Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Month: September 2017

Centurion Lounge SFO Review

Back in 2016 I was the lucky winner of a MommyPoints giveaway, scoring a Centurion Lounge Pass. I used it, in combination with a United voucher from a voluntary bump, for a super quick overnight flying-for-the-heck-of it trip. The easiest location to visit was hands-down the Centurion Lounge SFO.

Little did I know that I’d be back to visit this particular lounge several times over 2017.

Accessing the Centurion Lounge SFO

To visit any Centurion Lounge, you must be an American Express cardholder. However, with most Amex cards, you’ll have to purchase a day pass to access the lounge, to the tune of $50. Day pass access is also not guaranteed, as the lounge is capacity-controlled. Considering that the Centurion Lounge SFO is often packed, you may have difficulty going the day pass route.

The other way to access the Centurion Lounge network is being either a Platinum or Centurion cardholder. Since a Centurion card is out of the question for most people, the best way to access the lounge is via either a Business Platinum card or one of the many flavors of the Personal Platinum card.

As I have a business incorporating a couple side gigs, I decided to pull the trigger on a Business Platinum card when the sign-up bonus was increased to 100,000 Membership Rewards points (SEE: 6 Best Amex Transfer Partners). The card carries a hefty $450 annual fee (personal version costs $550). But, it’s a write-off.

Arriving at the Centurion Lounge SFO

The Centurion Lounge at San Francisco International Airport is located in Terminal 3 near gate 74 . Since Terminal 3 is connected to International Terminal G via a post-security walkway, you can access the lounge from either of these terminals.

If you’re not flying United or one of the StarAlliance partners that uses International Terminal G, accessing the Centurion Lounge SFO will be a bit more of a headache. You’ll have to pass through security (probably explaining to the TSA agent that you are visiting a lounge) into Terminal 3, but will have to exit and go through security again into terminals 1, 2, or International A.

You really can’t miss the entrance to the Centurion Lounge SFO. The front is all glass, and you’ll see the stairs and elevator heading up to the floor above. The lounge itself overlooks part of Terminal 3 below, but you really don’t get any views of either the terminal or the tarmac, unless you sit right up next to the window. My favorite lounge view so far was (amazingly) at the McCarran United Club.

Seating at the Centurion Lounge SFO

There is a great variety of seating at the Centurion Lounge SFO. The lounge is essentially divided into two parts. Near the bar and food area there are a number of tables where many people tend to eat. I avoid this side of the lounge since it tends to get crowded.

There is a middle area across from the front desk. I’ve never found it to be an appealing place to sit, either. I guess it would be if you’re highly interested in the news. The coffee station is also located here.

Personally, I much prefer the other side of the lounge with it’s variety of seating. There are a couple couches, some armchairs, and some different booth-style seats for 1 or two people. If you’re trying to be productive, I’d pick the large table with a number of outlets to keep your laptop and other devices charged.

Centurion Lounge SFO Review

Today we picked one of the small wall couches along the far side of the lounge.

Family area

The Centurion Lounge SFO does feature a kids play room. Unfortunately, American Express has totally socked it to families in terms of lounge access, so we probably won’t be enjoying the kids room with our family. It would cost another $175 per year. We likely won’t be passing through SFO again anyway on this trip, but it’s a bit of a bummer of the future. This change might also might result in me dropping the card next year.

Centurion Lounge SFO family room

The kids area features toys, a TV, and seating for parents. I’d say it hits capacity at only two parents with a couple kids each, so it’s not all that big. But then again, there typically aren’t that many families with young children passing through the lounge at the same time. I only saw two with young kids during our three hours there.

Food at the Centurion Lounge SFO

While I haven’t visited all that many domestic lounges, the food at the Centurion Lounge SFO is far better than any of the other lounges I’ve visited. All of the United Clubs I’ve visited have had meager food offerings. But free is free (when you’re using a complimentary one time pass), so I’m not really complaining.

The food at the Centurion Lounge SFO, however, is great. Dinner often consists of chicken, pork belly, rice, and some other great dishes. I’ve been through here 3 or 4 times in the evening, and the food has typically been the same offerings.

Breakfast is good as well. Unlike other lounges that only offer light options like fruit, yogurt, and pastries, the Centurion Lounge SFO actually has a full breakfast. Today the selections included breakfast sandwiches, frittata, eggs, as well as fruit and pastries. It was a good start to the day, especially after having hardly eaten since we woke up at 3:00 a.m.

Centurion Lounge SFO food

There is a full bar at the Centurion Lounge SFO, and from what I understand, it’s a rather good one. They have a selection of wine, and plenty of other options. I’ve never sampled any of it, so I can’t really report on this aspect. 😉

Crowding at the Centurion Lounge SFO

The lounge has been typically crowded most of the times I’ve been here. Occupancy is usually highest in the evening, while this morning was relatively quiet. The longer we’re here, however, the more people arrive. Now the place is hopping at almost 10:00 a.m.

