Newsflash: American Airlines status buy-up for 2018

Welcome back to rsts11travel. We’re here today to let you know that if you’re running short on qualification for next year’s AAdvantage status, you may be able to buy up to retain status.

We did a status challenge last year at this time (through FoundersCard) to get Platinum status through January 2018. Alas, travel slowed down at work and in our personal lives this year, and we’re way short of the qualification to keep status through January 2019. And American has a policy of only allowing “quick qualification” once every five years, so while FoundersCard had another status challenge offer recently, we’re not eligible.

This morning, the buy-up offer came into our email. The price to upgrade will vary based on how close you are to qualifying; your travel plans for 2018 will definitely tie into whether it’s worth spending cash to regain status.

For us, it’s probably not going to be worth paying to upgrade. Since our American mileage and spend was lower this year than the previous year, we’re looking at about $750 for Gold and $1500 for Platinum. If we win the lottery, then we’ll probably re-up (or just fly for a week and enjoy organic status). Otherwise, we’ll probably slip down for a year and consider status challenges or matches elsewhere.

There are two possible side benefits (beyond the status) of buying-up to a status level.

The first side benefit is that if you use a travel card (especially American Airlines cards, but possibly other travel rewards cards), this spend should qualify for the bonus points and other benefits. For example, the AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard from Citibank has two benefits for spend:

So that $1500 for Platinum would give us 3000 miles and almost 4% of the spend to get 10k EQMs (although doing it now wouldn’t help much, as it’s per-calendar-year).

You might be able to use travel-eraser cards to credit back the cost of your upgrade, or use travel credits from a premium card like Chase Sapphire Reserve or certain American Express cards, depending on your card and how the charge is classified/posted.

The second side benefit is noted in the buy-up offer:

Plus, your purchase price will count toward your Rolling Elite Qualifying Dollars, helping improve your upgrade priority.

So that Platinum buy-up would give 1500 EQDs toward the next year’s status, and help with ranking for upgrades.

Have you considered buying your status upgrade for 2018? Have you found any other ways to take advantage of travel card benefits with this upgrade? Share in the comments!

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Quick take: Admirals Club at SFO, and a minor reroute on the way to DCA

We’re back from nearly a week in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., for a little bit of sightseeing and a lot of the Splunk annual user conference, .conf2017. Trip report on that coming soon, so watch this space. But for now…

Sit a spell, for a bit about lounges

As our regular readers  know, I’m rather fond of the Centurion Lounge at the Las Vegas McCarran (LAS) airport, and I had hoped to try out the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) Centurion Lounge on this trip, as well as spending a couple of hours at the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) Centurion Lounge. American Express Platinum charge card holders get free access to these lounges. I’d also scored an upgrade with my often-useless 500-mile certificates, for the DFW-DCA segment.

[Side note: Amex has changed how access to the Centurion Lounges is handled for non-Platinum Card holders; see our post on this change for more details.]

I got to the airport early, PRE and CLEAR, and got through security at my gate’s concourse before realizing I’d have to go out and around to get to the Centurion Lounge. Even with TSA PRE and CLEAR, I didn’t relish two more security adventures, and may not have been awake enough to be sure I could find my way.

Luckily, there was an American Airlines Admirals Club lounge just inside security, and with the Citi AA Executive Master Card, I get “free” access. So I went in, and the agent inside checked me in, looked at my AA itinerary to DCA, and then made a face.

It seemed that the plane I was scheduled to fly out to DFW on was on maintenance still, with less than two hours till scheduled takeoff. The agent said he’d seen a similar situation recently where the flight finally left 10-12 hours behind schedule, so he poked around for a few minutes to rebook me through Chicago O’Hare (ORD). He also got my checked bag rerouted to the new plane. I was disappointed to have a shorter layover, no upgrade, and no Centurion Lounges at all, but I’d get into DCA three hours earlier and have time for dinner at my destination.

When I got to my departure gate, the flight I had originally booked was at the next gate over, reporting boarding in 8 minutes, with no plane in sight. By the time I was boarded, they’d moved departure on the other flight from 8:00am to 8:30, and when I checked in Chicago, they’d finally departed a bit before 10am. Not as bad as the lounge agent had feared, but still….

My flight to ORD gave me time to get a pair of sleep socks from the Project Fi Travel Trolley, spend about an hour in the Admirals Club above the H/K concourses, and get onto my flight (with business class upgrade after all) to DCA.

When I checked in, the agent at priority check-in didn’t tell me about the maintenance situation. If I had gone to the Centurion Lounge across the airport, they probably wouldn’t have had access to that information either. So while I do still want to try the SFO Centurion Lounge, and will still visit the LAS lounge whenever I’m in town, there was a definite upside to using my traveling airline’s lounge instead.

