In a few short weeks, winter will officially be over and if you’re like me, you’re looking forward to the hope of things getting closer to normal again and travel to get back to normal. Conferences and festivals are already being announced left and right and after last years booming holiday season, those credit card reward points you racked up might be burning a hole in your pocket. So, it seems fitting to take a moment to look at some of the changes happening in the travel, points and miles world recently.
💳 Card & Loyalty Program Changes
Covid has caused a massive disruption in travel over the last three years. That disruption has a cost and airlines, hotels, travel companies, and everyone in between are all too eager to make back. That means some big offers to entice travelers for some programs and a devaluation of points for others, so I wanted to share some of what’s happened lately.
Free Southwest Companion Pass is one of the best travel hacks there is, giving you the ability to name a person to fly free with any ticket you purchase, even if you bought it with points. All you pay is the taxes. You usually have to earn 125,000 points in a year but right now, through any of their consumer cards, you can get Companion Pass free through Feb 2023 by opening a new card and spending $5,000 within the first three months. You can support me and All the Hacks by checking this offer out here.
American AAdvantage totally revamped the requirements to earn elite status, switching to a focus on earning “Loyalty Points” instead of flying a certain number of miles. Why is this good news? Because you can earn loyalty points from spending on an AA credit card or using their shopping portals. That means you could actually earn status on American (even their highest tier) without ever stepping on a plane. Now if you’re not flying, then status doesn’t do much for you, but in a post-pandemic world with much less regular travel, I’m excited to see more ways to earn status without flying so often.
Richard Kerr touched on offer stacking in this week's podcast episode and it’s one of the easiest ways to get the most out of your rewards points (and becoming more common in recent years). The idea is that in addition to loading Amex or Chase offers to your card, you can use shopping portals (I find the best deals at CashBackMonitor) and other coupons/deals too. FrequentMiler has a detailed post about taking this to the extreme if you want to explore further.
Hyatt Award Chart Changes - While Hyatt still boasts one of the best hotel rewards programs, a recent change to their award chart update is a little disappointing for those of us who like booking at their high-end properties. As of March 2022, 70 of Hyatt’s hotels are moving to a higher award category. This means you need to use more points per night. That said, even with this changes, I think redemptions at places like Park Hyatt Kyoto or Ventana Big Sur are worth the extra points.
Marriott switches to dynamic pricing - The reason I love the points game is that the number of points or miles you need for some of the most expensive flights/hotels is usually fixed, so you can get incredible deals at the higher end of travel. That was especially true with Marriott Bonvoy, but they recently announced they’re switching to a model where the points required for booking will be based on market rates of their rooms. While they haven’t shared all the final details, this is about the worst news you could get and likely means I won’t be trying to accrue Bonvoy points going forward. Despite the Hyatt changes above, I’m all-in on Hyatt Rewards for 2022 hotels.
Chase Sapphire Reserve and Amex Platinum might be losing their luster - I recommend you check out this weeks podcast (specifically at 27:30), where Richard Kerr and I discuss whether these cards are holding up to the test of time. Their annual fees have gone up to $550 and $695 and it’s started to feel like you need to use their coupon book of benefits to recoup that value. And that’s all while other Chase and Amex cards are increasing their value proposition with a much lower fee (e.g. Chase Sapphire preferred is now 3x dining and 2x travel for $95/year). With so many cards offering lounge access through priority pass, I’m starting to wonder how many of these top tier cards I need to keep holding.
🌎 Where can you go?
Despite that many countries were on track to open up last year, the Omicron variant put a hold on the reopening plans for many countries. Given how often these things change, I wanted to share a few resources I have bookmarked to be able to reference before planning a trip. This NYTimes article is my go-to for country-by-country guidance on travel restrictions, but I also enjoyed ThePointsGuy’s post on the same topic, which is organized by region (much more helpful for trip planning).
However, in the last few months, many of those plans to open have either happened already or been announced, so I wanted to highlight a few of the recent changes I’m most excited about:
Australia is now open to international visitors. My trip here deserves a longer story some day, but it was the highlight of my 2015. In fact, I remember asking almost every person I met “Why doesn’t everyone live here?” I highly recommend a trip and if you’re up for an adventure, hire a guide and go rock climbing in the Blue Mountains. Specifically climb the Sweet Dreams route, which is one of the easiest and most beautiful climbs I’ve ever done.
Thailand reopened its doors to vaccinated international travelers without needing to quarantine, thought their “Test & Go” program still has a few rules to follow. Amy and I loved our time in Thailand and look forward to going back one day. I highly recommend all the street food you can handle and a few days at the Railei Beach Club.
While Japan’s limited reopening is only for students and business travelers, it’s the first step towards a broader reopening for tourism. There is no country I’m more excited to re-visit than Japan. Despite having been to Japan four times already (certainly the most of any international destination outside of Mexico), I’m ready to go back to eat all the ramen, relax in the most amazing hotels (Satoyamo Jujo and Park Hyatt Kyoto being two of my favorites) and spend time with some of the nicest people in the world.
Finally, if you’re planning on traveling internationally during the pandemic have questions about travel insurance, check out my post from two weeks ago.