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?

2018 New Year roundup

Well, we made it. It's 2018, so here's a roundup of thoughts, ideas, and observations that I haven't got around to posting yet.

US Bank Flexperks Travel Rewards changes are in effect

Flexpoints are now worth 1.5 cents each when used to book travel through the US Bank Flexperks travel portal. The search engine defaults to basic economy fares when they're available, so if you want to book main cabin or regular economy fares, you'll have to call. Be sure they don't charge you a booking fee if your fare isn't bookable online.

I assume it will be possible soon to transfer Flexpoints both directions between Flexperks Travel Rewards and Altitude Reserve accounts, if it isn't already (transfers to Reserve accounts were already allowed).

Register for hotel promotions

I've updated my Hotel Promotions page with all the global hotel promotions I'm aware of. Be sure to let me know if I've missed any.

Note that I was able to register for all 4 of the current Club Carlson promotions, although since I don't have any Club Carlson stays planned I'm not sure if a single stay would really trigger a 15,000-point bonus, Silver elite status, and a 50% off e-certificate (and count towards the multiple-night promotion).

RIP my SkyBonus account

For the last few years I've kept my Delta SkyBonus account alive by scrounging Delta ticket numbers from friends, acquaintances, and out of the trash cans at baggage claim. In 2017 I definitively fell short of the $5,000 in Delta revenue needed to keep my account alive, so I assume they'll be closing it one of these days. I redeemed my points for a final domestic economy ticket and 30(!) drink tickets, which I'll give out to blog subscribers whenever they arrive (the drink tickets, that is).

Follow-up to MERRILL+ guest post

A number of people pointed out in the comments and on Twitter that the executive Delta Sky Club membership provided by the MERRILL+ credit card after spending $50,000 during the calendar year will not provide lounge access starting in 2019 when you are not flying on Delta.

How much that affects you depends on when you decide to trigger your membership year. Obviously if you trigger your membership in January, 2018, you'll only be affected by the changes for a single month of 2019. If you trigger your membership in December, 2018, you'll be affected by the changes for the entirety of your membership year.


So, like I said, we made it. Congratulations are obviously due all around.

What kind of content are folks interested in seeing more of in 2018?

Guest post: Triggering MERRILL+ Delta SkyClub membership

Today's post was written by friend and longtime reader of the blog Robert Dwyer, about his experience with the no-annual-fee Merrill Lynch MERRILL+ Visa Signature card, which many people signed up for when it was offering a signup bonus of 50,000 points, which could be redeemed for two tickets worth up to $500 each.

You can find Robert on Twitter @RobertDwyer.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to one and all!

—The Free-quent Flyer

Guest post: Triggering Merrill+ Delta SkyClub membership

The Merrill Lynch MERRILL+ Visa Signature card is an oddly charming credit card. For such an obscure product it has proven to be quite popular. And it was gone, at least for new signups, before we knew it.

But thanks to its generous 50,000 point signup bonus (worth 2 airline tickets up to $500 each, a combined value of up to $1,000) and no annual fee, a lot of people still have this card.

Full review over at Doctor of Credit.

Before you cancel it or entertain the thought of product changing to another BofA credit card, you might consider keeping it for the bonuses it offers for spending $50,000 each calendar year. You get your choice of:

  • A $200 air travel incidental credit -OR-
  • A Delta Sky Club Executive membership (which costs $745 or 70,000 Delta miles otherwise).

I like cards like this with a threshold bonus, especially since the points it earns for spend are worth up to 2 cents each towards air travel booked through their portal.

I opted to spend $50,000 on the card this year for the Delta Sky Club membership.

Why do this?

Pretty simple really: although the AmEx Platinum cards (the ones with $450+ annual fees) offer Delta lounge access, it’s not full-fledged access. You can’t bring guests. Not even your spouse, and definitely not your kids. The same is true of the AmEx Delta Reserve card: no guests for those who gain access through a credit card.

A full-fledged Delta SkyClub membership also means you can visit the Delta lounge when flying other airlines. You can’t do that if you gain access through a credit card: you must be flying Delta that day.

