membership rewards

Tag Archives for membership rewards.

PSA: Use Your $100 Mercedes-Benz Certificate (and What I Got With Mine)

Lots of folks got the 75,000 Amex Membership Rewards point offer on the Amex Mercedes-Benz card earlier this year (including me).

If that’s you, you should’ve received a certificate in the mail for $100 toward “genuine Mercedes-Benz parts and accessories.”

I frequently pass a M-B dealership in Dallas, and one weekend afternoon, I decided to pop in and see what I could get.

So here goes!

My experience redeeming the $100 certificate

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Just Booked a Trip for Next Weekend in 10 Minutes (Instant Transfers Save the Day!)

Also see: 

I’ll never forget the thrill and uncertainty of booking my first award ticket. I thought I’d show up to the airport and be turned away for not paying (or something like that). Can a flight really cost ~$11 when you book with… points?

That was a few years ago. But there’s still something so novel about booking award trips. Some of them are planned in advance, like my upcoming trip to Hawaii. And some are aspirational or in the future, like the Brussels Airlines flights I booked with Etihad miles.

Mmm, love the high desert

Love the high desert!

Long story short, I needed to spend a couple of days in New Mexico to get some work done there. Looking at my upcoming weekends:

  • Next one was open
  • After that, Austin for work
  • Labor Day weekend – nothing available with points
  • Hawaii

4 weekends = a month of plans. I started poking around and realized, holy crap, I’m gonna book this trip for next weekend!

Finding flights

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Imagining a New Premium Chase Card

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There were rumors on Reddit that Chase is putting together a new premium credit card with a high annual fee a la AMEX Platinum and Citi Prestige.

Moreover, on that same link, there’s another rumor that Chase is planning an overhaul to its Ultimate Rewards program to make it less lucrative.

While I don’t believe Chase would mess with Ultimate Rewards any time soon (because they need to compete with AMEX and Citi’s transferable points programs), I do think Chase is ripe for a new ultra-premium credit card offering.

I thought it’d be fun to imagine what that card might look like. And what features it would need to have for Chase to remain a viable competitor in the premium credit card space.

A new Chase card?

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United Miles Versus Singapore Miles: Which Star Alliance Partner Awards Are Cheaper With Each Program

I’m getting more into Citi’s ThankYou program recently (because Citi ThankYou points are so easy to earn).

And while I can’t totally abandon Ultimate Rewards (for access to United Airlines, British Airways, and Hyatt), I’ve been thinking of award flights where collecting Citi ThankYou points instead of Ultimate Rewards might actually make more sense.

Why Singapore Airlines miles?

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Swapping AMEX for Citi: Bye Platinum, Hello Prestige? And Bye, EveryDay Preferred, Hello ThankYou Premier?

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And, bye EveryDay Preferred, hello ThankYou Premier?

Recently, I’ve seriously been pondering why it is I hang on to my AMEX cards.

I’ve had at least 2 since 2012, and haven’t accumulated enough points to actually do much.

Membership Rewards… meh.

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Booking Dublin: A Change of Plans

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Major change of plans is more like it.

Thanks to The Points Guy, I caught wind that an award I’d long had my eye on, BOS-DUB in business class on Aer Lingus, was widely available for booking with Avios points.

The good news: it still is.

I immediately transferred over some Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards (I love combining them when I can and British Airways is perfect for that – so is Singpore) to my British Airways account, and called in to book my dates.

Get 'em while they're hot!

Get ’em while they’re hot!

Throughout April and May, and possibly into the summer months, award availability is peppered here and there.

Business class award availability on Aer Lingus

Business class award availability on Aer Lingus (Click to enlarge)

That screen shot was taken just now. There are still some flights out there.

The best way to book this is by checking availability on the United website, then by calling British Airways to book over the phone.

I called them post Avios-hack (to change a different set of flights), and my hold time was less than 5 minutes. In fact, I was all booked and set up with flights in under 15 minutes (pre-Avios hack).

If you’re interested in booking, you have either one month or when availability runs out, beginning today. The Avios program is changing on April 28th, and this particular award will go from 50K round-trip in business to 75K, which is a pretty staggering change.

I’ve been interested in experiencing Aer Lingus business class, and visiting Ireland, for a very long time, so it’s all very serendipitous.

