A couple of days ago I wrote about an incident that occurred at Lagos Airport, where a man climbed onto the wing of a plane just shortly before it was due to take off. The man allegedly brought a carry-on, which he decided to store in the engine, and he wanted to fly to Ghana, even though the plane was just operating a domestic flight.
A suspected lunatic enters AZMAN Air engine - YouTube
Unfortunately an incident like this doesn’t come as a surprise, given that Lagos Airport is known for having quite a few “incidents.” For example, last year Lagos Airport was in the news because apparently it was commonplace for robbers to go into the cargo hold of planes.
FAAN is taking full responsibility for the breach, and says that the intruder is in custody. So, what is the airport going to do?
Stating that the Authority takes full responsibility for the breach, Capt Yadudu noted that the Federal Government, through the Ministry of Transport and Honourable Minister of State, Aviation has already assisted in the award of contracts for perimeter fences at the airports, including detection devices and CCTV cameras with infrared capacity.
He added that plans are also underway to erect observation towers this year, so to enable proper monitor and coverage of the airport.
Wait a second, the airport hasn’t had perimeter fences up until now?! And this incident — and not the repeated robbing of aircraft cargo holds — is what’s causing them to take action?
It’s also noted that this is a “dynamic industry,” and that “new threats are springing up daily and the criminal elements are fashioning out ways to circumvent security architectures.”
I mean… I feel like a fence around an airport, or at least some sort of camera system and/or guard towers aren’t exactly novel innovations at this point?
I don’t think there’s a single card that has changed the premium credit card landscape like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card did back when it was introduced in the summer of 2016.
For a long time $450+ annual fee cards were thought of as being only for the wealthy, while Chase created a product that truly had mass appeal, by offering a lot of value to members. This card is so generous that Chase has indicated they’re not sure they’ll ever make money on it.
Three years in, how is the Sapphire Reserve holding up?
Chase Sapphire Reserve Basics
The Chase Sapphire Reserve is a card that has it all — a great sign-up bonus, excellent perks, a rewarding points structure, and much more.
The Sapphire Reserve has a sign-up bonus of 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 within three months.
At an absolute minimum, if you have the Sapphire Reserve then Ultimate Rewards points can be redeemed for 1.5 cents each towards a travel purchase, meaning that 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points will get you $750 worth of travel.
As I’ll explain below, there are ways to get way more value out of the points than that.
Redeem your Ultimate Rewards points for a flight in Royal Air Maroc business class
Card Bonus Eligibility
If you’re applying for this card, you can only be approved if you don’t currently have any Sapphire card, and haven’t received a new cardmember bonus on a Sapphire card in the past 48 months (this includes the Sapphire Preferred).
Chase’s 5/24 Rule
Chase has something that’s known as the 5/24 rule. This means that if you’ve opened five or more new card accounts in the past 24 months you typically won’t be approved for this card. So if you do apply for this card, make sure you’re under that limit.
Chase will often let you product change from one card to another (either personal-to-personal or business-to-business), assuming you’ve had it for at least 12 months. So for example, one strategy could be to apply for the Sapphire Preferred, use it for 12 months, and then later you can upgrade to the Sapphire Reserve, if you’d like.
You’ll have to call Chase to find out the options available on your account.
Chase is pretty good about letting you product change between cards
$450 Annual Fee
The Sapphire Reserve has a $450 annual fee. Among the super premium credit cards out there, this is one of the lower annual fees. As I’ll explain below, in reality this card shouldn’t be costing anyone even nearly that much every year, though.
$75 Authorized User Fee
You can add authorized users to the Sapphire Reserve, and there’s a $75 fee per person. This can be well worth it, because not only do they get your increased points earning rates, but they also get a Priority Pass membership, Visa Infinite benefits, and more.
Earning Chase Sapphire Reserve Points
The Chase Sapphire Reserve offers bonus points in two categories that some people may find useful. When picking a credit card, I always recommend getting one that has bonus categories that match up with your spending profile.
Some cards offer bonus points on travel, dining, gas stations, supermarkets, etc., so pick the one that works best for you.
3x Points On Travel & Dining
The Sapphire Reserve offers 3x points on dining and travel purchases globally. Meanwhile the card offers 1x points on all other purchases.
I value Ultimate Rewards points at ~1.7 cents each, so to me that’s the equivalent of a 5.1% return on those purchases, which is pretty incredible.
What Counts As Dining & Travel?
Chase’s dining category includes the following:
merchants whose primary business is sit-down or eat-in dining, including fast food restaurants as well as fine dining establishments.
Chase’s travel category includes the following:
airlines, airports, car rental agencies (including truck, trailer, and RV), cruise ships, hotels and motels, timeshares, local and commuter transportation (including trains, buses, taxis/limos, ferries, bridges, tolls and parking), travel agencies
Earn 3x points on dining and travel globally
No Foreign Transaction Fees
The Sapphire Reserve has no foreign transaction fees, so this is an excellent card to use for purchases globally, since you can earn valuable rewards while not being stuck with those fees, which are sometimes 3%.
Best of all, I find that a large percentage of my purchases abroad are in the travel and dining categories, so I can avoid foreign transaction fees while earning 3x points.
