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April 04, 2011

The American Express Platinum Card Just Shot Up in Value

Over the past couple of years, as a growing number of credit cards have significantly upped their travel perks, the American Express Platinum Card has watched competing cards eat its lunch. But AmEx is fighting back and, starting tomorrow, will sweeten its travel benefits considerably. If you're a frequent international traveler--especially one who flies in coach--the Card could now be a money saver for you. 

When the newest Platinum Card benefits are officially announced tomorrow, you'll be able to find more details at AmericanExpress.com/TransformTravel. The new perks are:

Continue reading "The American Express Platinum Card Just Shot Up in Value" »

February 24, 2010

Forced to Pay an Airline Fee I Didn't Owe

ts_Hawaiian_Airlines_card_022410.jpg
A Hawaiian Airlines “customer experience agent” spoiling my customer experience at Kona International Airport two days ago.

Have you ever wrongly been charged a fee at an airport check-in counter? And you had to just shut up and pay, or you'd miss your flight?

It happened to me on Monday in Kona, Hawaii. My family and I were flying back to Oahu (where we are now) after a week on the Big Island. The Hawaiian Airlines check-in agent insisted we owed $40 in luggage fees: $10 per bag times four checked bags. I insisted we did not, showing her my credit card that waives luggage fees: I had booked my family’s airline itinerary--from Newark to Honolulu to Kona to Honolulu to Newark--on Continental, and I carry a Continental Airlines Presidential Plus MasterCard that waives fees for checked luggage on flights booked through Continental.

The Kona check-in agent would not budge, even after I told her that a week earlier the Honolulu check-in agent had waived the fee after I'd shown her my credit card. The Kona agent said the Honolulu agent had been flat-out wrong. I had no choice but to pay the $40 or miss my flight, so I charged it to the MasterCard in question.

Yesterday I called the number on the back of the credit card to report what had happened and, sure enough, they said that I should not have been charged the luggage fees and that the $40 charge will be removed from my bill.

There are two morals to this story:

Continue reading "Forced to Pay an Airline Fee I Didn't Owe" »

December 18, 2008

Don't Get Ripped Off When Buying a Cruise, Part 2

Regent_seven_seas
Regent Seven Seas Cruises operates small to medium-size luxury ships such as the Seven Seas Mariner, one of my personal favorites.

by Wendy Perrin

Remember my warning Don't Get Ripped Off When Buying a Cruise? Mark Conroy, president of Regent Seven Seas Cruises, says I misstated the problem and overstated its scope. So let me attempt to set the record straight while also giving some crucial advice to anyone who is considering snapping up one of the many cruise deals flying around these days.

As you may recall, I wrote that when you charge a cruise to your credit card, a few cruise lines--including Regent Seven Seas--may charge a currency-exchange fee of 3 percent, even though you're paying in the U.S. in U.S. dollars. I quoted veteran travel agent and Travel Weekly columnist Richard Turen, who reported this on his Travel Truth blog:

"Oceania Cruises has been running U.S. bank-issued credit cards through a financial institution based in Dublin, Ireland. This has resulted in scores of Oceania passengers, many of them unaware, being charged an additional fee of up to 3% on their cruise deposits and final payments. In the last year, Oceania and Regent Seven Seas were both sold to the cash-rich Apollo Investment Group. Now there are reports that Regent Seven Seas guests are also being charged additional fees on payments made on some Visa, MasterCard, and American Express Cards . . . ."

According to Regent Seven Seas president Mark Conroy:

* I was incorrect to state that the cruise line may charge a 3% fee since, technically, it's the credit card issuer--not the cruise line--that is levying the fee. The fee goes into the pockets of the card-issuing bank, not the cruise line. "If anyone is 'ripping off' the guests, it is their credit card issuer," he says.

* The fee is levied on fewer than one percent of bookings. "I think that Richard has seen more than his fair share of these fees because the AAdvantage Cards issued by Citi Bank are some of the most aggressive at collecting this fee from their cardholders," he says. "There are a large number of Visa- and MasterCard-issuing banks, as well as American Express, that do not charge foreign-currency fees for Regent Seven Seas Cruises charges."

* If a passenger is charged the 3% fee, and he/she contests it with the credit card issuer, and the bank refuses to reverse it, then Regent Seven Seas will reimburse the amount of the charge either by check or in the form of shipboard credit.

