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?

All You Need To Know About Southwest Companion Pass…

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Who doesn’t like Buy One Get One, especially an Airline Ticket?  This is what exactly a Southwest Companion pass means, a really lucrative benefit offered for the loyalty towards Southwest airlines.

What is Southwest Companion Pass?

Southwest Companion pass is a benefit offered by Southwest Airlines for its Rapid Rewards members. This benefit allows you to choose a person to fly with you at no airline cost (Taxes and fees have to paid for the companion ticket) when you purchase a ticket or redeem points for a flight.

How to qualify for Southwest Companion Pass?

To qualify for Southwest Companion pass, you need to fly 100 qualifying one-way flights on southwest or earn 110,00 qualifying rapid rewards points in a Calendar year. Companion pass will be valid for the following full calendar year plus the rest of the calendar year, which means if you could earn the companion pass during the start of calendar year, that will be close to 2 years of flying with the Buy One Get One (You will still have to pay the Taxes and fees for the companion)

Can you Change the name of the Companion?

Southwest allows you to change the name of the companion for up to 3 times during a calendar year. Note that you must fly along with the companion to be able to make the ticket free

How to earn Southwest Companion Pass?

Flying 100 qualifying one way flights on Southwest is a lot of flying and is not a possible feat for most folks. Thankfully, there are ways to earn 110,000 qualifying Rapid Reward points with a little effort

1. Southwest Credit Cards

Southwest co-branded credit cards offered by chase are probably the easiest way to earn Companion pass. The best part is Signup bonus and the regular spend on the card are counted towards the 110,000 rapid rewards points requirement for earning Southwest Companion pass.

Southwest

There are 4 versions of credit cards available

  1. Southwest Rapid Rewards Premium Credit Card
  2. Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit card
  3. Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit card
  4. Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card

As on the day of writing this post, there is an increased signup bonus for all the 4 cards offering 60,000 points. With personal cards, you could earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening and earn an additional 20,000 points after you spend $12,000 on purchases within your first year.

With business credit card, you could earn 60,000 points when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months

Note that Chase allows only one personal and one business Southwest credit card per person. Southwest credit cards falls under the 05/24 rule, so use caution before applying for these cards. By signing up for one personal and one business credit card and completing the minimum spend requirement, you could earn enough points for a companion pass.

The potential challenge here is spending $12,000 to earn that 20,000 bonus points. But you could supplement with the other methods to earn the remaining points

Important Note: To maximize the Companion pass, you should aim at getting the companion pass as early as possible in 2019, so you could enjoy for the rest of 2019 and the full 2020. Ensure that you complete the minimum spending requirement on your credit cards, such that the signup bonus posts only in the new year – 2019.

2.  Referral bonus points for Southwest Credit cards:

Chase frequently runs promotions for referring your friends or family members to sign up for the Southwest credit cards. Referral points earned counts towards the Southwest Companion pass requirements.

3. Shop & Dine

Apart from the signup bonus from credit cards, regular spend on the credit cards & points earned through travel, you could also earn qualifying Rapid Rewards points through the Rapid Rewards shopping & Rapid Rewards Dining.

Rapid Rewards Shopping: Just like any portal, you could earn rapid rewards points for shopping at your merchants through the Rapid Rewards Shopping portal.

You could earn Rapid Rewards points at over 850+ stores and occasionally, there are bonus points offered.

Rapid Rewards Dining:     You dinner at your favorite restaurant could earn you Rapid Reward points.

  1. Enroll for Rapid Rewards Dining program
  2. Register up to 12 credit cards to track your purchases
  3. Locate Participating restaurants, dine and pay with one of the registered cards
  4. You could earn 3 points per dollar spent, as long as you opt in for email communications

Note that the points from Rapid Rewards Dining and Shopping may take up to 6 weeks to post to your account. Bonus points do not count towards the companion pass requirement.

3. 1-800 flowers

You could order gifts from  www.1800Flowers.com/rapidrewards and earn 1000 points for every order of $29.99 or more.

It may take up to 8 weeks for points to post to your account

4.  Home & Lifestyle

You could also earn Rapid Rewards Points with participating Home & Lifestyle partners. Note that these partners may change over time. At this time, you could earn points with the following partners.

NRG

Reliant

Makeitcount

 

Next Steps:

Once you met the requirements for the companion pass, you can login to your Southwest Rapid Rewards account and add a companion of your choice.

With in few days, you should get an envelope with your actual Companion pass

Note that a person can have only one companion pass. When you are ready to travel, you must book your reservation first and then add a companion by going to the “My Trips” tab or you can also call 1-800-248-4377 to complete the booking

Tips & Strategies:

You can change your companion up to 3 times in a calendar year. Note that, per the terms, it may take up to 21 days to process the companion change request.

