USAA is my favorite bank, and one of my favorite companies, for many reasons – customer service, ease of use, portability, and benefits. One of the lesser known benefits that USAA provides concerns rental cars, specifically discounts with certain companies – Avis, Budget, Enterprise, and Hertz. Also, and this is huge, USAA provides primary liability coverage if you rent with one of these 4 companies through their website! Finally, they waive most fees associated with these rentals, including the additional driver fee and the under age 25 fee. All of these benefits combined are why I usually rent through USAA, even if the fee is a little higher than on Hotwire, Priceline, etc.


As an example, using Avis’ USAA site, I was able to book a hypothetical car at Las Vegas from Sept 17th – 21st, over a weekend, for $159.13 for a subcompact.
avis usaa

When going through the regular non-USAA site, it’s $169.20, and doesn’t include primary liability insurance. Not a huge savings, but this is just a hypothetical example.
avis non usaa

Most rewards credit cards with which you book your rental car provide secondary insurance, ie it’s insurance kicks in after your primary auto insurance is tapped out. Daraius from Million Mile Secrets provides a good explanation of car rental insurance here, and notes, “[liability coverage] is the most important rental car insurance coverage to have because the liability of a serious car accident could be hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars!”, and I agree.Here is an article on the current credit cards that offer primary rental insurance coverage. (of note, since this article’s publication, there is no more Chase Fairmont card). Also, Chase Sapphire Preferred will be offering primary liability coverage sometime later this year, and American Express offers Premium car rental protection for an extra fee per rental.


When you book through USAA however, you will have primary liability coverage, fees waived, a discount from 5-25% off, and you can use whatever card you’d like! You can view all the included benefits below:
usaa car rental

Of note, USAA does not primarily cover the first $5000 of loss or damage to rental vehicle, but your credit card or auto insurance might, depending on their terms.


There are also links on the webpage to enroll in these rental companies’ loyalty programs, which I recommend you doing. Of note, having certain credit cards, such as the American Express Platinum, or a World Mastercard Elite, will automatically give you high-level status in these programs. For example, having a Barclaycard Arrival, which is a World MC, will give you Avis First status, which is their highest status. You can then match status with other programs; a good website to check that out is Status Matcher.


If you have any questions feel free to email me.




Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

While much is written on getting airline points, hotel points can be just as valuable to you and your wallet.  Honestly, I think more is written about airline points just because they are easier to get.  they have better CC deals, you get a bunch every time you fly, etc., but think of it in terms of money spent on a vacation.  If you fly to a domestic location, the typical airfare is about $300, while the hotel you stay in averages about $150/ night meaning your hotel bill is much more than your airline bill.

Here are average daily rates for the major chains.  If your favorite is not listed here just Google the name and “ADR” and you’ll find the latest since Wall Street tracks this pretty closely.  In an attempt to value a hotel point, I have listed the points required for a Category 5 free night next to the ADR and divided to get a value/ point.

Marriott ADR = $140 divided by 25,000 = 0.56 cents per point (cpp)

Starwood ADR = $174 divided by 14,000 = 1.24 cpp

Hyatt ADR = $182 divided by 20,000 = 0.91 cpp

Hilton ADR = $136 divided by 35,000 = 0.39 cpp

If you think Category 5 is not the average, feel free to run your own numbers using the redemption value you think approximates the “average” room.  As with airline Business and First redemptions, sure you can find instances where you can get a $500+ room for only double the points shown above and if that suits your needs, go for it, that’s probably a good use of points for an aspirational trip or to impress your spouse on the value of hotel points programs!

So we see by this that SPG (Starwood) points have the greatest value.  Keep this in mind when you see some blogger touting that you can convert 20,000 SPG points into 25,000 airline miles.  Why would you do that?  SPG points are hard to earn (especially for us as their hotels often do not fall within Per Diem) so why trade them for 25,000 airline miles when it is hard to even find a RT fare for 25,000 miles?

I stated that hotel points are harder to earn, but I have created a spreadsheet to help you figure out how to maximize them.  Access it here on Google Docs.  I started with some basic hotel data we posted a couple of months ago.  This lists most of the major hotel chains and their programs.  Next comes the programs levels and how difficult it is to obtain that level in terms of nights stayed.  Note that owning the affiliated CC will make this easier to obtain, especially with Marriott.  Next it lists the benefits and I find these to be very valuable as they save me $$ every time that I stay so obtaining the next status level is often worthwhile.  After that we get into the math.  The columns list the base points earned per $ and bonuses for being elite and holding their CC.  I highly recommend that you get the CC for each chain where you think you will stay as it dramatically increases the amount of points earned at most hotels, often doubling your base points.  This then ends in a total column which are the points earned per $100 spent.  Note you can change this to the actual points earned by changing the $100 amount in column A to your estimated spend.

