They were sitting in my account not all that long ago: a stack of shiny, waiting-to-be-used reward points from a leading hotel chain. Not a soaring tower of points, to be sure, but a nice little bundle all the same.
One month later, they'd disappeared and my account balance reset to zero. And I had only myself to blame.
I'd broken the cardinal rule of the point-savvy set and done something the experts always advise you should never let happen: I'd let my points expire.
If a maxim of points collectors is to think of points as cash – after all, they are a form of currency and when converted into an airline ticket or hotel rooms they have a real-world value – then I'd just gone and thrown money down the drain.
So while this wasn't thousands of dollars worth of points, it would have been sufficient for a free night in a suite at one of the group's five-star properties.
Part of the challenge for many business travellers is being mindful of, and then managing, what you could consider as your 'points portfolio'.
Here are a few strategies to stay on top of your points spread.
The first rule: whenever you can, fly with the same airline or stay within the same 'family' of hotels.
It's a little easier with airline frequent flyer points. You'll probably be flying with only a few airlines, and if you're jetting about often and in business class, the points grow to a level where you can't 'forget' about them.
If you're flying on partner airlines, consider funnelling points back into a single airline's account. Even if you earn fewer points because you're not crediting them to the actual airline you're booked on, it's better to have all your points with one airline and available for use then scattered across several frequent flyer schemes.
On the hotel front, you'll find that Starwood has 11 different hotel brands where you can earn SPG points, plus 18 others via partnerships with Marriott Rewards and Ritz Carlton Rewards; Accor has around a dozen 'core' brands, some of which have their own offshoots.
The aim isn't just to accrue more points in a single currency: your repeat bookings help build up the status which delivers free upgrades, lounge access, late hotel checkouts and other practical perks depending on your membership tier.
Use them or lose them
Keep track of your points, no matter where they are. There's no need to become an Excel super-nerd about this, although I know some number crunchers who assiduously tally their points via very detailed spreadsheets.
At the very least, keep a closer eye on those monthly statements and mark your calendar ahead of the expiry dates for your points so you can consider what to do with them.
In the case of Qantas and Virgin Australia, almost any activity on your account – no matter how small – will keep all of the points in that scheme 'alive'.
(Qantas allows for 18 months of inactivity before resetting the counter; Virgin Australia extends this to 24 months.)
This includes making smart of use of frequent flyer partners where you can earn points for your everyday shopping or by filling the petrol tank in the family car.
However, many major airlines have a fixed expiry date rather than having a rolling expiry: Emirates Skywards, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer and Etihad Guest generally follow the 'miles expire X months after they were earned' approach.
Hotels might not offer so many of these 'escape hatches', but each hotel chain has ways you can redeem even a small number of points, and in some cases you can buy points to top up your account.
Sometimes the easiest and most instant way to clock up activity is to donate a small number of miles to charity, or to buy the lowest number of miles in programs like Hilton Honors. In these cases, spending or earning miles usually counts as activity.
Most hotel groups also let you convert reward points into airline frequent flyer points, so even if you can't get that free stay at a five-star suite you'll be closer to your next flight or business class upgrade.
Share your points
Another way to use soon-to-expire points is to transfer them to an eligible recipient, such as a family member – even if you can't use them, somebody else might be able to.
Both Qantas and Virgin Australia allow family transfers, although there's a minimum amount of 5,000 points which can be sent from one account to the next.
Don't have enough points to transfer? Here's a canny way around it.
Let's say John has only 4,000 points, which puts them under the threshold of a family transfer, but wants to donate them to his wife Sally to add to her more useful 80,000 point balance.
Sally transfers the minimum of 5000 points to John, which brings his total up to 9,000, and John then transfers all of those 9,000 points back to Sally.
Just be mindful of any yearly points limits, such as on the number of points transferred in total or the number of actual transfer transactions.
Additional material by Chris Chamberlin
Air New Zealand's Airpoints frequent flyers will enjoy have access to Qantas Clubs around Australia under the newly-forged alliance between the two airlines.
