In the points and miles world, there are a lot of things on which we can all pretty much agree…
Transferable points help protect you against airline devaluations, Hyatt is the best hotel transfer partner of Chase, credit card bonus categories are great, and so on.
However, plenty of opinions are a little more controversial — sometimes more than a little. Today, the 10xTravel team is going to share some of their more controversial opinions. We’ll touch on a few airline programs, elite status and even how to book hotel stays.
Now, let’s get into it!
I’m sure there are some apologists out there who will agree with me on this: American Airline’s AAdvantage program is one of the best airline award programs out there.
While the AAdvantage program doesn’t have the best rates on a lot of routes, you can use them to reach just about every continent in the world easily, and flying some of the best carriers. You can reach Australia on Qantas and Asia with Cathay Pacific or Japan Airlines.
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There’s one geographical region of huge value from the American Airlines program: The Middle East. Being able to route through the Middle East can get you to Africa or the Indian Subcontinent with just one stop. With so few current nonstop flights from the US to Africa or the Indian Subcontinent, this is a significant distinction for the Advantage program.
That distinction relies on award availability, and you’ll have plenty of choices. Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian, and Etihad are all Middle Eastern airlines. No other major US award program partners with any of these airlines, let alone three of them. This leads to more plentiful award availability. And the availability that does exist comes with some of the best business and first-class seats in the market, such as the Q-Suites and the Etihad Apartments.
There are some great sweet spots as well, such as business class to Peru for only 30,000 miles. That’s a 6-hour flight with true lie-flat business class, which also puts you in a great position to connect to other parts of South America for cheap.
Finally, good luck earning as many Delta SkyMiles or United MileagePlus miles as you can AAdvantage miles. They’re incredibly easy to earn between high sign-up bonuses and the AAdvantage shopping portal often having some of the highest earning rates out there.
There’s other reasons to love the AAdvantage program, but it is easily one of the best options out there, especially for long-haul international travel.
People love to hate United. I, on the other hand, am a big fan of United’s MileagePlus program. Maybe it’s because where I live – United is the predominant airline here. Or maybe it’s because United hadn’t failed yet to deliver me in business class to places I visit most often: Israel and Europe. And I only have to pay the very modest taxes and fees!
In my experience, United has the most Star Alliance award availability (this might be another controversial opinion). Sure, there are other programs like ANA and Aeroplan that have better award charts. But I never had any luck finding anything I need on ANA. Once I found a somewhat acceptable itinerary, but the surcharges were more than $800 because the transatlantic portion was operated by Austrian Airlines. No thank you!
Aeroplan has a better award chart, but it also passes on surcharges. So in order to save money and avoid paying $800+ in fees, I have to look for award space on some of its partners that have low surcharges. It works great if these benevolent partners open their award space to Aeroplan. But if not, then I am out of luck.
Points and miles don’t pay my mortgage, so I am always looking for the best deal to save money. So I’d rather spend a few more miles and just $60 on the same award flights.
United opens more domestic award space to its own elites and cardmembers. I have United’s credit card so, as a cardholder, I often see better availability on the domestic portion of my itinerary.
And I don’t think United miles are that hard to earn. United is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards and it’s pretty easy to earn a good stash of them. Chase has a few great cards with generous welcome bonuses and great bonus spending categories.
I feel like I have a few controversial opinions when it comes to points and miles but I think the most controversial opinion follows the two above and when it comes to airlines that take a lot of crap in the points and miles world, I don’t think Delta is that bad.
Now, I know after making a statement like that I have a lot of explaining to do and don’t get me wrong, if you’re under 5/24 there is literally no circumstance that I’ve come across where a Delta credit card is the one you should get. All of that said I enjoy flying Delta and when I had the choice of which US carrier to fly back and forth to Chicago on a biweekly basis, Delta was the one I chose.
Now I know some of my fellow team members are probably wondering what I’m thinking. Chicago is United’s biggest hub, American operated the route and has some great redemptions as Travis outlined above, and Southwest has an operating base in Chicago, so then why did I choose Delta?
