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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: 

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

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 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: 

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:


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!


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.


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.


  • 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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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:

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.


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.


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.

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

Best Downgrade Options for the Citi Prestige

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


  • 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


  • Only ideal if you have heavy spend in one of the qualifying 5% categories mentioned above

Citi® Double Cash Card


  • 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


  • 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

Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi


  • 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


  • “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.

5 Tips to Get Free Hotel Upgrades

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!


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 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.

7 Things to Do in Las Vegas

We recently hopped on a private jet to make the most of our JetSmarter membership and ended up in Vegas. Here's our list of what to do in 48 hours in Las Vegas.

1. Lotus of Siam

Lotus of Siam was crowned the "Best Thai Food in America." Order the crispy duck, soft shell crab over drunken noodles, and garlic prawns.

crispy duck in curry
crispy duck and soft shell crab over drunken noodles
soft shell crab over drunken noodles
garlic prawns

Be sure to make a reservation at least two weeks in advance. Since this was a last minute trip, we called the Amex Platinum concierge and they were able to secure a reservation with a few days notice.

2. Downtown Las Vegas Container Park

Visit the Downtown Las Vegas Container Park, which is filled with local boutique shops, a playground, restaurants, and a giant fire breathing pray mantis.

fire pray mantis
seb and mantis
shops at container park

3. Fremont Street

Take a stroll in the old Vegas by walking down Fremont Street. There's a light show, zipline, and tons of restaurants and casinos to see.

entrance to fremont street

4. Seven Magic Mountains

Seven Magic Mountains is a temporary public art installation consisting of seven towers of colorful, stacked boulders standing more than 25 feet high. The exhibit will be available until May 2018. You'll need to rent a car to drive there; it's located 20 minutes outside The Strip.

seven magic mountains

5. Eat at a Buffet

To me, Vegas is synonymous to buffets. I can't leave Vegas without eating at a buffet at least once. My favorite is the Wicked Spoon located inside the Cosmopolitan hotel.

The buffet consists of tapas style plates with offerings like bone marrow, crab, fresh oysters, oxtail pho, and prime rib.

oxtail pho
bone marrow

Pro-tip: go 10 minutes before dinner starts to lock-in the brunch/lunch pricing and enjoy the best of both worlds.

6. The Fountains of Bellagio

The Bellagio's fountains run every 30 minutes from 3pm to 8pm and every 15 minutes from 8pm to 12am Monday through Friday.

On Saturday, Sundays, and holidays, the fountains run every 30 minutes from 12pm-8pm and every 15 minutes 8pm-12am.

fountains of bellagio

7. The LINQ Promenade

The LINQ Promenade is filled with novelty shops including Sprinkles Cupcakes, In-N-Out Burger, and Gordan Ramsay Fish n' Chips. The Promenade also leads to the High Roller (Ferris Wheel).

the linq promenade

YouTube Video

7 Things to Do in Calgary, Alberta

On our recent trip to see the Canadian Rockies, we flew into Calgary International Airport (YYC) and rented a car to drive to Banff. We spent 24 hours in Calgary and stayed at the Calgary Marriott Downtown Hotel (watch the video at the end of the post for hotel details).  

7 Things to Do in Calgary

1. Calgary Tower

Calgary Tower is located in the heart of downtown. The tower has a 360° panoramic view of the city, and there's also a revolving restaurant. If you dine at the restaurant, you can gain complimentary access to the observation deck.

Calgary Tower
101 9 Ave SW
Calgary, Alberta T2P 1J9

calgary tower: daytime
calgary tower: night 

2. Stephen Avenue Walk

Stephen Avenue Walk is a historic pedestrian mall located steps away from Calgary Tower.

Stephen Avenue Walk
8 Ave SW
Calgary, Alberta T2P 1B3

stephen avenue walk
more shops at stephen avenue walk

The Galleria Trees sculptures are an iconic part of Stephens Avenue and located between 2nd and 3rd Street SW. There are ten metal trees designed to reduce the wind gusts on the block. The Galleria Trees are also equipped with an audio system and LED lights.

galleria trees

3. Devonian Gardens

The Devonian Gardens is a large indoor park and botanical garden located in the CORE Shopping Centre (entrance is where the Galleria Trees are on Stephen Ave). Take the escalators up to the 4th floor to explore the gardens.

Devonian Gardens
317 7 Ave SW | CORE Shopping Centre
Calgary, Alberta T6G 2E1

The Gardens were closed for renovations when we visited, so hopefully, they'll re-open soon!

devonian gardens
devonian gardens

4. Eat at Charcut Roast House

Alberta is famous for their steak. Charcut Roast House is the brainchild of Chefs John Jackson and Connie Desousa (a Top Chef Canada finalist). The restaurant has a rustic-chic vibe and a farm-to-table ethos.

