How to Eliminate the $89 Annual Fee on the Arrival Plus Card

You can redeem Arrival Miles for the $89 annual fee

You can redeem Arrival Miles for the $89 annual fee

One of my favorite credit cards, and one I don’t mind paying the $89 annual fee on, is the Barclay Arrival Plus card. I get great use out of it, though I know others wonder they should cancel it after the first year or perhaps downgrade to the no-annual fee version. Thankfully, there is a way to off-set the annual fee altogether: Redeem Arrival Miles. Yes, the $89 annual fee on the Arrival Plus card is coded as a travel purchase and can thus be redeemed with Arrival Miles at a rate of 1 cent per point. For the full $89, you’ll need 8,010 Arrival Miles after the 10% travel redemption rebate has been applied.

At an earnings rate of 2 Arrival Miles per $1, it takes just $4,005 in spending to off-set the $89 annual fee. This shouldn’t be too difficult or costly, despite the increasing difficulty of manufactured spending. Here are a few suggestions as well as the cost involved:

American Express Serve ($0). Thanks to the $1,000 monthly online load allowance, you can generate 8,000 Arrival Miles free of charge after just four months of loading Serve with your Arrival Plus card. This is the easiest and cheapest option of them all.

Simon Mall Gift Cards ($31.60). The cost of buying Simon Mall gift cards recently increased to $3.95, which is still competitive compared to what other gift cards are charging. Picking up $4,000 worth of Visa gift cards and unloading them via Bluebird will cost $31.60 in fees. This obviously isn’t as great as $0 in fees, but considering this cuts down your annual fee by 1/3, it’s still a good option if you don’t want to go the Amex Serve route.

American Express Gift Cards ($8.35). I don’t know about you, I definitely took the 4% cash back shopping portals previously offered on Amex gift cards for granted. Now, the best we can expect is 1.5% cash back from TopCashBack (my referral link). At this rate, $4k in gift card purchases would cost $16.85 in fees ($7.90 gift card fees + $8.95 shipping) and generate $60 cash back. Unloading these via Amex for Target would incur $51.50 in load and ATM fees, bringing your total out of pocket expenses to $8.35.

American Express for Target ($51). In the case of another cash back portal pull-out, you may have to skip Amex gift cards altogether and opt for direct Amex for Target loads. Simply take your card to Target and load it at the register with your Barclay Arrival Plus card. The cost of doing this is much higher at $51 but again, it’s cheaper than paying $89.

Everyday Spending ($0). The fact that the Arrival Plus card pays out 2 miles per $1 on all spending makes it a viable option for everyday spend. When I’m not meeting massive spending requirements, this is what I do. It’s the equivalent of earning 2.2% cash back on your non-category spend, which is as good as it gets.

These are just a few ways to off-set and perhaps even eliminate the $89 annual fee on the Barclay Arrival Plus card. The bottom line is that the annual fee is coded as a travel purchase, so you can use your Arrival Miles to off-set the cost.

For me, the Barclay Arrival Plus card has paid for itself many times over, covering Hyatt Points + Cash awards (like the one at the Hyatt Carmel Highlands), airline taxes and fees, and acting as an alternative currency when it makes more sense to redeem Arrival miles than hotel points or airline miles. The card really comes in handy in these situations, helping to conserve points and save cash.  

So if you just can’t stand the thought of paying $89 a year for the privilege of earning miles, then  the fact that you can eliminate the full cost (not with perks but statement credits) should be reason enough to hold onto your Arrival Plus card.

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American Express to Discontinue Vanilla Reloads and MoneyPaks

Vanilla Reload RIP

Many of us haven’t purchased a Vanilla Reload card since CVS stopped accepting credit cards for them last year. Others have found alternative sources and continued to load up the maximum $5,000 each month on their Serve or Bluebird cards. Unfortunately, that gravy train is ending for good, with American Express announcing that starting April 1, 2015, they will not only stop selling Vanilla Reload cards, but Greendot MoneyPaks will also be eliminated on February 1, 2015.

