US Airways MasterCard – How do you keep me hangin’ on?

Set me free, why don’t you baby?
Get out of my life, why don’t you baby?
‘Cause you don’t really love me
You just keep me hangin’ on

– Said The Supremes (and Barclaycard)

Yes, this song pretty much describes my relationship with the US Airways Premier World MasterCard. I never planned on maintaining a long-term relationship with this card. When I applied for it, I fully intended to take a very mercenary SWAT-team like approach to owning the card – swoop in, meet my minimum spend, collect my bonus miles and cancel the card before the next year’s annual fee kicked in. However, Barclaycard had other plans for me …

So why collect miles on an airline I never fly?

US Airways is the primary carrier for a lot of people – just not for me. To this day, I’ve never set foot on US Airways metal. However, at the time I originally applied for the US Airways MasterCard, the airline was, along with my primary carrier United, a member of the Star Alliance. This fit in very neatly with my “miles & points accumulation & redemption” (aka Pointing) objectives. In addition, US Airways’ Dividend Miles frequent flyer program offered a number of “sweet spots” on its award chart (e.g. only 90,000 miles to China, Hong Kong, Korea or Japan) and historically the program regularly offered 100% bonuses for either purchasing or transferring miles. I looked on the Dividend Miles program as a way to diversify my Pointing efforts and protect myself against potential devaluations (like United’s earlier in the year!).

US Airways Chairmans Offer

Note: This offer is no longer available.

In the end, as I outlined in an earlier post on this subject, I opted for a signup offer that not only gave me 40,000 miles after my first purchase but also 10,000 miles after the first anniversary of account opening, an additional 10,000 miles on each subsequent account opening anniversary AND waived the first year’s annual fee. Barclaycard had me hooked.

For the times (and airline alliances) they are a-changin’

However, a few months after receiving my card, US Airways and American airlines announced plans to merge. Upon hearing this news, I naturally assumed that the days of the mileage gravy train I was riding were numbered and that within a year or so I would lose these great benefits. Sooner or later I’d have to say buh-bye to my US Airways MasterCard. However, it looks like I have a reprieve.

The argument for holding on to my card

This week, I received an email that officially announced the news that US Airways & American Airlines would be merging their frequent flyer programs in the second quarter of 2015. The companies provided a timeline for the key integration events.

US Airways American Airlines Integration

Once the programs merge, my existing Dividend Miles will be converted into American AAdvantage miles. This upcoming event is what served as the catalyst for me to encourage (umm … push) my Partner F to simultaneously apply for both a Citi Platinum Select / AAdvantageWorld MasterCard and the US Airways Premier World MasterCard. I go into more detail on this particular Pointing strategy in my earlier post: Combining American and US Airways Miles – Taking Advantage of Reaping Dividend Miles. Post-merger, the US Airways MasterCard will become an American Airlines AAdvantage MasterCard and will be closed to new applications. Therefore, the clock is ticking on this particular offer.

However, the US Airways MasterCard isn’t going away quietly. I received another email this week that provided me with a pretty lucrative bonus mile offer.

US Airways MasterCard 15,000 Bonus Miles Spending Offer

By spending a minimum of $500 per month on the card over the next three months, I’ll receive 15,000 bonus miles. The timing is “perfect” (for BarclayCard that is) in that my annual fee will be coming due in the middle of this period. That creates quite the incentive for holding on to the card for another year.

Finally, rounding out this AAdvantage / Dividend Miles charm offensive was a third email.

US Airways 10,000 Mile Anniversary Bonus

BarclayCard will be continuing my anniversary bonus and provide me with 10,000 AAdvantage miles annually.

Taken together, these developments build a pretty compelling case for holding on to my card. The value of the bonus miles that I’ll be receiving justifies the cost of the annual fee. In addition, the big bump I’ll be receiving in a major loyalty “currency” like AAdvantage miles fits into my broader Pointing strategies and provide me with another option for mixing and matching awards.

The Moral of the Story

These are factors that I considered in making the decision to keep my US Airways MasterCard. All of these changes also emphasize the importance of regularly monitoring the shifting landscape of the miles and points world. You need to be prepared to assess how much value you’re receiving from your cards and make adjustments to “what’s in your wallet” as appropriate.

