Hilton changes = Corby goes up!

Loyalty lobby reports here on the new Hilton HHonors award category changes. This happens every couple of months, so is not unexpected or surprising at all. Properties move up and down in categories in these announcements and there is a general sense of balance.
However, the very sad piece of news for people using points to complete challenges for Gold and Diamond in the UK, is that the Hampton in Corby/Kettering has been upgraded to a Category 2 hotel. This means that one night will cost 10,000 points rather than the previous 5,000 at Category 1. The only Category 1 property left in the UK for cheap “mattress runs” is the Hampton in Newport.

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BA discount on purchasing Avios

I generally discourage people from purchasing airline miles, as normally the rate is pretty bad.

I just received an email from British Airway offering to purchase Avios at a 20% discount. This seems to be a targeted offer.
Even with the discount, the price is appalling: 1000 Avios for 25£, all the way to a maximum 35000 Avios for 460£, making it at best 1.31p per Avios. Given the generally accepted valuation of 1p per Avios this is still not a good deal.

Also I would not recommend buying small amounts to top up, because the price you pay is hiked by too much. It would be much better to convert some American Express Membership Rewards, if you have some left over. If you don’t, you can always apply for Gold charge card and receive 22000 bonus points if you spend 2000£ in the first 90 days, using this link. The points convert 1:1 to Avios, and the first year of card membership is free. You can cancel before renewal is due.

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My thoughts on error fares and Mileage Running done right.

The last month has seen good times and bad times for mileage runners. There have been amazing fares like the ex-Zurich error fare in business by Cathay Pacific, which haven’t been honoured, and there have been other slightly less incredible, but still amazing fares ex-Oslo by British Airways / American Airlines / Iberia, again in business class, which are being honoured.

I booked flights for both of these fares, and realised something: it is always worth trying to book something on these fares if you can. If the airline won’t honour it, you get your money back (and rather quickly), and you got to dream for a couple of days for free.

Our bookings (the ones that were honoured) are going to get us both to BA Gold for the next two years, and land us a respectable 120,000 avios. At the standard valuation of 1 penny, that’s a whopping £1200 cashback equivalent! However, in the haste, I forgot to “optimize” two of these bookings, and left on the table at least 800 tier points and a good 40000 avios. Lesson learned for next time I suppose.

If anyone else has booked these error fares, let me know in the comments how much they are going to net you!

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Virgin Atlantic reward seat sale

Virgin Atlantic have just emailed me the details of their new reward seat sale. The sale starts today, and is live.
There are some good deals in economy – London to Miami for 25000 miles, for example, and the Virgin Atlantic redemption taxes tend to be usually lower than British Airways.
However, the choice of destinations is very limited. I have a feeling that Delta might have had something to say about this too, as they are all in the US.

Here is a snapshot:


All in all, if you were planning to go to any of those destinations, you might get a good deal. Availability for Y seems quite wide open too.

There is also a sale on upgrades, but I ignored that given that the base economy fare you would need is usually very expensive.

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American Express Membership Rewards now redeemable at Amazon.co.uk

Amex Amazon promo image

Amex Amazon promo image

I just received an email from Amex, saying that MR points can now be used at checkout at amazon.co.uk. An initial click on the registration page shows that the conversion rate is £4.50 per 1000 points, with a minimum redemption of 1000 points. This works out at a rate of 0.45p per point, which in my opinion is a poor redemption rate. You can usually get at leas 1p per point (and in most cases a lot more) by using airmile or hotel point conversions.
It might be useful though if you have a few points lying around and you are about to close an MR account (presumably for churning?), as I am always buying things on Amazon.

Verdict: Don’t buy

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Virgin Atlantic 20% when you buy miles

Virgin Atlantic just emailed me with an offer of 20% bonus for buying up to 100,000 miles. At 1,515 GBP this works out at around 1.26p/mile, so still not a great deal.

Advice: Don’t buy

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Cathay Gold extending Gold cards for Amex Platinums with a challenge

As many already know, American Express had been giving Cathay Pacific Gold status (equivalent to OneWorld Sapphire, so BA Silver) to its UK Platinum cardholders as a “secret perk”. This was probably not publicized so that the relationship with British Airways wasn’t upset.
American Express stopped this added perk on March 15 this year, and as such the Gold cards have started expiring. However, I have had reports of some Cathay golds receiving an extra 6 months on their membership, together with a challenge to collect 30,000 qualifying miles to requalify for the following year, instead of the usual 60,000. I have received one myself now as well, so I decided to post about it. I do not know yet if this is going to be a rolling re-qualification incentive or if it is just for one year. Beware that many discounted economy fares on British Airways and Iberia (and other OneWorld partners) only earn 50% mileage, so depending on your travel pattern it might still be easier to qualify for BA Silver.
My guess is that this will be a permanent Amex Platinum perk for cardmembers who initially received the Cathay Gold for free, and that this change is probably because most of us (including me) were using the status to obtain perks on BA, but credit the points to Avios (and trying to reach silver before the Cathay Gold expired).

