charge your onboard expenses to your Chase Sapphire Preferred card, you’ll be earning 2 points per dollar spent too!

In conclusion, there are points earning and redeeming opportunities in cruising. I’ve said many times that the most valuable points redemptions are usually for airline tickets. With frequent flyer programs evolving, who knows if that will always be true. If you want to use points for a cruise, the bank card rewards programs are usually a better deal than the cruise line cards because there are better earning opportunities, especially with the Arrival Plus card. No matter which choice you make, enjoy your cruise!

-MJ, October 24, 2014

Of the many innovations Quantum of the Seas is about to introduce, there is none more interesting than a “bionic bartender.” I have read a lot of fretting online about the company trying to replace bartenders, but I don’t think that’s the case at all. I really think this is about novelty and marketing….marketing of the cruise industry’s most advanced ship. Something tells me we won’t be seeing “bionic” bartenders pouring every single libation onboard a cruise ship anytime soon.

In little more than a month, I’ll be setting sail aboard Quantum of the Seas. I’ll be sure to say hello to the “bionic bartender.”

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Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.