Category: Airlines

JSX Review: The Private Jet Experience

You only live once, and sometimes you have to cross an item off of your bucket list. That’s why last month, I flew on a private jet to Las Vegas for the weekend.

JSX is a revolutionary product in the air-travel market offering a “private jet” experience for 30 customers at a time. With service between a dozen cities including Seattle, Oakland, Las Vegas and Phoenix, you can take your next flight without setting foot in a major airport.

JSX’s Promotional Advertisement

The Perks

The benefits of a private jet experience over a major carrier may seem obvious, but here’s how JSX will summarize them:

  • Comfortable leather seats
  • Business class legroom
  • Power outlets at every row
  • Full flight attendant service
  • Complimentary gourmet snacks, beer, wine and spirits
  • No overhead storage bins for a more spacious cabin
  • When you arrive, simply grab your bags and get going!

The Airports

  • (BFI) Seattle – Boeing Field 
  • (BUR) Burbank Bob Hope Airport 
  • (CCR) Concord Buchanan Field Airport 
  • (LAS) Las Vegas McCarran Int’l Airport 
  • (OAK) Oakland Int’l Airport 
  • (PHX) Phoenix-Sky Harbor Int’l Airport 
  • (SNA) John Wayne Airport, Orange County 
As shown in the JSX advertisement above, rates are far lower than you might expect when you can be flexible with travel dates and destinations.

The Process

Because you’re not flying out of a major airport, you will use rideshare or your neighbor to get dropped off at the smaller airport just 20 minutes before your departure time. That’s right – JSX doesn’t ask that you arrive until 20 minutes before your departure time! Because the boarding process is simple, intimate, and doesn’t include TSA, you’ll quickly settle into a lounge while you wait to board where complimentary snacks and drinks are available.

My Experience

Arriving was simple. The OAK airport had a jet departing every ten minutes on average, which made for a quick throughput in the terminal. I arrived with my suitcase, and checked in with the front desk. Similar to checking into a hotel, they looked at my ID, and then took my bag for me and invited me to relax in the lounge just beyond the counter until my flight departed.

The lounge was comfortable, but simple. There was a machine that made freshly ground coffee by the cup and bar nuts in case you needed a small snack. There were also restrooms available. It is notable that no food or alcohol was available for purchase in the space, so you would want to ensure you arrived well nourished.

Ten minutes before your flight’s scheduled departure, you’ll hear an announcement overhead made from someone within the lounge to board your flight. Using your boarding pass, you exit through the rear of the terminal and walk directly onto your jet. Your baggage, that you previously checked upon arrival, is already on the plane.

The jets are seated 2×1 across ten rows which makes for comfortable travel regardless of if you have a partner along with you or not. Since I was flying solo, I booked the single seat. Without overhead luggage bins, there is plenty of room as you enter and find your seat. With a maximum of 30 passengers on the flight, the plane is boarded in minutes and you’re ready to go.

No matter where you’re seated, you’ll enjoy ample leg room, a large tray table, and AC charging at your seat. You may also bring a small bag to stow under the seat in front of you. While on board, you’ll enjoy a complimentary cocktail, box of water (no plastic here) and a snack such as chips or graham crackers. Again, I recommend arriving well nourished.

Upon landing, there’s no need to wait for a gate. Instead, the staff will pull the luggage from the plane before you leave your seat, and line up the bags next to each other. Since they’re located between the plane’s exit, and the terminal’s exit, you will literally grab your bag on the way to your next destination. Without having to navigate a major airport, you can be driving to your final destination within five minutes of landing on the runway.

My Arrival into Las Vegas

I highly recommend arriving to Las Vegas on JSX. We practically landed on the Strip; it was so close. I paid $6 for a ride share that I hailed from the plane upon landing, and was checked into my hotel ten minutes later. Above all, JSX offers convenience and a no-nonsense travel experience that you cannot get with a major airline. To fly without TSA or the rest of the airport experience, was miraculous.

