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22Nov/110

Get Ameriprise World Elite MasterCard for free Prioirty Pass membership with unlimited airline lounge visits

Since posting my recent thread on Priority Pass and Airline Lounge access, one of the readers asked if there are any cheaper alternatives to AMEX Platinum credit card if all that he wants is a Priority Pass membership with no per-visit fee without paying the hefty $475 annual fee plus $175 add-on card fee of AMEX Platinum. And the answer to that is yes, there is one great alternative!

There are several credit cards out there that sponsor free membership to Priority Pass. However, please note that there are multiple levels of PP membership with varying types of coverages and charges as also noted in the previous post. Types of membership with corresponding examples of credit cards are as below:

  • Standard membership which charges $27 to your sponsoring credit card for each visit to an Airline lounge covered in the Priority Pass network. Each accompanying guest also pays $27. This membership is typically $99 but is covered by your sponsoring credit card. Examples of this type of membership include AMEX Hilton Surpass card ($75 annual fee) and most MasterCard World Elite cards (Citi's World Elite cards are not included in this as Citi has opted into a different Lounge Access program).
  • Standard Plus Membership which comes with 10 free lounge visits included every year of membership. After the free visits have been used, each visit is charged at US$27 per visit to the member's sponsoring credit card. Each accompanying guest also pays $27. There are cards that offer a customized Standard Plus membership in which the cardholders get first 2-3 visits free after which they pay the regular $27 per visit per person fee. Examples: Chase INK Classic with no annual fee (but includes Priority Pass with 2 free visits for first year only), Chase INK BOLD with first year annual fee waived (but includes Priority Pass with 2 free visits for first year only) and now defunct, Citi AMEX Platinum.
  • Prestige Membership which provides unlimited free in-network lounge visits to the member and accompanying guests are charged $27 directly to the member's sponsoring credit card. Prestige membership typically costs US$399 but is covered by your sponsoring credit card. Examples: AMEX Platinum ($475 annual fee plus $175 for up to 3 add-on cards) and Ameriprise World Elite MasterCard ($150) with up to 3 free add-on cards.

This last one, Ameriprise World Elite MasterCard is a real gem. It provide free sponsorship to Priority Pass's Prestige membership, not just for the card-holder. But you can get up to 3 free add-on cards each of which will come with their own Priority Pass Prestige Membership. You just can't beat that (actually, for a limited time a while ago, this card came with annual fee waiver, for the life of the card account).

I will not talk about this cards rewards program as there definitely are better cards out there. Read my previous post about two great cards to have in your wallet.

9Nov/110

10,000 Wyndham Rewards points + 3 Days and 2 Nights + 1 future night for $99 per package – Escape for the Holidays!

Following up on my previous posts for 7,000 SPG points plus 6 days at Westin Kaanapali deal for $798 as well as 7,000 SPG points plus 5 days in 1-Bedroom villa at the Westin Mission Hills Resort & villas for $389, I would like to add another deal along similar lines. This time, it is from Club Wyndham. This deal offers 10,000 Wyndham Rewards points plus 3 days, 2 nights for $99 per package. You also get a “Spend A Night on Us” rebate coupon for up to $100.00 cash back on a one-night stay in a Wyndham Worldwide hotel (subject to certain specific hotels and additional redemption instructions available on the coupon).

I find this to be a good deal considering like the previous one as it gets you 10,000 Wyndham Rewards points which gets you 1 free night at their Tier 2 property plus the 2 nights at one of the resorts. Here is the list of properties where you can get these 2 nights. Most of the hotels and resorts on this list are 3 stars or higher like Harvey's Resort and Casino in Lake Tahoe, Harrah’s Atlantic City or Wyndham Riverfront New Orleans.

Disclosure: I am not affiliated to the promo in any ways and do not stand to gain from the promo. Further, I would like to bring it to readers attention that this deal is part of a timeshare promo and you will need to attend a two-hour on-site presentation.

Get your 10,000 Wyndham Rewards points + 3 Days and 2 Nights + 1 future night for $99 per package and Escape for the Holidays.

Click here for terms and conditions of this timeshare promotion.

8Nov/110

Priority Pass Membership gets you over 600 Airline Lounges at over 300 Airports in over 100 countries

I was recently asked by a reader who was new to flying about Airline Lounges and how does one get access to them.

Generally speaking, most Airline Lounges are meant for the premium passengers who either hold a business class or first class tickets, or those who hold an elite status with the airline or their select partners, or if you have purchased a Membership for their lounges. Each Airline has a different set of rules for access to their Lounge. It is best to check what these rules for the Airline Lounge of your interest.

