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We had a few exciting (if you’re a card geek) cards arrive this week that I’ve been waiting for since last year. They all come with much-improved benefits and changes to the overall travel strategy.
A year ago we got P2 (player two, non-military spouse) the AMEX SPG card right before it discontinued and closed out applications. This was then converted automatically into a plain old Bonvoy artsy card during the great Bonvoy rebranding and super hotel conglomerate release. We did not get a signup bonus or any great annual perks to write about. It was just a slow play dormant account, sitting there until the 1 year account anniversary.
Well, that anniversary hit and finally we were able to product change it to its big brother; the ultra-luxury Bonvoy Brilliant card. This change closes out our perpetual Amex credit card holdings (until they release a new must-have card) and grants us another free annual Bonvoy night (capped at 50k Bonvoy points) and another $300 annual Bonvoy statement credit. This brings the Bonvoy total to $1200/yr and 7 free nights/yr (four $300 credits and four nights from 4 Bonvoy Brilliant cards and three nights from 3 Ritz cards); a solid vacation option for any military family.
Delta also made a much-needed card overhaul to its lineup. The most important change, of course, is the switch to a metal card with numbers on the back. Welcome to the party, Delta. Obviously, we immediately requested replacement metal forms of our existing Delta Reserve cards.
Also of note is the ability (with the Delta Reserve) to request cabin upgrades. Now, on every Delta flight, we have the option to select upgrade requests to first-class, business class, and Delta Comfort+. Granted, without medallion status these requests are in the back of the upgrade line compared to Delta frequent flyers, but the chance now exists. They also threw in 2 Delta lounge passes for friends and family per year and some new, but still difficult, ways to earn medallion status.
The best change of all, however, is the new feature on all Delta cards that allows you to pay with miles. Starting at 5k miles for $50, you can select, in 5k increments, miles to hack off portions of your ticket cost. This actually isn’t a great redemption value at 1 cent per mile, but it opens up a new loophole that has made Delta my now exclusively flown airline.
I’m having an internal struggle with writing about this. The info is publically available if you know where to look, but I don’t want to contribute to its public proliferation. That’s how loopholes get shut down faster. So as a compromise to keep it more in-house I will post the info in our closed Facebook group. Please, if you could, let me know with a comment on the Facebook thread if you found this info useful. I would like to gauge if it’s worth the effort. Thanks for reading!
Ritz Carlton Card Purchase Protection Saves A $1,177 iPhone Purchase
Reader and best of friends Christopher guest writes the following:
On August 17th, I dropped my iPhone in the ocean while kayaking with my wife. The phone dropped about 20 feet to the ocean floor and I was unable to retrieve it. Since the iPhone XS Max is only waterproof to a depth of two meters of water for 30 minutes, I’m sure that it is no longer functional. For this reason, I would consider the phone both lost and damaged beyond repair.
Despite knowing that the phone was probably gone, I dove into the water and swam down as far as I could. To my disappointment, without dive fins, I was unable to reach the bottom. I returned to my kayak wet and disappointed. I knew I had backed up my phone to the iCloud the night before, so I wasn’t worried about losing any of my data. I was only bothered by the loss of the $1,176.96 that I spent on the phone just three weeks earlier, or at least the $269 deductible for me to file a claim with AppleCare+ (with Theft and Loss).
The Card Bennies
After spending a few moments rowing my kayak and planning my trip to the Apple Store, I remembered that I purchased the phone using my Chase Ritz-Carlton Credit Card. I knew that the card offered Purchase Protection, but I couldn’t remember the terms of the benefit. I was a couple of miles row from my car, so I had quite a bit of time to think about the situation. Once I was back at the 4Runner, I logged into the Chase app on my wife’s phone and saw:
PROTECTION BENEFITS… keep you secure when using your Ritz-Carlton Credit Card
Shop Securely: When you use your card, your purchases are covered with the following protections.
Purchase Protection: Covers your new purchases for 120 days against damage or theft up to $10,000 per claim and $50,000 per year.
I contemplated the guidelines as I looked at them, “Less than 120 days: Check”… “Damage up to $10,000: Check.” I wondered for a moment of they would give me a hard time about proving the “damage” since I was unable to recover the phone.
The Claim Process
As soon as I got home, I called the number on the back of my card to inquire about the claims process. Within seconds, I was transferred to the claims department where a very helpful lady walked me through the claims process. The whole process took about fifteen minutes. For my claim justification, I simply typed in the first paragraph above. Then I crossed my fingers and hoped that they would approve my claim for my damaged phone. I even offered to take my SCUBA gear out to the location where I dropped the phone to retrieve it if the lady thought it would help my claim. She laughed and told me that it would be unnecessary, but she would make note of the offer on my account.
A couple of days later, I received an email asking me to upload a few reasonable documents: Purchase Receipt, Ritz-Carlton Credit Card statement from the month of purchase, and an email from my home insurance company stating that I had not filed a duplicate claim with them. Three days after uploading the requested documents, my claim was approved and two days after that, $1,176.96 was deposited into my bank account.