You will not be able to add new companion, until all the travel with previous companion is complete. You could still book the ticket for yourself , but add new companion after completing the travel with previous companion

If you are a family of 4,  Wife and husband get companion pass each and add their kids as companions or  wife and husband could companion pass alternately and maximize the travel.

Conclusion:

Southwest Companion pass is arguably the best perk in the  travel industry. with a little planning and effort, one could get a companion pass valid for close to two years. With Companion pass, you just need to pay the taxes and fees for your companion – which is $5.60 for a one way ticket within USA.

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The counter-intuitive approach to Chase Sapphire cards

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By now, you would be aware that the Chase 5/24 rule has been extended to each of the Chase personal credit cards, including it’s co-branded cards.
 
In August 2018, Chase changed the sign-up bonus eligibility criteria for its Sapphire series of cards. Traditionally, you would be eligible for a new sign-up bonus on a Sapphire card after 24-month from your last Sapphire bonus. The Conventional path was something like this –
 
Conventional Chase path
Now, the current language states that one can only get a sign-up bonus for the Sapphire line of cards after 48 months from receipt of the first sign-up bonus. For most people in the hobby, 4 years is a long time to hold Ultimate Rewards without using them, since any form of points and miles almost always depreciate. We are also assuming that within these 4 years, you have become seasoned at the points and miles game and understand that the Sapphire Reserve card is something you cannot not have!
 
So, with the new sign-up bonus rules in place, I adopted a lesser known, counter-intuitive approach –
 
New Chase path
While the obvious difference is the missed sign-up bonus on the second card, I see it differently here; Chase would have only allowed me to get one sign-up bonus in 4 years. How would I maximize the value at the least cost?
 
First, I started out with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which helped me accumulate 50,000 sign-up bonus points, same as the Sapphire Reserve, but without any annual fee in the first year. I decided to get my account seasoned, deep dive into the hobby, understand the benefits of the CSP vs. CSR, and then when the annual fee hit for the second year, I simply upgraded my credit card from the Preferred to the Reserve.
 
So, same sign-up bonus, avoided annual fees for the first year, and landed in a better position to redeem all the accumulated Ultimate Rewards, albeit at a higher redemption rate of 1.5x (CSP redemption is at 1.25x). You also save end up saving a very important slot in the 5/24 rule since you are not applying for a new card. This becomes even more important now that Chase has started considering most of its personal credit cards under 5/24.
So if you try to redeem your Sign-Up bonus via the Chase Ultimate Rewards Portal, here is how it looks with the two cards –
Redemption via Chase UR portal
 
By following my strategy, you will be able to save annual fees in the first year, and then hop on to a card which offers incredible premium benefits for an effective annual fee of $150 (after the $300 travel credit), or just $50 once every 4 years, if you choose to enroll for the Global Entry program and pay the fees using the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
 
Let me provide a more realistic view – If you are like me, casually trying to accumulate points and have only been in the hobby for a year or so, or are just starting out and intending to slowly build up your Ultimate Rewards points, here is how your points would look at the end of the year  –
Existing UR summary
The Sapphire Reserve (image, above) truly shines with a little over the 200,000 UR’s in my possession. After upgrading to the Reserve yesterday, here’s my redemption calculation –
Personal UR Redemption calculation
Yes, this simple upgrade increases the value of my points to more than the Annual Fees of this card, and it also offers me Priority Pass access (one trip a year is also worth it) and many more benefits!
Not Convinced Yet?
What are the factors holding you back from getting a Sapphire Reserve?
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Maximizing Credit Card Rewards: Meeting Minimum Spend, Category Bonus and Holiday gifts for friends and family, all for free!!!

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One rule all travel hackers in this hobby swear by is to spend the least amount of time and money possible to accumulate points. Over the last five months, members of our Facebook community (free and paid) have used a couple of websites to meet the minimum spend on their new cards, meet the 5% category bonus on cards like Discover IT, which has 5% cashback on all Amazon.com and Wholesale Clubs purchases from October – December 2018, accumulate tons of points, and save lot of money on household products they would’ve otherwise purchased. And with Christmas just around the corner, many members nabbed products that would make great and expensive gifts, all for free(or almost free). You can also donate them to a charity.

Ready to jump in?

The two resources we’ve been using are RebateKey (affiliate link) and Extreme Rebates (affiliate link). On these websites, you get product discounts ranging from 50%  ~ 100%. You must be wondering why? The simple answer is, a lot of sellers want to make sure that their product is highlighted on platforms like Amazon, eBay, Overstock, Groupon etc and the fastest way for a product to become popular is through higher sales and user feedback. By providing these discounted, and often free products which you purchase from, say, Amazon, their product gets more hits. The platforms above have different models, but in the end, you get all the benefits.

