We’ve posted an updated version of the annual summer conference tips and tricks post on rsts11.com today. Feel free to check it out.
After a relatively sedentary winter/spring, I’ve started traveling again, and will be headed to Cisco Live in Orlando next month as well as the Cisco global sales kickoff in August in Las Vegas if all goes well.
I posted some tips and tricks a year ago on rsts11travel, with a focus on Las Vegas. A lot of the advice there is still relevant. In this post I’ll focus on hotel promotions you should look into, as well as some new product recommendations (with affiliate links, so you can help with my gadget addiction and hosting fees).
First of all, if you have an online account for Starbucks, or Peets, or anything else that’s tied to money you don’t want to throw away, make sure you’re not using a compromised or easy to change password. Go change it now. Really.
And while you’re at it, you might check out haveibeenpwned.com, a site run by Microsoft’s Troy Hunt in his spare time to track where your email address may have been found in a data breach. Some you might be able to guess (Target, Equifax, etc) but others might be a surprise.
Okay? Let’s get the story started then.
Starbucks has had their prepaid cards for over a decade, and they have a pretty usable mobile app that lets you link your cards, your rewards account, and top-up methods together in one place. It’s very convenient for me, living within walking distance of two Starbucks stores and liking to get out of the home office now and then.
A benefit they added in the last couple of years that’s very convenient (and got me over one of my main concerns over the cards themselves) is the option to tip from the app after your purchase posts. If you don’t carry cash but still want to give a little thank-you to your barista squad, it’s convenient, and it’s not connected to you face to face (so they don’t know if you tipped 50 cents or 50 dollars). The option manifests in a pop-up that tells you that “tipping is available until <two hours from now>.”
This feature had an unexpected benefit for me this past weekend. I woke up around 10am on Sunday and checked my phone, finding that “tipping is available until 11:42am” message on my notifications. Quite convenient indeed.
The problem is, I had been asleep for several hours before that. And on top of that, the purchase that I was being allowed to tip for was on East Colfax Avenue in Denver, Colorado. Quite the long sleepwalk from Silicon Valley in California, right?
Well, I found that there were actually two unauthorized charges from Denver… one I hadn’t noticed a couple of days earlier, and one that morning. I logged in to my Starbucks account on the web, reset my password via my password manager, and contacted Starbucks through their web contact form. They told me I’d have to call in to discuss the matter, and I did.
The agent I spoke to got my gold rewards card cancelled/reissued, the unauthorized charges refunded, and the credit transferred to the new card. I have to wait a few days to actually use it, as it will come to me in the mail, but I was able to get an e-card to get me by until then (and still earn my rewards).
Ideally you won’t have a compromised password on your account, but in the event that either your card or your account is compromised, the Starbucks mobile app may give you a not-too-late warning.
You might not be as worried about $25 on your Starbucks account, but if you have auto-reload turned on, it can add up pretty quickly if someone else is brewing with your card.
A year ago today, rsts11travel spun off of the main rsts11 blog. Between that New Year’s Eve welcome post and today, 32 posts have come up on the blog, with an unsurprising focus on Las Vegas travel and benefits/loyalty programs. But there’s been more than that.
In the year ahead, we’ll continue to carry loyalty program news, especially when it’s of particular interest to us (we can’t cover all the programs, but we’ll try to help you with the main ones). As new travel and caffeine technology comes out, we’ll be watching and writing about that as well.
A few of you have helped support our reviews by buying through our Amazon Affiliate links, and for that we thank you. We have a number of other ways that you can thank us for our coverage, over on the support page. Every little bit helps.
If there’s a topic or focus you’d be interested in seeing, or seeing more of, in 2018, let us know in the comments. And remember that you can join the conversation on Facebook at facebook.com/rsts11travel or on Twitter @rsts11travel (Facebook may get a more timely interaction).
Update 2018-02-01: The FoundersCard/Total Rewards partnership has been renewed. See below for details.
It looks like the news has been filtering out for two months, but somehow we just learned of this today. Caesars Entertainment has made some notable adjustments to the Total Rewards tier benefits for 2018.
