It doesn’t take long when you visit other travelers to realize that everyone likes things a certain way.
Some travelers fly only with Alaska Airlines. Others won’t fly red eyes. Still others simply need to have an aisle seat.
Last month, I hosted several meetups, called Travel Pop-ups, just to chat with travelers about their destination, the trips they’ve taken, and to glean valuable tips for getting the most out of their trip.
Some topics kept coming up, like the Alaska Air credit card with Bank of America, travel insurance, and the real value of frequent flyer points.
Several travelers have asked about recent changes to the Alaska Credit Card, specifically the new requirements to obtain a Companion Pass each year.
Many travellers, myself included, carry more than one of the cards specifically to take advantage of the Companion Pass. When you buy a ticket at the best available price, you can get a second ticket for $99, plus applicable taxes and fees. These extras can push the final cost between $121 and $200.
Earlier this year, Alaska made changes to the program, including raising the annual fee to $95. But the big change was a $6,000 annual spending requirement for each card to get the companion pass.
However, current cardholders are exempt. Only those applying for new cards will need to meet this minimum spending threshold.
But travelers are turning to other cards to earn miles and points. A traveler to Fairbanks loves Capital One’s Venture card. The high-end Venture X card costs $395 per year. But that includes a $300 annual travel credit. New cardholders can get a bonus of 75,000 miles after spending at least $4,000 within 90 days.
Additionally, Capital One cardholders have access to the Priority Pass airport lounge program. Cardholders can transfer miles to 15 other partners, including British Airways, Emirates, Turkish Airlines, Wyndham Hotels and Accor Hotels.
Several travelers mentioned high hotel prices. This is where “flexible spending” cards like Capital One, Chase and American Express come in handy.
Yet one traveler revealed that getting the hotel group’s own card offers more rewards than just transferring points. In his case, IHG (Intercontinental Hotel Group) was his favorite. He and his family got 13 free nights at the Holiday Inn Express in Puerto Vallarta using his points. The IHG family includes Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza and Intercontinental Hotels.
All major hotel groups have their own cards: Hyatt, Bonvoy (Marriott and Sheraton) and Hilton’s Honors.
In an afternoon session, a traveler lamented the disappearance of the Alaska Air lounge day pass. Last year, Alaska Air credit cardholders could get a day pass to the lounge for $25. But an Alaska Airlines representative who attended our session told us what we already knew: “There are too many people in the lounges.”
By raising the price of annual subscriptions and scrapping day passes, the airline hopes to thin the crowd.
In Fairbanks, a traveler was preparing for a 35-day cruise around South America. His question: “Do I have to take out the cruise line’s travel insurance?”
Well, you have to read the fine print. If you are going on a long or unusual trip, it makes sense to look into the operator’s travel insurance offer.
When reviewing a safari in Tanzania, I noticed that the tour operator had included a compulsory insurance policy for medical evacuation. But travelers have been urged to purchase a separate travel insurance policy for lost luggage, en route delays or flight cancellations and other covered items.
For several years, I have taken out an annual policy with Allianz. But there are many different policies for specific needs. For example, my annual package does not include trip cancellation insurance. Other more expensive plans include the ability to cancel for any reason.
There are two websites that offer side-by-side comparisons of insurance plans, to help you figure out which plan might be right for you: InsureMyTrip.com and Squaremouth.com. Keep in mind that most credit cards include travel insurance, including collision damage waiver for rental cars.
Many travelers are still put off by car rental and hotel costs. As for car rentals, I have rented several times from Turo.com. It’s the Airbnb of rental cars, allowing people to rent their own car.
If car rental prices are very high where you are going, you can reserve a Turo car while waiting to see if regular car rental prices will drop. While Turo fares may show far lower prices than Avis and Hertz, pay close attention to surcharges, including a Turo travel fee. Typically, the “all-inclusive” cost will appear in much smaller type.
If prices drop closer to departure, you can cancel a Turo reservation up to 24 hours before pick-up.
The high cost of hotels is one of the reasons I collect miles and points. My favorite flexible spending credit card is the Chase family of cards. Hyatt is one of the transfer partners – and Chase offers a favorable conversion rate. That said, Hyatt’s own credit card offers more rewards specifically for Hyatt and its affiliated brands.
Another popular topic with travelers is Alaska Air’s decision to join the oneworld alliance, made up of airlines including American, British, Qatar Air, Japan Airlines and Qantas.
The #1 benefit for travelers is that their Alaska Air elite benefits transfer easily to American Airlines. For example, MVP Gold travelers have access to American’s extra legroom seats at the time of booking at no additional cost.
Plus, Alaska Air’s elite travelers are eligible for upgrades on American’s domestic flights.
The Alaska Loyalty Plan goes beyond oneworld, however. Travelers can earn and burn miles on several airlines outside the oneworld family, including Turkish Airlines, Singapore Air and Condor, among others.
Regarding the use of miles, many travelers were in conflict. They wanted to use their miles but had to keep buying tickets to qualify for their elite status.
Nursing their cups of coffee, all the travelers nodded when this topic came up. People with kids or grandkids would often give them the miles, so they could keep racking up miles towards their MVP status.
No one in the group seemed particularly upset with Alaska Air’s decision to award the cheapest Saver ticket holders only 30% of the miles actually flown. This policy begins for tickets purchased after July 19. True travel enthusiasts don’t often buy Saver tickets because they are less flexible with seat assignments, changes, and upgrades.
Our fleeting travelers are always curious — and they plan trips all over the world. But they know what they like and don’t hesitate to work from all angles to get the right travel package.