Citi Prestige Trip Cancellation Benefit doesn’t cover miles refunds

In an attempt to recoup the value of a ticket my wife and I had to cancel I called the phone number on the back of our Citi Prestige card in order to file a trip cancellation refund request. We had used the card to pay the taxes on a mileage trip on Korean Airlines, whose generous refund rules allow you to recoup much of your losses for not that much money (miles, actually). That being said, they still deduct miles in order to process the refund according to this chart:

So, due to the international nature of our travel we each lost 3,000 Korean Air Skypass miles in the transaction (and we got the rest back, including the taxes). So, when I called Citi, I wasn’t necessarily expecting anything magical, but I was hoping they would refund some kind of dollar value of the 6,000 miles that we lost. Turns out the answer is no. They don’t refund miles. I’ve been a happy customer of Citi Prestige for a while and love all their insurance benefits but it turns out this one they don’t help with. It’s not that big a deal – 6,000 miles is a small price to pay to get everything back easily, but it’s annoying.

Good to know for the future, though, I’m sure.

Plaza Premium Temporary Lounge in Toronto leaves something to be desired

On the way home from Toronto on Monday I was ready to spend some relaxing time in the Plaza Premium Lounge in Terminal 1 of the Toronto Pearson Airport. My wife, sister, and brother were all with me and we would get some free food, drinks, and nice bathrooms to tide over the hour we had to wait for the plane. Unfortunately, we were greeted by this banner upon getting through customs on our way to the lounge.

Apparently the lounge is going through renovation and so we were only able to get access to a temporary lounge using the Priority Pass Select membership granted to us by the Citi Prestige card that my wife and I hold.

The lounge is located essentially in what should be the regular seating area between gates F55 and F57. Instead, they have put up some partitions, placed some higher-quality chairs, and set up a buffet with some food. There were more limited selections than usual but the food was tasty. They also had a variety of drinks, although a smaller variety than normal. The one major gripe that my family and I had was the the power ports on the chairs were taped over and disconnected from any kind of power source.

We spent about 45 minutes waiting in the lounge and enjoying the food and drink. It was definitely better than paying for food and the chairs had nicer cushions, but this is not the kind of lounge I am used to at this point in my travel career. I hope they complete renovations quickly so that the next visit we have to Toronto has a better lounge for us to access.

Baggage delay can ruin your time

As mentioned in the previous post my wife and I had a very unfortunate experience on our recent trip to South Africa: due to what I can only imagine to be many mistakes and misunderstandings over the course of five days our luggage did not arrive safely into the country when we did. Instead, we had to wait five full days (and spend much time during those days buying necessities) in order to get our bags back.

My general theory of what happened is what follows.

When we left the US we arrived at JFK airport with about an hour until our flight was scheduled to leave on its way to Vienna. We barely made it to the check-in counter in time but our large, filled-to-the-brim blue bag was accepted and checked onto the flights that would eventually end up in Johannesburg. During the 29 hour journey we had two carry-ons containing extra clothes due to our nine hour layover in Cairo. I had wanted to shower and change before our final flight to South Africa so we planned to shower and change beforehand.

Upon arrival into JNB airport we went through the exceedingly-long customs line until we were allowed to enter the country, only to find that the blue bag we were hoping to see on the other end was nowhere in sight. We waited for 10 minutes as the belt kept moving and then made our way to the EgyptAir luggage support services people who took me for a walk around the baggage claim area in search of the bag that supposedly took a different flight path (via Frankfurt) instead of boarding our plane with us. We couldn’t find it.

So for five full days my wife and I relied on the baggage delay insurance covered to us by the Citi Prestige card we used to pay the taxes on our award ticket from to South Africa. Due to an update in their rules we did not have to book the entire flight’s cost on the card – even partial payment would allow the coverage below to kick in:

While not as good as the Chase Sapphire Preferred in this regard (that offers $100 per day up to five days), it does provide you with some money to get supplies that you need. We did spend over that amount and so I also filed a claim for reimbursement from the airline itself. I am currently waiting to hear back from both entities on what we can get back from them.

In the end we had to buy clothing, toiletries, medicine, and a whole new piece of luggage to carry it all on our flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town. I am a patient man and will make sure to get every dollar we spent back or make sure no one flies with this airline ever again…

 

TSA PreCheck adds 11 new airlines

As many people know, TSA PreCheck allows you more of the former airport experience while going through security, such as:

  • Keeping your shoes on.
  • Not taking your laptop out of your bag.
  • Your liquids and gels can be anywhere, just as long as they are less than 100 mL.