For many Diamond members, and most Seven Stars members, this won’t be a severe downgrade. If you stay at Caesars properties regularly and leave a lot of money in the casino, you’ll probably be okay. But for people barely squeaking in to Diamond (or getting in through tier matching or FoundersCard), you’re going to notice some differences.
Update for 2018: The FoundersCard $295 promo is no longer available, as noted below, but you should be able to get the $395/year rate going forward.
Happy December, everyone. Robert Novak from rsts11travel here.
We’re coming up on the one year anniversary of rsts11travel as its own site. It’s been a good travel year, but things have slowed for my work travel, and most of the personal travel also sloped down after June. So the last couple of months have been lighter, and I expect that to continue until February 2018.
I keep an eye out for travel deals and concerns to share, as you’ve seen in the past year, and if anything particularly interesting comes up, I’ll get a newsflash posted here. Feel free to subscribe here on WordPress, or follow the site on Facebook and Twitter, for updates when they happen.
I do have a deal to share, and it makes me very happy to have it to offer.
Great deal on FoundersCard membership through my link
As some of you who’ve asked privately will remember, I offer my FoundersCard referral code on our support page and privately, but have suggested you wait for a better offer than the usual referral you get through my link. I don’t think I get any FCPoints if you do that, but I’d rather you get the best deal even if I just get a nod.
Well, FoundersCard reached out today and said that, through the end of December 2017 (December 29, actually), if you sign up through my referral link, you’ll get the $295/year “charter” rate.
The event was held at the Walter E Washington Convention Center, which is connected by underground tunnels to the Marriott Marquis. Having learned years ago that the event hotel is usually the best hotel for an eventgoing person, I chose to switch from my original reservation at the Grand Hyatt Washington (about 15 minutes walk, with a club room and Explorist status), to the Marriott Marquis (Not quite 15 minutes, but indoors, with a standard room, M Club access, and Gold Marriott Rewards status).
At check-in, the agent acknowledged my request for a feather-free room, and offered a $50 property credit which I promptly used on dinner that night. The lobby was mostly empty and there were only two people checking in at the time, so the process was quick and courteous as expected.
I got a two-doubles room facing the street, and an in-app request for body wash had been fulfilled with a bag of extra toiletries including body wash and hand wash. Marriott uses Thann products, which I’ve been happy with.
I was disappointed to find that the coffeemaker is one of the disposable-tray models, not the Keurig Mini I’d seen in review photos. It seems the upper floors offer Keurigs, whereas the lower floors offer the standard Marriott coffeemaker (which is almost the same as the standard Hyatt coffeemaker). So my box of Tayst single cup pods stayed in the suitcase, and I actually didn’t use the coffeemaker nearly as much as I’d expected.
Join the Club
Silver, Gold, and Platinum guests receive access to the M Club lounge on the 12th floor, even if they don’t get club rooms. A long, thin room with a nearly-as-long outdoor patio, the lounge offers coffee, tea, milk, sodas and waters, an espresso/coffee machine, and a still/sparkling water tap 24/7.
In the mornings a modest breakfast was offered, with scrambled eggs, sausage and bacon, potatoes, baked goods, and a few other items along with the regular beverage offerings and orange juice.
In the evenings, a bartender serves drinks (which you can charge to your room), and various hors d’oeuvres are available as well. Later in the evening, dry snacks and take-out style packages were offered, so you could grab some pretzels or other munchies and take them back to your room.
A hotel employee was checking people in for breakfast and hors d’oeuvres, but other times you just needed a qualifying key card to get in.
The coffee was exceptionally adequate, so I only ended up using my room coffeemaker once. It was just as easy to head up to the lounge and get a coffee and a snack.
Hotel Dining and Amenities
The hotel features a couple of dining options that were not disapointing.
The lobby bar with a light bar menu and, of course copious drink options
High Velocity, the sports bar offering lots of televisions and lots of meat (including a good chicken sandwich and some excellent burgers)
Anthem, a diner-style restaurant with breakfast and lunch service. The breakfast buffet was a good deal when taken with coffee and juice (as most hotel buffets are).
