Author Archives: Windbag Miles

Were you saying “JetBOOO” or “JetBOOO-Urns?” (I don’t like the new Jet Blue Mint seats, and this is is a post about that.)

JetBlue officially unveiled it’s new Mint Suites today, and they suck, and I hate them. Everyone seems to be breathlessly regurgitating JetBlue’s talking points, even writers who I normally trust to take a more critical eye toward this kind of stuff. I guess I should put a picture in here or something, in case you still haven’t seen these new seats (sorry, “suites” because they have a door the width of an airplane safety card).

Image courtesy of Conde Nast Traveler courtesy of JetBlue courtesy of Virgin Atlantic courtesy of Air New Zealand

What do you want to hear first? My ranting about innocuous things about this seat that drive me absolutely fucking crazy, or some actual reasons why these seats are crappy? Let’s start with the second one. These seats are crappy, because they represent the worst of herringbone seats and staggered forward facing seats. The chief benefit of a herringbone seat is that you don’t have to put your feet under the seat in front of you — you have miles and miles of glorious, unrestricted legroom. Of course, that comes with the trade-off of having no shoulder room and constantly banging your elbows on the sides of the seat every time you reach for something. Here’s what that looks like on Air New Zealand (although it’s basically the same on every instance of this seat).

Image courtesy of Air New Zealand, courteously

The upside of staggered forward facing seats (such as JetBlue’s current Mint seat) is that you have a lot of shoulder room, but your feet are confined to a small cubby. For some reason JetBlue decided to go with a configuration that has the same lack of shoulder room as a herringbone seat while still requiring your feet to go in a small cubby. (I know JetBlue didn’t design this seat, but they’re the launch customer for it, so they’re getting my ire. The world isn’t fair, I guess.)

What do you get in exchange for the small cubby? Well, you get some extra shoulder room… FOR YOUR FUCKING LEGS.

Image courtesy of my amazing Photoshop skillz

Okay, to be fair, you also get a table, except it’s in a location that there’s no way you’ll be able to reach from your seat. Look at the guy in the picture — not only is he mad that he has no shoulder room, but he also has to use his embarrassingly long arm to reach the table, and he usually tries to keep that arm hidden under a loose jacket since it’s so embarrassing and long. And JetBlue is making him use it to reach the inconveniently placed table.

Another huge downside of herringbone seats is that they face inward. I was happy that the industry seemed to be phasing this out, but I guess they’re back. I’ve never actually flown a standard herringbone business class seat, since I absolutely hate not being able to look out the window. I also don’t love having my head’s default position being “make eye contact with every person as soon as they leave the lavatory and try not to give them ‘I know you just took a shit’ eyes.” But wait! you say. Mint Suites have doors!

If there’s one “innovation” in premium seating that I wish I could unilaterally cancel, it would be these fucking doors. It’s one thing in Emirates first class (or similar), where the door actually does somewhat enclose you in the suite. However, the vast majority of doors, especially in business class, do almost nothing in the way of privacy. They’re heavy, they get stuck, and they’re so janky that JetBlue is actually touting “doors that actually close all the way” as a feature of this seat. Not to mention the fact that your head sits well above the door, so you’re still going to greet every post-shit passenger with an inadvertent glance.

Was the fact that most business class seats have 14 inches of open space in between the dividers along the aisle really a problem that so desperately needed to be solved? A well-designed seat (British Airways 787 first class comes to mind) will provide all the privacy you could ask for without resorting to a door. But the clamoring for doors is so endless that when British Airways introduced their new business class seat-with-door, the blogosphere chatter was about how business class was now superior to first BECAUSE OF THE DOOR. Sure the seat is narrower, the TV is smaller, the food and service are worse, there’s less storage, and the cabin has 75 people in it as opposed to 8, but… DOOR DOOR DOOR DOOR DOOR.

What about the Mint Studio? Okay, I’ll give you that one — it does look pretty cool. And I buy the claim that it has the most space of any US airline seat.

Imaj curtesi of jeatblou

There’s still the issue of the seat facing away from the window to contend with (as well as the fact that that buddy seat is going to be way tighter in reality than it looks in these idealized photos), but I like the excessive shoulder room. Of course, they’re finally going to start charging extra for these seats, and without knowing the premium, it’s hard to truly evaluate it. The Etihad Residence isn’t worth $20,000 to you and I when we can redeem miles for Etihad Apartments, even though the Residence has three rooms and a butler. If the Mint Studio is competitively priced, I could get on board with it, but if it’s more expensive than other premium transcon/transatlantic seats, then it’s going to be hard to justify the premium just for the cool factor of your buddy being able to put half an ass on that little bench while you both eat.

However, I could perhaps have absorbed all of the above without being so moved as to write a blog post on a defunct blog that no one reads anymore, if it weren’t for JetBlue’s shameless pandering to millennials slathered all over the place. Seriously, I haven’t seen an airline try this hard to win over “emerging affluents” since Joon put flight attendants in white Keds and… well to be honest, I can’t remember what else they did, but it was pretty cringeworthy.

First, let’s talk about the trim. I’ve seen it repeated in at least four articles that the dividers are upholstered with flannel, and the seats are vegan leather. Flannel is by definition a woven fabric. You know what else is a woven fabric? MOST FABRIC. But JetBlue thinks that millennials don’t want to fly on OK Boomer planes with simple old cloth, they want FLANNEL. Millennials want to feel like Ron Swanson is sitting there with them, hands rough hewn and covered in sawdust, mustache gloriously plush. But of course, Millennials aspire to be robust woodworking types despite being a more sensitive breed, so you need to couple the flannel with vegan leather. AKA PLASTIC. The seats are made with a plastic-based coating and the dividers have cloth on them, and you’d think JetBlue reinvented the concept of commercial aviation the way people are waxing rhapsodic about the fit and finish here.

Also, the seat was made in conjunction with Tuft & Needle (sorry, just reading those words on a screen will pollute your social media feeds with Tuft & Needle ads for the rest of time). If you aren’t familiar, Tuft & Needle is a marketing company that spends billions of dollars on advertising foam blocks that are shit out by one of four foam factories in the US that shit out blocks of foam for the 175-odd bed-in-a-box companies currently trying to get you to buy those same blocks of foam. American Airlines got there first with their Casper bedding, but JetBlue apparently needed to get in on the “we sell foam” game too.

