Category: TSA PreCheck

The AMEX Power Couple

If you’re like me, you have a credit card for each facet of your annual budget because the value is just too good to pass up. That said, for many of my accounts, the physical cards themselves have been locked in the safe for years since they are simply on record with my merchant of choice. That’s because when it comes to what cards you carry with you in your wallet each day, it is important to keep it simple. So today, I’m here to tell you why two, yes two, premium credit cards may be the perfect arsenal for your daily spending: The AMEX Power Couple – Gold and Platinum cards.

Costs Incurred

Let’s get this out of the way because it is the hardest to stomach. The annual fee on the Gold card is $250; the Platinum is $550. Yes, that’s $800 in annual fees. But keep reading: There are three reasons this annual cost is well compensated:

  1. Statement Credits
  2. Earnings on Spend
  3. Benefits

Let’s get to it.

Statement Credits

The Platinum Card grants you Uber VIP status and $200 annually in Uber credits that can be used in the United States. The credits are issued $15 per month with an additional $20 credited each December for a total of $35. Whether you utilize rideshare apps to get to the airport, or home after a night with friends, the credit can supplement your budget and become cash back in your savings. If you don’t use rideshare, you can alternatively use the credits to order from the Uber Eats food delivery service.

A newer benefit offered by the Platinum Card is the $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue (including the online store). Issued semiannually in $50 increments, these statement credits are applied to any purchase you make with Saks. Though their prices are generally higher, there are deals to be found both in clearance as well as within the fragrance department that allow you to purchase something without exceeding the $50 statement credit.

The Gold Card offers $120 in annual dining credits ($10/month) when you use your Gold card to pay for meals with Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House and participating Shake Shack locations.  Personally, I find that Grubhub is the easiest way to redeem this benefit since one meal delivery a month is a nice benefit to commit to; they are also one of the only delivery services that do not charge delivery fees!

Both cards offer an annual Airline Fee Credit as well. After selecting one qualifying airline, you receive up to $100 per calendar year in statement credits when incidental fees, such as baggage fees and more, are charged by the airline to your Gold Card; you receive $200 per year on incidental fees charged to your Platinum Card. That’s a total of $300 per year that can be used on seat upgrades, baggage fees, lounge memberships and change fees!

Earnings on Spend

The average value of an American Express Point is two cents ($0.02) per point. So for the purposes of the assessment below, 1X points = 2% back; 4X points = 8% back; etc.

The Gold Card offers an astounding 8% back at restaurants worldwide and US supermarkets (up to $25,000).

The Platinum Card is worth its weight in airline purchases: 10% back. In the form of 5X points, this is my favorite earning reward because it can be used on ANY airline rather than the branded credit cards that require loyalty. So not only can you shop around for the best fare, you can take 10% off of that once you find it. Brilliant!

Both cards earn 2% back on all other purchases in the form of 1X points.

Benefits

The Platinum Card offers:

  1. A Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck. So whether you have been holding out until now, or your renewal is coming up soon, the fee credit will take care of that $85-100 expense.
  2. A Priority Pass Lounge Membership which gives you access to 1,000+ lounges across 500+ airports in 120 countries. 
  3. Gold Status with Hilton Honors
  4. Gold Status with Marriott Bonvoy
  5. Secondary Car Rental Loss & Damage Insurance

Both cards offer:

  1. No Foreign Transaction Fees: Travel abroad without incurring the 3% fee other card issuers charge when the card is used internationally.
  2. Purchase Protection: Your eligible purchases can be covered when they’re accidentally damaged, stolen, or lost for up to 120 days from the date of purchase with your Card.
  3. Extended Warranty: Can extend the original manufacturer’s warranty for up to two extra years for eligible purchases made on your Card.
  4. Free ShopRunner Account: This membership allows you to receive free 2-day shipping and returns at 140+ stores online.
  5. Premium Roadside Assistance: Not only will they cover eligible breakdowns and mishaps, American Express will coordinate response in your time of need!
  6. Baggage Insurance: Provides coverage for lost, stolen or damaged baggage when traveling on a Common Carrier when the entire fare has been charged to your Card.

