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.

More good news: Barclaycard Arrival+ no longer rounds up redemption amounts

Barclaycard is the undisputed master in my mind of the marketing technique of "underpromise and overdeliver." It seems like every month they're making small, positive changes and adjustments to improve their flagship proprietary rewards card, the Arrival+.

When the card launched, it had a great earning rate and rewards structure, but the limitations on qualifying "travel" purchases were arbitrary and frustrating.

Since then, they've introduced the following changes, all positive:

With absolutely no publicity, as far as I can tell, Barlcaycard has made another positive change: Arrival+ mile redemptions for irregular amounts are no longer "rounded up" to the nearest dollar (100 miles).

Previously, a redemption against a travel purchase of $35.50 would cost 3,600 Arrival+ miles. You'd receive the full 10% mile rebate of 360 miles, but you'd still be losing 45 Arrival+ miles.

And I do mean losing: you'd pay 50 "extra" Arrival+ miles for the redemption but wouldn't receive an extra $0.50 as a statement credit. The $25 in purchases required to generate those miles was well and truly wasted.

Sometime in the last month or two Barclaycard removed this penalty for uneven redemption amounts. Now you can redeem Arrival+ miles "to the penny" for all travel redemptions, like this train ticket I bought at an unattended kiosk in Milan:

Conclusion

Is this a small change? Tiny. But it's also more unabashedly good news, and I want to give Barclaycard all the credit they deserve for making ongoing, positive changes to such a popular and lucrative credit card.

Just remember, don't pay the annual fee unless you spend more than $44,500 on your Arrival+ card each cardmember year; that's the point when the 10% mileage rebate makes up for the $89 annual fee compared to a no-annual-fee 2% cash back card like Fidelity's or Citi's.

And in any case, call Barclaycard and ask for that annual fee to be waived when it comes due. I've seen increasing reports of such requests being denied, but it's absolutely free to ask.

Delta removed their award charts because no one understood them

If you were paying attention yesterday, you no doubt know that Delta has removed their brand new 5-tier award charts, in effect since January 1, 2015, from their website. The award engine is still pricing out awards according to the new chart, but by denying that there's is an official award chart, they've also removed the ability to challenge the award engine: the price you see is now the price you get.

There's no question that this is abhorrent behavior on Delta's part. I find some of the reactions a tad overblown, however ("Delta’s Missing Award Chart Is the Death of Aspirational Travel").

If I can venture into the realm of speculation, here's what strikes me as the most obvious explanation for the decision to remove published award charts from their website: Delta's new award charts were too complicated, they were producing unfamiliar results, and Delta's phone lines were being swamped.

You already have to call in too often

Although the Twitter team can handle a lot of simple requests, it's already necessary to call Delta a ridiculous amount of the time. Same-day standby, same-day confirmed, applying upgrades, and booking awards on many of their partners all require phone calls.

No one understood the new award charts

There was already no way to easily and accurately price an award in advance. Partner award space still booked at Level I, but if it was combined with a domestic leg in Level II-V, the entire award reprices at a higher level. Here's an award that just doesn't make any sense according to their published award chart:

There is no entry on their award chart for a one-way flight to Europe in Business costing 130,000 SkyMiles. What seems to have happened here is the partner award on Air France is pricing out correctly at 62,500 SkyMiles, then a Level 4 BusinessElite ticket between LAX and JFK, for 67,500 SkyMiles was plugged in on top. But their award chart never did and never could reflect that fact.

Their phones were swamped

A complex published award chart, combined with an award engine that generates results incompatible with that award chart, meant that people were calling in to book even simple awards. Poorly trained agents would attempt to explain the situation, and after 15 or 20 minutes on the phone, the customer would hang up in frustration, keeping Delta from even recouping the telephone booking fee.

It's bad, but it's not a mystery

Delta was faced with a genuinely fraught business decision. Having decided to adopt and implement their insanely complicated award chart, and having invested in making their award booking engine work passably well, they found all that effort was wasted and they were instead facing longer and longer hold times at their call centers.

