Category Archives: Credit Cards

Now, even the NYTimes is writing about the CSR…

You know it’s bad when even mainstream media outlets like the New York Times are writing about a credit card and the buzz it’s generating. (In full disclosure, I applied and was approved for a Chase Sapphire Reserve card)

All I’ll say right now is that you should get on the gravy train while it lasts. The CSR offers some ridiculous value with the 3x points on travel and dining and 1.5 cent redemption rate, which essentially means 4.5% back on those categories. I don’t see that rate of cash back as sustainable over the long run. If you think that something is too good to last, it probably is.

In recent years, one prominent example was the Club Carlson credit cards. 5x earning plus 1 night free on any award stay, and you could book two award stays back-to-back with a personal and business card to get 4 nights for the price of 2 award nights. Ridiculous value, so it got gutted.

More recently, the Citi Prestige credit card offered 1.6 cents back when buying American Airlines flights. If you had an old Citi Forward card, that meant 8% back on dining. They quickly gutted the Citi Forward. But the Citi Prestige card still meant 4.8% back on travel and 3.2% back on dining by itself, but they’ve lowered that to 1.25 cents per point. And of course there was the wonderful Admirals Club access (with guests), but that benefit is going away too.

Granted, there’s no ancillary benefit that I see as unsustainable with the Chase Sapphire Reserve (like the Admirals Club access afforded by the Citi Prestige), so maybe I’m wrong. Priority Pass membership really isn’t that useful unless you live in the Northwest (and have access to Alaska Airlines Board Rooms) or travel internationally, so I don’t think most cardholders will use it that much. But a 100k bonus is quite tempting, especially for a relatively low minimum spend requirement.

Remember Your Credit Card Benefits If You’re Stranded Due to Snowmageddon

There’s been nearly two feet of snow in Philadelphia, and all flights into/out of Philadelphia airport were cancelled yesterday. If you’re stranded away from home due to weather, the airline won’t do much for you since it’s a weather-related cancellation (except provide you the opportunity to book hotels at distressed rates, which helps but is not generally that much of a discount). BUT, your credit card might make up the difference!

I’ve written about using my Discover card’s trip delay insurance before. Essentially, provided that you meet certain criteria, your credit card might pay for your meals and lodging for a couple of days if you’re stranded. You need to call your credit card company to get the full details, since it definitely varies by issuer and card, but it’s something to keep in mind that might help!

Newbie Question: “What Credit Card Should I Get?”

All of them. As many times as you can.

People frequently ask me which credit card they should get (and every time I die a little on the inside because I don’t have any affiliate links to make money off of them). But it’s a question that I find challenging to answer because I don’t think that there’s a single credit card that people should get–people should get them all. The best credit card strategy is to apply for new cards as quickly as you can meet the minimum spend requirements on your previous cards so you’re constantly earning sign-up bonuses. Sign-up bonuses are currently the single best way to earn points in the current environment.

For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred–which seems to be the gateway travel credit card for many people–currently offers 40k points after spending $4k within the first three months of having the card. This isn’t even the best the offer has been (it can go up to 50k points, ignoring the 5k points you can get for adding an authorized user). But that means that for the first $4k you’re spending on the credit card, you’re essentially earning at least 11 points per dollar spent. Or the Citi AA card which offers 50k miles after $3k in spending. That first $3k spent is earning over 17 miles per dollar. You’re not going to get anywhere close to those numbers on ongoing everyday spend.

In addition, by applying to credit cards as quickly as possible, you’re also resetting your clock on when you can then churn those cards. Chase cards are churnable 24 months after receiving the sign-up bonus, so applying for and meeting the spend earlier means that you have to wait less time to earn the bonus again in the future. Granted, there are some banks that are cracking down on this, but this game always evolves, so you should take advantage of opportunities as they arise.

Now, I’m a bit of a hypocrite because I’m not really following my own advice: I haven’t been applying for as many new cards as I could be, but this is mostly driven by the fact that I’m sitting on more miles than I can redeem so I haven’t been too focused on earning. But I’ve accumulated many of those miles from applying for (and subsequently closing) lots and lots of credit cards.

Things I Like: Citi Prestige

It’s probably weird that I get excited over things like new credit cards, but I’m currently really excited for my new Citi Prestige card. It’s the card that I wanted most during my most recent round of credit card applications, and I’m happy to say that I was approved and received the card.

