August 2018 Miles and Points Updates

Lots of miles and points news this week, and it’s only Wednesday!  Some good news and some bad news.

1. AA.com seems to have plans to expand online award search capabilities

There are several AA partner airlines that you can book with AAdvantage miles but will not show in an online search.  This means that you have to call to book.  Some of these partners are Japan Airlines, Air Tahiti Nui, Qatar, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, LATAM, and Cathay Pacific.  If your route is served by an AA partner that is not bookable online, you can call and have an agent search for availability.  To save time (and frustration) I suggest checking for availability via other partners* before you call American Airlines.

*For example, you can create a British Airways account (for free) and do the search.  Their website will show most OneWorld partner availability, including the AAdvantage partners that will not show up on AA.com.  Then you can call AA and tell the agent the exact flights you want.

Yesterday, award tickets for flights operated by Qatar Airways, Cathay Pacific, Sri Lankan, LATAM, and Malaysia Airlines appeared on AA.com.

No formal announcement has been made by AAdvantage regarding these changes.    Today, these airlines are not showing up on a search on AA.com.  As I would expect with any change of this nature, it may just take a little time for AA’s system to fully update.  I highly doubt those partners would have randomly showed on AA.com yesterday if AA wasn’t planning to implement this permanently.

Update: American Airlines has essentially confirmed plans to add online booking capability for more partners on AA.com, but also admitted that it went live prematurely.  A date has not been specified for this expansion.

This is great news for those who collect AAdvantage miles because booking partner flights just got a little less complicated.  Most people don’t take the time to learn the ins and outs of airline loyalty programs, nor do I expect them to! That’s why I’m here!  But I have a confession..

Selfishly, I’m not thrilled about this

Many people either don’t realize that some partners require a phone call or they simply don’t want to bother with phone agents.  With a phone agent you are potentially going to wait a long time on hold only to get a less than helpful agent.  To be clear, there are some excellent phone agents, but some are more helpful and willing to search for alternate dates and routes than others.  Anyway, to me, the fact that many people tend to give up if an award ticket doesn’t show as available in an online search is an advantage.  Why?

Award ticket availability

Basically, it cuts down the amount of people competing for the award seats.  Adding the capability to book online expands the pool of AAdvantage members that I am competing with to snag award tickets!

You can book LATAM flights with AAdvantage miles, but it requires a phone call.

Copacabana Beach views. You can book LATAM flights to Rio with AAdvantage miles, but it requires a phone call. Soon you will be able to book online, though!

2. The Barclay AAdvantage credit card sign up bonus of 60,000 AAdvantage miles offer is back, but not for long

We have seen this offer before, but it eventually dropped to 50,000 miles.  The increased offer has recently returned, but according to reports the offer will change after August 31.  So if you plan to open the card, do it soon!  Click here for a current list of my favorite credit card offers.

This is a great offer because unlike many cards with great bonuses, there is no minimum spending requirement! All you have to do is make one purchase in any amount.

After August 31, we do not know what the offer will be.  It could drop to 50,000 miles with no minimum spend, or it could stay at 60,000 miles but with a minimum spending requirement.

Barclay Aviator AAdvantage credit card offer

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: You can book a roundtrip ticket to Italy (or anywhere in Europe) with the signup bonus of just this credit card! No minimum spending requirement!

3. Korean Air Skypass and Chase Ultimate Rewards end partnership effective 8/25/18

Chase Ultimate Rewards ends partnership with Korean Air August 2018

Why should you care?

Other than a few nonstop routes from the west coast, Korean Air is the best Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner to get to Hawaii for a low redemption cost.  A roundtrip flight operated by Delta from anywhere in the continental US to Hawaii is only 25,000 Skypass miles.  Since Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer to Skypass at a 1:1 ratio, that means you can get a roundtrip ticket to Hawaii for only 25,000 Ultimate Rewards points.

