It’s been a few years since I’ve written about a Morgan Stanley Amex topic, but that’s basically the only thing people know me for, so I should probably keep doing it.

I have one claim to fame in the points and miles blogging world, and it’s that I was the first one to realize that signing up for Morgan Stanley’s robo-investing platform (“Access”) makes you eligible for a Morgan Stanley Amex Platinum card. Well, I probably wasn’t the first person to realize this, but I was the first person to write about it, thus putting the whole enterprise at risk of being shut down and really fucking over the people who had quietly realized this same thing on their own but who didn’t have such a pathological need to be liked that they then went and blabbed about it on their seldom-read points and miles blogs. Oops.

Anyway, Amex is going on some kind of crazy spree right now where they’re showering anyone and everyone with tidal waves of points. Since these things tend to be cyclical, it’s pretty safe to say that we’re in the “Membership Rewards is drunk at the strip club” phase, which I can only assume will be followed by the “Membership Rewards has a bad hangover and a ton of regret” phase in which they claw back a bunch of points that they retroactively decided were gained via gaming the system. But at least for right now, the gettin’ is awfully good. So far in July, across my various cards, Amex has offered me hundreds of thousands of points through various bonuses (not all of which I can take advantage of, given how high the spending requirements for some of them are). I’ve never seen anything like it since I got into this game.

Flashback: remember in 2015 when the normally-targeted 100k Platinum offer went public for a day, but you had to apply by phone? And so many people went nuts for it that it literally crashed Amex’s phone system? I do, because I was one of the people that called 75 times that day trying to get the damn offer… and now 100k is the standard public offer PLUS some combination of statement credits and/or big spending bonuses on categories like restaurants and groceries for the first six months. All I can think is that Amex is either anticipating that a lot of people are going to dump the Platinum card now that the fee is going up, or that they promised their shiny new partner Equinox a certain number of new members and they need to recruit like crazy.

Inception style flashback-within-a-flashback: remember the time I speculated as to the reason behind why a big company did a thing that they did and people in the comments were like, “What the fuck do you know, you stupid asshole?” I love the internet…

So what does this all have to do with Morgan Stanley? Well, you may remember that, in addition to the Platinum card, there’s also a no-fee co-branded card that earns “full” Membership Rewards points and also can be used to move points to a Morgan Stanley investment account (at a penny per point). I wrote a primer on the Invest With Rewards program a couple years ago that you may want to review if you aren’t familiar, although you probably get the gist.

In the past, this program hasn’t been very popular, given the much more lucrative Schwab equivalent that lets you cash out for 1.25 cents per point. However, perhaps chafing at the liability that gazillions of newly issued Membership Rewards points represents on their books, Amex isn’t really dying to cash them out at such a good rate to your Schwab account anymore, so they’re dropping the rate to 1.1 cents per point. Still better than Morgan Stanley, but not by as much.

More importantly, the no-fee Schwab Amex card earns cash back directly into a Schwab account — not points. That means that if you want to get straight cash for your Membership Rewards balance without paying an annual fee, the Morgan Stanley card is your only option. In addition, the math for why Schwab is still the better option is getting worse and worse — justifying the 1.25 cpp cashout ratio against a $550 annual fee was one thing… 1.1 cpp against $695 is tougher.

Oh but the new credits? Well, here’s what I’ll concede: If you’re an Equinox gym-exercising, baggage-checking, Peacock-watching, Failing New York Times-reading, Audible-listening, Uber-riding, Saks Fifth Avenue-shopping, Centurion lounge-hopping young professional, then you can disregard this post. Likewise, if you’ve already determined that you want to keep a Platinum card indefinitely and you don’t need a free authorized user (which you get with the Morgan Stanley version), the extra 10% in cashout value with Schwab makes sense. For everyone else, it might actually be time to consider giving over one of your Amex slots to the Morgan Stanley card. (I should also mention that I just assume that everyone reading this has gotten the bonus for all extant Platinum card flavors by this point — if not, then that changes the math considerably.)

