Monday Mishmash: Manufactured Spend, Club Carlson and SPG Changes, New Alaska Card, etc

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In this issue (LOL):

1. My preliminary Manufactured Spend Report

2. Category Changes for SPG and Club Carlson

3. Barclays raises the spend requirement

4. New Alaska Offer

But first…

1. My Pathetic Attempts at Manufacturing Spend

I fought the temptation to do MS for as long as I could. Living in NYC, away from Walmarts and Vanilla stocked CVSs kept me away from this reincarnation of our old game for years. Recently, however, a reader shared a secret CVS location stocked with VRs that’s just minutes from my home. Hence, I decided to give it a try and see what happens. I wrote about it in my recent post “I Have Changed My Views on Manufactured Spend”. Since I’ve just returned from Atlantic City with my family (thank god, the school break is over), there hasn’t been much I’ve been able to do, but this is what I’ve done so far and what I’m planning on doing in the near future.

1. Got 10 VRs with Citi Dividend card (5% on Drugstore till March) and loaded them onto my Bluebird account.

2. Signed my wife for Bluebird.

3. Signed my cousin for Bluebird. I guess I need to explain this one.

My cousin Timmy is a great guy and he loves traveling as much as I do. What he doesn’t like is to bother with stuff he deems “complicated”. So for years, I have helped him get miles and points and travel for free; to be honest, not just to do him a favor but also because I need a travel companion.

One thing that has been preventing him from applying for more than 2-3 cards at a time is spend requirements. So I approached him with the following offer: we open the Bluebird account in his name that I help him maintain (remember, he doesn’t like complicated). His responsibilities are to drive to the CVS once a month and buy 10 VRs. When and if there is a spot in his meeting-the-spend- spree, I use the remainder of his $5K monthly limits for my own financial gains, LOL.

I fully disclosed to him that I expect to make a small profit with his account and he has no problems with that. I do feel a little guilty about it, but I also know there is no way in hell he would be playing this game on his own.

4. I’m applying for two more bank accounts in order to get two more Amazon accounts while the game is still on. Doing the same for the wife and Timmy.

5. I’ve studied and rejected the idea of gift-card churning, at least for now. I just don’t see how it can be profitable. Sure, you could get UR points very cheaply, but the way I see it, it’s too time-consuming and not worthy the effort.

6. I’m studying the Paypal and Green Dot options. It appears that they are trigger-happy and won’t hesitate to shut you down for any transgression against their financial interests (LOL, they got the nerve!).

The non-travel credit cards I will likely to apply next for myself and two others in my team: 

  • Old Blue Cash with unlimited 5% drugstore CB after $6,500 spend;
  • Well Fargo with 5% drugstore CB for 6 months;
  • Amex Fidelity with 2% CB on everything.

In any case, I’m going to start slow with Vanilla and increased spend on Amazon. like I always do. When I get to $750 a month between all three accounts, I might up my game a little. Or not. There are too many unknowns.

  • I might get shut down, or…
  • Some MS opportunities might seize to exist, or…
  • My CVS might run out of VRs

2. Club Carlson Category Changes

Most bloggers have dismissed the Club Carlson changes as “harmless”. I disagree. It’s funny how Hilton and United have trained us to rejoice when a devaluation of a loyalty program doesn’t go up 100-200%. Fortunately, neither Club Carlson nor SPG category changes have been too bad. Although…

Club Carlson is creating the whole level 7, that will presumably consist of their “most luxurious” properties. The list will include nine hotels:

  • Radisson Royal Hotel, Dubai
  • Radisson Blu Le Dokhan’s Hotel, Paris Trocadero
  • Radisson Blu 1835 Hotel & Thalasso, Cannes
  • Radisson Blu Le Metropolitan Hotel, Paris Eiffel
  • Radisson Blu Hotel Champs Elysees, Paris
  • The May Fair
  • Plaza on the River, London
  • art’otel, Amsterdam
  • Radisson Royal Hotel, Moscow

Now, I’ve stayed at Le Dokhan’s and Le Metropolitan in Paris, and while both are fine hotels in killer locations, calling them luxurious (never mind the most luxurious) is a stretch. If those are the most luxurious Club Carlson properties, then they’ve got some work to do in this department.

