Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Limited time Chase Ink Plus 70,000 point sign-up bonus!

The Chase Ink Plus credit card is one of the best cards for churning points with their standard 50k sign-up bonus and 5X points earned on purchases at office supply stores, including gift cards.  Chase has now sweetened the deal with their highest public online sign-up bonus yet at 70k points after spending $5,000 within the first 3 months of card membership.

https://creditcards.chase.com/ink-business-credit-cards/ink-plus-card


Chase Ultimate Reward points are one of the most valuable currencies out there as they can be transferred at a 1:1 ratio to the following frequent traveler programs:

Amtrak Guest Rewards IHG Rewards Korean Air SkyPass (Delta Airlines Partner British Airways (American Airline Partner Airline) Marriott Rewards Ritz Carlton Hyatt Gold Passport United Mileage Plus Southwest Rapid Rewards Virgin Atlantic (Delta Partner) Singapore Airlines - See more at: http://pointsmilesandmartinis.boardingarea.com/2014/09/amazing-70000-bonus-point-limited-time-offer-chase/#sthash.2DEZKnG0.dpuf
Amtrak Guest Rewards IHG Rewards Korean Air SkyPass (Delta Airlines Partner British Airways (American Airline Partner Airline) Marriott Rewards Ritz Carlton Hyatt Gold Passport United Mileage Plus Southwest Rapid Rewards Virgin Atlantic (Delta Partner) Singapore Airlines - See more at: http://pointsmilesandmartinis.boardingarea.com/2014/09/amazing-70000-bonus-point-limited-time-offer-chase/#sthash.2DEZKnG0.dpuf

Since United substantially devalued their award chart this past February, Hyatt is now probably the most valuable transfer partner, followed by Korean Airlines and British Airways.  Nonetheless, 70k can still get you from North America to North Asia with a free stopover using United miles.  Among the other notable features of the card:

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. No foreign transaction fees. - See more at: http://pointsmilesandmartinis.boardingarea.com/2014/09/amazing-70000-bonus-point-limited-time-offer-chase/#sthash.2DEZKnG0.dpuf
  • 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.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • 2 free Lounge Club passes that can be redeemed at participating airport lounges worldwide.
  • $95 annual fee

  • Although this is a small business credit card, you don't actually need to own a business to open an account.  Simply the thought of opening a business or selling items on eBay qualifies you as a small business.  For more info on how you can or may already qualify as a small business, see Million Miller's post.

    Per the terms and conditions, this 70k bonus is available to new card members who have not received a bonus within the past 24 months.  Although Chase has been generous in matching sign-up bonus offers, there have been repeated reports that they won't match this 70k offer, which doesn't waive the annual fee for the first year, because the previous 50k and 60k offers had the first year's annual fee waived.

    Bottom line

    This offer won't be available for long and can be pulled anytime by Chase, so apply now before it's too late.  If you're one of those where a $5k spending threshold may be difficult to meet, the Points Guy lays out a number of simple techniques for meeting credit card spending requirements.
    Amtrak Guest Rewards IHG Rewards Korean Air SkyPass (Delta Airlines Partner British Airways (American Airline Partner Airline) Marriott Rewards Ritz Carlton Hyatt Gold Passport United Mileage Plus Southwest Rapid Rewards Virgin Atlantic (Delta Partner) Singapore Airlines - See more at: http://pointsmilesandmartinis.boardingarea.com/2014/09/amazing-70000-bonus-point-limited-time-offer-chase/#sthash.2DEZKnG0.dpuf
    Amtrak Guest Rewards IHG Rewards Korean Air SkyPass (Delta Airlines Partner British Airways (American Airline Partner Airline) Marriott Rewards Ritz Carlton Hyatt Gold Passport United Mileage Plus Southwest Rapid Rewards Virgin Atlantic (Delta Partner) Singapore Airlines - See more at: http://pointsmilesandmartinis.boardingarea.com/2014/09/amazing-70000-bonus-point-limited-time-offer-chase/#sthash.2DEZKnG0.dpuf
    Amtrak Guest Rewards IHG Rewards Korean Air SkyPass (Delta Airlines Partner British Airways (American Airline Partner Airline) Marriott Rewards Ritz Carlton Hyatt Gold Passport United Mileage Plus Southwest Rapid Rewards Virgin Atlantic (Delta Partner) Singapore Airlines - See more at: http://pointsmilesandmartinis.boardingarea.com/2014/09/amazing-70000-bonus-point-limited-time-offer-chase/#sthash.2DEZKnG0.dpuf
    Amtrak Guest Rewards IHG Rewards Korean Air SkyPass (Delta Airlines Partner British Airways (American Airline Partner Airline) Marriott Rewards Ritz Carlton Hyatt Gold Passport United Mileage Plus Southwest Rapid Rewards Virgin Atlantic (Delta Partner) Singapore Airlines - See more at: http://pointsmilesandmartinis.boardingarea.com/2014/09/amazing-70000-bonus-point-limited-time-offer-chase/#sthash.2DEZKnG0.dpuf
    Amtrak Guest Rewards IHG Rewards Korean Air SkyPass (Delta Airlines Partner British Airways (American Airline Partner Airline) Marriott Rewards Ritz Carlton Hyatt Gold Passport United Mileage Plus Southwest Rapid Rewards Virgin Atlantic (Delta Partner) Singapore Airlines - See more at: http://pointsmilesandmartinis.boardingarea.com/2014/09/amazing-70000-bonus-point-limited-time-offer-chase/#sthash.2DEZKnG0.dpuf
    Amtrak Guest Rewards IHG Rewards Korean Air SkyPass (Delta Airlines Partner British Airways (American Airline Partner Airline) Marriott Rewards Ritz Carlton Hyatt Gold Passport United Mileage Plus Southwest Rapid Rewards Virgin Atlantic (Delta Partner) Singapore Airlines - See more at: http://pointsmilesandmartinis.boardingarea.com/2014/09/amazing-70000-bonus-point-limited-time-offer-chase/#sthash.2DEZKnG0.dpuf

