I recently dropped in to my neighborhood Citizen’s Bank to deposit a bunch of cash I had acquired from paying for group dinners with a points-earning credit card and collecting everyone’s cash. (My friends have gotten use to my “crazy” manufacturing spend techniques and don’t question it anymore). I was watching the slideshow they had on their branches monitor, and noticed in caps “10% back on gas”. What??? I inquired at the desk, and they’ve recently changed the terms on their Cash Back Platinum Mastercard.

CashBack Platinum MasterCard   Citizens Bank
You get 10% cash back on the first $1k of gas purchases, and an unlimited 5% after that, for the first 90 days. You also get 5% back on grocery and drug store purchases, but again only for the first 90 days. There is no annual fee. After 90 days, everything reverts to 1%. I hate that these rewards only last 90 days, but there doesn’t seem to be anything in the T&C to limit your amount, just your credit limit. I suppose if they gave you a huge limit, you could really kill it. For instance, if you had a 7-11 nearby (coded as gas stations) that let you buy gift cards with a credit card, and put $50k in 90 days, you’d make $2550 (minus whatever you paid in GC fees). I doubt many people could pull this off though, so I’m not sure how scalable this is, especially only for 90 days. This card is only available in certain states too. I’m not going to be jumping on this one, especially since I just got denied for two cards (even after recon calls) because of way too many CC applications this year.

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

This happened to me in my own Philly, as my wife and I were going downtown on a date. We were getting off the subway, and a young guy asked if I could break a $50 dollar bill, as they wouldn’t accept it for a subway token and he had to get home. He had it folded up, but it looked real, and I did have change, so I got it out of my wallet. I grabbed the bill and opened it to make sure it was legit, and it was so old and decrepit it fell in half. He wanted compensation as I had just “ripped his 50 in half”. I’m not sure it real or not, but I gave it back to him, and just gave him $3 for a subway token. He still wanted $50 of change for the $50 I “ripped”, but I squared up to him and my sympathetic autonomic system kicked into overdrive, and he eventually scrammed.

I read about this from other people on some local Philly blogs happening to other people as well. I can only imagine what would’ve happened if it were just my wife, so my advice, be VERY selective in who you help out.

Posted by glenn | 7 Comments

COL Glenn alerted me to a blog post where a child on a plane had a severe peanut allergy, and anaphylaxed (stopped breathing) when a passenger 4 rows away had opened a bag of peanuts. He wanted my medical opinion on this case. I find her anaphylaxis from 4 rows away by smelling peanuts dubious, but I’m not an allergist, I’m an ER doc, so I asked my allergist friend (who wished to remain nameless, but works at a top 10 nationally ranked hospital). He said this would be virtually impossible unless the peanuts were ground finely and aerosolized. Here’s the medscape article on inhalation of peanuts.

I read one study where found researchers failed to detect peanut in air filters at the level of the neck after volunteers danced on peanuts on the floor of a poorly ventilated room (Perry TT, Conover-Walker MK, Pomes A, Chapman MD, Wood RA. Distribution of peanut allergen in the environment. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2004;113:973-976). There was also a study where people with severe peanut allergies smelled a jar of peanut butter from very close range but experienced no allergic side effects (Simonte SJ, Ma S, Mofidi S, Sicherer SH. Relevance of casual contact with peanut butter in children with peanut allergy. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2003;112:180-182). There is still persistent belief that just smelling peanuts can cause anaphylaxis; however the medical literature does not support this, as there have only been anecdotal cases.

From my perspective, if you’ve got such a severe allergy that you anaphylax from smelling peanuts, you need an epi-pen on you at all times, and you need to immediately see an allergist for desensitization therapy, because you’re constantly at risk of death.


Posted by glenn | 5 Comments

Most tour companies have a pitch for you to walk their beautiful sand beaches, tropical paradise, or see some ancient sites.  Sounds enticing, right?  So take a look at this pitch:

“If your idea of a good time is driving through a Hezbollah rally and then going to get some sushi, Beirut is definitely the edgy Mediterranean destination for you.”

Or how about “Where wildlife, oil, and AK47s abound: how can this region be anything but fascinating.”

