Monthly Archives: March 2017

31Mar 2017

Frequent flyers: what's your supermarket points strategy … – Australian Business Traveller

TALKING POINT | Supermarket loyalty programs like Woolworths Rewards and Flybuys aren’t actually about flying and certainly aren’t rewarding, with members earning less than half an airline frequent flyer point per dollar spent with the likes of Qantas, Virgin Australia and Etihad Airways.

Because of this, savvy shoppers know they’re not going to get a free flight just from buying groceries – but as a better strategy, could instead use these programs as a way of topping-up their existing frequent flyer points balance.

That’s the approach I take, but it doesn’t find me loyal to one supermarket chain over the other: I’m easily swayed by offers of bonus points, because these seriously hike the number of points on the table.

For instance, Woolworths frequently offers me a fixed number of bonus points in return for dropping a certain amount (or more) on groceries – such as spend $30 and get 1,000 bonus Woolworths Points, equal to 435 Qantas Points.

Flybuys also frequently churns out offers of triple points on individual shops of your choice – usually via printed vouchers on your supermarket receipt, which I’ll usually save and scan during my biggest Coles shop that week or fortnight to maximise the bonus points earned.

(You can stretch that even further by paying for your groceries using the American Express Platinum Edge Card, which offers its own helping of three frequent flyer points per dollar spent on everything you buy at Coles and Woolworths, year-round!)

But enough about my strategy – how about your supermarket frequent flyer strategy?

Do you just scan your loyalty card and move along, play the game of chasing bonus points, or just keep things simple by buying your groceries wherever is closest or cheapest, and if you happen to earn frequent flyer points on top, that’s good enough?

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31Mar 2017

Ivanka in the Trump White House: the rewards, and the risks – Christian Science Monitor

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Christian Science Monitor

Ivanka in the Trump White House: the rewards, and the risks
Christian Science Monitor
Ivanka in the Trump White House: the rewards, and the risks. models of thought. Making the president's eldest daughter a West Wing adviser at a time of political struggle brings a loyal, steadying presence to Trump's side, but does nothing to alleviate
Ivanka Trump, Shifting Plans, Will Become a Federal EmployeeNew York Times
Ivanka Trump set to get West Wing office as role expandsPolitico

all 333 news articles »

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31Mar 2017

Trump Administration Appeals Hawaii Federal Judge's Order Blocking Travel Ban – NPR

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President Trump’s executive order restricting travel to the U.S. from six majority-Muslim countries was blocked indefinitely by U.S. District Judge Derrick K. Watson in Hawaii. The administration has appealed to the 9th Circuit Court to overturn Watson’s decision.

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The Trump administration has appealed an order by a federal judge in Hawaii that indefinitely blocks the president’s executive order restricting travel to the U.S. from six majority-Muslim countries and suspending the U.S. refugee program.

The state of Hawaii sued to stop the travel ban, arguing the president’s policy violates the Constitution. U.S. District Judge Derrick K. Watson extended his nationwide order blocking the executive order while the lawsuit continues. The administration has asked the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to rule against Watson.

Hawaii officials argued that the ban — a modified version issued after the first executive order was also blocked by federal courts — discriminates against travelers on the basis of religion. Watson said in his ruling that the state had shown “a strong likelihood of success on the merits of their Establishment Clause claim, that irreparable injury is likely if the requested relief is not issued.”

As the Two-Way has reported, the president sought to deny entry to citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days and suspend the U.S. refugee program for 120 days.

The first part of the executive order, affecting travelers from the six majority-Muslim countries, was also blocked by a U.S. district judge in Maryland. That preliminary injunction remains in effect. The Trump administration is appealing the Maryland ruling to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Trump administration promised “extreme vetting” of people seeking visas and has issued guidelines in a series of memorandums from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to U.S. embassies.

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31Mar 2017

The 2 Credit Card Companies with the Most Loyal Customers – Motley Fool

For the first time in its six year history, credit ranked as the overall preferred method of payment in Total Systems Services‘ 2016 U.S. Consumer Payment Study. The survey results reinforce what we seemingly observe every day. Consumers choose credit cards for a variety of reasons: reward points, credit score improvement, and superior protection against fraud.

As credit card usage increases, it might be worthwhile, as both consumers and investors, to see which credit card companies command the most loyalty from their account holders. Fortunately, we have the Brand Keys’ annual Customer Loyalty Engagement Index to help us with this task.

Image source: Pixabay.

While it is a little unclear how the index, which looks at customer relationships with 740 brands across 83 industries, calculates its loyalty rankings, the marketing consulting group did have this to say about its study:

The Brand Keys data paints a detailed picture of the category drivers that engage customers, engender loyalty and drive real profits.

