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17 Best & Worst Ways to Use Your Amex Points in 2022

American Express Membership Rewards points are some of the best rewards you can earn because they're flexible - you can use them for travel, gift cards, or statement credits, among other things.

Amex cards that earn Membership Rewards include:

  • The Platinum Card® from American Express
  • The Business Platinum Card® from American Express
  • The American Express® Gold Card
  • American Express® Business Gold Card
  • American Express® Green Card 
  •  Business Green Rewards Card from American Express
  • The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express

Each card offers a unique set of bonuses and benefits depending on how you spend and travel.

While Amex's rewards program has a lot of flexibility, that doesn't mean all redemption options get the same cents per point value.

This post will cover some of the best and worst ways to use your Amex points. The data points here are calculated from the American Express Rewards calculator: http://global.americanexpress.com/rewards/calculator 

The Worst Ways to Redeem Your Amex Membership Rewards

Let's start with the worst ways to use your Amex points.

1. Shop With Points

Amex has a shopping portal with many products you can buy with Membership Rewards points. While this is a versatile way to use your points, it doesn't have a high redemption value.

For 10,000 points, you'll only get a value of 0.5 CPP— which is not the best value for Amex points.

If you're set on using points for merchandise, you might be better off buying a gift card or going through a shopping partner like Amazon.

2. Transferring Points to Partners

Amex has a ton of airline transfer partners that you can transfer your points straight to. 

Most partners offer a 1-to-1 transfer rate, so if you transfer 1,000 points to them, they will give you 1,000 points back. Sometimes, American Express runs promotions for transfer partners where you can get a better rate.

One thing to keep in mind here is the Excise Tax Offset Fee.

In most cases, American Express charges an excise fee of 0.06 cents per point (capped at $99 for any single transfer) when you transfer points to U.S. airlines with a card such as The Platinum Card®. 

American Express's U.S. airline partners that charge an excise fee include:

  • Delta
  • JetBlue
  • Hawaiian

On a 100,000-point transfer, that fee equates to $60. In addition to these charges, the airline may also charge taxes and fees.

However, not all partners charge this fee. Some of the airline programs where you can transfer Membership Rewards points without paying any fees include:

  • Are Lingus Aeroclub
  • Aeromexico Club Premier
  • Air Canada Aeroplan
  • Air France / KLM Flying Blue
  • ANA Mileage Club
  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
  • Avianca LifeMiles
  • British Airways Executive Club
  • Emirates Skywards
  • Etihad Guest Miles
  • Iberia Plus Miles
  • Qantas Frequent Flyer
  • Singapore KrisFlyer Miles
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

Since these are points from airlines outside the United States, American Express won't charge you the Excise Tax Offset fee to transfer points into these programs, although you need to evaluate their value (Note: some of them are hard to redeem points from). Transferring points to their hotel partners will also be free of charge.

Unfortunately, the only way to transfer points to your Delta SkyMiles account is through AMEX, so be prepared to pay the fee to utilize them.

To get the best redemption rates, you need to do a lot of research before you transfer your points.

3. Redeeming for Statement Credit

If you don't want to pay your card bill, you can redeem your points for statement credits, effectively wiping out any purchases you made with the card. While this option is handy, it also isn't recommended.

However, if you're in a pinch, this can help.

It's best used as a last resort if you need some last-minute funds to cover your balance. But each point will only be worth 0.6 CPP. So the low value makes it not a great option.

We'll talk about other setups later in this post if you're after cash.

4. Donate Your Points to Charity

With JustGiving, you can donate your points to over 1.5 million charities. Unless you can redeem your points for travel, you'll likely get no more than 0.7 cents per point from this redemption option.

The points aren't the greatest value for your money, but if you don't need your points, this is a decent option.

Beware of the value change, though. Depending on the organization, the value of your points may vary, so pay attention.

Doing the math can help you make a bigger impact.

5. Booking Travel via AmexTravel.com

With American Express Travel, you can book all kinds of travel, including hotels, vacation packages, and cruises.

If you book travel through the American Express Travel portal (excluding airfare), you will only earn 0.7 CPP. In addition, considering other companies will give you 1 CPP, booking your travel using the Amex Travel portal may not be the best way to spend your Amex points.

Keep in mind that using the Amex Travel Portal is NOT the same as using a transfer partner.

6. Merchandise

Similar to option 1, you can use your points to spend with certain merchants.

The cents per point come out to 0.7 mostly, except for NYC Taxis and Ticketmaster.com. Those have different point-to-cent ratios, so check the redemption rate before redeeming, as redemption rates may vary from retailer to retailer.

You also need to be careful because some platforms like Amazon can automatically fill in that you're using M.R. points when you check out.

If you want to use your points for shopping, there are probably better options in this list.

7. Redeem for Business Checking

This option is new for 2022.

If you have a business checking account with Amex, you can redeem your points for cash. You'll get 0.8 CPP, so 10,000 points would come out to $800. These points are considered rebates instead of income, so you're not taxed on them. 

So if you have a lot of points, cashing out your business checking account through your Business Platinum might be a better option. (More about this below)

8. Gift Cards

Gift cards come in different types, and your redemption value varies. Then again, there are many 1 CPP options with less variance, which is not too bad.

It may not be the best redemption method for your Amex points because it has additional hoops to jump through.

The Best Amex Membership Rewards Redemption Methods

9. Upgrade Your Seat

With Upgrade with Points, you can bid on seat upgrades at over 20 participating airlines using your Membership Rewards points. This is a convenient option if you are worried about cramped seats on long flights. 

It might make more sense to upgrade your seat with the actual card and earn more points because there are higher-value options to redeem your points. However, membership rewards here are worth at least 1 CPP depending on how you use them.

If you value your seat on the plane, you might like this option.

10. Book Flights Via Amex Portal and Hotels Via Amex FHR

This is a great option for the avid traveler.

Compared to other companies, you can get a decent rate on your points. You can expect to redeem 1 CPP with flights and hotels if you book it through the Amex Portal.

But if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you could get 1.5 CPP when you book through their own portal.

With this option, you can get an elevated value for your points, whether it is flights, and pay yourself back.

11. Business Checking Account with Business Platinum

This is a better option than the 7th option mentioned above. 

Instead of $800 per 100,000 points, you can get a better rate of 1 CPP. That comes out to $1,000 per 100,000 points. You must have the Amex Business Platinum card, though.

If you run a large business, that might be enough to offset the annual fee, but you still need to do the math.

12. Morgan Stanley Cash Out

If you own a Morgan Stanley brokerage account, this might be useful.

It's similar to a business checking account using your business platinum but on a more personal card side.

If you own the Platinum Card from American Express Morgan Stanley edition, you can cash out your points to your brokerage account at 1 CPP.

The points can be cashed out anywhere once they reach your brokerage account. 

Though, you might want to consider these things first before you use this option:

  1. To get the Morgan Stanley Platinum Card, you need to be approved.
  2. You must have a Morgan Stanley brokerage account to apply for this card. Among the easiest ones to go for is Morgan Stanley Access Investing, which only requires $5,000 to open and charges 0.35% per year on investments.
  3. The Morgan Stanley Platinum Card has an annual fee of $695.

I made a blog post about this before and how to waive the annual fee. You can learn more about it here: https://www.asksebby.com/guides/waive-amex-platinum-annual-fee 

13. Charles Schwab Cash Out

You can transfer M.R. points at 1.1 CPP to your brokerage account with the Platinum Card from American Express Charles Schwab. So if you're looking to redeem for cash, this might be the best option. 

