About a month ago, I mentioned a really good deal on the Barclaycard Gold Card. What made it a stunningly good deal was the fact that Barclaycard waives annual fees for active duty members, even if you obtained the card after joining active duty. In that same article, I referenced that Barclaycard and American Express were the two companies that routinely waive annual fees for cardholders even if they obtained it after they activated.

 

I have a new deal, this time coming from Amex. As you might know, I have the Amex Plat Mercedes Benz edition. I got this card not because I drive a Benz (I don’t), but because at the time it offered 50k Membership Rewards (MR) points vs 40k MR points for the regular Amex Plat.

 

We just learned on Friday (H/T to MMS and FM) that the Amex Plat Mercedes Benz now offers a 75k signup bonus after spending $3k in 3 months! (direct link here).

Mercedes-Benz Cards from American Expr_ - https___www262.americanexpress.com

This has the same benefits as the regular Amex Plat, such as access to the Centurion Lounge in select US Airports, $200 airline credits annually, Priority Pass Select, access to Fine Hotels & Resorts, etc.

 

This is not a good card for everyday spend, as it’s only category bonus is 5x MR points on Mercedes purchases; otherwise it only earns 1x. I would meet the minimum spend, then put it in the back slot in my wallet and just enjoy the benefits while getting the $475 annual fee waived.

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As I said before, when we arrived in Hanoi, off of a lovely Vietnam Airlines flight, we were greeted with much colder weather than we’d anticipated…42 DEGREES!!! Yes it was cold. Our cab driver actually apologized for the cold weather, which was kind of cute.

As I mentioned before, I had 3 IHG free nights that were expiring within two weeks of us taking this trip; this and the two expiring Hilton nights from my Citi Hilton Reserve were partly the stimulus for this trip. I’d used the first IHG night at the Intercontinental Tokyo The Strings, which we weren’t super impressed with. Another hotel I wanted to check out, and which we booked with a free night, was the Intercontinental Hanoi. I’d seen pictures of rooms suspended over Westlake, so was intrigued. Also, it would be a good staging point for our scheduled trip to Halong Bay. Unfortunately, due to poor weather, all Halong Bay cruises were cancelled over the next 3 days…huge disappointment! Luckily, despite the bad weather, this hotel impressed.

The doormen greeted us very warmly and insisted on taking our bags. Here was the lobby:

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The friendly lady at the desk thanked me for my Platinum status loyalty, and offered us an upgrade from the included deluxe room to a classic lakeview room. Awesome! They loaded our bags onto a large golf cart and drove us down a long path to the over-the-lake villas.

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We were shown to our rooms, and were very pleased with the set up. It was very warm and inviting, if a little smallish.

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We requested a rollaway for our son, and they provided it free of charge. The bed was super comfortable, the internet was decent, and the bathroom was very nice, with both a rainfall shower and a deep bath.

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Here was our foggy, overcast view over Westlake, Hanoi.

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I wish we could’ve experienced this when the weather was more fair. The hotel is within walking distance of two main streets, both lined with great restaurants (although the sidewalk is nonexistent in some places…be careful while walking!) We stopped at a hole-in-the-wall place and got superb pho for less than a dollar per person! We got a cheap, good quality massage, then turned in.

The next day, I used their excellent gym, which is next to the lobby (slapping myself for not taking pictures!) Then we paid for the breakfast buffet, but it was TOTALLY worth it. One of the best breakfast layouts I’ve ever seen! In addition to all normal brunch offerings, they had a pho bar, a juicing bar, and seafood choices. Also, my favorite, strong Vietnamese coffee.

Overall, a really nice stay, and one we wish we could’ve experienced during better weather.

Since our Halong Bay trip got cancelled, I had to modify our trip a little bit and was scrambling that night. Overall, I think I did a good job, which hopefully you’ll agree with in the upcoming posts!

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This is Andy, and this will be the first in a series of reviews from me and my family’s recent trip to Vietnam! Here is what I will be reviewing over the next several weeks:

 

Intercontinental Hanoi  

Intercontinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort part 1 and 2

Park Hyatt Saigon

Conrad Hong Kong

 

I realized some time in December last year that I had some free hotel nights expiring, as well as some Citi Thank You points expiring. As a head’s up, points transferred in to your Citi Thank you account associated with your Prestige or Premier, such as from your grandfathered Citi Forward card, expire after only 90 days. TY points earned primarily on the account don’t expire as long as you hold the card. (On a side note, the Citi Forward will no longer earn 5x TY points on bonus categories as of June 1st, 2016).

