Making sense of mileage earning on the TAM fare sale

November 26, 2012 1 comment

Via TheFlightDeal (MY NEW FAVORITE WEBSITE!), there is a great deal to South American cities like Buenos Aires (EZE), Lima (LIM), and Santiago (SCL) from New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and/or San Francisco. We’re talking $300-$400 roundtrip!

However, confusion arises about who is selling the ticket and whose planes are actually flying the routes.

The airline selling the ticket is Brazilian carrier TAM Linhas Aéreas. They are a member of Star Alliance (like United).

However, TAM is currently in the process of merging with Chilean carrier LAN, a member of OneWorld (like American).

The combined airline group, LATAM, is still two separate airline brands in the current short term. That means that TAM and LAN are still separate airlines that belong to separate alliances.  Brazilian and Chilean authorities have declared that the new group has to eventually merge into a unified airline. Of course, they also declared that they had to choose one alliance to stick with by August 2012. That decision was deferred to early 2013. It’s highly likely that LATAM will choose OneWorld, because AviancaTaca recently joined Star Alliance and there are anti-trust issues that arise if LATAM joins them.

Why am I explaining this? Because some of the flights that can be booked on this deal are TAM-coded, LAN-operated. This means that the flight number on your ticket is a TAM (JJ) flight number, but you check-in and fly on a LAN (LA) plane. And that affects the mileage earning.

Via JustAnotherPointsTraveler, notice how some flights are “Operated by LAN AIRLINES.”

United states that “if you purchase a ticket on a flight that is marketed by TAM but operated by another airline (known as a codeshare flight), the operating airline determines how many miles you earn for your flight.” Because LAN is not a partner of United, you would earn zero United miles on a TAM-coded, LAN-operated flight.

TAM-earning on UA.

American states that you can “earn miles when flying on LAN Airlines marketed AND operated flights [or] on LAN Airlines codeshare flights operated by oneworld carriers and oneworld affiliates.” However, this is a TAM-coded/marketed flight, so you would earn zero American miles because there is no LAN “code” on this flight.

LAN-earning on AA.

If the status quo of alliance membership remains, you would have to bank miles from these TAM-coded/LAN-operated flights to either LAN or TAM’s frequent flyer programs (I suggest LAN, for various reasons I won’t get into). If mileage earning is your thing, you should have 24 hours to cancel a current ticket that doesn’t earn miles and rebook another ticket that does earn miles (though I would rebook, then cancel if you really want to make this trip for reasons other than just miles).

It gets kind of complicated, but a good rule to follow is:
For United (and most Star Alliance programs), the METAL matters. Whose name is on the plane determines the miles.
For American (and most OneWorld programs), the CODE matters. You want LAN code on a oneworld partner for AA miles. Not happening with this deal, everything is on TAM code.

If you want to protect yourself on United miles, there are TAM-coded/United-operated flights from LGA/EWR-IAD-GRU (Sao Paolo), then GRU-SCL on TAM metal. You would definitely earn United miles on first two flights, and have access to Economy Plus and redeemable miles bonuses. The Flyertalk Mileage Run thread on this deal has some examples.

BUT, if LATAM decides to join OneWorld before your flight, then all this gets thrown out the window. You would earn zero United miles (because TAM would leave Star Alliance) and earn American miles because both LAN and TAM of LATAM would be in OneWorld.

Maybe this is why Christopher Elliot hates frequent flyer miles.


Citi Forward has a 30K ThankYou Point Bonus

November 24, 2012 Leave a comment

(I don’t have credit card referral links, this card is just one that I have experience with and thought I’d share)

The Citi Forward was (somewhat) my first credit card. It was actually a Citi MtvU card that I applied for in college the day I turned 18. And it was only my first credit card where I was the primary cardholder. I got some interesting bonuses, like 2000 points for a 4.0 GPA (which I achieved once, the semester I tried) or 750 points for a GPA above 3.5 (which was decent enough motivation to study). I also got 100 points for paying on time (always pay in full!). I’ve kept the card open ever since because it has no annual fee and certainly helps my credit score.

Years later, the Citi MtvU card was discontinued and turned into the Citi Forward, but the same general bonus categories remained. The signup bonus was only 10K points, so I didn’t think it was worth signing up for again before they changed my card.

