Categories
Booking Strategy Frequent Flyer Travel Trends

InterContinental Devalues Popular Credit Card Perk

The IHG Rewards Club MasterCard, issued by Chase, has long been a favorite of the frequent-traveler crowd. For good reasons:

  • A 60,000-point sign-up bonus, after spending $1,000 within three months
  • A modest $49 annual fee, waived the first year
  • Platinum elite status
  • A free night at any IHG hotel on the cardholder’s anniversary

That’s a lot of value in a card with a decidedly modest annual fee. Too much value, apparently, because the free-night perk is being pared back.

[st_related]Visa Versus MasterCard Versus American Express – Does It Matter?[/st_related]

Beginning on May 1, the annual free night benefit will only apply at IHG hotels that would normally be priced at 40,000 points or less on the IHG Rewards award chart. IHG award nights can cost as much as 70,000 points, so clearly this is a significant devaluation.

A surprise? Not really. Free anniversary nights from other hotel co-branded cards are restricted as well. With Marriott’s Premier card, the free night is limited to Category 1 – 5 hotels. And Hyatt cardholders are limited to Category 1 – 4 hotels for their anniversary free nights. The popular Starwood Preferred Guest co-branded card offers no free anniversary night at all. So there was no competitive pressure to offer unrestricted access. Result: regression to an increasingly stingy mean.

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Categories
Budget Travel Island

Enter to Win a Caribbean Cruise for 2

Enter the Treasury Wine Estates “Coastal Cruise a Week” sweepstakes by June 30, 2018, for a chance to win one of 52 weekly grand prizes: each a four- or five-night Caribbean cruise for two, on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship.

To enter, provide the requested contact information (name, email, etc.) on the sweepstakes landing page and press “Submit.” Done! Time required to participate: less than 30 seconds.

[st_related]Here’s How You Can Win a 15-Day European River Cruise[/st_related]

The Fine Print

  • Sweepstakes is open to legal residents of the 50 United States, including the District of Columbia, who are at least 21 years old at the time of entry.
  • Limit: one entry per person per day.
  • Approximate Retail Value (“ARV”) of the grand prize: $1,262.

Somebody has to win this trip, right? Might as well be you.

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Categories
Booking Strategy Budget Travel Frequent Flyer Health & Wellness

Recap: The Week’s Biggest Travel Stories and Best Deals

Following is our regular summary of the latest travel news and best frequent traveler promotions reviewed during the past week.

If it was a good deal—or a notably bad deal—from an airline, hotel, or car rental loyalty program, you can read all about it here, and plan your travel accordingly.

Earn Double Delta Miles for Partner Transactions

Earn double Delta miles for hotel and Airbnb stays, Lyft rides, rentals, more.

Visa Versus MasterCard Versus American Express – Does It Matter?

When it comes to a credit card’s usefulness, the number of merchants that accept it matters. The biggest is …

Big Changes at Hilton Honors from April 3

Here’s what you need to know about Hilton Honors’ upcoming changes.

How to Earn an Easy 300 American AAdvantage Miles

Here’s how to earn a handful of frequent-flyer miles, quick and easy.

Alaska Airlines to Add New Mileage Partner: Aer Lingus

Alaska Air’s loyalty program is famous for its extensive airline partnerships. Now, add another carrier.

Airfares, Hotel Rates Will Rise How Much in 2018?

A new forecast has airfares rising just 1 percent this year. Really?

The Cheapest Airfare? Here’s When to Book

When to book to get the lowest airfares? Here are some guidelines.

To Avoid Getting Sick When Flying, Choose This Seat

There is a best-seat-on-the-plane when it comes to avoiding air-borne illnesses.

Here’s How You Can Win a 15-Day European River Cruise

Here’s how to win a 15-day European river cruise spanning four countries, including airfare, 12 guided tours, meals.

Somebody has to win this trip, right? Might as well be you.

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Categories
Booking Strategy Frequent Flyer

Big Changes at Hilton Honors from April 3

Hilton announced early this year that there were significant changes coming to the Honors program, set to take effect on April 3. This is a reminder of what’s coming, and how it’s likely to affect you.

Earning

The most impactful changes take place in points-earning.

First, members will earn points only—no more points-and-miles or points-and-points.