Luxury bedding tie-ins are nothing new, and they’re always stupid. SAS has advertised their partnership with Hästens for years, although aside from the pattern on the pillow and the logo tag, you aren’t going to confuse SAS’s bedding with handmade Swedish $25,000 horsehair beds. At least Hästens is an ultra-luxury brand, though. Tuft & Needle is just a brand that people will recognize from Instagram, which I guess is the point here. After all, JetBlue has done this before, back when they distributed Grado headphones to Mint passengers. Grado was all the rage on Instagram a few years ago, and they make amazing open-back studio reference headphones. OPEN BACK, meaning they don’t seal out any noise. The exact opposite of what you’d want in a noisy environment like an airplane. At least they abandoned that and switched to Master & Dynamic, which is an upscale headphone brand I’m familiar with… from Instagram.

I had planned to take advantage of the 100,000 point offer on the JetBlue card, but honestly after seeing these seats, I’m not so sure. There’s no way I could justify flying in one of the Mint Suites when better options are available from United, American, and Delta (and they’re often priced competitively with JetBlue). I’ll be forever grateful to JetBlue for upending the premium transcon market and bringing fares down permanently, but I can’t fathom how people are looking at these seats as a step forward. While I guess I wouldn’t turn down the Studio, with no indication of how much it would cost (or if it will even be bookable with miles), I’m not sure I want to rack up a bunch of JetBlue miles at this point (especially since their service from San Francisco is very limited).

The one good thing about the seats, however, is that they annoyed me enough to write a blog post, and in these pandemic-riddled times, it’s good to focus on the things that really matter. LIKE FLANNEL.

AND DOORS.

“Three Blind Mice” except there’s only one mouse, and it’s not a mouse, it’s Barclays’ credit card strategy

Wow, I’m actually writing a blog post! It was bound to happen sooner or later, since all kinds of wacky crap has been happening this year, and I’ve felt the percolations of motivation tickle my brain more and more frequently lately. What finally put me over the edge? I got an offer on my lowly Barclays Arrival card (not the Arrival+, mind you) — AKA the card I recently used for a $5 Amazon reload because Barclays told me they were going to close it if I didn’t start using it again — and it’s such a really, really, ridiculously good-looking offer that I just had to write about it. (As a quick aside, I do appreciate the advance warning before they closed the card for inactivity and wish more banks would do this instead of just closing the card and letting you know after the fact.)

I started over on Twitter (that’s right, I’m still tweeting with abandon), with this observation:

I might as well get to the point and tell you about the offer, although I’m not going to lie… it did occur to me to write this entire post and never mention it, just to be a stinker.

Yes, you read that right. 11x points per dollar up to $1000 in spending, with no category restrictions. Then 50k for spending $3000 over the next couple months — again with no category restrictions. Did I get this offer because I cockteased Barclays with my $5 Amazon reload and they are just desperately trying to weasel their way back into my wallet? Do they really need me to spend $3000 so badly that they’re willing to give me $600 worth of points before I shoebox this shitty card until they threaten to cancel it again?

(Another digression: The incongruity between the strength of this offer and my value to Barclays as a customer reminded of the post I wrote last year in response to an article that suggested that it’s unethical to open a card just to get the sign-up bonus without actually intending to use the card. I’ve only paid an annual fee to them one time (on an American Airlines card that I then used to game the shit out of their program that essentially let you buy AAdvantage miles for $.01 each), and I’ve never carried a balance. I got the Arrival+ in order to get a 60,000 point sign-up bonus, spent the minimum on it, and then put it away until it was time to downgrade it to the no-fee version. If they want to give me $600 to entice me to do more business with them despite my history with them, I’m not gonna argue.)

The reason I was motivated to write this post is that Barclays’ overall credit card strategy makes so little sense to me, I can’t help but marvel at it. (Whenever I write posts like this, some killjoy always shows up in the comments to chastise me for thinking I know better than a giant financial services firm, and my response is always the same: my irreverance is always going to be less cringey than your need to defend giant financial services firms in the comments of obscure blogs with less than 100 monthly visitors.) Anyway, when I first got into the credit card game, the Arrival+ was one of the main “it” cards. The Sapphire Preferred and the Arrival+ were the two cards bloggers recommended you start with — transferrable points from Chase and cash equivalent points with a great everyday earning rate from Barclays. I even wrote a very embarrassing and overwrought explanation of my methodology for benchmarking the value of transferrable points against the 2.2 (at the time) points you were able to earn per dollar with the Arrival+, so consumed was I with deciding what would be the best option for me.

It ended up taking me a while to get around to actually getting the Arrival+, since I was too consumed with transferrable points to care much about having cash equivalent points as well, although that time rolled around eventually. By that time, Barclays had started chipping away at the overall value of the card, reducing the redemption rebate from 10% to 5%, upping the minimum points needed for redemptions, and other stuff like that. But, they made up for it by increasing the bonus from 40 to 50 and eventually 60k, which I certainly appreciated.

However, despite having an undoubtedly successful card on their hands — a perennial favorite among the Boardingarea set — it honestly seems like Barclays then fired their head of consumer credit cards and hired someone away from Synchrony or one of the other semi-subprime retail co-brand card factories. Attention moved away from the Arrival as they promoted co-brands from companies ranging from the NFL to Lufthansa. Then they made waves with an absolutely laughable high-end Arrival card that had no sign up bonus and was designed to encourage long-term loyalty. They somehow thought this card could compete with the Sapphire Reserve, despite it being described as a “wet turd” and a “lead balloon.” (Well, that’s how I described it, at least.) It was funny to see bloggers with Barclays affiliate links twist themselves into knots trying to justify how that card was worth applying for, but it was only around for a matter of months (if memory serves) before they stopped accepting new applications.

That Arrival card (I can’t remember the actual name, but let’s call it the Arrival Minus) came about at a time when churning was becoming increasingly popular, and banks were starting to get some acid reflux thinking about all the points they were giving away. Citi and Chase implemented “once per family” rules across their card families, and Chase doubled the bonus ineligibility period on the Sapphire cards. At the time, I opined that this was always going to be mitigated by higher targeted offers, since consumers had made it clear that big sign up bonuses were the only way to motivate mass enthusiasm around a credit card. (My reasoning was that every attempt to encourage long-term loyalty by setting up tiered sign-up bonuses that require keeping the card for longer than a year was eventually abandoned by the issuer.)

But, Barclays didn’t come back with a retooled Arrival card at all… they just quietly killed the Arrival Minus and that was it. Now when you go to their site, you can see cards from a dozen travel and retail brands, but nothing with their own points currency. The entire Arrival brand is relegated to the trashbin of churning history. It begs the question of exactly why they’re trying to encourage me to engage with the Arrival family to begin with — especially since I can’t get approved for any other cards due to their restrictions on having too many applications. If they’re going to throw bonuses at me, wouldn’t they rather do it via a sign-up bonus on a card where I’d have to pay an annual fee right away, or at least a card that’s a current/continuing product for them rather than a relic of the past?