The Dignitary, a bourbon bar next door (which I didn’t make it to)
Arroz by Mike Isabella, a southern Spanish restaurant next door (which I also didn’t make it to, but wanted to)
There was also a Starbucks in the lobby, which closed at 4pm. I never made in there, but the coffee in the M Lounge was quite adequate.
A small but reasonably-stocked gift shop is located around the corner from the main desk. There is a very convenient CVS pharmacy half a block from the back side of the hotel, which combined with the mini-fridge in the room (under the coffeemaker) could be very convenient for families staying here.
Exploring the Area
This was my first time in Washington in over 30 years, so I was happy to have a day to explore the Capital before my convention began.
I was quite surprised with the convenience of the hotel’s location; my tourist walk started with a bit less than a mile’s walk to the White House, continuing around it to the National Mall, the Washington Monument, the National World War II Memorial, and on to the Lincoln Memorial. The final walking tally was a bit over two miles, and I decided to take a ride-share back to the hotel from there.
If you’re visiting Washington, be aware that not everything is open, and not everything is as open as it used to be. For example, since repairing a crack in the Washington Monument from the 2011 earthquake, they found that the elevator needed to be replaced as well, so the Monument itself is closed through at least 2019. And for those of you wanting to get close to the fence at the White House, you probably won’t be able to. Security is very visible and there are additional layers of fencing all around, and line corrals near the Pennsylvania Ave gates.
Some coworkers and I went back out a couple of nights later for a night-time bus tour of the landmarks. For $39, it was two hours well spent, with an entertaining guide and only minimal interaction with tree branches in the open-top double-decker bus.
Most meals were taken at the hotel, or provided by the conference at the convention center. However, I did have a chance to visit a couple of restaurants, specifically the Rocket Bar, and Matchbox in Chinatown twice. I was quite pleased with Matchbox’s mini burgers (their apparent claim to fame) during a party, and returning with a colleague the next day we had a chance to enjoy the tomato mozzarella arancini and a pizza.
Those are our highlights from the trip, both at the hotel and around the City. I’d intended to visit Martin’s Tavern in Georgetown, where Senator John F Kennedy proposed to Jacqueline Bouvier in 1953, but didn’t make it quite that far out of the center of the capitol this time.
What do you think we missed? What are your go-to locations in Washington for dining, sightseeing, or just relaxing?
Photo credits: Map courtesy of Google Maps and its contractors. All photos (C) 2017 by Robert Novak, taken during this trip.
Welcome back to rsts11travel. We’re here today to let you know that if you’re running short on qualification for next year’s AAdvantage status, you may be able to buy up to retain status.
We did a status challenge last year at this time (through FoundersCard) to get Platinum status through January 2018. Alas, travel slowed down at work and in our personal lives this year, and we’re way short of the qualification to keep status through January 2019. And American has a policy of only allowing “quick qualification” once every five years, so while FoundersCard had another status challenge offer recently, we’re not eligible.
This morning, the buy-up offer came into our email. The price to upgrade will vary based on how close you are to qualifying; your travel plans for 2018 will definitely tie into whether it’s worth spending cash to regain status.
For us, it’s probably not going to be worth paying to upgrade. Since our American mileage and spend was lower this year than the previous year, we’re looking at about $750 for Gold and $1500 for Platinum. If we win the lottery, then we’ll probably re-up (or just fly for a week and enjoy organic status). Otherwise, we’ll probably slip down for a year and consider status challenges or matches elsewhere.
There are two possible side benefits (beyond the status) of buying-up to a status level.
The first side benefit is that if you use a travel card (especially American Airlines cards, but possibly other travel rewards cards), this spend should qualify for the bonus points and other benefits. For example, the AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard from Citibank has two benefits for spend:
So that $1500 for Platinum would give us 3000 miles and almost 4% of the spend to get 10k EQMs (although doing it now wouldn’t help much, as it’s per-calendar-year).