These drivers not only define how the consumer will view the category, compare offerings, and, ultimately, buy, but also identify the expectations the consumer holds for each driver. The brand whose drivers come closest to meeting (or even exceeding) those of the category Ideal is always the one whose customers will demonstrate the highest levels of engagement and loyalty over the next 12 to 18 months.

Credit card rankings

In the credit cards category, the payment networks Mastercard and Visa finished sixth and fifth (tied) respectively. This might not be too surprising since the networks only facilitate transactions for the card-issuing banks and consumers and do not issue cards themselves.

The big card-issuing banks finished higher on the list: Citigroup Inc(NYSE:C) placed fifth (tie), Bank of America Corp(NYSE:BAC) fourth, JPMorgan Chase & Co.(NYSE:JPM) third, and Capital One Financial Corp. (NYSE:COF) second.

So, if the duopoly payment networks and the giant card-issuing banks didn’t finish atop the rankings, who did? It was actually a tie between the American Express Company(NYSE:AXP) and Discover Financial Services(NYSE:DFS).

Why American Express?

I must admit, I was probably most surprised by the inclusion of American Express at the top spot. I thought too many angry customers being forced to exit American Express’s fold when the company lost out on the Costco co-brand deal would have soured their ranking performance for a good while longer.

But give the company credit. Its increase in marketing and focus on offering rewards that customers cannot get anywhere else seem to be paying off. In 2016’s fourth quarter, American Express spent more than $1.2 billion on marketing and promotion expenses; a whopping 30% sequential increase over the third quarter!

Bar graph from American Express earnings presentation showing rising market costs for the company


In the most recently reported quarter’s conference call, CFO Jeffrey Campbell commented on the rewards that he believes set American Express apart from other credit card rivals:

We are seeing higher levels of engagement in many of our premium services, such as airport lounge access, and cobrand benefits such as First Bag Free on Delta. As we look ahead to 2017, we will continue to invest through this line as we expand the differentiated features and benefits we offer to our Card Members. We view this as another important component of our initiatives to drive revenue growth.

Why Discover?

For those keeping score, this is Discover’s at least second consecutive year finishing on top of the rankings. It should also be noted that this isn’t the only survey finding Discover on top of customer satisfaction ratings. Last year, Discover finished first in the J.P. Power credit card customer satisfaction ratings for the third year in a row.

Discover’s business growth seems to reflect these high marks in customer satisfaction. Last quarter, every one of Discover’s loan portfolios saw growth including its credit card, personal, and student loan portfolios. In last quarter’s press release, CEO David Nelms stated, “We are proud of all we accomplished in 2016, including record originations in personal and student loans as well as strong new card account growth, all of which helped us to achieve nearly 7% loan growth.”

Bar graph showing student and personal loan portfolio growth for Discover

Image source: Discover Financial Services 2016 Q4 Earnings Presentation

So what is consistently setting Discover apart from its peers? In last quarter’s conference call, Nelms explained that the 5% cash back the company offers is a great headline number that grabs new customers’ attention. Nelms also believes the revolving broad categories increased customer engagement with their Discover cards. But the secret sauce might be more than just the percentage the company offers back as rewards. In the company’s 2016 fourth quarter conference call, CFO R. Mark Graf explained:

…we’re very focused on an overall value proposition as opposed to competing on the basis of headline earn rate, right? So it’s also about ease of redemption, dollar thresholds to redeem. We removed all those things. So it’s not just about what’s the headline earn. It’s can you actually use it, right?

Discover deserves extra credit for creativity in this category. In its recent deal with PayPal, Discover was the first credit card company to work into the deal that its card holders could redeem points through using PayPal’s payment platform.

Offering differentiating rewards and giving customers option regarding how to redeem their rewards appear to be a winning combination for increasing customer loyalty. Investors should take note: There are worse investing metrics to follow than a company’s customer-base satisfaction when considering potential investments. 

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31Mar 2017

what's your supermarket points strategy? – Australian Business Traveller

TALKING POINT | Supermarket loyalty programs like Woolworths Rewards and Flybuys aren’t actually about flying and certainly aren’t rewarding, with members earning less than half an airline frequent flyer point per dollar spent with the likes of Qantas, Virgin Australia and Etihad Airways.

Because of this, savvy shoppers know they’re not going to get a free flight just from buying groceries – but as a better strategy, could instead use these programs as a way of topping-up their existing frequent flyer points balance.

That’s the approach I take, but it doesn’t find me loyal to one supermarket chain over the other: I’m easily swayed by offers of bonus points, because these seriously hike the number of points on the table.

For instance, Woolworths frequently offers me a fixed number of bonus points in return for dropping a certain amount (or more) on groceries – such as spend $30 and get 1,000 bonus Woolworths Points, equal to 435 Qantas Points.