Well the answer has two primary reasons. The first reason is the lounges and I’ll be the first to admit I think the Delta lounges are likely why my view towards Delta is so skewed.
Delta operates lounges in only 33 airports in the United States but living in Cincinnati, they’re one of only two lounges in the airport and their offering is far above the Priority Pass lounge. In addition not being located in a hub means most of my Delta flights route through Atlanta where Delta has 9 (yes I counted correctly) lounges.
This means that with my Platinum Card from American Express, when I travel on Delta, I always have a lounge to use both for my early flights out of Cincinnati and any transfers and I don’t need to worry about status or a huge fee to get that lounge access. In addition to this both Chicago and Cincinnati had lounges which helped sway my opinion.
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The second reason why I chose Delta was my experience with them leaving on schedule. I tried flying United assuming that flying into the United hub I would have extra flight options. Unfortunately, I had my flight from Cincinnati significantly delayed 3-4 times in a row so I decided not to utilize them and American had some delay issues as well.
With Delta I was almost always on time and a few times I was even able to catch earlier flights home when I finished my work and got to the airport early. Their agents waived the change fee every time and the additional time back home made a huge difference to me.
Lastly, while I realize that Delta points are often not the most valuable, they have their moments. In particular with their last Delta Vacations promotion, I was able to book a surprise trip for my girlfriend’s birthday for a weekend away to a surprise tropical destination, with a stay at an all-inclusive resort included, and absolutely no out of pocket costs. They also run monthly promotions that often have some hidden deals where you can really stretch your SkyMiles.
I love sitting in an airline lounge, enjoying a pre-flight glass of sparkling wine just as much as the next person, however, most airport lounges are a waste of time and energy. I feel the mob with torches and pitchforks clamoring toward me as I type.
There are many exceptional airport lounges. Airline-operated first and business class lounges often offer gourmet food, top-shelf booze, comfortable seating and shower facilities. Not every lounge will be akin to visiting a luxury resort, however, it is a real treat to get a massage during a long layover.
On the other hand, there are a lot of mediocre quality, and even poor quality lounges. I was recently in Langkawi, Malaysia (LGK) and the Plaza Premium Lounge I was able to access with my Priority Pass membership was extremely lackluster. The food selection consisted of egg salad or tuna salad sandwiches, baked beans and a noodle soup I had never heard of.
Food wasn’t a major issue, as I was in Malaysia, and I had already eaten a thousand plates of nasi goreng that day, so I didn’t need to make a meal out of the Priority Pass lounge offerings. In fact, I didn’t even eat or drink anything while I was there. I just used the multiple charging ports to power up my electronics and then headed to the gate area.
When I see members of the 10xTravel Insiders Facebook group planning to get to the airport early to use a lounge, or asking how to buy access to a lounge (at $28 a person), I cringe a little. I feel that time could be better spent enjoying the last few hours of vacation enjoying the city you are visiting, or tying up loose ends in your household before you depart on a trip.
Another issue with trying to use Priority Pass is that access to lounges can sometimes be restricted due to capacity issues. It’s a real bummer to show up at the airport 2 hours early with a plan to hit up a lounge, only to find out that the lounge is not accepting Priority Pass customers.
Layovers are a bit of a different story. If you have a 2-5 hour layover, you are almost assuredly captive in the airport. It’s unlikely you would have enough time to deplane, exit the airport and go do anything productive in the city where you layover exists. In these instances, lounge access can make a long layover more enjoyable. Even if the drink and snack selection isn’t great, I always appreciate a quiet spot out of the hustle and bustle of the terminal.
John stole my “controversial” opinion about Delta being a quality airline and a pretty good frequent flyer program. So I’ll zero in on a corollary instead (since Delta kind of started it amongst the legacy carriers) – dynamic award pricing on economy flights is a good thing. <Ducks vegetables being thrown at his head>
Before you completely tune out, let me state that I don’t like dynamic award pricing and I especially hate it on business class flights. But that ship has sailed and I’m not one to worry about what we’ve lost. Instead, I like to focus on what we’ve gained, and in my experience, dynamic award pricing on economy flights has been a net gain.
