Airport Security…or the lack thereof

Via View From the Wing, yesterday, Bruce Schneier, a famous security expert, wrote about the irrelevance of TSA in response to a TSA blog post about their top 10 catches of 2011 (notably, there’s no terrorists in that list…hmmm).  Anyway, the commentary at both links are amusing, and there is a link to a Vanity Fair article with Bruce Schneier discussing how easy it is to beat TSA.

I’ve actually experienced some of the things mentioned in that article.  Last week when I flew out of DCA (Washington Reagan, the airport described in the article), I had someone approach me at security to swab my hands…while I was frantically trying to get my boarding pass loaded on my phone and get my ID out.  Thanks for helping the boarding process TSA.  Whether or not someone’s  hands had traces of explosives, don’t you  think you’d fine the explosives while screening the bag, as described in your top 10.  Oh wait, oops, you guys only find that on the return trip.  Well, nice try.  Seriously, the only people that this test ever catches (that I’ve heard of), are military personnel who’s jobs involve working with explosives.  Yea…I’m real glad you’re protecting us from our own military, TSA.

Also, I believe the Vanity Fair article mentions medical needs (at the bottom of the first page).  I’ve actually witnessed (a family member) get some liquids not typically allowed through security, with the approval of the TSA agents, because of a shoulder injury.  So I guess if you have an “injured shoulder,” you’re free to bring you “medication” and “pain killers” through.

Yup, trillions of dollars wasted on TSA and people’s time.  Don’t you feel safe?  Oh btw, they’re also potentially causing you cancer in the future with the X-ray machines, while the government official that authorized the machine makes a killing from them.

Apply NOW – Chase Sapphire Preferred 50k bonus now a “Limited Time Offer”

Unlike the Europe fare sale, I’m gonna report on this one early :).  The Chase Sapphire Preferred card has been sitting with a 50k bonus (at times 100k last year) for like…forever.  But all good things must come to an end (or at least a rumored end).  Spreading like wildfire, several blogs have posted tonight that they have been instructed to edit their Chase Sapphire Preferred 50k points offer to be a “Limited Time Offer,” which means that this deal might be coming to an end soon.  This card, even with a $95 fee, is probably one of your best values for collecting points, particularly for travel and dining expenses, as well as the Chase Ultimate Rewards Mall.

Don’t miss out on applying for this card!

Musings of an Amazon addict – Maximizing points on Amazon.com purchases

I admit it, I’m addicted to buying things on Amazon.  I finally got an Amazon Prime membership early last year, and then after I moved, I used Amazon to buy 90% of my new household goods.  With two day (sometimes upgraded for free to one day) shipping, I could just click, pay, and receive items in a couple days.  I didn’t have to figure out where stores were, or what I could buy at which stores, and all that mess.  And that seemed great to me (well it still seems great to me also)!

And today Frequent Miler has a great post about maximizing your credit card miles/points from Amazon purchases!  A lot of these involve buying Amazon gift cards at places where a specific credit card gets a category bonus.  Personally, I have the Chase Ink Bold, and the AMEX Business Gold card, so I’m planning to look into using those on Amazon gift cards.  However, I applied for the Ink Bold before they converted to the new offer that earns 5 points on office supply spend, so I’m going to have to figure out how to get the new version of the Ink Bold.

Also, don’t forget that you can earn 1 point per dollar at Amazon by going through the Hawaiian Airlines Shopping portal (note that there is not other way to earn points or miles on Amazon, with US Airways changing their online shopping mall operator…Amazon is not on Chase Ultimate Rewards or AMEX Membership Rewards either).  Hawaiian Airline miles might not seem that useful (unless you want to go to Hawaii), but they do have various airline partners (Delta, Virgin Atlantic, Korean Air), or you can transfer the miles to Hilton HHonors points in increments of 5000 miles for 10000 HHonors points.

Taking Hotel Toiletries (for a good cause of course!)

