Two takeaways from Starwood Preferred Guest merger announcement

Since blog subscribers already knew about the changes coming to Marriott's elite status qualification in August, I want to highlight two additional takeaways from the details released Monday about the new program.

Starwood Preferred Guest cardholders see a 33% devaluation

Right now Starwood Preferred Guest cardholders earn 1 Starpoint per dollar spent on purchases, and can transfer 20,000 Starpoints to 25,000 airline miles with most of their partner airlines.

After August, they'll earn 2 Marriott Rewards points per dollar spent, and be able to transfer 60,000 Marriott Rewards points to 25,000 airline miles.

The same $20,000 in spend will only get you two-thirds of the way to the same number of airline miles, meaning that on a per-dollar-spent basis, you'll see a 33% devaluation.

Ultimate Rewards transfers look a little better for certain Starwood stays booked in 2018

Currently, flexible Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer on a one-to-one basis to Marriott Rewards, where they can be transferred on a three-to-one basis to Starwood Preferred Guest. Since Starwood properties top out at 35,000 points, they require up to 105,000 Ultimate Rewards points per night (84,000 Ultimate Rewards points per night on a fifth-night-free award stay).

In August, standard awards will top out at 60,000 Marriott Rewards points, or 43% less than top-tier, peak-season Starwood stays cost today.

"Starting in 2019," standard awards will top out at 100,000 Marriott Rewards points during peak season, bringing the 2019 award chart basically in line with where it is today, although 70,000-point off-peak Category 8 awards will still look better than the 90,000 points they cost today.

Annoyingly, Marriott did not include information one way or the other about whether the new program will continue to offer the fifth night free on award stays. I feel like they could have cut 7 seconds off one of their garbage promotional videos to mention that important piece of information (note that embargoed-for-your-protection Gary Leff says the feature will remain).

Conclusion

Both these observations point in the same direction: if you have a Starwood Preferred Guest credit card today, you have up to 4 more statement closing dates before the changes go into effect. While the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express cards have always been decent for unbonused manufactured spend, especially if you had a particularly lucrative hotel stay or airline transfer partner in mind, all your spend that posts by your July statement closing date will be grandfathered in at the current airline transfer rate and benefit from lower point requirements at Starwood Preferred Guest Category 6 and 7 properties after August 1.

In other words, it's a uniquely auspicious time to pivot away from your other unbonused manufactured spend credit cards and towards your Starwood Preferred Guest, especially if you primarily redeem your Starpoints for Category 6 and 7 redemptions.

This post is focused on Starwood Preferred Guest members because Marriott Rewards members have been so screwed for so long I don't think it's worth dwelling on the fact that the beatings will continue for the foreseeable future.

It's true that the creation of three additional Marriott Rewards redemption tiers above the current maximum redemption rate of 45,000 points will create additional headroom for Marriott to inflate properties into more expensive categories, punishing people who earn Marriott Rewards points through paid stays (and certainly make the 25,000-point and 35,000-point free night certificates just as worthless as they are today). But my working assumption is that anyone who has been earning Marriott Rewards points through paid stays is already so thoroughly downtrodden they'll scarcely notice that the beatings have slightly accelerated.

Assorted 2018 hotel news and program updates

Quite a few changes have been reported to hotel loyalty programs in 2018, so here are a few brief thoughts in case you're wondering what to make of them.

70,000-point IHG Rewards Club properties

IHG Rewards Club has announced the following hotels will cost 70,000 points per night in 2018:

  • InterContinental Paris - Le Grand
  • InterContinental Bora Bora Resort Thalasso Spa
  • InterContinental Le Moana Bora Bora
  • InterContinental Hong Kong
  • InterContinental - ANA Manza Beach Resort
  • InterContinental London Park Lane
  • InterContinental The Clement Monterey (California)
  • InterContinental San Francisco
  • InterContinental Mark Hopkins San Francisco
  • InterContinental The Willard Washington D.C.
  • InterContinental Boston
  • InterContinental New York Barclay
  • InterContinental New York Times Square

I did some award searches and where I found availability, these hotels are still pricing at 60,000 points per night, so the pricing changes seem not to have gone into effect yet.