Takeaways

JSX offers convenience, rather than luxury. I would absolutely fly this way again if I valued efficiency above all else, but I would not fly in this manner if I wanted to impress someone with a lounge or inflight experience. It is also notable that WiFi is unavailable inflight which makes this a no-go for remote work. In addition, without a loyalty or elite status program, there is no incentive to book often with JSX. Additionally, it’s worth noting that American Express doesn’t recognize JSX as an airline purchase, so you will not receive the 10% back on your purchase as you would with a major carrier. However, if the airport locations are proximate to your home base, I’d highly recommend booking with JSX the next time you’re headed to one of their destinations. It is a unique and special plane travel experience, and with rates that are often as competitive as traditional airfare, there’s no reason not to try it out.

Referral Booking Link

Interested in learning more, or booking a flight? Please visit JSX through my referral link.

London + Paris on Points!

Earlier this year, my wife asked me to keep an eye out for any opportunities for us to visit Europe in May 2020 to celebrate her milestone birthday. Accordingly, I tracked trends, and continued to save our points while I waited for a deal.

Our primary cards are the American Express Platinum, Gold and Blue Business Plus which means when we earn 4-10% back on our purchases, we earn those rewards in the form of American Express points (valued by TPG at $0.02/each). One of the things I like about these points, is the Point Transfer travel partners that allow you to convert your American Express points into various brands such as hotel points with Hilton or Marriott; or to airline miles with over a dozen airlines including Delta, Flying Blue (Air France, KLM), Hawaiian, Emirates and more.

Flexibility: The Key to Success

Flexibility is key when planning a big points redemption. Having an idea of where you’d like to travel (somewhere in Europe) rather than a specific destination, will allow you to best take advantage of sale opportunities. In a perfect world, your dates would be flexible too (sometime this Spring), but in our case, we had a very specific range of dates to work with as we balanced operational demands and advanced PTO approval with our respective employers.

Game Plan: Hotel or Airfare

With the versatility of our points, I began to develop a game plan for what we’d best pay with points. I may oversimplify this here, but I simply priced out airfare like I had to use cash to purchase it; I then mapped out lodging. In this case, the airfare was much more expensive while the lodging was quite reasonable when paying cash, so this helped shape my search.

Testing Valuation

I reminded you above that the valuation on our American Express points is $0.02/point. For that reason, this remains my goal when going into any redemption of points: Stay at or above the valuation for those specific points.

For example, let’s pretend we have 50,000 American Express points (valued at $0.02 x 50,000 = $1,000). I should be looking to receive $1,000 in value for anything I spend my points on.

You may also decide to do a dynamic review of your options: When trying to compare apples to apples, take the cost in cash for a hotel or airfare expense, and divide it by the number of points that you can redeem to pay for it instead. In the above example, let’s say we found a great flight that we could redeem 50,000 points for. When we go to book the flight on its own, we find that it would cost $500 in cash. $500 / 50,000 points = a $0.01 point valuation. In this quick fact check, we see we’re not maximizing the value of our points and should continue looking for better options since the proven valuation is at least $0.02/point.

Finding a Deal

I have a regular habit of checking for promotions on my American Express account. In early August, I logged in to find an offer for a 40% bonus on British Airways Executive Club Avios. At this time, I had just over 80,000 points saved up which means I could receive up to 112,000 Avios when transferring.

This promotion showed 1,000 American Express Points = 1,400 British Airways Avios

In order to see if this deal would work for us, I began shopping Avios redemptions online. I had never shopped with British Airways before, so I quickly created my free Executive Club account and obtained my membership ID number. Armed with my new credentials, I clicked “Shop with Avios.”

Stopovers

When redeeming your miles, many airlines will allow you to use stopovers at no additional charge. That means you can delay your connecting flight in order to enjoy some time in the connecting city before continuing on.

Originally eyeing Paris, I had searched for direct flights between San Francisco and Paris only to be disappointed that there were no direct flights available for reward travel; I had to connect through London.

I’ve booked stopover award flights before, but never with British Airways which proved to be one of the simplest user-interfaces to complete this complicated booking. As you can see in the screen below, the booking website even prompted me to book a stopover as part of my mile redemption!

With the stopover benefit in mind, I restarted my search. Rather than four days in Paris, what if we spent two days in London first since we would need to stop there anyway? Sure enough, the stopover itinerary was the same price! A total of 100,500 Avios for two round-trip tickets!

