Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Month: June 2016 (page 1 of 2)

Trying To Understand The ‘Chase 5/24 Rule’

There were some major waves in the credit card churning circles when the Chase ‘5/24 rule’ started being implemented last year. It has been Chase’s way of cracking down on those of us who use credit card signup bonuses as a means of banking lots of miles and points while minimizing fees and interest paid on our accounts. And it makes complete sense to me, from a financial perspective. People who churn cards are almost always a net loss for the bank.

What I don’t understand is how hard and fast the 5/24 rule is. The rule was supposedly going into effect for Chase’s co-branded credit cards in April, but that didn’t seem to happen. Many people applied for cards through May and were approved, even with many new accounts on their credit report in the last two years.  Note that Chase won’t even confirm that the 5/24 Rule even exists, but that having lots of new applications doesn’t look great. A few people have reported getting approved for cards, even if they have more than 5 new accounts within 24 months, so we know the rule isn’t 100% strict, but it has seemed to be at least a solid guideline.

My own experience has been mixed. My wife and I each applied for a Chase card last month, and while I was approved, my wife was denied. Each of us have opened in excess of a dozen new accounts in the past two years, and I had been reading that the 5/24 Rule had been going into effect for co-branded Chase cards in April, so this was very puzzling. Other factors related to credit card approvals couldn’t even explain it (my wife has both fewer new accounts and a better credit score than I do).

After poking around, I finally found a source (the good ol’ Doctor of Credit that everyone seems to look to) that concluded that May 22/23, 2016 was a possible mile marker for the implementation of 5/24 Rule on co-branded Chase cards. This does in fact jive with our experience. I applied for a United Explorer Visa on May 17, while my wife applied for a Southwest Plus Visa on May 24. She was denied, but I was approved. Kinda annoying that we missed it by a day, but I decided to let it rest and not call into reconsideration (bye bye, easy street to the Southwest Companion Pass).

On the whole, credit card issuers are tightening things for consumers. Maybe it is the churners’ fault, maybe it is not. At the end of the day, the banks make the rules. They are the ones who buy the miles from the airlines, and they are the ones that offer the products. There are always people who will use the system to their advantage, and Chase, Amex, Citi, and all the other issuers have to account for the loss those consumers bring them. Right now, it seems to be in their best interest to limit new credit card accounts, but it likely won’t remain that way forever.

Hilton Phoenix/Mesa: A Review

Location: Mesa, Arizona

Overall Rating: 6/10

After being matched to Hilton Diamond status a few months ago, I had been wanting to give their hotels a try. My wife and I have already made two 5-night bookings for this summer with our large number of recently acquired HHonors points from various credit card signups, so I had expected our first stays with Hilton hotels to be in July. However, on a recent trip to our Arizona company office, the Hilton Phoenix/Mesa was my hotel of choice.

Not only were the rates fantastic, but it was the closest hotel to our office, and it sounded pretty nice overall. I booked a total of 3 nights for $279, including taxes. With the current 2x promotion, the Diamond elite bonus, and the 12x return from using my Hilton HHonors Surpass American Express, I would earn about 12,000 HHonors points for the stay. The trip would give me a chance to see the HHonors loyalty program in action and compare it to both IHG and Starwood.

I arrived at the Hilton Phoenix/Mesa very late. My flight into Mesa on Allegiant had arrived just before 10:00 p.m., and it was nearly 11:00 by the time the Lyft driver got me to the hotel. The place was very quiet. I was greeted by a friendly and welcoming desk agent. As she started to check me in, I asked if I could have a top-floor room. With rates as low as they were, I figured the place wasn’t even close to full, so it was likely that I would be accommodated. I also wanted to see if she would offer me anything in terms of an upgrade.