Bottom Line

When looking at what a card actually costs you, we will take the annual statement credits from the annual fees and associate the remaining cost with the earnings on spend for their respective categories:

  1. The Gold Card has a $250 annual fee offset by a $120 annual dining credit and a $100 annual airline fee credit leaving $30 remaining. You will earn $30 in rewards after $375 in annual spend ($31.25/month) on dining and groceries with the 8% back in those categories.
  2. The Platinum Card has a $550 annual fee offset by a $200 Uber credit, a $200 annual airline fee credit and $100 in annual credits when you shop at Saks, leaving $50 remaining. You will earn $50 in rewards after $500 in annual spend on airfare with the 10% back in that category.

For arguments’ sake, even if you never spend enough to reclaim the $30 (Gold) and $50 (Platinum) remainders, holding the two cards only costs you a total of $80 annually and in return, you receive all of the benefits listed above.

Sign-Up Bonuses

Though the sign-up offers vary based on timing and your specific account, the acquisition of both of these cards would net you a minimum of 100,000 points worth $2,000 in travel rewards. For this reason, I always tell folks who are on the fence about whether or not they would get enough from the cards to justify the annual fees, that the first year is a no-risk trial with the sign-up bonus considered!

Referrals

My blog content is provided free of charge. If you decide to apply for one or both of these cards, please consider using my referral links below and we will both receive a reward from American Express! Thanks for reading!

  1. American Express Gold Card (link)
  2. American Express Platinum Card (link)

My Experience with CLEAR

I’ve been aware of CLEAR for sometime, but never felt compelled to join. Frankly, it seemed to me like an alternative to TSA Precheck that I did not need. Why pay more to stand in their line rather than the one I’m already expedited through?

Then I began to notice it at Mariners and Seahawks games. Interesting.

Then fellow frequent fliers, who I trusted, swore by it. It WAS worth adding, they said, if you traveled frequently, and since I travel every two weeks, and since I was offered two months free, I decided to give it a try!

I enrolled online with relative ease providing my name and date of birth to complete registration. On my next trip to the airport, I went to the CLEAR kiosk and spoke with a representative. Armed with my driver’s license and fingertips, I completed my account setup in less than five minutes. From there, I was escorted directly to the front of the TSA Precheck line and placed my backpack on the conveyer belt. I walked through the metal detector, grabbed my bag, and was on my way. Since I have Precheck, there remained no need for me to remove electronics, my belt or shoes. I was through security and on my way to the lounge in 60 seconds flat.

To be clear (no pun intended): CLEAR allows you to scan your fingerprint or iris along with your boarding pass upon arriving to the airport and immediately move to the front of YOUR line (TSA General or TSA Precheck) where your normal rules apply. While TSA Precheck is plenty sufficient in less trafficked cities, SeaTac is FULL of TSA Precheck travelers these days and CLEAR provides you once again with the advantage of expediency.

During this two month free trial, I have six itineraries booked so I will continue to test consistency and overall worth of the service before making a final decision. If I decide to proceed, it will run me $99/year because I have a Delta SkyMiles number (Delta owns 51% of the company), so there’s no reason to pay the full $179/year since it is free to signup for a SkyMiles number if you don’t already have one. In addition, all CLEAR members can add up to three family members for only $50 each/year so it is not exorbitant to enroll your whole crew.

If you have travel or sporting events upcoming, and also want to try two-months free, you can register using my Referral Link!

The Perfect Airport Experience

My entire life, my family has been involved with Air Force, commercial or government aviation. Fast forward to today, nothing has changed. I love flying out of SeaTac International Airport, and doing so is a major part of my life since my wife and I work in different states. Often times I talk to folks who ask how I can put up with the frequency of an airport, and it reminds me that perfecting my experience has been a longtime coming.

Before mobile boarding passes, priority service, dedicated waiting areas or ride services, getting to and navigating the airport was a chore. For those who may not fly often, many of these innovations may still be unfamiliar and we resort to standing in lines, lines and more lines before finally waiting in a herd to board our flight.

Here are my tips and tricks to improve your experience at SeaTac International Airport:

Get Dropped Off

If you live nearby, take an Uber or Lyft to the airport. Otherwise, buy lunch for a friend or family member and ask them to give you a ride in exchange. Avoid the headache of parking at the airport or waiting for a shuttle and keep control of your schedule.

