Maximizing the Merrill + card 50,000 point signon bonus

Introduction

This post is pertinent for you frequent Alaska or Jetblue flyers.   A while back I wrote that I had gotten my wife a BOA Merrill + card that has a 50K signon bonus.  I finally got around to banking the 50K points and decided to redeem the points.  The quick and easy way is to cash out the 50K points as $500, but you know I like to max out things.  If you cash it out as travel, you can redeem 25K points for a flight up to $500.  The reason why this is pertinent for Alaska or Jetblue flyers is because those programs let you cancel flights to a “bank” which you can then use for other cheaper flights.  Since I’m based out of Seattle and fly Alaska quite often, I’ll show you that example.

 

Step 1 – Find a $500 flight

Go to http://flights.google.com and filter on just Alaska flights.  Play around with the destination and dates until you get as close to $500 as possible.  If you are doing this with Alaska, MAKE SURE YOU PICK A DATE 60 DAYS OUT; else you’ll get hit with a change fee!  In the screenshot below, I found a SEA-TPA in June for $499.  Perfect!

I was able to confirm the flight on the Alaska site:

 

Step #2 – Feed it into the Merrill travel site

Feed the itinerary into the Merrill site.  Notice how there’s an even better United flight, but that won’t work since they charge a cancellation fee and will just refund the points back to your Merrill account.  Book the Alaska flight as you normally would.

 

Step #3 – Wait 24 hours and then cancel

The next step is to give it 24 hours.  Then you should be able to pull up the itinerary on Alaskaair.com.  Don’t do it before 24 hours or else it’ll just be cancelled and you’ll get the 25K points back into your Merrill account.  Once it’s on alaskaair.com, cancel the flight and choose to credit the airfare back to your “Travel Wallet.”  You will then have 365 days from the date of the booking or it’ll expire so don’t go nuts.  Now I can just spend down my balance as I see fit.

Note my cancellation was for a different flight and not the example above.

 

Jetblue

While the Merrill site says “Air Rewards start at 25,000 Merrill Points for flights on the following carriers: American Airlines, Delta Airlines, United Airlines and British Airways…” it does work for Alaska as well as Jetblue.  I’m not too familiar with the Jetblue program; I believer there is a slight cancellation fee with them, but it may still be worth it to do this trick.

 

Conclusion

This does NOT WORK FOR SOUTHWEST since the ML travel site can’t book SW flights!  If you live in an Alaska or Jetblue area, the Merrill + Visa card is a must get for the sign-on bonus (about $1,000 in flights.)  Add it to your next BoA AoR.

  • Le_Firefly

    I know your sample used $499 for 25k, but this would work for $998 for the full 50k, right? Any specific reason to keep 25k parked in ML+ and the other $499 in Alaska credit?

    • Miles per Day

      It should. I think it’s bec it was harder to find a $999 ticket that is out in the future, so best to do $499 twice. plus it may be hard to spend $999 within a year.

  • TravelFam

    Is there a way to avoid consolidator/bulk fares when purchasing through the travel portal? I just booked a flight and get the message on Alaska’s website that “The total price for your flight(s) is not available,” which is a pretty clear indication the fare is a bulk fare and cannot be banked.

    • Miles per Day

      Who did you use to book the fare? I know the Visa Infinite ones and WF ones can’t be banked.

      • TravelFam

        The Merrill+ Travel Portal

        • Miles per Day

          Doesn’t matter. When you cancel, you’ll get the price you paid as credit. This is assuming you’ve waited the 24 hrs.

          • TravelFam

            Perhaps, but when I’ve purchased fares in the past, and they end up being bulk fares, Alaska can’t bank the fare because the fare is hidden from their view. The message I noted above was the bulk fare indicator, basically. I haven’t waited 24 hours, but I’m wary to wait that long and then be stuck with an itinerary I have no intention of using.

  • Chris

    I need to book a flight for 3 of us to Alaska (on Alaska) for this summer. I’m using a companion fare for my sister and dad and plan to use Merrill points for my own flight. Is there any benefit to banking the money in my Alaska wallet then booking a flight on alaskaair.com instead of booking on the Merrill travel portal and keeping the flight? Not sure if it’s better to be booking directly with the airline for whatever reason.

    • Miles per Day

      You can combine CP + a banked ML itinerary so you’ll maximize your ML points that way. Else you’re not getting maximum value.

  • Asim

    is this still good to do it?
    I have 53K Merill points, and I am thinking to cashout through alaska air and get the money into the bank.
    Just checking that this deal is still a good deal to utilize 50K points into Cash?

    • Miles per Day

      I don’t think you’re understanding what’s happening here. The end result is Alaska credit, not cash or money in your bank account.

