Guest Post #3: How I Took an $8,500 Scottsdale Vacation for $900

Note: The following post is from Little Miss Traveler. She is a civilian spouse who just married an active duty Navy Dental Corps Officer and has just started her churning journey. She has offered to post the following report in exchange for being able to host her referral links.


I recently made a blog post about an Orlando getaway weekend my husband and I took using credit card points we earned by maximizing the MLA benefits available to military members and their families, and after hearing some great feedback I decided to post about another amazing trip we recently took.  I hope these posts about my personal experiences will inspire you to discover and take advantage of these benefits so that you can take the trip you have always dreamed of for as close to free as possible.  I would love to hear from you and answer any questions you might have; feel free to contact me at Cecilia@littlemisstraveler.com

In late February my husband and I escaped the Midwest winter for five days in Scottsdale, AZ.  By using points and benefits from five different credit cards, we were able to do this for only $907.  I realize 5 credit cards sounds like a lot, but by organizing our spending, we were able to acquire these credit cards and hit the minimum spending requirement to receive the welcome bonuses used to pay for this trip.  Normally, these 5 cards would carry a total annual cost of $2450, but due to my husband’s active duty status, we get them for free!!!  It sounds too good to be true, but it’s not; this really works.  

I have written a detailed explanation of how we paid for every aspect of this trip, illustrated with a plethora of pictures to bring it to life, but if you are more of a nuts and bolts person and don’t want to read my whole story scroll to the bottom of the post to get a simplified version of the cost breakdown.

We flew round trip from Chicago to Phoenix on American Airlines for absolutely free thanks to our American Express Platinum charge cards as well as my Chase Sapphire Reserve card.   The Amex Platinum has an annual $200 airline credit, and the Chase Sapphire Reserve has an annual $300 travel credit.  Since my husband and I both have an Amex Platinum, that totaled $700 in free airfare.  The $300 CSR benefit was automatically credited back to my account after the travel purchase, but we had to buy two $200 American Airlines gift cards with our Platinum cards. As I mentioned in my previous post, American Airlines no longer allows the $200 airline credit to be used for gift card purchases.  However, Southwest Airlines still allows this, so keep that in mind if you decide to get an Amex Platinum. 

American Airlines allows military members flying with them access to their Admirals Lounge, so we began our trip there, enjoying free food and drinks before boarding our flight.  After arriving in Phoenix we went to the Hertz rental car location where our GMC Terrain was waiting for us with the keys in it.  Since we reserved the rental car with rewards points I earned on my CSR, it was free!!  After spending $4000 in the first 3 months of opening the CSR card, you are awarded 50,000 rewards points, which is worth $750 in travel credit.   We used a portion of these rewards points to pay for the car, and still had quite a bit left over.  Another benefit of the CSR is automatic Hertz Gold Status, which means an automatic vehicle upgrade and no waiting in line at the rental counter to get your car, so we immediately hopped in and headed toward the hotel.  

We drove to the Phoenician Canyon Suites by Marriott and quickly realized it was more of a palace than a hotel.  Upon arrival, we were greeted by name and escorted to our room.  They upgraded us to a King Suite Golf View…we had two bathrooms, two balconies, and a massive living room in addition to a separate bedroom.  By far, it was the nicest hotel I’ve ever been to. Literally, it was insane!

How much did five nights at this insane palace-like hotel cost us you are surely wondering?? You guessed it, nothing!!!!  We booked the room using 240,000 Marriott points we earned from our American Express SPG Luxury cards (Marriott and Amex have since changed the name of this card to the Bonvoy Brilliant).  I suspect the fact that we booked our stay with points is the reason we were upgraded to a suite.  The suite was 60,000 points per night, but whenever using points to pay for a reservation of 4 nights, Marriott gives the 5th night free.  Ok let me break down how we were able to amass so many Marriott points.  First, my husband applied for the Bonvoy Brilliant card, which awards 100,000 points after spending $5000 in the first 3 months of opening it.  Then, he referred me the card, so we got another 100,000 points after I reached the minimum spend, plus he got a 20,000 point bonus for referring me!  So we are at 220,000 points, a little short of the 240,000 required to book our slice of heaven in the Phoenician kingdom.  To get that last 20,000 we converted 20,000 of my 50,000 Amex Platinum to Marriott points (you are awarded 50,000 Amex points after hitting the $5,000 minimum spend in the first 3 months). 