As of October 28, 2018, Airpoints Elite and Gold members booked on a codeshare flight with Qantas will find the doors swing open for them at the two dozen Qantas Club lounges in Australia's capital cities and regional centres. They'll also be permitted to bring in one guest.
But it won't be as easy as flashing your shiny Airpoints card, as the following conditions apply:
- you have to be travelling on a domestic Qantas flight
- it has to be booked under the Air New Zealand codeshare (those flight numbers will be in the NZ7xxx range)
- and this must be booked as part of a trans-Tasman booking
This arrangement replaces Airpoints access to Virgin Australia lounges following the dramatic bust-up between the two former allies.
However, there appears to be no Qantas Club lounge access for Koru Club members, nor can AirNZ frequent flyers cool their heels in the more upmarket Qantas Business lounges.
The Qantas / Air New Zealand alliance covers selected flights on the domestic network of each airline, however trans-Tasman and other international flights are excluded from the arrangement.
Cathay Pacific will roll out its new 'business class dining concept' this month, with the meal service taking a step closer to a first class experience.
Meals will be individually plated and delivered to passengers by hand rather than by trolley, as the airline adopts more personalised and upmarket approach.
Cathay also expects this will result in a "quieter and calmer cabin environment", especially on late night flights.
Passengers will have a choice between three appetisers and "up to six main course choices" on flights over ten hours in the initial launch of the service to the likes of Chicago (on July 30), London/Gatwick (in August) followed by Frankfurt, Manchester and Washington DC (September); Amsterdam, Paris and Johannesburg (October), Madrid, Brussels and Barcelona (November) and London/Heathrow (December).
And, being very much on trend, light and healthy 'wellbeing options' feature in every main course.
On flights from Hong Kong the menu will be changed every month, with a quarterly menu refresh for flights to Hong Kong.
Fights from Hong Kong (but not, for now, the return leg) will also see a new range of Hong Kong Favourites inspired by local dishes, such as
- Hong Kong char siu pork with egg noodles, seasoned soy sauce, spring onion and ginger (shown below)
- Wok fried seafood in lobster soup with ginger, spring onion, crispy and steamed rice
- Beef brisket with flat rice noodle soup
- Mango with pomelo and sago
But before all that eatings starts, business class passengers will notice the new-look menus.
Printed as eight pages on quality paper, they not only detail the meals and drinks available on that flight but include foodie-friendly articles such as 'Anatomy of a Laksa' and feature a local chef revealing their favourite eateries both in Hong Kong and around thr world.
There will also be a breakfast menu card which passengers will complete before hitting the hay, so that they can wake to what the airline described as a "hotel room-service" experience.
However, these are set menus rather than allowing travellers to pick-and-mix from a wide selection of items.
In addition to what's described as 'traditional' Chinese and Western breakfasts, there's also a lighter Continental breakfast plus a minimalist Express breakfast of a piece of pastry and a drink, which can be served 60 minutes before landing for passengers who wish to maximise their sleep.
Refreshments will be revamped as a selection of 'most loved dishes' available throughout the flight as a snack between meals on services to North America and Europe, including the airline's signature burger and popular soup noodles. These will also appear on the main meal menu.
Next year will see Cathay's 'new business class dining concept' extend to medium-distance routes, with plans to include Sydney and Auckland in February 2019 and Melbourne, Brisbane, Cairns, Adelaide and Perth in May 2019.
Very few watches can claim true originality, and the Cartier Santos is among those few.
The Santos made its debut way back in 1904 as a personal timepiece for aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont, making it both the first pilot’s watch and one of the earliest known men’s wristwatches.
As we've previously detailed, the Santos was borne from a request by Brazilian flyer Santos-Dumont, who told his friend Louis Cartier – then a Parisian watchmaker – of the challenge of timing flights using the then-conventional pocket watch, as pilots needed to keep both hands on the aircraft controls.
In response, Cartier designed a large square-faced watch and fitted it to a strap so it could be worn on the wrist – quite a revolutionary concept at the time.
