Category Archives: American Express

Some Uncommon Point Transfer Tricks

If you’ve been collecting and using points for a while, you’ve probably run in to a problem of wanting to transfer points to a certain program but didn’t know how or what the best way was. This is a common problem, and there are a couple of tricks that might be able to help you in a select few cases. I’ll try to cover the one’s that might not be obvious for the beginners that want to move their points around.

Hilton Honors

This one is probably the most obvious one at the moment because of the current transfer bonus that’s been written about. Hilton is a transfer partner of American Express, but the normal transfer ratio is only 1:1.5. That’s not a very good use of Amex points. I didn’t realize this before, but from 12/1/12 to 1/31/13 Amex is offering a 33% bonus, meaning that the ratio will now be 1:2. While still not the best ratio, it’s clearly much better.

Amex currently has a transfer bonus to Hilton for a 1:2 ratio!

Amex currently has a transfer bonus to Hilton for a 1:2 ratio!

But you can earn this 1:2 ratio all the time, even when there is no bonus, by making an extra transfer. The way you do this is by first transferring your points from Amex to Virgin Atlantic, which is another Amex transfer partner, at a 1:1 ratio, and then from Virgin Atlantic to Hilton, which can be done at a 1:2 ratio. Essentially, you can always earn a 1:2 ratio from Amex to Hilton via Virgin Atlantic. The only thing to note is it takes some time to transfer from Virgin to Hilton, and that you have to call to do it. You also cannot transfer if you have fewer than 10K points in your Virgin Atlantic account.

First transfer Amex to Virgin Atlantic, then Virgin Atlantic to Hilton. You'll always get a 1:2 ratio!

First transfer Amex to Virgin Atlantic, then Virgin Atlantic to Hilton. You’ll always get a 1:2 ratio!

US Airways Dividend Miles

US Airways has some valuable redemption options, but they’re not a transfer partner with either Chase or Amex. US Airways is a transfer partner of SPG, but those are valuable points that you probably don’t want to transfer unless you really need to. There is another option that is not discussed frequently because it isn’t a perfect solution, but still could be very helpful if you’re in need of some US Airways points and have a lot of Amex points to burn.

Amex transfers to Aeroplan at a 1:1 ratio.

Amex transfers to Aeroplan at a 1:1 ratio.

You can transfer your Amex points to Air Canada’s Aeroplan program at a 1:1 ratio all the time. You can also transfer Aeroplan miles to US Airways miles at a rate of 1:.84 via Points.com (which is used by many point programs). So you can essentially transfer your Amex miles at that same rate. Again, it’s not the best deal ever but it’s pretty great offer if you happen to have lots of Amex Membership Rewards points.

Aeroplan transfers at a 1:.84 ratio. Not a terrible loss if you need the miles!

Aeroplan transfers at a 1:.84 ratio. Not a terrible loss if you need the miles!

Priority Club

You can also do the same trick as above to get Priority Club hotel points, but at a lower redemption rate of 1:.72. Again, it’s not worth it to do on a regular basis but it’s definitely worth it for a PointBreaks hotel that costs just 5K points. There are also plenty of other ways to earn Priority Club points, including buying them for very cheap.

Note that you can also transfer Chase points to Priority Club at a 1:1 ratio, but some value their Chase points too highly to make this kind of transfer (including me).

That’s it?

These are the more lucrative ones that exist. If you check out Points.com (through which the Aeroplan transfers can be completed) you’ll see there is a very long list of transfer partners, including the elusive American Airlines. The only problem is that the transfer ratio is a very unimpressive 1:.373 ratio, so unless you’re really in need of American miles and have a ton of Amex points, there’s no reason to make that transfer. Still, check out the list of possibilities just to educate yourself on what can be done.

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How I Would Improve: The SPG Amex Credit Card

This is part of my new “How I Would Improve…” series in which I will discuss points- and travel-related items/programs that could be improved to the consumer’s benefit. Why? Because maybe if we (consumers) let the companies know what we want, they’ll be inclined to give us something. We can dream!

The SPG Amex is one of the best cards for non-bonus spend, but it could use an update.

Everyone has a go-to credit card for certain purchases. Many people choose the SPG Amex card for many of their purchases since it provides solid value:

  • Large chain of hotels, from relatively cheap to extravagant.
  • A HUGE list of airline transfer partners, plus you get 5K points for every 20K you transfer.
  • Widely recognized as having the highest per-point value of any loyalty points program out there.
  • Cash & Points option can make points EXTREMELY valuable.
  • SPG Gold status after $30K in annual spend.
  • Annual 2 stay/5 night credit toward elite status.
  • Relatively low annual fee of $65.

