Monthly Archives: January 2019

31Jan 2019

Domino's rewards customers for buying pizza — even from its competitors – CNN

The promotion is designed to “bring new customers into the fold,” Kate Trumbull, VP of advertising at Domino’s, told CNN Business.
People who want to participate have to download the Domino’s app and sign up for a loyalty program. They use the app to scan a pizza — even if it’s home made, purchased at a different restaurant or just a toy that looks like a pizza — and get up to ten points per week. Once customers hit 60 points, they become eligible for a free Domino’s pie.
Domino’s plans on honoring 100 million points — nearly 1.7 million pizzas altogether. Customers can only redeem the prize once. Domino’s is hoping that once people give it a shot, they’ll come back for more.
The app uses artificial intelligence to identify pizza as pizza. It’s “the first time Domino’s is using AI technology like this,” said Dennis Maloney, Domino’s chief digital officer, in a statement.
The new promotion lets customers earn a free Domino's pie when they eat pizza — even if they buy it from a competitor.
Both Domino’s and Pizza Hut vie for customers with flashy promotions. Often, they use the deals to help highlight their technology. Domino’s has tested delivery by drone, and uses hotspots to deliver to parks and beaches. Pizza Hut has developed bluetooth-enabled sneakers that let you pause your TV and order pizza with the push of a button.
It took about six months to build the technology needed to recognize images as pizza, Trumbull said. Domino’s is “always trying to innovate around technology to make the experience for consumers easier, simpler, more convenient,” she noted.
The promotion is a way for Domino’s to “create news and excitement around their brand,” said BTIG analyst Peter Saleh, adding that the company is also “trying to accelerate the adoption of their loyalty program.”
Fast food companies use their apps to learn more about what their customers want and try to build loyalty. Recently, Burger King tried to lure customers to its app and troll McDonald’s by selling one-cent Whoppers to customers in close range of a McDonald’s.
The Domino’s promotion starts on Saturday, the day before the Super Bowl, and will run for 12 weeks.

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31Jan 2019

Instagram Stories Will Get a Lot More Travel Booking Functionality This Year – Skift

HotelTonight, Icelandair, Traveling to Portugal, and NYC and Co. were among the travel brands and destinations offering Instagram Stories Wednesday night.

HotelTonight’s story, for example, featured one of its marketing managers, Jess K., who cited her favorite hotels to stay at when traveling for work, and noted that it’s easy to use various filters in the HotelTonight app to focus on what you’re looking for in a hotel.

“Swipe up to customize your search,” the HotelTonight story said, and if you did, you would have left Instagram and opened the HotelTonight app to start a hotel search.

Facebook officials disclosed that the social network now has 2 million Stories’ advertisers across its platforms, and this year the company will focus on making their advertisements more relevant and much more transactional.

Rest assured there will be a lot more travel and other advertisers primarily using Instagram, but also Facebook, Messenger, and WhatsApp stories this year, and there will be plenty of booking functionality, too.

“The big things that I think we want to make sure that we nail in Instagram especially are discovery,” Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg told analysts Wednesday during Facebook’s fourth quarter and full-year earnings call. “People are already doing a lot of commerce activity and are really interested in following brands, and I think, making sure that works … is a big deal.”

But e-commerce and transactions will get a lot of attention.

“But I think there’s also a very big opportunity in basically enabling the transactions and making it so that the buying experience is good and that when you buy from someone from a seller, that you know that you can trust them, that you’re going to have a good experience in facilitating and making that go well,” Zuckerberg said.

Game-Changer in Travel? Could Be

That Facebook will encourage advertisers to get transactional in Stories across Instagram, Facebook, and messaging apps Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, isn’t necessarily a game-changer — although it could be. After all, years ago travel brands built booking features into Facebook pages, but this functionality didn’t really get broad engagement from consumers, and many brands let booking features fade away.

But this time around, given the intense engagement on Instagram and WhatsApp —two platforms that Facebook acquired and didn’t build itself — the e-commerce potential feels much different. For December, Facebook said it accommodated 1.52 billion daily active users on average, and that was a 9 percent bump year over year.

One thing that Facebook already has done for advertisers, said chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, is launch and expand automatic placements, which “make it as easy as possible for marketers to get to the format of Stories and then deliver the ads where they’re going to get the best experience and the best ROI (Return on Investment). Now right now, one of the interesting things about Stories is there’s a benefit to being an early adopter so the pricing is really attractive.”

Revenue Growth Deceleration

The pricing for advertising in Stories is likely lower now than what it could be in the future, which is a benefit for advertisers, but a challenge for Facebook. Officials said a mix shift in advertising products toward Stories will contribute to a deceleration in the growth of Facebook’s revenue this year.