    Monday, August 4, 2014

    United Airlines Explorer credit card now with 50,000 miles sign-up bonus

    Through September 2nd, the United Airlines Explorer credit card is offering a beefy sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles after spending $2,000 within the first 3 months of card membership.  50k is the best sign-up bonus we've seen in years for this card, and a $2k minimum spend is very reasonable.

    https://www.theexplorercard.com/50kAFWLTO/highlights


    The UA Explorer card by Chase is one of the best cards for those who don't fly enough to attain elite status with UA as it offers priority boarding and a free checked bag.  Some of the other useful benefits include no foreign exchange transaction fees and complimentary primary vehicle rental insurance coverage.  The vast majority of credit cards only offer secondary rental insurance, which only kicks in if your personal auto insurance coverage is insufficient.  However, with car rentals paid with the UA Explorer card, damages to your rental vehicle will be covered in full, and your personal auto insurance won't even be notified.  This also further negates the need of buying collision waiver damage coverage from the rental company, which could easily add $10-$15 per day to your rate.

    UA's mileage award chart took a serious beating this past February, and Star Alliance partner travel was affected the most.  Nonetheless, 50k miles can still get you 2 roundtrip economy flights in the contiguous U.S. or one roundtrip first class flight, which is best redeemed towards UA's transcontinental premium service (p.s.) between SFO/LAX and JFK.  These seats feature international business class configurations, which are fully lie-flat.

    UA p.s. B752 configuration featuring int'l biz class seats


    Among the other notable benefits of this card:
    • 10,000 bonus miles when you spend $25,000 in net purchases on your card each year
    • 5,000 bonus miles when you add an authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months
    • No foreign exchange transaction fees
    • Earn 2 miles per dollar spent on tickets purchased from United
    • Earn 1 mile per dollar spend on all other purchases
    • Miles don't expire
    • Complimentary trip cancellation insurance and trip delay reimbursement
    • $95 annual fee waived for the first year

    Bottom line

    Even in light of recent devaluations, this is still a really good sign-up bonus.  Chase Ultimate Rewards points from the Sapphire and Ink Plus/Bold cards can also be transferred to UA miles at a 1:1 ratio, which is a good way to top off miles.  Offer expires on September 2nd, but can be rescinded by Chase at anytime, so best not to delay.  Only new applicants who have not received a sign-up bonus with this card within the past 24 months are eligible for this card.

    Thursday, May 29, 2014

    SIN-HKG-CTS in Cathay Pacific business class

    Since economy class to Singapore was painful, I spend the extra 10k AAdvantage miles to book business class for my return.  In order to make it onto the token 9 am flight for HKG-CTS, I had to fly on a redeye flight for SIN-HKG, which would be killer in coach.


    SIN-HKG Cathay Pacific biz

    SIN is a massive Star Alliance hub and one of the best airports in the world.  With access to Europe and North America, it's strategic location makes it a good stopover for the Kangaroo Route.  However, Oneworld flights are limited to a handful of intra-Asia routes, Australia, and London.  CX flies mostly regional planes to SIN, so the seat disappointingly wasn't even angled lieflat, which is the standard for intra-Asia biz.



    I was one of 3 passengers in the cabin as it appears that all the business travelers skipped out on this one.  The seat was similar to AA's old transcontinental business class recliners, which are comfy but not conducive for sleeping.




    Recliner seats defeat the purpose of biz seats for a redeye flight, but I was so tired that I passed out nonetheless promptly after dinner.


    HKG layover

    The flight arrived into HKG at 5 am, which gave me nearly 4 hours at the CX Wing first class lounge.  I grabbed breakfast at the lounge's famed Haven Restaurant, booked a private Cabana room, and crashed on the futon.  The next thing that rang was my 8:30 am alarm clock reminding me of my 9 am flight.  Since my gate was at the opposite end of the terminal, I essentially raced to make it.  For a full review of the Wing first class lounge, see my previous post.

    A la carte breakfast menu

    HKG-SIN in Cathay Pacific biz

    I got to the gate 15 minutes before departure and was amongst the last to board the plane, thanks to the Wing's awesome sleeping room.  I had pre-selected the upper deck seat right behind the cockpit, which is as private as they get for a biz seat.  It's also been a good 15 years since I last got to sit on the upper deck of a 747, which CX is phasing out within a year.

     

    CX uses their old herringbone seats on their 747s, which offer good privacy but can be claustrophobic and overly seclusive if flying with a companion.  The vast number of complaints stemming from claustrophobia prompted CX to change to their flagship reverse herringbone configuration that can be found on 773s and A333.  Fortunately, my flight was only 4 1/2 hours and I only wanted to sleep.


    Shortly after takeoff, lunch was served.  I opted for the seafood meal, which consisted of a shrimp appetizer and grilled sea bass main course.





    As usual, I wasn't especially hungry after coming out of the first class lounge.  After finishing the food, I slept until landing.  Behind the cockpit, I could hear the captain and first officer verbally issue altitude readings upon landing: "50 . . . 30 . . . 10 . . ."


    Bottom line

    Cathay Pacific intra-Asia biz seating configuration is a mixed bag, so be sure to do your homework to make the most of your miles.  I wasn't given much of a choice with only 1 daily flight between HKG-CTS and only one SIN-HKG flight that could connect me there in time.  I was surprised that CX would use a subpar product on SIN-HKG, which is a heavily traveled business route.  Last year, I flew on their flagship 773 on a 1 1/2 hour flight between HKG-TPE, which is a second-tier route with over a dozen daily flights.  Always shoot for the 773 and A333 to maximize your experience.