Have you had any interesting lounge experiences lately? Share them in the comments, or join the conversation on Facebook.

Quick Take: Amex Locks Down Centurion Lounge Access For Some Cardmembers

[Note: This is slightly older news; the announcement was a couple of weeks ago and the changes took effect a week before this posting.]

American Express offers a number of proprietary lounges in about a dozen airports around the world under the Centurion Lounge brand. With complimentary buffet-style dining, a premium bar, facilities for business travelers as well as families, and usually-better-than-general-airport-WiFi, the Centurion Lounges can be a welcome respite before hopping on a plane.

Platinum charge card cardmembers (but not platinum credit card holders, like those with the Delta American Express Platinum cards) have long had access and the ability to bring family and friends along with them. Other American Express cardholders could purchase a day pass for $50, much as some airline-specific lounges also allow.

Unfortunately, this has led to crowding in some of the lounges, and dissatisfied customers (many of whom now pay an additional premium in the form of a $550 annual fee, vs the former $450 fee), and Amex believes they have found a way to attempt to address this.

As of October 2, 2017, American Express has eliminated the option for other American Express cardmembers to purchase guest passes.

Platinum cardmember access remains unchanged, with members allowed up to two guests, and additional guest passes being $50 per day per guest. Centurion Card holders can bring two guests or their immediate family along, with the same guest pass option. This is actually unchanged from the previous policy.

Guest passes are valid all day, so if you’re bringing extra guests along through multiple airports with Centurion Lounges, you only need to buy one pass per day.

What does it all really mean?

If you are a Platinum charge cardmember, there’s no change. Personal Platinum cardmembers will see the $550 annual fee take effect in the next cycle, if your fee hasn’t come up since May 2017, along with the other benefits we covered when the fee hike was announced.

If you are an American Express cardmember who had used the $50 day pass option, you lose that option, but of course you could apply for (or upgrade to) a Platinum card if you use the lounges enough.

With free food and alcohol available in the lounge, as well as a relatively quiet place (until the super-important business person has a shouting match on speakerphone by the window, of course), I find it easy to consider the lounge worth $50 a visit if I have more than an hour to wait, or if I’m traveling with my family. Two premium drinks and a modest meal would easily come to that much outside the lounge, even for a solo traveler.

So you’d have to do the math, considering how often you travel through a Centurion Lounge airport. Today that includes DFW, LAS, LGA, SFO, MIA, SEA, HOU, and soon Hong Kong and PHL. You’d also take into account which other benefits of the card you use, such as Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts and the $200/year Uber credit, if travel is your primary benefit from Platinum.

Amex does have Priority Pass Select, Airspace, Delta Club (when flying on Delta), and Escape Lounges in addition to the Centurion and Amex International Lounges. However, some of those options are available through other means, including airline fee rebates or other cards offering Priority Pass variants.

My math has worked out the last couple of years, in that I can use Uber for personal transport during business trips, and I visited Las Vegas about 8 times in the past year. I can’t be sure if that will be the case in the next year, but we’ll see.

We wrote about changes to the American Express personal platinum card in March.

Photo credit: Featured photo from American Express

Quick Take: Save on CLEAR with Delta Airlines SkyMiles and Amex

If you live near an airport that has CLEAR, you probably know the benefits. For a $179 annual fee, you get to skip most of the line, using biometrics and your boarding pass to skip the initial TSA checkpoint. With TSA PRE or one of the other services that offers it (like Global Entry, SENTRI, NEXUS, etc), you are dropped right into the PRE line, and can easily make it from ticket counter to the other side of security in 5 minutes or less.

There are a number of options to save on CLEAR. For example, if you’re a FoundersCard member, you get six months free and a $140 annual rate after that. FoundersCard is a bit pricy on its own, but there are a couple of ways to make it pay for itself. [Click here for our referral link, which will save you $100 on FoundersCard membership.] Most airports with CLEAR have codes advertised for two free months, and members have referral codes (ours is here) that can get you free months and/or a similar discount.

The best way we’ve found, and the way we use ourselves, is through the Delta Air Lines partnership. If you’re a Delta Sky Miles member (even if you just joined last month), you get an annual rate of $99. If you are Silver, Gold, or Platinum with Sky Miles, or have one of the three top Delta Amex cards (personal or business), your rate is $79. If you are Diamond Medallion with Sky Miles, your CLEAR membership is free.

If you’re already a Delta Sky miles member and want to join CLEAR, this is definitely the way to go. Worst case, you save $80/year. Best case, you get your membership for free. And if you’re not a member, go ahead and sign up, wait a few days, and then use your Sky Miles number to get that $80/year discount.