The agent then said that she would have to clear the request with the manager, who was currently on the phone. This surprised me a little, but it still seemed reasonable enough. A few minutes later the manager was still on the phone, and I was awkwardly admiring the lobby while waiting to finish check-in. When the manager was finally off the phone, she took over the check-in terminal. She was the exact opposite of the first lady, lacking the friendliness and care that I would expect a hotel would want in their front desk staff. I finally got my room key, along with two bottles of water and a small card detailing access to the executive lounge (Diamond perks), and I was on my way.

hilton_mesa_beds

The hotel room was nice overall, but it didn’t quite live up to what I expected. I got my request for a top-floor room, but it didn’t seem like any sort of upgrade. It was large, but almost awkwardly so. The furniture didn’t really fill it well. The TV was overly small for the width of the room, and had I used it, it would have been rather hard to watch from the bed, and impossible to watch from the couch. The couch also seemed a bit old and worn. The beds were very comfy, though, and I slept very well all three nights.

hilton_mesa_desk

The work space was pretty standard. I used the desk to read and work a little in the evening.

hilton_mesa_bath

The two things that needed maintenance were in the bathroom. The sink stopper was broken, so I had to manually lift it up to keep the sink draining at a reasonable rate. Kinda nasty after you have used it for brushing your teeth. The other issue was the bar for the shower curtain. It sagged substantially, and the curtain would keep sliding inward. While showering I would routinely push the curtain back toward the wall, but it would slide back down again after several seconds, leaving a good 12-inch gap. This meant I soaked a portion of the floor every day.

hilton_mesa_view

The view from the room was decent. I could look out over the golf course next door and the mountains in the distance. The top-floor room request paid off in that regard.

hilton_mesa_pool

The pool was amazing. With the temperatures peaking in the mid-100s each day, an dip in the pool sounded incredibly nice. On the last evening at the hotel, I tried it out. The water was cool enough to be refreshing, but warm enough that swimming was enjoyable. The water was salty, and it made me wonder if they were using one of the natural salt disinfection systems. Whatever it was, I was happy it was not overly chlorinated. The same cannot be said of Mesa tap water.

hilton_mesa_patio

The warmth was actually nice as I relaxed and dried off after the swim. This was probably the only enjoyable moment I had with the Mesa heat. My walks back from the office each day, although only 10 minutes, were under a brutally hot sun that made me feel like I was going to melt into the sidewalk.

hilton_mesa_sign

What I did find hysterical were the signs posted around the pool and parking lot. The hotel is apparently absolving itself of any responsibility if you get hit in the head with a golf ball while swimming. The golf course starts just 30 yards beyond the pool, but based on the orientation, the risk of getting conked seemed minimal. Still, I bet there are some terrible golfers out there who could prove things otherwise.

The lounge was nice as well, and reminded me a lot of an airport lounge. It had a few different types of seating, two TVs displaying the news in the morning, and an offering of juice, coffee, fruit, oatmeal, pastries, and other light fare for breakfast. My Diamond status kept Transcon from paying for three days of breakfast through this perk. I also stopped in for an hour one evening when they were offering drinks and light snacks, and the lounge was quite full.

I really wanted to love this hotel. Overall, it was a good experience, but there were a few items that tainted my stay. The most frustrating was the shower issue. I considered speaking with the staff during my stay, and they likely would have moved me to a different room, but I didn’t want to go through the trouble of packing all my stuff up for just another day and a half. It was an annoyance, but not a make-or-break issue (like the AC not working, or something). I used the survey to express my thoughts to the hotel staff after my stay, and I received the following response:

“Good Morning Mr. Snyder, I wanted to take a moment to follow up with you regarding your recent stay at the Hilton Phoenix/Mesa.  Thank you for taking the time to complete your guest survey.  I want to assure you all comments are read and reviewed daily by the Management team an used for training purposes..  I wanted to touch base because it sounds like you may be coming to the area on business and that is my arena.   My sole focus is keeping and growing our corporate client base.  You hit on some issues we are well aware of – in fact, that is why we are starting a $8 million dollar renovation in July.  All guest rooms and public areas are to be completely re-done.  Everything will be new – in all our king rooms & 80% of our double queen rooms, the bathtubs are being replaced with walk in showers and the shower curtains are being replaced with glass doors, new carpet throughout, new furniture, drapes and bedding, all large screen televisions with HD channels,  upgrade lighting with additional USB ports. I am hoping you will give us another opportunity to impress you.  You mentioned we were close to your office, I would be happy to discuss a negotiated rate agreement for you that would provide an attractive rate/amenity package for you.  Please let me know if this is something you would be willing to look at.  Thank you again for your comments.”

