Chase Freed 5x Bonus Category for Q4

Every three months the Chase Freedom card rotates a set of 5% cash back bonuses for spending at specific types of stores. For Quarter 3 (i.e. summer months) it was restaurants and movie theaters, presumably because of the increase in number of people who go out during that time frame. You can always check out the bonuses at their website here. 

The aspect of this scenario that many people don’t know, however, is that if you have a premium Ultimate Rewards card from Chase (i.e. Chase Sapphire Preferred/Reserve, or Ink Plus Preferred) then you can transfer those points to travel partners and potentially earn more than the standard 1 point = 1 cent ratio. When I transfer points I do my best to beat their current valuation, with normal redemptions for award travel being between 1.6-2.5 cents per point.

Make sure to activate your Q4 bonuses now in case you plan on spending at department stores this fall!

Utilizing the IHG Free Reward Night to its utmost

I am a part of a wonderful math teacher fellowship called Math for America (not to be confused with Teach for America) and every year they host an annual gala event at the Marriott Marquis in downtown Manhattan. For the past two years I’ve thought about staying over but either a) didn’t have enough points or b) the free night as part of the Chase Marriott Rewards card was not for that tier of hotel.

Enter: the IHG Rewards Credit Card. Every year it gives a free reward night for use anywhere in the world. There is not the same kind of limitation as with the Marriott card. So, I found the InterContinental Hotel around the corner from the gala and booked a night there. As you can see, for the night in question it would have been a whopping $629.99!

Instead, we are paying $0. The card itself has a $49 annual fee, so I would argue this makes it all worth it.

Even if we didn’t have the card, we would probably use that night somewhere else during the year for a wedding or small trip somewhere. It definitely makes the $49 worth it.

Amtrak Mastercard back to 30,000 point bonus

Normally the Amtrak Guest Rewards World Mastercard has a 20,000 point bonus after $1,000 of spending in the first three months (as seen below, compared to the Platinum version of the same card):

Right now, thought, there is an increased bonus option that will earn you 10,000 points more for the same cost (total of 30,000 points). My wife just applied and was accepted for the card – something I’m very grateful for as we travel between Providence, RI and Philadelphia, PA pretty frequently. Since you can often find deals within the Northeast corridor for only 2-3k points those extra 10,000 will go a long way.

I’ve recently been thinking of cancelling mine and getting another one to get the bonus again. If I do, I’ll take a closer look at some of the rules for re-applying as it seems Bank of America has changed them in the past.

Jet Blue Plus anniversary bonus: awesome!

I was pleased to see this image in my inbox this morning:

Some may not know that the JetBlue Plus card comes with a variety of benefits: a sign-up bonus of 30,000 points, 6X the points when you pay for JetBlue plane tickets outright, as well as your first checked luggage free of charge. What some may not remember or realize is that you also get 5,000 points at each anniversary! As The Points Guy values these points at 1.2 cents/point, that means you are getting back $60 of worth back every year. So, essentially, after flying roundtrip only once per year this card because completely worth it.

I recently had the pleasure of booking a number of flights to/from Florida in the Fall and only spent around $30 in taxes + fees because of this card. I’m definitely keeping it for next year!

Baggage delay can ruin your time

As mentioned in the previous post my wife and I had a very unfortunate experience on our recent trip to South Africa: due to what I can only imagine to be many mistakes and misunderstandings over the course of five days our luggage did not arrive safely into the country when we did. Instead, we had to wait five full days (and spend much time during those days buying necessities) in order to get our bags back.

My general theory of what happened is what follows.

When we left the US we arrived at JFK airport with about an hour until our flight was scheduled to leave on its way to Vienna. We barely made it to the check-in counter in time but our large, filled-to-the-brim blue bag was accepted and checked onto the flights that would eventually end up in Johannesburg. During the 29 hour journey we had two carry-ons containing extra clothes due to our nine hour layover in Cairo. I had wanted to shower and change before our final flight to South Africa so we planned to shower and change beforehand.

Upon arrival into JNB airport we went through the exceedingly-long customs line until we were allowed to enter the country, only to find that the blue bag we were hoping to see on the other end was nowhere in sight. We waited for 10 minutes as the belt kept moving and then made our way to the EgyptAir luggage support services people who took me for a walk around the baggage claim area in search of the bag that supposedly took a different flight path (via Frankfurt) instead of boarding our plane with us. We couldn’t find it.

So for five full days my wife and I relied on the baggage delay insurance covered to us by the Citi Prestige card we used to pay the taxes on our award ticket from to South Africa. Due to an update in their rules we did not have to book the entire flight’s cost on the card – even partial payment would allow the coverage below to kick in:

While not as good as the Chase Sapphire Preferred in this regard (that offers $100 per day up to five days), it does provide you with some money to get supplies that you need. We did spend over that amount and so I also filed a claim for reimbursement from the airline itself. I am currently waiting to hear back from both entities on what we can get back from them.