Beirut, Iraq, Mexico and Africa are all tourism destinations of War Zone Tours.  As incredible as it sounds, there are people that really want to go to these places of danger and experience what it is to be like in the middle of a conflict.  The founders started this back in 1993 and say they have conducted tours in over 50 countries.  They are staffed with High Risk Environment (HRE) guides are all experienced security professionals having spent years traveling dangerous areas of the world.  Many are former military special operations personnel.  Hmmm, so am I, maybe this should be my retirement job?

Apparently, they will customize the tour to your desires.  However, I doubt they will give you IBA and an M-4, so you take your chances.  And to think I scored two completely free tours of Iraq courtesy of Uncle Sam!  Another great military benefit.  For those who missed out on deployment, go for it.  Just don’t ask POTUS to save you if things go south…

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

For those of us who travel on Uncle Sam’s dime, we are at the mercy of the GSA’s bidding war for routes between commonly traveled cities.  Known as GSA City Pairs, the lowest bidding airline gets all the Government traffic between the two cities.  While you don’t have to take the GSA City Pair, you must justify why you are not.  If you can find the same fare, and in my experience many airlines will match the GSA fare, there generally is not a problem.  If you need to take a more expensive fare, the excuse cannot be because you need to earn miles with another airline so have a good reason!

The bidding this year surprised me a little.  My perception is that DL and AA were the low bidders for most routes.  Some were really unusual, such as need a flight from DCA to JNU (Juneau, AK)?  You would think that AS has a lock on this, but  no DL was the winner.  They won a lot of the State of Alaska flights in fact.  Another surprise was the number of Southwest (WN) city pairs that were long haul.  Going from DCA to SFO?  WN was the winner.  In total eight airlines won at least one route:United, American, Southwest, JetBlue, Delta, Hawaiian, Alaska, and Sun Country.

The Sun Country and Jet Blue are new (to me).  Also, remember that the Fly American Act requires the fare be sold by an American airline, but you will commonly find yourself flying one of their code share partners.  For mileage earning, note that these code share flights do not always credit to the airline you want.  For example, a few years ago I flew a Delta ticketed flight from HNL to ICN (Seoul).  The actual carrier (known as metal) was Korean Airlines.  Normally, I can credit DL flights to AS, but not for this number flight.

Examine the routes that you think you will fly and this may help you decide which airline to concentrate your miles on in order to get status.  For my new assignment in Oct., I expect to be taking a lot of flights to Europe and most of the city pairs from East Coast to Europe were won by AA.  Normally, I credit AA flights to AS where I am already a Gold, but I am considering crediting to AA in order to get status and hopefully some upgrades.  Check them out for yourself.

Here is a link to the new FY15 GSA City Pair spreadsheet.  Note that Column N lists the fare so you can calculate the miles earned if you are flying UA or DL.

Here is a link to the current GSA City Pair site if you want to see the present fares good until 30 Sep.

You should also be aware of the benefits that go with flying a GSA fare:

The benefits of this service include:

  • Fares priced on one-way routes, permitting agencies to plan multiple destinations;
  • No advance purchase required;
  • No minimum or maximum length stay required;
  • Fully refundable tickets;
  • Last seat availability;
  • No blackout periods;
  • Stable prices enabling travel budgeting; and
  • Dual fares availability.

Posted by glenn | No Comments

Andy and I were able to post every day for our two week “Featured” period on BoardingArea.com and we thank you for reading our little blog.  The comments were great and we really appreciated those of you who support us as we just do this out of a sense of sharing with the community rather than a route to fame and fortune.  Many of the comments were informative and we learned a thing or two from your knowledge, so thanks for sharing.

I had promised two United GPUs for a random commenter over the two week period and I am here to deliver.  Using Random.org, the winner is Scott M.  Congratulations Scott and let me know when you want to use your prize!  Unfortunately you will need a W fare or higher for an international upgrade or you can use them for any domestic fare.


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At the end of last year, I wrote a post about the best credit cards for military members. Since then, there have been a couple changes, so I thought I’d update the post. As before, I’m not taking into account signup bonuses, only benefits and category bonuses.


Credit cards are the easiest and fastest way to rapidly accumulate miles and points (or cash back), and is a major part of the overall strategy of cheap or free travel, with a couple caveats. First off, you need good credit for most of the cards I am listing; however, I will include a card for those who need to build good credit. Secondly, if you carry a balance, this post is not for you. The only way to accumulate miles and points while getting ahead is to pay off your balances IN FULL, and on time; carrying balances will cost you more in the long run.


