Brexit and Travel

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We are only a handful of days away from Brexit and at this point the British Parliament still has yet to approve a deal. So, what does this mean? The short answer is we don’t really know. What we do know is that one of three things will happen on March 29th – 1) Parliament agrees to a deal with the EU, 2) The UK requests an extension, or 3) The UK crashes out with what is known as a “Hard Brexit.” While many articles could be written on each of these scenarios, we are going to focus on some of the travel related aspects and how your trip(s) may be affected.

Businesses and certain government entities are preparing for the unknown. Airline caterer Gate Gourmet is stockpiling meals in the UK to avoid an potential disruption while Heathrow is making sure they have enough of the various EU-sourced goods that allow them to properly do their jobs, such as gloves and scanners.

British Airways stated that customers should expect to see no disruptions of service and that they will continue to service all of their destinations regardless of whether a deal is reached. easyJet created a new company, easyJet Europe and physically moved planes to the continent as the uncertainty grows. Going back to BA, they are in an interesting spot, as their parent company IAG has stakes in a number of European airlines – Iberia, Aer Lingus, Norwegian, and Vueling. With IAG’s headquarters located squarely in the UK – they are currently decidedly British. IAG is currently working to ensure that it is seen as a European company post-Brexit in a no-deal scenario to protect its European routes.

The part that most readers will care about is the future state of air travel to and from the UK. The best case scenario (in my opinion) is that everything stays the same. In a no-deal scenario would certainly lead to higher fares and immigration issues. On top of those unwanted affects, there is the potential for as many as 5 million tickets to be canceled due to flight caps that could be imposed in the face of no-deal.

Citizens of the United States will need to obtain travel authorization to enter the EU beginning in 2021 and a no-deal scenario would certainly place British citizens in the same boat. While the financial burden would amount to under $10 USD for a 3 year authorization, this process and cost is a far cry from the free movement to which British citizens are currently familiar.

I am no expert on any of these matters, but from where I sit it appears that the uncertainty isn’t receding and anxiety is only growing. Perhaps one of you smarter readers can figure something out for Europe??

…so, if you want to read the 585 page agreement as it currently stands, please go right ahead!

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2019 State of the Wallet Address

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I tend to do a lot of my personal financial reviews at the beginning of the year – preparing my taxes, checking my retirement investments, managing recurring bills (cable, cell phone, etc.), and looking at my open credit cards. While I’m sure you all want to hear about my home office deduction, my 1099-INTs, and the like…I’ll just keep this focused on the credit cards. 

I broke down my analysis into three sections:

  1. Open Cards I am Keeping
  2. Open Cards I am Closing/Converting
  3. Cards I am Considering

There are so many fantastic products available to us these days and with every company competing for market share there is a lot of overlap among products.  Each reader has his/her preferred airlines, hotels, and lifestyle needs and for me there are a few important items to note. First, I live in a secondary market (Richmond, Va), so our airport has no lounges, and I have no airline loyalty.  Because of this, co-branded airlines cards don’t have as much value as they would for someone consistently flying American Airlines out of Charlotte, for example. Second, I value transferable points above all else and look to maximize value in that way as opposed to maximizing cash back.  Third, diversification is important, as to allow for more options when it comes time to book award travel.

Open Cards I am Keeping

American Express Gold – In its revamped form, this is a recent addition to my wallet.  With its 4x dining and 4x grocery (up to $25k) per year, it makes the short list.  To add icing on the cake, the airline ($100) and dining credits ($120) take quite a bite out of the $250 annual fee. While the card also offers 3x on airfare and 1x on everything else, this card doesn’t see action in those areas

American Express Platinum – I recently wrote an article on why this card is so valuable to me.  It simply comes down to the fact that while I don’t do a lot of purchasing on the card (aside from airfare at 5x), the benefits offered by American Express make the $550 annual fee seem insignificant.

American Express Blue Business Plus – With no annual fee and 2x on all purchases up to $50k per year, there is nothing not to love about this card

American Express Bonvoy Brilliant – This is the odd one out on my “keep” list.  The earn rates aren’t competitive, it has a high fee (albeit with some decent perks), and I think the name is stupid, but this card performs two very important duties for me.  First, I do enjoy SPG Marriott Bonvoy points as they offer access to unique transfer partners with an amazing array of award chart sweet spots.  The second thing this card provides is a nice path to Platinum Elite status.  By spending $75k the cardholder obtains that status for the remainder of the year and for the next calendar year.  While I don’t stay in hotels as often as most, it is nice to have that in my back pocket. This card may be jettisoned if Marriott continues to water down the statuses and have inconsistent delivery of benefits from their hotels.

Chase Ink Plus – As long as Chase continues to keep this card “active” it’ll have a home in my wallet.  Offering 5x on phone, cable, internet, and office supply stores up to $50k per year, it is easy to justify the $95 fee

Chase Ink Cash – Ink Cash matches the Ink Plus in categories and while it does have a lower cap at $25k per year, there is no fee, making this card a no-brainer.

Chase Ink Preferred – Offering 3x on up to $150k annually on travel, shipping, phone/cable/internet, and online advertising provides a great way to pull in major Ultimate Rewards hauls each year.  It also offers the most comprehensive cell phone protection of any major credit card.

Chase Freedom – Rotating quarterly 5x categories capped at $1500 per quarter, the ability to pool points between accounts, and no annual fee make this an easy keeper

Balance Transfer Cards – I hold a slew of other no-fee cards as well that have very high limits that I don’t intend to close.  These cards routinely send me access checks which can allow me quickly to invest in something or create cash if needed.  Additionally, the high limits and 0 balance currently on these cards helps keep my overall credit utilization in check, leading to a more stable high credit score.