Holding a lounge membership in one Airline gets you access only to their own lounges and may be one or two additional partner airline's lounge. This can restrict the choice of lounges and may not be offer you the most options. An alternative to holding a membership in one Airline's lounge is a program called Priority Pass. Priority Pass is  a program which partners with a lot of Airline lounges as well as independent airport lounges all over the world. Membership in Priority Pass gets you access to over 600 lounges at over 300 Airport in over 100 countries. You can search for the lounges at the airports of your interest on their website or on a smart phone. No matter what airline, what frequent flyer membership, elite status, or class of ticket bought, eligible cardholders will enjoy all of the convenience of an airport lounge.

Disclaimer: Please note that I am not affiliated or connected to Priority Pass or any any other websites in mentioned in this post in any ways, commercial or otherwise.

Membership in Priority Pass can cost you anywhere between $99 to $399 depending on the type of the membership you purchase. Following are the three types of memberships in Priority Pass:

  • Standard membership which charges $27 to your sponsoring credit card for each visit to an Airline lounge covered in the Priority Pass network. Each accompanying guest also pays $27. This standard membership costs $99.
  • Standard Plus Membership which comes with 10 free lounge visits included every year of membership. After the free visits have been used, each visit is charged at US$27 per visit to the member's credit card on file. Each accompanying guest is also charged at $27. Standard Plus membership costs $249.
  • Prestige Membership which provides unlimited free in-network lounge visits to the member and accompanying guests are charged $27 directly to the member's credit card on file. Prestige membership costs US$399.

Apart from the above ways to access airline lounges, American Express Platinum card ($475 annual fee + $175 for up to 3 add-on cards) holders also get access to select Airlines' lounges which include American Airlines' Admirals Club, Delta Airlines' Sky Club and US Airways Club. AMEX Platinum card holders can also request free Priority Pass Prestige Membership to access lounges covered by Priority Pass. Thus, with AMEX platinum card, you can get access to most Airline lounges.

There are several credit cards out there that sponsor free membership to Priority Pass. However, please note that there are multiple levels of PP membership with varying types of coverages and charges. Examples of such cards are AMEX Hilton Surpass Card, most MasterCard World Elite cards, some other premium cards.

24Oct/110

7,000 SPG points plus 5 days, 4 nights in 1-Bedroom Villa at the The Westin Mission Hills Resort Villas for $389

Following up on my previous post for the 7,000 SPG points plus 6 days at Westin Kaanapali deal for $798, I would like to add a similar deal for The Westin Mission Hills Resort & Villas. I find this to be a good deal considering like the previous one as it is for 5 days in their one bedroom villa with queen size bed and full size sleeper sofas. This deal also includes 7,000 SPG points which I value at the minimum at ~3 cents a point (thus $210 in value). Thus your total for 5 days at this fabulous resort in Pal Desert/Palm Springs area, CA (close to Los Angeles) comes to under $179.

Disclosure: I am not affiliated to the promo in any ways and do not stand to gain from the promo. Further, I would like to bring it to readers attention that this deal is part of a timeshare promo and you will need to attend a two-hour on-site presentation.

Get your 5 days, 4 nights in 1-Bedroom Villa at Westin Mission Hills for $389 + 7,000 SPG points

Just fill out the form to right of the webpage and somebody from Westin Promotions will get in touch with you. You do not need any invitation code or offer code. If they ask, just tell them that you got the information about this offer from one of your friends. Also note that room reservations must be made at least 60 days in advance and are on a space-available basis. Availability is limited. Holiday and special event periods are excluded.

23Oct/110

A review of Amtrak’s Loyalty program – Amtrak Guest Rewards

Last week, I took a last-minute weekend getaway with my family that incorporated a trip on Amtrak back to Chicago on Amtrak's California Zephyr route aboard Amtrak's Superliner Sleeper Bedroom Cabin. I wanted to write a full-fledged trip report of my experience from booking that award using Amtrak points to the actual trip and travel on Amtrak (was my first long distance train journey in the US). But that trip report is taking its own sweet time to come together. I thought in the meanwhile, I will write a brief summary that is more related to award booking and opti-maxi-mizing the value.

For those who are not aware (I bet that would be most of the readers from outside of the Northeast Corridor), Amtrak has a frequent rider (flyer) program by the name Amtrak Guest Rewards. The program has rather some exceptional awards in its award charts. Amtrak Guest Rewards (AGR) has tiered awards in terms on zones and has a neat (though a little inaccurate) zone map on its website that comes in handy when planning an award redemption. Our Amtrak ride was from Colorado Grand Junction to Chicago Union Station. Although, the zone map shows our starting point in western region of the zone map, however, the phone agent booked us the trip using 1-zone award for 20,000 AGR points.