Thanks to the 40% bonus promotion, I could acquire 100,500 Avios for just 72,000 American Express membership reward points!

Points Transfer

Now that I had confirmed that I A) had enough American Express Points to transfer to Avios; and B) British Airways had an itinerary meeting our needs for that value, I began the process of moving my points!

This process of 1:1 Transfer advertises that it could take up to 48 hours to complete, but I’ve never had that experience. Though this transfer made me wait an excruciating four minutes, it ultimately was an instant transfer as my previous experiences had been.

Using the 40% bonus promotion, I transferred 72,000 American Express membership rewards points in exchange for 100,800 Avios (you are required to transfer in multiples of 1,000).

The Value

After deciding to book this redemption, I took my own advice and priced out the same exact itinerary using cash instead:

We booked this itinerary to London and Paris at a valuation of $0.05468/point; 2.7X TPG’s valuation for American Express membership reward points!!

The cost for two round-trip tickets was $4,550.96. When we used 72,000 American Express membership reward points, we only paid $613.98 in surcharges! That means that the 72,000 points paid for $3,936.98 of the trip; a valuation of $0.05468/point or 2.7X the usual valuation of those points. That made this a great redemption for us.

Note: The fuel surcharges we incurred are typical for British Airways which charges large fees compared to its competitors. For this reason, when booking your redemption you may try to avoid using British Airways if possible.

Shopping with Points

Earning and collecting points with your credit cards can be a fruitful activity when done well. It may require a spreadsheet or two, but by being diligent and intentional with your method of payment, the money you are spending each year could earn you thousands of dollars worth of rewards!

But when it comes to redeeming your points, you must be careful. All points cards offer a myriad of options for redemption, but just because you have options, doesn’t mean you should use them.

Take for instance the American Express Shopping portal. Your hard-earned points can be used to buy things on Amazon, purchase gift cards, pay your bill and more. But the only option that will help you earn the full potential of your points, is to transfer them to a travel partner.

Just because you have options, doesn’t mean you should use them.

Value

When trying to quickly determine if something is a good deal, I will use TPG’s point valuations to see whether or not the value I’m considering is a smart transaction. As a rule of thumb, the “easy” redemptions such as buying on Amazon will result in much lower redemptions. The more complicated endeavors, such as transferring points to a travel partner, are more valuable.

Case Study

For a quick example, let’s pretend after our signup bonus, and efficiently targeting our spend for the last year, we find ourselves with 180,000 American Express Membership Rewards points earned from our AMEX Gold and Platinum cards.

We explore our options on our 180,000 points using the AMEX website, and find three choices that immediately interest us: 1) We can purchase anything we want on Amazon for a total of $1,259; 2) we can redeem an offer for a brand new MacBook Pro valued at $1,299; or 3) we can transfer our points 1:1 to Delta.

We’ve been considering a trip to Paris, so decide to take a look at options for flying from SFO to CDG. We find that for the 180,000 points, we can book a roundtrip ticket in Delta One; a first class cabin boasting lie-flat seats and a luxurious international travel experience; the cost of this same ticket using USD cash, is a staggering $3,792.22! By paying cash for our Amazon and computer purchases, and instead using points on our airfare through a point transfer with Delta, we redeem our 180,000 points at a value 3X of the Amazon redemption for $0.021 / point (exceeding TPG’s estimated value of $0.020 / point) and have an unforgettable flight to Paris.

By using points on airfare through a point transfer with Delta, we redeem our 180,000 points at a value of $0.021 / point and have an unforgettable flight to Paris.

Addendum: Taking advantages of promotions

So while you should almost never use your points for online shopping, sometimes using points with shopping partners may make sense if a special promotion is involved.

For instance, take this promotion below that I received from Amazon last month: In short, I would receive 20% off my purchase if I used points. But upon further examination of Term 3, we see the exciting detail: I receive the offer if “a portion” of my order is paid for with points.

Putting this theory to the test, I enrolled for the promotion and proceeded to checkout. I opted to pay for a portion of my order, a very small portion of $0.01, with points (1 point).

This worked. As a result of redeeming one point at checkout towards my overall total, I received 20% off my entire purchase while still being able to pay cash for the rest.

