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Clematis Feb 23rd, 2006 01:45 PM

credit card for upgrades - Cap One for SAA?
Our situation -- we charge a lot and pay it off monthly. We want upgrades to first or business for health reasons. We fly one long international trip a year for two people although this year it's two trips (Air NZ and Virgin) and maybe average two US trips. Our plan is to go to Africa in 07 probably on SAA and we'd need an upgrade (and we may pick that flight up in Europe).

We have AE Platinum. Spouse wants to get the Capital One miles card because he's read it's the only one that will does not charge a fee to convert when you charge items abroad.

Does anyone know if the Capital One miles card works for upgrading on SAA? I know that our AE does not have an upgrade award there. If we have to get two cards we will but any idea which card is best for getting an upgrade award to Africa?

Patty Feb 23rd, 2006 02:55 PM

Capital One "miles" aren't really frequent flyer miles. Therefore you won't be able to use them for upgrades. The way the Capital One program works is that you purchased your airline ticket at whatever the prevailing fare is and then you "redeem" your Capital One miles as a credit based on the cost of the ticket times whatever multiplier (80, 100, 120, etc.) you were offered when you applied for the card.

In order to upgrade on SAA metal, I believe you'll need SAA Voyager miles (someone please correct me if I'm wrong). I don't know if there's a credit card that gives you Voyager miles or a program where you can transfer points/miles into Voyager.

Where in Africa are you going? Would it be possible for you to accumulate enough miles to redeem two business class awards outright?

Patty Feb 23rd, 2006 03:23 PM

Also generally speaking, you have to purchase a higher fare class economy ticket in order to be eligible for mileage upgrades. Looking on the Voyager program guide, it lists eligible economy fare classes as
Y, M, B, K, H, S. I have no idea what that translates into as far as ticket cost, but you should price the difference between the lowest economy fare, an upgradeable economy fare, and a discounted business class fare before you pick a program and start accumulating miles.

How much do you expect to charge? If you stick with AE Plat, you can transfer your Membership Rewards points to Continental Onepass or Delta Skymiles and redeem on Air France or KLM (eventually Kenya Airways may also be a possibility). It's 100K Skymiles each from Europe to Southern Africa for a business class Skyteam award (not upgrade). I don't know what the redemption rate is through Onepass.

You can also transfer MR points to Virgin Flying Club and you could use those miles for a free or upgrade award, but again check what fare classes are eligible for upgrades and what those tickets would cost.

I'm sure there are other options via MR. Take a look at Aeroplan or ANA's program since SAA will join Star Alliance.

Clematis Feb 23rd, 2006 05:00 PM

Patty, thank you for your thoughtful reply. We will most likely fly into Jo'burg and end up in South Africa. I don't know how much we'll charge but if we need to make this work I've heard of ffs using it to pay their mortgage payment and travel payments. We'll have extensive travel payments coming up in NZ. I should have stated we live in the US.

I didn't realize Virgin went to South Africa - I love their suite seats. When you transfer miles to a Virgin flying club (which I've done with AE), can you also do it from another source/card at the same so the amount adds up? I'm thinking we could get a Visa card of some kind that would contribute to this.
I'm not sure the savings on the conversion fees for the Cap One card will be worth the loss of miles now that you've explained that so clearly to me.

rkkwan Feb 23rd, 2006 05:17 PM

Once you transfer your points from AE to VS, they're indistinguishable from other VS miles you already have (or from other sources).

nibblette Feb 23rd, 2006 05:20 PM

There is an article in the March Conde Nast Traveler that addresses your question. It breaks down the advantages and disadvantages of the various types of mileage credit cards. It looks like for upgrades, if you don't fly a lot but spend a lot, the Starwood card would be best. Apparently it gives 1.25 miles for each $ spent. It has multiple airlines (14 I think) you can use it on.

mrwunrfl Feb 23rd, 2006 05:34 PM

SAA is joining Star Alliance and *A award availability is "coming soon". Also, United Mileage Plus members are "soon" going to be able to use miles to upgrade on any Star Alliance carrier operated flights, like they currently can do on United flights.

If you can transfer your miles to United then, in theory, you will be able to use them to upgrade an SAA flight next year. I would assume that the *A upgrades will be available to members of any *A mileage program, like USAirways, or ANA as Patty suggested, so you might check those programs if MP doesn't do it for you.