 

I also had three IHG free nights (two from Into the Nights promotion, and one from my Chase IHG card), and two free Hilton nights (from my Citi Reserve) expiring. Finally, I had a Hyatt Diamond suite upgrade left that would expire at the end of Feb as well, so I figured what better time to visit Vietnam on a family vacation than January, when temps are mild.

 

Little did I know that when we were there we’d be going during the coldest weather that North Vietnam had experienced in 30 years!

 

To start off with, I had a little over 50k Citi TY points expiring, so I wanted to use them for our flights to and from Vietnam. I considered all their transfer partners, which include Cathay Pacific (Oneworld and based in Hong Kong), EVA Airlines (Star Alliance and based in Taiwan), Malaysia (Oneworld), Garuda Indonesia (Skyteam), Singapore (Star Alliance), Thai Airways (Star Alliance), and finally Air France (Skyteam). (There are a couple other transfer partners like Qatar, Etihad, Virgin Atlantic and America, but not with a huge presence in SE Asia where I live.

 

I ruled out Cathay, EVA, Malaysia, Garuda, and Thai Airways direct transfers, as I have no experience booking award flights through them and/or I’ve heard it’s difficult. Note, most of these airlines are easy to book, but through partner websites; the ones I use are United or Aeroplan for Star Alliance awards (except for Singapore), American, Qantas or British Airways for Oneworld awards, and Air France for Skyteam awards. It’s much easier to book awards when thinking about them in their alliance, and not just the individual airlines. There are some exceptions, and Singapore is one of them. For their flights, it’s cheaper to book through their own website than other Star Alliance partners, and it’s a transfer partner of all of the 4 major flexible currencies (Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, Citi Thank You points, and SPG points).

 

So that left me with Singapore and Air France; note, Air France doesn’t have any flights in that region. I use their site to search for Skyteam availability, on the numerous area carriers such as Vietnam Air, China Eastern, China Southern, China Air, Garuda, and Korean Air. I searched the Air France site first, which is super user friendly, because I didn’t necessarily want to fly all the way from Okinawa to Singapore then backtrack to Vietnam. Luckily, I found a ton of availability in Skyteam.

 

It was 20k Air France miles per person one way between Oki and Vietnam, but only 10k from Taiwan, which is right next to Oki. As a consequence, I decided to fly us for cheap on Peach Airlines to TPE, then begin our award travel. We’d go Taipei – Hanoi on Vietnam Air, which would be 10k x 3 people = 30k miles. Then between Hanoi – Danang, and Danang – Saigon, we’d fly cheaply on Vietjet. Saigon – Hong Kong was for some reason really expensive during that time using money, but only 10k points per person one way, then we’d fly a cheap flight on Peach from Hong Kong – Okinawa. I transferred 60k TY points in, and by the next morning, they were in my account, and once I had them, booking was easy. BTW, to find all the cheap flights, especially on lesser known carriers, I think that Skyscanner is the best tool there is.

 

Once in TPE, we had about a 1.5 hour layover, so we decided to hit a lounge with the Citi Prestige Priority Pass. I’ve got too many Priority Passes to count, from different cards, but this is probably the best one, as it lets you AND a companion into their lounges for free, whereas with most Priority Passes associated with credit cards, you have to pay for the companion to get in.

 

I searched among the four included lounges using Loungebuddy, and the best rated lounge was the Transasia VIP lounge, so we settled there. Of note, we’ve visited the EVA Royal Laurel Lounge before, which was way nicer than this one, but you can’t access that one with Priority Pass. This lounge was moderately sized, with comfortable seats, a pretty decent food selection including soup bar, a good selection of libations, and, curiously, an Oxygen bar. This is the only lounge I’ve been to that had an oxygen bar.

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I tried the Oxygen bar in the egg-shaped chairs, but didn’t really feel any different!

Overall, a really nice lounge with a good food selection, decent coffee, and a decent whiskey selection. We will definitely repeat when we transit through TPE again.

