An Easy Way Earn a Free Trip Just by Shopping for Groceries

Staples Now Sells Safeway Gift Cards
Staples Now Sells Safeway Gift Cards

According to the USDA, an average family of four spends upwards of $1000 per month on groceries.

What if you could save five percent of that cost?

Better yet, what if you could earn 60,000 frequent flyer miles each year just from your grocery spending?

Since I’ve never seen this mentioned elsewhere, I wanted point out that Staples.com is now selling Safeway gift cards.

If you purchase Safeway gift cards with an small business credit card that pays five times points on office supply store purchases, such as a Chase Ink card, you can accumulate five percent cash back or five times points for travel.

Staples.com sells two types of Safeway gift cards in several denominations up to $200 — emailed cards, and actual plastic gift cards.  There is a mailing fee of $2.00 per card for the plastic version.

I have been buying these cards for sometime, and have only encountered two Safeway cashiers that know how to use the emailed version of the gift cards.  So if you opt for the paper gift cards, be prepared to endure the wrath of shoppers standing in line behind you!

Did you know about this deal before reading this post?

Amex SPG Surprise Retention Bonus

Amex Retention Bonus
It never hurts to ask.

Amex has been bending over backwards lately to encourage me to keep my Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) business credit card open.

I had been set to cancel the card when the annual fee went up from $65 per year to $95.

But American Express has been wooing me back with special offers.

First, I received a targeted offer for 5,000 bonus points if I spent $5000 on the card, and 10,000 bonus points if I spend $10,000.

Ordinarily, those spending thresholds would be far out of reach.

But thanks to a number of concurrent Amex Offers, that provide statement credits for purchases at popular vendors, such as Staples and Home Depot, I hope to qualify for these bonus points.

Amex SPG Surprise Retention Bonus

Amex is reluctant to waive the annual fee on their SPG credit cards, but it never hurts to ask!

In my case, after talking to a customer service representative, I was transferred to a “loyalty representative.”

The second representative offered me a $25 statement credit if I agreed to keep my credit card account open.  That doesn’t bring the annual fee down to the original $65, but it is close.

I believe I can more than offset the $70 fee with rebates via “Amex Offers,” but it remains to be seen what the offers will be in the coming months.  I can usually take advantage of offers for pet food or groceries, and Amex has has been pushing a number of travel offers lately.

Have you snagged a retention bonus for an Amex card?

Remember, it never hurts to ask!

Which Credit Card Gets You A Free Limo Ride to the Airport in Tokyo?

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 3.45.44 PM
Get a free ride to Narita airport!

One of the biggest ancillary expenses of air travel is ground transportation to and from the airport.

In Tokyo, if you are a foreign JCB credit cardholder, you can get a free ride on the airport limousine bus from downtown hotels to Tokyo’s Narita (NRT) airport.

To qualify for the free ride, you must demonstrate that you spent 50,000 yen on a JCB credit card during your visit to Japan.  (At the current exchange rate, 50,000 yen is equivalent to about $412.)  It would be pretty easy to meet that threshold after spending a few days in Japan.

The regular one-way fare on the airport limo bus is about 3000 yen (about $26).

How to Get a Free Ride To Narita Airport

The airport limo service picks up at major hotels in Tokyo.

You can get two free airport limo tickets per JCB card!  To get your free tickets to Narita International Airport (NRT), bring your JCB credit card receipts totaling at least 50,000 yen of purchases in Japan (including tax) to JCB PLAZA in Tokyo.

The fine print:

  • Offer applies for all JCB brand card issuing companies.
  • JCB cards issued in Japan are not eligible.
  • Cash advances are excluded.
  • The offer runs through June 30, 2016.

Get 20 Percent Discount on Airport Limo From Narita (NRT) or Kansai (KIX)

JCB cardholders can also get a discount on the airport limousine bus from Tokyo’s Narita airport (NRT) to downtown hotels.

Passengers arriving at Osaka’s Kansai (KIX) airport can get a 20 percent discount on select bus lines from the airport.