But what about the Delta flights?

Of course I had a pretty severe schedule change with Delta.

The mighty schedule change

The mighty schedule change

I was willing to get down to DC to take advantage of an awesome fare that Delta had earlier this year. I was even thinking I could spend a day or two in DC, maybe catch the tail-end of the cherry blossoms. But when the Aer Lingus award availability came around, I was then willing to get myself to Boston, and am now thinking of spending a day there instead.

I called Delta and explained that I had a schedule change of over 4 hours, and that those times no longer work for me – could I please cancel and get a refund? They immediately canceled the ticket and said to expect a refund in 5-7 business days. Awesome. So those are done.

It was a great deal, but then again, so is the Avios redemption on Aer Lingus, and even more so now that it’s time-sensitive.

The 2 round-trip flights would’ve been over $10,000 had I paid for them. Instead, I got nearly 11 cents per point of value by booking with Avios. An incredible deal – get on it if you can!

BOS-DUB on Aer Lingus business class

BOS-DUB on Aer Lingus business class

Getting to Boston

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My Experience Getting the Amex EveryDay Preferred Card

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This was my first Amex experience where I was NOT instantly approved. In fact, I was straight up DENIED for the Amex EveryDay Preferred card.

I didn’t take a screen shot of the “denied” decision page because I was kind of shocked and didn’t think to do it. But yes, it said I would receive a letter in the mail… and all that yada yada.

This was to be my sixth Amex card, and the fourth issued directly from Amex (I have the Platinum Card, the Premier Rewards Gold, and Delta Platinum SkyMiles cards). Recently, I’ve been thinking of closing the PRG and/or Delta card because I really don’t use them all that much. I’d need to spend at least $30K on the PRG to make it worthwhile, and you all know how I feel about Delta by now.

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Just got the American Express EveryDay Preferred Card

Yes, another one (following the recent Kohl’s card).

The Amex EveryDay cards weren’t supposed to be live until April 2nd, but for whatever reason, they went ahead and released them early. I’ve been considering dumping one (or two) of my Amex cards after getting screwed out of Membership Rewards bonuses multiple times which caused me to wish Amex to DIAF.

I’ve decided to give them another chance due to this long overdue and solid entry into the premium card market, which pits them directly against my beloved Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Barclaycard Arrival Plus, which I just decided to keep for another year.

About the Amex EveryDay Preferred card

This card is truly set up to be an “everyday” card for daily spend. Their marketing people are geniuses. The card earns full Membership Rewards point which are fully transferable to 17 air and hotel partners. The signup bonus is a modest 15,000 Amex Membership points at the time of writing, which, who knows, maybe I’ll actually get this time.

I’m not using the Premier Rewards Gold card as much as I thought I would. Yes, it earns 3 points/dollar for airfare, but the other categories really aren’t much to write home about. The card is truly only worth keeping if you spend $30K in a year, which earns you a bonus 15,000 points.

So I’m glad they’ve put out a new card with a new new points earning structure:

  • 3x at grocery stores
  • 2x at gas stations
  • 1x everywhere else

That’s all fine and good. The kicker is that you get 50% more points if you use the card 30 times or more in a month. And you can track your progress on the mobile app and website. This forces you to constantly interact with the product to make sure you get the bonus each month. How smart is that?! I know I will be checking to make sure I get that bonus. It brings the spend categories to:

  • 4.5x at grocery stores
  • 3x at gas stations
  • 1.5 everywhere else

That is a wonderful earning structure.

By following our axiom of getting 2 cents of value out of every point or mile, we will effectively get this rate of return:

  • 9% back at grocery stores
  • 6% back at gas stations
  • 3% back everywhere else

That gives this card the best rate of return for travel in the industry. And yet, I don’t see it, personally, as a competitor to the Chase Sapphire Preferred. The CSP’s big categories are 2x points (4% cash back) at restaurants and on travel purchases, which makes these two cards unlikely complements of each other. Between the new Amex EveryDay Preferred and the Chase Sapphire Preferred, I’ve got a solid earning strategy for daily spend. But, the Barclay Arrival card is STILL valid thanks to its ease of earning, great shopping portal, free TripIt Pro, and really cool online community.

