All posts in Hot Topics

Frequent flying execs share their tips for better air travel

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

When you’re up in the air a couple of times a month or more on business, you learn a thing or two about working the airline system and appreciating the differences between real value and service vs. marketing spin.  In this Hot Topics series, ExpertFlyer interviews top tier status frequent flyer business executives and entrepreneurs to learn what they value, what they’d like to change about air travel, and which habits and tips have made flying a better experience.

jennifer flowers frequent flyer

Frequent Business Traveler: Jennifer Flowers, founder & CEO, Accreditation Guru, Inc.

Meet Jennifer Flowers, founder & CEO of Accreditation Guru, Inc., an accreditation consultancy that works with non-profits across the country.

How often do you fly and which frequent flyer program are you a member of?

I fly an average of twice per month, which has helped me earn status as a Delta SkyMiles Platinum Medallion member. I used to be a member of American, US Airways, and Delta, but a few years ago I decided to fly Delta exclusively because of their superior service and to be able to consolidate my frequent flyer miles.

What are your frequent flyer ninja moves for enjoying as many perks via the airlines as possible?

I will look at the seat map before purchasing a ticket to see if there appear to be enough first class seats available for an upgrade to come through. As I have three local airports to choose from (NY metro area), the likelihood of an upgrade may affect which flight and airport I select.

I have both business and personal Delta American Express cards in order to maximize miles earned. Also, because of the amount of travel and other business expenses that are charged against my Delta AmEx, I am able to earn a Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs) Waiver (MQDs are a way for Delta to ensure that Elite members have spent a minimum amount of money with the airline, as well as flying a certain number of miles or segments).

I joined the Delta Sky Club as a way to enjoy the amenities offered (wifi, food and drink selections, comfortable waiting areas, etc.) and ease the stress of frequent travel. In the past year, I visited Delta Sky Clubs around the country at least 35 times. With the discounted rate of $29 access pass that is available through my Platinum Delta AmEx card (as opposed to $59 regular price of a single visit pass), my annual pass has allowed me to save more than 50% off of what the reduced rate access passes would have cost.

What’s your biggest brag about scoring something from the airlines and how did it come about? 

This may not count specifically as a “score” per se, but it certainly did impress me. When flying out of Traverse City, MI, in September 2016 I mentioned to the ticketing agent, Ann S., that the flight was putting me over the edge into Platinum status. She congratulated me, which was nice, and I went on to the gate to wait for my flight. Ann soon found me near the gate and presented me with a handwritten card that said, “Congratulations on your new platinum status! Thank you for your business and loyalty. – Ann S., TVC.” If that was not kind enough, she also included a $50 Delta voucher. Their customer service goes above and beyond and this is just one example I have witnessed.

Delta has a great social media team and I always enjoy it when they reply to my Tweets (@jen_flowers or @AccreditGuru) and retweet photos I have taken during my travels.

Anything else that other business travelers should know to help them make flying more enjoyable?

TSA PreCheck is a must!

 

U.S. Customs & Border Protection encourages travelers to “Know Before You Go”

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

us customsAs the busiest three months of international travel approach, U.S. Customs and Border Protection encourages travelers to “Know Before You Go” when traveling to the United States or returning home this summer. CBP officers at international airports, cruise terminals and land border ports of entry around the country and at Preclearance facilities around the world are prepared for the additional traffic expected this summer. Last summer, CBP processed more than 108.3 million international travelers at U.S. ports of entry.

“The United States has been and continues to be a welcoming country and CBP remains committed to facilitating lawful travel to the United States,” said Acting Commissioner Kevin McAleenan. “In the spirit of this commitment, CBP has deployed innovative programs and technology including Trusted Traveler Programs, Automated Passport Control kiosks and Mobile Passport Control to make the arrival process as efficient and as quick as possible while maintaining our dual mission of border security and travel facilitation.”

CBP encourages travelers to plan ahead to ensure a smooth and efficient processing experience. Use these tips to help you prepare. Continue reading →

Cash vs. Miles Study Finds 11 Travel Reward Cards Beat 2% Cash Back

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

travel reward credit cards

In a recent study, MileCards.com ranked 38 travel rewards cards with points that can be used for domestic flights, including the primary airline mile cards of the 5 largest airlines, along with the bank point rewards cards from the 10 largest banks.  Here are the key findings:

Eleven travel rewards cards beat 2% cash back

·         11 of the 38 travel rewards cards ranked came out ahead of a no annual fee 2% cash back card for domestic flight rewards when factoring annual fees. And three significantly outperformed.

·         The Barclaycard Arrival Plus, Amex Everyday Preferred, and Chase Sapphire Preferred each offer over $2,000 worth of reward value over 3 years, compared to $1,687 for a 2% cash back card.

best travel rewards credit cards

Only two airline cards came out ahead, both from Southwest

·         If you’re looking for domestic flight awards, sticking to a single airline card isn’t a good bet unless you fly enough to cover the annual fee with bag fee waivers or other perks. And even then, you’re often better off putting your spending on a different card.

·         Two things put airline cards at a disadvantage. First, most only earn a basic 1 mile per dollar spent with few bonus categories like dining or groceries. Second, excluding Southwest, the average price of a domestic award in miles is a high 37,332 miles round trip.

·         Southwest is the exception. With a generous sign on bonus and anniversary bonuses, plus very low prices of 13,722 points on average for a round trip flight, the flight value from its two credit cards, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier, and Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus from Chase, beat a basic 2% cash back card.