(There are affiliate links for the Barclaycard and Discover cards. I only recommend cards I have and use. You are free to not use the affiliate links, but if you do – thank you, I appreciate it.)


1. Best overall card: Barclaycard Arrival Plus

I previously had the Chase Sapphire Preferred as the best overall card, but they’ve changed their terms recently, taking away the travel benefit and the 7% annual dividend, so there is a new winner this year. The Arrival+ has an annual fee, but Barclaycard waives it for active duty military, and more frequently and without as much documentation than Chase does. When you use your Arrival card, every $1 of spending on the card equals 2 points. When you use the points, you get 10% of them back. This yields a total of 2.2% reward point return for every dollar spent.  2.2% is the best you can do for everyday spend of any card I’ve yet seen. Also, other perks include a free FICO credit score instantly in your account, a free membership to Tripit Pro, which I highly recommend, and no foreign transaction fees. The annual fee is $89, but again it’s waived for active duty.

2. Best no-fee card for everyday (non-category) spend: American Express Fidelity Investment Rewards (I do not yet have this card)

This is one of the only no annual fee cards to get 2% back on EVERY purchase. It goes into a Fidelity Investment Account, but you can withdraw from it at any time. This is purely cash-back, and does not earn you any points, which acts as a segue into my next card:

3. Runner-up best card for everyday (non-category spend): American Express SPG

This card earns only 1% back on everyday (non-SPG) spending, but transfers to the most partners of any other program, over 30 airlines and other transfer partners. However, when you transfer, you get a 5,000 point bonus on any transfers of 20,000 points. So, you could say you get 1.25 points per dollar spent on everything. And, depending how you use or value those points, for redemptions on SPG properties or for high-value international airfares, you could say that these points are more valuable than that. And, remember that Amex waives annual fees for military members, just like Chase. This is my go-to card for non-category spend in the US (it does unfortunately incur foreign transaction fees), because I place a high value on SPG points. They offer both a personal and a business card, and you can hold both simultaneously.

4. Best annual-fee card for dining and entertainment: Citi Thankyou Premier

This card offers 3% back in Thankyou points on dining and entertainment, and 2% on airfare, hotels and travel agencies. This didn’t mean much back when Thankyou points were not transferrable to airline partners, but they’ve recently become a transfer partner to several airlines. The new partners include:

  • Cathay Pacific
  • EVA Air
  • Etihad
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qatar Airways
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Thai Airways


This is huge, because Singapore can be used to book awesome Star Alliance Awards. Check out this post from Travel is Free. Citi does waive their annual fees, which on this card is waived the first year then $125 per year. However, they’re the hardest company to get a waiver. I just applied for this card, and it wasn’t an immediate approval, but hopefully I still get it. The Citi Forward used to offer 5% Thankyou points for dining and entertainment, but it’s no longer accepting new applications.


5. Best for the frequent traveller: Amex Mercedes Benz Platinum

I love Amex cards for their great customer service and the waived annual fees, and this in my opinion is the best you can get. Amex Platinum cards offer free lounge access (although they’ve recently lost access to US Airways and American lounges, and does not give access to United lounges) through their membership with PriorityPass Select, give you $200 reimbursement per year on airline incidentals, SPG Gold status, status with Hertz, Avis, and National car rental companies, $100 reimbursement towards Global Entry (and by extension, TSA Precheck), and some other perks. No foreign transaction fees and ability to get a chip in your card (if you ask for it) are definitely huge perks for the frequent international traveller. Why Mercedes Benz you might ask? Because they offer 50,000 Membership Rewards points as a signup bonus, which is huge, as they can be transferred to travel partners, just like Ultimate Rewards and SPG points can. Both personal and business platinums are offered.

6. Best Business Card: Chase Ink Plus or Bold

This card is probably the best category spend card, because you get 5x points per $1 on the first $50,000 spent annually at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, internet and cable TV services, and 2x points on hotels and gas purchases. If you have this or the Sapphire Preferred, you can transfer your Ultimate Rewards points to travel partners. It’s normally a $95 annual fee, but free for us! I use this for all my monthly cell phone and internet bills, and at Staples for our reselling business (more on this another time). This also currently comes with 50,000 Ultimate Rewards sign-up bonus, which is huge! You can get both at the same time, and don’t actually have to have a business to qualify for one.