Aside of the newly minted level 7, a lot of the most desirable properties, especially in Europe are getting bumped. If you happen to have plans on redeeming CC points, especially in Europe this year, you’d better do it within the next couple of weeks, as the changes will take place after March 15.

In Americas, 65 properties are going up, and 33 down. 

Some notable hotels that are going up in a category:

  • Radisson Hotel, Sao Paulo Faria Lima, from 5 to 6;
  • Radisson Hotel Hacienda, Cancun, from 1 to 2;
  • Radisson Hotel, Fisherman’s Wharf, SF, from 5 to 6;
  • Radisson Plaza-Warwick Hotel, Philadelphia, from 5 to 6;

Hotels that are going doing in a category (most are Country Inns)

  • Park Suites, Manaus, Brazil, from 4 to 3;
  • Park Inn by Radisson, San Jose, Costa Rica, from 4 to 3;
  • Country Inn & Suites By Carlson, Panama Canal, from 4 to 3;
  • Country Inn & Suites By Carlson, Savannah Airport, from 3 to 2;
  • Country Inn & Suites By Carlson, Houston Airport East, from 3 to 2;           Country Inn & Suites By Carlson, Chicago O’Hare Northwest, from 3 to 2.

In Europe and the Middle East, 45 are going up, 13 down. Examples (see above for the new Category 7 hotels in addition to this list):

UP:

  • Park Inn by Radisson Uno City, Vienna, from 3 to 4;
  • Radisson Blu Badischer Hof Hotel, Baden-Baden, from 4 to 5;
  • Park Inn By Radisson, Central Tallinn, from 1 to 2;
  • Radisson Blu Hotel, Edinburgh, from 5 to 6;
  • Radisson Blu Beke Hotel, Budapest, from 1 to 2;
  • Radisson Blu St. Helens Hotel, Dublin, from 4 to 5;
  • Park Inn by Radisson, Luxembourg City, from 4 to 5;
  • Radisson Blu Hotel Latvija, Riga, from 3 to 4;
  • Radisson Royal Hotel, St. Petersburg, from 5 to 6.

Down:

  • art’otel Park Plaza, Berlin City Center West, from 4 to 3;
  • Park Plaza Riverbank, London, from 6 to 5;
  • Park Plaza Victoria, Amsterdam, from 6 to 5;
  • Radisson Blu Carlton Hotel, Bratislava, from 4 to 3.

Asia changes are kind of weird. 21 are going down and only 3 are going up, but 20 properties that are going down are all in India.

Complete List of Club Carlson Category Changes 

There are some positive changes to the program, too. The award status will count toward the elite status, and you can book “premium” rooms on points. Well. meh!

Still, Club Carlson did a remarkable job last year by lowering most of their redemption levels, so it will remain my favorite hotel program after all. And two for one night redemption for CC credit card holders? No one beats that!

3. SPG Changes

I love SPG, but I have a system using it. I never, ever stay at the top SPG properties on points, because the redemption rates at the top properties doubled with hard-to-get-points are ridiculous. Not unlike Hilton (SPG purists must forgive me here), SPG shines with lower category redemptions. Another word, SPG hotels beyond Category 5 don’t even exist to me, unless I can find a ridiculously low cash rate to justify my splurging.

I just wanted to get this out of the way because if you disagree with my stand on this, then you might disagree with other things you’re going to read in this post.

If you do agree, however, then you will see the SPG changes as mostly positive. That’s especially striking considering a very serious devaluation SPG hotels went through in 2013.

I personally divide the list of usable SPG hotels into three distinct categories:

  • Categories 1 and 2 at 2K-4K points per night.
  • Category 3 at 7K points.
  • Categories 4 and 5 at 10K and 12K points (I would only use Cat 5 in low season)

Here is what’s happening. 110 hotels are moving up, while 140 are moving down. 1/3 of those that are moving up are in the US. From the horse’s mouth (AKA Starwood Lurker on Flyertalk):

Just over 20% of hotels are changing category, of these 56% are moving down and 44% are moving up. We want to make sure you’re able to maximize your Starpoints®, so please review the information to decide if it makes sense to redeem before or after the changes take place starting March 4, 2014. Please note that Category changes are always subject to change, and while we make every attempt to provide you the latest, most accurate information, there may be adjustments necessary before or after the March 4, 2014 date.