So we were feeling pretty good at this point…free flights, free car, free suite.  But we still had to fill 4 days with activities that would surely be expensive, right?  Not quite. The Bonvoy Brilliant card comes with a $300 credit that is good at any Marriott property, and since my husband and I both have one, we had a grand total of $600 of free money to spend!  There was a daily resort fee of $40, so that ate up $200 of it, but I will still take a free $400 any day 🙂.

We slept in Saturday but woke up in time to hit the free breakfast, which was amazing.  Our plan for the day was to hike up nearby Camelback Mountain, so the concierge provided us with complimentary backpacks containing bottles of water and granola bars and also gave us a golf cart ride to the trailhead.  It was perfect weather, so we had a wonderful hike then relaxed by the pool with drinks and appetizers before going to dinner at J and G Steakhouse.  We booked our dinner reservation via the concierge, which is probably why we got a table right next to the window overlooking the city.  After a delicious dinner, we stopped by the lobby to check out the live band and grab a drink.  We spent a total of $290 at the resort that day, meaning we still had $110 of free money left to play with.

After another free breakfast on Sunday morning, we left the resort to spend the day with family that live in the area.  We spent most of the day with my family, who graciously bought us lunch then went to my husband’s aunt’s house in the evening.  She cooked dinner for us, so we brought a nice bottle of wine.  Overall, Sunday was a day of nearly free entertainment with family, and we were happy to have had the opportunity to catch up with them.

We decided to take full advantage of the amenities offered by the resort, so after breakfast Monday morning we reserved a tennis court, which was complementary to guests for one hour per day.  The resort had impressive tennis facilities including a pro shop and nearly a dozen courts.  The pro shop provided us with free rackets so all we had to pay was $4 for a sleeve of tennis balls.  We told the tennis pro we were not skilled tennis players and fully expected to be delegated to a court away from any other human beings, but we were shocked when she said “you guys will be on center court.”  As tennis novices, we weren’t sure what “center court” meant, but we quickly discovered that it meant we got to play on the nicest tennis court they had…the closest to Wimbledon we will ever get haha!

After an hour of tennis, we went straight to the pool and spent most of the afternoon lounging in the sun.  We ate lunch and had drinks poolside and were pleasantly surprised when a pool attendant came to us offering complimentary frozen grapes every 30 minutes.  I have no idea how, but the pool attendant also knew our name without us having to introduce ourselves! 

After a spectacular pool day, we decided to check out Old Town Scottsdale, which was only a few miles from the resort.  The concierge arranged a complimentary ride to and from Old Town…the complimentary ride was in a Cadillac Escalade by the way!  We toured some art galleries and met my husband’s aunt and uncle for dinner.  We picked up the check since they had graciously hosted us the previous evening.  After riding back to the resort in style we ordered a nice bottle of wine via room service and watched the sunset and stars from the balcony (ahem, I mean one of the balconies ;)) of our suite.  The poolside lunch, tennis balls, and bottle of wine totaled $189, meaning we had maxed out our resort credit plus another $79. 

Tuesday we decided to give tennis another shot, and we were in luck because the tennis pro gave us center court again!  They must pay a team of people to manicure the court every night because it was pristine. It was another perfect sunny Arizona day so we spent another day relaxing by the pool.  The afternoon at the pool was almost an exact replica of the previous pool day, with the exception of two things.  One, the complementary snacks were mini fruit smoothies instead of frozen grapes and two, we actually had to pay for everything ourselves since we burned through the last of our resort credit the previous day.  After living like royalty for 3 days in a row we toned things down and had a light dinner in the hotel lobby then enjoyed a night cap at the lobby bar.  The day’s activities cost a total of $205.

We woke up the next morning sad to know that our trip was coming to an end and that we didn’t have any more resort credit to have fun with, but it was our last bit of sunshine before heading back to the tundra so we made the most of the day.  My husband is an avid golfer, so he was overly thrilled (in my opinion) to wake up way too early to spend way too much money ($300) to rent clubs and play 18 holes at the resort’s golf course.  After sleeping in and enjoying breakfast, all I wanted to do was spend my few remaining hours in Arizona soaking up more sun, so I got comfy with a book and an iced coffee in my favorite poolside lounge chair.  When I checked out of the room, I was sure to go to the front desk to request a split charge on our Bonvoy Brilliant cards.  I had them put $300 on one card and the remaining balance on the other, that way we only had one card to pay off.  Normally we get to the airport a bit early to take advantage of access to the Admirals Lounge, but we wanted to stay in the Phoenician dream world as long as possible so after checking out we opted to have lunch on the patio at the golf course.  We spent an hour rehashing all the trips we had ever been on together and decided that this trip rivaled our honeymoon as our best yet.