However, as with any other Amex Platinum cards, there are a few things you need to consider:

  • Again, you need to be approved to qualify for the Schwab Platinum Card.
  • A Schwab brokerage account (either your own or a trust you oversee) or an IRA at Schwab (not managed by an independent investment advisor) is required to apply for the card. The eligibility rules can change at any time.
  • Amex reserves the right to cancel your American Express Platinum Card® for Schwab if you do not maintain a Schwab account.
  • Currently, the Schwab Platinum Card annual fee is $695.

14. Using Amex Business Gold Card's Rebate Feature

If you have a Business Gold, you can get a 25% rebate when you book an eligible flight.

So, if you use 100,000 points to cover a $1,000 flight, you'll get 25,000 points back. That means you used only 75,000 points for a $1,000 purchase, which works out to a rate of 1.33 CPP.

The maximum rebate is 250,000 points, so you wouldn't want to redeem more than 1 million.

15. Using Amex Business Platinum Card's Rebate Feature

Platinum Business cardholders can redeem M.R. points for travel and get a 35% rebate when they use their card for either first class or business class travel or flights with the airline of their choice (via the travel incidental credit).

That means if you spend 100,000 points for a $1,000 flight, you'll get 35,000 points back. Considering the 35% points rebate, the effective value is 1.54 CPP.

This is your best bet if you're looking for a simple travel redemption. The maximum rebate here is 1 million points per year, so you wouldn't want to redeem more than 2.85 million.

16. Using Amex Business Centurion Card's Rebate Feature

This is the same for the two previous options, but even better!

You can redeem your points with Business Centurion for a 50% rebate. As you know, spending 100,000 points for a $1,000 flight would get you 50,000 points back. 

With the rebate, you can effectively get 2 CPP, the highest rate we've discussed.

On top of that, there is no maximum rebate. However, the personal Centurion card does not offer flight rebates.

17. Transferring Points to Amex's Airline or Hotel Partners

Finally, you can transfer your points to American Express airline and hotel partners.

The rate here can be up to 10 CPP, but it can generally fluctuate or come out to about 2 or 3 CPP when you get through all the transferring. There are a lot of nuances to this one. 

But for avid travelers, this might be a decent option for you.

Overall Thoughts

American Express points can be redeemed in many ways, so it's important to know which one gives you the most value.

While you can use them for merchandise or shopping with Amazon, they don't provide good value.

Most people will get the best value from their points by transferring them to airline or hotel partners or using your Amex business card.

Ultimately, it all depends on what kind of travel you're looking for and how much work you're willing to put in. Spend some time comparing the cash cost via Amex Travel to the points cost if you transfer to a partner to see which one will save you the most money.

YouTube Video

Watch this video to find out how to get the most out of your Amex points:


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How to Use Chase Pay Yourself Back Feature: Step-by-Step Guide

Starting May 31, 2020, Chase added a new temporary benefit for Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card  and Chase Sapphire Reserve® members to “Pay Yourself Back.”

Note: The “Pay Yourself Back” feature is not available to the no annual fee Chase Sapphire card.

How Pay Yourself Back Works

The Pay Yourself Back Program lets Chase Sapphire Preferred and Sapphire Reserve cardholders redeem Ultimate Rewards to offset select category purchases at a favorable rate.

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred: 1.25 cents per point
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve: 1.50 cents per point

Pay Yourself Back Categories:

  • Restaurants
  • Grocery stores (including take out and eligible delivery services)
  • Home improvement stores
  • Select charitable organizations
  • The following charitable organizations are currently eligible for Pay Yourself Back: American Red Cross, Equal Justice Initiative, Feeding America, Habitat for Humanity, International Medical Corporation, Leadership Conference Education Fund, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, National Urban League, Thurgood Marshall College Fund, United  Negro College Fund, United Way, and World Central Kitchen.

The current promotion is valid through September 30, 2020, but it’s possible that it may be extended due to uncertain times.

[ March 30 Update ] Pay Yourself Back is extended until Sept 30, 2021.

How to Use Pay Yourself Back: Step-by-Step Guide

1. Log in to your online Chase account

Sign into your online Chase account and navigate to the Ultimate Rewards tab located on the bottom of the left column.

2. Select your Chase Sapphire Preferred or Sapphire Reserve card

Select the card you’d like to access. If you have multiple Ultimate Reward earning cards, you can choose to pool points to the Sapphire card to redeem.

In our example, we choose the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

3. Select the “Pay Yourself Back” menu option located in the left menu column

Navigate to the left hand column and select the “Pay Yourself Back” menu item. Clicking the main promotional banner also works, as seen in the screenshot below.

4. Pay Yourself Back

The current categories for pay yourself back are: restaurant and grocery stores (including take out and eligible delivery services), home improvement stores, and select charitable organizations.

5. Choose the purchases to Pay Yourself Back

After each purChase posts, you have 90 days to pay yourself back. Check the respective box to select the purChase.

6. Set your amount

Enter the dollar amount you’d like to receive as a statement credit by using some or all of your available Ultimate Rewards points. The Chase Sapphire Preferred redemption rate is 1.25 cents per point, and the Sapphire Reserve is 1.50 cents per point.

After setting the cash value, click “Confirm & Submit” to redeem!

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Best Chase Ultimate Rewards Transfer Partners

One of the main benefits of Chase Ultimate Rewards points is that you can transfer them out to partners if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve, or the Chase Ink Preferred.

You can view credit card offers by going to the "Credit Card Offers" tab. Find offers for the respective cards in "Travel Rewards Credit Cards" and "Business Credit Cards." You don't have to use our links, but we're grateful when you do. Thank you for supporting AskSebby!

Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer at a rate of 1:1. On average, you can get up to two cents per point when you use transfer partners.

If you're looking for the most value possible, then airline partners are the way to go for first class redemption. This also works well for last minute flights.

VIA CHASE ULTIMATE REWARDS PORTAL

The way I redeem points for "best value" is hotels because everyone in your travel group can benefit.

For example, if I transfer my Ultimate Rewards points to United:

  • United Polaris (US to Asia) is 70k one-way, per person
  • 70k Chase points => 70k United points

On the other hand, if I transferred my Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt:

  • Hyatt Category 7 (top tier) is 30k, per night.
  • 30k Chase points => 30k Hyatt points.

For the cost of a round trip United Polaris flight to Asia, I can get four nights at a top tier Hyatt property.

Examples:

  • Park Hyatt: NYC, Paris-Vendome, Tokyo, Sydney
  • Hyatt Residence: Maui, Big Sur, Lake Tahoe, Aspen

IHG is not an ideal transfer partner because of the cost of the points, and you typically need more points for a redemption.

In my experience, Hyatt has the best redemption value for transfer partners. The Category 1 Hyatt properties start at 5,000 Hyatt points.

Category 1 = 5,000 Hyatt points / 5,000 Chase UR points

  • $100 a night / 5k points = 2 cents per point
  • $200 a night / 5k points = 4 CPP

Check out the video below for more redemption ideas.

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The Ultimate Guide to Using Chase Ultimate Rewards Points
Chase

The Chase Ultimate Rewards® ecosystem may be one of your best options if you like to travel. Besides being versatile, Chase points are valuable if you know how to optimize them.

One massive benefit of the Chase system is that you can stack Chase points easily with Chase's Ultimate Rewards-earning credit cards.