So, it is wonderful news whenever new airlines sign on to the program. As Gary Leff is reporting today, 11 new airlines have added the benefit to their booking process. The website currently lists the following airlines but has put out a press release for the rest: 30precheck

Notable new airlines include:

Make sure to sign up for Global Entry first as it comes with TSA PreCheck included. Some credit cards even provide a fee credit for signing up (notably Citi Prestige and Chase Sapphire Reserve).

Should you keep that credit card or not?

As many of you who read this blog know my wife and I have over 25 credit cards to our names. In some, she is the primary user and in some I am. We have accumulated all these cards because of their sign-up bonuses and various benefits like free checked baggage, access to lounges, elite status, etc. But, every little while it is a good idea to think about if you should keep a card in your wallet (or folio, in our case) or cut it free. In fact, The Points Guy has great posts on checking your credit card inventory once in a while.

The biggest question for me in keeping or cancelling a care is if I am getting a benefit that outweighs the annual fee every year. The easiest examples of “keepers” to me are cards for airlines I or my wife use frequently. For example, we have a United Mileage Plus Explorer card and an AAdvantage Aviator Red Card, each with a $95 annual fee, but we keep them year after year because we get benefits of free checked bags (a $25 benefit each flight per bag) and boarding status (we get to come on the plane earlier and make sure our carry-ons fit in the overhead compartment). As long as we have at least four bag-checks on each airline, it is worth it to keep those cards.

Other cards come with anniversary bonuses. The Amtrak Guest Rewards World card provides an annual Companion pass that, if used correctly, can offset its $79 annual fee. My wife and I travel to Providence, RI frequently enough that a round-trip train ticket + companion makes that doable. The JetBlue Plus Card has a fee of $99 but gives free checked bags and 5,000 points after every account anniversary.

Some cards come with status and not necessarily other benefits you might use. The AMEX Hilton HHonors Surpass card has a $75 annual fee but comes with Gold status at all Hilton-connected hotels. That has given me free room upgrades and free breakfast in at least three situations, totally that much money or more. Additionally, I have earned more points than usual, making it more possible to have a free night sooner. Basically, it does end up paying for itself.

It’s really the big, expensive cards that make me seriously think whether or not it’s worth it to keep them. I currently have a Citi Prestige card, which I got in December 2015 when the sign-up bonus was 50,000 ThankYou points. I applied because I knew that while it has a $450 annual fee, each calendar year it comes with a $250 airline credit. So by using it in 2015 to buy a flight and 2016 to buy a flight, I received $500 in credits to offset the fee the first year. Additionally, it also comes with a host of other benefits including access to the Priority Pass network of lounges across the globe, which my wife and I used extensively during our honeymoon. The fee just came up again and I am debating whether or not to keep the card. It is essentially a $200 annual fee card (with the offset airline credit) in order to access a whole host of lounges and potentially free hotel nights as well. I’m not sure what to do with it but I have some time to decide.

So there you have it – my basic analysis of the different types of benefits you can earn. It really is an individual decision whether or not to keep these cards and, as the Points Guy said at a recent workshop I attended, “do the math.”

The big miles post: comparing what we paid for what we would have paid

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I truly love finding a great miles/points deal. So when my wife and I started planning our honeymoon I realized this was the opportunity of a lifetime to use our points to maximize our enjoyment of flights and hotels wherever possible. While we couldn’t use them all over the places we visited (specifically, in Indonesia) we received such benefit that our honeymoon was that much better and that much cheaper.

This all started about 2 years ago when I got involved in the miles/points game. We started signing up for credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Freedom, Chase Ink Plus, and Chase Ink Cash. Each had a lucrative bonus of Ultimate Rewards points that we stored away for safekeeping. I also signed up for the Citibank American Airlines cards (both personal and business) in order to get 100,000 AA miles to supplement some I had from before the US Airways merger. I added the CitiBank ThankYou Premier card as well as Citi Prestige to get 100,000 ThankYou points as well. Finally, we signed up for a few hotel-based cards: We got the Starwood Personal and Business cards when the bonuses were 30,000 and 35,000 instead of the base level of 25,000 and we also both got the Chase Marriott cards. Sufficed to say, we had a lot of points to spend.

So, in this post I want to analyze the difference between what we paid and what we should have paid if we hadn’t used any points.

The first use of our points was our flights from New York-JFK to Denpasar, Bali. We decided to use Korean Airlines because they are a transfer partner of Chase as long as you have either the Sapphire Preferred or the Ink Plus. We took two flights to get there: one from New York to Seoul and another from Seoul to Bali. We decided to take a one day layover in Seoul so the flights below are not entirely accurate.