I have never flown Korean Air. I don’t really ever anticipate flying Korean Air unless it’s for fare hacking. So why would I bother risking my already established Altitude Reserve card with another US Bank app? Recurring annual travel credits. And I’m running out of cards to apply for and daddy needs a fix.
Annual Travel Reimbursement
There are actually a number of great benefits to the Skypass Select card IF you are regular on Korean Air. I am not. What I am a regular on is all travel in general and the Skypass Select grants me $200 per year in blanket travel spending. This is another cardmember year cycle credit as opposed to calendar year cycle. It is also one more line on the ledger of free travel money for active-duty military since US Bank generously waives the $450 annual fee for us.
Korean Air Benefits
Now for those that can make use of the Korean Air routes, there is yet another annual credit of $100 off a Korean Air ticket. While you’re enjoying that discounted flight, you can then make use of the two $25 off coupons in duty-free purchases on-board. I’m not going to lie, I don’t really know what that means as I have never seen duty-free merchandise onboard an aircraft before. Nevertheless, its $50 a year in something useful, I assume. Then, upon arrival at your layover, you can also enjoy the two KAL lounge passes this card grants you, also annually. It’s the Korean Air gift that keeps on giving.
They must have blown all their funding on the Korean Air benefits because those benefits are pretty good and the card packaging is pretty lame. Like, generic no annual fee plain envelope lame. Hence, I only have one picture, which is what I do when I have nothing else of note to take a picture of. Sad. You also get 2x miles on Korean Air purchases, other Airline purchases (which is unique to the Skypass Select), Hotels, and rental cars. Of course, they are throwing you a Global Entry credit because who doesn’t have Global Entry at this stage in the churn game. Finally, some trip delay/cancellation insurances as a cherry on top.
US Bank App Risk
There is one sort-of downside to this card. You don’t pop your US Bank cherry with the Skypass Select, you do that with the more lucrative Altitude Reserve. Now, US Bank is a pretty strick bank on card apps. If you give them a reason to pull your credit, like applying for the Skypass Select, they will not only look at you for Korean Air worthiness but also for US Bank member worthiness. If you have too many hard pulls on your report or perhaps a laughable number of new cards in the last 12 months, they have been known to do a total account shutdown. That firmly puts your Altitude Reserve at risk, so I would be cautious when pulling the application trigger here. I recommend no more than 4 hard pulls on any one report and to be under 3/12. I have no idea if that’s their limit, it’s just what worked for me.
Military Churning Views on the LuxuryCard Gold Card
This card exists for Instagram “influencers” to flaunt their poor financial decisions under the guise of excessive wealth to the masses. Its only play is exclusivity, like that app that cost $1,000 just to show people you could afford it. Also like that app, the Gold Card has an unwaiverable annual fee of $995. For that, you get 2% cashback on all purchases (free with the Citi DoubleCash), a $200 airline credit (available as $300 travel credit for just $550 annual fee on the Sapphire Reserve, among others), and a Priority Pass membership (the bare minimum benefit for every single premium travel card out there). That’s it. Why anyone with any modicum of respect for personal finance would get this card is beyond me.
So of course, I got the card. This is my story.
Back When Barclays Was Cool
In the early days and simpler times of churning, Barclays gave out SCRA annual fee waivers and dropped card interest rates to 0% for all their cards for anyone on active duty (similar to the current Amex model). Then Barclays came up with their LuxuryCard lineup, or LuxuryCard had this idea and Barclays was just the servicing bank, I’m honestly still unsure how this sordid relationship works. The peak offering was the Gold Card with its $995 annual fee for honestly less benefit than the Amex Plat. Terrible return for the fee but the $200 airline credit made this a no brainer if they were just handing them to the military for free. So I got the card with a $20k limit and milked the bennies for a year. If you happened to be in the churning game before me (pre-May 2016) the Gold Card even had a 50k point sign up bonus, worth a cool $1,000. I missed it by 2 months.
Back When Barclays Got Really Uncool Really Fast
Suddenly, Barclays went all Citi pre-MLA on us and sent out letters stating the SCRA benefits would be revoked for accounts acquired after going AD and that we would be getting charged that $995 annual fee on our next account anniversary. This was an unfortunate blow, but the letter also stated another curiosity: the 0% interest rate would be honored for the life of the account. I surely wasn’t going to pay this AF but I could keep the account open until that fee would hit and maybe find a use for a $20k interest-free limit. Later on, I applied for the Barclays Aviator Red for its 50k AA miles bonus after any 1 purchase and the $95 annual fee. This card came with a cool $17k credit limit and I pretty much figured I was done with Barclays and their non-AF waiving practices.