Although we’ve carried an AmEx Platinum card (or three) in one form or another over the past few years we’ve never been able to take advantage of Delta lounge access while traveling with our boys. That’s a bummer because I actually appreciate lounge access more when traveling with family than on business.

And given the routes Delta serves I’m more likely to be flying with them when traveling with my family than for business.

So although the full-fledged Delta SkyClub membership that comes with spending $50,000 on the MERRILL+ card is a seemingly minor delta (ha ha) over what you get with AmEx Platinum it actually takes me from a situation where I’ll rarely visit a Delta lounge, to being able to take advantage of it most times we fly.

How to do this

Frequent Miler wrote a piece on whether it was worth it to spend $50,000 on the card. His conclusion: It’s not worth it. What a killjoy!

But his post was helpful thanks to a screenshot describing how to activate the SkyClub membership.

  1. Call 800-419-0000 and ask for “Benefits”
  2. Tell the rep you’ve spend $50,000 on the card this calendar year and would like to take advantage of the SkyClub membership benefit
  3. They’ll confirm that your spend level, ask for your SkyMiles membership number, and activate your membership

My experience leveraging this benefit

We were flying Delta for Thanksgiving with a connection so I called to active the SkyMiles membership about a week in advance. I was pleased that the rep I spoke to (on a Saturday morning no less, no bankers' hours for these guys) knew exactly what I was talking about and swiftly activated my SkyClub membership. He told me that my membership materials would arrive in a couple weeks but that if I was visiting a lounge in the next week or so I could give them my SkyMiles number and I’d be able to get into the lounge.

I was leery of this going through without incident so I checked my Delta profile the day we were set to fly, both on my computer and the Delta app. I didn’t see any indication the access had been activated so I called Delta to check. They didn’t have any record of it, but hinted that the SkyMiles desk isn’t so tightly linked with the SkyClub people so I might want to just give it a go at the airport and see what happens.

When we got the airport I provided my SkyMiles number and we were welcomed in without incident. The whole family! Take that, overcrowded Delta lounge.

A week or so later my membership card arrived, indicating an activation date roughly 2 weeks after my initial call to MERRILL+ to activate the membership with an expiration date a year out.

The timing of the start of the membership is a little strange. The Merrill rep told me the membership would start on the first day of the month in which I called. Yet the activation date on the card I received coincided with the date of my first visit, which was not the first day of the month.

Not sure what to say there in terms of optimizing the start time of a membership, but the upshot is it’s nice that you can call ahead of your first planned use and access the club without the physical card. And now that my membership is active I see it in My Wallet within the Delta app.

Now I’m free to enjoy Delta’s network of mostly mediocre, sometimes overcrowded lounges. With the whole family!

Bottom line

Earning full-fledged Delta lounge access through spend on the MERRILL+ card might be worth it for some, especially those who travel with family or colleagues.

The opportunity cost of spending $50,000 on the card isn’t so bad when you consider:

  1. the card has no annual fee;
  2. and the card earns up to 2 cents per point towards airfare (so it isn’t that far off the earn rate of the top cashback cards).

Sure there are better cards that earn 2.6525% or even 3% cashback (for some period of time after signup, with barriers to entry getting and maintaining eligibility for those cards). But I find it’s a good practice to spread your spend around. It’s theoretically possible, but practically difficult to put 100% of your spend on a single card.

If you’ve got an existing MERRILL+ card and a Delta SkyClub Executive Membership appeals to you, I think this can be a nice play.

FQF's wrapup

For me the biggest takeaway from Robert's post are that while the "Plus Level" benefit is earned on a calendar year spending basis, it's valid for one year from when you redeem it. While that doesn't increase the value of the membership ($745, or however much you choose to value a SkyClub Executive Membership), it does increase the value of the benefit, since you can time the activation of the benefit so that as many of your trips through airports with Delta SkyClubs fall within the benefit year as possible.

Additionally, note that according to the Doctor of Credit post linked above you can "top up" airfares in excess of $500 by redeeming MERRILL+ points for one cent each for the excess amount. That means you should always at least consider booking more convenient or premium cabin airfares in order to get the price of your ticket up to at least $500 in order to get the full 2 cents per point in value from the first 25,000 points of your redemption.

