Hey look the Amtrak Guest Rewards MasterCard raised their signup bonus

I saw at Miles to Memories yesterday morning that the Bank of America Amtrak Guest Rewards MasterCard had raised its signup bonus from 20,000 to 30,000 Guest Rewards points after spending $1,000 within 3 months.

While I don't chase signup bonuses, I'm not a lunatic: if you want to get a card, you're better off getting it when the signup bonus is higher rather than when the signup bonus is lower!

And the Amtrak Guest Rewards MasterCard is a pretty good card, if you travel on Amtrak regularly and pay for your own tickets.

Amtrak Guest Rewards points are pretty valuable

Amtrak Guest Rewards points are now redeemable for between 1.71 cents each (on certain Acela fares) and 2.9 cents each (on certain close-in Value fares), meaning a 30,000-point signup bonus is worth between $513 and $870, if you pay for your own Amtrak tickets out of pocket.

Note that this is not true if all of your Amtrak travel is reimbursed by an employer! If that's the case you should be putting your Amtrak purchases on the most lucrative card in your wallet for unbonused spend or travel purchases.

But if you just like taking trains (trains are great) then you can save a lot of money on train travel with this signup bonus.

Additionally, under certain circumstances it's possible to make large transfers of Amtrak Guest Rewards points to Choice Privileges points. Choice has a fairly confusing loyalty program but if you are able to take advantage of their properties you can get a lot of value from relatively few points.

Amtrak Guest Rewards points aren't that easy to earn

Since Chase Ultimate Rewards removed Amtrak Guest Rewards as a transfer partner, the only ways I know of to earn Amtrak Guest Rewards points are:

  • Paid travel on Amtrak. If you commute on Amtrak, or if you have your Amtrak travel reimbursed, this is the most seamless way to earn Guest Rewards points.
  • Shopping through the Amtrak Guest Rewards portal. If you're a reseller who's able to direct your online purchases through the portal of your choosing, you can use Amtrak's and not muck around with credit cards or manufactured spend.
  • Transfers from Starwood Preferred Guest and Diners Club. If you have a Starwood Preferred Guest American Express or Diners Club credit card (either from the long long ago or during the brief period when cards were available to new applicants) then you can already earn one Amtrak Guest Rewards point per dollar spent at unbonused merchants.
  • The Amtrak Guest Rewards MasterCard. Of course, some people don't have access to American Express credit cards for one reason or another, and almost nobody has access to Diners Club credit cards. That means if you are interested in earning Amtrak Guest Rewards points, don't have paid travel on Amtrak, don't do a lot of online shopping, and don't have a Starwood Preferred Guest or Diners Club credit card, well, you're going to need an Amtrak Guest Rewards MasterCard.

A few other benefits

The Amtrak Guest Rewards MasterCard isn't exclusively for folks who redeem points for Amtrak travel: the annual roundtrip companion ticket, even with its numerous restrictions, is the kind of thing that folks who frequently buy paid Amtrak tickets can take advantage of so that a partner or family member can come along on business trips. That's the kind of thing business folks seem to enjoy.

There's also an annual lounge pass. Amtrak lounges are pretty bad, so I'd ordinarily say to just show up right before your train leaves, but given Amtrak delays maybe a lounge pass is more valuable than I'm giving it credit for.


I won't personally be applying for the current increased signup bonus because I have about 9 credit cards that are higher priorities for my applications right now. But if you don't have anything better on deck, I think the Amtrak Guest Rewards MasterCard is a pretty good card with a better-than-usual signup bonus.

BankAmericard Travel Rewards is probably the best single credit card

I've written before about the BankAmericard Travel Rewards card, which I think is probably the best card for unbonused spend, assuming you can put an average of $100,000 into an eligible account for an average of 3 months. Other good candidates are the Discover it Miles card which doubles 1.5% cash back after 12 months (for a total of 3% cash back, if you don't mind the wait) or the USAA Limitless Cashback Rewards card which earns 2.5% cash back with far fewer hoops to jump through (if you're eligible for the card).

While working on a different project, I realized the BankAmericard Travel Rewards card has a different distinction: I think it might be the single best credit card. I mean, if for some reason you only carry one credit card, I think it might be the best one to carry.

To be clear, most travel hackers don't carry only one credit card, and someone who already carries a wide variety of cards for a variety of purposes shouldn't necessarily apply (unless they're able to trigger the higher earnings described in the link above).

