Happy New Year Everyone! I hope 2019 allows more of you to travel and experience various places throughout the world. I’m going to share a few apps which I feel almost everyone would benefit from because of their ability to passively earn points/cashback. You don’t have to use the points for anything related to travel but since this is a travel-oriented blog, I’ll show you how you can if that’s what you would prefer.
As of right now, this is my favorite app to earn points which can be redeemed for gift cards. When you first sign up, you pick 5 retailers from their list for which you would earn points. Pick the 5 you would use the most since you can’t change it once you have made your choices. Based on my shopping habits, I picked Target, Walgreens, Whole Foods, Starbucks, and Uber. Starbucks earns 12 points per dollar while the others earn 8 points per dollar. They also have a multitude of online retailers if you decide to click through via Drop and earn additional points.
That process is also very simple and straightforward. You log into your bank account or credit card account and it will automatically link every credit card with that particular bank. Once the credit cards are linked, there is nothing else you need to do any further. The points will show up 2-3 days after you make your purchase.
Every 1,000 points is equal to $1. Once you get to 5,000 points, you can start redeeming for gift cards.
For travel-related purposes, I prefer to redeem for Amazon gift cards. You can use Amazon gift cards to purchase Southwest Airlines gift cards, Airbnb, and Hotels.com gift cards on Amazon.com. This is a really easy way to lessen the cost of travel in a completely passive manner. If you use my referral code (yc826) and link your first credit card, you’ll get 5k points to start out.
Dosh is another app that allows you to earn cashback passively. It doesn’t have an extensive list of retailers compared to Drop, but it does offer a lengthy list of restaurants which offer 5% cashback.
Among the retailers listed, Sephora, Sam’s Club, and Forever21 are the standouts. Occasionally they will also have Exxon-Mobil at 3% cashback. If you want to see the restaurants which offer cashback on Dosh, be sure to have your location access enabled.
Unlike Drop, you do have to enter each credit card manually so I would just enter the credit cards that I use most often. Once you reach $20 in cashback, you’re eligible to redeem. I like to redeem at the end of the year and use the cashback on travel related expenses. You can withdraw the cash either into your PayPal account or straight into your bank account. If you use my referral code (SHIRAZU1), you’ll get $5 when you link your first credit card.
3. SPENT Money
SPENT is another app that many people will find some value in. They only offer a 1% cashback payout but their categories are the type which many people will use extensively.
They have multiple gas stations (Shell, Mobil, and Chevron), Netflix, Starbucks, Whole Foods, Uber, etc. There’s also a nice little overlap with Drop since they both offer Uber, Whole Foods, and Starbucks. When you add in the fact that Chase Freedom is offering 5x points this quarter on gasoline purchases, having the Chase Freedom linked to SPENT Money essentially gives you 6x cashback if you happen to fill up at any of the listed gas stations.
To add your credit cards, simply log into your account and it will automatically add every card associated with that bank. These apps won’t pay for a vacation by themselves but even they can shave the cost of 2-3 nights off a hotel or Airbnb stay, the few minutes you spent downloading the apps and linking your credit cards would have made them well worth it.
For all you last-minute travelers/procrastinators, there are many frequent flier programs that penalize travelers if they book an award redemption close to the departure date. For example, if you book a ticket using miles on either American or United and your departure date is less than 21 days away, you will have to pay a $75 ticketing fee. Sometimes this fee will wipe out the value of a redemption and on the rare occasion, it will be more than the entire cost of the ticket were you to pay in cash. Delta doesn’t charge a ticketing fee but will charge additional 5k points per one way ticket (and even more for business class). Alaska Airlines does not charge a close-in ticketing fee and neither does JetBlue. Southwest does not charge a ticketing fee but the number of miles required will increase significantly. If you have status with an airline, that might be enough to skirt around the close-in booking fees. There are a couple of ways to bypass the close-in fee and I’ll demonstrate how.
Using British Airways to Book on American Airlines
I talked about the benefits of using British Airways Avios to book on American Airlines here.