Last summer, my daughter and I flew round-trip to France to enjoy watching the United States win the Women’s World Cup. While we ultimately upgraded to business class for the return leg, the original flight I booked was a roundtrip economy flight from Boston to Paris using Delta miles and their dynamic pricing. Total cost? 36,000 Delta Skymiles round-trip plus taxes and fees per person. There were flights as low as 28,000 Skymiles but I passed due to too many connections.
Mind you this was in the middle of the summer – peak travel season! With dynamic pricing, airlines can lower prices on distressed routes and flights which can be a net positive for consumers, especially savvy miles and points users like the 10xTravel community. This proves especially important for my family of five. If I had taken my whole family to Europe last year, it would have taken 60,000 Skymiles per person under the old fixed Delta rates, a 66% increase in cost.
Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card
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We’ve seen this trickle over to American Airlines with their economy web specials that have offered some great savings like 10,000 AAdvantage miles roundtrip from the United States to New Zealand. And again – some of these flights are during high travel seasons, it’s not just in the offseason.
Do I want to fly upfront as much as possible? Yes, of course. And dynamic award pricing has mostly been bad for that. But I don’t want to throw out the good with the bad – I firmly believe that dynamic award pricing has been a great win for people that are willing to fly economy or families that need to due to costs. For people in that situation, I’d imagine this take isn’t that controversial at all.
I think airline elite status is a sham. And before you leave this page only to never return, what I mean is going out of your way or spending more money on flights just to earn the next level of elite status is ridiculous.
Elite status is a marketing move by airlines to earn loyalty by rewarding frequent flyers with perks that don’t cost airlines extra money, but it certainly costs more to you to earn it.
Think about it. In most cases, flying the same airline (or airlines within the same alliance) means limiting your choices to those specific carriers when booking a ticket. This could mean more expensive prices or a less desirable routing, perhaps, with more stops or longer layovers.
And let’s not forget mileage runs. People get on a flight across the ocean just to turn around and do the same flight back for no reason other than to earn status. However, flying alone won’t earn you those fancy luggage tags anymore. There’s a significant spending requirement that goes hand in hand with flying butt in a seat. Earning that status costs a pretty penny.
Unfortunately, the reward isn’t worth the cost. With planes being oversold left and right, it’s that much harder to score the coveted upgrade you expect as an elite member. And guess what—getting a free checked bag is covered by credit card benefits these days.
Now, if you’re a road warrior and your boss foots the bill, that’s another thing. Reap the benefits of work travel. But for someone who pays her own way, chasing status is cost-prohibitive.
I travel for 8+ months out of the year, and while points and miles play a huge role in my life, I also have no problem spending cash. I couldn’t earn enough points and miles to pay for all of my travels, so when cash prices are reasonable, that’s how I book.
That said, for hotels and other lodgings especially, I spend a fair amount of money each year. I book a lot of nights through Airbnb and a lot of nights with hotels that aren’t part of a major chain. For all hotel bookings that aren’t part of a major chain, I almost always turn to Hotels.com.
I think Hotels.com has one of the most underrated loyalty programs out there. For every 10 nights, you stay at hotels booked through Hotels.com, you get the average amount of the 10 nights back to use toward another hotel. Additionally, it’s often possible to buy Hotels.com gift cards for 10% to 15% off, which means you can save 20% or more on your hotel bookings through Hotels.com.
In many cases, I think booking hotels through Hotels.com is a superior option to using hotel points except for the most aspirational hotels.
I’d be willing to bet that you read one of these options and thought it was entirely misguided. Nothing wrong with that and there’s plenty of room for debate. Hopefully, these opinions at least got you thinking a little bit.
Let us know what you think and share your most controversial opinion in the comments!
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