Discover 5% Categories Calendar for 2020 is Released

As they’ve done for the past couple of years, Discover Card has released its full cash-back calendar for the upcoming year. I really like that they do this and wish Chase would do this for their Freedom categories as well.

For Q1 the categories are Grocery Stores, Walgreens and CVS. Is it significant that other drug stores are excluded? I’m not sure. For me this is the easiest category to max out as I can buy Visa gift cards and load them to my Bluebird account.

Q2 categories are Gas Stations, Uber/Lyft and Wholesale Clubs. I no longer have any wholesale club memberships so that category doesn’t help me. In the past I’ve struggled with the gas station category as I usually only have to fill my car up 2-3 times per month and gas stations typically don’t sell $500 gift cards. But now that I have a Bluebird card again, I may see if I can find some gas stations that sell $100 or $200 cards and allow me to pay with a credit card. Time will tell.

For the third quarter, the categories are Restaurants and PayPal. I don’t use PayPal but usually have no problem maxing out the Restaurant category.

The last quarter’s categories are aimed at online holiday shoppers: Amazon, Walmart.com and Target.com. I won’t get close to maxing out but maybe I can make a dent in those categories.

You can activate the first quarter categories now. As always, the 5% cash back is good for up to $1500 in purchases each quarter.

Which quarter will be easiest for you to max out?

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Earn AAdvantage Miles When Buying Event Tickets

Determining which card to use to buy event tickets such as concerts or sporting events can sometimes be easy or sometimes be hard. For example, American Express often has pre-sale events where you must use an Amex card to make those purchases. Other times MasterCard is running a promotion and you must use one of their cards. But when there are no obvious choices, what card do you typically use? Here are some options that come to mind:

  • Citi Double Cash, Premier or Prestige, earning 2 Thank You Points per dollar
  • Barclays ArrivalPlus, earning two miles per dollar which can be used to erase travel purchases
  • Chase Freedom Unlimited, earning 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar
  • any card where you’re trying to meet the minimum spend

Now American Airlines wants to help you earn AAdvantage miles on top of whatever currency you’re earning with your credit card. They’ve teamed up with Vivid Seats, a ticket re-seller, to give you a minimum of 3 AA miles per dollar spent on the base ticket price.

As an example, for an upcoming NBA game here in Memphis, the cheapest tickets ranged from $10-14. For 2 x $10 tickets, you could earn 60 AA miles, or 3 miles per dollar. For 2 x $12 tickets, your $48 would earn up to 70 miles or at bit over 3 miles per dollar. It appears all mileage amounts are rounded up.

While this may not be an opportunity for everyone, it’s certainly worth a look the next time you’re looking for seats at an event in your area!

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Using Amex’s Bluebird

Wouldn’t it be great if you could earn points/miles/cash back for things you can’t normally pay for with your credit card? Amex has a solution: Bluebird.

Bluebird works like a bank account in that you can deposit money to it and from there you can use its bill pay system to have Bluebird send out checks or you can get checks for that account and write them yourself. It comes with an Amex-branded card that you can use like a debit card to make purchases or ATM withdrawals.

The difference is that you must first add funds to your Bluebird account and only then can you spend the funds. You can add up to $5000 per month to your Bluebird account though I believe there is a maximum of $2500 per day. Continue reading

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Impressions of Vienna

On my business trip to Vienna we had limited time to sightsee: one evening, a full day before work began and one afternoon and evening once our business had concluded. I had hoped to attend some kind of musical performance whether it was classical music, opera or even the Boys’ Choir but as August is European Vacation Month I didn’t find anywhere offering these attractions during the times we had free.

As I was the only one of our group who had been to the city before, thanks to the stop on my Viking Danube cruise in 2017, I played a bit of tour guide and was glad I’d done a blog post about it!

Our first stop was the Schönbrunn Palace. Instead of having a personal guided tour we did the audio guide and did the shorter tour. Photos are still not allowed inside but the gardens were more beautiful in August than they were during my prior visit, which was in October.

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Review: Hyatt Place Chicago O’Hare Airport

At the end of my business trip my LOT Airlines flight arrived in Chicago too late to catch the last flight back to Memphis on a Friday evening so I booked a stay at the Hyatt Place Chicago O’Hare Airport. The hotel has a free shuttle that runs every half hour. As I have a friend in the area I did not take the shuttle to the hotel but did take it back to the airport in the morning.

