So I received my SCRA letter from US Bank regarding my two cards, both my Club Carlson Visa Signature card and my REI card. The letter said that all fees such as foreign transaction are waived, and that APR was a max 6%. It did not mention annual fees though. I called their military support center, and unfortunately, they do not waive annual fees for their cards. They are not required to under the SCRA, but it’s still unfortunate. I will be downgrading or cancelling my Club Carlson card later this year when the annual fee comes due.

 

(unfortunately in all the chaos of packing household goods, I lost the actual SCRA paper from them, so I can’t scan and upload it…sorry)

 

I do have the paper from Citi though, and I have some good and some bad news. First, the good news. Annual fees are indeed waived on almost all their cards, including the Prestige, the Premier, AA Platinum personal and business, and their Hilton cards. The bad news is that it is not waived on the Citi Exec, like I reported earlier this year. That is too bad. I got doubly screwed on this one, because I thought I’d be receiving the 75k bonus after spending $7.5k, but they said because I’ve had this card already (thrice actually, last year) that I was ineligible for the bonus this time around. I wish they’d told me that before I applied. Whomp whomp whomp :(

 

Here is the letter they sent me for the Prestige; I received similar ones for my other cards:
SCRA

Posted by glenn | 6 Comments

Hey gang, sorry for the paucity of articles from me, I’m currently PCSing to Okinawa, so things have been rather hectic. Fortunately, our astute readers have been sending us article ideas.

 

One reader, who wishes to remain anonymous, but might be a senior chief, sent me an example from his USAA account of a great targeted offer. As you can see below, he’d get a $100 credit to his USAA World Mastercard after spending $1k per month for 3 months:

usaa

It’s not the greatest offer I’ve ever seen, but if you’re already using that card, it’d be worth it for the extra $100.
Make sure you check out your offers – just google “USAA offers” and then log in to your account, or even easier, check them out on your USAA phone app. I didn’t have this particular offer unfortunately. Please let us know if you get any more intriguing offers!

Posted by glenn | 3 Comments

Continuing on from yesterday’s post about changes to DoD lodging and DTS.  Here are the new options for commercial lodging:

Commercial Lodging

  • DoD PreferredAs of June 15, 2015 , the JTR requires all travelers TDY to an metro area at an Integrated Lodging Program Pilot site to book DoD preferred commercial lodging before other lodging options.  DoD preferred commercial lodging properties meet strict quality, safety and security requirements and offer rates below per diem, as well as, additional traveler protections (no fee for cancellations before 4pm, etc.) and conveniences (free internet, free parking, etc.) at no additional cost.  The free internet and parking is great and glad to see them include that.  Not that you couldn’t pay for that and then seek reimbursement, but this just makes that not a problem.
  • FedRoomsDoD travelers are permitted to use the General Services Administration (GSA) FedRooms program. FedRooms offers specially negotiated federal government hotel rates at or below per diem. The program offers benefits to travelers such as no early check-out fees, no deposits, no hidden fees and travelers can cancel a reservation until 4pm on the day of arrival without penalty. For more information on GSA FedRooms, log on to: http://www.gsa.gov/portal/content/105396 or http://www.fedrooms.com. To obtain these benefits, you must reserve the room with the FedRooms rate – not a government rate. The Defense Travel System (DTS) displays FedRooms properties in the lodging display and rooms may be booked for DoD organizations.  FedRooms is basically what we get now with DTS.
  • Navy EliteThe Navy Elite Lodging Program offers hotels with rates that are at or below the local per diem rate for lodging and are Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) safety compliant. In general, all locations are within a 5-mile radius or a 15-minute driving distance during rush hour to the DoD facility of assignment. There are no deposits required, hotels offer same day cancellation policies, and may include additional amenities. The Navy Elite program is operated by CWTSatoTravel as part of their Navy travel service contracts. Navy travelers can contact their CWTSatoTravel agent for reservations. The Navy Lodge system is very solid and I often stay there.  However, it seems to be often sold out.
  • Lodging Success Program (LSP)The Lodging Success Program (LSP) provides DoD official travelers with quality commercial hotels when installation lodging is unavailable. Contracted room rates are 8% – 50% below per diem. LSP hotels meet minimum mandatory quality and security requirements and are Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) safety compliant. LSP hotel capabilities vary by location supporting full service, limited service, extended stays, and meeting/conference requirements. Additional program information is available at: http://www.armymwr.com/travel/lodging/lodging_success.aspx or phone: 866-363-5771 (866-DoD-LSP1).  More on this down below.
    • Fort Lee, VA
    • Fort Benning, GA
    • Charlottesville, VA
  • Long Term LodgingIf a traveler is to be TDY at one location for more than 30 days, lodging reservations should be made on a weekly, monthly, or other long-term basis if possible. Companies offering long term lodging arrangements under a General Services Administration (GSA) Schedule can be found at http://www.gsa.gov/corporatehousing. These facilities are typically in an apartment or condominium type property and may be furnished with all the amenities of a home. In addition to the properties offered by GSA, selected properties in the LSP may also offer long term rentals. If you need assistance booking these properties, contact your organization’s supporting Commercial Travel Office.  Never had to use this, but long term housing is often an issue for the poor E-2 who has to go to a five-month course.