This eliminates a convenient manufactured spending source for many folks out there and adds an extra step to their routine. You can still load Bluebird and Serve at the register, so if you can buy Simon Mall or Visa gift cards with a credit card, then you can continue to unload them via Bluebird/Serve. After Walmart stopped accepting Visa gift cards for money order purchases, the cashiers continued accepting them for Bluebird reloads, so hopefully that won’t change. 

For the lazy manufactured spenders (guilty) who don’t enjoy the bureaucratic cluster**** that is a typical Walmart shopping experience, now is as good a time as ever to pick up an American Express Serve card. It’s not much, but you can do $1,000 per month in credit card loads online. While that may only amount to 12,000+ points or miles per year, it’s one less trip to Walmart each month and takes just a minute to do. So if you haven’t made the switch to Serve, the elimination of Vanilla Reloads as an easy online load/reload should serve as extra incentive.

Another convenient option, if you’ve been relying heavily on Vanilla Reloads, is manufactured spending with an American Express for Target card. It’s more costly, but these costs can be largely eliminated by purchasing American Express Gift Cards through a shopping portal and using them to load the AFT card. If you can get your hands on the coveted REloadit cards that are available at most grocery stores, then you’ve really hit the jackpot. These cost $3.95 per $950 and can be loaded onto a variety of prepaid cards. Every once in a while, I’ll try buying these at a grocery store and the cashier will actually approve the transaction. Focusing on REloadit cards isn’t a reliable strategy, but if you can occasionally buy them with a credit card, you’ll get almost twice the points for the same price of a Vanilla Reload.

While it seems like the points and miles game is generally on a downward spiral, there are always alternatives and it’s up to us to adapt. I am starting to lean more heavily on credit card churning, with $5,000 being a much easier way to earn 50,000 points than actually spending $50,000. Manufactured spending certainly isn’t over, it’s just going to be more of a challenge going forward.

HT: The Forward Cabin

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Decent Award Space for Holiday Travel to French Polynesia

Intercontinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa Source: Hotel website

Intercontinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa
Source: Hotel website

If you’re looking for a last minute family vacation destination with decent award space, you might want to look into French Polynesia. Award space is normally tough to come by, with just three airlines (Air France, Air Tahiti Nui, Hawaiian Airlines) operating flights out of the US (Honolulu and Los Angeles). Air France currently has at least 7 economy award seats between Los Angeles (LAX) and Papeete (PPT) on December 16 and 23. As for return flights, there are at least 7 seats on December 24, 26 and 31. While the dates may be somewhat limited, the fact that there are so many seats on each flight is ideal for families who are looking to travel together in the midst of the busy holiday travel season.

The above mentioned dates are searchable through the Alaska Airlines website and redeeming them requires 80,000 miles and $82 in taxes and fees per person round-trip. If you’re short on Alaska miles, you can transfer points from the Starwood Preferred Guest program at a 1:1 ratio, with a 5,000 point bonus for every 20,000 transferred. Transfers aren’t immediate though – I don’t remember the exact amount of time it took the last time I transferred SPG points to Alaska Mileage Plan, but they were in my account some time the next day.

The same award can be booked through Air France Flying Blue for 60,000 miles and $454.90 in taxes. Flying Blue is also a Starwood Preferred Guest transfer partner, along with American Express Membership Rewards. If you’re short on both Starpoints and Alaska miles, buying miles might be a good option with the 35% transfer bonus they’re currently offering. For those who have an abundance of Membership Rewards points, the relatively higher taxes imposed by Air France can be off-set with Barclay Arrival Miles. Even if you don’t have the Arrival miles right now, you can charge the fees to your Arrival Plus card now and then have 120 days to earn enough miles to off-set them.

As is to be expected, Delta Skymiles redemptions are steep, with the same award setting you bath 100,000 miles and $57 in taxes and fees…in economy class.

As for hotel accommodations, there are plenty of chain hotels, though award space is limited. Due to the peak season and higher categories of Starwood’s properties, award space will likely remain unavailable. Your best bet is Hilton, which has decent award availability at the Hilton Bora Bora and Moorea properties. IHG’s two Intercontinental hotels also have decent award space and their paid rates also reasonable at around $300 per night. These rates are ideal for redeeming Arrival miles.