I suppose I shouldn’t think too hard about it and just accept the offer and move on. After all, it is quite possibly the strongest “continuing spend” offer I’ve ever received on a card, and I’m certainly appreciative of it in these income-depressed COVID times we continue to live in. If Barclays’ internal metrics have identified me as a customer of value, I should just be flattered rather than thinking there must be some malfunction at the corporate level to single me out. (Is this part of my middle-child syndrome that I desperately crave validation while suspecting that anyone who validates me is making some kind of mistake?)

TL;DR: Barclays has a great offer going on Arrival cards, and I don’t know why the hell they’re even bothering. It confused me so much that I wrote the first new post on this blog in over a year. Yay?

Introducing “Windbag Mails,” the Windbag Miles blog in a convenient travel size package for the modern on-the-go businessperson.

That’s right, despite never writing or updating this blog, I’ve decided to start word vomiting on a new platform altogether. To read why, and to subscribe so you never miss a drop, go here: WINDBAG MAILS LINK, CLICK HERE GRANDPA.

Quick note: I’m not auto-subscribing the mailing list from this blog to the newsletter out of respect for you (not to mention fear of you), so you’ll have to subscribe again. That whole “subscribe again” thing was a miserable failure when I migrated the blog to Squarespace and lost hundreds of subscribers, but I’m trying it again here… You know what they say, “The definition of genius is doing the same thing twice and expecting different results because chaos theory is real.”

Moving back home (no not to Chicago, sorry Mom and Dad)

Hi there blog readers, or at least those of you that are left. I’ve more or less given up on the blog, but I decided I didn’t want it to go away forever. The new home over at Squarespace was going to be too expensive to host a defunct blog, however, so I’ve moved it back to its original home on WordPress, albeit with a cheaper plan. This means I have less customization options, so I switched the theme to something neutral and will probably leave it alone from now on. There are 22 posts that need to be imported, which I may do at some point if I ever get around to it. If you’re keeping count, this is now the fifth iteration of the site, which I think is more than The Points Guy has had, so at least I’m a leader in something. Thanks for still reading — I’m astonished a three year old article about a timeshare presentation is still the most popular thing I’ve ever written, but there you have it.

Don’t forget to search Delta award itineraries segment-by-segment. Oh wait, I mean “Don’t search for Delta award without using this ONE CRAZY TRICK!”

WHOA, TWO POSTS IN A SINGLE WEEK! I could write about what’s going on with the blog and stuff, but you don’t care. It’s boring. Anyway, let’s talk about Delta. Earlier this year, I wrote a post about how Delta’s revenue-based redemption system can make awards less flexible overall, and this post is in a similar vein, since it’s about another one of the consequences of using a rewards program without an award chart.

This actually came up a few months ago, but it was during my blog’s “dead period,” so I didn’t write about it. And because I’m still a fundamentally lazy writer, I didn’t check to see it’s still the case OR take screen shots to illustrate what I’m talking about. Here’s the gist: I was trying to book an award itinerary to France, and I couldn’t get Delta to show any mixed-carrier awards, which was really annoying. Thinking back on it, this has probably been the case for a long time, but it’s still a competitive disadvantage compared to Star Alliance or oneworld booking engines that will happily ferry you to a hub city on United/American and then send you overseas on whatever European carrier has availability out of that hub. (Or, in the case of Aeroplan, suggest an itinerary with five domestic European flights in business class before finally connecting you to the transatlantic leg in economy).

This is the benefit of award charts, since you’re essentially telling the system where you want to go and letting it pull from all available flights within/between the two regions you want to visit. When a program exclusively prices awards from origin to destination, there are no “available” flights, just a bunch of flights each with a specific cost. However, because Sky Miles still manages to offer partner awards, which price according to the traditional available/unavailable scheme (either they show up for 75,000 miles, or they don’t show up at all), you can only book partner awards as direct flights. What’s annoying about this is that Delta is probably the best of the big 3 in terms of domestic availability, but their Frankenstein-monster award booking engine won’t let you take advantage of that feeder network to get to any of their partners’ US destinations.

Delta’s longhaul business class availability is actually pretty good compared to United and American, but it’s still hit or miss, and it’s usually much weaker on the European side of things than Air France/KLM. When I was putting my itinerary together, I was really hoping to get on Air France’s direct flight from San Francisco, but there weren’t any seats available. That only left a bunch of Delta awards through one of their hubs for 320,000 miles. I was going to put my plans on hold and check periodically since they do often open up seats from time to time, and most of the routes to Paris are on A330s (or refurbished 777s, which I got to enjoy last month). However, it occurred to me that Air France does fly out of some other Delta hubs, and availability is often better than it is from SFO, for whatever reason.

Specifically, I decided to check Seattle, since it’s a quick and easy flight from SFO, and the lounge game in SEA is on point. (While I’d prefer a direct flight for obvious reasons, I always like spending time in the Sky Club in Seattle, which is a far sight better than the very mediocre Air France lounge at SFO.) I was able to find two business class seats for 75,000 miles each on the day I wanted, so I went ahead and booked them. It’s funny spending “only” 75,000 Sky Miles on a business class seat these days — it seems like such an incredible bargain even though it’s still more expensive than pretty much every other program. But, as I’ve said before, the fact that you can rack up 300,000 Delta miles in short order via credit card sign-ups eases the sting of their inflated pricing.

With the Air France business seats in the bag, I just needed to get us up to Seattle. And wouldn’t you know it, I found two seats in first class for 10,000 miles each, meaning the total cost of my itinerary was still less than the least expensive award flight on Delta. Sure there are some disadvantages — like having to check in again in Seattle, or potentially having to pay two cancelation/change fees — but I’m still happy with how it turned out, since the domestic leg is pretty short, and I finally get to fly Air France in business class.

Sidebar: It’s ironic that it will have taken over five years from when I started churning to finally fly Air France business, since that’s the one product that really ignited my interest in the hobby. Prior to that, I figured the easiest thing would just be to earn United miles and fly United business class, but then I noticed that United business class kind of sucked, and Air France’s [just-launched reverse herringbone] looked much better. And you can earn their miles from an American Express card??? So yeah, 25 American Express cards later, here we are. I probably would have flown them sooner, except the roll-out of that new business class product took forever, and I really didn’t want to risk getting equipment-swapped into one of their old angle-flat seats after getting excited for the latest and greatest.