So I was pretty familiar with all of the above except the Lodging Success Program.  I looked into that a little more and see that it is probably what the IILP will look like with a few lodging choices in the AO, but perhaps not what you want.  Here is a screenshot from looking up the hotels for staying at Ft. Sam Houston.

Army Lodging Success Program

As you can see, they do have major hotel chains in the choices, but if you wanted to stay at the Hyatt (in this instance) you would be SOL.  Note also the price and remember the language I underlined in yesterday’s post.  If you did not stay at one of the IILP choices, your reimbursement would be limited to the amount you would have paid if you stayed at one of the program’s hotel NOT PER DIEM.  As a taxpayer, I have to agree that you can’t spend more tax dollars than required, but again just be aware.  I can foresee a problem when the economy improves and hotel prices rise faster than the per diem can be adjusted.  Remember some of the problems in 2005-8?  Again, if someone tries this new program, please let us know what your experience was.

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

On 15 June 2015, DoD quietly launched a new program in lodging as a pilot venture.  Called the Integrated Lodging Program Pilot (ILPP – got to have an acronym, it’s the military, right?), this program is an attempt to seamlessly combine the traditional military lodging facilities with local commercial facilities when booking through DTS.  Theoretically, both on-post/on-base housing will show up and local commercial establishments on the list from you to choose from.  The bad news, from what I can tell, is that they will only display hotels that have signed up for this program so your favorite brand may be left out.  Understandably, they are trying to eliminate the current system where you have to call the military Temporary Lodging Facility (TLF)  and see if there is room, then make commercial reservations if there is not.  Most people I know just look on DTS and take whatever is available and within per diem.  Now, you will see all choices which means you may be staying in a military room whether you like it or not.

You can access the full article by looking at the right side of the DTS Home Page or click here.  Here is the actual key language including the pilot sites:

As of June 15, 2015, The Joint Travel Regulations (JTR) (par. 1265) requires travelers (Service members and civilians) TDY to a pilot site installation (for 30 or less days) to utilize government quarters if available. DoD travelers must book DoD lodging facilities if available, and then preferred commercial lodging. If TDY to a pilot site city or metro area, travelers are required to use preferred commercial lodging before booking other lodging options. If DoD lodging facilities or preferred commercial lodging at a pilot location is available and a traveler chooses to stay in other commercial lodging, reimbursement is limited to the amount the Government would have paid if the traveler stayed in a DoD lodging facility or a participating preferred commercial lodging property. (underlining is mine)

This policy applies to travelers TDY to the following pilot locations:

  • Charleston, SC – Joint Base Charleston  
  • Dayton, OH – Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
  • Norfolk, VA – select area U.S. installations
  • Saratoga Springs, NY –  Naval Support Activity Saratoga Springs
  • Seattle-Tacoma Airport area, WA 
  • Tampa, FL – MacDill AFB
  • Twentynine Palms, CA – Marine Air/Ground Combat Center 

Not all of these locations currently have DoD lodging facilities available in DTS.  DoD civilians are not required to use DoD lodging facilities when TDY to U.S. military installations until DoD lodging facilities at that location is available in DTS.  Service members, if directed by an Authorizing Official, must check DoD lodging facilities availability. To determine if DoD lodging facilities is available at a pilot site, see the ILPP Start Dates.

