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Corona Card Bennies

Military Credit Card Strategy In The Age Of COVID-19

Hot diggity, something to write about has emerged from this travel-less wasteland of government over-reach and communist rule. I think a new paradigm is amongst what was once the land of the free. Society as a whole has tipped its hand and shown the extent to which it will sacrifice liberty for that sweet sweet false sense of safety. A safety provided by the government, whom you may remember from such films as: Social Security, The DMV, The Post Office, and the VA (not to forget the ATF for my stamp collecting brethren out there). So, in typical free-market fashion, private companies have once again done what the government is woefully incapable of – adapt. And adapt they have by bringing unprecedented value to credit cards built for travel perks in a time when no one can travel. Behold, your new (gosh I pray temporary) normal.

American Express China Virus Perks

As per usual, Amex is at the forefront of banks in providing both out of the box thinking and convoluted value to its consumers. The new bennies to get fully torqued over are:

  • Platinum Card:
    • $20/month cell service credit May-Dec
    • $20/month streaming service credit May-Dec
  • Business Platinum Card:
    • $20/month cell service credit May-Dec
    • $20/month shipping service credit May-Dec
    • Additional $100 semi-annual Dell credit May-Jun and Jul-Dec
  • Green Card:
    • $10/month cell service credit May-Dec
  • Hilton Aspire:
    • $250 resort credit triggers for restaurant spend Jun-Aug
    • Free nights issued before 1 May 2020 expire 31 Aug 2021. Can be used any night of the week.
    • Free nights issued after 1 May – 31 Dec 2020 expire in 24 months. Can be used any night of the week.
  • Bonvoy Brilliant:
    • $300 Marriott credit triggers for restaurant spend Jun-Aug

Citi Wuhan Whooping Cough Perks

Citi didn’t pull out all the stops like Amex and just bestow free cell service to everyone but they did make a change that should take you from 6 to midnight:

  • Prestige:
    • $250 travel credit triggers for restaurant and supermarket spend May-Dec

Chase Kung Flu Grocery Perks

Chase and Amex have really amped up their bonus point multipliers but Chase Sapphire Reserve will give you the biggest return for spending. I’ll include both for comparison or in case you are in need of specific points:

  • Sapphire Reserve: 5x May-Jun
  • Sapphire Preferred: 3x May-Jun
  • United Club: 5x May-Jun
  • United (all others): 3x May-Jun
  • Southwest (all): 3x May-Jun
  • Hyatt: 3x May-Jun
  • IHG: 3x May-Jun
  • Marriott (all): 6x May-Jul
  • Amex Hilton Aspire/Surpass: 12x May-Jul (points count towards lifetime elite status)
  • Amex Marriott (all): 6x May-Jul
  • Amex Delta (all): 4x May-Jul

The TDWise Strategy (so far)

I waited a bit to write this just to confirm the reimbursements worked. It looks like Amex will be covering my cell bills for the foreseeable future and my streaming subscriptions at least until the end of 2020. I don’t plan to switch my grocery spending since the Amex Gold already gets 4x points and coupled with the Schwab Plat the cash value is 1.25 cents per point, giving an effective 5% back anyways. The only unknown now is which travel credits to blow on the fanciest dining I’ve ever done and which to liquidate to gift cards.

Cell Bills

Verizon makes it easy to liquidate these perks online by going to Bill > Payment Options > “Pay Another Amount” and applying $20 from each Platinum and $10 from each Green card to your account (just don’t save your payment methods or you’ll max out the number of cards you’re allowed to save). I also linked my bank account to autopay and even though autopay won’t be needed at all, it still codes the $10/month discount. My cell bill is about $120/month. Between the 10 Platinum cards and 3 Green cards that gives me $230 per month towards my cell service. This leaves me with an account surplus after Dec of $880, which will last me another 7 months beyond the credits. All told, I won’t be paying for cell service until August 2021. Thanks Amex!


The streaming credits don’t have a great liquidation or banking method in place. So far I’ve applied my Showtime ($10.99), Hulu ($11.99), Netflix ($15.99), Audible ($14.95), CBS All Access (9.99), and HBO ($14.99) each to their own Platinum card for a combined monthly savings of $78.90. There IS a way to scoop up the residual credits into your Apple ID account but since Apple sends level 3 transaction data to Amex (I charged an Apple TV rented movie and was able to see the movie I rented under the transaction on Amex), it’s primed for a future clawback for not being an approved streaming charge that I would not like to risk. So I guess I just have a lot of free movie rentals now.


We have 1 Business Plat and that means $200 each half-year to spend on Dell. This is easy, we needed some home computing peripherals. Maybe I’ll get a drone in July, you know, for droning.

The Credit Card Coronathon

All told, there has never been a better time to justify annual fees (if you have to pay them), even in the wake of worldwide travel bans. Amex and Chase have even extended the minimum spend timeline for sign up bonuses out to 6 months. It sucks, I want to get back out into hotels I shouldn’t be able to afford and into airline seats I shouldn’t be able to justify, but in the meantime, the banks have made it easy to stick with their travel-focused products. I will make any further updates to card perks on this post. Everyone stay safe out there and tweet Elon to get out of California.

Amex Card Upgrades and Refreshes

Card Maintenance With Amex

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.

Bonvoy Upgrade

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 Refresh

I like this new card design exponentially better. Numbers on the back, best hand feel of the big 3 airlines, a real class act.

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.

Delta Loophole

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!

Reader Success Story: iPhone Replacement

Ritz Carlton Card Purchase Protection Saves A $1,177 iPhone Purchase

Reader and best of friends Christopher guest writes the following:

The Incident

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.

US Bank Korean Air Skypass Select Card

Korean Skypass Select Card Review for Military

This unassuming rectangle of basic plastic design that doesn’t even say Select on it nets a cool $200 in travel per year.

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.

Fringe Benefits

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.

The LuxuryCard Gold Card

Military Churning Views on the LuxuryCard Gold Card

Gold is hard to photograph if your photography skills consist of an iPhone X and a dinner table.

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

There was as much empty space under the card as there was on the card benefits page.

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

The pocket guide was just full of luxurious pictures of people that were smart enough to travel without paying $995 per year.

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.

Judgement Day

Military Churning is Taking a Hit

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.

The Defense Travel System Manufactured Spend

How I Used DTS for Manufactured Spending

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.

Priority Pass Restaurant Benefit Explained

How to Eat For Free in Airports

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.

Mimosa with chips and queso? Who cares when it’s free, right?

Priority Pass

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.

Multiple Priority Passes

The following cards grant you a Priority pass membership at various levels and they stack, meaning you will get a separate membership by owning each card: Amex Platinum, Hilton Aspire, Hilton Surpass, Bonvoy Brilliant, Chase Sapphire Reserve, Ritz Carlton, Citi Prestige, US Bank Altitude Reserve, and the Luxury Card Black and Gold Cards. You would think that one is enough since you only need one way to access a lounge in the network, but you’d be wrong.

Restaurant Benefit

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.

The United Club has nothing to do with Priority Pass and everything to do with the United Club card and Denver having abysmal lounge options.

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.

Wish me luck.

How I’m Taking A Cruise Every Year For Free

Free Disney Cruise Strategy

Gosh, this looks stress free

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.

Disney Cruises

I, for one, welcome our new mouse eared overlords

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

Travel credits are best credits

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

Would ya just look at it? She’s a real beaut.

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.

This sunset is a subtle wink that the post is ending

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!


Rumors For Days with Amex and Capital One

Current Rumors in the Credit Card Game

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

Numbers on the back would be the best of all the upgrades

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.