Based on the advice from Rapid Travel Chai, I went to a Citi branch and applied for the credit card in person to get a better offer than what was available online. By applying in person, I was able to get an offer for 30k points after spending $3000 within the first 3 months of having the card, an additional 30k points after spending $15000 within the first 12 months, and an annual fee of only $350. I’ve read that this offer is supposed to be for Citi Gold customers, but the banker that I worked with didn’t ask if I had any checking account relationship with Citi, and there seemed to be only one offer available at the branch.

Why am I excited for this card?
1) Thank You points can be redeemed for 1.6 cents each by booking AA/US flights. I have an old Citi Forward card that gives 5x points for restaurant spend, which means that I am now getting 8% back at restaurants. The Citi Prestige also offers 3x points on most travel spend (airlines, hotels, travel agencies), which means that I’m getting close to 5% back on those categories. This is far superior to cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
2) There’s a $250 airline credit each calendar year, and it’s automatically redeemed (so no need to choose an airline) and is valid for all airline purchases (so no need to buy gift cards in certain denominations). This means that the ongoing annual fee is effectively only $100, and if I wanted to, I could cancel within a year and get $500 in airline credits for only $350.
3) This card comes with a Priority Pass Select membership that gives you free access for two guests as well as yourself. This is superior to the Priority Pass membership that comes with the Amex Platinum card, as guests cost $27 each with that membership.
4) Admirals Club access is another benefit. Great for me since I primarily fly AA and wanted to cancel my Citi Executive card.
5) The normal credit card benefits are good and generous. This card comes with all of the insurances that are associated with high-end credit cards like trip delay (only 3 hours instead of 6 or 12 hours like other credit cards), trip interruption or cancellation, baggage delay, lost luggage, return protection, etc. I will happily put all of my purchases on this card and know that I’m going to be well covered.

Other benefits that are nice:
1) Global Entry fee reimbursement (once every 5 years)
2) 4th night free for hotel stays booked through their travel agency
3) No foreign transaction fees

This credit card doesn’t get enough love in the miles/points blogosphere (probably because I imagine that it doesn’t have an affiliate link), but it looks to be a keeper in my book. I generally don’t go for cash back cards since it’s not as “sexy” as redeeming miles for first class (although you can transfer Thank You points to a number of foreign frequent flyer programs), but at these cash back rates, I don’t think I can rationally choose miles.

My Next Round of Credit Card Applications

When people ask me what the best credit card to use is, I usually tell them that there’s no specific card but that they should be continuously applying for new credit cards to get sign-up bonuses. There’s not as much talk about churning on blogs nowadays (perhaps because banks don’t like it when the bigger blogs use that word?), but I still regularly apply for new credit cards.

So what’s next on my list? The card that I most want right now is the Citi Prestige card. It’s kind of like Citi’s answer to the Amex Platinum, and it comes with a Priority Pass membership that allows guests for free, American Admirals Club access, and a $250 annual airline credit. But I’m mostly interested in this card because I have a Citi Forward card that gets 5x Thank You points on restaurants and bookstores, so with the Citi Prestige, I can then redeem those points for 1.6 cents each toward AA flights. That means I can get about 8% back on restaurant spending all year round. Crazy good deal, right?

I’ll probably try to pick up another US Airways credit card before Barclays has to stop issuing them and perhaps an Alaska Airlines credit card. I’ve had the US Airways card three times before, so I’m not optimistic about my approval chances, but it’s been 6 months since my last application, so I might as well try. I don’t know how many times I’ve had the Bank of America Alaska credit card, but they keep approving me, so might as well keep on getting those miles, as I recently used 100k to book a first class Emirates ticket.

Another card that’s been in the back of my mind for a while is the Chase IHG card. Low annual fee for a free night certificate, and you get a redemption rebate, so it’s worth keeping around. I haven’t gotten to it yet since I haven’t really focused on IHG, and I probably will continue to wait until the 80k point offer comes back (if it does).

So not the most ambitious set of credit card applications, but if I get approved for them all, it’ll be about 125k miles/points which I value at over $1800. Not too shabby for minimal effort.

Things I Like Right Now: US Bank

In the past, I’ve written extensively about how I think the US Bank Club Carlson credit cards are underrated in the miles/points blogosphere. These cards are one reason why I’m a fan of US Bank.

More recently, though, I’m a big fan of the Visa Buxx cards offered through US Bank. I’ve been slacking on the manufactured spending front, but Visa Buxx makes for a couple of grand of easy spend each month at minimal ongoing cost. It helps that there are US Bank ATMs where I live, including near my work as well as near my home.

To make the process of liquidation even easier, I opened a US Bank checking account, so I can withdraw money and deposit it at the same trip (yes, I hog the ATM for 5 minutes or so). And at the time that I opened my checking account, US Bank was offering a $150 opening bonus, so that just made it all the more worthwhile.