One thing I like about Hyatt Places is the consistency and this hotel did not disappoint in that respect. The check-in desk is just inside the front door and I was greeted promptly and thanked for my loyalty as a Discoverist (gained by holding the Chase Hyatt Visa) and offered a free bottle of water. Check-in was quick and I was assigned a room on the second floor.

The lobby seemed a bit larger than I recall at other Hyatt Places, or perhaps it’s just because the hotel is shaped a little differently. I later realized there were several conference rooms which I don’t believe is something I normally see at Hyatt Places, so perhaps that’s why there was more seating.

Hyatt Place Chicago O’Hare Lobby Seating

Hyatt Place Chicago O’Hare Conference Room Lobby

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Review: Hilton Vienna (am Stadtpark)

On a recent business trip to Vienna we looked at staying close to my company’s office, which was near the airport. There are a couple of hotels in the vicinity but the only real options for dining that didn’t involve a cab or train ride were restaurants in the airport itself. The CAT (City Airport Train) was a great option for transiting back and forth between the airport area and the city center. It’s a non-stop train that takes about 16 minutes and runs every half-hour. The Hilton Vienna is right across the street from the train station and that made its selection a no-brainer. When exiting the CAT part of the train station, turn left, exit the building and the Hilton is across the street and slightly to the right. The signage in the train station is not great as there’s just one small sign and when I first arrived I couldn’t see it due to a display set up in the middle of the station.

Lobby

There are two entrances to the hotel. I arrived via the door near the restaurant; the other entrance faces the park. The check-in desk is quite obvious and will either be straight ahead or immediately on your right upon entry.

The lobby looked fresh with lots of light-colored wood and a large seating area.

Hilton Vienna Lobby

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Activate 4th Quarter Bonus Categories

It’s the 15th of the last month of the quarter which means it’s time to activate bonus categories for card that have quarterly bonuses for next quarter.  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, though it’s been available for at least a couple of quarters now.  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 September 25th 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 or visit this link.

Discover Card

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

The fourth quarter was originally announced as Amazon but now they’ve added Target (in-store) and Walmart.com.  None of these is particularly great for me.  To register, sign in to your Discover account and click on the Activate button.

 

Chase Freedom

Chase’s fourth quarter categories may help those who need to shop for the holidays.  You can earn 5x Ultimate Reward points for shopping at department stores, having your card tied to PayPal and with Chase Pay.  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.

 

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Review: LOT Polish Airlines Chicago to Vienna and Back

I recently had a business trip to Vienna, Austria. I’d originally made it easy on myself by booking a one-stop flight: Memphis to Chicago on United and Chicago to Vienna on Austrian Airlines. About ten days before departure Corporate Travel called to say that my company and Austrian were having a bit of a tiff and I’d have to re-book on a different airline. Well.

The obvious choice would have been to go on Lufthansa but apparently we don’t get good discounts with them and it would have cost several thousands of dollars more. At one point I spoke to a grumpy agent in our travel department who told me there was no way I could get to Vienna on Star Alliance flights and I should just consider flying somewhere like Munich and taking the train. Munich is 4.5 hours away by train so no, I wasn’t going to accept that. I thanked him and went off to do more research on my own.

It would have been nice to take United as far as Brussels and then Brussels Air from there but I would have arrived in BRU too late to take the morning flight and it would have been about a 4-5 hour layover for the afternoon flight.

I ended up booking LOT Polish via Warsaw. I’d never flown LOT, been through the Warsaw Airport or laid eyes on Poland so it seemed like a good fit. As a bonus, our corporate rate was very cheap compared to the Austrian ticket.

My flight from Memphis to Chicago was uneventful. The downside of flying this route on Saturdays is that United only offers 1-cabin service.

Air France/KLM Lounge – Chicago O’Hare Terminal 5

I arrived in Chicago’s Terminal 2 and the LOT flight left out of Terminal 5, which I thought was the international terminal even though I know United does have some of their overseas flights depart from T2. I recalled from a previous visit that the lounges in T5 weren’t great so I went ahead and had lunch at the Cubs Bar & Grill in T3. (As a St. Louis Cardinals fan it’s tough to deal with all the Cubs memorabilia but I managed.) Afterwards I wandered down the G concourse to the end then took the stairs to the lower level. There I found Gate G17 for British Airways and that’s also the place to catch the transfer bus. The nice thing about catching the bus at this location is that it’s the last stop before T5 so after my boarding pass was checked and the bus arrived the 5 or so of us were able to hop right on and go straight to T5.