In the first quarter of 2019, Facebook expects its revenue to decelerate “by a mid-single-digit percentage compared with the fourth quarter of 2018. Facebook also expects its revenue growth to decelerate sequentially throughout the year.

In 2018, Facebook notched net income of $22.1 billion, a 38.7 percent increase, on revenue of $55.8 billion, a 38.7 percent leap.

On the advertising front, Sandberg said Facebook is investing in artificial intelligence (AI) “to make ads more relevant and effective.”

“In Q4, we developed new AI ranking models to have people see ads they’re more likely to be interested in,” Sandberg said. “We’re also using AI to identify and more quickly review ads that might violate our policies, which is particularly important during the U.S. midterm elections. Looking ahead, we see more opportunities to use AI to keep people safe on Facebook and help businesses grow.”

Photo Credit: Facebook sees a lot more e-commerce potential in Stories and in messaging apps. Bloomberg

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31Jan 2019

New Software Standards Aim To Slow Rampant Credit Card Theft – Forbes

Credit card data theft is rampant. But the goal of a new standard is to reduce your odds of becoming a victim. Credit: GettyGetty

Anything that could reverse, or even slow down, the rampant theft of credit card data would be a very big deal.

And that is the goal of the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council (PCI SSC), which earlier this month published the first major overhaul of its software security standards in more than a decade.

The titles involved are a bit of an acronym alphabet soup. The PCI Secure Software Standard (PCI SSS) and the PCI Secure Software Lifecycle (PCI Secure SLC) Standard are part of a new PCI Software Security Framework (PCI SSF), which will eventually replace the PCI Payment Application Data Security Standard (PA-DSS), created in 2008 but updated several times since then, most recently in 2016. Got all that?

They are also not expected to change things immediately – not next week, not next month, perhaps not until next year. The PA-DSS will not be fully “retired” until 2022.

But whatever the label and whatever the time frame, the need is obvious. Credit card data theft is so common that it rarely makes major headlines any more. If there is a headline, it’s often framed as, “Another day, another breach.”

Which is understating it. If it’s another day, there’s generally more than one breach. Threat intelligence firm Gemini Advisory reported last November that it had found 75.9 million stolen cards for sale on the Dark Web during the previous 12 months – 60 million of them from U.S. owners.

That is at least in part because the “ecosystem” of credit card data is so much more varied and complex than a decade ago. It’s not just payment card terminals at gas stations or retailers that are involved, but mobile and “smart” devices, tablets, wearables and more.

According to Troy Leach, PCI SSC chief technology officer, the new standards are aimed at addressing the evolution of software development to accommodate that expanding ecosystem “with an alternative approach for assessing software security … designed to help ensure payment software adequately protects the integrity and confidentiality of payment transactions and data.”

The key principles of that approach include:

– critical asset identification

– secure default configuration

– sensitive data protection

– authentication and access control

– attack detection

– vendor security guidance

The intention is “to demonstrate the ongoing protection of payment data by the software that stores, processes or transmits that information,” Leach said, adding in an interview that the PA-DSS standard was created in a time “when we had a much smaller payment ecosystem.”

“These new standards, over time, will address a much wider range of technology, and be done in a much more dynamic way. The goal is good application security – not just compliance,” he said.

If they really do work as intended, that would indeed be a very big deal. Of course, there is no way to know how effective they will be until they’re fully in place. But there is at least guarded optimism among some experts.

Matthew Getzelman, principal consultant at Synopsys, called the new standards “transformational – a whole new expectation for developing and maintaining secure software.”

“The PA-DSS is applicable to direct payment applications only – apps that directly process credit cards. The new standards apply to all application development in the PCI DSS space,” he said.

Sammy Migues, chief scientist at Synopsys, who for several years served on a working group that had a hand in developing the standards, was a bit more cautious. The “intent and philosophy” are transformational, he said, but it will take some time to see if the reality matches the intent.

What is promising, he said, is that the language of requirements for security testing is more precise and detailed.

Instead of simply requiring pen testing and software application security testing (SAST), the new standard calls for a variety of security-testing tools and techniques.

“At a minimum, assessors must use the appropriate combination of static and dynamic analyses to validate each control objective,” the standard says, citing automated static analysis security testing (SAST), dynamic analysis security testing (DAST), interactive application security testing (IAST), and software composition analysis (SCA) tools, as well as manual techniques such as manual code reviews and penetration testing.

According to Migues, this is likely to ensure that “some vendors are not just luckily passing some pen tests, but are consistently writing reasonable code.”

Are the two happy with what will eventually be the established framework for software security in the payment card industry?

Both Getzelman and Migues say it doesn’t include everything they wanted but moves in the right direction.

“It’s a huge improvement over the PA-DSS and the limited AppSec control requirements in the PCI DSS,” Getzelman said.