After my KLM disappointment, I’m not expecting anything that great, especially since I prefer forward-facing seats like the new Delta One suites I just flew, so I don’t even think this will be my favorite Sky Team business class product. But given how I’m such a francophile in other areas, I definitely should fly Air France business class at some point, so I’m happy I will finally get to. (Speaking of KLM, I’m also a little excited to fly their new 787-10 on the return leg of that same trip, since it will supposedly feature an updated seat. My problem with the 789 seat was that it felt fairly narrow, and since the 781 is the same length, I’m not expecting it to be substantially better in that regard, although it’s always fun to fly a new product on a new plane.)

Anyway, that’s my advice with Delta: don’t be afraid to put itineraries together piece-by-piece, since it may make the most sense to combine their domestic availability with their partners’ long-haul awards. Finally, any time I write about Delta I feel like I should put in the standard disclaimer that I’m sure everyone knows this already, it’s just something that I didn’t know, and if I didn’t know it, then maybe a few of my readers didn’t either. They’re a pretty stupid bunch! (Just kidding, love you folks.)

Want to support this blog? You shouldn’t — I barely post anymore. I have a Patreon page, but I stopped the monthly charges because I felt bad taking money when I wasn’t doing anything.

Marriott is a great hotel chain, I’m joining The Points Guy as a travel writer, and Emirates is giving out free first class flights: One of these outlandish statements is true, but WHICH ONE????

My last post on this fair blog was about all the ways I was going to get Bonvoyed this summer during a work trip that involved a trifecta of Marriott hotels (AKA “The Devil’s Triangle.”) Then, the most incredible thing happened: everything was fine. Better than fine, actually… I know, I’m as surprised as you! Marriott’s run of horrific customer service, chronicled in detail by the masochist(s) at the @Bonvoyed twitter account, had me quaking in my boots leading up to the trip. I mean, I can handle a rude hotel employee here or there, but all the outrageous customer service horror stories in their aggregate painted a very unflattering picture of a company that actively hates their customers and wants to torture them as much as possible.

I also had a mild Bonvoying as a sort of amuse-bouche for what I assumed would be a shit smorgasbord when Marriott lost the confirmation number for a stay booked through SPG (pre-merger) and then required forever and a half on the phone talking to various agents until they could find it again. I had assumed that transferring reservations from the old to the new system was pretty much ground zero for any kind of system integration, so the fact that Marriott could fuck even that up did not bode well.

The trip started off just fine: I checked into the Renaissance République in Paris, and no mention was made of the points discrepancy (that the rate I booked at was lower than the current rate due to the hotel changing categories). Not that this should have presented any issues, but when I wrote about how I was worried about the hotel not honoring my reward nights, no one told me I was wrong to be. I’m not going to give Marriott a cookie just for meeting the basic conditions of what a rewards program is, though, so let’s move on.

(If you’re interested in a review of the hotel: the rooms are super tiny and the bedside tables are barely big enough for an alarm clock and a cell phone, but it’s pretty nice. The location is fantastic, but I wouldn’t stay here again… especially not for 50,000 points per night. Oh and the minibar had dried crickets and a bunch of condoms and lube, so I imagine you could have a really interesting night if you were so inclined.)

As far as elite recognition, I got as much as I usually expect when staying at a hotel with mid-tier status, which is to say: a brief thank-you for being a loyal member upon check-in and then no room upgrade whatsoever. But the staff was really nice and helpful, so I can’t complain.

My next stay was supposed to be in Rotterdam, but the Autograph Collection (or Tribute Collection, I can never keep them straight) hotel I booked didn’t open in time. I don’t consider this a Bonvoying, though, since the same thing happened to me with IHG last fall. And at least this hotel was proactive about letting me know, whereas I had to find out about the IHG situation myself. We’ll call this one a draw, since Marriott didn’t get a chance to Bonvoy me but certainly could have. (I ended up booking the Hilton Rotterdam instead, and I was impressed. I got upgraded to a junior suite, and the executive lounge was huge with a substantial snack selection. Rotterdam is a very odd city and it would probably make sense to stay at a suitably odd hotel, but if you’re okay with a bland but luxurious corporate hotel, I recommend the Hilton.)

On to Munich, then, where I booked three rooms at the Le Meridien. I’ll put my cards on the table now: I loved this hotel, and the staff was fantastic. When I checked in, they told me they had upgraded me to a deluxe room, which was a nice surprise. However, when I asked about the other two rooms I booked, the guy apologized profusely for not realizing the three rooms were a block (since Marriott assigned them three different confirmation numbers after the SPG migration), and then set about making sure all three rooms were upgraded and on the same floor. That’s pretty amazing, right? As an extra bonus, they offered me two free drinks at the bar as an elite welcome amenity, although I still received the standard 500 points.

The hotel itself was superb — very large rooms (especially for Europe), great bathroom, good amenities, etc. My room even had a plate of fancy chocolates and strawberries with welcome letter too. For a mid-tier elite! I’ve never received a welcome amenity like that — not even from IHG when I paid to be an Ambassador, and certainly never from Hyatt or Hilton.

I’d stay here again in a second, except for the fact that the neighborhood right by the train station kind of sucks — lots of strip clubs and casinos. At least I think they were casinos. Too bad I didn’t have the crickets and lube from the Renaissance hotel in my room this time!

After a week at the Le Meridien, it was time to go home, and I was very thankful I somehow managed to escape my Bonvoying. The only remaining thing would be whether my points posted on time, since I’ve heard so many stories about that not happening. I made sure to get my guest folio printed out as well as emailed to so I would be armed in case any shenanigans cropped up after the fact. Then I flew home on Lufthansa first class, which was fucking awesome, but that’s for another post. (That I’ll probably get around to writing six months from now.)

A couple days after I got home, the points posted, but it was the wrong amount. “Here we go,” I thought. I asked Twitter whether they thought I should bother even trying to reclaim the other points, and aside from someone telling me that every idiot knows you can’t earn points from multiple rooms (you most definitely can), the consensus was that I should stop being so lazy and go get what’s mine.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Turns out I was only able to get points for two of the rooms, since only two were paid on my card, but that’s still around 20,000 points, so I decided to go for it. I waited until ten days had passed and then filled out a missing points form figuring I would wait forever and finally receive a non-answer response that required calling in and talking to someone with the enthusiasm of a wet flour tortilla. Much to my surprise, I received a response within five minutes saying that they had examined my guest folio and applied the points to my account, which would post within 48 hours.

Well, 48 hours passed and no points, so I sent a follow up saying the points I was awarded originally didn’t match the amount spent at the hotel. Another five minutes later I got a similar email saying I was right and that the points would post right away. I logged in again, and there they were.

WHAT. THE. FUCK.

