Bits: EXCELLENT £994 Club World fare to California, the Starwood Amex may not be on its last legs ….

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News in brief:

British Airways selling Oakland for £994 in Club World

British Airways has quietly started selling tickets to Oakland in California for £994 return for travel in January or February.

(EDIT: This fare appears to have been withdrawn early despite the 14th December ticketing deadline.)

You can take a look at the Low Fare Finder tool on here.

This is clearly an excellent deal for anyone thinking of a California break in the New Year.  There is a direct rail link between Oakland Airport and San Francisco which makes it easy to get around even if you don’t want to hire a car.

Here are the fare rules:

  • Both legs must be flown between Monday and Thursday
  • Fly between 7th January and 28th February
  • Must stay a Saturday night
  • Must book by 14th December

You can book on hereBA’s special page on Oakland is here.

If you have an Avios redemption booked to San Francisco or Oakland during this period, you may want to seriously consider cancelling – getting a full refund of the Avios and taxes less a £35 per person fee – and rebooking for cash.  As well as getting your points back, you will be earning a large number of Avios (16,142 for a Blue member) and 280 British Airways tier points per return trip.

It seems the Starwood Amex will be sticking around …..

In a move which will have future repercussions, Marriott has signed new agreements with JP Morgan Chase and American Express to issue partnership credit cards going forward.

Whilst this announcement – which you can read here – only covers the US market, it will have an impact here too.

Marriott has had a long and exclusive US relationship with Visa.  Many people expected this to continue, and for the American Express relationship, which was inherited with the purchase of Starwood, to be abandoned.  This would have been terrible news for American Express which is still reeling from losing 10% of its global billings after Costco moved its US credit card contract.  The SPG Amex accounts for a further 5% of the Amex loan portfolio.

Instead, Marriott has signed new agreements with both JP Morgan Chase (as a Visa issuer) and Amex.  For the US market:

Marriott expects to introduce new, co-brand products starting in 2018 with enhanced member benefits – super-premium consumer and small business co-branded products from American Express and mass consumer and premium consumer co-branded products from JPMorgan Chase. Additional details on the future products will be shared in 2018. In the meantime, both companies will retain their existing portfolio of accounts and continue to offer their current products.

Whilst nothing is certain, this makes it more likely that American Express in the UK will have the option, if it wants, of continuing to issue a ‘Marriott Preferred Guest’ (or whatever the new merged scheme is called) card from 2019.

Whether Amex wants to do this is a different question.  With the card caught under the EU interchange fee cap, subject to final appeal to the EU courts, it may not be financially viable for them.

My long article from Monday on why you should think about getting the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card (10,000 bonus Avios or other miles for a start!) is here.

(Want to earn more Avios?  Click here to visit our home page for the latest articles on earning and spending your Avios points and click here to see how to earn more Avios from current offers and promotions.)

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  1. good price, but a word of warning for anyone travelling at night: recently in SF and told a number of times by locals getting BART in Oakland area at night is not very safe

    • Never had any issues myself, even when heading as far out as Dublin on almost empty trains but caution always advisable. Would not recommend people stay in Oakland though, always someplace you can get a decent hotel deal in downtown San Francisco unless there is a big convention on. The Chancellor on Union Square is my tip for those willing to give the chains a miss.

    • Aspirational Flyer says:

      I’ve used BART around the Bay Area many times, including to and from Oakland. It was ok in my experience but I did make efforts to look low key, leave expensive items in the hotel – all just precautionary and to avoid drawing unnecessary attention.

    • The Bart trip to/from OAK requires a change at Coliseum Station.

      It’s not a one seat ride from OAK to downtown San Francisco

      • RussellH says:

        Also note that there is no ticket machine at at OAK. It is a monorail shuttle from the airport to Coliseum (very much like the link from BHX to Birmingham International). The ticket machines are then before the barrier between the shuttle platform and the rest of Coliseum station, and you buy a ticket to wherever you want to go. The machines do not always accept cards either. Make sure that you have a few $1 / $5 bills on you, and if you are used to European ticket machines, the BART machines a NOT (IMHO) intuitive.

    • occasional ranter says:

      Used BART when we stayed in Berkeley this summer. Guy in our carriage took his shirt off, set fire to it and then threatened passengers with a knife. Great first experience !

    • RussellH says:

      Oakland is very mixed. Jack London Square, and the immediate waterfront area round about is really nice. There is at least one hotel here too, and a waterbus service across the bay into SF.

      But there are also really run-down areas too, with a lot of homeless people hanging about. We mainly used buses for getting around Oakland and Berkeley, no problems here after around 2000, but it was not properly dark.

  2. OT but Amex related. My Virgin Atlantic Amex is up for renewal on the 8th Dec. Would anyone recommend paying the £140 for another year or cancel and wait for the new card? Thanks for your advice.

    • I just cancelled my wifes card, also due in the next couple of weeks, for what its worth. Saw no real upside in keeping it and wanted to slim her collection down.