This table can be very useful if you are trying to decide on which hotel chain to make your primary earning one and which one secondary or tertiary.  However, further analysis may help even more in that decision.  The last two columns allow you to play with some hypothetical scenarios.  There is a table below the main spreadsheet listing the  number of points required for a free night at each of the chains by redemption level.  In the spreadsheet, I plugged in a Category 5 night at Club Carlson, Hyatt, and Starwood to see which one would require the least amount of spending to get that free night.  You’ll see the results in the last column which shows that you will earn a free night at Club Carlson for much less spend than the other two.

Another comparison that you can make is deciding if it is worthwhile to go for a higher status level in a program.  For example, look at Starwood.  You can get to Gold with 25 nights (or owning their CC) or try to make Platinum at 50 nights.  Looking at the table, you see that Platinum will get you free breakfast and lounge access, which are certainly worth something, but you actually earn the same amount of points for a stay!  Let’s compare two programs and decide which one would be more valuable.  Marriott Gold and Starwood Platinum both require 50 nights.  If I plug in average night redemption value for a Cat 5 room, I find I must spend about $320 less at Marriott to earn the same free room.

All these frequent flyer/ stayer programs are what the NSA likes to call “Big Data”.  Lot’s of information, but what do you do with it?  Hopefully, this spreadsheet will help you play with some scenarios that suit you personal needs and where you stay most often.  It does not account for some other factors.  For instance, Marriott, Starwood, and Hilton all give you a fifth night free if you redeem for four nights straight.  I can’t factor everything into the spreadsheet, so do some of your own math when comparing.  If anyone notes a mistake or change needed, send me a comment and I will update it.

Posted by glenn | 6 Comments

Today is our first day over the next two weeks as’s featured blog, and from COL Glenn, the founder of this blog, and myself (Andy), Welcome, and thank you for checking us out. Hopefully we can elucidate many of the perks that servicemembers can take advantage of when when travelling, and convince you that it’s awesome to travel while in the military!


If you’re military, you can take advantage of benefits while flying, staying in hotels, renting cars, staying in lounges, military-specific resorts and flights, choosing banks, and getting and keeping rewards credit cards. Our goal is to make all these benefits freely available to all servicemembers.


The first topic I’ll be talking about today is flying, which, unless you’re fortunate enough to travel frequently and obtain elite status, can be a particularly angst-ridden exercise. You have to show up at the airport early, pay baggage fees on luggage, slog through the security lane, wait for your plane in uncomfortable seats, paying way too much for overpriced airport food, and then jockeying for position while boarding in the hopes that there are still overhead bins available. Most military jobs aren’t going to have you travelling enough to get elite status (being a COL might be an exception), so instead, why not just be your own elite program, leveraging your military status to get elite benefits?


First off, if you are checking a bag, don’t pay for it! Why pay when it is free to check a bag when you’re in the military, even for leisure travel? The major airlines all allow at least 2, and sometimes up to 5 free checked bags for military leisure travel, and more for official military travel. There are exceptions; subpar airlines like Spirit (which I would never travel on even if desperate) don’t have military policies. Click the link above for airline charts and more specifics. If you have a military ID, just show up with your bags, show your ID, and you’re golden!


Then, don’t languish in the ordinary security lane when you qualify for TSA Precheck. All you need to do is enter your DoD ID number (shown in the middle of the back of your card) as your Known Traveler Number on your reservation, and Bam, you should get the precheck designation on your boarding pass.


When you get to the gate, instead of just waiting there with everyone else, why not check out a lounge instead for some comfy chairs, free food, and often free booze? USOs are available at most major airports free of charge, and commercial lounges are more widely available to those able to access specific credit card benefits (in a later post!).


Finally, if you’re in uniform, the major airlines will automatically give you priority boarding so you’re one of the first on to the airplane. However, if they say “active duty military” instead of “active duty military in uniform”, which has happened to me many times, feel free to step ahead into the priority lane. A couple times just asking the gate agent nicely will get me in as well.


Obviously the biggest benefit of being an elite within an airline program is the possibility of upgrades. Not much, even being in the military, can help you with this for free. But for those of us who don’t fly enough to get status, smoothing out the rest of the travelling experience is certainly nice!


In summary, frequent flyer elite benefits certainly make travel smoother, and you can leverage your military status to replicate most of those benefits for free without having to accumulate butt-in-seat miles.


Posted by glenn | 4 Comments

Gang, I know we haven’t posted a lot lately, but Andy and I have been building up to a big event.  Each year, Boarding Area makes each blog a “featured blog” which means we get the big picture at the top when we post.  This period runs from 28 July – 10 August.  I did this last year and posted a lot of the pages that you can still access on the blog site.  It should be even better this year with Andy contributing.