JCB Discounts on Airport Limo in Japan
JCB Discounts on Airport Limo in Japan

Just show your JCB credit card when you purchase your bus tickets at the airport.

You can get four tickets at the discount price!

JCB issues several different credit cards in the United States, but they are only available to residents of certain states:

  1. JCB Standard or Mitsuwa JCB Card
    California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon or Washington
  2. Marukai Premium and Marukai JCB Card (California)
    California, Nevada, Oregon or Washington
  3. Marukai Premium and Marukai JCB Card (Hawaii)
    Hawaii

Earn up to 3% Cash Back Points with the JCB Card!

The JCB Marukai credit card is an all around great deal because it pays cash back on all purchases, with no limit on how much you can earn.  It pays:

  • 1% cash back points on first $1,000 spent yearly
  • 2% cash back points on next $2,000 spent yearly
  • 3% cash back points on over $3,000 spent yearly

That is an outstanding payout for a rewards credit card but it is only available to residents of Hawaii, California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

But, what if you don’t have a JCB credit card?

Discover Card Offers 20% Discount on the Airport Limo in Japan!

Discover card airport limo discount in Japan
Look for these signs at the airport ticket counters.

Discover card members save 20 percent off one-way airport limousine bus tickets when using their Discover card at the Tokyo Narita Airport (NRT) and Kansai International Airport (KIX) limousine ticket counters.

You can get up to three discount tickets at a time!

The Discover card offer runs through March 31, 2016.

7 Things I Loved About the Radisson Blu Le Metropolitan in Paris, and 2 Things I Didn’t

View of the Eiffel Tower from our room at the Radisson Blu Metropolitan
View of the Eiffel Tower from our room at the Radisson Blu Metropolitan

If you are sitting on a free night worldwide, courtesy of the Club Carlson credit card devaluation, I can recommend the Radisson Blu Le Metropolitan hotel in Paris.  

The hotel is not fancy, nor is it in a neighborhood popular with tourists.  But for me, it had a certain charm to make our stay in Paris comfortable and enjoyable.

We spent five nights of our summer vacation at the Radisson Blu Le Metropolitan Hotel, Paris Eiffel.  Four nights were courtesy of Club Carlson points and the fifth night was partially paid by a Radisson gift card I won in a contest.

I loved the hotel.  Would I have loved it as much if if it were a paid stay, as opposed to practically free?  Probably not.  As a certified cheapskate, I get some bizarre pleasure about getting something for nothing.  I would not have paid 340 Euro a night to stay there.

But after agonizing about the various Radisson Blu hotels in Paris, I am very glad we selected Le Metropolitan.

Here are a few reasons why:

The Radisson Blu Le Metropolitan Has a Direct View of the Eiffel Tower

Bastille Day Fireworks viewed from Place de Mexico
Bastille Day Fireworks viewed from Place de Mexico

There is nothing more romantic than a room with a view.  Our trip to Paris was timed to coincide with Bastille Day.  It was a real thrill to witness the fireworks display over the Eiffel Tower from the Place de Mexico, directly in front of our hotel.

The police had barricaded the adjoining streets, so we were in a safe, traffic-free zone.  We were away from the crowds, but still had a direct, spot on view of the Eiffel Tower.

We could even catch a view of the Eiffel Tower from our room on the third floor.

The Radisson Blu Le Metropolitan Doesn’t Feel Like a Chain Hotel

viewed from Place de Mexico
Our small but functional room at the Radisson Blu le Metropolitan

I prefer to stay somewhere that feels local.  The Radisson Blu Metropolitan has its own modern Parisian sense of style.  It is not a cookie cutter chain hotel.  Rather, it is a small property with 38 rooms and 10 suites, designed by French interior designer François Champsaur.  The look is elegant, clean and minimalist, with features such as all white bedding, caramel-stained wood and black stone rainfall showers.

The Small Touches at the Radisson Blu Le Metropolitan in Paris

Sometimes it’s the little things that make a big difference.  There was a Nespresso machine in the room, and the restaurant sent up a pitcher of freshly steamed milk.  There was a tiny refrigerator to keep some yogurt or a few drinks cold.  Also there was a free bottle of Evian water, and two free macarons were delivered to our room each afternoon.  If you are lucky, you will get a couple of bonbons with the turn down service — sweet, marzipan like confections.  Oh, and there is free wifi in all the rooms, and a safe in the closet.

