How much do I have to spend to make a premium card break even?

A few months ago, we looked at up-front justification (or at least softening the blow) of the annual fees on some premium credit and charge cards. This was mainly intended to show that most of these cards have up-front benefits that compensate for the $450+ annual fees.

Several conversations on online travel and rewards forums have shown that the distinction between the annual fee and the potential value of the card are not as clear as they could be. And some people are looking solely at the sign-up bonus vs the annual fee.

So today we’ll take a deeper look at how to determine if one or more of these cards is for you.

Spoiler: If you don’t travel in a way that you can use your own cards, odds are none of these cards will be of much use to you beyond the first year, if that. 

Recap

We reviewed the American Express Platinum charge cards (both personal and business), the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card, and the Citi AAdvantage Executive credit card.

Continue reading “How much do I have to spend to make a premium card break even?”

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Newsflash: Updates to Caesars Rewards (formerly known as Total Rewards) effective TODAY

Welcome back to rsts11travel. Today we’re going to look at changes in the Caesars Entertainment rewards program, which many of you traveling to Las Vegas take advantage of.

The program, known for years as Total Rewards, is officially rebranded as Caesars Rewards as of today, February 1, 2019. No re-registration or member interaction is required for the change, and your number and point balances will remain intact. You can pick up a rebranded card at any Caesars Rewards desk in a Caesars property though. Mobile app, Comenity’s Total Rewards VISA, and other collateral will be updated in the coming months.

If you’re not a member of Total Rewards/Caesars Rewards yet, join through this link for 500 bonus Tier Credits to get you started (we also get 500 bonus TCs). You don’t get a card in the mail, but you can pick them up at any Caesars Rewards desk on property when you visit next.

Changes to Tier Benefits for 2019

What does this mean for you as a Caesars customer, other than one fewer word to name the program? Let’s take a quick look.

Continue reading “Newsflash: Updates to Caesars Rewards (formerly known as Total Rewards) effective TODAY”

Trip Report: The Ritz-Carlton Hotel at Marina Del Rey, Southern California

We recently had the opportunity to try a second Ritz-Carlton hotel during a visit to the Los Angeles area. The Ritz-Carlton Marina Del Rey is directly on the waterfront, with available rooms featuring a partial or full marina view.

This would not normally be a likely choice for a work trip, but redeeming Marriott Rewards points made the stay competitive with typical “moderate” hotels in the area.

See also:

Quick Take: Who needs a phone in a hotel bathroom?

Trip Report: Learning Experiences with LAX lounges and Southwest Airlines

A look at the redemption

The Ritz-Carlton is a part of the Marriott family. The Points Guy values Marriott Rewards points at 0.9 cents per point. Nightly rates for a basic room at this property come up in the $400-500/night range, with an option to apply 25,000 points per night to reduce the price by half. The redemption value is pretty close to TPG’s estimate (25,000 points being about $225). While it’s not necessarily the best case for using a redemption, we wanted the experience in between work activities.

We could have spent 50,000 points plus $400-500 a night to get a Club Level room. Having stayed on the Club Level at the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco, we can say that if you’re going to spend time around the hotel, this can be a very luxurious experience–we’re already looking for an excuse for a mid-week mini-vacation to try the Marina Del Rey Club Level. However, traveling solo for work didn’t justify the expense or the experience.

We were lucky to get a points + cash rate under $200/night, which falls within most corporate travel guidelines. With Marriott Platinum Elite status, we received a 50% Platinum bonus , plus 1,000 bonus points as a welcome gift. There may also be a 2,000 point bonus coming from the current Megabonus program.

Continue reading “Trip Report: The Ritz-Carlton Hotel at Marina Del Rey, Southern California”

Trip Report: Learning Experiences with LAX lounges and Southwest Airlines

Last week was a busy week for us at rsts11travel, with a few topics around a two day trip to Los Angeles, California.

This was going to be a “quick take” post, but like the trek to an available lounge, it ended up longer than expected. Here’s why.

For the last 8 years or so, we’ve had a pretty consistent airline plan for various reasons. For flights from the Bay Area to Southern California airports other than LAX, or to Las Vegas, we generally fly Southwest. Otherwise, we fly American.