(1) RebateKey.com

This is perhaps the most polished version of a Rebate website, and most of us have received thousands of dollars in Rebate back. You simply look up the products listed on the website, purchase them at full price (no coupons to be applied), submit the order confirmation number within one hour, and after 35 days, you receive your money towards the order as a check from RebateKey. Yes, that’s it.

I received this check two weeks ago, worth $903.67, and I am all set with gifts for Thanksgiving, Return of the White Elephant, Christmas and also Diwali!

Screen Shot 2018-11-19 at 11.16.31 AM

It also provides a dashboard of all the checks you’ve received, and future payouts.

RebateKey only has three conditions, and none of them will break your bank –

  1. Buy product at full – price (Do not apply coupons, even if available on Amazon)
  2. Products cannot be resold
  3. Once you click the ‘Buy Product’ button, you have one hour to purchase the product and submit the order number.

How does the math work out?

With my Discover it card, I was able to earn a $75 cashback reward by spending $1,500 on Amazon (via RebateKey) this quarter. So basically, I earned $75 without spending a single cent after receiving my reimbursement check from Rebatekey!

Screen Shot 2018-11-27 at 10.39.35 AM

You can make a better profit (5% cashback – no upper limit!) if you hold the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature card by Chase  or the Amazon.com Store Card .

And by using almost any other card, you will accumulate at least 1 point/ $1, so yes, free miles! You could also consider buying Amazon giftcards from grocery stores if your local store offer fuel points ad save more money .

(2) ExtremeRebate.com

The other website we’ve been exploring is ExtremeRebate, which has a greater product range and feature set. A few items require you to write a review in exchange for a rebate, and the more reviews you write, the more products you can request from the website. The sellers also have some control over who they want to give out the product to, and if you have a blank Amazon public profile with no published review, sellers might refuse to send the product to you. Still, worth a try as you don’t pay for requesting products.

Similar to RebateKey, you make a purchase once the seller approves you to buy their product, and enter the order number to begin the rebate process. On the plus side, you receive a rebate within 7 business days of ordering a product. It’s important to note that ExtremeRebate sends the money via PayPal Business, so we bear a cost of 4.4% of the total rebate + 30 cents. Yes, there is a cost involved, but I’ve been able to buy products costing $200 in Home Depot for $9 from ExtremeRebate and receive the money within a week.

How did I maximize these two resources?

  • $75 cashback from Discover it (Earn $50 bonus by using this link) for spending $1500 at Amazon (Bonus Category Changes each quarter)
  • Use Amex Business card like Business blue that earns 2X MR points on first $50k each year or the Amazon Prime card for 3% rewards.
  • Saved $1200 on Holiday gifts and household items I would’ve otherwise spent money on.
  • Meet minimum spend on my AMEX Blue Business Preferred (10k MR sign-up bonus using the link) . This card is awesome as has no annual fees plus 0% introductory APR for 15 months and Chase will not count it towards 5/24 as it is a business card

Let’s get the ball rolling and score Free points and products!

Here are the links (affiliate) for you to get started with these groups –

Rebatekey

Extremerebates

Please consider using our Affiliate links, it helps us support the website and continue to bring such great tips and resources to you.

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Bonus Spending offer on AmeX Business Open Platinum upto 35k MR points

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After logging in I stumbled upon an offer to earn additional 35K Membership Rewards (MR) points after spending a total of $10k by 10/15/18. The term requires two tier spending – first $5k gets 25K points and the second $5k for additional 10k points. I think this is a  terrific offer to rack up some membership reward points. Combine this with some amazng ongoing Amex offers like 2X MR points at Best Buy, Staples, 10% off upto $100 max at several stores like Lowe’s, Staples you could really rack a lot of points and save money.

Direct Link to offer – https://amex.co/2LMFF23

 

amex biz registration

Caution – I would avoid purchasing any Visa giftcards as Amex has been known to shut  down accounts lately.

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Reader Success Story – Free (Almost) All-inclusive trip to Cancun and Hyatt Zilara Review

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Today on the blog we are featuring readers Renish and Anjali who are just back from Cancun using miles and points. There you go Anjali and Renish –

We recently took trip to Cancun, Mexico for 4 days 3 nights from May 19th -22nd and stayed at Hyatt Zilara Cancun- All Inclusive Adults Only Resort. I want to thank Amit for helping us plan this beautiful getaway, which was mostly paid for in points except the taxes for the flight (under $90 per person) and the taxi from and to the airport ($55).