Bottom line

Overall, this is a very, very good thing and a welcome addition to the credit card market. The more, the merrier in this case.

I will be sure to post more thoughts as I begin to use and interact with the card and the app. But for now, very glad I got this one. It holds a lot of potential.

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Dear Amex: DIAF!

DIAF!

Words cannot explain the hateration I feel for this company right now.

I often reference how I’ve been jipped out of numerous signup bonuses. Now a card I never applied for (the Platinum Card) is due for renewal with its hefty $450 a year. I DO use the benefits. All the time. I love being SPG gold, visit the airport lounges often, got free Global Entry, and have booked hotels through Fine Hotels & Resorts. I love flashing that little Platinum Card or Priority Pass Select Card and getting into the lounges, and very much look forward the new Centurion Lounge on an upcoming flight to DFW. In short, I get more than $450 of value out of this card each year.

So I was curious when they sent me an email to call a “special number” to call. In short, in said:

Please call us at 1-800-452-3944 from 8am to 11pm ET Monday–Sunday to discuss how you can get more value from American Express.  This special phone number is available exclusively for select Platinum Card® members like you.

I called them and told them how bitter I was for always getting screwed out of signup bonuses. I explained to the agent that I’d missed out on 150,000 Membership Rewards points (100,000 for Platinum and 50,000 for PRG). She checked and said she could offer me 6,000 points as consolation. 6,000? I asked her. 6,000, she confirmed. Which is basically nothing. That’s IT?! I asked her. “I’m very sorry. That’s all I’m authorized to offer you at this time.”

So I basically told her to fuck off (I didn’t cuss at her FYI – just said that was a terrible offer and hung up).

Flash forward to today. I was researching how to book ANA partner flights for a post about using Membership Rewards points, but couldn’t get the option to “activate” on the ANA site because I had a zero balance. I’ll transfer over some MR points, I thought. But I only have about 8,000 of them. The minimum transfer is 1,000 points, so I would’ve lost 1/8 of them just to access ANA bookings. Then I thought, maybe they’ll still give me those 6,000 points.

I called them again, explained it all again. The agent said there’s no record of any of that in my account, but that she’d “make a note.” So there’s nothing you can do?, I asked. Nothing, she replied. I sighed. And thought how much I fucking hate Amex. And how many “notes” there must be on my account because they are somehow NEVER able to help me or provide good customer service. Then I hung up on her.

I know people LOVE Amex and the Membership Rewards program. I do love my accidental Platinum Card, although I feel like it’s a stepchild I never wanted that is actually pretty awesome. And the MR program has its sweets spots, to be sure. But I’d much rather deal with, talk to, redeem, earn, use Ultimate Rewards points – any day. Amex, from my POV, is a seriously lagging and regressive organization that is resting on their laurels is a huge way. Their cards are expensive, their points are “meh” (to me), the customer service is beyond lousy (I love that word), and they got rid of their shopping portal, making it that much harder to earn MR points. Compare that to Chase: reasonable annual fees, valuable points currency, AMAZING customer service, great shopping portal…

OK, ending rant now. Hope this was useful or constructive in some way… to someone… Continuing to think Amex should DIAF… *sighz*

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Getting to Europe on points: Ultimate Rewards Vs. Membership Rewards

[This post is meant as an broad overview, not an in-depth look into each individual program.]

When it comes to traveling to Europe, which points program has better offerings: Ultimate Rewards or Membership Rewards?

Let’s compare redemptions popular European destinations to see which one comes out on top.

Before we begin though, let’s assume we want the best value for our money overall (points or miles + surcharges) and we want to fly in economy. Here are each program’s airline transfer partners that fly to Europe.

Ultimate Rewards: 

Ultimate Rewards airline transfer partners

Ultimate Rewards airline transfer partners

 

British Airways and United are the front runners here. While Korean does partner with Air France, that airline doesn’t have the greatest award space. It’s also difficult to book award space on Korean, and there are a lot of blackout dates and complicated rules.

 

Membership Rewards: 

Membership Rewards selected transfer partners

Membership Rewards selected transfer partners

 

Now to the good stuff!

Paris

I picked Paris because it’s a pretty common European destination. What’s availability like with Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards partners?

