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Travel

So, you’re thinking about adding some plastic to your wallet. You want to take advantage of as many bonuses and offers as possible, and you definitely want to earn cash back where you can. You may even be thinking about travel hacking, where you open a number of new accounts in order to reel in a number of introductory point, mile, and cash back offers. Where do you look first?

524 rule

Chase offers a wide variety of credit cards with different perks, including low-fee balance transfers, travel rewards, rotating cash back categories, and even 5% back at Amazon. They are one of the more prominent card issuers, and frequently issue large sign-up bonuses to encourage new customers. Chase, however, has an interesting rule that makes them stand out when it comes to travel hacking.

The 5/24 Rule

You may have heard about their 5/24 Rule, especially if you’ve spent any time researching card hacking.

Simply put, if you’ve opened up 5 new accounts in the last 24 months, you’ll be denied for most Chase credit cards. This rule is all but inflexible, even with calls to customer service to beg them to reconsider. This is unfortunate, as it could lead to you missing out on some of the largest sign-up bonuses seen on credit cards to-date.

One important note: there are numerous reports that being pre-approved in a Chase branch for these cards leads to approval for the card. Anecdotally, I traveled to New York City last November and was approved in-branch for the Chase Sapphire Reserve at 12/24 accounts. So, this work-around could be a possibility if you live near a Chase branch.

Check Out Its Brother Card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred

If you’re considering taking on the travel hacking game (beware: it requires strong organization skills and a lot of attention to detail!), Chase should be high up on the list of issuers to pursue. You’ll be applying for credit cards regularly, so you’ll quickly exceed the limitations for the 5/24 rule. For example, in the last 24 months, I’ve applied and been approved for 15 cards. In the world of travel hackers, that’s not even on the high side of new accounts.

Cards Not Under 5/24

The following cards are reportedly not under Chase’s 5/24 rule:

  • Amazon Prime Rewards Visa (I was approved last month at 13/24)
  • British Airways
  • Fairmont
  • Hyatt
  • IHG
  • Ritz-Carlton
  • Disney (both Rewards and Premier)
  • AARP
  • Marriott Business (note: there are conflicting reports on this but I was approved last October at 11/24)

Note that these credit cards will still result in a hard pull and the opening of a new account. So, if you’re interested in them, you should prioritize them after you’ve put yourself past the 5/24 threshold.

Which Card First?

First of all, a disclaimer: if you’re getting into travel hacking, here’s the criteria you need to meet:

  • Have an excellent credit score (I would put this at 720+, if not 740+)
  • Pay off your credit card statement balances in full each month
  • Be disciplined and organized with your money
  • Be able to meet the minimum spend on a new credit card without being financially irresponsible
  • Be unafraid of spending time doing research — there are no shortcuts here!

I would prioritize Chase cards as follows:

  1. Chase Sapphire Preferred
  2. Chase Sapphire Reserve
  3. Chase Ink Preferred
  4. Chase United MileagePlus Explorer
  5. Chase Marriott Rewards
  6. Chase Freedom
  7. Chase Freedom Unlimited
  8. Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier

Note that there are more than 5 on this list, so you’ll have to do some research as to which card is right for you. The Chase Sapphire and Ink lines earn Ultimate Rewards points. These offer flexible and valuable redemptions across a number of airlines and other travel partners. The Chase Freedom line offers cash back perks as statement credits. The other branded cards like United and Marriott offer brand-specific points and miles.

I’ve prioritized the United and Marriott cards ahead of the Freedom cards for a few reasons. First, it’s possible to change your credit card to the no-fee Freedom cards after some time. So, if you’re a Sapphire Preferred cardholder and you’d like to discontinue paying the fee, it’s possible to change that card over to a Freedom.

Second, the bonuses for those two branded cards are relatively valuable at the moment. The United offer at 50,000 miles is higher than it was in 2016. The Marriott points are now eligible to transfer to Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express at a good rate (3:1).