You can earn bonus points even on train tickets with the Sapphire Reserve
Redeeming Chase Sapphire Reserve Points
The Chase Sapphire Reserve earns Ultimate Rewards Points, which I find to be one of the most valuable flexible points currencies. Not only that, but having the Sapphire Reserve means that you can redeem your points for more than you could if you had other cards.
As I’ll explain below, there are a couple of ways that you can most efficiently redeem your Ultimate Rewards points.
Redeem Points For 1.5 Cents Each Towards Travel
Ultimate Rewards points can be redeemed towards the cost of travel purchases through the Chase Travel Portal. This means you can redeem points for all kinds of travel purchases, ranging from flights to hotels to car rentals.
The value you get per point varies based on which card you have:
If you have the Sapphire Reserve, then all your Ultimate Rewards points can be redeemed for 1.5 cents each
Compare this to having the Sapphire Preferred or Ink Preferred, where points can “only” be redeemed for 1.25 cents each
In other words, you could use your Ultimate Rewards points to book a $750 flight for 50,000 points. This allows you to redeem with no blackout dates, and avoid the complexity of frequent flyer programs.
Furthermore, when you redeem your points towards flights through the portal you can even accrue points for those flights.
Transfer Points To Airline & Hotel Partners
My favorite way to redeem Ultimate Rewards points is to transfer them to one of the airline or hotel partners. Points transfer at a 1:1 ratio, and this is a great option if you want to book aspirational travel, like staying at a five star hotel or redeeming for first or business class travel.
Here are the Ultimate Rewards transfer partners:
Aer Lingus Aer Club
IHG Rewards Club
Air France/KLM Flying Blue
British Airways Executive Club
World Of Hyatt
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
How Should You Redeem Ultimate Rewards Points?
Being able to redeem points for 1.5 cents each towards a travel purchase is a great rate, especially when you consider that you won’t be dealing with any capacity controls or blackout dates.
While other transferable points currencies let you redeem points for 1-1.25 cents each, 1.5 cents is in a different league.
However, my favorite use of Ultimate Rewards points is still transferring them to partner airlines and hotels. My personal favorites are Air France-KLM Flying Blue, British Airways Executive Club, Etihad Guest, Singapore KrisFlyer, and World of Hyatt.
Why? Because if you’re redeeming for aspirational travel, this is a way to get a lot more value. For example, the Park Hyatt Maldives often costs $1,000+ per night. Meanwhile if you transfer points to World of Hyatt, you can book it for just 30,000 points per night.
Redeem your Ultimate Rewards points for a stay at the Park Hyatt Maldives
The same is true for flights. International first class tickets can cost $20,000+. Meanwhile you could transfer 120,000 points to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club for a roundtrip first class ticket in ANA first class from the US to Japan.
Redeem your Ultimate Rewards points for travel in ANA first class
What really sets the Chase Sapphire Reserve apart is the incredible benefits that it offers. These benefits help offset the fee, and for many will more than justify the annual fee, not even taking into account the sign-up bonus, 3x points on spending, and more.
$300 Annual Travel Credit
The Sapphire Reserve offers an incredible $300 annual travel credit. While quite a few credit cards offer credits, there are typically lots of strings attached. That’s not the case with the Sapphire Reserve.
There’s no registration required, and any purchases that’s coded as travel will be reimbursed automatically. This could include flights, Uber rides, taxis, train tickets, hotels, and more.
You don’t have to use the entire credit in one transaction, but rather can use it across as many transactions as are needed.
Account Anniversary Year Definition
The $300 annual travel credit doesn’t reset with the calendar year, but rather resets each account anniversary year. For these purposes, the “annual” credit means the year beginning with your account open date through the first statement date after your account open date anniversary, and the 12 monthly billing cycles after that each year.
How To Track Your $300 Credit
When you log into the Ultimate Rewards website on the right side you should see a tracker that shows your progress towards spending the $300 credit. It will also indicate when you’re eligible for your next credit.
Is This Really A $150 Annual Fee Card?
While the Sapphire Reserve has a $450 annual fee, in reality this card shouldn’t be costing anyone more than $150 per year, by the time you factor in the $300 annual travel credit. Anyone who gets this card should spend at least $300 per year on travel. If you don’t, this probably isn’t the card for you, given that it offers travel rewards.
That’s what has made this card so accessible for many — while you’re paying $450 upfront, in reality the card should only cost you $150 per year.
Priority Pass Membership
The Sapphire Reserve comes with a Priority Pass membership, which gets you access to the world’s largest collection of independent lounges. Best of all, this membership allows you to take guests with you at no additional cost.
Priority Pass has 1,200+ airport lounges around the world, so access to these lounges will prove useful to just about any traveler.
SkyTeam Lounge Dubai, which is a Priority Pass lounge
Priority Pass has even added some non-traditional locations to their network, like restaurants, where you can have a meal and Priority Pass picks up the tab.
If you add authorized users to your Sapphire Reserve, they’ll also get a Priority Pass membership, so that could be worth it for the $75 additional user fee alone.
Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check Credit
The Sapphire Reserve offers a Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check credit once every four years. Just charge the $85-100 membership fee to your card, and it will automatically be reimbursed. It doesn’t matter who the fee is being paid for, as long as you charge it to your eligible card.
