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Casey Neistat Flies Emirates’ New First Class

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Casey Neistat is one of the most popular YouTubers (his videos collectively have well over a billion views, though YouTubing isn’t his full time gig anymore). Even if you’re not into YouTube, you may remember I’ve written about him a few times before. I shared the video of him complaining about how American took away his comped Concierge Key status, and his incredible video review of Emirates first class, which might be the best unpaid advertisement they’ve ever had. Earlier this year he did a video review of Lufthansa first class.

As we all know, Emirates introduced a new first class product recently, which has been available between Dubai and Brussels since December 1, 2017.

Shortly after Emirates announced the product, Casey Neistat and Emirates had the following conversation on Twitter:

And it looks like that really happened. Just yesterday, Casey uploaded a video about how he’s flying Emirates’ new first class from Brussels to Dubai.

It’s not an actual video review yet, though it does appear like his flight happened on December 7, based another picture he Tweeted.

2A? C’mon, he should have taken one of the center seats so he could experience the virtual windows! 😉

I certainly look forward to seeing his video about the experience. At last count, his previous Emirates first class video has nearly 48 million views.

That also raises the question of why he couldn’t outright book a first class ticket rather than asking the airline for a free ticket, give how much revenue he presumably generated from the video alone. Then again, I guess he’s not traditionally reviewing flights, so his audience doesn’t really seem to care.

I’m also slightly disappointed that he learned about Emirates’ new first class on Business Insider. No disrespect, but that’s where you get your airline news?! 😉

Casey is a quirky guy. The more I watch him, the more I appreciate him… in a way. However, I’m most definitely still horrified at how he spray painted his suitcase in the video… oy!

 

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World Of Hyatt Announces Hotel Category Changes

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It’s normal for the major hotel loyalty programs to adjust some of the hotels that are in each award category every year. The number of points required for a free night at a hotel is typically based on the average daily rate and also the average daily occupancy (since that’s what impacts how much World of Hyatt has to reimburse hotels for award stays). Understandably over time those amounts change, either due to the changes in a city’s hotel market, overall conditions changing in a city, etc.

World of Hyatt has just announced some hotel category changes, which kick in for bookings as of 12:01AM CST on Wednesday, December 13, 2017. The good news is that not many hotels are changing categories — eight hotels are going up in price, and one hotel is going down in price. I’m frustrated by the lack of notice here, but then again this is a fairly minor adjustment.

The following eight hotels are going up in category:

  • The Hyatt Place Orlando Airport is shifting from a Category 1 to a Category 2
  • The Hyatt Place Orlando/Lake Mary is shifting from a Category 1 to a Category 2
  • The Hyatt Place St. Paul is shifting from a Category 1 to a Category 2
  • The Hyatt Place Augusta is shifting from a Category 2 to a Category 3
  • The Hyatt Place Santa Cruz is shifting from a Category 2 to a Category 4
  • The Highlands Inn Carmel is shifting from a Category 6 to a Category 7
  • The Hyatt Place Long Island City/New York City is shifting from a Category 2 to a Category 3
  • The Hyatt Place Shenzhen is shifting from a Category 1 to a Category 2

The Highlands Inn will become a Category 7 hotel

Meanwhile the following hotel is going down in category:

  • The Confidante Hotel Miami Beach is shifting from a Category 6 to a Category 4

So any booking made starting at 12:01CST on December 13, 2017, will follow the new award chart, meaning you have just over a day remaining to lock in stays at the old prices. Any modifications made to existing reservations after the changes kick in will be charged per the new rates.

If you book before December 13 for a stay at the one hotel that is shifting to a lower category, World of Hyatt customer service will proactively deposit the point difference into a member’s account, which is a nice gesture.

Bottom line

On principle I’m disappointed by the lack of notice with these changes. There’s no reason Hyatt couldn’t have been provided more than a day notice of category changes. At the same time, these changes could have been much worse, as only nine of Hyatt’s 739 hotels are changing in category. We’re seeing a net increase in award costs at under 1% of Hyatt’s properties.

The way I see it, the most significant changes are to the Highlands Inn (which is becoming a Category 7 hotel), the Hyatt Place Santa Cruz (which is going up by two categories), and The Confidante Hotel (which is going down by two categories). The rest of the hotels are changing by only one category, and continue to be eligible for free night certificates that are valid at Category 1-4 hotels.

What do you make of these World of Hyatt category changes?