Richard Turen, always thinking about the consumer, makes some important points in response:

Continue reading "Don't Get Ripped Off When Buying a Cruise, Part 2" »

November 19, 2008

AmEx Ups Foreign-Purchase Fees

by Wendy Perrin

Warning to American Express cardholders: Starting Jan 1, 2009, the fee you'll be charged when you buy something in a foreign currency will be 2.7% (rather than the 2% it's been for years). 

As a reminder, the way to avoid foreign-transaction fees is with a Capital One card. You don't have to make Capital One your main bank: You can open up a small savings account just to get the card and use it only on your trips overseas. If anyone has a fee-avoidance recommendation other than Capital One, I'd love to hear it. Please just click on "Comments" below and let me know.

October 29, 2008

Baggage Fees Waived For Some Credit Card Customers

by Wendy Perrin

Continental Airlines announced yesterday that it is waiving baggage fees for Continental Chase credit card and debit card holders for the first piece of luggage they check. This means a savings of $15 each way. Since passengers who are traveling with--and listed in the same reservation as--the primary cardmember also get their fees waived, this apparently means I've just saved $120 off my next trip: Since my family of four is flying, and each is checking a suitcase, I'll save $60 each way, for a total of $120. That's more than the annual fee ($85) for the card!

Watch out for other airline-affiliated credit cards to come out with similar perks for their cardmembers. And if I run into any hidden snag at the airport check-in counter, I'll be sure to let you know!

October 23, 2008

AmEx Platinum Card: Cautionary Tale

American_express_platinum_card by Wendy Perrin

I've often wondered whether the American Express Platinum Card, with all its various travel perks, is worth the $450 annual fee. I've heard strong arguments both for and against. Now reader Sandy Benko has emailed me an intriguing tale of woe. She claims that one of the Card's key perks -- the two-for-one business-class air-fare program, where you can buy an international business-class ticket on a participating airline and get a companion business-class ticket for free -- is "something of a sham." Since I've heard the same lament from other travelers, I figure I should share Sandy's story. I'm hoping some of you might have a remedy to suggest to her. I'd also love to hear from any Platinum Cardholders who have opinions about the two-for-one program.

After the jump, Sandy's tale.

Continue reading "AmEx Platinum Card: Cautionary Tale" »

September 19, 2008

Anyone Know Where to Get a SMART CARD Credit Card in the U.S.?

by Wendy Perrin

An excellent question has come in from longtime Perrin Post reader Joe_Kayaker. I wish I knew the answer off the top of my head. Does anyone?

"Where can I get a smart card credit card? I live in the U.S. but travel in Europe often. On my last few trips I've been taking trains between cities rather than flying. It's cheaper, just as fast for close city pairs, and much less of a hassle -- if you have a smart card. From Paris to Rotterdam, for instance, you can buy tickets on the Internet, reserve seats, pick your meal. When you get to the train station to pick up your ticket, if you have a smart card you can put it in a ticket machine, get your ticket in about 10 seconds, and you're on your way. No smart card? You must stand in line at the ticket counter with all the folks who are having problems, and everyone is cranky and takes a long time. From Rotterdam to Eindhoven, if you don't have a smart card, go find an ATM because they don't accept magnetic-stripe cards, even in the ticket office.

"I'm seeing more and more businesses in Europe taking only smart cards. At U.K. gas stations, for instance, magnetic-stripe charge cards are unwelcome. With an old-fashioned credit card you'll need to make two trips into the office: once to have the pump unlocked, and another to pay. Smart card holders swipe, pump, and go.

"Do you know of any U.S. banks that have smart cards? If not, can a U.S. resident get a card from a European bank?"

April 21, 2008

Yet Another Example of Airline Mileage Awards Losing Their Value

The_westin_paris_2_2
Attention, Starwood American Express Card fans: You might get better
value using your points for hotel stays than for airline tickets. Above, the new Westin Paris across from the Tuileries.

by Wendy Perrin

Remember a few weeks ago I lamented that the Starwood AmEx Card--which I love because it lets you transfer your accumulated points to the frequent-flier programs of 30 different airlines, usually on a 1:1 basis, with Starwood throwing in a bonus 5,000 points for every 20,000 you redeem--had changed the transfer ratio for trading Starpoints into Continental miles to 2:1? What this means is that 80,000 Starpoints are now worth only 40,000 Continental miles. Actually, that's not true: They're worth 60,000 Continental miles, once you include the free bonus miles. Still, the value of your points has diminished considerably if you're looking to fly Continental.