What's so great about the BankAmericard Travel Rewards card?

Here's my case for the Travel Rewards card being the best credit card:

  • No annual fee. $0 is the lowest an annual fee can be.
  • No foreign transaction fee. If you travel outside the United States, a card that charges no foreign transaction fees is strictly superior to a card that charges foreign transaction fees.
  • Chip-and-PIN enabled. I did not realize until recently that most (all?) BankAmericard credit cards with chips are PIN-enabled, making it possible to use them at unmanned kiosks outside the United States. You can set the PIN on your BankAmericard credit cards by logging into your account, selecting "Information & Services," and then "Manage card settings."
  • 1.5% cash back rewards (unless you're able to trigger higher earning with Bank of America and affiliate account balances). This is lower than many other credit cards, but not that much lower, which will become important.

What's wrong with the rest?

BankAmericard Travel Rewards has a lot of competition for best single credit card. What's wrong with them?

  • Chase Freedom Unlimited. No annual fee, 1.5% cash back, but with a 3% foreign transaction fee and not chip-and-PIN enabled.
  • Citi Double Cash. No annual fee, 2% cash back, but with 3% foreign transaction fee and not chip-and-PIN enabled.
  • Capital One Venture Rewards. $59 annual fee and 2% cash back, no foreign transaction fee and not chip-and-PIN enabled.
  • Fidelity Rewards Visa. No annual fee, 2% cash back, and 1% foreign transaction fee. Not chip-and-PIN enabled.
  • Barclaycard Arrival Plus. $89 annual fee, 2.105% cash back, no foreign transaction fee. Chip-and-PIN enabled.

The 1.5% cash back earning rate on the BankAmericard Travel Rewards card is lower than the maximum cash back available on unbonused purchases, but in each case you can see you're making an explicit tradeoff: you can pay an annual fee, a foreign transaction fee, or give up chip-and-PIN capabilities.


At this point I assume my readers are boiling over with outrage about not considering this, that, or the other thing in the world of travel and travel hacking.

Which brings me all the way back to my point. If you know anything about travel hacking this recommendation is absurd; there are so many better cards to apply for first, so many bonus categories to maximize, so many spending requirement thresholds to trigger! But most people don't know anything about travel hacking, and they need recommendations too.

To those people this is my recommendation: sign up for a BankAmericard Travel Rewards card and never think about it again.

For the sake of full disclosure, I personally don't carry this card since I don't have $100,000 in assets I can house with Bank of America, but am planning to product change my Better Balance Rewards card to Travel Rewards as soon as I hit that threshold.

Giving up on Drop? Unlink your accounts!

For the last few weeks a lot of us have been messing around with the "Earn With Drop" smartphone application.

As you may have seen around the blogosphere (Miles to Memories, Angelina Travels), Drop has suddenly cracked down on potentially lucrative uses of the application, as well as on folks who were just using it to grind out worthless points here and there on their everyday purchases.

It doesn't matter what I think, but...

Whenever these opportunities come along people get into the speculation game, and trust me, I'm no exception.

So let's speculate.

First of all, the company's current business model is clearly unsustainable, which they discovered (along with the rest of us) when they found they couldn't meet the redemption requests coming in for gift cards out of the limited amount of venture capital they had raised so far.

Second, the company may be in violation of certain banking and international currency rules, since they're based in Canada and for some reason have failed to incorporate a US-based subsidiary. That means not only are they transmitting bank transaction data internationally but they're also sending money across the border in the form of gift cards to folks who have inputted nothing more than an e-mail address. I'm not a lawyer (and I'm definitely not your lawyer), but there are rules on cross-border financial flows that this gift card nonsense is clearly indifferent to. 

Third, they've changed their Terms and Conditions page to exclude the kinds of transactions many of us were doing after the relevant transactions had occurred. Ordinarily I would say that's a violation of US law, except it's a Canadian company acting as a fly-by-night operation in the United States, so who knows what laws it violates?

All this stuff will get to court eventually, probably civil, maybe criminal, and I'll cash my $0.85 settlement check when it arrives.

That's not what this post is about.

Unlink your accounts before you delete Drop!

This post is about reminding you, before you delete the Drop app, to unlink any bank and credit card accounts you had linked inside the app! If the company does have a business model (an open question), it revolves around monetizing your transaction history. If you delete the app without unlinking your accounts, they'll keep monitoring and monetizing your transaction history until they go bankrupt and get acquired by someone even less scrupulous than them (if that's possible), who will do even more terrible things with your transaction history.