Flybuys also frequently churns out offers of triple points on individual shops of your choice – usually via printed vouchers on your supermarket receipt, which I’ll usually save and scan during my biggest Coles shop that week or fortnight to maximise the bonus points earned.

(You can stretch that even further by paying for your groceries using the American Express Platinum Edge Card, which offers its own helping of three frequent flyer points per dollar spent on everything you buy at Coles and Woolworths, year-round!)

But enough about my strategy – how about your supermarket frequent flyer strategy?

Do you just scan your loyalty card and move along, play the game of chasing bonus points, or just keep things simple by buying your groceries wherever is closest or cheapest, and if you happen to earn frequent flyer points on top, that’s good enough?

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30Mar 2017

Free Hearthstone Daily Login Rewards Available For A Limited Time – GameSpot

As promised, Blizzard is providing Hearthstone players with rewards for logging in every day, but only for a limited time.

Beginning today, March 29, and running for the next week, you can pick up some freebies by simply opening the game. You don’t actually have to play a match or anything of the sort; you simply have to be running an updated version of the game. There’s a specific reward available each day; today offers free gold, while card packs, dust, and a special card will also be available.

Here’s the schedule:

  • March 29: 50 gold
  • March 30: Mean Streets of Gadgetzan card pack
  • March 31: 100 dust
  • April 1: Whispers of the Old Gods card pack
  • April 2: Journey to Un’Goro card pack
  • April 3: 50 gold
  • April 4: Journey to Un’Goro card pack
  • April 5: Golden Volcanosaur card (pictured above)

This is meant to promote the upcoming Journey to Un’Goro expansion, which adds 135 new cards, a new keyword, and more. It’s slated to arrive in early April, kicking off the Year of the Mammoth, which introduces some major changes.

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30Mar 2017

Why Bargain Travel Sites May No Longer Be Bargains – Backchannel

Aggregators like Expedia have made us lazy — and we may be missing out on the best deals.

Last August, Andrea Giacobbe logged on to Skyscanner, a European metasearch engine like Expedia and Travelocity that scans multiple travel websites and surfaces the cheapest fare.Giacobbe, a 52-year-old management consultant, was looking to book a flight from New York City to Genoa, Italy—a trip he’s made numerous times for family visits. He’d always relied on Skyscanner for a discount.

This time, the cheapest fare wasn’t that cheap: It was for an Alitalia flight that made two stops, through Milan and Rome, for $2,050. Surprised at the high quote, he decided to call Alitalia. Immediately, the airline offered a $1,550 flight with only one stop in Rome. It was cheaper. It would get there faster. They even offered him a discounted car rental.

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“It blew my mind,” recalled Giacobbe. He hadn’t called Alitalia directly in years. He was accustomed to almost always relying on Skyscanner for the best deal.

Giacobbe’s experience is becoming more typical. Over the past several years, the conventional wisdom has been that cruising the net would yield the best prices in the travel, hotel, and car rental spaces. There’s been a tidal shift in the travel industry, to a point where most of us use aggregators to book our trips. Who bothers talking to a human being—a travel agent? You’re just going to be stuck in a long option queue.

Most of us rely on metasearch engines, like Priceline, Expedia, or Travelocity, which typically use dozens (sometimes as many as 200) of online travel agents, called OTAs, and aggregators to find the best deals. (A metasearch engine and an aggregator are interchangeable terms — they both scour other sites and compile data under one roof. An OTA is an actual travel agency that actually does the booking and is the lone site responsible for everything you buy through them.) We rely on these sites because we assume they have the secret sauce — the most powerful search engines, tweaked by superstar programmers armed with the most sophisticated algorithms—to guide us to the cheapest options. With a single search, you can feel assured that you are paying a rock bottom price.

Over time, however, the convention has flipped. As competition among the sites heated up, the hard-to-believe cheap fares required some filtering. A too-good-to-be-true fare ($99 to Europe from California) usually came with a catch (the $400, indirect, ticket home). And as the business models that on which these aggregators rely are getting tighter, the deals are getting worse. How can you be certain you’re getting the lowest quote? The short answer is, you can’t.

While reporting this piece I spoke to several software engineers, executives of hotel chains, as well as academics and researchers who have spent a considerable amount of time and effort digging into the issue. Their conclusion is that the industry is in flux, and that really good bargains—for hotels, flights, and car rentals—are often largely illusory. “Hotels are not giving the aggregators as many good deals as they did in the past,” a former software engineer who used to work for Priceline told me. (He didn’t want his name used because he still is seeking work in the industry.) “You might as well call Sheraton’s front desk.”

