Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Amex (page 1 of 2)

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. ūüėČ

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. 

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. ūüėČ

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!

6 Best Amex Transfer Partners

Recently, I wrote about the best Chase transfer partners with the hope of pointing people in the best direction for burning their hard-earned Ultimate Rewards points. I figured I could follow up by outlining the best Amex transfer partners from their popular Membership Rewards program.

Basics of Membership Rewards

If your unfamiliar with the Membership Rewards (MR) program, here is a quick rundown: Amex has a flexible points program, just like Chase, with an array of transfer partners and the ability to cash out your points.

In general, the program is inferior to Chase’s Ultimate Rewards, but *not* a whole lot. There are still some great reasons to earn Membership Rewards. You can definitely get a lot of value out of Amex transfer partners. There are a couple partners that overlap both programs, but in general they are different.

Using your membership rewards points is as easy as navigating through the website, entering your loyalty number from the partner program, and then inputting how many you want to transfer. Transfer times for various programs range from instant to several days.

Additionally, American Express offers a credit card with no annual fee that earns transferable Membership Rewards points, something that is no possible with any Chase card (SEE: 5 of the Best No Fee Credit Cards for Travel).

The 6 best Amex transfer partners

The following are the best Amex transfer partners, in my opinion. My reasons include generally best value from your points, potential for some specific sweet spot awards, and general ease of understanding and using the programs (though not necessarily in that order):

Flying Blue

Flying Blue is the award program for both Air France and KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines). It is one of the best programs among SkyTeam airlines, which generally aren’t all that hot when it comes to award programs.

FlyingBlue routinely offers promo awards. Promo awards are select routes on which you can save anywhere from 20% to 50% of your miles. This can let you really stretch your Flying Blue miles, and by extension, your Amex Membership Rewards points. FlyingBlue promo awards are where most of the best value is at, although the following economy awards are also good:

  • North America to Hawaii for 15,000 miles.
  • North America to the Caribbean and Central America¬†for 15,000 miles.
  • North America to French Polynesia for 30,000 miles.

You will pay fuel surcharges with Flying Blue awards, so be prepared to shell out a little cash along with your miles. Flights to and from Europe are on the order of $150 each way.

Aeroplan

Aeroplan is the frequent flyer program of Air Canada, a Star Alliance member. Unlike United awards, Aeroplan awards pass on fuel surcharges for some carriers. This is generally a bummer, and actually makes using Aeroplan miles on Air Canada flights a generally poor proposition. Here are some of the sweet spots for partner awards:

  • U.S. to Europe on Turkish via Istanbul in business for 55,000 miles one-way
  • U.S. to Europe in Lufthansa first class (if you don’t mind high fuel surcharges)
  • Other flights to Europe in business class on¬†carriers with no fuel surcharges
  • Awards within North America that include stopovers

Aeroplan is also the go-to for cheap travel to the Arctic. Air Canada has a couple very unique transfer partners, including First Air. Only bummer with these partners is that they cannot be mixed with other carriers besides Air Canada.

ANA

All Nippon Airways is one of the two major Japanese carriers. The airline has a great international business class and first class product, and a great award chart. It is just a bit difficult to use, and there are some restrictions.

For starters, you can only book ANA awards round-trip, which lessens the flexibility. But the award prices are phenomenal. Here are some options:

  • U.S. to Europe in business class for 88,000 miles round-trip
  • U.S. to Asia for 95,000 miles round trip in business class on a “StarAlliance” award.

These *easily* beat most other award charts for those same awards.

You can also book “around the world” awards with ANA. These can offer insane value. You can have up to 8 stopovers, and the trip must be at least 10 days in length (but c’mon….who would want a RTW trip less than that). There are a couple other rules, but if you have the savvy and flexibility, you really can’t beat an ANA round the world ticket.

For trips of total length less than 29,000 miles flown, you can fly around the world in business class for 170,000 miles. If you restrict yourself to Asia and Europe and clock in under 22,000 flow miles, you can do it for a crazy low 125,000 miles in business (85,000 in economy).

Seriously, if you are looking for value from your Membership Rewards, ANA is where it is at. They take the cake when it comes to best Amex transfer partners in my opinion.

 Singapore KrisFlyer

Kris Flyer made some changes to their program recently, but they still offer great value.

Singapore Airlines offers one of the most aspirational award redemptions available: their iconic Singapore Suites. Only available on their A380 aircraft, ¬†you can only book Singapore Suites awards using KrisFlyer miles. The airline doesn’t open them to partner programs (i.e. you can’t use your United miles to book Suites, even though both airlines are Star Alliance partners).