Despite all these great benefits, the card is far from being the “perfect” credit card. If I could improve this card in a realistic way (i.e. offering 10 points per dollar on every purchase is not realistic), then what would I add/change?

In no particular order:

ELIMINATE FOREIGN TRANSACTION FEES

There’s a large group of people that love their SPG card and love staying at SPG hotels around the world, but still never charge an international dime to the card even when staying at an SPG hotel. The extra bonus points you earn are just not worth the 2.7% foreign transaction fee, so the card stays tucked in the wallet or left home on international trips. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which earns 2 points per dollar on all hotel spend, does not charge a foreign transaction fee. Even though a Chase point might be worth slightly less, the dollar savings in addition to the points makes it a better option for many people.

If I prefer to use the Sapphire Preferred card over the hotel’s own branded credit card, something is wrong!

THE ABILITY TO EARN PLATINUM STATUS WITH SPEND

The SPG Amex currently offers Gold status for those that spend $30K on the card in a calendar year. This is actually a very weak (and almost useless) benefit. Many of us in the points game have or have had the Amex Platinum card, which automatically gives free SPG Gold status. Additionally, SPG Gold status doesn’t really entitle you to all that much anyway.

Also take into account that Hilton Gold status can be had by just owning the new Citi Hilton Reserve card. Oh, and Hilton Gold Status offers significantly better benefits than SPG Gold status does. In fact, most of the Hilton credit cards allow you to spend your way to top-tier Diamond status with $40K in spend.

I propose that the SPG Amex grant Gold status at $25K in spend and Platinum status at $40K in spend, allowing it to compete with the Hilton products.

ADD A BONUS CATEGORY (OR TWO)

How about 2x for gas, groceries, drug stores, restaurants, the zoo…anything! Many cards have bonus categories, and when I have the option I usually put spend on the card that earns the most points. Two Chase points at a restaurant or two Amex points at a grocery store are almost always worth more than one SPG point.

ANNUAL FREE NIGHT CERTIFICATE

Most of the other hotel-branded credit cards offer a free night every year in return for paying the annual fee. Some, like the Citi Hilton Reserve card, offer the free night after hitting a certain spend requirement ($10K for the Reserve card). The SPG Amex would become a fantastic card with a benefit like this, even if it were restricted to a certain category of hotel.

AN ONLINE SHOPPING PORTAL/MALL FOR BONUS POINTS

It doesn’t matter whether it only offered an extra 1 point per dollar or more, but having an online points mall would be a fantastic addition to the SPG program. Imagine how often people would use this card with the ability to earn an extra point or more for online purchases! Right now, Chase’s Ultimate Rewards Mall is the champion after Amex’s mall suffered an unexpected and sudden death.

Chase’s Ultimate Rewards Mall is one of the best shopping portals!

IS THAT FAIR?

Adding all these things would make this the clear-cut, undisputed champion of credit cards, but that’s not going to happen. We can, however, hope and/or pray for at least a couple of these changes. I personally would be a HUGE fan of eliminating foreign transaction fees since I stay at Starwood hotels abroad and don’t use the card. The ability to earn extra points or a free night certificate also holds some appeal.

Let’s be realistic though – adding some of these benefits would likely not be “free” additions. It would be extremely costly for Starwood to just hand out a free night certificate to everyone that has a card, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable for them to raise the annual fee of the card. Depending on what they added, I’d say a fee up to $95 would be reasonable.

Other changes, like the ability to earn Platinum status, could be a free addition since it likely wouldn’t cost Starwood much. In fact they might benefit from extra spending by customers trying to attain elite status.

Or maybe it’s just time for a completely new product. Hilton has several options with various banks – maybe it’s time for an SPG Visa/MasterCard from Chase or Citi. I wouldn’t even mind if they marketed it as a premium card for a $200+ annual fee if they could include everything I noted above, plus a nice sign-up bonus of course.

What do you think? Did I miss anything, or are there certain features you’d like more than others?

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Don’t Abuse Bluebird, but…

There are probably going to be A LOT of people that hate this article, but I’m sure all 2 of my regular readers wont really mind. My goal is to get people thinking of the new possibilities Bluebird creates, and I personally believe that showing some extreme examples is the best way. Everyone should read Frequent Miler’sMillion Mile Secret’s, and Scottrick’s (my absolute favorite of the three) articles imploring moderation so you don’t screw yourself or everyone else over unintentionally.