    • Mentioned recently, prior to cancelling I was offered 5000miles for a £1k spend but not worth it IMHO. Obvs check your VS a/c has your PE vouchers…

      • Thanks both

        I got that 5000 a few months back (yet to post) but not worth it for £140.

        The PE Vouchers dropped in earlier this week, just waiting on the 5000 any day now.

  3. Off Topic, but hoping one of you experienced lot can help. My wife and I are traveling to Dubai on BA in 2 days. We are on separate bookings as I am staying longer for work. She’s bronze I am silver. As it’s only 2 days away we can both choose are seats for free. I can see lots of empty seats to choose from where as she can’t see any empty seats. We are both in the same cabin and I’ve plonked myself next to her so it’s not a big deal, just odd that we are seeing different availability. Anyone got an answer?

    Thanks in advance

    • Yes – it’s called “theoretical seating” and it’s part of the FLY system that BA uses. There’s a lengthy thread on FT about it, but basically it restricts certain seats to those with higher status. It can change constantly as departure time approaches, so might be worth checking again at check-in.

      For future reference, you’re probably better off picking seats as soon as it becomes free at 7 days out – I don’t think FLY takes control until 72 hours before departure.

      • David, that’s great thanks for taking the time to explain and for the tip.

        Have a great day!

      • Yes it is. I have never covered this because it is still a bit of a mystery how it works, but it definitely does work. BA should probably promote it more because it is a decent status benefit – odds of the seat next to you as a Gold being blocked are fairly good on short haul, and other status members should have better access to aisle and window seats.

        • It is extremely odd, I have given up trying to understand it. My partner and I are both blue and have been for years but my partner always gets excellent seats when booking T-355. They seem to be locked in at booking and never change, we are talking 2A on a 772. By contrast I get junk, especially when flying domestic Y.

        • the real harry1 says:

          @ JamesB – I also tend to end up with quite good seats, in Economy – windows with middle blocked etc – I always play the check-in game from T-24 onwards to get the window (and move myself & kids up the plane), then TS not infrequently blocks my middle (not with a full plane of course) – I still prefer a free emergency exit with middle neighbour, which I usually get @ airport – my wife sometimes gets allocated emergency exit right from the beginning T-24 (which she doesn’t actually like due to no handbag allowed on takeoff)

          we’re only Blues & fly about 8 flights with BA pa – however, we do input our BAEC details each time for the hell of it & I can only assume that somehow theoretical seating gives us some sort of priority vs other economy passengers, maybe there are very few status passengers flying in economy on our flights anyway so we are still lowly but less lowly that the others?

        • Have you ever paid to choose a different seat? Maybe if you have it automatically assigns you a less popular seat in the hope that you’ll pay up front to change it, rather than taking the risk at check in that nothing else will be available

        • the real harry1 says:

          @ Lumma doesn’t work like this with BA & theoretical seating – it is there to try & give better seats to status holders (and my inkling is, in a minor way also to BAEC members without status who fly more frequently & input their BAEC details)

          no evidence BA is ‘doing a Ryanair’ and allocating single middles to couples/ groups – I think genuinely quite innocently ie to keep the windows & aisles available for sale to those who would pay for them – but with the side effect (obvs positive for Ryanair income) that you then need to pay to get a better seat or sit together

          if you check in T-24 with BAEC as a family, 4 of us usually travel together, I’ve noticed we often get given rubbish seats in the toilet zone with poor initial change options – but together & not split up

          that’s when playing the check-in game can move you up the plane very successfully

        • Sussex Bantam says:

          BA should definitely promote this more – as a GCH more often than not I end up with an emergency exit row seat with an empty middle seat next to me. Its a real benefit to me versus sitting down the back on an airline I have no status with.

        • Harry, my last few HBO short haul flights with BA without status they auto allocated me middle seats each time, which never happened in the past (they used to usually give me a window despite my preferences on my account being for an aisle).

          Although these flights were pretty much full anyway so there wasn’t anything available to change to at the airport on the self service kiosk.

          I’m silver now for the next 18 months or so, so I don’t have to worry about this stuff any more:)

        • the real harry1 says:

          Lumma – that’s unlucky (HBO) – on our regular route, HBO works fine @ airport because we always get there early (can’t take any chances with 4 hours of driving) & a high proportion of passengers seem to check in @ airport, so you can grab pretty much any type of economy seat going ie usually exit, always front window left, front window right etc

          I don’t think theoretical seating blocks off middle exit seats @ self check-in machines @ airport – I have had excellent success so far this year in any case – possibly might be our flights are always very full (school hols)

          will let you know if it works next trip – 9 sleeps to go & counting 🙂 – though that’s RFS

        • Thanks everybody for the comments on seating. We never pay for seat selection so I doubt that’s a factor. Been following TRH tips on seat selection for some time, thanks Harry. I am able to get free seat selection due to disability. I am increasingly using this but not always as it can result in too much of a fuss which I dislike although I know staff just trying to be helpful.