See below for a breakdown of the cost of each part of the trip and a recap of the credit cards that made this trip possible.

Friday

Cost of round trip flight for two from ORD to Phoenix: $700

Cost of 4 drinks and snacks at ORD Admirals Lounge: $75 

Cost of GMC Terrain rental car from Hertz plus: $230

Cost of five nights in King Suite with Balcony Golf View with daily breakfast and valet parking at Phoenician Canyon Suites: $6,335 (* items below included in this rate)

Saturday

Cost of two hiking packs with waters and granola bars: *included in nightly rate

Cost of poolside drinks and snacks: $75

Cost of dinner at J and G Steakhouse: $200

Nightcap drinks at lobby bar: $15

Sunday

Cost of lunch with family: free!

Cost of dinner with family: $25

Monday

Cost of 1 hour of tennis: *included in nightly rate ($4 for tennis balls)

Cost of poolside drinks and snacks: $125

Cost of ride to and from Old Town Scottsdale in Cadillac Escalade: *included in nightly rate

Cost of dinner in Old Town Scottsdale: $120

Cost of bottle of wine from room service: $60

Tuesday

Cost of 1 hour of tennis: *included in nightly rate

Cost of lunch and drinks by the pool: $125

Cost of dinner in lobby restaurant: $60

Wednesday

Cost of 18 holes of golf with rental clubs: $300

Cost of lunch at 18th hole: $40

Cost of tank of gas for rental car: $56

Total cost of trip: $8,505

Total amount actually paid for trip: $907

Recap of Credit Cards Mentioned in this Post

Amex Platinum – $550 annual fee (Referral Link Here)

  • Benefits
    • $200 annual Uber credit
    • $200 annual airline fee credit (meant for incidentals such as bag fees, upgrades, etc, but you can buy a $200 Southwest gift card that is as good as cash)
    • Priority Pass that grants access to hundreds of airport lounges
    • $100 credit toward TSA Pre-Check
    • $100 credit to Saks Fifth Avenue
    • Upgraded status at Hilton and Marriott Hotels

Chase Sapphire Reserve – $450 annual fee

  • Benefits
    • $300 annual credit for any travel related expense
    • $100 credit toward TSA Pre-Check
    • Priority Pass that grants access to hundreds of airport lounges

Amex Bonvoy Brilliant – $450 annual fee (Referral Link Here)

  • Benefits
    • $300 annual credit at Marriott properties
    • Annual free night at Marriott

Thank you to Derp for hosting my guest post! Mark Wednesday April 24 on your calendar and be sure to check out my new blog littlemisstraveler.com to stay up on my newest adventures. Be sure to check out my step by step guide on how to make the trip of your dreams to become reality!

-LMT

Time To Manufacture Spend?

I done did it now, I just opened 4 cards in the last two months and I might not be able to organically spend my way out of this hole. I might need to turn to the good old plastiq trick or even the metal bullion churn.

Here is what I need to hit:

  • Chase Hyatt Card (Mom’s Account Due to 5/24)
    • Opened 20 March 2019: $5280.22 of $6,000 spent
    • 50K Hyatt for $6,000 total on purchases within the first 6 months of account opening
    • Referral Link Here
  • Citi Prestige
    • Opened 05 April 2019: $1,925.86 of $4,000 spent
    • 50K TY for $4,000 total on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Citi AAdvantage Select Platinum
    • Opened 05 April 2019: $0.00 of $3,000 spent
    • 75K AAdvantage for $3k in 90 days
  • AmEx Hilton Honors
    • Opened 14 April 2019: $0.00 of $1,000 spent
    • 100,000 Hilton Honors for $1k in 90 days
    • Referral Link Here

So I need to spend $6,793.92 in the next 3 months. My plan is to start up my plastiq referrals again. Please go here: http://www.plastiq.com/ and use my code: 674873 to open an account. You will earn $500 Fee Free dollars to charge to a card, and I will earn $1,000 in fee free payments. I will then use this pay off my kid’s monthly day care using a credit card.

