Using Priority Pass restaurant money instead of lounge access

My wife and I are currently on a trip to Australia and for the first time ever are in an airport without a priority pass lounge but, instead, with access to a public restaurantat a steep discount. Priority Pass has started to branch out and forge relationships with restaurants in various airport to provide credit for its users to use if there is no accessible lounge. Today, we had access to Bar Roma, a restaurant in the Domestic Terminal, to the tune of $36 AUD each! That’s a lot of food – we only use $57in the end, and that was trying!

I’m impressed with how efficiently this process worked. Much like at other Priority Pass lounges they had a small terminal to use to scan our card and they reviewed our boarding passes to make sure we had a flight leaving today. It was so easy to order and the food was quite tasty to boot. Thanks for saving us money, Priority Pass!

 

 

Plaza Premium Temporary Lounge in Toronto leaves something to be desired

On the way home from Toronto on Monday I was ready to spend some relaxing time in the Plaza Premium Lounge in Terminal 1 of the Toronto Pearson Airport. My wife, sister, and brother were all with me and we would get some free food, drinks, and nice bathrooms to tide over the hour we had to wait for the plane. Unfortunately, we were greeted by this banner upon getting through customs on our way to the lounge.

Apparently the lounge is going through renovation and so we were only able to get access to a temporary lounge using the Priority Pass Select membership granted to us by the Citi Prestige card that my wife and I hold.

The lounge is located essentially in what should be the regular seating area between gates F55 and F57. Instead, they have put up some partitions, placed some higher-quality chairs, and set up a buffet with some food. There were more limited selections than usual but the food was tasty. They also had a variety of drinks, although a smaller variety than normal. The one major gripe that my family and I had was the the power ports on the chairs were taped over and disconnected from any kind of power source.

We spent about 45 minutes waiting in the lounge and enjoying the food and drink. It was definitely better than paying for food and the chairs had nicer cushions, but this is not the kind of lounge I am used to at this point in my travel career. I hope they complete renovations quickly so that the next visit we have to Toronto has a better lounge for us to access.

Should you keep that credit card or not?

As many of you who read this blog know my wife and I have over 25 credit cards to our names. In some, she is the primary user and in some I am. We have accumulated all these cards because of their sign-up bonuses and various benefits like free checked baggage, access to lounges, elite status, etc. But, every little while it is a good idea to think about if you should keep a card in your wallet (or folio, in our case) or cut it free. In fact, The Points Guy has great posts on checking your credit card inventory once in a while.

The biggest question for me in keeping or cancelling a care is if I am getting a benefit that outweighs the annual fee every year. The easiest examples of “keepers” to me are cards for airlines I or my wife use frequently. For example, we have a United Mileage Plus Explorer card and an AAdvantage Aviator Red Card, each with a $95 annual fee, but we keep them year after year because we get benefits of free checked bags (a $25 benefit each flight per bag) and boarding status (we get to come on the plane earlier and make sure our carry-ons fit in the overhead compartment). As long as we have at least four bag-checks on each airline, it is worth it to keep those cards.

Other cards come with anniversary bonuses. The Amtrak Guest Rewards World card provides an annual Companion pass that, if used correctly, can offset its $79 annual fee. My wife and I travel to Providence, RI frequently enough that a round-trip train ticket + companion makes that doable. The JetBlue Plus Card has a fee of $99 but gives free checked bags and 5,000 points after every account anniversary.

Some cards come with status and not necessarily other benefits you might use. The AMEX Hilton HHonors Surpass card has a $75 annual fee but comes with Gold status at all Hilton-connected hotels. That has given me free room upgrades and free breakfast in at least three situations, totally that much money or more. Additionally, I have earned more points than usual, making it more possible to have a free night sooner. Basically, it does end up paying for itself.

