Activate 2nd Quarter Bonus Categories

As we approach the end of the first 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+

US Bank has added a new category for this quarter, TV, Internet & Streaming Services.  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 categories are Gas Stations, Uber and Lyft.  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.  But if you use ride-sharing services a good bit here in the US you’ll be fine.  To register, sign in to your Discover account and click on the Activate button.

 

Chase Freedom

Chase is offering 5x Ultimate Rewards points at Grocery Stores and Home Improvement stores.  This is one of my favorite categories because it’s the easiest to max out.  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 linkthis link to look at the calendar, then click on the Activate Now button as seen above.

 

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Attraction Review: Museo Egizio

Introduction
Lodging Review: Novotel Torino Corso Giulio Cesare
Attraction Review: Museo Egizio
Lodging Review: Hilton Bonn
Lounge Review: Lufthansa Lounge, Cologne-Bonn Airport
United 777-200ER Old Style vs. Polaris Business Class

Turin’s Egyptian Musem, Museo Egizio, contains over 30,000 Egyptian artifacts, and is said to have the largest collection of Egyptian items anywhere outside of Egypt. It receives well over 500K visitors per year and is definitely worth visiting if you have a few hours to spare.

The first item in the collection was an altar table in an imitation of Egyptian style that arrived in 1630. This piece inspired King Charles Emmanuel III commissioned Vitaliano Donati to travel to Egypt and acquire more ancient items in 1753. Donati returned with 300 pieces that became the basis of the collection.

In the 1800s the French Consul General had built a collection during his stay in Egypt and it was acquired by Italian King Charles Felix in 1824. Other collections have been added to the museum over time until it reached its present size.

Here are a few things I found interesting.

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Lodging Review: Novotel Torino Corso Giulio Cesare

Introduction
Lodging Review: Novotel Torino Corso Giulio Cesare
Attraction Review: Museo Egizio
Lodging Review: Hilton Bonn
Lounge Review: Lufthansa Lounge, Cologne-Bonn Airport
United 777-200ER Old Style vs. Polaris Business Class

I was disappointed that for the first few nights of this trip we would not be staying in a hotel where I had any status. Though I had never signed up for an account with Accor Hotels (the parent company of Novotel) I did have an account with Fairmont Hotels and they’d recently been acquired by Accor. I ended up having to call Accor to find out my account number but I did manage to get it attached to my reservation.

The car service (I used both Rideways and Sun Transfers on this trip and both were fine) dropped us off at the front door of the Novotel Torino. It’s in a rather industrial area and I don’t mean there are necessarily factories around but it was not an area I’d feel very safe walking around alone at night. Perhaps that’s just my perception but buildings around seemed to be a bit run down. There were no restaurants nearby, just the one in the hotel. It was, however, very convenient to the office where our meeting was held.

Just below the trees is a covered entrance which faces a side street.
(Image courtesy accorhotels.com)

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Categories: Accor Hotels, Europe, Hotel, Italy, Lodging Review, Novotel | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Changes coming to American Airlines credit cards

Last week we were notified by both Citibank and Barclays that there will be changes coming to their affiliated American Airlines credit cards.

Through the end of April both cards will continue to offer you a 10% rebate on award tickets, up to a maximum of 10,000 miles per year. Starting May 1, 2019, this benefit will be removed from both cards.  So if you were thinking about redeeming AA miles, do it sooner rather than later.  Remember that AA allows you to change dates and routings on award tickets, as long as the starting and ending point remains the same.

There are other changes, both positive and negative as well though they vary by card.

AAdvantage® Aviator® Red Mastercard®

(Supposedly) Positive changes:

– If you spend $20,000 on the card during your cardmember year you’ll get a companion certificate for $99 plus taxes and fees.

– You can get up to $25 back on inflight wi-fi purchases each year

– Resuming a trial program they had last year, your final total each month will be rounded up to the nearest whole dollar and for each penny it’s rounded up you’ll be given 1 AAdvantage mile. So if your total spent for the month is $xx0.45 it will be rounded up to $xx1.00 and you’ll earn an addition 55 AA miles.

Negative changes:

– If you (like me) had a version of this card that was converted from the old US Airways president’s card that earned 10,000 miles each year when you renewed your card, that program will be discontinued. You will receive your last 10,000 mile bonus upon the next renewal after May 1, 2019.

– Barclays hands out discount certificates for $100 off an AA flight if you spend $30,000 or more during a cardmember year. This program is also being discontinued effective with your next anniversary date on or after May 1, 2019.

– The annual fee will increase to $99 from $89.

Even the supposedly positive changes are mostly negative to me. I fly to meet up with friends and only very rarely fly an entire route with someone so I don’t need the companion pass. I’ve never used wi-fi on a flight so while that’s nice, it’s not something I’ll likely use. I wouldn’t mind the Flight Cents program but am not lost without it.

As for the negative changes, I’d already concluded that it was a waste of my time to manufacture spend $30,000 for a $100 certificate so I hadn’t planned to do that this year. The annual fee increase is not a deal breaker. The loss of the 10,000 miles per year just for owning the card is the big hit here.