The Chase Ultimate Rewards program has plenty of redemptions for any budget, whether you're looking for luxury experiences or a low-cost flight.

This blog post looks at the best and worst ways to use your Chase Ultimate Rewards points. But before we get started, let's talk about the basics.

What are Chase Ultimate Rewards Points?

Chase Ultimate Rewards® is a points program where you can earn and redeem points. The cards that earn UR points include:

  • Chase Freedom Unlimited®
  • Chase Freedom Flex℠
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve®
  • Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card
  • Ink Business Cash® Credit Card
  • Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card

Although the Chase Freedom Flex, Chase Freedom Unlimited, Ink Cash, and Ink Unlimited cards are marketed as cash back, they earn Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Throughout this guide, you'll also notice the term cents-per-point (CPP), which is what each point would cost if we paid cash for the redemption.

So if 1.5 CPP means each point is worth $0.015, then: 10,000 UR points = 10,000 * 0.015 = $150

Chase Ultimate Rewards Exception: Ink Business Premier

One major exception to transferring Ultimate Rewards between UR earning card accounts is the Ink Business Premier credit card.

Although the Ink Business Premier earns cash back in the form of Ultimate Rewards, you cannot transfer or combine points to other UR accounts.

Do Chase Ultimate Rewards Points Expire?

As long as you have a Chase Ultimate Rewards earning credit card open, your Ultimate Rewards points won't expire. Any points you have left will be lost if you close the card. You shouldn't cancel your credit card before redeeming or transferring your rewards.

You'll also lose your points if Chase closes your account. Even though credit card companies can close an account anytime, it rarely happens. You're most likely to get your card canceled if:

  • You don't pay your minimum for 90 days
  • You filed for bankruptcy
  • Use your Chase card or rewards program to commit fraud

How to Combine Chase Ultimate Rewards Between Cards

Here's a simple step-by-step process to combine your points:

1. Log in to your account and click on the "Earn/Use" tab.

2. Select one of the cards that earn Ultimate Rewards points (refer to the card list above).

3. Hover over your points balance and hit "Redeem."

Source: ultimaterewardspoints.chase.com/combine-points

4. Once you're in the portal, click the top bar again to reveal the "Combine Points" icon in the menu.

5. Click the Combine Points option. From there, follow the prompts to combine points with your card.

How to Maximize Chase Ultimate Rewards Points?

Chase Ultimate Rewards are flexible and can be redeemed in various ways, including gift cards, statement credits, and travel. Keep in mind that the cents per point valuation vary with each redemption method. Here are the best and worst ways to use Ultimate Rewards.

Worst Ways to Redeem Your Chase UR Points

First, let's look at the worst ways you can use your points.

Method #1: Pay with Points

You can sometimes use your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to purchase items at Amazon and other online merchants rather than using your credit card balance.

Although it's convenient, you lose the overall point value with this option. Furthermore, using points to shop on Amazon or with PayPal will only earn you 0.8 CPP.

Let's say you used 100,000 UR points; that's: 100,000 UR points * 0.8 CPP = $800 in value

Pay with Points


With this value, I'd say this is not worth it in any situation.

Method #2: Gift Cards

Chase also offers gift cards as redemption options. When you take this route, you'll normally receive 1 CPP. That means 100,000 UR = $1,000 in gift cards.

Chase Gift Card Portal


There are even times when Chase offers gift cards with better value for specific retailers, but I would still skip this option.

Method #3: Chase Dining

You can use Chase Dining points for Sapphire Private Dining series events, takeout, outdoor seating reservations, and more.

Here, you're going to get 1 CPP. So: 100,000 UR * 1 CPP = $1,000 in dining

Redeem for Chase Dining


Redeeming points for Chase Dining points gets a similar value as redeeming for gift cards, so it's still not the ideal method.

There is a huge exception to this, though, if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Chase Sapphire Preferred cards. With these cards in your arsenal, you can technically get more value.

Method #4: Chase Apple Store

You might find getting free Apple products through your credit card points very appealing. But, the same with methods #2 & #3, the 1 CPP redemption value isn't great. 

If you do the math: 100,000 UR * 1 CPP = $1,000 in Apple products

It would be a good idea to wait for a promotion if you're interested in using your Ultimate Rewards points for Apple Store purchases.

Method #5: Chase Travel Portal (no-annual fee cards)

This redemption option will get you 1 CPP, equivalent to $1,000 in travel value. 

If you're looking to book a first-class flight or an expensive luxury hotel, Chase's travel portal usually gives you the best deal, while transferring Ultimate Rewards points typically saves you money.

Best Ways to Redeem Your Chase UR Points

Method #6: Cash Back

I'd say that redeeming your UR points for cash back is a good option. If you want to use your points for cash back, there are two ways to do this:

  1. Redeem as a statement credit to help you cover the charges you make, so you don't have to pay it off. 
  2. Redeem as cash, where it can go directly into your checking or savings account.

Both methods will get you 1 CPP, which means: 100,000 UR points * 1 CPP = $1,000 in cash/statement credit

Redeem for cash back

Cash back is more ideal than buying gift cards since you aren't limited to select stores.

The great thing about Chase is its cash-out rate floor value. While Chase isn't for everyone, there are three reasons I recommend it:

  1. The cards are relatively easy to use.
  2. They work both in cash back and travel, so you're not really forced to travel to get the rewards.
  3. Cards with an annual fee usually have a no-annual fee downgrade path after the first year.

Method #7: Chase Apple Store (10% Promo)

As mentioned earlier, Chase Apple Store promos are a good time to use your Ultimate Rewards points. For Apple enthusiasts, this is good news!

Until Nov. 30, 2022, Chase cardholders can get an extra discount when redeeming points for Apple products through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. This promo will make your points worth 10%, 25%, or 50% more, depending on which card you have.

Limited time promo


For example, if we use the 10% promo, that will be equivalent to 1.1 CPP. This means: 100,000 UR * 1.1 CPP = $1,100 in Apple products

Method #8: Gift Cards (Sale)

This is the same concept as method #7. The best time to redeem gift cards is during a sale. With this, you're going to have a cent per point of 1.11. 

In other words: 100,000 UR * 1.1 CPP = $1,111 in gift cards

Gift card sales


While this sounds great and looks like a good deal, make sure you're using your points for something worthwhile. Don't be tempted to get a gift card just because it's on sale. 

Method #9: Chase Travel Portal at 25% boost (Sapphire Preferred and Ink Preferred)

If you want simplicity or are a rookie with credit cards, Chase has partnered with Expedia to run a search engine where you can book flights, hotels, rentals, cruises, etc., as you would on Expedia.

With a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Ink Preferred card, you can get an extra 25% more, allowing you to redeem at 1.25 CPP.

So: 100,000 UR * 1.25 CPP = $1,250 in travel value

If you have a lot of points, it might make sense to crunch the numbers before applying or upgrading to the Chase Sapphire Reserve to get the most value. 

Chase's most significant selling point is how easy it is to get value from a regular travel booking for that elevated value.

If you use your points for the Chase Travel Portal through this card, do your research and check out the rates online to see if it makes sense.

Method #10: Pay Yourself Back (25% boost)

During the pandemic, travel redemptions were severely limited. As a result, Chase came up with the Pay Yourself Back program, and Chase is allowing you to redeem points for elevated value in everyday categories most people can use.

When you use Pay Yourself Back for eligible purchases, you can "wipe" them off your statement with an additional 25% bonus value, essentially allowing you to redeem it at 1.25 CPP.