 

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American Express Is Eliminating Signature Requirements Globally

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Over the past several weeks both Mastercard and Discover have announced that they’re eliminating the signature requirement for purchases made in the US and Canada. The logic is to speed up the amount of time that it takes to complete a purchase, in hopes of getting consumers to favor a card that expedites the purchase process. Signature requirements are useless lowadays, given that they’re not actually verified at the time a purchase is made. If you’ve ever dealt with credit card fraud, you’re not even asked to look at receipts and confirm if a signature is from you. So it’s an outdated concept that really is just a security theatre of sorts.

I was wondering when American Express and Visa would follow Mastercard’s lead, and it looks like we now have our answer. American Express has announced that they’re eliminating their signature requirement worldwide as of April 2018. So not only are they matching Mastercard and Discover, but they’re one-upping them, as they’re eliminating the requirement globally rather than just in parts of North America. Keep in mind that American Express has much less acceptance globally, so it’s logical enough for them to try and implement something that gives them an advantage outside the US.

Per Amex’s press release:

“The payments landscape has evolved to the point where we can now eliminate this pain point for our merchants,” said Jaromir Divilek, Executive Vice President, Global Network Business, American Express. “Our fraud capabilities have advanced so that signatures are no longer necessary to fight fraud. In addition, the majority of American Express transactions today already do not require a signature at the point of sale as a result of previous policy changes we made to help our merchants.”

The need for signatures has declined around the world due to a number of advancements in the payments industry. These include the growth of contactless payment options, including card-based and mobile tap-and-pay methods, the global adoption of EMV chip technology, and the continued expansion of online commerce. American Express has also deployed advanced machine learning algorithms that allow for more precise detection of fraud while minimizing disruption of Card Members’ genuine spending.

Prior to this change, American Express has already eliminated signature requirements for transactions of under 50USD in the US, under 100CAD in Canada, and under 30GBP in the UK.

I think it’s worth noting that even once this change is implemented, merchants will still have the option of collecting signatures, it just won’t be required by Amex. So don’t expect that you’ll never be asked for a signature again when paying with an Amex, even though Amex doesn’t require it.

Now I guess Visa is the last payment processor to still have a signature requirement…

 

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Business Class Between The US & Africa Starting At 25,000 Miles One-Way

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Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club program is one that I’ve found to be increasingly valuable lately.

The first thing to note is that Flying Club is transfer partners with all four major transferable points currencies — Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou, and Starwood Preferred Guest. Not only that, but we see transfer bonuses from Amex Membership Rewards to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club with some frequency. For example, until November 30 you could receive a 30% bonus when you converted Amex points into Flying Club miles.

What makes Flying Club miles useful is the number of niche redemptions available. For example, redeeming Flying Club miles for travel in ANA first or business class between the US and Japan is an exceptional value. A roundtrip first class ticket will cost you just 120,000 miles.

Redeeming Flying Club miles on Delta to Europe can also be a great value, as their redemption rates are often lower than what Delta would charge directly.

However, today I learned about a new redemption value that I wasn’t previously aware of. Specifically, I’m talking about redeeming Virgin Atlantic miles for travel on South African Airways.

Redeeming Virgin Atlantic miles on South African Airways

As noted by John at Frequent Miler, it’s possible to redeem Virgin Atlantic miles for travel on South African Airways. Here’s Virgin Atlantic’s award chart for travel on South African Airways:

Perhaps the most shockingly good value there is for travel between the US and Senegal. South African Airways’ flight between Washington and Johannesburg stops in Dakar in both directions, and a roundtrip ticket exclusively between Washington and Dakar will cost you just 50,000 miles in business class.

One-way awards are available for half the cost of a roundtrip, meaning you could fly one-way business class from Washington to Senegal for just 25,000 miles. That’s an incredible value, though I do think it’s worth pointing out that Senegal is closer to Washington than to Johannesburg, so this isn’t going to get you especially close to South Africa, etc.

If you look at the rest of the chart, a flight from Senegal to South Africa will cost 25,000 miles one-way in business class. However, you may notice the two asterisks next to that award, which comes with the following footnote:

24-hour connection required if booked in conjunction with another reward.

If I’m reading this correctly, that means you couldn’t book back-to-back awards from Washington to Senegal to Johannesburg on the same flight, for a total of 50,000 miles one-way, but rather you’d have to do some sort of a stopover (though I question their ability to regulate that).

If you want to outright redeem Virgin Atlantic miles for travel on South African Airways between the US and South Africa, that will cost you 75,000 miles one-way in business class. That isn’t an amazing deal, or anything, but do keep in mind that if you transfer points during a 30% transfer bonus, that would be like paying 58,000 Membership Rewards points for such an award, which is quite a good deal.

South African Airways’ Washington Dulles route is operate by an A330 featuring their new staggered business class product.

