Tim Foolery

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Our trip to Peru and Bolivia gave us several options for traveling between the Cities.  Our trip, included visits to Lima, Cuzco, Arequipa and La Paz.  We did quite a bit of research and found the most common ways to travel between these three Cities are bus, car (drive yourself or a car service) or to fly.  We knew we didn’t want to drive – period.  We debated on taking the buses, but the reviews were all over the board – most people said the buses were marginally comfortable and they could take forever.  We decided to fly.

There were two airlines that really could get us to where we wanted to go: LATAM and Avianca.  LATAM is the new name of the recently merged LAN and TAM airlines.  For most of the trip, LATAM offered much better pricing and a better schedule.  We would have preferred Avianca only because it is a member of Star Alliance and we could have credited our miles to United.  With LATAM we were crediting to American’s AAdvantage program.  It wasn’t really a big deal, considering the limited number of miles we’re actually talking about here.

We have no status with Oneworld (the airline alliance that American and LATAM both belong).  There was no way we could justify flying business class on these short flights – they were cost prohibitive and the premium cabin on these short flights isn’t worth the upgrade fee, in my mind.  So there we were, stuck flying coach on an airline we had no status with – we’d be waiting in long lines at the airport, checking in at the regular desks, we’d be getting the worst seats available, we’d experience travel like most people do.  Sometimes it is good to see how everyone else travels.

We flew four legs with LATAM, including: Lima-Cuzco; Cuzco-Arequipa; Arequipa-Lima-La Paz.  All flights were on LATAM liveried narrow bodied jets.  The flights were schedule between one and two hours.  In all but ONE of the flights, I was very comfortable  I found the pitch (the distance between the two seats) was quite respectable for a short haul, domestic flight.

Relatively good pitch on LATAM. Not too bad for a pretty short flight.

Relatively good pitch on LATAM. Not too bad for a pretty short flight.

The one exception was the flight from Lima to La Paz, which was on an Airbus 319.  I was in the middle seat with a lovely Bolivian man next to me who demanded not only the armrest, but found the best place to put his elbow was under my rib cage.  That’s not LATAMs fault though.  The pitch on this plane was utterly awful.  My knees were wedged into the seat in front of me.  On the plus side, the dude in front of my slammed his seat into full recline the second he sat down.

We also encounter a ground stop at Lima because of traffic issues in La Paz, so we sat on the runway for about 50 minutes before we left.  The flight itself was only two hours, but it was by far the least comfortable flights I have been on in year.

On all my LATAM flights we were served a beverage and some sort of food.  I didn’t try to get any alcohol, so I don’t know if they charge or it is included.  The food, was surprisingly good, although basic.  The food varied by flight – we had one flight with a muffin, yogurt and crackers, one with fruit and crackers and another with a small selection of soft jolly ranchers (served off of a silver tray, no less).

All in all, I enjoyed my travels with LATAM. One of my favorite parts of the flight was the announcements (both boarding and landing). After they read the appropriate script, they ended the announcement with “My name is Tim and I am LATAM”  The emphasis was clear: I am LATAM.  While you don’t have many options on certain routes throughout South America, I wouldn’t hesitate flying LATAM on these short hops in the future.

Have you flown the new LATAM?  How does it differ (if at all) from the predecessor companies of LAN and TAM?  Is there a better option to hop around South America that you’d recommend?

American Airlines Learn and Earn Sweepstakes

A few days ago, I received an email from American Airlines, offering an opportunity to win two First Class round-trip tickets anywhere American flies.  To enter, follow this link, and enter your dream destination (don’t worry, entering a destination into this box doesn’t lock you into actually going there if you win the tickets — it’s just a placeholder for future screens in the contest).  You then watch 6 different videos (all just a couple minutes long) and answer a question about each.  These questions are pretty straight forward – I didn’t watch a single video and I answered them all correctly.