With Ultimate Rewards:

Go ahead and throw out Virgin Atlantic since they don’t fly to Paris (they’d be great if we wanted to go to London). Throw out British Airways unless you want to pay the fuel surcharges they impose. The best option in this program for this redemption is United, by far.

Yellow and green means lots of space on United + partners!

Yellow and green means lots of space on United + partners!

 

30K miles + $77 to get to Paris one way

30K miles + $77 to get to Paris on outbound

 

CDG-JFK-United-Price

30,000 miles + $88 to fly back on Air Canada with a stop in YUL

United-Paris-Final

Final price: 60,000 miles + $166

I like how United always shows how much an itinerary would have cost if purchased. I like to always make sure I’m getting at least 2 cents of value out of each points. This redemption meets that criteria at 2.5 cents/point. Not much over, but if I really wanted to take this trip, I’d feel good about redeeming at the given rate.

With Membership Rewards:

So many choices: Delta, Aeroplan, ANA, Iberia… this could go a number of different ways.

We can go ahead and throw out Delta. Their new award chart recently devalued and would now costs 60,000 miles. Not bad, same as United, but we can do better.

Aeroplan offers flights in economy for 60,000 miles round-trip, too, but their fuel surcharges can be prohibitive. Throw them out, too.

Aeroplan award chart (the OLD one – US-Europe is still current, though)

That leaves ANA and Flying Blue, the program of… Air France. Logic would lead you to believe that Air France would be the best way to get to Paris, right? Let’s narrow this down a bit more.

50,000 miles on Air France with Flying Blue

50,000 miles on Air France with Flying Blue

 

Sounds pretty reasonable!

50,000 miles + $257

50,000 miles + $257

 

Alright, 50,000 miles + $257 isn’t terrible. At this point, it’s between Air France and United, with its price of 60,000 miles + $166. Is it worth it to pay $91 to keep 10,000 Ultimate Rewards points? Since 10,000 Ultimate Rewards points are worth .02 each, or $200, the answer is YES. Air France (Membership Rewards) is winning!

Can ANA have a come-from-behind victory? Even if not, Membership Rewards is the way to go here.

ANA has a distance-based reward award. JFK-CDG is 3,635 miles.

ANA Award Chart

ANA Award Chart

 

We can see JFK-CDG would be just 22,000 miles each way, or 44,000 round-trip, already saving 6,000 Membership Rewards points over Air France’s 50,000 miles. ANA does NOT charge fuel surcharges on US Airways flights, so for 44,000 miles and a small copay, you could be on your way to Paris!

WINNER: Membership Rewards

Bottom line:

With Ultimate Rewards, the best award redemption we could find was on United for 60,000 UR points. With Membership Rewards, the best award we could find was on ANA for 44,000 MR points. By flying on Star Alliance partners through ANA, we save ourselves 16,000 points, which is pretty nice!

This is only ONE example of potentially hundreds. It all depends on availability, surcharges, and your own personal preferences. This example goes to show that it’s good to have a few different points currencies for all the various award tickets that are out there. As always, do what makes me most sense for you and be sure to really dig into the details of your preferred program as there are always little tricks and tips that can get you even MORE value out of them, and, to quote Million Miles Secrets (one of my favorite blogs)- travel BIG with SMALL money! 🙂

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Triple Membership Rewards on Amazon.com and Other Online Purchases?

So today I worked up enough energy to call Amex about the odd number of Membership Rewards on my first Premier Rewards Gold statement.

To recap, I spent $1,083 – enough to hopefully trigger the signup bonus for getting the card, even though I technically didn’t qualify for it, per the T&C.

I was expecting to get 1,083 Membership Rewards points this month. But then I noticed I had 2,221 pending points and called an agent for an exact points breakdown. Here’s where it got interesting.

I had only five charges on my first statement:

All the spend for this statement cycle

All the spend for this statement cycle

 

But apparently, I earned triple points for the online purchases, including for Amazon Payments.

Line by line:

  • BirchBox: $20 – 60 MR (3/dollar)
  • EZ Laundry $10.49 – 10 MR (1/dollar)
  • Amazon Payments $500 – 1500 MR (3/dollar)
  • CVS (Vanilla Reload card) – $503.95 – 504 MR (1/dollar)
  • Fab.com $49 – 147 MR (3/dollar)

Totals: $1083.44 – 2,221 MR points

 

WTF?

