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Booking Glacier: I Used Points for Free Flights and Hotel Nights – and Still Paid $1,000

Later this week, I’m heading to Kalispell, Montana, to hike in Glacier National Park with my friend Angie. I can’t wait – it’s been 10 years since I’ve been in Montana!

glacier national park

Me in Montana – 2007

Though I’m excited, I found it admittedly difficult to cobble this trip together with points and miles – rural places are not kind to our hobby. So I paid about $1,000 out-of-pocket because I really wanted to go.

Here’s how I minimized costs as much as possible.

Flights to Glacier National Park with US Bank Altitude Reserve points

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Update: My Credit Score Is Recovering After Disputes With All 3 Bureaus

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Well, it’s been nearly a year since a $6 charge from Dollar Shave Club on an Amex card plunged my credit score over 100 points.

At the time, my credit score was 803 – the first time I’d ever gone over 800. I know it doesn’t intrinsically “matter,” because a score over 750 is as good as it gets. But I did have some pride at earning an above-800 score.

So I was pretty horrified when one stupid error brought me down to ~700. All the work I’d done to build my credit was instantly erased. And, Amex was totally clueless, unhelpful, and actually prolonged the repair process by saying they’d corrected it on their end when in actuality they hadn’t done anything.

I dragged my feet on filing a dispute with the 3 major credit bureaus because I knew it would be a slog – and it was. No sugar-coating that ish.

 

credit score recovery

Only 13 points to go before I get to 800 again

But, as of last month, my score is now above 780 across the board!

It’s not over 800 yet – I doubt that will happen any time soon – but I am happy my score is recovering. Here’s how it went down.

The long, long dispute process

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Plastiq Rent Payments With US Bank Altitude Code as Travel but Do NOT Earn 3X

On May 1st, I got the US Bank Altitude Reserve card – the first day it was available.

I wrote how payments with Plastiq coded as travel with the Chase Sapphire Reserve card (lots of peeps on Reddit confirm this, too). So I was hoping that would be the case with the US Bank Altitude Reserve. Especially because the minimum spending requirement is $4,500 – that would’ve been a nice points haul at 3X.

us bank altitude

The merchant code gave me hope for 3X

And the charges did code as travel. But my statement just closed and I only got 1X point per $1.

This US Bank card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve are both Visa cards. So while it doesn’t work for the former, I’m hoping it will still earn 3X with the latter for a while longer.

Here’s what I found.

A charge that codes as travel but didn’t earn 3X

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Should You Use a 0% APR Card to Pay Off Debt?

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NOTE: The card APRs in this post are current at the time of writing (July 28th, 2016). Be sure to check the offers for more details.

So here’s an idea I’ve been tossing around.

It absolutely burns me up that I’m still dealing with student loan debt. And it should. Mr. Money Mustache said it best:

YOUR DEBT IS NOT SOMETHING YOU “WORK ON”. IT IS A HUGE, FLAMING EMERGENCY!!!

I’ve put off paying down this debt because there have been other opportunities to earn more: I bought a house, maxed out my IRA, started Airbnbs, and now I’m looking at buying a duplex in the DFW area.

All of these things either appreciate or earn more than the interest I pay on my student loans.

But I’ll be damned if carrying that balance doesn’t give me a red rump.

The idea

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What’s with all the crap promotions lately?

As I look out onto the barren fields where credit card crops once grew, I mourn the loss of Chase (with the 5/24 rule). Of Citi (when they shut down so many peeps’ accounts). And definitely of AMEX (1 bonus per lifetime? Um, OK). Barclays and Bank of America are both one-card wonders (Arrival for sign-up bonus and Alaska Visa, respectively).

I don’t know about you, but I’ve received a lot of terrible offers lately. Here are the best of the worst.

AMEX

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Reminder: Get Your Club Carlson Free Night E-Cert (If You Haven’t Already)

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Man, I was a Club Carlson fanboy for a while there. You couldn’t get me out of Club Carlson hotels when they offered the BOGO for cardholders of the US Bank Club Carlson Visa Signature.

And then, they brutally snatched the benefit away, leaving peeps (and their brand) in the dust.

It was a too-big-for-their-britches move during which they artificially inflated their points currency, and made themselves completely irrelevant when compared to the big players… but that’s just one man’s opinion.

The upshot was they started apologizing in the form of free night e-certs good at any Club Carlson property.

Except there was one snag. Not everyone got them.

But, you can email US Bank via their online platform if you didn’t get one!

How to do it

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List of AMEX Cards NOT Issued by American Express

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Spoiler alert. On this list, I find the FIA Fidelity AMEX to be the most valuable. I just love that card so much.

List of AMEX Cards NOT Issued by American Express

Thank you for being a friend – and for NOT being issued by American Express

And this post is gonna be focused on Serve.