    Wednesday, May 7, 2014

    US Airways 40,000 miles credit card sign-up bonus and 100% bonus miles sale


    US Airways 40k Barclays credit card

    Newly minted oneworld member US Airways has been at it lately with their new 40k miles credit card sign-up bonus, which is awarded after the first purchase using your card.  This takes a substantial burden off frantically meeting spending thresholds, which can be as high as $10k.  The US Airways Barclays card also gets you a good spread of useful benefits when flying with US Airways:

    • Enjoy your first bag checked free on eligible bags for you and up to 4 companions on domestic US Airways operated flights
    • Get one companion certificate for up to two guests to travel with you on US Airways operated flights at $99 each, plus taxes and fees
    • Take advantage of priority boarding Zone 2 on US Airways operated flights
    • Relax with a complimentary US Airways Club day pass
    • Check in at the First Class counter 

    http://www.worldgotbigger.com/us-airways/bold/?campaignId=1995&cellNumber=18&referrerid=PTRBA89FEE

    The $89 annual fee is NOT waived for the first year.  Spending $25k+ in a year will also net you 10k miles towards elite status.  With the merger scheduled to be fully implemented by early next year, the Barclays cards' days are numbered as AA has stated that they're going with Citi.  So now would definitely be a good time to sign-up for this card as these miles will be merged with your AA miles.


    100% bonus miles sale

    US Airways' trademark promo seems to be their quarterly 100% bonus miles sale, where you can purchase award miles for as low as 1.88 cents each.  Although US Airways meticulously devalued their award chart overnight without notice last month, they still have phenomenal redemption rates.  With this promo, a business class flight on Cathay Pacific between Sapporo and Hong Kong (~5.5 hours) will only cost you $564 plus taxes and fees (30k miles), which is a steal considering that you get to fly on CX's flatbed biz product.

    https://www.usairways.com/en-US/dividendmiles/programdetails/purchasemiles/default.html


    North America to North Asia in biz was recently upped to 110k ($2,068), so you're better off in first class for 120k ($2,256).  However, North Asia to Europe in biz has remained at 80k ($1,504), which is by far the best deal on the market.  Add that to the fact that you get a free stopover possibly even in North America, buying miles for the sole purpose of flying in a premium cabin could be cheaper than buying a discounted economy class ticket.

    $1,504 in business class

    Be on the lookout for swift devaluations in the near future, so buy miles only as needed.  US Airways phone agents are generally lousy to say the least, which is frustrating but at the same time rewarding when they allow you to book ridiculous routes such as Tokyo to Paris to San Francisco and back to Tokyo for 80k miles.  The double miles sale is a tiered bonus, and you'll only get 100% bonus miles if you purchase 30k+.

    Limited time offer!
    Buy miles from May 3rd until May 25th, 2014 and get up to a 100% bonus – up to 50,000 miles.

    • Buy 10,000 to 19,000 miles, get 50% bonus miles
    • Buy 20,000 to 29,000 miles, get 75% bonus miles
    • Buy 30,000 to 50,000 miles, get 100% bonus miles


    Bottom line

    US Airways still carries the best mileage purchasing promos, and these deals most likely won't survive the merger.  If you've always been dreaming of that trip in premium class to Asia or Europe this summer, then this would be your ticket for the best value.  The Barclays card for sure won't outlast the merger, so mooch those miles while you still can, because chances are that we've got rough waters ahead with devaluations and stripped benefits.

    Thursday, May 1, 2014

    Chase Ink cards with limited time 60,000 point sign-up bonus

    A while back, I posted on how the Chase Ink Plus card is the master when it comes to churning points coupled with a juicy 50k sign-up bonus.  Although the Ink Plus has recently lost some ground in the churning business with retailers no longer accepting credit cards for Bluebird transactions, the new 60k sign-up bonus after spending $5,000 within the first 3 months of card membership is now the king of card sign-up offers.  This bonus is good for both the Ink Plus and Ink Bold cards.

    https://creditcards.chase.com/ink-business-credit-cards/rewards/ink-plus-card/#


    Ultimate Rewards, which is the points currency used exclusively by Chase, is one of the most valuable point currencies out there.  Points can be transferred to the following partners at a 1:1 ratio:
    • United
    • British Airways
    • Korean Airways
    • Southwest
    • Virgin Atlantic
    • Hyatt
    • InterContinental Hotels Group
    • Marriott
    • Ritz Carlton
    • Amtrak

    I value UR at 1.8 cents per piece, thanks to Hyatt, Korean, and British Airways.  United was formerly their best transfer partner until their royal devaluation earlier this year.  That being said, 60k points is worth roughly $1,080 if redeemed with their top partners.  Among the other benefits of the cards:
    • Earn 5X points per $1 on the first $50,000 spent annually at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV services.
    • Earn 2X points per $1 on the first $50,000 spent annually at gas stations and for hotel accommodations when purchased directly with the hotel.
    • Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases—with no limits.
    • Points do not expire.
    • No foreign transaction fees on international purchases.
    • $95 annual fee waived for the first year.
    • 2 free airport lounge passes per year with Lounge Club.
     
    A $5k spending threshold within the first 3 months of card membership may be difficult for some, but there are easy ways of meeting it, like using Amazon Payments or buying Visa gift cards at Staples, which shells out 5X points per dollar.  The Points Guy lists 10 unique ways of easily meeting credit card minimum spend.  The Ink Plus and Ink Bold cards are nearly identical with one major exception in that the Ink Bold is a charge card that needs to be paid back in full monthly, whereas the Ink Plus is an actual credit card.  Remember that you also don't need to own an actual business to be eligible for these cards.  The "thought" of opening a business or even an eBay sale technically qualifies you as a small business.  For more on how to qualify as a small business proprietor, see Million Mile Secrets' post
     
    Key links:

    Friday, April 25, 2014

    CTS-HKG-SIN in Cathay Pacific economy class

    As my 2-year tenure as an American Airlines Executive Platinum member came to an unfortunate close, it was time to reap the benefits one final time: no close-in award ticketing fee, no phone agent booking fee, no cancellation fee, and, of course, unparalleled first class lounge access, even when flying in lowly coach class.  I redeemed for Singapore to meet up with a handful of friends.  AA charges 20k each way for Y and 30k for biz.