However, via this FlyerTalk thread, there’s an old Citi Forward landing page that is offering a 30,000 ThankYou Points bonus on their Forward, with interesting spending requirements:

  • First 10,000 points for spending $500 in the first 3 months (months 1-3)
  • Second 10,000 points for spending $1000 in the second 3 months (months 4-6)
  • Third 10,000 points for spending $1500 in the third 3 months (months 7-9)

In effect, it’s a $3000 spending requirement but drawn out over 9 months with specific targets in each trimester.

This isn’t the best signup bonus, I’ll admit, but I love the Citi Forward for multiple reasons:

  • 5x ThankYou Points at restaurants
  • 5x ThankYou Points at bookstores, including
  • No annual fee

At 10,000 points, you can redeem for $100 gift cards, so a ThankYou Point is worth about 1¢, so this is a 5% return. If you have a card like the Citi ThankYou Premier, which increases the value of a ThankYou Point to 1.33¢ each, then it’s a 6.65% return for things like airfare. That beats the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which offers 2.14x on dining. I still value 5x UR from the Chase Freedom over 5x ThankYou Points when restaurants are that quarter’s bonus, but I use my Forward the rest of the year for restaurants and Amazon. ThankYou Points aren’t worth much, but when you’re earning them at a rate 3x faster than UR points, it helps your overall return.

Last month, I put a company luncheon on my Citi Forward and paid it off with Bluebird funded by Vanilla Reloads with the company Ink Bold. By doing so, I was able to get 5x ThankYou Points and close to 5x Ultimate Rewards points for one transaction, totaling >10% back (this was before Office Depot stopped selling vanillas, but the idea still applies if you can fund your Bluebird through other means).

The landing page says that you only earn 2 ThankYou Points for restuarants and bookstores, but the Terms & Conditions on the bottom say:

Unless you are participating in a limited-time offer, you will earn five ThankYou Points for every dollar you spend on purchases at (1) book stores, (2) record stores, (3) restaurants, including fast food restaurants, (4) motion picture theaters, and (5) video entertainment rental stores (“qualifying merchants”).

Citi is known for having old offers still available somewhere on the internets, so I would take a screenshot of the landing page if you apply, especially the 5x part on the bottom. They could also change the 5x deal anytime, but I still get 5x as of last month.

I would definitely apply for 2 Citi AAdvantage cards over this, possibly 2 Citi Hilton Reserve cards if hotel nights are your thing. But if you’re looking for a card that you want to keep forever and earn decent rewards on dining/Amazon spend when you’re not churning cards, the Citi Forward is tough to beat.

Categories: Citi, Credit Cards

Get 1.88% cash back on no-fee Amex gift cards

November 24, 2012 2 comments

Note: I would not purchase these gift cards with Citi credit cards (because they might get coded as cash advances) or with Amex credit cards (because it might initiate a financial review).

If you’re not signed up for, feel free to use my referral link (I do get a credit if you make a purchase through BigCrumbs).

Until Monday 11/26/2012, American Express is offering gift cards with no purchase fees, along with free standard shipping (on cards up to $200). In addition, is offering 1.88% cash back on these purchases, up from 1.4% … just do a search for “American Express Gift Card” on the site.

If you are having trouble coming up with minimum spend for a credit card, Amex gift cards are a good way of fixing that problem. By purchasing an Amex gift card, you are “paying forward” your transactions to either meet a deadline for spending or to get points sooner.

If you purchase a card over $200, you can’t do standard shipping, but there are promo codes such as WRAP12P, which will give you free 2-day shipping. However, T&C says that “Cash back is not offered on fee-free promotional codes.” In the end, if you are buying a $200 gift card, you are getting $3.76 cash back; if you buy a $3000 gift card, you earn $56.40 back. I would just go ahead and pay the already-discounted $3 shipping charge, since you come out ahead anyway with less risk.

The points world has fallen in love with prepaid cards and reloads, but those require fees that eat into your points earned. However, they are easier to unload through ATMs and Bill Pay. These Amex gift cards are more tough to unload, but if you can float this amount of money and can see yourself using them as gifts or methods of payments, it’s a good deal for spending on non-Citi/Amex credit cards (except maybe the Chase Ink family of cards, you’re better off purchasing gift cards with fees for 5x at office-supply stores).

