We’ve added two more cards:
Chase Freedom Unlimited
We’ve finished the minimum spend for my husband’s Chase Sapphire Reserve, and the points posted when the statement closed. He is keeping this card long-term as long as the perks don’t go away, and he recently opened a Chase Freedom Unlimited as well. The Unlimited card will give 1.5x points on all purchases and has no annual fee, so it also is a long-term keeper card. When paired with a Sapphire Reserve and used in the Ultimate Rewards portal, it becomes an effective 2.25% back. Further, the points he earns on the Unlimited can be transferred to partners since he has the Reserve. Without it, nope.
The Unlimited comes with a sign-up bonus of 15,000 points when you spend $500 in three months. Easy (and let me know if I can send you a referral!).
So now, all of his travel and dining purchases will go on the Reserve, and his other purchases will go on the Unlimited.
My Chase Sapphire Reserve
I opened my own Sapphire Reserve card. I went to a Chase branch because the in-branch sign-up offer is still 100,000 points when you spend $4k in 3 months (good through March 11 for the in-branch offer). It is 50,000 if you sign up online. This card gives you 3 points per dollar on dining and travel, and travel seems to be a broad category. It is 1 point per dollar on all other spending.
For reference, 50,000 points can be redeemed for $500 cash, or you can use it for 1.5x the value when booking something in the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal if you have the Reserve. 50k points = $750 value in the portal. 100k points = $1,500 in the portal. You can also transfer your points 1:1 to many travel partners. If we transfer, it will most likely be to Southwest, Hyatt, or Marriott.
I plan to get TSA Pre-Check with my card (an $85 expense fully reimburseable by Chase). My husband already has TSA Pre-Check, so our whole family will be able to go through the Pre-Check line since my kids are all under age 12. There’s a Global Entry option, but I’m not going to get it since we aren’t likely to go overseas much in the next 5 years (if at all?) and we’d need Global Entry for each family member.
I’m planning to cancel my AAA auto club membership if they will issue a pro-rated refund. The Sapphire Reserve roadside assistance is just as good or better than my AAA basic membership, and I don’t seem to get much in the way of discounts with AAA.
The trip cancellation/interruption, emergency evacuation, primary rental car insurance (so, you wouldn’t need to get your own auto insurance involved in a claim!), baggage delay perks for a 6-hour delay, trip delay reimbursement for a 6-hour delay, Priority Pass airport lounge access…the benefits of this card really are something to look at if you are a business traveler or travel a few times per year. These card benefits are better than the Sapphire Preferred. The Reserve is a better card, all-around.
Thanks to the huge sign-up bonus, the $300 calendar year travel credit (I can double-dip this for $600 in travel credit before my next annual fee is due!), and the general perks of the card, the math makes sense for me to keep this card for awhile, despite the annual fee.
Annual Reserve fee, not waived: $450 (gulp, right?)
Subtract $300 travel credit, good each calendar year brings the effective annual fee to $150. (Note that the $300 in travel spending to earn the travel credit will also net 3x per dollar, so that us 900 points or $9.) That puts it at $141.
Subtract $85 value of TSA Pre-Check and we’re at $56 for the first year
Pro-rated AAA refund ought to be about $50-60, so I could argue that my first year’s fee is basically zip. Feel free to disagree if you don’t think the AAA should be a factor.
I figure the minimum spend at just 1 point/dollar will get me to 104,000 points, but likely I will have some 3x per dollar for dining or travel in that first $4k. This is $1,040 if cashed out.
The total value of our points won’t be realized until we actually book trips, but the cash value of the Ultimate Rewards points is just a minimum of what we might see. At minimum, the sign-up bonuses with minimum spend for those two cards will be $1,200, but I think we can get it closer to $2,000 in value, if not more. So excited at the possibilities! Though some people cancel a card before the second annual fee hits, I will keep this one unless they strip the benefits. I could be an authorized user for $75/year on my husband’s card, but I’m planning on keeping it for at least two annual fees as a “thank you for the ton of points and upgraded vacations you’re giving me!”
A few weeks ago, I debated doing my own Reserve vs. branching out and trying another premium card to diversify our household points options. I considered the AmEx Platinum, but the recent changes to the card are not appealing to me for my travel purposes. The Citi Prestige or Chase Ritz-Carlton cards were also on my radar, but for now I am really happy with this combination of Chase cards that we hold.
I still have and use my AmEx Starwood card, and I won’t be surprised if the card goes away in 2018 when the Marriott merger is finalized. Just a wait-and-see.