Open Cards I am Closing/Converting

American Express Everyday – While I have no specific plans to close this card (as it has no annual fee), it only offers 2x on grocery up to $6k per year and a 20% bonus on all points if 30 or more purchases are made in a calendar month.  My plan with this card is to potentially convert to another Amex product or wait to see if something new comes out that is worthy of an Amex slot.

American Express Hilton Ascend – This card made the long march from a Citi Hilton Honors to an Amex Hilton Surpass to now its current form.  I can see where some would get value from this card, but for me it is just taking up room and has an annual fee (that I have been able to get waived for the past 2 years).  It its current state it doesn’t add much value to me, but I am still contemplating what my hotel moves will be for the latter half of 2019 into 2020

Chase Sapphire Preferred – For some it is probably shocking to see this card in this section of my list but compared to the other items on this list and my spend patterns, this card is eclipsed in each of it’s spend categories by another card with only 2x dining and travel.

Citi Premier/Prestige – I am lumping these two together as I will only be closing one, but at this stage I don’t know which.  Why am I keeping one?  Although Citi has some odd rules about combining ThankYou points, keeping open a card that allows access to transfer partners is important.  The Citi Premier has an annual fee of $95 and for that price point, some solid earn rates with 3x travel and 2x dining and entertainment.  The Citi Prestige is a premium card with a $495 fee with some very solid earn rates (5x airfare, 5x dining, 3x hotels and cruises), but the big winner on this card is the coveted 4th night free benefit.  With Citi limiting this benefit to two uses per year, it does put a damper on what was a 4th night bonanza, but the $250 travel credit is still very much alive.  At this point I am leaning towards keeping the Citi Prestige and dumping Premier.

Cards I am Considering

Citi Rewards+ – If you haven’t heard of this card, listen up!  This is hands down the best points card for a person that makes a lot of small purchases.  It earns 2x gas and grocery (capped at $6k per year), but the kicker is that all purchases are rounded up to the nearest 10 points.  That $4 coffee = 10 points, the $1 soda = 10 points, the $0.01 Amazon reload = 10 points. You COULD say that this card earns 1000x on certain purchases!  Regardless, this is a great card and since I haven’t opened OR closed Premier or Prestige in the past 24 months, I AM eligible for the bonus. 

Chase Ink Unlimited – I have every other Ink card under the sun, so what’s one more?  The reality here is that when I’ve maxed out my Amex Blue Business Plus, am not working on a sign-up bonus, and am not purchasing in a category with a bonus this card (and Freedom Unlimited) offer the best value at 1.5x on everything.  What is even better?  This is a no fee card and the points can be pooled with my other Chase accounts.

American Express Hilton Aspire – I have the Ascend card and it isn’t do anything for me now.  If I move away from Marriott, the EASIEST place to go is Hilton, as the Aspire card has a slew of great benefits and credits and provides Hilton Diamond status just for holding the card.  While it is a less generous program, many of the changes to Marriott are lowering the value of the program, so if I can grab status for no spend, that is a better bargain in my opinion.

Chase World of Hyatt – Much like the Aspire if I move to Hilton, this is card to grab if I move to Hyatt.  Hyatt’s top-level status – Globalist is the best of the top tier statuses out there, but Hyatt doesn’t have as many properties, so sometimes you have to go out of your way to stay in their properties.  The spend required to hit that top tier status is at least $125k, depending on your current Hyatt status.  Earn rates on this card aren’t fantastic, but along the way to gaining status there are multiple free night certificates to be picked up.  For a fee of only $95 per year, it may be the way I go.

Conclusion

There you have it…I have bared my um…wallet?…to you all and I’m curious as to what you all think.  On what points do you agree?  Where do you think I’m a total idiot (let’s keep it specific to credit card and points to save on time)?  What would you do differently? 

I’ll be revisiting this later this year when I have a better idea as to what I’m going to do with hotel loyalty.

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February Catch-Up

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Some quick highlights (and lowlights) from the month of February…

American Airlines Credit Cards to Lose 10% Points Rebate

One of my favorite benefits of holding AA credit cards (Barclays or Citi) is that they offered a 10% rebate on redeemed miles up to 10k per year.  This more than offset the $89, 95, or $99 fee and I am extremely sad to see this go.  The silver lining here is that some new perks are coming to the cards on May 1 including additional statement credits, companion tickets, and a new program called “Flight Cents,” all of which we be detailed in an upcoming post.

TWA Hotel Now Taking Reservations

JFK’s iconic Eero Saarinen designed TWA Terminal has been turned into what has to be the most AvGeek hotel in the world and it looks stunning.  Not only is it conveniently located to JFK (it used to be a terminal!), but offers chic accommodations that harken back to the golden age of jet travel.  Rates are starting at $249 per night and rooms for May 15th and onward, when the hotel officially opens.

9 Airlines Added to TSA PreCheck Program

TSA added nine new airlines to the PreCheck program: Air India, Asiana Airlines, China Airlines, Eastern Airlines, Elite Airways, EVA Air, Japan Airlines, TAP Air Portugal, and Volaris.  This brings the grand total to 65 airlines. Click here to see all 65 participating airlines.

Airbus Announces End of A380 Production

Airbus formally announced the end of A380 production earlier this month. First flying in 2005, production will end in 2021 with roughly 250 airplanes having been built, far fewer than the originally anticipated 1,000+. While this move hardly comes as a surprise, it is still sad to see this iconic plane end production. With the introduction of lighter and more fuel efficient wide-bodies such as the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350, the need for jumbo jets has decreased and smaller markets have been opened up leading to a pull-back from the hub and spoke system. While the A380s and 747s will be in the skies for years to come, their numbers are dwindling. Don’t worry too much though, as many great opportunities still exist to fly these fantastic planes.