Don’t Check a Bag

You don’t need all that stuff. Even when traveling internationally, you don’t need any more than your small carry-on and a backpack. By not checking a bag, you permit yourself to move directly to the security checkpoint, rather than standing in line waiting to check your luggage, or waiting for it after you land at your final destination. In addition, you remove the risk of your bag being lost or stolen once it is out of your sight.

Download the App

Make sure you have downloaded the mobile app for your airline, and that you’ve checked in using the app before arrival. Have your mobile boarding pass stored on your phone locally (such as the Apple Wallet) so you’re not reliant on phone service. This eliminates any need to visit a guest services counter or kiosk once onsite.

Have a Known Traveler Number (KTN)

Whether you opt for Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check, having a KTN costs as little as $17/year and allows you to access the TSA Pre-Check line which not only expedites your security screening, but allows you NOT to remove your shoes, laptops, liquids, belts and light jackets.

Prepare for Security

Assuming you have a KTN, all you need out when you enter the expedited line is your mobile boarding pass (phone) and ID. Have everything else out of your pockets and in your backpack before arriving since you won’t need them anyway. After presenting your ID and Boarding Pass at the checkpoint, stow these in your backpack as well and you’re ready to fly through the physical inspection.

Enjoy the Lounge

Once you’ve made it through security, head straight for the lounge. As I’ve told you before, if you’re carrying the American Express Platinum card, you’re entitled to several lounges including the Centurion Lounge and the Delta Sky Club (when flying Delta). Both lounges offer complimentary food and drink (including liquor) and provide a comfortable, quiet ambiance while you wait for your flight to board.

Leave Just in Time

Flights board 40 minutes prior to the departure time. I recommend leaving the comfort of your lounge at this “start time.” By the time you arrive to your gate, you will have just missed the first call for passengers requiring extra time (such as parents with children) and elite passengers thereby reducing the amount of time you’re standing around. And if you’ve earned elite status on that airline, you simply board upon arrival to the gate using your dedicated boarding lane.

Stay Connected

Once in the air, use the GoGo In-Flight WiFi. You can keep up with social media, email and text messaging for free if you’re a T-Mobile customer or this service is available for purchase as well. For all customers, “free texting” is now offered by most carriers in-flight as well. Flying no longer needs to be isolating while you wait to land!

Cheers!

Use some or all of these tips (all recommended) to improve your next visit to the airport and start your vacation mode before arriving at your final destination!

Platinum or CSR? Why You May Choose Both.

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Choices

The American Express Platinum and the Chase Sapphire Reserve: These two cards are the power couple of the premium credit card world. Deciding which one is right for you can be tricky; so why not choose both?

I’m Not Crazy

While applying for not one, but two premium metal credit cards with a combined $1,000 annual fee may seem absurd to you, I’m here to provide you with the alternate narrative and tell you why we’ve decided to hold both cards in our wallet in 2018. Read on, and I will explain how $25/month will unlock a plethora of travel benefits for you and your loved ones this year.

Sign Up Bonuses

With the sign up bonuses offered by both cards, the rewards more than compensate you for the annual fees you incur in that first year. At the laziest redemption level, using points to purchase travel through the respective travel portals, you earn $1,350 from sign up bonuses in exchange for the $1,000 in annual fees; a $350 profit if you plan to travel this year.

Annual Fees vs. Credits

The American Express Platinum card carries a $550 annual fee, while offering $200 back in Uber credits and $200 back in airline incidentals. The Chase Sapphire Reserve card carries a $450 annual fee, while offering $300 back in travel credits. If you assume you will spend money with Uber or Uber Eats, the airlines and by traveling anyway, then each card only costs you $150.