Granted, there are things that I dislike about US Bank: namely, their fraud controls are way too stringent. I’ve given up on using my Club Carlson credit cards for any sort of manufactured spend as I hated having to call every single time I made a somewhat large purchase. But Visa Buxx and redeeming two nights for the price of one (which can be stacked back-to-back with two credit cards/Club Carlson accounts) make me a big fan of US Bank right now.

FAQs About the Amex Centurion Lounge at San Francisco Airport (SFO)

Q: Where is the lounge?
A: Terminal 3, near Gate 74. It’s right beside the airside connector between Terminal 3 and the International G gates, and it’s where premium security at SFO used to be for United.

Entrance to the Centurion Lounge at SFO

Entrance to the Centurion Lounge at SFO

Q: Can I access this lounge even if I’m not flying United?
A: Yes! Any boarding pass at SFO will get you airside at any terminal. Note that only Terminal 3 and the G gates of the International Terminal are connected airside, which means that you will have to clear security twice if you want to use this lounge and you’re not flying out of Terminal 3 or the International G gates. You want to leave plenty of time to reclear security, as you’ll need to take the AirTrain to get to your terminal.

Lounge reception

Lounge reception

Q: What are the access policies?
A: Free access for Amex Platinum and Centurion card holders, and they get two guests or immediate family members for free. Otherwise, you need an Amex card to have the privilege of buying a $50 one-day pass. If you buy a one-day pass, kids under 18 get in free with you, but those over 18 will need to have their own one-day passes.

Q: How can I visit this lounge if I’m not actually flying?
A: Buy a fully refundable ticket, get a boarding pass, and then cancel the flight once you’re airside. Or if that seems morally dubious to you and you have a different lounge membership, you can often get access to the club even if you’re not flying. For example, for American Admirals Club members, you can call and they’ll arrange to have a fake boarding pass ready for you at the check-in counters which you can use to get airside. You can also arrange these boarding passes for other people. See AA’s Admirals Club FAQ page for more information. Note that you’re supposed to have a business purpose for this.

Q: What are the hours?
A: 5am to 11pm.

Q: How’s the food?
A: The food is significantly more elevated than most options that you would find at an airport. Bread was tasty, liked the salad, pumpkin was good. Overall, decent options for vegetarians. The rice was terrible, though. It was left out too long so the top got really crunchy. I didn’t try the meat entrees, but my friends enjoyed them. Desserts were solid. But there seemed to be issues with keeping up with demand, as every time I went up to the buffet there was at least one thing missing. See the food menu here.

Savory foods

Savory foods

Salad

Salad

Desserts and bread

Desserts and bread

Seating in dining area

Seating in dining area

Dining room

Dining room

Q: How about the drinks?
A: Lots of wines on offer, and you can get a code to taste up to 5 pours (your alcohol consumption is not limited at the bar). Cocktails were good, according to my cocktail aficionado friends. See the drinks menu here.

Wine dispensers

Wine dispensers

Bar

Bar

Q: Shower situation?
A: There’s only one shower suite, but it’s pretty nice as far as domestic airport showers go: spacious, good water pressure and temperature, and there was a normal-sized bar of organic olive oil soap (I can’t remember seeing bar soap in any other airport lounge). The towels are pretty ratty, so hopefully they replace those. While there isn’t a physical divider between the shower floor space and the floor space of the rest of the shower room, water did not get everywhere.

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Bar soap! (but poor quality towels)

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Q: How is the lounge for getting work done?
A: Many of the seating options have built-in electrical outlets, which is a nice touch. The lounge isn’t that big, and even on day 1 of operation it was quite crowded, so it might be hard to find a quiet place to work. Wifi is fast. No real quiet areas if you need to take a call.

IMG_1244 IMG_1253 IMG_1243

Q: Any other amenities?
A: There’s a family room, which is good for people traveling with children. They also have luggage lockers.

Family room

Family room

Luggage lockers

Luggage lockers

Q: Conclusions?
A: Overall, a nice lounge, and one that tempts me to reapply for an Amex Platinum card. But I don’t fly United any more, and I generally get to the airport with less than 10 minutes to spare before my flight boards, so I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to come here even if I had an Amex Platinum card. But it’s probably a better place to grab a drink and a meal than anywhere else at SFO.