Delta selling MQMs for as low as 10cpm

November 14, 2012 Leave a comment

Thanks to @GCRYAN on Twitter for linking me this … this offer was around last year and it looks like Delta is bringing it back this year.

You can buy 2500 MQMs at 15.8 cents per miles (cpm), 5000 MQMs at 11.9cpm, 7500 MQMs at 10.6cpm, or 10000 MQMs at 9.95cpm.

The main thing here to note is that these are not redeemable miles and will only count toward your MQM and Million Miler totals.

A better deal would be to apply for a Delta Platinum Amex or Delta Reserve Amex that offers MQMs as a signup bonus. This link will let you know if you are targeted for an offer — last year, I got 15000 MQMs and 40000 redeemable miles for a $1500 spending requirement. There was a $150 fee but I got a $100 statement credit as well. I canceled that card recently but Delta still thinks I hold it, so I wasn’t able to see if that deal still shows up. The Reserve offers 10,000 MQMs on first purchase, though has a heftier $450 fee that comes with Sky Club access.

If you are within 1500 MQMs of the next status, you may want to consider signing up for the Delta Sky Club with promo code SCMQM. At least you’re getting a tangible product with that purchase, and the price may be lower depending on your status level.

Note that if you are within 250 MQMs of the next status, you can get 250 MQMs for a 2-night stay at Hilton before December 15th.

If you can’t get a Reserve or Platinum Delta Amex, the only people who should be even be considering this are those at the cusp of a status level and who want to achieve that status level, especially Gold Medallion (explained below).

If you are going to fall short of Silver by less than 2500 MQMs and were considering a mileage run, this might be worth it if you think you’ll fly Delta even more next year. Remember that MQMs achieved before Silver status will not rollover — if you have 24,999 MQMs on December 31, you’ll have no status and 0 rollover the next year. If you have 25,001 MQMs on December 31, you’ll have status and 1 rollover MQM next year. There’s a huge difference there.

I think the biggest jump between status levels is between Silver and Gold, at the 50,000 MQM mark. You go from 25% bonus miles to 100% bonus miles, being able to book free domestic Economy Comfort 24 hours out to at booking, Sky Priority services, and international lounge access. I would definitely say that if you are within striking distance of 50,000 MQMs, this is a deal to consider if you don’t have time for a mileage run. The amount of money I’ve saved in being able to book Economy Comfort for free at booking outweighs the $200 mileage run I did to secure Gold last year. As Silver, I’d have to pay a discounted amount or gamble that a Economy Comfort seat is free at check-in (they’re pretty much never available at check-in).

Keep in mind that status is good until the end of February, not December, so you have 2 extra months of status. I have Gold Medallion until 2/28/2013 and will end the year at 49,975 MQMs. I’ll rollover 24,975 MQMs starting January 1st. I have about 22K miles of travel planned before the end of February, so I might be able to hit Gold sometime in early March. By qualifying for Gold in 2013 instead of 2012, I’ll get an extra year of status.

So, do I think this is a good deal? Not really … I’d rather make a quick mileage run for cheaper to earn both MQMs and Redeemable Miles. If I didn’t have the time, I’d take advantage of one of the other ways to earn MQMs — American Express, Hilton, Sky Club — before looking at this offer. If you have qualified for at least Silver Medallion, you’ll rollover MQMs to next year anyway. But if you’re in a bind and really want that next status level … at least Delta is giving you the option.

Categories: Delta

STAPLES has a temporary consolation offer for Ink cardholders

November 12, 2012 5 comments

Feeling blue about Office Depot’s decision to stop selling Vanilla Reloads? I know I am. Props to @aegt on Twitter, though, for notifying me this morning about this deal from STAPLES.

Between November 11 (yesterday) and November 24, STAPLES is giving a $15 Staples Gift Card for each $100+ Visa/Mastercard gift card you purchase. The activation fee is $5.95 for $100 gift cards and $6.95 for $200 gift cards. That fee is more than made up with the gift card, which you can turn around to use or sell on sites like Cardpool (though they only take gift cards >;$25 for STAPLES).