The fact that the hotel contacted me quickly after the survey shows me that they do care about customer satisfaction and it definitely makes me willing to give the hotel another shot. I am glad she called out the fact that they are going to address the bathrooms. There are a few more hotels down the road that are still within walking distance of the office, but this one is definitely the most ideal. If the renovation is finished by the next time I head that way, I’ll likely give it another try.

The Joy Of Returning Home

I love being away. Seeing new sights, experiencing new places, flying in airplanes, riding on trains, these are some of my favorite things. Yet, there is still nothing quite like coming home. As I was driving north from the Bay Area yesterday, the strong desire to be home hit me harder than it has in a very long time. I realized that I was not only open to the idea, but very eager to be home. I dearly missed my beautiful wife from whom I had been away for the past 10 days. I also missed the beautiful Ferndale mornings.

The trip had gone very well. I spent three days at our Mesa, Arizona office and then 3 more at our Berkeley, California office, with a weekend sandwiched in the middle at a cousin’s wedding. The time was well spent. The time in the office was productive and beneficial, and the wedding was wonderful. It hardly could have gone better. Yet by the end, I longed to be home. I even canceled my train and bus ride back to Humboldt and booked a rental car instead. My employer wouldn’t mind, and it would get me home over 3 hours earlier. When I finally crossed over Fernbridge after six hours of driving, seeing the valley open up before me, it was a moment of sheer delight.

The joy of returning home is one of the parts of the travel experience that I often overlook. Home can be easily forgotten while out adventuring, but there is a certain peace, a feeling of belonging, that washes over me when I am returning from an extended time away. It is hard to describe. It’s like a sense of place overwhelms me. A similar thing happened this morning as I walked to work. The barely chilly summer morning,, the quiet street, the smell of the fresh air, the sun lighting the hillside above town- I was home. No matter how long or far I roam, and no matter how wonderful and exciting the trips are, my heart will eventually long to return home.

Allegiant Ambivalence

Several months ago I stumbled upon the uber budget Allegiant Air. Their prices are cheap, and I noticed that they have decent U.S. coverage, albeit sometimes in and out of atypical airports (examples: Mesa Gateway rather than Phoenix Sky Harbor, and Orlando Sanford rather than Orlando International). I messed around with their online booking system for a while, filing away the experience in my head. Little did I know that I would be booking a flight with them in a matter of months.

This past week United wanted ~$950 to get from Arcata, California to Phoenix, Arizona on a round-trip ticket, booked roughly eight days out. A whopping $950. Like, I could fly to Africa and back for $950. Although work was footing the bill, I couldn’t justify it. This is well above what I consider to be the breakeven point of flying out of Arcata versus flying out of the Bay Area, so I decided to look at my other options. With Google Flights as my friend, I searched flights from STS, SFO, and OAK to Phoenix area airports. To my utter and complete shock, a cheap flight showed for Sunday, June 5th, available for $68! And there was Allegiant’s logo right beside it.

The flight was between Sonoma County Airport and Mesa Gateway Airport, and it would have to be combined with transportation to Santa Rosa; however, the fact that I was able to book a one-way ticket sold me. My plans on the other end of the trip were unknown anyway, and I would hate to book a ticket back to Arcata if I needed to head straight down to the Bay Area immediately after my return.