Takeaway

For the two cards, it will cost you just $300/year, or $25/month, while affording you these benefits all year long:

What is the perk? How will I use it? Where did I earn it?
$200 worth of airline incidental reimbursements Lounge passes, in-flight food and beverage, baggage fees and seat upgrades
$200 worth of Uber /
Uber Eats reimbursements
Whether you need a ride, or want dinner delivered to you, you can use these credits to accomplish that
$300 worth of travel reimbursement The most generous of benefits: Travel includes airfare, hotels, taxis, etc.
Priority Pass Membership with up to two guests Great for Alaska Air and The Club Lounges
Priority Pass Membership with unlimited guests The Club Lounges…now with more friends!
Centurion Airport Lounge Access My favorite lounge in Las Vegas
Sky Club Airport Lounge Access when flying Delta My favorite lounge in Seattle
Primary Rental Car Insurance This can be better than your own auto policy with the $75K coverage including Loss of Use
10% back on airfare purchases 5X Points valued at $0.02 each
6.6% back on dining (restaurant, bar) purchases  3X Points valued at $0.022 each
6.6% back on travel (hotel, taxi) purchases  3X Points valued at $0.022 each
Boingo Wifi Membership Unlimited access to over a million WiFi hotspots
 SPG Gold Status Room upgrades and more with Sheraton, Westin and other SPG Hotel Brands
Marriott Gold Status Marriott honors SPG status so add them to your list of elite partners
Hilton Gold Status In case that wasn’t enough, you’ll also be covered at Hilton properties too
Trip Cancellation Insurance Up to $10,000 per trip
Baggage Delay Credit $100/day per bag
Trip Delay Credit  Up to $500 per ticket
Price Protection  Up to $500 per item

Referral Links

Well, what do you think? If you decide to apply for one or both cards, please use my referral link below to net me some bonus points in addition to the ones you’ll receive!

Click here to apply for the American Express Platinum Card and earn 60,000 points!

Why the AMEX Platinum is Worth $550

I’ve been a happy holder of the American Express Platinum card since the beginning of the year, and despite my original intent to churn the card, I’ve been surprised to realize its value and I expect to renew it in 2018. To tell you more about my perceived value of this card, I’ve developed a Q&A below.

What is a quick summary of the top benefits provided to the cardholder? 

  • $200/year in Uber Credits
  • $200/year in Airline Fee reimbursements
  • Gold status with hotels: Marriott, SPG and Hilton
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre Check
  • $100/year in Saks credits
  • Airport lounge access with Centurion Lounge, Delta Sky Club and Preferred Pass which grants access to the Alaska Airline lounges among others

I’m worried I won’t get the value of $550 I put into the card, should I still apply? Absolutely. Because the first year is risk free with the 60,000 point signup bonus. Though I would implore you to find a more economical redemption, you could technically redeem those points for a $600 statement credit which would more than cover the annual fee.

What sets this card apart from other luxury cards? The status!! Status with hotels, rental cars, and better lounge access.

This card earns 5X reward points (nearly 10% back) on airfare purchases, and travel purchases through AMEX Travel. But is this a card to use for all purchases? All other purchases earn 1 point per dollar. I have three main cards, and will use different ones for restaurant and gas purchases when I’m feeling thrifty because much better “points/cash back” exist for those categories. However, the purchase protection on this card is incredible (protect eligible purchases made on your Card – up to $10,000 – when they’re accidentally damaged, stolen, or lost, for up to 90 days from the date of purchase), so I use it for any “big ticket” items I purchase.

How does this card earn you Gold status with Marriott? This one’s harder to identify, but the perks exists because Marriott bought SPG and they are matching status. So the card gets you Gold SPG, and then when you link your Marriott account to your SPG account, your status is matched to Gold Marriott. URL for linking your accounts.

This card reimburses $200 in airline fees a year; I avoid fees. Is this still helpful? The $200 fee reimbursement will credit against baggage fees, seat upgrades and in-flight food and beverage charges. So whether you establish a budget for enjoying a treat in the air, or upgrading your seats before you board, think of it as your annual travel perk budget. The reimbursement is also helpful if you find yourself needing to make a last minute change as change fees will be reimbursed as well.

So what’s the takeaway? When you consider the airline and Uber credits (which can also be used for Uber Eats), this card only costs you $150/year. For that, you’ll likely be upgraded at any Marriott, SPG or Hilton property you stay at, enjoy the best airport lounge access available from a card benefit and receive nearly 10% back on airfare purchases. Going to spend $1,500 on airfare this year? The card just paid for itself.