It’s really the big, expensive cards that make me seriously think whether or not it’s worth it to keep them. I currently have a Citi Prestige card, which I got in December 2015 when the sign-up bonus was 50,000 ThankYou points. I applied because I knew that while it has a $450 annual fee, each calendar year it comes with a $250 airline credit. So by using it in 2015 to buy a flight and 2016 to buy a flight, I received $500 in credits to offset the fee the first year. Additionally, it also comes with a host of other benefits including access to the Priority Pass network of lounges across the globe, which my wife and I used extensively during our honeymoon. The fee just came up again and I am debating whether or not to keep the card. It is essentially a $200 annual fee card (with the offset airline credit) in order to access a whole host of lounges and potentially free hotel nights as well. I’m not sure what to do with it but I have some time to decide.

So there you have it – my basic analysis of the different types of benefits you can earn. It really is an individual decision whether or not to keep these cards and, as the Points Guy said at a recent workshop I attended, “do the math.”

Free Club1 Membership can be worth it sometimes

I just took the advice of a blog I read called View from the Wing and signed up for a free 1-year membership with Club1 Hotels. Their service usually costs $675 and comes with a Priority Pass membership but the free version just allows you to search for hotels through their portal. I found that it can actually save you a good amount of money.

I did a brief search for the New York Marriott Marquis at Times Square the evening of an event my wife and I will be attending. I found that if you search on Marriott’s site directly the minimum cost (even with a AAA discount) is $256. Whereas, the Club1 Hotel website shows a listing for $236.10.

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The one snag is that you are likely not going to receive points from this booking as many loyalty networks don’t give points for third-party reservations. But, if your goal is to save money, this would certainly be helpful!

Review: SilkAir from Lombok to Singapore

I have so many posts in the works I forgot to put this one up before the Singapore post. Here is how we got to Singapore!

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Unfortunately, in the middle of our stay at Cocotino’s Beach Resort I fell quite ill. I think it was some noodles that I ate from the market near Gipsy Beach Bungalows that caused me to get very sick very quickly and so, when I woke up in the middle of night with chills and a fever, my wife brought me to a clinic and they determined that I might have dengue fever (turned out to be untrue later). We quickly made the decision to leave Lombok in search of better medical care in the nation-city of Singapore.

We booked SilkAir tickets quite quickly without regard for price much (although I believe on 4-hours notice the cost was around $275 each one-way inclusive of one free checked bag each) and headed to the airport. the ride was uneventful except that I was feeling sick for most of it. My wife was concerned for me – understandably – and so we made sure to be rested and have plenty of time to get out of the country and closer to better hospitals.

We arrived at the newly-constructed airport about 1.5 hours before our flight was to leave. We were glad to have that buffer time because it took about that much time to get through slow check-in counters and immigration (who were not even set up by the time we got to the gate area).

What really fascinated me was the fact that there was a lounge at the airport. And it took Priority Pass! This is by no means a large airport so when my wife told me that we had access to a lounge I was unbelieving. She convinced me to check it out (this is how you know I was sick – I didn’t want to go at first) and it was quite substantially stocked. It had a number of breakfast food items, pastries, fruits, drinks, and plenty of seats with electrical outlets. The bathrooms were even quite nice and were with Western sit-down toilets (the rest of the airport had squatting toilets to deal with).

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Getting onto the plane was an annoying process in itself, however, as the immigration officials were not at their posts when we arrived. After visiting the lounge we returned to find the desks staffed and we passed through just fine. Then, we had to go through another security check to get into the gate area itself. I have only seen this in a few airports before, but our gate was sealed from the rest of the airport and didn’t even have bathrooms in it. We waited for quite some time for the plane to be readied and then boarded.

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This is where I need to give international regional carriers their due. Despite the fact that the flight was only about two hours in length we still received amazing service – with food, too! The flight attendants were attentive (I was only sort of paying attention but my wife told me later they were) and it was a fairly comfortable ride.

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While it was not the best reason to have to take a flight it was still quite a nice airplane with great service. If the price was right I would take SilkAir again in a heartbeat.