 

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select®

The changes here aren’t quite as drastic. The card will not lose any other benefits and if you spend $20,000 per year on the card you’ll get a AA discount certificate whose value is being increased from $100 to $125.

I’ve owned Barclays AAviator card for a number of years and have held on to it primarily for the 10,000 mile bonus each year. With that feature gone, I’ll try to product change this card to something else or cancel it when my cardmember year is up in December. I’ve had the Citi AA card for over 20 years so I’ll hang on to that for the free checked bag and priority boarding.

It’s a real shame these benefits are being removed. As bad as American’s been lately you’d think they’d be looking for ways to entice the public to use their cards but that appears not to be the case.

Categories: AAdvantage Aviator, Barclays, Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite MasterCard, Citibank, Credit Cards | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Trip Report: Turin, Italy and Bonn, Germany

Introduction
Lodging Review: Novotel Torino Corso Giulio Cesare
Attraction Review: Museo Egizio
Lodging Review: Hilton Bonn
Lounge Review: Lufthansa Lounge, Cologne-Bonn Airport
United 777-200ER Old Style vs. Polaris Business Class

Late last year I took a business trip that included stops in both Italy and Germany. The trip details were finalized while I was on my fall vacation to Amsterdam, Iceland and Munich so I only made my reservations about 10 days before I left. That actually worked to my advantage. Oftentimes our company gets better pricing on Delta. I know Delta has a great product and a lot of my co-workers love traveling on them and even have status with them. But for me their routing doesn’t often work. (For example, I really don’t like having to fly from Memphis to Atlanta and then west to go skiing. Yes, I could route via Minneapolis or Detroit and I know they handle the snow well, but it just doesn’t make sense to me when I could go via DFW or Houston or even straight to Denver.) And those of us who like to use airline miles for travel know that Delta doesn’t even have an award chart and can often charge ridiculous amounts for premium cabin flights.

But by booking so late, my co-workers had already used the allotment of cheaper business class fares so by booking on United I saved the company money and earned miles I’ll be able to use more easily. My solitary business trip in 2017 had earned me Silver status with United for 2018 so I earned 7x the base fare for my flights, enough to re-qualify me for Silver status for 2019. One downside of booking through our company’s travel department is that whenever possible our longhaul flights have to be on US-based carriers. So while I’d have loved to have flown on Lufthansa on the longhaul legs, I flew United to Munich and Lufthansa for the intra-Europe legs. While both flights between Chicago and Munich were in B777-200ERs, the one on the flight to Munich was the kind with 10-across seating in Business Class while the one on the return leg had been retrofitted with the new Polaris cabin in a 1-2-1 Business Class setup. That was my first time to fly Polaris and it’s just soooo much nicer than United’s older version it’s not even funny.

Outbound route in red: Memphis-Chicago-Munich-Turin, Domestic Europe Route in blue: Turin-Munich-Cologne/Bonn, Return route: Cologne/Bonn-Munich-Chicago-Memphis

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Categories: Accor Hotels, Europe, Germany, Hilton, Hotel, Italy, Novotel | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lodging Revew: Park Station Condos, Park City, Utah

My ski club visited Park City this year for the first time in several years. As our club has aged we have become more enamored of staying slopeside and are willing to pay for it. On our last visit to the PC area we stayed at the base of the Canyons side of Park City Resort. The condos were nice and large, reminiscent of those at the Summit, in Big Sky, MT. While staying just steps from the lift was super-convenient, when it came time for dinner our trip leaders had organized private shuttles for all 40+ of us to wherever we were dining that night. If you chose not to return with the group it was usually a 30+ minute bus ride to get back to our condos. And if you wanted to ski at Deer Valley, the bus ride was more than 40 minutes.

While I really liked the units themselves at the Canyons base, I felt like we spent too much time in transit each day so I pushed for our club to return to the Park Station condos. These are located right at the base of Main Street Park City so it’s an easy walk to lots of dining and shopping. There’s a bus stop right at the end of the condo’s driveway so it was hard to get more convenient that that. From the east side of the street, closest to the condos, it was a 4-minute bus ride to the base of Park City Resort. From the bus stop across the street from the condos it was an 11-minute ride to Deer Valley. We did have dinner away from Main Street one night and due to the way the buses run it took us about 20 minutes to get there. The good news is that the ride back was much shorter as we’d gone the long way ’round on the outbound leg.

Each condo in this complex is independently owned so they each have unique decorations though the general furnishings and layouts are mostly the same. There are two buildings and the 100-series rooms are in the building closest to Park Avenue while the 200-series rooms are on the building on the Deer Valley Drive side. The pool and outdoor hot tubs are located between the two buildings. Park City had over 250 inches of snow before our arrival but the maintenance crew did a good job of keeping the paths between the buildings and the hot tubs shoveled. There are also stairs from that central area that lead up to the base of Main Street and that was kept cleared as well, so good job to the crew for that.