The next level of Manufactured spending is to buy rare earth metals here. I did the same thing with Gold Coins back in the day, but almost lost my shirt. I intend to buy then sell these bars of American Buffalo bars that contain 1/4 troy ounce of 0.999 niobium. With the trade war with China set to escalate this summer, and China controlling 85% of niobium interests Brazil, I plan on this strategic metal to go up in value. What do I know, since I lost 90% on bitcoin?

This place also buys back junk silver and gold coins:

I acquired some silver coins when I was doing the Bridgeview Bank 5% pennywise savings account. Which is now shut down to new members.

Amagimetals will pay $10.40 for this $1.00 in change!

I am not sure on the process on selling back to Amagimetals, but in my last churn I was able to sell to BGASC.com without a problem. They require minimum amount of coins before they will consider buying back. In my case I had to sell back 5 Krugerrands at one time.

I don’t have $100 in junk silver yet, but I could buy the quantity I need from Amagimetals or BGASC on a card. Then wait for silver to go up, and then mix in my collection and sell to BGASC.com for a sweet check.

Any other MSing tips out there?

-Derp

AmEx, Ebates, Omaha Steaks Military Discount Triple Dip

Right now one of my AmEx offers on my AmEx Platinum is this:

If we value the points in redeemed flights the 1K is worth $15 or as a Schwab Cash out it is $12.50. If you add this deal to your cards you would get 30% off a $50 purchase.

On Ebates there is an offer of 3.5% cashback on top of free shipping and two free steaks.

I clicked the link to get this offer and I added the sale item for two 12 ounce Boneless N.Y Strip Steaks and signature seasoning at $39.99. I then added ten 4 ounce burgers for $20.99.

That is 4.625 pounds of beef for $61, which is not a great deal. However when we stack the discounts we see it’s actually in line with the supermarket. The first one is when I added the 10% military discount using troop ID.

The the 3.5% Ebates $1.92 off, and then the $15 back on AmEx makes for a grand total of $55.49 – $16.92 = $38.57 for 4.625 pounds of beef or $8.33 a pound shipped free to the house!

-Derp

#AmExAppreciates

Update: It ended up being $100 for Darioush Wine! Going to get myself one of these:

I just got a message from my USPS Informed Daily Digest: and I have this in the mail today:

Wonder what it could be, I checked the hashtag #amexappreciates and this blog post. these things are possibly gifted to me:

  • $100 Turo
  • 2x $90 drybar
  • $250 Tiffany
  • $250 Barney’s
  • $100 Bonobos
  • $100 Vince
  • 3 Classes @ Soul Cycle
  • $100 Total Wine Gift Card
  • $250 Postmates
  • $100 Anne Fontaine
  • $100 Alice and Olivia
  • $100 Master & Dynamic
  • $100 Nordstrom
  • $100 Warren Tricomi
  • $100 Vinyard Vines
  • $100 Darioush Wine

Anybody out there get one of these?

-Derp

Their Junk Mail is Our Treasure!

I just got my 4th American Airlines Citi card today using a mailer meant for someone else. I obtained it from a family member once I told them to stop trashing their junk mail. To imagine how many of these things I have thrown out myself! The code was even expired:

I went on over to http://citi.com/applynowAAplatinumselectcard and put in the last name and code from one of these mailers. The application will populate with their information, Just delete and put in your own.

I immediately got this response:

Your application is pending for further review, and we need additional information from you. Call 1-866-606-2787 now to receive an immediate decision.


Please have your application ID xxxxxxxxxxxx when you call.
If you call now and your application is approved, your card will arrive in approximately 7-10 days.

I simultaneously got this email and text message:

Once I texted “1”, I got a phone call from a No Caller ID number. They asked to confirm that I had indeed applied for this card. I also had to choose between shifting $19,500 of credit from my prestige to this card or just accept the $5,000 of credit offered to me. I opted for the $5,000 credit limit for this new card. I was on hold for about 10 mins and then they texted me a code to confirm that I was really me.

Next time I will lower my credit limit on my existing cards to avoid the shift game. I had good luck the last two times in asking for the 75,000 point bonus for $4,000 spend that is currently out there. I was refused for the bonus match twice, but after Hanging Up and Calling Again (HUCA) I finally got someone to give it to me on the online chat.