AirAsia to Open Fast-Food Restaurant Serving Airline Food

This is a bit of a weird one, but AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes announced on Larry King Now that the airline plans to open up a fast food restaurant called Santan. The restaurant will be serving the same food that is available from their on-board menu. While not every meal I have had on an airplane has been bad, there are very few items which I have actively desired while on the ground. That being said, I haven’t ever flown the Malaysia-based AirAsia, so can’t speak directly to their food. This could just be a marketing stunt, but I am certainly intrigued.

Ebates to Allow the Earning of American Express Membership Rewards

Is “game-changer” too strong a statement to use here? Ebates, which is a popular cash-back site is now offering new users the one-time choice to earn cash-back or Membership Rewards. With this change, the Ebates Visa credit card offers a minimum 3x on online purchases made through Ebates, which makes this card arguably the best card for online purchases for which one can apply. A full write up on this change will be forthcoming in a separate post.

Simon Mall Increases Daily Gift Card Purchase Limit to $25K

It is rare that a company makes FRIENDLY changes to the world of manufactured spending, but in the case of Simon Mall, they have done just that. The prior limit had been $10k per person per day and while this bump in purchase limit probably doesn’t change the behavior of most people, it is nice to see a positive change. This could be a sign of more friendly changes from Simon Mall.

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Start saving with Qapital Banking App for Automated Savings plus $20 Sign-Up Bonus and $20 Referrals

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Qapital is a free banking app that can save you money automatically towards your financial goals. Right now they are running a promotion until Feb 15th and for everyone who signs up with a referral link will earn $20 sign-up bonus after linking a checking account and making a first deposit. You can also refer others and when they sign-up using your link they can earn $20 as well.

You have to first download the Qapital app. Next, create an account and link a checking account to Qapital app (enter login credentials). You can set up a savings “goal” and a “rule” (how much to be deposited each week etc to qualify for the $20 bonus). As soon as the first deposit is made as per your rule you will be awarded with the $20 sign-up bonus. Makes sure you use a referral link for this offer to be valid as simply downloading the app from playstore will not trigger the bonus.

You can leave your referral links in the comments below or use our link here

Hat tip – DoC

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2018 With My American Express Platinum Card

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Unless you are brand new to the points game, you know that the Platinum Card from American Express (in any of its varieties) arguably offers some of the best benefits of any card on the market.  What scares off most people is the high annual fee of $550 (with up to 3 authorized users for $175 per year) – but should that fee scare you off?

There are a lot of articles that extol the virtues of the benefits, but to what end does the average cardholder use them – and at what volume must they be used to “break even” on the fees?   Like most, there are some benefits on which I rely heavily and others which I never touch.  I tracked my usage in 2018 to see what sort of value I was getting from this card.  My results are below:

Fees and Users

I have the personal version of the American Express Platinum Card and added both of my parents as authorized users, so my fees  come to $725 ($550+175) annually.  As authorized users my parents have all the benefits that I as the primary account holder do with the exception of the airline, Uber, and Saks Fifth Avenue credits.  For this usage review I have included the activity of all cardholders.

Annual Credits

The personal Platinum Card offers a $200 airline credit, a $200 Uber credit, and $100 Saks Fifth Avenue credit ($50 in 2018 as it started in the latter half of last year).  I took full advantage of these credits in 2018 netting me a value of: $450

Lounge Access

My favorite benefit of the Platinum Card is the most comprehensive lounge access offered by any credit card on the market and while 2018 was not a banner year for travel for me or for my parents we made great use of the lounges while traversing the globe.  I’ve listed out the number of visits, calculated to include the primary card member, authorized users, and guests.

Centurion Lounge Visits:               23

Delta Lounge Visits:                        15

Priority Pass Lounge Visits:           26

Escape Lounge Visits:                        3

TOTAL:                                                67

Coming up with a “value” for lounge access can be tricky.  Some lounges offer high end craft cocktails, cuisine designed by famous chefs, and spa services, while others offer sub-par wifi, make your own instant noodles, and hard plastic seating.  I’ve always felt that the value is conservatively $20 per visit, which considers what even a basic small meal or snacks and drinks would cost at the airport.  Using that figure, the annual value from the lounge visits comes to: $1,340

Statuses

One of the more unique perks offered by the Platinum Card is status with both Marriott and Hilton hotel chains and with Avis, Hertz, and National car rental chains.

I didn’t spend many nights in chain hotels last year, but in each of the two nights I spent at Hilton properties, I received free breakfast as a Hilton Gold member.  I value each breakfast at about $15.  While Marriott Golds do not receive complimentary breakfast, I did receive a suite upgrade for 2 nights (which also included club lounge access).  Based on the going rates at the property, the upgrade was worth $107 for each night for a total of $214.

When it comes to rental cars, each of the statuses provided offer similar benefits – accelerated earning of rewards, a one class bump when you rent a car, and some form of streamlined check in process.  Sadly, I utilized the Avis status as my car got hit and I needed a rental for two weeks.  In this case, I actually paid for the rental (which was fully reimbursed by the other driver’s insurance) with my Chase Ink Preferred as it earns 3x on rental cars and offers very good rental car insurance, but was able to take advantage of the bump to a full size vehicle at no additional cost.  The price difference was about $10 per day for a total value of $140.