Club Carlson

  • Radisson Plaza Resort Tahiti (44,000 points per night)


  • Hilton Bora Bora Nui Resort & Spa (95,000 points per night)
  • Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa (80,000 points per night)

IHG Rewards Club

  • Intercontinental Resort Tahiti (40,000 points per night)
  • Intercontinental Resort and Spa Moorea (40,000 points per night)

Starwood Preferred Guest

  • Le Meridien Tahiti (12,000 – 16,000 points per night)
  • Le Meridien Bora Bora (30,000 – 35,000 points per night)
  • St. Regis Bora Bora (30,000 – 35,000 points per night)

If you’re looking for a warm place to spend the holidays, the weather in Tahiti in December will be around 80 degrees and sunny. That’s not the case for every the surrounding islands, so be sure to look into it before making final travel plans.

Have you made any travel plans with your family this season?

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Registration Open: IHG Rewards Club Set Your Sights Promotion

IHG Set Your Sights Promotion

IHG Set Your Sights Promotion

Registration for IHG Reward Club’s Set Your Sights promotion is now live. The promotion consists of a series of targeted offers. Simply register and complete the required activities between January 1, 2015 – April 30, 2015 and you’ll receive a targeted bonus. I received a 50,000 point bonus in exchange for completing the following tasks:

  • 2,400 IHG points for downloading and booking two stays through the IHG App.
  • 1,900 IHG points for booking two stays directly through IHG
  • 8,400 IHG points for booking 5 nights or more
  • 8,000 IHG points for staying two weekend nights, including a Saturday night and another night.
  • 5,000 IHG points for booking a mini-vacation package at a qualifying Holiday Inn Club Vacations property.
  • 7,200 IHG points for staying at 2 Crowne Plaza hotels
  • 2,000 IHG points for applying for the IHG Rewards Club Credit Card through a designated link.
  • 15,1000 IHG points for completing 6 of the 7 offers

Bonus points for each activity will post 6-8 weeks after completion. The terms state that after applying for the IHG Rewards Card, Chase will notify IHG Rewards Club to post the points to your account. However, the link directs to the Chase website, where you can find the 60,000 point offer for the IHG Rewards Club Visa. You may be better off applying for the longstanding 80,000 point offer, especially if you expect to be approved. You’ll forego 2,000 points, but you can still hit the 50,000 point promotion maximum by completing one of the other six activities listed. 

Completing the 50,000 point version of the Set Your Sights promotion will take a minimum of 5 nights. There are quite a few restrictions and mattress running is definitely not an option if you choose to forego the higher IHG Rewards Club Visa sign-up bonus, since you’ll instead have to book a Holiday Inn Club Vacations package at limited participating properties. However, if you apply for the 60,000 point version through the designated link, then mattress running becomes a bit easier. You’ll still need to book 5 nights, with two of them being on weekends and two at Crowne Plaza hotels. Then simply book two of those stays through the IHG mobile app and two others through the website – the added bonus here being that you can book through a shopping portal for cash back or extra points. If you choose to forego the Holiday Inn Vacation package and applying for the 60,000 point version of the IHG Rewards Club Visa, then you still have the opportunity to bank 27,900 points through the promotion.

This offer definitely makes mattress running difficult since you’ll probably spend at least $450 (assuming a nightly average rate of $90 per night) in exchange for 50,000 points. However, for those who have actual IHG stays coming up, this promotion makes it more lucrative. If you’ve already booked your stay, it’s definitely worth seeing if you can cancel and rebook. Sometimes rates are deemed “non-refundable” but the hotel may show some flexibility, especially if you explain that you intend on rebooking in order to have your stays qualify for this promotion.

Again, offers are targeted so you may receive a different one based on your status, the number of nights you’ve spent at IHG hotels this past year, or any other factors. The 50,000 point bonus is the least you can earn during this promotion. If you received a higher offer, I’d love to get your feedback in the comment section.

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Finally Got Approved for the Club Carlson Credit Card

Club Carlson Credit Card

Things have been dull around here for a while, especially after the Vanilla Reload shutdown. Aside from completing an $82,000 spending requirement, I’ve been twiddling my thumbs and getting bored with points and miles. Today, I’ve got something to be excited about: I finally got approved for the Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature card! This card has been on my wish list since it came out, but my first application was rejected. Even after the obligatory reconsideration call, they would not budge. 