Here is the in Admirals Club offer right now for AA Executive
Lucky Lounge Check in Lady #783988 will get a bunch of referrals!

Now I have gotten 60,000 points from My AA Executive card, and 3 x 75,000 points from the AA Platinum Select card all using mailers. This is a total of 285,000 AA Miles. Which would be enough to recreate this scene from home alone. Well for one person at least:

You just need to obtain 8 mailers and have you and your player 2 hit 4 cards each for 600,000 points total, and you can fly to Paris on AA Business Class on a 787-8 for $128.23 in taxes and fees! Minus the fees you are getting about 3.2 cents per point considering the flight would have been $8,881.00!

With the same valuation, the 75,000 point offer would be worth $2,400, considering we can hit a pair of cards (8 days apart) every 65 days we can get 5 pairs of cards in one year for $24,000 in flight value assuming a constant supply of mailers.

Usually you would have to wait 24 months after receiving the bonus in any Citi card family to get another bonus. These mailer codes seem to be a work around because there is no 24 month language. This bonus was confirmed as valid on the phone call as well!

I have also not been charged the $95 for each card due to what I assume is the MLA coverage. Please don’t throw out the mailers, and send them my way! I also intend to upgrade each AA Platinum card in a year to multiple Prestige Cards worth $250 a piece in travel credit.

-Derp

Delta to Hilton Card Conversion

Edit: Rookie Mistake! I forgot to transfer available credit to another card before I closed my account! Make sure you do this first, before closing any AmEx account.

AmEx will not you you product change from one product family to another which is a bummer. Delta cards can only become other Delta Cards, and Hilton Cards can only be other Hilton Cards. This is not the case with Citibank, and I intend to convert all my AAdvantage Platinum cards into multiple Prestige cards.

I have two Delta Cards that are ripe for upgrading (each over a year old), but alas, it makes no sense for me to have any Delta Cards for any longer than the bonus they earn after spend. I have decided to have an all AmEx Hotel card portfolio like this guest poster has. If you live in Hawaii, love first class, and frequent the mainland, then it might be worth it to have a bunch of Delta Reserve Cards instead.

I went online and chatted with the Customer Service Representative on Sunday night and they closed my Delta Reserve Card without any retention offer. I was worried that my associated Companion Pass would disappear, but multiple people say once they are issued, they are disjointed from holding the underlying card. I went back to check Delta’s website, and there they were, certs that are severed from the now closed AmEx card:

I will wait a few days and then apply for the 100K offer from Hilton Honors. I am not sure if I would be eligible for the 150k from Hilton Ascend, because of my previous Surpass Card. I am certain I would not be able to get another 150K from Aspire, because I currently have that same card open.

My plan is to have 3 Hilton Honors Aspire cards (by upgrading the Honors and Ascend after one year), and combine points with the 3 free weekend nights. In this method, you can have a vacation from Sunday to Sunday using a combination of 5th night free points and your 3 free weekend nights. See example here:

  • Sunday: 80K
  • Monday: 80K
  • Tuesday: 80K
  • Wednesday: 80K
  • Thursday: Zero points since 5th night is free on points booking
  • Friday: Free Annual Weekend Night
  • Saturday: Free Annual Weekend Night
  • Sunday: Free Annual Weekend Night

The first 400k points would be easy to earn with 100K from Hilton Honors, 150k from Hilton Ascend, and another 150K from Aspire. Then Every year I would get three of these nights:

I would then plan on using all three weekend nights to stay Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night every year at a Hilton resort. Here the resort fee would be waived for diamond members, and then I could split charge up to $750 in hotel credits over my three Aspire cards! That would be plenty of this stuff for free:

Poolside Drinks Charged To Room
Room Service at any Hilton Resort Charged To Room

Now I tried to charge a few things directly to the Hilton Aspire at the Oak Brook Resort without staying there, but they don’t get credited:

When incidentals are charged to the room, the credit will apply in 3 days:

Also note the credit counts towards the room rate!

The icing on the cake would be the 3 x $250 gift cards from Southwest charged to each Aspire to count as the airline incidental fee. This loophole has yet to be closed:

It may have sucked to close a card I had for 3 years, but in the long run the 3 Hilton Cards will pay up to $3,000 in tax free benefits a year!