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The total cost using miles was 190,000 points + $166 in taxes. 

If we bought the tickets outright, the cost would have been significantly higher.

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As you can see, the tickets from New York to Seoul alone would have been $20,063.60 in total. For some reason I can’t seem to price out the Seoul->Bali ticket right now, but it likely would have been at least $2,000 each.

For our next major journey on miles we flew from Singapore to London on British Airways. We used American Airlines miles to purchase these tickets before the big devaluation it actually cost us less than quoted below: only 70,000 American Airlines miles each.

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With taxes and fees, the total cost was 140,000 miles + $588.40 in taxes and fees.

Running total: 330,000 miles + $754.40.

The actual cost would have been much more (although less than Korean Air):

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Total cost for this flight with two people: $13,057.60.

Running total: $33,121.20

The last major flight was our return home from Frankfurt to New York-JFK with Singapore Airlines. Our two tickets used quite a few miles because the saver award was not available. I had two transfer over 100,000 Citi ThankYou points and Chase points to get it, but it was well worth it.

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With conversion from the date of purchase, the total cost was 221,000 miles + $621.62.

Final total for flights: 551,000 miles + $1,376.03.

From the example below our flight cost would have been $10,183.12.

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Final total for flights: $43,304.32.

One major aspect of this travel I am not including in cost was all the lounges we visited. As a first class passenger we had access to a number of lounges at each airport and with the Citi Prestige we had access to even more through the Priority Pass network. Even in Lombok Airport – a tiny blip on the screen in Indonesia – there was a Sheraton Lounge that took it. We must have saved a few hundred dollars on food and time due to this benefit.


Now we can start discussing the hotels we stayed in because they were also heavily discounted. The first use of points was at the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel in Singapore. As it is a newly rebranded hotel there was a discount in the price although we used our points anyway. We booked to stay for 3 nights on points instead of paying the full price.

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Total hotel points used: 30,000

If we had paid for it outright, the cost would have been around $120/night, totalling $360.

Next, we stayed at a wonderful Sheraton property in London called the Park Lane Hotel. It is a beautiful old world hotel that has been converted to a Sheraton but retains much of its charm. Since we decided to stay in London for five nights we benefited from Starwood’s 4 nights + 1 free promotion when redeeming points. Normally the hotel is 20,000 points/night but it averaged to 16,000/night due to this deal.

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Total hotel points used here: 80,000. Running total of hotel points: 110,000.

Had we booked our room and paid fully, each night would have been a whopping GBP £218. Based on when we booked the hotel (i.e. before the Brexit), that would have been $316/night. Total cost would have been: $1,580. Running total: $1,940.

In Paris we switched gears a bit and stayed at a Marriott Hotel instead since we had all those points to use. I found a great location with the Marriott Opera Ambassador Hotel. It was conveniently located to many restaurants, museums, and right on public transit lines. We stayed four nights there at a cost of 40,000 points/night.

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Total was 160,000. Running total is: 270,000 points. At this point it is important to mentioned that not all points are created equal, especially when it comes to hotels. Obviously Marriott properties require more points than Starwood ones. Just keep that in mind for the future.

Had we stayed there paying outright, the room would have been 243 Euro/night, translating to $275/night. Total cost: $1,100. Running total: $3,040.

For our last night we stayed at the Hilton City Centre Frankfurt. I had accumulated many Hilton points and even had Gold Status due to the Surpass Card I had signed up for two months prior. While the standard room rate is 50,000 points I actually found a discounted Deluxe Park View room for even less!

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So the total amount of points spent overall for 13 free hotel nights was 311,157 points.

Had we paid out-of-pocket for that room it would have cost 139 Euro, or $157/night. Total cost of hotels would have been: $3,197.


This was a truly amazing trip. The sites we saw were fantastic (and more blog posts to come in that regard). The transportation we took was lovely and speedy. And the places we stayed were welcoming and enticing. I can’t wait to do this again in the future!

Citi Prestige to the rescue: Trip Interruption benefit

While on our honeymoon I fell quite ill in Lombok, Indonesia while we were staying at the Cocotino’s Sekotong Beach Resort. My wife organized us to go to a local clinic (meaning an hour away) after which we decided to go to Singapore early for better medical care. Unfortunately, that meant we left Cocotino’s one day early and so we had to foot the bill of $166.72 without much recourse. Apparently, my wife tells me, that when we left they said they would refund our money for the one nights’ stay but upon email request, I was denied.