The Entire Hotel is Nonsmoking

There is another Club Carlson hotel about two blocks away, the Radisson Blu Le Dokhan’s Hotel Paris Trocadero.  It receives high marks on TripAdvisor, and looks charming.  We considered that hotel, but the only rooms that were available on points for our dates were smoking rooms.  That was unacceptable.  At the Radisson Blu Le Metropolitan hotel, all the rooms are nonsmoking.

There’s a Swimming Pool and a Hamman!

There are more than 2,000 hotels in Paris and probably fewer than a few dozen have swimming pools.  Le Metropolitan has a small swimming pool in the basement, along with a steam room.  The swimming pool is petite, for sure, but there is nothing more refreshing than a dip in the pool after spending the day walking all over Paris.  The pool and spa area is quite relaxing, with vintage jazz music piped in.  The steam room, or hamman, is lined with bright green glass tiles.  I didn’t try it; maybe next time.

The Neighborhood — the Sixteenth Arrondissement

It's an easy walk from Le Trocadero Metro station
It’s an easy walk from the Trocadero Metro station

Paris is a city of small neighborhoods, and I am sure most people will say they liked their hotel because the location was great.  The Radisson Blu Le Metropolitan is in a quiet neighborhood of upscale apartments, professional offices, and embassies.

The nearest Metro station, Trocadero, is exactly one block away.

There are a handful of cafes and casual restaurants, but no nightlife to speak of.  The nice thing about being in a residential neighborhood is that there are convenient services nearby.

Laundromat right next door
Laundromat right next door

For instance, there is a laundromat next door.  Nothing makes me happier when traveling than a suitcase full of clean clothes.

A few doors down from the laundromat, you can find Androuet (17, rue des Belles Feuilles), which is reputed to be among the finest cheese shops in Paris.  If you are overwhelmed by the choices the shopkeeper can guide you.

Le Androuet, one of the best cheese stores in Paris
Le Androuet, one of the best cheese stores in Paris

In Paris, there are contests each year for various baked goods, such as the best lemon tart, or the best baguette.  In 2013, Boulangerie des Belles Feuilles (22 rue des Belles Feuilles) was among the top ten bakeries for butter croissants.  Yup, we were staying down the street from the best croissants in Paris.  The Paris Brest, a ring of choux pastry filled with hazelnut praline was to die for!

There is also a chain bakery, Paul (12 Rue De Belle Feuilles), where you can grab a quick breakfast. Chain bakery or not, they bake all their breads right there.  It is located in a modern shopping mall just steps from Le Metropolitan.  The mall houses a large Casino supermarket.

The Champs Elysee, Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, and Trocadero Gardens are all within easy walking distance.

What I Didn’t Like About Le Metropolitan

I am sorry if this is sounding like a puff piece.  Perhaps the romance of Paris has contributed to my enthusiasm.

There are some things I didn’t like about the Radisson Blu le Metropolitan.   First of all the rooms were small.  You expect that in Paris.  On both our stays, we were kindly upgraded from “Classic” to “Deluxe” rooms.  Nevertheless, the rooms were still very small, with hardly enough room to sit and enjoy a drink or a bite to eat.  In the second room where we stayed, the toilet was in a separate room from the sink and the shower — an inconvenient layout.  Secondly, the service was adequate but not exceptional.  Small requests, such as for a second chair, had to be repeated several times.

This hotel is not for everybody.  If you want to be in the center of town, or in an area with more nightlife, this hotel is not for you.

There is a full service bar and restaurant at the Radisson Blu le Metropolitan which we did not try.  The restaurant was on the pricy side, but discounts are available.

Finally, the cost of a room here in Club Carlson points has effectively doubled (for holders of the Club Carlson credit card), from 70,000 points for two nights, to 70,000 points for one night.

By the way, this hotel has its own app, with tourist information.  You can find it on iTunes.