In closing, keep an eye out for the special promotions, but otherwise shopping online with your points is never the right decision. Instead, by capitalizing on the promotions of travel partners, and transferring your points to them before you book, you’ll be able to take your rewards game farther and build some incredible memories along the way.

Benefits of MVP Gold

As you know, I visit my wife who is pursuing her career in Nashville twice a month. So when I myself chased a career opportunity out of state, I was faced with an overwhelming amount of useless pre-booked flights. Luckily, I was able to take advantage of my MVP Gold status with Alaska Airlines to solve that problem.

Logistics

Regardless of your Elite status, Alaska allows you to cancel and change flights online without speaking to a representative. However, some of my itineraries were complicated in nature (I had used companion fares and needed partial rather than full changes), so I opted to call the MVP Gold line for assistance. The team was great to work with, and in no time, my 16 flights were cancelled or changed accordingly with the refunds deposited as a credit to my Alaska account.

Using those credits, I was able to rebook my flights as needed and when all was said and done, I was able to complete all of my changes and cancellations within an hour.

Benefits

Besides the MVP Gold line for customer service, the major benefit I received as an Elite flyer with Alaska was the waived change fees. With 16 reservations to modify, I would have been charged $2,000 in change fees! Instead, I paid nothing – and even saved money since my new flights were cheaper than my old ones; allowing me to book a few extra trips for the same price!

Loyalty

I always say I’m not a loyalist, but I am a planner. If you find yourself in a situation where you’re flying a lot, or staying in a lot of hotels, do yourself the favor of sticking to one brand when possible. Not only will you earn miles or points that are cohesive and accumulate, you may even earn Elite status! You never know what life will throw at you, and having elite status with a brand will make life’s curve balls that much easier to manage.

The AMEX Power Couple

If you’re like me, you have a credit card for each facet of your annual budget because the value is just too good to pass up. That said, for many of my accounts, the physical cards themselves have been locked in the safe for years since they are simply on record with my merchant of choice. That’s because when it comes to what cards you carry with you in your wallet each day, it is important to keep it simple. So today, I’m here to tell you why two, yes two, premium credit cards may be the perfect arsenal for your daily spending: The AMEX Power Couple – Gold and Platinum cards.

Costs Incurred

Let’s get this out of the way because it is the hardest to stomach. The annual fee on the Gold card is $250; the Platinum is $550. Yes, that’s $800 in annual fees. But keep reading: There are three reasons this annual cost is well compensated:

  1. Statement Credits
  2. Earnings on Spend
  3. Benefits

Let’s get to it.

Statement Credits

The Platinum Card grants you Uber VIP status and $200 annually in Uber credits that can be used in the United States. The credits are issued $15 per month with an additional $20 credited each December for a total of $35. Whether you utilize rideshare apps to get to the airport, or home after a night with friends, the credit can supplement your budget and become cash back in your savings. If you don’t use rideshare, you can alternatively use the credits to order from the Uber Eats food delivery service.

A newer benefit offered by the Platinum Card is the $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue (including the online store). Issued semiannually in $50 increments, these statement credits are applied to any purchase you make with Saks. Though their prices are generally higher, there are deals to be found both in clearance as well as within the fragrance department that allow you to purchase something without exceeding the $50 statement credit.

The Gold Card offers $120 in annual dining credits ($10/month) when you use your Gold card to pay for meals with Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House and participating Shake Shack locations.  Personally, I find that Grubhub is the easiest way to redeem this benefit since one meal delivery a month is a nice benefit to commit to; they are also one of the only delivery services that do not charge delivery fees!

Both cards offer an annual Airline Fee Credit as well. After selecting one qualifying airline, you receive up to $100 per calendar year in statement credits when incidental fees, such as baggage fees and more, are charged by the airline to your Gold Card; you receive $200 per year on incidental fees charged to your Platinum Card. That’s a total of $300 per year that can be used on seat upgrades, baggage fees, lounge memberships and change fees!

Earnings on Spend

The average value of an American Express Point is two cents ($0.02) per point. So for the purposes of the assessment below, 1X points = 2% back; 4X points = 8% back; etc.

The Gold Card offers an astounding 8% back at restaurants worldwide and US supermarkets (up to $25,000).