The total value from provided statuses: $384

Amex Offers

American Express provides targeted discounts and points earning bonuses on all of their cards which can add significant value for any account holder.  While 2018 saw Amex tighten up their offer redemption rules and only allow offers to be used once per individual across all accounts, the value is still one of the easiest harness.  In 2018 on my Platinum Card alone, Amex Offer discounts saved me: $944.85

While the Platinum Card earns 5x on airfare purchases, it only earns 1x on all other spend.  However, with Amex Offers there are opportunities to boost earnings through specific vendors.  For me, the most lucrative of these additional points multipliers were for Best Buy and Amazon.  The additional points I earned through the Amex Offers amounted to: 41,426

Other

While there are many other benefits offered the only other one I used this year was the free ShopRunner membership.  For those that don’t know ShopRunner is a subscription service that allows for free 2-day shipping at many online retailers; think of it as Amazon Prime for a bunch of different retailers.  I made five purchases at vendors that partnered with ShopRunner and received free 2-day shipping which in total amounted to savings of: $73.18

Final Tally

Annual Credits:                 $450.00

Lounge Access:                 1,340.00

Statuses:                               384.00

Amex Offers:                        944.85

Other:                                       73.18

Total:                                $3,192.03

On top of nearly $3,200 I also received the additional 41,426 Membership Rewards points above the base earn of 5x on airfare and 1x on everything else.

What Else Could I Have Used?

With so many benefits it can be easy to lose track of what all is available on the card.  This year I did not take advantage of the Global Entry credit as I am enrolled through 2019.  I did not use any of the insurance items for travel, baggage, car rental, purchase protection, warranty extension, or return protection, nor did I use the roadside assistance.  I didn’t take advantage of the concierge service or any of the offerings through the Fine Hotels & Resorts program, the Hotel Collection, or the Global Dining Collection.  As I type out all of benefits that I didn’t use I begin to feel as though I left so much on the table.

Conclusion

The Platinum Card offers outsized value for its $550 annual fee and that large number shouldn’t scare off new applicants.  While this card is rarely the first card I pull out when making a purchase, it is a staple in my wallet and last years $3,192.03 is absolutely the reason why.  If you’re thinking about applying, the normal sign-up bonus on the personal card is 60,000 Membership Reward points, while the business card is typically 75,000, while occasionally targeted offers are sent out for 100,000 points.

In the interest of full disclosure, we will earn a referral bonus for anyone that is approved from our affiliate.  These are publicly available offers and all claims made in this post as of the posting date can be found in the offer language for the card.  We only provide the best publicly available offers and thank you for your continued support.

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January Catch-Up

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At the beginning of each month we will be writing a “catch-up” article highlighting important or noteworthy events from the prior month. While this certainly won’t be a recap of everything that happened across all airlines, hotels, banks, and credit cards, the hope is that we will be able to touch on the things about which you should be aware as well as others that may have slipped through the cracks in the prior month.

In no particular order…

1) American Express and Chase Issuing 1099s for Referral Bonuses

Starting on January 30, some American Express and Chase customers that had received referral bonuses for having friends/family sign up with their links in exchange for receiving points have reported receiving 1099s from the banks.

This is problematic as the banks have effectively applied a valuation to the points given. This reddit thread shows several examples and breaks down the valuations.

What can you do about it? First and foremost, consult your CPA or a tax professional. For some individuals it may have no impact, while for others that have a lot of referrals it could add thousands of dollars of income.

2) Bank of America Adds 24-Month Language to Certain Credit Cards

Similar to restrictions places on bonuses by Citi and Chase, Bank of America joins in by adding restrictions to four of their cards. Below are the cards and the specific terms.

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature : “This card will not be available to you if you currently have or have had the card in the preceding 24 month period.”

Bank of America Premium Rewards: “This Premium Rewards card will not be available to you if you currently have or have had a Premium Rewards card in the preceding 24 month period.”

Cash Rewards: “This Cash Rewards card will not be available to you if you currently have a Cash Rewards card unless you have had that Cash Rewards card for at least 24 months.”

Travel Rewards: “This Travel Rewards card will not be available to you if you currently have a Travel Rewards card unless you have had that Travel Rewards card for at least 24 months.”

3) Herb Kelleher, Founder of Southwest Airlines Passes Away at 87

An innovator in the air travel space, Herb Kelleher passed away on January 3, 2019. Southwest published this notice honoring their founder and his accomplishments.

4) American Express Restricting Centurion Lounge Access

Beginning March 22, Centurion Lounges will become pre-departure lounges only. From their website:

NOTE: FOR PLATINUM CARD MEMBERS ONLY The Centurion Lounge is a day of departure lounge. We will not admit arriving Platinum Card Members with boarding passes for flights that have just landed. We will admit Platinum Card Members with layovers or connecting flights who produce proof of connecting flight.


 We will not admit Platinum Card Members more than 3 hours before the departure time on the Platinum Card Member’s same-day, confirmed boarding pass. This does not apply to Platinum Card Members with a connecting flight.

 
 We will admit children under 2 years of age free of charge, provided an accompanying parent or guardian is able to produce a “lap infant” boarding pass or proof of age. “

I think this is a reasonable move for American Express to make and will help to control overcrowding while not affecting most lounge users. These changes were inevitable as the number Platinum Card holders has increased and the lounges are some of the best in the United States.

5) Citi Prestige Begins to Rollout New Features

As of January 4, the Citi Prestige earns 5x on dining and airfare and 3x on cruising. While these changes have been viewed as positive, more changes are coming.

  • May 1: Cell Phone protection will be added
  • August 31: The 2x entertainment category will be dropped
  • September 1: The highly coveted “Fourth Night Free” benefit will be capped to two uses per year
  • September 1: The annual fee will increase to $495
  • September 1: Fixed-value redemptions of ThankYou points using the Citi Prestige drops from 1.25 cents to only 1 cent per point.

