Credit Cards tagged posts

Anatomy of an Award: Labor Day in Berlin on Short Notice in Premium Cabins

Category: AirlinesHotelsTrip Reports Comments: No comments

A few weeks ago, I decided I really needed to get away for a long Labor Day.  Preferably to a city where I could explore nightlife if I wanted, but also could lose myself walking or sitting at a cafe.  Oh, and I didn’t want to spend a lot of money, I didn’t want to repeat a city I’d been to recently, and I wanted to be able to get there relatively quickly from DC.

Berlin seemed like a great choice, as I’ve only been once — in 2004 with my study abroad program on a “study tour.”  10 years older, and for leisure travel, it would be a completely different city.  Berlin is also a very reasonably priced city, and would serve as a place to use my expiring free Hyatt night that I get as a Hyatt Visa cardholder, as the Grand Hyatt Berlin is somehow only a category 4 hotel.

But late July is not the best  time to be looking for premium transatlantic availability for Labor Day,  particularly to a city like Berlin that has almost no direct transatlantic service  — just Newark to Berlin on United, and Chicago and JFK to Berlin on Air Berlin.  So I wasn’t surprised to see there was nothing available on the days I could travel.  So I watched  both Star Alliance and One World availability on all transatlantic flights like a hawk for a few days, and when a flight from Venice to Philadelphia on US Airways in Business class opened up, I grabbed that for 50,000 American miles  (which ends up as 45,000 miles since I’m an AA credit card holder).  Unfortunately, there was no Air Berlin connection into Venice that would get in that time, so I figured I’d fly in the day before and have 22 hours in Venice.  I hadn’t realized how expensive Venice hotels were though, and 22 hrs is kind of a rush through a city like Venice.  So I figured I’d keep my eyes open, as AA has a free change policy on award tickets so long as the origin and destination are staying the same.

I wasn’t that concerned about an outbound flight, because I...

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Hotel Review: Feeling Welcome at the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome

Category: HotelsTrip Reports Comments: No comments

I am not a huge Hyatt customer, simply because there aren’t a lot of Hyatts where I want to go, and most Hyatt Regencies/Grand Hyatts remind me of conferences. But some of my favorite hotel stays over the past few years have been at Hyatt properties in Argentina, New Mexico, and Vietnam — particularly Park Hyatts. And one of the best ongoing credit card sign up offers is for the Chase Hyatt Visa. Back when I got the card, after making a single purchase with the card, which comes with a $75 annual fee, you got two free nights at any Hyatt property in the world. I used mine at the Park Hyatt Palacio Duhao in Buenos Aires in 2012, and was astounded by the level of luxury. I’ve kept the card, paying the $75 annual fee, as I’ve found a use for the annual category 1-4 certificate each year that far exceeds that cost.

Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome

Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome

When we decided we were going to Paris, I knew I wanted to stay at the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome. I’d heard outrageous things, it had a great location, and I wanted to end our 2-week trip somewhere special – not a cramped “okay, for Paris” hotel. Rates, though, were not in our budget – making the hotels in the Seychelles look cheap. The advanced purchase rate was 688.50 Euros per night, so I knew that this would be a great use of Hyatt free night certificates. For comparison’s sake, for Argentina, my two nights were worth a measly $1282.60.  So I was able to persuade my boyfriend to sign up for the card, which now has a $1,000 spending requirement before you get the free nights. It all worked out, the nights were deposited in his account, I called, and we got our reservation without a problem.

Que rico

Que rico

Fast forward a little over a month, and we had our stay.  The synopsis is that the room itself wasn’t particularly special, though good-sized and had a great bathroom. But what was amazing was the level of service that the hotel provided, making us feel like welcome guests from the moment we walked in the door til the time we checked out. It’s amazing how few properties even attempt to do that, but the staff at the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome tried, and succeeded.

Due to some transportation snafus, my boyfriend and ...