One valuable aspect of British Airways Avios is the ability to redeem it on American Airlines as close to a few hours prior to departure.
British Airways has a distance based chart so certain redemptions can be made using fewer miles.
If economy saver award tickets are available on AA.com, they will usually be accessible through British Airways.
Here is an example of the exact same flight from Albany, NY to Chicago (ORD) and the costs associated with the two different programs.
If I were to book this one-way ticket using AA miles, the cost is $12,500 miles plus a $75 ticketing fee (the mandatory 9/11 security fee is $5.60 making it $80.60). Now let’s see the price using British Airways Avios…..
No $75 ticketing fee and only 7.5k Avios as opposed to the 12.5k AA miles that would have been required. It is important to note that if you have a connecting flight, it will cost double the Avios for a trip since BA charges 7.5k per segment. I’d still rather dish out 15k Avios rather than 12.5k AA miles with the $75 ticketing fee tacked on.
Using Singapore Krisflyer Miles to Book on United
Similar to AA’s policy, United also charges a $75 ticketing fee for flights booked within 21 days of departure.
Singapore Airlines allows you to book via United up until 24 hours prior to departure if saver award redemptions are available on United.
Unlike the American Airlines example, this ticket cannot be booked online. You need to call Singapore Airlines reservations and they will book it for you. Just make sure you have a Singapore Krisflyer frequent flier account set up prior to calling.
Both British Airways and Singapore Airlines are transfer partners of Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Points, and Starwood Preferred Guest. Singapore Airlines is also a transfer partner of Citi ThankYou points. If you are booking on United Airlines via Singapore miles, DO NOT transfer any points into Singapore Airlines until you have confirmed seat availability for your travel dates on United. Transfers into an airline’s frequent flier program are not reversible.
If you find yourself in a situation where your flight is delayed, cancelled, or your connecting flight is in jeopardy due to a delay, try using Twitter for assistance. A few months back, my wife’s flight from Albany to Atlanta was delayed by 35 minutes. Normally this is nothing more than a minor inconvenience. However, since her flight had a tight connection window of only 50 minutes to continue on from Atlanta to Dallas (Love Field), she was more than likely going to miss that flight. I was flying from NYC- Love Field and we booked so that we would land around the same time. Unfortunately, my wife’s connecting flight was the last flight from Atlanta to Love Field. Luckily for her, there was still a later flight from Atlanta to Dallas-Fort Worth and I would just drive over from Love Field and pick her up. I tweeted Delta and asked if they can put her on that flight. Delta responded back on Twitter and confirmed that they saved her a seat on that flight.
That simple. This saved me the hassle of being put on hold and pressing God knows how many numbers to find someone that would help. Kudos to Delta for their fast response and helping us avoid what could have been a pretty ugly experience. So if you find yourself in a similar situation and need a contingency plan ASAP, social media might end up working better than the old fashioned customer service number. Just about every U.S. airline has a dedicated social media team for this purpose and even the airline that was slow to embrace it (Spirit Airlines) has finally embraced social media to assist customers.