There weren’t any issues boarding our Vietnam Airlines flight from Taipei – Hanoi. Once we got there, we were greeted with 42 degree weather! To be continued…

 

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This is Andy again, and this will be the last post detailing our winter ski trip to Hokkaido. I’d initially booked the Sheraton Kiroro resort for four nights, but then I realised our flight on ANA back to HND, then onwards to Okinawa, left at 0730. As I mentioned in our last post, it takes at least 1.5 hours to get to the airport from the Kiroro resort, even taking an incredibly overpriced taxi. So the prospect of waking up at 4am didn’t really appeal to me, or to my wife or son. So I cancelled our last night there, and decided we’d spend it close to the airport. There were a few options, all overpriced (a common theme on Hokkaido) but I decided upon the ANA Crowne Plaza, as there was a promotion going on called Accelerate your rewards.

With platinum status, we got upgraded to a top-floor room, and also a complimentary breakfast. I’ve never gotten a complimentary breakfast because of platinum status before, and that’s not an IHG policy, not even with Spire or Ambassador status, but I did ask really nicely at the front desk, so that might’ve helped!

As we walked in, we were struck by what would’ve been an awesome view had it been light out, with dual beds looking out at floor-to-ceiling windows:

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The bathroom was nice a roomy, with a tub that offered a luxurious soak, especially after mucking through deep powder the day before.

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The next morning, the breakfast spread was more than we’d expected (or deserved!), and the staff was lovely. We were there less than 12 hours, as we had to catch an overpriced taxi for an early flight, but overall, a very impressive airport hotel.

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Hey gang, this is Andy. I think I’m going to start prefacing posts with who is writing, so you don’t think BG Goddard is simultaneously jet-setting all around the world while also living in Japan.

After our so-so stay at the Intercontinental Tokyo The Strings, we boarded a mid-morning award flight from Haneda (HND) (booking Japan Airlines using BA Avios) to Sapporo (CTS), which is about a 2 hour flight. What I didn’t fully realize when I was planning the trip, was how far from the airport the ski resort is. I read that a taxi there would cost $60-80 one way, so we decided to take the train, then catch the complimentary shuttle to the resort. The train from Chitose to Otaru-chikko station is about an hour, then the shuttle (which only runs until 17:55 to 18:25 depending on the season) takes about 45 minutes. So by the time we got to the resort, it was dark.

I booked this stay using SPG points. It costs only 7k SPG points per night, whereas it costs over $400 per night, so we were getting at least 5 cents/point value, which is an absolute steal! Right next to the Sheraton Kiroro Resort is the Kiroro, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel, which on paper is a nicer stay, but I chose the Sheraton for three reasons.

First, the Sheraton is literally right on the slopes of the ski resort, while the Kiroro takes a short 5-10 minute shuttle ride to get there. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, one of the benefits of having the Amex SPG business card is complimentary access to the Sheraton Club when staying there, either on cash or points stay (H/T to OMAAT for this tip). This means free breakfast at most Sheratons; however, at this particular Sheraton, the club serves “snacks” during every meal, which meant practically full meals. I think our whole time at the resort we only paid for meals twice!

Now, actually having them honor that privilege took quite a bit of cajoling. They understandably don’t see many non-Japanese people here, and therefore not many people carrying the Amex SPG business; as a consequence, no one at the front desk knew of this benefit. They eventually had to call the main manager to confirm that this was indeed a valid perk. At the same time however, I was hitting up @SPGassist on Twitter, and they were ready to go to bat for me. It all worked out though, and to be clear, while the front desk staff were not at first aware of this perk, they were incredibly gracious for our whole stay and made us feel like family.

We got booked to a mountain view room, and here was our view as we walked in:

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The couch was clutch as our 5 year old son, who can sleep anywhere, was with us. The room was somewhat cramped, but very comfortable and warm, and the internet was quick considering we were at a snow-covered resort on a mountaintop in the middle of a remote island closer to Kamchatka then Tokyo. The bathroom was also very cramped, so only one person at a time, but thank goodness, a washlet!

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Here was our view from the room, as you can see, very good proximity to the slopes:

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And here was a pic from my first run. I was amongst the first on the lift, as I was ready to go at 8, but the slopes don’t open until 9:

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Overall, the skiing was great, the resort was really nice, if a little smallish if you’re used to Colorado and Utah resorts. It snowed the last couple hours of our last day there, and I got to experience Hokkaido’s legendary powder first-hand. I’m a pretty good skiier, but I’d never experienced powder like that before. Let’s just say I was thankful that I didn’t have to walk much for our trip back, because I wouldn’t have been able to!