[st_related]Visa Versus MasterCard Versus American Express – Does It Matter?[/st_related]

Second, the earning rates, including elite bonuses, will change, as follows:

  • Blue (non-elite) members will earn 10 points per $1 (versus 15 currently)
  • Silver members will earn 12 points per $1 (versus 16.5 currently)
  • Gold members will earn 18 points per $1 (versus 17.5 currently)
  • Diamond members will earn 20 points per $1 (versus 20 currently)

Elite Benefits

Perhaps recognizing that the earning changes would be perceived as a net devaluation, Hilton is adding some new perks for elite Honors members:

  • Elites can rollover elite-qualifying nights
  • Gold and Diamond elites can gift elite status to other members
  • Elite members will receive milestone bonuses (10,000 points every 10 nights beginning after 40 nights)

Winners and Losers

On the earning side, there are clearly more losers than winners. Only Gold members earn more, and only marginally more.

Points-and-miles is a program feature that had value for many members. While Hilton claims that only 1 percent of Honors members elected to earn that way, that’s still a big number (1 percent of 71 million equals 710,000 members). It will be missed.

For Gold and Diamond elites, the combination of rollover nights, elite-status gifting, and milestone bonuses will make the program modestly more valuable.

Honors remains competitive overall with the other major chains’ loyalty programs. No thanks to these latest changes.

Reader Reality Check

How do these changes affect your relationship with Hilton and Honors?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Categories
Frequent Flyer

Visa Versus MasterCard Versus American Express – Does It Matter?

As someone who writes regularly about credit and charge cards—specifically, travel-rewards cards—I’ve often found myself chasing after a key data point.

[st_content_ad]It’s well known that American Express charges higher merchant fees, and that fewer merchants accept their cards as a result. What’s been harder to pin down was the exact number of Amex merchants, to be compared with the number of merchants in the Visa and MasterCard networks.

That’s a meaningful comparison when it comes to convenience and utility. All things being equal, a card that’s accepted by more merchants is more useful than a card that’s accepted by fewer merchants.

[st_related]Survey Confirms That Coach Seating Sucks[/st_related]

Visa and MasterCard have always been fairly transparent when it comes to revealing the size of their merchant networks. (Because Visa and MasterCard are seen as mostly interchangeable by consumers, and because they charge the same merchant fees, their networks are roughly the same size.)

Getting that information from Amex, on the other hand, has proven more challenging. The information, I was told, was “competitively sensitive.” No surprise. American Express is a company known for its arrogance, and it stands to reason it wouldn’t want to quantify its competitive weaknesses.

But in an investor presentation (.pdf) earlier this month, American Express laid out its strategy for increasing its merchant base (by reducing merchant fees, predictably), and included some current numbers for the three U.S. networks, including its own:

  • American Express – 9.0 million merchants
  • Visa – 10.3 merchants
  • MasterCard – 10.3 merchants

So there you have it. As things currently stand, around 1.3 million more U.S. merchants accept cards from Visa and MasterCard than from Amex. Not necessarily a deal-breaker, but something to consider when deciding whether to apply for an Amex Platinum card or a Chase Sapphire Reserve (Visa) card.

Given Amex’s goal of approaching parity with Visa and MasterCard, that gap is likely to narrow going forward. In 2017 alone, Amex added 1.5 million merchants to its network. But Visa and MasterCard’s are undoubtedly growing as well. Another data point to track down …

Reader Reality Check

When choosing a credit or charge card, do consider the size of the merchant network?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Categories
Frequent Flyer

How to Earn an Easy 300 American AAdvantage Miles

Sometimes you just need a few frequent flyer miles, to reach an award threshold or to keep your accumulated miles from expiring.

Here’s one quick and easy way to do that, if what’s needed are American Airlines AAdvantage miles.

First go to Miles for Opinions and spend two minutes setting up an account (name, address, AAdvantage number, and so on).

Then, within three months of enrolling, take one of the proffered surveys. You’ll earn 250 miles for enrolling and taking the first survey, plus the miles awarded for that first survey.

[st_related]Survey Confirms That Coach Seating Sucks[/st_related]

Longer surveys award more miles; shorter surveys award fewer. And in both cases, the numbers aren’t big. But sometimes, a handful of miles are just what’s needed. In that case, a bit of opining might just be the quickest, easiest way to get them.