Especially considering that you’d actually get a $100 sign-up bonus on the Morgan Stanley card (10,000 points, which I’m assuming you’re going to cash out, since that’s the point of this thought experiment), you need to come up with $800 in justification to keep the Schwab card as your Membership Rewards cash value backstop. With any Platinum card becoming harder and harder to justify as the fee balloons, it may actually make more sense to whittle an Amex portfolio down to a solid everyday earner (either Everyday Preferred or Blue Business Plus), a premium situational earner (like the Gold or Green card), and the Morgan Stanley card as a cash backstop.

But why am I talking about keeping a backstop in the first place? This brings us back to the inevitable clawback phase that I’m sure is right around the corner. Amex is getting more creative about limiting peoples’ accounts, and apparently there’s a brand new cruel-and-unusual version of Amex jail where you can visit your points and see them all standing at attention in your account like hundreds of thousands of little Rory Calhouns, but you can’t actually transfer them to any travel partners. Now, perhaps it’s likely that accounts subject to such a restriction would also not be able to use Invest with Rewards, although my point is that it’s good practice to have as many potential options for your Membership Rewards points as possible.

I suppose I should include a quick disclosure that I’m not personally going to do this, but that’s only because I don’t have a Morgan Stanley account anymore, and I don’t want to tie up $5000 in an Access account right now. However, it’s definitely on my radar, especially as my Membership Rewards balance grows thanks to Amex’s July of pure debauchery. Let the good times roll — may they never end!

They’re definitely gonna end.

Me: “Stop being such a diva, just suck it up and fly economy.” — Also me: “No.”

Well, we knew it would happen sooner or later — I’m finally getting on a plane again. After 16 months or so, I’m heading back to Chicago next month to see my family for the first time since the pandy started, and I’m pretty excited about the trip. Unlike your garden variety #AvGeek, however, I’m not particularly excited about the flight. I’ve written in the past about my fear of flying (which is specifically more of a fear of turbulence causing me to have a massive panic attack), and one of the key ways that I manage that fear is by actually flying. A big part of my particular issues with flying involve anticipatory anxiety, and having a recent example of a flight that was perfectly fine really helps tamp that down for the next flight.

For years, I’ve tried to take a flight every couple months, even if it was just a short hop up to Seattle or down to LA (sometimes even just for the day). My last flight was coming back from Seattle after a work trip in mid February of 2020, and I was considering it as preparation for a trip to France in April that never actually happened. That’s 16 long months for my flying anxiety to fester and grow, and now that there’s a physical flight for it to glom on to, the inside of my brain has been pretty turbulent lately (LOL).

Because so much of my issues on the plane are exacerbated by claustrophobia, it makes a huge HUGE difference to fly in first class. It makes such a difference that I pretty much won’t fly in economy anymore — even if I’m traveling for work, I’ll pay the difference to upgrade to first (and god help me if I ever start working for a company with a stricter travel policy). Of course, sometimes it’s unavoidable — like flying around Europe, for instance. So, I know that I can do it, but I certainly don’t like to, and those flights are always more difficult for me.

What a diva, right? “Sir Jordan will only consent to travel in the firste classe cabine, and his champagne must be delivered in a proper glass flute and served at a perfect 39.4 degrees.” It honestly makes me feel a little ridiculous, but hey — I like what I like. (More accurately, I hate what I hate, and I really hate flying in economy.) However, this trip to Chicago is really stretching the limits of how far I’ll go to avoid an economy seat.

See, I’m really having a tough time with this upcoming trip, so I started focusing on finding something I could get excited about. A first class recliner seat with a couple extra inches of width and legroom on an Amercian 737 isn’t really cutting it in that department. Sure, those couple inches do make a pretty huge difference, but it’s still mostly a snooze. Plus, I was trying to use miles to fly on a specific day (luckily I have a shitload of those saved up), so I was never going to be able to be that choosy about my flight.

While there wasn’t much going out of San Francisco, I did find a flight from LA to Chicago on an American 787-9 with award availability. I’ve flown the 787-8 configuration before, and while it was a real treat for a domestic flight, I don’t know that I’d love it for a 10+ hour flight. The 789 has a better seat — in fact, it’s probably my favorite business class seat looks-wise. And, while tons of airlines use this same basic seat (with various customizations), I’ve never actually flown it before (unless you count British Airways’ 787 first class, which is a heavily modified version).

Photo courtesy of American Airlines, provided with extreme courtesy and courteousness.