Using the Points + Cash trick (book then refund Points + Cash reservations until you have enough points for an all-points reservation) you can buy IHG Rewards Club points for 0.575 cents each year-round (and often somewhat cheaper than that), so a 70,000-point property costs roughly $402 per night. The only properties on this list where I'd even consider spending that much money are the French Polynesian resorts in Bora Bora. If you and a partner each had a $49-annual-fee Chase IHG Rewards Club credit card free night certificate, you could combine those with a couple free nights at $402 each and get a 4-night stay, for example, for a total of $902, or $225 per night, which compares favorably to the cost of an award night at the Conrad Bora Bora Nui (without drawing any conclusions about the respective quality of the properties).

Note that award space at those properties can be very difficult to find.

Improved transfer ratio from Membership Rewards to Hilton Honors

Also widely reported has been a permanently improved transfer ratio from flexible American Express Membership Rewards accounts to Hilton Honors, up from 1:1.5 to 1:2. Judging by the complaints I hear from readers, Membership Rewards points are the most difficult flexible points for non-expert users to redeem, so increasing their value when transferred to one of their simplest transfer partners is obviously an unalloyed good.

I don't think Membership Rewards points should be earned speculatively with the intent to transfer them to Hilton (if for no other reason than Hilton Honors points are easier and cheaper to earn with a Surpass/Ascend card), but I also don't think anyone should pay cash for a hotel stay while they have access to cheap and plentiful Hilton Honors points, since the least valuable point is always the one you don't redeem.

Award nights now count towards World of Hyatt elite status

Historically, Hyatt Gold Passport and World of Hyatt elite status could only be earned with nights (and until last year, stays) that had a cash component: only cash and Points + Cash stays earned elite-qualifying credit.

That changed this year, so award nights will also count towards elite status qualification. Unfortunately, it takes 60 nights to qualify for Globalist status, so I doubt this will have much effect except on the margin. An average of 5 nights per month doesn't seem unreasonable in general, but an average of 5 nights per month at Hyatt properties would require booking away from cheaper or better properties, which is a funny way to save money.

Of course, it's easier for some people than others.

Continental breakfast for Gold and Diamond elites at Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts

Hilton has updated their "My Way" choice of benefits for Gold and Diamond elites at Waldorf Astoria properties to include the option of "a daily complimentary continental breakfast in the hotel's designated restaurant for you and up to one additional guest registered to the same room each day of your stay."

Interestingly, they have updated the elite benefits page to reflect the change but have not yet updated the actual My Way options in the app or online, presumably because the only guy who knows how to do so hasn't worked there for years. Hopefully Waldorf Astoria staff have been notified of the change, but I expect elites will have to do some haggling until the system is fully updated.

There are some cool Waldorf Astoria properties but the only ones I can see an obvious reason to choose are the Hawaiian, Caribbean, and Park City locations. Does anybody have a favorite Waldorf Astoria property?

American Express's new co-branded Hilton credit cards

I've been reading with interest this morning about the revamped lineup of co-branded Hilton Honors credit cards American Express will be launching soon. Since I earn a lot of Hilton Honors points with my current Surpass card (and I stay at a lot of Hiltons), I have some quick reactions to share (all of this is based on reported details; I haven't seen an official announcement from American Express yet).

Aspire for high-spending reimbursed business travelers

Note that I always differentiate mere business travelers from reimbursed business travelers. The former can still earn lots of points and elite status benefits on their employers' dime, but it's the later that are truly fortunate since they're also able to maximize the value of their personal credit card rewards with purchases that are later reimbursed by their employers.