Why You Should Register For Global Entry Over TSA Pre-Check
If you are going to take advantage of this perk, I’d highly recommend registering for Global Entry over TSA Pre-Check. For those of you not familiar, TSA Pre-Check gets you expedited US security screening, while Global Entry gets you expedited US immigration clearance.
So why should you register for Global Entry and not Pre-Check? Because Global Entry also comes with TSA Pre-Check, while the inverse isn’t true (signing up for TSA Pre-Check doesn’t get you Global Entry).
The Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection gives cardmembers additional benefits at 1,000+ luxury hotels around the world. When booking through the program at an eligible rate you receive breakfast for two, complimentary wifi, a room upgrade if available, early check-in and late check-out if available, and a special property amenity.
Receive extra benefits at the Park Hyatt Saigon
20% Discount On Silvercar Rentals
Silvercar is my favorite car rental company, and you can save on rentals with them for having the Sapphire Reserve. You get 20% off rentals just by using promotion code VISAINF20.
Save 20% on Silvercar rentals with the Sapphire Reserve
Primary Car Rental Coverage
The Sapphire Reserve offers primary collision damage waiver coverage against damage up to the cost of most rental car vehicles provided you decline the CDW coverage offered by the rental agency. This includes economy through luxury class vehicles, vans that carry fewer than seven passengers, and SUVs. You’ll want to check your cardmember agreement for full details.
Travel & Purchase Coverage
The Sapphire Reserve is a Visa Infinite Card, so comes with all kinds of great travel and purchase protection.
What’s especially awesome is that you earn triple points for travel with the card, so you can put your travel purchases on this card, and then automatically be covered with the benefits.
Note that award tickets qualify for this benefit as well, assuming you put the taxes on the Reserve Card.
Here are the basic details of the coverage, though you’ll want to consult the cardmember agreement for all the details:
Sapphire Reserve Visa Infinite Benefits
Baggage Delay Benefit
• You can be reimbursed up to $500 when some or all of the cost of a common carrier ticket is charged to your card (therefore award tickets should be eligible if the taxes are charged to the card)
• You can be reimbursed a maximum of $100 per day for emergency purchases of essential items at a destination other than your current residence
Lost Luggage Reimbursement
• Receive reimbursement for lost or damaged checked or carry-on bags and personal property
• Maximum reimbursement is $3,000
• You must report the loss or damage to the Common Carrier immediately as soon as you exit the Carrier. You will need to provide proof that you submitted a report to the Common Carrier, so be sure to keep a copy of the report for your records.
Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance
• Receive the non-refundable amount of the passenger fare or $10,000 (whichever is less) in the event of a trip cancellation or interruption
• The cancellation or interruption must be caused by death, accidental injury, disease, or physical illness of the passenger or immediate family member
• This also covers you if your airline goes out of business or tickets are otherwise cancelled by the carrier
Trip Delay Reimbursement
• Receive up to $500 if your trip is delayed for more than 6 hours or requires an overnight stay
• The trip has to be delayed by an equipment failure, inclement weather, labor strikes, or hijacking
• Receive up to $10,000 for personal property that has been stolen, damaged, or lost within 120 days
• Receive up to $500 per item ($1,000 per year) if you are dissatisfied with a purchase and the retailer won’t return the item within 90 days
• There are lots of exclusions, including items purchased overseas, and..
I’m spending my last full week in the US before taking a big international trip. I’m not actually sure of the exact details of that trip just yet, though I hope it will include Air Peace, Air Tanzania, Air Mauritius, and more.
On the points & travel front, this week Air Belgium announced resumption of scheduled flights, some new credit card bonuses were introduced, British Airways moved forward their A350 launch and announced their first 777 route with Club Suites, Garuda Indonesia was in the news for being stupid, and more.
With that out of the way, here’s a recap of this week on the blog:
A Cairo Airport spokesperson has said that they haven’t been notified of such changes by British Airways, while an airline spokesperson said the following:
“We constantly review our security arrangements at all our airports around the world, and have suspended flights to Cairo for seven days as a precaution to allow for further assessment.
The safety and security of our customers and crew is always our priority, and we would never operate an aircraft unless it was safe to do so.”
The UK government does warn the following on their website:
“There’s a heightened risk of terrorism against aviation. Additional security measures are in place for flights departing from Egypt to the UK.”
British Airways flies the 787 to Cairo
Interestingly as of now only British Airways has canceled their flights. EgyptAir flights to & from the UK seem to be operating as usual.
It will be interesting to see if any other airlines change their policies. Could we see other foreign airlines cancel flights to Egypt, or could we see EgyptAir be forced to cancel flights to the UK? Is British Airways doing this as a precaution due to a specific threat/intelligence, or…?
Egypt has had a fair number of aviation incidents over the years. For example, in 2015 a Russian charter plane operating a flight from Sharm El Sheikh to St. Petersburg was blown up shortly after takeoff, and that caused 224 fatalities.
In 2017 we also saw an electronics ban instituted for a limited period on flights from select countries to the US and UK, and Egypt was among those countries. While electronics are once again allowed in the cabin of planes, there are increased security checks prior to departure.
