Catching up (April 2018)

Long time, no see!

I apologize for the hiatus.  I’ve actually had a few posts in the queue for a while, but some changes have happened/are happening in the miles and points world-don’t worry, travel hacking isn’t dying!-but lots of things needed to be edited or just completely rewritten.  In case you can’t tell, brevity isn’t my strength.  I do try to include brief summaries in my posts, but I also do not consider a post complete until I’ve laid out every last detail.  That takes time.

So, I anticipate more regular posts in the coming weeks, but for now I just wanted to catch up on a few things:

  1. Changes to Southwest Companion Pass earning strategy
  2. A few of our travel plans for 2018
  3. News about the SPG/Marriott merger

We’re headed back to Costa Rica this summer!

Major changes to Chase Southwest credit cards

Chase has thrown a wrench in the ability to earn a Southwest Companion Pass.

Bad news: As I wrote in my post about earning the Southwest Companion Pass, the easiest way to earn a CP is to open two Southwest credit cards when the sign up bonus is 50,000-60,000 per card.  This puts you at or in reasonable reach of earning the 110,000 Southwest points needed to earn a CP.  Chase issues two different versions of personal Southwest credit cards, the Premier and the Plus.  Until last week, one could open one of each of the personal cards.  Now, Chase will only allow you to open one personal version of the card.

Double the babies, double the points

Almost 2 years of 2 tickets for the price of 1 just got a little tougher. But it’s still possible to earn a Southwest Companion Pass!

Good news:  Currently, you can still get one business Southwest credit card and one personal Southwest credit card to earn two sign up bonuses.  Time to get creative and figure out what business you may own without even realizing it!  For example, do you sell stuff on Etsy? Ebay? Do you have a blog? There are many ways to qualify for a business card without owning what you may consider a traditional business.  You do not even have to have an LLC or a tax ID.  You can apply as a sole proprietor with your social security number.

As much as this change sucks, I can’t really say I am surprised.  Frankly, I’m surprised it lasted as long as it did.  Almost 2 years of 2 for 1 travel is one of the best deals out there and fortunately the Companion Pass is still somewhat attainable, especially for those who are new to credit card rewards!

Changes like this happen all the time, but the travel hacking community always finds ways to adapt.  In 5 years of doing this, Ryan and I still haven’t met a trip we couldn’t book for (almost) free.

Trips we’re planning/have booked

Speaking of Ryan and I, we have a few trips planned already this summer including an adult-only trip with my BFF Lexie and her husband (who also have 3 kids).  We’re going to Costa Rica and staying at the Andaz Papagayo.  I’ll post about how we booked it because you know we booked it on points and miles!  We also have a few work trips for Ryan and we’re going to take our kids to the beach during the summer.

I look forward to recreating these moments in Costa Rica

Ryan’s facial expressions are the best

Once a year Ryan and I try to take at least a week (without kids) to go somewhere we’ve never been before.  Isn’t that a quote? Anyway, we’re trying to plan our next “big” trip.  Having 3 kids makes it tough to do long adult-only trips, but we somehow manage to talk our parents into keeping the kids.  The kids get spoiled by the grandparents, said grandparents get to spoil the grandkids, Ryan and I get to do fun things.  Everyone wins.

We’re looking at either Argentina/Chile/Patagonia or Japan.  I know.  Two totally different places.  But both of those places are good for the time of year we want to go.  Right now, it’s looking like Japan because the flights work out better.  Either way, I plan to write about the best points and miles to get to both places while it’s fresh in my mind.

The biggest news of the week 

SPG/Marriott Merger

The dreaded time has come.  SPG and Marriott Rewards will soon be one program.  And with a new name (yet to be released… any guesses?).  On Monday, April 16, more details about the new program will be released on Facebook.  I’ll post a summary of the details afterwards, but the rumors I’m hearing aren’t good.  It’s no secret that SPG has been at the top of my list as far as loyalty programs.  Even though it is a hotel program, it is was? as good if not better than Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards.

This was at the Westin Playa Conchal in Costa Rica. You can book it with SPG/Marriott (soon to be whatever Marriott decides to rename the program) points.

In addition to using SPG’s award currency (Starpoints) for free hotel stays, we also have the option to transfer points to several airlines at a 1:1 ratio.  Also, for every 20,000 Starpoints transferred to airline miles, SPG gives a 5,000 mile bonus.  This makes Starpoints more valuable than airline miles for 2 reasons:

  1. Earn more– If you use an airline co-branded credit card such as Citi AAdvantage, you earn AAdvantage miles.  You earn 1 mile per dollar (except on AA flights which is 2 miles per dollar).  The SPG credit card (issued by American Express) also earns 1 point per dollar on most purchases.  But if you transfer in increments of 20,000, you’re getting 5,000 miles bonus which is 25%.  So you’re effectively earning 1.25 points per dollar.  May not seem like much but it adds up quickly and it can be the difference between having enough miles for an award ticket or not having enough.
  2. Flexibility– If you’re using an AAdvantage credit card, you earn AA miles.  If you go to book your flight and AA or AAdvantage’s partners do not have availability for your desired dates, you’re out of luck.  But with Starpoints, you can check for availability on several other airlines.  Click here for a list of SPG’s airline partners.

I do not want to speculate on the rumors too much, because what’s the point?  I’d rather wait until we have the facts to discuss and analyze.  But one rumor that is concerning is that there may be changes to the option to transfer of SPG points to air miles.  Some think this will go away completely (I doubt it), and some think they may keep the ability to transfer but eliminate the 5,000 mile bonus.  I think the latter is a more likely scenario.  While it’s not ideal to lose the 25% bonus potential, having those airline partners still makes SPG/Marriott/WhateverTheyDecideToCallIt a top contender for best points to collect.

There are 4 flexible currencies in terms of credit card rewards that transfer to airlines.  3 of these are bank programs (Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and Citi Thank You*) and the 4th is SPG.

Remember that each of these 4 programs have different airline partners, but some also share partners.  For example, SPG is the only program of the 4 that transfers to Alaska Airlines.  On the other hand, Singapore Airlines can be transferred from all 4 programs.

*Sidenote: I’ve rarely mentioned Citi Thank You up to this point because I have never opened a card that earns Thank You points (such as Citi Prestige).  I have nothing against the program, I just have never needed it as the other 3 programs have allowed me to book any trip I wanted thus far.  With that said, it is a program worth considering and I may open one eventually.  There are no direct hotel partners, but there are several airline partners.

A lot of people are debating whether or not it is a good idea to transfer your SPG points to airlines now in case they are discontinuing the ability to transfer on Monday.  First of all, I do not think SPG is going to entirely eliminate the airline transfer options.  Even if that does happen, I am pretty sure we would get a grace period.  Usually when big changes like this come, we get a little bit of a warning.  Not always, but usually.  Second, I don’t like the idea of speculatively transferring points to an airline.  In other words, if you don’t have immediate plans to redeem miles for an award ticket, I don’t recommend transferring your SPG points.  Your points are best left in your SPG, Amex MR, Chase UR, or Citi Thank You account until you’re ready to book the plane ticket.

Fishing is great in Costa Rica!

Conclusion

  • The Southwest Companion Pass is still possible (but a little more difficult) to earn
  • I’ve been away from a beach for too long
  • SPG/Marriott changes are coming.  More info to be released on Monday.
  • Don’t transfer your SPG points yet (unless you were already planning on booking an award flight and have confirmed availability for your dates)
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