For high-spending reimbursed business travelers, I think the Hilton Honors Aspire card may be a pretty good deal. If you spend $60,000 during the calendar year on reimbursed meals (in the US) and flights, you'll receive:

  • two free weekend nights at any Hilton property in the world;
  • 420,000 Hilton Honors points (good for at least 4 nights at any Hilton property in the world);
  • a $250 Hilton resort statement credit;
  • a $250 airline incidental fee credit;
  • unlimited Priority Pass lounge access.

Of course you can't analyze the Aspire card in a vacuum; you have to compare it to your next best option to identify the opportunity cost of putting that much spend on it instead of a rival card. The obvious candidate is the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which also has a $450 annual fee, and also earns bonus points on travel and dining (worldwide, not just in the United States). It also offers a $300 travel statement credit instead of a $250 airline fee credit.

So, how do they compare? A reimbursed business traveler who spent $60,000 on the Chase Sapphire Reserve in bonus categories would earn 180,000 Ultimate Rewards points, worth $1,800 in cash, $2,700 in paid travel through the Ultimate Rewards portal, and potentially much more than that if transferred to a partner program.

420,000 Hilton Honors points, meanwhile, are worth perhaps $2,100 if you're able to get half a cent in value per point. Assuming you use your two annual free weekend night certificates at mid-tier 45,000-point properties, and get the equivalent of half a cent per point in value, that adds another $450 in value, for roughly $2,550 total stay value. Assuming you can use the $250 Hilton resort statement credit on award stays, I don't see any reason not to value that close to face value. If you have to use it on paid stays, of course, you should assign it no value at all because you'll never use it.

So I think a fair prospective estimate of the value of the Aspire card to a high-spending reimbursed business traveler would be between $2,550 and $2,800, basically within a margin of error of the value of Chase Sapphire Reserve Ultimate Rewards points used to book paid travel.

That being the case, I think the strongest argument for picking the Aspire card over the Sapphire Reserve is not strictly the value of the points, but rather the value of diversifying into a rewards currency besides Ultimate Rewards. That's because there are other ways to earn Ultimate Rewards points (Chase Freedom and legacy Ink Plus cards spring to mind), so you may already be earning enough Ultimate Rewards points to meet the travel needs they're best suited for. In that case, earning Hilton Honors points instead may reduce your dependence on Chase's travel partners.

Anyway, I don't pay $450 annual fees, so I won't be getting an Aspire card anytime soon.

Business card for resellers?

American Express is also adding a business credit card to the Hilton Honors lineup that will offer 6 Honors points at a variety of merchants, including "wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service producers." The card will offer a free weekend night after spending $15,000 and $60,000 each calendar year.

Some reseller may have to jump into the comments to correct me on this, but I think the obvious brute force way to maximize this card would be to buy $60,000 in iPhones from one of the mobile phone companies and resell them for as small a loss as possible.

I don't know if that would successfully earn 6 Honors points per dollar, and I don't know how much would be lost in transaction costs, but you'd get 360,000 Hilton Honors points and two free weekend nights, worth $2,250 using the same math as above. That means you'd need to keep your reselling transaction costs below 3.75% to break even (of course it would be even better if you turned a profit). You'd also receive Diamond elite status and 10 Priority Pass passes each year.

Rebranded Surpass: still good for manufactured spend

I put a lot of spend on my current Hilton Honors Surpass card, which I gather will become an "Ascend" card sometime in the next few quarters. I'll keep doing so, earning 6 Honors points per dollar spent at grocery stores and receiving Diamond status after spending $40,000 during the calendar year, but now I'll also get a free weekend night once I hit $15,000.

Unfortunately, after the transition I'll also have to pay $20 more per year for the privilege. As far as I'm concerned, that's a small price to pay for the free weekend night and 10 Priority Pass lounge passes.

If you want to lock in the $75 annual fee on the Surpass card I have a personal referral link on my Support the Site! page (shameless, I know).

