Activate 3nd Quarter Bonus Categories

As we approach the end of the second quarter of 2019, it’s time to activate bonus categories for card that have quarterly bonuses.  All of these cards offer bonus points or cash back on up to $2000 in purchases during the quarter.

US Bank Cash+

Even though TV, Internet & Streaming Services are shown as new below, that was a new category last quarter.  If you’re not already getting 5x Ultimate Rewards points by using a Chase Ink card (and even if you are!) you may want to switch the card you’re using for payment.  You must register your card before mid-June to get the bonus cash-back in the categories you select.  As a reminder, you choose two 5% categories and one 2% category.  To register, click on the link in the email you received from US Bank.

Discover Card

Discover gave us the full year’s calendar late last year:

This quarter’s category is Restaurants and they’ve added PayPal.  Restaurants is a good category for me.  I usually use my Amex Gold Card to earn 4 Membership Rewards points per dollar but I’ll switch to Discover for 5% cash back.  As a reminder the Discover card does not have foreign transaction fees but may not be as accepted worldwide as Visa, MasterCard and even American Express.  To register, sign in to your Discover account and click on the Activate button.

 

Chase Freedom

Chase is once again offering 5x Ultimate Rewards points at gas stations, this time with the added category of Streaming Services.  I find it frustrating that they’re recycling categories, especially one where I can’t max it out!  I don’t use streaming services so that doesn’t help me.  You can redeem the URs for a penny apiece on your credit card statement or, if you have one of the UR-earning cards that comes with an annual fee you can transfer these points to airline frequent flyer programs or hotel loyalty programs.  Alternately you can shop through the UR portal and use the points like cash.

To register you can go to this link to look at the calendar, then click on the Activate Now button as seen above.

 

Categories: Cash Plus, Chase, Credit Cards, Discover, Freedom, US Bank | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Amex Gold Card Changes Earning Rate When Dining Outside the US

In my last post I detailed which cards I used for each bonus category. I stated that I used the Amex Gold card for the dining category because it earns 4x Membership Rewards points. But Amex only offers the 4x points for US restaurants. When abroad I use the Chase Sapphire Reserve for its 3x Ultimate Rewards points.

Effective June 6th (Thursday), Amex will offer the 4x Membership Rewards points for non-US restaurants as well. Since there are no foreign transaction fees on the Amex Gold card, that’s a great deal!

But I will continue to use my Sapphire Reserve outside the US. Visa has a far greater acceptance rate worldwide than Amex. And the Sapphire Reserve also earns 3x points on other travel categories whereas the Amex Gold only offers bonus points on travel purchases made through the Amex portal. When I’m traveling I prefer to have one card for most of my purchases (hotel-specific cards notwithstanding) so I’ll continue to boost my UR balance with my Sapphire Reserve and will leave my Amex Gold at home.

How will the Amex 4x points on dining worldwide affect your credit card strategy when traveling?

Categories: American Express, Chase, Credit Cards, Premier Rewards Gold Card, Sapphire Reserve | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

The Cards I Use for Bonus Spending

Yesterday Ben at One Mile At A Time wrote a post about which cards he uses for different bonus categories.  I thought I’d do the same with the cards in my wallet.

Airfare Purchases

I’ll typically use my airline-specific card if I’m flying one of the three US legacy airlines. For flights on other airlines I’ll use my Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR) for 3x Ultimate Rewards (UR) points even though I could earn 5x Membership Rewards (MR) points with my Amex Gold card. That’s because I already earn lots of Membership Rewards points on dining and I’m hardly ever using my CSR card these days.

