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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Last week at rsts11travel, we looked at some of the premier credit and charge cards and how to make them worth the high annual fees. You may have noticed we hinted at the Premier Rewards Gold card, a mid-range benefit-bearing charge card in the personal lineup. Eagle-eyed consumers also may have noticed that the American Express Gold Card disappeared from the Amex website earlier this year (leaving a gap between the classic green charge card and the Platinum card).
Well, there were rumors and screenshots suggesting that the Premier Rewards Gold card would be changing, and last Thursday they became more than rumor.
Before October 4th, 2018, the Premier Rewards Gold card offered 3x Membership Rewards points on flights booked directly with airlines, 2x on gas stations and supermarkets, and 1x on all other purchases. It also provided a $100 airline fee rebate for a selected airline each year. It was a pretty good card for the $195 annual fee, if you could take advantage of the bonus categories.
With the updates, the Premier Rewards Card is now the American Express Gold Card. The bonus on gas stations is gone, the flight bonus remains, but restaurants and supermarkets are now earning 4x Membership Rewards points (with a cap of $25,000 in supermarket purchases per year, after which the rate returns to 1x).
The airline fee rebate is joined with an opt-in offer of up to $10/mo in statement credits on select dining partners. Those partners are Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Shake Shack, and Ruth’s Chris Steak House. If you choose to use this benefit, log into your Amex account and activate the benefit on the “benefits” tab of the site.
Alas, as we saw with the American Express Platinum card last year, the annual fee is expanding along with the benefits, to a new rate of $250 effective your next renewal date on or after April 1, 2019. You’ll have anywhere from 6 to 18 months to decide if the new annual fee is worth the benefits.
In the rewards blogosphere, a lot of people are seeing this as a viable competitor to the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, and depending on your travel and dining preferences, as well as your redemption options, it could supplement or replace the CSR in your wallet in 2019.
One other benefit that may seal the deal for some cardmembers is the metal card offering, including a limited edition rose gold metal card only available for three months. While you can order the new yellow gold metal card through the Amex website, you’ll have to either call the number on the back of your card or use Amex website chat to request the Rose Gold card.
It sounds like the new card request is effectively a product change, although the benefits have already changed so it’s not a big difference.
How do you feel about the new American Express Gold Card? Will it change what you carry and use? What will take its place as a gas rewards card? Let us know in the comments below.
Most of you who have American Express Platinum cards know that you can get Executive Aisle status as a benefit of those cards. This means you get a wider selection of vehicles when renting, and earn free rentals faster (a free day every 6 rentals, rather than 7 with basic Emerald Aisle membership).
Well, apparently National really wants American Express cardmembers to rent with them. There’s a new promo today that gets you Executive Elite status just by having an American Express card. Executive Elite sets the free rental day bar at 5 rentals, and has guaranteed availability if you reserve 24 hours in advance.
Follow this link, log in if you have a current account with National, and you should be upgraded. It took about 30 seconds for us, and an email confirmation of the profile change was in our inbox within a minute or two.
If you rent after accepting the offer, and pay with an American Express card by the end of January 2019, you are eligible for a free rental day in addition to whatever your rental credits earn you.
Not a National fan? With this status you may be able to match to Avis and Hertz higher tiers… your mileage may vary, so to speak.
Something that comes up on many travel and credit forums is the topic of seemingly-obscene annual fees on certain premium credit cards. The Citi AAdvantage Executive Mastercard and Chase Sapphire Reserve VISA come with a $450* annual fee, and the gold standard (erm, platinum standard) American Express Platinum went to $550 a year last year for personal, and $595 a year for the business version as of February 2019.
Once upon a time, annual fees were a given in much of the credit card landscape, and rarely came with enough benefits to counter the fees. Today, many of these cards have features that compensate for, or even exceed the value of, the annual fee. In today’s post we’ll take a look at some of the most common benefits (especially with regard to the four cards listed above), and when you might find them worth the fee. Continue reading “Justifying a premium credit or charge card for your traveling pleasure”→
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.
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.