As for what you can do with these gift cards, you can use them like you would any prepaid gift card – if you purchase the cards with your Chase Ink Bold/Plus, it’ll still be a “5x somewhere else” solution. Others are opting to liquidate with Payments via Amazon. Me … I still have a Serve account that I didn’t close to get Bluebird, and it just so happens that Visa gift cards (but not Mastercard) play well with Serve as debit cards (as long as you register them with the Gift Card Mall’s website first). It’s free to load up to $200/day and $1000/month until March 15, 2013. I have used Serve to pay others for money I borrowed or owed.

I went to my local STAPLES today (which I have been otherwise neglecting for the Office Depot further down the road lately) and bought three $200 Visa gift cards (the yellow ones) with my Ink Bold — I’m trying to see if buying a $200 Visa will get me a $30 Staples Gift Card and save me some activation fees and grant me access to Cardpool selling if they come as separate gift cards. If it doesn’t work, I’ll try again later with $100 cards. Since my purchase was over $500, I had to do the manager authorization dance, though the clerk realized what I was up to when the rebate form printed. Luckily, these rebates work with, so I’ve already submitted the rebates online.

Edit: Looks like my rebate has already been processed. And that’s a very pleasant surprise 🙂

30 * 3 = 135 for very large values of 30

Edit2: Staples figured it out —

Dear Valued Staples Customer,

We have identified you as one of the consumers who may have visited the
Staples Easy Rebate site to track your rebate. Upon tracking your
submission, you may have noticed that the value of your rebate might
have calculated incorrectly.

Please know that we are working to correct this issue.  When you
receive your Staples gift card in the mail,  it will be loaded with
the correct reward value.

We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.

As always, thanks for shopping at Staples.

Staples Rebate Team

Now I’m curious what the “correct” rebate amount is.

Categories: Credit Cards, Gift Cards

SkyFalling on Vanilla

November 10, 2012 19 comments

It’s been a week since my last post — I’m not really cut out for this travel blogger thing. I’m more active on Twitter – that’s where all the fun is. After all, I still think of this as a hobby, and Twitter has been a great way to connect with like-minded others.

But then today happened. And I just needed to say something about it that 140 characters wouldn’t capture.

Back in the spring, FrequentMiler talked about being able to get 5x Ultimate Rewards points almost everywhere by using a Chase Ink card to purchase a Prepaid American Express and Vanilla Reload packs at Office Depot. Before that, we would simply use credit cards at stores that offered bonus categories to buy merchant gift cards. This was a huge deal because we could get 5x points at any place that accepted American Express, and use the prepaid cards at ATMs to help goose up effective spending.

I’m sure others may have figured out that chain of transactions before FrequentMiler, but his initial and followup posts were done so well, with all the requisite cautions and caveats, that I still consider it post of the year. There was no reason for me to write a blog post on it, since Frequent Miler had already covered so many bases. I do some work in the scientific research community, and knowing who came before you and recognizing their work is paramount to a writer’s credentials. Unless I had something to make the deal even better, there was no reason to keep on talking about it. Anyone who follows my blog and not Frequent Miler’s is doing themselves a huge disservice. There’s no need for me to copy+paste his work.

But over the course of the summer and now autumn, plenty of blogs simply copied down Frequent Miler’s information and touted it as their own, and added their own affiliate links to make money on it. No original research went into this, and that just tickled me funny.

All these posts brought out information into the forefront. Now, I’m fine with sharing deals, but there’s a difference between sharing and shouting from rooftops. In this hobby, somebody in the chain is going to lose money. In the purest example, airlines are giving us seats for pennies on the dollar with our miles. However, they’re doing so because they have an excess of inventory and can make money off the loyalty program.

But when we add other dealers into this mix – Chase, American Express, Office Depot, Incomm – somebody is going to lose money. Think about it – in the old Mint deal, the government was losing money due to credit card processing fees. Same here – Chase was giving 5x points but only recouping around 2% of the transaction, and Office Depot was losing 2% of each transaction, even though the reload fee was less than 1%. If I have a business and I’m losing money on a transaction, I stop selling that product. It may take a while to notice it, but eventually, that’ll be my course of action. But if people start writing up posts to tell thousands of others to exploit my business, you sure as hell should know that I’ll cut off that mistake from my customers.