If I were just getting into travel hacking, I would be going straight down this list. You may be put off by the Ink Preferred being a business card, but applying for a business card isn’t as daunting as it might seem. Many people run small self-owned business through eBay selling or Etsy shops, and it’s perfectly reasonable to have a business line of credit for those expenses. The process is nearly exactly the same as a personal application; you’ll just need to provide some information about the type of business you operate.

To 5/24-ers and Beyond

My advice to the unfortunate folks who are past 5/24: don’t worry about it. While some of these bonuses are stellar (the previous Chase Sapphire Reserve bonus at 100,000 points was great while it lasted), the sheer number of other card issuers and bonuses means that there’s no shortage of great perks to be had.

Lately I’ve been focusing my efforts on airlines like Delta and American, as well as Membership Rewards points through American Express. New cards are constantly being rotated in and out. So, it’s more important to be able to jump on the higher bonuses when available, than to worry about getting back under 5/24.

Best of luck out there, and happy travels!

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A few weeks ago, Rick Seany of FareCompare published an article about the upcoming Cheap Flight Day. This certainly piqued my interest. While I have heard of National PB&J Day (April 2) and Men Make Dinner Day (the 1st Thursday in November — mark your calendars, ladies), I hadn’t ever heard of an airfare discount day. This warranted another look.

Here’s what I found: if you’re contemplating air travel between late August and mid-November, this is the time to start looking. While August 23 has been dubbed Cheap Flight Day, it’s actually more of a marker for the week or two at the end of summer when airlines traditionally drop their prices.

Tell Me More

With most summer trips in the rearview and families preparing for back-to-school, flight demand decreases near Labor Day weekend. In response, the airlines adjust fares downward. While this cost-shift often falls on August 23 (as it will for United this year), it’s not the Black Friday of airfare… merely a threshold for when prices begin to fall. Think of it as the first day in late summer that you should plan to travel, if you want to save a bunch.

For example, say you’re headed from Washington, DC to Orlando for a last-minute beach hoorah before autumn. On Southwest, prices begin their decrease on August 22 and drop further on the 26th. It’s not August 23, but close enough.

Southwest

However, wait a few more days until after Labor Day weekend, and you’ll save hundreds of dollars more!

Southwest Sept

How Else to Save on Flights

Not looking to fly just yet? No worries — there are tons of ways to save on air travel year-round. Here are a few of our favorites:

Use Miles

The easiest way to earn free miles is to snag a travel rewards credit card. Many of these cards, such as the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®, earn you 2x miles on all purchases you make.

With this card, you’ll also get 40k bonus miles for spending $3,000 in your first 90 days with the card, which is enough for a $400 credit towards travel. Since you can take your miles in the form of a statement credit, you’re not limited by a booking portal or specific airline.

Spend your money as usual and rack up the cash back rewards. Choose when and how you want to fly, then redeem your earned points and save.

Don’t Pay for Baggage

Unless you’ve flown exclusively on Southwest, you’ve probably paid a baggage fee once or twice. You know that if you don’t travel light, your fees can end up costing as much as your fare!

Some companies, like Southwest, include up to two bags free. This can save you a pretty penny, considering most airlines charge $25-35 per bag!

Alternately, you could pick an airlines credit card like the Citi® Platinum Select / AAdvantage® Mastercard®. This is a great choice for people who fly American Airlines. Not only will you earn 30k bonus miles after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months, but you’ll also enjoy your first checked bag free. Oh, and it’s not just for you —  this free bag offer extends to up to four travel companions, so your whole family saves.

If you end up finding a Cheap Flight Day deal on a different airline that you can’t pass up, you can still save on baggage fees. All you have to do is travel lighter. Most airlines allow one carry-on bag and one personal item (such as a briefcase, purse, or backpack) on board, free of charge. If you can fit everything for your last-minute getaway in a smaller suitcase, you will save a nice chunk of change… and avoid waiting at baggage claim after you arrive.

Book Early

Cheap Flight Day may be a great option if you’re looking for a quick getaway, but this isn’t the best practice to use throughout the year. Previously believed to be a strict “54 days out,” the magical number for booking in advance isn’t so cut and dry. Most experts agree, though: booking last-minute isn’t the deal it once was.