Sounds like DoD civilians are off the hook for now, but I ‘ll bet it is coming once they iron out the bugs in the system.  We would be very interested in hearing from any of you who try out this new system and let us know how it is working.  I find it interesting that they specify 30 days or less for this program.  In my experience, it is the young service member who goes to school at sole post/ base for several months that has the most problems with housing.  Maybe they haven’t figured out how to program in the reduced per diem for stays over 30 days.

More to follow…

 

Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

Hey all, I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted about getting annual fees waived using SCRA (Servicemember’s Civil Relief Act) benefits. I found out that fortunately, both Citi and US Bank now have email addresses to which you can email your orders instead of faxing, a technology that was responsible for the end of the Cold War.

I wanted to contact Citi to make sure my benefits were GTG (good to go), so I contacted them about my new orders. They now have an email address to which you can send a copy of your orders, whereas I don’t think they did before. Below is their contact info:

Phone: 877-804-1082

Fax: 866-533-0503

Email: militaryorders@citi.com

 

Also, I guess I just hadn’t been paying attention, but I had not heard back from US Bank regarding the SCRA benefits for my Club Carlson and REI card, although the latter is annual-fee free. I called them, and they said they hadn’t received anything. I absolutely hate fax machines, and that they’re still a fact of modern life. Also I should’ve been more diligent regarding follow-up on it. I keep a google docs spreadsheet with all my CC info, and clearly in the TO DO column it says “SCRA”, but I’d just neglected it. I called them, and they said they have an email to send orders to, which is much easier. Here is their website. Their contact info:

Phone: 855-791-2100

Email: 24hrmilitaryservicecenter.shared@usbank.com (that’s a long one I know).

 

Citi and US Bank reps both confirmed to me that they’d only waive the fees that were opened before becoming Active Duty. I’ve had the Citi cards for a while, so that shouldn’t be an issue, but it remains to be seen with US Bank.

Posted by glenn | 6 Comments

This is a follow on post to the post that I made last week about the new 20% discount card members can get at Office Depot/ Office Max.  One person inquired asking if tech items were included.  I had to respond that tech items are not included.  That’s understandable to me since they are high dollar items.  However, someone emailed me with all of the tech items that you can get with a discount using your Vet Adv card.

Technology product and service discounts are offered through several other key partnerships in the program, including:
1. Dell: PC laptop, desktops and tablets. 10% off select PCs and tablets and 30% off bags
2. Apple: Mac laptops, desktops and AppleCare protection. Unspecified, but you can use it in stores as well as on-line.  Someone test this out and let us know.
3. Verizon Wireless: Mobile accessories 25% off
4. Verizon Wireless & T-Mobile: Monthly wireless plans 15% off
5. Sears: $35 off a $300 purchase
6. Verizon FiOS: Double play and triple play home Internet bundles ($60-120/yr.)
We’d be very interested here at TMFF as to how well these discounts stack up with any other offers/ discounts that you can get.  Please report back on how well these work for you.

Posted by glenn | No Comments

Andy and I hosted a great meet-up of our readers plus a couple of our fellow bloggers from Boarding Area. We were privileged to have Keri from HeelsFirst Travel and Jeanne for LeChicGeek, fellow BoardingArea.com bloggers show up for the festivities.  We really appreciated the other readers who showed and had a great time talking both about military stuff and miles/points and other tips for frequent travelers.  A couple of the readers also turned out to read HeelsFirstTravel and LeChicGeek so we had a great exchange of travel experiences and tips.

Sorry if you missed out, but drop us a note and let us know where you are if you want to meet with Andy or I.  We both travel a lot and would be glad to meet with readers no matters where you are stationed.

Meetup 003

Andy, Keri, Glenn, and Jeanne.  Does this BoardingArea.com shirt make me look fat?

Meetup 002 Meetup 007

Drinks and talk.  For those of you who didn’t come and get the free chicken wings I ordered, send me a stamped self-addressed envelope and I will mail one to you.  Andy is off to Oki after this so not sure when you will see the two of us together, but don’t be afraid to reach out for a connection.  We love talking to all our readers!