If you haven’t signed up for Bluebird yet, you should!

I don’t want Bluebird to get shut down any more than the next guy (especially since I just paid my property tax using it), but this new card presents quite a bit of opportunity for many people. Certain things that weren’t possible before might seem within reach now, and hopefully a few examples can show you how it’s possible, though not necessarily practical, to leverage the new card.

Very important note: each of the below scenarios assumes that all money put on to your Bluebird card will either be cashed out or spent via your regular purchases. Most people can’t or are not willing to do that.

ATTAIN SPG PLATINUM STATUS FOR JUST $395 (plus effort)

One of the cool benefits of the SPG program is that all reward nights count towards your elite status qualification. There is no rule that says any part of your 25 stays/50 nights have to be paid, so you can theoretically use your SPG Amex card to earn Platinum status for minimal spend, but lots of effort.

To stay at a Category 1 property, it takes a minimum of 2,000 points. If you have an SPG Amex you’d need to buy 4 Vanilla reload cards at $500 each to get 2,000 SPG points. At $3.95 per reload card, that’s $15.80 for a night at a Category 1 hotel. Now, do that 25 more times and you have SPG Platinum status!

That means $395 ($15.80 x 25 nights) gets you SPG Platinum status, assuming you’re able to spend or cash out the money you put on it. Keep in mind this means buying $50,000 worth of Vanilla Reload cards, or 100 of them, so not everyone can or would do this.

Is it even worth it? Only you can decide that. Maybe you’d rather use those 50K SPG points for several nights at a Category 4 (or lower) property. Maybe you’d rather use it for a couple of nights at a top end Category 6 or 7. Either way, you’re almost certain to get more than $395 worth of value out of it!

ATTAIN HILTON DIAMOND STATUS FOR JUST $316 (plus effort)

While Hilton also counts award stays toward elite status, there is a much easier way to get top tier status with them. Spending $40,000 on either the Amex Hilton Surpass card or the Citi Hilton Reserve card will get you Diamond status.

To put $40,000 on a card, you’d need to buy 80 Vanilla Reload packs at $500 each (80 x $500 = $40,000). At $3.95 per Vanilla Reload, that’s just $316 in fees ($3.95 x 80 = $316) in order to attain Hilton Honors Diamond status. Again, this assumes you can spend or cash out the $40,000 on your Bluebird card. You also get 120,000 HHonors points, good for several nights depending on how you use them.

Is it worth it? Well, the difference between Hilton Gold and Diamond status is marginal. I’m Hilton Gold status this year despite staying with them only once, thanks to a rare opportunity to get Gold status for free. But $316 is also pretty cheap, even with all the time and effort involved. Again, you decide if it’s worth it for you.

HYATT AND PRIORITY CLUB

Unfortunately there is currently no way to earn Hyatt elite status via spending to my knowledge, and they don’t allow award nights to count toward stays either. Boo to them.

Priority Club’s program makes it relatively easy to attain top tier status as it is, so I wont bother doing a write-up for it.

ATTAINING AIRLINE ELITE STATUS

Delta is the only program through which you can actually spend your way to airline elite status via credit card spending. Select other programs offer a certain amount of Preferred/Elite Qualifying miles for hitting a certain spending threshold, as long as you have the co-branded credit card.

  • Spending $25,000 on the Barclays US Airways card or Barclays Virgin America card will get you 10,000 points/miles in each respective program. It costs $197.50 to get these elite miles via Vanilla Reloads (50 Vanilla Reloads x $3.95 = $197.50).
  • Spending $40,000 on the Citi American Airlines Executive card will also get you 10,000 elite AAdvantage miles. It costs $316 to get these elite miles via Vanilla Reloads (80 Vanilla Reloads x $3.95 = $316).
  • Spending $10,000 on the Chase Southwest cards gets you an extra 1,500 bonus points. That means that if you spend $100,000 you’ll earn enough points for the coveted Southwest Companion Pass. But that’s a lot of spending. It costs $790 to get these elite miles via Vanilla Reloads (200 Vanilla Reloads x $3.95 = $790).

For a much more efficient breakdown of how “big spenders” can earn these bonuses and much more (and we’re all suddenly big spenders with Bluebird), I highly recommend Million Mile Secrets’ Big Spenders Series. He also wrote this article on how to earn lots of points (not necessarily elite points) via spending.