Once you’ve answered these questions correctly you automatically earn 1,000 AAdvantage miles.  This is an extremely easy was to boost your mileage balance and to keep your AAdvantage account active (as this deposit of 1,000 miles will reset the countdown on your mileage expiration).  Trust me – you won’t win the two First Class round-trip tickets (sorry to let you know that), but 1,000 free AAdvantage miles are pretty great – you won’t get anywhere with just 1,000, but hey, it’s free miles and it’ll just cost you about 4 minutes of your life.  Go do it, now!

Citi AAdvantage World Elite – Results

Earlier this week I wrote about how the $450 annual fee was coming due on my Citi AAdvantage World Elite credit card and how I really didn’t use the benefits that came with the card.  I really applied for the card because of the 100,000 American AAdvantage miles earned after reaching a certain spend threshold.

My plan was to call Citi Card and see what I could do to either get the fee reduced, get a statement credit to offset the fee or earn additional bonus airline miles for meeting additional spend requirements.  Well, how did that turn out?  Not very good, that’s for sure.

I called and explained that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep the card because I wasn’t really using the benefits associated with the card.  The first rep explained some of the benefit including lounge access (I only used the Admirals Club 3 times in 2014 — mostly because I’m a United guy and in most airports United and American aren’t necessarily near each other), no foreign transaction fees (my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and my AmEx Platinum both have this benefit), then he explained some really esoteric benefits, like Accidental Death and Dismemberment coverage – yeah, I’m keeping a $450/year credit card for that.

I then said that I wasn’t sure if those benefits were really that useful to me, especially for the large $450 fee.  I was then transferred to another rep — which is when I thought I’d actually start to make some headway.  I explained that I was toying with the idea of canceling the card because the cost out weighed the benefits.  This second rep, who was very friendly as well, said that she couldn’t do anything about the fee.  I mentioned that last year I was eligible for a $200 statement credit, but was quickly informed that nothing was available this year.  Well, is there anything else that might be available to a Citi customer?  Nope.  Wait…yes, we can transfer some of your credit line to another one of your Citi Cards.  Hmmm.  Well, I was concerned about impact of canceling this card and reducing my overall credit, so this was something.

I couldn’t get anything out of Citi.  I’ve used this strategy with other cards that I wanted to cancel and it has always worked.  I ended up canceling my card.  No annual fee, no more lounge access.  Not ideal, but saves me some money.  This kind of reminds me of dealing with Comcast – cable fee goes up, you call and threaten to move to a competitor and then they reduce your rate and throw in HBO for 12 months…except that ONE time, when they offer you nothing and immediately cancel your service without even attempting to dance with you.  Oh well, 12 months with this card netted me an additional 100,000 AAdvantage miles, 3 visits to the lounge and a $200 statement credit — all for $450.  Pretty good rate of return, if you ask me.

I know a bunch of you grabbed this Citi AAdvantage World Elite card last January and your annual fee is coming do — did you get any additional benefits from Citi, or did they just let you cancel?

Miles/Points Credit Cards and High Annual Fees

I’ve said it before, I’m not really into the Credit Card Sign-Up game (you know, churning credit cards just to get the bonus miles then cancelling them before the annual fee is due).  Some people have a set schedule and sign up for cards every 91 days, meet the spend then cancel and start it all over again.  I will, however, sign up for a Credit Card if here is a huge bonus — like 75,000 – 100,000 miles/point bonus.

In January 2013, American Express offered a 100,000 point sign-up bonus for their Platinum Card.  I signed up.  In January 2014, Citibank offered 100,000 American AAdvantage Miles for signing up with their Citi AAdvantage World Elite card.  I’ve found that I get pretty good benefits from the American Express Platinum Card ($200 annual airline credit, access to Fine Hotels and Resorts, Starwood Preferred Guest Gold Status — although I already have that based on stays — Complimentary Boingo WiFi, AmEx Offers and access to the Delta Lounge — which I’ve used just once).  This card has  $450 annual fee – which I think is totally worth it for me considering all the benefits.

