As part of my recent trip to Paris, I got to fly from EWR to ORY on OpenSkies, a subsidiary of British Airways that flies exclusively from NYC-Paris. They have one flight that leaves from EWR and another from JFK. Due to award availability, I dragged myself over to EWR, but was really excited to take this flight.

This is a unique product for British Airways because it’s one of the few routes they fly that don’t involve a connection at LHR, which can add a lot of extra money in dreaded fuel surcharges. I did pay ~$450 + 40,000 Avios for the flight, but in my eyes, it was completely worth it. This flight often retails for over $7,000!

Click here to read about the award redemption for this flight in more detail.

The seat and flight

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Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome Entrance

Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome Entrance

Yep. I stayed four nights here as part of my free Paris vacation valued at over $20,000. Both my partner and I opened a Chase Hyatt Visa credit card. Both came with two free nights at any Hyatt property in the world. Hyatt now has a handful of properties that are in a new category: aspirational Category 7. I was torn between redeeming the free nights at the Vendome or at one of the two Category 6 properties in Hawaii. It’s obvious which one I picked because I’m now reviewing the Vendome. I was underwhelmed by it. It was “meh.”

The reason I chose the Vendome was mostly because of the hype. In the points-and-miles blog stratosphere, people talk about the Vendome like it’s the holy grail of hotels.

Expectations. I tried not to have very many. I was hoping for a nice room as a Platinum member with Hyatt. Nearly the second I walked into the Vendome, I kinda had this sinking feeling that I’d wasted my precious four free nights. Read More

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Many moons ago, I bought a R/T ticket to Italy when Star Alliance airlines were attacking fares in Skyteam hubs. After playing around with some dates and locations, I decided to go to Italy for my birthday. Now I’m back and have so much catching up to do.

  • I flew there and back on Swiss business class, which offered a phenomenal product and service
  • I stayed (for free!) at the Radisson Blu in Galgiznano Terme, Italy, which was a lovely property
  • I got to see Venice and Florence for the first time – both lovely cities
  • And I earned nearly 14K United miles, nearly enough for a free one-way toward another getaway trip

I’ve also been crazy busy with work, but it’s now slowing down and I’m hoping to turn more attention back into the blog, especially before I return to Europe for Oktoberfest in Germany.

Finally, I’ve missed you guys and am looking forward to getting back in the saddle!

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Also see: Rom’s Deals take on a retention offer Screenshot 2014-05-14 08.45.39

Oh man, I have so much to tell you guys about. The trip to Paris, BA lie-flat biz class, and thoughts about Amex, interest charges, and assorted travel fun. But first things first.

The sitch

I think I mentioned that I bought a couple of Amex gift cards via the Barclaycard RewardsBoost portal before. Anyway, I did. I bought two for $1,000 each. The first time, I paid $8.95 in shipping and activation fees, while the second time, I didn’t (I signed up for a 90-day trial of the premium shipping plan). Before buying, I made sure to click through the RewardsBoost portal given by my Arrivalcard. Then I waited for 8 weeks.

Nothing.

I bought other things through the portal too, from J. Crew and drugstore.com. Those all posted fine.

I am now well-dressed

I am now well-dressed

But I was still waiting on eight thousand points to post worth over $88 in travel redemptions (4x points x $2,000 of spend).

Then, somewhere along the line, I got hit with the $89 annual fee and was sent a new Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard.

The “in”

After 8 weeks passed, I gave ol’ Barclays a WTF call. 8,000 points isn’t a ton of points, but it also ain’t nothin’. I gave them my Amex order numbers and the exact amounts of the purchases. They’ve promised to post the missing points in the next 7-10 days.

Then, right after, I mentioned how the annual fee had just hit and asked if there was any way I could continue evaluating the card fee-free due to the recent error and subsequent over-two-month wait in getting points posted.

At that point, I was transferred to a manager.

I explained that I’d been waiting for over 8 weeks on some points, had just received a new World Elite MasterCard, and was still a little on the fence about where to direct the bulk of my spend. I mentioned using the card recently on a trip to Paris, and how I would’ve normally given that spend to Chase instead.

The agent reviewed my account, reviewed my recent spend, and then really impressed me. She waived the $89 annual fee, said she’d personally follow up on the missing 8K points, and gave me an additional 5,000 points for the trouble. I had a moment where I was so impressed with the customer service that all I could say was “Wow.”

Why I think I was offered this

The “in” was the trouble with the portal points posting. BUT, I have been using the Arrivalcard for regular spend. Barclays is a bank that really values engagement with their products. I’ve had a card with them for over 7 years now (the ill-fated Icelandair MasterCard), and made sure to ramp up the spending on the Arrivalcard to demonstrate my willingness to have a banking relationship with them. Their motto is very literally “show me the money.”

Knowing this, I also think they would’ve said they couldn’t waive the fee had I not spent anything on the card in the previous six months. The points trouble was my “in” but the relationship was the kicker.

I really value that. I like knowing that they want my relationship and that they’ll take care of me for giving them my loyalty.

Bottom line

Barclays offered to fix their error, bounced me 5,000 points for the trouble, and waived the $89 annual fee on the new Arrivalcard World Elite MasterCard  - just for making a phone call. They are a bank that looks for relationships with the customers, and in the end, I have to say I really respect them for the way they treated my (very minor) issue.

I’m super impressed by this level of customer service and will definitely be funneling some of my non-bonused spend through this card, especially in conjunction with their super lucrative RewardsBoost portal (and definitely when they offer 4x points on Amex gift cards).

Has anyone else gotten an offer like this? Or had any experiences with Barclays lately?