I also took the opportunity to advertise for my friend Charlie’s crazy six marathon run.  The last of the six runs takes place in D.C. on 10 Sep and follows the Marine Corps Marathon route.  I am joining in and I hope a few others of you can also.  Personally, I am hoping Charlie is worn out by the time he gets to D.C. so that I have a hope of matching his pace!

He is doing this all as a charitable event to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project.  Please join or donate, hopefully both.  I am giving $262, so $10/mile (even if I can’t finish the whole thing).  We look forward to seeing the bravest of you there.

Posted by glenn | No Comments

I have written before about Hero Miles, the charity that allows you to donate your miles to help out the Fisher House.  Fisher Houses are now located on almost every post and base that has a hospital.  The purpose of this house is to house the family members of hospitalized warriors so they can be close to their loved ones in time of need.  They also eliminate the need for the Service Members family to do into debt with airline and hotel costs.

It has been a while since I last wrote about them, so when Ashley contacted me about doing a post, I was all too happy to do so.  She also gave me the personal details on a couple of cases so you could see the kind of military families that are helped by this worthy organization.

If every traveler donated just 1,000 of their frequent flyer miles, the Fisher House Foundation and it’s Hero Miles program could ensure every Veteran, military member and family member could be with their loved one when they are seeking treatment for injuries or illness.  We all have spare miles in our accounts and Hero Miles covers Alaska, American, Delta, Frontier and United.  Donate those miles you will probably never use or the spare ones left over after you have redeemed that free ticket.  Details on donating can be found here.

Just #1000Miles can help Army Veterans such as Ben Mitchell who survived injuries from three  rounds, live to fight another day. When Mitchell was hospitalized, the Fisher House Foundation was able to fly his family to his bedside and provide housing for them during the duration of his recovery. Mitchell credits his survival to his family’s support and his formidable desire to live for his lovely wife and twins.

Ben Mitchel
Retired US Army Colonel, Medical Services
  • After suffering injuries and losing his right leg during a military training exercise, Ben faced a 1-  1 1/2 year recovery. Thanks to his wife and his love for his twins, he was back on his feet in three months.  
  • At Brooke Army Medical Center BAMC, San Antonio TX he endured more than 12 surgeries.
  • He spent over 10 months at the Ft. Sam Houston Fisher House where he developed a new “family” with wounded soldiers, families and the Fisher House Staff. This experience was invaluable to his swift recovery and transition. 
  • Ben credits his “survival and inexplicable speedy recovery to three significant forces working seamlessly together: “(1) God’s desire to keep me alive for his purpose (2) A very talented medical staff lead by Dr. Crooce and Dr. Zar Zar and finally (3) my formidable desire and will to live for my lovely wife and twins.”

IMG_2109IMG_2272

Another success story is that of CPT Wooten

Army Capt. Canndice Wooten and Army SSgt. Frank Wooten
    • When Canndice and Frank Wooten’s twins were born they were 2 ½ pounds and were in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for more than four months.
    • While their children were hospitalized, the Lackland Fisher House was their home and their refuge, allowing them to be just steps from their babies.
    • Canndice’s first experience with the Fisher House Foundation was after losing her first child in a complicated pregnancy. When she was hospitalized, the Fisher House Foundation flew her mother to her bedside. Her mother said, “I soon learned the Fisher House was a place of healing, a place where I could get a good night’s sleep and then just walk across the street and be there for my daughter. I didn’t even have to cook, food just showed up.  Bless God it was one of the best things ever.”

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Both Andy and I appreciate your generosity to this worthy charity.  Hopefully, none of your families will ever need to use it, but it is nice to know that it is there just in case.

Posted by glenn | No Comments

Just after writing about USAA’s relationship with Explore Cruise & Travel, I get an email today offering 10% off any hotel for members booking through  their site.  However, this is only for reservations made 5-11 August, so pull the trigger quick.  They have a price match guarantee, so if you see a better price on a hotel’s website, let them know.

USAA Hotels Deal

Posted by glenn | No Comments

While I get all my insurance needs and a few other items through USAA, I was not aware until recently that they have their own frequent flyer program.  The program is actually run by Explore Cruise & Travel.