As a bonus to reading us, I  will be giving away two United GPU upgrades to a random poster.  I’ll count up all the comments to posts over the entire two weeks and let the winner know.  The GPUs expire 31 Jan 2015 and can be used for any domestic fare or international W fares.

Posted by glenn | 5 Comments

As per View from the Wing, the card with the biggest bonus out there is back! For the past 6 months, people have been taking advantage of 100k AA miles after $10k in spend in 3 months and a $250 annual fee ($450 minus a $200 statement credit). But all of a sudden, a couple weeks ago, the application page disappeared.


But it’s back! Here is the application page. I don’t know if it will be around for long – I never expected the 6 month run it had, so if you were thinking about it previously, you might want to jump on it now!


If you’ve already applied for and gotten one, two, or three of them, no need to worry; there are reports on Flyertalk of up to 6 cards for one person. I just got approved for my third, but without Vanilla Reloads around anymore (RIP VRs), it’s going to definitely be more difficult to hit this one.


Although Citi will waive annual fees on almost all their cards, they haven’t been on this one. I don’t mind paying $250 for 100k AA miles though, so it’s not a huge concern for me.


Anyone out there have more than 3 of these?


Posted by glenn | 2 Comments

I have to apologize to all our readers for my post yesterday (this is Andy, not COL Glenn, BTW). As you may know, I have another blog over at Saverocity, called Millitary Finance, which is more personal finance stuff than frequent flying. There is also a forum there, with a particularly popular subforum about manufactured spend techniques. Part of the rules of the forum are, if you learn something within it, not to share those techniques outside of it.


Two nights ago, in a lapse of judgement, I decided that if I told people that an opportunity existed, but didn’t give them the exact steps, that it wouldn’t break the rules. Well, by promising to email all commenters, that was breaking the rules; I modified the post saying that I was not going to email anyone anymore.


Again, I’m sorry if I broke your trust, but I can’t email anyone those techniques. If it makes anyone feel any better, the technique is not scalable (only $1k per month), uses Paypal, which has in the past shut down people w/o notifying them, and, at least in my city, no longer works. The store where I purchased the cash equivalent no longer takes miles-earning credit cards for that product, similar to Vanilla Reloads at CVS.


I can assure you my intent was not to bait-and-switch. I’ve already rightfully taken a beating up over it at the forums. I can answer any additional questions but I can’t reveal the steps.




Posted by glenn | 3 Comments



We all know how awesome and terrifically user-friendly USAA is as a bank, so I feel as though a review would be superfluous for most people. However, I just discovered a new way to manufacture spend using USAA. However, I learned it not independently, but through a forum.


For those of you into manufactured spending, credit card churning, or just personal finance hacks, I cannot recommend enough the Saverocity Forums. (In full disclosure, I have another website there, called Military Finance). Just shoot Matt an email, and you’ll get signed up.


Probably the most robust subforum with the forums is the manufactured spend one. Just today I was browsing, and found an ingenious way to manufacture spend, using Paypal and USAA.


In the name of good stewardship, I’m not going to post the trick publically here, because I did not independently discover it, and don’t want to ruin it. To get you the info, I recommend one of two things: either sign up for the forums and discover it there, or post a comment below, and I’ll email everyone that responds within 72 hours.


Two requirements: you must be a USAA member, and you must be a Paypal member.


Posted by glenn | 184 Comments

In case you were not aware, the TSA fee built into every ticket purchase will go up on 21 Jul 2014 for all tickets bought after that date.  The existing fee is $2.50 a segment with a max of $10 for one RT ticket.  Now the new plan is for a flat $5.60 each way, meaning $11.20 for a RT flight.  Note that more than four hours between stops will count as a new flight and thus a new fee.

Since the fee has not been raised since it was imposed in 2002, this raise does not seem unfair, however, there is more to the story.  You see Congress actually increased the fee to $5.60 which was more than the $5.00 per trip that the TSA actually requested.  More importantly, the majority of the money raised from this new fee will not go to the TSA!  This raise in fees is estimated to collect $332 million next year, but $200 million of that is designated to go into the general revenue fund with only the smaller amount going to TSA.  Congress is sneakily trying to raise tax revenue to lower the deficit by taxing flyers.

Not only is TSA not getting most of the fee, but they are actually planning ways to reduce staff and cost over time.  I am sure most people will hear about the fee increase and get angry (or angrier) at the TSA when it is really Congress’ fault and TSA will just bear the brunt.

Just as we often see with travelers having to pay higher than normal taxes for hotels and rental cars, they are now eyeing ways to soak the flyer.  Congress is not the only one with their sights set on this new revenue stream.  The facility fee charged to each ticket by the airport is set to almost double its current limit of $4.50 and Customs and Border Protection wants to raise the immigration fee from $7 to $9.  Scott McCartney, from the Wall Street Journal, says that there are as many as 11 different taxes and fees on an airline ticket so that 27% of a typical tickets price is now taxes and fees.  This “death by a thousand cuts” method has worked well with the hotels and especially rental cars.  Have you looked at all the fees on a recent rental?  Or a phone bill for that matter.  Having a huge amount of small fees makes it really hard to single a particular one out and complain about it.  I doubt that it will go anywhere but up given the current trends.