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Categories
Booking Strategy Frequent Flyer

Alaska Airlines to Add New Mileage Partner: Aer Lingus

When Aer Lingus launches its new service between Dublin and Seattle on May 18, it won’t be going it alone.

Aer Lingus has partnered with Seattle’s hometown carrier, Alaska Airlines, in an interline relationship designed to make it easier for Aer Lingus passengers to transfer to Alaska Air flights, and vice versa.

[st_related]Survey Confirms That Coach Seating Sucks[/st_related]

But that’s just for the short term. Longer term, the agreement calls for reciprocal frequent-flyer program participation. That means members of Alaska’s Mileage Plan program will be able to earn and redeem miles for flights on Aer Lingus, and members of the Aer Lingus AerClub will be able to earn and redeem on Alaska Air flights.

Alaska’s Mileage Plan already has one of the most robust rosters of airline partners of any airline loyalty program, allowing program members to earn and redeem miles on 13 airlines serving over 900 destinations.

No dates for the loyalty program tie-up have been announced.

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Categories
Booking Strategy Frequent Flyer

Earn Double Delta Miles for Partner Transactions

Double miles are always nice, but …

Offer Details

Through May 31, Delta SkyMiles members can earn double miles for transactions with program partners the member did not do business with in 2017.

Transactions eligible for the bonus include hotel stays, Airbnb stays, Lyft rides, car rental bookings, SkyMiles Cruises bookings, FTD and Vinesse purchases, SkyMiles Shopping, and SkyMiles Dining transactions.

[st_related]Survey Confirms That Coach Seating Sucks[/st_related]

Registration is required.

Deal or No Deal

Double miles are always nice. But the requirement that qualifying transactions be with partners you haven’t done business with for over a year has to call into question whether you’ll have any compelling reason to do business with them during the next two months.

Still, if you do happen to find yourself staying at an Airbnb or using Lyft for the first time since December 2016, it would be a shame to miss out on the double miles.

So register, just in case.

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Categories
Booking Strategy Money Travel Trends

Airfare, Hotel Rates Will Rise How Much in 2018?

With strong demand in most parts of the world, the cost of travel has only one place to go: up. No big surprise there. If there’s anything surprising about the price creep, it’s how modest at least one analyst expects it to be.

[st_content_ad]According to BCD Travel’s latest forecast, airfares are expected to rise 1 percent in 2018, and hotel rates will rise 2 to 4 percent.

[st_related]Survey Confirms That Coach Seating Sucks[/st_related]

And it’s not just robust demand for travel that’s driving up airfares. BCD expects oil prices, a major contributor to airline costs, to rise from $50 to $60 a barrel.

[st_content_ad]So, the global economy will expand by 3.2 percent (another BCD prediction), fuel prices will spike 20 percent, but airfares will only increase 1 percent? That seems like a wildly optimistic scenario, given the airlines’ intense focus on maximizing profits.

If the hotels can raise their rates by 2 to 4 percent, it seems a fair bet that the airlines will want to increase their fares by a comparable amount. We’ll have to wait until December 31 to see how close BCD’s predictions come to capturing the actual price increases.

Reader Reality Check

How much do you expect to see airfares rise in 2018?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Categories
Budget Travel Food & Drink Historical Travel Luxury Travel

Here’s How You Can Win a 15-Day European River Cruise

Enter the Viking River Cruises “Grand European Tour” sweepstakes by April 30, 2018, for a chance to win the grand prize: a 15-day European river cruise spanning four countries, including airfare, 12 guided tours, meals.

To enter, provide the requested contact information (name, email, etc.) on the sweepstakes landing page and press “Submit.” Done! Time required to participate: less than 30 seconds.

NOTE: As is often the case with online sweepstakes, by entering you are agreeing to receive email marketing messages from the sponsors. You can easily opt out at any time.

[st_related]Here’s How You Can Win a 6-Day Trip to Northern Portugal[/st_related]

The Fine Print

  • Sweepstakes is open to legal residents of the 50 United States, including the District of Columbia, who are at least 21 years old at the time of entry.
  • Limit: one entry per person.
  • Approximate Retail Value (“ARV”) of the grand prize: $23,188.

Somebody has to win this trip, right? Might as well be you.