The program awards points based on the price you pay for hotels and cruises, with a flat 300 points for car rentals.  They guarantee the lowest rate on the cruises and hotels, so it’s not like they are getting you to pay a higher price and then using that to pay for your points.

USAA 1

The good point about these points is that you can directly relate them to a value.  Each group of points gets you a dollar discount on future travel according to this table.

USAA 2

So let’s say you spent $4,000 on a cruise, that would be 16,000 points or about $150 off something in the future.  I kind of like the on-line hotel option at 8 points/$ as I certainly can see spending $2,000 on hotels in a year, which again would get you 16,000 points or $150 off.  If I spent $2,000 at Marriott in a year, I could expect to get 20,000 points which is about one $150/night hotel room.

One nice thing is that if you save up the points, they get larger in value, unlike most FF programs that I know.   While 100 pts. ~ $1 in the beginning, at the higher levels 100 points ~ $1.20.  Not huge, but it’s something.

I have never tried this program, but would be glad to hear from a reader who has.  I feel like I can usually trust USAA, but wonder about this.  Good or bad?

Posted by glenn | 3 Comments

Many of us have to go on official military or government travel, some of us a lot of it, some of us very willingly, some of us grudgingly. Whether or not we enjoy our official travel, we all have to do it, and there is one thing that we all can agree on – we all like to get money back! There are probably many ways to do this, but I’m going to go over the three main ways I do this.

 

First, cashback portals. As I’ve said before repeatedly, if you’re shopping online, and you’re not using cashback portals, you’re wrong! What are cashback portals? They are gateway websites that you click through first, and then when you shop on a merchant website that is on that specific portal, you get a rebate, either cashback, or airline or hotel miles or points. The easiest way to find out if there is an available rebate on the merchant that you’re going to use is to check out the website Cashbackmonitor. I use a variety of cashback portals depending on who’s got the best rebate rates, but my two favorite are TopCashBack (this is a referral link) and Discover Deals. (I related in this post how I usually leverage Discover cash back for rental cars).

 

You can’t get cash back for airline flights, but that’s ok, since your command is usually scheduling your flight anyways. You can however, get big-time cash back on both hotels and rental cars, which will often be authorized on official travel but you’re in charge of scheduling it. Both hotel and rental car websites, as well as travel aggregators, such as Expedia and Hotels.com, are represented on cashback portals, so always search to see what kinds of rates you can get. Also, search multiple sites – for instance, if you’re planning on staying at a Hampton Inn, search for Hiltons, Hampton Inns, and travel aggregators, as they all have different rates, and you want to get the most money back.

 

Second, check your Amex Offers. Right now for instance, there are offers for both $75 back on $350 spent at Hiltons, and $30 back on $150 spent at Hilton Garden Inns. These are pure rebates, meaning that you spend the money upfront, and then you’ll get a statement credit later, usually only a couple days later.

 

Let’s say you’re on official travel (or any travel for that matter), and you were going to stay at a Hilton Garden Inn for a couple days, and the total bill was going to be $500. You could go through TopCashBack to reserve it, which offers 6.5% back on a Hilton stay currently. You could then pay for $350 of your stay with one Amex, and $150 with another. You will get a rebate of $75 and $30 respectively through the Amex Offers, and you’d get $32.50 from TCB, for a total rebate of $137.50 on a $500 hotel bill, a 27.5% rebate!

 

Finally, credit cards! If you’ve applied for and gotten the Citi Prestige credit card (non-referral link), they offer an amazing benefit, which is getting a statement credit for the fourth night on a 4 night hotel stay. It doesn’t work on every hotel, but in my experience (I’ve used this benefit now five times), it works on almost every single hotel that you’d want to stay in. Go to this link to see if your hotel is included. It’s especially beneficial if the last night of your hotel stay is more expensive than the other 3 nights. This rebate will show up within the next billing cycle, so expect anywhere from 2 – 6 weeks.

 

Also, if you have a card such as the Barclaycard Arrival + or the CapitalOne Venture, you can redeem points accrued on trave back as statement credits. Both cards offer a 40,000 point signup bonus, equal to $400 in statement credits, and both earn 2% on all purchases when redeemed for travel credits.

 

Hopefully this is helpful to most of you. If you have any other clever ways of getting cash back during travel, please relate them in the comments.

Posted by glenn | 5 Comments

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