This is quite a mixed bag of changes and the strategy for maximizing the card’s value becomes slightly different as well. I will be looking closely at my usage of the card in its new state and will be making a determination before my annual fee comes due (mid year) as to whether or not I’ll be keeping this card. The fourth night free benefit has been majorly devalued, but still offers extremely high potential value compared to the annual fee.

6) Citi Offers New Fee-Free Rewards+ Credit Card

Highlights of this new card include:

  • 15,000 points sign-up bonus
  • Rounds up purchases to the nearest 10 ThankYou points
  • Earns 2x ThankYou points at gas stations and supermarkets, on the first $6,000 per year (similar to the Amex Everyday card)
  • Provides 10% rebate on the first 100,000 ThankYou points redeemed each year

Be aware that the language regarding the bonus covers the Premier AND Prestige card: Bonus ThankYou® Points are not available if you received a new cardmember bonus for Citi Rewards+℠, Citi ThankYou® Preferred, Citi ThankYou® Premier/Citi Premier℠ or Citi Prestige®, or if you have closed any of these cards, in the past 24 months.

7) Marriott Overhauls Co-Brand Credit Cards

This visual shows the current and new cards for both American Express and Chase.

While there are a lot of changes as a result of the acquisition of SPG by Marriott and the rebranding to “Bonvoy,” the most immediate for bonus seekers will be the fact that both the SPG Amex and the Marriott Premier Plus Business cards will stop accepting new applicants on February 12. So if you have been considering grabbing those while they still exist, act fast!

In the interest of full disclosure, we will earn a referral bonus for anyone that is approved from our links.  These are publicly available offers and all claims made in this post as of the posting date can be found in the offer language for the card.  We only provide the best publicly available offers and thank you for your continued support.

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Unique way to Earn Credit Card Points and Profit

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This is a unique (slightly unconventional) way to earn credit card points and small profit. There will be an opportunity to purchase coins from US Mint tomorrow (1/24/18) at 12:00 pm sharp. PFS buyers club (https://bit.ly/2B0w4ND) is offering to purchase these coins from you for a small profit and you get to earn credit card points as well.

I have done several deals with them in the last two years and found them to be very reliable with payment (paid via paypal as friends family).

Please register only if you are able to complete the deal. The process is very simple – You opt in, they will send you instructions, be on the computer tomorrow at 12 pm EST on 1/24, the coins get shipped to your home (1 per household), do not open the box, slap the label PFS provides you with and drop it to Fedex. You will receive payment 24-48 hours after delivery.

Between the three deals, you’ll be able to spend over $2,200 and receive over $50 in commissions. If you’d like to register below is the link (affiliate).

https://pfsbuyersclub.com/Account/Register?referral=DZJF3UYP

Suggested cards to use –

ATT&T access more – 3x Thank you points
Chase Ink Unlimited – 1.5X UR Points
2% Cash back cards like Spark business, Venture, Barclay Arrival plus

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8 Ways to Redeem Amex Membership Rewards – Beginners Guide

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What are the cards that earn Membership Rewards?

American Express Membership Rewards is the rewards program offered by American Express. Membership Rewards Points (MR points) is the currency of this program and is also called flexible currency program due to the wide range of redemption

There are several cards available that offer Membership Reward Points as the rewards. Here is a summary of all the cards and a short summary of its benefits

Card NameAnnual FeeKey Features
Amex EveryDay Preferred Credit Card$95Use your Card 30 or more times on purchases in a billing period and earn 50% more points on those purchases less returns and credits

3X at US Supermarkets

2X at US Gas stations

1X on all other purchases
Amex EveryDay Credit Card$0Make 20 or more purchases with your Card in a billing period and earn 20% extra points

2X at US Supermarkets

1X on all other purchases
American Express Gold Card$2504X at US Restaurants and Supermarkets

3X on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com

$120 Dining credit

$100 Airline fee credit
Platinum Card from American Express$5505X on airfare booked directly with the airline or through Amex Travel and on prepaid hotels booked through amextravel.com


$200 credit towards incidental expenses with chosen Airline.

$200 in Annual Uber Credits

Access to Amex Centurion Lounges
Priority Pass Select Membership
Delta Skyclub (When flying Delta)

$100 credit towards GlobalEntry
American Express Green card$0 for first year and $95 afterwards2X at Amextravel.com

1X on all other purchases
American Express Business Platinum Card (From Feb 01, 2019)$5955X on airfare and prepaid hotels booked through amextravel.com

1.5X on purchases above $5000

$200 credit towards incidental expenses with choosen Airline.

$200 in statement credits towards Dell Purchases

Access to Amex Centurion Lounges

Priority Pass Select Membership

Delta Skyclub (When flying Delta)

Get 35% of the points back when you book flights through amextravel.com and pay with Membership rewards

Hilton Honors and Marriott Gold status

One year Complimentary Access to Weworks
American Express Business Gold Card$2954X points on 2 select categories where you spend the most each month

Get 25% points back, after you book a flight using Pay with Points

Upto one year of free G Suite Basic

Upto one year free of Zip Recruiter Standard
American Express Blue Business Plus credit card$02X on all purchases (Upto $50,000 in purchases each year)

There are lot of ways one could earn Membership Rewards, thanks to the whole array of cards (Personal & Small business) available.

Let us review the options available to redeem them.

  1. Transfer to Airline Partners

American Express membership Rewards can be transferred to 15 Airline partners. Here is a summary of all the transfer partners and the ratios that you could transfer MR Points.

