Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Continental - WHOA - 50000 miles sign-up bonus

It never ceases to amaze me - the banks are just throwing miles at us!

Continental - soon to be United - is offering a sweet increase in their credit card sign-up bonus. The original bonus was 30K but now they upped the offer to 50K after first use - no annual fee for the first year. SWEET!!!

I HIGHLY suggest you get this card. But if possible, wait for February first! If you are an avid reader of this blog you know you have to register for the Continental MileAthon first.  So, if you arent' a ONEPass member - sign up on Feb. 1st, then sign up for the MileAthon, then apply for the CARD. That way, you will maximize your bonus points from the MileAThon. Applying for a Continental Card normally gets you about 30 to 40 pts which is another 5000 miles at least...

This is a great opportunity. Don't let it pass by. 50K Continental miles will transform soon into United Miles. 50K miles will get you to lots of places!!

Your credit is obviously important so proceed with caution. Only use the card to get the bonus, don't necessarily use it for your everyday purchases. Make sure you don't carry balances! There's no limit on how many cards you can own. Having 20 cards doesn't hurt your credit score - carrying a balance will.

Hertz - a lesson in standing your ground....

So, as some of you might know, Nadia and me were traveling in Europe over Christmas (Travel report coming soon). This involved renting a car from Hertz in Frankfurt and driving it all the way to Poland and back. Arriving late in Frankfurt due to a technical issue with our 777 flight out of Dallas we picked up our reserved car in the Hertz Gold Canopy parking lot. In case you have never picked up a car at Frankfurt Airport - it's a complete organizational nightmare.

First, identifying were to pick up is a lesson in patience. One has to hike through almost the entire terminal to finally arrive at the correct location. I stopped at the counter, just in case, but was told that my car was already waiting. Since I am a Hertz Gold member I just have to show up at the lot, look for my name, throw the bags in the car and go. Well, that's at least how it normally works.

After talking to the more than bored customer service rep at the Hertz counter we continued our underground tour of FRA airport to find the Hertz parking lot. It's a hike and signs guiding you the right way could obviously be much better.

Finally we arrive at the lot. We round a corner and there are the familiar digital displays with one's name displayed. I searched & looked and finally saw my name above a Ford hatchback. Great...finally.
Now, to make one thing clear - I reserved a D Class car from hertz, meaning a Mid-size Sedan. I could have gone with a cheaper Economy or Compact Class but I thought for driving across Europe in the Winter I should pay a little premium, plus we would be driving family around and a Fiat Panda or little KIA isn't very cozy for 4 people. So I reserved the car with confidence. The original reservation I made online at (utilizing a UNITED booking code) was for a D Class car and a pic told me that it will be a Ford Focus or similar.

Well, a Ford Focus Hatchback was hanging out under my name so, everything is fine, right? Bags into the back, set your seat, adjust mirrors and head for the exit. Now, how many of you ever check the rental contract, the little white paper hanging from the mirror or lying on the passenger seat? Probably not many. I stopped doing it because the charges are always wrong because discounts and special coupon savings are never incorporated in the total - only after you finish the rental is the price adjusted automatically. So, I didn't look at it, signed at the exit that the car is not damaged (I always walk around the car before driving out - you should too!) and off we went.

Fast forward back in the US. I receive a letter in the mail from Hertz Autovermietung GMBH in Frankfurt with an Invoice. Total: 507 Euro....Whoa....that was more than a 100Euros more than my reserved rate. I scanned the charges and soon found the culprit....a 100Euro Vehicle Upgrade charge..... Now, I was a bit perplexed by that. Sure I noticed a few 100 kilometers into our drive that our car had GPS installed and voice recognition and whatever else they crammed into the console but I had my own GPS with me and thought that the FRA Hertz location probably had nothing else available for us. So...Sweet!!!, a little automatic upgrade, which one gets once in a while from rental companies due to lack of specific car classes in the lot.

The invoice also stated that I reserved a D Class, was charged a D Class but Rented a Q6 class. I have never seen the Q6 identifier since I never rent crazy expensive cars. Cars are supposed to get you from A to B during your travels. People who rent Mercedes and BMW on their travels in our opinion are wasting money.