Ongoing Simon Mall discount and newish Walmart money order protocol

Just a couple quick notes today as we head into the holidays.

Two more days of discounted Simon Malls Visa gift cards

Through December 24, 2017, (some?) Simon Malls are selling their PIN-enabled Visa gift cards with a $2.95 activation fee instead of the usual $3.95. On an order of 19 cards, that's a savings of $19, which may or may not make them worth stocking up on, depending on your own liquidation bandwidth and tolerance for holding onto a lot of undrained cards. I had planned to get in one more order this week but ended up getting caught up in other projects so I was only able to take advantage of the promotion once.

New Walmart money order protocol

Two of my local Walmart stores have slowly and haltingly introduced a new protocol for selling money orders. It appears that Walmart customer service and money center terminals have two options for ringing up money orders.

What I'll call the "old" system involves ringing up the money orders individually, paying for them, then printing them one by one and inputting the last four digits of the money order's serial number as it comes out of the printer.

The "new" system involves ringing up the money orders through a different section of the point of sale terminal. After paying for them, the money orders print out together and the serial numbers don't need to be inputted. One additional receipt prints out with the money orders' serial numbers, along with a slip for the customer's signature. Money orders printed with the new system have "gift certificate" printed on their face, but are identical in every other respect.

I don't know why they've introduced the new system, but it doesn't appear to be anything to worry about for now.

Which earning opportunities interfere with each other?

Today's post is more of a reference for myself because I am terrible at keeping track of all the different rewards programs out there, and which ones interfere with which, so I thought it would be helpful to write all the ones I could think of down in one place. I'm sure I missed some, so please correct me in the comments.

Credit card and bank offers

Several banks now offer rewards for spending money at particular merchants:

  • American Express Offers For You;
  • Bank of America BankAmeriDeals;
  • Chase Offers (currently only available to Marriott Rewards Premier and Slate cardholders).

The key attribute of these offers is that they're triggered by spending money with the card at a particular merchant (or sometimes through a mobile payment service). That means they can't be combined with each other, since you can only spend the same money with one card at a time (although split payments may allow you to trigger similar offers on multiple cards).


Drop does not appear to interfere with any other purchase-tracking rewards program, so you can trigger Drop rewards in addition to any other rewards your purchase earns. If you haven't yet joined, you can search for the app "Drop - Free Cash Rewards" app in your mobile app store of choice, and feel free to use my referral code x01i7 (or not).

Uber Visa Local Offers

Like Drop, Uber Visa Local Offers appears to run on a completely separate rewards platform, so you can earn Uber credit alongside any other rewards triggered by your purchases.

Ebates in-store cashback, Alaska Mileage Plan in-store miles, and HawaiianMiles Marketplace

Both Ebates and Alaska Mileage Plan's in-store earning programs are operated by Cartera, so typically the same offer linked to the same card should only track in one of the two programs. How well that's tracked and enforced isn't entirely clear to me, so if you have the time and inclination I suspect a fertile area of investigation would be experimenting with adding, removing, linking, and unlinking particular offers from particular cards. 

If that sounds like too much work, under most circumstances I suspect you're better off linking Ebates offers than Alaska offers, unless you're earning miles towards a particularly lucrative Alaska redemption or Alaska is running a promotion awarding extra miles for partner transactions.

Oddly, a third problem several readers have reported to me is using the same e-mail address for the Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles Marketplace and Ebates (the same problem might appear with Alaska as well). Blog subscribers know about a very cool deal that used to exist through the HawaiianMiles Marketplace, but these days the only participating merchants on the mainland (at least in my neck of the woods) are Gap, Athleta, Banana Republic, and Old Navy. I don't shop at those merchants so I don't know if HawaiianMiles interferes with purchases there tracking through Ebates and Alaska. If not, that could be a potentially interesting double dip for folks who do a lot of clothes shopping.