The Platinum Card is worth its weight in airline purchases: 10% back. In the form of 5X points, this is my favorite earning reward because it can be used on ANY airline rather than the branded credit cards that require loyalty. So not only can you shop around for the best fare, you can take 10% off of that once you find it. Brilliant!

Both cards earn 2% back on all other purchases in the form of 1X points.

Benefits

The Platinum Card offers:

  1. A Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck. So whether you have been holding out until now, or your renewal is coming up soon, the fee credit will take care of that $85-100 expense.
  2. A Priority Pass Lounge Membership which gives you access to 1,000+ lounges across 500+ airports in 120 countries. 
  3. Gold Status with Hilton Honors
  4. Gold Status with Marriott Bonvoy
  5. Secondary Car Rental Loss & Damage Insurance

Both cards offer:

  1. No Foreign Transaction Fees: Travel abroad without incurring the 3% fee other card issuers charge when the card is used internationally.
  2. Purchase Protection: Your eligible purchases can be covered when they’re accidentally damaged, stolen, or lost for up to 120 days from the date of purchase with your Card.
  3. Extended Warranty: Can extend the original manufacturer’s warranty for up to two extra years for eligible purchases made on your Card.
  4. Free ShopRunner Account: This membership allows you to receive free 2-day shipping and returns at 140+ stores online.
  5. Premium Roadside Assistance: Not only will they cover eligible breakdowns and mishaps, American Express will coordinate response in your time of need!
  6. Baggage Insurance: Provides coverage for lost, stolen or damaged baggage when traveling on a Common Carrier when the entire fare has been charged to your Card.

Bottom Line

When looking at what a card actually costs you, we will take the annual statement credits from the annual fees and associate the remaining cost with the earnings on spend for their respective categories:

  1. The Gold Card has a $250 annual fee offset by a $120 annual dining credit and a $100 annual airline fee credit leaving $30 remaining. You will earn $30 in rewards after $375 in annual spend ($31.25/month) on dining and groceries with the 8% back in those categories.
  2. The Platinum Card has a $550 annual fee offset by a $200 Uber credit, a $200 annual airline fee credit and $100 in annual credits when you shop at Saks, leaving $50 remaining. You will earn $50 in rewards after $500 in annual spend on airfare with the 10% back in that category.

For arguments’ sake, even if you never spend enough to reclaim the $30 (Gold) and $50 (Platinum) remainders, holding the two cards only costs you a total of $80 annually and in return, you receive all of the benefits listed above.

Sign-Up Bonuses

Though the sign-up offers vary based on timing and your specific account, the acquisition of both of these cards would net you a minimum of 100,000 points worth $2,000 in travel rewards. For this reason, I always tell folks who are on the fence about whether or not they would get enough from the cards to justify the annual fees, that the first year is a no-risk trial with the sign-up bonus considered!

Referrals

My blog content is provided free of charge. If you decide to apply for one or both of these cards, please consider using my referral links below and we will both receive a reward from American Express! Thanks for reading!

  1. American Express Gold Card (link)
  2. American Express Platinum Card (link)

Why Have the Alaska Card?

If you have taken a flight with Alaska Airlines recently, you have heard about the Alaska Airlines Signature Visa card from Bank of America. Flight attendants, who receive a commission if you apply on-board, will tell you about the exclusive and remarkable benefits available to cardholders, and their inflight entertainment systems even now include commercials advertising the card too.

What is the Card?

The card itself is one of the most basic on the market. The annual fee is $75.00/year, it earns 3x Alaska Miles on money spent with Alaska and one mile for everything else. Notably however, the card offers a Companion Fare benefit that permits you to add a second ticket to your Alaska reservation for just $121 (taxes and fees) once a year.

Should I Use It Everywhere?

No!! It causes me physical discomfort to see so many people using this card as their everyday spending card; especially when dining out. The earn rate on this card is abysmal at less than 2% per transaction. Compare that with the no-fee Uber Visa Card (4% back on dining) or the AMEX Gold Card (8% back on dining AND supermarkets), and you’ll see money being left at the table each trip. Though purchases directly with Alaska Airlines would net you 6% back, this is still not competitive compared to the American Express Platinum card that offers 10% back on airfare purchases (for all airlines)! If you are most interested in simplicity, then this card is fine for you to use as an everyday card. But if you’re looking to maximize rewards on typical spend, this isn’t the one to keep in your wallet.