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This is where the wonderful Trip Cancellation and Interruption benefit of the Citi Prestige card comes in. We had paid for the hotel with the card because of its 3X reward points but didn’t realize how easy it would be to also use to get money back for non-refundable purchases when medical conditions are in the mix.

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A few days after we returned home I called the Citi Prestige Benefits department who told me they would be sending me an email to collect more details about the illness, our early flight out, and any other information they needed to process my claim. I waited a few days and didn’t actually receive said email so I got worried and called them again. As it turns out, because my claim was for such little money (not to me, though) they simply approved it without any fanfare! Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 8.43.25 AM

It’s really nice to know about these benefits and even nicer to know that they truly work. I just checked my statement today because the bill was coming due and it had posted after only two weeks!

Arrival in Seoul and Korean Air A330-300

On our way to Bali my wife and stopped over in Seoul, South Korea for a day. Korean Airlines offers free stopovers and since ours lasted more than 24 hours we were able to get our luggage from baggage claim and use it while we were there (those transit passengers in Seoul for <24 hours have to through-check their baggage to their final destination).

For our time in Seoul we used our Marriott points (and credit card) to book a one-night stay at The Plaza, a new addition to the Marriott Autograph collection. I booked us a “Deluxe room” costing 35,000 points (a pretty good deal for the center of a major city) and when we arrived they actually upgraded us to the Plaza Suite, possibly because we mentioned it was our honeymoon. They even gave us a little rose!

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The Plaza Suite room was much larger than the Deluxe room we had booked and had a better view, more electronic amenities (i.e. the blinds were controlled from a cool pad next to the bed), and way more room. We even ordered some room service and easily sat down to eat it together. Right below the TV there was even a working fireplace (not that we needed it with 85 degree+ weather outside!). The bathroom also had a shower and separate bathtub (my wife loves those) as well as a bidet with controls next to the toilet. It was a really nice room.

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After our overnight and exploration of Seoul (there are so many palaces, food markets, and other things to explore) we were ready for our flight to Bali. We booked it as a part of the same ticket on the A380 so it was also in a high class of service. Unfortunately, when I booked the tickets there were no first class seats available so I voluntarily downgraded us to Prestige Class. Since we were flying on the A330-300 I assumed we were going to get the “Prestige Suite“, a new version of this class of service that is more like their First class without the separate sectioning. Unfortunately, the plane was a bit more dated and we only had their “Prestige Sleeper.” It was still incredibly comfortable but not their highest version so I was, of course, disappointed.

In the Seoul airport there were a variety of lounges available to the public. The Korean Airlines lounge is one of their bigger ones with a much wider selection of food than JFK and even access to showers. I really appreciated this last point as I had been sweating a lot during our walk around town. We didn’t have an enormous amount of time in the lounge but noticed that the two other lounges we could have used from Priority Pass (SkyHub Lounge and Matina Lounge) both seemed to offer better food. That being said, they were both fee-based lounges so they were overcrowded and we were not allowed in.

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It was a very easy 7-hour flight. The in-flight entertainment was the same as on the A380 and the meal service was similar. It was a shorter flight so we received a bit less food but could ask for anything at any time. There was no turn-down service and no pajamas, unfortunately, but the flight crew was still great. When I woke up from a 3 hour sleep the flight attendant immediately asked if I wanted the sandwich that I had missed. Honestly, there was not much difference between this class and first class (maybe a bit wider sleeper area at the feet) so we were not that upset about it. We arrived in Bali pretty well rested and got to our hotel just fine!

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An amazing start to a honeymoon: Korean Airlines A380

My wife and I recently began our honeymoon to various destinations worldwide and I brought a small netbook so I could document parts of our travel experiences. Originally, she was a bit skeptical of the work I did with miles/points to maximize our benefit but over the past year she has been “turned”, let’s say, to understanding how amazing it can truly be. With a little work (and a lot of patience) you can get some amazing things in the travel world. So, here is the first installment for our honeymoon: our time flying from New York-JFK through Seoul, South Korea, to Denpasar, Bali. I will focus just on the flights for now (with other anecdotes about our specific time in each place later).


I’ve spent about two years now accruing miles for the specific purpose of travel (as opposed to just benefiting from random purchases later on). I plan and scheme specific credit bonuses to get, clubs to enter, and referrals to get, all for the purpose of getting to far places for cheap. My first major version of this was booking our Korean Airlines tickets from New York to Bali.

In order to book award travel on Korean Airlines you need to start by signing up for a free SkyPass account. It’s not difficult – much like anything else it requires your contact information and some other details. Then you can search for the dates you want. Here is an example of the flight plan that my wife and I took (this is not the exact plan we took, FYI).