So, faced with an exorbitant and in our minds, fraudulent charge I did what any sensible consumer does - I called customer service and asked for an explanation/refund.

I provided my rental agreement number, name and dates and was told the matter will be investigated since it's on a different continent they couldn't help me right away and I should give them 10 days. While waiting for a response I received yet another letter from Germany telling me how much I owed.

Finally, the long-awaited email from Hertz customer service arrived in my Inbox. The more I read, the more I got frustrated. I basically had received a standard: "You used it - you have to pay for it" letter from Hertz.
I was shocked. Normally, complaints such as this (they are not uncommon - a simple good search of "hertz upgrade charge" will give you plenty of results) are resolved immediately with a simple refund.

This is the moment in any customer service interaction that has the companies on the edge of their seats. Will the customer raise more hell or will they bow down to our verdict? Well, if you know us, we don't bow down when we know that it is actually them who stands on weaker ground. Customer service is all about making the customer happy - while some people might have gone on paying the extra charge with slight annoyment or telling themselves to never rent from Hertz again or at least check the contract next time, we wasted no time. I immediately sent of a reply-email stating that this is unacceptable,an outrage even and that this means that Hertz, at least in Frankfurt, Germany is participating in very questionable business practices. A mentioning of "escalating the issue" coupled with "Better Business Bureau" and "never will use Hertz for my personal or corporate travel again", in our opinion would do the trick.

48 hours later I received an email, apologizing for the mishap, telling me that a refund of 119 Euros is on its way and hoping that I will use their services again. I also liked how they stated that my complaint will be forwarded to the appropriate management, meaning, I presume, that somebody will get a talking to behind the FRA airport rental counter. Well, maybe that's just our wishful thinking. Afterall, this is just business as usual. Imagine how much money the rental companies make each day on people that don't go the extra mile to complain or simply overlook extra charges. Same goes with banks and their millions of dollars in fees each year.

The moral:

1) Check your rental contract before driving off the lot - anything wrong, call Hertz or head back to the counter.
2) If you are Gold Canopy and simply pick up your car - don't rely on Hertz to give you the correct car.
3) If the rental counter is at the other side of the world (as in FRA) - just leave with the "upgraded" car and fight it later.
4) If challenged by customer service - persist and fight. You are in the right. You reserved a specific product and never requested an upgrade. You weren't told you received an upgrade by anyone and throw in how disappointed you are and the other powerful words (Better Business Bureau and escalation).

Our situation was resolved and had a happy ending. Many of you might not be so lucky or come across a stubborn Customer Service rep. going by the book. Keep at it. The more you escalate, the more embarrassing and dangerous it gets for them - this includes airlines, rental companies and hotels. The customer is definitely still king in the USA. Believe me, complaining about this in Europe would have gone probably nowhere. 

Hope this little episode helps you to stick up for yourself and standing your ground against ridiculous charges.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Free Priority Club Points for some Quick Surveys

This post on Flyertalk notes 3 quick Priority Club surveys which offer free points:
100 points:
Answers are : C,D,B
100 points:
Answers are: D,A,D
300 points:
Answers are: D, D, D, D, C

It's nice to be able to boost ones Priority account a little once in a while. Especially if you are at 4800 points and 5000pts gets you a free night at participating Pointbreaks-hotels.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

AwardWallet Rocks!!

If you are like us, you like to be organized and have all your Frequent Flier mileage and Hotel point information at one place. Well, for years we tried to do this by updating our Travel Excel file but then we came across AwardWallet online.

This site is great. First we started to add all our airline and hotel information but soon thereafter we started adding the whole family. Now we rely on nothing else to check if miles or points posted. We also check our itinearies (they are downloaded automatically to the site after you reserve with your Mileage/Point account) and  love the check-in reminders that AwardWallet sends out automatically.

You can use this website and their services for a lot of online membership accounts, not only travel related. Airline miles, Hotel points, Shopping points, Credit Card points, Rental points, Dining, Train, Survey and many more categories are available - you will be sure to find your program in their extensive list.