In conclusion, no I don’t know what makes me so goddamn special. The issues with Marriott clearly aren’t “noise around the edges,” as CEO-of-the-year Archie Sorenstern likes to say — the sheer volume of complaints, and the fact that some of the most well-known travel bloggers have been equally affected as rank-and-file members suggests that Marriott simply doesn’t care about their customers. I certainly am not writing this post to discount the stories of thousands of disgruntled Marriottsketeers, but… I’ve been pretty hard on Marriott in the last few posts, and I figured it was my duty as a journalist (HAHAHAHAHAHA) to present the other side of the story.

Honestly, the customer service thing at the end of the trip is what’s flipping me out the most. A good experience at a hotel is equal parts luck of the draw both in terms of staff and the hotel itself, but I don’t think I’ve read a single story of anyone having an easy time recovering lost points. That I should have had to deal with it in the first place is perhaps a point of criticism, but Marriott’s IT being a piece of shit is just a fact of life, so it’s to be expected. The thing that I can’t believe is how quickly they responded to emails both times, and also that I was able to resolve it in two “touches” (that’s some customer service-speak for ya) and no phone calls. It boggles the mind.

I supposed I shouldn’t celebrate too soon — maybe they’re going to claw back the points because I didn’t work hard enough for them, or there’s going to be a mystery charge on my card that I can’t get reversed or something like that. It’s certainly not without precedent. But for now, I’m going to say that my two stays with Marriott were both very pleasant, with the second one being among the better hotel experiences I’ve had outside of an ultra-luxury hotel. Maybe this — treating customers like humans and providing a good guest experience — is what Marriott needs to do to win people back, rather than funding insufferable influencer trips. But I’ll leave that up to Archie, since he knows what he’s doing.

Want to support this blog? You shouldn’t — I barely post anymore. I have a Patreon page, but I stopped the monthly charges because I felt bad taking money when I wasn’t doing anything.

Fearing the worst: All the ways I’m probably gonna get Bonvoyed on my Europe trip this summer

It’s no secret that Marriott’s new “Bonvoy” loyalty program is a miserable clusterfuck, and it’s even more galling that Marriott’s response seems to be to buy off mainstream travel journalists from places like US News & World Report and Conde Nast Traveler in exchange for them naming it “best hotel loyalty program.” Oh, and then to pay a bunch of insufferable #instagram #influencers to #travel with them to #Hong #Kong for a #comped #stay in a #hotel where they can #post about all #their #amazing #experiences (#blessed #nofilter #ad). I guess the idea is to convince as many “normies” as they can that Bonvoy is amazing, thinking that if Bonvoy only alienates 50% of those people with egregious customer service failures, that’s still a lot of new customers.

I guess I’m kind of surprised by all this, because I don’t really remember people hating on Marriott with this much vitriol before the merger, but now there are piles of new stores every week, each more unbelievable than the last. Was this just par for the course in the past, or were hotels on their best behavior these past years in order to avoid spooking investors in the companies that were trying to get scooped up by Marriott? That seems a little convoluted, but for whatever reason, the gloves are now off and Marriott is actively trying to be as outrageously awful to customers as it possibly can.

Part of what worries me, therefore, is what the hell is going to happen to me this summer when I take in a Bonvoy buffet of hotels as I gallivant across Europe on a half-work/half-personal joyride. My journey begins in France, where I’ll have three nights (paid on points) at the Renaissance République. I’m pretty excited about this hotel, not because it looks especially great, but due to the amazing location in my favorite part of the city. Not that the hotel looks bad or anything, it’s just that the base rooms look closet-sized in the photos on the website. Those photos are supposed to exaggerate the size, so I’m kind of worried about fitting through the door. Maybe my Bonvoy Gold status will get me an upgrade, though. (HAHAHAHAHAHAHA)

Bonvoy Bear Trap #1: Pay 45,000 points immediately or pay the retail rate for your room.

Back when I booked this hotel, it was 35,000 points per night, and I booked three nights. It was basically all of my Bonvoy points, but the cash rates at this hotel are pretty high (hey, it’s Paris in the summer after all), so I didn’t mind. The problem is that the hotel has moved categories and now costs 50,000 points per night. Were this any other hotel program, I’d be pretty confident that the hotel would honor the price I paid when I booked, but given that this is Bonvoy we’re talking about, I fully expect the hotel to demand I pay the difference upon check-in (or something similarly punitive like paying the daily room rate if I don’t have enough points). The way the price displays on my Marriott confirmation doesn’t exactly inspire confidence:

Looking at the way they’re displaying the cost, I’m just begging to be Bonvoyed here. 50,000 points per night for three nights totaling 105,000 points? Good luck… If every other hotel in Paris didn’t cost a million dollars for the dates I need, I’d cancel this in a heartbeat, because I can’t imagine it’s going to go smoothly.

From Paris I head up to Rotterdam for a stay at the brand new Slaak Hotel, which is part of the Tribute Portfolio (not to be confused with the Autograph Collection, which is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT). Again, this is a beautiful looking hotel, and I’m really excited for my stay, especially since the hotel market in Rotterdam is much more reasonably priced, and I got a great deal thanks to the advance purchase rate that I locked in.

Bonvoy Bear Trap #2: Your card was declined, so pay some exorbitant rate instead of the discounted rate you booked.

Here’s the thing: while I booked an “advance purchase rate,” my credit card was never actually charged. Normally I’d just assume that they’d charge it when I arrived at the hotel, except the rate details on my Marriott confirmation don’t exactly inspire confidence:

Does the hotel never actually charging my card mean the same thing as the card being declined? Is the hotel going to charge my card for the rate I booked, or will they come up with some ridiculous rate, charge me in full, and tell me to sort it out with Marriott? The fact that I even need to ask this question is completely bonkers, but this is the world we live in now. I did actually try to resolve this in advance, but a support rep with the energy level of a plate of pot brownies told me that all she could do to help me would be to “open a case.” That was months ago, and I haven’t heard anything since.

After the Slaak Hotel charges me my entire available credit limit for two nights, I’m heading down to Munich for a trade show, meaning my employer will be on the hook for any Bonvoy shenanigans this time. I was pretty happy when I found out the trade show moved to Munich from Friedrichshafen, since there are tons of hotels in Munich, and I won’t have to deal with getting kicked out of my AirBNB three weeks before I’m supposed to travel (which is what happened last time). Having a reservation at a real hotel is much more secure than depending on some random apartment owner in southern Germany, right?

Bonvoy Bear Trap #3: Your reservation isn’t on file and the hotel is fully booked due to the trade show, but you can probably find a bench at the nearby train station to sleep on.