Thanks for reading. If you decide to pull the trigger, use my referral link which will net me 10K points while getting you the 60K.

What’s in my wallet?

If you know me, you know I appreciate The Art And Science Of Rewards Credit Card Churning and the value it produces when done well. But having been asked a few times recently, I wanted to take a brief moment to advocate for the cards I have kept (or plan to keep) despite their annual fees; one of the biggest scare-factors of credit cards for novice users. Today, I’ll tell you about three of the credit cards I keep, how I justify the fees each year, and why you should consider one or more of them.

Image result for amex platinum
Card The American Express Platinum Card
Annual Fee $550
Welcome Offer 60,000 points worth $1,200 in travel
Perks 10% back on travel*, $200 airline credit, $200 Uber credit, fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PRE✓, Boingo Internet Preferred Plan, airport lounge access including Centurion, Priority Pass & Delta SkyClubs, Gold Status with Hilton, SPG (Sheraton, Westin, etc.) and Marriott, and status with Avis, Hertz and National.

*Awarded as 5x points (valued at 2 cents each) for every dollar spent directly with an airline, or on hotels via amextravel.com

Why Keep It? Assuming you spend $200 with airlines (gift cards included) and Uber (or UberEATS) already, the card really only costs you $150/year. If you travel several times a year or more, this is a no-brainer. The 10% back on travel (advertised as 5x back) may even allow you to more than cover the remaining cost of your annual fee if you spend over $1,500 traveling (this includes reimbursable work travel). And once you’re in travel mode, you’ll enjoy access to over 1,000 airport lounges and status with several hotels and rental car companies. The lounges provide a quiet, clean area to enjoy a complimentary cocktail and snack before your flight, and the status you carry with the card will increase your chances of receiving complimentary upgraded vehicles, hotel rooms and even executive hotel lounge access.

Image result for chase hyatt
Card The Hyatt Credit Card
Annual Fee $75
Welcome Offer 2 free nights at any Hyatt hotel or resort worldwide
Perks 3.6% back at restaurants*, 1 free night every year after your cardmember anniversary at any Category 1-4 hotel or resort, Discoverist status.

*Awarded as 2x points (valued at 1.8 cents each) for every dollar spent at restaurants.

Why Keep It? The best time to apply for this card is when you’re planning a vacation near a luxury Hyatt property since your sign up bonus of two free nights is good at any property! After the first year, the card essentially provides you with an annual hotel night for only $75 at properties that would easily cost you 5X that amount. The card also gives you Discoverist status (2nd of a 4-level membership) which will comp premium internet, a bottle of water, resort fees on free night awards and may even get you upgraded to a preferred room if there’s availability.

IHG-CARD
Card IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card
Annual Fee $49 (waived for the first year)
Welcome Offer 60,000 points worth $420 in travel
Perks 1 free night at any property every year after your cardmember anniversary, Platinum Elite status.

Why Keep It? This card is a diamond in the rough when it comes to hotel cards. Not only is the annual fee reasonable, it rewards you with a free stay each year. The Platinum Elite status that it carries guarantees you room availability and an upgrade upon arrival. My favorite brands within IHG are Holiday Inn Express, Crowne Plaza and Staybridge. Each offers competitive room rates, and amenities ranging from complimentary hot breakfasts to full apartments.

Why Keep Them?

My wife and I each have the Hyatt and IHG cards and have historically used the free nights for a weekend getaway on her birthday, or to offset the cost of a lengthier vacation. As any good financial stewards would, we budget for annual travel costs; and paying $248 ($75 + $75 +$49 +$49) is well worth the four hotel nights we receive that can be used anywhere in the world. Though we’ve had these two cards for nearly four years, we’ve only recently added the Platinum card to our wallet after AMEX Announced Major Changes to it last March. In my opinion, the AMEX Platinum card is now the best luxury travel card out there, and with our typical spend nearly offsetting the annual fee, I don’t see it leaving our wallet anytime soon with all of the perks it offers.

Shameless Referral Plug. If I’ve convinced you to do so, apply for the Platinum card with this link and we can both get rewarded if you’re approved!