Back When Barclays Unwittingly Redeemed Itself
About a month before I needed to close the Gold Card account to avoid its absurd AF, I found myself on a Disney Cruise with the wife. We sat through some Disney timeshare briefs (Disney Vacation Club) for the chance to win some shipboard credit (that I did not win). As it turned out, the Disney Vacation Club, in an unprecedented feat for a timeshare, actually made financial sense to buy into if you could do so without financing. It also turned out that the DVC package required to attain a bunch of shipboard discounts, making it even more of a financial win, was priced to the tune of $30k. I did not have a spare $30k to blow on Disney vacations like so many apparently do, which meant I would have to finance and, at a Disney interest rate of 9.99%, that would have negated all the financial benefit I figured out earlier.
But wait, I had the LuxuryCard Gold Card sitting at 0% interest and $37k of unsecured credit with Barclays. Could I really just charge a $30k DVC membership to a credit card? Surprisingly, yes. The mouse will happily take your money any way you offer it. So I put a call into Barclays and transferred $15k of my credit limit on the Aviator Red to the Gold Card, bringing the Gold Card credit limit up to $35k. I then swiped the Gold Card (a 2% cashback card, mind you) to the tune of $30k in one charge and the wife and I became DVC members.
After waiting for the charge to clear, liquidating the 30k points that netted me $600 in cashback, and closing the card account to avoid the AF, I was left with a $29,400 unsecured 0% interest loan from Barclays (that gets paid back at 1% per month, about equivalent to a 30-year mortgage) and a financially savvy DVC membership. To date, it’s been one of my best financial plays.
Whew, lad, it has been a hot minute since our last TDWise update and boy do we have a lot to discuss. The posts initially stopped due to my hectic PCS schedule back in September and then things in the churning world took some progressively terrible turns. Following my PCS I decided to go dark on TDWise for a while and wait for the collective dust to settle. The air is still black, but I managed to complete a trip that was in jeopardy so I have less to lose in the unlikely event my blog brings some unwanted attention to my accounts.
AMEX Total Shutdowns
This mess all started back in July when Amex cracked the whip on self-referrals. Turns out they weren’t done with abusers after the point claw-backs and went ahead in November to shut down self-referral abusers’ entire card portfolios. The community has it all sorted out now through data point mining and aggregation, but when the shutdowns started taking place it was a trying time. Not knowing what the shutdown criteria were, we all had some speculative panic and that lead to gambling your MR points on surviving shutdown or cashing out via Schwab. Ultimately, no one wanted to put an undue target on their back so this blogger went dark and halted any Amex account activity.
Eventually, the community figured that the shutdowns were coming from the self-referral abuse but outlier data points kept us all on edge for a bit. This was, after all, the first time the military churning community suffered casualties. Then, just about when I decided to get back into blogging, we all took a surprise left hook out of nowhere.
GrAAvy Train Derails
For the past 2 years or so there was a very lucrative loophole through the Citi American Airlines card acquisition system that bypassed the terms and conditions language limiting card family sign up bonuses to one every 24 months. It was discovered that AA would quite regularly send out Citi card invites (ads) via mail (and eventually via email) to their frequent flyer accounts that did not have an AA credit card attached. These invites included an application code that would bypass the signup bonus limit, and since Citi cards are pretty easy to get approved, you could rake in AA miles as long as you were approved for new AA Plat cards and had an invite code. This came to be known as the GrAAvy Train.
The invite codes eventually got so frequently sent out that online markets opened up and people sold them to those that couldn’t organically generate their own. Then, the buyers eventually discovered that you could open up fake AA frequent flyer accounts and AA would start generating codes for your dog or non-existant estranged live-in brother. It was all very shady and really skirted the terms and conditions limits, but Citi kept approving cards and the AA miles kept flowing.
Then in Dec, out of nowhere, in an unprecedented move, AA had a conniption and shadow-banned frequent flyer accounts in droves. Usually, it’s banks that get all bent out of shape when loopholes are exploited, not travel partners. It started with AA locking frequent flyer accounts, seemingly without logic or discernable criteria. AA won’t tell you if you’re locked and you only find out if you call AA and they tell you that corporate security would like to have a word, or you just can’t book award tickets anymore. So far, no one has been unlocked and reports of 3-5 account shutdowns per day are coming in from the locked pool. This means you lose any balance of AA miles and any booked award tickets. Still not a peep from Citi.
The best we can figure right now is that if you had 2 or 3 or more AA or Barclay or both sign up bonuses in the last 12 or 24 or 36 months, you got locked. I was sitting at 1 or 3 and the wife was sitting at 2 or 3. Fears that any positive action with AA would escalate your account for review and thus get shutdown emerged and I decided to just not do anything to poke the bear. I had AA award tickets booked to Hawaii last week that I really did not want to be canceled last minute or, worse, mid-trip, so again the blog went dark until I completed that lovely vacation. I still do not know if either of our accounts are locked, and likely won’t until I book another award ticket or get shut down out of the blue.