    CTS international terminal

    Much of Japan is about saving face, particularly to the international community.  This is evident in the way they treat tourists compared to their treatment of Japanese nationals.  More so than in any other sector, nothing reflects that better than domestic vs. int'l travel.  ANA and JAL both act like LCCs for domestic flights, but they go above and beyond for the int'l product.  If Skytrax had taken ANA's domestic product into consideration for their airline rankings, there's no way on earth ANA would have scored 5 stars.  However, CTS int'l terminal is one exception that is in desperate need of a facelift.  With rude service, long lines, and an unoriginal terminal, you'd honestly think that you're in LAX or ORD.  Perhaps there is an obvious reason as to why the Japanese government hasn't invested a whole awful lot into improving CTS int'l as they have with HND and NRT: the lack of western biz travelers.  Most passengers are leisure travelers from China, Korea, and Southeast Asia, which, as most of us know, tends to be looked down upon in Japan.

    Economy class check-in line that spans past the duty-free shops

    Not a first class passenger or a Cathay Pacific Diamond, but being a oneworld Emerald pulls the trick.

    Due to the overfill of int'l leisure travelers checking bags on widebody jets, check-in lines at CTS int'l can be more horrendous than any airport in the U.S.  Even the B737 that I flew on with Air China en route to PEK had a line that spanned the length of the terminal.  So this is actually where being an elite alliance member comes in huge; not because of any special offerings, but simply in the form of entitled premium check-in lines.


    Cathay Pacific CTS-HKG-SIN

    During the winter, CX operates daily service to HKG on rotating B772s and B744s.  The 6-hour flight is one of the farthest destinations out of CTS, short of only Honolulu.  CX utilizes their updated regional economy class product, which is identical to their int'l product.




    The slimline seats have zero actual recline as your bottom seat cushion moves forward for a reclined feel.  The advantage of this configuration, which is being slowly adopted worldwide, is that you'll never have to worry about the passenger in front of you.  The disadvantage, of course, is that you thoroughly crippled your pitch space when in the "recline" position.  Every seat is equipped with AC power, USB connection, personal AVOD, a cup holder, and a coat hanger, which is the best you'll ever get in coach.


    The food and service was what you'd expect in coach from a 5-star carrier: marginally better than United and American, and in-line with JAL and ANA.


    CX First Class Lounge - The Wing

    Fortunately, having an abbreviated meal on the plane was no problem because I'd be visiting the best lounge in Asia on landing: the CX Wing first class lounge.  As always, the service and complimentary food were phenomenal at the Haven, which is a restaurant catered by the iconic Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon.

    Buffet seafood menu: smoked salmon, chili squid, and roasted cod

    Made-to-order menu: seabass grilled to perfection

    For a full review of the Wing and why it stands above the rest in Asia, see my prior trip to HKG.


    Bottom line

    Despite what anyone might say, economy class will always be economy class.  Having elite status does mitigate the pain with priority check-in, boarding, baggage handling, and lounge access.  However, that doesn't change the fact that you'll still be cramped into a 32" shell for 6 hours.  Four hours into the flight, I began feeling claustrophobic and attempted to sleep, but that wasn't about to happen in an uncomfortable seat.  By the time I landed into HKG, it was obvious that the extra 10k miles would be well worth the upgrade to business class, so I called AA and confirmed an upgrade for my return.

    Saturday, March 29, 2014

    MH370: supernatural searching

    After over 21 days, Malaysia Airlines (MAS), the Malaysian government, and the 26 countries involved in SAR are still where they started off at: nowhere.  Malaysia has been directing SAR like a wild goose chase since day 1, initially starting in the South China Sea before heading over Malaysia to the Strait of Malacca and finally to the depths of the Indian Ocean.  China, Australia, France, and now New Zealand have all claimed to spot suspicious debris in the search area, but nothing has proven conclusive.  Even as vast conspiracy and supernatural theories abound, perhaps the most abnormal performance of this saga has been the handling of a lost plane by this developing country and the media.

    Earlier this week, MAS resorted to text messaging the passenger's families that "MH370 has been lost".  Really??  After being lost for 18 days, MAS then decides to text the families that their plane is lost.  Apart from stating the obvious, it's remarkable how MAS chose texting as the preferred communication channel for such an announcement.  And to add insult to injury, MAS made initial "payments" of only $5,000 USD to each family, which is probably barely enough to cover lodging and food expenses of those who have been housed in at PEK for 18 days.  One has to wonder if Skytrax is going to be taking all these moves into consideration before ranking MAS as a 5-star carrier in 2014.


    Needless to say, Malaysian PM Najib Razak yesterday stated that "according to this new data, flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean."  This is, of course, based on the most recent ACARS and satellite handshake messages.  Many have criticized Malaysian authorities for their lack of transparency in determining aircraft communication signals, but analyzing satellite ping signals is no easy task.  Think of your Internet service provider, be it Comcast, AT&T, or whatever incompetent corporation, being assigned to filter through all the Internet traffic in their database and find that one important webpage that you have accessed.  This is only easy if you're the NSA.

    What next?

    Until the wreckage, particularly the black box, is recovered, we won't know what in the world happened to MH370.  Probable speculations include pilot suicide, unsuccessful hijacking, on-board fire, and mass electrical failure.  Based on satellite imagery, the most probable location of the plane is somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean, some 2,000 miles southwest of Perth, Australia (aka the middle of nowhere).  It could still be weeks before anything is found since you need to locate the haystack before you can find the needle within.  But without a black box, which will cease pinging 30 days after the crash, we'll never know what happened in that cockpit.  Air France 447, which crashed in the middle of the Atlantic in 2009, was found a few days after the accident due to functioning ACARS and a transponder.  The black box, however, wasn't recovered until after another year, and the investigation didn't conclude until 2012.  MH370 could take longer, assuming it can ever be found.