7. Best for families: Amex Blue Cash Preferred

This is a pure cash-back card, and offers 6% back on grocery store purchases (up to $6000 per year), 3% back on gas stations and select department stores, and 1% back on everything else. I have a wife and kid, and my brother lives in our spare bedroom, so we buy a lot of groceries! Military base exchanges are included in this bonus! This has a $75 annual fee, but we don’t have to pay it.  

(Of note, for my last post, many people told me of the Penfed Platinum Rewards card which has 5% cash back on gas…but I bike everywhere, so I didn’t take heed)

8. Best for rotating categories: Chase Freedom

This card offers 5x Ultimate Rewards points on rotating categories, currently amazon.com and a couple other department stores, up to $1500 (or 7500 Ultimate Rewards points) per quarter. The 2014 categories are out already, so we know how to maximize our rewards next year. This is advertised as a cash-back card, but the best way to maximize rewards is to transfer these points to either your Sapphire Preferred or Chase Ink account and then transfer to travel partners for high redemption awards. No annual fee. I try to max out my category every quarter, for instance this quarter I’ll buy Amazon gift cards until I hit $1500 for the quarter.

Runner-up: Discover It Card – it usually offers similar categories and has access to the ShopDiscover shopping portal, which often has better bonuses than the Ultimate Rewards portal, and that’s why I got it. It doesn’t come with a signup bonus, and you can’t transfer UR points, which is why I rate the Freedom a better card.

9. Best for purchased airline travel: Amex Business Rewards Gold

I don’t yet have this card, but will be applying for it in January. You get 3x Membership Rewards per dollar spent on airfare, so I’d use this for all purchased airfare, especially if your command will reimburse you for airfare for TDY, PCS, or official travel. It also offers 2x rewards on gas, shipping, media, and computer stores. It has a $175 annual fee, waived the first year, or every year for us.

10. Best travel rewards card for bad credit: US Bank Lifemiles Secured card

I recently recommended this card to a reader with a credit score of 590, which is considered bad. It is secured, which means you pay money up front, and then can use your credit card for the amount you’ve loaded onto it. This is a decent card for rebuilding a credit score. Bonus, you get 10,000 Lifemiles points (I’ll be doing a later post on Lifemiles, but they have some amazing redemptions) as a signup bonus, and the $25 annual fee is waived the first year. According to Nerdwallet, it’s the best credit card for bad credit.

On a daily basis, the cards I carry are the Arrival Plus, the Amex SPG business, and then maybe Chase Ink if I’m going to Staples, the Amex Blue Cash Preferred if I’m going to the grocery store, or Chase Freedom if I’m hitting a store on their rotating categories. These cards only apply if I’m not trying to hit a minimum spend; if that’s the case, that card is all I will carry.

I would LOVE to hear your thoughts or disagreements about this list – PLEASE LEAVE COMMENTS!

Posted by glenn | 5 Comments

So you read this blog because you want to fly for free? Have I got a deal for you and it costs NO MILES!  Simply put, the USAF travels all over the globe and if they have extra room on the flight, you can go for free.  Well, they do insist you pay for the box lunch provided, but we’re talking like $10.  Probably more now as it has been a while since my wife and I flew SPACE-A.

You may think it is sacrilegious for a frequent flyer to advocate using Space A travel, but it does have its uses – primarily that it is almost free to use.  It is a great service to use if you are young and don’t have much money or you are retired and have more time than money.  I remember using it on my honeymoon to travel all over Europe.  We flew from Travis AFB (I was stationed at Ft. Ord at the time) taking two days to finally reach Frankfurt. We spent a few days each at Frankfurt, Naples, and Mildenhall, England using them as bases to take day trips to various adventures along the Rhine or to Pompei.  We did run into the main problem when you take Space A.  That being that we ended up only able to get a hop from Mildenhall to South Carolina and couldn’t get out of there back to California, so we ended up buying commercial tickets to get home before my leave was up.

SPACE-A travel has a lot of rules and categories that determine priority.  Here’s something that you may not know – DoD civilians are eligible under certain circumstances.  Also civilian dependents for certain reasons.