Worth Having?

I encourage folks to have one Alaska Card for each companion fare they need each year. Bank of America is not very restrictive when it comes approving cards; allowing folks to have 4+ accounts open simultaneously. If you will use the Companion Fare, the $75 card more than pays for itself each year. In addition to that, you will receive a sign up bonus worth between 30,000-40,000 miles after meeting spend requirements which makes each card especially valuable in its first year.

The Companion Fare

The Companion Fare is relatively straight forward to redeem, as long as you are booking a flight that is fully operated by Alaska Airlines (and not its partners). It even allows for stopovers. For instance, when we traveled from Seattle to Nashville with a companion fare, we connected through San Francisco on the return trip for 36 hours; the companion fare allowed us to book this creative trip at no additional cost.

In order to use the companion fare, the person who earned it must either be flying, or paying for the two tickets. That means if you have a family of four, two Alaska cards may make sense since you can use them to buy two tickets, and receive two for just the taxes and fees.

Wrap Up

If Alaska Airlines flies out of your airport, and you like to travel to one of their destinations each year, you need this card; or multiple. Save your bonus miles (they won’t expire as long as you have the card) for your next big trip, and don’t use the cards for everyday spend unless you can’t beat the 2% earn with another card in your wallet.

A Weekend in Vegas

Ever since I added the Hilton Aspire card to my wallet, I knew I’d be using it to go to Las Vegas. Vegas, and all that comes with it, is undoubtedly my favorite vacation spot. As ridiculous as that sounds, it is an adult playground and I will never get enough of it. To celebrate a milestone birthday later this year, I took advantage of some perks in my arsenal to develop a quick weekend with flair.

Airfare

Because I have MVP Gold status with Alaska Airlines, I have the ability to complete same day flight changes for free. I also am awarded some first-class advance-award tickets on select flights each year. For my departure, I found a great mile redemption of just 7,500 miles for the one-way ticket. I booked it, and even though the flight departs at an ungodly evening time (arriving after midnight), I have no intention of taking the flight. Instead, I will fly space-available on one of the earlier flights that day for free. What’s a trip to Vegas if it doesn’t start with a gamble, am I right?

On the return trip, I elected to book the first flight out on Monday morning. Though it is very early, it happens to be eligible for one of my free advanced-confirmation first class upgrades. This not only allows me to reduce my time out of the office and make the most of my weekend, it allows me to count on a luxurious return trip and free breakfast in-flight; even if I lose my shirt the day before.

Out the door, I confirmed round-trip airfare (including a guaranteed segment in first class) for just $147 and 7,500 miles. Because of my elite status, I am placed on a wait-list for a free first class upgrade for the first segment as well.

Hotel

Because I have the Hilton Aspire card from American Express, I not only receive one free weekend night a year, I also receive $250 in resort credits (good for room charges) each year. In Las Vegas, these credits can be used at one of six properties including the Elara, Tropicana and Flamingo. For my two night stay, I took full advantage of each of these perks:

Night One

After a quick set of queries, I determined that my first night in Vegas was going to be more expensive than the second. Accordingly, I aimed to redeem my free night for night one. I booked a room at the Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas. The standard room cost for this evening was over $600 including resort fees and taxes. Instead, I booked it for free.

Night Two

For my second night in Vegas, I was intent on booking a stay at one of Hilton’s six resorts to take advantage of the $250 credit. I found a King City View room in the Paradise Tower (preferred) of the Tropicana overlooking the Strip for a total of $245.45 including taxes and fees. After my $250 credit is applied towards the room charges, my stay will be free!

Summary

Because of my status with Alaska Airlines, and my credit card with Hilton, I will enjoy a weekend trip in Las Vegas, flying first class (at least on the way home), and spending the night in two premium rooms on the Strip for a total of $147. If I wanted to book the trip without using status, the same trip would have cost $1,069.51 (86% off). In addition, I was able to use some American Express Platinum membership reward points to have my wife join me from Nashville (a redemption worth $400).