    It should be noted that the $5,000 initial payment was mostly intended for lodging and meals reimbursement for the families.  It's unclear as to how much each family will receive, but it could be anywhere from $400,000 to $10 million depending on the lawsuits.  MAS, which has been in the red for the past 3 years, is already in need of a government bailout, and MH370 is going to be more than just a dent in their financial recovery efforts.

    Meanwhile, British Airways, which was marketing their "To Fly, to Serve" campaign, chose the wrong words that dissed their partner MAS.  Fortunately, this was flashed months ago, and BA has wisely discontinued it.


    Let's hope they find the plane soon, and thoughts and prayers to all the families.  Oh, and more bucks from MAS too.

    Monday, March 3, 2014

    American Express offers free $5 iTunes credit

    3/5 UPDATE: It appears that some of the Amex Offers are targeted.  Login to your Amex account to see if you've been targeted for the iTunes promo.

    One of the unsung benefits of American Express cards is the Special Offers promos.  These offers are simple to activate and can range from free giveaways to sizable discounts.  Currently, Amex is offering a $5 iTunes credit, which can be used towards the purchase of any iTunes product (music, movies, TV shows, etc.).  To activate the promo, simply login to your Amex account online and click on the "Offers For You" tab, which should be located next to your "Latest Transactions" tab.


    Once you've located the offer, click on "Save Offer" and the offer will be applied to your Amex card.  Any iTunes purchase that is applied to your account before the expiration date will qualify, and you'll be credited with $5.  Be sure to use your Amex card when purchasing the iTunes product and not some other card that is linked to your iTunes account.

    Another notable current offer is $30 off a $150+ Virgin America flight booking, which expires soon.  Amex offers are constantly being refreshed, so always check your account to see if you've been targeted for any goodies.  Amex offers are just one of the many unsung benefits of Amex cards, which also includes purchase protection and extended warranty, which could easily save you loads of dough whenever you spill coffee on your newly-purchased dress shirt or when your laptop dies after your warranty expires.

    Thursday, February 27, 2014

    LifeMiles credit card with 40,000 mile signup bonus

    Last year, I outlined how to maximize intra-Asia travel by purchasing LifeMiles.  And now, U.S. Bank is offering their LifeMiles Visa credit card with a 40,000 mile signup bonus.  You get 20k after your first purchase and an additional 20k after spending $3,000 within the first 120 days of card membership.  Normally, the signup bonus is only 20k, so this offer, which is good through the end of April, effectively doubles the bonus and gets you no annual fee for the first year (a $75 value).

    http://www.lifemilesvisa.com/credit/offer.do?redirect=19839es&lang=en

    So why should you care about LifeMiles and what are LifeMiles?  LifeMiles are the award mileage currency for Avianca, which is Colombia's flag carrier.  As a relatively new Star Alliance member, they have a good award redemption chart that is valid for all Star Alliance partners.  In light of United Airlines' huge devaluation earlier this month, LifeMiles now stands as one of the most valuable Star Alliance mileage currencies.

    So what can 40k LifeMiles get you?  Generally speaking, a roundtrip economy flight from the U.S. mainland to Hawaii or northern South America (eg. Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, etc.).  But where the 40k can prove valuable is when LifeMiles offers double miles purchase specials, which has become a quarterly promo.  Lifemiles are sold at 1.5 cents each under the promo, which values your 40k miles at $600.  Buy another 25k LifeMiles for $375 for a total of 65k and you're looking at a free roundtrip economy flight to North Asia, or buy another 65k for $975 for a total of 105k and you'll get a free roundtrip business class flight to Europe.  So the 40k can get you a good start for your next award redemption.

    The LifeMiles award chart has UA beat by a longshot now

    LifeMiles does not impose fuel surcharges on award bookings, which can be booked online for all Star Alliance partners.  Avoid using their phone ticketing service as their agents are horrendous.  One-way awards are permitted at half the cost, but mixed awards (ie. biz and economy class on different segments of an itinerary) are not permitted, which is perhaps the biggest downside of LifeMiles.  Among the other benefits of the LifeMiles credit card:
    • Earn 2 miles per dollar spent on Avianca purchases, and 1 mile per dollar spent on all other purchases
    • No preset spending limit
    • 6,000 Annual Renewal Bonus LifeMiles
    • Excess Baggage Redemption Discount
    • $0 Introductory Annual Fee the First Year, thereafter $75
    The card definitely doesn't boast the great benefits of the UA Explorer or the Chase Sapphire, but the 6k annual renewal bonus makes it worth the $75 annual fee.  Be on the lookout for devaluations as LifeMiles has been known to gut their award chart without prior notice.

    Tuesday, February 25, 2014

    Skymark rolls out its first A380

    Yep, you heard it right.  Japanese low-cost carrier Skymark is aiming for the international skies with the roll-out of its first A380, the biggest passenger jet in the world.  Currently, Skymark only operates Boeing 737-800s on domestic routes in Japan with A330s on order to destinations like Guam.  The carrier has stated that the new A380, which is a humongous jump from their current fleet, will be flying to undetermined destinations in the U.S.



    The airline will have a lightly packed seating arrangement on their double-decker behemoths, which includes 114 angled lieflat seats in the upper deck and 240 fixed-shell premium economy seats on the lower deck.