Migues was again more measured. “It took 10 years to make a small change in direction and intent, and it’ll take three-plus years to make it stick,” he said. “It’s most correct to say that I’m happy that there are results.”

Of course, the long-term results will depend in part on how much of the industry complies with the standards and in part on whether online attackers figure out new ways around improved security – as they always do.

One unknown is whether smaller organizations will think they have the resources and expertise to comply. But Leach said the new standard is not intended for merchants but for their software providers.

“This probably benefits SMB (small- to medium-sized businesses) companies more than any other group,” he said. “It provides independent security testing of software to allow companies to make a more informed decision prior to purchase. 

“Businesses that may not have the internal resources or capabilities to test the security of software they use to accept payments can use the standard as a metric to know their customers will be protected.”

The new standards are not legal requirements – Leach said that how the industry uses them is “independent of the PCI SSC.”

But failure to comply with them can put organizations on the hook for sanctions, fines and liability if they are breached.

And history has shown that with numerous other standards out there, even if they are focused on other industries, they overlap enough to create “compliance fatigue” that can make adherence to any one group’s standards somewhat spotty.

Migues said he expects that history will repeat itself unless the rigor of assessments is equal across the board.

“At no point will these standards be followed any more rigorously than the previous two if organizations can shop around for the easiest grader,” he said.

“Also, there is no objective evidence that would indicate that the PCI standards have resulted in material improvements that wouldn’t have resulted through natural marketplace evolution and vendor attrition,” he added.

“Given that PCI compliance requires just a minimum level of application/system security, there was and still is no economic incentive to be better than that. I’m not aware of any data that suggest PCI-compliant systems are penetrated any less often than any other systems.”

Leach acknowledged that while the PCI SSC doesn’t have such evidence, there are “several sources in the industry that have such evidence, but it is something we are not privy to.”

And he said the council has heard anecdotal evidence “from several companies over the years that have benefited by using software that was independently tested by security experts that prevented potential exploits.”

There is universal agreement that better software security will improve the security of the payment card industry overall. It’s just much too early to tell if it will be better enough.

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30Jan 2019

Maggie Long Murder: Billboards Offer Rewards For Teen Burned Alive – CBS Denver

BAILEY, Colo. (CBS4) – Thirteen months after the murder of 17-year-old Maggie Long, people in Park County are hopeful that a new strategy and a new sheriff will bring leads. On Tuesday night, newly elected Sheriff Tom McGraw held a community meeting to update residents on the case.

Maggie Long (credit:

“The silent treatment the past year-and-a-half hasn’t done anything. It’s time to break that and get it open. This is the kind of thing that will do it,” said Mike Quaintance.

Quaintance has lived in Bailey since the 80s. He has known the Long Family for years and, like many in the community, has wondered why more information didn’t come sooner.

Sheriff Tom McGraw meets with residents. (credit: CBS)

“Breaking this thing open and opening it up to community input. You never know where something might come out of a crack in the wall,” he said.


A new task force dedicated to Maggie’s case — plus eight billboards across Denver and Colorado Springs offering a reward for information — has renewed attention to the crime.

“I think the community really needed to hear this case be alive and to hear what information we had and to hear there was actually action being taken and to move it forward again,” said John Vandoren, a neighbor of the Long family.

(credit: Park County)

On Monday, McGraw also announced that Maggie was burned alive. He told community members at Tuesday’s meeting while it was upsetting for people to hear, he hoped the detail would garner more attention.

“That was horrifying for a lot of us in the community that had never heard that before, but I trust that it was revealed for a good reason and it will generate leads and interest,” said Vandoren.

(credit: CBS)

McGraw encouraged everyone to visit the website set up for tips: It contains sketches of two of the three suspects along with other details about the case.

(credit: Park County)

The Park County Sheriff’s Office says it plans to release a sketch of a third suspect sometime within the next week.

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30Jan 2019

Credit card use squeezed over Christmas – BBC News

Squeezed shoppers played safe with their credit cards at Christmas rather than spending big on the High Street, Bank of England figures show.

Consumers paid back nearly as much as they borrowed on credit cards in December – the key month for Christmas trading.

Some £92m more was borrowed than repaid, the lowest level of any month since September 2014, the data shows.

Concerns still remain that some people are being stretched beyond their means.

Separate figures published on Tuesday show that personal insolvencies owing to unmanageable debt hit a seven-year high in 2018.

  • Christmas on the High Street: Retail winners and losers
  • What went wrong on the High Street in 2018?

Christmas was tough for some retailers. The British Retail Consortium said it had been the worst Christmas for retailers in 10 years.

The Bank of England’s seasonally adjusted figures show that £72bn remains outstanding on the UK’s credit cards, but that balance only rose slightly in December.