If you sign up for AwardWallet Plus (pay whatever you like $5, $10.....whatever u think it's worth), they will even provide you with mileage/point expiration dates and status updates.

All-in-all a wonderful service and one that we can proudly recommend! So go sign-up today - it's free! :)

Get your Continental OnePass Miles NOW!!

We have mentioned this to people for a while now, maybe we have to scream it: SIGN-UP FOR CONTINENTAL ONEPASS AND GET AS MANY MILES FROM THEM BEFORE THEY MERGE WITH UNITED!!!! Whew, that's better... :)

Seriously though, this is probably the #1 advice we can give for 2011.  

Maximize your Continental OnePass Miles!

Why? Because in a few months, probably at the end of 2011 the United Mileage Plus & Continental OnePass accounts will be merged and Continental Airlines will officially be gone. Thus, all promotions, credit cards and other deals will from then on be labeled as "United"only. So right now, you can still get seperate sign-up bonuses for credit cards getting a Continental OnePass Credit Card (25000 miles after first use), participate with promotions from Continental, such as the MileaThon that will start 2/1...etc.. At the same time, you can sign up for United Credit Cards, participate in United promotions (for example 1000 Miles from Hertz for car rentals...), etc...

Thus, you can earn miles in 2 accounts right now and just sit back and relax and see them become one soon. Instead of having 25000 at Continental and 25000 at United - you will have 50000 United miles....nothing to sneeze at. :)

Now, what should you do? Wait until February first and then perform these tasks:

1) On Feb. 1st -> Go to the Continental Airlines website and SIGN-UP for a Continental OnePass Account in case you don't have one yet.
2) Then - REGISTER for the Continental Mileathon HERE
3) Wait until February 2nd (just to be save) and sign-up for a Chase Continental Airlines-branded Credit Card of your choice. You should receive at least 25000 miles for it. With a bit of searching you might be able to find a 30000 mile one, with a 50$ statement credit...
4) You can look at the Mileathon requirements for more opportunities to earn miles (buy flowers, buy tickets, buy something online....) or simply check-in with us to see the best strategy to maximize the bonus miles from this promotion.
5) Once you have received your CC - you can receive numerous 100 mile bonuses by registering & "learning" about all the wonderful things Continental Airlines will do for you. We post these registration links all the time. Here's one for example: LINK
6) At the end of the promotion you should sit on 25K from your CC (maybe 50K or more if you sign up for a business credit card as well - don't need to have a business just enter XYZ consulting and check the self-proprietorship box.....get creative with the name, annual revenue, etc...)
7) If we are all very lucky - Chase Bank will have sign-up bonuses for personal & business banking 1 more time before Continental disappears.... you could get 25K for opening a checking account & 25K for opening a business account. Keep it for 90 days, then close both accounts. Only cost is a debit card for each account ($25 for personal, $35 or 45 for business card - and fulfilling the purchase requirements for each account - more on that later if this deals becomes available again!) Fingers-crossed!!

So go out there and get as many Continental Miles as possible before it's too late!! :) Happy Mileage-Hunting!!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

2011 Travelbandits Mileage/Point Status

A new year brings new opportunities. It's always a good idea to list your mileage & point balances at every beginning year and look for gaps or places of improvement.

So here it goes:


American Airlines - 20K
British Airway - 114K
Continental - 83K
Delta - 117K
Hawaiian - 7K
United - 117K
Virgin America - 1K

Hilton - 23K (Gold)
Starwood - 44K (Gold)
Priority Club - 5K (Plat)

American Airlines - 5K
British Airway - 108K
Continental - 51K
Delta - 51K
Hawaiian - 5K
United - 30K
Virgin America - 2K

Starwood - 1K (Gold)
Priority Club - 20K (Plat)

As you can see, we are sitting comfortably on a lot of miles. But there are gaps. Both our American Airline accounts were wiped out by our recent First Class trip to Europe (125K each) so we need to work on building up our balances again. We both still have our British Airways Credit Card sign-up bonus of 100K+ miles and need to find a way of spending it - twice to Europe or 1 far-away trip??? Or maybe first class to Europe again? Ah, choices..choices....