Here is a picture of the full requalification terms:

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A review of the new JAL economy class

Recently JAL have renewed their economy class and publicised it a bit. I had the chance to fly with them this month, with a return ticket. I booked CDG-HND and NRT-CDG, because I noticed that on the return flight I would get a seat on the new 787-800 dreamliner.
Let’s have a look at the various features of JAL’s service between Paris and Tokyo, which I think would probably be representative of the rest of their intercontinental offering. Some of the observations (e.g. the lounge), may not be applicable to some readers that do not have OneWorld emerald or sapphire status.

  • On the ground: departing CDG
    JAL has a strange arrangement at CDG, to say the least. Rather than being in the same terminal as the rest of OneWorld (2A and 2C), they codeshare with Air France and are situated in terminal 2E. This means that unless your OneWorld status comes from JAL’s own Mileage Bank program, or have AirFrance status as well, you won’t be allowed in the lounge. The good news is that if you have a premium economy ticket (where they operate a 3-or-more-class aircraft, that is), the lounge is included in the ticket. I was actually offered the upgrade on the way out for just 250 euros – in hindseight this would have been a good bargain. I would advise that if you get the option you should take it.
  • On the ground: departing NRT
    Departing from Narita was incredibly simple. Tokyo is a well organised city and getting to the airport was a breeze. JAL have an impressive 2 bags per person allowance even for travellers in economy, and we definitely needed it given the amount of shopping. The check-in attendants were incredibly polite and helpful, and they even wrapped up our umbrellas for us. They took the trouble to ask if we had bottles in the suitcases and marked them as fragile. There are separate security lanes, one exclusively for JAL status holders and First class travellers, and one for OneWorld status holders. For the first time in my life, whilst going through a priority security lane, I had someone actually help me unpack and arrange my things in trays.
  • The seat
    The new economy seats on JAL's 777

    The new economy seats on JAL’s 777

    The renewed seat has some very nice features, one of them being a USB connector (on the left side of the screen in the picture). The screen is about the size of an iPad, and it seems to have very good resolution and brightness/contrast. This is in stark contrast with what you get with BA and Virgin Atlantic, for example, which in many cases are just pitiful and I end up watching things on my laptop.
  • The meal(s)
    JAL's first meal

    JAL’s first meal

    JAL's MOS burger kit

    JAL’s MOS burger kit

    The meals were simply amazing. Apart from the fact that on the return flight we were served two full meals and two snacks, JAL are the only airline that I know of that seem to make an effort by giving nice food with a Japanese twist, and plenty of small extras on the side. Not to mention the metal cutlery, which is a refreshing change from what you get elsewhere nowadays. Our second meal on the return flight was a build-it-yourself MOS burger (if you’ve been to Japan you know what I’m talking about), which was delicious and fun. The only thing I can really say about the food (in-flight and in the lounge) is that I ate too much. But I always do that when I’m flying so I can’t really fault JAL for it!
  • The service
    There clearly are two separate levels of service, and not in the way you think of. Japan-based JAL staff are way more courteous, polite, and helpful than the foreign ground-based ones. It is part of Japanese culture to be helpful and nice, and I think that shows in the training they receive. They also seemed to be incredibly polite and professional between themselves, and always had a smile on their face (I don’t speak much Japanese, but I do understand enough to tell when someone is being direct, rude, or dismissive).
  • The Lounge
    While the slightly odd arrangement they have at CDG meant I didn’t get to see the Air France lounge, the JAL Sakura lounge in Narita is a very strong point in favour of JAL. This is a fully-fledged OneWorld lounge so you can gain entrance with any OneWorld status, so we used my Cathay Pacific Gold (thank you Amex!) to get in. It is one of the best business class lounges in which I’ve been. For starters, the food was of very good quality and the drinks selection was excellent. Top that with excellent views of the airport, a free massage (was all booked while we were there though), excellent massage chairs, nap rooms, and some decent alcohol selection, and it sits up there with the best business class lounges.
  • Avios and Tier Points
    Readers beware. If you book a JAL discounted economy flight, you will end up with a 25% avios earning rate. You still get the full Tier Points though, so it’s still a good deal. It may be the case that if you book a BA codeshare you will get the full Avios as well, but I’m not sure about that.

Final thoughts about the trip
It is hard for me to say anything bad about JAL. They seem to have nailed most of the things that the other airlines get wrong in Economy: basic little touches here and there (like the USB port that I used to charge my phone), the extra baggage allowance, and the fact that you didn’t feel like cattle at any point during the process. Compared to the experience I had the following day combing back to London from CDG (that’s a completely different story that I’ll cover in a future post), this was a great experience.

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£20 back when you spend £200 at Costco UK

American Express and Costco are running a targeted promotion for some Platinum cardmembers. You should be able to see this in the section on the right in you account home page under “your offers”.
It’s valid until Feb and you get £20 back when you spend £200 at Costco. I know I would have done it anyway, so it’s a nice discount.

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My Black friday list

This is a list of all deals that I have scraped and found to be noteworthy so far. I will add more as I find them, so stay tuned:

  • ASDA seem to have a “Walmart” Black Friday going on. Starts tomorrow at 8AM, in-store only. Hopefully it’s good.
  • Hotel Tonight have a sale for rooms for $99 and some other bonuses. There is a $25 signup bonus if you use my referral code AMOSCA3
  • This is not a Black Friday deal per se, but BA are offering 20% off flights to the US and Canada, using the code Fairmon1ZH
  • OMNI have a 40% off sale, tomorrow only
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