I’ll be watching this closely, as I’m scheduled to travel through Cairo soon, flying EgyptAir’s new 787 business class from Washington Dulles…
• Introduction: Falling In Love With Japan
• Review: ANA First Class 777-300ER Chicago To Tokyo
• Review: ANA Arrivals Lounge Tokyo Narita Airport
• Review: ANA Premium Class 737 Tokyo To Nagoya
• Review: Marriott Nagoya Associa Hotel
• Review: Amanemu
• Review: Ritz-Carlton Tokyo
• Review: Aman Tokyo
• Review: ANA First Class Lounge Tokyo Narita Airport
• Review: ANA First Class 777 Tokyo To Chicago
Welcome to my next trip report, covering travel in ANA first class to Japan using an incredible mileage deal, as well as stays at several hotels that I’ve been wanting to stay at for a while.
Planning the trip
Ford had never been to Japan before (other than connecting at Tokyo-area airports), and it had been years since I’ve “properly” visited Japan.
Japan had been near the top of our list of places to visit together for quite a while, and we finally decided it was time book when we had access to an incredible award opportunity while also having some free time in a season that’s pretty good for visiting Japan.
We booked these awards at a time where a 30% transfer bonus was available, meaning we were paying just 93,000 Amex/Citi points per person.
We booked the following for 120,000 Flying Club miles plus $342.32 per person in taxes, fees, and carrier imposed surcharges:
05/28 NH11 Chicago to Tokyo Narita departing 11:20AM arriving 2:20PM (+1 day) [First]
06/07 NH12 Tokyo to Chicago departing 5:10PM arriving 2:55PM [First]
ANA’s 777 first class
Our plan was to finish our trip in Tokyo, so first we had to get to Nagoya. While usually train travel is the most efficient way to get around Japan, given that we were arriving at Narita Airport we decided to book the following flight for $255 per person in business class:
05/29 NH493 Tokyo Narita to Nagoya departing 5:05PM arriving 6:15PM [Business]
ANA’s 737 first class
For the rest of our travel we’d be taking the train around Japan. In the end our routing looked as follows:
We still had to book positioning flights to & from Chicago since we were originating in Miami, though that was a small price to pay for such a great award value.
We had a total of nine nights on the ground in Japan, and our plan was to spend four nights at Amanemu in Shima, and then four nights in Tokyo, spread across two hotels.
Our first stay in Japan was at the Marriott Nagoya Associa. This was just a quick overnight, as we were taking a train to Shima the morning after we landed. This hotel is incredibly convenient, given that it’s on top of the train station.
For the next three hotels we stayed at I’ll be sharing the booking process in each individual installment, since there’s a lot to talk about.
Our first destination was Amanemu. Historically I’ve been an Amanjunkie, and I’ve found the hotels to be worth seeking out. My impression has started to change a bit about them, though, and I’m looking forward to sharing my take on this hotel.
Then in Tokyo we decided to split our time to try out two different hotels.
We spent our first two nights at the Ritz-Carlton Tokyo, which is probably the best Marriott option in the city.
We spent our last two nights in Japan at Aman Tokyo, which I’ve heard many people refer to as the world’s best city hotel. Aman is mostly known for their incredibly secluded hotels in nature destination, so I couldn’t wait to experience my first city Aman.
Ford and I loved our time in Japan. We had an incredible time in Tokyo, and frankly I saw the city in a completely new light, and I think it might now have overtaken Hong Kong as my favorite city in Asia.
We got an excellent deal on our flight thanks to the amazing value of redeeming Virgin Atlantic miles on ANA, and we had some interesting hotel stays as well. Of the two Amans and one-Ritz Carlton, one delighted us, one disappointed us, and one was exactly what we expected.
I should probably mention that we didn’t visit Kyoto this time around. To be honest I didn’t love Kyoto last time I visited, but I do hope to return, now that I’ve seen Japan in a different light. Besides, this is a good opportunity to return once the new Park Hyatt there opens.
So, how are Alaska Lounge membership fees increasing?
The standard membership cost is staying the same
The cost for MVP members is increasing by $25
The cost for MVP Gold members is increasing by $55
The cost for MVP Gold 75K members is increasing by $5
While I assume most people buying memberships are elite members, it’s still interesting to see the standard membership cost not increase, but rather only to see the elite membership price increase.
Alaska Lounge Seattle
Alternatives for Alaska Lounge access
If you’re looking to access Alaska Lounges, there are a few other options available to you.
Fly paid first class
Alaska is the only US airline that lets paid first class passengers traveling on all routes into lounges. So as long as you’re redeeming miles or paying cash you get access, while those upgrading don’t.
The benefit of this over buying a membership directly is that you can add 10 authorized users at no extra cost, and they all get Admirals Club access as well. The authorized users don’t get Alaska Lounge access, but to me this makes it easier to justify the card.
Priority Pass membership
Priority Pass is the world’s largest network of independent lounges, and several premium credit cards come with a membership.
Alaska Lounges in Anchorage, Los Angeles, New York, and Portland belong to Priority Pass, though the ones in Seattle don’t.