Don't let that happen. Unlink your banks and credit cards as soon as you suspect your account has been frozen.

Then grab some popcorn and wait for the fireworks.

Reported Flexperks changes and two kinds of breakage

As I first saw reported at Doctor of Credit, people are saying that Flexpoints earned with the US Bank Flexperks Travel Rewards credit cards will be redeemable for 1.5 cents each beginning on January 1, 2018. They're currently worth as much as 2 cents each for paid airline tickets at the top of their redemption bands, and as little as 1.33 cents at the bottom of a redemption band.

I don't have any insight into whether these reports are true, not having seen any communications from US Bank about any upcoming changes. However, since I seem to have a reputation as the biggest booster of Flexpoints in the travel hacking community, I certainly have been thinking about it.

People are anxious to make definitive declarations about whether the change would be an improvement or a devaluation. That judgment comes down to the intersection of two kinds of breakage.

Breakage as unredeemed value

This is the form of breakage that most immediately leaps to mind when you hear about a change like this. If you are able to consistently redeem your Flexpoints for flights at or close to the top of US Bank's redemption bands, then the value you would receive on redemptions after January first will drop by 25%. The further your actual redemptions are from that ideal redemption, the less the effect the change in redemption value will affect you: you can easily imagine someone who typically books $300 flights or $450 flights with Flexpoints and won't suffer at all from reducing their "maximum" value from 2 cents to 1.5 cents: they'll redeem the same number of points for their typical flight.

More than that, the current system of redemption bands creates an anxiety over unredeemed value. The difference between the $600 maximum value of 30,000 Flexpoints and the actual value you receive creates a disincentive to redeem points at all. Earning points and not redeeming them because of anxiety over getting a "good" redemption value means you might find yourself redeeming other potentially more valuable miles, or even cash, in order to "save" your Flexpoints for a more valuable redemption. You can be disciplined and always "redeem points and miles first," as I do, but that doesn't eliminate the fear of missing out that can be genuinely frustrating.

In other words, a fixed value for redemptions up and down the price scale has the advantage of consistency, even if it removes the ability to swing for the redemption fences.

Breakage as unredeemed points

A different kind of breakage is stranded or unredeemed points. If you're a Flexperks aficionado you may be familiar with ending a statement cycle with 19,000, 39,000, or 99,000 Flexpoints. In the first case your points are worth $190 in cash, in the second case they're worth up to $400 in flights plus $190 in cash, and in the last case they're worth up to $1,600 in flights and $190 in cash. In other words, "odd lot" Flexpoint balances are worth 1 cent each, 1.51 cents each, or 1.81 cents each, not the 2 cents each that you are hoping for.

The more difficult it is to redeem points (e.g. requiring a minimum of 20,000 points), the more points are likely to be stranded in your account at any one time. Stranded and unredeemable points balances are worth nothing (or one cent each, which is close enough). They're not even worth the 1.5 cents each posited under the new redemption regime!


The important thing to understand is not that the changes being reported are "good" or "bad."

In many ways they tug in different directions: the breakage of unredeemed value will be eliminated, but the amount of value locked in will be lower than the value many, if not most, Flexperks cardholders are currently receiving.

On the other hand, if the changes also inaugurate an elimination of minimum redemption amounts, the number of Flexpoints stranded will be reduced by creating more flexibility in award construction, with one-way flights and flights in different classes of service such that you're able to spend down as much of your Flexpoints balance as possible with each redemption. Fewer stranded Flexpoints is an unalloyed good, just as lower maximum redemption value is, for most customers in most circumstances, a devaluation.

That leaves one question which only the individual cardholder can answer: will you get more value from your formerly-stranded, newly-redeemable rump Flexpoint balances, or less value from knocking down the maximum value of points you planned to redeem for flights at the top of the current redemption bands?

Neither I nor any other blogger, thought leader, or guru can answer that question for you.

Let's talk about the Hyatt signup bonus change

As I first saw on Wednesday afternoon via Charles Barkowski's Running With Miles, but which you can now read about everywhere fine affiliate links are sold, starting June 29, 2017, the Chase Hyatt credit card will apparently come with a signup bonus not of 2 free nights at any Hyatt in the world, but rather 40,000 World of Hyatt bonus points.