Why I’m Keeping My Citi AAdvantage Amex Card

My annual fee also just posted on my Citi AAdvantage Amex card. I originally got both a Citi AA Amex and a Citi AA Visa card two years ago for 50k miles each. Last year, I cancelled my Visa card and ended up getting a retention offer on my Amex of a $95 statement credit and 1000 bonus miles for every statement in which I charge $1000 or more for the next 16 statements. I was glad to keep one card, as I still valued the 10% rebate on redeemed miles up to 10,000 miles per year.

This time around, I honestly didn’t care about keeping the card. The only benefit that I really value is the 10% rebate on redeemed miles, but I have an old Barclays US Airways card that gives 10k anniversary miles every year, and that card will be transitioned to a new card that offers the rebate benefit. Since I’m assuming that the benefits won’t stack (although who knows for sure), I wasn’t going to get any meaningful incremental benefit by keeping this card, so I called to cancel.

I was pretty adamant about canceling the card when I called in, and I have spent less than $5000 on the card in the past year. But lo and behold, they gave me a retention offer of a $95 statement credit for making 5 purchases within the next 3 months. Sure, I’ll take that offer, as this means that I can also keep another Amex card for Small Business Saturday.

Moral of the story: call in to cancel your cards–you might get a retention offer to change your mind.

Why I’m Canceling My Chase Hyatt Card

A lot of bloggers have said that the Chase Hyatt credit card is one of the cards to keep and pay the annual fee on every year because the card offers a free anniversary night certificate redeemable for a category 1-4 Hyatt property for an annual fee of $75.

Since the annual fee just posted on my account, I was forced to think about whether this made sense for me. Even though paying $75 for a night at a category 4 Hyatt property makes sense in comparison to paying the cash rate at many hotels, that’s more than I’d typically spend on a single night since I’m often content skimping on lodging and doing things like staying at capsule hotels or using Airbnb. The card does offer double points  on restaurants and some travel expenses and has no foreign transaction fees, which is nice given that I no longer have a Chase Sapphire Preferred.

But then I realized that all of this thought process was irrelevant. It makes almost no sense for me to keep the credit card given that I regularly apply for new credit cards. Chase cards can be churned every 24 months, and you keep award night certificates earned in your Hyatt account even if you close your credit card. Thus, I can cancel my credit card right now, keep the free category 1-4 certificate that has already posted to my Hyatt account, and then reapply for the same credit card in 12 months and get two annual free nights.

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 2.05.31 PM

Screenshot from current offer

Scenario 1: Keep the credit card and pay the annual fee.
October 2013 – Applied for credit card. Received 2 free night certificates and $50 statement credit.
October 2014 – Pay $75, receive 1 free night category 1-4 certificate
October 2015 – Pay $75, receive 1 free night category 1-4 certificate
etc.
End result: Pay $100 ($75 annual fee x 2 – $50 statement credit), get 2 free night certs and 2 free night cat 1-4 certs.

Scenario 2: Close the credit card and churn at next opportunity.
October 2013 – Applied for credit card. Received 2 free night certificates and $50 statement credit.
October 2014 – Close card, receive 1 free night category 1-4 certificate.
October 2015 – Apply for credit card #2. Receive 2 free night certificates and possible additional statement credit.
etc.
End result: Receive $50 (or more), get 4 free night certs and 1 free night cat 1-4 cert.

Granted, in scenario 2, there might be a slight delay in terms of when I can apply for credit card #2 since the terms do state that it should be 24 months since the last time receiving the bonus and not the last time applying for the credit card, but still, scenario 2 is strictly better for almost everyone. And while scenario 2 does require meeting another minimum spend requirement, it’s only $1000 for this credit card.

Just Applied for a Chase Ink Bold Card

…and not the Chase Ink Plus. There are rumors that the Ink Bold is going away, and I’ve never had a Chase Ink card, so I figured I might as well try for the Ink Bold.

Yes, everyone is screaming about the Ink Plus right now. 70k UR points is a lot. But they’re not quite as valuable to me as they were in the past since United has devalued, which is why I haven’t rushed to get any of these cards. And while I don’t have any foresight into whether or not the 70k points offer will come back for the Ink Plus, I’m pretty confident that we’ll see 60k point bonuses again, so getting an incremental 10k isn’t that important to me rather than getting an incremental 50k if the Ink Bold were to disappear as a product prior to me ever getting it.

After applying, I got a decision pending screen, so I called the business reconsideration line (1-800-453-9719). The rep didn’t ask any questions–she just put me on hold for a couple of minutes and then came back to say that I was approved. This is possibly because the only Chase card that I have left is the no annual fee Chase Freedom, which I scarcely use unless the 5% category is something that I normally spend lots of money on (i.e. only when it’s restaurants).

And no, I didn’t use anyone’s referral link. Does that make me a bad blogger?