  • Presley Hi

    Does this work with membership rewards? Book an Alaska flight using MR, get 50% back with the Plat Biz. Then go to your Alaska account and cancel and it goes to your wallet?

    • Miles per Day

      Hmm I haven’t tried it, but it sounds like it should work. That’s a good way to convert MR to AS wallet (not AS miles though)

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  • Ben Looney

    Any idea when/if the Jetblue “bank” expires? I only have 1 flight on AS here in TPA, so not sure I’d like to lock myself in to $1k in AS cash.

    • Miles per Day

      You should double check yourself but I think it’s a year.

  • chan

    I cancel my flight, however there is no option to choose to credit the airfare back to your bank.
    There are only three options: Deposit the value of the tickets as credit into My Wallet, Email the ticket value as credit, and Email the canceled ticket numbers and use later to retrieve the value.
    Where can I find the option the airfare to my bank???

    • Miles per Day

      The first option. “My wallet” is your airfare bank. It’s not supposed to go directly to your checking account bank.

  • T E

    I was finally able to find a $499.40 flight from SEA-IAD to maximize the deal. WOOT!

    • Miles per Day

      Nice. Pretty impressive

      • T E

        Just a thought. Any chance this could work with the $100 visa infinite domestic discount a similar way. Book two flights through the visa infinite portal with alaska, wait 25 hours, then cancel. If you did it right, you could get a better than 50% off if you find RT flights for under $100. I’m just not sure if the funds are split between the two alaska accounts, or go to the one alaska account since you have to book 2 RT tickets.

        • Miles per Day

          That’s actually a genius idea which I need to try. Lmk if u try and it works, which I’m assuming it should. I bet the funds go back to each passenger’s account…

          • T E

            I don’t have a second person that is planning on flying Alaska with me anytime soon, so I don’t really have a way to try this without risking that half the funds get stuck somewhere they aren’t suppose to be.

          • Miles per Day

            I tried this. Visa Infinite flts can’t be banked. I had AS cancel them and they said they’d refund Infinite, but the refund went into a black hole so not sure where it is. I’ll need to call up the Infinite ppl.

          • T E

            thats odd. sucks that it disapeared on you

      • BellevueMike

        I owe you a dinner. My wife and me got the Merrill card. Each got the bonus and had 53K to work with. We also each have an Alaska card and a companion fare to work with. As it turns out, the RT trip from SEA to KOA (Kona) nonstop (and the only thing even close to convenient, as we have 2 small ones) was $996. So, I followed the instructions and nabbed 4 RT’s nonstop to Hawaii and back for 2 X $130 = $260 (the companion pass fare + taxes) and $0 for the Merrill 2. I gave my wife 50K of my 150K Starpoints and we each had 90K to convert to 270K Marriott and qualify for the Southwest Companion pass. We each used the Companion Pass status to get MVP Gold match on Alaska. That meant my wife and I each got 4 upgrade certificates. Upgrade space was available on the nonstops so now we’re flying first class and back to Hawaii, along with 240K SW points, along with 14 Marriott night certificates, along with 2 SW Companion Passes good for nearly 2 years, all for $260 and 180K Starwood points.

        Amazing.

        • Miles per Day

          Congrats. Seems like you got a very good deal.

  • Matt

    Do you know if you can use banked money with AS on partner award taxes/fees?

    • Miles per Day

      No, I’ve tried.

  • 808

    Are you able to buy Alaska gift card with “bank” money?

    • Miles per Day

      No

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  • Ken

    Can you also use the banked cash on codeshare flights with AS? There’s only a single AS flight to/from Denver.

    • Miles per Day

      If you can book it on AS, I believe you can, but most AS tickets require at least a leg on AS metal so prob won’t help you much.

      • Ken

        Could always do the first leg DEN-SEA and then pickup a codeshare form there. Who does AS partner with that flies out of SEA?

        • Miles per Day

          Delta and AA and their international partners, but I don’t think the search engine will try to put you on an AA flight out of SEA if there is an AS out of SEA.

          • Ken

            It was worth a shot!

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  • king

    Can we use the money in the wallet to book tickets for other passengers. Or is it applicable only for the same person as in the cancelled reservation ?

    • Miles per Day

      Yes on Alaska

  • CJ

    JetBlue cancellation fee is $70. Don’t think it will be worth it. Unless you book a Blue Flex fare. But I don’t think you can book those through third party sites?

    • Miles per Day

      I’m not sure if you can book Blue Flex fares. Either way, if you know you do a lot of cheap B6 flights, the $70 hit may still be worth it, but you’ll have to do your own math to see if it’s worth it to you.