The first commercial Cartier Santos watches went on sale to the public in 1911 with solid gold cases and ultra-thin mechanical movements designed by French clockmaker Edmond Jaeger.
(In order to produce this movement for Cartier, Jaeger worked with Swiss movement manufacturer Jacques-David LeCoultre, a partnership that would lead to the birth of storied brand Jaeger-LeCoultre.)
The enduring design of the Cartier Santos was reimagined in the late 1970s as a luxury steel sports watch, later adding two-tone steel and gold and the now-iconic screwed bezel with exposed gold screws along the bracelet for a modern, industrial aesthetic.
For 2018, Cartier has once again re-invented the Santos.
The distinctive screw-set bezel now tapers at both ends towards the bracelet to create an organic, integrated look.
The satin-brushed case features a wide mirror-polished bevel along its length, extending all the way to the gracefully curved crown guards at 3 o’clock. A square watch the Santos may be, but there’s hardly a sharp edge or straight line to be found.
The case has been slimmed dramatically from previous incarnations of the Santos, allowing this watch to disappear easily under a shirt cuff when needed.
The bracelet is fitted with a new 'QuickSwitch' system allowing for easy swapping with the included tan calfskin strap or Cartier’s alternative crocodile straps, providing some style versatility.
Adding or removing bracelet links has also been made easier with a new 'SmartLink' design which allows the wearer to expand the bracelet during a hot summer’s day without requiring a tool.
While the bezel, case and bracelet have all been modernised, the dial remains classic Cartier. With Roman numerals, a railroad minute-track and heat-blued hands, it’s hard to imagine a more traditional look.
The 2018 Cartier Santos can serve dress-watch and sports-watch duties equally well, and boasts a history that few timepieces can match.
• In-house mechanical movement with automatic winding
• Seven-sided crown set with a faceted synthetic spinel
• Silvered opaline dial, blued-steel sword-shaped hands, sapphire crystal
• Water-resistant to 10 bar (approximately 100 metres)
• Medium version case width: 35.1 mm, thickness: 8.83 mm
• Large version case width: 39.8 mm, thickness: 9.08 mm
• Pricing from A$8,750 for the Cartier Santos Medium in steel, to A$52,500 for the Cartier Santos Large in solid pink gold with matching pink gold bracelet. For stockists, visit www.au.cartier.com.
Finnair will launch inflight Internet on its European flights this week, with travellers able to enjoy the high-speed satellite service free of charge during a two-month trial period running through to the end of September.
The Oneworld airline has already outfitted six of its single-aisle Airbus jets with technology provided through partner Viasat, which also provided the backbone for Qantas' Australia-wide WiFi system.
By the end of northern summer some 20 aircraft will be upgraded, with Finnair's entire single-aisle Airbus fleet slated for WiFi by mid-2019.
The system will be available on a gate-to-gate basis, so passengers won't even need to wait for their jet to reach level flight – which will maximise time online for many of Finnair's relatively short European hops.
However, parts of some European routes will present black spots to the satellite network, including above the Bay of Biscay and the North Sea, while some restrictions also apply over Latvia, Lithuania, parts of Belarus and Russia.
Over the two-month testing period Finnair intends to "gather information on system functionality and feedback on the overall customer experience."
"In entering the passenger testing phase, we’ll be gaining the critical insights needed to further optimise our service to ensure Finnair customers get a unique experience built around their needs, interests and usage behaviours," explains Viasat vice-president Don Buchman.
The airline has yet to reveal what pricing it will charge for its sky-high WiFi once the trial period ends, although frequent flyers will no doubt hope that some sort of monthly pass is available as an alternative to paying on a per-flight basis.
Finnair already offers WiFi on its long-range 'intercontinental' jets, with the first hour free for business class and Finnair Plus Gold members, then €3 (A$4.70) for three hours or €20 (A$31) for the entire flight. Finnair Plus Platinum frequent flyers are provided with free Internet access for the whole flight.