Marley had every positive characteristic a dog owner could want. He was friendly, loyal, loving, caring, and gentle with kids. He also had a few not so lovable characteristics. For example, he loved swallowing things, including hugely expensive gold necklaces (fortunately he eventually pooped it out), and taking off after other dogs, whether or not he was chained to a heavy restaurant table full of dishes (and pulling the table along behind him). But no dog is perfect. And no credit card is perfect either. I’ve written about some cools things you can do with a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and how you can earn lots of points and free flights in Chase’s Three Musketeers, but I also want to provide a quick word of warnings. Just like Marley, the Chase travel system has a few drawbacks. Here are the three most important ones I’ve experienced:
1) Basic Economy Fares And Flying in Company: Many airlines have started implementing basic economy (“BE”) fares (United, American, etc.). These let you buy cheap flights, but have certain drawbacks, primarily that you cannot choose your seats (you are sat randomly) and cannot bring a carry-on bag. If you purchase with the airline, you can usually upgrade to the “main cabin” for about $20. When I fly with my girlfriend, we like to sit together. When we are flying a redeye across country, spending the extra $20 is worth it for us. What I have discovered is, if an airline offers a BE fare, Chase’s Online Travel Portal (it’s like Kayak.com), only picks up that BE fare. It will warn you before you buy that the ticket is the BE fare, which is great, but doesn’t give you a way to upgrade while purchasing the ticket, which is annoying. The only workaround I’ve found is to call the Chase Travel Call Center and have them do it for you. You will need to look up the flight and cabin code and have that ready for them. This isn’t actually that hard, but it is an extra step you have to take, and calling in to the Chase Call center always takes (a long) time. It’s a big headache, almost as bad a cleaning up after Marley after he’s eaten his morning mango, but necessary if you want to be able to use your points with the bonus redemption on your flight.
2) Limited Choices: This is another drawback of the Chase travel program. The Online Portal is like Kayak, and like Kayak.com, doesn’t pick up every flight. For example, Kayak doesn’t search Southwest flights. Likewise, Chase’s Portal does not either. Because Southwest is a partner with Chase, you can always transfer your points directly to Southwest and book that way. However, this does not work with airlines that are not partnered with Chase. I recently flew with Spirit and the Online Portal search didn’t pick up Spirit either. I didn’t have enough points to pay for my ticket anyway, so I didn’t bother to call the Call Center. If you want to fly one of these airlines you have only one option. You can call the Call Center and they will book it for you with points. However, you will NOT get the bonus redemption. So if the flight costs $125, you will need 12,500 points, instead of only 10,000 which would be the case if you are getting the bonus.
3) Choosing Seats: When you book through Chase (Online Portal or Call Center) you don’t always have the option to choose which seats you want. And even if you do, you aren’t guaranteed to get those seats. Every time I have traveled with my girlfriend and booked both flights through the Online Portal, we do not (initially) get seats together. This happens because when Chase requests seats for you, as a third-party provider, the request is delayed by a day or two. The seats you requested may get taken in the meantime by people who book directly with the airline, and so your request gets rejected. The fix for this is not hard. You just have to call the airline a couple days after you purchase the flight (or manage your reservation online through the airline’s website, that usually works too!) to choose the seats you want. Just don’t forget or your party may not be able to sit together, or if your alone, you may get stuck with a middle seat! Obviously this issue does not really apply if you are flying Spirit or Frontier (an airline that makes you pay extra) or bought a basic economy fare and can’t choose a seat anyway.
In the end, like Marley, I think the positives (like the 25% travel bonus) for Chase’s travel cards outweigh the negatives. But it’s always best, whether you’re getting a dog or a credit card, to know what you are getting into!