Tag Archives: credit cards

Why aren’t more people drooling over the Virgin America Visa card?

Disclaimer: I may receive a commission for links on this blog. Notice that I said that I may. It’s technically not possible to prove a negative, so even though I don’t have any commission agreements with any banks, and even though I have not to date received any commissions for any links on this blog, I suppose it’s still remotely possible that I signed up as an affiliate marketer with a bank shortly before hitting my head and forgetting the entire thing. Just wanted to put that out there.

Now, to the matter at hand. Why aren’t more people drooling over the Virgin America Visa card? Not that the card is especially drool-worthy in the same way that an Amex Platty or a Chase Sapphy Rezzy is, but it has one important factor in its favor, which is that it earns very valuable fixed-value points in Virgin’s Elevate program. You can’t use Elevate points for aspirational redemptions, but you do routinely get around 2.2 cents per point when redeeming them for award flights. (Not to mention the possibility of partner redemptions, although fuel surcharges usually scare me away from trying to use my Elevate miles this way.)

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It’s fucking vertical! WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR???

One of the big things that points & miles bloggers talk about is what to do about unbonused spend; the prevailing wisdom is to use one of three cards – the SPG Amex, which kinda sorta earns 1.25 airline miles per dollar*, the Amex Everyday Preferred, which earns 1.5 points per dollar if you make 30 transactions in a month, and the Chase Freedom Unlimited, which earns 1.5 points on all purchases, though you need a premium Chase card to be able to transfer the points to frequent flyer programs. Or, you can go the cash back route and earn around 2%, depending on the exact card you’re using. The point here is that a 2% return on spend is the benchmark, since that’s what you can get with a no-fee cash back card; in other words, any points you earn on unbonused spend are actually being purchased for 2 cents apiece.

*I don’t like the blanket statement that SPG earns 1.25 airline miles on all purchases, since that requires transferring points in increments of 20,000. If you redeem Starpoints for a hotel room or wind up with an odd number of points to transfer, you’re back to just 1 point per dollar. That may be what you want, since Starpoints are hard to earn, so you have to spend on the SPG Amex somewhere in order to accrue them. I just don’t think it’s totally accurate to bake their transfer bonus into the value, since it doesn’t always apply. 

My personal strategy is to go the Amex route with the Everyday Preferred card, earning 1.5 points on all purchases. The Chase Sapphire Reserve also presents a unique opportunity, since points are worth 1.5 cents toward travel, meaning the 1.5 points earned per dollar on the Freedom Unlimited can be leveraged for 2.25 cents apiece when transferred to the Sapphire Reserve. However, I do think it should be mentioned more often that putting unbonused spend on a Virgin America Visa gets a similar return (although restricted to redemptions on Virgin, of course). This occurred to me recently, since I’ve been flying Virgin a lot and reconsidering my neglect of their Elevate program, in which my only miles have been accrued through flying.

There are a couple reasons off the top that these cards aren’t more widely discussed: first, the sign-up bonuses are pretty weak (10,000 points for the basic card and 15,000 for the premium), and second, they’re issued by Comenity bank, which is known for not having very good customer service. However, I have another theory, and it goes back to a point I’ve made before wherein I pointed out how ascribing absolute values to points is, not to put too fine a point on it, pointless.

See, most valuations for flexible points sit somewhere between 1.5 and 2.5 cents per point. In an aspirational redemption, the values skyrocket, but since most people wouldn’t pay cash for those flights anyway, the prevailing wisdom is that those values aren’t real. Instead, the true value of your points is what you would pay in cash for a flight divided by the number of sexual partners you’ve had, multiplied by the number of times you’ve rolled your eyes while reading this blog. Or not, I’m just making shit up at this point. Regarding Virgin America points, though, I think a lot of people are turned off that the points are only ever going to be worth 2.2 cents apiece. I know I am. Within the strictures of places like the churning subreddit, it’s all about the hard math, maximizing your return at all times. That paradigm leaves out the emotional component of collecting points and miles, though – the hope that points will someday be worth way more than a couple cents apiece, and that they will unlock experiences you otherwise could never afford.

I’ll sign up to receive emails from Virgin America in exchange for 500 free points, but I’d rather use my everyday spending to pad my balances of Chase or Amex points, even though I may end up getting less than 2.2 cents per point when I do ultimately redeem them. That way, I know that at least some of the time, I’m setting myself up for home-run redemptions flying in premium cabins over oceans rather than puttering around the US in Virgin’s main cabin extra or whatever. That’s the kind of thinking that keeps me away from cash back cards and fixed value points in general, even though it may not always be the most lucrative spending strategy according to some boring fucking spreadsheet that some OCD nerd put together in his parents’ basement. (Editor’s note: I have OCD, I make tons of spreadsheets, and while I don’t live in my parents’ basement, I’m still a huge nerd.)