And good luck finding the delinquent parties: The number of players behind each transaction has ratcheted up.For every potential deal, there are likely to be multiple aggregators in the food chain, with each site taking a cut and ultimately driving up the final cost. My ex-Priceline source told me that aggregators explain away price fluctuations by citing the ebb and flow of supply and demand, which varies greatly in seasonal resort areas. But really, it’s a breakdown in the system. Just as airlines and hotels began trimming travel agent commissions more than 20 years ago, now history is repeating itself. “The airlines don’t want to pay the aggregators anymore,” he told me.

Which means the people who are paying them are us.

As early as the 1990s, before the ubiquity of the internet, you called your travel agent and he or she took care of everything — your flights, the hotel, the rental car. America Airlines, the Hyatt, Hertz and the like paid the travel agents to offer their services. But slowly, the landscape changed. The airlines and hotel chains stopped paying. Travel agents stopped offering their services for “free.” The consumer shouldered their fees, and travel agents became irrelevant players to all but the boutique wealthy travelers who didn’t need to worry about cost.

Technology aided in this inevitable disruption, and ultimately helped create some of the pricing chaos we see today. As the internet became the first stop for travel shopping, we started searching for bargains via keystroke commands. We stopped talking to hotel clerks, rental car agents, and airline reservation agents, and we boasted to our friends about our low-cost vacations to Lake Como.

All of this was made possible by the web aggregators.

Web aggregators work like this: When you type in where you want to go, when you want to go, or where you want to stay, the aggregators give you a list of options. The vendors set the prices of the options, not the aggregators, and adjust them at their will. The aggregators are paid by the click, but if you book a plane or hotel room through them, they get a larger commission from the company. Most of the contracts with online travel sites do not allow them to undercut the hotels’ or airlines’ rates.

In the early days of online booking, sites like Kayak and Orbitz were able to cut deals with hotel chains and airlines by asking for blocks of empty hotel rooms or airline seats that normally went unsold. A Delta or Starwood could justify paying high commissions for a booking because any sale was better than an empty seat or a vacancy. But as more aggregators popped up the business model was shaken; there were suddenly layers of players, all looking for a piece of your booking. As search technology became more powerful and accessible, more and more hotel rooms were being sold at third-party sites.

Commercial vendors have also taken advantage of the technology to delve into your shopping behavior. Browser cookies give information to aggregators that can trigger price disparities. Your zip code and even your device can make a difference. For example, if you’re looking for a hotel room at 5 p.m. for that evening and you’re using your phone to search, the aggregator’s algorithm will assume you’re more desperate than if you were using your desktop computer. “Every time you look at a deal, your search is recorded somewhere,” the ex-Priceline programmer told me.

The hospitality industry has responded to all of this by trying to sell rooms without paying commissions. I talked to a CEO in California that runs a corporation consisting of a handful of resort hotels (he also didn’t want to be identified). He told me that in the past few years, the large chains have ramped up advertising and promotion, often by gussying up their own websites and offering easy entry rewards programs by booking directly through their sites.

I wondered about the deals offered by TripAdvisor, which advertises itself as the best metasearch engine to get the cheapest prices. Brian Hoyt, the head of corporate communications, insisted that its new “instant book technology” scours all of the current available rates from all the major OTAs and aggregators. He said the company has struck major deals with Hilton, Starwood, and Marriott, among other large hotel chains.

TripAdvisor, which bills itself as the “world’s largest travel site,” may be desperate for other deals. (It’s latest financial statement shows negative cash flow in the hotel sector, so business is not exactly thriving.) When I pressed Hoyt about equaling or beating the offers on Hilton’s site, he evaded the question. If you check TripAdvisor’s results against any of Hilton’s hundreds of thousands of rooms, you will see that the cheapest Hilton rooms are found on their own site.

Search results for a room at the Hilton Garden Inn in New York City the weekend of May 26th—TripAdvisor, on the left, and the Hilton’s website, on the right.

Consolidation, mergers, and acquisitions of the aggregators have driven up prices even higher. Expedia owns and a dozen-plus sites, including Travelocity, Orbitz, and Trivago. Behind the scenes, Expedia licenses out access to its databases and technology, so it’s very easy for someone to set up a “new” aggregator business that is really just another version of Expedia under a different name. Pretty much anyone can get in the game by paying for access to the Central Reservation System, or CRS, for hotel rooms, or the Sabre or Amadeus data bases that list the prices of almost every airline and flight, with up-to-date fluctuations in fares.

“Every middle man wants to get a piece, and so there are small fees that go everywhere,” said Christo Wilson, the head of the Algorithm Auditing Research Group at Northeastern University’s College of Computing and Information Science. Two years ago he spent months researching aggregator behavior, using a team of 300 volunteers. His team discovered that dynamic pricing (shifts due to supply and demand, and dictated by mouse-click traffic) also led to price discrimination and “steering,” where consumers were led to sites that weren’t necessarily the best deals.