For those of you who are adventurous, the official Space A site is here.  Of there is an app for Space-A (like everything else) that you can find at Takeahop.  Both iPhone and Android versions are available and greatly simplifies things so that you don’t have to hang around the Space-A terminal all day long.  Armed Forces Crossroads is also an awesome resource for finding bases and flight information.

However, there is a great site that simplifies everything.  Created by and called John D.’s Military Space-A Travel Pages, this boils everything you need to know down to an easy to follow dialogue including typical routes and phone numbers to call.  Here are some common things John lists to increase your chances of success in getting the flight you want.

  • number of flights to your destination
  • number of Space-A seats on those flights
  • number of people ahead of you trying for the flight
  • number of seats you need (1 is better than 6!)
  • seniority of your signup date in your particular category
  • time of year (summer and non-school periods are the worst)
  • amount of time you’re prepared to tolerate (i.e. burning leave) waiting for a flight in the terminal (and not at Burger King!)
  • amount of legs (different flights) you’re willing to take to get from A to B
  • type of aircraft you’re willing to fly on
  • weight of your baggage (under 30lbs enables you to compete for more types of aircraft)
  • your willingness to take a flight to a less popular location e.g. McConnell versus Dover

Your chances will improve the more you know the rules, methods and timing of sign-up, perseverance, patience and timing or travel.

So good luck and good hunting to those of you out there who want to try this great military benefit.  Frequent flyer miles still play a role here.  An ideal use for miles is, if you get stuck like we did on your return, you can use miles for a one way flight back home!

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

As I’ve mentioned many times before, one of the coolest benefits for military members are the credit card benefits given to us as required by the Servicemember’s Civil Relief Act (SCRA), which include waiving fees such as late payment, foreign transaction, and overdraft fees. There is not a requirement that credit card companies waive annual fees for rewards credit cards, but almost all of them do, which is great for us!


Here is a rundown of various companies credit card benefits, and then tomorrow I’ll be giving an updated list of my current favorite cards. As before, we don’t have any affiiliate links, we don’t get paid by any credit card companies, and these opinions are purely my own.


Also, in regard to COL Glenn’s article the other day about affiliated or non-affiliated credit cards, my personal opinion is that both are great since we don’t (usually) have to pay annual fees, but I only use hotel and airline cards for their signup bonuses, and bank-affiliated cards for everyday spend. There are 4 major bank programs with which you can transfer points to airlines or hotels – Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR), Amex Membership Rewards (MR), SPG points, and now, Citi Thank you (TY) points. These points are more flexible, because you can transfer them to the program of your choice, and in general these cards have better category bonuses, such as Chase Ink’s 5x points at office supply stores, Amex Gold’s 3x points on airfare, and Citi Thankyou Premier’s 3x points on dining and entertainment. For this reason, these are the points I primarily accumulate.


Ok, without further adieu, onto the list.


American Express – In my and other reader’s experience, this has been the easiest to get annual fees waived for all servicemembers, as they don’t require you send in any documentation. They offer waived annual fees for all cards, including Platinums, and even the legendary Centurion card. Their MR program has some awesome redemption partners, and their customer service, in my opinion, is the best of all credit card companies.


Bank of America – I don’t have any BoA cards, so don’t have any personal experience with this, but according to this post, they waive all applicable fees. BoA’s SCRA page.


Barclaycard – This company has also been very lenient on waiving annual fees – I didn’t have to provide any documentation to them either. I use the Barclaycard Arrival for all non-category bonus and non-minimum spend spending, as it offers 2.2% back towards travel on all purchases and has no foreign transaction fees.

Capital one

Capital One – I have an old No Hassle Rewards card, but I honestly never use this or any other of their cards. That being said, they waived my fees without documentation, and like the above companies have great customer service. There is an offer for 40k miles on their Venture card floating around for those interested, and I think comes in at a solid 2nd place behind the Arrival card for everyday spend.


Chase – Unfortunately they’ve been stingier to some of our readers on waiving fees and requiring documentation. Some have had their annual fee waiver refused, but others figured out ways to get them to do it. Chase Ink and Chase Freedom are two of my favorite cards for their category bonuses, and Chase Sapphire Preferred used to be, but with them taking away the 2x bonus on travel, I will be putting this card away. UR have awesome redemption partners, including into airlines in Star Alliance, OneWorld, and Skyteam, as well as some hotel and train programs.