Now, the one problem with this flight is that I don’t live in LA, and American wasn’t giving me a good routing from SFO to Chicago via LAX. That meant that I would need to make a separate booking for the SFO-LAX leg, which introduced all kinds of other issues. JetBlue had a flight, but it was at 8:30 AM, and I hate waking up early. (DIVA!) Delta had some flights, but they were expensive. It finally occurred to me to check Oakland instead, and both Delta and Southwest had some reasonable options. I ended up picking Delta, for the sole reason that the flight is on an E175, and I really like the single first class seat on the left side in those planes. It was a $200 flight that would have cost 27,500 SkyMiles, so instead I used the “pay with miles” feature for the first time and burned 20,000 miles off the top of my Delta balance. Not a great redemption, but I have a decent amount of SkyMiles right now, and I’d rather spend them than watch them devalue.

The end result, of course, is that whereas I could have acted like a normal person and taken a very simple 3 1/2 hour flight from SFO to Chicago for a fraction of the cost, I decided to spend 45,000 miles on a one-way flight to Chicago with an unnecessary connection and a 3 hour layover in LAX for no reason except that I wanted to fly on a widebody. (Let’s not forget that it’s not too far in the past that 45,000 miles was enough to fly you from San Francisco to Frankfurt in business class through Aeroplan (RIP)).

One of the benefits of my strategy to accrue as many miles as possible in as many programs as possible is that I can make a horrifying redemption such as this one and not really miss the points. And it seems to have worked, since I am actually more excited than nervous about this flight from LA. Oh, and on the return leg, I have a United 777 with Polaris seats to look forward to — and that one’s a direct flight. It’s been four years since I’ve enjoyed a Polaris cabin, so I’m excited about that as well.

A real glam shot of a Polaris seat. Courteously, United was courteous enough to offer me this photo courtesy of United.

So I’m all set for my first trip in over a year… Now I just need to hope they don’t hit me with an aircraft change.

Springtime for American Airlines (Flashback Post)

Note: This post was originally published in March of 2020 on my now-defunct newsletter, “Windbag Mails.” (Although I’m not sure if it was ever not defunct, since I only ever wrote all of four posts.) American is in the news again now that they’re abandoning award charts and setting the stage for endless devaluations, which shows how much they really want to win the race to the bottom of the loyalty program game. As we’ve seen time and time again, United and American copy Delta, not realizing that Delta gets away with shit the other two can’t, because it’s genuinely a more pleasant way to fly.

Although, I don’t know how true this is anymore. The consensus has always been that Delta gets leeway on stuff like this because its planes are nicer, its flight attendants are nicer, its lounges are nicer, Ed Bastian’s hair pomade that holds his mane in its perfect Dirty Rotten Scoundrels coif is nicer, etc. But the funny thing is that United and American haven’t gone anywhere, despite devaluing the shit out of their loyalty programs à la Delta, but then refusing to revalue their product to balance it out. One thing the pandemic showed us — and which disproves my argument below about American going down the tubes — is that there’s no such thing as a major airline going down the tubes anymore. They’ve gotten, how do you say, “too large to not succeed” and thus can always count on some sort of bailout or rescue plan to keep them chugging along. I think it’s still true that American has no corporate identity, that they don’t have a compelling customer proposition, and that the only thing consistent about them is how much they waffle between wanting to seem like a premium carrier one week and a ULCC the next. None of that changes the fact that American is always going to be a part of the landscape, as will United. There is no success or failure for them anymore, they just are. And with that, I’ll leave you with my now-disproven post from 15 months ago, since even though it may be wrong, it’s still one of my favorite things I’ve ever written.

One of the very first posts I ever wrote was a screed about how much I hate American Airlines, AKA “The Airline Americans Love to Hate.” It was about how shitty their old interiors were, and I said something like “Thank god someone was there in a back alley to witness and old couch fuck the easy chair your grandpa farted in 1000 times before he died so they could get the idea for those seats.” Hey, I had a voice from the very beginning, and I stuck to it!

American really has become the most hate-able airline in America, which is a feat when you think about it. United has that whole “we physically assault our customers” stigma, Delta devalues their loyalty program with the enthusiasm and vigor of a college freshman doing beer bongs, and Spirit stretches a thin membrane of fabric over a jagged metal frame and calls it a “seat.” Yet people flock to Spirit for their rock bottom fares knowing their fair bottoms will be rocked, Delta gets people where they’re going on time so they get a pass for their worthless miles, and Oscar Munoz secretes just enough good will from his dimpled lil cheeks that people forgive the occasional brutal passenger beating.