Full details and signup are at https://www.clearme.com/delta

Obviously if you’re not in, or often flying from, one of the 20 or so airports that have CLEAR, this won’t be worth it. Note that there are also CLEAR lanes at San Francisco’s AT&T Park, Miami’s Marlins Park and American Airlines Arena, Denver’s Coors Field, and Comerica Park in Detroit, so sports fans and concertgoers might benefit even without booking a single flight.

Disclosure: If you use our affiliate links for CLEAR and/or FoundersCard, we may receive valuable consideration, but the recommended option in this article does not benefit us in any tangible way.

Quick Take: Rideshare partnerships to double/triple dip

Most of our readers are rideshare users, whether Lyft or Uber or both. And most of you also use other travel providers, right? What if you could take advantage of multiple promotions to make the most of your rideshare usage?

Well, you can, and in this quick take we’ll point you toward the ones we know about. If we miss any, let us know in the comments and we’ll update accordingly.

Lyft

We’ve found two Lyft partnerships that you can sign up for as a rider, and one driver promotion as well. Check your Connected Services page while logged into Lyft to see if you’re already registered.

JetBlue (Lyft, JetBlue) offers 30 TrueBlue points for every airport ride you take with Lyft. Incidentally, rides near an airport may count; we’ve seen a number of Las Vegas Strip rides report the 30 point credit in the app, even going from hotel to hotel, although this may only apply if one of your ride endpoints is adjacent to the airport (i.e. Mandalay Bay complex).

Delta (Lyft, Delta) offers 1 Delta SkyMile per dollar spent on rides, and through November 1, 2017, 3 SkyMiles per dollar on airport rides.

Shell Fuel Rewards (Lyft, Fuel Rewards) has a special offering for Lyft Drivers only (not riders). If you’re in the driver’s seat for Lyft, this one will be worth looking into, but for riders/travelers, it’s not so useful.

Uber

We’ve found two Uber partnerships that you can sign up for, and two you may already be getting. Check your Rider Profile page to see if you’re already connected.

Starwood Preferred Guest (Uber, Starwood) lets you earn 1 Starpoint per $2 spent with Uber anytime, and 2 Starpoints per $1 spent with Uber during a Starwood stay. There is a catch, in that you have to have one qualifying Starwood stay before the points promo will be effective. Also, it appears that only paid nights on “eligible rates” qualify to activate the promotion.

American Express Platinum (Uber, Amex) also offers a valuable Uber benefit, as long as you have a Platinum charge card linked to your account (you don’t even have to pay for rides with it). As of Summer 2017, Amex Platinum cardmembers receive $15/mo in Uber credits, with a $20 December bonus (or $35 total for December), as an automatic benefit of the expanded annual fee. Uber VIP status is also granted where available. See our earlier coverage of the Platinum changes, and remember that Platinum *credit* cards like the Delta cards do *not* count for this benefit.

American Express Membership Rewards offers 2x MR points on Uber rides charged to an eligible American Express card that earns MR points, or you can use points to pay for an Uber ride. The earning is a better deal, in that your Uber redemption is only 1 cent per MR point. But you can choose on each ride when you apply an eligible Amex card.

VISA Local Offers (Uber, VISA) is also worth a look. This is a program that is tied to specific credit cards, and if you use a card registered with Local Offers at a venue offering the promotion, you are eligible for a credit to your Uber account based on spend at the venue. We’re not seeing this option in our app though, so your mileage may vary (or we may have already registered for it).

Credit card travel benefits may apply

Remember that some credit cards offer promotional bonuses for travel expenses including rideshare spend.

Cards like Discover, Chase Freedom, and the like offer quarterly categories that may include ground transportation, but you’ll need to register each quarter and keep track of the categories. It doesn’t look like Discover or Chase have any ground transportation promos for the rest of 2017 though, but check again in December.

Capital One has been known to offer promos with their Quicksilver cards.

Chase Sapphire Reserve and Preferred have a year-round bonus earn for travel spend (see right) which generally includes taxis and rideshares.

And of course, cashback cards are a reasonable option if you don’t have a better option, especially those like Citi Double Cash that offer a flat 2% back.

Did we miss any tips and tricks that you’ve used to optimize your rideshare benefits? Share in the comments and we’ll investigate and update appropriately.

Disclosure: All offers are valid as of September 5, 2017, as noted; no links in this post (above this disclosure) as of September 5 are affiliate or referral links. If you do still need to sign up for Lyft (RSTS11TRAVEL) or Uber (DHOVJ), you can use the codes/links  just mentioned, or the links at our Support Rsts11Travel page.