This morning, I ran across an amusing post at Million Miles Secrets about stealing hotel toiletries.  To be fair, as mentioned by Emily in the lined post, it’s not really stealing because you’re paying for these toiletries in your hotel rate, and partially used bottles are presumably thrown away once you check out of the hotel.  In addition, Darius and Emily turn the toiletries into care packages that they give out in third world countries.

This idea (or a similar one) crossed my mind earlier when I was moving.  I had a whole drawer of liquid and bar soaps, shampoos, conditioners, etc, that I had gained from hotels and/or my parents.  I knew I had quite a few, that I generally never touched, since I’d occasionally grabbed them from hotels.  I thought it was a total waste to just throw all these toiletries away, since I had never even opened a lot of them, so I started looking to see if there was some charitable organization that would accept these.  Low and behold, I googled a bit and came upon SAY San Diego.  I brought them a whole box of toiletries, which they greatly appreciated, and said would be given to their clients that were “between jobs.”  The organization even sent me a letter recognizing the donation and allowing me to state the value of items donated…so you can even get a tax deduction for doing this!

Anyway, after that, I started thinking I should just always collect the hotel toiletries, and then donate them all at some point to an organization that can use them.  I’ve been too lazy thus far to do it, but maybe I’ll start now. 🙂

Obviously, there are probably other organizations that would accept these items, so feel free to post them in the comments below!

 

Effect of Cancelling Credit Card on Credit Score

On my previous credit card post, I received the following question:

“Do you cancel your credit cards before the yearly fees kick in? If yes, have you noticed any hits to your credit score?”

Thanks for the question Donnie, I thought it’d be useful to provide the answer as a post, as it might be useful to everyone.

To answer your questions, I do generally cancel credit cards before the yearly fee kicks in, if I’m not actively using the card for spending or other benefits.  I prefer to keep my credit lines to as few as possible.  Truthfully, I do not pay close enough attention to the effect of individual card cancellations on my credit score, but in theory it could hurt your score, as I’ll explain below.  My take on this is that your score may drop a few points (as it does with each inquiry/pull when you apply for a new card), but as long as you’re paying your bills on time and spacing out your applications/cancellations, your score should recover over time.

What is the possible effect of cancelling your card on your credit score?  Your credit score is calculated based on a large number of factors.  A full list is here, but cancelling a credit card is most likely to affect this factor (possibly others too):

  • Proportion of credit lines used (proportion of balances to total credit limits on certain types of revolving accounts)

Cancelling a card means you no longer have the credit line associated with that card, which in turn increase your proportion of credit lines used (because your total credit lines have no decreased).  So cancelling a card does potentially have an adverse effect on your credit score.   However, as noted on the myfico page, your credit score is based on all of the factors listed, and not just a single one, so the impact is unlikely to be large.

However, you do have several options when it comes to cancelling cards, to avoid decreasing your credit lines.  Obviously, YMMV depending on the specific cards, banks/credit card companies, and your personal history, but I’ll outline my experiences.

First of all, when you call to cancel, there is a good chance the credit card issue will try to incentivize you to keep a credit card.  This can come in various forms.  Sometimes they will waive/or credit the fee (and possibly require you to spend a certain amount or make a certain number of transactions).  Some companies are known to offer your bonus miles or points to retain the card.  It’s always worth asking about any possible retention bonuses.  You could even take the bonus, but reconsider and close the card later (though the card company might not be thrilled by that).

Failing that, if there’s nothing worthwhile offered, many credit card providers can consolidate your credit line with that of another card, and then cancel the card.  By doing that, your total credit limit remains the same, or almost the same, and you would not incur as much of a hit on your credit score.  Another option is try and convert your fee paying card to a non-fee card, which most companies will let you do.  I don’t personally like this approach, unless there’s a non-fee card that I might actually find useful, because then I still have to deal with another open line of credit.  While I prefer to not voluntarily close credit lines, I would rather not deal with having too many open lines to keep track of, and it’s likely I can apply for more credit down the road and get my credit lines to where they used to be.