Wilson’s group noted that Orbitz was steering Apple OSX users, for example, to more expensive hotels, since the algorithm assumed that an Apple user was more affluent than a PC user. The company denied the accusation but ended the practice. In a response to Wilson’s research, the company said using the Mac OS was just an “experiment” and “short-lived.”

As OTAs became more prominent, it also become more difficult to complain to the front desk. Today’s complaint department has many hidden layers guarding it. And it may be harder than ever to find it when something goes wrong when you book through an aggregator. As the number of aggregators have grown, it’s become more difficult to pinpoint the responsible party when a guest has a problem with a booking. Yelp and other review sites boast thousands of reviews from unhappy customers wondering how their reservations mysteriously disappeared on arrival.

Wilson says the problem is the sheer volume of players. Search any app store and you’ll find dozens of companies that allow you to book hotel rooms—but most of the sites have never corresponded directly with the company. “They’re just a layer that resells from someone else’s database,” Wilson told me. So when a customer has a problem, it’s difficult to know who to go to—as Wilson said, because “once the stack is sufficiently deep, it’s impossible to say who actually made the sales.”

There are already signs that computer and smartphone users are wizening up. Sarah Hughes, a cofounder of travel industry consulting firm Fiz, has reported that research shows that “the majority of users now prefer to book directly via airlines and hotels rather than rely on online travel agencies….What does this tell us? That consumers are more interested in travel brands than they are in having information pre-filtered according to a narrow set of perceived needs.”

But it also tells us something far more important. It reveals that consumers are no longer taking for granted that aggregators offer the best deals. “The price compare sites are mostly a waste of time,” Tom Lewis, a self-proclaimed travel industry insider, wrote on Quora. “The only deals are on last minute unsold inventory in off-season periods. You can get those discounts by calling yourself or better yet booking with a good agent.”

He’s right: The price control pendulum is swinging back toward the hoteliers. “It was really easy for the aggregators to gobble up all this business in the past because the hotels weren’t really paying any attention,” that West Coast CEO told me. But eventually, the aggregators cornered so much of the market that they jacked up their commissions high enough that everyone had to take notice. The CEO revealed that his hotels typically paid aggregators 20 percent commission—and in many cases even 30 percent.

In past two or three years the hotel industry has been fighting the aggregators by offering deals that wiggle around the contracts they originally set with them. Let’s say, for example, your hotel chain has a set rate for a room. You enter in an agreement with an aggregator that says you won’t further discount the rate that is the “lowest price” a customer can find on the internet.But you can get around it by offering a potential guest an instant membership in your “loyalty” program. You can throw in additional “amenities” (parking, spa, and so on) that would normally cost extra and you would not be violating your agreements by undercutting the base price of the room. Tricky? You bet.

In February 2016, the Hilton Hotels Corporation decided to challenge aggregators with a bold plan: guaranteeing the lowest possible rate if you went right to the source, its own website. The push came with a marketing slogan, “Stop Clicking Around,” and a series of TV ads featuring the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction.” Chris Silcock, the chain’s chief commercial officer, told me that it was the largest, most expensive marketing push in the chain’s 97-year history. Hilton is a perfect test case: If Expedia is the elephant in the aggregator space, Hilton is the elephant in the hospitality industry. Its subsidiaries have 775,000 rooms in 4,700 hotels in 550 locations on six continents.

Silcock said the campaign was a huge success. The subtle sales gimmick behind the plan was to get first-time guests to sign up for the Hilton’s honors rewards program. Membership over the last year has doubled, from three million to six million with a total of 60 million now in their database. And much of the growth was via the hotel chain’s smartphone app. “You don’t have to join our club,” Silcock said, “but it will give you a better price.”

The Intercontinental Hotels Group, which owns several brands from Holiday Inns to Candlewood Suites, also announced a slightly less aggressive campaign. Beginning this year, it will not offer rewards points if guests book through aggregators.

Last October, I checked the online price of a Hilton Embassy Suites room in Fort Lauderdale for a weekend in January. A listing of $349 a night was quoted by TripAdvisor, PriceFinder,, and Expedia. The Hilton website quoted me a price of $331.

You can pat yourself on the back clicking around, looking for a cheap hotel room or a great airfare. But it might be better to resort to an old technology: Just pick up the phone and call the front desk.

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30Mar 2017

5 of the Best Travel Credit Card Perks – Motley Fool

With so many credit cards out there, keeping on top of the ones with the best perks and deals isn’t easy. Offers change frequently, and many rewards programs get upgraded over time.