I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way either – otherwise, more people would talk about Virgin’s sweet-ass 2.2 cent return on spend the way they talk about the Citi Double Cash card or the new world-beating Sapphire Reserve/Freedom Unlimited combo. For all the hard data (haha ugh I just combined “hard pull” and “data point,” which are my two least favorite expressions), this game is more emotionally driven than I think people realize.

What do you think, nonexistent blog commenters? Are you a robot whose only goal is to maximize return on spend, or do you feel human emotions… even LOVE???

What do Alaska, Hong Kong, New York, and Vancouver Have in Common?

EDIT 1/18/17: This post is pretty outdated now… like how I talk about crediting miles to AAdvantage instead of Alaska? What a moran! Oh, and I never did end up taking the NYC-VAN flight on Cathay with my younger brother, although I’m sure I’ll get around to it at some point. Anyway, now that this post has been linked from higher-traffic pastures, I figured I’d mention this at the beginning so you know that I’ve matured as a Windbag Miler in the year and a half since this was originally written.

Disclaimer: I wrote most of this post longhand while I was flying last weekend, since the guy in front of me reclined his seat, and I didn’t have enough room to open my laptop. Due to my issues with flying (which I’m sure I’ll talk about at some point), my mind is kind of weird when I’m on a plane, and that’s reflected here… although I swear I kind of meant this to be tongue-in-cheek. Enjoy!

Looking at all the airlines, popular routes, mileage programs, and credit card options for earning points, a complex tapestry emerges. I’m reminded of Deleuze and Guattari’s essay on smooth vs. striated space, and how points/mileage enthusiasts find themselves wedged between the two (or, more accurately, lost in the fluidity between the two). It’s tough to think of any space smoother than the sky, but the way we traverse it in direct lines overseen and organized by a vast traffic control infrastructure converts what was previously thought to be smooth into striated space. In the same vein, the rules, terms, conditions, charts, redemption amounts, and everything else I try to memorize (or at least familiarize myself with) takes the freewheeling act of travel and imposes a rigid set of steps I have to follow in order to undertake a trip. However, in the sheer volume of information, including counterintuitive or contradictory rules and policies — that’s where the fun lies. And so, the mess of numbers, programs, the whole ball of wires that makes up “the hobby” starts to feel like Deleuze and Guattari’s famous quilt, which simultaneously consists of the orderly arrangement of fibers at the same time that it expands outward until the wide-angle view reveals a structure that doesn’t seem to follow any defined rule or pattern.

See what I mean? I wasn’t on drugs or anything, but my mind was going in a bizarre direction. Sure, it’s a great book, but I’m not convinced it belongs here…

Okay, that was a long, probably boring way to make two points. First, it’s really fun to dig into all these programs to try to find hidden gems, and second, you’re never going to know all there is to know, so the best thing to do is just to never stop digging. With that in mind, I started digging into Alaska’s Mileage Plan program, since I fly to Seattle on Alaska at least a few times a year. (I choose Alaska mostly for the occasional $50 upgrade and the fact that Alaska flies out of SFO’s international terminal, so the plane spotting opportunities are much better.) I always credit my flights to Amercan, since one of my longer-term plans is to bank AAdvantage miles slowly and then augment my balance with a big sign-up bonus before using my miles for a long-haul business class redemption of some kind. It goes against the conventional wisdom of earn and burn, but truthfully, I’m not earning enough for the inevitable devaluation to really hurt that bad.

But, I wanted to see what I was missing out on with Mileage Plan, since it’s so highly regarded in the points and miles world. Plus, it was on my mind after writing that post about Starpoints. Most of Alaska’s more interesting redemptions are on carriers I don’t really have occasion to use, specifically because I don’t have any immediate plans to fly to Asia or the middle east. However, when looking through their partner award chart, a particular redemption caught my eye:mileageplan

Cathay Pacific first class is one of those products that gets reviewed amazingly well from just about everybody. They don’t have an on-board bar or shower suite, but the seat looks divinely comfortable, and the service is supposed to be pretty good too. (Also, I know everyone raves about the novelty of showering on a plane, but I’m severely put off by the not-unlikely prospect of hitting turbulence and sitting belted-in on the shower’s safety bench nude and dripping wet while the plane lurches to and fro.) Plus, true first class is kind of a forbidden fruit for me, since I have very eurocentric travel goals, and one of the bummers about flying to Europe is that first class is tougher and tougher to come by… and when first class cabins do exist, it’s either difficult or prohibitively expensive to book awards in them.