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Of US Airways Credit Cards and a Serious Ethical Deficiency in the Points Blogosphere

Category: Tips and Tools Comments: 12 comments

My day (and sometimes night) job is as an attorney.  Although we get a terrible rap and are accused of being unethical, the reality is that most good lawyers (and many bad ones) actually think about ethics A LOT.  We have to take a separate ethics exam before we get our license, and many jurisdictions have additional ethics content on the bar exam.  We have to take ethics continuing education courses regularly.  And believe it or not, I’ve had dozens of email chains, conference calls, and meetings discussing the ethical implications of a particular issue.

In my career, I’ve also primarily worked with low-income and middle-income people — many of whom were taken advantage of by an “expert” or a salesman.  So I am particularly attuned to consumer scams, deceptions, and half-truths.


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Review of the American Express Centurion Lounge at DFW and Changes to the AmEx Platinum Card

Category: AirlinesTrip Reports Comments: No comments

When I first got the American Express Platinum card several years ago, at the rate of $450, one of the perks was entry into American, Delta, Continental, and US Airways lounges. When Continental and United merged, access to Continental’s Presidents’ Clubs disappeared, but American Express soon added a free unlimited Priority Pass Select membership – which has probably been more beneficial for me than Continental President’s Club access was (though it doesn’t include guest entry). Now, the “new American” has opted to cease participating as well, and come the end of March, access to American and US Airways lounges will disappear from the list of perks. And more recently, Delta has indicated that it will be eliminating guest access for Platinum cardholders. So overall, the lounge benefit as a whole is pretty decimated – while the price of the Amex Platinum has remained steady.

At the time of the announcement about the AA/US termination, American Express emailed a lot of AmEx Platinum cardholders with offers of extra credits of $100-$400 for airline fees, to compensate for the loss. Alas, I did not get any such offer – likely because I hadn’t been a heavy AA/US lounge user, or because I don’t actually put much spend on that card. But I did call up, and was offered an additional $100 to be used on AA or US – but only after March. Still better than nothing.

I’m of two minds as to the impact of this change on my value from the card. Since I’ve just changed my loyalty from Delta to American, it comes at a bad time. But, entry to American’s Admirals Clubs is not worth that much. They rarely have any substantial free food, they are often crowded, and the free beverage section isn’t much to write home about. For me the best benefit is free wifi in the Club (itself a relatively recent innovation for Platinum cardholders). But as more and more airports get free wifi, it’s less of an issue. And as an AA Platinum, I will still have access to Admirals Clubs on international journeys. Finally, there has been growth in the number of contract lounges in domestic airports (i.e., not affiliated with any particular airline), and nearly all of them are covered by Priority Pass.

In addition, a major new perk of the Amex Platinum is access to American Express’s domestic Centurion Lounges (for cardholders and two guests). Initially, free access was only given to Centurion cardholders domestically. Amex also has Centurion lounges abroad, primarily in Latin America, but they are nothing special. So far, there are only two of these high-end lounges in the U.S.: one at Dallas- Fort Worth, and one at Las Vegas – and new locations are coming to LaGuardia and San Francisco, and likely more. I had heard great things about these lounges, so as I traveled through DFW on my recent Little Rock trip, I made two swings through the lounge, once at lunch time and once at dinner time. I had an enjoyable experience, and it definitely was the nicest domestic lounge I’ve been to, and the food and beverage was better than any business class lounge I’ve been to around the world – head and shoulders above the Admirals Club and its low-quality food for purchase.

The Centurion Lounge at DFW, high above the terminal mall

The Centurion Lounge at DFW, high above the terminal mall

The Centurion Lounge is located high above a series of shops, up a dedicated stairw...