As a result, we can say: 100,000 UR * 1.25 CPP = $1,250

Pay Yourself Back


Cards that offer Pay Yourself Back:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve
  • Ink Business Preferred Credit Card
  • Ink Plus (no longer available)
  • Ink Business Cash Credit Card 
  • Ink Business Unlimited Credit Card

Note that each card above has different Pay Yourself Back categories that may change periodically, so check Chase's site for the most up-to-date redemption categories and rates.


Method #11: Chase Travel Portal at 50% boost (Chase Sapphire Reserve)

If you hold a Chase Sapphire Reserve card and use your UR points to redeem for Chase Travel Portal, you'll get a 50% boost in value. Essentially, this will give you 1.5 CPP, meaning: 

100,000 UR * 1.5 CPP = $1,500

Be sure to compare travel prices to the Chase Travel Portal to see if you're getting the best value.

Method #12: Transfer Partners

Transfer Partners are one of the best ways to redeem your points. Generally, when you transfer your UR points to Chase's partners, you get 2 CPP in value. So that's:

100,000 UR * 2 CPP = $2,000

Related Read: Best Chase Ultimate Rewards Transfer Partners

Depending on the travel partner, this value can increase up to $10,000. If you want to know how to use your UR points to Chase's transfer partners, then check out this blog: How to Use Chase Ultimate Rewards Transfer Partners (a Step-by-Step Guide).

YouTube Video

If you're interested in learning more about the best and worst ways to redeem your Ultimate Rewards points in detail, watch this video:


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How to Book the Waldorf Astoria Maldives
Travel

One of the best redemptions for the Hilton Weekend Night Reward certificate from the American Express Aspire and Surpass cards is the Waldorf Astoria Maldives.

Important Notes & Costs

A few important notes to consider before jumping to book the property:

  • The $700/person (round trip) yacht transfer to get to the resort, which is subject to 23.2% tax and service charge per adult, is NOT included. You can choose to charter a third party boat, but the cost will still be hefty.  There’s not a way to avoid a transfer fee.
  • The cost of food is 2-4x what you would expect to pay in the U.S. since everything is imported onto the island. As a point of reference, a personal pizza costs $40+, not including the 23% tax and service charge.
  • If you plan to dine at any of the fine dining restaurants, be prepared to spend $200+ per person.

Even if your room rate is covered, a stay at the Waldorf Astoria Maldives is expensive. Now that the sticker shock warning is out of the way, let’s dive into how we booked the room.

Using Weekend Night Rewards and Points

The retail rate for an overwater villa is ~$3,000/night. We booked our four-night stay using three free weekend night certificates, and 120,000 Hilton Honors points for the fourth night.

For each Weekend Night Reward, you’ll need to create a separate reservation. The hotel can combine them afterward. We created four consecutive day bookings.

We didn’t end up booking a fifth night since the booking doesn’t qualify for the 5th night free promotion. To qualify for 5th night free, you must book your entire stay using points. Weekend Night Rewards do not qualify.

Beach Villa vs. Overwater Villa

If you want to increase your chances of getting an overwater villa, I recommend visiting during off-season or shoulder season.

We booked the standard base beach room villa and received a complimentary upgrade due to having Diamond status. Upgrades are NOT guaranteed.

If you want to guarantee an overwater villa, I suggest booking one directly or inquiring to pay out of pocket for the upgrade.

It’s worth mentioning that the beach villas are also huge (2,500 square feet) with the same standard room layouts.

Hilton Honors Gold or Diamond Status

Before your stay at the Waldorf Astoria Maldives, I highly recommend having Hilton Honors Gold or Diamond status to get complimentary access to the breakfast buffet. Without Gold or Diamond status, you’ll end up paying a hefty price tag for the a la carte menu. To put things in perspective, a basic plate of eggs costs $30 + tax and tip.  

The easiest way to earn automatic Hilton Honors elite status is via credit cards.

Hilton Gold

Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card

  • Earn 12x on Hilton purchases
  • 6x at U.S. restaurants
  • 6x at U.S. supermarkets
  • 6x at  U.S. gas stations
  • 3x on everything else
  • Earn a free weekend night after spending $15,000 in a calendar year
  • Complimentary Hilton Gold status
  • Priority Pass: 10 free visits
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Rates and fees
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The Platinum Card® from American Express

  • Point Multipliers:
  • Earn 5X points points per $1 spent on flights booked directly with airlines or American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
  • Earn 5X points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com
  • Earn 1X points on all other purchases
  • Complimentary Hilton Gold and Marriott Bonvoy Gold status
  • Credits:
  • $200 annual airline fee credit per calendar year to use for incidental fees like baggage fees
  • Up to $200 Uber credit, distributed $15/month and $35 in December
  • Up to $100 Saks Fifth Avenue credit, issued in $50 increments every 6 months per calendar year
  • $100 Global Entry or TSA Precheck credit once every 4 years
  • Annual fee: $695
  • Rates and fees
  • Terms apply and enrollment required for select American Express benefits and offers.
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Hilton Diamond

Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

AmEx-Hilton-Honors-Aspire.png
  • Annual fee: $450
  • Point Multipliers:
  • Earn 14x on Hilton purchases
  • 7x on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com
  • 7x on car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies
  • 7x at U.S. restaurants
  • 3x on all other purchases
  • One weekend night reward and every year after renewal
  • Complimentary Hilton Diamond  status
  • up to $250 Hilton resort statement credit
  • Priority Pass Select membership

All information about the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card has been collected independently by AskSebby.com. Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is no longer available through AskSebby.com.

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The Cash Back Credit Card Tier List
Cash Back

Credit card rewards "transfer wealth" from cash users to credit users. If you select the right credit card and use it responsibly, it can be form of couponing.

By using credit cards (that earn rewards), you get the cash back. For example, let’s say a merchant (Walgreens) pays 2-3% in interchange fees to accept your card. In most states, this amount is the same, so that the merchant will increase the product cost.

Consumers who use credit cards get the rewards back, and cash users foot the bill. Per the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, cash users pay $149/year into this system. Credit card users get $1,133/year from this same system. Keep reading if you want to learn more about how to be on the receiving end of the money.

Side note: If you don’t want to use credit cards but still want to reap the benefits of rewards, I recommend looking into cash back portals. One of the most competitive rates and payouts right now is Rakuten. Here’s a referral link to check them out: https://www.asksebby.com/rakuten

Tier 5: 1% to 1.5% Credit Cards

These are generally the starting point for people who are new to this channel. They know they should have a credit card for all the reasons we just mentioned, including building credit and getting some rewards back but haven’t looked into it too much beyond this.

You can usually derive 2-3X more value with minimal work. For example, some 1.5% cards tie into other card setups, but this is generally due to something (a premium card) making it worth more.

Tier 4: 2% Credit Cards

These cards are my recommendation for people who want to set it and forget it and use one card for everything.

The Citi® Double Cash Card (1% when you buy and 1% when you pay), Fidelity 2%, and the PayPal 2% Mastercard all fit the bill along with some regional credit union cards. Of these, I recommend the Citi Double Cash because it gives you more optionality.

One of the benefits about Citi is that you can product change between any of their cards when it comes to using it for travel or cash back. For example, the Double Cash can be changed to the Costco credit card.

Regarding travel, the 2% is the baseline value that we use when comparing cards; we want it to pass the 2% hurdle rate.