Dining rewards programs

As far as I know, all dining rewards programs are operated by Rewards Network, and you can only enroll a credit card in one dining rewards program at a time. Here's a quick reference list of dining rewards programs:

Note that you can be enrolled in all of these programs simultaneously! However, a single restaurant purchase with a single credit card will only earn miles in one program at a time.

Thanks Again

Thanks Again does not appear to me to be a very good program, but for folks who spend a lot of time and money in airports, I feel compelled to at least mention it. Earning points through Thanks Again for airport purchases shouldn't interfere with any other programs in this post (although I can't imagine ever earning enough points through the program to be redeemed for anything).

Online shopping portals

Like the dining rewards programs, online shopping portals will interfere with each other, but not with any other rewards you're trying to trigger. So, for example, if you want to make a Name Your Own Price reservation through Priceline, you shouldn't have any trouble combining the current Drop offer of 10 points per dollar spent (1% cashback) and 5% cashback through a shopping portal like TopCashBack.

Likewise you should be able to earn 30 Drop points per dollar spent at HP (3% cashback), points or cashback through a shopping portal (TopCashBack is currently paying 8%), 5% OPEN savings through an American Express small business credit card, and potentially an additional targeted American Express Offer For You.

You can find my referral links to the shopping portals I use on my Support the Site! page.

Brick-and-mortar promotions

I am typically totally oblivious to these things, but it's also possible to combine credit card offers, in-store rewards programs, and brick-and-mortar promotions.

I recently visited Bed Bath & Beyond, not to buy gift cards, which is the only reason I would normally set foot in there, but to buy some bed linens. That let me combine my in-store Ebates cashback with one of the 20% off coupons they seem to mail me every 3-4 days.

Similarly, the other day I stopped into a few local restaurants where I had American Express Offers For You for $25 and $50 off $75 in in-store purchases. It happened that both restaurants were also running holiday gift card deals for $20 and $25 in free gift cards when you bought $100 in gift cards. Since I had the offers on both cards, I picked up a total of $345 in gift cards and paid just $150 after the Offers For You statement credits posted. If the restaurants had also participated in dining rewards programs, I could have received an additional batch of miles for the in-store purchases.


As I mentioned at the beginning, this post is mainly meant to get all my thoughts on these programs in one place so I can refer to it in the future. If there are any other programs, or conflicts, that I'm missing, let me and other readers know in the comments and I'll try to keep this post updated.

Table stakes for a decent Marriott credit card reboot

I've been traveling all week, but followed with interest the announcement that Marriott will be rebooting their credit card lineup, with "mass consumer," "premium," and "super premium" credit cards offered by Chase and American Express. Having no interest in speculating about what the cards will actually look like, but wanting to say something about it, here's my take on what to look for in the credit card reboot.

The problem with Marriott credit cards

I haven't carried a Marriott credit card for years, because despite Marriott's broad global footprint, the cards stink:

  • The earning rate of 1 Marriott Rewards point per dollar translates into an imputed redemption value of $900 for top-tier properties, which cost 45,000 points per night. That's absurd compared to any other hotel rewards program besides IHG Rewards Club.
  • The annual free night certificates offered by the Marriott Rewards Premier credit card are limited to Category 1-5 properties. Marriott has experienced enormous category creep in the last several years, so there simply aren't any Category 5 properties available in the medium and large cities I typically visit. Even IHG Rewards Club credit cards offer free night certificates you can use at all IHG properties worldwide.
  • While not impossible, it's outlandishly expensive to manufacture mid- and top-tier status through the Marriott Rewards Premier credit card, requiring as it does $105,000 in spend (in addition to the 15 free elite qualifying nights) to earn mid-tier Gold status.

I'm not in the prediction business, so I don't expect Chase and Marriott to implement my suggestions, but here's the absolute minimum I would look for to even begin to be interested in one of the rebooted credit cards.

An earning rate of 1.5 points per dollar

The fundamental problem with the Marriott Rewards co-branded credit cards has always been the same: their redemption rates top out at 45,000 Marriott Rewards points, which is higher than Hyatt (30,000) or Starwood (35,000), but the earning rate on their co-branded credit cards is the same (one point per dollar). Hilton properties top out at 95,000 points per night, but their credit cards earn a minimum of 3 points per dollar (and offer bonus points in easily-manufactured categories).