AMEX Drops Automatic SCRA Protections
As of last week, data points are coming in that Amex is no longer blanket applying SCRA protections to accounts opened after one enters active duty. Previously, Amex went above and beyond the law and gave SCRA benefits to all active-duty members, regardless of account open timeline. The SCRA only requires this for debts (accounts) opened prior to entering AD. Amex has ceased it’s above and beyondness and now falls in line with all the other banks’ SCRA policies.
The current speculation is that Amex is now going to waive annual fees under MLA protections instead of SCRA. A few data points have emerged that back this up but a few others may be caught in a limbo between SCRA and MLA Amex policy migration. I personally think MLA will prevail and Amex just has to get its customer service reps on the same page, but it might take some time and it would be best to avoid getting new Amex cards for the time being if you don’t want to float an annual fee payment.
On a recent TDY to undisclosed, secret squirrel locations the Middle East, the DTS TDWise Guy missed a flight due to mission requirements. This is how he discovered a manufacured spending pathway within the DTS system.
What Is Manufactured Spending (MS)?
This blog has, and always will, err on the side of churning caution. We do this to avoid slaughtering the proverbial golden goose that is waived annual fee credit cards and the perpetual benefits they provide US Service Members. As such, you will read very little about MS here for two reasons: it looks a heck of a lot like money laundering and it pisses off banks.
MS is the process of using your credit cards to purchase financial devices that can be liquidated to cash and then used to pay off your credit cards. It generates credit card spend points without actually spending money. The popular path goes something similar to this: gas station sells visa gift cards, you use a credit card that gives 3x points at gas stations to buy visa gift cards, you then use the visa gift cards to buy money orders, you then use the money orders to pay off your credit card and profit 3x points per gift card dollar.
Money Laundering and Structuring
I’ve looked into it, it can be lucrative if you have the patience and approprate pathways in place. It can also be a massive pain and not worth your time or the risk of clerical and point-of-sale errors. Regardless, you generally have to buy bulk gift cards, typically daily, in order to generate worthwhile points. Buying that many gift cards and subsequent money orders looks a heck of a lot like money laundering. Even if you are not doing anything wrong, your activity will start to be tracked. If you attempt to avoid that tracking by keeping spending below the tracking trigger amounts, thats called structuring and is a felony regardless if the origional spending is legal or not. Hard pass from this blogger but your mileage may vary.
Banks are Friends Not Food
The other reason MS might not be the best path forward is that banks will shut all your fun down if they notice this pattern. I’m not too sure why credit card companies care since they profit from the tractations like any other, but the accounts you deposit into take great offense and you will not get warnings when they’ve had enough. Perhaps its because you force them to file the tracking paperwork and no one likes doing more than they have to.
Anyways, Back to DTS MS
The above discribed cycle is rough to navigate, but MS via normal spending means is a lot safer. Such avenues could be using a credit card to fund a new bank account or buying US currency and depositing it directly into your account. Then theres DTS.
Most international airlines will not reticket you for a missed flight with the same ease we are accustomed to with the major US carriers because of a lack of free market capitalism. ‘Murica. Even though I was flying on a Y Class (full fare) ticket. After dealing with a significant language barrier, because why have customer service speak the common language of Earth, I called the CTO emergency line and had them book a new ticket and request refund for the unused segment. I made the new flight, 20 days went by, and it was then time to complete my travel voucher.
No Refund For You
I checked the Citi government card website and didn’t see a refund from the airline. I called the local CTO office and they assured me that I would not get refunded for that ticket due to the carrier’s terms of service. So I filed the voucher, added an explanation to the approving official on why I was expensing two tickets to the same destination, and attached both tickets along with a copy of my government travel card statement as substantiating records. Fortunatly, I serve in an organization that cares about Soldiers and the voucher was paid with quickness.
Nevermind, Here’s Your Refund
A few weeks go by and I received a system generated email that my refund on the missed segment for $246.50 had been approved. Because DTS already paid for this ticket, career jepardizing ethics suddenly became a part of this equation. Valuing this great country and my paycheck, I created an amendment to my voucher and thus a debt due to the United States. Once the approving official approved the amended voucher, a weeklong process began that eventually resulted in an email explaining the debt, a 30 day deadline, and a link to a payment website where the debt can be settled. Since minimum spend is always happing, this situation created a manufactured spend of $246.50 with no surcharge for using a credit card.
Overall the process was rather seamless compared to typical transactions with the local finance office. Unfortunately this was the cheapest flight of my trip, but the potential has been realised. When foreigners screw up your government funded flights, you have a path to knock out some minimum spending.
Readers, it has been A WEEK. PCS is never a pleasant experience, but it’s that much more exciting when your packing crew is fresh out of packing crew boot camp. It makes the guessing game of how much of your stuff will actually survive the move an edge of your seat experience. It gets EVEN MORE exciting when you take your car in for a quick repair before your 28-hour drive and it deadlines for 2-3 weeks. Hence, I am now flying to my next duty station in order to close on our house on time. Have you ever procured an award saver ticket at a cost of 12.5k miles for departure in less than 18 hours? I just did. Churning for the win.