They could have abandoned the new award charts, which would have been an embarrassing retreat away from the revenue-based redemption system that's their ultimate goal. They could have hired more call center employees, although that's not cheap or necessarily easy to do. Instead they did what must have seemed like the least bad solution: remove the award charts, tell people the price the award engine comes up with is "the" price, and hope customers eventually stop calling.

So I don't think there was any nefarious plan to keep people from being able to accurately price their awards out in advance. That was already impossible, with or without published award charts.

My solution: earn low, redeem high

I have a Suntrust Delta SkyMiles World Check card, so my miles are about as cheap as they get. If you have an American Express Delta co-branded credit card and access to cheap manufactured spend, you may still find it worth earning SkyMiles in the interest of diversifying your mileage holdings.

But the days of earning SkyMiles by flying on Delta-operated flights are over, and the removal of published award charts has exactly no bearing on that fact: that was the result of revenue-based earning.

Earning flexible points at gas stations

Via Doctor of Credit, the Citi ThankYou Premier card is apparently lowering its annual fee and significantly changing its bonus earning categories by including gas stations in its bonused "travel" category, while increasing its earning rate to 3 ThankYou points per dollar spent there.

This is potentially a huge deal: beginning April 19, 2015, Citi, American Express, and Chase will all offer flexible-point-earning credit cards with sub-$100 annual fees, and all three will bonus purchases at gas stations.

Since the ThankYou Premier card is currently issued as a Visa, my expectation is that in-store purchases at 7-Eleven store locations, whether or not they sell gas, will earn points at the accelerated rate.

The Cards

Here are the cards I have in mind:

  • Chase Ink Plus Visa. 2 flexible Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent at gas stations. $95 annual fee;
  • American Express Amex Everyday Preferred. 2 flexible Membership Rewards points per dollar spent at gas stations, with a 50% bonus during statement cycles you make 30 or more purchases (anywhere) with the card. $95 annual fee;
  • Citi ThankYou Premier. 3 flexible ThankYou points per dollar spent at gas stations. $95 annual fee starting April 19, 2015. Wait until then to apply in order to maximize your earning during your first cardmember year.

Analysis

Let me be clear that it makes no sense to carry all three of these cards on an ongoing basis. On the other hand, both the Chase Ink Plus and Citi ThankYou Premier periodically (for example, right now) offer 50,000 point signup bonuses which may entice you to apply. Once you've crossed the hurdle of signing up for the card, you may well decide to incorporate it into your manufactured spending strategy.

Only Chase Ultimate Rewards points are directly redeemable for cash, while all three points currencies can be redeemed for paid, mileage-earning airline tickets. Additionally, Citi ThankYou points can be redeemed for mortgage or student loan "rebate checks" made out to your loan holder. Membership Rewards points can be monetized by redeeming them for American Express gift cards, although you'll have to pay any costs involved in liquidating them.

Since monetizing these points will yield a maximum value of 1 cent per point, you'll probably be best-served earning these flexible currencies with the intention of redeeming them for flights through their airline transfer partners.

With that in mind, I created this chart to incorporate the relevant information about the three cards:

Conclusion

A glance at this chart suggests a few obvious conclusions:

  • All three flexible points currencies have transfer partners in all three airline alliances;
  • Only Ultimate Rewards can be transferred to United or Korean Air;
  • But only ThankYou and Membership Rewards points can be transferred to Air France KLM Flying Blue points.

Which cards, if any, you decide to apply for and use to manufacture spend at gas stations should depend on the redemptions you plan actually plan to make. But Citi's changes to the ThankYou Premier card are a big step towards leveling the playing field between these three cards.

