Spirit’s Eyebrow-Raising Ads Seem To Be Working

If nothing else, Spirit Airlines is original. The company has created MILF ads, a campaign timed with the Anthony Weiner scandal called “The Weiner Sale,” ads that referenced the BP oil spill of 2010 (one of the slogans was, “Check out the oil on our beaches”), and more. Spirit Airlines has famously created ads just three hours after related news events and they don’t seem to mind that the ads usually look campy and hastily made.

And yet, no matter how offended some seem by these ads, no matter how unprofessional they might come off as being, the company’s approach must be working. Spirit Airlines was called the most profitable airline in the country last year by The Wall Street Journal.

Does Your Credit Card Include Hidden Travel Perks?

Millions of travelers are holding discounts to thousands of museums, concerts and airline rewards in their pocket without realizing it.

Credit-card companies offer hundreds of perks that most holders never use. How good are some of these perks? It depends on the card.

The great
The American Express Platinum cardholders can receive unlimited access to several airport lounges, including those run by the Delta, US Airways and American. According to MSN Money, those memberships would cost well over $1,000 if purchased individually.

Airline credit cards carry perks beyond earned miles. Some airlines, including American and Delta, allow cardholders to check their bags for free.

The pretty good
Bank of America credit cards entitle users to one free general admission to select museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, on the first full weekend of every month. A great way to save an easy $10 or more, but not worth getting a card solely for that reason.

Many cards include a small amount of travel insurance when you purchase your trip, although it’s likely only to accentuate the travel insurance you purchase. A much better perk is the free crash insurance for rental cars that comes standard with many cards.

The so-so
Citi’s Easy Deals allows you to cash in earned points for travel perks, including slightly discounted gift cards for cruises, rental cards and hotels. The hotel and rental car deals featured on the site aren’t much better than offers you can find on Travelocity or Expedia. You can also book tickets to popular attractions, but again, the discounts are virtually nil. Tickets to the Kennedy Space Center are $50 on its website, while Citi offers the same ticket for $48 and five of your earned points.

My wife had her iPhone stolen in the Paris Metro earlier this year. Had we used a Wells Fargo credit card, we may have been eligible for $600 replacement coverage. But, of course, there are caveats. First, we would have had to pay our monthly cellular bill with the card. Also, after the phone was stolen, we would have first had to file a claim against our homeowners insurance before Wells Fargo would have paid the difference.

Before making any travel plans, check your monthly credit card bill for any potential offers, visit your bank’s website or call the toll-free number on the back of the card to find out what perks are available to you.

*This post was updated from its original version to remove reference to a credit card offered by Continental.

Best Ways to Use Airline Miles

Few things are as frustrating to travelers as a huge bank of frequent-flier points and not being able to use them. With fewer seats and routes available, airlines are making it more difficult to trade miles for free flights, knowing they can sell more tickets at a premium price. They’re gambling that customers with large banks of points will stay continue to stay loyal for fear of losing the miles they’ve worked so hard to accumulate.

So if you can’t cash in your points for flights, what can you do with them?

Donate Them
At a former job years ago, a colleague needed to fly home for a family emergency but didn’t have the money. A few employees quickly pooled frequent-flier points that allowed him to make the trip. Another time, some extended family members used their combined miles to send a cousin and her new husband on a honeymoon.

If you don’t have a needy co-worker or family member, you can always give them to an organization that will use them to help others. The Fisher House Foundation’s “Hero Miles” program has provided more than 40,000 tickets to wounded, injured and ill service members and their families over the years, while Mercy Medical Airlift provided almost 10,000 free airline tickets to patients in need, thanks to generous mileage donations. The Make-A-Wish Foundation has need of more than 2.5 billion miles in order to send kids and their families to their desired destinations around the world.

Trade Them
On Points.com, you can either trade your miles from one airline for another carrier’s points or even exchange them all together for various products or gift cards from retailers like Amazon or Starbucks. But the exchange rates for miles are fairly high in many cases, and should only be used if you have a large block of miles that are going to expire soon. My friend Tim Wozniak exchanges expiring miles for magazine and newspaper subscriptions.

Use Them For Other Travel Needs
The Wall Street Journal’s Scott McCartney posted an excellent piece this week on redeeming airline miles for hotel rooms, rental cars and more. Not surprisingly, the elite-level traveler is going to score much better deals than your average flier — the amount of American Airlines miles needed for hotel stays and car rentals is 40 percent less for platinum-level frequent fliers than the rank-and-file. A penny per mile is the typical exchange for domestic flights, car rentals and hotels for most higher-level loyalty programs. One travel expert McCartney spoke to believes mileage programs will eventually evolve into package deals, encompassing flights, hotels, cars and travel insurance.

Weiner Sexts Lead To Airline Fare Sale

Disgraced ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner might be in hot water with his wife after his most recent sexting fiasco, but some travelers heading to Mexico this fall could actually benefit from his latest social-media debacle.

Spirit Airlines took advantage of the New York City mayoral candidate’s rising scandal with “The Weiner Rises Again” special on its website. Shortly after Weiner’s press conference, a mustachioed hot dog named Carlos Danger appeared on the airline’s website, offering $24 off flights to Cancun or Los Cabos.

This isn’t the first time Spirit has won some free publicity on the back of a Weiner bone-headed blunder. In 2011, the airline touted their fares as “too hard to resist” after news of his original sexting scandal broke. Spirit has also taken advantage of scandals involving Tiger Woods, Charlie Sheen, Arnold Schwarzenneger and former Chicago mayor Rod Blagojevich.

If you want to take advantage of Spirit’s latest fare sale, flights must be booked by the end of the day, Friday, July 26. If you’re hoping to get a cheap flight to Minnesota, hope someone discovers nude selfies of Garrison Keillor soon.

I Slept In The Conference Room At Comfort Inn O’Hare

My evening of July 9 was filled with the kind of mundane frustration that can come only from delayed travel. My husband and I were set to fly from New York City to Chicago and Chicago to Marquette, Michigan. Our flight out of New York kept getting pushed back and, despite receiving a seat on a plane leaving earlier than our original flight to Chicago, we still missed our connection in Chicago – the last flight to Marquette for the day. Since the delays were weather-related, we received a coupon for a hotel rather than a voucher. We found the shuttle and lugged our bags toward the long line at the Comfort Inn O’Hare. Once we had our key, we went to our room and opened the door only to find that we’d been placed in the hotel conference room.Just beyond the gigantic oval table and whiteboard was a normal hotel bed. My husband called the front desk to make sure there hadn’t been a mistake. They said we got the last room in the hotel because many passengers had been stranded in Chicago that evening and received airline coupons for the hotel. I wasn’t at all perturbed. Having to wait around all day for delayed and missed flights only to be put up in an airport hotel is boring. This, on the other hand, was new.

A follow-up call with the hotel manager revealed that this “Conference Room Suite” is always available for guests to rent and that under normal circumstances, it costs more, too. Although I didn’t see the room as a booking option on their website, business travelers occasionally choose this room over others. Distressed passengers typically stay in the room only if the hotel has been hit hard with delayed and canceled flights and has nowhere else to put guests.

Aside from the leaking ceiling and distance between the bed and television, I was happy to stay in the conference room. Not only did it give me a roof over my head for the night, but it gave me a good story, too. Have you ever been placed in an unusual hotel room?

[Photo Credit: Ben Britz]