So, I posted on the facebook group about my free meal experience at the Timberline Lodge in the Denver airport and a loyal reader and good friend inquired about which card gained this benefit. Never passing up an opportunity to educate (draw site traffic) I seized the initiative to post another article. In short, the restaurant meal was free because of my Priority Pass membership.
Priority Pass is a lounge access membership to a lot of smaller fringe lounges around the world. It has a much better following outside CONUS where lounges seem to be more one-off entities rather than your standard United Clubs, Admirals Clubs, or Sky Clubs. It’s also an easy way for card companies to “offer lounge access” with their cards since Priority Pass is an already established lounge network and the card companies just need to buy you a membership. This results in a lot of avenues to a Priority Pass membership.
Seemingly to combat the lack of CONUS lounge availability in the Priority Pass network, Priority Pass decided to offer a restaurant credit in addition to their lounge network. This credit is $28 off your bill, per guest, at participating restaurants. Typically, your membership will have a limit of yourself plus two guests, giving a max benefit per visit of $84. That’s a pretty sweet bill credit that can be exploited by asking random travelers in the airport if they’d like a free drink with you. Unfortunately, Amex nixed this benefit on all their Priority Pass memberships on 01SEP19, so your options for eating free are now Chase Sapphire Reserve, Citi Prestige, Ritz Carlton, and US Bank Altitude Reserve.
Multiple Restaurant Benefits
So, this begs the question, if you have 4 Priority Pass memberships that allow the restaurant benefit, can you just cycle through the memberships and eat for hours for free? It depends. I think a lot will, but the Timberline Lodge in Denver, which has seen a massive influx of patrons from their acceptance into the Priority Pass network, only receive $23 or $24 (depending on the source you read) per $28 credit from Priority Pass. It must make sense for them to be in-network if everyone only gets one credit though because I’ve tried before using multiple memberships and broke their system. From the Priority Pass side, you can cycle one membership every 2 hours and use multiple memberships without restriction. From the Timberline Lodge side, you as a person can use one $28 credit per 24 hour period.
This brings me to why I’m currently writing this article from a United Club lounge. Since Priority Pass doesn’t care that I have four memberships with the restaurant credit, I can use them all at the Timberline Lodge as long as the Timberline Lodge doesn’t remember me from earlier and swipes my next in line Priority Pass card. The names will be the same, and I will look the same, but the memberships will be different and thus I can cycle my membership credits so long as no one recognizes me from earlier. Thus, I have left the Timberline Lodge to write this article in the United Club for an hour and will be hopping the tram back over to Timberline for credit number two during my 7 hours of layover today.
Cruises are the ultimate in stress-free vacationing. Change my mind.
All I have to do is get myself to port via airline with relaxing lounges on layovers and free uber rides from the terminal. Then I check-in and locate my room aboard a floating all(ish) inclusive resort, unpack, and literally not worry about a single thing until it’s over.
My food is always in the same known locations unless I feel frisky and want to change it up. I don’t have to make cuisine decisions in a back and forth “well what do YOU want to eat?” downward spiraling argument. I don’t have to worry about transportation anywhere since the resort moves with me. Entertainment is there if I want it and bars are there if I don’t. It cannot get better from this burned-out logistician’s viewpoint.
No, I don’t want to explore new cities and take social media pictures by tourist traps and rely on public transportation and constantly have an eye out for security. I want to walk into a little slice of floating paradise, float my happy behind on over to another little slice of paradise, not worry about logistics, rinse and repeat. I’m relaxed just thinking about it.
Of course, there are varying degrees of cruising experience. We can’t be blowing precious leave time on Carnival, the Best Western’s of the cruising industry. But top-tiered cruising experiences are admittedly not cheap and the king of not cheap cruising slaps two round mouse ears on everything they do.
Of course, for your pretty penny, you get a grand experience in attention to detail and a surprising amount of adult-only space for a travel company fashioned around kid’s movies. I was not a fan when my then-fiancee (now wife of five years) wanted to get married on a Disney cruise — but I have since been convinced of the merit in cruising with the mouse.
Quality wise, Disney far surpasses any other cruise line I have sailed with. The food is better, the rooms are larger and nicer, the employees are friendlier, Castaway Cay is superior to any other private island, the entertainment and activities are always a notch above, and the clientelle is frankly just more upscale (I don’t want no scrubs). Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t just a floating cartoon themed playground — everything is upper crust, and there are designated areas for kids with (almost) around-the-clock childcare, and plenty of adult-only locations as well. It’s the perfect cruise for families, singles, and DINKs alike, and I have never once questioned whether I was getting my money’s worth.
