The $550 question is whether or not it’s worth spending $550 for something that may only be marginally better than the $95 option. However, the margin can widen depending on your spending patterns and benefit use, so this week on Frequent Miler on the Air we discuss which of these cards is better and for whom.
Elsewhere on the blog this week, we overhauled our Ultimate Rewards sweet spot post for those of you looking to plan out how to use your newfound Ultimate Rewards fortune, we report back on our first spin with IHG Diamond status, discuss why you might want to consider buying IHG Ambassador now and more.
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This week on the Frequent Miler blog…
Sapphire Battle – Which is Right for You? Sapphire Reserve? Sapphire Preferred? Ink Business Preferred?
This week’s podcast set out to decide the answer to the title question of this post. Somewhat unsurprisingly, there isn’t an easy once-size-fits-all answer to the question but rather “it depends” on a number of factors. For those who spend a lot each year on travel (and who want top travel protections, an ultra-premium card like the Sapphire Reserve can make a lot of sense — and with an increased bonus it is even easier to justify — but it isn’t a slam dunk for everyone.
An increased welcome bonus on the Sapphire Reserve is the driving force that has propelled it back into the discussion against the Sapphire Preferred. While then Reserve has long made more sense for some people, the better bonus on the Preferred made it such that opening the Preferred and later upgrading to the Reserve was the smarter play for most — but now that we see this increased bonus, the tides may have turned.
Once you’ve gathered a newfound Ultimate Rewards fortune, you have to consider how to use it. In this updated post, we list the best sweet spots for travel to various regions of the world using your Chase Ultimate Rewards points.
I’ve long been a fan of luxury hotel booking programs that come with built-in perks (like Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts or Chase Luxury Hotel Collection). It’s exciting to see that Capital One intends to compete in that space, particularly since these bookings will earn 10x and qualify for the Venture X card’s annual travel rebate. This should make that annual rebate even easier to use provided that the prices are competitive.
Southwest is increasing the threshold to earn a Companion Pass — for those who don’t play our games, that is. Those who have a Southwest Airlines credit card (i.e. those who look to earn a Companion Pass via credit cards!) will get credit for 10,000 Companion Pass-qualifying points each year, effectively meaning that if you want to earn the pass from credit card welcome bonuses, it’s business as usual. The fact that Southwest explicitly made this change applicable to those without the credit cards tells me that the credit card path to the companion pass is likely going to stick around into the foreseeable future.
For the first time ever, I am very seriously considering buying IHG Ambassador status. I have long bemoaned this status as not being very useful, but between IHG’s great flash sales and the way that Ambassador status seems to extend IHG status, I am suddenly more interested in IHG’s rewards program than I have been in years. I’ve been vacillating on this a bit because I’m not totally sure that I’ll get enough value out of this next year to justify the cost, but on the other hand the gamble is relatively low for a decent win.
This is just a quick tip, but since I imagine that there are quite a few Southwest Airlines afficionados out there, I thought I’d include this news about a Priority Pass restaurant at BWI airport that’s easily accessible to those flying Southwest. I stopped by this restaurant last weekend and was certainly happy given the price of admission (Priority Pass holders get $28 in credit per visitor provided that your Priority Pass comes from a card other than an Amex card — note that Amex-issued Priority Passes do not include restaurant access). I’ll be back on my next trip through BWI.
We maintain complete guides to each of the largest loyalty programs. Recently, we updated our Hilton Honors Complete Guide to include the latest changes to the program and developments regarding benefits for those with elite status.
Greg and I both had an opportunity to take IHG’s Diamond status for a spin last weekend at the Kimpton Surfcomer hotel in Miami Beach, Florida. It certainly was nice to get free breakfast – and breakfast was pretty good. I’m not terribly surprised that neither of us were upgraded given the number of Diamond members we know who were at the hotel for the same dates, but I’ll be curious to see how that plays out over a larger sample set. I also requested an extra hour beyond checkout time and didn’t get any pushback. While I wasn’t a big fan of the Kimpton Surfcomer, I am strongly considering extending my IHG Diamond status because I certainly was happy that breakfast was clearly defined and completely sufficient.
Kimpton has what I would call a rather fervent fan base (or at least it did in the years before it became part of IHG), so I know that it is a well-loved brand. I want to love it, but I just don’t. I’ve only stayed at a few Kimpton properties, but the brand just isn’t a fit for me. The Kimpton Surfcomer is a fine enough hotel and I’d be glad to stay again – my room was certainly clean and comfortable and the resort grounds were taken care of quite well, but I don’t think I’m Kimpton’s target customer. I know they are going for a “cool” vibe with the thumping bass at the pool, and as someone who DJed weddings and at ski resorts for years I am not afraid of some loud music, but I want my hotel room to provide respite from the chaos outside and that didn’t happen for everyone in my group (others in our group complained of loud music in the mornings or other noise). The beach was nice, but even though this hotel is on the beach, you have to walk the entire pool area and then turn on a stone path and then veer off the path and then walk a distance in the sand to get to the water. None of those things would individually be deal-breakers (and surely they won’t be for some folks even when compounded), but it left a little to be desired for me. I imagine that many people would be happy with the chic vibe, good restaurant, friendly service, and location on the beach, but I’ll probably check out a different place on my next trip to South Beach.
I tried to visit the fjords of Norway many years ago, but bad weather put a damper on my trip. This video of Greg’s experience there shows why it belongs to stay on my bucket list until I get there — the views were outstanding. If you haven’t watched this, it’s worth a view minutes of your time to ogle the scenery and daydream about your own bucket list adventures.
That’s it for this week at Frequent Miler. Keep your eye on last chance deals to make sure you don’t miss any big deals as we near the end of the month.