Citi – They’ve been the stingiest of all the companies for getting fees waived, and have the most onerous documentation requirements, as well as the worst customer service in my opinion. That being said, they’ve got some great rewards cards, especially now that TY rewards are transferrable to several carriers including Singapore Airlines, which have great redemption options on Star Alliance carriers. (Check out this post for more info).


Discover – I do have the Discover It card, which has no annual fee, but only use it to have access to the ShopDiscover cashback shopping portal, which offers some really big cash back bonuses. According to Discover’s SCRA page, they fully comply with it, but make no mention of annual fees, although others have told me they will waive your annual fee.


USAA – They waive all fees for active duty members. They’ve got a cool World MC that is one of the few current Chip & PIN cards, but unfortunately none of their cards have great rewards associated with them.


US Bank – They readily waive annual fees without too much hassle or documentation, and they’ve got some decent (but not great) rewards cards. I picked up the Lifemiles card when the signup bonus was 40k, the Club Carlson card is fantastic for rewards redemptions, and have had the REI card forever. (Here’s a primer on redeeming Lifemiles for Star Alliance Flights).


Sorry if I missed any credit card companies, I only used the major ones for these. Tomorrow, I’ll post an updated list of the top 10 credit cards for military members.

Posted by glenn | 10 Comments

I have written about this many times, but not recently.  So here is an update as to how you can donate your miles to charities that can help out active military and veterans.  In some cases, you can even earn yourself some miles.

Hero Miles – This charity’s purpose to take care of the nation’s wounded veterans and their families.  They give tickets tot eh family to visit their wounded warriors and travel to extended treatment.  They have donated over 46,000 free tickets and $73 million to help military families. Their airline partners include Alaska, American, Delta, Frontier, United and US Airways (at least until the merger).  To donate your miles, go here.

Fisher House – This very famous charity started because families had no place to stay near their loved one as they recuperated at a military treatment facility.  Built on a military post or base, they are multi-bedroom houses that give a worried family a convenient place to stay and visit their wounded warriors daily.  Donations vary depending on the airline, but generally the same ones as listed above.  Go here for specific instructions to donate.

Here’s one that I just found with the American Legion.  They only have arrangements with two airlines, United and US Airways (presumably this will carry through to AA).  See what they offer here.

Another option that is not active currently is to donate money to American Airlines and earn miles.  You will typically see this around Veterans Day each year and you can earn 15 miles/$ so getting 1500 miles for a $100 donation may be the perfect way to top off that account so you can redeem for an award ticket.  Check out last year’s post on this here.

Donating is a perfect use of those airline programs where you have accumulated a few thousand miles, but not enough to use for a ticket.  And before you ask, no donating your miles is not a tax deduction, but it will sure make you feel good.  After all, any of us could be the unfortunate Service Member needing a little charity to get back on their feet.



Posted by glenn | 3 Comments

A big discussion going on amongst many savvy frequent flyers is whether to use an affiliated card for your favorite airline or to use a non-affiliated one where you can apply the miles to any airline.  Let’s analyze the pros and cons then you can decide for yourself.  Note that I am not counting on all the mileage bonuses you can earn since those vary by card and time of the year.  This focus is what you actually keep in your wallet and use on spending beyond manufactured spending.

Affiliated cards all have a similar scheme.  In general, you earn two miles per $ spent on a given airline’s products and one mile per $ on everything else that you use the card on.  Several have specialized categories such as gas or restaurants where they also give you a bonus.  A notable exception is the BoA Alaska Airlines card which gives you three miles per $ for airline products.  Here are some common cards:


Alaska Airlines VISA from BoA (annual fee $75)


As mentioned, AS gives three miles per $ spent on Alaska Airlines and one per $ spent on everything else.  Extra earning, but also a great deal if you have a spouse/ SO/ FF buddy in the $99 companion fare.  So two of you can fly the same itinerary for just $99 + taxes extra.  Unlike some other companion tickets, you BOTH earn miles.  Here is a tip, even if you do not collect AS miles, you can use this for AS flights and then credit the miles to DL or AA and they are EQM.