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

[st_newsletter]

Categories
Airport Booking Strategy Budget Travel Frequent Flyer

Recap: The Week’s Biggest Travel Stories and Best Deals

Following is our regular summary of the latest travel news and best frequent traveler promotions reviewed during the past week.

If it was a good deal—or a notably bad deal—from an airline, hotel, or car rental loyalty program, you can read all about it here, and plan your travel accordingly.

Survey Confirms That Coach Seating Sucks

A new Consumer Reports survey finds little satisfaction with coach seating.

Delta Downgrades SkyMiles with New Award-Ticketing Rule

Three-day advance booking for award travel that begins or ends outside the U.S. or Canada. Ouch!

The Cheapest Airfare? Here’s When to Book

When to book to get the lowest airfares? Here are some guidelines.

The Cheapest Times to Visit the World’s Top Travel Spots, According to TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor’s new Travelers’ Choice awards has you covered on where to go on the cheap.

Will Warren Buffett Buy Southwest Airlines?

One of the world’s most successful investors eyes one of America’s most popular airlines.

From Choice Hotels: A Free Night After 2 Stays

Earn a free night after 2 Choice hotels stays. Good deal!

To Avoid Getting Sick When Flying, Choose This Seat

There is a best-seat-on-the-plane when it comes to avoiding air-borne illnesses.

The Top 10 Airports in the U.S. and the World

Here are the world’s best airports, and America’s.

These Are America’s 10 Most Sinful States

A new study purports to rank the 50 U.S. states by their sinfulness. See if you agree with the findings.

The 10 Most and Least Expensive Cities in the World

Some cities will cost you more than other cities. Here are the most and least expensive.

Here’s How You Can Win a 6-Day Trip to Northern Portugal

Prize includes a six-day trip to Portugal, including airfare, hotel, daily breakfast, a river tour of the Douro wine region.

Somebody has to win this trip, right? Might as well be you.

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Categories
Airport Booking Strategy Security

The Top 10 Airports in the U.S. and the World

Airports. Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em. But their tolerability quotients vary widely; some are more endurable, even congenial, than others.

[st_content_ad]Skytrax conducts an annual survey of millions of flyers to determine which airports do the best job of pleasing travelers and which do the worst. For the sixth year in a row, the Skytrax 2018 World Airport Awards has dubbed Singapore Changi Airport the world’s best.

[st_related]10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight [/st_related]

Here are Skytrax’s top 10 for 2018:

  1. Singapore Changi Airport
  2. Incheon International Airport (Seoul)
  3. Tokyo International Airport (Haneda)
  4. Hong Kong International Airport
  5. Doha Hamad International Airport
  6. Munich Airport
  7. Chubu Centrair Nagoya
  8. London Heathrow Airport
  9. Zurich Airport
  10. Frankfurt Airport

With five of the top-rated airports, Asia was the regional winner, led by Japan with two of the world’s best airports. (Tokyo Narita was number 11 on the list, and Kansai International was number 13.)

Conspicuously, there were no U.S. airports among the top 10, or even the top 25. Denver was the highest-rated U.S. facility, coming in at number 29, trailed by Cincinnati/Kentucky and Houston, at 34th and 48th.

The 10 best U.S. airports:

  1. Denver (29 of 100)
  2. Cincinnati/Kentucky (34 of 100)
  3. Houston George Bush (48 of 100)
  4. Hartsfield-Jackson, Atlanta (50 of 100)
  5. San Francisco (51 of 100)
  6. Dallas/Ft. Worth (56 of 100)
  7. Seattle-Tacoma (62 of 100)
  8. New York JFK (69 of 100)
  9. Los Angeles (72 of 100)
  10. Minneapolis-St. Paul (79 of 100)

The Skytrax ratings are based on more than 13 million completed surveys, covering 550 airports. Among the airport features assessed: check-in, arrivals, transfers, shopping, security, immigration, and departures.

Reader Reality Check

What are your favorite (and least favorite) airports?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Categories
Booking Strategy Frequent Flyer

From Choice Hotels: A Free Night After 2 Stays

Over the past several years, Choice’s recurring promotional offer has been 8,000 points after two stays.

[st_content_ad]Sometimes it’s promoted as such: 8,000 points after two stays. More often though, the headline promotes either a free night or a gift card—both of which are available for 8,000 points.