This can be a great way to access Alaska Lounges, though note that there are sometimes capacity controls where Priority Pass members aren’t allowed in.
Alaska Lounge New York JFK
In the grand scheme of things the price increase for Alaska Lounges seems reasonable enough, as it’s a trend we’ve seen from other airlines.
Furthermore, unlike other airlines, Alaska lets members use their lounges even when flying other airlines. The major US carriers are all otherwise in the process of adding restrictions about that.
It used to be that you’d only earn one point per dollar spent on credit cards. Then we saw some cards introduce up to 1.5x points per dollar spent. Then a card was introduced in 2017 that offered a full 2x transferable points per dollar spent all with no annual fee (Rates & Fees), which was otherwise unheard of. In this post I wanted to take a closer look at that card.
There aren’t many credit cards that I say just about everyone should have, though this is one of them. So, what makes the Amex Blue Business Plus so rewarding?
Earn 2x Points
The Blue Business Plus offers 2x Membership Rewards points on the first $50,000 spent on eligible purchases every calendar year. After that, you receive 1x Membership Rewards points.
Membership Rewards points are one of the four major transferable points currencies, and personally I value the points at 1.7 cents each. So to me that’s the equivalent of a 3.4% return on everyday spending, which is unrivaled.
I should also mention that this card earns Membership Rewards points that can be transferred to Amex airline and hotel partners. There aren’t many no annual fee cards that are enrolled in the “full” Membership Rewards program, so that in and of itself is a reason to keep this card.
No Annual fee
The Blue Business Plus Card has no annual fee, so this is a card that you can keep long term to maximize your rewards. You can also add authorized users to your account at no extra cost.
0% Intro APR
The Blue Business Plus is offering 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months. After that, your APR will be a variable rate, so if you do take advantage of this, make sure you can pay back the full amount within that period (Rates & Fees).
Spend Above Your Credit Limit
One thing that makes Amex business cards unique is that even though your business credit card has a limit, you can generally spend above that limit.
The extent to which they’ll let you spend above that limit varies based on quite a few factors, though it is something to be aware of, and something I’ve benefited from in the past when I had big purchases to make on cards with fairly low credit limits.
One of the great features of Amex cards is access to Amex Offers, which offers savings or bonus points on purchases with all kinds of retailers. There’s huge value to be had in getting as many no annual fee Amex cards as possible, so that you can get these offers on multiple cards.
Amex Offers could save you hundreds of dollars per year. You can access these offers by logging into your account and scrolling down to the bottom of your account summary page.
2.7% Foreign Transaction Fees
I wouldn’t recommend using this credit card for purchases outside the US, as the card does have 2.7% foreign transaction fees, which will eat up most of the value of your rewards.
Getting Approved For The Blue Business Plus
For those with excellent credit, I find Amex business cards to be incredibly easy to be approved for. Anecdotally most people I’ve heard from have reported instant approvals on this card, so it really shouldn’t be very tough to be approved for, even if you haven’t gotten many business cards in the past.
Just make sure you know that:
You can be approved for at most two Amex cards in a 90 day period
You can have at most five American Express credit cards at any point (this doesn’t include charge cards)
If you’re into collecting points then the Blue Business Plus Card is an absolute must. Earning 2x Membership Rewards points, which I value at a ~3.4% return, is unrivaled. Best of all, you’re getting all of this with a no annual fee card that earns points can be transferred to airline and hotel programs.
Just keep in mind the $50,000 limit every calendar year for earning the 2x points.
Nonetheless, let’s take a look at some of the other cards that are worth considering, either in place of this card, if you’re looking for a cash back card, or if you’re looking for a card to use beyond your first $50,000 spent.
Comparison: Blue Business Plus Vs. Blue Business Cash
That card offers 2% cash back on the first $50,000 spent every calendar year. While that’s solid for a no annual fee business card, personally I have a strong preference for earning 2x Membership Rewards points rather than 2% cash back.
Best Cards Beyond $50K Spending
The Blue Business Plus offers an incredible 2x points on the first $50,000 spent every calendar year, so what are the best cards for everyday spending beyond that?
The Business Gold Card offers 4x Membership Rewards points on the two select categories where your business spent the most each month. The 4x points applies to the first $150,000 in combined purchases from these these categories each calendar year.
The bonus categories are as follows:
Airfare purchased directly from airlines
U.S. purchases for advertising in select media
U.S. purchases at gas stations
U.S. purchases at restaurants
U.S. purchases for shipping
U.S. computer hardware, software, and cloud computing purchases made directly from select providers
Best Cash Back Business Card
A lot of businesses are looking for a great cash back card. If that describes your business, my single favorite cash back business card is the Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business (review), which offers 2% cash back on all purchases, with no caps.
The card does have a $95 annual fee that’s waived for the first year, though it also has a big bonus of $500 cash bonus after spending $4,500 within three months. The value of that bonus should cover the annual fee for several years.
If you want a straightforward cash back business card with no caps, I’d recommend this card.
Amex Blue Business Plus Summary
The Blue Business Plus Card is one of the most incredible cards out there. It offers 2x Membership Rewards points on the first $50,000 spent every calendar year.
This is a card that anyone who is eligible should get, assuming you’re into collecting points.