Delta Gold American Express ($95 annual fee)


This card is very typical of the airline CCs: two miles per $ on Delta spending and one mile per $ on everything else.  It does have the common benefits of a free bag and priority boarding.  If you already have Silver status, this gets you nothing and why are you choosing the Delta card if you do not already fly enough to make Silver?

American Airlines Citi MasterCard ($95 annual fee)


Again, two miles per AA $ and one mile per $ of everything else, one free checked bag and priority boarding.  However, in addition, you get 25% off of on-board purchases and a 10% rebate when you redeem your AA miles.

United Airlines Explorer Card from Chase ($95 annual fee)


So same two miles per UA $ and one mile for every other $, one checked bag and priority boarding.  In addition, two UA club passes, no foreign transaction fees, and a 10k mile bonus or spending over $25k a year.

So pretty typical as you would expect since they all need to be competitive with each other.  Alaska is more generous, but they need to be to get people to fly a non-major airline.

Now let’s compare these to the non-affiliated cards which allow you to accumulate miles in their programs and use on any ticket for redemption.

Chase Sapphire Preferred ($95 annual fee)


So similar to the affiliated cards, you get two miles per $ spent on airfare, and restaurants.  You get an additional mile per $ if you buy hotel or airfare through their portal. Other benefits at no foreign transaction fees and a 20% rebate if you buy airfare through their portal.  Note that miles are valued at $0.01/ mile but buying through the portal bumps this up to $0.125/mile.  This is less than the most common valuation of airline miles at $0.015 – 0.020/mile, but you can shop for a variety of airlines.  Flexibility is worth something.  Also of note, you can transfer these miles to several major hotel programs.  You can also transfer 1:1 to British Airways, Korean Airlines, United, Virgin Atlantic or Southwest.

Capital One VentureOne Card ($0 annual fee)


This card only earns 1.25 miles per $ spent regardless of category.  Miles transferable to any airline or hotel.  Seems low, but you also are getting this card for free.

This post is getting a little long so let’s take that as a sample.

Affiliated cards:

PRO – Even if you value airlines miles at the low end of $0.015/mile, that is still equal to 3% back on your purchases for airline tickets.  If you do not have status, the free bag is going to be equal to about $25 back on each flight.  Really good if you are the type of person with no status and takes a lot of short flights meaning a lot of baggage charges before you will get status.  The Alaska Airlines companion cert is one of the best deals out there and worth getting the card even if you don’t usually fly AS.

CON – Obviously the biggest downside is that you are getting miles in a single program which really ties you down to that airline.  That may be OK with you if you live in a certain location which is dominated by one airline.  These also have a downside with the annual fee as you may not be charging enough to make the annual fee worthwhile.  If you are not making at least 10,000 miles from purchases (not bonuses) then I wouldn’t bother with that card unless you can get it for free.  See Andy’s many posts on getting your credit card for free if you are currently serving, Amex, Chase, Citi, Barclays, and Capital One.

Non-Affiliated Cards:

PRO – A wide variety of choices for flying or staying at hotels.  Although the value of each mile is less than the typical airline mile, the flexibility can be worth it.  You can really take advantage of this if you live near a major airport with a large number of airlines such as LA, NYC or D.C. Another advantage is that you can use these miles to buy airline tickets or hotel rooms (whichever is a better value for your miles) and thus do not need to carry separate cards for airlines and hotels.

CON – Less earning and the direct valuation of your miles to a price.  This can work either way so be careful.  A domestic award ticket is 25,000 miles so if you are taking a short, cheap flight you will come out with less miles required, but the opposite applies if you want to take a transcon.  25,000 miles equals $250 in these programs so tickets above that price may not be a great deal and most airline tickets are above that price.

MY STRATEGY:  Carry various cards and use the one that is most advantageous.  So an affiliated airline card for airline tickets and a hotel card for hotels since you are earning lots of miles/ points per $ especially for hotels.  However, if there is no bonus, I use the Chase Sapphire Preferred and get two miles per $.  Yes, this splits my accounts into several piles, but I don’t feel that it is that hard to keep track of.  I pretty much know which of two airlines I will fly and which of two hotels I will stay in, but the Chase Ultimate Rewards miles give me just enough to fly or stay on something else if I need to.

What is your strategy?

Posted by glenn | 4 Comments

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