      • CJ

        Good point. Unless you’re flying to South America/transcontinental, where you’ll get close to a full redemption, it may be worth it if you’re only shuttling up and down the east coast.

  • Mn

    Do you get the credit back on your credit card? or it remains with Alaska/Jetblue and then you have to use it with them in future?

    • Miles per Day

      It remains within AS/B6 for future flights. If it went back to the card, then you’re back at square 1.

      • Mn

        How long you have to use them?

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  • BellevueMike

    The companion certificate use is also huge. I’m not familiar with “banked” travel on Alaska although it makes sense. It would also make sense that you could buy a e.g., $750 ticket on Alaska and apply the $99 companion cert obtained from the Alaska card. Is anyone aware of why this cannot be done?

    • Miles per Day

      No that’s how it works. Buy the $850 pair of tickets and apply $500 or however is much in your bank to this.

  • Aaron

    Thanks Vinh! Assuming this would work with Flexperks ticket too?
    Looking around and not a clear answer — do you need status with AS to refund ticket to MyWallet without paying a fee? Thanks!

    • Miles per Day

      YUP works with Flexperks too. No I’m 99% sure you don’t need status; you just have to cancel it 60 days out and that’s why I tell you to pick a flight down the road.

  • Mileman41

    Just curious – at what point in the process does this not work for Southwest? I would think, similar to US Flexperks, as long as you don’t purchase a Wanna Get Away fare, you’d be able to link your RR account and then cancel and choose to bank.

    • Miles per Day

      ML travel portal doesn’t let you book Southwest flights. That’s where it stops.

      • Mileman41

        hah! Fair enough 🙂 Thanks!

  • pier11

    Vinh, are you 100% sure that canceled within 24h ticket automatically goes back to Merill as POINTS (and not sort of internal to Merill cash balance)? Did you and anyone you know had this experience – got your points back after cancellation?
    As this is exactly what I need – to just temporarily park away 25k points to apply the remaining 25k and only to expensive ticket $500++.

    • Miles per Day

      Pretty sure it does; that’s how WF points work so I’m guessing it’s how this program works. I don’t know how else they would refund you except back to your points balance.

      • pier11

        Thanks. WF – is that where my fear came from. Had experience of cancelled returning LEG on United due to weather condition. After some back and force between United and WF travel agency I got the refund somewhere in WF travel agency’ system in form of cash, bound to my original reservation. Not visible to me.

        If anyone had successful experience with points refund, please comment. Thanks!

  • Hallo

    Awesome idea, thanks Vinh!

  • MAG

    Am I correct in understanding that you can only redeem $ from your wallet for flights on Alaska metal? Any success applying the funds to a partner ticket?

    • Miles per Day

      AS won’t book pure AA or Delta tickets; they’ll usually connect with an AA flight and I was doing a test and I was able to apply my bank to it. But the test was for a $5K flt and I had $500 in bank. Not sure what happens if the whole ticket was say $600 and if they would let me use all $500 bank. My guess is YES but not 100% sure.

  • Matt K.

    Call it $2k value with some companion certs.

    • Miles per Day

      Ah good point. For a second, I thought you said the ML card came with companion certs. Now that I think about it, I may MS the 50K on the card to get the Delta lounge pass; I hear the lounge at Seatac is NICE!

      • Mark Ostermann

        I am surprised more people haven’t considered going for the delta lounge bonus.

        • Miles per Day

          Now I’m actually interested Mark cuz if the card is 2c everyday for travel, i’m not losing much opportunity cost. I’ll have to look into the delta lounge bonus more now.

          • Mark Ostermann

            yeah and if you value the membership at face value it is basically like getting 3% on all spend

          • Miles per Day

            Let’s not get crazy here. I’d value it at like $50 since I can already just go to the AMEX lounge with my Plat card. I’m saying this because I haven’t been to the Seatac Delta lounge yet. I hear it’s awesome though, so the cost benefit would be the marginal improvement over the AS Boardroom and Centurion.

          • Mark Ostermann

            True but you can access their lounges even when flying Alaska etc since it is a membership – something you can’t do with the plat.

            If you are a Seahawks fan you just crushed my Lions 🙁

          • Miles per Day

            Plat gives me PriorityPass which works for AS boardrooms. And the delta AS partnership is about to end.

            Cmon player you know you had no chance. 😉

          • Mark Ostermann

            Haha true – Lions are the worst sports franchise out there besides maybe the Browns!

      • Raj

        Can you book Alaska with ML points and use a $99 companion cert as well?

        • Miles per Day

          No that’s why you need to use the “bank” to combine with the $99 cert.