The Bank described credit card borrowing as “particularly weak” during the month.

There was no evidence that consumers had thrown their credit cards around in November, during discounting events such as Black Friday. That month £348m more was borrowed than repaid, but that was no more than the average for the final six months of the year.

All this suggests they did not spend a lot on cards at Christmas, with the intention of paying back over the course of 2019.

General consumer borrowing, which includes loans, overdrafts and credit cards continued to grow but the rate of increase has slowed.

The annual growth rate stood at 6.6% in December, much lower than the double-digit growth seen in the second half of 2016 and first half of 2017.

Back then, there was pressure on the Bank to act, and lenders have become more stringent on how they lend money to individuals.

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30Jan 2019

Southwest Companion Pass is meant for frequent flyers — here's why – Business Insider

The Insider Picks team writes about stuff we think you’ll like. Business Insider has affiliate partnerships, so we get a share of the revenue from your purchase.

Southwest Airlines

  • When you open a new personal Southwest credit card, you can earn the best-ever sign-up bonus offered for the cards: 30,000 points and a Companion Pass, which is valid for travel through 2019. Hurry, though; this offer ends on February 11.
  • The Companion Pass allows you to bring along a companion on any Southwest flights for only the cost of taxes for the rest of 2019.
  • Even if you don’t travel often, this sign-up bonus can easily offer significant savings on travel.
  • The more you travel this year, the more value you’ll get out of this offer!
  • There are three personal Southwest credit cards, but our pick for the best one is the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card; take a look here for an in-depth look at all of the options.

If you’re considering the Southwest Companion Pass promo offer, it’s important to think about how much value you’ll get out of it as well as the value of the Companion Pass relative to the usual Chase sign-up bonus for Southwest credit cards.

This pencils out for some people, but not for others.

What’s the Companion Pass

The Southwest Companion Pass entitles to you to bring along a companion when you fly Southwest. All you pay is the taxes and fees for the companion ticket, and it doesn’t matter whether you pay for the original ticket with cash or points.

This is potentially a great deal if you frequently travel with someone else (such as a spouse or partner or child or friend). But if you usually travel alone, it’s probably not going to do you much good. Be sure that you’ll be getting good value out of the pass before leaving a larger sign-up bonus on the table.

Sign-up Bonus

Chase typically offers a sign-up bonus of 50,000 or 60,000 points for Southwest credit cards. With this offer, you’ll receive half the number of points in your sign-up bonus — just 30,000 points — and a Companion Pass that’s valid for travel through December 31, 2019 after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.

The value of Southwest points is variable depending upon how you spend them but ranges from approximately 1.4 to 1.7 cents apiece. At 1.5 cents per point, you’re leaving $450 in Southwest travel on the table by taking the lower point sign-up bonus if you don’t use the Companion Pass at all. Of course, that wouldn’t make much sense! So another way to look at it is that you need to spend at least $450 in 2019 on Southwest travel with a companion to break even.

Your three credit card options from Southwest, and their associated annual fees:

Read more: 5 reasons to take advantage of Southwest Airlines’ unheard-of Companion Pass deal right now

Case 1: the rare traveler

Cheryl and Derek live in Sacramento with their two kids, ages 7 and 10. Both work a busy schedule and have very little time off. Once per year, over July 4 weekend, they visit Cheryl’s parents in Albuquerque.

Southwest fares do tend to be more expensive than usual over holiday weekends, but an excellent sale fare is currently available for $280 per person.

The verdict: Southwest offers exceptionally competitive fares in some markets, and this is one example. If Cheryl and Derek fail to use the Companion Pass for any other trips, they will not break even versus going for a larger sign-up bonus. Additionally, with a larger sign-up bonus, they would have enough Rapid Rewards points for three tickets instead of only two.

Southwest companion pass 1Caroline Lupini/Business Insider

Case 2: the occasional traveler

Patty and Jim are a young couple living in New York. Patty’s mom lives in Chicago, and she and Jim love to visit on long holiday weekends. They usually fly. The couple also has a 10-day vacation planned to Jamaica in April.

The trip to Jamaica alone yields more than breakeven on the Companion Pass, provided you don’t mind making a connection en route. This is true even if you ignore the fact that the one-stop Southwest flight is more expensive than a competing non-stop Caribbean Airlines flight.

southwest cp 2Caroline Lupini/Business Insider

However, if they opted to take the competing non-stop to Jamaica instead and skipped using the Companion Pass, Patty and Jim would need to make quite a few trips to Chicago to break even. This is because Southwest has low, competitive fares in this market.

sw companion pass 3Caroline Lupini/Business Insider

The verdict: Southwest doesn’t always have the best fares or most convenient connections in every market they serve. However, if you’re willing to be flexible, the Companion Pass can save you money.