According to CheapAir.com, the prime booking window actually lies somewhere between 21-120 days out from the flight. Quite the range, yes, but it varies according to time of year and even airline.

cheapair

Your best bet is to use a flexible date search, if your plans allow, and try to fly mid-week. Friday and Saturday flights are traditionally more pricey than Tuesday and Wednesday options. Try to book somewhere between 2-3 months before your flight to save the most.

Sign Up for Emails

Want to be the first to know about sales throughout the year? Sign up for your favorite airlines’ email newsletters. Often, these will be for travel 2-4 months out, so you have time to plan that trip to see your parents and even coordinate time off from work.

In Summary

Airlines may not view August 23 as a strict fare-slashing deadline, but this day historically marks the beginning of discount travel. Cheap Flight Day should still be marked in your calendar, if you have the interest and flexibility in late summer or  impromptu travel.

While you can expect to save at least 10-20% on airfare by booking travel on (or near) August 23, you can see above that I found price cuts of up to 66%. Be sure to check out your airline’s “flexible travel date” calendar when searching flights, to ensure that you get the best deal. Sites like Fly.com and FareCompare are also good aggregate resources, if you’re not picky about the airline.

Don’t forget to use your travel rewards credit cards and/or frequent flyer programs, to save even more on fares and baggage. Happy travels!

Have you taken advantage of late August-October flight deals? Have these fare cuts prompted you to plan a trip you might not have otherwise taken?

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Whether you’re planning a very special trip next year or just travel a lot, there’s currently a limited-time offer you really ought to think seriously about. The Discover it® Miles-Double Miles your first year card is effectively offering double miles for the first year after new cardholders (but not existing ones) open their accounts.

Here’s how it works: After the first consecutive 12 billing periods that your new account is open, Discover® will double all the miles you’ve earned and apply them to your account in the next billing cycle. Cardholders earn 1.5x miles per dollar spent on purchases, then double all the miles you’ve earned at the end of the first year.

A good travel rewards card
This would be of less interest were the Discover it® Miles not a pretty good travel rewards card already. But it is, because:

  1. You can fly any airline at any time — with no blackout dates.
  2. You can redeem any number of miles you want, from one up, at any time.
  3. You can redeem miles against travel purchases made on the card within the previous 180 days. These travel purchases include airline tickets, hotel rooms, car rentals, travel agents, online travel sites and commuter transportation.
  4. You can also redeem miles for cash as an electronic deposit to your bank account.
  5. It has no annual fee.
  6. There are no foreign transaction fees.
  7. Discover® pays you back for your in-flight Wi-Fi fees (up to $30 a year) with an automatic statement credit.
  8. There’s no cap on the miles you can earn.
  9. Rewards never expire, although Discover® will credit your account with your rewards balance if your account is closed or has not been used in 18 months.
  10. You get a 0 percent APR introductory rate on purchases for 12 months.
  11. There’s no fee for your first late payment, and paying late won’t increase your APR.

All this, and Discover® has just introduced the Freeze ItSM on/off switch, which lets you prevent new purchases, cash advances and balance transfers on misplaced cards in seconds by mobile app & online.

Getting the most out of this offer
If you’re planning a big trip and want your rewards to cover part of the cost, you’re probably going to want to use your card for most or all your travel and non-travel purchases prior to departure. The tricky bit is timing when you buy your tickets and pay for other upfront travel-related expenses.

Remember, you can only use rewards to pay or partially pay for travel items purchased within the previous 180 days. Discover® doubles all the miles you’ve earned in your first year during your 13th billing cycle, so depending on the timing of your plans and the purchases you make on the card, there may be a bit of a gap when it comes to redeeming all of your miles.

One possible solution is to buy tickets and so on less than six months before you travel, taking advantage of the Discover it® Miles card’s zero percent introductory APR. That way, you can avoid interest and maximize the contribution your points make to the final cost — although you are going to have to make at least minimum payments during the months between buying the tickets and redeeming the rewards. Ideally you probably want to clear the balance during that 13th billing cycle, which is not only when your bonus rewards become available, but also when the variable APR kicks in.

