Don’t Forget to Track Car Rental Reservations with AutoSlash

Some people think car rentals can be a lengthy process. For me, I try to keep it as simple as possible. You have two options to use AutoSlash.

  1. Search for a car using their site
  2. Make your booking elsewhere & use AutoSlash to find better rates

The problem with #1 is that several major car rental companies have since bowed out of the AutoSlash results – Hertz, Thrifty, Dollar & Advantage to name a few. Because of that, I mostly use AutoSlash’s second option.

After I make my booking, I immediately navigate to AutoSlash’s tracking feature. This is such an easy “set & forget” process that there is no reason to skip it after completing your car rental booking.

My most recent experience with them was last week and it was stellar, as usual. I made a booking for Orlando with Hertz (I typically only rent with major companies like Hertz, Avis, or National) and entered the reservation number at AutoSlash on 3/26. The day after, I received the “Great News!” email that I love to see.

AutoSlash will send you any better rates from any rental company

AutoSlash will send you any better rates from any rental company

I clicked on the Avis link and proceeded to confirm the new rate, now booked through AutoSlash. One caveat to note is that I now had to cancel my existing reservation with Hertz. Simple as that; AutoSlash saved me almost $60 in a day.

To put more icing on the cake, I received several more Great News email!

autoslash great news

In total, I went from a $177 reservation with Hertz to an $83 reservation with Avis. Fine by me. Thank you, AutoSlash! I will continue to use it going forward.

Last Chance at Chase Freedom Q1 Categories

As we come up on the end of March, we also come to the end of the first quarter of 2015. With that comes the end of the Chase Freedom 5% bonus categories – grocery stores, movie theaters & Starbucks. Be sure to get all your Q1 spend in by March 31!

In case you’re having trouble maximing all $1,500 of allowable spend, consider buying gift cards at any of the categories. If you’re a Starbucks drinker, then I wish you better coffee in your life buy enough Starbucks gift cards to last you the year. If you go out to a lot of movies (or perhaps give movie gift cards as gifts), get a few of those.

Grocery stores present the biggest opportunity with their extensive gift card selection.

Grocery stores carry several different gift cards

Grocery stores carry several different gift cards

From Visa or American Express gift cards to Starbucks, Bass Pro Shops, iTunes, Southwest Airlines; grocery stores are an easy way to rack up spend as this quarter’s Freedom bonus categories fade.

New Quarter, New Bonuses

Q2, which begins April 1st, is another easy quarter for me – restaurants, Bed Bath & Beyond, H&M, and Overstock.com.

I don’t think there is a need to discuss much strategy for Q2. I’m sure I’ll be getting together for dinner with friends, fronting the bill, and then having them pay me back through PayPayl or Venmo. As for the 3 retailers, there’s always time to go shopping and I believe there is a gift card rack at BB&B.

It should be another easy quarter of racking up those Chase Ultimate Rewards points!

Probable Southwest Rapid Rewards Devaluation

Last week, Southwest Airlines sent an email to its Rapid Rewards loyalty program members informing them of a future change in the program. Sadly, they weren’t very specific about the change but it reads as a devaluation.

We created Rapid Rewards® because we think you deserve to actually feel rewarded. And, from time to time we must make some updates to our program. Beginning April 17, 2015, the number of Rapid Rewards Points needed to redeem for certain flights will vary based on destination, time, day of travel, demand, fare class, and other factors.

Previously, Rapid Rewards points basically had a fixed value that were correlated to the cash fare of a flight. However, this cryptic message from Southwest makes it seem like they can charge however many points they want for a given flight on a given day to a given destination.

I really do like Southwest because they have great availability from my home airport (EWR). Another reason Southwest must be considered for is that it is a transfer partner for Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Ultimate Rewards points transfer to Rapid Rewards instantly at a 1:1 ratio.

If you book flights with points, you can cancel them any time before the flight and you will receive the points & taxes/fees back 100%. This is great for making speculative bookings and it’s a feature that other airlines charge big bucks for (often $150+).

When you throw in a Companion Pass, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards program hard to beat for affordable domestic travel for one, let alone two.