Do this now: register for Hyatt's Stay More Play More promotion

Registration is open for the Hyatt Gold Passport Winter/Spring promotion, called "Stay More Play More." Between January 15 and April 30, 2015, you'll earn bonus points based on the specific offer you've been targeted for, presumably depending in part on your history with the program. I was targeted for up to 50,000 bonus points after staying 20 nights during the promotional period:

I don't have any paid Hyatt stays planned for this quarter, so I don't anticipate earning any bonus points through this promotion. If you are interested in directing stays towards Hyatt in order to earn bonus points, but are unsatisfied with the promotion you've been targeted for, head over to Chasing the Points to see some of the other offers available. He suggests contacting Hyatt's social media team in order to register for a different promotion than the one you were targeted for.

On the other hand, if you don't feel like spending that much energy on this promotion, you should still register now, before you forget.

Confirmed: Chase Freedom bonus excludes Walmart (and probably Target)

Back on January 2, I reminded readers to register for their first quarter category bonuses, including the Chase Freedom 5% cash back bonus at grocery stores. While the registration page for that bonus says Walmart and Target stores are excluded from the promotion, I mentioned that I wasn't sure whether or how that would be enforced. It was possible, I thought, that they included that language because while some Walmart and Target store locations are coded as grocery stores, others are coded as discount stores and they didn't want to open that can of worms with their customers.

I don't like to let questions like that linger for long, so before taking off for Italy I swung by my local Walmart, coded as a grocery store by Visa and MasterCard, and picked up an international plug adapter (I'm always leaving them in hotel room outlets), paying with my newest Freedom card. After waiting for the transaction to post, I was able to confirm that I earned just 1 Ultimate Rewards point per dollar spent, according to my online account activity:

So now you know: Chase really did code their first quarter promotion to exclude transactions made at Walmart, and I presume at Target as well, so you'll need to keep your eyes open for actual grocery stores where you can make your $1,500 in purchases this quarter.

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Plus Business credit card no longer available

Back in December, I wrote that I could no longer find a new application link for the Chase Sapphire credit card, which offered 2 non-flexible Ultimate Rewards per dollar spent on dining, and nothing else. I speculated that Chase had streamlined their Ultimate Rewards-earning credit cards into the terrific no-annual-fee Freedom card and the terrible $95-annual-fee Sapphire Preferred card, and thought that was overall a change for the better.

Since then, I spent a little time cleaning up the permanent pages (found in the right sidebar on every page of my site) where I do my best to keep on top of current credit card application links and signup bonuses, and found an additional change in Chase's credit card lineup.

Changes to Southwest Airlines credit card options

Chase used to offer four Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards co-branded credit cards:

The "Plus" versions of the cards earned 3,000 bonus Rapid Rewards points on each account anniversary, while the "Premier" cards earned 6,000 bonus anniversary points, in addition to a few other benefits – like bonus Tier Qualifying Points – that matter only if you make purchases with the cards, which you should never do.

The existence of 4 Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards credit cards was important since it made it possible to earn a companion pass for four years per applicant by applying for Rapid Rewards credit cards during Chase's recurring 50,000 point signup bonus offers: 2 cards at a time, every 2 years.

I can no longer find a working link to the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Business Credit Card.

Once I noticed the change, I did a little light searching and found this MileCards post from December 4, 2014, making the same observation, so the change took place no later than that, although I can't find any contemporaneous announcements, for example from bloggers who had the Plus Business card removed from their affiliate channels.

Conclusion

I don't fly Southwest, but appreciate the amazing value that folks are able to realize by easily and cheaply acquiring the Southwest Companion Pass for years at a time. The lesson I see here is that it's difficult to make predictions, especially about the future, so you should always be thinking about maximizing the opportunities that are currently available, not planning each move years ahead of time. Chase may allow Southwest cards to be churned today, but not tomorrow. And then they may change their minds yet again!

If you can use a Southwest Companion Pass, by all means get one. If another opportunity to acquire one cheaply is available when the first expires, go for it! But don't act with the expectation that every deal will be around forever; on the contrary, every deal's guaranteed to die eventually.

