Alaska Airlines, Hilton, Marriott, Starwood, Trips, Virgin America

Alaska buys Virgin America; Free AirBnB in Cuba; 100,000 Hilton HHonors Amex bonus; Daily Getaways deals

airbnb cuba
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Well, I’m just back from an amazing experience traveling legally to Cuba for the first time. If you haven’t been, the time to go is now. This year. The opening of American tourism is already having a major impact and there are still aren’t any non-charter flights. You could see where the small tourist areas, already with a tour bus here and there, will be absolutely overrun with tourism. The locals are excited for the influx of tourism dollars but also know their infrastructure can’t currently support it. Signs were up for new sites of luxury hotels that don’t currently exist anywhere there. Oh, and no cell phone service and essentially no Wifi either. I highly recommend it if you can swing it this year. Sadly, you can’t get there from the states using miles, though you could book on a foreign carrier via another country if you were determined. But you MAY be able to get a free AirBNB stay.  Once I have my actual blog setup, I’ll pen a post on what to know if you’d like to visit Cuba before it changes….

So – what has gone on in the world of miles while I was gone? Tons.

– The Marriott and Starwood Merger is back on. As I’ve been saying, the conventional wisdom says to burn your SPG points now as they may be worth less post-conversion.

– And the merger news continues with Alaska Airlines buying Virgin America.  You might be wondering if you should care about that, especially if you don’t fly either airline. You should – because Alaska’s Mileage Plan is a really good frequent flyer program and it’s not even (currently) on track to become revenue based. I think there’s going to be a lot of great ways to use miles in the combined program and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to accumulate those miles now.

While I’m generally a big fan of this merger as it opens the possibility of reward bookings in the first class cabin on the NY-West Coast transcon flights on Virgin and makes the combined route map pretty attractive, Alaska also just did a sneak attack on raising prices of one of their partner airlines, Emirates.  Not too cool.

– That’s a good time to remind you that Delta’s massive business class devaluation announced last year affects flights booked for/flown after June 1. If you have time for a last minute trip completing by May 30, you can still get the old rates.  Routes to Asia and Australia were hit hardest.

– American Express is offering a great deal on their two HHonors products – 75,000 points for a new standard no-fee HHonors Amex  with $1k in spend and 100,000 for the Surpass card with $3k in spend (which carries a $75 annual fee but gives you complimentary Gold status). If you stay just a few times a year with Hilton, you may find the Gold status pays for itself.  Best of all, if you have a no-fee version, check your online Amex account for a link to do an “upgrade” to Surpass with the same offer.  No full application required.

Did you know about the “Daily Getaways” daily deal website?  Lots of opportunities to buy points at reduced rates from major hotel programs. I don’t generally “buy” points, but if you are the type to do so, these deals definitely beat the standard offers. And there are some hidden gems – such as a $500 Marriott gift card for only $400. 20% off isn’t bad!