A few weeks ago I posted about upcoming changes to Azamara’s loyalty program, Le Club Voyage. Azamara announced some fairly significant changes to its program at that time that met with a bit of protest among its loyalty program members. Specifically, it seemed that the removal of complimentary internet minutes and complimentary laundry services for higher tier elite members really raised the ire of program members.

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In a prime example of how customers’ feelings can matter, and companies can listen, Azamara has announced further changes to its program that correct many, if not most of the issues that loyalty program members had raised. In summary, Azamara has reinstated the following benefits:

  • One complimentary bag of laundry per week for Explorer level and above members
  • Internet minutes based on tier level

Newly added benefits:

  • Additional earned complimentary nights rewards for every 750 points earned once you reach the Discoverer Plus level and above—in addition to one-time awards
  • Singles now earn double points on every voyage

You can review the benefits of each tier level in detail here. These are real enhancements, and the management team at Azamara deserves some kudos for recognizing a problem and taking swift action to make things right. I don’t know when I will cruise Azamara, but I’m searching for the right itinerary and look forward to cruising with them!

-MJ, October 1, 2014

Nothing stirs up emotions like questioning something about one’s favorite airline in the AA-US merger. I had the nerve to post my thoughts on one of the new AA meals last week. My favorite comment was “how much is Doug Parker paying you?” Ha! The new airline split the difference between legacy AA and legacy US Airways in the first class meal department. If you’re an old AA flyer, then you may be missing a meal you once had. On the other hand, if you’re ex-US, then you’re probably better off when it comes to first class meals.

There’s more to an airline than bad roast beef, and to be sure, the real work in merging these two airlines lies ahead. In my book, management has already passed one test by electing to move the combined airline into the SABRE system rather than trying to shoehorn a much larger airline into Shares. There’s even more. Your average customer doesn’t need to worry about Sabre DECS (that’s the ops dispatch system for AA), the crew scheduling software, payroll, etc. For most of us, all that matters is our reservations, and of course our miles. I’ll be watching and posting as the merger progresses.

But the purpose of my post and its cryptic headline? In the last couple of weeks I’ve had two separate conversations with two people I trust, one from legacy AA, the other legacy US. The AA conversation went something like this – “This place is turning into America West!” On the other hand, the US conversation surprised me a tiny bit – “With the exception of a few Airbus things, we’re going AA all the way on the operations side.” Perception is an interesting thing, and the contrast here entertained me. Could it be that managers really are (mostly) taking the time to pick the best ideas, policies, and procedures from either airline? Only time will tell, but it is kind of fun for this airline nerd to watch.

-MJ, October 1, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

-MJ, September 30, 2014

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-MJ, September 30, 2014

 

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

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

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

What are your feelings on expanded PreCheck access?

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-MJ, September 29, 2014

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

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

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

-MJ, September 29, 2014

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On Elliott at BA

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

On Airline Service

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

On the Week Ahead

Watch for continued challenges in and around Chicago. Ugh.

-MJ, September 29, 2014

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

….and this week at MJ on Travel.

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

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

-MJ, September 28, 2014

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

Register for the main FTU sessions here.

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

Book a hotel here.

Enjoy and learn!

-MJ, September 28, 2014

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