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From the I’ll-never-use-this files (similar to my previous pondering about Alaska’s MileagePlan), I stumbled upon the Shell Fuel Rewards Network and wanted to share an overview of the program because it looked really interesting.

Stop me if you’ve already heard about it and I must also disclaim: I live in New York City. I don’t have a car. I don’t even know where the closest Shell station is. But I signed up for the Fuel Rewards Network program all the same.

Why?

Automated savings

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You're interesting

You’re interesting

I’ve been curious about Alaska’s MileagePlan program for a while. Between trying out Delta, then racing to qualify for status on American, Alaska has always been that airline that I’ve known about but never really explored. MileagePlan was discussed quite a bit at April’s FTU, and since then, I’ve been looking into the program more.

Pros and Cons

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I’ve written before about the benefits of FoundersCard.

Quick overview of current bennies

They partner with American Airlines to offer a unique benefit each quarter. In the past, they’ve had discounts of 5% or 10% off most fares on AA metal, which can be quite a nice break with you fly American a lot.

Here are the current airline benefits:

  • Virgin Atlantic: Complimentary Flying Club Silver Elite Status & Fast Track to Gold Elite Status
  • Virgin Atlantic: Up to 20% off US & Vancouver originating Flights to the UK
  • Cathay Pacific: Complimentary Marco Polo Club Silver Tier Status
  • Cathay Pacific: 5-25% off flights
  • JetBlue: FoundersCard Members save 5% on fares (excluding multi-city trips)
  • Qantas: FoundersCard Members receive up to 25% off travel between US, Australia, and New Zealand. Discounts are available on most classes of service
  • Emirates: 5-15% off fares for US originating flights
  • British Airways: 10% off most roundtrip US, UK & Canada originating airfares

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Also see:

Screenshot 2014-05-14 08.45.39

A new World Elite

I’d already decided last month to keep the Barclaycard Arrival for another year. This weekend, I logged in to see if some points had posted for the gifts cards I purchased on a recent spree of manufactured spend.

I was asked to verify my address and contact info – no biggie, didn’t think too much of it. And then, I noticed the logo of the Arrival card looked a little different. It was now a Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard.

Surely enough, the entire blogosphere exploded with this news. I’m not one to parrot news, so I’d recommend reading this post by Million Mile Secrets that outlines all the new changes. I already have a World Elite Mastercard (the Ink Plus from Chase), but having two of a nice product never hurts. Read More

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AMEX-Serve-Logo

Ah, my adventures in Serve.

They are doing their best to make sure the product is secure, I’ll give ‘em that.

When I originally got the Serve card, I wanted to find out which banks charge cash advance fees for reloading with a credit card. My idea was to load $5 from each bank’s credit card and report the results. Not so fast.

One card

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Also see:

I just reviewed my latest post and I’ve written about Amex a LOT recently. This is neither a good thing nor a bad thing. Chase’s products are functioning smoothly and as they should; I still love the Arrival card; still jammin’ on my Club Carlson Visa. The only anomaly recently has been with Amex.

Smell ya later, PRG

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I was a bad boy for both flights and showed up at the airport in time to hop into the boarding lane and sit down at my seat. The events leading up to both points were harried. Teeth were knashed, hands were wrung, but I made it. I didn’t have time to make a visit to the new SkyClub at T4, though I was very close it. I’ve been there before and wasn’t overly impressed. If anything, I would’ve liked to’ve seen if the recent Amex Platinum Card changes have thinned the ranks somewhat, because last time was a crowded, near-hellish experience. And at SEA, I didn’t want to miss any of FTU so left as late as possible.

I do have to give it to Delta. They’ve got things figured out. Their operations are great, they’re profitable, and the flights I were on were damn near full. Good for them.

I wish Delta’s SkyMiles program was different. I wish they treated their partners like partners and not bastard stepchildren (American, by contrast, treats their partners very well). I wish they’d step off of this revenue kick they’ve been on lately and keep things like how they were before. But that’s all “wishful” thinking.

The flights

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I wrote yesterday about the new ability to see category bonuses on the Amex website. I also wrote previously about a secret/hidden benefit of the PRG card – that online transactions were posting at 3 points per dollar. In introducing this new category bonus transparency, Amex revealed two things: 1) the unpublished 3x bonus was long-lived and 2) it is now gone.

Screenshot 2014-04-28 12.19.08

3 points per dollar for Amazon Payments? Yes, please!

 

Screenshot 2014-04-28 12.23.29

 

In the first photo, from May 2013, you can see that I had luck getting 3 Membership Rewards per dollar for all online transactions, including Amazon Payments. As you can imagine, this was a boon for my manufactured spending. I also got the 3x bonus for Birchbox, an online subscription service.

In the second photo, from March 2014, I got the standard 1 point per dollar – but it is coded as an internet purchase, NOT a cash advance, which is good to know – and it did earn me Membership Rewards points.

Bottom line

I was hanging on to the PRG card for this unpublished benefit. Now that it’s gone, and I have the EveryDay Preferred card, I have no use for this card any mre. And at $175 per year, it screams “cancel me.”

Going forward, I recommend the EveryDay Preferred card unless you know you’ll meet the $30,000 spending threshold to get the 15K Membership Rewards bonus. In all other cases, default to the EveryDay Preferred. You can read more of my analysis of these two cards in this post.

Having that bonus for online transactions was a good benefit. Now that category bonuses are visible on the website, it seems that this benefit has been removed.

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    Random Travel Quotes

    "Next time I say 'Let's go someplace like Bolivia" ... let's go someplace like Bolivia."
    Butch to Sundance in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (1969)