I reserved this hotel WAY in advance, since I was told that hotels will quickly sell out… However, I may have booked a little too far in advance, since I booked with SPG instead of Marriott. A few months ago after my SPG and Bonvoy accounts merged, the reservation was no longer listed in my account, and the customer service reps I talked to couldn’t find it using my SPG confirmation number. After about 90 minutes of waiting on hold for various supervisors, someone did actually find my reservation, but it was under a completely new number that had never been communicated to me in any form. Well, to be specific, it was now under three numbers (one for each room). I was able to use those numbers to get the reservation to show up in my Marriott account again, but it absolutely would not shock me if the hotel didn’t have a record of the reservation under either the old or new numbers… After all, it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence to have multiple reps tell you that your reservation no longer exists, until a senior rep finally finds it under the bathroom rug covered in mold and bearing a new number that no one has ever seen before.

In all three cases, I wish I could ditch Marriott and make other arrangements, but due to price (Paris), rate terms and conditions (Rotterdam), or availability (Munich), that’s not really an option. You really have to hand it to a loyalty program to be so terrible that I want to cancel reservations I already booked, but that doesn’t mean you should be lavishing awards on it. Dear The Points Guy, US News and World Report, Conde Nast Traveler, and anyone else who’s swallowing the Bonvoy Marketing Bouillabaisse: stop it. Marriott sucks right now. Hold them accountable, even if it means not going to the Oscars.

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How would my churning strategy change if I lived in New Zealand?

Despite how much I love the Faroe Islands and wish I could move there, it turns out that it’s not super easy to immigrate to Denmark. So that’s probably out. If I want to leave this shitty country forever, my options are either Svalbard (since even though it’s technically a part of Norway, you can just show up there and never leave) and New Zealand, since my wife is a full Kiwi, from her brown hair down to her inability to fly. Svalbard is probably a long shot, honestly… it’s only a 2-hour flight from mainland Europe (so not that different from the Faroe Islands), but I’m not sure I could live in a place where the sun doesn’t set for half the year.

That leaves New Zealand, a beautiful place that’s only a 22 hour flight from mainland Europe. Despite being married to a Kiwi, I’ve only ever been there once, but it was pretty great. We stayed in the North Island, and I did some hiking on Mt. Taranaki, which is a dead ringer for Mount Fuji and easily on par scenery-wise with the traditional South Island NZ scenery porn. I do have some misgivings about the place, such as the national shame of being represented by a flag carrier with a frequent flyer program as terrible as Air New Zealand Airpoints, or the fact that I was on one horribly turbulent flight going there, so naturally I assume that all fights to/from/around NZ are full-on barfatoriums. These are minor issues, of course, so I guess it’s settled and I’m moving to New Zealand.

Obviously I will keep a US address for credit-card-having purposes, but I feel like I should probably have a “native” credit card, so I think it’s time for me to do a full review of the Amex Platinum “Kiwi Special” Edition. Please note that this card actually exists and I haven’t photoshopped this screenshot at all.

I’m gonna get real for a second: the fact that this card is plastic and couldn’t even cut a zucchini is probably reason enough why I shouldn’t move to New Zealand. However, there are a couple other things going against it, like the $1250 annual fee ($861 USD), and the fact that anyone who has or has had any Amex card in the past 12 months is ineligible for the sign-up bonus.

There are actually some interesting benefits, like a $200 travel credit that you redeem through Amex’s travel service for any prepaid travel, which effectively knocks the fee down to a much less unreasonable but still pretty unreasonable $1050 NZD/$723 USD). There’s also a $500 smartphone screen repair benefit, which you’ll probably need after your phone flies out of your hand and smashes into the ceiling during one of those bouts of extreme turbulence you’re sure to experience.

You also get a slew of elite hotel status, earning low/mid-tier status with Accor, Radisson, Marriott, Hilton, and Shangri-La. I don’t know if anyone really needs low/mid-tier status at all of those hotels at once, but the Accor program gives you a free night every year, which ain’t nothing. I have to admit, this card offers way more than I thought it would. Looking through all these benefits, this whole move-to-New-Zealand-and-get-an-Amex-Platinum plan is starting to seem pretty good.

Plus, 80k is the standard bonus plus an the card earns two points per NZD? As long as the NZ version of Membership Rewards is comparable to the US program, I’m gonna buy a one-way ticket right now.

[Slide-whistle noise.]

Not only are the transfer partners not very good, the transfer ratio is 2:1 for most of them… or 175:1 for Air New Zealand. Since an Airpoints dollar is worth $1 NZD toward the cost of a flight, you’re earning $1 NZD for every $87.50 spent. Given how low interchange fees are everywhere except the US, I suppose it’s worth it to be earning more than 1% on your everyday spending, but still… that’s pretty bad. You could do a lot better with Singapore, since you can get quite a bit of value of out their miles, meaning a return of 4-5% is theoretically possible. As long as the award space doesn’t disappear in the 10 days it takes to transfer your goddamn points.

The transfer ratio to hotel programs (Hilton and Bonvoy) is 1:1 at least, meaning your return on spend when transferring to Marriott is better than with Marriott’s US-based cards (when you factor in the currency spread). Christ, those clowns can’t get anything right, can they?

Okay, so I guess my imminent move to New Zealand is on hold for now, since whatever unique perks their Amex Platinum card has are obliterated by their weak-sauce Membership Rewards program. (In case any readers are excessively literal and think that I would either a) plan a move to a foreign country based on what credit cards are available or b) expect cards in a non-US country to be competitive with US cards, don’t worry, I’m not that stupid.) As a credit card obsessive, I do think the various offerings around the world are interesting to consider, which is why I’m bothering to write this post.

While I may move to New Zealand at some point, it’s a long way off… and since I’d never put my dog through the trauma of an overseas trip and 30-day quarantine, we aren’t going anywhere until she dies. (Which will never happen because I’m firmly in denial on this issue.) I’m curious, though — does anyone reading this have interesting foreign credit cards, like that one from the bank in Dubai that has a real diamond in the center of the card? Now’s your chance to brag about your rare gems.

Oh, and if you’re dead set on participating in Air New Zealand’s joke of a loyalty program, there’s an Amex Airpoints card that earns 1 Airpoints dollar per $59 spent. To put that into perspective, that means you could fly from Auckland to San Francisco round-trip in business class with only around $300,000 USD in spend. Not bad!!!

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Yes it’s ethical to open a card you have no intention of keeping long-term.