I have to admit that we had been contemplating taking an overnight trip on Amtrak (of course in a Sleeper Bedroom) using AGR points for the last 4 years. Finally got a chance, though on a short notice and we decided to go for it. I had already transferred/converted 30,000 Continental OnePass miles to 30,000 AGR points knowing that a much desired trip may happen soon. This transfer feature is one of the relatively unknown to most. CO program lets you convert CO miles to AGR point at 1:1 ratio in blocks of 5,000 miles at no charge.

AGR has some exceptional redemptions which can be highlighted from our award redemption. It cost us 20,000 AMEX MR points (transferred to CO before it ended) to book 3 of us in the bedroom. Paid reservation in this cabin would have cost us $1,275+ (not that I would have paid that). Thus, we got 6 cents per AMEX point worth of value and most of those AMEX points were earned at ~ 2.5 points per $ on average. Thus, I can boast that I got 15+ cents per dollar that I spent on my AMEX PRG card.

Back to AGR award table, their special routes are listed for 1,000 points in coach or 1,500 points in business, which to me is a steal, if you can make use of. Other exceptional value are the roomettes and bedroom awards in all category of awards alike, 1-zone, 2-zone or 3-zone as these will easily get you 5+ cents per point in redemption value. And of course, another excellent value is award in the northeast corridor, especially last-minute travel which can also fetch you 5+ cents per point in value.

One would ask, what about availability. Unlike awards on Airlines, Amtrak awards do not have limited availability but are rather bookable up to the last seat/cabin. Thus, as long as there is a seat/cabin to be sold for real $$$, they will book it for you using points. And unlike Airline awards, there are no taxes or booking fees. The best part is, you can cancel the awards for a full refund as long as you have not picked up your printed tickets from the station. Also note that all dining car meals and non-alcoholic drinks are included in your roommette or bedroom ticket.

AGR points can also be used for a bunch of other redemptions like gift cards, certificates, cruises at close to 1 cent per point. But really, the best value is in booking for Amtrak travel. And to all those who have not had a chance to ride Amtrak long distance in a bedroom, it was a memorable experience that we plan to do repeat, may be on another route. It was so much fun, comfortable, stress-free.

Sounds good, doesn't it?

21Oct/110

Can aircraft type and model make a difference to your flying experience?

I have formed a habit of using seatguru before I book any airline ticket for anybody to understand the aircraft that the flights will be flown on. Especially for longer flights, flying on a better airplane can make a big difference in terms of flight comfort, even in coach.

Disclaimer: Please note that I am not affiliated or connected to seatguru or any any other websites in mentioned in this post in any ways, commercial or otherwise.

For example, if you are flying New York (JFK) to Paris (CDG) on Air France, there are 4-5 daily flights operated by Air France between the two city pairs in consideration. Of these, 1-2 flights are on Airbus A330-200, some are on Boeing 777-200ER, and one is on Airbus A380 (the new double-decker plane, world's largest commercial aircraft). Please note that there are two configurations in Air France's fleet for Boeing 777-200ER. It has been reported that flight comfort is superior on A380 as compared to any other aircraft in the world as it roomier, quieter, newer, has better designed cabin and has a better entertainment system. It shouldn't be surprising as it is a newer model of airplane. I recommend folks to try to take the A380 flight over others, if the flight schedule works for them and if the fare is the same (or the difference is not significant).

One website that I use more often is seatguru which has a list of aircrafts used by most major airlines in the world as well as their seatmaps. Seatguru also identifies which seats to prefer and which seats to avoid on a particular aircraft type for each airline. Please note that seats type, layout, configuration, entertainment system and in-flight service can vary from airline to airline, and aircraft to aircraft, even within the same airline. In fact, same airplane model within an Airline can have multiple configurations.

And one should always know what type of seats they are going to fly in before booking a business class or first class ticket. Some airlines have completely flat-bed seats in their business class cabin where as some don't. It can make a world of difference to your condition after a long-haul flight by flying on these flat-bet seats, having a good sleep and arriving refreshed at your destination. And as mentioned above, be aware that some airlines have flat-bed seats as well as basic reclining business class seats on the same aircraft model. Look carefully.

Other interesting websites for aircraft types and seats that I use are seatexpert, seatmaestro and flatseats. So, go ahead and use these available tools to understand and identify better seats on nicer aircrafts before you book your tickets.