Magic Kingdom For Sale? Making the most of your Disney adventure from a rewards perspective

As we head into the weekend, rsts11travel’s Robert Novak is here with an apology to Terry Brooks and a tip sheet for finding great deals or saving money in general with your trips to the Disney theme parks and facilities.

I (Robert) worked for the Walt Disney Company for three years, and in that time I had the best deal you can get without being on the board or executive staff of TWDC: a magical device formerly (and generally) known as the Silver Pass.

Given to full-time salaried employees after two weeks, and hourly staff after a substantially longer time, the Silver Main Entrance Pass gave cast members (inside and outside the parks) free entrance for themselves and their registered/benefitted dependents, or for a fixed number of guests if one didn’t have spouse or dependents to report. The pass was valid for something in the neighborhood of 300+ days per year.

This made me pretty popular when I was at events near the parks, and I also got some free passes every six months to give to friends or family. But since I didn’t live near the parks, I didn’t use these benefits very often.

People would often ask me to get them discounts, but the discounts for outright purchase of tickets were pretty light (similar to the discounts Apple gives on current products to employee purchase programs–not very much at all). So I surprised friends by telling them to go outside the company. Now that I don’t have the pass anymore, I too go outside the company, and I’ll share some guidelines that will help you make the most of your efforts and funds. Continue reading “Magic Kingdom For Sale? Making the most of your Disney adventure from a rewards perspective”

Travelogue: Quick updates from Las Vegas, featuring Jimmy Buffett, Gordon Ramsay, and Uber

Welcome back to rsts11travel. Jimmy Buffett enticed us back to Las Vegas last weekend–no April foolin’ here–for a long weekend at Signature at MGM Grand. With Signature’s proximity both to the MGM Grand Garden Arena and the Las Vegas Monorail station, it’s an ideal and affordable option to enjoy relative quiet and little to no smoke. You still have the ease of access through the District to MGM Grand proper, and the entire strip is accessible one way or another, including the Harmon Ave sneaky path to Planet Hollywood.

Continue reading “Travelogue: Quick updates from Las Vegas, featuring Jimmy Buffett, Gordon Ramsay, and Uber”

A second look at Amex Fine Hotels and Resorts at Delano Las Vegas

It took a couple of weeks, but the rsts11travel review of Aria Las Vegas’s Aria Sky Suites property finally came out this week. One of the prods to stop editing and just post it was that we were booking another stay for this summer that was somewhat related. Not everyone will celebrate a birthday and aim for MLife Gold in one weekend, but about anyone with the right charge card can take advantage of these benefits.

Delano’s all-suite plan makes it a very comfortable place for longer-term stays on the Las Vegas strip

We’ve written briefly about Delano Las Vegas in our Hidden Gems piece earlier this year. It’s one of our favorite properties on the strip, especially when attending an event being held in Mandalay Bay Convention Center. With its small lounge and bar, coffee shop with pastries and snacks, and Della’s Kitchen breakfast/lunch venue, you can get a lot done without passing Michael Jackson, and with Delano itself being a non-smoking, non-casino hotel with a separate entrance, those with sensitivity to noise or smoke can escape those discomforts in their “home” hotel. But you’re a few hundred feet from Cirque du Soleil, the Mandalay Bay casino, their dining options from fast counter service to posh sit-down service, and of course the rest of the strip.

Continue reading “A second look at Amex Fine Hotels and Resorts at Delano Las Vegas”

Changes in Amex Platinum – and 3 reasons to keep the card

Over the last couple of weeks American Express has revealed tweaks to their personal Platinum charge cards. Most of the finance and travel bloggers I read agree that, while Amex has been under pressure to improve their offerings in response to the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, they’ve made changes that were not as much of an improvement as many cardmembers had hoped.

Imagine Bart Simpson pointing at a cake right about here.

In return for a $100/year increase in annual fee (now $550/year), the personal Platinum card offers up to $200/year in Uber credits, 5x Membership Rewards (MR) points on prepaid hotels booked through amextravel.com, and… that’s about it for tangible enhancements.  Continue reading “Changes in Amex Platinum – and 3 reasons to keep the card”

Credit where credit is due – Vegas reward credit cards

In an earlier post, we talked about the Caesars Entertainment Total Rewards and MGM Resorts Mlife Rewards programs. Today we’re looking at the Total Rewards VISA and Mlife Rewards Mastercard credit card offerings, to see how they can help you increase status and/or rewards.

While each program has a branded credit card that may accelerate your benefits, you’ll definitely want to consider whether another travel or cashback card may give you better rewards. And of course, remember that carrying a balance on a rewards card can easily eradicate any net value of the rewards. Continue reading “Credit where credit is due – Vegas reward credit cards”