It’s easy to calculate how many points you need when you’re trying to reach a particular spending goal for whatever purpose (as you saw above). The basic formula is:

Spend Target/$500 x $3.95 = Total Cost. So if you need to hit $25,000 as I noted above: $25,000/$500 x $3.95 = $197.50. If you’re bad at math, don’t worry…order of operations doesn’t apply so multiply and divide however you want!

LIMITATIONS

You’re “only” allowed to load $5,000 per month on your Bluebird card, so $60,000 a year might not cut it for your spending needs. If, however, you were to start today, you could theoretically load/spend $75,000 by the end of 2013. Three calendar months left this year is $15,000, plus all 12 next year is another $60,000 for a total of $75,000.

Oh and don’t forget the good old Amex Prepaid card! You can order 3 of them for yourself and each can hold up to $2,500, reloaded with Vanilla Reloads. It can be cashed out at ATM machines, but there are some fees. It does not have check writing capabilities.

Also, as I’ve tried to note several times above, it’s damn hard to spend or get back all that money efficiently or quickly. It will take time, patience, and in many cases you have to have the ability to “float” several thousand dollars at a time. Again, not everyone can or would want to do this.

Quite frankly, if you went all out like I noted above then Chase or Amex might take a look at your accounts and/or shut you down. Don’t let that happen.

With that being said, I’d like to direct you to an article from the Wall Street Journal that notes how lucrative opportunities like this could be if you go all out and can find a way to avoid having your accounts closed.

If you’re wondering, I’m not going to attempt most of the above options. The one I might consider is the US Airways EQMs. I also might use the SPG card for a few nights here or there.

Just remember, don’t go overboard. Be responsible. Only you can prevent forest fires.

Happy spending!

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Get 5x Amex Points in Las Vegas!

I recently received a post card-type mailer from American Express and MGM Resorts letting me know that every dollar charged to my Amex at any MGM-branded resort in Las Vegas would earn 5x points. You can also view the deal online.

Get 5x points at MGM Resorts in Las Vegas!

Get 5x points at MGM Resorts in Las Vegas!

It does not appear to be a targeted offer and there’s no registration link anywhere I could find. The terms and conditions don’t specifically state that we need to book through them, either. The terms simply state that “to be eligible to earn bonus points, you must be enrolled in the Membership Rewards program at the time of purchase…”

This offer is valid for everything charged to your room (including the room rate) during your stay in Las Vegas. Food and gift store items can definitely be charged to your room, and I believe that show tickets can also be charged if you can wait to buy them at the hotel. And no, I’ve not yet found a way to charge black jack or slots to the room. Note the maximum points you can earn per transaction for this promotion is 100K points, or a ridiculous $20K per transaction!

This offer is valid from 9/4/12 to 2/28/13, so there’s plenty of time left.

I’ve been to Vegas several times recently and I happened to get a free stay at one of the 13 eligible resorts. If you’re going to Vegas anytime soon I think you’ll find my reviews to be somewhat useful. I reviewed the Mandalay Bay as well as a Cirque du Soleil show, and my friend B.Positive did a write-up of some pretty good food.

MGM Resorts Las Vegas List: Aria, Bellagio, Vdara, MGM Grand, The Signature at MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, THEHotel at Mandalay Bay, Mirage, Monte Carlo, New York New York, Luxor, Excalibur, Circus Circus.

Official Terms and Conditions: 

Points offer valid 9/4/12 to 2/28/13. To be eligible to earn bonus points, you must be enrolled in the Membership Rewards program (“Program”) at the time of purchase and you must charge your purchase on an eligible, enrolled American Express Card. Maximum 100,000 points per transaction during promotion period. Bonus points will be credited to your Program account within 6-8 weeks after charges appear on your billing statement. Terms and Conditions for the Membership Rewards program apply. Visit membershiprewards.com/terms or call 1-800-AXP-EARN (297-3276) for more information. Bonus ID: A3AR.

Purchases can be made at any eligible vendor on location at the 13 Las Vegas MGM Resorts International resorts and must be charged to your room. Your final room bill must be paid with your eligible, enrolled American Express Card to receive 5X points. Offer is subject to promotional availability, and blackout dates apply. MGM Resorts International® is unable to guarantee specific room types and locations; however a sincere effort will be made to accommodate your needs. Offer is not available for existing reservations. This offer is non-transferable, subject to availability, not available to groups or persons attending meetings or conventions, and may not be combined with any other MGM Resorts International promotion. All prices are subject to taxes and/or resort fees and based on double occupancy on a per-night basis. You must be 21 years of age or older. MGM Resorts International reserves the right to cancel or modify this promotion at its discretion and without prior notice.

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