For its latest promotion, the featured bonus is a free night. But what you’re really earning is 8,000 Choice Privileges points—enough to redeem for a gift card, or for a free night at one of 1,500 lower-priced hotels in the Choice network.

Offer Details

Between April 2 and May 25, Choice Privileges members can earn 8,000 points after two stays. Again, that’s enough points for a free night at more than 1,500 Choice hotels.

Qualifying stays must be booked at ChoiceHotels.com, via the Choice mobile app, or by calling 1-800-4CHOICE, although Diamond and Platinum members may book direct with the hotel, and corporate travelers may book through a travel agent or corporate booking system.

There’s no limit to the number of times the bonus may be earned.

[st_related]What Matters Most to Travelers on Hotel Review Sites[/st_related]

Registration is required.

Deal or No Deal

Earning enough points for a free night after two stays, even at a lower-end hotel, is a potentially high-value offer, especially if the qualifying stays are single nights at lower-priced properties.

That makes this one of the more lucrative of the current hotel promotions.

There’s no harm in being repetitious, if what’s being repeated is a good deal.

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Categories
Booking Strategy Budget Travel

The Cheapest Airfare? Here’s When to Book

I’ve always been a bit skeptical of claims that this or that is the optimal time to book flights at the lowest airfares. For one thing, that would credit the airlines with operating according to a strict pricing logic, whereas in fact airline pricing seems wildly chaotic. Plus, if there were an easy best-time-to-book rule, it would be widely known and followed. Which isn’t the case.

[st_content_ad]Nevertheless, organizations large and small continue weighing in with their own recommendations as to the best timing to book flights.

The latest is from CheapAir, which today released results of its own analysis of airline pricing trends, based on a review of 917 million airfares in 8,000 markets.

According to CheapAir’s 2018 Airfare Study, the lowest airfares are typically to be found between 121 and 21 days in advance of the departure date.

[st_related]Survey Confirms That Coach Seating Sucks[/st_related]

That date range, what CheapAir calls the prime booking window, is for flights within North America.

Seasonality

While the prime booking window is a good overall rule of thumb, the cheapest-airfare windows differ somewhat by season, as follows:

  • For summer flights, book 14 – 60 days in advance
  • For fall flights, book 21 – 100 days in advance
  • For winter flights, book 21 – 110 days in advance
  • For spring flights, book 46 – 122 days in advance

Best Days of the Week

CheapAir also looked at the day-of-the-week question, another perennial traveler conundrum.

First, there is no categorically cheapest day of the week to book travel. One day’s as good as another for making reservations.

However, there are cheaper and more expensive days to fly. Tuesday and Wednesday are the cheapest, and Sunday is the most expensive. “Flying on Wednesday instead of a Sunday will save you an average of $76 per airline ticket.”

Reader Reality Check

How do these suggestions accord with your own experience?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Categories
Booking Strategy Frequent Flyer Travel Scams

Delta Downgrades SkyMiles with New Award-Ticketing Rule

Effective immediately—or whenever it was that Delta posted the new rule to its website, with no notice to SkyMiles members—SkyMiles award tickets for travel that doesn’t begin or end in the U.S. or Canada must be booked at least three days in advance.

Here’s the verbiage Delta added to its site within the past few days:

Award Tickets that do not originate or end in the United States or Canada have a three-day advance purchase requirement. This includes routes like Paris (CDG) connecting through New York City (JFK) to Sao Paulo (GRU), or Shanghai (PVG) to/from Tokyo (NRT). No Exceptions. The advanced purchase applies to all Award bookings in the affected markets.

This is presumably a fraud-prevention measure; a disproportionate amount of illicit award-ticket activity involved overseas travel, particularly from Russia, China, and Africa.

[st_related]Survey Confirms That Coach Seating Sucks[/st_related]

Whatever the motivation for the newly restrictive policy, its undeniable effect is to devalue the miles of any SkyMiles member who might ever wish to redeem his miles for travel beginning or ending outside the U.S. or Canada.

Not only will they be denied the convenience of close-in booking, but they’ll lose access to award availability, which often opens up close to the departure date as the airline releases unsold seats to award travelers.

Blame it on the overseas travel scammers?

Reader Reality Check

Will this new rule affect you?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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