The only thing we can do now is wait but we do have 2 months to make preparations in case these changes are quite terrible. If you have a lot of points, you may want to consider making some speculative bookings to lock trips up at the current rates. You really have nothing to lose since you can get a full refund at any time.

This is just another lesson in the frugal flying game. Things change all the time to be ready to react. Stay tuned.

British Airways Avios Devaluation

The biggest news going around the travel blogosphere lately is one we’re sadly all too familiar with… devaluation. British Airways announced some pricey changes to their loyalty program that will take effect April 28, 2015. The last time they changed their loyalty program was over 3 years ago so I suppose they’re due.

Earning Avios

There are changes to earning rates that, honestly, don’t concern me because I don’t ever fly or credit my miles to British Airways. You can read about them here.

Redeeming Avios

The changes that I care about most are the ones for redeeming Avios. Luckily, economy awards aren’t changing, but Avios amounts for premium cabin awards are definitely changing. Below is the new award chart for British Airways & Iberia metal.

New British Airways Award Chart

New British Airways Award Chart

Below is the peak calendar for 2015. Not bad if you fly BA/Iberia because most of the year is off-peak.

Peak & Off-Peak 2015

Peak & Off-Peak 2015

 

What if I use Avios to fly on partners instead of BA or Iberia?

Again, economy award rates won’t change. Premium Economy, Business and First class rates will definitely change.

Business Class redemptions will increase 50% on any route Zone 4 and beyond. This is unfortunate because there were some great sweet spot routes that fell in Zone 4. BOS-DUB & JFK-YVR are very popular.

Examples:

Boston to Dublin (Zone 4) is 25k one-way in Business Class on Aer Lingus, probably one of the best deals with Avios. On & after April 28th, BOS-DUB will be 37.5k in Business.

New York to Vancouver Zone 4) is 25k one-way in Business Class on Cathay Pacific’s Fifth Freedom flight, another top redemption with Avios. This will be 37.5k in Business going forward as well.

New York to Hong Kong (Zone 8) is 70k one-way in Business Class on Cathay Pacific. On April 28th, JFK-HKG will be 105k in Business.

What do I do now?

If you have a huge stockpile of Avios, it’s time to start thinking of redeeming the premium award you were saving for. Come April 28th, that award is only going to get more expensive. Devaluations are always good lessons for us; don’t hoard your miles & points!

As for me, I have less than 70k Avios in our household account so I won’t be employing any drastic measures. I also like to use Avios for their short-haul leverage; I flew to Montreal twice in 2014 for a mere 4,500 Avios each way. Since that award isn’t changing, I think I’ll keep some Avios handy for it.

Overall, this upcoming devaluation is bad news for those of us who like to redeem for premium travel. British Airways’ last devaluation made long-haul premium travel more expensive; this time around they might as well be unattainable.

Evolve Money Changes Terms for Discover Cards

There have been a lot of changes going on with Evolve Money lately. First, I wrote about how they were a great way to pay for bills or loans that you can’t normally pay for with credit or gift cards.

Then, they announced great news that we could use Discover credit cards to pay via Evolve.

Then the other day, shortly after making that Discover card announcement, Evolve dropped a bombshell.

Beginning December 18, 2014, you will no longer be able to use Discover credit cards to pay mortgages, car payments, 529 savings accounts, retail store cards, and student loans. However, you can continue to pay these bills for free using Discover, VISA and MasterCard debit cards, as well as cash packs.

You will still be able to pay ALL other bills that are not from lenders, including utilities, cable, phone, internet, insurance and more for free with your Discover credit card.

Well, that was short-lived and, frankly, kind of lame.

Now, the only use I have for Evolve is to pay my utility bill because if I pay directly on their site, I incur a credit/debit card processing fee – not so with Evolve. The uses stop there.

The “good news” from Evolve in that same email is that you will be able to use Vanilla Reload cards to pay bills come January 2015. However, for us manufactured spenders, that doesn’t mean a thing because you can no longer purchase them with a credit card.

Hopefully, the next announcement from Evolve will bring some better news.