In the end we had to buy clothing, toiletries, medicine, and a whole new piece of luggage to carry it all on our flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town. I am a patient man and will make sure to get every dollar we spent back or make sure no one flies with this airline ever again…

 

A whirlwind layover in Cairo, Egypt

Between arrival into Cairo and leaving for Johannesburg my wife and I had a layover of about nine hours.

While some might view this as a hindrance we preferred to think with an adventurous spirit and booked a layover tour of the city through Egypt Tailor Made tour company. We estimated we really had about six hours of time between exiting the airport and needing to return, so we made sure to explain that through email communication a few weeks in advance. As you will read at the end, the tour company definitely earned their five star rating on TripAdvisor.

Our arrival into Cairo International Airport was hectic to say the least. The customs area is one large room where the mantra “hurry up and wait” is very evident: there were lines everywhere leading in every which way. It took us a few minutes to get our bearings and we realized one of the sets of lines was to get our visa, which we purchased for $25 each. I had read to bring US cash in advance so it was an easy transaction. Afterward, we waited in line for our customs interview, lasting a minute or two. All told it took about 1.5 hours to get through this mess of logistics and people and end up in the arrivals hall where we met our tour guide who recognized me because of a photo I sent in advance.

During our brief time in the city and its surroundings we visited the pyramids at Giza, saw the Sphinx from afar, learned how papyrus is made, sailed down and up the nile for an hour, visited a local market, and ate pigeon, a delicacy in the city. Our Egyptologist tour guide, Seham, was kind, knowledgeable, and conversational throughout the journey. She made sure we were able to get past security and check-in at various sites quickly because we were running behind, she communicated with locals to make sure we knew where to go and what to do, and helped us negotiate prices for a few souvenirs. While I would love to have spent more time in the city and country, it was great to have her with us for the limited time that we had.

After our tour of the city was complete, we headed over to the airport to check in for our last leg to Johannesburg airport and this is where my idea of schemes gets a bit ridiculous.

I had read in advance that there are no showers in any lounges at Cairo International Airport. Despite the fact that this is an airport in the Middle East and so should have showers to make sure any sweat gathered en route could be washed off, it is also a stopover on the way to many other nearby countries where businesspeople would expect to get washed up.

So, in order to make sure we were washed up before our business class EgyptAir flight, we visited the nearby JW Marriott Hotel Cairo and booked a room to take a shower. We didn’t pay for the room in cash – or even points. Instead, I used a free night certificate for a tier 1-5 hotel from my previous Chase Marriott Rewards card that was expiring in August. Before using it I verified that our travel over the next few months would not have taken us to a location where any hotels within that range would have been available (most in NYC or other urban areas are tier 6 and above) and decided to use it for an hour’s luxurious shower purpose.

Our ridiculousness was rewarded with comfortable beds, free slippers, a bathtub and separate shower, fancy creams, lotions, etc and even a welcome message on the TV with my name on it! Even though we only spent one hour there it was a fantastic use of the free night certificate and I’m glad we got to end our stay in Cairo at that hotel – next time we might stay for longer!

A recent trip to Toronto

I recently took a trip to Toronto using Air Canada and was overall pleased with the service, comfort, with some oddities in how my trip occurred. Let me explain.

I booked the flight from LaGuardia to Pearson airport using my Barclaycard Arrival Plus Mastercard, a useful card if you want to get 2 miles for every dollar spent. These miles are quite versatile in that they can used for any kind of airline credit: ticket purchases, fees, etc. They are redeemed in quantities above $100, which is equivalent to 10,000 miles. So, after I paid for my trip using the card, I was able to immediately refund the money used. Here is what it looks like on my online bill:

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Very simple.

On my way there I noticed wonderful in LaGuardia: a pumping/nursing station! While I do not think breastfeeding needs to be a private thing (it’s a natural thing to do…), it is nice to have some privacy for those who want it. Apparently they were put there in May 2015 and are located in Terminal B.

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When I arrived at Toronto’s Pearson Airport I found myself on a huge and quick moving walkway. This was not the normal kind that simply rotates through – it actually extended and flexed in order to move people faster. I had never seen or experienced this before but it was fascinating! I took a video myself but the one in the article is better.

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Finally, a quick note about the actual plane travel itself. Air Canada is a professional carrier! Their in-flight entertainment aboard their small plane was quite wonderful. It was an Embraer 190 and had comfortable seats (if not an enormous amount of legroom) as well as wonderful cabin service. I got a hot tea and small snack on each direction of my journey.

The price of this airline is often more expensive than budget airline WestJet but that sometimes means it really is worth it. In this case, it definitely was!