So, imagine my delight when I found that Cathay Pacific runs a fifth freedom route (a route on which neither the origin nor the terminus is in a carrier’s registered country) between JFK and Vancouver. Cities I love and would happily travel to in order to enjoy a premium cabin I otherwise wouldn’t get to experience. (Fifth freedom routes are pretty cool in general, and at some point my goal is to fly in first class on both Emirates (NYC to Milan) and Singapore (NYC to Frankfurt).)

You know what I just realized? None of these premium cabins have overhead bins!

After some more research, I realized that both Lucky and The Points Guy have written about this route, but I missed it – again, due to the sheer volume of information that’s out there. Then, once I realized that the route exists, I found out that I can book it with Asia Miles (for 40,000 miles), which I can earn via transfers from Citi or Amex (meaning that the whole detour into Alaska miles wasn’t even necessary). Given the ease of earning Thank You/Membership Rewards points, it’s probably easier to book this way, although I’m hoarding points in those programs right now. As a result, I decided to do a Mileage Plan blitz and found myself with 39,000 Mileage Plan points almost overnight. (How did I do this? 25,000 points came from getting the Alaska Airlines Visa card, which awards the miles without requiring a minimum spend. Then I got the other 14,000 from my Chicago hotel stay, which I booked on Rocketmiles. Almost 40,000 Alaska miles in a weekend, and nary an SPG Amex in sight!)

I’m planning the trip for next June, and I’ll be traveling with my younger brother, since he’s the only person I know who appreciates premium cabins as much as I do. He’s based in Chicago, so we’ll meet in New York (which I’ll probably fly to on a paid Jetblue ticket so I can check out their Mint class), travel to Vancouver on Cathay, and then hang out in the Pacific Northwest for a while before returning home. It seems kind of crazy to fly to Vancouver via New York, but I’m the guy who started a blog post on points and miles by talking about French poststructuralists, so crazy is more or less the unifying theme here.

Requisite question designed to spur a flurry of responses in the comments section: What’s the most ridiculous routing YOU’D take just to fly a product you’ve never tried before?

Reconsideration Recap

I’ve always found reconsideration calls to be fairly pleasant. I almost never get approved for a card straight away, and when I call reconsideration to speed things along, I usually only have to confirm my income (because, apparently, saying it twice makes it true). At worst, the lender will ask me to rearrange my credit lines to avoid extending me any new credit, which I don’t mind except insofar as it prevents me from buying a yacht.

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So, given my pretty good track record, I decided to apply for the Chase Hyatt Visa, since I have a trip to New York coming up and would love to leverage the sign-up bonus (2 free nights) to stay at the Park Hyatt. It would be hard to get more value out of that sign-up bonus, and I’ve never stayed at a hotel that nice before, so it’s a no-brainer for me. Chase almost threw a wrench in the gears, though… As normal, my application didn’t go through right away, so I called reconsideration to see if I could push it through by reallocating my credit with Chase. In the past two years, I’ve signed up for a Sapphire, United MP Explorer, and IHG Mastercard, so I think my credit history screams “churner!” to them. I had a whole spiel about why I wanted two separate hotel c0-brand cards (did you know that I stay in Holiday Inns for work, but my wife loves Hyatt hotels, so we stay in those on vacation???), but the rep I talked to didn’t really care. She just kept telling me over and over that my credit profile was “aggressive.”

Plus, my spiel about why I wanted multiple cards didn’t take into account the multiple non-Chase cards I’ve opened this year, which was yet another red flag. I knew Chase had tightened approval rules for their own cards, but up until now I had heard that they weren’t enforcing the same rules for their other cards. Still, the whole “I swear I’ll really use and keep this card!”/”Yes, but your profile is very aggressive” pas de deux continued until I finally just asked if she’d approve me. She put me on hold for a few minutes and then came back to tell me that I was approved, although she didn’t deploy any of the congratulatory language that lending reps usually use when approving you. In fact, she told me not to apply for any more Chase cards for two years, or I’ll get automatically denied – and she added that the only reason I was approved was that I had a 15-year banking relationship with Chase.

I left out the fact that Chase inherited me, since that doesn’t make me sound as loyal…

Thing is, I really DO want to use this card to earn Hyatt points, and I’ll definitely keep it long-term, because $75 per year for platinum status and a free night in a category 4 hotel is a great deal! So, overall I’m really relieved that I got approved for this one, but this is the last Chase card I’ll be able to get for a good long while, so I better enjoy it.

Requisite question designed to spur a flurry of responses in the comments section: Does a difficult reconsideration call make YOU question your self worth and all the choices you have made up to this point?