Reported Flexperks changes and two kinds of breakage

As I first saw reported at Doctor of Credit, people are saying that Flexpoints earned with the US Bank Flexperks Travel Rewards credit cards will be redeemable for 1.5 cents each beginning on January 1, 2018. They're currently worth as much as 2 cents each for paid airline tickets at the top of their redemption bands, and as little as 1.33 cents at the bottom of a redemption band.

I don't have any insight into whether these reports are true, not having seen any communications from US Bank about any upcoming changes. However, since I seem to have a reputation as the biggest booster of Flexpoints in the travel hacking community, I certainly have been thinking about it.

People are anxious to make definitive declarations about whether the change would be an improvement or a devaluation. That judgment comes down to the intersection of two kinds of breakage.

Breakage as unredeemed value

This is the form of breakage that most immediately leaps to mind when you hear about a change like this. If you are able to consistently redeem your Flexpoints for flights at or close to the top of US Bank's redemption bands, then the value you would receive on redemptions after January first will drop by 25%. The further your actual redemptions are from that ideal redemption, the less the effect the change in redemption value will affect you: you can easily imagine someone who typically books $300 flights or $450 flights with Flexpoints and won't suffer at all from reducing their "maximum" value from 2 cents to 1.5 cents: they'll redeem the same number of points for their typical flight.

More than that, the current system of redemption bands creates an anxiety over unredeemed value. The difference between the $600 maximum value of 30,000 Flexpoints and the actual value you receive creates a disincentive to redeem points at all. Earning points and not redeeming them because of anxiety over getting a "good" redemption value means you might find yourself redeeming other potentially more valuable miles, or even cash, in order to "save" your Flexpoints for a more valuable redemption. You can be disciplined and always "redeem points and miles first," as I do, but that doesn't eliminate the fear of missing out that can be genuinely frustrating.

In other words, a fixed value for redemptions up and down the price scale has the advantage of consistency, even if it removes the ability to swing for the redemption fences.

Breakage as unredeemed points

A different kind of breakage is stranded or unredeemed points. If you're a Flexperks aficionado you may be familiar with ending a statement cycle with 19,000, 39,000, or 99,000 Flexpoints. In the first case your points are worth $190 in cash, in the second case they're worth up to $400 in flights plus $190 in cash, and in the last case they're worth up to $1,600 in flights and $190 in cash. In other words, "odd lot" Flexpoint balances are worth 1 cent each, 1.51 cents each, or 1.81 cents each, not the 2 cents each that you are hoping for.

The more difficult it is to redeem points (e.g. requiring a minimum of 20,000 points), the more points are likely to be stranded in your account at any one time. Stranded and unredeemable points balances are worth nothing (or one cent each, which is close enough). They're not even worth the 1.5 cents each posited under the new redemption regime!

Conclusion

The important thing to understand is not that the changes being reported are "good" or "bad."

In many ways they tug in different directions: the breakage of unredeemed value will be eliminated, but the amount of value locked in will be lower than the value many, if not most, Flexperks cardholders are currently receiving.

On the other hand, if the changes also inaugurate an elimination of minimum redemption amounts, the number of Flexpoints stranded will be reduced by creating more flexibility in award construction, with one-way flights and flights in different classes of service such that you're able to spend down as much of your Flexpoints balance as possible with each redemption. Fewer stranded Flexpoints is an unalloyed good, just as lower maximum redemption value is, for most customers in most circumstances, a devaluation.

That leaves one question which only the individual cardholder can answer: will you get more value from your formerly-stranded, newly-redeemable rump Flexpoint balances, or less value from knocking down the maximum value of points you planned to redeem for flights at the top of the current redemption bands?

Neither I nor any other blogger, thought leader, or guru can answer that question for you.

Let's talk about the Hyatt signup bonus change

As I first saw on Wednesday afternoon via Charles Barkowski's Running With Miles, but which you can now read about everywhere fine affiliate links are sold, starting June 29, 2017, the Chase Hyatt credit card will apparently come with a signup bonus not of 2 free nights at any Hyatt in the world, but rather 40,000 World of Hyatt bonus points.