The problem was made even more ridiculous when Starpoints became transferrable to Marriott Rewards at a 1:3 ratio, so the same top-tier hotel award night required $15,000 in spend on a Starwood Preferred Guest American Express, but $45,000 in spend on a Marriott Rewards co-branded credit card.

Besides that, anyone can earn 1.5 Marriott Rewards point per dollar with a Chase Freedom Unlimited credit card paired with a $95 Sapphire Preferred, Ink Plus, Ink Bold, or Ink Preferred credit card. Why would they pay anything at all for a Marriott Rewards co-branded credit card that earns less than that?

If a premium or "super-premium" Marriott Rewards co-branded credit card earned 1.5 or 2 points per dollar on unbonused spend, or on easily-manufactured bonused spend, it would begin to look competitive with other cards and combinations of cards already on the market.

Anniversary free nights redeemable at any Marriott property

If a Marriott Rewards co-branded card wants to be taken seriously, it has to get rid of the category limit on anniversary free nights. A natural compromise would be to limit the free night certificate to weekend nights as the Citi Hilton Honors cards do, but in any case the category limitation of Marriott Rewards free night certificates is a pure liability for them at this point.

Gold or Platinum status after a reasonable amount of spend

Any decent co-branded credit card would have to offer at least mid-tier Marriott Rewards Gold status after spending a lot, but not too much, money on the card. Hilton offers top-tier Diamond status for spending $40,000 on its premium co-branded credit cards, and mid-tier Gold status just for carrying them. I understand that Marriott wants to preserve its most valuable elite status for its most valuable customers, but that's not our problem. If it wants people to carry its co-branded credit card, it has to make it worth our while.


To be clear, these aren't three separate suggestions for things Marriott could do to improve their co-branded card lineup. Marriott, Chase, and American Express would have to do all three of these things before I'd consider applying for one of their credit cards.

Who wants to pay an annual fee for a card with inferior earning, an inferior anniversary bonus, and a nominal elite status?

Actually Moviepass is good

Like a lot of people, I signed up for Moviepass when they recently lowered the monthly price to $9.95. Like so many people, in fact, that it took a few months for my Moviepass debit card to arrive. Some theatres apparently allow electronic ticketing through Moviepass, but none do near me, so I just had to sit on my hands until their vendor got around to sending me a card.

It finally arrived, and I've now used it several times, so I thought I'd share a brief report.

How Moviepass works

The Moviepass system consists of two parts: the Moviepass debit card, and the Moviepass smartphone app. Once you've downloaded the app and activated the debit card, you can go to eligible movie theatres in person, open the app, and select the movie and showtime you're interested in. After "checking in" to the movie, money is added to the Moviepass debit card, which you can then use to pay for your ticket.

Not all movie theatres participate, and special screening types like 3D and IMAX aren't eligible. However, there are no limits on showtimes or new releases or anything like that: Moviepass works for all standard showings at all participating theatres.

Additionally, since Moviepass is just a normal debit card, you can combine it with movie loyalty programs like AMC Stubs or Marcus Theatres Magical Movie Rewards.


In my experience so far, this system works perfectly, but it has some drawbacks:

  • You need to buy tickets in person, so if you want to go to a popular movie on a popular day, you may need to hit the theatre early in the day to secure your ticket.
  • You need one card per person, which I find to be a strange restriction; I don't see why they couldn't offer a "couples" subscription that let you add two tickets to the card instead of one.
  • Not all theatres are eligible. Our AMC theatres are in the app, but our Landmark Theatres locations don't appear.