Now to go make back that $147 at the Sports Book.

Earning Elite Status

As you may be aware, I travel every two weeks while my wife and I maintain our lives in two states over the next few years. The journey officially began two months ago, and despite the abrupt halt to our “normal lives,” the upcoming travel presented an interesting opportunity: Earning elite status with an airline.

While it is very easy to “buy” status with hotels by having the right credit card in your wallet, the same is not true for airlines. The only way you can achieve elite status with an airline is to complete their flight-based requirements each year in order to earn and maintain the status. So naturally, I was very excited at the prospect of playing this through. Here is how I approached planning for this process:

Be Intentional from Day 1

There’s nothing worse than coming up a few hundred miles short on earning elite status; especially when you could have earned it had you done something differently! For that reason, all of your planning must be completed in advance of booking your first trip. After you know when and where you’re going, you must outline how you’ll do it and ensure you’re pleased with the end result.

Identify Where You’ll Be Flying

For me, this was easy. But for you, you may have multiple destinations you’re frequenting. Draft a spreadsheet with your origin cities and final destinations. Then research and document which airlines fly nonstop or with connecting flights between those destinations. You can use a service such as Expedia to research this rather quickly.

Compare the Contenders

In my case, Alaska Airlines and Delta Airlines were the two options I had to fly nonstop between the two states. This was a nice list from the start given that Alaska’s mileage program is one of the true mileage-based programs left. Others, such as Delta, require that you not only fly a certain number of miles, but that you also spend a specific amount of dollars with the airline in order to earn elite status. This devalues flash-sales and other bargain fares which could cause you to spend more than you needed to in the first place.

In my case, I am traveling between Seattle and Nashville most frequently, with some outlier destinations scattered throughout, that fortunately, are served by both Alaska and Delta. My starting line couldn’t have been cleaner! I mapped out all of my planned itineraries both for the end of 2018, and through 2019 and pulled in data from both Alaska and Delta’s programs including dollars spent, elite miles earned, reward miles earned and flight times.

Considerations

For simplicity’s sake, there are three tiers of elite status comparable to one another between the two airlines both in terms of earning requirements and associated perks:

  1. MVP (Alaska) / Silver Medallion (Delta)
  2. MVP Gold (Alaska) / Gold Medallion (Delta)
  3. Gold 75K (Alaska) / Platinum Medallion (Delta)

Interestingly enough, after mapping out how my intended bookings would do for me, the same flights earned me higher status with Alaska Airlines than they did with Delta. The reason for this goes back to Alaska’s mileage-based program. When I traveled 3,944 miles round-trip between Seattle and Nashville, I earned that many elite miles with Alaska. When I flew that many miles with Delta, I only earned 2,270 elite miles (an arbitrary number). This resulted in a lower elite status with Delta due to “miles” flown. Additionally, even if I earned enough qualifying miles, if I hadn’t spent the required amount of dollars on those trips, I would not achieve that elite status. Alaska on the other hand, provides a mathematical and straightforward approach to their program and your ability to earn elite status.

Creative Compromise

For what it’s worth, I also considered splitting the difference. The main driver for this was that the ONLY airport lounge I have access to in Nashville is a Delta Sky Club, which only admits me when I’m flying Delta (using my AMEX Platinum card). So I considered an approach where I earned a lesser Elite Status with Alaska by only departing with them, and then booking all of my return flights with Delta to take advantage of the lounge. However, what ultimately dissuaded me was the terrible flight time for their nonstop departure (5:00 AM Seattle time) which would have all but prevented me from enjoying the lounge anyway. Just to be sure, I tested this out on a recent itinerary and confirmed it was undesirable. For reference, Alaska’s departure flight that day is an afternoon flight.

Perks of Loyalty

So I’m flying Alaska! By committing to the single airline, I will achieve MVP Gold in 2018 and Gold 75K (their highest elite status) in 2019. In addition to early boarding and seat upgrades, I will earn a 100% bonus on reward miles in 2018, and 125% bonus on flights in 2019. These miles will serve us well with free flights throughout the year and even allow us to redeem two round-trip tickets to Auckland, New Zealand for a future vacation!