This is being treated in most corners of the blogosphere as a simple question of whether 40,000 World of Hyatt points are worth "more" or "less" than 2 free nights, which leads to the simple answer that the new signup bonus is worth "less" if you were planning to redeem your 2 free nights at properties that cost more than 20,000 points per nights (category 6 and 7 World of Hyatt properties), and they're worth "more" if you were planning to redeem your 2 free nights at properties that cost 20,000 or fewer points per night (since you would have points left over).

That's fine, as far as it goes. What this changeover does give me the occasion to mention is my general preference for points over free night certificates. I already have a Hyatt credit card, but for people considering whether to apply before or after the changeover, here's my logic.

There are three possible situations in which you might redeem Hyatt free night certificates, good at any Hyatt in the world:

  • A stay in a city with only a category 6 or 7 property. If you're flying into Milan for two nights, you can redeem your two free night certificates for two nights at the Park Hyatt Milan, which retail for hilariously large sums, and are worth $300 per night in transferred Ultimate Rewards points. Here, your two free night certificates are worth $600, the value of the Ultimate Rewards points you don't have to transfer to World of Hyatt. This is a straightforward savings of $200 compared to the 40,000 World of Hyatt points available under the new offer. The same logic applies to Hyatt's luxury resort in the Maldives. If you're going anyway, you should pay less, rather than more, for your stay.
  • A stay in a city with properties in categories 6, 7 and below. Take a destination like Paris, home of the notorious Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome, a category 7 property. Paris is also the home of, a few blocks away, the Hôtel du Louvre-Paris, a category 5 property. If you are staying for exactly two nights, then you are perfectly justified in preferring two nights at the category 7 property over the same two nights at a category 5 property. But what happens on the third night? The Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome costs an additional 30,000 World of Hyatt points, while the Hôtel du Louvre costs just 20,000 additional points. On longer stays, choosing to redeem your free night certificates for "maximum value" costs an additional 10,000 points per night, unless you're interested in moving between hotels during your stay.
  • A stay in a city with properties only in categories 1-4. Here the advantage of the 40,000-point signup offer is obvious: in categories 1-4, 40,000 points go further than 2 free night certificates do. Seattle is an example of a city with a slew of downtown Hyatt properties, all of which cost less than 20,000 points per night. If that's where your next trip is planned, you'll be better off with the new signup bonus rather than sitting on free night certificates waiting for the "perfect" high-value redemption.

I don't have anything against luxury travel, if that's what you're interested in, and the current two-free-night offer is worth up to 20,000 more World of Hyatt points than the upcoming 40,000-point offer for travel to the most expensive Hyatt properties.

But it's also worth up to 30,000 points less, if you tend to redeem your Hyatt points at category 1 properties that cost just 5,000 points per night.

If you trade 8 nights at a category 1 property for 8 nights at a category 7 property (with two nights free), you'll find yourself spending 180,000 World of Hyatt points or tens of thousands of dollars in cash.

Call that an extreme example if you like, but I've always found spending money is damned strange way to save money.

Quick hit: what we think we know about World of Hyatt status transition

In this Monday's post, I explained why I thought a plain reading of the World of Hyatt terms and conditions made it possible, but far from certain, that Hyatt would grant World of Hyatt Globalist status through February, 2019, to Hyatt Gold Passport members who qualified for Diamond status between January 1 and February 28, 2017.

Then I launched into a pretty extensive rant on Twitter about the habit of loyalty programs to leak "confirmed" details, without attribution, to their pet affiliate bloggers.

What can I say? I get worked up about unethical bloggers occupying a privileged position in the loyalty firmament.

An actual Hyatt Gold Passport executive appeared to have answered the question in public

Under increasing pressure from hardworking independent bloggers (joking!), an account claiming to be that of Hyatt Gold Passport Senior Vice President Jeff Zidell tweeted that "25 Stays or 50 nights in Jan/Feb, would earn Diamond through Feb 2019, which would then transition to Globalist on March 1."