You might be able to use travel-eraser cards to credit back the cost of your upgrade, or use travel credits from a premium card like Chase Sapphire Reserve or certain American Express cards, depending on your card and how the charge is classified/posted.
The second side benefit is noted in the buy-up offer:
Plus, your purchase price will count toward your Rolling Elite Qualifying Dollars, helping improve your upgrade priority.
So that Platinum buy-up would give 1500 EQDs toward the next year’s status, and help with ranking for upgrades.
Have you considered buying your status upgrade for 2018? Have you found any other ways to take advantage of travel card benefits with this upgrade? Share in the comments!
We’re back from nearly a week in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., for a little bit of sightseeing and a lot of the Splunk annual user conference, .conf2017. Trip report on that coming soon, so watch this space. But for now…
Sit a spell, for a bit about lounges
As our regular readers know, I’m rather fond of the Centurion Lounge at the Las Vegas McCarran (LAS) airport, and I had hoped to try out the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) Centurion Lounge on this trip, as well as spending a couple of hours at the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) Centurion Lounge. American Express Platinum charge card holders get free access to these lounges. I’d also scored an upgrade with my often-useless 500-mile certificates, for the DFW-DCA segment.
[Side note: Amex has changed how access to the Centurion Lounges is handled for non-Platinum Card holders; see our post on this change for more details.]
I got to the airport early, PRE and CLEAR, and got through security at my gate’s concourse before realizing I’d have to go out and around to get to the Centurion Lounge. Even with TSA PRE and CLEAR, I didn’t relish two more security adventures, and may not have been awake enough to be sure I could find my way.
Luckily, there was an American Airlines Admirals Club lounge just inside security, and with the Citi AA Executive Master Card, I get “free” access. So I went in, and the agent inside checked me in, looked at my AA itinerary to DCA, and then made a face.
It seemed that the plane I was scheduled to fly out to DFW on was on maintenance still, with less than two hours till scheduled takeoff. The agent said he’d seen a similar situation recently where the flight finally left 10-12 hours behind schedule, so he poked around for a few minutes to rebook me through Chicago O’Hare (ORD). He also got my checked bag rerouted to the new plane. I was disappointed to have a shorter layover, no upgrade, and no Centurion Lounges at all, but I’d get into DCA three hours earlier and have time for dinner at my destination.
When I got to my departure gate, the flight I had originally booked was at the next gate over, reporting boarding in 8 minutes, with no plane in sight. By the time I was boarded, they’d moved departure on the other flight from 8:00am to 8:30, and when I checked in Chicago, they’d finally departed a bit before 10am. Not as bad as the lounge agent had feared, but still….
My flight to ORD gave me time to get a pair of sleep socks from the Project Fi Travel Trolley, spend about an hour in the Admirals Club above the H/K concourses, and get onto my flight (with business class upgrade after all) to DCA.
When I checked in, the agent at priority check-in didn’t tell me about the maintenance situation. If I had gone to the Centurion Lounge across the airport, they probably wouldn’t have had access to that information either. So while I do still want to try the SFO Centurion Lounge, and will still visit the LAS lounge whenever I’m in town, there was a definite upside to using my traveling airline’s lounge instead.
[Note: This is slightly older news; the announcement was a couple of weeks ago and the changes took effect a week before this posting.]
American Express offers a number of proprietary lounges in about a dozen airports around the world under the Centurion Lounge brand. With complimentary buffet-style dining, a premium bar, facilities for business travelers as well as families, and usually-better-than-general-airport-WiFi, the Centurion Lounges can be a welcome respite before hopping on a plane.
Platinum charge card cardmembers (but not platinum credit card holders, like those with the Delta American Express Platinum cards) have long had access and the ability to bring family and friends along with them. Other American Express cardholders could purchase a day pass for $50, much as some airline-specific lounges also allow.
Unfortunately, this has led to crowding in some of the lounges, and dissatisfied customers (many of whom now pay an additional premium in the form of a $550 annual fee, vs the former $450 fee), and Amex believes they have found a way to attempt to address this.