The Citi AAdvantage World Elite card has an annual fee of $450 as well. The benefits to me of this card is really only that it offers access to the American Airlines Admirals Club.  I only use the Admirals Club in Nashville, so it’s not a huge benefit.  I really signed up for this card just for the 100,000 miles.

I mention this because it is time for the annual fees again.  I’m keeping my American Express Platinum Card for at least another year and at that point I’ll reevaluate.  I can’t really rationalize paying $450 to keep a card that offers me no real benefits other than access to a lounge (that I used 4 times in 2014 — I could buy day passes for $50 each).   I’ve got a huge credit limit on the World Elite Card too – so canceling the card could impact my credit score (reducing total credit increases your credit utilization percentage).

So what’s my plan?  I’m going to keep the AmEx Platinum, but I’m going to call Citi and see if they will offer me a bonus for keeping the card for another year.  Best case scenario – they’ll waive the fee and offer me a mileage bonus.  Do I think that’ll happen: Nope. Hopefully I’ll get something.  I’ll report back on my results once they are in.

Do you have any experience with Citibank and asking for a retention bonus?

Other Changes to United MileagePlus in 2016

I recent wrote about the upcoming changes to the way flyers can earn status on United and their MileagePlus Program– if you missed it, read more about that here. There is another major change that came about earlier in 2014 (effective March, 2015) that will impact every single United flyer, not just those looking for elite status.

Historically, flyers would earn award miles based on the number of miles they actually flew – plus bonus miles based on your elite status (as a Premier Gold Member, I would earn my actual miles flown, plus a 50% bonus) and additional bonus miles based on the fare bucket you purchased (full price economy tickets, BusinessFirst and Global First tickets would also get a bonus). I never paid full fare economy, or for BusinessFirst and I’ve never actually flown Global First. To me the price is just too rich, especially when I can redeem miles for longer haul front of the plane seats. I’d rather drop 80,000 miles each way for Global First to Europe than pay $5,400 for the same round trip (I just checked a random date in May 2015 from ORD to LHR to get the estimated pricing).

These miles are much easier to come by (for me) than the $5,400 for the airfare. I historically would earn about 75,000-125,000 miles a year just from traditional flying – including my elite bonus miles. Starting in March of 2015, United Flyers will earn miles based the dollar amount you spend on the actual ticket. General Members earn 5X miles for each dollar paid, Silver Members earn 7X miles, Gold Members 8X miles, Platinum Member 9X miles and Premier 1K earn 11X.

United MileagePlus Award Miles Earning Schedule for 2015 - Image Courtesy of United Airlines

United MileagePlus Award Miles Earning Schedule for 2015 – Image Courtesy of United Airlines

So in my previous post (being able to earn status on cheap flights) finding a $700 flight to PVG, earning 14,112 award –and elite—miles previously, would now earn between 3,500 miles (for General Members) and 7,700 miles for a Premier 1K. Yeah, it’s that big of a change. Some people will actually be better off – flyers who pay high airfare amounts on shorter route trips will definitely come out ahead. People like me, who don’t pay a ton of cash for each flight and don’t pay for premium cabin on flights, I’ll be definitely earning fewer miles after the first quarter 2015.

Delta already has this plan in place and United is following suit next year (United has been matching Delta move for move on the Frequent Flyer Program for a while now). Southwest and Jetblue both have had this type of arrangement for years. I think this is how all major frequently flyer programs will be handled in the future (that’s the way hotel programs work, right?) – I’ll wager the New American will follow suit with an announcement by June 2015. While these changes do dramatically alter the current playing field, I’m not going to lose sleep over it – as you can still earn a ton of miles with credit card sign-up bonuses, credit card spend, shopping portals, etc.

What about you? Do these changes cause you lots of angst? Are you more worried about the changes to the way award miles are earned or the way elite status is? What is the one piece of advice that you’d like to offer your fellow travelers?