Read more: I’ve had the Southwest Companion Pass, and it’s a game changer for family vacations — you can get one now easier than ever before

Case 3: the frequent traveler

When their friends think “jet set,” they think of Phil and Henry. Living in San Francisco, the couple both work in the tech industry for companies offering unlimited paid time off. Given the cost of office space in the Bay Area, remote work is encouraged, and since Phil and Henry love to travel together, they’re always visiting another undiscovered corner of the globe. That is, as long as it’s within three hours of the West Coast time zone!

While the couple does love to take spur-of-the-moment trips, they typically use other airline programs for these because Southwest offers the best fares for trips planned in advance. Their most frequent Southwest destinations within the US are the Los Angeles area (at least once a month), Portland (three times during the summer), Las Vegas twice per year (Phil loves to gamble so Henry won’t let him visit more often), and Orlando once per year.

In addition to this, the couple loves to visit Costa Rica. Given Southwest’s schedule, it’s difficult to get there from the Bay Area, but given their frequent trips to Los Angeles, it’s easy to leave from there.

Los Angeles: Phil and Henry know how to find the lowest fares to the Los Angeles area. The secret? Fly midweek, leave from Oakland and fly to Burbank. Not only do they save hours of overall travel time (Burbank is much closer to their preferred destination of West Hollywood, and rental cars are a short walk from the terminal), fares are as low as $61 each way. Keep in mind, however, that given the timing of the promotion, the earliest they could have the Companion Pass is in February. This leaves room for about 10 trips per year, for an effective savings of $1,108.

Portland: Summer fares to Portland are not very expensive either when purchased in advance for travel on off-peak dates. A good sale fare from Oakland is currently $76 each way, yielding $422.40 in effective savings for the three trips Phil and Henry plan to take.

Las Vegas: If you guessed that this isn’t a very expensive market either, you guessed right! Fares in this fiercely competitive market are as low as $51 each way in between Bay Area markets and Las Vegas. While it’s easy to spend more on a ticket, Phil and Henry can plan their travel around the lowest fares. Accordingly, their Vegas junkets are only worth $181.60 in savings.

Costa Rica: What’s better than a trip to Los Angeles? A follow-on trip to Costa Rica! It’s tough to fly to Costa Rica on Southwest from Los Angeles area airports other than LAX, but Phil and Henry are both willing to be flexible to put together a good itinerary. Costa Rica is a more expensive flight than the others, but you might be surprised that it’s surprisingly affordable. The effective savings is only $372 for this flight.

The verdict: Unsurprisingly, the Companion Pass beats a higher sign-up bonus. However, because Southwest’s fares are so low, the savings are less than you might expect. For all of the travel they plan to take, Phil and Henry will net just $2,084 in savings. Then again, $2,084 buys a lot of hotel rooms and rental cars — and these are real savings, based on the money they actually would have spent.

companion pass 4Caroline Lupini/Business Insider

The bottom line

The Southwest Companion Pass can offer excellent value, but not for everyone.

It’s best to have a solid plan for how you’ll use the pass before you sign up and be sure to compare other card offers with higher sign-up bonuses.

Click here to learn more about the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card from Insider Picks’ partner: The Points Guy.

Click here to learn more about the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card from Insider Picks’ partner: The Points Guy.

Click here to learn more about the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card from Insider Picks’ partner: The Points Guy.

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Find all the best offers at our Coupons page.

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Insider Picks team. We highlight products and services you might find interesting. If you buy them, we get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our commerce partners. We frequently receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. We operate independently from our advertising sales team. We welcome your feedback. Email us at

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30Jan 2019

Starbucks Rewards membership jumps 14% in Q1, highest gain in 3 years – Mobile Marketer

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30Jan 2019

United States Warns Americans Not To Travel To Venezuela As Tensions Rise – NPR

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Venezuela’s top prosecutor, Tarek William Saab, talks to reporters in Caracas on Tuesday. He announced that Juan Guaidó, now President Nicolás Maduro’s most prominent opponent, is barred from leaving the country because of an investigation.

Marco Bello/Getty Images

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Marco Bello/Getty Images

The State Department warned Americans on Tuesday not to travel to Venezuela, citing crime, civil unrest and the arbitrary detention of U.S. citizens. It came the same day that Venezuela’s top prosecutor announced that the opposition leader, whom the United States supports, is being investigated and barred from leaving the country.

“Security forces have arbitrarily detained U.S. citizens for long periods,” the travel advisory stated. “Venezuelan authorities may not notify the U.S. Embassy of the detention of a U.S. citizen, and consular access to detainees may be denied or severely delayed.”

The warning was released in the aftermath of protests racking Venezuela and as tensions between Washington and Caracas have escalated after President Trump voiced support for Juan Guaidó.