AMEX Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card Review - YouTube
• Introduction: Patagonian Summer
• Courtyard Marriott Santiago Las Condes Review
• Five Things To Do On Easter Island When You’re Done Seeing Statues
• Is Torres Del Paine National Park Worth Visiting?
• The Best Of The Rest: A Mini-Roundup Of My Chilean hotels
• Delta Sky Club Santiago Review
• Salones VIP Pacific Club Santiago (International Terminal) Review
• Delta Sky Club Atlanta Terminal F Review
Every winter, my husband and I succumb to the vitamin D deficiency that plagues New England, and use our miles to get as far away from winter as possible. Our trip has to meet one of two criteria:
As far south in the Southern Hemisphere as possible (maximum daylight)
As close to the equator as possible (maximum warmth)
This year, we decided on Chile, which has been a long time coming. We’ve both been wanting to visit the popular Torres del Paine National Park for years, so that seemed like the obvious “main event.”
But we were equally intrigued by Easter Island, and the time frame worked well with our schedules.
And frankly, if I’m traveling that far in late December, I sure as heck would rather spend at least some of the time in a place where I’m swapping my down jacket for a tank top.
While I love Ben’s champagne-laden reviews with a side of caviar, I don’t have much to add in terms of airline reviews on this trip. Perhaps more importantly, Ben and Tiffany are both approximately 1,000x better at taking hotel pictures than anyone else I know, yours truly included.
And getting the right lighting for elevator/shower/food pictures is actually really hard. Who knew?
But to start, I figured it would be worth talking through the booking process, because there are a couple of interesting nuances when it comes to travel within Chile.
Especially when seemingly half of the North American continent decides to join you down there.
Getting to Patagonia & Easter Island
Before we get started, I want to make one thing clear – this trip was about the destination, not the journey. Which is really just a fancy way of saying that while our points definitely helped to offset the costs, the ultimate goal here wasn’t the killer sweet spots that some award charts offer.
While holiday award travel is always a bit of a conundrum, I’ve found the week between Christmas and New Year’s tends to be feasible – if not great – in terms of award availability. Unfortunately, we dragged our feet a little longer than we should have due to some external circumstances, and watched several awards pass us by, including American’s 787 business class out of Dallas, and LATAM’s 787-9 out of Miami.
What could have been
Heck, even Delta had some saver-for-them availability on their 767 out of Atlanta, for the low(ish) price of 110,000 SkyMiles one-way.
As we watched those awards come and go, it became clear that dragging our feet wasn’t an option, and we would need to jump on the next saver award space in business class that we could find.
Eventually we settled on Copa Airlines out of Boston for 60,000 United MileagePlus miles per person. I won’t be reviewing these flights, since Nick already has us covered (and sadly, little has changed in the past three years) but I will leave you with these three additional observations:
The service was significantly better on the flight from Panama City to Santiago than the flight from Boston to Panama City. If you consider getting an amenity kit and not being woken up from a nap because “BREAKFAST” to be stellar service.
Panama City is insanely easy to transit through, since you don’t have to change terminals or re-clear any kind of security. I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again, even on a tight connection.
Last fall, Copa started to roll out their new 737 MAX aircrafts, which offer fully flat beds. Well, we know what happened with the 737 MAX, so while there may be a flat bed experience in your distant future if you’re connecting through Panama, I wouldn’t count on it anytime soon.
In the meantime, the dentist’s chair is far from the most glamorous award out there, but beggars (and mileage redeemers) can’t always be choosers.
Getting home over New Year’s
If traveling the week between Christmas and New Year’s limits award options, traveling home the weekend after New Year’s presented a dearth of awards that made me wonder if I should just move to Chile. It became pretty clear pretty fast that business class redemptions were out of the question, so I went with the next best line of defense: if I can’t get a business class award, go with the airline where I have the most status.
So after many months of deliberation, I turned to my beloved, abundant, and consistently devalued currency of choice: SkyMiles.
I’m hesitant to even admit how many miles I spent, but I’ll tell you that the class of service rhymes with “schmeconomy.” Even Comfort Plus was sold out.
Delta doesn’t allow Global Upgrade Certificates to be used on award tickets, so I spent the better part of the fall checking to see if award prices had dropped, and praying for an op-up.
Torres del Paine
Given that our trip was centered around this destination, everything else kind of hinged on our ability to actually get into the park, so booking this was the next logical step. Our original plan had been to hike the famous “W” trail, a popular ~80 kilometer multi-day trek that draws avid hikers from across the world.
Unfortunately, that popularity has worked to the park’s demise. While hikers could once roam free and camp wherever they wanted within the designated areas, the increased visitorship had environmental impact that led to the park instituting a reservations-only system in October of 2016.
Hikers must now book campsites or refugios (heated dorm-style bunkhouses) in advance through the central booking system variety of de-centralized, independent operators whose websites may or may not have translation services.
And most of these slots are snapped up at least eight months in advance.
We quickly realized that booking a trek on the W, a month before departure during peak season, was kind of the hiker’s equivalent of saying “I’m going to use my United miles to fly my entire family around the world in Swiss First Class.”
In other words, it just wasn’t happening.