That leaves American, who seems to think that the existence of high travel demand and hub dominance in some key cities is enough to excuse everything from mileage devaluations to rude flight attendants to Spirit-quality seats, to planes without wifi, to a comprehensive program to remove amenities from planes. Their lack of identity is draped all over their planes in the form of a wan, listless livery that insists “you can’t insult what you don’t notice.”

Funnily enough, I actually fly American fairly often, because they usually have the best fares in first class between San Francisco and Chicago. I hate everything they stand for, but their first class is fine enough that it’s not worth an extra $50-100 to get more legroom and flight attendants who aren’t fantasizing about poisoning their passengers. (I should ease up on flight attendants, honestly, because it seems like a miserable job as it is, and working for a company like American probably compounds that fact. Plus, I’ve had some very nice, enthusiastic FAs on American, it’s just rare compared to Delta/Alaska (and even Untied, to be honest).)

So my relationship with American is a mixed bag, since I won’t go out of my way not to fly with them, but I hate them with my entire soul. At least a little bit. However, I have to hand it to them so far in 2020 for putting together one of the most mind-bogglingly idiotic business plans I have ever witnessed. The sheer audacity of it all is worthy of awe, if not respect.

First, they decided that they had too many outstanding miles. Per their financial statements, they account for miles earned for flying separately from miles sold to banks — all miles represent a liability on American’s books, but around 2/3 of the sale price of sold miles immediately goes to marketing revenue. A very nice cost-free way to eliminate the liabilities while keeping the revenue would be to cancel the miles. So they did.

Blake from corporate security decided that anyone who had used a Citibank credit card offer mailer addressed to someone else had violated American’s terms, and he shut their accounts down permanently, with no recourse. Some of the mailer abuse was definitely sketchy — like people who bought 25 mailers online and then used them to rack up sign-up bonuses. Others were more innocent, like using a mailer sent to one’s spouse, with no language anywhere indicating that the offer was non-transferrable. The genius behind Blake’s plan, though, was to cancel not just the miles earned in this arguably fraudulent manner, but all miles earned, including from credit card spending, flying, buying miles, etc. It’s a blanket get-out-of-debt free card that uses a technicality to invalidate miles earned 10 years ago, and since it’s initiated by the airline and not by Citibank, it’s not governed by any financial regulations. Citi can just claim that earning miles from credit card spend requires that you abide by the terms of the loyalty program, and you’re back where you started, in supplication at the altar of Blake.

*For anyone who isn’t aware, there actually is a guy named Blake who’s been sending out letters and emails notifying people that their accounts have been shut down.

The crazy thing is that in American’s zeal to wipe millions in mileage-related liabilities off their books, they shut down accounts of their most loyal customers — multi-year Executive Platinums, people with lifetime status, million milers. Hell, Blake probably wishes he could go back and shut down Pudding Guy, since clearly that was not in the spirit of the Healthy Choice pudding promotion.

As an aside, this situation demonstrates what’s so difficult about the milage-earning hobby these days, which is that things that are not in the spirit of a program but are technically legal are being deemed illegal after the fact, with no notification or recourse. The overly broad terms that you have to agree to end up giving these programs a ton of leeway to ban you, and companies like American and Amex are finally starting to use it. It’s at the point now where anything you do in a gray area has to be understood as a potentially fatal risk in terms of your future participation in that program. That whole Morgan Stanley dealio that I wrote about a couple years ago seemed great at the time, but who knows if a wave of new accounts in 2020 would trigger Amex’s resident Blake to take a closer look, realize that the Access account wasn’t supposed to be a gateway to the Morgan Stanley Platinum card, and then shut down everyone’s Membership Rewards account. Blake is omnipresent. Blake is your subconscious.

The top dawgs at American probably didn’t think much of firing a few thousand of their most loyal customers either, because demand for travel is on an infinite upward trend, and nothing could ever stop that… so they’d just get some new most loyal customers and keep shuttling around the DFW-based prisoners who form the lifeblood of their customer base, and everything would be fine. Right?