P.S.  Per the request in the comments, here is a picture from the cheese shop.

A few of the cheeses for sale at Androuet
A few of the cheeses for sale at Androuet

Ain’t No Cure for the Radisson Blu(es)

Is it worth it to keep the Club Carlson credit card?
Is it worth it to keep the Club Carlson credit card?

U.S. Bank sent me a letter today thanking me for being a loyal Club Carlson Visa cardholder.

The reward for my loyalty?  7,500 bonus points.

This is an interesting development, considering that in the last few months, Club Carlson has decimated the value of their credit card by eliminating the second night free benefit and by raising the points required for a reward night at all their best properties.

If you did not receive a similar bonus, I suggest calling U.S. Bank, at 800-236-7546.

I was all set to cancel my Club Carlson Visa business card when the $60 annual fee comes due next month.

But after reading an article by Freequent Flyer about how the new one free night annual benefit will work, I am reconsidering.

Basically, you will be awarded a one-night free cert (for use in U.S. hotels only) upon paying the annual fee, if you have spent $10,000 on the card in the prior year.

After checking my account, I realized that I have already met the spending threshold.

In August, if I pay the $60 annual fee, I will earn 40,000 points.  My current balance is 30,000 points.  Thus, I would have enough for one award night, and one free night at a hotel like the Radisson Martinique on Broadway which charges 70,000 points for an award night.  In general, two “free” nights is worth more to me than one “free” night, because reduces the likelihood of having to pay for a second night at the same hotel on  a weekend trip.

Had I not already met the spending threshold, it would not be worthwhile for me to hold on to the Club Carlson Visa card.  That’s because I would rather use a 2 percent cash back card like my Venture card if I were to spend $10,000.  That would get me $200 to spend on travel, and I know I could find a nice New York City hotel on Priceline for less than that.  $200 plus a $60 annual fee is not a good value for one night.

Have you decided what to do?  Are you quitting Club Carlson or hanging on?

Redeem Capital One Venture Points Multiple Times

Erase Your Travel Charges , Then Erase them again
Erase your travel charges. . . then erase them again

We are taking the Amtrak train up to Newark (EWR) airport in order to catch our Open Skies flight to Paris.

I purchased the train tickets with my relatively new Capital One Venture card, which has a generous 40,000 point bonus (worth $400 towards travel) for opening a new card after meeting the minimum spend requirement.

The Venture card has a “purchase eraser” feature that allows you to offset travel purchases with points earned from the card.

You earn 2x points on all purchases, and the annual fee of $59 is waived the first year.

Capital One Venture Card is Essentially a 2 Percent Cash Back Travel Rewards Card

I am really rocking this card.  It doesn’t get much love in the miles and points world, but I look at it as a 2 percent cash back card that can accumulate points in a “travel savings account.”

I hear via the grapevine that it may be possible to get Capital One to waive the annual fee after the first year.  For the meantime, I am putting my everyday spending on this card.

I got to put the Venture card to the test for our upcoming trip.  After purchasing the train tickets, the charge posted to my account as a travel charge which could be offset via a credit from the purchase eraser.

Erase the Same Charge on your Capital One Venture Account More than Once

I applied the bonus points to the ticket cost of $122 for two one-way tickets to Newark.  I noticed that the charge was still available to be credited.  So I tried again, and a second $122 credit was applied to my account.

That means that the same charge can be wiped out more than once.

Use Your Capital One Venture Points to Partially Erase Charges

The return train tickets were $163, which I eliminated via the purchase eraser.  Just for kicks, I applied the remaining balance of my points toward that charge again.  I didn’t have enough points to cover the full amount, but I received a partial credit on my statement for a portion of the charge.

That means that you can apply points toward partial credits on travel charges, even if you don’t have enough points to completely offset the charges.

These two features mean that the Capital One Venture Card can function as a two percent cash back card, as long as you have a few travel expenses greater than $25 charged to your account.

Have you had a similar experience with the “purchase eraser”?  