We’ve compiled a list of the current top travel rewards cards, and categorized them by perk, from sign-up bonuses to easy redemptions and better-than-average rental car insurance. Here are some of the best cards in every category.

Top credit cards for signup bonuses

A good signup bonus can be alluring; an entrepreneurial consumer could easily navigate a bonus offer and score a free vacation, just by opening a new card and meeting the minimum spending requirements.

One card that stands out in this category is the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which rewards new cardholders with 50,000 bonus points if they spend $4,000 in the first three months after opening the account. When redeemed through Chase’s portal for travel, the signup bonus alone is worth about $625. The annual fee of $95 (waived in the first year) may make this card better suited for people with larger spending habits, or those who don’t intend to keep it around all that long. 

Travelers who prefer the simplicity of no annual fees and lower spending requirements should take a look at BankAmericard Travel Rewards Credit Card. It pays out to the tune of 20,000 points for new cardholders who spend at least $1,000 in the first 90 days, which can be redeemed via a flexible statement credit. The recurring rewards can be especially lucrative for Bank of America customers, as rewards are increased 10% just for having a checking or savings account. Preferred Rewards clients see their rewards rate increased up to 75% over the base rate of 1.5 points per dollar spent, potentially bringing rewards all the way up to 2.62 points per dollar spent.

Sign-up bonuses can put you on the road faster. Image source: Getty Images.

Cards with the easiest redemptions

We tend to think that credit cards with flexible redemption options (statement credits) are better than those that force you to redeem through a bank’s travel portal. Statement credit redemptions allow you to book travel any way you’d like. At the moment, three cards fitting that criterion stand out — one of which being the aforementioned BankAmericard Travel Rewards Credit Card.

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard narrowly lost out for a place in our group of the best signup-bonus cards, but it earns a spot here. It offers 50,000 miles (worth $500 of travel-related statement credits) to new cardholders who spend at least $3,000 in the first 90 days after opening an account. As an added perk, cardholders enjoy another 5% bonus on redemptions. An effective rewards rate of 2.1 miles per dollar (2 points plus the 5% bonus), plus flexible redemption options makes this a good everyday travel card, but be aware of its $89 annual fee, which is waived for the first year.

Similar to the Barclaycard, Capital One Venture Rewards offers statement credit redemptions, 2 miles for every dollar spent, and 40,000 bonus miles (worth $400 in travel) after cardholders spend $3,000 on purchases within three months of account opening. And while it doesn’t offer a bonus for making redemptions, its annual fee of $59 (waived for the first year) is lower than the Barclaycard option, which may make it more attractive for those with lower spending needs.

Three more hidden benefits few know about

Many cards have ancillary benefits that can be worth thousands of dollars, but you may have to dig through a lot of fine print to discover them.

Travelers who frequently drive rental cars may prefer the Chase Sapphire Preferred for the fact it offers primary car insurance when cardholders don’t shell out for the rental company’s collision insurance and charge the rental to the card. The big advantage here is that it’s primary coverage, which means it will pay for damage to the car before the renter’s personal car insurance. Most cards only offer secondary coverage, stepping in after the renter’s personal insurance has paid out what it covers. So, with secondary coverage,  in the event a rental car comes back damaged, you’d have to file a claim, and likely be faced with years of higher insurance premiums — two things those who have primary protection from a credit card won’t have to worry about.

If keeping an eye on your credit score is important to you, the BankAmericard Travel Rewards Credit Card and Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard offer the ability to see your true FICO credit score, and will even send you alerts about important activity (changing scores, or new account openings). These benefits are completely free.

Finally, the Chase Sapphire Preferred can multiply the value of rewards earned on other Chase cards. Cardholders receive a 20% discount through the Ultimate Redemptions portal, effectively making each point worth 1.25 times the standard value. This may tip the scale for cardholders who have other Chase cards with large point balances, as transferring those points to the Chase Sapphire Preferred card immediately increases their value for travel redemptions. 