Pretty convincing, right? The simplest reading of the tweet is that anyone who qualifies as a Diamond through February, 2019, would be transitioned into Globalist status for the same period.

Who is @jeffzidell and who is @BinghamtonDaily?

I don't know Jeff Zidell. I don't get invited to the Freddies, and I don't have one-on-one chats with loyalty program executives. But it's clear that the @jeffzidell Twitter account is not the Twitter account of someone deeply invested in the nitty-gritty of loyalty program logistics. He mostly retweets other people's posts about Hyatt's loyalty program, marathoning, and being a vulnerable leader.

Meanwhile, his supposedly definitive tweet about Diamond requalification in 2017 was directed at @BinghamtonDaily, which is a Trump-supporting sockpuppet account. Recent representative tweet: "NY 22 Three candidate field of non-compelling candidates. Write In Eric Trump."

@BinghamtonDaily deleted whatever tweet @jeffzidell appeared to be responding to, so we have no public record of the entire exchange.

I personally believe Hyatt will transition 2018 Gold Passport Diamond status to 2018 World of Hyatt Globalist status

But this is not about my personal beliefs. If a loyalty program wants to earn loyalty it has an obligation to make the terms of the program as clear as possible, and where ambiguity exists, to resolve it publicly on equal terms.

So don't attack me for calling into question what will happen to Hyatt Gold Passport Diamonds after March 1, 2017. Join me in asking Hyatt to make clear, in public, with attribution, whether they intend to transition 2018 Hyatt Gold Passport Diamond status to World of Hyatt Globalist status through February 28, 2019. It's a simple yes-or-no question, and Hyatt's refusal to answer it on the record is a problem.

Transfer large blocks of Starpoints using Marriott Flight and Hotel Packages

Today Marriott closed its purchase of Starwood Hotels & Resorts and introduced point convertibility between the Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest programs. After linking your accounts, points are now transferrable between the two programs in either direction at a ratio of 3 Marriott Rewards points to 1 Starpoint.

Upon seeing this news, my first reaction was, "doesn't this make Marriott Flight and Hotel Packages astonishingly cheap?"

Well yes, yes it does.

Starwood's new 33%-46% transfer bonus

The math behind Marriott Rewards Flight and Hotel Packages normally works like this: if you book 7 Marriott Rewards nights at full price, you can transfer 50,000, 70,000, 100,000, or 120,000 points at a 1:1 ratio to a domestic airline (the ratio is different for many foreign carriers). If you choose United as your transfer airline, you receive a 10% bonus.

For example, 7 nights at a 25,000 Category 5 Marriott Rewards property would cost 150,000 points (since the 5th night is free). With a Flight and Hotel Package, you can instead spend 200,000, 220,000, 250,000, or 270,000 Marriott Rewards points and receive the difference in airline miles with Alaska, American, Delta, Air Canada, or British Airways, along with a few others.

Since Starpoints now transfer to Marriott Rewards at a 1:3 ratio, 270,000 Marriott Rewards points cost 90,000 Starpoints. 90,000 Starpoints, transferred directly to an airline partner, would yield 110,000 miles. Transferred first to Marriott Rewards, it yields 120,000 miles (132,000 United MileagePlus miles).

This is worth doing even if you don't plan to stay a single night with Marriott, as long as you have a use for the miles. If you are planning a 7-night stay somewhere anyway, then the value becomes virtually unbeatable.

This makes the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card great for unbonused spend

As long as this option persists, manufacturing unbonused spend with the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card will earn 1.33 to 1.46 miles per dollar spent with all the major US carriers, when Starpoints are transferred to Marriott Rewards in batches of 90,000.

While the Chase Freedom Unlimited earns a slightly higher 1.5 United MileagePlus mile or British Airways Avios, earning Starpoints instead gives you access to those currencies as well as Delta SkyMiles and American AAdvantage and Alaska Mileage Plan miles.