The worst experience was a night when there were numerous delayed United flights. The Centurion Lounge SFO was completely packed, and it was extremely hard for me to find a single seat. I had to wander for a while before someone finally got up and left. If you’re looking for peace and quiet, I might keep a couple United Club passes on hand (if you have the Explorer card) to see if any of those are better.

Other amenities

Like most lounges there are boards showing flight departures and a couple TVs showing the news . It’s also nice to have very clean bathrooms rather than the high-traffic ones in the terminal.

The Centurion Lounge SFO also offers free WiFi, of course. I find it very handy that the password has not changed the entire time I’ve been visiting, making it easy to just remember the network on my phone and type it in each time. While SFO offers free WiFi in the terminals, the internet speed at the Centurion is far better.

Conclusion

The Centurion Lounge SFO is a nice oasis if you’re flying in or out of the Bay frequently. While some people might not be able to justify the $450 annual fee for a Business Platinum card, if you travel enough, the other perks of the card could make it worth obtaining.

SFO map image and Business Platinum card image courtesy of American Express. 

4 Checked Bags…You Can Obviously Guess Why

Today is a big day. My wife and I are *finally* headed out to adopt our kids in Costa Rica. It has been a long-awaited trip. We packed over yesterday and today…and ended up with 4 checked bags. *sigh* Life is never going to be the same.

When I travel by myself, I travel fast and light. One carry on and a personal item is all I need. When my wife and I travel, we typically check a single bag. We would avoid this, too, except that my wife often has to bring some supplements and liquids and cooking items that are pretty much impossible to get through security.

But 4 checked bags? I thought I’d never see the day.

Going from 2 to 5

I’m kidding. Mostly. Obviously, it would be nice to keep up how we currently travel, but I knew long ago that things would change oh so drastically. You can’t keep up the same pace with kids in tow. I’m sure we’ll still travel (I already have ideas), but it will almost certainly be less frequently. Not to mention much harder to hack! But this is the life we want, and we cannot wait to meet our precious children (we’ve already been Skyping with them).

Preparing for this trip has been a chore. The longest my wife and I have ever been gone was for a month-long adventure in Europe. We checked two bags for most of those flights, and had to do laundry multiple times during the trip.

But this adventure is even longer. We are estimating that we should be in Costa Rica for six weeks!

With all of our clothing, plus kids clothing, plus toys and games for the kids, plus gifts for various people involved in the process and in our kids lives, four full checked bags is understandable.

Bright and early start

Morning came early at the awful hour of 3:00 a.m. It was pretty brutal. But we are flying out of our upstart little airport (which is a huge plus), and the 6:00 a.m. flight is the most reliable. Currently, it is on time as we sit here at the terminal. We *did* have one time where it was canceled, however.

We should get to Houston with plenty of time to rest and have a comfortable overnight before continuing on to San Jose tomorrow.

Conclusion

I hope to blog a bit while we’re away, but that is looking fairly doubtful. Even this week has been nigh but impossible. All of our focus will be on the kids while we are in Costa Rica. This is a critical time for all of us, as we will be beginning to bond as a family.

#Snyder2to5

Best ever offer for the Hilton Honors Surpass Card!

The best-ever offer is back for the Hilton Honors Surpass card from American Express. We routinely see various increased offers for this card, but the past couple iterations have been especially rich.

The offer

Currently, the card offers a sign-up bonus of 100,000 Hilton Honors points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months of card membership. Additionally, you can earn a free weekend night after paying the card fee on your first card anniversary.

The card carries and annual fee of $75. If you factor in the free night on the first anniversary, you’ll essentially be paying $150 for one hotel night and 100,000 Honors points. Not a bad deal.

Assuming that you get $150 out of the free night (but you can likely get more), I estimate the value of the bonus points to be $500 (0.5 cents per Hilton point). You *can* get a lot more out of Hilton points, however (SEE: Travel hacking win: booking last-minute eclipse travel).

If you’re interested in the card, I would appreciate it if you would apply via my referral link. I’ll receive a bonus if you do. 😉

Card details

The Hilton Honors Surpass card isn’t a fantastic one for everyday spending. Due to the low value of Hilton points, even earning 3 points per dollar isn’t all that hot.

However, the card does earn 6 points at grocery stores, which is fairly reasonable. It also earns 12 points per dollar at any of the Hilton hotel brands. What the card is sadly lacking, though, is no foreign transaction fees. This means you get hit with a 3% fee if you use it abroad, even for Hilton stays.

One of the biggest perks of the card is that it grants you Hilton Honors Gold status. This will give you free breakfast at most full service Hilton hotels, room upgrades, and other perks.

This is a great card if you stay at Hilton brand hotels even a handful of times per year!