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30Mar 2017

BI-LO introduces new rewards program after ending Fuelperks –

(WSPA) – A widely popular Upstate grocery store rewards card is coming to an end.
BI-LO’s Fuelperks are ending which means its customers can no longer get discounts on gas from Spinx.
It marks the split of a long-standing relationship between two companies that both got their start in the Upstate.
But consumers have no fear there are other options that can continue the savings.
“We introduced it to Bi-lo,” said Spinx President Stan Storti. He admits, ending it wasn’t their choice.
“We don’t want to see it go,” he said.
BI-LO FuelPerks rewards members like Cynthia McGee had enjoyed knowing that grocery shopping meant saving at her favorite gas station.
“I mean, I hate that it’s changing, nobody likes change,” she said.
BILO says it’s about the numbers.  Fuelperks users are in decline. Spinx agrees, even though its gas customers are rising.
“We saw redemptions drop by about 13% in 2016 meanwhile our total fuel gallons, the amount of volume that we do in our stores, actually increased by about 2 and 1/2%,” said Storti.
What’s also on the rise is Spinx’s own rewards program called Xtras. It offers at least 5 cents off per gallon for every $25 you spend in its convenience stores. Customers who link the card to their debit account get an additional 5 cents off per gallon they spend at the pump.
How much you save, of course, depends on how much you spend inside. Spinx told me last month its rewards customers saved 33 cents a gallon, compared to 28 cents for Fuelperks users.
As for Bilo, it’s launching a new rewards program called Plenti. You can cash in points, not just at gas stations like Mobil and Exxon, but retailers like Macy’s, Rite Aid and AT&T.
Driving customers, like Cheryl Hopper, who don’t do rewards cards to reconsider.
“Yeah, I’m going to get that card, cause I was like, it’s going to be worth it because it’s not just the one store,” said Hopper.
For more details, see the Q&A below:
Q: Why is BI-LO leaving fuelperks!?
A:We have learned that most of our customers don’t use the fuelperks! program and the number of our customers using the program are in decline.
Because we’re committed to providing our customers with a loyalty program that delivers true value and flexibility, we are incredibly excited to upgrade to a program that we believe is more flexible and more appealing for our loyal customers – BI-LO Rewards with Plenti! It allows our customers to save on gas and groceries when they buy gas and groceries, and the points don’t expire for two years!
Q: How does it work?
A: Customers can conveniently link their current rewards cards with a new BI-LO Rewards with Plenti® card at their neighborhood BI-LO or online. Customers can then fully register online to easily start earning points in the store by using the card! It’s also just as easy to redeem points when purchasing groceries – just swipe your loyalty card and we’ll tell you how many points you have available to redeem.
Customers will be able to earn Plenti points just by shopping in store, plus there will be bonus points on more than 1,000 products when the program launches.
Q: Why have you chosen Plenti?
A: We know our customers are hardworking families on a budget and we know they can benefit from flexible savings on everything from household supplies to gas. Plenti™ has many partners that are known as the very best in their respective industries and can provide the flexibility our customers have requested. Plenti’s partners, such as ExxonMobil, AT&T, Nationwide Insurance, Hulu, Chili’s, Macy’s and more –all have an established presence in the Southeast and lots of success with the Plenti loyalty rewards program.
(Credit: Sharry Cramond, Chief Marketing Officer, Southeastern Grocers)

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29Mar 2017

Trump's travel ban could cost $18B in US tourism, analysis shows – USA TODAY


Travel analysts estimate that Trump’s temporary travel ban could costs U.S. tourism billions.

President Trump’s temporary travel ban and an inhospitable political climate could punch an $18 billion hole in U.S. tourism by international visitors over the next two years, projections by travel analysts show.

Foreign tourism is a $250 billion-a-year business in the United States, and Trump’s original and revised executive orders temporarily banning travel from majority Muslim countries — put on hold by federal courts — have dampened interest worldwide in visiting the U.S., travel and tourism executives told USA TODAY.

“The U.S. has put an unwelcome mat at our front door,” said Henry Harteveldt, president of Atmosphere Research Group, which conducts travel research.

Precipitous declines in airline bookings followed the Jan. 27 and March 6 travel ban announcements, and hotels reported less traffic in February.

About 4.3 million fewer international travelers will visit the U.S. this year because of the bans, a revenue loss of $7.4 billion, according to Tourism Economics of Wayne, Pa. Another 6.3 million visitors and $10.8 billion that they would have spent will be lost in 2018, it estimated.

“‘America first’ rhetoric, which was pronounced during the campaign and Trump’s inauguration speech, is finding consistent expression in policy,” said Adam Sacks, president of Tourism Economics. “On multiple fronts — diplomacy, trade, border control, visa policy — international markets are receiving a message that America is no longer a welcoming destination.”

The expected decline in international tourism marks a reversal from recent years, when foreign visitors rose to 77 million in 2016, from 54 million in 2009, said Roger Dow, CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, which represents airlines, hotels and destination resorts. He said each visitor spends an average of $4,300 over 18 days.

“We’re hearing concern,” Dow said. “Our message to the Trump administration is real simple: ‘We’re real good at America being closed for terrorism and open for business.’ What we need them to do is say that.”

After the second ban was blocked, Trump told a Nashville audience March 15 that he would appeal all the way to the Supreme Court because the president is empowered to prevent the entry of foreigners who might pose a threat to the country. He campaigned to beef up travel security and build a wall along the border with Mexico to prevent criminals, drug dealers and terrorists from entering the U.S.