The most negative changes for me in the Americas are as follows:

  • Four Points by Sheraton French Quarter, New Orleans, from 3 to 4;
  • Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, from 4 to 5;
  • Sheraton and Westin on Maui, both moving from 5 to 6;
  • Four Points by Sheraton Miami Beach from 4 to 5 (really SPG? LOLOL);
  • W in SF and LA (Westwood), both moving from 5 to 6;
  • Sheraton Desert Oasis Villas, Scottsdale, from 4 to 5;
  • Sheraton da Bahia Hotel, Salvador, from 4 to 5.

The most positive changes in the Americas, in my opinion, are as follows:

  • Sheraton Bogota Hotel, from 4 to 3;
  • Aloft San Jose Hotel, Costa Rica, from 3 to 2;
  • Sheraton Maria Isabel Hotel and Towers, Mexico City, from 4 to 3;
  • The Westin Resort & Spa, Puerto Vallarta, from 3 to 2;
  • Four Panama Properties to 3 and 4;
  • Four Points by Sheraton Puntacana Village, DR, from 2 to 1;
  • Four Points by Sheraton San Jose – Silicon Valley, from 3 to 2;
  • Four Points by Sheraton Orlando Studio City, from 2 to 1;
  • Sheraton Lake Buena Vista Resort, from 3 to 2;
  • Sheraton At The Falls Hotel, Niagara Falls, NY, from 3 to 2;
  • Four Points by Sheraton Philadelphia City Center, from 3 to 2.

What’s moving up beyond the Americas? Not much. Three Athens hotels in Greece are moving up to category 6 to become prohibitively expensive in my book. Ditto for Le Meriden, Taipei. A few more properties in Germany and Spain are taking a hit, too.

However, the changes beyond the Americas are overwhelmingly positive.

  • Le Royal Mansour Méridien, Casablanca, from 4 to 3;
  • Four Points by Sheraton Sydney, Darling Harbour, from 5 to 4;
  • Le Méridien Angkor, Cambodia, from 3 to 2 (that hotel already was Category 2 until last year, and I stayed there a month ago during my trip to Cambodia; it’s a great 4-star  hotel with a gorgeous pool areas, and a steal at 3K points, especially for Platinum members);
  • Four Points by Sheraton Beijing, Haidian Hotel, from 3 to 2;
  • Five Hotels in Shanghai and almost 50 in China are going down;
  • Ditto for almost 20 hotels in India, including New Delhi, Mumbai and Agra (between SPG and Club Carlson multiple point reductions, travel to India has never been more appealing, methinks!);
  • Four hotels in Bali — down;
  • Ten hotels in Japan, including Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka — down;
  • Sofia Hotel Balkan, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Sofia, from 3 to 2;
  • The Westin Zagreb, Croatia, from 3 to 2;
  • Hotel National, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Moscow, from 6 to 5.

PDF List of All Changes

Hope you can see now why love this devaluation! I can only hope that IHG and Marriott are taking notice…

4. Barclays Arrival Raises the Spend Requirement…

to $3,000 within three months, but according to MMS, you can avoid it by calling in at 800-307-0341 and applying over the phone.

5. New Bank of America Alaska Airline 30,000-mile Offer

The new link is available in my Best Credit Card for Free Flights section. There is no Spend Requirement, although the annual fee is not waived (it never is).

That’s it for now. Comments, questions, suggestions? Scribble away.

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Rich

I have been involved in this “game” for about a year and a half. People don’t get it when I try explaining the process and think it’s some kind of scam or money laundering. I just laugh to myself when I’m flying for pretty close to free in business/ first. There are about 5 cvs stores in a 15 mile range that carry the reloads. I’ve been using my aa visa & aa amex after they offered as retention bonus 1000 pts for spending $1000 each month. With buying those, some amex gift cards & a recent deal at office… Read more »

[…] To read on 2014 changes to Club Carlson, check my post: Monday Mishmash: Manufactured Spend, Club Carlson and SPG Changes, New Alaska Card […]

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