And thus, my enduring yearly stress-free vacation will be cruising the Disney seas in an everlasting pursuit of conch coolers at Castaway Cay. Why they don’t serve those on the ship, I will be forever bitter about. I also used to be bitter about having to bite the cost bullet. Our first Disney cruise (wedding) and subsequent cruise (honeymoon) cost a moderate $1723.70 and $1597.34 respectively, for two of us at five nights each in a veranda stateroom. That same 5 night, 2 person veranda room is an extravagant $3833 this year. How is that a sustainable yearly vacation?
I’ll Take The Free Option, Please
Of course, the answer is credit cards. No, I do not mean to say we charge it and drown in interest-bearing debt for years. I mean to say that this sweet game we call churning will pay for my cruise tickets, year after year, so long as I maintain active duty service.
The spouse and I have the following annual fee waived credit cards: Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR) x4, US Bank Altitude Reserve (AR) x2, and the Citi Prestige (CP) x2. With the $300/year travel credit per CSR, $325/year travel credit per AR, and $250 travel credit per CP, holding these cards nets us a cool $2350 per year, every year. That’s free travel dollars that will auto reimburse my Disney cruise charges. Granted, it won’t cover another veranda 5-night itinerary, but we can slum it on the inside of the ship for $2440 on a 7-night voyage.
In the future, I plan to snag us each a Korean SkyPass Select card, netting another $200 credit per card, bringing the yearly Disney cruise fund to a respectable $2750. How do you like them apples with mouse ears carved into them?
Starting From Scratch
If this is your first toe-dip into the credit card game and perpetual free Disney cruising (or perpetual free anything) has piqued your interest, here’s how to get to this point. CAUTION: while this is the fastest avenue to stacking travel credits, it is NOT the best path to building the optimal card portfolio. See our guide here for that path.
First, you’ll want to get the Chase Freedom and Freedom Unlimited card. It doesn’t matter in which order, just grab them both and meet whatever lousy sign up bonuses they have at the time. Then do the same for your spouse. Also at this time, open a joint checking account with US Bank. They often do new account bonuses so you might even be able to snag $300 for your efforts.
31 days after your first Chase card get the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Meet the sign-up bonus (probably 50k UR points after $4k spend in 3 months). Rinse and repeat for your spouse. You should now be somewhere around 6 months in and holding 6 credit cards.
Then, apply for a US Bank Altitude Reserve card. Meet the sign-up bonus (likely 50k Flexpoints for $4500 spend in 3 months). Rinse and repeat for your spouse. You should now be somewhere around 12 months in and holding 8 credit cards.
Finally, go ahead and apply for a Citi Prestige. Meet the sign-up bonus (likely 50k ThankYou points for $4000 spend in 3 months). Rinse and repeat for your spouse. You should now be somewhere around 18 months in and holding 10 credit cards.
Make a call to Chase, upgrade your Freedoms and Freedom Unlimiteds to Sapphire Reserves and voila, you now have 6 Sapphire Reserves, 2 Altitude Reserves, and 2 Prestiges. That’s a grand total of $2950 travel credits and about 325,000 various points worth a respectable $3250 cashback at their lowest redemption value. If you want to be a hero and get Korean Skypass Selects, add another $400 to that travel credit number. 18 months is a very conservative timeline and this can likely be done much sooner if you can meet the minimum spends faster. Just remember to wait 366 days to upgrade Chase cards.
Let me know when you finish and I’ll tweet the deets for our yearly TDWise Disney Cruise meetup!
This seems to be the season of rumors right now and since I haven’t done much to report on aside from a failed gift card liquidation at Hilton’s Buffalo Thunder Resort, I figured we can all hope and dream for a week.
Amex Green Card Refresh
There’s solid evidence over here at Doc of Credit that the bland and boring Amex Green Card, a card that you pay for the privilege of earning Amex Membership Rewards (MR) points, is undergoing a more attractive card refresh.
The main added benefits being 4x points on gas and 3x points on streaming. I would LOVE to see such benefits as I always use gas and we cut cable in favor of streaming. That would firmly place the Green Card as my go-to for gas and streaming since MR points are liquidatable at 1.25 cents per point with the Schwab Platinum card. Yes, cashback is a bad redemption rate, but I have more points than I can spend with the leave I have available and 1.25 is above industry standard for cashback.
The more rumored but much more beneficial add on is an Amazon Prime membership. Since we pay $119 for that membership annually as it is, an annual fee waived Green Card that gave it to us for free would be instant $119/year savings. Fingers crossed people.
The rumored release date was early 2019, then July, now Sep. That’s the problem with rumors I guess.
Amex Airport Restaurant Program
Another fantastic but more unfounded rumor on the Amex front is the future roll-out of an Amex restaurant program to replace the revocation of the restaurant credit on their Priority Pass memberships. DoC makes a lot of assumptions on his page for this but it would make sense for Amex to ditch the PP memberships and focus on their own lounge program. As it is, they best the other banks with their own line of Centurion lounges and Escape Lounge access in addition to their PP memberships. Perhaps an Amex specific lounge program would be a good way to wrap everything together.