By all means use your card while you’re on your trip to build up more rewards, and provide triggers (hotel bills, car rental, rail tickets …) for other rewards redemptions. After all, it doesn’t charge the foreign transaction fees — typically 3 percent — that many cards do.

However, you should note one possible drawback. This concerns Discover’s® acceptance by merchants in certain countries. You need to check the map on the company’s website before you travel to make sure your card’s going to work at your destination. Oh, and don’t forget to call Discover® with your itinerary details before you set off or there’s a good chance your international activity will set off fraud alarms and see your plastic temporarily frozen.

Not looking for a travel card?
There’s no doubt the Discover it® Miles-Double Miles your first year is currently exceptional, but not everyone’s on the hunt for a travel rewards card.

Indeed, you may find cash back more desirable than miles, in which case you probably should explore Discover’s® other offerings. Discover® is currently offering to double all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year automatically (again, only for new cardmembers) on cards including:

  • Discover it®-Double Cash Back your first year
  • Discover it® card-Double Cash Back your first year
  • Discover it® chrome for Students-Double Cash Back your first year

As always with credit cards, the trick is to match the plastic available to your personal requirements, desires and spending patterns.

Visit CardRatings.com to learn about these limited time Discover® credit card offers and to read a full review of Discover it® Miles-Double Miles your first year.

Advertiser Disclosure: Many of the credit card offers that appear on this site are from companies from which ConsumerismCommentary.com receives compensation. Compensation may impact which cards we review and write about and how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). We recognize that our site does not feature every card company or card available on the market.

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While living in New Jersey and having family in the Los Angeles and Orange County area, I’ve always found that United Airlines has had the best fares. And because 75 percent of my total airline travel has been to these locations, I decided a few years ago to make my main credit card the United MileagePlus credit card (formerly Continental OnePass). While in general, cash back rewards credit cards are the best deal for most people who use rewards credit cards, because I flew United frequently enough and was happy to spend my rewards on flight upgrades, the MileagePlus card is the card that made the most sense for me.

Some recent changes are convincing me to switch to a different credit card, perhaps one that earns generic travel rewards that can apply to any airline or a straight cash back card. First, my travel destinations have expanded. With family now in San Diego, a girlfriend in Phoenix, and an eye to visit more cities in the future, I’m using a variety of airlines once again.

Perhaps more importantly, United has just made some significant changes to its frequent flier program. Rather than rewarding travelers with frequent flier points based on miles traveled, United is rewarding customers based on the amount of dollars they spend.

Here’s how this would potentially affect me.

Next week, I am flying to San Diego, California, and the week after, I’ll be returning. The trip is business-related; I’m making several presentations at the Digital CoLab event, speaking about entrepreneurial leadership one day and leading a session on crafting effective mission statements in another. I’ll also get a chance to see my family and girlfriend while I am on that side of the country. I booked my flight several weeks ago, spending $507.90, or $568 including all taxes and fees. The tickets available were “class S,” or a deeply-discounted economy fare.

I also spent $150 and 40,000 miles to upgrade both flights to first class.

Under the old system, which is still in effect, I will earn 4,850 award miles. The new system will reward me, a non-elite member of the frequent fliers program, five points per dollar, or 2,540 miles. This new system will be put into place in 2015 and will put people who frequently fly United, but perhaps only several times a year, at a significant disadvantage.

The most frequent travelers, in United’s Premier 1K elite level, will earn 11 points for every dollar. Business travelers who often purchase full-fare or first-class flights will receive a significantly better benefit than those of us who search for the lowest price economy fares.

United’s change follows a similar announcement from Delta.

This illustrates the danger of rewards credit cards. Points aren’t real currency; the company that issues the points can, at any time, decide to change the rules about how points are earned or decide to change the value of each point. Today, a one-way flight with any particular airline might be 50,000 points; next week, that same flight might cost 75,000 points. Airlines certainly use a calculation to determine what makes the best conversion rate for points taking many variables into account, but to the traveler, changes in the reward program can be arbitrary and frustrating.