The 35-year-old opposition politician recently proclaimed himself interim president until free elections could take place. In early January, he was elected the president of the National Assembly, a legislative body the U.S. State Department considers to be the “last remaining democratically elected institution.” Guaidó says President Nicolás Maduro’s second term is illegitimate because of a fraudulent presidential race.

On Monday, seeking to bolster Guaidó’s power, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and national security adviser John Bolton announced sweeping sanctions aimed at weakening Maduro’s grip on the oil-rich country: All assets of state-owned oil company PDVSA that are subject to U.S. jurisdiction will be frozen and all U.S. citizens prohibited from trading with the company.

More than 100 individuals, entities and aircraft have been designated as blocked property, according to the White House.

But come Tuesday, the oil company was attempting to bypass the sanctions by asking purchasers to revisit contracts, Reuters reported:

“PDVSA began calling customers ahead of the sanctions, urging them to swap foreign fuel and other products for its Venezuelan crude cargoes, the sources said. It is also considering asking trading houses to act as intermediaries for a portion of its oil sales to indirectly supply customers in the United States and elsewhere.”

Maduro denounced the U.S. government sanctions and accused the Trump administration of stealing Houston-based Citgo, a subsidiary of PDVSA.

Quoting oil company President Manuel Quevedo, a former National Guard general, Maduro tweeted, “Shame on the U.S government’s insolent robbery to the Venezuelan people, they tried to take over CITGO by all means and for all these years.”

Maduro also talked to troops on Tuesday and announced his intention to enlarge Venezuela’s civilian armed militia to 2 million members by mid-April, according to The Associated Press.

Meanwhile, Bolton reaffirmed a warning to Venezuela: There will be “serious consequences for those who attempt to subvert democracy and harm Guaido,” he said.

Venezuela’s chief prosecutor, Tarek William Saab, told reporters Tuesday at the Supreme Tribunal of Justice that he had ordered an investigation into Guaidó. He also called for Guaidó’s bank accounts to be frozen and his ability to leave Venezuela blocked.

The State Department announced Tuesday that Secretary Mike Pompeo has certified Guaidó’s authority to control assets of the Venezuelan government held by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York or any other U.S.-insured banks.

As the diplomatic row continues, most American diplomats have been ordered to leave the U.S. Embassy in Caracas. A State Department spokesperson told NPR, “The safety and security of our personnel is a top priority. On January 24, 2019, the Department ordered the departure of non-emergency personnel from Venezuela.”

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30Jan 2019

Wall Street analysts double down on major credit card companies – CNBC

Visa, Mastercard and American Express got bullish backings from Wall Street analysts on Tuesday.

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Jefferies initiated coverage with a buy rating on Visa and Mastercard. The firm called Visa “the pinnacle of payments,” and said it should be able to leverage growth trends even in the event of an economic slowdown.

“We believe Visa is one of the premier businesses across broader financials and the envy of the payments industry given its industry-leading position in terms of payment volume, globally recognized brand, and strong top and bottom-line growth,” Jefferies analyst Michael Del Grosso said in a note to clients Tuesday.

Visa is down more than 1.7 percent in the past week but Jefferies is calling it a good time to buy. Year-to-date, Visa is up roughly 3 percent and year-over-year the shares have rallied 8.7 percent. Jefferies has a $170 price target, which is 25 percent higher than Monday’s closing price.

“Visa is a defensive play with strong secular growth opportunities and any pullback in shares should be viewed as an attractive buying opportunity longer-term,” Del Grosso said.

Visa historically trades at a roughly 8 percent discount to its financial services rival Mastercard, according Jefferies. Del Grosso said Visa’s “superior operating margins,” and similar secular growth opportunity and revenue growth profile are all reasons for that gap to close.

Jefferies is upbeat on Mastercard, too. The world’s second largest payments network stands to benefit as the world continues to shift towards electronic payments, according to Del Gosso.

“With recent acquisitions as well as internal initiatives, Mastercard’s growth opportunities have expanded into more than simply a card-based network,” he said. “Mastercard is a defensive play with strong secular growth opportunities and we believe current valuation represents an attractive buying opportunity for investors.”

Mastercard has rallied 18 percent in the past year, and shares are up 5.7 percent in 2019 alone. Jefferies has a $235 price target on the shares, 17 percent higher than Monday’s close.

American Express meanwhile got a stamp of approval from Atlantic Equities, which upgraded the shares to overweight from neutral and raised its price target to $128 from $112. The new target price is roughly 30 percent above where the stock was trading Tuesday.

“As Amex approaches acceptance parity with Visa and Mastercard in the US, there should be less pressure on the discount rate going forward,” Atlantic Equities analyst Kunaal Malde said in a note to clients Tuesday.