The Citi Double Cash card is a great example of making a travel card work for you with up to 4% cash back for advanced redemptions like business or first class.

Tier 3: Specialty Credit Cards

These types of cards are for people who spend a lot of money at specific places. Cash back is cash back here, so generally, there are no additional reward options. The goal here is to find cards that offer at least 3% back. You want your cards to work for you.

There are three sub-types of cards in this category:

1. Payment Method

An example of a payment method type of card is Apple Pay. Apple gives you 3% cash back when using Apple Pay at places like Apple, Walgreens, Duane Reade, Nike, Uber and Uber Eats, and Exxon, to name a few.

For people who have expensive medicine, 3% cash back at Walgreens can be huge. By the same token, if you spend a lot of money on Apple products, this is a great option.

2. Vendor or Store

The Amazon Prime card is a great example of an extremely competitive 5% cash back for high Amazon spenders or frequent Whole Foods shoppers.

If you’re someone who buys a lot of electronics or cameras, B&H is worth considering because it can cover the tax amount at 8.5%. That’s a lot of savings on a $1000 camera lens!

Be careful with this; avoid getting cards for places you don’t spend a lot of money or don’t see yourself using in the future.

Specific Categories Examples:

  • Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi earns 4% cash back on gas up to $7,000 and 3% cash back on restaurants and travel.
  • Capital One Savor earns 3% cash back on dining and entertainment.
  • Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express earns 3% cash back on U.S. supermarkets, up to $6,000, then 1% after that. Terms apply.

The benefit here is that you are not locked into a specific store. You can go to Trader Joe's, Safeway, and Whole Foods, and any restaurants or gas stations, etc.

For a lot of these cards, there are annual fee versions as well. The American Express Everyday Preferred and the Blue Cash Preferred are good examples of cards with various annual fees.

To see which card is the best for you, do a simple break-even calculation. Ignoring all other multipliers, for example, if your supermarket spending is $3,167, you are impartial to either card. If you spend more than that, the Blue Cash Preferred has the better value.

Lastly, make sure these cards cover the bases that you need covered. If you only cook at home and your restaurant spending is low, or if you don’t have a car, these might not be the best cards for you.

Tier 2: 5% Rotating Credit Cards

This is the setup I recommend for lower spenders using the U.S. Bank Cash Plus and  Chase Freedom Flex℠ cards. The U.S. Bank Cash Plus lets you pick two categories where you can earn 5% cash back on up to $2,000 spend per quarter.

There are lots of categories to choose from, and I’ve seen this played in two ways.

First, pick a category that you consistently spend a lot of money on. (The same idea as Tier 3 but covers two categories.) Electronics are an easy example here.

Secondly, use this card for items you don’t usually purChase but could have a spike in spending throughout the year.

For example, buying new furniture, a new cell phone, sports equipment, or back to school shopping.

The  Chase Freedom Flex is the other major pick in this category, and this is for the potential upside of earning 5x cash back on up to $1,500 in combined category purchases each quarter you activate.

Similar to the Citi Double Cash, this can be worth twice as much (10% cash back) if you decide to switch to a travel set up. The fact that you have a good 5% baseline and huge optionality with this card is a great benefit.

If this is confusing, or you have a Player 2 that always uses the wrong card, I would invest in a label maker. It takes 30 seconds of work every 3 months to help clarify which card to use and when.

Tier 2 is also the best spot for most cash back people who are low to normal spenders who want to maximize their card's value.

Tier 1: Specialty Setups

The card systems in Tier 1 have the most upside, but almost always have something that makes it hard to justify.

We'll quickly go through these, but I could make a dedicated post for each.

1. American Express Trifecta for Cash Back

Here you’ll earn Membership Rewards (MR) points from the American Express® Green Card, American Express® Gold Card, and the The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express. Then, cash them out using the Schwab Platinum card for 1.25 cents per point (CPP).

The main disadvantage here is that you generally need a pretty sizeable spend to justify this setup long-term. There are also a lot of annual fees involved; generally $800-$950 per year. But there are also many credits that help subsidize these fees, like the $200 annual travel credit. Terms apply.

This is generally the setup I recommend to people who have a lot of work spending, or for someone who only takes one short vacation per year and they can’t use all of the points anyway.

In this instance you might as well cash out the points into your brokerage account.

2. Bank of America Platinum Honors Setup

The main disadvantage here is that you need $100,000 in your Bank of America account or Merrill Lynch brokerage account. With this setup you get a 75% rewards bonus on Bank of America cards.

That means the 3% Cash Rewards is 5.25% cash back on a pretty wide range of things like gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, and home improvement.

There are spending caps, but people who run this setup get multiple cards or product change to different cards.

3.  Chase Trifecta

This is new for 2021, mostly because  Chase added the Pay Yourself Back program. With this program, you can redeem your points for additional value; 25% or 50% boost for everyday purchases. This sounds good on the surface, but there are some disadvantages.

The main disadvantage is that  Chase picks the categories, so we don’t know if it will stay as groceries or switch to gas, for example.

You’ll also likely need a decent spend or multiple Freedom or Freedom Flex cards for it to work well. To take advantage of the additional credits, it’s a good idea to commit to a little bit of travel for this setup to be beneficial as well.

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Best Gas Cards 2022: Earn Up to 5% Cash Back on Gas Purchases
Cash Back

The average national gas price now exceeds $5 a gallon, and experts predict prices will rise to above $6 during the summer. 

A good gas credit card will provide you with cashback and/or reward points for fuel purchases to optimize your spending. 

In this article, we will focus specifically on cards that offer consistent cash back or points on gas. While several other cards offer quarterly rotating gas rewards, we’re looking at consistent gas rewards cards to maximize your total gas savings.

Gas Card #1: Abound Credit Union Visa Platinum Card

While you may not have heard of this card, it has one of the best value for gas rewards at 5% cash back on gas purchases. It also has 1% cashback on all other purchases and a rotating 5% cashback on other categories throughout the year, including streaming services, Amazon purchases, travel, and health fitness. 

Although you can apply for the Abound card without becoming a member, the risk is that credit unions tend to remove card benefits when there are too many applicants. 

It's usually the way credit union cards work, so this card may not be suitable for everyone. 

Gas Card # 2: Citi Custom Cash℠ Card

The Citi Custom Cash card is good choice for a no annual fee keeper card. In addition to 5% back on gas, it also offers 5% cashback on a handful of other categories, including restaurants, home improvement, grocery stores, and select travel. The benefit of the Citi Custom Cash Card is that even if your spending habits change and you spend less on gas, this card can still provide valuable rewards to you in other categories.

It is also flexible in how you choose to spend your rewards. The Citi Custom Cash card rewards are in the form of Thank You points™. This means that if you chose to redeem your points for travel, you could potentially receive more than 5% cash back that month.

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The drawback is that there is a $500 per month earning limit on rewards. This means that if you spend more than $500 on eligible purchases during the month, only the first $500 will receive the 5% cashback benefit. 

Gas Card # 3: Cardless Card - New Orleans Pelicans

Cardless is a white-label card-issuing service that partners with brands. The Cardless family of credit cards is a series of cards that allow various brands, focusing on American basketball and European football (soccer) teams, to have their own branded, customized credit card. 

We’ll look specifically at the New Orleans Pelicans credit card. It offers some great rewards on gas – 4x rewards points with no annual fee and no monthly cap. The 4x rewards work out to 4% cash back since Cardless calculates its rewards points at 1 CPP.