You still have a little time to transfer before this change goes into effect.  Any transfers will need to be placed prior to 8/24, but I do not suggest transferring without an immediate plan to book because transfers are permanent.  In other words, you cannot get the points back as Ultimate Rewards if you are unable to use the Skypass miles.

In addition to Hawaii, Korean Air also has several sweet spots for tickets to Europe and Asia.

southwest credit card, best southwest credit card

From most US cities, Korean Air Skypass has the lowest redemption cost for Hawaii plane tickets

Why I’m not freaking out about this

In theory, Korean Air is a great program, but in practice, it has its challenges.

Yes, Korean Air is the cheapest way for many people to book Hawaii flights on points.  But that assumes that you can find availability for a roundtrip ticket on a Delta flight.  Korean Air only allows roundtrip tickets.  Other Ultimate Rewards partners do allow one way tickets, so you can search for availability with other partners if either your departure or return flight is unavailable.

Also, you can only book tickets for your spouse and other first degree relatives, so if you’re trying to book with a partner or friend to whom you are not related, you would not be allowed to use your miles for that person.  Other Ultimate Rewards partners are not as strict about who you can book with your account.

There are plenty of other ways you can book Hawaii and other Korean Air sweet spots for only a slightly higher redemption cost.

4. Chase will use Expedia as its agent for the Ultimate Rewards redemption portal

Remember, there are 2 ways to use Chase Ultimate Rewards points for travel.  One is to transfer to partner airlines or hotels.  The other is to use your points as cash at a fixed value to book hotels, flights, cars, and even activities through the redemption portal.

Although transferring to partners is usually a better value, using the redemption portal gives more options since you aren’t limited to the Ultimate Rewards airline and hotel transfer partners.  I used the redemption portal to book our hotels in Italy last fall because many of the cities we were visiting did not have good options for booking with Chase’s hotel transfer partners.

Chase Ultimate Rewards booking portal to book hotels in Positano

The only way to book hotels in Positano with Chase Ultimate Rewards points is via the redemption portal. There are no hotels that you can book with Chase’s transfer partners.

It was recently announced that Expedia will run the Ultimate Rewards booking portal.  Why do people care? Because Expedia is said to have more options, but I’m a little confused…

In the past, I had been told by more than one Chase agent that Expedia was where their booking portal inventory came from.  This was over a year ago when we were booking our Italy trip for last September.  So this “news” has me scratching my head.

Everyone in the miles and points world has been thrilled about this announcement and I can’t figure out why.  For the past year, I’ve found that the Chase booking portal hotel options match the Expedia hotel options for any given dates and destination.  Oh well. The take-away is that there may be more options on the Chase redemption portal soon.

Positano hotels with Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

Spend your money on cliff dinners and wine in Positano, not hotels!

5. The new Marriott/SPG program goes live on 8/18.  

There are 2 things I would like to point out:

1. If you plan to use SPG or Marriott points to book a hotel stay, you may get a lower rate if you book now.

Remember, when the new program goes live, SPG and Marriott properties will have new category assignments.  Some may result in an increase in points required and some may result in a decrease.  Check the new award chart that goes live on Saturday and if the new category assignment of the property results in an increase in redemption cost, you should book now!

 2. Both websites may be intermittently unavailable during the next few days

If you want to book a property that will be increasing in cost, don’t wait until Friday at midnight!  Book now.

You can book the Westin Whistler with Marriott or SPG points

The Westin Whistler is a property that will be increasing in redemption cost after 8/18/18!

If you have plans to book the Disney Swan or Disney Dolphin, do it now! Redemption cost will increase on 8/18.

Final thoughts

None of this news is devastating, but some items are time sensitive!

  • The SPG/Marriott merger does simplify things, and overall the new program itself is decent.  I’m still not over the SPG Amex devaluation, though!
  • Hey American Airlines, instead of expanding online award ticket booking capabilities for airline partners, how about making more award seats available on your own flights!

 

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