The staff there was lovely, which is a constant theme throughout Japan. The Sheraton Club was more than adequate for meals and beverages for the whole family, and overall we had a great trip. My son Sterling finally went skiing for the first time, and can’t stop talking about going again. The value you get here for SPG points is amazing, and we’re already planning our next trip here!

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Over New Year’s Eve, my family and I decided to take a skiing vacation to Hokkaido. I’ve heard amazing things about the powder there, and also about the ski instruction for little kids there, including in English. My 5 year old son has never been skiing, so I wanted to introduce him there. It is about 4 hours of flying from Okinawa, similar in travel time to what you’d experience going to Colorado or Utah from the East Coast.

I booked us on JAL using British Airways Avios going there, and using ANA’s “Experience Japan” fares coming back, as I have an off-chance of hitting United Airways Silver status this year. I’m not gunning for silver, but if I get it that’d be pretty cool. It is 15k Avios per person, from OKA – HND – CTS, which is great considering one way fare there is at least $400 per person during ski season. The Experience Japan fares are great because they’re less than $90 per person (Check out Derp Report’s post on them).

Originally, we were going to fly right there, but I found an extra day of liberty, so we decided to spend a day in Tokyo, use one of my expiring IHG free night certs for the night, then go on to Hokkaido the next day. We decided that the Intercontinental Tokyo The Strings looked really nice, had decent reviews, and wasn’t too far from Haneda, so I booked it.

Unfortunately our flight was delayed, so we didn’t get in to Haneda until late. The hotel, fortunately, is not far from HND. Per the webpage, “This hotel is near Shinagawa Station, with direct access via the Shinkansen Bullet Train to Yokohama, Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe. The famous Tsukiji Fish Market and Ginza district are nearby; Haneda International Airport is 15 minutes away from our hotel in Tokyo by Airport Express Train, whilst Narita International Airport is 70 minutes by Airport Express train.” I’d say the train journey door-to-door is more like at least 30 minutes, with some additional confusion about how to get there from Shinagawa Station; it is not exactly straightforward to find it, as there are towering buildings all linked by a maze of elevated sidewalks and catwalks in the area.

When we finally found it, and took the elevator up to the main lobby, we were very impressed:

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There is a huge atrium with a pond underneath the transparent bridge, and a bar and restaurant there too. It was amazingly quiet in there too. Check in was easy, although they barely acknowledged my IHG Platinum status (not that it’s hard to achieve). There were incredibly friendly, and spoke great English, but unfortunately informed that there were no complimentary room upgrades or complimentary breakfast available (never hurts to ask!). They insisted on taking our luggage up to the room for us, despite our pleading.

When we got to the room, however, is was decidedly underwhelming compared to the lobby:

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I’m not a huge fan of big rooms, but this room was TINY. Barely enough room for the bags and the three of us. Fortunately, our son can sleep anywhere, and indeed was happily ensconced on the small couch by the window. I had to ask for extra pillows as there were only two for the whole room and no extra bedding for my son.  The bed was comfy but I was not a fan of the pillows, as they were way too flat. There was a pillow selection, and the “pipe-pillow” caught my attention, so I ordered one. They’re filled with hollow plastic tubes. Sounds weird right? Oh my goodness is was so nice, especially if you’re a “hot sleeper” like me! I’m ordering one as soon as I find one that will ship to an FPO address! Check it out if you get the chance!

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The bathroom was also very tiny. The amenities were nice, and thank goodness they have a Japanese-style washlet (my favorite!).

It was somewhat confusing also, because there was a bottle of red wine on the counter that looked complimentary. Thank goodness I asked, because it was kind of expensive.

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The surrounding area seemed really cool; I wish our flight hadn’t been delayed so we could’ve explored more. We had to be at the airport the next morning around 11ish, so couldn’t do it then either

Overall, this was a MEH experience for us. It would’ve been fine for a solo traveller or couple, but way too small for a family with skiing luggage. I don’t think I’d go out of my way to come here again, although it was free. I want to stress again though that the hotel staff couldn’t have been nicer or more accomodating.

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(They even took our picture)

 

 

Posted by glenn | 7 Comments

USO ListHere is a guest post this week from Leo from flight.Speak.net

A portion of this  post originally appeared on January 13th, 2016, at blog.flightSpeak.net.