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Hyatt and American Airlines Join Forces

Hyatt and American Airlines have teamed up to offer some reciprocal benefits. If you have status in either program you should have received an email stating what your benefit is. I’m a low-level elite with Hyatt, called a Discoverist, thanks to my Hyatt credit card. Here’s the email I received:

It’s hard to read but the only benefit I get is that in addition to earning Hyatt points I can also earn American frequent flyer miles. All I need to do is to click on the box and log into my account. That takes me to this page:

Where I can link my accounts. I haven’t done this yet as there’s a note indicating the names on the two accounts must match exactly and mine don’t. My Hyatt account has my “called by” first name (like the vast majority of my credit cards) whereas my American account has my legal first name to match my photo ID. So I’m checking with Hyatt to see if this will be an issue or not.

But it’s very easy and those with higher status either with Hyatt or American should enjoy even greater benefits. What kind of offer did you receive?

Categories: American Airlines, Hotel, Hyatt, OneWorld | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Review: Hilton Munich Airport

Trip Report: Amsterdam, Iceland and Munich
Review: Iberia A340-600 Business Class
Review: Kimpton DeWitt Amsterdam
A Brief Tour of Amsterdam
Review: Sheraton Amsterdam Airport Hotel and Conference Center
Review: Radisson Blu 1919, Reykjavik
Review: Center Hotel Plaza, Reykjavik
A Week in Iceland
Review: aloft Munich
Visiting Dachau
A Brief Tour of Munich
Review: Hilton Munich Airport

Let me say right off the top that this is not going to be the most comprehensive hotel review I’ve ever done. We arrived in the evening and had an early morning flight out so our priority was sleep.

We took the train to the airport from the main train station and from there followed the signs to the Hilton. It’s well-marked but be aware that it is a bit of a hike and you will be going outdoors at some point. If you have a lot of luggage you may want to use a baggage cart to make your journey go faster.

Hilton Munich Airport
(photo courtesy Hilton Munich website)

As we followed the airport signs we were eventually directed to this hallway. Lit up like this it’s kinda hard to miss, right? At this point you’re still outside.

From the Munich Airport Terminal follow this hall to the Hilton’s elevators

We walked through the doors at the end of this hall and the elevators to the Hilton’s main floor were on the right.

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Categories: Europe, Germany, Hilton, Hotel, Lodging Review | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Brief Tour of Munich

Trip Report: Amsterdam, Iceland and Munich
Review: Iberia A340-600 Business Class
Review: Kimpton DeWitt Amsterdam
A Brief Tour of Amsterdam
Review: Sheraton Amsterdam Airport Hotel and Conference Center
Review: Radisson Blu 1919, Reykjavik
Review: Center Hotel Plaza, Reykjavik
A Week in Iceland
Review: aloft Munich
Visiting Dachau
A Brief Tour of Munich
Review: Hilton Munich Airport

We had two afternoon/evenings and one full day to see Munich which I’m sure was not enough but we did a lot of walking and took the hop-on/hop-off bus around the city to get a feel for the area. I’m sure we could go back for several more days and still not run out of things to do and see! But here are the sights we saw:

Karlstor

In the late 1700s the elector, Karl Theodor, had the old city walls torn down. This created space for a number of new plazas. Three of the original city gates were preserved, including this one that was previously known as Neuhauser Tor when it was built in the 14th century. It was renamed Karlstor after the Bavarian elector and in 1899-1902 was integrated into the semi-circular wing of Rondell am Sacchus to give it the look seen today.

Karlstor – Karl’s Gate

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Visiting Dachau

Trip Report: Amsterdam, Iceland and Munich
Review: Iberia A340-600 Business Class
Review: Kimpton DeWitt Amsterdam
A Brief Tour of Amsterdam
Review: Sheraton Amsterdam Airport Hotel and Conference Center
Review: Radisson Blu 1919, Reykjavik
Review: Center Hotel Plaza, Reykjavik
A Week in Iceland
Review: aloft Munich
Visiting Dachau
A Brief Tour of Munich
Review: Hilton Munich Airport

I must admit I was originally a little hesitant about visiting Dachau, a former Nazi concentration camp. I was concerned the horror of what had occurred there would be too overwhelming. But I decided it was something important I needed to do and I’m very glad I visited.

