27 January 2015

It started with an Amex card …

Everybody complains about how unpleasant air travel is these days, and there is a lot of truth in it … but with a bit of planning, it can get better.

For me, it started a couple of years ago, when I got an American Express platinum card – with it came a Cathay Pacific gold card, the equivalent of a British Airways silver card.  I originally took out the credit card to get the 30,000 bonus points – intending to convert them to British Airways Avios (I actually converted most of them to travel on Eurostar) … however, the Cathay Card has had more of a long term impact.

I actually cancelled the Amex platinum after about 6 months, after I had signed up for all the different perks and triggered the 30,000 bonus points.  Amex are good enough to refund you the rest of your annual fee when you cancel a card - a significant amount on their Platinum card.

With airlines often prepared to match the status that you have on a rival airline, I chanced my arm and sent United Airlines a copy of my Cathay Pacific card … and they set me a challenge … fly 12,500 miles on United over the following 3 months, and they would give me their Gold status – in the meantime they gave me temporary Gold status.

On my current trip to the Americas I flew 3 United legs to get to my first destination, and used the temporary Gold status to obtain better seating, fast track security, priority baggage (although after a tight connection it did go AWOL for 24 hours) and lounge access.  I've booked my final two segments to get home, and the mileage will be enough to confirm my Gold status.

I’m writing this onboard an American Airlines flight (old plane, but enough space to unfold a laptop) which I booked using my British Airways Avios points, and I’ve got another AA flight tomorrow (also using Avios) to South America.  At check-in today I avoided the baggage fee on this domestic flight by presenting my Cathay Pacific gold card.  Sadly AA doesn’t have a lounge in Salt Lake City international airport, but tomorrow I’ll be spending some quality time in their lounge at Dallas Fort Worth.

I’ve also bagged a couple of free flights within South America, by transferring American Express points to Delta and booking flights on Aerolíneas Argentinas.  I had previously tried to book the reward flights through KLM (they are all part of Skyteam), but they couldn’t see any Aerolíneas availability, so I opened a Delta frequent flyer account.  I even did the second transfer from Amex to Delta live – I phoned up Delta to check availability for the flight I wanted, initiated the transfer, and within a minute the Delta agent could see the points arrive and finalised the booking.

Most of the Amex points for these Aerolíneas flights came from the 20,000 bonus points that I recently triggered from my new Amex Gold card.  You’re eligible for a bonus if you wait 6 months between closing one card, and opening the next.

Whilst in Europe we are used to airlines loading outrageous fees onto reward flights (so they sometimes cost more than a cash fare), however the four reward flights that I’ve booked in the Americas cost a grand total of 10 dollars – combined !

In between the flying, I used my status with a hotel chain to get a room on the top floor – it even elicited a “wow” from another guest when I pressed the 15 button in the elevator !  And checking out at 4pm was a handy perk that my gold status with the hotel chain also delivered (thanks again to that Amex platinum from a couple of years ago).  I’ve even managed to leverage the status with a couple of hotel chains to get a matched with a couple more – just in case I need them.

Next up: with my Cathay Pacific card expiring soon, I will be attempting to leverage my new United Gold card to gain status with another Oneworld airline, so I can continue to avoid baggage fees, using fast track security and most importantly, sitting in quiet lounges …

As a backup – I’ve already obtained a Gulf Air gold card (status matched from Cathay Pacific), in case the United Gold card doesn’t do the trick !

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