The accumulated filth of all their shutdowns and devaluations will foam up about their waists and all the Blakes and Doug Parkers will look up and shout “Save us!”… and I’ll look down, and whisper “LOL.”

Clearly no one at American thought that the industry was about to go through the type of generational shockwave not seen since 9/11, so their “Two steps forward, directly on our customers genitals” attitude probably seemed fine. But the fact that Blake was going on his rampage while COVID-19 was percolating in China is an especially good illustration of the risks of treating customer loyalty as an extremely exhaustible resource.

Delta just instituted an incredibly forgiving change fee waiver policy that I’m sure is going to cost them a fortune. However, Delta understands that this is an opportunity to invest in long term customer loyalty, and presumably the hive mind there has run the numbers and expects that loyalty to pay off once we’re clear of this trifling little pandemic and people want to fly on planes again. There’s an obvious counterargument to be made, which is that when demand for travel is high, most customers don’t give a shit about what airline they fly. American probably figures those people will forgive and forget, and they don’t need to worry about cultivating loyalty for the fat times when they’re suffering through the worst of the lean times. Or maybe they just can’t afford it. Blake is hubris. Blake is your righteous vindication.

Ultimately, the one-two punch of mass layoffs of an airline’s most loyal customers combined with an external event siphoning off everyone else probably just comes down to a debt-mired airline whose stock was already in the toilet trying to figure out what to do and just getting profoundly unlucky. However, no one has yet floated the alternative scenario, which is that American’s upper management is pulling a Producers, and they shorted the stock before all this started happening. They stopped #GoingForGreat a while ago, and then they started #GoingForGround, with a nice assist from a global health catastrophe.

Blake is laid off.

Maybe it was a bad idea to get all those sign-up bonuses I didn’t need, unless it wasn’t.

Wowie zowie that was some pandemic, wasn’t it? I don’t know about you folks, but the last fourteen months for me sucked pretty bad, and I didn’t even have to deal with anyone close to me dying. No, just the psychic toll of living through what amounted to a nationwide slow motion car crash stuck in a vehicle commanded by people who were looking into each others’ eyes and belting out “WELL I’M PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN, CUZ AT LEAST I KNOW I’M FREEeeEEEEEeeE” rather than looking at the road.

Planning hypothetical trips and then figuring out how to arrange earning the points and miles necessary to take said trips had always been one of my main hobbies, but suddenly that “hypothetical” was stretched to the point of utter absurdity, and for a few weeks it felt like my life was pretty damn absurd as well. (Thankfully I had my dual hobbies of board gaming and working out in my living room to keep me sane, but that’s for another post. This is a blog about points and miles and I *only* talk about points and miles here, remember?) Anyway, after a seismic shock to my income early on in the pandemic, I switched up my credit card strategy to focus on cash back, and especially to focus on cash sign-up bonuses. Luckily Bank of America was there to answer the call, tossing me around $2000 in “free money” between two Premier Rewards cards, a Business Rewards card, and a bank account opening bonus. Thanks for the extra stimulus, guys.

Since this is ostensibly a post about credit cards, here’s a picture of some credit cards.

Of course, once things started to stabilize again, I got back to my normal business of earning as many points and miles as I could. I officially adopted the motto of my personal hero Connor 4 Real (“Never Stop Never Stopping”) and got back to earning points wherever and however I could. As they’re wont to do, Amex made my job a little easier, tossing me some pretty huge retention bonuses on a couple of my cards (25,000 points to keep an Amex Gold that I was planning to keep anyway and 35,000 on a Delta Platinum that I was planning to dump but got roped back in by the big bonus. Some may say it was dumb to essentially pay $195 for 35,000 Delta miles, although I would disagree — as long as they keep the “pay with miles” option, that sign-up bonus was at a minimum a $350 gift card for $195, which is a good deal. Plus, it may end up being worth more than that, although potentially not given how enthusiastically they’ve been devaluing award redemptions. But more on that in a sec.)

Amex came through in other ways, such as with 30,000 point referral bonuses, or upgrade offers on basic cards. My wife took a 25,000 point upgrade offer on her Amex Everyday, which was nice since she’s currently in Amex Jail and can’t earn any sign-up bonuses. Oh, and I got 10,000 points for enrolling in pay-over-time, which brought my lifetime total of Pay Over Time bonuses to around 100k. (As an aside, is there an easier way to earn 10,000 points than enrolling in Pay Over Time? I love it so much.)