Atlantic Equities expects Amex to reach roughly 95 percent of Visa and Mastercard’s merchant acceptance in the U.S. by the end of this year. The firm is also forecasting 9 percent revenue growth.

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29Jan 2019

Using Qantas frequent flyer points to book Alaska Airlines flights – Australian Business Traveller

Planning a trip to the United States? You’re probably familiar with American Airlines – one of Qantas’ closest Oneworld alliance partners – but an often-overlooked alternative is Alaska Airlines, another Qantas partner.

Despite the name and particularly following its takeover of Virgin America, Alaska Airlines provides a strong network of flights across North America, including from places like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Honolulu as are served by Qantas: and no, not only to Alaska.

With very low fees and charges levied on reward bookings made using Qantas Points – typically US$5.60 per one-way domestic flight, whether flying up the front or down the back – here’s what you need to know to turn your Qantas Points into an Alaska Airlines flight.

Booking Alaska Airlines flights with Qantas Points: key routes

In the same way that Qantas – formerly Queensland And Northern Territory Aerial Services – doesn’t only fly to Queensland and the NT, Alaska Airlines has a broad network of flights across North and Central America, many of which don’t go anywhere near Alaska.

Alaska Airlines doesn’t fly to Australia or New Zealand, but here’s a snapshot of where you can fly from several US airports served by its partner Qantas, such as Los Angeles…

… San Francisco…

… and Honolulu, to both Alaska and the US Mainland:

Put that all together and you’ll quickly see that Alaska Airlines is no small fish, particularly as the map below shows only the routes most relevant to Australian travellers out of those three major airports, which is nowhere close to the airline’s entire flight network:

Just keep in mind when searching for reward flights that in some cities, Alaska Airlines serves more than one airport: JFK and Newark in the New York Area, for example, and Dulles and Reagan National in Washington D.C.

Booking Alaska Airlines flights with Qantas Points: the basics

On most flights, Alaska Airlines offers two main classes of service: ‘first class’ in the North American sense, which Australians would generally consider to be business class (below), and economy.

Read: Alaska Airlines’ new ‘first class’ (okay, business class) seat

Here’s where that becomes problematic: in the Qantas Frequent Flyer program, Qantas charges the full first class booking rates for such Alaska Airlines first class flights – the same rate as for true long-haul first class flights of a comparable distance, as opposed to debiting points at business class rates as you might expect.

For example, if you’re darting from Los Angeles to San Francisco (or vice versa), you’d part with 10,000 Qantas Points plus US$5.60 for a one-way economy flight, but would be slugged a whopping 26,000 Qantas Points (plus the same US$5.60) to fly Alaska Airlines first class on the 90-minute hop, whereas booking American Airlines business class on the same route is just 16,000 Qantas Points.

On the plus side, booking Alaskan first class provides pre-flight access to Alaska Airlines’ lounges, where available, which isn’t always the case on other short flights within North America (including on most American Airlines business class fares), and provides a free checked baggage allowance of 2x23kg.

Booking an Alaska Airlines economy reward flight, on the other hand, includes no checked baggage at all – fees of US$30 for the first bag, US$40 for the second back and US$100 for any further bags are levied at check-in.

Alaska Airlines reward flights are also priced in line with the less-generous Qantas Frequent Flyer partner table, as opposed to the ‘preferred’ table covering Qantas flights and those on its close alliance partners like American Airlines and Emirates, so if American Airlines and Alaska Airlines fly the same route, you could consider both options.

Read: Using Qantas frequent flyer points to book American Airlines flights

Given the difference in points rates, I personally find Alaska Airlines to be a useful option when considering day trips on relatively short-distance routes within the US – where economy is tolerable and I don’t have a bag to worry about – particularly when there’s availability on Alaska Airlines flights but nothing suitable on American Airlines, which doesn’t tend to release as many reward seats on popular routes.

Booking Alaska Airlines flights with Qantas Points: how many points you’ll need

Here’s a look at how many points you’ll need to book some of Alaska Airlines’ more popular flights out of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Honolulu, but this is by no means a complete list:

Route (one-way) First class Economy
Los Angeles-San Francisco
San Francisco-Las Vegas
San Francisco-San Diego
26,000 Qantas Points 10,000 Qantas Points
Los Angeles-Seattle
38,000 Qantas Points 14,000 Qantas Points
Los Angeles-Chicago
San Francisco-New Orleans
Honolulu-San Francisco
56,000 Qantas Points 20,000 Qantas Points
Los Angeles-New York
Los Angeles-Honolulu
Los Angeles-Boston
San Francisco-Philadelphia
78,000 Qantas Points 28,000 Qantas Points

As Qantas uses flight distance to determine how many points to charge – rather than regions as used by some other frequent flyer programs – there are a few sweet spots hiding around the place, such as for travellers who’ll already be visiting Honolulu.