Before I get into the tidbits of Avios redemption on American Airlines, I’ll share my recent experience with British Airways and how redeeming Avios on American Airlines rather than booking with American using its own AAdvantage miles saved me a huge headache. At a conference in Philadelphia two weeks ago, I arrived at the hotel and was asked to provide a drivers license or an ID and a credit card for incidentals. I opened my wallet and my credit card was there. I assumed I had my drivers license and looked behind a few cards but I could not find it (I left it in my scanner at home when I was making a copy 2 days prior). I went into all out panic mode and frantically started searching my pockets, book bag, and suitcase. I took out every single card from my wallet and nothing came up. I was the guy who booked the hotel rooms for 3 other friends and I’m thinking I might be the guy who might have screwed this whole thing up. I told the receptionist “uhhh I’m really really sorry but I don’t have my drivers license with me. I think I dropped it. The only thing I have is my school ID. Can you match that with my credit card and make that work?” The receptionist said they generally don’t allow it but since I was there for the conference, he’d let it slide. If you are some how reading this and you are that receptionist from the Double Tree near Phildelphia International Airport, God bless you and thank you again. Half the disaster averted. Now I realized I also had a flight from Philly to Albany two days later and not having my license would really make things difficult ( I arrived in Philly via Greyhound and they never checked for ID). I booked my flight using British Airways Avios on American Airlines for 7.5k Avios plus $5.60 in taxes. The cash price for this one way ticket was going for $422 (!). This gave me an excellent value of 5.6 cents per Avios. If I had booked the same flight using American Airlines miles, It would have cost me 7.5k AAdvantage miles PLUS an additional $80. If you book an award flight within 21 days of departure on American, you are subjected to an $80 “close in” fee. British Airways does not charge the same fee when using Avios to book on American. This allows you to make same day bookings (if seats are available) without losing value due to a surcharge. Since I didn’t have my license and didn’t want to deal with extra paperwork and questions from TSA trying to board my flight, I decided I would just ride back with a friend who had driven there. I called British Airways about 40 hours prior to departure and requested to cancel my flight. British Airways’ award cancellation policy is very customer friendly. As long as you cancel 24 hours or more prior to departure, they will credit your miles back without charging a fee to reinstate those miles. The only thing you would lose is the $5.60 in tax which is negligible in the grand scheme of things. Had I booked this flight using AAdvantage miles, American would have charged me $150 to cancel the flight and reinstate those miles.
For many of the reasons highlighted above, Executive Club is one my favorite frequent flier programs for domestic travel. BA Executive Club is a transfer partner of Chase, AMEX, and SPG, so there are many ways to get Avios (British Airways’ frequent flier curency). I have never redeemed Avios for international flights on British Airways itself because BA charges a very hefty fuel surcharge on transatlantic award flights flown on their metal. I use Avios to book flights on BA’s OneWorld partner, American Airlines. British Airways utilizes a distance based award chart which means the number of Avios used depends on the distance you’re traveling. Zone 1 costs 7.5k Avios for a one way ticket (0-1,151 miles traveled), zone 2 costs 10k avios for a one way ticket (1,152-2000 miles traveled), and zone 3 costs 12.5k Avios for a one way ticket (2001-3000 miles traveled). When you book a saver award using American Airlines, domestic flights that are less than 500 miles require 7.5k AAdvantage miles. Anything more than that requires 12.5k at the saver level. I do want clarify that British Airways award availability on American Airlines isn’t a sure thing on any given date. Generally if American Airlines is showing saver award availability via their own program, there is a decent chance BA will have access to those as well. I have posted an example of a sample itinerary using both programs.
In this example, we’ll use a one way flight from Chicago (ORD) to Denver (DIA) on September 17th. Let’s start off with American Airlines:
We can see that there is MileSAAver availability from Chicago to Denver. A one way flight would cost 12.5 AAdvantage miles.
There is also discounted MileSAAver availability in business class for 25k AAdvantage miles.
Now let’s see how much the same flight would cost using British Airways Avios:
The same flight we saw above for 12.5k AAdantage miles in economy can be booked for 7.5k Avios. And if we want to book a seat in business class……..
This same flight costs 25k AAdvantage miles to book in business class. Booking with British Airways only costs 15k Avios for a business class ticket. When you take into consideration that booking just an economy seat using American costs 12.5k miles, an extra 2.5k Avios to bump up to business class is a tremendous value.
Another great use of Avios is for domestic award tickets on Alaska Airlines. Unfortunately, Alaska Airlines does not show up on British Airways’ website the way American does so you would have to call them to book. If they tell you that a phone booking would cost you a fee, kindly request them to waive it since booking an Alaska flight using Avios is not possible through their website.