-Derp

Delta First Class Companion Pass: A Cost Savings Analysis

BLUF: The churning game has changed. No longer do you just get a card for the one time bonus, but now you have more incentives than ever to keep a card open forever. Since AmEx has a strict 5 Credit (not charge) Card Limit, you need to maximize each card slot. (Please use my AmEx catchall link here to get to that goal). If done right, you and your player 2 can get $9,200 worth of travel credit to use towards your 30 days of paid leave per year.

My AmEx Credit Card Portfolio is currently in transition to a high yield card portfolio. I can only hold on to 5 AmEx Credit cards, and I am seeking maximum annual payout for during my active duty years. Currently we have maximum returns on the following products:

  • AmEx Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant
    • $300 Marriott Hotel Credit (Room and Incidentals)
    • Free Anytime Night (up to 50K Points)
  • AmEx Hilton Honors Aspire
    • $250 Hilton Resort Hotel Credit (Room and Incidentals)
    • $250 Airline (South West Gift Cards)
    • Free Weekend Night (Any Hilton)
    • Hilton Diamond Status (Free Breakfast or Credit)
  • AmEx Delta Reserve Card
    • Companion Pass (Up To First Class)
    • Delta Lounge Access (When flying Delta)

I currently hold on to these 5 cards:

Many Waldorf Astoria Hilton Resorts are $500+ a night properties

I now know my lowest returns are my Delta Products since I live in Chicago and not Hawaii. Assuming I always go for $500+ a night hotels, we can get a solid $800 from each Bonvoy account every year. We can get a good $1,000 out of the Hilton Honors products as well. Now is it time for me to consider killing both Delta cards and replacing them with another Hilton or Bonvoy card. Here is the situation that made me realize both Delta Cards cannot justify their existence in my Card Portfolio:

My brother in law is a huge sports fan and wants to see every ball park in America and has never been to Citi Field. On June 29th there is a 3:10 PM game at Met’s park which is right in between LaGuardia and JFK. I have never been to JFK before, and there is a nice 50K Hilton Hotel right next to the airport with an executive lounge open on Saturday and Sunday:

I looked into a flight from ORD to JFK, and one Main Cabin tickets is about $366.60 for a total of $733.20 for the pair. If we use the normal Delta Platinum Companion Pass we only pay $395.20, or a $338 savings using the Platinum companion pass.

If we wanted to be super bougie we could get a pair of first class tickets for $1,089.20, or if we used the companion pass from our Delta Reserve card we only need to spend $573.20 for a $516 savings.

But If I just used Delta Miles I could use 98,000 Delta Sky Miles for the $1089.20 flight or a solid 1 cent per point. You can get this many points and more from the blue, gold, plat, and reserve Delta Cards.

Now in the context of upgrading a pair of companion pass tickets from Main Cabin to First Class we would be spending $395.20 versus $573.20 or the difference of $178 more to fly two people in first class. Without the companion pass we would have spent $356 more than coach to fly first. If you value the nicer seats, service, and hot meals then $178 ($44.50 a segment) may be a premium you want to pay to sit right in front. Maybe you like the simultaneous window and aisle “throne” seats like all the Port side seats in first on the ERJ-175 and CRJ-900:

I could only squeeze out $516 of value from this one card which is pitiful considering you get $1,000 from Hilton Aspire and $800 from Bonvoy Brilliant.

For a transcon flight from Seattle to Boston you would only save $456 max for a main cabin ticket. However if you use it for first class you could save up to $1,135.35!

The bottom line is if you are not using the companion pass to fly a long haul route like Hawaii to Mainland (only for Hawaii Residents) or trans con SEA to BOS or JFK, it might not be worth taking a spot in you AmEx Card Portfolio. It would be hard to get $1,000+ in savings using a companion pass for pure domestic travel. I for one am planning on replacing both of my Delta Cards with the Hilton Honors card and the Hilton Honors Ascend card to upgrade to my second and third Hilton Honors Aspire Cards.

Don’t get me wrong, the 3 Delta cards I got have been a boon for free Delta Sky Miles that I have spent on Champagne and free flights!