And when flying American into or through LAX, the lounge choices are pretty obvious; with Admirals Club membership through the Citi AAdvantage Executive MasterCard, we visit one or more of the three Admirals Clubs here: Remote Terminal’s mini-lounge, or Terminal 4 or Terminal 5 full size lounges. They’re pretty good, with predictable offerings and reasonable space. Last year we started using Priority Pass for the restaurant credits at Campanile (which has since left the program).

The terminals that American Airlines flies to are all connected airside by walkways, tunnels, or the Remote Terminal shuttle. So we’ve never had to go through security more than once, even if visiting more than one lounge.

This trip was a bit different, in that we flew into LAX on Southwest, a barely-over-$100 round trip fare from SJC which left some budget space for other things. Arriving at Terminal 1 was a bit of a change.

Continue reading “Trip Report: Learning Experiences with LAX lounges and Southwest Airlines”

Quick Take: Amex Centurion Lounge temporary closures coming soon to LAS, MIA, SEA

For our lounging hour, the American Express Centurion Lounge is the place to be while waiting for a flight at any airport that has such a lounge. It’s even worth an extra security screening at SFO, if you can believe it.

Last year, the DFW lounge closed for a few months and relocated. You can read a review of the new lounge here at The Points Guy.

Well, in an effort to modernize and expand offerings in more locations, American Express will be closing their locations at Las Vegas (our most frequent Centurion Lounge) and Miami.

What are the closures?

American Express announced that their Miami location will close on January 14, 2019, for “a short period” to “upgrade and expand the space.” They remind that you can use the Delta Sky Club if flying Delta, or use Priority Pass otherwise (enrollment required, of course).

They will also be closing Las Vegas as of the same date for a “short period” to “renovate and improve the space.”

A short closure with the same phrasing as Las Vegas is also announced for Seattle, coming in March.

How can I get my lounge fix?

The American Express Lounge Collection includes several other networks not operated by Amex, so you won’t be lost or gatebound if you have a layover or an extra hour or two at these airports.

Continue reading “Quick Take: Amex Centurion Lounge temporary closures coming soon to LAS, MIA, SEA”

Quick Take: Who needs a phone in a hotel bathroom?

A recent business trip brought to mind one of the most baffling concepts we’ve had to consider while traveling:

Why do so many hotels have telephones in their bathrooms?

Update: We got an answer to the question! See the end of this post.

The hotel we stayed in this week had a washroom in the entryway and the full bath, and both toilets had handy wall-mounted corded telephones. This was in addition to the bedside phone and the desk phone.

We can understand a television or a music player, especially with a luxurious bathtub to relax in after a long day of work or sightseeing.

We can almost understand a charging port for a phone or tablet, although we wouldn’t necessarily want an expensive mobile device connected to power in close proximity to a toilet or shower.

We could even accept a speakerphone, for those romantic nights whispering “no, you hang up” when you’re apart from your beloved, or when you need to learn what your children have done with the dog in your absence.

But the thought of the toilet phone is just downright disturbing. Is it just us?

Even if the phone is cleaned regularly, you never know who’s done what in there, and if it’s not sanitized between every guest, do you really want that appliance that’s 2-3 feet from the toilet touching your face?

And while our last hotel did not have this anachronistic feature, we’ve seen some hotel toilet-phones with modem jacks. We’ll admit to taking a cell phone in to keep those social games going or read Twitter or our blog comments, but we’ve never thought “hey, I need to dial into Compuserve while I’m on the toilet.”

This one we really want to hear from you about. Have you seen phones in the hotel washrooms you’ve been in recently? And when was the last time you used one of them?

As an aside, we could see the need to get help if one had an incident in the bath… but in those cases, having the phone as far from the tub or shower as possible, while good for protection from water damage, seems counterproductive. Maybe retrofit the phones with intercom functionality or a simple call button?

Whoa, an answer?

Update: Shortly after posting this, we heard from our friend Howard Marks of Deep Storage who had a logical and accurate answer. Here it is (expanded a bit; any details and links are not his fault).