When I brought this up, Howie explained that the reason it’s so hard to get approved for the card is because US bank looks at the number of credit inquiries. As a a result, card churners tend to get their applications rejected and the way to get around this is to freeze your ARS report. I didn’t follow this step before either application, but did get approved the second time. It may be because I received an invitation to apply for the card, with a specific code to input – a pre-approval of sorts. In the spur of the moment, I decided to give it a shot and forget about it if it didn’t work out. This morning, three days after applying for the Club Carlson card, I received an approval email. I’m not sure why I was approved this time around, since I’ve racked up plenty more credit inquiries since the first application, but perhaps they’re loosening up the rules.

I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited about a credit card since my Sapphire Preferred application two years ago. The Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa is definitely the best hotel credit card in terms of point accrual and perks. For starters, cardholders who book at least two award nights get their last night free. This basically doubles the value of your Club Carlson Gold points. Currently, I have nearly 600,000 points saved up, which is enough for 8 – 66 nights at a Club Carlson hotel, depending on the hotel category.

While the $75 annual fee isn’t waived on the card, the 97,500 sign-up bonus is worth it. Plus, cardholders get Gold status along with a 40,000 point bonus each year for renewing the card – which is worth well over $75.

Club Carlson is one of the best hotel program in terms of earning free nights. Standard Red members can earn a free night at a Club Carlson Category 1 hotel after spending just $450 on hotel stays. Combined with the Club Carlson card and the elevated Gold membership (which earns a 15% point bonus), it takes just $272 in spending for a free night at a Category 1 hotel. 

This is totally starting to sound like a paid advertisement for the Club Carlson card, but if I could just have one hotel card, this would absolutely be it. It’s nice to get excited about something again when things have been so dull in the manufactured spending game. I’m looking forward to putting the card (and the points) to good use next year.

Have you applied for the Club Carlson Visa? What has your experience been?

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Year-end Status Check: Should You Mattress Run for Elite Status?

Hyatt Regency San Francisco Embarcadero Suite

Hyatt Regency San Francisco Embarcadero Suite

It’s the end of the year and many of you will be checking on the progress you’ve made towards earning hotel elite status and determining whether to mattress run to hit your target. At what point does it make sense to go mattress running for elite status? I would definitely advise against doing it for mid-tier status, which is easily attained from a co-branded credit cards. As far as top-tier elite status, mattress running is a good idea if you’re at least 70% of the way to top-tier elite, based on stays. So for programs like Starwood Preferred Guest and Hyatt Gold Passport, that would mean you’ve completed at least 17 stays and are 8 short of Platinum/Diamond status.

Another thing to take into consideration is how much you’ll be spending on those mattress runs and comparing it to the benefits you’ll gain. Complimentary breakfast and a certain number of guaranteed suite upgrades may sound like they’re worth spending several hundred dollars on, but consider the alternatives: You can get free breakfast by booking a club level room on points and you can book suites on points or arrange a cash upgrade with the hotel. It might end up being cheaper than spending $800+ or a combination of Points + Cash on mattress runs. 

The important thing is to honestly assess whether the money spent on mattress runs is worth the benefits you’ll receive as a top-tier member. While you can easily value a suite upgrade certificate at over $300 per night, that’s not a fair valuation unless that is an amount you would otherwise pay for a suite. Also, think about whether you need top-tier benefits, including suite night upgrades. I’ve come to the realization that except for instances when I’m traveling with a large group or there is no standard room availability, I don’t need to book a suite.

I myself am a long way from achieving Hyatt Diamond elite status for next year. It’s been nice having Diamond status thanks to the now defunct Diamond Challenge and I’m certainly going to miss those suite upgrade certificates, but I’ll survive. Next year I plan on doing a lot more travel and may earn back Hyatt Diamond status. For now, I’m content with Platinum status and the free wifi it gets me. I’ll put my mattress running budget towards actual hotel stays in 2015.