Today, Office Depot abruptly decided to stop selling these Vanilla Reloads. It comes just as BlueBird was getting into stride (if you don’t know, Bluebird was an even more lucrative angle to the Ink 5x that was first detailed by FrequentMiler, then copied on every other blog to rake in hits and affiliate money). I spoke with the regional manager at my Office Depot store today and he told me that “We figured out what you all are up to” and that “people aren’t going to rip off Office Depot anymore.”

What’s funny is that the actual store manager knows me from my visits there and my conversations with him, and he didn’t think I was doing anything wrong since I told him a story of wanting to have an Amex for certain purchases (which is true) while leaving out the 5x angle. Yet, there are stories of customers who went into detail with the clerks on how they were taking advantage of Bluebird to get free points while sticking Office Depot with the bill. It’s a bit of a reach, but that breaks the 1st rule about these types of deals: “don’t call the banks/airlines/companies.” If the Office Depot person is wondering why you’re paying $4 to buy a $500 gift card, act dumb and just say your business told you too (that’s why you have a business employee card).

I also think it’s also false for any blogger to say that their site don’t carry any weight — my simple WordPress blog itself has gotten thousands of views and I’ve been contacted by representatives of companies I did trip reports on. The more commercial ones have got to have much more clout than I do. Some of them have actually met with the banks themselves, or have exclusive partnerships with the banks we’re trying to take advantage of. It’s as if they’re trying to be double agents, getting in cozy with the banks to try to help the common mileage junkie get an in. Sorry, but if there’s anything that 2008 taught me, it’s that banks will have the last laugh.

It also gets to be a little bit much to say that they shouldn’t be to blame for over-publicizing deals when FlyerTalk has just just as many posts. Last time I checked on Google, FlyerTalk didn’t show up on the front page when I searched “Vanilla Reload” (there is one post that shows up now, which is a discussion that started today). Sure, FlyerTalk is a large site, but it is an actual community there where people are willing to help out so long as you don’t blab everything out and make it easy for Google Alerts to get a company’s attention. If you don’t understand a thread, start participating and figure out who the big players in there are (you can click the number of posts to see the people with the most posts in the thread). If you need help, send a PM. Out of maybe 100 PMs, I’ve only heard “no” 2 or 3 times.

Now, I’ve only met one prominent blogger in person so far, and I’m glad to know that blogger. I’ll likely meet a lot more of them in a few weeks at Frequent Traveler University near LAX. I’m sure they are awesome people, and I even plunked down $99 to spend a weekend with them. But each of these blogs that I mentioned has a commercial arm, and that’s the part I’m critiquing.

I’m voting with my clicks, and have stopped giving my credit card signup affiliate money to blogs who are willing to kill deals for their personal gain. If you read my last app-o-rama post, you’ll notice that I purposefully mentioned giving my Ink signups to FrequentMiler; every other credit card was applied directly without an affiliate. I’m not asking everyone to do this, but money talks and I hope you give it a consideration.

I also made this video. Before you act offended, realize this is a very popular internet meme. Some people find it insensitive, but it’s been around for over 4 years as one of the most enduring internet parody videos … it’s not even the first mileage junkie parody this month!

Categories: American Express, Chase

Maximizing my first FlexPerks redemption

November 2, 2012 3 comments

Many people picked up the US Bank FlexPerks card in late August, when they offered a 33,150-point bonus related to the Olympics for spending $2500 in 5 months. The rewards are best used for paid air tickets, though the rewards categories are tiered. For 20,000 FlexPerks, you can buy any ticket up to $400. For a ticket between $400-$600, you’ll need 30,000 FlexPerks. This means that FlexPerks can be great for a $399.99 ticket (meaning you’ll get close to 2 cents per point value) but not so great for a $400.01 ticket (where you’ll get 1.33 cents per point). It also means that after making minimum spend, it’s best to try to go for 40,000 points to be able to redeem for two 20,000 point tickets.

I decided to take a trip last weekend where using regular airline miles wasn’t an option, and the cheapest fare was pricing out to $397.50. Talk about a good price for FlexPerks! As soon as my bonus points posted, I redeemed 20,000 FlexPerks for the ticket, meaning I got close to 1.99 cents per point value. Not bad! Best yet, I still earned Elite and Redeemable miles on my trip, since Delta saw it as a normal paid ticket. For a Los Angeles – Atlanta roundtrip, I earned 3892 base miles, 3892 medallion bonus miles (100% Gold Medallion bonus), 2000 segment bonus miles (for a targeted promotion), and 7500 customer relation bonus miles (my in-flight entertainment screen did not work on my outbound flight). In the end, I got a flight redemption + 17,284 redeemable miles + 3,892 medallion qualification miles by redeeming 20,000 FlexPerks. Pretty prettttty pretttttty good.