However with the lifetime (7 years De Facto) rules on earning bonuses, these cards have outlived their purpose. Once the portfolio is maxamized to Hilton and Marriott, I can stop opening new accounts to go under 5/24. These 3 Hilton Honors Aspire Cards, and 2 Bonvoy Brilliant Cards would generate:

  • 3 Free Weekend Nights at any Hilton Worldwide
  • 2 Free 50K nights at any Marriott
  • $600 in Marriott Credit
  • $750 in Southwest Gift Cards
  • $750 in Hilton Resort Credits

Assuming we are using the free nights at a cost of $500 a night, the 5 card portfolio would mean $4,600 in free luxury travel every active duty year due to the $2,250 in annual fee waivers. With a player two you could get $9,200 to use towards your 30 days of paid leave per year. Again this is the greatest retention tool of all time!

Please use my catchall link if you want to apply for any of these products mentioned.

-Derp

U.S. Bank Altitude Data Point Repository

We have a lock down on Citi, Chase, and AmEx in waiving annual fees on their products. Now we need a depository of data points for US Bank. I want to have everyone put them here.

I got my U.S. Bank Altitude card May 2017. This was well before the MLA took effect on September 2017 so the $400 annual fee was not, and will not be waived for me. I continue to pay the $400 since I get $325 in travel credits, this makes my total cost of membership $75 which I can get back in the form of the in flight WiFi and Andrew Harper Magazine.

The O-4 specialist here got one under his own name three months ago and got the waiver no problem. He is currently enjoying $325 in credit every year. The most recent datapoint is the spouse of an O-3 that got the U.S. Bank Altitude card and received this letter in the mail:

She has not been charged the $400, and the letter mentions nothing regarding MLA. The service member tried for his own Altitude, but was denied due to too many new applications at other banks.

Please post your data points below if you got them.

-Derp

Guest Post: Conrad Tokyo

Back in October an O4 SWO in DC sent me photos from his Hilton Honors Aspire Adventures. He used his free night at the Conrad Tokyo and was able to get a suite. He writes:

There was a separate bedroom, large living room, two toilets (rare in Japan) and a bathroom. Hotels in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taipei had been my previous benchmark for “nicest hotels” in terms of service/ambiance/room amenities, but Conrad Tokyo was a few notches above. 

I was visiting my wife’s family in Japan this past summer and we decided to stay in Tokyo before flying out. I was able to use the award night to book a room at the Conrad Tokyo (near Tsukiji Fish Market, which was recently relocated). It occupies the top half of the SoftBank building. Since I have Diamond status from the card, I was upgraded to a deluxe suite. It was approx 900 sq ft, $759 per night if I had paid in cash, with a view of Tokyo Harbor. For turndown service, they even left two Conrad Tokyo teddy bears for my children. The executive lounge was legit, with full course meals offered throughout the day and a nice selection of Japanese craft beer. All in all, it was the best hotel stay that I’ve ever experienced, in all of my travels.

I will host his links once I get them.

-Derp

Guest Post: A perfect Orlando Birthday Weekend. How my husband and I took a $3200 trip for less than $500!!

The following post is from an O-3 AD Navy Dental Corps Spouse. They just got back from Harry Potter World at Universal Studios in Orlando. All while staying at the Waldorf Astoria and flying on United out and American Airlines back. They agreed to post this trip report in exchange for hosting their AmEx Hilton Honors Aspire Link here, Ascend Here and Honors Here. Also their AmEx Platinum Link here. Please let me know if you want to write and I can host your links as well. Here is her post:

The Writer is a AD Spouse that has all three Hilton Honors Cards (all waived)

By maximizing the benefits of credit card points and perks, my husband and I treated ourselves to a luxury weekend at the Waldorf Astoria in Orlando. Using welcome bonus points we acquired from the Chase United Explorer Club card, we flew for free on United from Chicago to Orlando.  That same card granted us access to the United Club at O’Hare, where we enjoyed free food and drinks in a comfortable lounge.

After landing in Orlando, we took an Uber from the airport to the Waldorf Astoria for free using a portion of the $250 annual travel credit on my husband’s Citi Bank Prestige credit card. Side note, you can buy $100 worth of Uber cash for only $95.  That is an instantaneous 5% return on your money, which is almost unheard of. It’s free money!

We chose to stay at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando because it is a Hilton Resort property.  My husband and I both have the American Express Hilton Aspire credit card, which carries the benefit of annual free weekend night at almost any Hilton hotel. So between our two aspire cards, we got both nights free! 