The drawback to Cardless is that you are only allowed to have one Cardless card at a time. So if you already have a Cardless card for your favorite team, you can’t get the Pelicans card to cash in on the gas points. If you are interested in a Cardless card for special deals on your favorite team’s tickets and merchandise, you would be losing out on those things to have a Pelicans card just for gas, so choose wisely. 

Gas Card # 4: The PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card

With the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card, you earn unlimited 5 points per dollar spent at the gas pump, including EV charging stations. This is among the best rewards rates you will find on gas. Along with free fuel rewards, the card also pays unlimited 3 points per dollar on groceries and 1 point per dollar on everything else.

However, there are a few things to be aware of. For starters, you must join PenFed's credit union to apply. Getting a PenFed membership requires an application and a $5 deposit into a savings account.

The redemption options are also limited, as you can’t use your points to redeem for cash back. A PenFed spokesperson confirmed that points earned with a Platinum Rewards card are usually worth about 0.85 cents each. Considering this card has no annual fee, its redemption value isn’t that great when compared to other no-annual-fee rewards cards.

On the other hand, travel points are potentially worth 1.7 cents each on average, depending on dates and options. There may also be travel booking fees when redeeming for travel.

Another thing to note is that since the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card is a credit union card, you'll have to keep a close eye to ensure that the points or deals on the card don’t change or decrease.

Credit unions typically make a larger percentage of their income from credit cards and other loan interest than larger banks, so they are more likely to change the terms of their credit offers to ensure that it remains profitable to them.  

Gas Card #5 & 6: Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi or Sam’s Club Cards

These cards are designed for buying gas at the respective wholesale clubs. Not only can you take advantage of the discount gas at your club store, but you can also earn cash back with your credit card. 

These are both similar cards in terms of rewards level. The Sam’s Club card gives you 5% cash back on gas purchases for up to $6,000 a year, which works out to about $500 per month in gas, and then 1% cashback above $6,000. Depending on your membership level, there may be additional reward caps on earning and redemptions.

The Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi gives you 4% cashback on your first $7,000 in gas purchases in a year and then 1% rewards after. One major drawback is that you can only redeem cash back once per year.

If you aren't already a member of Costco or Sam's Club, these card options might not be for you.

However, if you are already a member, this could be a valuable way to save on your gas budget. The ideal strategy is to get the card for whichever store is most convenient to you.


Gas Card #7: Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards Credit Card

The Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards Card isn't as competitive as some of the cards on this list, but it still offers decent gas rewards.

With only 3% cashback on gas (or your other chosen rewards category) for most users, it doesn’t look as good as 4% or 5% like some of the other offers we’ve looked at. However, if you are already a Bank of America or Merrill Lynch customer, this might be a good option for you. 

Bank of America and Merrill Lynch offer tiered rewards levels for their current customers, so if you have more than $35,500 saved or invested in a portfolio, you will be eligible for higher rewards percentages.

YouTube Video

With a bit of research and planning, you may be able to earn up to 5% back (or even more) on gas purchases and other expenditures. To learn more about these top gas cards for 2022 in more detail, check out the video below.


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First 5 Credit Cards Strategy for Travel
Travel

Building a strong foundation of credit cards is essential for a healthy credit score. In this post, we’ll walk through the first 5 credit cards to consider if you’re starting out in your credit journey.

A few guidelines:

  1. Chase 5/24 - Chase has an unwritten rule where you’ll automatically get denied for a credit card if you have more than 5 credit cards from ANY credit issuers in the past 24 months. This only applies to credit cards. Personal loans, car loans, etc. do not count towards the Chase 5/24 rule.
  2. Chase typically likes to see 12 months of non-authorized user credit history before they approve you for a card. Your mileage may vary based on your banking relationship and income level.
  3. Why are we focused on Chase cards? Due to the restrictive Chase 5/24 rule, it mathematically makes sense to get Chase cards first, then move on to other credit issuers. Each Chase slot is easily worth $500-$1,000 in travel. More details here: https://www.asksebby.com/blog/how-much-are-Chase-credit-cards-worth

Credit Card #1: Any student or secured card

Since Chase typically likes to see at least 12 months of personal credit history, your first credit card should be a student credit card (if you qualify), a starter card, or a secured card.

I strongly recommend picking a card that does not have an annual fee since you should plan on keeping the card long-term. This card is the foundation of your credit card history, and the last thing you want to do is cancel your oldest card due to the annual fee.

Capital One, Bank of America, and Citi have good beginner card options.

Credit Card #2: Chase Freedom Unlimited® or Chase Freedom Flex℠

After holding credit card #1 for at least 12 months, I recommend going for a Chase Freedom Flex or Chase Freedom Unlimited to start building a credit relationship with Chase.

I’ve seen people get approved for a Chase card with less than 12 months of credit history, but they usually have a higher income ($80k+) or other credit mixes.

Chase starter cards:

  • Chase Freedom Flex - earn 5% on select rotating categories each quarter you activate, up to $1,500 in combined purchases each quarter.
  • Chase Freedom Unlimited - earn a flat rate of 1.5% on everything.

If you have a lot of miscellaneous expenses like home improvement, taxes, or tuition, I recommend going for the Freedom Unlimited.

You can product change between the Chase Freedom Flex and the Freedom Unlimited.


Credit Card #3: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Depending on what your income is and if you have plans to travel, I recommend going for either the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Sapphire Reserve.

Wait at least 3 months of having the Freedom card before applying. If you apply sooner, it could raise flags due to the velocity of card applications.

The following rules apply to the Sapphire cards:

  • You can only hold one Sapphire card at a time (unless you’re grandfathered in)
  • You can only receive one Sapphire bonus (regardless if Reserve or Preferred) once every 4 years

Since the Chase Sapphire Reserve is a Visa Infinite card, you need to have the ability to get approved for a minimum of $10,000 credit line. I recommend having an income of at least $35,000+ to increase your chances of approval.

If you don’t have plans to travel in the near future or you value Chase travel partners, I suggest going for the Chase Sapphire Preferred. The Sapphire Preferred has a higher intro bonus of 100,000 points, and a lower annual fee.

Worst case, you can cash out the 100,000 points for a net $905. After a year, you can product change the Sapphire Preferred to a Sapphire Reserve.

Bonus: Add Chase Ink Cards

Chase business cards do not count towards Chase 5/24, but they’re affected by it. You must be at 4/24 or under to get approved for a Chase business credit card.

If you qualify for business credit cards, I recommend adding them here.

You can qualify for a business credit card if you generate any type of income outside of your full-time job. Examples would be tutoring, rental income, selling online, or babysitting. Depending on the state you live in, you could qualify as a sole proprietor.

Credit Card #4 and #5: Any remaining Chase credit cards you want

Chased on your travel goals, I recommend filling in slots #4 and #5 with the remaining Chase credit cards that are on your list.

A strong hotel keeper card that I’ve kept long term is the The World of Hyatt Credit Card since redemption nights start at 5,000. You also get a free night certificate each card anniversary.

A few other cards worth considering:

Pick the cards based on your airline or hotel preferences.

Alternatives to Chase Credit Cards

If you are not a fan of Chase or you’re not eligible for Chase credit cards, I recommend going for Capital One first since they’re inquiry sensitive.

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

  • Annual fee: $95
  • 12+ Airline transfer partners
  • Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®  
  • No foreign transaction fees

Barclays

Barclays has a soft 6/24 rule that is not always enforced. If you open more than 6 credit cards in the past 24 months from any credit issuer, then you’re likely to get denied.