Meanwhile their New York route is operated by an A340, featuring their old business class product, which consists of fully flat beds in a 2-2-2 configuration.

There’s one slight complication at the moment to searching award availability between Washington and Senegal. This past week a new airport opened in Dakar. The code of the old airport is DKR, while the code of the new airport is DSS. The catch is that most award search engines don’t yet recognize DSS, while they show the DKR flight as being canceled.

So if you want to see what kind of availability you can expect between Washington and Dakar, just look up availability between Washington and Johannesburg on united.com, or your preferred Star Alliance award search tool. If there’s space the entire way through, there should also be space on the first segment. Then if you want to actually book, you’ll have to call Virgin Atlantic.

Bottom line

It goes without saying that being able to redeem just 25,000 Virgin Atlantic miles for a one-way business class from the US to Africa is a heck of a deal. However, in practice it’s going to be of very limited use, unless you’re specifically looking to travel between Washington and West Africa.

However, even redeeming 75,000 Flying Club miles one-way for business class between the US and South Africa could be a good deal, especially when you consider that Flying Club is transfer partners with all major transferable points currencies, and we frequently see transfer bonuses.

The restriction regarding booking back-to-back awards is interesting, or else you could redeem 25,000 miles for business class from Washington to Dakar, and then another 25,000 miles for business class from Dakar to Johannesburg. However, technically you do need to wait 24 hours between connections, though I question their ability to regulate that in practice.

I’m sort of tempted to book a roundtrip from Washington to Dakar to review SAA’s new business class. Has anyone visited Dakar? Is it safe/interesting enough?

 

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WestJet’s 2017 Christmas Miracle Video

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WestJet does a good job with their viral marketing videos. Most notably, they typically have cool videos every year around Christmas and April Fools’ Day. This 2012 April Fools’ video about WestJet introducing child free cabins gave me a good laugh, for example:

While the April Fools’ videos are funny, what’s most touching is WestJet’s “Christmas Miracle” videos, which they’ve published for the past several years. Their 2013 video was my favorite, given how original and touching it was. If you haven’t yet seen it, you absolutely must:

Since then WestJet has continued to have Christmas Miracle videos, and they’ve still been really cute and worth sharing, but just not quite to the level of the 2013 video. Well, today WestJet released their 2017 Christmas Miracle video, which is worth a watch. The video is called “12 Flights of Christmas,” and in it they have youth from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada come up with the ideas for what they should do:

The video, a compilation of 12 flights broadcast to Facebook Live, featured Blue Santa, Mrs. Claus and celebrity guests bringing surprise and delight to hundreds of WestJet guests. Thousands of the airline’s Facebook fans tuned in to watch daily for 12 consecutive days at the end of November. But one important detail that remained a secret is now revealed in the hero video released today. WestJet based its 12 miracles on children’s ideas of what Christmas should be.

“WestJet creates holiday magic for Canadians every year. This year, we asked for help from youth from St. Alban’sBoys and Girls Club,” said Richard Bartrem, WestJet Vice-President Marketing Communications. “Christmas, through the eyes of a child, is magical and the children gave us wonderful inspiration for surprising our guests. The best part was that the children got to be present to witness their own miracle come to life.”

Here’s the video:

It’s a really cute video, and I love that they have kids come up with the ideas for what they should do, and that this aspect of it remained a surprise for so long. It’s a great video, it’s just not quite as cohesive or over-the-top as the 2013 video.

Still, very well done, WestJet, and if you have a few minutes, it’s definitely worth a watch.

What do you think of WestJet’s 2017 Christmas Miracle video?

 

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The Current Starwood Amex Is Here To Stay (Sort Of)!

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Last week we learned more details about the future of the co-brand credit card agreement for Marriott and Starwood. Specifically, we learned that long term Marriott will have credit cards issued by both American Express and Chase, and that each issuer will have access to specific segments of the market:

  • Amex will offer super premium and small business cards
  • Chase will offer mass consumer and premium consumer cards

In light of that news, I shared why I think it makes sense to apply for the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express. Specifically, the personal version of the SPG Amex will no longer be available for new applications starting sometime in 2018, so there’s not much time remaining to sign-up for the card, and to get the great benefits of this card with a reasonable annual fee.

Initially when the future of Marriott’s credit card contract was announced, my assumption was that those with the SPG Personal Amex would have their cards converted into another product, whether it’s the new premium SPG Amex, or another card.

However, View from the Wing notes that Marriott told him that “both companies will continue to offer their current products and even after the new products are introduced, members may continue to use them.” So while we’ll have to wait to learn the full details of this, this suggests that the SPG Amex will stick around (mostly) in its current form even after it’s closed to new applications.