WTF?

 

Bizarre, right? I asked if that was some sort of special spend category, as none of it was airfare, gas, or groceries – and should have only generated 1 point per dollar spent.

The agent told me that because I had a Platinum Card, the Premier Rewards Gold card was generating three points per dollar with all of my online shopping – including for Amazon Payments.

I asked for more details about this. Was it all online shopping? Was it a new category? A special promotion? The agent had no answers other than all of my Membership Rewards points were now included in the Membership Rewards First program because of having the Platinum Card.

Even still, this could be really beneficial, as I shop online a lot. BirchBox and Fab.com are “deal” sites, and Amazon Payments I use for paying back friends or generating spend on new cards. I wonder if this will continue, and for how long. I’ll keep an eye on it, as this is a totally new spend category I didn’t know about until I called today.

The agent also said the category was added as part of the promo I got when I applied through creditcards.com. He also said – knock on wood – that I’d be getting the signup bonus next month of 50,000 Membership Rewards points!

He also specifically said I would get triple points on all shopping through Amazon.com.

I don’t know why or how, but I’m surprised at this newest development with the MR program.

Anyone else noticed this? Surely I’m not the only one.

 

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American Express Vs. Chase: Why Chase Is Winning

Quite simply: signup bonuses with no BS.

I’ve been hating on Amex a lot lately, and with good reason. I now have four Amex cards, three with Amex as the actual issuing bank, and with two of those three, I’ve had to make numerous phone calls, write emails, and send tweets to their support team about not getting a signup bonus. After a lot of back and forth, they usually award me a fraction of what I missed out on as “good will”, but it always leaves a bad taste behind and is like pulling freaking teeth with them.

In my opinion, if an Amex cardmember holds the Platinum Card, their most premium card offering with a hefty $450 annual fee, any other cards should automatically come with an enhanced signup bonus. Something extra. Instead, we see this sentiment in a lot of the T&C:

Eff u 2!

Eff u 2!

What?! Why? That’s so stupid to punish people for wanting to open more cards. This is where Chase excels.

They have a few cards that feed into their Ultimate Rewards program the same way Amex has multiple cards that can be linked to Membership Rewards. But Chase doesn’t impose rules on signup bonuses with multiple cards. You can get a Freedom, a Sapphire, an Ink, and whatever else you want to get and get the FULL bonus on all of them. If anything ever goes awry, just give them a call and it’s taken care of almost instantly.

Not with Amex. They’re notorious for their Financial Reviews and for not awarding bonuses… at all. They’re also really slow and claim to have to “research” your claim. Not only that, but their Membership Rewards program has lost a few key transfer partners in the past couple of years, along with a few other consumer unfriendly changes while Ultimate Rewards continues to improve.

There are a few sweet spots with Membership Rewards. For me, it’s the British Airways Avios. They’re a transfer partner for both Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards, which is pretty fantastic. Membership Rewards also transfer instantly to Delta, which would help me out a LOT with my dream trip to Australia if Amex would ever give me the points I deserve as a customer and card holder.

It goes beyond this, though. It’s about how the customer starts to view the company after a while. I’ve been screwed over by them a few times by now to the point where I’m thinking of switching all my spend over to Chase and giving Amex the finger. I wish it weren’t like this, though. Delta is pretty much forcing their customers to have a co-branded Amex to avoid the upcoming dreaded MQD component of the SkyMiles program, and I love having lounge access with the Platinum Card. But Chase always treats me so right while Amex continues to kick me to the proverbial curb.

So to Chase, I’d say keep doing what you’re doing. It’s working, and it’s so great. I have such a positive association with the company at this point. And Amex. Oh, Amex. Step up your game, because you’re getting your butt beat. I look forward to the day where I’m down to just the Platinum Card. In fact, Delta’s bid for more revenue is kinda sorta slowly driving me over toward American. But that’s a post for another day, and that post will be highly speculative.

When I think of Chase: I trust them, like them, want more of them.

When I think of Amex: Starting to shudder, need energy to deal with them, apprehensive about continuing to use their products. TOO. BAD.

Winner = Chase, hands down. Thoughts, anyone?

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