If you decide mattress running is worth your while, be sure to check out my tips for doing it cheaply

Where are you in terms of hotel elite status for 2015? Are you going to mattress run to hit your target or let your status lapse?

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Win up to 70,000 Club Carlson Points on Twitter

Park Inn Ulysse Resort & Thalasso Djerba Club Carlson

Use your points at the Park Inn Ulysse Resort & Thalasso, Djerba

Club Carlson is giving away up to 70,000 Club Carlson points every week through their Tweet for Points promotion. They’ve run these giveaways in the past (one of which I actually won!), but this one is a little bit different. Club Carlson sets a counter each week, which starts at 9,000 points. They add 100 points every time a @ClubCarlson follower tweets with hashtag #TweetForPoints – up to 70,000 points per week.

Each tweet counts as an entry and every follower can tweet once times per day. The current prize amount is at 38,700 points – enough for a free night at a Category 4 hotel (or 1-4 nights at a lower category hotel). So if you have a Twitter account, be sure to tweet daily to enter for a chance to win and increase the prize amount. If you don’t have a Twitter account, now is as good a time as any to get one.

As a reminder, you need to do the following to participate in the giveaway:

  1. Follow @ClubCarlson on Twitter
  2. Tweet with #TweetForPoints
  3. Tweet up to once per day to get the prize count up.

Good luck and let me know if any of you guys end up winning!

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Oakland to Hawaii as Low as $200 RT on Alaska Airlines!

Views from our table at Japengo

Kaanapalai Beach, Maui

Here’s a reason to work in a trip to Hawaii next year: Alaska Airlines is offering economy fares as low as $260 roundtrip between Oakland and Hawaii. As Kendra reported fares between Oakland and Maui (OGG) are as low as $260 roundtrip. These fares are valid between January and March, mostly applying to mid-week flights. 

The $260 fares can even be paired with the $99 Alaska Airlines Companion Ticket issued to Alaska Visa Signature cardholders. I tested it and my total for a $260 fare came to $402.24, which is just over $200 per person. Charging this booking to your Barclay Arrival Plus card means you’ll be able to redeem 36,000 miles to cover this fare. That’s just about the number of miles American Airlines requires for a single off-peak AAdvantage award to Hawaii. Essentially, you are getting a two for one deal here. If you are a Alaska Visa Signature cardholder, you can find your Companion Ticket code in the “Discount Codes” section of your Mileage Plan account.

If Maui isn’t really your cup of tea, there are also $300 roundtrip fares between Oakland and Kauai (LIH), Honolulu (HNL), and Kona (KOA) during the same period. First class fares are also somewhat discounted, with some as low as $1,000 roundtrip. This isn’t exactly a bargain, considering Alaska’s first class on Hawaiian routes is basically a recliner seat, but worth mentioning for those who don’t mind paying for it.

As far as accommodations once you get to Hawaii, there are a few options. You can always book a Starwood, Hyatt, or Hilton stay on points. Hyatt’s Free Night + 10,000 Bonus Points promotion is also worth looking into, and sometimes their vacation club offers discounted stays in exchange for attending a timeshare presentation. If it’s a hassle-free condo or vacation club you’re after, Airbnb has quite a few listings. The great thing about Airbnb is that it gets coded as a travel merchant, so you’ll earn double points wit the Barclay Arrival Plus and category bonus cards. Plus, you’ll be able to redeem Arrival Miles at a rate of 1.1 cent per point.

If you’re up for a winter/spring trip to Hawaii, these fares are pretty tough to beat. No matter what you decide in terms of where to stay, you’re saving quite a bit on airfare and activities, so you’ll be able to splurge in other areas.

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TopCashBack: 2.25% Cash Back on Amex Gift Cards!

2.25% Cash Back on Amex Gift Cards from Top Cash Back!

2.25% Cash Back on Amex Gift Cards from Top Cash Back!

Howie from Frugal Travel Guy gave me a heads up this morning that Top Cash Back is offering 2.25% cash back on Amex gift cards! This deal is valid for 24 hours only, so if you want to meet some spending requirements, you may want to get in on this while you can.  A few months ago, major shopping portals pulled Amex gift cards from the lineup and eventually Top Cash Back returned with 1.5% cash back. That’s been the best offer around so far. While the just 0.75% more than the usual payout, every bit helps in off-setting manufactured spending fees.