It also means that anyone who considers himself to be a master of his own personal finances must continually reevaluate the rules and terms of the rewards program. It’s legal bait-and-switch; consumers are inclined to sign up when a program is a good deal, and as the company erodes the value of what they are offering, they are counting on consumer inertia. Inertia is a powerful force. It’s partly what has kept in me bad employment situations much longer than I should stay, inertia has kept me living at the same address, and it’s the same force that has kept some of my money in the same national bank for twenty years.

Companies rely on inertia to maintain profitable customers. But this change, for me, comes at the same time that United will have less value to me as an airline.

Here’s why this is great from United’s perspective. It’s the same reason that airlines are more inclined to add more incidental fees. United and other airlines can keep fares low. Anyone can easily search for the lowest fares across multiple airlines, pitting airline against airline for the same routes. This used to be the job of travel agents, but now anyone with an internet connection can see the same information that travel agents used to see. Even with airlines that keep consolidating, this has driven competition in price — at least, in advertised base fare price.

With the frequent flier program changes from Delta and United, the airlines can keep advertised fares low while reducing the total expense of each fare booked. It’s rare for there to be any real win-win scenarios between companies and their customers. There is no way for United to paint this program update as a positive experience for most customers because most customers simply search for low prices and end up with discounted economy fares.

The biggest winners, other than the airline, are people who frequently fly first class, and most of those fares are paid by corporations. Even those who buy full-fare economy tickets with the new program terms next year will likely have an advantage over the current program. There’s only one reason someone would buy a full-fare economy ticket when a discount is available — for the ability to receive a refund if travel plans change — but this is a small percentage of customers.

Will you be affected by Delta’s and United’s changes to their respective frequent flier programs? Will you be on the winning side or losing side? Will you reconsider how you earn miles, such as through a mileage reward credit card?

Here are the full changes to United’s MileagePlus program.

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Get the Most Value From Frequent Flyer Miles

by Mitch Lipka

Whether you’re the most frequent of frequent flyers or someone who is more likely to have miles expire, understanding the real value of what you’ve earned is the key to making the right choices as a consumer. With miles programs constantly being changed and consumers’ loyalties challenged, those with frequent flyer miles have to decide […]

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10 Ways to Save Money on Air Travel

by Guest Author

We’ve been enjoying the middle-of-the-week holiday for more than one day, so we’re going to share a guest post from partner site MainStreet.com. By Jeanine Skowronski Airfare certainly isn’t cheap. According to a report from the Federal Aviation Administration, increased demand, coupled with major airline mergers, will lead to higher tickets prices through 2012 and […]

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Mac Users Spend More Money on Hotels

by Luke Landes
Hotel Room

For one to be an aficionado of Apple’s line of computers, it might be fair to generalize that one is willing to spend more money than necessary for perceived superior form — as a device that carries the same function, just on the more common technology modeled after the IBM personal computer costs considerably less. […]

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New Travel Plans: Tips for Taking a Real Vacation

by Luke Landes
Continental Airlines Logo

I try to visit my family on the other side of the country a couple times a year. Most of my family has migrated to the west coast from the east. The migration, at least in my immediate family, began over ten years ago, and more of the clan join the California contingent each year. […]

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Buy Airfare Six Weeks in Advance

by Luke Landes
Airplane

Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC), a company that processes airline transactions for travel agents and consumers, has analyzed 144 million transactions for domestic flights in 2011 to better understand airlines’ pricing schemes. The study found the lowest fares were available six weeks in advance of the departure date. I’ve always been under the impression that the […]

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American Airlines Files for Bankruptcy

by Luke Landes
American Airlines

One of the two major airlines that had not yet filed for bankruptcy or restructuring, American Airlines, gave in and filed for Chapter 11 protection today. The airline will continue to operate its business as usual; if you planned to fly American Airlines, you’ll still be able to do so without any problem. In fact, […]

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