Here are some of the best options for using Singapore KrisFlyer miles:

  • New York to Frankfurt in suites-class for 76,000 KrisFlyer miles
  • Singapore to Johannesburg in business for 45,000 KrisFlyer miles.
  • San Francisco to Hong Kong in First for 82,000 KrisFlyer miles.
  • United domestic business for 20,000 KrisFlyer miles one-way.

In addition to being an Amex transfer partner, KrisFlyer is also a partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou.

Asia Miles

Asia Miles is the frequent flyer program of Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon. Like some other programs for Oneworld airlines, Asia Miles operates on a distance-based chart. There are a multitude of possibilities here.

Asia Miles has two award charts: one for single-carrier awards or Cathay + 1 partner awards, and the other for multi-carrier awards. Both offer stopovers, which is a huge plus.

Many awards assess fuel surcharges. Steer clear of British Airways, and try instead to fly AA, Air Berlin, and Cathay itself. Some best uses:

  • Around the world ticket with 5 stopovers for 160,000 miles in business (for flights totaling less than 25,000 flown miles)
  • NYC¬†to Europe on AirBerlin from JFK for 60,000 miles in economy round-trip
  • U.S. to Europe Oneworld awards of less than 10,000 flown miles

Do note that the one-way prices are higher than 50% of the round trip price. This lessens the value of one-way awards, but they can still make sense in some cases.

Delta

If your familiar with award charts and loyalty programs, don’t laugh. Delta can be a great option in many instances. Yes, it is true that they have gutted their award “chart”, including tossing the chart itself, and many awards cost way more miles than they do in other programs. Recently, Delta even hiked the price on partner awards.

But Delta shines in two ways: U.S. domestic awards and the abundance of award space. Their program is the complete antithesis to American Airlines AAbysmal AAward program. Here are some great uses of Delta miles:

  • Sacramento, CA to Victoria, BC for 5,500 miles
  • Oakland, CA to Tucson, AZ for 5,500 miles
  • San Francisco, CA to Pocatello, ID for 8,000 miles
  • San Francisco, CA to Jackson Hole, WY for 8,000 miles
  • Charlotte, NC to Mobile, AL for 9,500 miles
  • Little Rock, AR to Orlando, FL for 10,000 miles
  • Chicago, IL to Bismark, ND for 10,500 miles

And many, many more one-stop regional flights that routinely cost $300-$500. It might just be what I’ve searched, but award prices seem to be better in the west than the east. Another plus with Delta is that finding award space for the whole family is often fairly¬†easy.

Other partners

Although the previous programs are the best Amex transfer partners, you can get decent value transferring to others as well. British Airways or Iberia, depending on the award in mind, can offer decent value, but wait until they offer promotional transfer rates. The normal rates are nothing to get excited about.

I’m pretty unfamiliar with the programs for Alitalia, El Al, Aeromexico, and Emirates. I’m sure there are some awards that make sense, but you’ll have to do your own research for now.

Virgin America has a poor transfer rate, in my opinion, although you can use the transfer to top up Alaska miles (by then transferring VX miles to Alaska) if you need to. Virgin Atlantic and JetBlue can offer decent value, but I find them less attractive in general.

I don’t see much value in transferring points to SPG. If the rate was 2:1, it might make sense, but at 3:1 it’s pretty poor value. But…there can be situations where it makes sense, such as needing to transfer points to miles¬†ASAP for a specific award.

Hilton and Choice also offer generally poor value, unless you are topping up for an award or have a specific redemption in mind where you are getting good value out of your points. The Choice program in particular is not to be completely overlooked.

As far as Plenti points go…don’t bother.

Conclusion

As with any loyalty program, you’ll get the best value out your¬†points or miles the better you understand each program. I hope the examples above have given you some ideas for great “sweet spot” awards.

In terms of earning Membership Rewards points, the Amex Everyday card is a great place to start. It is one of the few cards with no annual fee that can earn flexible, transferable points. Hit me up for a referral through the contact me page if you’re interested.

Featured image courtesy of Kentaro Iemoto under CC 2.0 license. 

Don’t be Afraid to Call the Bank!

I have a bad habit of putting off bank calls. For instance, I still haven’t called Banco Popular to unfreeze my Avianca Vuela Visa card (SEE: Lucrative Offer! New Avianca LifeMiles Credit Cards). Goes to show how much I use it. The one time I went to make a large purchase out of area, the bank declined it. I got a letter within a week asking me to call. Over two months later, I still haven’t.