    Skymark does not have a frequent flyer program and has literally no partnerships besides a limited relationship with Delta, so their transpacific flights are not likely to attract any business travelers.  Leisure travelers in search of the best deal may find some solitude on Skymark, but it's unlikely that the discount carrier will be able to market cheap fares on an A380, particularly with a premium economy product. The A380 is easily the most expensive plane to operate, so unless I'm missing something here, these planes are bound for a quick trip to the graveyard.
    114 Business class seats on the upper deck (planned to be angled lie-flat seat) 240 Premium Economy Seats on the lower deck (planned to be fixed shell) - See more at: http://boardingarea.com/ghettoife/2014/02/25/skymark-a380-rolls-out/#sthash.SGcwf77G.dpuf
    The airline has six A380s on order in a very lightly packed configuration:
    • 114 Business class seats on the upper deck (planned to be angled lie-flat seat)
    • 240 Premium Economy Seats on the lower deck (planned to be fixed shell)
    - See more at: http://boardingarea.com/ghettoife/2014/02/25/skymark-a380-rolls-out/#sthash.SGcwf77G.dpuf
    The airline has six A380s on order in a very lightly packed configuration:
    • 114 Business class seats on the upper deck (planned to be angled lie-flat seat)
    • 240 Premium Economy Seats on the lower deck (planned to be fixed shell)
    - See more at: http://boardingarea.com/ghettoife/2014/02/25/skymark-a380-rolls-out/#sthash.SGcwf77G.dpuf
    The airline has six A380s on order in a very lightly packed configuration:
    • 114 Business class seats on the upper deck (planned to be angled lie-flat seat)
    • 240 Premium Economy Seats on the lower deck (planned to be fixed shell)
    - See more at: http://boardingarea.com/ghettoife/2014/02/25/skymark-a380-rolls-out/#sthash.SGcwf77G.dpuf

    Wednesday, February 5, 2014

    Japanese credits cards with Priority Pass lounge access for low annual fees

    Airport lounge memberships have become a standard offering between legacy carriers and their credit card partners.  For example, instead of signing up for a United Club membership for $500, you can apply for the Chase United Club card with an annual fee of $395 that gets you United Club membership and added benefits such as Premier Access.  Though cheaper than the membership itself, a $395 annual fee is still quite a sting, and frequent flyers are always looking at cheaper ways to gain lounge access.  As the Amex Platinum card has taken a beating recently with the discontinuation of AA and US Airways lounge access, one of the mitigation attempts of the card's $450 annual fee card is Priority Pass Select, which gets you into 600 lounges in over 100 countries across the globe.  Not surprisingly, Priority Pass Select doesn't get you into United and US Airways lounges.  The exception would be if your credit card offering Priority Pass is issued by a foreign financial institution.

    When I was researching Japanese credit cards last week, I ran into the usuals: expensive annual fees, ridiculous point-earning programs, and sign-up bonus jokes.  I was about to call it quits until I noticed that the Rakuten Premium card includes Priority Pass for an annual fee of only 10,500 yen (~$103 USD), which is a quarter of the annual fee of the Amex Platinum card in the U.S.  Furthermore, the Priority Pass membership offered by the Rakuten card is the full membership, which includes United, US Airways, and 22 domestic lounges in Japan.  The same Priority Pass membership costs $399 USD by itself, making the Rakuten card a steal.

    For a meager annual fee of 10,500 yen, you get Priority Pass and a choice between 3 credit card issuers

    The sign-up bonus for the Rakuten Premium card is a joke at 10,000 Rakuten points, which equates to 10,000 yen (~$98) of credit towards Rakuten purchases.  It's basically not even enough to cover the annual fee, which isn't even waived for the first year.  Purchases earn 1 Rakuten point per 100 yen spent, which is essentially 1% cashback.  During the entire month of your birthday, you'll be getting 3 Rakuten points per 100 yen spent.  Needless to say, you won't be signing up for this card for the sign-up bonus or the point earning potential, but definitely for the amazing Priority Pass benefit.  I did some further research and found that the Amex Saison Platinum Business card and the Amex MUFG Platinum card also offer Priority Pass, but with 21,000 yen (~$207 USD) annual fees.  The Amex cards appear to have better point earning potential and purchase protection benefits, but nothing worth paying the extra annual fee over especially since they barely have sign-up bonuses.

    http://www.citibank.co.jp/ccsi/ja/cardlineup/citigoldcard.html

    I was about to declare the Rakuten card king until I ran into the Citi Gold card, which offers Priority Pass and a 30,000 Citi rewards point sign-up bonus for a meager annual fee of 12,000 yen (~$118 USD).  Though the annual fee is marginally higher, the card earns 3 Citi points per 100 yen spent.  According to the Citi rewards program website, it looks like 2.5 Citi points = 1 yen, so it's like 1.2% cashback.  Once again, sign-up for the card so that you can get Priority Pass, not points.


    Language barrier

    Both the Rakuten and Citi cards only offer application pages in Japanese, so if you're not familiar with the terms and questions, be sure to have a native Japanese speaker next to you who is well-rehearsed in financial terminology.  Rakuten has an unofficial English support page to help you get through the application process.  Citi has an English page, but it looks stone-aged and it offers no help for the application process.  Don't be disappointed if you aren't approved because Japanese credit card companies have the opposite mentality of U.S. companies: weed out as many poor applicants as you can instead of accepting everyone, knowing that the poor will never be able to pay you back.



    Bottom line

    It looks like there are, after all, some hidden gem credit card deals in Japan; you just have to know what to look for and what's valuable to you.  If you never fly, then all the cards mentioned above are money-draining pumpkins.  But if you fly occasionally, even with low-cost carriers (LCCs) such as Peach, Jetstar, and Vanilla Air, these cards can prove invaluable, especially since you won't be restricted to alliance allegiances for lounge access.  Nothing like being able to step into the lounge for a couple of free beers before a $50 flight to Osaka on Peach.  For a list of the 600+ lounges Priority Pass offers access to, visit their lounge finder page.  Amongst the notable lounge partners: United, US Airways, Air Canada, Alaska Air, Korean Air, Asiana, and Plaza Premium lounges.