For those of you who have experienced a non-weather related flight cancellation or a delay of 3+ hours on a flight to or from Europe over the last 3 years, you might want to visit http://www.airhelp.com and see if you are eligible for compensation. On a flight from New York City to London back in May of 2015, my flight on Norwegian Airlines was delayed for 5+ hours. When I inquired about the reason for the delay, they said it was due to a scheduling error and not having a pilot available to fly the aircraft. I thought it was a pretty ridiculous excuse for a reputable airline such as Norwegian not to have a pilot available. A few months prior, I had heard about AirHelp and I thought I would give them a shot and have them process my claim. AirHelp has lawyers that process your claim for you in European courts. If the judge awards you monetary compensation (this can be as high as 680 euros), they take half of that (25% service fee and 25% legal fee) and directly deposit the rest into your bank account via Payoneer. If you are not awarded anything, they don’t collect. Classic case of zero risk, high reward. I emailed them my flight info and the reason Norwegian gave me for the delay. They told me right away that cases similar to mine were awarded compensation greater than 90% of the time. They were transparent throughout the entire process and kept me updated on where the case stood. About 14 months after I initially contacted them, AirHelp informed me via email that the judge ruled in my favor and I had been awarded 600 euros. In a funny twist, I received an email from Norwegian Airlines just 2 days later. They were offering me 150 euros as compensation along with an apology (lol, apologizing 14 months later). I immediately contacted AirHelp and they informed me not to accept anything. Norwegian was trying to give me a low-ball offer hoping that I would accept it and reduce their liability. I declined Norwegian’s offer and AirHelp transferred $328 into my bank account via Payoneer 4 business days later. Although the process took a while, there was very little effort in my part to collect the compensation. I paid $397 for the one way flight to Europe so the compensation covered more than 80% of that cost. If not for AirHelp, I certainly was not going to go through the hassle of filing a claim in Europe. If you have experienced a delay of 3+ hours transiting to or from Europe, the image below will guide you on whether you should pursue a claim. You will also find all the info you need on http://www.airhelp.com. You certainly have nothing to lose and they’ll inform you on whether your claim is worth pursuing in court.
It’s unfortunate that the U.S. doesn’t have similar laws that would offer consumers the same level of protection for delayed and cancelled flights. We have our own air carriers that are chronically late and will continue to be late until punitive measures are put in place. As of right now, the worst that can happen to them are a few negative yelp reviews.
We have all heard horror stories from friends and family about flying Spirit Airlines. The much maligned “ultra low cost carrier” gets a bad rap for being the pioneer among U.S. carriers for excessive fees. Bringing an overhead carry-on into the cabin? That will set you back $37 if you pay for it during the booking process, $57 if you declare it during check in at the airport, and a ridiculous $65 if you declare it at the gate. Forgot to print your boarding pass at home? Having them print your boarding pass at the airport will cost you $10 (although Spirit does have kiosks at some airports which allows you to print for free). Thirsty while on the plane? You’re not getting a complimentary beverage. I literally had to get a rundown of all the rules from a friend so they wouldn’t have that “gotcha” moment with me. Love them or hate them, this is Spirit’s business model and Wall Street will tell you it’s been a relatively successful one. In fact it’s been so successful that American, United, and Delta have all dedicated the rear of their cabin to basic economy where customers can purchase a similar no frills ticket at a cost that competes with Spirit and Frontier. When I fly an airline for the first time, I really look forward to the experience if they are known for excellence in customer service. Admittedly, I also look forward to flying an airline for the first time when the customer service is on the opposite end of the spectrum.
Morbid curiosity on whether my experience would affirm the hellish experience of others led me to book a flight on Spirit in January. It also helped that I was looking for a late flight from NYC to Chicago and Spirit offered the last flight to Chicago, a 10 pm departure. The one way fare was $59, or $20 cheaper than what the legacy carriers were charging for the same route. I didn’t check in any bags or have any item that was large enough to be classified as a carry-on. I purchased a rolling bag that was small enough to fit under the seat, but big enough to fit five days worth of clothes. I made sure to print out my boarding pass at home and wasn’t assigned a seat until I got to the airport (Spirit charges $5 if you want to select your seat). For those of you traveling with children, Spirit will try their best to seat families together but there is no guarantee without paying for advanced seat assignments. Checking in at LaGuardia was hassle free and off I went to my gate.