Charcut Roast House
101-899 Centre Street S
Calgary, AB T2G 1B8

charcut roasthouse
charcut menu

We ordered one too many items, but it was all delicious. Get the duck fat fried poutine, prime rib of Alberta beef, and the CHARCUT sausage share burger. All the items are farm-to-table and the servers are incredibly knowledgable about the farms each ingredient was sourced from.

steak board with poutine: before

Somehow we managed to clear the whole board. It was THAT good.

steak board with poutine: after

5. Prince's Island Park

Prince's Island Park is an urban park near downtown Calgary. There are plenty of picnic areas, hiking trails, and flower gardens.

Prince's Island Park
200 Barclay Parade SW, Calgary, AB T2P 4R5

prince island park

The Peace Bridge is a pedestrian and bike bridge designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. It's located on the far west side of Price's Island Park.

peace bridge
peace bridge

6. Eat at River Cafe

River Cafe is one of the most popular restaurants in Calgary. It's located in the heart of Prince's Island Park and has a great view of the Bow River. Be sure to make a reservation in advance.

River Cafe
25 Prince's Island Park
Calgary, AB T2P 0R1

river cafe

7. Visit Chinatown

Take a stroll in Calgary's Chinatown and grab a bite to eat. Chinatown is located along Centre Street in the northeast area of downtown.

calgary chinese cultural center

If you're craving Hong Kong style food, stop by Calgary Court Restaurant. I recommend the lunch specials or a classic bowl of wonton noodles.

calgary court

The lunch special that day was Portuguese baked chicken and pork with spaghetti, milk tea, mushroom soup, and garlic toast, all for CAD $10!

lunch special

YouTube Video

7 Things to Do in Banff Springs

1. Bow Falls

Bow Falls is located in the backyard of the Fairmont Banff Springs. If you're in Downtown Banff and want to go for a light hike, Bow Falls is just a short 5-minute walk away.

Bow Falls
Banff National Park
Alberta, Canada

bow falls

2. Downtown Banff

Downtown Banff is lined with tons of restaurants, bars, and shops. Take a stroll and enjoy some Canadian cuisine.

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3. Park Distillery

Park Distillery is a distillery, restaurant, and bar located in Banff National Park. They offer a free distillery tour daily at 3:30 pm.

Park is also great lunch spot; try the rotisserie chicken.

Park Distillery Restaurant and Bar
219 Banff Ave
Banff, AB T1L 1A7, Canada

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4. Vermilion Lakes

The Vermilion Lakes are a series of lakes located a short 5-minute drive from Downtown Banff. Vermilion Lakes consists of three lakes formed in the Bow River valley.

vermilion lakes

5. BeaverTails

BeaverTails is a chain store, but it's a novelty. Think Nutella covered pastry topped with fruit or candy. Stop by for a quick snack or dessert.

120 Banff Ave
Banff, AB T1L 1E7, Canada

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6. Banff Upper Hot Springs

After a long day of hiking, take a soak in Banff Upper Hot Springs. The water flow consists of 100% natural mineral water. Banff Upper Hot Springs is commercialized, but it's the closest one in vicinity to Downtown Banff.

Feeling adventurous? You can rent a historic swim suit for $1.90.

Soak Fees:

  • Adult (18-64): $7.30 CAD
  • Youth (3-17): $6.30 CAD
  • Child (Under 3): Free
  • Senior (65+): $6.30 CAD
  • Swimsuit: $1.90 CAD
  • Towel: $1.90 CAD
  • Locker: $1.00 CAD

Banff Upper Hot Springs
1 Mountain Ave
Banff, AB T1L 1K2, Canada

soak fees
historic swim suit
banff upper hot springs

7. Cave and Basin National Historic Site

Cave and Basin National Historic site is the birthplace of Canada's national parks. Start your visit with a Discovery Tour, and then explore the historic architecture, bubbling mineral waters, and underground cave.

Cave and Basin National Historic Site
311 Cave Ave
Banff, AB T0L 0C0, Canada

cave and basin national historic site

YouTube Video

3 Tips for Visiting Lake Louise

Lake Louise is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Canada. Here are a few tips to get the most out of your trip.

1. Visit Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake is less than a 10-minute drive from Lake Louise and well worth the detour. Be sure to visit before 9 am to get a parking spot. Once the small parking lot is full, you'll have to park in overflow and hop on a shuttle to see the lake.