These partners span across all major airline alliances along with the independent airline loyalty programs like Etihad Guest and Emirates Skywards. There are occasional transfer bonuses as well, which will further enhance the value of your Membership Reward points

Transferring to Airline partners and redeeming for premium cabins gives best value for your MR points.

Here are a few examples:

Sydney – Abu Dhabi in A380 First Apartment for 135K Etihad Guest Miles
Los Angeles to Singapore for 118K Krisflyer Miles in First Suites

2. Transfer to Hotel Partners

You can also transfer MR points to 3 hotel loyalty programs. Here is the summary

This is a good way to top up your account if you are short of few points for an award or depending on the redemption value, you could transfer the points needed for an entire award.

Enjoy an Overwater Villa for 95,000 Hilton Honors Points (47,500 MR Points) at Conrad Maldives

3. Get 1.25 cents per point with American Express Platinum Card for Schwab

If you hold a Schwab brokerage account, you could get a different version of the American Express Platinum card exclusive for Scwab account holders. Annual fee is $550 with the same benefits like Airline fee credit, Uber credit . You are still eligible for this card, even if you hold regular american express platinum card.

The beauty of this card, is the ability to redeem your MR points at 1.25 cents/point in to your Schwab account. Since Amex pools all the MR points in to one place, you could redeem your MR points across all cards at 1.25 cents per point.

Fancy another sign up bonus?

4. Book Travel

You could use MR points to book travel with Amextravel.com, you need a minimum of 5,000 MR points to redeem for travel.

You could book flights and hotels through Amextravel.com at 1 cent per point

Use Amex points for flights and hotels

Tip: if you hold American Express Business Platinum card, you get 35% points back when you pay with MR points.

Just 28.6K MR Points(after 35% points are refunded) for Mint Business class seat in Jet Blue from Las Vegas – Boston.

5. Redeem against Charges:

You could use your Amex MR points to redeem against your purchases, however, it is not the best value. You get only 0.6 cents

6. Redeem for Gift cards

You could use MR points to redeem for gift cards. Again, you will not best value from this option. It is probably one of the last thing you should consider, especially considering that there are ways to buy discounted gift cards. You would get anywhere between 0.7-1 cents/MR point

7. Redeem for Merchandise

You could redeem towards merchandise aswell from a wide range of products offered by Membership Rewards portal.

Get an Iphone XR for 118,471 MR points @ .65 cents/MR Point

8. Redeem at Checkout with Select Merchants

You can use MR points when you are doing shopping with Select merchants. Amazon is one such popular option. When redeeming at Amazon, you get 0.7 cents per MR point

Conclusion:

Amex Membership Rewards is one of the most valuable flexible currency in the market. There are wide range of redemption options available, however the best value can be had when redeeming for travel by transferring to Airline Loyalty programs or redeeming with Amextravel.com along with combination of Business Platinum card

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Comparison of the Premium Rewards Cards

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There are a lot of premium cards available in the market now and they carry a hefty price tag. For starters, the annual fee may be over-whelming. To Justify the annual fee, each card is packed with a wide range of benefits . With a little effort, it is possible to enjoy benefits that can outweigh the annual fee.

In this post, we will compare the key features of the following cards

The Platinum Card from American Express

American Express Business Platinum

Chase Sapphire Reserve

Citi Prestige

US Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card

CNB Crystal Visa Infinite

United MileagePlus Club card

Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard

Delta Reserve

SPG Luxury Card

Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

Annual Fee: Annual fee is key factor when choosing the premium cards and there could be additional fee for authorized users.

Card NameAnnual fee Fee for Authorized
Users
The Platinum Card from
American Express
$550 $175 (For upto three
additional card holders)
American Express Business
Platinum (Effective from Feb 01, 2019)
$595 $300
Chase Sapphire Reserve$450 $75
Citi Prestige$495 $75
US Bank Altitude Reserve
visa Infinite Card
$400 $75
CNB Crystal Visa Infinite$400 $0 for up to three additional card holders
United MileagePlus Club
card
$450 $0
Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard$450 $0 for upto 10 additional card holders
Delta Reserve$450 $0
SPG Luxury Card$450$0
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card$450$0

Rewards & Annual Credits:   Each card offers a variety of rewards and the annual credits plays a key role towards offsetting the annual fee.

Card NameRewards Annual Credits
The Platinum Card from
American
Express
5X on airfare
booked
directly with the
airline or through
Amex Travel and
on
prepaid hotels
booked through
amextravel.com
$200 credit towardsincidental expenses with
chosen Airline.

$200 in Annual
Uber Credits
American Express Business Platinum (Effective from Feb 01, 2019)5X on airfare and prepaid hotels
booked through
amextravel.com

1.5X on
purchases above
$5000
$200 credit
towards incidental
expenses with
chosen Airline.

$200 in statement
credits towards Dell Purchases
Chase Sapphire
Reserve
3X on Travel
and Dining
$300 towards Travel expenses
Citi Prestige5X on Air Travel
and Dining

3X on Cruise
lines and Hotels
$250 Travel Credit 
US Bank Altitude Reserve
Visa Infinite Card
3X on Travel
and purchases
made through
Mobile Wallets
$325 in travel
credit towards
purchases made
directly with
Airlines,
Hotels, Cruises,
Car rental etc..
CNB Crystal Visa
Infinite
3X on Gas,
Grocery, Travel & Dining
$250 towards
Domestic
Airline Incidental
credit per card
(even for
Authorized users x 3)
United MileagePlus Club
card
2X on United
Purchases and 1.5X on all other purchases
None
Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard2X on American
Airlines Purchases
None
Delta Reserve2X on Delta
Airlines Purchases
None
SPG Luxury Card6X on Marriott Purchases
3X on US restaurants and travel purchases made directly with Airlines
2X on all other purchases
$300 credit towards eligible purchases at Marriott Hotels
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card14X on Hilton Purchases

7X on flights booked directly with Airlines or Amextravel.com; US Restaurants or select Car rental companies

3X on all other purchases
$250 credit towards Airline Incidental purchases

$250 Hilton Resort Statement Credit

$100 Hilton On-property credit

Other Key Benefits: All cards offer No Foreign transaction fee as one common benefit. Apart from that, you could get Airport lounge access with limited options to vast options.

