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.
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.
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.
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.
[See disclosure/disclaimer at the end if you’re into those things.]
Many of our readers will be headed to Las Vegas over the next couple of months. Whether it’s InteropITX, Cisco Live, VMworld, or something else, you may be curious about the quickest way to optimize your rewards and your stay while you’re there.
While reading all the other posts on rsts11travel would be the most thorough way to learn your way around Vegas, we figured we’d put together a unified list of things to do and think about as you head to what will be Tech City for much of the summer.
It took a couple of weeks, but the rsts11travel review of Aria Las Vegas’s Aria Sky Suites property finally came out this week. One of the prods to stop editing and just post it was that we were booking another stay for this summer that was somewhat related. Not everyone will celebrate a birthday and aim for MLife Gold in one weekend, but about anyone with the right charge card can take advantage of these benefits.
We’ve written briefly about Delano Las Vegas in our Hidden Gems piece earlier this year. It’s one of our favorite properties on the strip, especially when attending an event being held in Mandalay Bay Convention Center. With its small lounge and bar, coffee shop with pastries and snacks, and Della’s Kitchen breakfast/lunch venue, you can get a lot done without passing Michael Jackson, and with Delano itself being a non-smoking, non-casino hotel with a separate entrance, those with sensitivity to noise or smoke can escape those discomforts in their “home” hotel. But you’re a few hundred feet from Cirque du Soleil, the Mandalay Bay casino, their dining options from fast counter service to posh sit-down service, and of course the rest of the strip.
rsts11travel note: This is the second of a two-part series started on #rsts11travel, featuring mobile internet routers. Part one appeared here on rsts11travel last week. The second part will appear over on #rsts11 since it’s a bit more POHO than random travel, and we’re excerpting it here.
When you travel, you probably have a number of devices that demand connectivity.
Many venues limit your allowed devices, and maybe you don’t want your devices out on the open network. Additionally, you may want to use streaming devices or shared storage in your room, and that may not work with typical public network setups. Last time we looked at some battery powered routers with charging functions and other network features.
Today we’ll look at some choices for sharing a wired connection as well as a cellular modem. We’ll revisit Hootoo and RavPower devices as an entry point, and then go power-user/POHO on you with offerings from Cradlepoint, Meraki, and Peplink.
This will be a short treat for the Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest fans in the audience.
Marriott has announced their first quarter 2017 promos. Register now, and even one stay with either chain will get you more points than if you hadn’t.
Starwood Preferred Guest has their SPG Double Take promo out. Register before March 15, 2017, and earn double Starpoints on your first three paid stays at any SPG program property with check-in between January 16 and April 15, 2017. Registration opened in December, but it’s worth checking to see that you registered. And surprisingly, stays prior to registration (during the qualifying period) will count toward the bonuses. Award stays will not count.
Marriott fans aren’t left out, as their Q1 Megabonus promotion will give you double points on your first three stays. Register by March 15, 2017, and stay between January 16 and April 15, 2017, with your earning option set to points (not miles), and you’ll get double Marriott Rewards points for your first three paid stays in that time period. The Ritz-Carlton is included in this promo, but third party bookings appear to not be included. Also note that the T&Cs say this is a targeted offer, but you may be automatically targeted if you register for Starwood’s program. Worth a click either way.
Hope you’re having a great weekend. For more info on hotel loyalty programs, including where you may be able to take advantage of these promos, check out our “Loyalty has its advantages” post from this past week.
Welcome back to rsts11travel. Today we’re going to review some portable battery pack options for charging your phones and tablets. We’ll be featuring products we’ve bought from Anker, Aukey, Nomad, and Apple.
Check out the previous installment for our recommendations on cables and AC adapters, which you’ll probably need to keep your battery packs charged up on the go.
Welcome back to rsts11travel. Today we’re going to start looking at power options for your portable electronics. We’ll be looking at charging adapters and cables from Portapow, Nomad Goods and Anker, with others coming in future posts. In the next part of this post, we’ll look at battery packs.