Needless to say, I jumped on it. After a carry-on bag fee and a credit card charge fee (Allegiant follows the budget airline model that charges you for everything), the grand total came to $85.66. It was a steal. Add the $54 bus fare to Santa Rosa, and I was saving the company a few $100s. The best part was that I could work from the bus for a few hours, so the added time wouldn’t be unproductive either. It seemed too goo to be true.

Hindsight is 20-20. Had I known the significant delay the flight would experience, I may have reconsidered my plan. I arrived at Santa Rosa airport with just under two hours to kill until boarding. The departures sign was the first tip-off to the state of Allegiant’s flights today. Their flight to Las Vegas was delayed by roughly two and a half hours, and the tiny STS airport was packed. Flight 121 to Mesa still said “on time,” so I held out some hope that it would remain that way. Then the dreaded announcement came over the PA as soon as I entered the security area: Flight 121 was delayed with a new departure time of 6:27. Not too bad. A few seconds later my phone buzzed: “Allegiant #121 from STS to IWA is delayed. Estimated departure is 7:09 p.m.” Well, which is it? I simply assumed the worse of the two.

A mere 20 minutes later, the delay was lengthened even further to a 7:40 departure. I was through security by this point, but I decided to head right back out and eat dinner at the airport restaurant. My 90 minute wait had been stretched to nearly three and a half hours.

Per all the Allegiant reviews I have read, this is right on point. The positive is that they offer dirt cheap fares; the negative is that you are hung out to dry if there is a delay or cancellation. And they tend to have a large number of delays. If one flight gets delayed early in the day, every other flight that aircraft makes is impacted. Combine this with the fact that they only offer a couple flights per day between locations (sometimes only one), rescheduling is tenuous at best. With my plans already locked in, and as late in the day as it was, I was pretty much restricted to wait it out. If for some reason the flight had been cancelled, I would have been stuck. A last-minute Southwest flight out of Oakland may have been an option, but it would have taken over an hour to even get there.

allegiant_sts

Finally seated and looking out the window of the plane while leaving Sonoma County Airport.

The two-hour delay mainly inconvenienced me in terms of sleep. We took off at the delayed departure time of 7:40 and touched down in Mesa around 9:50, and I made it to the hotel at 10:45. So much for getting a good nights rest before a full day of work in a different office.

Although booking with United would have (theoretically) alleviated the delay experienced on Allegiant, that came with an enormous cost. I knew going into the trip that I was making a gamble booking a cheap flight on a budget airline from an airport with few options. It was a calculated risk, and I lost (partially). I would have much rather gotten to my destination by 7:45 as scheduled. The fact that we still saved money sits well with me, though.

All said and done, I will probably still try Allegiant again. The dirt cheap prices that they offer are hard to resist. The key will be to simply plan on a delay from the outset, and then be pleasantly surprised if everything goes smoothly. At least that’s how I hope to look at it.

In Need Of A Camera

The camera problem should be solved. In this day and age, virtually everyone has a cell phone that doubles as a camera. Not especially long ago, cell phone pictures weren’t all that great, but that has rapidly changed. After messing with my wife’s new iPhone 6, I realized that it rivaled the actual camera we own in regard to picture quality. So much for ever really investing in a camera again. The cell phone is both much more compact and does all sorts of handy other things. Like make calls.

My own cell phone has sufficed well for most of my photo needs, although I have been too cheap for the likes of an iPhone 6. But now I am currently feeling the loss of even that. Something has happened to either the lens or the sensor. Two blue lines appear in the photo, ruining all pictures except those taken in the brightest light. It is on the list to be handled before our trip to Europe this summer, but I am loathe to spend even the cost of insurance deductible on a new one. At only 5 months old, I had hoped this phone would last quite a while longer. Still, having a working camera is a must for this trip. And for the travel blogger I am kinda, sorta trying to be.

2016-06-06 18.35.56

Just a nice hotel room shot…..with some extra obnoxious blue lines.

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