His military fatigues stood out in a grumpy set of travelers like someone wearing a tuxedo at a pool party. We were both waiting for the same flight, and as crowded as that gate was (PHX is a beautiful airport!), our eyes happened to meet. I have always been confused by the protocol here, as many popular ads have suggested that I should applaud or give up my seat. Instead, I plucked up some courage and approached hesitantly. “Hi…I just wanted to say thank you for your service.”

He smiled, part perturbed that I had interrupted his reverie, & part grateful for me taking the time to say hello. And that was it. As I walked away, my brief look into his eyes helped me understand that the uniform he wore and all it stood for was much heavier than the rugged sack he was carrying. I wasn’t sure whether he was reporting for duty or coming home to loved ones, Jack (b/c I didn’t ask what his name was) had signed up, and somewhere in his “Why the uniform?” lay a set of values, his family, vision for his country, and much more.  Fortunately, my initial hesitance has no place at the United Service Organizations (USO), the nation’s leading organization dedicated to active service members and their families with the mission of keeping them connected to the people, places and things they love. The centers are run by committed staff, and offer services to help connect service members with their families via Internet or phone, provide options like movies and videogames, and much more. The USO has 160 locations worldwide, has served over 10 million members, & will be 75 years old in February. Wow.

For our active service members and their families, we’ve put together a list of USO’s in US airports. (listings in green have more than one location). Over 90% of these can be found on the flightSpeak app with their open hours and specific locations:

USO ListUSO List

or your convenience, you can pick up a copy of this data here: USO US locations

You’ll probably see someone in the military on your next trip.  Their efforts, values, and families are part of what make this country great. Walk over, say hi and thank them for their service. Chances are you’ll walk away having made someone smile. Chances are you’ll be smiling too.

Safe travels,

/Leo Osahor

for Team flightSpeak.

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Last Fall, my family and I took a small vacation to Guam, our favorite little island in the world. We wanted to stay on the beach along the main drag in Tumon, although a chain hotel wasn’t our first choice. We were hoping to check out some Airbnb places, but all the good ones seemed to be taken the week we were going. As I had two suite upgrades still available from my Hyatt Diamond status match, we decided to check out the Hyatt Regency Guam.

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Situated right on the beach, and virtually in the midpoint of Pale San Vitores, the main drag through Tumon, it’s a phenomenal location. A couple of years ago, you could make the argument that either this or the Westin were the nicest hotels in Guam, although with a new Dusit Thani going up right next to the Hyatt, there is now some stiff competition.

 

When I initally made the reservation it was points + cash, which is eligible for Diamond upgrades (pure points bookings are not). They said a suite was available for only 3 of our 6 nights. However, when I checked in, after some serious typing on the computer, the very lovely lady at the front desk said that we’d be in a suite for our whole stay! Awesome! We also got free club access for my status, which included breakfast and evening drinks.

 

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We went to the top floor, and walked in:

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The living room was huge, and opened up to a balcony. Going off to the left, we entered the bedroom:

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Which was also huge, and also had it’s own entrance to the huge balcony. There was a drinks kiosk with coffee machine

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The bathroom was also huge:

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and the walk-in closet was enormous!:

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This is Guam, which has some of the most beautiful weather there is, so of course our view from the balcony was gorgeous:

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I’d have to say this was one of our favorite vacations. We already love Guam, and have a lot of friends there that we got to reconnect with. The food is great, the hiking and exploring is great too. To top it all off, the Hyatt really went out of their way to make us feel welcome. They provided extra pillows and bedding so our son could sleep on the living room couch, they brought us midnight snacks (our plane got in late), and even gave us free chairs and umbrellas on the beach! (don’t tell anyone I said that!)

Their pool area is really great for kids, and the one night it got semi-cool, the hot tub was well appreciated.

The only criticism I can give is that their breakfast is not great; it’s passable, but I expected a little more from a Hyatt Regency. That said, it was free, so I can’t really complain. The free breakfast is in the club area; their downstairs breakfast buffet, which is really good, is not complimentary.

Another nice feature is they have rental car kiosks in their lobby, so you don’t need to trudge all the way to the airport using Guam’s ridiculously overpriced taxis.

Overall, kudos Hyatt Regency Guam. We’ll definitely be staying here in the future!