Card NameAirport Lounge
Access
Other Key Benefits
The Platinum
Card from
American
Express
Access to Amex
Centurion Lounges

Priority Pass Select Membership

Delta Skyclub
(When flying Delta)
$100 credit towards
GlobalEntry 
American
Expresses
Business
Platinum (Effective from Feb 01, 2019)
Access to Amex
Centurion Lounges

Priority Pass Select Membership

Delta Skyclub
(When flying Delta)
Get 35% of the points back when you book flights through
amextravel.com and pay with Membership rewards

Hilton Honors and Marriott
Gold status

One year Complimentary
Access to Weworks


Chase
Sapphire Reserve
Priority Pass Select Membership $100 credit towards
GlobalEntry or TSA PreCheck
application
Citi
Prestige
Priority Pass Select Membership Fourth night hotel free
( limited to twice per calendar
year)

$100 Global Entry
application fee
US Bank
Altitude
Reserve
Visa
Infinite
Card
Priority Pass Select
Membership
(Complimentary for
first 4 visits)
12 Go-go Inflight Wifi Passes

$100 towards GlobalEntry or
TSA PreCheck application
CNB
Crystal
Visa
Infinite
Priority Pass Select
Membership with Unlimited Guests
$100 towards Global Entry (X4 including three AU’s.)

12 Gogo inflight wifi passes per
card
United
Mileage
Plus Club card
Full United Club
Membership
Baggage Fee waived (Up to
2 bags) for you and a
companion when flying with
United

No fee on Close-in award
booking and expanded access
to United Saver awards
Citi/AAdvantage
Executive World
Elite
Master
Card
Admirals Club
Membership
(Access to AA Lounges even
when not flying with AA)
$100 towards Global Entry

Earn 10,000 EQM’s when you
spend $40K in a Year
Delta ReserveDelta Sky Club
lounge access for
card member only
Annual Companion Certificate
for flying Domestic

15,000 MQM’s when you spend 30K in a year and an additional 15,000 MQM’s when you spend an additional 30K in an year
SPG Luxury card
Priority Pass Select Membership 

Marriott Gold Elite Status

1 Free night award (Redeemable up to 50,000 points/night)


100 towards GlobalEntry or
TSA PreCheck application
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
Priority Pass Select Membership 
Hilton Honors Diamond Status

1 Free weekend night award at participating hotels in Hilton Portfolio


Other Key Points to Consider: There are also other benefits like Concierge, Purchase protection etc.. which could further enhance the value if used appropriately. You may get a lot of value from the credit card the first year especially with the sign-up bonus. If you do not see much points earning benefit the next year you could always downgrade the card to a no fees card. This helps you establish a long credit history and you don’t come across as someone who just gets credit card for sign-up bonuses.

Conclusion: Several Premium cards are now available in the market and competing for your business. Even though these cards come with a huge annual fee, it is easy to reap huge value with little planning and execution.

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Award Travel Las Vegas – The Travel Hacker’s Guide to a Weekend in Vegas

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Inside: Follow along as I walk you through award travel in Las Vegas. Learn the secrets to experiencing unforgettable (and affordable) fun in Sin City with this Travel Hacker’s Guide to a Weekend in Vegas!


Birthdays. We all have them. And they keep on coming. Every single year, like clockwork.

While the notion of growing older isn’t all that exciting after the age of 21, luckily for me, I’m married to a travel hacker.

And like many travel hackers, at MY house, we celebrate family birthdays with a fun trip! One year, my husband took me on an incredible tour of Northern Italy. One year, we hopped on a flight to San Francisco.

And this year?

My husband treated me to an unforgettable weekend in Las Vegas! He flew us from the cold winter in the heart of Ohio to the sunny desert. We stayed in a gorgeous room right on the Vegas strip and played in a popular casino. He treated me to coffee and pastries each morning, lunch and dinner in some of Vegas’s top restaurants and several shows or various entertainment each night.

His cost? Taxes and gratuities. 

For a travel hacker, the only things cooler than the trip itself are the deals you score along the way. And I thought it’d be fun to give you a glimpse into how much fun award travel in Vegas can be!

Ready to get started?

The Travel Hacker’s Guide to a Weekend in Las Vegas

award travel las vegas

Award Flights to Vegas

For domestic travel, there’s no airline I love more than Southwest! It’s true – in fact, I even wrote an open love letter to the airline.  Southwest Airlines consistently ranks as having the top airline rewards program in the USA, and it’s clear to see why. It’s incredibly easy to earn the Southwest Companion Pass, which gives you buy 1 get 1 flights. (Even better, you can “buy” the first flight with Southwest points!)

Amit has an incredibly helpful guide to everything you need to know about the Southwest Companion pass, so make sure you check it out!

We were able to book direct flights because Las Vegas is a Southwest hub. When we got on board, my husband was super friendly and helpful, even assisting fellow passengers with putting their bags in the overhead bin. The flight attendant came over to thank him for his help, and he casually mentioned that it was my birthday.