Note: It is possible to send money between Serve and REDbird, or Serve and Bluebird.

So if you’re managing multiple cards, you can get a Serve card, load it up for $1,000 each month, and send it to Bluebird or REDbird to pay bills that normally don’t accept credit cards. Like student loans, utilities, mortgage payments, or anyone else.

List of AMEX Cards NOT Issued by American Express: 

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Hotel Review: Radisson Blu St. Helen’s, Dublin

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Ireland was my last hurrah with the Club Carlson program, which is now dead to me.

After leaving the Radisson Blu in Limerick and kissing the Blarney Stone, we drove into the city of Cork, and then looped back up to Dublin to stay our final night at the Radisson Blu St. Helen’s in Dublin.

Arrival and check-in

The hotel is located in an area that is rez. ee. dent. shul. OK?

That means that traffic is terrible at rush hours, because people are going to or from work.

It’s about 3 miles (~Whatever kilometers) from Dublin proper, but there is free parking in a huge lot right in front of the hotel. For late night escapades, you can easily get a taxi to the city center and back.

The reason I chose this location was because:

  • It was a new property for me
  • It was near the M1 which goes right to the airport
  • The property looked gorgeous

Because I had an early-ish flight back to Boston on Aer Lingus, I wanted to hop right on the highway and get outta there.

I knew the traffic would be bad, and I budgeted time for that, but wow. It was really bad. We were stuck on the same 3-block stretch for over 20 minutes.

Anyway, arrival and check-in.

We parked in the rain after a lovely day in Cork, and walked in.

You’re instantly transported to some other era, where opulent mansions still exist.

Upon opening the door to the Radisson Blu St. Helen's

Upon opening the door to the Radisson Blu St. Helen’s

Indeed, this property is a 1700s estate converted into a hotel. And it is lovely.

The desk agents checked us in within a few minutes and told us how to climb through a maze and get to our room.

Hallways of the Radisson Blu St. Helen's

Hallways of the Radisson Blu St. Helen’s

Again, no upgrade to a business class room, but we figured we’d eat in the lounge at DUB and then again on the flight over. So whatever. Ireland was 50/50 with the upgrades for Gold status elites in the Club Carlson program (through the US Bank Club Carlson Visa Signature which is now deep in a sock drawer and will never be used again).

The room

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Reminder: Club Carlson Program Changes in One Week! Book awards by May 31st

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The time draws near.

RIP

RIP

I managed to burn most of my Club Carlson points during my trip to Ireland earlier this month (reviews of Radisson Blu Royal in Dublin and Radisson Blu in Galway are up so far). But I also had a paid stay at the Radisson Blu St Helens and ended up earning ~44,000 Club Carlson Gold Points between that and the room charges in Dublin.

Nearly enough for 2 nights at a Category 5 property... if booked before next week

Nearly enough for 2 nights at a Category 5 property… if booked before next week

Book now, change later?

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Special Guest Review: Exploring Ireland’s Radisson Properties

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My partner Jay wrote an article about our hotel stays at the Radissons of Ireland. I’m still working on full reviews of all the properties – they’ll be posted soon.

I thought it might be nice to read a different viewpoint and hear a new voice. Jay recently opened the US Bank Club Carlson Visa Signature card (pre-devaluation) and is still getting the hang of this points and miles business. So our trip to Ireland trip really was a last hurrah with Club Carlson – for both of us.

Ireland is Club Carlson HEAVEN, by the way. They have hotels in every major Irish city (see map below). It’s really too bad that not only are BOGO award nights going away, but categories are going up, AND the free night certificate they give after $10,000 in spend is only good in the United States.

Anyway, I’m also working a few new articles for the What to Do series. I’d definitely welcome other guest writers that would like to share their viewpoints about the best places to stay, where to eat, and how to get to your neck of the woods. Feel free to email if you’re interested – I’d love to learn about new places!

Without further ado, take it away, Jay!


We stayed at almost 50% of the Radissons in Ireland (4 out of 9)!

Our Radisson/Club Carlson Circuit

In order, we stayed at:

  1. Radisson Blu Royal Hotel Dublin
  2. Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa Galway
  3. Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa Limerick
  4. Radisson Blu St. Helen’s Hotel Dublin

That’s a lot of Radisson!

Blu Royal, Dublin

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Club Carlson: Dead to Me

Another one bites the dust

Another one bites the dust

Forgive the histrionic title.

I tried hard to be a Club Carlson fanboy for a long while. I Club Carlson-ed my way through Europe last year, stayed at their resort in Fiji, and just came off a trip to Ireland where I stayed in four Club Carlson properties (Ireland is Club Carlson heaven).

I’ve always considered Club Carlson to be my auxiliary program, after Hyatt, but their prices and properties have been so aligned with my travels recently that you’d think they were primary.