Patty Feb 24th, 2006 12:14 PM

Miles transferred from multiple sources into Flying Club are fine, but I don't know if there's a Flying Club affiliated visa or mastercard.

The Starwood Amex would be another option, but having a second Amex is less helpful except when there's a card specific promo. On the other hand, the annual fee is only $30 and waived the first year so you have little to lose by getting one just for the sign up bonus.

The Starwood Amex card earns 1 Starpoint per $ charged with a transfer bonus of 5K points for every 20K points transferred (but only if you transfer in increments of 20K) to an airline program.

The participating airlines are listed here -

Most transfers are on a 1 Starpoint = 1 mile ratio with a a couple of exceptions such as UA which is 2:1 :(

I'd also look at what programs you currently have/expect to accumulate mileage balances in so that you can combine flight miles with miles from credits cards for faster earning.

Good luck!

Clematis Feb 26th, 2006 01:12 PM

Patty, Mrwunrl, rkkwan, you folks really know what you're taking about! Nibblette, I found that article, thank you. So here's more info:

We have over 40,000 each in Delta but even though they partner with SAA the miles are only good for full award tickets, not upgrades.

We have in United over 88,000 miles in my husband's account and over 15,000 in mine. But as you said, Mrwunrfl, it is not definite that SAA will join and also that the *A awards will be possible with member airlines. I hope it does go through but I'm not comfortable counting on it for 07. Still glad you mentioned this nice tip for future planning though.

This year our Virgin's Flying Club miles were used but we'll add to them with 2 tickets from the US to London. Also I found Air NZ will let us credit that trip to Virgin fc! Since they do fly non-stop direct to Jo'burg from London, I think maybe our best solution is to get the Starwood AE card and use that to build miles for transfer to Virgin.

Q- The differences between Plat AE and Starwood AE - it looks like it's not possible to transfer to Virgin from Plat AE but it is with Starwood. Also, with Starwood you can just transfer but with Plat AE they say you must have the ticket lined up first - and I see only some airlines can you transfer to, others they will only issue a certificate. So it appears the Starwood is much more flexible than our Plat AE (which is a lot more expensive).

Patty Feb 26th, 2006 02:19 PM

With Membership Rewards you have the option to either transfer points to Virgin Flying Club or redeem a certificate -

You're right that Starwood offers more flexibility in that it has many more transfer partners. Plus there's the 5K bonus for every 20K transferred. On the other hand, your AE Plat card offers everyday double points on gas, groceries, and a few other categories -

Assuming you plan to keep your Plat card, I'd use this card for purchases that are eligible for double points and whenever there's a MR promo and use the Starwood card at other times to maximize your earnings.

One more thing, keep in mind the last day to redeem Delta miles on SAA is Sep 30, 2006 for travel through Sep 30, 2007, and 40K is enough for a domestic or intra-Africa award on SAA. I don't know whether these awards represent a good or bad value mileage wise. I guess it depends on what else you have in mind for their use.

Clematis Feb 26th, 2006 04:30 PM

Patty, good link! I never knew this. So I can in fact transfer from AE (in 1000 pt increments) to Virgin as well as transfer from Starwood AE to Virgin and it can all add up toward my ticket or upgrade. That's even better. We do want to keep the Plat so we'll use the cards as you suggested.

Do you happen to know what Starwood AE charges for conversion fees when used abroad? I'm guessing it's the same as the Plat AE which I believe is a total of 2%.

Is Delta no longer going to partner with SAA after that date? We have to go with flat seats (business class or higher), and we don't think we'd hit 2x 80,000 by Sept 06. We thought maybe we'd save those miles for an upgrade to Japan or somewhere far that Delta goes to sometime in the future if that makes sense.

Patty Feb 27th, 2006 10:06 AM

As far as I know, the foreign conversion fee on the Starwood card is the same as other AE products (2%).

The Delta/SAA partnership is ending soon. As a matter of fact, you can only earn Skymiles for SAA operated flights through March 31, 2006, but redemption is possible through Sep.

BTW Delta has applied for approval to operate ATL-JNB flights beginning Dec 2006. We'll see.

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