Barclays credit cards worth considering:

  • Barclays Aviator cards
  • Barclays JetBlue Plus

Although some of the Barclays cards have no annual fee products in the same family tree, some people have had trouble requesting a downgrade. I recommend building a strong foundation of cards first before moving on to Barclays.

America Express

American Express is not sensitive to velocity or inquiries, so I would save Amex cards as the last cards you get.

Important note: I do not recommend getting an Amex card with an annual fee as your first credit card. If the Amex card does not have a no annual fee downgrade path, and you choose to cancel in the future, you lose the credit history.

Bank of America

For people with a lot of assets with Bank of America, I suggest checking out our post on the Bank of America Duo to maximize your points: https://www.asksebby.com/blog/bank-of-america-duo-credit-cards-for-high-net-worth-individuals

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Amexs Adds Cell Phone Protection to Select Cards
American Express

Beginning on April 1, 2021, American Express is adding cell phone protection on select premium cards. This is a big deal because it was a weakness in the American Express core setup compared to other issuers like Chase and Citi.

Which Amex Cards have Cell Phone Protection?

The following cards have the cell phone protection benefit:

  • The Platinum Card® from American Express
  • The American Express Platinum Card for Schwab
  • The Platinum Card from American Express for Goldman Sachs
  • The Platinum Card from American Express for Morgan Stanley
  • The Business Platinum Card® from American Express
  • Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card
  • Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card
  • Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card
  • Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card
  • The Business Platinum Card® from American Express
  • Centurion Card from American Express
  • Business Centurion Card from American Express

What does Amex Cell Phone Protection Cover?

Amex cell phone protection covers theft and damage of your cell phone.

The maximum liability is $800, per claim, per Eligible Card Account. Each claim is subject to a $50 deductible. Coverage is limited to two (2) claims per Eligible Card Account per 12 month period.

Many of the blogs that received the press release mention that screen damage is covered, but I don't see that mentioned in the terms. Cosmetic damage is NOT covered if it doesn't impact the phone’s ability to make or receive phone calls. However, if there is significant damage to the screen and the phone is not functional, it would be covered.

What does Amex Cell Phone Protection NOT Cover?

According to the benefit terms and conditions, the following items are not covered:

  • Accessories other than the standard battery and standard antenna provided by the manufacturer;
  • Cell phones purchased for resale or for professional or commercial use. Exclusion applies for Consumer card accounts only;
  • Lost or Mysterious Disappearance;
  • Cell phones under the care and control of a common carrier, including, but not limited to, the U.S. Postal Service, airplanes or delivery service;
  • Cell phones which have been rented, leased, borrowed, or Cellular Wireless Telephones that are received as part of a pre-paid plan;
  • Cosmetic damage (i.e.superficial abrasions or scuffs) to the Eligible Cellular Wireless Telephone or damage that does not impact the Eligible Cellular Wireless Telephone’s ability to make or receive phone calls;
  • Damage or theft resulting from abuse, intentional acts, fraud, hostilities of any kind (including, but not limited to, war, invasion, rebellion or insurrection), confiscation by the authorities, risks of contraband, illegal activities, normal wear and tear, flood, earthquake, radioactive contamination, or damage from inherent product defects or vermin;
  • Damage or theft resulting from misdelivery or voluntary parting from the Eligible Cellular Wireless Telephone;
  • Replacement Eligible Cellular Wireless Telephone(s) purchased from anyone other than a cellular service provider’s retail or internet store that can initiate activation with the cellular service provider;
  • Taxes, delivery or transportation charges or any fees associated with the service provided;
  • Losses covered under warranty issued by a manufacturer, distributor, or seller

How does Amex Cell Phone Protection Work?

  1. The phone needs to be listed on your phone bill
  2. You need to pay the prior month's phone bill with the eligible cards, and ideally, future bills

The idea is that you can't just swap this in when your phone breaks. If you don't pay subsequent bills, you will lose coverage.

How to file a claim

To file a claim, you’ll need to contact the benefits administrator within 90 days of the loss or as soon as reasonably possible. Once the claim process is initiated, you’ll have 120 days to submit all necessary paperwork; otherwise, the claim may not be honored.

You’ll need the following documents:

  • Your eligible American Express card account statement reflecting that you paid the eligible cellular wireless telephone bill for the month preceding the date the phone was stolen or suffered damage
  • A copy of your cell phone bill
  • A copy of the original cell phone bill purchase receipt or other sufficient proof of the cell phone model currently linked to your cell phone account
  • A copy of the insurance claim to the eligible person’s homeowner’s, renter’s or personal auto insurance or any applicable cell phone insurance, in the event that the claim amount is less than the deductible
  • For claims due to damage, you need repair estimates and photos of the damage  
  • For claims due to theft, you need a copy of a police report within 48 hours of the theft

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Pay Over Time: Amex Platinum, Gold, and Green Credit Cards
American Express

What is Pay Over Time?

Pay Over Time was always a feature for American Express charge cards. Cardholders can choose to pay their statements in full or carry a balance on eligible charges, up to their Pay Over Time Limit.

However, it was recently brought to my attention that some of my cards were auto-enrolled in Pay Over Time, which makes them act like credit cards.

Cards auto-enrolled in Pay Over Time:

  • American Express® Gold Card
  • American Express® Green Card
  • The Platinum Card® from American Express
  • American Express® Business Gold Card

You can check your Pay Over Time status by logging into your Amex account -> Account Services -> Pay Charges Over Time. All of my cards had a default Pay Over Time limit of $10,000.

An important note is that although there is a Pay Over Time Limit, it’s not the same as a credit limit. While the cards technically don’t have a credit limit, if your Pay Over Time Limit is $10,000, you can carry a balance of up to $10,000 and pay the remainder in full.  

Important note: Although Pay Over Time is an option, I recommend avoiding it since paying interest usually negates any points value. Always pay off the credit card balance in full, and don’t get a credit card if it tempts you to spend more than you normally would.

Pay Over Time 10,000 MR Bonus

The negative impact of being auto-enrolled in Pay Over Time is that cardholders are no longer eligible for the 10,000 MR bonus. In the past, Amex sent out targeted offers to enroll in the optional feature. My guess is that the bonus no longer exists.

I had my fair share of enrollment bonuses since I have multiple Amex Platinum and Gold cards.

Why Would Amex Shift to Credit Cards from Charge Cards?

The elephant in the room is why American Express would change their charge cards to credit cards. To answer this question, let’s dive into their Q4 2019 financial statements.

Since Amex is a publicly traded company, its earnings report is publicly available: https://ir.americanexpress.com/Cache/IRCache/1ef02650-2d57-1ac2-cedb-51e6bc3ad90a.PDF?O=PDF&T=&Y=&D=&FID=1ef02650-2d57-1ac2-cedb-51e6bc3ad90a&iid=102700

Charge Card Write-Offs

If you flip over to page 8 in the earnings report, you can see that the charge net write-off rates jump from 1.4% to 1.9% within 12 months. However, it looks like the 30+ days past due percentage has little change.

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My guess is that since the charge net write-off rates have increased, Amex would rather collect interest on outstanding balances instead of writing them off.

By auto-enrolling cardholders in the Pay Over Time program, Amex can earn more interest income instead of chasing after delinquent accounts.

Provisions for losses is money set aside for write-offs. Total provisions for losses jumped from $809 million in Q1 2019 to $1.024 billion in Q4 2019.