2 out of 3 Banks Rescind Annual Fees on My Travel Rewards Credit Cards

Keep Calm and Call the BankAre you averse to paying bank fees?

I enjoy the benefits of travel rewards credit cards but I do not like to pay hefty annual fees.

Many premium rewards credit cards waive the annual fee for the first year.

But when your one-year anniversary rolls around, the fee will post on your credit card statement.

Call the Bank to Request a Fee Waiver on Your Credit Card

Here’s a hint:

  • Don’t close your credit card account when the annual fee comes due without calling your bank first.
  • Ask the bank representative what incentives they can offer you to keep your account open.
  • Ask what other offers may be available so you can weigh all the options.

The banks spend a lot of money to recruit you as a customer.  They advertise on TV,  in magazines, and on websites.  They send out multiple mailers.  They pay affiliate commissions.  They offer refer-a-friend bonuses.  Moreover, many banks offer generous sign-up bonuses worth $400-500 or more.

The banks would lose all their “investment” in you if you close your account after the first year.

Ask and Ask Again

You might be surprised how generous some banks are and how anxious they are to keep you as a customer.

Before or after your annual fee posts, you can call the issuing bank and find out whether they are willing to waive the annual fee or offer points or other incentives for you to keep the account open.  Some banks have a grace period of 30 or 60 days after the annual fee posts during which you can cancel the card without paying the fee.  Check with your bank on their policy.

I had a number of anniversaries coming up on my cards this spring.  I called the banks, and here are the results.  These are just a few data points. Everyone’s credit and spending record are different and everyone may have different offers available.

Chase Bank Offers $95 Statement Credit on Ink Plus Business Card

I have had the Chase Ink Plus business credit card for just one year.  Before the annual fee posted, I called to inquire about retention bonuses.  Right off the bat I was offered a credit of $95 on my account to offset the $95 annual fee.  I accepted this offer.  I am happy to keep this credit card open because I find the five times Ultimate Rewards points it offers for office supply purchases to be quite valuable.

Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Business Credit Card:  No Soap Radio

Another card I had with Chase was the Southwest Rapid Rewards Business Credit Card.  This card has an annual fee of $69 which comes with a 3,000 mile bonus.  In past years, Chase has offered me an extra 3,000 miles to keep this card open.  This year, I had no luck with an increased offer, and I closed the account.

Meanwhile, I will continue earning Chase Ultimate Reward points with the Ink Plus card, which can be transferred to Southwest Rapid Rewards points.

Barclays Bank Cancels the Fee on the AAdvantage Aviator Red Credit Card

When US Air merged with American Airlines, my Barclays US Air credit card became an American Airlines AAdvantage Aviator Red Card.  When I called Barclay’s, I was told that there would be no annual fee for the first year of the Aviator Red card, because it was a new product.  However, an $89 annual fee did post on my statement.   I called the bank again and they rescinded the fee.

I will keep the card open for the coming year, because it offers a ten percent rebate on flights booked with miles, discounted award tickets, and free checked bags for myself and my family.

Citibank American Airlines Card Offers 3,000 Miles

I have both the business and personal Citibank American Airlines Platinum Select cards.  I called Citibank to inquire about the grace period on my business Citibank American Airlines Platinum Select World MasterCard.  While I was at it, I asked if they had any special offers available.  Citibank offered me 3,000 miles just for asking!

When the annual fee came due, I called again but there were no retention offers available so I cancelled my business card.  I already have another American Airlines business credit card (see above) and did not see the need to keep two cards open.

A few weeks later I called Citibank to inquire about special offers for my personal American Airlines Platinum Select World MasterCard.  This time I was offered 3,000 miles, but I must spend $500 on the card within the next three months in order to receive the bonus.  They had several other offers available, but this seemed the least troublesome.   I will inquire about retention offers when the annual fee comes due.

Amex SPG Credit Card

Amex recently announced that it was raising the annual fee on its Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) credit cards from $65 a year to $95 a year.  My annual fee comes due in August, and I was told that the increased fee will not take effect at that time.  Even at $65 a year, I am hard pressed to justify paying an annual fee to Amex.