I also kept hitting up Bank of America for more and more goodies — they used to auto-reject me for new cards, but once I enrolled in their relationship rewards program by moving my IRA to Merril Lynch, they’ve gotten a whole lot more permissive. I don’t know what the official “rule” is with BofA these days, but I have opened four cards with them in the last year, which seems downright Amexian. Specifically, in addition to my Premier Rewards and Business Rewards card, I got a Flying Blue card when they bumped the sign-up bonus up to 50,000 points, plus an Alaska Business card with a 40,000 point sign up bonus (but — notably — no bonus restriction based on having had the card in the past). I was even honest on my application and said my business income for 2020 was $750, and they still approved me.

Then, I rounded out the year with two Citi Premiers, a Delta Gold business card with an elevated sign-up bonus, and finally spiced things up with a BBVA card that had a $1000 cash sign-up bonus and waived first-year annual fee. 2021 started off pretty well too, with me finally being targeted for a 30,000 sign-up bonus on the Amex Blue Business Plus, which is a card I’ve wanted to get for years.

Now, however, as we emerge from the pandemic, there’s a dual trend that makes my strategy of earning points without any immediate way to use them potentially seem pretty dumb. First, banks are eager to get new customers who are suddenly in a spending mood again, so there are some downright nutty sign-up bonuses going around. The Chase Sapphire 100k bonus comes to mind, but there are other less-publicized ones as well. I’m seeing 50k now on the Blue Business Plus (although for a higher spend requirement), and even the Flying Blue card is now offering a statement credit along with the 50k.

In parallel, as everyone predicted, airline loyalty programs are engorged with debt via outstanding miles, and they’re devaluing like a wheat thresher in, err…, wheat threshing season? They’re cutting award value to the bone, is what I’m saying. It’s not unusual to see 500,000 point awards on Delta, and American just announced they’re getting rid of charts altogether. In the past, I’ve always said that — especially in Delta’s case — the ever-increasing sign-up bonuses on airline co-brand cards soften the blow of the frequent devaluations, but Amex cards are once-per-lifetime, meaning that future increased bonuses on the Gold and Platinum Delta cards aren’t going to help me at all.

Where does that leave me? Justine got a Chase Sapphire card in 2019 even though we had no need for 60k Chase points at that time, because she was finally under 5/24 again. Now, that 100k bonus is nothing but an evil temptress, teasing us from behind a veil that has a repeating “5/24” print on it like the Louis Vuitton logo. We both got Citi Premier cards in 2020, so are we going to feel stupid when Citi launches 75k or 100k bonuses on those cards later this year? (I’m speculating here — don’t frantically start searching for these bonuses in the wild.) We’re probably less than a year away from 125,000 mile offers on the Delta Platinum card and 100,000 on the Gold card. I could have even been $50 richer if I had held off on the Flying Blue card for 10 months.

On the one hand, I deserve to be chastised for not adhering to the foundational gospel of the points and miles hobby, which of course is “EARN AND BURN.” If you don’t burn, your miles are gradually worth less and less, and due to ever-stricter sign-up restrictions, you’re locked out from higher bonuses down the road. But, there’s an other hand, too. You may not have heard from this blog in a while, but I assure you it’s not because I only have one hand. Oh no, dear reader, I’m two-handed and I’m never going to sway from my mission of always giving you BOTH hands.

One of the most frustrating things about the hobby in general is shifting goalposts. You see it in awards being devalued, where you save and save and then as soon as you’re ready to use your miles, you don’t have enough. However, another big way the goalposts shift is with updates to the way banks restrict who can earn sign-up bonuses or even open cards in the first place. This was painfully apparent a couple years ago to anyone who spent 18 months with their foot off the gas while waiting get under 5/24 and then realized that Chase had increased the bonus restriction on the Sapphire cards from 24 to 48 months. Citi did something similar when they changed the restriction on cards to one bonus per card family, rather than per card. Citi has started to change some of those rules back, but now they’re taking a page from Chase’s book and dabbling in 48 month language. Barclay has an unofficial 6/24 policy that they started using without notice. And on and on.