Now I learn from mileage expert Gary Leff over at View From the Wing that the transfer ratio for changing Starpoints into Singapore Airlines miles has also been lowered to 2:1. Not only that, but soon we'll no longer be able to redeem Starpoints for flights on Qantas.

The good news? Starwood still offers 1:1 transfers with most airline programs. "It's still my favorite currency," says Gary. The bad news is "the tenuousness with which even the best currencies offer a store of value. When you want an award, it's best to redeem it because tomorrow's value is unlikely to be better than today's."

Continue reading "Yet Another Example of Airline Mileage Awards Losing Their Value" »

February 08, 2008

Lament of a Starwood AmEx Cardholder

Starwood_american_express_card_2 by Wendy Perrin

Has anyone else noticed that the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card is growing less user-friendly when it comes to turning your points into frequent-flier award tickets?

I've been a fan of the card ever since Matthew Bennett of Flight Bliss told me about it a few years ago when I was interviewing him for my Credit Card Makeover Perrin Report. When Randy Petersen, the man behind WebFlyer and FlyerTalk, agreed that the Starwood AmEx card would make a lot of sense for me -- given my need for flight, route, and schedule flexibility -- that sealed the deal and I got the card.  What makes it special?  You can use your miles on any of 31 airlines (including every major U.S. carrier and a few minor ones). This greatly increases your flight choices and your chance of finding available award seats. PLUS you earn the equivalent of 1.25 miles per dollar spent:  AmEx gives you 1 point for each dollar, but when you go to Starwood to convert your points into miles on the airline of your choice, Starwood throws in an extra 5,000 points for each 20,000 you redeem.  In other words, for only 40,000 points you get a 50,000-mile award seat.

I've loved the card  . . .  until yesterday, when I discovered certain hurdles that have apparently recently been put in place to annoy cardholders trying to convert their points into miles.

Continue reading "Lament of a Starwood AmEx Cardholder" »

July 23, 2007

The Best Credit Card For Earning Miles

Starwood_american_express_cardby Wendy Perrin

Remember my post "Surprise Fee For Redeeming Miles" last week?  I warned that when you cash in your American Express Membership Rewards points for airline tickets, you need to pay a fee (of 50 cents per 1,000 miles) unless it's a foreign airline. Frequent-flier expert (and really great guy) Randy Petersen, the man behind WebFlyer and FlyerTalk, and Gary Leff, who writes a blog for mileage addicts called View From The Wing, both stopped by and generously offered their input.  Here's the takeaway:

(1) Diners Club also charges a fee when you go to cash in your points for an airline ticket.

(2) "What I hate is the blatant lie when they try and convince you that it's a government fee they are collecting," says Randy.  AmEx tells you that the fee is to help offset the "federal excise tax."  When I asked the Membership Rewards toll-free rep what that is, she said the tax was instituted after 9/11 "to keep us safe in the skies."  In actuality, Randy says, the fee is a way for AmEx to recoup a portion of the tax it pays the government when it buys miles from the airlines (in order to sell them to customers). Click here for Randy's full explanation.

Continue reading "The Best Credit Card For Earning Miles" »

May 22, 2007

Do You Need Travelers' Checks?

The_duomo_florence_italy
In Italy, at certain ATMs, the most you can withdraw per transaction is 250 euros. Read below to avoid hefty withdrawal fees. Above, the Duomo in Florence. Photo: 1Apix, Alamy

by Wendy Perrin

Question from reader Fischec:

"I will be traveling to Europe soon and was wondering if it is at all worth it to bring travelers' checks?  Also, because my bank charges high ATM fees outside the U.S., on average how much cash do you recommend having on hand per day?"

First, the travelers' checks:  You don't need them.

Second, how much cash: It depends on where you'll be. Some countries (e.g., England) are far more expensive than others (e.g., Croatia).  Since it would be stupid to bring a boatload of cash with you from the U.S., I can only assume you're asking me how much money you should withdraw each time you use an ATM?  Two things to remember:

Continue reading "Do You Need Travelers' Checks?" »

January 11, 2007

Best Way To Earn Miles For Trips Abroad

By Wendy Perrin

Question from reader jennreimer:

"My domestic partner and I are avid travelers. On a recent international trip, we got to wondering: Are airline-affiliated credit cards (such as Southwest Airlines Visa) a good way to accrue miles, or are other credit cards, such as American Express, a better bet?  What airline card offers the best deal for earning miles towards international travel?"

As I wrote in my Credit Card Makeover column in Conde Nast Traveler's March 2006 issue, the best all-around card for earning miles toward international travel is the Starwood American Express Card.