When paying no annual fee, cash back usually wins

·         When travel rewards are involved, an annual fee can pay off. All of the cards that came out ahead of a 2% cash back card carry an annual fee.  But for consumers who want to pay no annual fee, a 2% cash back card like the CIti Double Cash is usually a better bet than using a travel rewards card for domestic flight awards.

·         The Discover It Miles, with a generous first-year offer that effectively offers 3x points on all spending, is the only no annual fee travel rewards card that matches a 2% cash back card for earning power.

·         Bank of America customers with high account balances can also get better than 2% rewards via the Bank of America Travel Rewards card using Bank of America’s Preferred Rewards program.

Personal spending habits matter

·         It’s important to take into consideration personal spending habits when evaluating a card. For people who spend more than the average $3,008 a year on dining away from home, a card with a 2x or 3x bonus on dining like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve can outshine the Barclaycard Arrival Plus.  For example, a consumer who spends $6,000 a year on dining could earn $2,252 in flight awards net of fees over 3 years with a Chase Sapphire Reserve versus $2,104 with a Barclaycard Arrival Plus.

While the MileCards study used the average spending habits by category reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, using a calculator that calculates card rewards based on personal spending habits can help give a better sense of which cards will outperform. Read the full study on MileCards.com.

Best travel apps you’re missing out on

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

top travel apps

Credit Donkey, a popular credit card comparison website, recently published their list of favorite travel apps.  Spoiler Alert: ExpertFlyer Seat Alerts is one of their top picks along with 70 some odd worthy competitors.

Read the full post here.

 

Exploring Florida — The weirdest state in the union

When people think of Florida, the standard attractions come to mind: Disney, pretty beaches, rich Latin culture, etc. Travel blogger at OneWeirdGlobe.com, and guidebook author, Chris Backe, is working on his latest travel book, “What the Florida” and, like his other work, this look at Florida is anything but standard.

WATCH our interview with Chris to learn about the strange and unknown attractions that are worth a look-see if you’re visiting the Sunshine State.

You’ve been busy exploring the unexplored sites and attractions of Florida for your new book. Tell us how this came about?

Florida has a long history of being the weirdest state. Maybe it has something to do with the type of people it attracts, or maybe it’s just the hot weather that makes everyone a little nuts! Florida attracted a unique crowd of people, and as the reputation of the state grew, they chose to open plenty of quirky roadside attractions. Some of them are still open today, like the Weeki Wachee mermaids that entertain and delight. Others have been re-opened, like Ted Smallwood’s Store in Chokoloskee — a general store first established in the early 20th century.

As for me, I started blogging about the offbeat side of things in 2011 while living in South Korea. I had been exploring the country every weekend for three years… and was beginning to get a little bored. I began seeking out the places even the locals hadn’t heard about. A couple of years on, I had gotten into the habit of discovering the offbeat everywhere I went. When my wife and I decided to spend the winter in Florida, it was only natural to find the weird places… and boy there were tons!

What are some of the weird and exotic things to do and see in Florida?

Solomon's Castle in Ona

Solomon’s Castle in Ona

One of my favorite places is Solomon’s Castle in Ona, Florida. Imagine a guy that bought some land in Florida, only to realize it was partially located on a swamp. Undeterred, he proceeded to build a castle out of aluminum printing plates discarded by a local newspaper. In time, he added dozens of stained glass pieces, metal sculptures, and many other pieces of art. It’s a rapid-fire tour full of puns, and a whole lot of fun.

Another cool place is the American Space Museum in Titusville. This is the same town as the much more famous Kennedy Space Center, where all the rockets launch from. The American Space Museum is a more behind-the-scenes look at the many people involved in making the space program a success. There are some wonderful pieces of history here, and many of them are available for kids to touch and play with.

Where do you recommend travelers of varying tastes and demographics stay?

I don’t really get into hotels in the book since there are so many tastes and things to consider. For places to go, the 90-plus places in the book are aimed at a general population, with dozens of places that are kid-friendly and family-friendly.

Millennials
National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee – once a month this place of serious science opens its doors to a public tour. Inside is one seriously huge magnet, a dozen Guinness World Records, and a cryogenics lab you can peek inside.

Young Families
Tallahassee Automobile and Collectibles Museum in Tallahassee – a great look at the cars of the past to the generations of today.

Couples
World Erotic Art Museum in Miami – a “not safe for work” look at erotica across the world and the centuries.

Boomers
Burger Beast Museum in Miami – a surprising look back at the history of hamburgers and restaurants.

American Space Museum in Titusville

American Space Museum in Titusville

Adventure/thrill Seekers
Key West Shipwreck Museum – get in the spirit of the past with a kitschy tour showing the treasures and wrecking industry. I’d also recommend the Kennedy Space Center in Titusville for an exceptional launch simulator with all the warnings you’d expect from an awesome roller coaster ride.

Are there any timely events coming up over the summer that folks should know about and maybe check out?

June has a couple of fun pirate festivals — see the Billy Bowlegs Pirate Festival in Fort Walton Beach or the Cocoa Beach Pirate Festival in Cocoa Beach. For a wackier time, check out the Celebrity Mascot Games in Orlando and see professional sports mascots compete in crazy games for charity.

For July, get to Key West for the Key Lime Festival. Lots of pies and cocktails. Also in Key West is the Hemingway Days Festival — whether you look like the famous author or just appreciate his work, there’s a lot going on.