Extend your Hawaiian trip onward to Los Angeles and you’ll be up for 78,000 Qantas Points for a one-way flight in first class, or 28,000 Qantas Points for economy: but fly to nearby San Francisco instead and you’d only need 56,000 Qantas Points to fly up front, or 20,000 Qantas Points to fly down the back.

That’s because San Fran is just a little closer to Honolulu than Los Angeles is, so it just falls within that ‘56,000 Qantas Point’ range, whereas Honolulu-LA nudges the number of points needed up considerably, costing you an extra 44,000 Qantas Points for a round-trip first class flight.

For Alaska Airlines journeys on other routes, here’s the full table showing how many Qantas Points you’d need for each itinerary:

Read: Frequent flyer tip – how to calculate the distance of your flight

When booking multiple Alaska Airlines flights under the same reservation, if you’re connecting from one flight to another, you simply add the distances of each flight together to work out the total distance flown, and that total will help you determine the number of points you need, as above.

For example, travelling from Los Angeles to Seattle and connecting onward to Spokane – Washington State’s second largest city – you’d add together the distance of LA-Seattle (955 miles) and Seattle-Spokane (224 miles), which comes to 1,179 miles: a journey that costs 38,000 Qantas Points to book in first class, or 14,000 Qantas Points to book in economy.

But if you flew from LA to Seattle, stayed there overnight (or longer) and later flew to Spokane, you’d be charged for two separate flights: in first class, 38,000 Qantas Points for LA-Seattle (again, a journey of 955 miles), plus a further 26,000 Qantas Points for Seattle-Spokane (a mere 224-mile journey): that’s up to 52,000 extra Qantas Points for a return first class trip, compared to merely transiting Seattle!

Booking Alaska Airlines flights with Qantas Points: making that booking

As with most partner airline flights, Qantas Frequent Flyer members can use their points to secure seats on Alaska Airlines via the Qantas website.

In the same way as for all other points-based bookings, just tick the “Use points…” option on the booking screen and fill in where you’d like to fly. For this example, we’ll look at booking the popular hop between Los Angeles and San Francisco:

To explore all the options available, I always search with the “flexible with dates” option enabled – you can flick this on when choosing your travel dates…

… which, after checking all of the cabin class options at the top and clicking “go”, shows a good calendar overview of the dates you can travel:

On the next screen, you’ll see a range of flight options on all available Qantas partners, which includes not only Alaska Airlines but others like American Airlines too, and regional affiliates:

On the date we searched, there was availability in Alaska Airlines first class (AS3445), American Eagle business class (AA6034, and other departures throughout the day which aren’t pictured), and Alaska Airlines economy on those morning departures.

For economy travellers, although the number of Qantas Points charged to fly Alaska Airlines is higher than to fly American Airlines on routes of the same length, booking Alaska Airlines here could make sense, given it’s the only option.

For those happy to splurge some extra points, consider that on this route, a business class flight on American Airlines costs 16,000 Qantas Points with plenty of departure times to choose from, while on Alaska Airlines, a comparable experience booked as ‘first class’ would have you paying a higher 26,000 Qantas Points.

That’s where booking American Airlines could make more sense, but we’ll leave that choice to you!

To check how many points each flight booking would cost, you can simply click on the ribbon icon corresponding to the flight you want, and at the bottom of the same page, you’ll see a price in Qantas Points:

That doesn’t include the taxes and fees you’d need to pay alongside the booking: which, after double-checking your flight details on the next screen…

… will appear down the bottom of the page

If you’re happy with everything, you can follow the prompts to finalise your booking, or go back to the previous screen to select another flight.

All things considered, Alaska Airlines is a handy partner for Qantas to have – particularly following its merger with Virgin America, which expanded its North American flight network quite considerably – and for short domestic hops in economy, isn’t a bad way of spending Qantas Points when paid ticket prices are otherwise on the higher side.

However, given the significantly higher number of points needed to book an Alaska Airlines ‘first class’ flight compared to an American Airlines ‘business class’ flight on the same route for a relatively similar travel experience, I’d generally lean towards American for those bookings, unless Alaska Airlines was the only carrier with reward availability on the dates I needed to fly.

That’s particularly true on longer flights where American Airlines provides more of an international-grade business class experience with fully-flat beds on some routes like Los Angeles to New York, compared to simpler reclining seats on Alaska Airlines, which ironically would cost more points to book.

In that respect, American Airlines is more of a ‘Plan A’, and Alaska a ‘Plan B’ when redeeming Qantas Points: but having a Plan B is still better than not!

Read: Using Qantas frequent flyer points to book American Airlines flights

Also read: Using Virgin Australia Velocity points to book Delta flights

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