Continue reading "Best Way To Earn Miles For Trips Abroad" »

January 07, 2007

Cheapest Way To Pay Overseas

By Wendy Perrin

Question from reader stevam:

"When making purchases in Europe, is it more economical to use a U.S. ATM card to withdraw Euros and pay in cash, or to charge in the store using a U.S.-based AmEx or Visa card?"

Excellent question. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. It depends on which bank issued your ATM card and which issued your Visa card. If you're a Conde Nast Traveler subscriber, please look back at your February '06 issue (p. 60), where I covered this topic in depth in the Perrin Report and laid out each bank's different charges in a nice user-friendly chart. Not a subscriber? Click here for info about what certain banks charge for ATM withdrawals, and click here to read the aforementioned Perrin Report (but the chart is not online).

Three things I can tell you off the bat:

1. When paying with a credit card overseas, it's generally better to use AmEx than Visa.
AmEx charges a 2 percent currency conversion fee, whereas most Visa cards charge 3 percent to most customers.

2. You can get an ATM card that charges no fee for overseas cash withdrawals.
That's more economical than using either AmEx or Visa.

3. You can get a credit card that charges no fee for foreign transactions.
Capital One, Amalgamated Bank, BMW Bank, and Tompkins Trust Company offer these.


November 02, 2006

"Test Your Travel Smarts" Quiz

061102_suitcase_1 By Wendy Perrin

Huge thanks to the conscientious reader who brought to my attention an unfortunate error in the answer box of my Perrin Report quiz in Conde Nast Traveler's November issue. Reader worldtraveler wrote:

"In your quiz you said that the assumption that 'a midship cabin on a cruise is best to avoid seasickness' is not true. Where is the best cabin/location on a cruise ship to avoid being seasick?  Thanks for your answer and for a VERY INFORMATIVE column."

I was stunned to read this because the statement that "a midship cabin on a cruise is best to avoid seasickness" is absolutely true and is the correct answer to quiz question #27.  It turns out that, for some unexplained reason, the answers to questions 26 and 27 were reversed during the magazine's production process.  The answer to question 26 should be D (not C), and the answer to question 27 should be C (not D).

For those of you who have not seen the quiz and have no earthly idea what I'm talking about, here's question 27:

Which of the following assumptions about booking a cruise-ship cabin is true?

a. A forward cabin has better views.

b. An aft cabin has a larger balcony.

c. A midship cabin is best to avoid seasickness.

d. A balconied cabin means greater privacy.

Correct answer: C

And here's question 26:

If an establishment in a foreign country offers to charge your credit card in U.S. dollars, you should . . .

a. Say yes because it prevents your credit card from hitting you with a foreign-transaction fee.

b. Say yes because the merchant will be using the Interbank exchange rate.

c. Say no because the exchange rate used is always worse than your credit card's.

d. Ask which exchange rate the merchant is using: if it is better than your credit card's, say yes only if your credit card does not impose a foreign-transaction fee for overseas purchases charged in U.S. dollars.

Correct answer: D

The first 30 questions of my quiz are only in Conde Nast Traveler's November issue, but an additional 15 questions are online at cntraveler.com. Click here to take the online quiz and test your travel smarts.


October 02, 2006

Getting The Max Out Of Your Miles

By Wendy Perrin

Question from reader Rita De Rama:

My husband and I took the advice in your March 2006 Perrin Report and got ourselves a Starwood American Express Card.  We were curious as to how to efficiently find the best way to use our points, much in the same way you transferred the points to Cathay Pacific to redeem them for a business-class ticket on Cathay alliance partner British Airways.  How do we find this information out in the quickest way possible?

If there's a quick way, I don't know it. The Cathay Pacific/British Airways tip I learned from a post last fall on a great blog called View From The Wing, which is part of frequent-flier guru Randy Petersen's Webflyer.com empire.  Pretty much everything I know about maximizing mileage I learned from Randy. So my advice would be to check Webflyer.com frequently for the timeliest tricks for turning your mileage into the most flights and/or the best seats possible.

Randy's site can be overwhelming at first--there's so much info there--so let me point out a few good places for you to start: Ratings & Reviews, which gives the pros and cons of the different airline mileage programs; Late-Breaking News; Frequently Asked Questions; Ask Randy; and the Miles & Points forums at Flyertalk. If all that research sounds time-consuming (and, believe me, it is), consider using AwardPlanner: For a fee, a mileage expert will ensure you get the most out of your miles. Best of luck!

 

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