This is being treated in most corners of the blogosphere as a simple question of whether 40,000 World of Hyatt points are worth "more" or "less" than 2 free nights, which leads to the simple answer that the new signup bonus is worth "less" if you were planning to redeem your 2 free nights at properties that cost more than 20,000 points per nights (category 6 and 7 World of Hyatt properties), and they're worth "more" if you were planning to redeem your 2 free nights at properties that cost 20,000 or fewer points per night (since you would have points left over).

That's fine, as far as it goes. What this changeover does give me the occasion to mention is my general preference for points over free night certificates. I already have a Hyatt credit card, but for people considering whether to apply before or after the changeover, here's my logic.

There are three possible situations in which you might redeem Hyatt free night certificates, good at any Hyatt in the world:

  • A stay in a city with only a category 6 or 7 property. If you're flying into Milan for two nights, you can redeem your two free night certificates for two nights at the Park Hyatt Milan, which retail for hilariously large sums, and are worth $300 per night in transferred Ultimate Rewards points. Here, your two free night certificates are worth $600, the value of the Ultimate Rewards points you don't have to transfer to World of Hyatt. This is a straightforward savings of $200 compared to the 40,000 World of Hyatt points available under the new offer. The same logic applies to Hyatt's luxury resort in the Maldives. If you're going anyway, you should pay less, rather than more, for your stay.
  • A stay in a city with properties in categories 6, 7 and below. Take a destination like Paris, home of the notorious Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome, a category 7 property. Paris is also the home of, a few blocks away, the Hôtel du Louvre-Paris, a category 5 property. If you are staying for exactly two nights, then you are perfectly justified in preferring two nights at the category 7 property over the same two nights at a category 5 property. But what happens on the third night? The Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome costs an additional 30,000 World of Hyatt points, while the Hôtel du Louvre costs just 20,000 additional points. On longer stays, choosing to redeem your free night certificates for "maximum value" costs an additional 10,000 points per night, unless you're interested in moving between hotels during your stay.
  • A stay in a city with properties only in categories 1-4. Here the advantage of the 40,000-point signup offer is obvious: in categories 1-4, 40,000 points go further than 2 free night certificates do. Seattle is an example of a city with a slew of downtown Hyatt properties, all of which cost less than 20,000 points per night. If that's where your next trip is planned, you'll be better off with the new signup bonus rather than sitting on free night certificates waiting for the "perfect" high-value redemption.

I don't have anything against luxury travel, if that's what you're interested in, and the current two-free-night offer is worth up to 20,000 more World of Hyatt points than the upcoming 40,000-point offer for travel to the most expensive Hyatt properties.

But it's also worth up to 30,000 points less, if you tend to redeem your Hyatt points at category 1 properties that cost just 5,000 points per night.

If you trade 8 nights at a category 1 property for 8 nights at a category 7 property (with two nights free), you'll find yourself spending 180,000 World of Hyatt points or tens of thousands of dollars in cash.

Call that an extreme example if you like, but I've always found spending money is damned strange way to save money.

Pro tip: Flexpoints can only be redeemed online for most international travel 7 days in advance

Here's a new one for me. A long-time reader reached out to me, as the biggest fan of US Bank Flexperks Travel Rewards in the blogosphere, to ask whether I'd had any experience booking close-in tickets using Flexpoints. He was trying to book a ticket to the Caribbean in exactly one week, and wrote that "the website will not show me anything prior to [one week out]."

I wasn't sitting at my computer so couldn't see exactly what he was seeing, but replied that while Flexpoints could not be redeemed for same day travel (and indeed, neither can Ultimate Rewards points), they certainly can be redeemed for travel within a week.

It turns out, we were both right: Flexpoints can be redeemed for next-day domestic travel but can only be redeemed online for travel 7 or more days in advance to international destinations excluding Canada. Next-day flights to Canada are fine (I couldn't find any other exceptions, but if you know of another country that's an exception, let me and other readers know in the comments).

While researching this post I also came across another curious restriction:

"Travel itineraries booked online require at least one USA or Canadian airport. To book a travel itinerary that does not include a USA or Canadian airport, you may contact a Travel Rewards Agent at 1-866-814-1293."

My reader was ultimately able to call and book his close-in Caribbean flight, but was charged an additional $25 phone booking fee for each ticket, which he couldn't convince the representative to waive. It's not clear to me how much discretion agents have to waive those fees — I did have a $30 change fee waived in the past.