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Posted by glenn | No Comments

First of all, I’d like to apologize for not posting in a while – I’ve been on deployment with predictably slow internet. Thankfully, BG Goddard has been knocking out the posts. Since I’m home for a while, it’s time I get back into the saddle!

 

I’ve got a ton of reviews upcoming over the next month or so, but before I get to any of those, I thought I’d come at you with a huge credit card deal, one that you should jump on before it no longer works.

 

I’d like to preface this post with some discussion about how credit card companies implement their SCRA (Servicemember’s Civil Relief Act) policies. Almost all credit card companies will waive annual fees on credit cards when you’re active duty, if you had the card before you became active duty, US Bank being the conspicuous exception to that. Chase, Citi, American Express, Barclaycard, Capital One, Discover and Bank of America will waive those fees for all previously held cards. Two companies that I know of, American Express and Barclaycard, will waive those annual fees even if you didn’t get the card until after you were already Active Duty. The latter company is the one I’m writing to you about today.

 

Barclaycard has for a long time had available the Black Card, a pathetic excuse for a high-end card, given that it’s benefits were clearly not as good as either the Amex Plat or the Citi Prestige, among others, with a similar annual fee, $495. However, within the past year, they’ve come out with two other pretentiously named “luxury cards”, the Titanium card and the Gold card.

Luxury Card I Made of Stainless Steel - http___www.luxurycard.com_

To broaden interest, they’ve positioned the Titanium card below the Black card, with a 10k point bonus and $195 annual fee, and the Gold card above it, with a 50k point bonus but an astounding $995 annual fee! What, might you ask, is the valuation of the points? Well, each point is worth two cents when redeemed for airfare. So, 50k could be redeemed for a $1000 plane ticket. Or, as Doctor of Credit reminded me, “You don’t need to apply the credit towards airfare, points are worth 2c when redeeming for statement credit with the gold card”. That totally makes up for the annual fee right?

 

Well, my news to you today is that Barclaycard waives this enormous annual fee as long as you’re active duty, and you didn’t have to have the card previously! I’ve confirmed this myself, by applying for and getting accepted, then asking to be transferred to the military benefits department. Also, Doctor of Credit, Derp Report, and Reddit churning have all confirmed it as well (hat-tip to all of them for inspiring me to apply).

 

This is huge! Up to $1k in airfare reimbursed! In addition, you get $200 towards airline purchases separately, and $100 towards global entry application, in addition to other benefits. Also, Derp Report has confirmed that the $200 airline credit can be used directly for airfare, and not on gift cards or registry or anything else.

 

It’s a $3k minimum spend within 3 months, which is doable, although tougher now that there is essentially no easy manufactured spend.

 

I say go for it if you can meet the minimum spend, as it’s up to $1200 in reimbursed airfare!

Posted by glenn | 17 Comments

Lots in the news lately about Marriott trying to acquire Starwood and now a Chinese company coming in to steal them away with a better offer.  I have witnessed a lot of industries merge and when one pair does it to get larger all the others feel they need to merge to get equally large in order to have scale to compete.  I have seen it in the oil industry and we have all seen it play out over the last few years with airlines.  So is this the start for hotels now?  Let’s look at the major chains stats.

Marriott International Inc.

BRANDS: The Ritz-Carlton, BVlgari, EDITION, JW Marriott, Autograph Collection Hotels, Renaissance Hotels, Marriott Hotels, Delta Hotels and Resorts, Marriott Executive Apartments, Marriott Vacation Club, Gaylord Hotels, AC Hotels by Marriott, Courtyard, Residence Inn, SpringHill Suites, Fairfield Inn & Suites, TownePlace Suites, Protea Hotels, and Moxy Hotels.

PROPERTIES: 4,332. ROOMS: 741,856.

REVENUE PER AVAILABLE ROOM: $128.88.  REVENUE: $13.8 billion.

Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc.

BRANDS: Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, Conrad Hotels & Resorts, Canopy by Hilton, Curio -A Collection by Hilton, DoubleTree by Hilton, Embassy Suites Hotels, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton Hotels, Homewood Suites by Hilton and Home2 Suites by Hilton.

PROPERTIES: 4,563.  ROOMS: 747,852.  REVENUE: $10.5 billion.

Intercontinental Hotels Group Plc.

BRANDS: InterContinental, HUALUXE, Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Candlewood Suites, Staybridge Suites, EVEN, and Kimpton.