They were the little hotel loyalty program that could. But now it seems, and in the words of my Mom, that they’ve gotten too big for their britches.

After the recent round of devaluations, it’s kinda like… um, you have some nice properties but you’re not all that great. Now their award chart is Hiltonesque, and so is the sudden about-face from generous to… what’s the word I want to use here? Brash?

I’ve already shoved my Club Carlson Visa Signature card in a drawer. The plan is to get the 40K anniversary bonus and then cancel it. Within a week, I went from being one of Club Carlson’s biggest cheerleaders to where I am now – a hater! I won’t mess with their program any more. It falls into the realm of “not worth it.”

The future

My hotel strategy moving forward will be Hyatt as a primary program and IHG as a backup for when Hyatt isn’t available. I never got into Starwood and honestly don’t see why others trip over themselves to earn that 1 Starpoint per dollar with the SPG Amex.

The reason Club Carlson got themselves into a huge devaluation is because they printed Gold Points left and right. Even still, 70,000 points for one night in a European Radisson? No way. And with $10,000 of spend on the co-branded credit card, I get 1 free night – but it has to be in one of their sub-par US properties? I’d rather run that money through a 2% cashback card and get $200 back – which is about how much a night in a US property would cost.

Speaking of companies printing too much of their points currency… American’s AAdvantage program is gearing up to devalue in 2016 it seems like. They are giving out wayyyy too many miles this year. #predictions #Nostradamus

Bottom line

There’s been so much spilled ink typed words about Club Carlson’s devaluation recently that I thought I’d throw my hat in as well.

While in Ireland this past week, I absolutely loved the Radisson Blu Royal in downtown Dublin. It was bittersweet, though, because I felt like I was having a last hurrah with Club Carlson.

Easy come, easy go. The free award night from having their credit card, and the reasonable redemption rates, were what put Club Carlson on my radar. Before that, I’d never even stayed at a Radisson. And from here on out, I don’t foresee myself messing with Club Carlson’s now-stingy and untrustworthy program too much more. Maybe just to burn the points that are left in there.

Is anyone else moving on from Club Carlson right about now? Are their recent devaluations – arguably overdue – a deal breaker for the entire program?

Exploring Amex Serve for free money and handy uses after April 16th

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Since I’m without REDbird and just have Serve as an option here in NYC, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to best use Serve following its move to Amex-only cards after April 16th.

They’re really not leaving consumers with a whole lot of options, but there are a few ways to get some great value and/or handy uses out of Serve using just American Express cards.

But don’t get them from American Express

In this post, I produced a list of all the Amex cards that are not issued by American Express.

Why?

Credit cards issued by American Express will not earn points and will not count toward minimum spend when used to load Serve. Which is so lame. I’d love to be able to use the Amex EveryDay Preferred to load this puppy up.

But alas, we take what we can get.

The FIA Fidelity Amex (!!!)

Why don’t other bloggers talk about this card more? This is my number one use of this card following April 16th. I’ve written about this card in detail many times before.

The transactions post flawlessly and are coded as purchases and earn free money.

I loaded up my Serve this month with my Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Red MasterCard for $990 to take AAdvantage of the 50% bonus that I was targeted for a few weeks ago to earn some extra free miles.

But then I loaded up the remaining $10 to my FIA Fidelity Amex to see how it would post.

Serve reloads code as purchases with FIA

Serve reloads code as purchases with FIA

And points post without any issue

And points post without any issue

What does this mean?

You can earn an extra completely, totally 100% free $240 to credit toward an IRA, brokerage account, or checking account for 1 minute of “work” each month. I use the Serve iPhone app to blearily load up my Serve account from bed the first 5 days of each month. It takes me literally seconds. This is the easiest money I’ve ever earned in my life, I think. I consider this, by far, the best use of the Serve card after April 16th.

Why?

The FIA Fidelity Amex has no annual fee and earns an unlimited 2% cash back on every purchase… including Serve reloads.

Say you get the FIA Fidelity Amex, which is free, and the Serve card, which is also free, and load up $1,000 each month and then pay it off.

You’d be stashing away a free $240 annually into a retirement account with very little effort.

I plugged in my own numbers into Bloomberg’s retirement calculator, and, assuming I contribute nothing but the $240 each year (and it grows at 7% annually) between now and when I’m 68, I’d have a totally free $40,000+ waiting for me on the other side.

My $240 a year would grow to over $40,000 for my retirement

My $240 a year would grow to over $40,000 for my retirement

This whole Serve reload thing probably won’t last for the next 38 years, but take the free money while you can. I like to stash away at least $200-$400 per month into my IRA, and the extra $20 isn’t much but with compound interest on your side, a little truly goes a long way. And this is completely free money. Which is awesome, and there is no reason not to take advantage of this if you can.

Get some free miles

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