  4. If I take the SPG amex card, will the bonus miles go into a seperate MR account or a new one. I ask because I want to close my amex gold card soon (and use existing points)

    • SPG has no MR account. You earn star points. It has no relation to Amex charge card MR account.

    • Genghis says:

      The SPG Amex earns SPG points which are swept over on a monthly basis to your SPG account.

      Separately, if you want to close your Amex Gold you’ll have to empty out your MR account ideally prior online (but IIRC you have 30 days to do it post closure but only on the phone). Remember small residual amounts can be sent to Hilton and even smaller to Club Carlson / nectar.

    • Or do you mean refer for SPG from Gold and so earn MR Points on your Gold account?
      If so see Genghis’s reply above.

      • Genghis says:

        Good point @mark2. I didn’t read it that way. If you refer from an Amex Gold to SPG the referral points will you into the normal MR account (i.e. you will need the account there to receive the miles so don’t cancel).

  5. It would be probably beneficial if there were multiple credit cards which earned SPG/Marriott points as in USA. But, as ever, the devil would be in the detail.

    • I doubt the market is big enough here. There is a chance that there is no card at all. My understanding is that Creation got its sums wrong on the IHG card and is finding it a bad deal. Newday, the only other low cost operator, has never entered the travel rewards space. Amex may decide it can’t make it work.

      PS. Yesterday an Amex representative contacted me and asked for a copy of the paper I wrote for them at their request in 2014 on ways of improving the SPG card ……

      • Have you/can you publish that document on the web site, Rob?

      • Any ideas how this is impacting applications at Creation, better to apply for the premium card to reduce risk of rejection?

        • No idea. I think part of the problem is people spending a lot (I put £20k of tax through my wife’s Premium card recently to get her the missing IHG points needed to earn Spire) as the more you spend, the more money they lose.

          One suggestion I have heard recently – not related to Creation, but in general – is putting a cap on card earning to, say, £25000 or £50000 of spend.

          That said, once people can no longer pay tax on a Visa / MC Creation may see a major swing in their numbers in their favour.

  6. O/T – BA Amex Upgrade

    Currently on the free BA Amex, I understand I can upgrade to BAPP and trigger 241 voucher at 10k. Will my card year start again from the moment I upgrade or continue from the free card?

    Free card year is set to expire in Feb.

    (If it just continues…)
    If i had cancelled BAPP after 3 months, I would get a pro-rata fee refund – does anything similar happen if you only sign-up for 3 months at the end of the card year?

    • Card year continues as was, so your BAPP year would reset in February.

      Pro-rata refund applies whenever you cancel, 1 month or 11 months in.

      • Good to know thanks. Does the existing free card get cancelled straight away or only when the BAPP is activated?

        Thank you

        • You should see a change when you log on to your account (the card changes), if I remember right, the cad arrived within a day or two but I don’t recall any issues with cross over of cards!

    • My other half just upgraded her free BA card to the BAPP after she’d spent more than £10k, voucher immediately triggered, think it is 2 years (I’ll have to check, I know that someone else only got 1 year), but her collection year doesn’t restart. I thought I would churn the BAPP card but to date I’ve kept it…

  7. O/t but Starwood related: got 3 nights in Seoul, should I choose the new Aloft in Myeongdong or Sheraton Gangham both are 7k spg a night, all thoughts/options welcome.

    • I’m spg gold if that makes any difference.

    • Pangolin says:

      If it’s your first visit and with just 3 nights then Myeongdong would offer the best location. That’s right in the heart of things. Gangnam is worth a look but it’s south of the river so you will need to do more travelling to get to the main tourist places.

      As an SPG Gold I would go for the Aloft on this basis. If you were a Plat then you’d need to consider that the Sheraton would also give you lounge access and brekkie inclusive, but since you’re Gold you’re not really losing out by booking the Aloft.

  8. Completely OT, but can anyone please point me in the direction of where I can get some advice on issues around event tickets and the event being cancelled? Paid extra for the insurance, and now the insurance company is telling me to take it up with the event organiser who are saying that they ‘may’ offer refunds ‘some time in 2018’!

    • the real harry1 says:

      which card did you pay it on/ or PayPal? & how much was the total?

      normally with events you contact your point of purchase for a prompt refund, if they don’t play ball get a refund/ chargeback / S75 protection through PayPal dispute/ chargeback on Visa, MC or Amex/ S75 protection if overall cost over £100 & you paid at least £1 on your credit card

      • paid on my Curve (billed in EUR). Total for two tickets was 149EUR.

        Have sent organiser a terse email, copied in point of sale. Threatened chargeback if not resolved within 30 days.

        I’m not one to kick independent music event promoters while they’re down, but this offering refunds “some time in 2018′ isn’t ok!

  9. I like the SPG card and it’s even worth keeping for us whilst we wait out the other Amex’s six months churn. But as Rob said the other day it needs developing and refining.

  10. the real harry1 says:

    O/T got my missing Vinoseleccion order delivered yesterday

  11. OT; is there a link to upgrade gold to platinum for extra points?

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