Travel Hacking Tip #1: Always be nice, and let people know if you’re celebrating a birthday or anniversary.

The attendant wished me a happy birthday, and later dropped off FOUR free drink tickets on my lap with a wink and a smile. Oh, how I adore Southwest!

travel hacking las vegas

Airport Experience & Hotel Transfer

We were lucky to have direct flights, but for those of you who might have a layover, airport lounges are amazing. (We also love them for preflight fun.)

They give you a quiet spot to relax and recharge and offer complimentary drinks, cocktails, snacks, and treats. Because let’s be honest, the only thing worse than airport food is having to pay outrageous sums of money to purchase it. We love Amex Platinum cards because they give you access to both Priority Pass AND Centurion lounges. Las Vegas has one of the BEST Centurion lounges.

Another perk of the Amex Platinum? Uber credits! We grabbed an Uber, our favorite way to transfer from the airport to our hotel on the strip (for FREE) using this credit.

Travel Hacking Tip #2: The Amex Platinum cards come with a fairly hefty annual fee, but make sure you follow Amit’s Facebook group (Credit Card 101) for tips on how to get an Amex Platinum product with all the benefits for NO annual fee!

The VIP Vegas Experience

Warning, this part may seem a bit complicated if you’re brand new to travel hacking, but allow me to help you step into the mind of a seasoned travel hacker. Deep breath, we got this.

Another perk of the Amex Platinum card is automatic Hilton Gold status. We’re going to need that.

Step 1: Match your newly acquired Hilton Gold status to Wyndham Rewards. (Here’s the link you’ll need.) This process takes a few days, but soon you’ll have DIAMOND status without spending a night in their hotels. Wyndham is not our favorite hotel chain, but Diamond status is awesome for what we’re going to do next.

Step 2: Match your Wyndham Rewards Diamond status to Total Rewards. They will also give you Diamond status. (Here’s the link you’ll need.) This will take a few days to process.

Wondering why I just made you do all that? Glad you asked.

Here’s why:

Total Rewards status is for highly elite gamblers who spend (and probably lose) a LOT of money in their casinos. By clicking a few buttons online, you’ve now upgraded your status in the eyes of the casino. Total Reward Diamond status members receive INCREDIBLE benefits.

Just a few of my favorites include: A 4 day stay at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas, $100 dining credit to their top restaurants (like Nobu, Hell’s Kitchen, or the Bacchanal Buffet), free valet or self-parking, complimentary show tickets, and even comped resort fees. And so much more!

For our complimentary show tickets, I picked a stand up comedy show, and a Tenors of Rock show which was FANTASTIC! I would highly recommend their concert if you’re as obsessed with classic rock as I am!

Tenors of Rock Show in Las Vegas from Lakes and Lattes on Vimeo.

Travel Hacking a Hotel in Vegas

You have several options here.

Option # 1: The easiest way to a hack a hotel room in Vegas would be to book any available comped rooms through your Total Rewards Diamond status. These are easy to find if you are traveling to Las Vegas in the low season (typically August – October) and staying midweek.

If you’d like to go this route, I recommend downloading the Total Rewards app on your phone and searching through it.

Bonus: There’s no resort fees to pay since you now have Diamond Status.

Option # 2: Since we were visiting Las Vegas over the weekend in November, we didn’t have much luck with finding a comped room that worked for our schedule. So we decided to book a hotel directly through the Chase portal, using our accumulated Ultimate Rewards points.

Option # 3: Transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt and booking a classic MGM property (MGM Grand, Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, Aria, New York-New York, etc).

MGM Resorts has a partnership with Hyatt that allows you to book their rooms using Hyatt points. Please note: This option means that you WILL have to pay resort fees.

*If you’re wondering which option to pick between #2 and #3, I’d recommend pricing them both out to see which option works out in your favor. We found a great deal at the Vdara Las Vegas through the Chase portal.

How to Hack Free Meals and Drinks in Vegas

Part of what makes Las Vegas so incredible is the easy access to some of the country’s best dining options. The problem? Restaurants can be pretty expensive.

Luckily, I have a few hacks up my sleeve!

Hack #1: Remember that Total Rewards Diamond status you’ve now earned? It comes with an awesome dining perk. $100 towards a meal at ANY of the Caesar’s Palace affiliated resort restaurants. We’re talking restaurants like Mesa Grill, Nobu, Giada, Guy Savoy, etc. 

My husband and I were playing what we call “two player mode” (we each were able to match to Total Rewards Diamond status.) This meant we had $200 to spend at any of the affiliated hotels!

Hack #2: MyVegas. This is going to sound super silly, but it’s fantastic! Not sure if any of you can relate, but I married a gamer. What I mean by that is that my husband LOVES to play games. Computer games. Board games. Card games. Playstation. And even silly app games on his iPad. And somehow, he came across a series of apps called MyVegas. These games allow you to earn points that you can redeem for REAL comps in Vegas. Genius, right?

Some of the comps we redeemed during my birthday weekend in Vegas included:

  • $50 in bar credit at NY-NY casino. (Side note, do you know how hard it is to order $50 worth of cocktails when they are so dang cheap during happy hour? #TheStruggleIsReal)
  • Free Starbucks 
  • $80+ in restaurant vouchers which equaled breakfast and lunch for both of us.

Other popular comp redemptions include things like free hotel stays, free Cirque du Soleil tickets, concert tickets, helicopter rides, and special events just to name a few!

You can check out the MyVegas apps in your iPhone/Android app store.

I hope you enjoyed my Travel Hacker’s Guide to a Weekend in Vegas! Do you have any award travel tips to add?