    Wednesday, January 29, 2014

    American Airlines World Elite MasterCard with 100,000 mile sign-up bonus

    It's been a while since we've seen such a beefy sign-up bonus, and Citicards is taking the helm with this one.  The AAdvantage World Elite MasterCard will net you 100k miles, which is good enough for 2 roundtrip economy flights from North America to Japan during the low season, 4 roundtrip economy flights within the continental U.S., or 1 roundtrip business class flight from North America to Japan.  The catch, of course, being that the spending threshold of $10,000 within the 3 months of card membership is unreachable for most.  An annual fee of $450 also won't be too appealing to the majority, though this will be the only card that offers Admiral's Club AND US Airways Club membership after the Amex Platinum card is stripped of those benefits effective in March.  The annual fee is also mitigated by the $200 statement credit (at least for the first year).

    https://creditcards.citicards.com/usc/Travel/AA/2013/q3/Exec/GA/default.htm?BT_TX=1&ProspectID=8289431BF5BC49478648B92A43DF07A8


    Amongst the bennies:
    • Apply now, get the card and earn 100,000 AAdvantage bonus miles after making $10,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of cardmembership. Also, earn up to $200 in statement credits — earn $1 in statement credits for each $1 spent on purchases within the first 12 months of cardmembership.
    • Elevate the way you travel with these luxury benefits: Admirals Club membership (a membership value of up to $475)
    • Earn 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles after spending $40,000 in purchases each calendar year
    • No foreign transaction fees on purchases
    • Earn two AAdvantage miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases, including US Airways codeshare flights booked on aa.com
    • Priority Boarding, security screening, and check-in line
    • 25% savings on eligible in-flight purchases
    • Your first eligible checked bag is free
    • SmartChip technology
    • Expert Concierge Service
    • $450 Annual Fee
    If you can meet the spending threshold, then this card is a no-brainer.  If you fly AA often enough or frequent terminals with an Admirals Clubs or US Airways Clubs, then this card should also be the way to go since the annual fee is cheaper than buying an annual club membership pass.  It could also serve as a good way for bottom feeders to get started with AA since it'll provide Priority Access, which includes priority boarding, security screening, and check-in line.  Or if you fancy 100k miles, then go for it.

    Friday, January 10, 2014

    2013 Grand Finale: American Airlines biz NRT-LAX

    2013 Grand Finale lineup

    Eva Airlines economy class CTS-TPE-HKG
    Cathay Pacific biz HKG-TPE
    Japan Airlines economy class TPE-NRT
    American Airlines biz NRT-LAX

    With systemwide upgrades (SWU) expiring in February, it's time to use it or lose it.  And there's nothing like burning SWUs on heavily discounted $800 transpacific tickets.  This where the true value of Executive Platinum status is, as buying an upgrade will cost you 25k miles + $350 copay each way.


    NRT Japan Airlines first class lounge

    After landing into terminal 2's satellite terminal, I headed towards the JAL first class lounge for lunch.  This lounge never gets old with premium food and beverage spreads and free massages.  But the best thing about the satellite terminal's lounge is the quietness as there were but 2 other passengers in the 150+ seat lounge.  This has always been the case as the vast majority of oneworld international flights depart from the main terminal, so the passengers saturate the first class lounges in the main terminal.


    Food selections are identical to those offered in the main terminal.  The dining area is more exclusive in this lounge, though they disallow the removal of food from the area.  While JAL's biz lounges excel in quality, their first class lounges could use a lift as they fade in comparison to heavyweights Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific's first class ground products.


    AA biz NRT-LAX

    Since this was Christmas, my SWU cleared weeks before departure.  However, the cabin was surprisingly filled to capacity.  What's interesting is that the day before departure, the seat maps were still mostly empty, so it's almost as an influx of travelers decided last-minute.

    Same ol' angled lieflat seats

    As usual, I preordered the Japanese meal set online as it far exceeds the inflight menu options, which are prone to running dry in full flights.

    Appetizer

    Main course

    I was hoping for a sushi appetizer, which is what they offered in the past.  But the bento offerings were more complete.  For a U.S. carrier, the meal was acceptable: better than United but incomparable to the Asian heavyweight carriers.  After eating, I went to sleep for most of the flight.


    LAX AA Flagship Lounge

    First class lounges in the U.S. are never anything to bark over, but when you're this tired after a transpacific flight, it's a warm welcoming.  For my full review of AA's LAX Flagship Lounge, see my previous post.


    Bottom line

    AA has been definitely behind the game on their transpacific product.  Although their new business class product is amongst the best in the world, AA keeps focusing their best resources on transatlantic and South American flights, thus ignoring their Asian footprint entirely.  Still, no upgrade is easier to score for international travel than on AA flights, and the worst seat in biz will always be eons better than the best seat in economy.  Thus concludes 2013.  Happy New Year!

    Wednesday, January 8, 2014

    Japan Airlines economy class TPE-NRT

    2013 Grand Finale lineup

    Eva Airlines economy class CTS-TPE-HKG
    Cathay Pacific biz HKG-TPE
    Japan Airlines economy class TPE-NRT
    American Airlines biz NRT-LAX

    After 5 days in Taiwan, it was time to head back to California.  But in order to make use of my systemwide upgrades with American Airlines, I would need to connect in NRT before heading home, which is acceptable since NRT is a fine airport with good lounges.  TPE-NRT is a highly competitive route operated by a wealth of legacy carriers amongst the three alliances, including JAL, ANA, Cathay Pacific, Eva, China Airlines, Delta, and a few discount carriers.  Since I was flying onward with AA, I opted for JAL due to their joint business venture with AA.  In the past, thru-checking bags and accessing AA or JAL itineraries has been a seamless process for both carriers.  To book an award flight, I looked no further than British Airways Avios points, which specialize in short-haul flights at amazing redemption rates.  For only 10,000 Avios and a nominal fuel surcharge, I was able to book TPE-NRT with JAL in economy class.


    TPE Legend VIP Lounge (formerly JAL Sakura Lounge)

    JAL closed their Sakura Lounge out of TPE last September, so it has since been "replaced" in its identical location and, apparently, decor with the Legend VIP Lounge.  I was hoping to get access to the Cathay Pacific lounge, but CX flights are ironically all operated out of terminal 1 whereas JAL operates out of terminal 2.  Evidently, oneworld avoids terminal consolidation at this non-hub airport.