The American Automobile Association and affiliated clubs have a well-known Diamond Rating system that has been operational since 1976. Until recently, the standard for a 4-Diamond or 5-Diamond rating included a specification that there would be a telephone in the bathroom. We found this in a version of the guidelines posted on the Canadian Auto Association Quebec website.

aaabathroom

This requirement is a qualification for 4-Diamond status, and 4-Diamond criteria are a prerequisite for 5-Diamond.

A newer version of the guidelines was posted in April 2018 and appears to adapt for the changes in technology. There is no mention of a phone in the bathroom section at all. In fact, even the guest room descriptions no longer mention telephones (but they do mention USB charging ports from the 3-Diamond level up).

It’s unlikely that hotels will rip out the phones even if they are no longer required for this status, but I would guess that new properties being built to these aspirations will be less likely to be littered with telephones.

 

 

Quick Take: The Energizer XP20001PD Type-C 45W Power Bank/Battery Pack

Here’s a quick battery review for you. We got the Energizer XP20001PD Ultimate power delivery battery pack on sale at Fry’s Electronics last week. With the 20Ah power in a convenient form factor, it looked tempting.

The packaging is very enthusiastic, referring to the pack as ULTIMATE and calling it a “PD RocketHub.” As far as we can tell, there’s no USB hub functionality to be found. There are a pair of short charging cables included though: One USB-A to Micro-USB B and one USB-C to USB-C. There’s also a tiny instruction sheet.

Specifications:

The XP20001PD has a 74Wh/20000mAh battery with four USB-A ports (5V, max 4.2A over 4 ports) as well as a Micro USB input for charging (5V/2A). The distinction for this pack is a bi-directional USB-C port, supporting 5V/3A, 9V/3A, 12V/3A, 15V/2.4A both ways, as well as charging at 36W with 20V/1.8A and outputting 45W at a 20V/2.25A profile.

 

Testing:

We only tested USB-PD use cases, in and out, since there are many better options if you only need to charge USB-A type devices (like the RAVPower 22000mAh 5.8A three-port pack or the Anker Powercore 20100 4.8A two-port pack).

Continue reading “Quick Take: The Energizer XP20001PD Type-C 45W Power Bank/Battery Pack”

Celebrating two years of rsts11travel

Two years ago, on December 31, 2016, we launched rsts11travel. For a couple of days the posts were a category on rsts11.com, before the new domain and blog were set up.

Two years and almost 50 posts later, the blog is chugging along and drawing pretty good readership. Some posts strike more of an immediate chord, but others keep drawing your eyes two years later. We definitely appreciate you sharing our posts and tweets wherever they show up, whether you follow us here, on Twitter, on Facebook, or by following our primary writer Robert.

Note that sometimes we throw quick notes up on Twitter or Facebook that never turn into posts here. Sometimes there’s a quick social media promotion from a travel provider, or a blog post from one of the bigger travel bloggers that we want to point you at. So it’s not just post updates, and we try to keep those channels high value/low noise.

Since this is an entirely self-funded blog (except for the occasional work trip that inspires a post), we use affiliate programs to help with the costs of items and events we review. Using the links in our posts and sidebars, like this generic travel search or a more specific like the Anker Powerstrip Pad for travel power extension (including USB-C Power Delivery!) that we just got in this past weekend, brings us a few bucks a month without costing you any more.


Speaking of affiliate programs and shameless plugs, we kept acquiring new carry-on style luggage this year. You may find the Solo Duane 15.6 hybrid bag useful, even though we haven’t reviewed it on the site yet.

Solo Duane 15.6 Inch Laptop Hybrid Briefcase, Converts to Backpack

It holds a chunky 15.6″ laptop (like the Lenovo Thinkpad P50) and an iPad Pro plus the chargers and accessories. Of course you can put a smaller laptop in, like an XPS 13 or XPS 15, or a Macbook of any size made in the last 9 years. Additionally, it works as a messenger/crossbody style bag, a standard laptop “briefcase” bag with handles, or even–get this–a backpack.

