Frequent Miler’s 2019 Naughty & Nice List

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Happy holidays!  In today’s post, each of the writers on this blog (me, Nick, and Stephen) picked our favorite and least favorite happenings in the points & miles world in 2019 to compile this Naughty & Nice list.

Greg’s Naughty & Nice List

Naughty: Citi drops travel & purchase protections

Citi used to have some of the best automatic protections available.  Like Chase, Citi offered travel protections even if you paid only partially with the card.  They also arguably offered the best extended warranty coverage and probably the easiest to use price protection.  All of that is gone!  They’ve dropped these features from almost all of their cards.  It’s hard now to recommend Citi’s rewards cards even though they offer excellent earning potential.

Naughty runner-ups

  • Dynamic award pricing: Following Delta’s lead, United dropped their award charts so that they can price awards however they want.  Now, with AA Web Specials, it feels like AA is doing the same.  In both cases, you may find better award prices than before, but you’ll also find awards that are much more expensive.  The worst part, to me, is the fact that you never know what you’re going to get.  How do you know if it’s worth bothering to search for awards?  You don’t.

Nice: Citi Double Cash rewards are now convertable to ThankYou Rewards

If you can get over the lack of travel & purchase protections, this is a big deal.  Citi Double Cash was already a decent fee-free 2% cash back card, but now it’s so much more.  Use it as a cash back card if you like, but if you want more valuable rewards, you now have more options.  For example, you can pair it with the Citi Premier card in order to purchase travel through the ThankYou Rewards portal to get 1.25 cents per point value.  Or, better yet, pair it with either the Premier or Prestige card in order to make points transferable to airline programs.  See: Citi Double Cash Complete Guide.

Nice runner-ups:

  • Rakuten Portal offers Membership Rewards option.  Now, instead of earning cash back from the Rakuten (formerly Ebates) portal, you can choose to collect rewards as Membership Rewards points!  This is especially huge for those with the Rakuten Visa card which earns 3X rewards for any purchases that earn rewards through the Rakuten portal.
  • Simon Mall MS Friendly.  While most businesses try to discourage manufacturing spend (MS), Simon Mall has embraced it.  They welcome MS-ers to buy Visa gift cards in large amounts (up to $25,000 per day!).  Plus, they’ve been offering Visa gift cards loadable up to $1,000 (vs. the usual $500 max).  This greatly reduces the amount of work involved and the fee as a percentage of total.  Let’s hope that they continue offering these in 2020!

Nick’s Naughty & Nice List

Naughty: Marriott Bonvoyed

Marriott has had a naughty year, but I put them on this list mostly because of the inconsistency of the program: from some properties explicitly saying that they won’t upgrade any elite members on the website to the monthly changing of peak and off-peak pricing to the continuing need to consult a chart before booking a simple hotel night to know which elite benefits apply, the inconsistency is what is most disappointing — it makes loyalty less fun and more taxing.

Nice: Turkish Airlines 7.5K one-way domestic flights

Turkish Airlines offering UA domestic flights for 7.5K one-way in economy class and 12.5K in business class without needing physically go to a ticket office to book. This has been an absolute game-changer for me in terms of the way I look at domestic travel, especially as someone based in a small market. My mind is still blown that I flew to Hawaii for 7,500 miles and $5.60 from the east coast. While phone bookings no longer work smoothly, email and online bookings are easy enough that Turkish went from completely off my radar to my hands-down favorite airline program.

Nice runner-ups:

  • Simon Mall: In any year in which the Turkish sweet spot wasn’t found, the fact that an outlet selling Visa Gift Cards approached us to welcome manufactured spending or the ability to generate up to $25,000 in spend in one stop for less than a hundred bucks or the ability to buy a $1K Visa Gift Card with a load fee of only $3.95 would be a big story. All of those things in one package is huge; it’s still not enough to supplant Turkish for the nicest thing this year, but it’s a strong runner up that I hope continues on in the new year.
  • SoFi: This one isn’t directly points and miles related, but it was such an easy deal that could have led to cheap purchased points or funds to cover award taxes, food, and other ancillary travel expenses. A couple playing in two-player mode could have easily pocketed a few hundred bucks very quickly and potentially quite a bit more by sharing the opportunity to do the same with friends and family with almost no hoops for anyone to jump through a good long-term debit account for those without a Schwab account.
  • Hyatt / SLH partnership: I wasn’t initially excited in part because I don’t love boutique hotels as much as some folks do and also because of the devaluation I feared in terms of Hyatt hotels. That devaluation (the introduction of peak and off-peak pricing) appears to be more minor than I’d anticipated. My excellent stay at an SLH property this year combined with the great benefits being afforded Hyatt members for SLH stays has me excited to check out more of them next year.

Stephen’s Naughty & Nice List

Stephen On A Pirate Ship

Naughty: Myself for procrastinating

Rakuten (Ebates) has had a number of increased rates for IHG recently, ranging from 10x to 15x. I had at least one IHG stay I’d been intending to book, but I kept putting it off and so missed out on those increased earning opportunities.

Naughty runner up:

Citi’s fraud department: I made a few large gift card purchases at Best Buy last week to max out the 5% category on my recently converted Citi Dividend card. When Amex and Chase have concerns about transactions, they text me instantly and I can reply by text to say that it’s a valid transaction, allowing me to immediately reprocess the transaction. All three times with Citi though, I’ve had to call them and spend 10 minutes on the phone each time while standing in Best Buy to get the payment authorized. I appreciate that they’re trying to protect my account, but I’d appreciate it more if it could be resolved in 5 seconds via text rather than a total of 30 minutes on the phone.

Nice: Unexpected signup bonuses.

I got the Hilton Aspire card recently when they were waiving the annual fee in the first year. We’re currently staying 10 nights at a Hilton, so getting free lounge access is nice, even though the food selection isn’t amazing. I was also targeted for some of Chase’s Black Star offers, so I picked up a United Explorer card despite being over 5/24.

Nice runner-ups:

  • Getting free Executive Platinum status with American Airlines. I received temporary Platinum status earlier this year by linking my Hyatt account where I’m Globalist with my AA account. This came at the perfect time as the corresponding oneworld Sapphire status got us into the Cathay Pacific The Pier Business Class Lounge while flying through Hong Kong. More recently though, some Hyatt Globalist members were being targeted with Executive Platinum status. Hyatt didn’t contact me about this, so I dropped my concierge an email on the off-chance that I could get it. The following day I received a call from her advising me that I was indeed targeted. I’m still waiting for my AAdvantage account to update with the status, so I’m not sure if this complimentary status comes with Systemwide Upgrades. We’re planning a trip to Europe next fall and will be flying from the west coast, so it’d be nice to use SWUs.
  • Marriott off-peak award pricing. I know for sure that their new peak/off-peak pricing will bite me in the keister one day (or likely many days), but booking a 10 night stay in a 1 bedroom suite with a kitchen for only 5,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night is a winner for me.
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