Bank calls can be intimidating. And long. And often frustrating. I hate being placed on hold for more than a few minutes.

Today’s call was different. I had a bit of time to kill this evening, so I figured I’d contact American Express regarding my Starwood Preferred Guest personal card. I’ve been considering canceling it, simply to make room for another card. Ever since I got my business SPG Amex (SEE: Getting My First Business Credit Card), I have hardly used the personal one.

Canceling a card turns into free money

I was pleasantly surprised when I was on hold for maybe a minute before getting a helpful agent. Since she didn’t specialize in card cancellations, she transferred me to another specialist who did. He was competent and helpful.

After expressing my desire to cancel my personal SPG card, he asked me to hold for a minute. In no time at all he was back with an offer for a $100 statement credit. This was a pleasant surprise. I had expected a small number of Starpoints to be offered. But $100? I’ll take it.

He went on to explain that there were no strings attached. American Express was basically offering me $100, free and clear. He went so far as to mention that if I canceled my card come July (when me fee is due), I’d still keep the credit. I’m not sure if American Express would want him explicitly alerting me to that fact…

Conclusion: call the bank more often

My takeaway is that I shouldn’t shy away from calling the card issuer. Banks try to do what they can to keep customers. I’ve put a good amount of spending on my American Express cards in the past couple years, so that may be one of the factors that triggered the offer.

In any case, don’t be shy about calling, especially when an annual fee comes due. The bank may work with you to either reduce it (by a statement credit offset) or make it worth your while in other ways, such as extra points. These are called “retention offers”. I’m going to do my best to capitalize on more of them!

Featured image courtesy of Infrogmation under CC 2.0 license. 

Best-Ever Hilton American Express Card Offers

Credit card sign up bonuses routinely fluctuate. It is good to understand when you are getting in at the top of the wave rather than the bottom. In general, most airline cards should turn your head when they have an offer of 50,000 miles or more.

Hotel cards, however, are all over the map. You just need to understand each program and the value of its points currency. But…the good thing is most bloggers will let you know when the offers are at their best. And now is one of those times for the Hilton American Express cards.

Hilton Amex Card offer

The offer on the Hilton Card from American Express is 80,000 points after $2,000 in spending within the first 3 months of card membership. Features of this card include:

  • No annual fee
  • Earns 7x Hilton points on Hilton stays, 5x points on gas, groceries, and restaurants, and 3x points on everything else.
  • Hilton Silver status and ability to earn Gold status after spending $20,000 on the card in a calendar year.

The no-fee Hilton card is one of the “keepers” in my wallet. Because American Express only offers a sign-up bonus once per lifetime on their products, getting the Hilton card with this increased bonus is ideal. Once you have it, there is no reason to drop in, in my opinion, since you can’t ever get the sign up bonus again.

Link here (or hit me up via the contact me page for a referral).

Hilton Surpass Amex Card offer

The offer on the Hilton Surpass Card from American Express is 100,000 points after $3,000 in spending within the first 3 months of card membership. Features of this card include:

  • $85 annual fee
  • Earns 12x Hilton points on Hilton stays, 6x points on gas, groceries, and restaurants, and 3x points on everything else.
  • Hilton Gold status and the ability to earn Diamond status after spending $40,000 on the card in a calendar year.

The perks of the Hilton Surpass Card over the no-fee American Express Hilton card are slightly better since it grants you automatic Gold status with Hilton, and the earning is better as well. But there is a fee. However, if you have paid¬†Hilton stays several times per year, you’ll probably come out ahead with this card.

Link here.

Both offers end 5/31/17.

The value of Hilton points

While these bonuses might seem huge in terms on the number of bonus points, they really aren‚Äôt all that¬†spectacular. Don‚Äôt get me wrong, now is definitely the time to apply. But Hilton points don’t go as far as you might think.

Hilton hotels require anywhere from 5,000 to 95,000 points per night, which mean you could actually get over 20 nights out of the 100,000 point bonus offer (Hilton also offers a 5th night free benefit)! But the 5,000 and 10,000 point hotels are few and far between.

Honestly, I‚Äôm not even sure you can find them anymore after Hilton killed their award chart. But I haven’t really checked. In general, you¬†should expect to pay anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 points per night on a ‚Äútypical‚ÄĚ hotel.

At this point, just view your Hilton points as worth about 0.5 cents each. This makes the bonuses worth roughly $400 and $500, respectively. This is a good card bonus, but nothing groundbreaking.

Again, if you’re interested in the no-fee Hilton card, shoot me a note via the contact me page and let me send you a referral link.

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