Getting Your First Credit Card

I’ve talked with many people over my years of travel hacking who are amazed at what my wife and I are able to do, yet are a bit skeptical about credit cards. There are even expressions of horror when I mention that my wife and I have 36 (!) open accounts between the two of us. But is getting your first credit card really all that scary?

Sure, credit cards have the potential to get you into trouble. But with even a small amount of financial discipline, they are far more of a tool than a liability.

Credit card basics

Before getting for your first credit card, I highly recommend that you first check your credit report and score. You can get your report for free at freecreditreport.com, or you can often sign up for a trial membership with Experian and pull both your report and your score for $1. Totally worth it.

There are 5 factors that go into your credit score. Make sure you understand these. It is good to have an idea about how likely you are to be approved for a given card. If you have too many negative factors influencing your score, you may need to work on repairing your credit before moving into travel hacking.

Identifying a good credit card

There are many cards on the market, some great, some not so much. If your credit isn’t good, you probably won’t qualify for (m)any of the best products.

If you have good credit and are interested in travel, I would definitely suggest a card with transferable points as your first travel credit card, and then maybe moving into an airline card later. However, this *completely* depends on your own personal preferences. It’s your credit. The best plan is to identify a specific trip or travel goal, and then obtain the cards that will help you meet that goal.

If you don’t have any idea where to start, though, I’ll always suggest my favorite travel card (SEE: 5 Reasons the Chase Sapphire Preferred is the Best Starter Travel Credit Card).

Getting your first credit card chase sapphire preferred

Applying for a credit card

Before you apply for a card, make sure that your credit score is in the range that will likely result in approval. You should also keep application restrictions in mind, such as Chase 5/24 or Citi’s 8/65 rule. If you have poor credit or simply no credit history at all, getting your first credit card is sometimes challenging. You may need to look for a secured card or one through your local bank with a low limit before shooting for travel rewards cards.

When you apply for a card, you will get one of 3 results: instant approval, application pending, or denial. If you are approved, congratulations. Now just wait for your card to show up and then start spending to meet your bonus criteria.

If you’re immediately denied, I would wait for the letter to come explaining why. You can potentially get this overturned, depending on the situation, but you’ll need to call the reconsideration line of the bank.

If your application goes to pending, it could be for a few reasons:

  • The bank needs to confirm some information with you
  • An actual person needs to review the application rather than a computer algorithm
  • You’re actually denied, and they’re not telling you so (in at least Chase’s case)
  • Or potentially other reasons

If your application is pending, I suggest following whatever the confirmation screen tells you. Sometimes it says to call in as soon as possible. At other times, the response will ask that you wait for a decision in the mail. Whatever the case, I would follow the advice before calling reconsideration.

Actually getting your first credit card

Assuming that you’re approved immediately, or that you are able to get successfully approved by calling reconsideration, actually getting your first credit card (in the physical sense) usually takes about a week. You’ll need to then activate the card, which typically means signing up for online access, something I highly recommend. I find it is much easier to manage your card online than it is over the phone.

Once your card is activated, it’s time to earn that bonus.

Earning the card bonus

You’ll now need to spend the amount required by your offer within the timeframe required by the bonus offer to earn the sign-up bonus. Most of the time this is 3 months or 90 days. Make sure that you track the required amount of spend and that you stay on track!

DO NOT miss out on the sign-up bonus! This is one of the reasons you got the card! Additionally, you may not be eligible for another bonus in the near future (or ever). I’ve sadly missed out on one Delta bonus, something I can never get again since it is an American Express card. :'(

Use your points!

If getting your first credit card lands you a great versatile card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you may quickly have enough points for a quick weekend away. But whether you burn your points immediately for a quick trip, or save them for a couple years for a fantastic round-the-world adventure, make sure you enjoy them. Sometimes the name of the game is maximizing their value. At other times it is simply taking the trip you want to take…for free!

Just don’t burn them on a toaster. There are plenty of resources out there for maximizing your points.

SEE5 Best Chase Ultimate Rewards Transfer Partners

SEE6 Best Amex Transfer Partners

My admonition

DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT get yourself into debt trying to obtain free travel. It will no longer be free. While it may make sense to pay an annual fee on a card, it *never* makes sense to end up paying interest and/or late fees while trying to earn miles or points. The fees will completely negate the value of your points (and more).

Make sure you know the 5 Commandments of Travel Credit Cards (or any credit card).

Conclusion

My final disclaimer is that you should NOT sign up for a credit card simply because some guy on the internet told you to do so. Make sure the card is a product that will work for you, and that you will indeed get value out of it.

Using lucrative credit card offers to obtain amazing travel is fantastic. Getting your first credit card can easily get your addicted to the miles and points hobby. Just be responsible, and remember that this hobby is a marathon. Try not to treat it like a sprint.