How about you? How do you decide whether to “keep or cancel?”


Disclaimer: Please bear in mind that I am NOT a professional financial advisor by any means.  My discussion of credit card strategies or other financial matters are based on my own personal experiences and financial situation. In addition, I am not an employee of any of the financial institutions that issue the cards discussed nor do I receive any compensation for discussing these products. The reader is solely responsible for any financial actions that he/she may choose to undertake. Make sure you read of the “fine print” in the Terms & Conditions for all of the offers mentioned.

Hotel Review: The Boxer Boston – Boutique in Beantown

Boutique hotels often provide a mix of quirky charm, thoughtful design and personalized attention. We were able to experience all three of these characteristics during our stay last Fall at The Boxer Hotel in Boston. Although we encountered a few minor service hiccups, we enjoyed our overall stay at this friendly and well-located hotel.

Boxer Hotel Location

The Boxer is located in Boston’s historic North End and just down the street from the TD Garden. The hotel is an easy walk or short cab ride to such major attractions as Faneuil Hall, Boston Common and the Old North Church. Public transportation stops as well as the city’s commuter rail North Station are also nearby. The neighborhood immediately surrounding the Boxer is comprised primarily of nondescript government and office buildings. However, several restaurants and bars are just a couple of blocks away.

Boxer Hotel Check-In – Grace Under Pressure

We were in Boston to attend a family wedding. Quite a few of the wedding guests were also booked into the hotel and the front desk associate checking us in made a special effort to try and group our party together in nearby rooms.

Boxer Hotel Boston Lobby

Although ultimately, he was unsuccessful in doing so, he was patient, friendly and professional throughout the whole process. His earnest and customer service oriented approach paralleled that of the rest of the youthful hotel staff we encountered throughout our stay.

Boxer Hotel Public Spaces – I Feel Like I Should Be Smoking A Cigar

The Boxer Hotel is located in the unique wedge-shaped Flatiron Building which was constructed in 1904. The hotel’s esthetic blends traditional late 19th century style with a modern and industrial feel.

Boxer Hotel Boston Bar and Restaurant

Public spaces have been designed to reference an “Old World Mens’ Club” feel though the tone has been updated with clean and modern lines. The hotel provides free Wi-Fi in the lobby as well as well as complimentary wireless and wired internet access in each guest room. A computer kiosk and printer is also available for guest use.

Boxer Hotel Deluxe King Room – Jewel Box Meets Steampunk

As is the case in many boutique hotels, our room had “just enough” space but not a lot of room to spare. Although our Deluxe King Room was small, it was well-designed and efficient.

Boxer Hotel Boston Deluxe King Room

Rooms in the hotel are decorated in tones of blue-gray complemented by dark wood finishes. Although the room’s look was “dark” it felt cocooning and I often found myself wishing I had the time to curl up for a nice nap.

The industrial accents of the hotel’s design appear again in the wrought iron accents of the combined desk area and open closet / storage unit.

Boxer Hotel Boston Desk and Storage

Storage space seems limited but should not be too much of an issue if you’re only staying for a couple of nights.

The hotel provides free Wi-Fi in the rooms along with an iPod Dock …

Boxer Hotel Boston iPod Dock

… as well as conveniently located electrical outlets.

Boxer Hotel Boston Generous Electrical Sockets

The bathroom was small but functional. The white walls and marble-look ceramic tile were nicely complemented by dark wood accents and brushed metal finishes. I did find, however, that the sink seemed a bit small.

Boxer Hotel Boston Sink and Toilet


Boxer Hotel Boston Shower

We didn’t have a tub in our room. However, the shower stall was a reasonable size and the water pressure was strong.

Room for Improvement – Character Leads to Quirks

It’s important to remember that sometimes a stay in an historic property has its trade-offs. In addition, to the “jewel box” sizes of the rooms, another annoying quirk was that the building’s primary elevator seemed to take forever to arrive. In addition, although I have high praise for The Boxer’s eager and courteous staff, I found that service in Finch, the hotel’s restaurant and bar, was pretty slow as the establishment seemed to be chronically understaffed.

Pluses Outweigh the Minuses

Nevertheless, we enjoyed our time at The Boxer and would stay here again. In many ways our experience at The Boxer had much in common with our stay a few months earlier at the Andaz Liverpool Street in London. The rooms were comfortable, the staff was friendly and we appreciated the unique character and design of the hotel.