When making the reservation over the phone, the Hilton agent combined the two reservations so we were able to stay in the same room both nights and didn’t have to check out and recheck in Saturday.  I found there was an added benefit by booking over the phone; the agent asked why we were traveling, so I said we were going to celebrate my birthday. The representative attached a note to the reservation and informed us to except a welcome gift! 

We arrived at the Waldorf Friday night and were upgraded to a king suite with a balcony on the Hilton Honors floor. See pics below. Upon entering the room, we were greeted with balloons and a box of fancy chocolates. And it only got better from there.

Another benefit of the Hilton Aspire card is an annual $250 resort credit. This credit has to be used at a “resort property” and the credit only counts for things charged to the room. So in our case, when we checked in, we attached both our aspire cards to the room. Now for the fun part, we had $500 of free money to spend at the hotel!!! 💸 Normally the hotel has a resort fee of $45 a day plus tax, but if using the free night award, there is no fee.  So that left us with a full $500 to have fun with. After checking in, we spent $125 on dinner and a bottle of wine at the lobby bar…$375 of totally free money left :). 

We spent most of Saturday at Universal Studios, but prior to taking an Uber to the park (again for free via the Citi Prestige travel credit) we had the continental breakfast at the hotel. Thanks to our Amex Hilton Aspire cards, my husband and I are both have Hilton Diamond status, which comes with the benefit of free breakfast daily. After a day of Harry Potter world (which I HIGHLY recommend), we Uber’d back to the hotel (free of course!) and had a few hours to kill before our 8:30 dinner reservation so we soaked up some sun and drinks by the pool. $75 worth of drinks actually, and I know that’s pricey, but remember, it’s all free! So that left of us with $300 left, all of which we spent on an amazing steak and wine dinner at Bull and Bear Restaurant at the hotel where the waiter treated us to free dessert.

Our flight on Sunday didn’t leave until 4:30 pm, so we requested a late check out, which the concierge happily granted us because of our Hilton Diamond status. We grabbed some free breakfast then spent a few more hours at the pool before heading to the airport. Unfortunately, we had maximized our $500 resort credit, so we had to shell out our own hard earned money for poolside drinks but it was worth it!

At check out, we asked for a split charge with our two Amex Hilton aspire cards. We had the concierge charge $250 on one card and the remaining balance on the other, that way we only had a balance on one card to pay off. 

We took another free Uber (thanks Citi Prestige!) to the airport to catch our American Airlines flight home. We paid for the flights home with yet another Hilton Aspire benefit. The card comes with an annual $250 airline benefit. This benefit is meant for flight incidentals such as bag fees, seat upgrades, or in-flight snacks, but we worked around this by buying American Airlines gift cards. Unfortunately, AA got wise to this work around and it no longer works. However, the $250 credit still works for gift cards to Southwest Airlines, so if you get an Aspire card be sure to select Southwest for your airline of choice. 

Orlando’s airport has an American Airlines Admirals Club where they let active duty military members and their families into for free if they are flying with American. So of course we took advantage of this and got free lunch and refreshments before boarding our flight and heading home.

All in all, it was an amazing weekend getaway. We paid $450 for $3,167 worth of travel, and we can’t wait to do it again!

  • Cost of flight for two from ORD to MCL: $400 
  • Cost of 4 drinks and snacks at ORD United lounge: $75 
  • Cost of Uber from MCL to hotel: $51
  • Cost of two nights in king suite with balcony with daily breakfast at Waldorf Astoria Orlando: $1238
  • Cost of drinks and dinner at lobby bar: $125
  • Cost of Uber to universal studios: $19
  • Cost of 2 universal studios passes: $350 (military rate)
  • Cost of Uber from universal to hotel: $20
  • Cost of poolside drinks: $75
  • Cost of dinner: $250 ($50 over $500 freebie)
  • Cost of poolside drinks: $50
  • Cost of Uber to airport: $39
  • Cost of food and drinks at Admirals Lounge: $75
  • Cost of two flights from Orlando to Chicago: $400

Total cost of trip: $3,167

Total amount actually paid for trip: $450

Thanks for posting! A few take away data points:

  • You can split a $500 Hilton Hotel bill over multiple cards to take advantage of the $250 benefit
  • You can combine points with free weekend night stays with Hilton Honors
  • Uber counts for the $250 travel credit for Citi Prestige
  • Diamond status give you resort fee waivers