Thursday, 28 April 2016

REVIEW - INTERCONTINENTAL LONDON O2 SUITE


Intercontinental is the top end brand of the IHG group of hotels, that also includes the likes of Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, and Holiday Inn Express.

For many years, there was a single Intercontinental hotel in London, their flagship Park Lane property that I've stayed in on several occasions. A couple of years ago, they opened a new property in the St James park area, however that clearly didn't suit them, because within 18 months it was no longer an IC, and in fact is now a Conrad Hilton hotel.

In January this year, a new Intercontinental opened right beside the O2 in Greenwich (formerly known as the Millenimum Dome). It certainly isn't a great location for a weekend break in London, but for an event in the O2, it's just about perfect. As it happens I had a concert there on Sat, and so....

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

AMERICAN EXPRESS UPGRADE TO PLATINUM, REVISITED

WITH 45,000 POINTS AVAILABLE, ITS AN ABSOLUTE  NO-BRAINER

In January 2014, over two years ago, I ran an article on how to get the absolute best value when taking out an American Express platinum card. At that time, I showed that it was possible to get 42K points when taking out a platinum card, instead of the headline 37K. I decided it was time to see if the method was still something to recommend. To my surprise, it turns out that today, you can actually get 45,000 points using this trick. 

Friday, 4 December 2015

USING VIRGIN MILES FOR HOTELS, AND WHY YOU MOSTLY SHOULDN'T



I recently noticed that Virgin has a new partnership with Kaligo.com. In common with similar partnerships with other airlines, you can earn Virgin miles when you do hotel bookings with Kaligo.

However, what came as a surprise to me, is that you can also make Kaligo bookings, and use Virgin miles to pay for them. Now the best use of any airline miles is generally to use them to book air travel, and Virgin is no different. But if you are points rich and cash poor, or you have no air travel in the foreseeable future, you might consider using them for a hotel night.

Given that you can convert Virgin miles into Hilton (2 miles = 3 Hilton points), and also convert into IHG points (1 mile = 1 point), I decided to see if it was better not to convert your miles, but rather use them to book with Kaligo.

The system is a big "clunky". There are three redemption categories, STANDARD, PREMIUM and LUXURY nights, costing 20K, 30K and 40K Virgin miles respectively. You phone the Virgin flying club hotline, tell them how many nights of which type you want, and they email you a series of voucher codes, one for each night, that you can use at http://www.kaligo.com/flyingclub-spend to book hotel nights.

Having done some playing with the system, you should pay no heed to the names. They appear to map into rooms that cost around £100, upto £150  and upto £200 a night respectively. I didn't find any hotels that one could even loosely consider as luxury. I also found no hotels offered that would otherwise cost more that £200 or so a night.

A test night on the 14 of April @ the Hilton London Kensington worked out as follows:-

Kaligo using Virgin Miles, 40K miles required
Hilton using Hilton points, 50K points

Remembering that you can convert Virgin miles to Hilton, @ a rate of 2 miles to 3 Hilton, 40K Virgin miles would get you 60K Hilton points. So you could booking the night using Hilton points AND still have 10K Hilton points left over. KALIGO FAIL

The same hotel on the 24th of Sept working out as:-

Kaligo using Virgin Miles, 30K miles required
Hilton using points, 50K points. 

This is notionally a KALIGO WIN, as 30K miles would only convert into 45K Hilton points, and you need 50K Hilton points to book the night. However you need to remember that if you book using Hilton points, you can cancel at any time, whereas the Kaligo booking is non-refundable. 

I tested several other nights, I tested some IHG hotels, and some USA bookings. In all tests I concluded that I'd be better off converting the miles to IHG or HH and booking using the hotel chain, than using the Virgin Miles directly with Kaligo. I'm guessing there might be some exceptions that would work marginal in favour of the Kaligo booking, but my personal testing has left me concluding that it's not the optimum way of using Virgin miles to book hotels.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

A LOW COST WAY TO HIT THOSE CREDIT CARD SPEND THRESHOLDS


Credit card sign-up bonuses are a great way of giving your frequent flyer account a boost. From the current 15K MBNA AA bonus, to the on-going 35K American Express platinum card bonus, (or 40K if you do it the smart way, follow this link), there are cards out there that will tempt you with juicy incentives to apply for them.