Arrival in Seoul and Korean Air A330-300

On our way to Bali my wife and stopped over in Seoul, South Korea for a day. Korean Airlines offers free stopovers and since ours lasted more than 24 hours we were able to get our luggage from baggage claim and use it while we were there (those transit passengers in Seoul for <24 hours have to through-check their baggage to their final destination).

For our time in Seoul we used our Marriott points (and credit card) to book a one-night stay at The Plaza, a new addition to the Marriott Autograph collection. I booked us a “Deluxe room” costing 35,000 points (a pretty good deal for the center of a major city) and when we arrived they actually upgraded us to the Plaza Suite, possibly because we mentioned it was our honeymoon. They even gave us a little rose!

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The Plaza Suite room was much larger than the Deluxe room we had booked and had a better view, more electronic amenities (i.e. the blinds were controlled from a cool pad next to the bed), and way more room. We even ordered some room service and easily sat down to eat it together. Right below the TV there was even a working fireplace (not that we needed it with 85 degree+ weather outside!). The bathroom also had a shower and separate bathtub (my wife loves those) as well as a bidet with controls next to the toilet. It was a really nice room.

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After our overnight and exploration of Seoul (there are so many palaces, food markets, and other things to explore) we were ready for our flight to Bali. We booked it as a part of the same ticket on the A380 so it was also in a high class of service. Unfortunately, when I booked the tickets there were no first class seats available so I voluntarily downgraded us to Prestige Class. Since we were flying on the A330-300 I assumed we were going to get the “Prestige Suite“, a new version of this class of service that is more like their First class without the separate sectioning. Unfortunately, the plane was a bit more dated and we only had their “Prestige Sleeper.” It was still incredibly comfortable but not their highest version so I was, of course, disappointed.

In the Seoul airport there were a variety of lounges available to the public. The Korean Airlines lounge is one of their bigger ones with a much wider selection of food than JFK and even access to showers. I really appreciated this last point as I had been sweating a lot during our walk around town. We didn’t have an enormous amount of time in the lounge but noticed that the two other lounges we could have used from Priority Pass (SkyHub Lounge and Matina Lounge) both seemed to offer better food. That being said, they were both fee-based lounges so they were overcrowded and we were not allowed in.

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It was a very easy 7-hour flight. The in-flight entertainment was the same as on the A380 and the meal service was similar. It was a shorter flight so we received a bit less food but could ask for anything at any time. There was no turn-down service and no pajamas, unfortunately, but the flight crew was still great. When I woke up from a 3 hour sleep the flight attendant immediately asked if I wanted the sandwich that I had missed. Honestly, there was not much difference between this class and first class (maybe a bit wider sleeper area at the feet) so we were not that upset about it. We arrived in Bali pretty well rested and got to our hotel just fine!

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Pay money to get money on Citi Prestige

Last month I signed up for the Citi Prestige card in accordance to advice from travel bloggers like The Points Guy. Even though it comes with a hefty $450 annual fee the money you get back from it makes the entire fee worth it in the first year. I might get rid of it after that but for now it’s quite useful. Especially since after $3000 of spending you earn 50,000 ThankYou points that can be transferred to 11 airlines worldwide.

The first benefit I used is in preparation for my honeymoon this summer – the Global Entry travel credit. Once I signed up for the service and it posted onto my account, I saw a statement credit three days later in the exact amount of the payment. Unfortunately it only applies to the primary card holder (not authorized users) but that is still money saved.Screen Shot 2016-01-09 at 11.15.28 AM

Then my wife and I started booking flights for trips in the upcoming year. The Citi Prestige provides $250 airline credit for each calendar year, so by booking flights in December 2015 and January 2016, we get $500 in return for plans we were going to make anyway! Just today I checked my statement for one of the credits posted:

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It usually takes 1-2 billing cycles for these credits so I await the other credit in our February statement.

Finally, one benefit we have not used yet: access to American Airlines lounges and a Priority Pass account. There are many of these across the country and the world so we look forward to spending time in them in the upcoming year of travel.