My Experience with CLEAR

I’ve been aware of CLEAR for sometime, but never felt compelled to join. Frankly, it seemed to me like an alternative to TSA Precheck that I did not need. Why pay more to stand in their line rather than the one I’m already expedited through?

Then I began to notice it at Mariners and Seahawks games. Interesting.

Then fellow frequent fliers, who I trusted, swore by it. It WAS worth adding, they said, if you traveled frequently, and since I travel every two weeks, and since I was offered two months free, I decided to give it a try!

I enrolled online with relative ease providing my name and date of birth to complete registration. On my next trip to the airport, I went to the CLEAR kiosk and spoke with a representative. Armed with my driver’s license and fingertips, I completed my account setup in less than five minutes. From there, I was escorted directly to the front of the TSA Precheck line and placed my backpack on the conveyer belt. I walked through the metal detector, grabbed my bag, and was on my way. Since I have Precheck, there remained no need for me to remove electronics, my belt or shoes. I was through security and on my way to the lounge in 60 seconds flat.

To be clear (no pun intended): CLEAR allows you to scan your fingerprint or iris along with your boarding pass upon arriving to the airport and immediately move to the front of YOUR line (TSA General or TSA Precheck) where your normal rules apply. While TSA Precheck is plenty sufficient in less trafficked cities, SeaTac is FULL of TSA Precheck travelers these days and CLEAR provides you once again with the advantage of expediency.

During this two month free trial, I have six itineraries booked so I will continue to test consistency and overall worth of the service before making a final decision. If I decide to proceed, it will run me $99/year because I have a Delta SkyMiles number (Delta owns 51% of the company), so there’s no reason to pay the full $179/year since it is free to signup for a SkyMiles number if you don’t already have one. In addition, all CLEAR members can add up to three family members for only $50 each/year so it is not exorbitant to enroll your whole crew.

If you have travel or sporting events upcoming, and also want to try two-months free, you can register using my Referral Link!

Finding Your Next Card

Commitment

While I’m no loyalist, I do value commitment in all phases of my life including credit cards. That’s because a percentage of your credit score is the average length of your accounts. If you have two cards, one you’ve had for ten years and the other brand new, your average length of your accounts is five years. If you cancel the card you’ve had for ten years, you now have a nonexistent average. On the flip side, if you retain the card(s) you’ve had longest (assuming they have no annual fees or you’re still claiming the value from the fees), your score can afford to adopt some new plastic or metal friends into your wallet.

Know Yourself and Spot the Fakes

Where do you spend your money? For me, it’s dining and travel. Nearly 100% of my discretionary income goes to one of those two categories. Find out what your category is and find a card that will bring you the most value. Whether you spend most of your money on groceries, gas, business expenses, tuition or rent, there is a card for you. I recommend a simple spreadsheet that takes your annual spending, and calculates the value in rewards provided by each card you’re considering to identify a clear choice and help you spot the fakes!

For instance, you may think you’re doing yourself a favor by charging all of your Alaska Airline purchases to the branded credit card. But let’s say for a moment your goal is to travel from Seattle to New York (JFK) RT nonstop. That itinerary in April is 32,500 miles or $426. To achieve that with your Alaska card, you’ll need to spend $32,500 dollars generally or $10,833 on Alaska Airlines flights alone. Alternatively, you would achieve the required points with just $8,520 in airfare spending with the AMEX Platinum card OR $9,467 in dining and travel with the Chase Sapphire Reserve. So while the Alaska card is great for the companion fare, don’t confuse the branding as value. In our example, using a non-Alaska Airlines credit card to pay for meals earned triple the rewards on Alaska Airlines flights when compared with its own credit card! Definitely not what you’d expect.

Using a non-Alaska Airlines credit card to pay for meals earned triple the rewards on Alaska Airlines flights when compared with its own credit card!

As you are working through the numbers on your spreadsheet, you may elect to add a powerhouse metal card in your wallet for perks or top categories, as well as an everyday spending card which helps you net the best return for all of your miscellaneous spending. This allows you to maximize your earning potential on all purchases. But the important piece is that you do the math before you start spending. So ensure that the cards you pull out for each purchase are the right ones for the job and most effectively helping you achieve your objectives. Happy traveling!