When we arrived we had to get to the second level via a series of ramps, some of which were a little steep. If mobility is an issue you may want to call the airport and discuss transfers ahead of time. It might be easier to exit security, take the transfer bus to T5 (the train is currently down) and re-clear security there. I was surprised to see gates for Frontier Airlines flights. I hadn’t realized they were located in this terminal.

I think it had been about eight years since I’d been to T5 and it looked like it had been refreshed since my last visit or perhaps I just walked past more gates and restaurants than I did on my prior visit. I arrived at the Air France/KLM lounge which displayed a banner stating they were the lounge for the following airlines in addition to AF/KL: Air India, Alitalia, Royal Jordanian, Etihad Airways, VIP Access Lounge, LOT Polish Airlines. Technically this is also a Priority Pass lounge but it was so busy during my visit that Priority Pass customers were not being admitted.

I checked in and then had to hunt a little for a place to sit. I eventually sat at a hightop bar with charging ports. The room was brightly lit with views on to the tarmac but it was not too hot on this summer afternoon. There was food in the other room but I did not even look at it, having just had lunch. It was far too crowded to take photos though there were certainly lulls between the time one group would leave and the next would arrive. It was a nice place to charge my electronics and use the free wi-fi but I was glad when the time came to head for my gate.

I arrived a little early and was called to counter so they could verify my passport, even though this had been done by UA staff in Memphis. I assumed this was because the LOT flights were on a separate ticket from the United flights.

We began boarding right on time at 16:40 through door 2L.

LOT 2 – Chicago to Warsaw – Saturday, August 24

LO 2 ORD-WAW
Boeing 787-8
Departs: 17:25 (scheduled) 17:10 (actual) 17:30 (takeoff)
Arrives: 09:30 (scheduled) 09:03 (landed) 09:11 (at gate)
Duration: 8h 31m (actual)
Seat: 3C Business Class

LOT flies a 787-8 between Warsaw and Chicago on Saturdays. It has 18 business class seats in a 2-2-2 layout. All six seats on row two were taken as were the two right seats on row three. Row one had one window seat and one of the center seats taken. When I booked I didn’t know if anyone might get upgraded so I selected one of the two center seats on row three so at least I would have aisle access. It turned out no one else was in the cabin so I had the two center seats to myself. I used the other one for storing the pillows and blanket and had my phone charging from the port on the other seat. That meant I didn’t have to worry about the cord getting stuck as I adjusted the seat.

LOT 787 Business Class Cabin

LOT 787-8 Business Class Cabin

The seat itself reminded me of the one on the Turkish Airlines A330 I flew from Istanbul to Houston. There’s not a lot of privacy but you don’t feel squeezed into the seat in front of you when change to lie-flat mode.

LOT 787 Business Class Seat

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Impressions of Copenhagen

We arrived on a beautifully sunny day and took a free walking tour. The one we chose met at the dragon fountain in front of City Hall. Copenhagen is a lovely city, very clean and safe. Taxes are quite high, making it an expensive place to live, but those funds go toward helping keep people from being homeless. We did see a few beggars, but not nearly as many as you might see in another world capital. Here are a few of the places we saw during our brief stay.

Copenhagen City Hall

Dragon Fountain

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Review: AC Bella Sky Marriott, Copenhagen, Denmark

I stayed here for a week while on a business trip. Our office was near the airport and this hotel was just a short cab ride away.

When approaching the hotel, the first thing you notice is the unusual design of the exterior. While there’s a lot of unusual modern-design buildings in Copenhagen not everyone likes them. One night when we were returning from the city center and told our cabby the name of the hotel, he paused and said “Oh, the ugly one”! Whether you like it or not, it is certainly distinctive.

AC Bella Sky Marriott

Airport Shuttle

This hotel shares an airport shuttle with the Intercontinental, which is just on the other side of the highway. It costs 15 DKK (about 2 EUR) and the charge is billed to your room. The shuttle stop is on the first traffic island outside Terminal 2. As my flight landed in T3 I was easily able to follow the Hotel Shuttle signs to T2 but once I reached T2, the signs disappeared. Having arrived on an early morning flight I was fortunate that there was not a lot of traffic and once the shuttle arrived it was easy to spot. As a side note, when reviewing your room charges, be sure you’ve been charged for the *airport* shuttle and not the *cruise* shuttle as there is a significant price difference. Continue reading

Categories: Denmark, Europe, Hotel, Lodging Review, Marriott | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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