Redeem your Starpoints for stays at some great hotels

So if you don’t yet have the SPG Personal Amex, there are two reasons you really want to sign up:

  • This might be your last chance to earn the sign-up bonus on this card, before they stop accepting applications; you should still be eligible for the new premium SPG Amex when it’s introduced
  • This might be your last chance to lock in the current benefits of the card, which may not be available to new cardmembers after it’s discontinued

Ultimately we don’t know what the future of the cards will look like, and changes could still be made, though I think one of the most significant differences to point out between the Starwood Amex and Marriott Visa is that the Starwood Amex offers one Starpoint per dollar spent on non-bonused spend, while the Marriott Visa offers one Marriott Rewards point per dollar spent on non-bonused spend. Starpoints convert into Marriott Rewards points at a 1:3 ratio, meaning that the return on spend of the SPG Amex is three times as good.

Convert your Starpoints into airline miles, for first class redemptions

Bottom line

It’s great to know that the SPG Personal Amex will be sticking around for existing cardmembers. We don’t know exactly when they’ll stop accepting new cardmembers, and also don’t know for sure that there won’t be any changes to the benefits, but there’s even more value in picking up the SPG Amex when we know that it’s sticking around. The card is disproportionately rewarding in terms of everyday spend compared to any card that Marriott issues right now.

 

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Etihad Is Now Selling First Class Pajamas In Economy

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Etihad has made changes recently to improve their financial performance, by trying to lower costs while increasing revenue. This has included canceling flights (like those from Abu Dhabi to Dallas and San Francisco), cutting amenities (like chauffeur drive and pajamas in business class), and testing out new concepts (like hand baggage only fares).

Well, Etihad has just announced their latest initiative, and it’s an interesting one. In addition to their range of duty free items, Etihad is introducing a buy on board selection on many longhaul flights. Don’t worry, Etihad isn’t going the direction of British Airways and eliminating complimentary food & drinks, but rather their new offerings are in addition to what they already offer.

Items for sale include champagne, cold brew coffee, and pajamas. Here are the details:

Paris, London and all Australian sectors in Economy Class:

Cold brewed coffee from Coffee Planet: USD 4 / AED 15 a glass

All long haul and ultra-long haul (except US) sectors in Economy Class:

Piper-Heidsieck Cuvee Brut NV champagne: USD 8 / AED 30 per glass

All ULH sectors (except US routes) in all cabins:

Christian Lacroix male and female branded amenity kits with Omorovicza products: USD 22 / AED 80

Christian Lacroix branded sleepwear: USD 35 / AED 130

It’s sort of funny to see Etihad now selling pajamas and amenity kits in economy, when they cut pajamas from business class as of a few months ago. I wonder if business class passengers will be eligible to purchase pajamas now? 😉

Furthermore, in January 2018, Etihad will introduce a snack box for sale.

Here’s what Etihad’s VP of guest experience has to say about this new offering:

“Etihad Airways is always looking at new ways to give our guests more power and control over their experience, through options to customise and personalise their journey.

In addition to providing extra comfort and choice in the air, some of the items are great gift ideas, particularly in the run up to the holiday season. We will monitor guest satisfaction and aim to expand the range of items for sale in the future.”

Bottom line

On the plus side, Etihad is adding more options for passengers without taking anything away… for now. After all, basic economy was introduced under the guise of “giving guests more power and control over their experience.” Also, at some point you’re taking away the exclusivity of a premium cabin when you sell every little aspect of the experience to economy passengers as well. Then again, a more “a la carte” experience seems to be the name of the game in the airline industry nowadays.

However, all of these things are really up my alley, from the champagne to the cold brew to the pajamas to the amenity kit. Hell, if I were flying Etihad economy I might buy all four of them. While the pajamas make a cute gift, are you actually supposed to wear them in economy, or…?

(Tip of the hat to Points From The Pacific)

 

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Casey Neistat’s Emirates New First Class Video

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Earlier I wrote about how popular YouTuber Casey Neistat just flew Emirates’ new 777-300ER first class between Brussels and Dubai. I knew a video was on the way, though I expected it would be a few days. Nope — the video is now live.

Here’s Casey’s video of Emirates’ new first class:

I know he’s a polarizing character, though hopefully even those of you who don’t like him will appreciate this look at Emirates’ new first class cabin. On one hand I love his genuine excitement and enthusiasm. On the other hand, I cringed when he skateboarded down the aisle, when he flew the drone in his suite, etc. But that’s Casey — he’s quirky.

What did you think of this Emirates first class video?