So, while I’ll feel mighty stupid if the Delta Gold card has a 100k bonus next month, I’ll feel mightier smarter if Amex adopts a once-per-family rule out of the blue (something I’m convinced will happen, although I’ve been convinced of this since 2018, so maybe don’t put too much stock in my predictions). I’m not saying Earn and Burn is wrong — clearly hoarding miles is not ideal, and I’d love to be burning through my stash rather than staying at home because I don’t have enough saved up for a trip right now anyway, even if the rest of the world were open. But, I will always defend an aggressive earning strategy, even if you don’t have the ability to use your miles right away. On the one hand, it gives you a lot of flexibility when the opportunity to travel does come up, rather than putting you on a treadmill where you need to earn a bunch of miles quickly in order to afford your trip. But on the other hand (see there’s that second hand again, I told you it wasn’t going anywhere!!), it also ensures that you will actually be able to earn those miles and open those cards, which is something that’s definitely not guaranteed in the long term.

Now if I could just figure out a way to burn through these FlyingBlue miles…

Spare a Thought for the Billions of Points That Will Never Exist

As world spending growth slows, the never-earned are the ultimate forgotten ones. 

A couple decides to open one credit card instead of two, or none instead of one. This happens all over the world. Billions of sign-up bonuses are never earned. How real is the loss of a sign-up bonus that never began? Is there a right to exist? Is there an ideal size of an Award Wallet total balance?

These related questions become more pressing as spending growth slows. China’s spending is on track to peak before 2025. Spending growth in the U.S. this year is likely to be the lowest in history except for one year, 1918. 

The late University of Oxford points blogger Derek Parfit wrestled with the question of the world’s ideal points balance in an influential 1984 book, Reasons and PNC Bank. He didn’t delve into the carrying capacity of Amex’s balance sheet, and he stayed away from the issue of clawbacks, which occur after redemption and thus raise a different set of concerns.

In an abstract, theoretical way, the British blogger presented what he called the “Repugnant Conclusion.” Here’s how he stated it: “For any possible balance of at least 10 billion points, all with a very high quality of transfer partners, there must be some much larger imaginable balance whose existence, if other things are equal, would be better, even though its points have partners that are barely worth transferring to.”

Parfit’s utilitarian logic was that if each point in the balance is happier transferred than expired—even if just barely—then the total amount of usability in an extremely large balance, let’s say hundreds of billions, would be greater than the total usability of a smaller balance whose average usability is greater. It’s simple arithmetic. But it’s also kind of awful, which is why Parfit called it repugnant (i.e., extremely distasteful; unacceptable).

One way to escape the Repugnant Conclusion is to maximize average usability instead of total usability. But that turns out to lead to a different kind of awfulness, as explained in an entry in the TPG Encyclopedia of Philosophy by Gustaf Arrhenius, Jesper Ryberg, and Torbjorn Tannsjo. Maximizing average usability would favor a balance with one extremely transferrable point over one with several billion slightly less transferrable points. It would also favor a balance with several billion useless points over a balance with a single even more useless point.

Another possible escape from the dilemma is to assert that some irreplaceable things are lost in the transition from a smallish, focused balance to a huge balance of points just sitting there. As Parfit put it, first Amex goes away, then Chase, etc., until all that’s left is “bofa and bbva,” no amount of which can compensate for the loss of Amex. (He should have capitalized BoFA.) That seems convincing, but Parfit and others found holes in that concept, too.

“The Repugnant Conclusion is a problem for all blogs which hold that business class redemptions at least matter when all other things are equal,” not just OMAAT, Arrhenius et al. write. They say “it has been surprisingly difficult to find a blog that avoids the Repugnant Conclusion without implying other equally counterintuitive conclusions.”

Oxford Frequent Miler contributor Hilary Greaves wrote in 2017 in an article titled “Points and Miles Axiology” in the online journal Credit Card Compass that there’s no way out of Parfit’s conundrum without surrendering one or another economic intuition, so one’s solution to it “appears to be a choice of which intuition one is least unwilling to give up.” 

The question of the ideal points balance size may never be resolved by bloggers. But you don’t have to be a blogger to think about the trips that never happened. 

(Updates with Oxford Frequent Miler contributor Greaves’s written comments in penultimate paragraph.)

Source

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.”

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.