In years past, I have never gotten more than 1,000 SPG points for calling in.  When the annual fee posts I will decide what to do depending on which special offers are available.

* * *

Hey, two out of three banks ain’t bad!  If you would like to share your experience in the comments below, it will help other readers who are seeking fee waivers or other bonus offers.

Click here to compare current credit card offers.

How I Leveraged My Bathroom Renovation Into a Spring Break Trip to Florida

Spring Break in Florida
Spring break in Florida, here we come!

Our 40-year old townhouse is in desperate need of repairs.

What with the original bathrooms, and leaks springing left and right, it was past time to take action.  Of course if you defer your home repairs like we did, you find yourself facing some major expenses all at once.

Luckily, I met Carlos the contractor when I was out walking the dog one day.  Carlos can fix anything and is super nice and flexible.  Our arrangement was that we would pay Carlos for the labor, and that we would purchase the materials.

Since I knew we would be racking up charges, I saw this as an easy way to meet the minimum spend requirements on some new travel rewards credit cards.

My Travel Rewards Credit Card Applications

My remodeled bathroom
My remodeled bathroom

It had been over six months since I had applied for a travel rewards credit card, and there were several cards with large sign-up bonuses on my wish list.

Purchasing materials for the home renovation would be an easy way to meet hefty initial spend requirements.

Warning — if you don’t pay your credit cards in full and on time every month, you should not be in this game!

Barclay’s U.S. Air Dividend Miles Card

The Barclay’s U.S. Air Dividend Miles credit card was offering 50K bonus miles after the first purchase and payment of the annual fee.  This card was on the verge of retirement due to the US Air – American Airlines merger.  I had applied once before, and was not approved, so this was my last ditch effort to rack up 50K miles before the merger.  I applied, and was denied once again, for having too many recent credit card applications.  Fortunately, the bank did not do a hard pull of my credit report, so no skin off my back.  This card is no longer being offered.

Chase’s Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

The Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card offers 40K bonus points after completing a minimum spend requirement of $3,000 within the first three months.  You can get an additional 5,000 Ultimate Reward Points by adding an authorized user.  Ultimate Rewards points are great because they are easily transferred to a variety of frequent flyer programs.  The card pays two times points on travel and restaurants.  There is a $95 annual fee that is waived the first year.  I wrote yesterday how I used 45,000 Chase Ultimate Reward points earned from opening the Sapphire Preferred credit card to finance our Amtrak Auto Train trip to Florida.

Capital One’s Venture Card

The Capital One Venture rewards card offers 40,000 bonus points to new applicants who meet a minimum spend of $3,000 within the first three months.  The card pays two times points on all purchases, and carries a $59 annual fee which is waived the first year.  After meeting the initial spend requirement, I had 46,000 points which could be used to offset $460 in travel expenses.  The Venture card is not a favorite among travel bloggers — which I think is crazy because it has a decent sign-up bonus, earns a great rate on all spending, allows flexible redemptions for travel expenses (while still earning frequent flyer miles on your purchases.)  I have read numerous reports of people having success in getting the annual fee waived, sometimes for two years in a row.

Gift Card Purchases for Home Improvement Stores

The last method I used to accrue free travel to Florida was to purchase gift cards for Home Depot and Lowes at an office supply store with my Chase Ink Bold business credit card.  The Ink Bold card earns 5x Ultimate Reward Points for purchases at at office supply stores like Staples and Office Depot and Amazon.  My contractor used these gift cards to purchase supplies for the renovation, and we used the cards to order plumbing parts, medicine cabinets, light fixtures and more.  When possible, we shopped through an online shopping portal to earn extra points and miles for our purchases.

A “Free” Trip to Florida for Spring Break

My daughter is graduating from high school this year so this was our last chance to take a spring break trip together.  She asked if she could invite a friend to come along, a request that was easy to accommodate thanks to miles and points.

Our trip was not completely free, of course.  But through the strategies outlined above, and prior accrual of points, we were able to enjoy our round trip travel on the Auto Train and four out of five nights hotels in Florida for free.

To compare current credit card offers, click here.  If you need a good contractor, drop me a line.