Airlines are stuck with advertising the entire price of the ticket due to legislation that started about two years ago.  Thus, they would like the traveler to be hit some other way than adding on taxes to the ticket which they then have to advertise.  Expect the airlines to be pushing hard for some other way for the government to get it money.

Posted by glenn | No Comments

I have blogged a number of times about LoungeBuddy, the App to help you find a lounge in over 500 airports including the location of USO Clubs.  500+ is pretty outstanding when you realize that they are just reaching their first year anniversary.  They even were named in the top 100 of companies in Entrepreneur magazine!

They have always been very customer drive including coming out with an Android version and adding the airports you asked for.  One thing that I just started reading is their blog.  They have some really great content and I think you can get something out of it if you check it out.  For example, here is a great table for OneWorld Airlines  that lists all of the airlines and pretty much everything you need to know about miles for each airline.  I imagine similar “ultimate guides” will be coming for the other airline alliances.  There are a wide variety of topics on their blog beyond just lounges and I see this developing as a great resource for all of you frequent flyers.

Disclaimer:  For being a swell guy and writing about LoungeBuddy, they sent me a free T-shirt.  I feel so dirty…

Posted by glenn | No Comments

My wife and I just got back from two days at Caesar’s Atlantic City; our son is at his grandparents, so we thought we’d get away for two days to the shore. This is not a review of the hotel, because honestly I don’t think we’d go there again. It was nice enough, but Atlantic City is not the nicest city on the shore, and the nightlife is not so great. The reason I’m bringing it up is I found a great deal on Travelzoo. I’ve become a Travelzoo VIP, after only purchasing two local deals from them, one for a massage and one for a restaurant. When you become a VIP, you get targeted for special local deals, and one of the most recent ones was for a night at Caesar’s AC, with $58 per night dining credit and spa passes for two ($100 value). When I called in with the promo code, that I got from Travelzoo, the rooms were only $120 per night, so we actually made money on the deal. (I splurged on dinner, so we didn’t actually make money…) I get a lot of crappy or unwanted travel subscriptions and newletters, but Travelzoo’s is quality, often has sharply discounted deals, and targets deals much better than other sites, and is definitely one I recommend (I get no compensation from them).




Check out Extreme Hotel Deals; it’s somewhat infrequently, but awesome! You can get $52 in HotelQuickly credit, or a $45 mistake fare at the IC Frankfurt!




Time for some shameless link-whoring. We don’t have affiliate credit card links on this site, and don’t make much more than beer money from google adsense, so using our links is appreciated; however if you’d rather not, we’re not offended.


link whoring.jpg


For those that don’t yet have Uber, and want $30 in free credit, click on this link:


If you’ve been thinking about getting in either the 30k Amex SPG personal or business cards, please send your contact information to my email,, and I’ll send you the referral link.


Similarly, if you’re interested in either the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Chase Freedom (with $200 signup bonus), send me your info and I’ll send you a signup link.


I have all 4 of the above cards, and would not likely pimp a card I wouldn’t personally use. Remember that active duty servicemembers get annual fees waived on Amex cards and on Chase cards. All four of the above cards have a panoply of reviews, so I won’t bore you with those. These offers expire on June 30th.


Finally, two posts talking about Singapore Airlines Krisflyer Miles. First, FrequentMiler posted about how to get 17,000 Singapore miles for $10! Then, Milevalue post about an amazing sweetspot in the Singapore Airlines award chart for US-based flyers. Check them out!


Posted by glenn | One Comment

You may remember that we first told you about using Loyal3 as an alternate way of manufactured spending now that Vanilla Reloads and even Vanilla Visa Cards are being denied for that purpose at CVS and Wal-Mart.  Loyal3 is a way to buy stocks using a credit card and then selling the stocks a day later.  Here was our original post on the subject.

I just received the email below from Harry at PF Pro who writes of his experience getting $8,000 spend on his new CC.

FYI guys, I just wrote an updated article on my experience using Loyal3 to MS $8,000 for my second AA Exec card:

Check out his story and decide for yourself if it is worth a try.  I know a number of readers have commented that it seems risky, but I believe if you choose a big stock, it is not likely to change much in the day or two that you hold it.  One way to measure this is by examining the Beta of a stock.  Beta measures the volatility of a stock (or mutual fund) and the higher the Beta the more likely you are to see big prices swings up or down.  I haven’t tried it myself so let everyone know your experiences if you give it a shot.

Posted by glenn | 5 Comments

« previous home top