    The lounge was nearly completely empty, and it looks like this lounge is designed specifically for JAL passengers.  Food offerings were minimal, consisting of onigiris and light snacks.


    I can't say I was expecting much out of this lounge.  Carriers have proven that their ground products don't excel in non-hub locations, and this lounge wasn't about to make an exception.  You definitely don't feel like a VIP in this lounge, which sure isn't legendary (no pun intended).  After grabbing a couple of cups of OJ and onigiris, I headed to the gate for boarding.


    JAL economy class TPE-NRT

    I was able to secure an emergency exit seat near the time of booking for this flight, so I knew my legs wouldn't be hurting.  As a 2 1/2 hour flight, there's not much to complain about it to begin with, but it never hurts to get extra legroom.  However, the row behind me was empty, so I opted for that one instead since exit row seat armrests do not recline as they include tray tables.

    Mt. Fuji and Niijima Island
    After eating a small meal, I lied down and dozed off until landing.


    Bottom line

    Don't expect much from lounge products at non-hub locations.  Unless you're in need of a cheap bite or a drink, the terminal may have more to offer.  As good as the carrier is, economy class will always be economy, but I'll readily save 10k Avios not to fly in a recliner biz seat for 2 1/2 hours.

    Next: American Airlines biz NRT-LAX

    Tuesday, January 7, 2014

    2013 Grand Finale: Cathay Pacific biz HKG-TPE

    2013 Grand Finale lineup

    Eva Airlines economy class CTS-TPE-HKG
    Cathay Pacific biz HKG-TPE
    Japan Airlines economy class TPE-NRT
    American Airlines biz NRT-LAX

    HKG is consistently ranked as one of the busiest and best airports in the world.  As the world's busiest airport in terms of cargo traffic, HKG is a key economic hub, connecting mainland China to the corners of the earth.  So it's no surprise that Cathay Pacific, with HKG as its fortress hub, hauls more cargo than any other airline on the planet.  Aside from cargo, Cathay Pacific (CX) is a 5-star carrier offering arguably the best business class hard product in the world and amongst the best in-flight and ground services.

    As a oneworld Emerald member with American Airlines, I am afforded access to oneworld first class lounges whenever flying on a oneworld carrier such as CX.  For a short-haul 1 1/2 hour flight between HKG-TPE, I didn't deem it necessary to book in biz, so I opted for economy class using my British Airways Avios points.  This route is a great value for only 4,500 Avios points each way, and Cathay Pacific offers daily widebody flights by the hour.


    The Wing - Cathay Pacific first class lounge

    CX's first class lounge, dubbed as The Wing, underwent an overhaul refurbishment that was completed in February 2013 and is now souped out as one of the top lounges in the world.  I arrived at the airport 3 hours before my flight for the sole purpose of seeing if this lounge lives up to its name.  Upon entering the lounge, which is located just left after clearing immigrations, I headed towards the Haven, which is a full-service restaurant staffed by Hong Kong's iconic Peninsula Hotel.  With an a la carte menu offering entrees such as prime rib and sea bass, I opted for the fish, which was to die for.


    Within the Haven is also a buffet bar offering salads, hot foods, sushi, and a generous spread of desserts.  While waiting on my sea bass, I collected my fair share of sushi and readied my desserts.


    There's always room for this
    After a fulfilling meal, I headed to the famed cabanas to rest and clean up.  The cabanas are private individual rooms offering luxurious showers, spa tubs, and sofabeds.  In essence, it's like a hotel room before your flight.

    Shower
    Bathe
    Sleep
    I did everything that I could do: bathe, shower, get online, and nap.  With 45 minutes before my flight, I grabbed a Sapphire and tonic, an ice cream, and a pair chocolates before heading to the gate for some late boarding courtesy of an unbelievable lounge.


    Cathay Pacific business class HKG-TPE

    Yes, I did use BA Avios miles to book on a partner carrier.  And yes, it was in economy class.  So yes, I was upgraded at the gate while boarding in the priority line for no apparent reason, but I suspect that it had to do with my oneworld Emerald status and a couple of empty seats in biz.  But perhaps the biggest surprise is that this 4-class B777-300 was outfitted with CX's new reverse herringbone biz seats, which is ranked as the top in the world.  Don't know why CX would bother operating their flagship plane on a 1 1/2 hour second-tier route, but I'll take it.


    Aside from being essentially a flatbed suite, the seat itself offers forward thrust in non-reclined position, which is unique for flatbed seats.  This is primarily useful when you want to sit with your feet on the footrest, which is difficult with other carriers such as United and Thai Airways flatbed biz seats unless you're Yao Ming.


    One of the compromises that carriers often deal with for biz seats is storage space, which is usually sacrificed for seating and AVOD space.  But CX implements no compromise on storage capacity, with unique compartments for your noise-cancelling headset, laptop, smartphone, and even shoes.  This makes a substantial difference particularly for short-haul flights as you can avoid accessing overhead storage entirely.


    Rightfully so, the flight attendants were on the run from the get-go 'til landing, taking orders and handing out food offerings.  I opted for the sablefish (aka butterfish).  Though unappetizing from the appearance, the meat itself was cooked to perfection.


    Bottom line

    As we began our decent into TPE, I couldn't help but hope for this flight to avoid TPE entirely and go all the way back to SFO.  CX offers the best biz product in the world, and it seems like such a waste for a 1 1/2 hour flight, although most transpacific flights do offer the same product.  I still find it unbelievable how CX would upgrade award elite passengers from partner carriers using partner miles as most legacy carriers don't upgrade their own elite award passengers at all, especially for international travel.  As it turns out, one of my shortest flights would be one of my best, and the CX first class lounge is perhaps one of the best lounges in Asia, completely destroying the JAL first class lounge in NRT.  What a homerun for a 500-mile flight.

    Next: Japan Airlines economy class TPE-NRT
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