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YWW Does East Asia: Trip Report Part 8: Phuket to Bangkok: My Stolen Wallet Drama Rears its Head in Thailand

Category: AirlinesTrip Reports Comments: No comments

Thai Airways Flt. 206, Phuket (HKT) to Bangkok (BKK), Airbus A300, Economy, 1h 25min

While we were relaxing and enjoying Phuket, I had one of those realizations that gives you a pit in your stomach.  When my boyfriend checked in for his flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Bangkok on Thai Airways, he had been asked to present the credit card he booked the ticket online with.  Nothing so unusual.  But then I had a realization: the credit card I’d used to book my Thai Airways revenue tickets from Phuket to Bangkok and Bangkok to Macau had been in my wallet that was stolen in Madrid.  I had a replacement card, but with different numbers.

I figured this must happen all the time.  So I went onto Google and Flyertalk and poked around, and was shocked to find that Thai Airways is extremely inflexible in this regard, and makes you buy a new ticket if you cannot produce the credit card, but then will refund you the price of the old ticket.  I unsuccessfully tried calling Thai Airways, to no avail, and then e-mailed them, which yielded a response saying that I was SOOL.  I was very worried, as our flight from Phuket to Bangkok was showing as sold out, and didn’t know if I would even be able to buy a new ticket—and didn’t know what the price would be-  it was unclear if Thai makes you re-pay for the existing reservation, or just buy a whole new ticket.  One traveler online reported that she was able to use the original ticket by presenting a letter from her credit card company explaining the situation, and a copy of her original statement reflecting the now canceled credit card number.  I didn’t have the former, but there was free printing at the Radisson and printed out the latter.

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YWW Does East Asia: Trip Report Part 5: Park Hyatt Saigon Review

Category: HotelsTrip Reports Comments: No comments

IMG_0269Of our three nights in Vietnam, we spent two at the Intercontinental on paid nights, and then switched over to the Park Hyatt Saigon, using my free one night that I get each year as a Hyatt Visa cardholder.  This is a perk that can make the $75 annual fee for the card well worth it.  Although the night can only be used at a level 1 through 4 property, unlike other chains (cough cough – Marriott), level 4 is pretty high up in the Hyatt hierarchy, including lots of nice properties in major cities, and several of Hyatt’s top properties, including the Andaz in West Hollywood, Savannah, and Shanghai and multiple Park Hyatts around the globe.  For our night at the Park Hyatt Saigon, rooms were going for about $400 – about 2.5 times the rate at the Intercontinental down the street.

We took advantage of my guaranteed late checkout as a Platinum Ambassador at the Intercontinental and, after a morning of exploring and pool time, made our way to the Park Hyatt.  If it weren’t for luggage and 100 degree, humid weather, we could have walked between the two properties, a straight ¾ mile walk through central HCMC.  Instead, we took a cab, which cost about $3.IMG_0268

Upon arrival, I went to the front desk and presented my passport, and we were shortly escorted to our room for in-room check-in (something I generally dislike – let’s get business done in the lobby and let me be).  We had a humorous exchange in the elevator with the agent, who, very professionally, first stated: “As a valued Platinum member, we have placed you in the best room in the class you booked, so you have a lovely view of the pool.  Oh, wait, I am so sorry, you have a City View.”  With his accent, this sounded like “Shitty View”, which would have been correct.

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Trip Report: Madrid Part IV: On being pickpocketed early on a Sunday morning in Spain

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IMG_0054As suggested by this blog, I’m not a novice traveler.  But I am a bit absentminded at times with my personal effects- while traveling or otherwise.  I’ve lost my wallet three times in the past three years in New York (remarkably getting it back once).  Although I’ve lost things while traveling, I’ve been pretty lucky getting them back:  a coat at the Tambo del Inka in Peru, my netbook on a plane in Budapest, my Blackberry at the Intercontinental David in Tel Aviv.  My first real loss was my camera on the way back from Aruba in December.

Usually, I have a routine to deal with the potential for losing my wallet while traveling abroad.  I keep 1-2 credit cards with my passport, along with a large bill in local currency, in the hotel safe...