Canoes are available for rent; $95/hour.  

moraine lake
seb moraine lake
moraine lake lodge

2. Don't pay for parking at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

There is a free government parking lot located at Lake Louise. When you see the Fairmont Hotel, take a left and there will be a free parking lot with plenty of space. Lake Louise is a short 5-10 minute walk away.

Parking at the Fairmont is $33.

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3. Eat at the Lakeview Lounge, Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

Enjoy lunch or a drink and take in the views of the stunning Lake Louise. We had the prime rib sandwich with a side of French onion soup.

lakeview lounge
prime rib sandwich
coffee with a view

YouTube Video

How to Find Award Availability for InterContinental Bora Bora Resort Thalasso Spa and Le Moana Bora Bora

Note: Some of the offers/products mentioned below are no longer available.

For our Bora Bora trip in July 2018, half of our stay was at the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort Thalasso Spa. We reserved all of our nights using points and free night certificates. Here's how to book a trip to Bora Bora with the new Chase IHG Products.

[ Oct 2020 Update ] The Chase IHG Rewards Club Premier credit card currently has an increased offer of 140,000 points and the $89 annual fee is waived the first year.

The benefit of booking with points is that you'll avoid paying for taxes and additional charges out of pocket.

Retail price via

Points + Cash

The optimal strategy for booking nights in Bora Bora is to use points + cash if you only have at least 100,000 points from the Chase IHG Premier bonus so you can reserve two nights. Choose the 50,000 points + 125 USD rate.

Ideally, you're in Player 2 mode so you can book a total of four nights if you both have the IHG card.

image via,%20French%20Polynesia&qCiMy=72018&qCiD=19&qCoMy=72018&qCoD=20&qAdlt=1&qChld=0&qRms=1&qRtP=6CBARC.IVANI&qAkamaiCC=US&qSrt=sDD&…

= 2 x Points + Cash
= 100k IHG + $250

= 2 nights x rack rate ($959.97)
= ~$1,920 in value

= ($1,920 value - $250 cash) / 100k IHG
= $1,670 / 100k = 1.67 CPP

By booking the IHG Bora Bora properties, you're getting at least 1.67 CPP  in value.

How to Book IHG Bora Bora Properties

The most frequently asked question we receive is.."theory is nice Seb, but how do we actually book the nights?" Finding availability for reward nights or points to use in Bora Bora is the biggest hurdle.

The first step to booking the IHG properties is to bookmark the landing page for the reward nights:,%20French%20Polynesia&qCiMy=72018&qCiD=19&qCoMy=72018&qCoD=20&qAdlt=1&qChld=0&qRms=1&qRtP=6CBARC.IVANI&qAkamaiCC=US&qSrt=sDD&

  • Change the search dates to your desired ones and bookmark the page accordingly
  • If you want to stay at Le Moana, there's often plenty of availability
  • If you want to stay at Thalasso, you'll need to check back often (multiple times a day) for availability

For me, I checked my desired dates multiple times a day for a whole month to find reward availability.

Dates are usually released 4 months in advance. Don't be afraid to split your time between Le Moana and Thalasso.

If I had to do my trip again, I would spend half my nights in Le Moana and the other half in Thalasso. The benefit of Le Moana is that it's on the main island and you have access to more reasonably priced restaurants and food. The only con is that you are not guaranteed an overwater villa.

For Thalasso, you'll pay a premium for food, but you're guaranteed an overwater villa. If you need to take the IHG shuttle boat to Le Moana after 2:15 PM, you'll have to pay a 2770 XPF (as of July 2018) fee per person, per one-way ticket.

YouTube Video

How to Book Al Maha, a Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa

Al Maha is one of the best Marriott Bonvoy redemptions if you plan to visit Dubai. The all-inclusive resort is located one hour away from Dubai, and it’s an amazing escape from the city.

The resort is also a conservation reserve where they have on-site field guides and wildlife.

How to Book Al Maha

Al Maha is a Category 8 hotel, and the price ranges from 63,000-100,000 points depending on the season.

  • Peak season = Winter months
  • Off-peak = Summer months

Search for availability on Marriott’s site:

Be sure to check the box that says “Use Points/Certificates.”

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Example of peak season pricing:

Booking 4a.JPG

Off-peak season pricing:

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Booking 4e.JPG

What’s Included in the Price?

The room-rate includes:

  • 3 meals each day: breakfast, lunch, dinner (does not include alcohol)
  • 2 Selected Desert Activities tickets

Desert Activities to choose from:

  • Camel trekkiing
  • Desert safari
  • Falconry
  • Archery
  • Nature walk
  • Dune drive (supplement charge)
  • Horse riding (supplement charge)

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