Amex Airline Credit Changes
But of course, the most rumored of all the rumors is the one I want the most. I previously touched on this rumor of Amex changing their airline incidental credit to a blanket travel credit with less complicated steps and more ways to redeem in a past weekly update. I will keep repeating it so that more people repeat it and we gain a massive grassroots following to put the pressure on and get it done. Turns out I’m not the only one.
Over here at Little Miss Traveler’s (LMT) competing blog is a much more thought out article about why Amex is in a position to make this change happen. It stems from the recent change to airline gift card reimbursements, a sort of devaluation of benefits (more on this below), and how every other bank has blanket travel reimbursements. The argument is if Amex wants to stay relevant they need to match the value and effortlessness of the travel credits with their competitors. I, of course, agree and would love to see such a change. LMT also suggests that Amex is loosing out on transaction fees if the credit is redeemed all at once, but at the under $5 transaction fees they charge in conjunction with percentage fees I can’t see it making more than a $10 difference per card per year. Drop in the bucket.
Amex Gift Card Debacle
I want to take this moment to explain the whole Amex airline gift card debacle. Everyone seems to be confused about it, even LMT puts the blame on Amex, and this really isn’t the case. Here’s the deal: Amex NEVER said they would reimburse gift cards, in fact, they explicitly stated in T&Cs that they WOULD NOT reimburse gift cards. The airlines just happened to code their gift card purchases the same way as their incidentals that Amex did reimburse, so the automated system didn’t catch them and reimbursements went through. One day, the AIRLINES changed the way they coded their gift card purchases and the automated system Amex has now sees those purchases as gift cards. We enjoyed a loophole for a while, it closed, now we just need to wait for another. Now, if you want to speculate that Amex put pressure on the airline to recode their gift card purchases, that’s getting super deep into rumor territory and I haven’t seen anything to suggest it aside from the timing that all the airlines recoded.
Capital One Premium Card
Finally, Capital One seems to be planning to get in on the premium card market and is set to launch its own high annual fee card with the only attractive feature being a $300 annual travel credit. If all the details are correct then it will be a flop when put up against the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Amex Plat, and Citi Prestige. If Capital One waives annual fees for the military crowd, it’s an excellent additional $300/per in our pockets. Fingers, once again crossed.
Being the glutton for credit card gimmicks that I am, I went ahead and got the brand new Apple Credit Card for no other reason than to be an early adopter and add a slick slab of titanium to my black book. This is the tale of my adventure into Apple’s attempt to flip the credit card world on its head.
The Apple credit card concept is an attempt to remove the physical card aspect altogether — and turn the iPhone into your credit granting device under the guise of better security, more simplicity, and a consumer-focused vision. At first glance, it seems like they’ve done exactly that. As with all Apple products, they are rolling out tech ahead of its time and forcing the user and supporting technology sectors to adapt to their model (ie. removing the headphone jack on iPhones). However, Apple couldn’t just not give you a physical card and expect you to be a consumer in a world not quite adapted to Apple Pay at every point of sale system, so they compromised and did a physical card in a way only Apple could. More on that later.
Since your iPhone is now your credit card, it securely keeps your card number in a chip, similar to how it keeps your biometric data on a chip, supposedly separate from the rest of the iPhone programming with microchip and coding magic. Their website on the Apple card even calls it “The Secure Element.” So secure. The number isn’t even on the physical card they give you, so only Skynet will be able to see it. This makes sense since your face or fingerprint is required to authorize transactions, just like Apple Pay. Your transaction history is even generated in the wallet app, meaning Apple isn’t privy to your spending habits. Goldman Sachs is, but they promise not to use it for advertising and the like. They also took and paid back $10B in the 2008 financial debacle so, take that how you will.
As for Goldman Sachs, Apple claims they went with them as the card backer since they’ve never had a consumer card before and they were open to doing things differently. Maybe, but that also means they have no idea what they are doing with credit cards and I guess we’ll see how this all plays out. I have faith in Apple, but I’m skeptical of Goldman Sachs (also bitter for them making their Goldman Sachs branded Amex Platinum Card impossible to obtain).
As for simplicity, yeah, I think the Apple Credit Card wins there too. The wallet app will track all the purchases you make, when, and even where you make them. It seems to have a learning model of transaction data that puts your spending into easy to understand terms and not just the terminal name the business you used registered with the card network. And because it lives on your iPhone, every time it’s used you get a notification. That means that when Skynet uses your card number that no one else can see, you can immediately report that nonsense and Apple or Goldman or whoever makes it go away.
Supposedly the digital image of the card in your wallet app even changes color based on the categories of spending you most frequently use — and of course provides all the charts you’d ever want that show you how much you need to stop spending on takeout.
Oh, and your payment due date is the last day of the month. What a novel concept that no other bank in history has ever contemplated implementation of. So easy to remember.