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We did take these flights but I called to book them in such a way that we had 25 hours in Seoul on our way to Bali. One of the nice things about Korean Airlines is their stopover rules on award travel. I’m not sure exactly how many are allowed, but we could have had multiple weeks between our flight to Seoul and then to Bali. Since our focus was Bali, we made sure it was only one day (more on that day on a later blog post). Also, if you have these kinds of layovers in Seoul, their tourism bureau offers some pretty amazing free bus tours and hotel stays.

One specific note about this award ticket before we go on: in order to get the ticket for my wife, I had to verify that we were married. I put the award ticket on hold (which you can do for up to 30 days on Korean Airlines) and then had to upload a copy of our marriage certificate and have them agree that it was valid before I could officially book it. It was a strange thing to do, but still worth it.

So, now, onto the main event. We arrived at JFK about 2 hours early in order to take advantage of the pre-flight lounge access we had. We breezed through check-in thanks to our tickets being in first class.IMG_5923 We then went to the Korean Airlines lounge and were given access to the prestigious First Class section (they differentiate between First and Business, also called Prestige class). It was not really much to write home about. Some small snacks, drinks, and comfortable chairs. The bathrooms were nice and there was a conference room you could use.IMG_5930IMG_5932

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Because it was not the nicest, we decided to utilize an important benefit of the Citi Prestige card that I have: access to Priority Pass lounges. Air France happens to also have a lounge in the same terminal so we went there and had a MUCH nicer time.

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The food and drink were way more plentiful and tasty and the views were spectacular. We stayed there for the duration of our wait. Unfortunately, our flight left at 2pm, otherwise we would have partaken in the complementary 20 minute spa package included in the lounge. Next time.

After waiting in the lounge for a while, we finally took it upon ourselves to board the flight.

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I was a bit surprised by the fact that there was one entrance for First, Prestige, and Economy class passengers. In the past I’ve read about different gateways, but I guess it was okay. What was more important was the seat we were about to sit in is one of the most comfortable in the world. It is large with an incredible amount of storage and we were given a wonderful amenity kit, Bose headphones, and pajamas for our flight.

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My wife and I have never experienced this kind of luxury in the sky. The food options for meals were incredible (and are more extensive if you need vegetarian or other limited options – just ask further in advance than we did). We had such nice meals and were able to watch their in-flight entertainment system without noise thanks to the headphones.

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The best past for us during this 13 hour journey was that we could really sleep. I changed into my pajamas quickly after getting on the plane and lied down for sleep after dinner. My wife slept longer than I did but it was very enjoyable for both of us. The seat flattens down and a pad is put on top followed by a very comfy duvet cover. Sometimes during the night it got a bit too hot with the duvet but mostly it was a great time.

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Since I woke up earlier than my wife I asked the flight attendants if I could have my second meal early and they happily oblige (side note: they were the most attentive attendants I have ever had. I don’t know if it is the same in Economy but it was incredible up front).

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Overall, the A380 is an amazing way to fly, be it on First Class or otherwise. But if you can get a chance to fly up front at some point, you should definitely take it!

Admirals Club at JFK

My wife and I are currently in Florida for the weekend for a little vacation and break from the unfortunate timing of the Polar Vortex on New York City. This is the first trip in which we have been able to take advantage of my recent acquisition of the Citi Prestige credit card so I was excited to use it to access the Admirals Club in JFK terminal 8 (the one near gate 42).

We went through security uneventfully (although I was jealous of two women who had tags on their hand luggage for Etihad – I’ll get on the A380 eventually). When we got to the proper part of the terminal, I found a sign for the Admirals Club and we took the elevator up. IMG_5261 IMG_5270

We made our way up and I showed my American Airlines boarding pass (a requirement to get access to the club with the Prestige card) and the card itself. The receptionist checked my wife and I in quickly and we made our way to the lounge itself.

I took a brief look around the club before sitting down to eat some breakfast. There was a nice selection of simple breakfast items as well as plenty of space to sit. The lounge had nice armchairs as well as cafe-like areas, computer terminals to use for whatever you wanted, as well as a few iPads strategically placed around the space. There were very nice bathrooms (with one rooms labeled “showers”) and even a children’s area. The large windows facing the tarmac were a nice touch so you could follow along the various planes as they took off. My wife loved the fact that you could take magazines with you to go.

All in all, it was a nice 25 minutes we spent just sitting having breakfast instead of waiting in a large space with so many other people and no amenities. I can’t wait to use this benefit again!

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