American Airlines is on the prowl for Delta elites, Amex is starting to make some long-time fans uncomfortable and British Airways plays Scrooge with partners awards. All that and more in this week’s Saturday Selection, our weekly round-up of interesting tidbits from around the interwebs (links to each article are embedded in the titles).
Delta elites, have you noticed that other airline in the corner of the room? The one with the roving glances and the come-hither eyes? That’s American Airlines and they’d love to get your elite number. After Delta took a sledgehammer to its elite program earlier this Fall, airline after airline started circling the gaggle of disaffected Delta loyalists looking for another program who loved them like Delta used to. Alaska and JetBlue were the first (and most obvious) suitors, making no secret that they were looking to get down with O.P.P. (other programs’ property). Although Delta has now apologized for everything it said and partially rolled back the most drastic of the changes, United and American have both reported that applications for elite status matches into their programs have skyrocketed. AA, too sophisticated to copy Alaska and JetBlue’s brazen tactics, has quietly released its own status challenge for Delta (and United) elites, matching Diamond Medallions all the way to top-tier Executive Platinum status. If nothing else, all you Delta elites should be able to rest knowing that’s there’s plenty of planes in the sky and someone out there wants you.
You could say that British Airways (BA) has always been a bit of a Scrooge, thanks to its industry-leading practice of charging extortionate fees and “fuel surcharges” on many of its international award flights, sometimes making the cost of a round-trip “award ticket” upwards of $1500. Luckily, these fees can sometimes be mitigated by booking on certain partners, one of which Greg writes about here. Unfortunately, it’s getting harder and harder to find BA seats on those partners, as the airline has gone full Ebenezer and started restricting many of its award seats to its own Executive Club members and to partners who share Avios as their reward currency (Iberia, Aer Lingus and Qatar). While restricting saver-level seats to its own tribe is not the rule amongst airlines, it isn’t unheard of either. Singapore has done it for years. One Mile at a Time wrote about the change and also found that, closer to departure, some of these restricted seats begin to start popping up on partner sites again. I guess even Scrooge gets desperate sometimes.
Recently, renting a car has become a little dodgier. During the pandemic, rental car companies sold a massive proportion of their car stock, understandable given the plummeting demand for cars. Once travel picked back up, demand started outstripping supply and there was an, um, epidemic of folks arriving to the rental car facility with reservation in hand, only to be told that there were no cars available. This gave rise to the blessedly brief phenomenon of people renting moving trucks out of desperation, even for their honeymoon. Then, Hertz decided to start sending the police to arrest unsuspecting customers who’d done nothing untoward besides return their car on-time (I forget if that’s a felony or a misdemeanor). Finally, people who probably should have been arrested began stealing rental vehicles as part of the viral, TikTok-fueled “Kia Challenge.” Yours truly got to participate in the hilarity on a cold night in Columbus, Ohio, when I finished an event and found that my car hadn’t waited for me.
These days, it’s kind of like braving a minefield to make it through a car rental unscathed, as a Pasadena man found out last month. The unsuspecting mark took a tour of Switzerland using a car from the international, non-incarcerating firm Budget. Unfortunately, he returned it a day early. He didn’t expect a refund, but was shocked to find that he’d actually been charged $500 extra for the privilege of giving Budget the car back a day before they were expecting it. I’ve seen this sort of fine print on contracts for years, but have never personally had it enforced. The NBC station linked above was able to contact the car company and get the man’s Benjamin’s brought back, but it’s a good cautionary tale to doublecheck the final bill before you leave to catch that flight.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably into points and miles. And, if you’re into points and miles, it’s likely that American Express has occupied quite a bit of your attention over the last couple of years. As the grand marshal of the perpetual points parade, Amex has been in a race with itself to see how quickly it can shower Membership Rewards upon us with grandiose welcome offers (like this Business Platinum offer for 190K points) and non-stop, “no lifetime language” offers that allowed some of us to get handfuls of Business Platinum and Business Gold cards. Contrasted with that river of largesse, Amex has been a bit more of a sourpuss over the last few months, hiking up minimum spend requirements and annual fees, while at the same time adding irritating “family rules” that exclude you from getting a welcome bonus on certain cards if you’ve previously had another card in that “family.” The points parade hasn’t ground to a halt, but there might be some leaky tires on a couple of the floats. All this tightfistedness is making Benji over at Miles to Memories just a little uncomfortable.