Chase Ink Plus annual fees: A/B testing or a sign of things to come?

This evening I was going through my credit card drawer checking my cards for foreign transaction fees in order to decide which cards to bring to Italy tomorrow. Some cards you might not expect to have waived foreign transaction fees do (Chase British Airways) and some you might expect to waive them don't (US Bank Flexperks Travel, although apparently they've recently changed that).

In any case, I was checking the terms and conditions of the Chase Ink Plus card online, and suddenly had a moment of disorientation. Which card's terms and conditions was I looking at?

I did a double-take and checked my own terms and conditions, which show a $95 annual fee. Had Chase quietly raised the annual fee on their Chase Ink Plus credit card?

Not exactly, or at least not yet.

Different offer channels appear to show different annual fees

If you navigate directly to Chase's Ink website in an incognito window or after clearing your browser's cookies, you should find the $95 annual fee offer alive and well. I was able to replicate this consistently.

Additionally, any time you visit the Ink site after viewing the $95 offer — but before clearing your cookies — you'll continue to see the $95 offer.

But sometimes, and only sometimes, if you search for the Ink Plus through Google and click on one of the sponsored links, you'll instead be taken to this version of the offer, featuring a $150 annual fee.

What's going on?

Obviously Chase pays money to sponsor ads in Google search results, so a trivial explanation would be that they're trying to recoup those expenses by charging new customers acquired in that manner more.

More realistically, I think this is the kind of A/B testing that Google AdWords makes so easy for their customers. Since the population of people searching for "Ink Plus" is both large and targeted, you can easily measure the difference in application rates between those who see a $95 versus $150 annual fee. If it turns out that Ink Plus customers are not particularly price sensitive (don't be one of those!), they may ultimately raise the annual fee for all new applicants and even — heaven forbid! — existing cardholders, as American Express did with the Delta Platinum card in 2014.

Conclusion

I'm heading to Italy early tomorrow morning and won't be really around until we check into the Hilton in Venice late tomorrow night (Italy time). Now I have to go finish packing.

Has the Chase Sapphire been quietly retired?

For years, Chase has offered 3 Ultimate Rewards-earning personal (not small business) credit cards: the Chase Freedom, Chase Sapphire, and Chase Sapphire Preferred.

The Freedom is Chase's entry into the crowded field of rotating 5% cash back category cards, while the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a premium, flexible-Ultimate-Rewards earning credit card that, while paying affiliate bloggers handsome commissions, is essentially useless for the serious travel hacker due to its low earning rate and $95 annual fee which is generally not waived, even for those who spend above-average amounts on the card.

The Sapphire has meanwhile always been the odd card out: it earns 2 non-flexible Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent at restaurants but not on travel purchases, and has no annual fee. Meanwhile, for the last three years the Chase Freedom has offered 5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar at restaurants during the second quarter, making the Sapphire redundant for 25% of the calendar year.

The Sapphire has vanished from Chase's website and affiliate channels

Today I mentioned on Twitter that I had been able to request a product change from Sapphire Preferred to a second Freedom, and I was asked whether it would make more sense to change to Sapphire, instead.

A quick search revealed that the Sapphire has completely disappeared from Chase.com, while Credit Karma's review page does not have an active application link for the card. CreditCards.com is hopelessly annoying to navigate but I couldn't find an application link there, either.

Do yourself and Chase a favor: product change to Freedom

It appears that Chase is now more deliberately juxtaposing the no-annual-fee Freedom card with the premium, $95-annual-fee Sapphire Preferred. I think this actually does a huge service to their customers, who might have previously confused the Sapphire with a card worth carrying, which it is not and has never been.

If you happen to be a current Chase Sapphire cardholder, this is as good an occasion as any to call in and request a product change to the Freedom, since you'll get your new card in time to take advantage of 2015's first quarter bonus category of grocery stores (excluding Walmart and Target stores).