Obviously, the more of the 7 included Marriott hotel nights you use, the more value you'll get from this technique, but as shown above it's worth doing even if you don't use a single one of your included nights.

Note that you don't have to decide on a property and dates for your stay at the time of redemption — the award is deposited into your account, and can even be upgraded later if you decide to stay at a property in a category higher than the one you paid for.

How to feel about the Fidelity Rewards 2% cash back Visa Signature

The Fidelity Investment Rewards American Express has long been popular in the travel hacking community. The reason is simple: transactions are processed on American Express's network, so it can be used to fund Serve prepaid cards, but the card isn't issued by American Express, so it earns rewards on those transactions. In other words, it's an easy "set it and forget it" way to earn $240 per year in cash back at absolutely no cost.

That co-branding relationship has ended, and Fidelity's cash back offering is now being branded as the Fidelity Rewards Visa Signature Card, which still has no annual fee and still earns 2% cash back everywhere, but is now issued by a US Bank subsidiary ("Elan Financial Services") on the Visa network. 

This is great news

There's been some handwringing over the impending loss of the ability to load Serve with a 2% cash back card, and it's true that some people find change harder than others. But there's no shortage of American Express cards issued by banks besides American Express. Just get one of those. The US Bank Flexperks Travel Rewards American Express is a good choice if you're going to use it for manufacturing spend in general, although I wouldn't get it exclusively for this purpose due to its $49 annual fee.

The really great news is that there will be a no-annual-fee 2% cash back card issued on the Visa network!

It's true that Citi offers their Double Cash card on the MasterCard network, which is fine for manufacturing cash back at brick-and-mortar locations. But being issued by Citi means using that card for online manufactured spend is often worse than useless: it's expensive! That's because Citi often codes online bank account funding transactions as cash advances, and charges their customers the corresponding hefty fees and interest charges.

Fidelity Rewards Visa Signature is the Arrival+ killer

I've had a Barclaycard Arrival+ for a few years now, and have kept it year after year for two reasons:

  • It's not issued by Citi;
  • It's not issued on the American Express network.

That meant it was my go-to card for manufacturing spend online. That's true even though they've sharply reduced many of the card's benefits, cutting the card's award rebate from 10% to 5% and raising the redemption threshold from $25 to $100.

But for new Fidelity Rewards Visa Signature cardholders, and after existing cardholders are transitioned to the Visa Signature product, there will be no reason to hold an Arrival+ (unless you're fully enamored with the card's "true" chip-and-PIN functionality).

That's because the Arrival+'s $89 annual fee is essentially a wager, and it's a wager stacked heavily in Barclaycard's favor: will you or will you not spend more than $85,000 per year on the card? It's not that that figure is impossible to hit; it's that every year you don't hit it, you're paying Barclaycard more in annual fees than you're receiving in rebated travel redemptions.

Conclusion

There are a few marginal edge cases where people have legitimate complaints about the loss of their Fidelity Investment Rewards American Express cards.

As exhaustively documented by Milenomics, it's possible to redeem 25,000 Worldpoints (the currency the American Express card technically earns) for flights costing up to $400. If you don't have a US Bank Flexperks Travel Rewards card, that's a pretty good deal, although as Milenomics makes clear, achieving that redemption value isn't trivial. But if you're good at searching out qualifying flights, you may be better off in the status quo.

Another corner case is if you have a strained relationship with US Bank. It's currently unclear what will happen to people who are not currently able to open US Bank credit accounts when their account information is transferred over to Elan Financial Services.

And finally, if you currently transfer your Worldpoints to or from your Fidelity linked account in order to maximize the value of your other Worldpoints-earning credit cards, you'll lose that ability and that value once the transition is complete.

But if you just use your 2% cash back American Express to earn 2% cash back on purchases everywhere, you should be excited to learn that "everywhere" is about to get a lot bigger.