We ended up finding post-new-year’s availability at the centrally located (and aptly named) Refugio Torre Central for three nights, which would provide easy access to the most popular sections of the trail and allow us to see most the W without having to carry a heavy pack.
But the location came at a price. More specifically, it cost $160 per person per night for, essentially, a bed in a dorm room and two mediocre meals.
I’ll have more to say about the park’s general logistics in a later post, but for now, I’ll leave you with this reflection: it cost more to stay in what was essentially a hostel at the base of the “W” trek than it would have cost to stay at the W Hotel in Santiago.
By a significant margin.
Compared to pulling this together, everything else felt easy – but we weren’t out of the woods yet. The next biggest hurdle was getting to Easter Island. LATAM is the only airline that flies to Easter Island’s airport, with twice-daily flights from Santiago and weekly flights from Tahiti. Consequently, partner award availability – through American AAdvantage, British Airways Avios, or otherwise – is virtually nonexistent.
I’ve read reports from people indicating that they couldn’t find award availability for an entire year, and while that occasional unicorn may exist, it sure as heck isn’t going to show its face during one of the most popular travel weeks of the year.
We ended up paying more than I would have liked for a one-way ticket from Santiago to Easter Island’s IPC, and a return flight to Punta Arenas (the gateway to Torres del Paine) with a mandatory connection in Santiago. With a little bit of foresight and extra planning, you can transfer Marriott Rewards points to LATAM at a 3:1 ratio with a 5,000 point bonus for every 60,000 points transferred.
But perhaps the most practical way to maximize value on LATAM is to book directly through their Chilean website. I didn’t love the risk that goes with showing proof of citizenship, so I shied away from this option, but it sounds like it doesn’t matter. My friend Jeremy was able to book round-trip business class for around $600, with zero proof of citizenship required.
At least we know for next time.
Back on the mainland, things get comparatively easier, with LATAM, Sky Airline and JetSMART all servicing Punta Arenas. I’m not a huge fan of flying unknown low-cost carriers in new countries, and fortunately, the LATAM flights were priced comparably to the others. Our return flight from Punta Arenas to Santiago set us back $248 per person, and we could have done even better if we had been more flexible with our time that day.
Most of our destinations aren’t serviced by major hotel chains, but Marriott has a huge presence in Santiago. We tend to be really selective with booking aspirational properties, especially when we are on what amounts to essentially a 30-hour layover. So, for two nights in Santiago, 35,000 points for a perfectly serviceable Courtyard by Marriott felt like a solid choice.
For all of our other stops, we used the basic but utilitarian booking.com for some basic but utilitarian hotels. None of the properties are really worth reviewing individually (though I’ll do a general roundup), but nothing broke the bank, either.
This is probably the most mundane topic I’ll ever write about on here, but for those of us who have to drive several hours to get to a major international airport, it’s definitely a thing. And while I’ve typically succumbed to egregious parking rates or booking one-way rental cars, I was finally introduced to the glorious world of airport hotel “Stay and Park” packages.
Oh my gosh, how have I been missing this for so long??
We were flying out of Boston’s Logan Airport, where the “official” economy parking lot costs $26 per day. With our flight leaving at 8 AM, we had planned to stay in the area the night before anyway, and we came across a deal that included one night at the Courtyard Marriott and fourteen days of airport parking for $280.
In essence, we paid less than we would have for the “economy” park lot and got our hotel night for free.
And yes, the entire room and parking rate qualified for earning Marriott Bonvoy points.
Sometimes, we plan trips around killer mileage redemptions or amazing hotel deals. But at the end of the day (and call me old-fashioned), I’m still going to prioritize the destination over the journey, using points and miles to supplement wherever I can. Clearly, this trip fell into the latter category.
And with two far-flung, remote destinations that we will probably never visit again, I was okay to pay the “destination premium.” After all, we weren’t going for this:
So much as this:
I look forward to sharing our adventures!
If you’re still really yearning for a review of Delta’s 767 economy product, I wrote a haiku about it:
Seat was pretty tight
Good movies bad food and small
READ MORE FROM THIS TRIP
• Introduction: Patagonian Summer
• Courtyard Marriott Santiago Las Condes Review
• Five Things to do on Easter Island When You’re Done Seeing Statues
• Is Torres del Paine National Park Worth Visiting?
• The Best of the Rest: A Mini-Roundup of my Chilean hotels
• Delta Sky Club Santiago Review
• Salones VIP Pacific Club Santiago (International Terminal) Review
• Delta Sky Club Atlanta Terminal F Review
Yesterday I wrote about how President Trump had a meeting with several airline CEOs, including those from American Airlines, United Airlines, and even Qatar Airways. One of the topics of conversation was subsidies for Gulf carriers, which the US airlines just go on and on about.
This was a closed meeting, so unfortunately we don’t officially know that much about what happened, if it was catered by McDonald’s, etc. However, there are now some reports of how the conversation went, and it sounds like it may not have gone as planned for US airlines.
Trump was angry that Bastian wasn’t there
Delta’s CEO, Ed Bastian, couldn’t attend the meeting. That’s a bit surprising, given that he’s the most vocal about the Gulf carriers, so you’d think he would have done absolutely everything in his power to be there.