PROPERTIES: 4,891.  ROOMS: 705,690.  REVENUE: $1.89 billion.

Wyndham Worldwide Corp.

BRANDS: Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, Ramada, Days Inn, Super 8, Howard Johnson, Wingate by Wyndham, Microtel Inns & Suites, Tryp by Wyndham.

PROPERTIES: 7,730.  ROOMS: 671,177.  REVENUE: $5.28 billion.

Choice Hotels International:

BRANDS: Comfort Inn, Comfort Suites, Quality, Sleep Inn, Clarion, Cambria hotels & suites, MainStay Suites, Suburban Extended Stay Hotel, Econo Lodge and Rodeway Inn brands.

PROPERTIES: 6,380.  ROOMS: 504,901.  REVENUE: $758 million.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc.:

BRANDS: St. Regis, The Luxury Collection, W Hotels, Westin, Le Méridien, Sheraton, Four Points by Sheraton, Aloft, Element, Design Hotels and the Tribute Portfolio.

PROPERTIES: 1,271.  ROOMS: 362,821  REVENUE: $5.98 billion.

Accor S.A. (France)

BRANDS: Sofitel, Pullman, MGallery, Grand Mercure, The Sebel, Novotel, Suite Novotel, Mercure, Adagio, Adagio Access, ibis, ibis Styles, ibis budget, hotelF1, Thalassa, Fairmont, Raffles and Swissotel.

PROPERTIES: 3,786.  ROOMS: 507,512.  REVENUE: $5.45 billion.

Hyatt Hotels Corp.

BRANDS: Hyatt, Park Hyatt, Andaz, Grand Hyatt, Hyatt Regency, Hyatt Place, Hyatt House, Hyatt Ziva, Hyatt Zilara, Hyatt Centric.

PROPERTIES: 611.  ROOMS: 162,336.  REVENUE: $4.42 billion.

Analysis: We see that Marriott, Hilton, Intercontinental, and Wyndham are all comparable at about 700,000 rooms.  Don’t go by revenue as that can change quite a bit on a year to year basis as you can see with Intercontinental.  The next group is the mid-tiers of Choice and Accor which are about two-thirds the size of the majors.  Then we see Starwood at 362,000 and Hyatt at 162,336.  I don’t think most people realize how small they are in comparison to the major given how much we hear about them.

So if the Marriott acquisition did go through, you can see that it would make them about 50% larger than any other major chain.  The economy of scale they could get with this size (less overhead) mean they could either lower prices to gain market share or increase their net profit per room.  I would predict that someone else would then feel they needed to swallow one of the smaller chains (looking at you Hyatt) to stay competitive.  If the Chinese suitor wins the bidding then I think the pressure will be off, but if Marriott ultimately succeeds, expect either Hilton or Intercontinental to find the financing to go after Hyatt.  You heard it here first!

Posted by glenn | No Comments

Many readers buy and use gift cards to make minimum spend or just to get some discount that is being offered.  However, you need to be aware of scams and thieves out there who want to take advantage of your habits.

Thieves record the gift card information and then call the toll-free number in a few days to check the balance.  Once they know it has been activated and the remaining balance they can use it themselves.  Think how easy it would be for a clerk or someone behind you to take a cell phone photo and blow it up to read the numbers.  Note that if thieves use the info to shop on-line, you don’t have the same protection against fraud that you would have with a credit card.

Another way if for thieves to use a small handheld scanner to read the serial number embedded in the card.  After returning home, they can then use that data to reprogram a used card and steal the value.  Lastly, clever thieves can carefully remove new, inactive cards from their packaging and replace them with used cards.  They keep the numbers from the used card and when the shopper activates it, they have access to your money.

8 tips to protect yourself:

  • Inspect the card you purchase carefully and pass if it shows any suspicious signs of tampering.
  • If possible, ask for a card that is not on the rack, but behind the counter.
  • Inspect and scratch-off areas to ensure they are intact.
  • Do not give out your Social Security Number if the clerk asks for it (they never should).
  • After activating your card, ask the clerk to scan it so you can verify the amount on the card.
  • Keep your receipt as proof of purchase and the value you put on the card in case of theft.
  • Buy on-line cards only from the issuer and not a third party.
  • Never buy GCs from an online auction site as you have little protection that the card isn’t stolen, counterfeit, or has less value than promised.

Posted by glenn | No Comments

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