Flights:

We booked our flights with Southwest using points and companion pass. Round trip nonstop from BWI to CUN costed us 17,628 points plus tax per person. All thanks to Southwest companion pass, all we paid was taxes for second person. We have been utilizing the companion pass a lot this year. This was our second trip since we got the companion pass and already planning the third trip. The companion pass can be earned by earning 110k Southwest Points in a calendar year. The sign-up bonus of 50k to 60k on each of the Southwest cards can help you score the companion pass.

20180519_075858

Top Cancun Shuttle:

After a lot of research, we booked our round trip private shuttle with Top Cancun Shuttle. It was $55 for round trip from CUN to Hyatt Zilara, which was cheaper since one-way trip was $35. Options for payment were to pay online through PayPal or pay upon arrival. We chose to pay through PayPal and received the confirmation right away in our email. Once reached at the airport, they were waiting for us with board with our name.

Cancun 3

The shuttle was equipped with AC and easily accommodate seven people. It was very comfortable and scenic drive of 30 minutes. On our way back to Airport from resort, they were right on time to pick us up.

Hyatt Zilara Cancun- All Inclusive Adults Only Resort:

We stayed at Hyatt Zilara Cancun- All Inclusive Adults Only Resort. Staying at Hyatt Zilara was the best decision. We looked at many all-inclusive resorts, but nothing could have beat the experience. One of the main deciding factor for us was that all the rooms at Zilara had balcony with ocean view and jacuzzi in the room. So, unlike other resorts we didn’t have to pay extra for the upgrade to get the ocean view/ balcony.

We booked Junior Suite King at Hyatt Zilara Cancun through Hyatt portal for 25,000 points/night. Chase Ultimate Rewards to Hyatt is 1:1 point transfer, so we transferred 75,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt to book three nights. We earned a lot of Ultimate Rewards points by signing up for Chase cards like Chase Business Ink Preferred, Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Ink Plus Business cards.

We booked Junior Suite King at Hyatt Zilara Cancun through Hyatt portal for 25,000 points/night. Chase to Hyatt is 1:1 point transfer, so we transferred 75,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt to book three nights. The rooms can be booked only over the phone.

We had requested early check in and we got email to check in online 24hrs prior. It was helpful to check in online because our room was ready even before we reached the resort.

Upon arrival, we were greeted with welcome drink and refreshing cold towel and then guided to front desk for check-in. Upon check-in, we were provided with schedule of activities and map of resort. Also, we were given opportunity to make reservation to restaurant where required. We went ahead and reserved our spot for Teppanyaki at Asiana Restaurant, which is the only restaurant that requires reservation. All the other restaurants are walk ins and first come first serve basis.

Bar & Lounge:

The drink quality at all the bars were top notch and menu were different at each bar. We utilized Tradewinds and Lobby Bar the most. Tradewind was swim-up bar, which was main bar at the infinity pool. They had so many different types drink on menu and the bartenders made amazing drinks. Lobby bar was used mostly in the evening and night to hangout after dinner. It was the best place to sit down with coffee from the Coffee House or grab few drinks. We recommend tipping the bar tenders and servers every few drinks.

Also, I would highly recommend not to miss their Foam Pool Party, which was very different experience.

24hr. Lounge:

The lounge was stocked 24hrs with snack and drinks. The alcoholic drinks were served until 2am.

Restaurants & Room Service:

cancun 18

Food at all the restaurants and even room service was excellent.

Maria Marie:

Contemporary Mexican Cuisine. It was different and new twist to all the food that we tried. If you don’t have anything from this restaurant, this desert is must have. Tequila Borachito!

Asiana Restaurant:

You should reserve your spot for Teppanyaky. The experience was great, but don’t expect it to be extraordinary. Being Vegetarian, there weren’t much options but the food we were served was good.

Teppanyaki Restaurant:

We enjoyed the sit in restaurant more because there were so many options. If you are vegetarian, then I would recommend the restaurant more than teppanyaki. The food was delicious and vegetarian options were good.

Spice:

This is a buffet restaurant and they had various cuisine for all meals. The menu changed every day and for breakfast and lunch. For dinner, they also had different themes every day.

Coffee House:

Your go to place for coffees and deserts all day long.

Room Service:

Room service menu was different for breakfast, lunch/dinner, and late night. We could order the room service as soon as we checked in the room and the service was available 24hrs.

We stayed and explored resort for our whole stay. The experience was worth every penny and points that we used. If you are planning trip to Cancun and just want to relax and enjoy the view, this is the best choice you can make. The resort is even more beautiful in person, you have to be there to experience it all.

The total cost out of pocket for the entire trip was under $200 for two people that otherwise could have easily costed us couple thousand dollars. We can’t thank Amit and Credit Card 101 community enough to help us plan this getaway. Credit Card 101 rocks!!

 

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