Two-Bedroom Condo, #223

Our group had all two bedroom condos and they were basically the same layout with one exception as I’ll describe below in the master bedroom. The condos have a small entryway and then the room opens up into the living room, dining area and kitchen. In our case we had a sleeper sofa, a love seat as well as a comfy chair with a side table.

Living Room of Park Station #223

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Review: SpringHill Suites Salt Lake City Airport

One good thing about flying to my ski destination a day before the group is that often I can use the free night that comes with one of several credit cards in my wallet. That’s one of the reasons I selected the SpringHill Suites at the SLC airport. Another is that they have a free airport shuttle. Normally the included breakfast would be a draw as well but in this case I have friends in the SLC area and they came and picked me up for breakfast so that was a non-factor this time around.

SpringHill Suites Salt Lake City Airport

I arrived at the airport and while one of my bags was one of the first bags on the belt, it took another 30-45 minutes for my skis to be delivered. It was after 10:30 PM before I collected my luggage and called the hotel regarding the shuttle but fortunately it did not take very long for it to arrive. The shuttle services both Hilton and Marriott properties that are all very close together. In my case the cabin crew from a recent flight was on the shuttle with me but was not staying at the same hotel. The SHS was the third stop for this particular shuttle run. Continue reading

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Lodging Review: The Huntley Lodge, Big Sky, Montana

I was back in Big Sky, Montana recently. It’s one of my favorite resorts because I love the slopes and (shh!) there are never any liftlines. They’re in the midst of a multi-year, multi-million dollar project performing upgrades all over the mountain. This year saw the addition of North America’s first 8-seat chairlift (complete with a bubble and heated seats!) and in coming years the ancient beginner lift will be replaced with a gondola that will service both beginner slopes as well as bowl skiing for advanced skiers.

In the recent past our ski club has stayed at The Summit, which is a high-rise condo right at the base of the slopes. But two years ago the property began the process of upgrading from a 4-star property to a 5-star. Though it’s only a 4.5-star at the moment, that was enough to push the pricing out of our club’s budget. I really hate that because it’s so convenient and has the best hot tub on the mountain.

So this year our club stayed at the original base lodging facility, The Huntley Lodge. Named after resort co-founder Chet Huntley (he of NBC News fame from the 1960s & 1970s; look it up, kids) it’s a 3-story hotel with half the rooms facing the slopes. Rooms in one wing are mere steps from the beginner Explorer lift while rooms in the other have the mountain village right outside the door at the end of the hall. For convenience, it’s really hard to beat.

While I have stayed here before, it had been at least 20 years so I was curious to see what had changed. The answer: not a whole lot, which is actually a good thing for the most part.

The lobby is not huge but has a fair amount of seating and, like all the common areas, has a mountain theme to the decor. I especially liked the old skiing items mounted up high.

Skiing artifacts decorating the vaulted ceiling

The dominating feature is The Bear. If you ever need a meeting point, it’s a great landmark.

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Review: Hilton Garden Inn, Bozeman, Montana

As I’ve done for the last couple of years, I flew out on a Friday for my ski trip even though the group wouldn’t arrive until Saturday. I do this because I’m in a different origin city and I want to be sure I’m not late catching the bus from the airport to the ski resort. If all my flights are on time it works out fine but at some airports I just can’t arrive before the group due to flight schedules. And with so many credit cards offering free nights I can usually spend one of those certificates although that’s not what I did in this case. I looked into using my IHG free night but by the time I got around to booking a room, the Holiday Inn Express had no more availability.

This year my first ski trip was to Big Sky, Montana, one of my favorite resorts. I believe my first visit was in 1994 and I’ve returned every 3 or so years since. On my club’s last trip here I flew up on a Friday and spent the night at the Residence Inn in Bozeman and that was when I learned they no longer had a hotel shuttle. So instead of burning my Marriott certificate here I thought I’d try out my newly minted Diamond status with a Hilton property.

I was fortunate that the cabin crew from my flight was also staying at the Hilton Garden Inn because by the time I’d collected my luggage (and kudos to the BZN baggage crew for making priority bags first on the belt!) and called the hotel, the cabin crew had called the hotel, the shuttle had arrived and they were already on board so I didn’t have to wait for the shuttle at all.

Lobby and Check-in

Since I had so much luggage to wrangle I let the flight crew check in first while I got all my bags inside. The lobby has a large seating area for breakfast on the right side and more casual seating on the left side though there’s a long table there that could be used for breakfast too.

Hilton Garden Inn Bozeman Lobby Seating

Hilton Garden Inn Bozeman Lobby Seating

Hilton Garden Inn Bozeman Breakfast Seating

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Wow! 100K Hilton Bonus Points on No-Fee Card

For a limited time American Express is offering an increased sign-up bonus for the no-fee Hilton Honors credit card. The standard offer is 60K points but the increased offer is 100K points after spending just $1000 in the first three months after approval. The card earn 7x points at Hilton properties, 5x points at US restaurants, US supermarkets and US gas stations and 3x points everywhere else. Unlike many no-fee cards, this card has no foreign transaction fees – though Amex is not as accepted worldwide as Visa and Mastercard.

No referral required on this one! To take advantage of this offer, get started HERE.

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