In summary, when faced with a credit card with an upcoming annual renewal fee:

  1. Call the credit card company and say that you’re thinking about cancelling the card, but you want to see if there are any retention bonuses available.
  2. In the absence of a worthwhile bonus, attempt to combine the credit line on the card you want to cancel with another credit line you have with that provider
  3. If you’re willing to maintain an open credit card, attempt to convert the card to one without an annual fee.

 

Indian airlines pricing themselves into oblivion?? :-P

Most likely, most people reading this don’t give a hoot for Indian airlines, but it is a mildly amusing story.

Via this post at Live from a Lounge, apparently the Indian airlines have been pricing themselves into oblivion by charging money-losing fares.  Apparently rising fuel prices and a weakening Indian rupee, along with predatory pricing by Air India, are to blame (in case you’re not familiar with predatory pricing, see this article).  Airlines are known to engage in this practice, for example, to protect a fortress hub from a potential new competitor.  An airline that has a large operation at a particular airport can cut their fares out of that airport to a level that is not sustainable for a smaller competitor to cut their price too (this isn’t truly predatory pricing, because of the cost structure of running an airline as well as economies of scale that an airline may have means the fares may not truly be money losing).

Anyway, semantics and details aside…a well run company isn’t supposed to price themselves into the ground.  A well run airline should also probably be hedging fuel prices, seeing as how that a large portion of its costs.

Kingfisher was set to join the oneworld alliance while Air India had reentered talks to join Star Alliance, so this business could have potential affects on alliances.

Baggage fees on wrong type of luggage?

While traveling this weekend, I started thinking why airlines don’t charge for carry-on baggageinstead of checked baggage.  Carry-on baggage imposes much more burden on others in the travel experience, and it makes sense to incentivize people NOT to carry on their bags.

 

First of all, carrying on your bag (vs. checking your bag) is a privilege which people place value on.  Despite the inconvenience of hauling your bag around the airport, carrying your bag allows you to save time, because you don’t have to wait at baggage claim at your destinatoin.  Carrying your bag also virtually negates the chances of your bag being lost or delayed by the airline.

 

The downside of carrying on are that you have to get your bag through security and drag it everywhere with you.  By incentivizing people to carry-on their bags, the airlienes are exacerbating these downsides.  To avoid paying for checked baggage, more and more people now try to bring a fully stuffed bag with everything they need through security checkpoints, which adds time and hassle in the security checkpoint screening process.  Also, as people try to board, they have to figure out where to put these bags, theuy stall the boarding process while they try to fit their oversized bags into the luggage bins, and invariably, overhead space always runs out on full flights.

 

Basically, incentivizing people to bring overstuffed carry-ons is a drag on the whole process, and it’d be better if more bags were checked at the counter.  When the liquid ban first went into effect, I remember reading articles about how flight attendants were relieved at how much less carry-on baggage there was.  We could partially restore this state by charging for carry-ons and allowing at least one free checked bag…

 

Of course there should be some exemptions.  People traveling with children (particularly infants) have to carry some items, as well as those with medical needs/medication.  One way might be to still allow one free “personal item” or perhaps just allow only one carry-on, be it a personal item or carry-on bag.  And of course, there should be some exemption for elite members, as there is with checked baggage currently.

 

The other side of this issue is enforceability.  How would airlines make sure people actually pay for carry-ons?  One possible model is to look to the rest of the world.  In other countries, particularly with discount airlines, airlines charge for all your and checked bags according to their weight.  Airlines and TSA would have to find some way of tagging things to indicate that they have been cleared for carry-on, and do this in a way that isn’t too easy to scam.
Overall, I think the benefits of figuring out a way of charging for checked baggage instead of carry-on would be beneficial for the travel experience.  Listen up airlines!