Recently, a reader sent me an article called “What is Credit Card Churning” that was published on Experian’s blog and sent out to their email list. It’s full of pretty good advice, like that you shouldn’t go into debt chasing sign-up bonuses, shouldn’t overspend, and shouldn’t run around pants-less inside a bank branch daring them to shut you down. However, the article kind of posits that opening a card you have no intention of keeping long term may be unethical, so let me just say… it’s not. There’s also an analogy of a supermarket that I can’t not respond to:

Okay, so imagine you visit a supermarket that is offering a five-course meal by a Michelin-starred chef in exchange for buying your normal groceries. Most people would happily sit down for that meal, and some might even ask if they could come back tomorrow and have another meal in exchange for another round of groceries. And pretty much everyone would try to do it every day of the week, since five-course meals by Michelin-starred chefs are fucking awesome and buying groceries is something most people do anyway.

Or, more accurately, imagine you visit a supermarket that has a separate door for poor people and for rich people. In the poor people door, you have to pay to get in line, you have to pay a surcharge if you can only buy a few groceries, and the groceries you get are mostly bruised or spoiled. In the rich people door, you get money back for every item you purchase, you get the highest quality food, and instead of waiting in line for a half hour, you can walk right in and get waited on hand and foot. Now imagine that there’s a magic way for anyone to enter the rich people door, and it’s just sitting there in plain sight. Of course, management frowns on people using this door, because the supermarket is existentially dependent on using its service as a provider of food to maintain separate economic classes.

However, the Experian article cautions that taking advantage of this loophole-in-plain-sight is potentially unethical, because you’re pretending to be interested in the bank, when in reality you’re only interested in financial gain…

“Some would argue.” I’ve seen this line before, that sign-up bonuses are meant to encourage long-term business, and opening a card for the sole purpose of getting a bonus and then closing it is unethical. Let me be very clear: this argument is 100% horseshit, in every respect, from every angle. (Note that I’m not criticizing the author of the Experian piece, since he’s not the one making the argument. I’m railing against the “some” that “would argue” this point.)

First, let’s not forget that we’re talking about BANKS! You know, those financial institutions who have a nasty habit of doing things like expropriating people by force, opening credit card accounts in their customers’ names without permission, oh and developing financial products so exotic that they crash the entire financial system. Back when I worked a shitty job for shitty pay and my employer announced a 2-year wage freeze due to the financial crisis, I felt like I had no other choice but to go into credit card debt. Sure, it was my fault that I went into debt (it’s not as if elves took my credit card to Baby Gap every night to buy new elf clothes), and I’m pretty sure that Chase didn’t sit around wringing their hands wondering if it was ethical to collect thousands of dollars in interest from me. That’s the game, and I was on the losing side for a LONG time.

Second, in theory a bank could always require you to remain loyal in the long term… That’s why years ago Citi waited until your cardmember anniversary to give you the other half of your sign-up bonus on the Premier card. (But then they stopped, because they were getting lapped by other card issuers.) That’s why Barclays introduced a card with no sign-up bonus and instead rewarded you for meeting spending targets throughout the year. (But then they discontinued that card after only a few months because it was a wet turd, and they raised the sign-up bonus (and waived the first year’s fee) on the Arrival+.) It sure seems like banks feel like they have to offer cards with attractive sign-up bonuses in order to be competitive, which means that they have evaluated the costs of evil churners like me cockteasing them and decided that it’s still worth playing the sign-up bonus game.

I get why Experian would take the banks’ side… after all, those banks are their biggest customers. And like I said, for the majority of consumers it’s good advice to remind them that credit cards are like edibles — you can always eat more, but you can’t eat less, and when you’re in over your head, it’s going to be a shitty ride. I realize I’m probably reading WAY too much into this, but I really chafe at the idea that giant mega-banks are equivalent to corner grocers just trying to make ends meet. Or that consumers are the ones with the ethical duty not to take advantage of what banks give them, rather than the ethical burden being on the banks themselves to not drive people into neverending debt spirals and bankruptcy (and then offering them horrible secured cards with downright usurious fees so those folks can build up their credit again).

There’s no such thing as “the spirit of the offer” when it comes to banks. They exist to make money off of my money, either by siphoning fees out of it or lending it to someone else. If they don’t have any of my money, they’ll try to get it by enticing me to borrow someone else’s money. This idea that a bank is a loyal financial partner through all the stages of my life is, to put it politely, a steaming crock of fetid dog diarrhea. A bank is going to offer me rewards because they’re hoping to trap me into a situation where they can earn more money off me. This and only this is the spirit of any offer they make me, regardless of what their marketing department may try to insinuate. If I can accept an offer, avoid the debt trap, and cost the bank more money than they earn from me, then they made a poor financial calculation in extending that offer to me. However, I’m just some douchebag with a comparative literature degree, so if they lose money on me, that’s on them. Sorry brah, that’s the game, but I’m not on the losing side anymore.

EDITED TO ADD… I totally left out the fact that it’s EXTREMELY rich for Experian to mention ethics at all, given that their entire business model is to vacuum up all my data and sell it to banks without my consent or ability to opt out. At least they haven’t handed my social security number to Russian hackers on a flash drive (yet), but I’d sooner drink turpentine than take ethical advice from a credit bureau.

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A guy points a gun to your head and tells you to pick between Flying Blue and Sky Miles. But here’s the catch: YOU HAVE TO PICK ONE.

It’s ironic given how many posts I’ve written against both Flying Blue and Sky Miles that I get a lot of use out of both programs. Delta’s actually not bad if you’re trying to use it for domestic redemptions — the flights are more expensive, but the fact that they’re available in the first place makes a pretty big difference. (I have called this the “Delta Availability Tax” in the past). I don’t know if this is quite as much of a competitive advantage anymore, since the other US airlines are making more space available these days… well, American definitely is, and as long as United releases a couple saver seats a month, that would still count as “more” given their piss-poor history. But my point is that Sky Miles can be useful if you stop trying to hold it to the standard that loyalty programs established ten years ago.

I know we’ve all seen the famous “Loyalty Programs Should be Loyal” ad, and it’s certainly ironic given how relentlessly Delta has devalued their miles. However, they’ve also provided opportunities to keep up with the point deflation by stockpiling Amex cards. Between personal and business cards, you can vacuum up a half million Delta miles in fairly short order, which is something you most certainly can’t do with United, American, or Alaska (thanks to 5/24, Citi’s one-bonus-per-family rule, Barclay’s unwritten 6/24 rule, and BofA sucking, respectively). And while Amex’s once-per-lifetime bonus restriction is the most draconian on paper, they’re very liberal in how they target people for special offers that don’t include that once-per-lifetime language. To wit: this week I applied for my third Delta Gold card in three years, which is honestly pretty shocking.