Getting There

It’s quite easy to reach the city of Dachau from Munich, especially since we were already at the main train station. We took the S2 train to Dachau, which is about a 25-minute ride. Then we caught the 726 bus to the camp entrance. The site is open from 9 AM to 5 PM each day except Christmas Eve. If you’re using public transport, I would try to arrive either right at 9 AM or wait until midday. We arrived in the city of Dachau mid-morning as did several tour groups. They filled up the first bus that arrived so we had to wait awhile for the next one on the route. But the bus does let you out right at the front entrance to the camp.

Services

In the Visitors Center you’ll find the ticket counter, restrooms, the cafeteria and the bookshop. We had a snack in the cafeteria after we toured the site and found that not only do they have typical snack foods, they also had hot meals available.

If you’re not with a group you can join a 2.5 hour guided tour for just €3.50. Tour times depend on which language the guide will be speaking. Audio guides come in a number of languages and are available for €4. Along with the guide booklet, you can go at your own pace and as you come to an exhibit that interests you, just enter the exhibit’s number into the guide and it will tell you about what you’re seeing.

There is a free film included with your admission. The theater is located in what was once the maintenance building and is now the exhibition space. The film runs about 20-25 minutes and is shown every half hour. Check the times to be able to view it in the language of your choice. Minimum age for the film is 14 (excluding babies) as there are, obviously, disturbing images of the camp victims. Continue reading

Categories: Europe, Germany, Historical Site | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Review: aloft Munich

Trip Report: Amsterdam, Iceland and Munich
Review: Iberia A340-600 Business Class
Review: Kimpton DeWitt Amsterdam
A Brief Tour of Amsterdam
Review: Sheraton Amsterdam Airport Hotel and Conference Center
Review: Radisson Blu 1919, Reykjavik
Review: Center Hotel Plaza, Reykjavik
A Week in Iceland
Review: aloft Munich
Visiting Dachau
A Brief Tour of Munich
Review: Hilton Munich Airport

After wrapping up our tour of Iceland we took an early-morning Icelandair flight to Munich where we’d spend the last few days of our trip. With the time change we arrived in Munich in the early afternoon. We took the train to the city center.

You know the old real estate slogan “Location, Location, Location”? That’s absolutely true of the aloft Munich. It’s literally across the street from the Hauptbanhof, or Main Train Station. This makes it not only easy to get to anywhere the train goes, but it’s also a stop for the intra-city tram system and the hop-on/hop-off buses have their offices and stops nearby as well.

aloft Munich location in relation to the Hauptbanhof

 

aloft Munich
(photo courtesy marriott.com)

We reached the front desk and were greeted by a friendly clerk who seemed to be working almost the whole time we were there. He noted that my Gold status did not qualify for a free breakfast. We were given keys to our room on the first floor (and since we’re not in the US, that’s the floor above the ground/current floor). The elevators are right beside the front desk so they’re hard to miss. Continue reading

Categories: Award Travel, Europe, Germany, Hotel, Lodging Review, Marriott, Starwood | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Week in Iceland

Trip Report: Amsterdam, Iceland and Munich
Review: Iberia A340-600 Business Class
Review: Kimpton DeWitt Amsterdam
A Brief Tour of Amsterdam
Review: Sheraton Amsterdam Airport Hotel and Conference Center
Review: Radisson Blu 1919, Reykjavik
Review: Center Hotel Plaza, Reykjavik
A Week in Iceland
Review: aloft Munich
Visiting Dachau
A Brief Tour of Munich
Review: Hilton Munich Airport

When I signed up I thought our tour of Iceland was very reasonably priced. I think I mostly got my money’s worth but what seemed to be a nearly week-long tour (Sunday to Saturday) turned out to be really a 3.5 day tour. The group left the US on Sunday and arrived at the hotel midday Monday. So we had a half-day on Monday, all day Tuesday, an off-day (?!) on Wednesday and all day tours on Thursday and Friday. We had welcome and farewell dinners included, breakfast each day and our 3-star hotel. And a lot of that time was spent riding the bus. That’s not a knock on our tour operator because short of busing people to new hotels each night I don’t know how else you’d run a tour but it’s just something to think about if you’re considering visiting Iceland on a tour. If you’d like to visit on your own, English is everywhere and the only trouble you might have getting around is trying to verify any written directions against posted signs. The Icelandic language has some non-Roman characters and some names are quite long so if you’re driving by yourself it might be easy to miss a turn if one nearby has a similar name!