“The danger is clear. The law is clear. The need for my executive order is clear,” Trump said. “The best way to keep foreign terrorists or, as some people would say in certain instances, radical Islamic terrorists from attacking our country, is to stop them from entering our country in the first place.”

The administration wants to enact enhanced vetting procedures for all foreign visitors that will remain in place even after a temporary travel ban is lifted. That could further discourage foreign tourists as well as people coming to the United States for business and school.

Already, nearly 600 colleges and universities wrote Feb. 3 to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to express concerns about discouraging international students, a major revenue source for universities.

One million international students spend $32 billion a year, according to Terry Hartle, a senior vice president for the American Council on Education. Only about 15,000 students are affected by the travel ban, but Trump’s policies could discourage students from other countries with options to study in the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, Hartle said.

“It’s an undesirable self-inflicted wound,” Hartle said. “Anecdotal evidence shows that many schools are seeing declines in international applications for the coming year, and other countries are seeing increases.”

Business is worried as well.  A group of 97 Silicon Valley companies — led by Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yelp and Netflix — argued in one of the lawsuits challenging Trump’s travel ban that the order would make it more difficult to “attract talent, business and investment to the United States.”

Other examples of a negative impact from the travel ban:

• The Airlines Reporting Corp. found a relatively low increase of 0.9% in inbound travel to the U.S. during the first seven weeks of this year, compared to larger gains in each of the previous two years. “This is not a particularly encouraging statistic for the USA,” said Olivier Jager, CEO of ForwardKeys, which found travel flat from Jan. 28 through March 25.

•  NYC & Co., the tourism and marketing group for the nation’s largest city, forecast 300,000 fewer international visitors this year compared to last year, a loss of $600 million in direct spending and $900 million in rippling economic effects. The drop would be the first since the 2008-09 recession. The group plans to spend $3 million to advertise in the United Kingdom, Mexico, Germany and Spain, to reinforce that “we’re a place that welcomes everybody,” said Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen.

• Over the next three years, Los Angeles could lose 800,000 international visitors and $736 million in direct spending because of the perception that visitors aren’t welcome, according to Ernest Wooden Jr., CEO for Discover Los Angeles. The tourism group will launch an international advertising campaign within four weeks to “roll out the red carpet” and underscore that the diverse community “invites and welcomes visitors from all corners of the globe,” Wooden said.

• In the week after the first travel ban, business travelers canceled $185 million in bookings because of uncertainty over traveler confidence, according to the Global Business Travel Association, which represents 7,000 travel managers. A survey found nearly half of European travel professionals and 31% of their U.S. counterparts expected their companies to reduce travel during the next three months, the group said.

• Marriott International had a 25% to 30% decline in U.S. bookings in February from the Middle East and a 10% decline from Mexico, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson said during a March 21 earnings call. A handful of groups chose to hold meetings outside the U.S. because of concerns that attendees would face travel difficulties, he said.

Travel experts say it’s too soon to determine the impact of the March 21 ban against travelers bringing electronics larger than cellphones into the cabins of non-stop flights from 10 airports in the Middle East and Africa. Business travelers might simply take different routes to avoid the targeted airlines and airports.

“With new regulations on electronics and tighter visa issuance policies recently announced, global travel markets will take further cues that the U.S. is not as welcoming as it once was,” said Sacks of Tourism Economics. “It will require creative and targeted marketing to overcome these challenges.”

A Tunisian Airlines employee instructs a Tunisian couple

A Tunisian Airlines employee instructs a Tunisian couple bound for London to pack away their electronics in their luggage as they check-in for a flight at Tunis-Carthage International Airport on March 25, 2017. (Photo: Fethi Belaid, , AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. violence against foreigners also could discourage travel, such as when two men from India were shot at a bar in a Kansas City suburb on Feb. 22. The two were students and engineers at GPS-maker Garmin. Srinivas Kuchibhotla, 32, was killed and Alok Madasani was wounded when Adam Purinton allegedly opene

d fire, saying “get out of my country,” according to witnesses.

Even before Trump issued his travel ban, concern about his election dampened foreign interest in visiting the U.S., travel analyst Harteveldt said. A December survey of travelers in 15 countries found at least 20% of respondents in each country had canceled trips or were less likely to visit the U.S. in 2017, he said. “There is a sense that the U.S. simply does not want international visitors from certain countries.”

Greeley Koch, executive director of the Association of Corporate Travel Executives, said 39% of the 260 executives who responded by Jan. 30 to his survey after the first ban was announced said they would significantly reduce their travel. Another survey after the revised ban found 21% of respondents would reconsider doing business in the U.S., Koch said.

“It could be a snowball from there because people get frustrated,” Koch said. “They think the U.S. is anti-business.”

Contributing: Alan Gomez

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