Hacking Moviepass

Here are a few obvious ways you can get more value from Moviepass than they, strictly speaking, intend:

  • At movie theatres that allow advance ticketing (I assume this is 99% of movie theatres), buy a ticket on day 1 for day 2, then another ticket on day 2 for day 2. This would keep you from having to pay for two Moviepass subscriptions in order to cover yourself and your date (but would require two trips to the theatre).
  • Buy a ticket every day whether or not you plan to see a movie. At theatres that offer rewards for each ticket you buy, there's no reason you have to actually see the movie you buy a ticket for. If you're an AMC Stubs Premiere member (a paid membership tier), you earn 100 points per dollar spent, and can redeem 5,000 points for a $5 credit. That means five $10 movie tickets turn into a $5 credit.
  • Buy a gift card every day. It may be possible to load the price of a movie ticket onto your Moviepass card, then buy a gift card for that exact value.
  • Resell (or give away) movie tickets. Movie tickets can be expensive, so you could potentially save people money and turn a profit buying tickets to popular movies and showtimes and then selling or giving them away.

I'm not a priest, and I'm especially not your priest, so complaints about the ethics of doing this will be politely ignored.

Is Moviepass sustainable?

This is the kind of speculation travel hackers love engaging in, so as travel hackers, let's speculate!

What might be Moviepass's business model? As far as I can tell, there are two options:

  • The profitable option is that since most people don't see very many movies, if you had near-universal enrollment in the program the infrequent moviegoers could subsidize the frequent moviegoers, pay for Moviepass's overhead, and produce a profit for their owners.
  • The unprofitable option is that they are burning through venture capital trying to create a proof of concept that combining the demographic information (and other identifying details) of their customers with moviegoing habits will produce a database that is or will be of value to someone, somewhere, eventually. In this version the actual price of the service is irrelevant, since their subscription revenue is merely buying them time to find a customer for that database.

Realistically, the answer is probably a combination of the two: while building a database they hope to sell or license to someone, eventually, they also are trying to enroll as many people as possible in order to improve their ratio of casual to committed moviegoers. They wouldn't mind turning a profit but they aren't counting on turning a profit.

Lifecycle effects, Thanksgiving car rental edition

I often talk about lifecycle effects when it comes to travel hacking. That's what I call the phenomenon of people believing that travel hacking has become objectively more difficult when in fact it's their own lifecycle progression that has made them subjectively experience travel hacking as more time-consuming, laborious, or downright boring than when they had more time and fewer responsibilities.

This is a totally normal and indeed ubiquitous phenomenon in all fields of human endeavor, but it's important to keep in mind when you hear a retiree explain how much better everything used to be: sure, travel hacking might have been easier, but he also had more hair, better joints, and fewer kids.

I had my own lifecycle effect moment the other day while renting a car for a Thanksgiving trip.

How I think you're supposed to rent cars

Travel hackers have a lot of options when it comes to minimizing the cost and maximizing the value of car rentals:

  • Redeem Discover cash back for car rental certificates. You can redeem $20 in Discover cash back for a $40 certificate with National, Alamo, and Enterprise.
  • Earn frequent flyer miles by using airline promo codes when booking. I often see Frequent Miler posting these codes, for example here and here, but you can also earn miles by booking through airline car rental portals, e.g. Delta's.
  • Use Autoslash to track car rental prices. Autoslash has changed quite a bit through the years but you can still use it to track your car rental reservation and alert you when the price drops, so you can make a new reservation at the lower price.

Five years ago I probably would have done all that, and made sure to minimize the price I paid and maximized the rewards I earned on our 4-day rental.

How I actually rented a car for Thanksgiving

I logged onto Chase Ultimate Rewards and redeemed 15,840 Ultimate Rewards points for a rental that priced out at $198, which seemed in line with the prices I saw glancing at Kayak.

I did create a Hertz account and earned 275 points for the rental (worth approximately $0), but I didn't bother searching for referral codes or promo codes to apply to the reservation.

Coming to terms with lifecycle effects

There are still lots of marginal travel hacking techniques I pursue. I still credit all my paid flights to a frequent flyer program, even if it's a program like United's that doesn't offer me much if any value. I still try my best to keep my Delta SkyBonus small business account active in order to gradually earn points towards redemptions like drink coupons and domestic flights. I use shopping portals when I buy stuff online, even if the rewards end up being just a few thousand points per year.

But when it comes to renting a car once a year, I can't bring myself to care the way a younger me probably would have.