A Delta spokesperson claims he wasn’t there due to travel that he wasn’t able to reschedule:
“Ed unfortunately had some previously scheduled travel that he was unable to reschedule. He is appreciative of opportunities … to discuss this important issue with the president and members of the administration. Delta remains 100% committed to leveling the playing field in international aviation.”
But that’s not how it was perceived. A senior White House official said:
“The real story is that Delta refused the invite. That didn’t help their cause.”
Apparently Trump brought up several times during the meeting how Delta’s CEO wasn’t there, and Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker also pointed out how he flew all the way from Qatar to be there, while Bastian couldn’t even make the trip.
US airline CEOs were surprised Al Baker was there
Sources suggest that the US airline executives in attendance were “shocked” when they found out that Al Baker was invited to the meeting, given the topic they were hoping to discuss.
It’s also reported that White House trade advisor Peter Navarro wasn’t happy about Al Baker being there. A White House official had the following to say:
“The president expressly wanted the Qatar CEO as he wanted a variety of perspectives, as he always does.”
Trump tells US airlines to pound sand
The resolution from the meeting? Qatar Airways, Emirates, and Etihad have to stop service to the US effective immediately, and have to pay US carriers $50 billion for the illegal subsidies they’ve received over the past decade.
Just kidding, of course.
President Trump told US carriers to just go through the normal process of filing a complaint through federal regulators:
“The outcome was to encourage the aggrieved U.S. carriers to use the mechanisms available in law to adjudicate their grievances. That outcome would have been the same without Qatar being there.”
Of course despite nothing coming of this, US airline CEOs are still putting this meeting in a positive light. American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said the following:
“We had a good meeting. Talked to the president about American jobs and the threat to American jobs from subsidized carriers outside the United States being able to fly from Europe into the United States. Had a nice audience, and I think we made a good impression.”
In fairness, at least they got a meeting with Trump over this, even if it went nowhere, while Obama wasn’t open to having a meeting on this.
Despite Trump’s “America first” agenda, it’s pretty telling that he didn’t take any action, but rather told US airlines to just go through the normal processes, which likely won’t lead anywhere.
Boy how I would have loved to be there to see this, though. I can just picture it:
“Mister Donald, I flew all the way from Qatar to be here, and Mister Ed couldn’t even fly one of his old sh*t aeroplanes here from Atlanta.” *smirk*
To say that I would have loved to be a fly on the wall at this meeting is a severe understatement.
President Trump’s meeting with airline CEOs
Yesterday President Trump and Vice President Pence hosted several airline CEOs at the White House, including the CEOs of American, United, JetBlue, Fedex, Atlas Air, and Qatar Airways.
Delta CEO Ed Bastian couldn’t attend due to international travel. I find that interesting — I figured he would have cleared his schedule and done everything possible to attend, given how he has been the most vocal person about what they were discussing.
Can you imagine how fabulously awkward this meeting must have been?!? I’m sure Mr. Akbar brought his boxing gloves, and was sad when he found out that Mr. Bastian couldn’t attend.
It would be one thing if Trump just met with the CEOs of US airlines, but you’re telling me Doug Parker and Akbar Al Baker were in the same room together pleading their cases?!? This should’ve been pay per view, and maybe they should have instead taken this to Judge Judy.
Interestingly Trump hasn’t Tweeted anything about the meeting (it took a while to get to his Twitter feed from yesterday, because my goodness has he been busy this morning).
Furthermore, there hasn’t been anything specific mentioned about what came of the meeting, and there’s no video that I’ve been able to find. That sort of makes me feel like this might have mostly been a photo-op.
What did Trump discuss with airline CEOs?
As is the norm, the US airlines are absolutely obsessed with the subsidies of the “big three” Gulf carriers.
Last year the US came to an Open Skies agreement with Qatar and the UAE, which ultimately amounted to very little — it made the US airlines feel like they won, while essentially maintaining the status quo.
Let’s not forget the irony of all of this. This is happening the same time that Delta is considering taking a stake in government owned and subsidized Alitalia.
What the lobbying groups are saying
The Partnership for Open & Fair Skies, representing the “big three” US carriers, had the following to say:
“We had a productive meeting with President Trump today to talk about the importance of American jobs and not letting foreign governments break their agreements with the United States. The president shares our concerns and instructed us to keep working with the U.S. Department of Transportation, which we plan to do. We thank the president for his time and attention, as well as his concern for the 1.2 million Americans who rely on a strong U.S. airline industry.”
Meanwhile the US Travel Association, representing the opposing side, had the following to say:
“We have closely scrutinized Open Skies agreements and we simply do not agree that they are doing any harm to American businesses — on the contrary, our research shows immense benefits to the U.S. economy, jobs base and exports, and considerable harm if Open Skies is tampered with. Apart from the Big Three, the entirety of the U.S. travel and tourism industry—including the rest of the aviation sector — strongly supports keeping Open Skies intact.”
I’ll be curious to see if anything comes of these meetings. Frankly airline executives on both sides have been very complementary of Trump — the “big three” US carriers have thanked Trump for protecting American jobs, while Al Baker has called Trump his friend.