Boxer Hotel Boston Room Art Wall Mural

These elements are what keep us coming back to “boutique” hotels.

Have any of you stayed in a “boutique” hotel? What was your experience?

Crafting the Perfect Award Itinerary – The Second Time’s a Charm

I’ve booked some pretty great trips over the years by redeeming miles and points (or as I like to call it, by Pointing). Award availability tends to be best when you plan ahead. However, in some cases you don’t need to make your reservation as far ahead as you might think. In fact, some really exceptional award redemptions are only available at the last minute. Furthermore, if at first you don’t succeed in crafting the “perfect” award itinerary, try, try again.

How far in advance should you book your award ticket?

Conventional wisdom holds that you should book your award ticket about 11 months in advance. More specifically, most airlines open their award calendars approximately 331 to 360 days in advance of your intended travel date. For more information on this topic, Blogger Ben at One Mile at A Time has published a very useful and detailed post on When Do Airlines Open Award Seats.

In the wake of this year’s massive United Devaluation, I employed this tactic to burn up my stock of MileagePlus miles and reserved two First Class tickets to Bangkok to celebrate the New Year. I also made my initial award reservations for last summer’s trip to Italy just as early.

Best Views in Florence Panoramic View of the Duomo from the Tower of the Palazzo Vecchio

Taking in the views during last summer’s Italy Trip

However, it’s important to note that airlines don’t release ALL of their award space at that magic 11-month mark. In reality, additional availability tends to appear approximately six months prior to your intended departure date. Definitely search for seats on “Day 331.” However, if you can’t find what you want, continue to search regularly. As time goes on, other people’s plans may change resulting in cancellations that will potentially add seats back into the award inventory. In addition, the second “magic date” to keep an eye out for is that previously mentioned “six-month” point. Therefore, don’t be discouraged if you’re unable to book your award right away.

Changing your award ticket for a better itinerary

As you can see, airline award inventories can fluctuate. With this fact in mind, another award booking strategy is to make an initial reservation to “lock in” your preferred travel dates then change them later once your preferred routing or class of service becomes available.

For example, on our upcoming trip to Bangkok we originally booked 2 Business Class award tickets on Cathay Pacific for our return journey. However, about a month ago the airline swapped the aircraft type for our itinerary’s Hong Kong-to-Chicago segment and opened up availability in First Class. I quickly seized upon this opportunity to pay the additional miles and bump us up a level.

In this case, I was using American AAdvantage miles for travel on its OneWorld partner Cathay Pacific. Since I was changing neither the origin nor the destination on my itinerary, American Airlines didn’t charge me a change fee. However, you should review your airline’s specific policies since change fees can range from zero to $150 depending on your circumstances. Once again, Blogger Ben at One Mile at a Time has published a great summary on Airline Award Ticket Change Fees that you might want to check out.

Making last minute changes to your award itinerary

Now that we know that it’s possible to improve your itinerary by capitalizing on fluctuating award inventories, we can take things a step further by playing a game of “chicken” with the airlines and further tweak your award redemption at the last minute. For example, if you’ve ever dreamed of “jetting off to Paris at a moment’s notice,” there’s some fantastic award availability on tomorrow’s non-stop flight from Chicago.

United Airlines Last Minute Award Availability

As a flight’s departure date approaches, airlines will sometimes release additional space into the award inventory if the carrier determines that it will be unlikely to sell the seat. Furthermore, certain airlines release their best seats only at the last minute. For example, Lufthansa opens its First Class cabin for award redemptions to its Star Alliance partners only approximately 15 days prior to departure.

Lufthansa 747-400 First Class Seat

Lufthansa First Class

Making just such a last minute change (about a week prior to departure) to our London to Chicago itinerary last summer allowed us to experience not only Lufthansa First Class but also the fabled Lufthansa Frankfurt First Class Terminal.

Taking Second Chances

Your airline award doesn’t have to be set in stone. Due to constantly changing award seat inventories, opportunities for refining or upgrading your travel plans should be available. With a combination of flexibility, diligence and planning, you should be able to craft the perfect award itinerary.

How about you? Have you ever changed a travel award? What was your experience?