Category: Delta Airlines

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.

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!