Since Continental will soon stop to exist we maximized our credit card/bank mileage collection in the past few months. My 83K and Nadia's 51K will bolster our United accounts nicely...

Delta - we are both sitting on a lot of miles - I am happy with my number, however Nadia could try to bring the number up to 100K for maximum travel flexibility. I will have to look for any Credit Card sign-up deals that are new for this year from Delta....

Hawaiian - we are almost out of Hawaiian Miles since we flew to Kauai last year for almost free ($105 per ticket = 2x $50 annual fee for 2 CCs plus $5 booking fee) - that's unacceptable. :) I already applied for both Hawaiian Airlines credit cards again (50$ annual fee each - 20K for each card after first use) and will bring my total back up to over 40K (enough for a free flight to any Hawaiian island). Nadia will have to do the same shortly...

United - our main carrier here in SF - we are just sitting back and waiting until our Continental miles fold into our United Mileage Plus accounts at the end of the years (approximately). Unfortunately, booking free flights with United will be harder than it was with Continental but that's what happens in mergers - the worse program unfortunately survives...

Virgin America - we love to fly Virgin - normally we pay for our flights but last November we used my VA Credit Card sign up bonus and a lot of major US Mint coin purchases (2x $5000 in coins - yes it was heavy and the bank teller wasn't happy! :)) to fly for free back from NYC. I will start to buy coins again soon and at least bring it back up to 10K-12K in the next few months...
Same goes for Nadia of course...

As you can tell, we mainly focus on free Airline miles and our Hotel points are pretty dismal. That's because it is more important for us to get to places for free instead of staying at them for free. Free hotel rooms are oftentimes of questionable quality so we have no problem paying top dollar for a nice experience.

Nevertheless, after staying at many, many different hotels and brands we have found that Starwood and most of their brands, especially Westin & W, is one of our favorites. Thus, we will try our best to maximize point collection in this program. We love the flexibility of the program and it's points & cash redemption option - paying $60 and 4000 pts for a top class metropolitan Westin is a great deal. With 44K we can do that 11x! :)

Now the wish list for 2011:

Hawaiian - 2 cards for both of us - 40K+ each by May in both our accounts
Continental - waiting for a new personal/business Checking deal - 25K for each new bank account - hopefully it will be back!!
Virigin America - COINS!!! Free flight to NYC??
Starwood - COINS!!! Free stay in NYC??

Nadia should start enrolling in Hilton & Marriott to open up more stay options.
In addition, Chase just came out for the first time with a Hyatt Credit Card which provides free upgrades and a few points to start you out - waiting for the sign-up bonus to increase....\

American Airlines- It seems I will soon have enough miles for a domestic ticket (5K away) but Nadia's account was wiped out by our First Class trip. She should sign-up for CC from Citi again and hope for the best...Citi has become very stingy lately, all credit card companies unfortunately have....but since Nadia has very few inquiries and CC applications on her record it should be relatively simple.

For all those who are still very nervous about their credit score - it's your credit and you operate all these deals at your own risk of course but I can tell you from my experience that my credit score has gone up, and up and up the more cards I carry. Sure there's a small dip 5pts or so when you apply but you get that back & extra sometimes, after a few months when the credit bureaus update your status again. Remember - only use the CC for the deal. Don't carry a balance, just get the sign-up bonus and put the card away for a while...Cancel after 6 months or a year, or keep it if it's useful and comfortable for you. Either way, be smart about your credit! :)

Now - start your own list & add a wish list!! Here's to a great new travel year! :)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New Year Registration Reminders

2 good promotions to register for in the New Year:
Of course, first you gotta be members of these programs. Any questions, shoot us an email and we'll walk you through. :)

150 Free American Airlines Miles

Via MilesQuest, Bose is again offering American Airlines miles for learning more about, for testing, and for buying Bose products.

It’s 150 miles for watching a video about their bluetooth headset. If you want to safe time -  you don’t actually even have to watch the video.

Answer to their question is “All of the above

You get another 250 miles for going into a Bose store for a demonstration.

And 400 miles if you buy the darned thing.

Offer is valid through 1/17/11.