Out of curiosity, I also checked the Ultimate Rewards booking portal and they have no trouble booking next-day international flights online. Between the $25 per ticket booking fee, and the superior travel insurance offered by the Chase Sapphire Reserve, that may be a better option than US Bank Flexpoints when booking close-in paid international travel, depending on where the fare falls in a Flexpoint redemption band (and what other uses you have planned for your Ultimate Rewards points).

Playing defense and avoiding unforced errors

When in comes to travel hacking, I personally believe that defense offers more consistent opportunities for gains than offense. If offense is making bold speculative plays that you know might not pan out, due to clawbacks, accounts closures, or rejected applications, defense means, above all, avoiding unforced errors. If you don't have the discipline to pick low-hanging fruit and avoid unforced errors, it's vanishingly unlikely you'll have the discipline to maximize the value of more speculative plays.

With that in mind, here are the most common unforced errors that travel hackers of all experience levels are prone to, and how to avoid them.

Register for hotel promotions

Most hotel chains run periodic promotions, whether they call them quarterly or seasonal promotions, which invariably require you to actively register in order to receive the benefits of the promotion. Registering for these promotions isn't just a matter of going on "offense," although I've done that in the past in order to trigger particularly high payouts from hotel chains that work with my existing plans.

It's also a matter of defense: if you find yourself stranded at an airport overnight trying to book a paid reservation before all the airport hotels have sold out, you're not likely to also remember to register for that particular chain's current promotion. Registering in advance is a way of protecting yourself against that kind of unforced error.

There are a few sites that track such promotions, although none of them are perfect. I maintain a list of mostly-up-to-date hotel promotions, and try to periodically remind readers to register for current promotions. Loyalty Lobby maintains a more comprehensive list, but since he includes every single "buy 3 nights get the 4th night 20% off in the Middle East from Thursday to Saturday" promotion it's wickedly difficult to navigate and find the actual promotions you're both eligible for and interested in.

Activate bonus cash back

This is another low-hanging fruit that shouldn't pose much of a difficulty, but I've confessed to forgetting to activate the bonus cash back on my Discover it card before spending $1,500 at the beginning of a quarter.

Be smarter than me: before each quarter starts, be sure to activate the cash back bonus on each one of your Chase Freedom, US Bank Cash+, Discover it, and Citi Dividend cards.

Charge purchases to the right card

As a general rule, the credit card you use to pay for actual purchases is of next to no interest. Sure, there are banks that offer "price rewind" or extended warranties, but you, in fact, will likely never take advantage of those benefits.

There are a few situations, however, where it becomes essential to charge your purchases to a particular card.

  • If you're renting a car, and have a credit card that offers primary rental car insurance (like the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Reserve, or the Chase United MileagePlus card), you should be sure to pay for your rental car with that credit card. Primary rental car insurance doesn't matter as much as affiliate bloggers want you to believe, but it's also not nothing. If you have the benefit, use it.
  • If you're redeeming a Delta Platinum or Reserve American Express companion ticket, you're forced to pay with an American Express card. According to Frequent Miler, if you pay with an American Express Platinum Business credit card (and Delta is your selected carrier), you're able to redeem Membership Rewards points against the cost of the ticket at your Platinum bonus rate. If you're in that situation, be sure to pay with the right credit card!
  • Pay award booking fees with a card that offers trip delay insurance. I've written before about taking advantage of the Chase Sapphire Preferred trip delay insurance benefit to score a free Hyatt elite-qualifying stay, and about the recent addition of a (somewhat less generous) trip delay insurance benefit to the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard. If you're talking about $10 or $20 in award booking fees, and you have the option of charging them to a card with trip delay insurance, you'd be crazy not to; it's all upside.

Trigger all credits

Folks always pile on when I say that a statement credit is worth much less than cash, so please trust me when I say I understand both sides of the argument.

But where we can all agree is that a statement credit that you never trigger is worth much less than cash: it's not worth anything at all.

So when you sign up for your second, or third, or fourth, or tenth credit card within the same year that offers a $100 Global Entry application fee credit, make sure you use it! Is there anybody in your family that doesn't have Global Entry yet? Anybody at work? Anybody at the gym?

Likewise, your premium credit cards might offer hundreds of dollars of airline fee credits that you're confident you can redeem for cash with refundable seat upgrades, gift cards, or some other wizardry. And it's true: you can. But only if you actually do it!