As of October 2, 2017, American Express has eliminated the option for other American Express cardmembers to purchase guest passes.
Platinum cardmember access remains unchanged, with members allowed up to two guests, and additional guest passes being $50 per day per guest. Centurion Card holders can bring two guests or their immediate family along, with the same guest pass option. This is actually unchanged from the previous policy.
Guest passes are valid all day, so if you’re bringing extra guests along through multiple airports with Centurion Lounges, you only need to buy one pass per day.
What does it all really mean?
If you are a Platinum charge cardmember, there’s no change. Personal Platinum cardmembers will see the $550 annual fee take effect in the next cycle, if your fee hasn’t come up since May 2017, along with the other benefits we covered when the fee hike was announced.
If you are an American Express cardmember who had used the $50 day pass option, you lose that option, but of course you could apply for (or upgrade to) a Platinum card if you use the lounges enough.
With free food and alcohol available in the lounge, as well as a relatively quiet place (until the super-important business person has a shouting match on speakerphone by the window, of course), I find it easy to consider the lounge worth $50 a visit if I have more than an hour to wait, or if I’m traveling with my family. Two premium drinks and a modest meal would easily come to that much outside the lounge, even for a solo traveler.
So you’d have to do the math, considering how often you travel through a Centurion Lounge airport. Today that includes DFW, LAS, LGA, SFO, MIA, SEA, HOU, and soon Hong Kong and PHL. You’d also take into account which other benefits of the card you use, such as Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts and the $200/year Uber credit, if travel is your primary benefit from Platinum.
Amex does have Priority Pass Select, Airspace, Delta Club (when flying on Delta), and Escape Lounges in addition to the Centurion and Amex International Lounges. However, some of those options are available through other means, including airline fee rebates or other cards offering Priority Pass variants.
My math has worked out the last couple of years, in that I can use Uber for personal transport during business trips, and I visited Las Vegas about 8 times in the past year. I can’t be sure if that will be the case in the next year, but we’ll see.
If you live near an airport that has CLEAR, you probably know the benefits. For a $179 annual fee, you get to skip most of the line, using biometrics and your boarding pass to skip the initial TSA checkpoint. With TSA PRE or one of the other services that offers it (like Global Entry, SENTRI, NEXUS, etc), you are dropped right into the PRE line, and can easily make it from ticket counter to the other side of security in 5 minutes or less.
There are a number of options to save on CLEAR. For example, if you’re a FoundersCard member, you get six months free and a $140 annual rate after that. FoundersCard is a bit pricy on its own, but there are a couple of ways to make it pay for itself. [Click here for our referral link, which will save you $100 on FoundersCard membership.] Most airports with CLEAR have codes advertised for two free months, and members have referral codes (ours is here) that can get you free months and/or a similar discount.
The best way we’ve found, and the way we use ourselves, is through the Delta Air Lines partnership. If you’re a Delta Sky Miles member (even if you just joined last month), you get an annual rate of $99. If you are Silver, Gold, or Platinum with Sky Miles, or have one of the three top Delta Amex cards (personal or business), your rate is $79. If you are Diamond Medallion with Sky Miles, your CLEAR membership is free.
If you’re already a Delta Sky miles member and want to join CLEAR, this is definitely the way to go. Worst case, you save $80/year. Best case, you get your membership for free. And if you’re not a member, go ahead and sign up, wait a few days, and then use your Sky Miles number to get that $80/year discount.
Obviously if you’re not in, or often flying from, one of the 20 or so airports that have CLEAR, this won’t be worth it. Note that there are also CLEAR lanes at San Francisco’s AT&T Park, Miami’s Marlins Park and American Airlines Arena, Denver’s Coors Field, and Comerica Park in Detroit, so sports fans and concertgoers might benefit even without booking a single flight.
Disclosure: If you use our affiliate links for CLEAR and/or FoundersCard, we may receive valuable consideration, but the recommended option in this article does not benefit us in any tangible way.