That being said, I’m glad I went and my roommate and I decided we’d like to come back during a warmer time of year than mid-October unless we want to see the Northern Lights.

A lot of places think the saying “if you don’t like the weather, just wait a few minutes” was coined just for them but I’m here to tell you it is definitely true about Iceland. In any given half-hour you’re liable to have some sun, rain, fog, partly cloudy skies, maybe a little hail or snow. It’s kinda crazy though I’ve never been anywhere that I saw so many rainbows in such a short period of time. We didn’t see much of the sun during our visit, unfortunately. But we gained an appreciation for the hardy souls that live here year ’round. Several of the folks in our tour group were avid skiers and while I knew there weren’t many alpine resorts in Iceland I figured they were quite good at cross-country skiing. But when I asked our guide about it she indicated that is just not done here. While someone might ski over to a neighboring farm, the weather is so changeable that it’s dangerous to go out distance-skiing as you might get caught in a storm. Wow!

So here are some of the highlights of our trip.

Hallgrímskirkja

Hallgrímskirkja, or the church of Hallgrímur is a Lutheran church in Reykjavik. It is one of the tallest structures in the country and the largest church in Iceland. It was named after a 17th century poet and clergyman. The notable tower was completed first but it took 41 years to build with construction completing in 1986.  Its exterior is quite impressive and as I was going through my photos I realized I personally failed to get a single one of the outside of the building!  We only had fifteen minutes to stop here so my roommate and I split the photo-taking so that’s her photo of the exterior as well as one of the shots from the tower.  The views from the tower give a nice overview to the surrounding area and I thought it was worth the price to see it.

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Categories: Europe, Iceland, Tours | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Review: Center Hotel Plaza, Reykjavik

Trip Report: Amsterdam, Iceland and Munich
Review: Iberia A340-600 Business Class
Review: Kimpton DeWitt Amsterdam
A Brief Tour of Amsterdam
Review: Sheraton Amsterdam Airport Hotel and Conference Center
Review: Radisson Blu 1919, Reykjavik
Review: Center Hotel Plaza, Reykjavik
A Week in Iceland
Review: aloft Munich
Visiting Dachau
A Brief Tour of Munich
Review: Hilton Munich Airport

For our tour of Iceland the tour company had us staying at the Plaza, one of six hotels in the area owned by CenterHotels. The CenterHotels website says they offer “six first class hotels in the city center of Reykjavik” but then follows it up by mentioning their 3- and 4-star hotels. Well, I’m sorry but a 3-star hotel is not “first class”. I realize that the whole tone of this paragraph makes me sound spoiled and entitled. Several folks on our tour did not seem to have a problem with the hotel. But I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed as this hotel was definitely a step down from any we’ve used in the last several years. Lodging in Iceland is expensive and I guess our tour was so reasonably priced because we were at a second-tier hotel.

That being said, if you’re not as choosy as I am, the hotel has a fantastic location and the price includes breakfast. The staff was great and very international and for the most part very young. They always seemed to be smiling and were quite helpful.

Photo courtesy Center Hotels website.

The hotel has two wings and I’m not sure if they’re connected above the ground floor or not. (Our room was on the ground floor so I didn’t spend much time exploring other floors.) I do know each wing had its own elevator. The halls and the rooms both had hardwood floors. I believe my roommate and I actually got a slightly larger room, believe it or not. Continue reading

Categories: Europe, Hotel, Iceland, Lodging Review, Other Hotels | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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