Consumer-focused? Yup, for sure wins there too. The app lets you text issues. Any issues. Text. I DON’T HAVE TO CALL PEOPLE. Gosh, what a concept. No hold music, no foreign accents I can’t understand, no elevation to supervisors because I swear I know more about the credit product than the person I’m talking to. None of that. Text. Gosh, why hasn’t this happened sooner?
Also, no fees. Period. Not a single fee. I don’t even have to elaborate this. If you have a fee question the answer is no fees. Find me another no annual fee card without foreign transaction fees. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Nevermind, I won’t.
Interest! That’s how the card companies get you. Apple sends you payment reminders, has interest calculating graphs, and claims the lowest interest rates in the industry. Seems legit, and they actually do a fair amount to motivate you to avoid paying interest. Of course, you don’t need any help because the number one rule of credit card churning is never paying interest, right?
Apple Credit Card Rewards
Now, let’s talk Apple Credit Card rewards since that’s why we’re here. Apple made them mighty straightforward. There is 1 unchanging category, no points or miles, just cash back the day you transact. Bam, cashback direct to Apple Cash every day in digital, easy to use if you’re a millennial and under, format.
Unfortunately, that’s where rewards, arguably the most important factor in this game, end their pro column and enter into the con column. The reward structure is 3% at Apple, 2% on Apple Wallet transactions, and 1% on the physical card. Not bad for Apple product discounts — I’ll likely use this for all my Apple purchasing that happens once every 6-8 years for new computers, except that I can’t find if there is any purchase protection or extended warranty that every other card in my black book has, so, maybe not. 2% on all Apple Wallet purchases seems legit, and it kind of is, but not for the military churner. Finding a blanket 2% cashback card without an annual fee is next to impossible. The Citi Double Cash does it. That’s about it. If you have to pay annual fees (ie. you aren’t active duty) this is a solid option. However, we don’t, so the US Bank Altitude Reserve card that has a $400 annual fee that we don’t pay that offers 3% cashback on ANY mobile wallet purchase is instantly the winner here. The 1% on the physical card, that you’ll likely use a lot since not every merchant everywhere has the ability to take an iPhone tap as payment, is the bare minimum across the board. Like I said above, I got this card just to write a blog article and have a slab of titanium, nothing more.
Apple Card Hand Feel
Is the Apple Credit Card really a slab of titanium? Yup, pretty awesome in the hand feel. It looks, feels, and if it could breathe it would breathe Apple. It is easily the sleekest card on the market. All white, silver mag strip, laser etched with an Apple logo, my name, the issuing bank, Goldman Sachs, and the network, Mastercard. That’s it. No signature, no unstandardized cvv code, no extraneous information. It’s legit titanium, no plastic sandwich, so it’s very light, surprisingly thick, very rigid, and gosh does it make the best metallic sound when dropped on a table, second to the now obsolete Ritz Carlton card. I’m a freaking fan. Credit card geeks unite.
Apple Card Application
So how did I get here? Not going to lie, the easiest credit card I’ve ever applied for, hands down. I opened up the Apple Wallet app, deleted a saved card because I maxed out the 12 card max, hit add card, and followed the Apple card instructions. They already had most of my app info because it’s Apple.
Then, the most profound thing happened. Apple soft pulled my Transunion report (fantastic because NO ONE uses Transunion and thus I had the least hard pulls on that report), gave me an approval decision based on the soft pull, told me my credit limit and interest rate BEFORE HARD PULLING MY REPORT, and let me decide if I wanted to accept their offer BEFORE HARD PULLING MY REPORT. HOW IS THIS NOT INDUSTRY STANDARD?!?!?!!? I’ve got to admit, I’m being honest with my review here but I have huge respect for Apple for this move. That is some consumer-focused next level action.
So anyway, I took my $15k limit at a surprisingly low 12.99% (not that I care) rate and accepted. They then hard pulled Transunion and I had the physical card in 3 days. One of those days being a Sunday. Card activation was legit just holding my iPhone close to the card envelope, so there must be some sort of RFID or something in the packing material. I want to keep it so I won’t be ripping it apart to confirm. On that note, keep your packaging material for card confirmation.
How is the blog-o-sphere taking this? Surprisingly limitedly, I haven’t seen much either in favor or against, except for one little call to panic that isn’t really a big deal but gets clicks so it’s spreading. Turns out, if you lose your iPhone, you don’t really have a way to pay your card balance. Trivial issue at best, you’ll likely get a replacement before the interest period hits or you can just call Apple to pay it. Ignore the hype with this one. I’ve also seen entire articles on how Goldman Sachs is approving sub-prime borrowers and it’s anarchy. It’s not, credit cards aren’t that hard to get from anywhere, Goldman Sachs just has a reputation for only dealing with the top 1%.
All in all, this will be an excellent no annual fee 2% cashback card once Apple Wallet is more widely accepted. It’s for sure an Apple way to go about credit cards. But the part I like best is the part they want to make obsolete, the physical titanium card, and the rewards fall short for active duty that get the US Bank Altitude Reserve.