Pre-devaluation Arrival+ housekeeping

We're now just over a month away from the November 17, 2015, Barclaycard Arrival+ devaluation. The devaluation has two key components:

  • statement credits against travel purchases will only be available for purchases of $100 or more, up from $25;
  • only 5% of Arrival+ miles redeemed against travel purchases will be redeposited in your account after each redemption, down from 10%.

Personally, I will still find the card worth keeping as long as Barclaycard continues to waive my annual fees. But the changes are big and real, and worth preparing for.

What's your date?

There are two potential dates your card will undergo the devaluation:

  • November 17, 2015, if your account was opened before September 30, 2014, or
  • August, 2016, if your account was opened after September 30, 2014.

If you're subject to the November 17, 2015, devaluation date you should have received an e-mail from "email@offers.BarclaycardUS.com" on or around October 1, 2015, with the details of the devaluation. If you opened your account after September 30, 2014, you should have received a different e-mail or physical letter with the August, 2016, devaluation date.

Since I opened my account in April, 2014, I'm subject to the November 17, 2015, devaluation date.

Make your sub-$100 travel purchases now

If you purchase Uber credit in redeemable "chunks," you'll want to buy as many $25 chunks as you plan you redeem before November 17. You'll still be able to buy Uber credit after that date, but it'll be more expensive: you'll only get a free redemption every 20 times you redeem, instead of every 10 times, and you'll have to buy $100 in Uber credit at a time to be eligible for redemptions.

If you have the ability to make free changes to award flights (due to status or because you're flying on Alaska Airlines), and are planning an award redemption with taxes and fees between $25 and $100, you might also want to make those redemptions before the devaluation.

Make your tourist attraction purchases now

There's a popular nearby tourist attraction which sells annual memberships for around $70. This is a double whammy for me, since it's both less than $100 and a tourist attraction, and according to Barclaycard:

"Purchases classified as Tourist Attractions (including expositions, botanical gardens, craft shows, museums and wineries) will no longer count toward qualifying travel statement credit redemptions."

That being the case, I'll purchase an annual membership before November 17 rolls around.

If you live in a city with expensive museums, or in an area with wineries that are currently coded as eligible transactions, consider locking in the ability to redeem your miles by buying a membership sooner, rather than later.

Will eligible purchases remain eligible for redemption after the devaluation?

I have a request in to Barclaycard's Twitter team asking whether $25-to-$99 purchases made before November 17 will remain eligible for redemption after November 17. My gut says they probably will, but to be on the safe side I'll be redeeming as many of my Arrival+ miles before the big day rolls around, if for no other reason than to secure the extra 5% redemption rebate while I can.

Refundable reservations should remain available

Before the comments section fills up with snark, let me say yes, I know you can redeem Arrival+ miles against refunded travel purchases. I've written about it before. And if you typically redeem your Arrival+ miles by making refundable airline reservations or prepaid hotel reservations, and then canceling them, you can probably ignore all the foregoing (although you should still make sure to redeem as many Arrival+ miles as possible before the devaluation).

Conclusion

On the other hand, if that technique makes you uncomfortable (or just sounds like a lot of work), then you should consider the tips above to get the most value out of your Arrival+ card before November 17, 2015.

Do this now: Hilton Double your HHonors promotion

Registration is now open for Hilton's Double your HHonors promotion. Between March 1 and May 31, 2015, earn double base HHonors points or double partner airline miles on paid stays at participating properties (the list of non-participating properties isn't yet available).

To take advantage of this promotion, you'll want to select "Points and Points" as your earning style if you choose double base HHonors points, or "Points and Miles" if you select double airline miles.

I don't have any paid Hilton stays planned during the promotional period, but I registered and selected double HHonors points in case something comes up in the next few months.

In any case, register now, before you forget, and find the list of non-participating properties here (once it becomes available).

As always, you can always find my most up-to-date list of promotions on my dedicated hotel promotions page.