Buy it through our Amazon link and we get a little bit of a commission to help with the next item to review. And at $30, or $25 with a current Solo holiday coupon on Amazon, it’s an impressive value.


A couple of weeks ago, we reviewed 2018’s most viewed posts on Twitter. Not surprisingly, three of the top five were from our first week. Somewhat surprisingly, the most viewed post in 2018 was a “quick” update on Caesars Entertainment changes to their Total Rewards program.

(Follow @rsts11travel on Twitter or rsts11 travel on Facebook to get the latest updates, or just follow this blog on WordPress.com.)

Some of our goals for this year are to try out the Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas (which replaced the Mandarin Oriental through a management change in late August 2018), cover some more local travel (parks and beaches in California, for example), provide some more newbie help on credit card and travel rewards optimization, and of course keep up with the latest changes in loyalty programs and benefits.

Newsflash: Amex Business Platinum adds new features, $145 annual fee hike

The American Express Business Platinum Card, formerly a $450 annual fee offering with a 35% points back benefit on pay-with-points travel bookings, announced a few changes coming between now and February 2019.

Read about the personal Platinum increase here: Changes in Amex Platinum – and 3 reasons to keep the card (March 2017)

See our guide to Justifying a premium credit or charge card for your traveling pleasure here (September 2018)

Dell benefit description updated February 1, 2019. You can register for this benefit now.

During 2018, the main noticeable change was that they started issuing cards in metal rather than plastic, matching the personal card option. In return for the satisfying clink or clunk on a table, you give up the ability to have your card run on one of the old kerchunk machines (we’re sure there’s an official name for the impression-based devices, but we don’t know it offhand).

But 2019 brings a few new benefits, at a cost. As with the personal card, if you can use the new benefits, you’ll end up better off than before, even with the annual fee hike.

Continue reading “Newsflash: Amex Business Platinum adds new features, $145 annual fee hike”

Quick Deal: Toddy Cold Brew Coffeemaker for $18 at Amazon

This is more for ground travel, or staying at home reading rsts11travel (or maybe on long hotel stays), but Amazon has the Toddy cold brew coffeemaker on sale today for under $18 (usually $30-35 in our experience over the last few years).

The Toddy design and method have been around since 1964, and we’ve used it for about 20 years ourselves. It has nothing to do with the alcoholic beverage you probably thought of at first, although you can make coffee cocktails with it if you like.

If you don’t trust the coffee on the way, fill up a plastic water bottle with concentrate, and just add water on the road for smooth low-acid coffee. Or drink it concentrated, and drive straight through to Hong Kong. [Editor’s Note: Don’t do that.]

How does it work?

Take a pound of coarse ground coffee (or half a pound of tea leaves), about 9 cups of cold filtered water, and 18-36 hours on the counter and you get concentrated beverage that lasts two weeks in the fridge.

There are smaller recipes if you want to make less concentrate, and (perhaps due to spillage) Toddy recommends the smaller batch with 12oz coffee/7c water.

If you’re on the road, most retail coffee shops that sell beans will grind them for you. Or you can put a couple of bags of beans into the Toddy hopper in your suitcase, and bring your faves with you. You may find a 2 liter soda bottle acquired on site to be a safer option than the glass carafe for travel.

We’ve used these on and off for over a decade at home, and odds are, your favorite coffee shop uses the commercial version for your favorite iced and blended coffee and tea drinks. They used to be sold in the coffee shops inside Borders Books stores, but now the accessories may be a bit harder to find in local stores (check Bed Bath and Beyond, or order from toddycafe or Amazon: Stoppers and Felt Filters).

The felt mesh filters should be replaced after 12 uses or 3 months. Stoppers are more likely to get lost than worn out, but it doesn’t hurt to have a couple of spares either way. They now even have a paper filter to simplify cleanup and extend the life of the felt mesh filters.

Check it out!

[Note: Our new “Deals” category will unilaterally promote deals we find for things we use and recommend. These will usually (but not always) feature affiliate links, which means we’ll get a small commission if you purchase through those links, but your price should be unaffected. These are not paid placement, and are not requested or endorsed by the manufacturer or the marketplace involved.]