Unless something changes, I think that’s it for new card applications for awhile. Between my husband and I, we have the Chase trifecta I’ve been seeking to maximize our regular spending (Reserve, Freedom, and Freedom Unlimited). For now, the aim is to just bank up Starwood points and Chase Ultimate Rewards points.
Eventually, I will likely add some hotel cards for the discounted annual night certificate and sign-up points (Marriott, Hyatt, and IHG are contenders). With Alaska Airlines coming to my home airport in Indianapolis, it is possible they will target Hoosiers for better sign-ups for their card. I signed up for their airline loyalty program to let them know I exist.
(Current Chase Freedom bonus promo: 10% back on hotels and car rentals booked through the Ultimate Rewards portal through the end of March. Makes sense for certain hotel bookings, especially if you aren’t trying to rack up hotel loyalty points (I don’t think you can do both, but maybe I’m wrong). However, if my husband needs to rent a car, he needs to stick with the Reserve thanks to the primary insurance offered on the card. Way better than getting our own car insurance involved, should it come to that.
We took a weekend trip to Ohio and had a fun time! Here is what we did and the points we earned.
We drove to Dayton to visit the National Museum of the United States Air Force. Admission and parking were free. The place was huge and we saw some incredible aircraft, memorabilia, and even artifacts pertaining to the space program. We saw the command module from the Apollo 15 mission to the moon, which was piloted by Al Worden whom we met when we visited Kennedy Space Center. Yay!
We drove another hour from Dayton and stayed at the Sheraton Suites Columbus. It is a category 3 hotel and we opted to pay $20 extra to stay on club level. This proved to be worth it, as it gave us access to the club lounge, where we ate much more than $20 worth of food. The evening spread offered chicken fingers (surprisingly tasty), a cheese tray, granola bars, fruit, yogurt, and non-alcoholic drinks in the mini fridge. It was dinner for my kids, and a good start for my husband and I. He and I shared a yummy cobb salad from the restaurant to finish off.
Later in the evening, they put out cookies. The morning’s continental breakfast was fairly standard but satisfying. If we weren’t on club level, we would have had to pay $15/person if we wanted breakfast in the restaurant. Nope. We would have just brought our own food or gone elsewhere. If I’m paying $75 for breakfast, you’d better believe it would be at some fancy place at Disney World.
The pool was warm and small, sort of U-shaped.
It was a reasonable place to stay, and if you are a larger family, the two double beds + double pull-out sofa suite helped us spread out a little to get a good night’s sleep. We’d stay there again. Depending on the standard amenities at a hotel vs. club level amenities and the price, I’d likely stay club level again, too.
The next morning, we went to the COSI Museum in Columbus. Admission was free thanks to our ASTC reciprocal membership (we have passes at the Indiana State Museum). Parking was $5. This place was amazing — exhibit after exhibit was engaging, well-planned, and fun. I sprung for planetarium show tickets ($5 each) and while I thought the “Wildest Weather in the Solar System” show was interesting and fun to see on the big dome, it was short and perhaps not worth the price for a family of 5. I don’t regret it, though.
The food court had healthy, delicious options. Bean Sprouts offers kid-friendly selections — my daughter had an adorable grilled cheese sandwich designed to look like a … monster? Not sure. Had cucumber and olive eyes. She loved it.
Our food tab was expensive ($57!) and I think it was boosted since we had two bottled waters and some side frosted pretzels. (Sapphire Reserve cardholders: it did not code as a restaurant purchase). Still, worth it.
If you have any reason to pass through Columbus or make a day trip and have kids, check this place out.
I’m still waiting for all of my Starwood points to post, but I’m anticipating a fairly big payout thanks to some promotions. First, my Starwood American Express earned me 2 SPG per dollar at the hotel. Then, as a SPG member, that’s another 2 points per dollar earned. There were two promotions: Double Take for double points for the first three stays, through April 15 (must opt-in), and a targeted promotion, a “select member exclusive” that should earn 1,500. In total, I’m anticipating about 2,200 SPG for this one-night stay.
That’s enough for a 1-night weekend stay at a category 1 Starwood (only 3 of these exist in the US, though). For a category 2 weekend night, I’d need 3,000 points. Some stays have a cash+points option, which can be an even better value. Always do the math on a particular stay.
I don’t have an intended redemption that I’m saving up for right now, but I think I’d rather use the points for a more expensive or extended stay, rather than a cheaper one night where paying cash makes more sense.