As I was waiting at the gate, the thought occurred that this might not be terrible after all. I haven’t seen anyone get slugged, they haven’t had their “gotcha” moment with me, and I might get to Chicago in a timely manner. And then 10 minutes after that thought, I hear a Spirit gate agent announce “Good evening ladies and gentleman, Spirit flight 331 that was scheduled to depart for Chicago O’Hare at 10 pm is now scheduled to depart at 10:40 pm.” Okay then. I can live with a 40 minute delay. This was something I expected prior to booking so I was not all that annoyed or disappointed. You see, Spirit Airlines is routinely ranked dead last among all U.S. carriers in on time performance. While many airlines structure their schedules to comfortably deplane, clean the plane, and board again, Spirit does not. Their goal is to land and turn the plane around to their next destination as soon as possible. Their entire motto is if the plane is sitting idle, it is isn’t making money so more time in the air is good, more time on the ground is very bad. This works fine throughout the day if weather and maintenance issues don’t creep up. But if something goes wrong earlier in the day, the domino effect is felt all the way until the last flight takes off. And that is precisely what occurred with my flight (as well as the flight scheduled to depart before mine). But again, 40 minutes was not the end of the world. It can be a whole lot worse.
Now it was time to board the flight. The Spirit gate agents eyeballed everyone’s carry-on luggage and checked to see if anything that wasn’t fitting in the personal item bin had been paid for as a carry-on item. This is the step when people who don’t pay attention to the rules or have never flown Spirit end up wasting away the savings they got on their low fare. If your carry-on was not paid for or your personal item is too big for the bin, you’re paying $65 at the gate. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. I looked to see if any unwitting passenger got caught and fortunately no one did. It seemed like everyone on the flight was either a Spirit veteran or a rookie who knew the rules.
When I boarded the flight I braced myself for the industry low leg room that Spirit offers. Once I was seated, it certainly felt more spacious than that. It’s quite possible that the smaller seat size created an artificial feeling of extra leg room but it felt like any other airline seat in coach. The one catch? Spirit seats do not recline. This is fine for a 90 minute flight. I couldn’t imagine the discomfort on a transcontinental flight.
Once on the flight, Spirit did not offer any complimentary beverages or snacks but they did make them available for purchase There was no WiFi (free or paid) or seat-back entertainment. They managed to get me home safely and that was all that I expected.
Would I recommend flying Spirit? Yes, but with a few caveats. Above all, you would have to score a really cheap fare. A lot cheaper than the competition. If you scored a really cheap fare and you are on a leisure trip where you can afford to be late by several hours in case of the inevitable delay, go for it. If you are on a route that isn’t between two airports that suffer from chronic delays, you might also fare better.
When should you avoid Spirit? If you are flying on the day of a wedding, an interview, a meeting, a funeral, or if you are flying in the winter months to or from a cold weather city. If you are planning to use Spirit to connect to a different airline on the same day, think long and hard about it.
Here are a few odd facts about Spirit Airlines: If you go to the airport and book your flight, you will save on the passenger usage fee which is usually around $15-$18. It seems odd that in 2017, an airline would discourage booking online vs booking in person but that’s what Spirit does. Spirit also charges MORE for a carry-on than they do for a checked-in bag. So if you have a rolling bag that’s too large to be a personal item and doesn’t contain anything of significant value, you’re better off just checking it in. It costs $32 when you pay for it during booking (this increases to $52 if you pay for it at the airport) and your bag can be as heavy as 40 lbs.
I have heard from friends that if you ask to be seated in an exit row seat at the gate, Spirit agents will put you there at no cost if it’s available. This will give you plenty of leg room if you can score a seat. It doesn’t hurt to ask and the worse thing that can happen is them saying “no.”
Spirit also has a frequent flier program called Free Spirit. Any flight you take with them will earn miles. In addition to that, they have a unique program called the $9 fare club which gives you access to lower fares and cheaper check-in fees for a cost of $59 per year. I suppose if you are really loyal to Spirit and fly them multiple times per year, it’s a program which might benefit you.