Better yet, whenever you redeem FlexPerks, US Bank will refund up to $25 of ancillary fees that you spend with the airline during your trip. It’s marketed as a reimbursement for checking a bag, but their materials say you can also use it to buy in-flight food and drinks. As a Delta Gold Medallion, I already get bags free (I didn’t even check a bag on trip) and usually get a free snack or drink whenever I print my boarding pass at home (with a free Have One On Us coupon).


If you are Gold Medallion or higher and don’t get an upgrade before the airport, print out your boarding pass without adblockers and you should get a free “Have One On Us” coupon. I usually go for the $7 Flight Delights box.

I decided to see if buying a Sky Club day pass would work as a reimbursable expense. They cost $50 for a day-pass – Skymiles Amex cardholders can buy a visit pass for $25 that’s good for one club, but day passes can be used at multiple clubs on the same trip, including the next day if your flight is an overnight one. I already have a SkyGuide Club reimbursement membership (that I picked up for $20) to refund up to twelve club passes up to $50 each, so I bought one with my US Bank FlexPerks card. After the charge posted, I called the number on the back of my US Bank card and explained I wanted $25 of that reimbursed. All I needed to do was provide the days of my trip and I was done within 5 minutes! I just sent the club pass to SkyGuide for another $50 reimbursement, so I consider this a free $25 :).

As for the club pass, I used it to access LAX’s SkyClub, which was crowded on Thursday night when I flew out. I arrived in ATL pretty early in the morning, though I wasn’t meeting anyone until mid-afternoon, so I decided to use my club pass within the airport at the various SkyClubs to get some work done before leaving security. I landed in concourse A, so made a quick stop by the newer A17 Sky Club to get some coffee and catch up on emails (believe it or not, there’s another SkyClub just 300 feet away from this one … ATL is definitely the Delta motherland).


Early morning in the ATL A17 Sky Club

Then I headed over to my favorite SkyClub in E-concourse, the old international concourse. It’s much bigger and quieter in some places. The views look out over a more international crowd of jets, and there’s a quiet relaxation room if you need to catch a nap. Best yet, it’s one of two SkyClubs at ATL with showers, great coming off a redeye.


Relaxation room, in the back of the SC near the showers.

Afterward, I finally got a chance to try out One Flew South, an eatery in E-concourse. Everyone I know who has eaten there has told me that it is the best airport restaurant they’ve ever been to. I am now one of those people. The prices are a bit high, but that’s normal for an airport. There’s also an included 18% gratuity for every diner, though I’ve heard that you can negotiate that with your waiter — 18% doesn’t seem too high to me, I just didn’t add any extra tip.


Facade, next to the Lufthansa Senator Lounge.


Sushi at 1FS


Pulled Duck Sandwich

On the return trip, my flight was departing from the new international concourse F, so I decided to buy another SkyClub pass to check that out. Unfortunately, MARTA is not exactly SMARTA, and 8:30am flights are pretty early for me, so I only got about 5 minutes in there to get a quick breakfast. The new F-club looks nice, but I’m still a bigger fan of the E-club.

As for why my domestic flight left the international terminal, that’s just a lucky aspect of having my life exist between two Delta international gateways. My flight was flown on a Boeing 777-200, which arrived in ATL from Johannesburg and needed to be at LAX for a flight to Tokyo. While I didn’t get upgraded to First class (which was actually Delta’s lie-flat BusinessElite offering), I was able to get an international Economy Comfort seat. I guess Delta doesn’t bother to change the in-flight entertainment system settings between international and domestic flights, so I also got free HBO/Showtime/movies. While I did miss out on having wi-fi (no wi-fi on primarily international aircraft), we arrived an hour early, in under 4 hours. That’s the fastest I’ve ever flown ATL-LAX westbound. Just another reason to pay attention to aircraft offerings on hub-to-hub routes ;).

Categories: Delta, US Bank