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Get those Amexes ready for free money! Small Business Saturday Signup Tomorrow

Category: Free MilesTips and Tools Comments: No comments

This year, as in the past several, American Express is running a promo on the Saturday after Thanksgiving — Small Business Saturday.  The terms are pretty simple.  Register your Amex in advance (any Amex but a prepaid or corporate card will do), make an in-store purchase of $25 or more at a small business, get a $25 credit on your Amex statement.

Signup is limited, and starts November 18 at midnight here.  The list of qualifying small businesses is confusing, as it includes both those on the promo website and those on the Square directory.  Remember, your purchase must equal or exceed $25 to get the credit!

Unfortunately, my ability to benefit from this will be limited as I’ll be in Dublin on Small Business Saturday, and there are no qualifying businesses there...

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Weekend in LA, Part 2: The Andaz West Hollywood and Credit Card Hotel Booking Perks

Category: HotelsTrip Reports Comments: No comments

Prior to this trip, I’d only stayed in hotels in L.A. three times.

The first time was in 2006 when I’d one a trip to L.A. from Rolling Stone Magazine to Grammy weekend, and they put me up in the Sunset Marquis.  The second was for clerkship interviews, which were last minute and had me using Priceline to stay at the Westin Bonaventure.  The third and final time was also a Priceline stay at the Wilshire Grand at when I flew out to apartment hunt a few weeks before moving to L.A.  So although I know L.A. pretty well, I don’t really know the hotel options.

I could’ve stayed at friends’ places for both of my 2 nights in town, but decided it would be fun to get  a hotel for one night on the town if I could find it for a reasonable rate.  One problem with L.A. hotels, though, is that even if the rate is reasonable, the cost of parking can make the total unreasonable.  Originally, I’d booked a good package at the Renaissance Hollywood, which is right off Hollywood and Vine and a decent, though large and touristy property.  I ended up finding a more appealing option at the Andaz West Hollywood, though — which was particularly good since the Renaissance became a Loews in the intervening month, and I have no interest in accruing Loews loyalty credit (not only is it not useful, but I have quasi-personal beef with the chain’s CEO that I’d be happy to discuss over drinks but can also be found by intrepid googlers and readers of the Tufts Daily).

One oft-neglected perk of many credit cards is special hotel booking sites, which usually thrown in perks on a reservation for what would be the otherwise standard rate.  These include the Fine Hotels and Resorts program for Amex Platinum and Centurion cardholders, the Gold Card Destinations program for Amex Gold cardholders, the Luxury Hotel Collection for Chase cardholders, and the Visa Signature Luxury Hotel Collection for Visa Signature card hotels.  World Elite Mastercard has a program as well, but it does not allow online booking.  The perks range from free breakfasts and food and beverage credits, to upgrades and free parking.  Don’t have a premium card? Kiwi Collection provides the interface for Visa Signature’s hotel site, and offers its own special rates/perks and usually also shows the Visa Signature availability.  Another option for those without a premium card is Perfect Escapes.  One great thing about all of these sites is they typically allow you to accrue points/status on reservations booked through them, similar to the Virtuoso program (which I am not super familiar with).

Visa Signature has the most consistent perks.

  • Best available rat...
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Trip Report: Train Travel – Rome to Florence and a Credit Card Lesson

Category: Tips and ToolsTrip Reports Comments: No comments

Our flight touched down at Rome’s Fiumcino Airport a little early, and I was quickly off the train and onto the monorail to the main facility.  Immigration took quite a while, as a flight from Rio de Janeiro had just arrived and there were only two agents for non-EU citizens.  Another line opened up and I made it through in about twenty minutes.  Not so bad, and I had to wait for luggage anyway (though Alitalia’s priority tag apparently works!).

I had to get to Rome’s Termini train station to catch my train to Florence.  I had purposely not booked a ticket in advance, as I had no idea what time I’d actually make it through the airport, and there is pretty frequent service...

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