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United Airlines Still Has An Excellent Loyalty Program for International Travel

United was once the best airline in the sky.   Whether it is your favorite airline today or not, it still has an outstanding loyalty program, and if your focus is international travel, it may be the program where you want to build your rewards balance.

I lived in Europe and flew United non-stop back to the US from the mid-1990s until 2003.    Whether I was flying coach or business, United was far-and-away the most comfortable way to commute over this time.   

United has been through a lot since then, and not all of it has been good for its customers.   The airline filed for bankruptcy in 2002 and made cuts necessary to preserve itself and secure stable futures for its employees.   And, when the airline finally look poised to return to its prior service levels, industry consolidation led it to acquire Continental and then focus on competing with the likes of Southwest and Spirit to deliver better shareholder returns.

Today, I live in Manhattan and I often choose to fly United over Delta, American and JetBlue since I have a preference for flying out of Newark over the City’s other airports.   This “sometimes loyalty” to United earns me the ridicule of many who fly frequently from New York, especially as Delta, the other major carrier to make New York an international hub, has improved its service since Ed Bastian became CEO.    

But while United may not be the airline of choice for many who fly regularly, its frequent flier program still enables customers to find outsized value in international redemptions.  While you can still find great redemptions using Delta miles to fly on Delta metal to many of its key international destinations, including Paris, Buenos Aires and Tokyo, it feels like you have hit the lottery when you find a roundtrip for less than 200,000 miles in a business class seat.  

Not everyone has time to spend their lives hunting and pecking for award availability across multiple airlines (I certainly don’t!).  These people will find that United still requires far fewer points in coach or business class to most international destinations than the other major carriers.   It can get you to more places than any other loyalty program with its Star Alliance partner airlines (all of which can be easily accessed through United’s program, save Singapore Airlines for which you will need Singapore miles).

The Star Alliance includes Air Canada, Thai, Air New Zealand, South African Airways, Air India, ANA, Ethiopian Airlines and Air China.   And, just within Europe, it now includes TAP Portugal, Lufthansa, Austrian, LOT, SAS, Swiss, Brussels Airways and Croatia Airlines.

This partner network opens up crazy good redemption opportunities.  For example, 180,000 United Mileage Plus miles will give you a round trip to New Zealand in business class (80,000 will do it in coach).    140,000 United Mileage Plus miles will get you round trip to virtually anywhere in Europe (60,000 will do it in coach).    And, for United, anywhere in Europe includes just about anywhere in Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, the former Yugoslavia, Slovakia, Poland or Scandinavia – all places where American and Delta just aren’t going to get you.

Transferrable points have become the big thing in credit card rewards, and American Express and Chase are competing to offer the best products for their users.   American Express points transfer to Delta and Singapore and several other airlines (the complete list is here).   Chase points, earned through its Sapphire and its Ink cards, are the only points that go to United (and to Hyatt which BestCashCow rates as the most valuable hotel loyalty program), and therefore I find they are the most valuable transferrable point currency.    

Compare Chase's Sapphire and Ink cards against other travel rewards cards here.

The United Airlines cards – both the new United Business card and the improved United Explorer Card - are also worth considering.   These cards both get you a free checked bag, and they open up even better award availability on United’s flights when you search on United’s website.  

Bottom line: Even if United is no longer your favorite airline, you should consider those credit cards that give you United miles or Chase points that can be converted to United miles.

Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

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The Hyatt Regency Tokyo Offers Outstanding Redemption Value at 12,000 Points per Night

I recently stayed for three nights at the Hyatt Regency in Tokyo.   The hotel was clearly Hyatt’s flagship property in Japan when built in 1980.   And, while it has seen finer days and the rooms have not been recently renovated, it is a perfectly comfortable hotel in which to base yourself for a couple of days in Tokyo.   The location is perfect for Tokyo, right in the middle of the Shinjuku neighborhood.   There is a great pool and health club on the top floors that is free for guests to use.

All of the blogs about credit card rewards are filled with drivel about which Hyatt is the best in Tokyo – the Park Hyatt, the Andaz or the Grand Hyatt.   And, while I am sure all three of those hotels are great, each of them is going to set you back between 25,000 and 30,000 Hyatt points a night.   It is neat that the Hyatt Regency can be redeemed for less than half of the redemption value of any of these hotels, especially since the rack rate at the Hyatt Regency is about $600 which is not that much lower than the rack rate at these other Hyatts and which gives you a redemption value close to 5 cents per point.

In a major world class city, it is very rare to find great, cheap redemptions on Hyatts (or any hotels for that matter).   You will not find a Hyatt in New York or London or Paris for less than 25,000 to 30,000 points.   But, you will find one in Tokyo.

There of course are other great category 3 Hyatt hotels.    I myself have recently stayed at the Hyatt Regency in Toronto and the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa in New Mexico.   The Hyatt Regency Tokyo, however, offers a better redemption value.

Bottom line: Save your Hyatt points for the other great redemptions that Hyatt offers and opt for the Hyatt Regency Tokyo when in Japan.

See and compare all of the credit cards that enable you to earn Hyatt points or points that can be transferred to Hyatt here.

Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

Advertising Disclosure: This site may be compensated for hosting offers.

Considering Delta One to Japan? Think Again

I recently flew Delta One from Minneapolis to Tokyo.   While I used to fly Delta all the time to Europe when it dominated routes from Atlanta and New York to Germany, Spain and Moscow, it has not been my airline of choice for many years.   Yet with all the hoopla around the new Delta One service with Delta being the first to offer a “private suite” with closing doors, I decided to give it a go on a recent trip to Asia.   I had plenty of Delta miles and at 90,000 points for a one-way ticket, it seemed to present fair value on an awards chart that hasn’t had much value for a long time.

The suite seemed comfortable and spacious and the service was excellent.   Delta always has some US flight attendants with tremendous attitudes, but their Japan-bound flights have some Japanese attendants who are excellent.    The seats seemed to me to lie completely flat (some other reviews that I have read suggested that they were not completely flat) and while they are narrower than the business class seats that the Asia carriers fly, I was able to get several hours of sound sleep lying flat on my back.     The door that makes the compartment a suite and provides some level of privacy from the aisle traffic (even though it can easily be looked over) was something that I really enjoyed throughout the flight.  

Where the Delta One product completely failed was as we were arriving in Tokyo and as I adjusted my seat to search for anything that I may have dropped over the previous eleven hours.   At that point, I looked at the floor to discover that I had been sitting in someone else’s filth for a half of a day.   There was food there that was old and crusted, including a Japanese roll that fell out when I adjusted the seat and that had to have been there through more than one cleaning round in Minneapolis or Tokyo.    The entire experience was so disgusting that it totally ruined the whole flight experience, and left me wondering how Delta can compete in the lucrative US – Asia market where their one-way seats routinely sell for $7,000 plus.  American customers may no longer expect clean planes, but Asian long-haul customers certainly still do.

All in all, Delta’s new first class product to Tokyo is fair to good, but they need to do a much better job adjusting and fully cleaning these lie flat seats when they turn their planes around.

Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

Advertising Disclosure: This site may be compensated for hosting offers.