Plus, the “best ever” bonuses for those cards have ballooned like crazy in that period, to the point that 50k used to be remarkable whereas now anything under 75 is a snoozer (unless of course it’s one of those glistening targeted offers like the one I got this week, in which case I’ll happily settle for 60k). And these days, the Reserve card, which used to only award MQMs as a sign-up bonus and made waves when they offered 45k redeemable miles, is also getting in on the 75-80k action. So while the miles have admittedly wilted, the credit card situation is at least providing somewhat of a counterbalance. Sure, when Amex inevitably implements a once-per-family rule, my tune will change in a hurry… but we’re not there yet (thankfully).

One thing about Sky Miles that’s easy to forget about, however, is that despite having unpublished award pricing levels (that change without notice), they very much are a revenue-based program. In practice, this means that awards are always priced from origin-to-destination and not according to regions in an award chart. That means that it can sometimes be difficult to change award itineraries, since changes will affect the origin and destination pair, causing the whole itinerary to re-price at the current rate. This happened to me recently with an itinerary from SFO-LAX-CDG in which I was trying to change the origin from SFO to DEN. In a chart-based program, as long as your origin and destination regions don’t change (AND there’s saver space on the new leg AND you follow the other routing rules), you would be able to make that change after paying the change fee. (For what it’s worth, I confirmed this with United and American before writing this post, just to be sure I wasn’t making shit up.)

However, since Delta doesn’t really have “award space” to begin with, it operates differently. There aren’t region-based rules or anything like that, there’s just the cost between two cities. Honestly, I’m pretty stupid for thinking I could make that SFO/DEN swap in the first place, since I’d never make the same assumption when changing a revenue ticket. It’s basically like asking the airline to let me do hidden city ticketing or something, but I was thinking of my award ticket as being different from a revenue ticket, and the way Delta’s program works, there’s no real difference. That’s important to keep in mind, since it makes Delta award tickets less flexible than those from chart-based programs. Sometimes plans change and you need to suck it up and pay a change fee, which is fine. But with Delta, it’s not just the fee you need to pay, since it’s pretty likely that the cost of your trip will quadruple as well.

In this specific case, I went ahead and just canceled the reservation. I hate coughing up $150 in cases like this, but sticking to the original routing would have made for a really stressful trip, so it was worth it just to eat the $150 and start over. The problem is that I was trying to fly transatlantic in business class in peak season on a specific day, and awards were pretty much non-existent. Direct flights were a non-starter, given that I’d be limited to United (no availability) or British Airways. While I’d probably pay BA’s fuel surcharge for first class out of desperation, there weren’t any seats on the day I needed. Business was available as usual, but I just can’t debase myself enough to spend $600 + a bunch of miles + another $150 to select a seat (IN BUSINESS CLASS). I poked around various programs and didn’t find anything good, but then I decided to check on Flying Blue as a last resort.

Speaking of Flying Blue, they recently went to a system that looks a lot like Delta’s, with dynamic pricing, multiple price levels, and plenty of origin-destination pricing quirks that you can leverage to get some unexpected great deals. What I’m not fully clear on is how programs with this sort of structure handle partner awards, since those awards are much simpler — either the airline releases saver inventory on a particular flight to its partners, or it doesn’t. When I started researching this post, it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen an Air France or KLM saver award on Delta in a long time, so I started to worry that both programs shifting to dynamic pricing made partner saver awards a thing of the past. Thankfully that isn’t true (I found some SFO-CDG business class awards on Air France for 75k Sky Miles in January 2020 as proof), but it doesn’t exactly answer my question either.

(As an aside, in the course of working on this post, I also found some SFO-CDG awards for an eye-watering 320,000 Sky Miles, which is new to me. For a while it seemed like 280k was the upper limit, and while that was certainly bad enough, “bad enough” is not nearly bad enough when it comes to Sky Miles.)

In the case of the Air France partner award i found for 75k via Delta, that same flight is available for 71,000 Flying Blue miles, which is the new “saver” amount for that route, This suggests that Air France treats a certain subset of its inventory as “saver” which means both that it gets released to partners and that it is priced at the current lowest level for that award. That’s pretty intuitive, but what I found when I was trying to book my DEN-CDG award definitely was not. See, I poked Delta in a variety of places to try to find a low-level award, but alas every business class seat on Delta from the USA to CDG on the day I needed was 280k. That’s why I wasn’t that optimistic when I went to check Flying Blue — I was actually hoping to find a mid-level (non-saver) Air France award, since I had backed myself into a corner and knew I’d probably have to use more miles than I wanted to.

However, what I found BLEW MY MIND. (Well not really, but I never use clickbaity words on this site, so cut me some slack.) What I found was a near-perfect Delta award from DEN-MSP-CDG with the MSP-CDG leg on a refurbished 777 featuring Delta One Suites for only 72,000 miles and $5.60. I immediately went back to Delta and pulled up the exact same flights, thinking I must have missed something… but it was at 280k, just like I had originally found. So what was this flight I was seeing on Flying Blue then? If you’re a seasoned travel hacker, you’re probably muttering something involving “phantom award” under your breath, or maybe even yelling “I CERTAINLY HOPE YOU DIDN’T TRANSFER POINTS TO FLYING BLUE TO TRY TO BOOK AN OBVIOUS PHANTOM AWARD YOU FUCKING MORON!” at your screen.

While I was pretty sure I was looking at a phantom award (what other explanation could there be???), I still did the extremely reckless thing and transferred 72,000 Amex points. The transfer was instant and I went all the way through the booking process, only to be confronted with an error that the award couldn’t be booked. No big deal, I’ve had this error before, and I was able to book the award on the second or third try in those cases. Five tries later (across three different browsers), I was ready to admit that I had wasted 72,000 Amex points (or at least severely limited their usefulness), but I was deep enough in the process that I didn’t want to give up without pleading with a phone agent to book the award for me.

I called in and got a nice French guy on the line right away, and he went in and booked the award without a hitch. He even waived the phone booking fee since the website wouldn’t let me book it online. I was in shock, and for a couple weeks I figured Delta was going to email me to tell me that the award was booked in error… while that hasn’t happened yet, I’m still mentally prepared for it, since this whole situation is so weird. Is Delta releasing partner award space that prices at their insultingly high rates within their own system? (That wouldn’t exactly be off-brand for them.) Was this a Flying Blue glitch? I haven’t been able to find any other instances of it, so it could very well have been a one-off. That being said, if you’re trying to book a Delta award, it’s definitely worth your time to check on Flying Blue just in case Delta is hiding the good scotch in Flying Blue’s liquor cabinet.

Anyone else have any similar stories? I’m really curious about this, since we’re literally in unCHARTed territory now that so many programs are moving to this crappy dynamic pricing model. (I’m sorry, I had to.)

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