One-Two-Punch: Club Carlson Devalues BOGO International Stays

Club Carlson Used to offer  "Stay 2 Nights, Get 2 Free.
Club Carlson used to offer two free nights after a two night stay.

Club Carlson has made a second drastic devaluation  to their hotel loyalty program, on the heels of the  announcement last week that Club Carlson will no longer offer two award nights for the price of one for credit card holders.

The new devaluation affects credit card holders who were hoping to book vacations at Club Carlson properties in Europe, the Middle East, or Africa taking advantage of the Stay 2 Nights, Get 2 Free offer that had been in effect for paid weekend stays for the last several years.  This was one of the best and most under-appreciated deals in the miles and points world.  It wasn’t universally available, but you could often find it for long weekend stays at Radisson hotels in smaller European capitals.

Stay 2 Get 1 Free Offer is a Significant Downgrade

The new offer is a significant downgrade from the prior offer:  now you get one, rather than two free nights added on to a paid stay of two nights in a standard room at participating Radisson Blu and Park Inn by Radisson hotels in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.  The offer is available for check-ins on Friday or Saturday (Thursday or Friday for hotels in Middle East).  You must register in advance here, and book and stay by June 28, 2015.  Use the promo code WBUY2F2 when booking your stay.

Unlike the previous offer, this offer expires prior to the peak summer travel season.  The Stay One Night, Get One free offer also has been eliminated.

Stay 5 Paid Nights, Get 6th Free

A much more limited number of Club Carlson properties are participating in a Stay 5 Nights, Get 6th Free promotion running now through June 28, 2015.  Like the Stay 2 Get 1 Free offer, you must register in advance.

 Questioning Club Carlson Loyalty

Now that Club Carlson has gutted the most valuable aspects of their credit card/loyalty program, customers must seriously reevaluate the utility of this program for their travel needs.

If you open a new Club Carlson credit card, you can earn 85,000 points after meeting a hefty minimum spend requirement, and paying the annual fee of $75 for a personal account, or $60 for a business account.  That used to be enough for four free nights at a Radisson hotel like the Radisson Martinique in New York City.  Now, it would be enough for just one free night.

The program awards 40,000 points upon payment of the next annual fee on your anniversary.  Club Carlson has indicated that with the program changes coming, they will offer a free night at a U.S. property for those that pay the annual fee on their anniversary.  That’s like paying $75 or $60 for two “free” nights, which may or may not be competitive depending on where you use the points.

What do you think?  Is there still value in the Club Carlson program for you after these two major devaluations?

When It’s Cheaper to Fly Than to Take the Train

Empire State Building on a Clear Night
Empire State Building on a Clear Night
Joel Shprentz Photo

Last year, our family took the train up to New York for Thanksgiving.

This year, it was cheaper to fly.

That’s because we were finally able to use the two companion passes that came with my US Airways credit card.

The companion passes can be a pain the the neck because of all the limitations, but this holiday season the stars were aligned in our favor.

US Airways Credit Card Benefits Saved the Day

I purchased a ticket on the US Airways shuttle for myself, and secured companion pass tickets for my husband and daughter.  The tickets cost $99 each, plus tax of about $20.  This was about $4oo in savings, compared to the cost of two full price tickets.

We each checked a bag, which normally costs $25 per flight.  We know we’d need extra suitcase space for all the sales we hoped to hit on Black Friday.  The checked bags flew free because of the credit card.  This equalled another $150 in savings.

Black Friday Sales Did Not Disappoint
Black Friday Sales Did Not Disappoint
Joel Shprentz Photo

The US Airways credit card carries an annual fee of $89, but it came with 40,000 frequent flyer miles. I am saving those miles for another trip.

The current offer for the US Airways credit card is even better:  50,000 Dividend Miles after the first purchase and payment of an $89 fee.  Plus, you get the two companion passes and free checked bags.

If you are following along, that is a terrific deal!

You have to be a bit crazy to fly the day before Thanksgiving.  I am happy to report that despite a two hour weather-related delay, everything went smoothly.

Click here to compare current credit card offers.