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.]

Newsflash: American Express relaunches Premier Rewards Gold as the Gold Card

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. 

Promotional image from American Express customer email

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. 

Newsflash: National Car Rental promo with American Express

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). 

A National Car Rental car selection at Orlando International Airport. Orlando International Airport – Photo: Rusty Clark ~ 100K Photos via Flickr, used under Creative Commons License (By 2.0)
Photo: Rusty Clark ~ 100K Photos via Flickr, used under Creative Commons License (By 2.0)

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. 

Justifying a premium credit or charge card for your traveling pleasure

This post was updated several times since original publication. See changes listed at the end.

We’ve posted a sequel covering how much you have to spend on each card to make a worst-case break-even reward. Check out How much do I have to spend to make a premium card break even?

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”

Restaurant surcharges and hotel resort fees – disingenuity in action

[Your author Robert here… I was pondering whether this was more soft topics for my tech blog, or travel. I’ll crosspost, since I think it applies to both. And it sat around in my draft folder for about six months, but it’s still valid today.]

I recently dined with my honey at a local chain steakhouse. I’ve been going there as often as weekly for over a decade. We’ve gone less frequently in the last couple of years thanks to Nom Burger, but still once a month give or take.

Their prices have been sneaking up over the years. The dinner for two combo they have has gone from under $40 to $65 as I recall, although coupons still bring it down. Some of the choices have become added-cost items, so if you want a wedge salad, that’s an extra buck, and if you’re lucky it won’t be smaller than it was last month.

But the thing that annoyed me was the 3% “minimum wage surcharge” that was stickered onto the menu and was slapped on the bill.

Slapping customers with your cost of doing business?

The surcharge was annoying. The Chocolate-Orange Layer Cake was pretty good.

When I see a “minimum wage surcharge” or a “health insurance surcharge” on a restaurant bill, it rubs me the wrong way in a big way. It tells me the restaurant would really rather not pay a reasonable (legal) wage, or would rather not provide health insurance (maybe they’d rather have sick employees serving and cooking for customers?).

And a separate item could lead to lower tips as well. If you look at the subtotal to calculate the bill, 3% of that amount which is actually part of the cost of business is not included, so you may not think to tip for it. I didn’t think to look at whether the surcharge was taxed… is tax avoidance part of the consideration as well?

It wouldn’t be too hard to add 3% to the menu items themselves. If you were able to reprint the menus for the 5-10% price hike on certain items, you could easily add the 3% in rather than adding a sticker.

You’d also see a bit more money going to the employees you are hesitant to pay fairly or insure too. Sure, 20% of 3% isn’t a lot per cover, but over time it adds up.

It can’t just be surcharges bugging you…

As I pondered this particular sticker, I thought about parallels with fuel surcharges (for shipping and airline tickets) and resort fees (for hotels and, well, resorts).

The fuel surcharges seem similar; given the dynamic nature of pricing for airline tickets, it should be easy to adjust in a close-to-realtime fashion based on actual costs of fuel (or even to buy fuel more than a gallon at a time to absorb market shifts, which I think they do anyway). Shipping costs could be more complicated due to contracts with shippers and agencies.

Resort fees make them all look friendly and nice, of course; $30+/night for wifi and printing boarding passes is a bargain if you’re printing a thousand boarding passes, but more often it’s a great way to fleece customers and get away with false advertising. (Read some thoughts from The Points Guy and KillResortFees.com here.)

If you travel a lot, especially to Las Vegas, you’re accustomed to the resort fees, which as TPG above notes can be more than the room rate itself at cheaper hotels. But first-time travelers, especially those not on company expense accounts, may be disappointed and/or inconvenienced when their $30/night hotel room turns out to be $65+tax. Make it $100 if you have to park a car.

If you as a hotel operator believe that the resort fees reflect anything of actual value, why not either include them in the room rate, or make them optional? Surely all the people who find those services valuable will be happy to pay for them. Myself, I haven’t needed a notary or fax receiving at a Las Vegas hotel, well, ever… and based on Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts credits at several hotels, I know the wifi is worth $5 a day, and I’d pay that happily.

There’s a good read at the Federal Trade Commission’s website on their investigation into resort fees. The tl;dr summary (emphasis added):

 The analysis in the paper finds that separating mandatory resort fees from posted room rates without first disclosing the total price is likely to harm consumers by increasing the search costs and cognitive costs of finding and choosing hotel accommodations. The analysis finds that separating resort fees from the room rate without first disclosing the total price is unlikely to result in benefits that offset the likely harm to consumers.

However, to date not much has been done to address this, and resort fees continue to go up.

There are ways to get around some resort fees, of course. Caesars Entertainment does not automatically charge resort fees for Diamond and Seven Stars Total Rewards members, for example, and if you’re a high roller/have a host at other resorts and chains in Las Vegas, you might be able to get special treatment. But most visitors to Las Vegas will get slapped with a resort fee (and parking fees too!) that they get little or no benefit out of and no option to decline.

How do you feel about surcharges and fees? Do they affect your choice of destination? Or do you just consider them “part and parcel” of traveling and dining out? Share your feedback in the comments.