Amex gift card purchases are capped at $5,000 every two weeks. With 2.25% cash back, you will be earning $112.50. There are $3.95 fees per card and since the maximum denomination is $3,000, you’re looking at $7.90 in card fees as well as $5.95 – $8.95 in shipping fees. That’s a small amount compared to the $112.50 cash back you’re earning. My preferred method of cashing out these Amex gift cards is via Amex for Target cards. The cost of loading and unloading $5,000 worth of gift cards onto this card would be around $96. Factoring in the cost of purchasing Amex gift cards and the shipping fee, you will be breaking even. Considering the dwindling number of manufactured spending options out there, breaking even while earning miles is as good as it gets these days. The exception is if you’re willing to forego points for cash back alone. In that case, using your Amex Fidelity Rewards card would get you an extra 2% cash back. This would result in a $100 profit per $5,000 gift card.

Another option is to cash out via Google Wallet, which won’t be so bad since the 2.25% cash back amount offsets a large chunk of the 3% fee charged by Google. This option is best for those who don’t have much time to spend on cashing out gift cards and don’t mind paying a little extra to save time.

If you’re going to get in on this promotion, be sure to check this Flyertalk thread for credit cards that code Amex gift card purchases as cash advances. You want to avoid using these credit cards, since it means you won’t earn miles on your purchases and will be liable for cash advance fees. There’s also some information about using Club Carlson credit cards, which a reader asked me about a few days ago. Apparently, if you use your a US Bank issued card to purchase gift cards in the amount exceeding your cash advance limit, your transaction will be declined. The thread confirms that as long as you stay below your cash advance limit, the transaction will go through and will not be processed as a cash advance. 

So if you have a minimum spending requirement to meet or just want to earn a few points with little or no out of pocket cost, this is a great way to do it. 

Note: The Top Cash Back link in this post is my referral link. If you use it to join TCB, I’ll earn a $10 commission after you earn at least $10 cash back.

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British Airways $1,572 Business Class Fare vs. Redeeming Miles

British Airways discounted business Class: $1,570 roundtrip

British Airways discounted business Class: $1,570 roundtrip

Last week, British Airways announced a Business Class fare sale on flights departing London between December 21, 2014 – January 3, 2015. Despite dubbing the promotion “Two for £2014 ($3,145.50),” you don’t have to book in pairs to get the discount. A single ticket will set you back around $1,570 depending on your travel dates. The discounted fare must be booked by 11:50 PM (GMT) on December 4. Outbound travel must be completed by January 3, and inbound travel by January 11, 2015. The discounted business class fares are valid on a variety of routes departing London, including to the following US cities:

  • Boston
  • San Francisco
  • Seattle
  • Vancouver

At $1,572 per person roundtrip, is this fare better than redeeming miles

This discounted business class fare falls below the minimum $1,775 threshold – a price I’ve designated as the point under which it’s cheaper to buy a ticket and redeem Arrival Miles than to manufacture spend the airline miles required for it. It takes a minimum of 100,000 airline miles roundtrip for a business class award between the US and London. This requires $80,000 – $100,000 in manufactured spending. On the other hand, a $1,570 business class ticket requires 141,400 Arrival Miles (after the 10% travel redemption discount), which requires $70,650 in spend on the Arrival Plus card. Factor in the taxes and fuel surcharges that are tacked onto award flights to London and the “Two for £2014” business class fare even more of a bargain.

The only negative to this fare is that it’s only valid on roundtrip flights departing London, so you will have to fly out of and back into London. You could book yourself an off-peak economy return ticket with American Airlines for 20,000 miles one-way (18,000 if you’ve got a Citi AAdvantage Platinum card). This part may be a deal breaker for some or an incentive for the more adventurous travelers. In theory, $1,572 for a roundtrip business class ticket is better than redeeming miles, though if you factor in the restrictions, it ends up being less than practical.

Are you taking advantage of British Airways’ Business Class fare sale this holiday season?

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