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It’s no secret that American Express makes a large percentage of their revenue via swipe fees, which increased by 6% in Q4 2019. Other notable increases are net card fees (annual fees) and net interest income.

My prediction is that more people were getting the cards due to good marketing, and they ended up paying interest as opposed to paying the card off in full each month.

By auto-enrolling cardholders in Pay Over Time, Amex is cutting back on potential write-offs and making money on the interest. Only time will tell if their strategy is more profitable.

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How to Use the CardMatch Tool to Find Better Sign-Up Offers
American Express

What if you could save time and find multiple credit card offers that you're prequalified for without impacting your credit score? Sometimes, you may even get targeted for special offers (not publicly available) based on your credit profile when you use the CardMatch Tool.  

What is CardMatch?

CardMatch is a tool that shows you pre-approved and special targeted offers (sometimes) from select credit issuers. The tool conducts a soft pull so that it won't affect your credit score. See your matched offers in less than 60 seconds.

Why use CardMatch?

Every so often, the CardMatch tool has great offers for select cards. For example, not everyone will be targeted, but sometimes you can find The Platinum Card® from American Express with 125,000-150,000 point welcome offers after you spend $6,000 within the first 6 months. Terms apply. A couple of AskSebby subscribers have reported they were able to apply for and get the offer. YMMV.

Users may not be matched with all offers or banks, and matches are based on your credit profile.

How to use the CardMatch Tool

To take advantage of targeted offers available, simply go to the CardMatch Tool. Enter your information, agree to the terms of service, and the system will search for offers.

Be sure to view "All Matches" to see everything you're targeted for.

Want to see if you're pre-qualified for any great offers? Try it out yourself!

CardMatch Tool

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Best Downgrade Options for the Citi Prestige
Citi

On July 23, 2017, Citi removed their card benefits like trip protection and insurances.

A lot of cardholders are wondering what their options are — should they cancel or product change the Citi Prestige?

Annual fee

A significant factor in determining which route to take is the annual fee. The annual fee is $450, but it comes with a $250 travel credit, making the effective annual fee $200.

In some cases, you can apply in-branch to receive a lower annual fee of $350, making the effective annual fee $100 after the travel credit.

The main question is if the lower $350 annual fee will be honored the second year, or if the fee will increase to $450.

We’re hesitant to keep the card with an effective $200 annual fee because there are alternative luxury cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and American Express Platinum that provide the same, if not better, value.

Before considering downgrade/product change options, we need to consider if this card is worth keeping.

4th night free

The best perk the Citi Prestige is known for is book 3 consecutive nights, get the 4th night free. In order to redeem this perk, you have to book through the Citi Prestige Concierge.

Effective July 23, 2017, Citi will rebate the average room rate across your stay of 4 or more nights, not including taxes.

Citi ThankYou Points

My main concern is that if I cancel or product change the card, I won’t be able to receive an intro bonus for a Citi card (that earns ThankYou points) in the next 2 years.

Citi has a rule that you can qualify for an intro bonus every 2 years across the same product family. For example, if you were approved for the Citi ThankYou Preferred card in 2015, you would not receive an intro bonus for the Citi Prestige if you applied the same year. You would have to wait until 2017 to qualify for another Citi intro bonus.

Since I signed up for the Citi Prestige in September 2016, that means I won’t be eligible for another ThankYou bonus until September 2018. If I cancel the card now, it resets the clock meaning I won’t be eligible for another bonus until September 2019.

Product change options

In terms of product changes, there are 3 cards I’m considering:

  1. Citi Custom Cash℠ Card
  2. Citi® Double Cash Card
  3. Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi

Citi Custom Cash℠ Card

Pros:

  • Earn 5% cash back on purchases in your top eligible spend category each billing cycle, up to $500 spent, 1% cash back thereafter
  • 5% eligible categories: Restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, select travel, select transit, select streaming services, drugstores, home improvement stores, fitness clubs, live entertainment.
  • Earns Citi ThankYou points
  • No activation required

Cons:

  • Only ideal if you have heavy spend in one of the qualifying 5% categories mentioned above
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Citi® Double Cash Card

Pros:

  • 2% on all purchases — 1% when you make a purchase and another 1% when you pay the bill
  • Citi Price Rewind, but this benefit is included with every card

Cons:

  • If you have the Chase Freedom Unlimited and the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you can earn 1.5x with the Unlimited and redeem for 3x when you transfer points to the Reserve.
  • I usually have a new card I’m trying to meet minimum spend on…the 2% might not make sense for me vs. meeting minimum spend
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Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi

Pros:

  • I already have Costco membership so “no annual fee”
  • Earn 4% on gas, 3% at restaurants+travel, 2% at Costco
  • Extends Costco warranty on purchases by 2 years

Cons:

  • “Locked in” to Costco
  • Gas isn’t relevant to me (no car) and there are better alternatives for restaurant+travel (CSR)
  • Earn 2% at Costco vs. 1.5% with the Freedom Unlimited (effectively 3% if you transfer points to the Chase Sapphire Reserve)
  • Costco already has an amazing warranty policy

How to request a product change

To request a product change, call the number on the back of your Citi Prestige credit card. Let the agent know which product you'd like to switch the card to.

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5 Tips to Get Free Hotel Upgrades
Travel

Disclaimer: Don't be that person who is obnoxious and demands an upgrade. You are not entitled to an upgrade — they're usually given based upon availability.

We've been traveling a lot the past month and tested a few methods to see how to get free hotel upgrades. Here are our learnings about what you can do to increase the chance of getting an upgrade, depending on availability. These tips do not guarantee an upgrade.

1. Have status at the hotel group

If you have status with the hotel group you're staying at, your chances of getting a free upgrade increases. Traditionally, people earn status from hotel stays. In order to earn Gold status at the Ritz-Carlton, you'll need 50 nights or 5 meetings. That's a lot of nights!

Source: http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/rewards/benefits
SOURCE: HTTP://WWW.RITZCARLTON.COM/EN/REWARDS/BENEFITS

To get around this, certain credit cards like the Ritz-Carlton, Amex SPG, and the Amex Platinum card will give you certain status levels for free.

2. Don't be a jerk

There are a ton of people who approach the front desk staff acting like they're entitled to an upgrade. Being nice increases your chances of getting an upgrade.

Follow the Golden Rule: treat people how you would want to be treated.

3. Have a reason for the upgrade

This one is a bit grey area, but if you have a special occasion to celebrate like an anniversary or honeymoon, it may increase your chances of getting a free upgrade, depending on availability. We don't personally do this, but we have heard success stories from friends.

4. Check-in late

It's counter-intuitive, but for all of our stays where we received a free upgrade, we checked-in on a weekday and relatively late (after 8 pm).

The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Nigel: Checked-in at 10pm, we were offered 3 different complimentary upgrade options.

The Ritz-Carlton, Los Angeles: Checked-in at 6pm, got a free upgrade to a corner room junior suite.

Hilton Double Tree, NYC: Checked-in at 7pm, booked through Hotels.com because there was a good deal, but we were denied a free upgrade because it wasn't booked directly through Hilton. We showed Gold status through the Hilton app on our phone and we were still denied an upgrade.

They assigned us a room on a lower floor, and when we requested a room on a higher floor, the staff granted us a free upgrade to the Hhonors floor.

5. Book directly with the hotel when possible

Some hotel groups won't honor status if you book a reservation through a third-party website. Whenever possible, book the reservation directly with the hotel and be sure to enter your status.

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