40K Amex MR rewards are tempting, but how to do the £2000 spend ?
 All such cards have a spend threshold that needs to be met before the sign-up bonus is triggered. For the MBNA card, you need to spend £1500 in 90 days before you get the bonus, for the Amex plat card, £2000 of spend is required.

Now many people won't have too much difficulty in doing such spend. Some will have a lifestyle that results in habitual high credit card spend, some will have a big purchase in mind, maybe ordering a new bathroom, and others might be able to filter some business spend thru the card.

But, for the rest of us mortals, hitting £2000 for example can be problematic. So my interest was piqued when I came across these new pre-paid mastercards that can be ordered online, which effectively allows you to do deferred spending.www.theirperfectgift.co.uk

www.theirperfectgift.co.uk


Now before anyone gets too excited, this isn't a no-cost way of generating spend. The most economical cards (those between £175 and £500) have a 4% surcharge, so a £500 giftcard costs £519.99. However 4% compares very favourably with the 7.9% fee that you incur if you buy a £50 visa card from Tesco. They take payment by paypal (and thus can accept any card including Amex) and offer a free delivery option, and my best understanding is that the cards have no value until you activate them, the details of which are sent via email, but this would need to be confirmed.

If we take the example where you have generated £1000 of spend naturally, but you are £1000 short and coming close to the end of the 90 day spend period, for £40 you can buy 2x£500 mastercard gift cards, which you can then spend at your leisure. (weirdly, once you get above £500, the fee % rises, so don't buy any denomination higher than £500).

Another example of where this might be used, is in association with the BA Amex premium plus card, which has a £150 fee, but crucially will give you a "2-4-1" voucher if you spend £10K in a 12 month period. If you are £1K short and approaching the end of the 12 months, then this would allow you to trigger the voucher, allowing you to spend the £1K later, at your leisure, again at a cost of £40.

I haven't used these cards myself, so it would be a good idea to buy a small value one initially, to be happy that you can then spend them in a range of places.
  
4th December Update 
As a test, I bought a £30 card, paid the £33.99 using my amex gold card, via paypal. I can confirm that no cash advance fee was charged, and that upon receipt the card needed to be activated using a code that was received via email. So if that the card is lost in the post, you can contact them, they can confirm that the card is not activated, cancel it, and send another one.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

NEW AER LINGUS TRANSATLANTIC ROUTES FOR 2016


Today, Aer Lingus announced three new USA destinations direct out of Dublin; Los Angeles (LAX), Newark (EWR), and Hartford Connecticut (DBL).

The first of these has me most excited. Currently, Aer Lingus only serves San Francisco, and other than the mostly unknown Etiopian Airlines (yes you read that right) route from Dublin to LAX, there are no other direct services to the west coast USA. Aer Lingus has recently been bought by the owners of BA, with a promise of integrating it into the One World alliance. Once this happens, it'll open up a myriad of connecting options via LAX, with a full code share agreement with American Airlines.

The Newark route will provide another method of getting to New York on a direct flight out of Ireland.

The Harford connecticut route seems like a strange option. But it comes with a significant subsidy from the local government, and apparently Aer Lingus has been courted by the airport for serveral months.

It is expected that prior to full integration with One World, these new flights will be available to be booked using Avios. This is again great news, as it provides extra capacity and fresh options for redemption bookings out of Ireland, minimising the need to connect via London.

The LAX flights will operate 5 tmes a week, starting in May, thus bringing them into play for next summer. The daily Newark and Hartford flights commence in Sept.

Following this link to read the announcement on the Aer Lingus blog.




Monday, 5 October 2015

HOLIDAY 2015 , FLIGHT CHANGES UPGRADES AND SUMMARY

The underwater restaurant at the Conrad
The last entry told how I'd booked all the flights out of Dublin for a Maldives/Dubai dual centre holiday, and also booked the Conrad Maldives for six nights.

At the start of 2015, I became aware that Etihad's newest plane, the A380, had been scheduled to fly between Heathrow and Abu Dhabi. Reading up on this plane, it became clear that Etihad's first class (F) cabin design was recognised as the best implementation in the industry. If possible, I wanted to get on this plane.....