So be sure to trigger those credits — and the sooner the better.

Avoid point and mile expiration

Since I advocate earning the miles you redeem and redeeming the miles you earn, I never run into the problem of points and miles expiring from my primary rewards accounts. But my secondary accounts, like United MileagePlus and British Airways Avios, certainly can go for a year or more without any natural earning or redemption activity. Avoiding expiration is normally as simple as ordering a newspaper subscription or transferring in 1,000 Ultimate Rewards points, but it's not something you want to put off, in case you forget.

If you have account balances that are going to expire anytime soon, either make a small redemption or activity through a flexible transfer or shopping portal.

Don't pay annual fees

Finally, there's no fruit lower-hanging than cancelling credit cards with annual fees. Bloggers sometimes turn this into some advanced calculation that is designed to leave you so confused you keep worthless cards year after year.

But there's no secret, and you should know the answer to these two questions within seconds: did you get more excess value from the credit card last year than you paid in annual fees? Do you expect to get more excess value from the credit card in the next year than you will pay in annual fees?

If the answer to one or both questions is "no," cancel the card and don't give it another thought.


At the end of the day, I love making big speculative plays for big points hauls, like the IHG Priceless Surprises promotion of late 2015. They're fun and exciting, and sometimes you hit the jackpot (or at least win an expensive sound system). But your travel hacking practice will net you much more travel, at much lower cost, if you can maintain the discipline to avoid the kinds of unforced errors I've described here: the ones that are entirely within your control.

Hotel cashback portal participation (it's complicated)

I've recently had occasion to take a look at a few options for booking paid hotel reservations, and have come across a peculiar situation on several cashback portals. Today I want to share a few observations and offer some suggestions.

Booking portals penalize rewards-earning stays

I came across this issue because the Citi Dividend card (no longer available to new applicants) is offering 5% cashback (up to $300 cashback per calendar year) on airline reservations and Hilton stays during the third quarter of 2017. While I personally reached my cashback maximum in the second quarter (at drug stores) I thought some readers who don't manufacture spend might still be able to earn cashback during the third quarter on paid Hilton stays. After all, even if you have a Hilton Surpass card earning 12 points per dollar spent at Hilton properties, you'd have to consistently value Hilton points above 0.42 cents each to prefer the Hilton points.

With that in mind, I decided to take a look at some booking portals you could use to make your Hilton reservations, and discovered that the two portals offering the highest payouts included similar restrictions. In the case of BeFrugal, the payout is:

  • 7% Cash Back on Non-HHonors Rate Completed Stay
  • 6% Cash Back on HHonors Blue Rate Completed Stay
  • 2% Cash Back on HHonors Silver Rate Completed Stay
  • 1% Cash Back on HHonors Gold Or Diamond Rate Completed Stay

And in the cash of TopCashback:

  • 7% Confirmed Booking for Non HHonors Members and Blue Tier HHonors Members
  • 2% Confirmed Booking for Silver Tier HHonors Members
  • 1% Confirmed Booking for Gold and Diamond Tier HHonors Members

In other words, Hilton doesn't want to pay out big cashback rebates to customers to whom it's also paying out big Hilton Honors points rebates.

The reason this is necessary is because once you've clicked through the cashback portal, you land directly on the hotel's website, which means your stay is eligible for hotel rewards as well.

Knowing that some online travel agencies allow you to pay for hotel stays in person on arrival, my first thought was to work around this problem by using an online travel agency with its own rewards program. But the same problem pops up there!

BeFrugal offers to pay out on Hotels.com bookings at the following rates:

  • 9% Cash Back on Completed Hotel Stay - Not A Hotels.com Rewards Rate Customer
  • 3% Cash Back on Completed Hotel Stay - Hotels.com Rewards Rate Customer

In other words, you can earn 9% cash back without earning Hotels.com Rewards nights, or 3% cash back if you choose to earn Hotels.com Rewards nights.

TopCashback offers:

  • 9% Completed Stay without earning Hotels.com Rewards
  • 5% Completed Stay with earning Hotels.com Rewards

Since Hotels.com Rewards nights are worth "about" a 10% rebate, you're better off earning both cashback and Hotels.com rewards nights, if and only if you're sure you'll reach 10 Hotels.com Rewards nights and thus be eligible for a redemption.

Possible workarounds

In the case of online travel agencies, you can stack rewards by choosing the highest cashback portal payout that still earns the OTA's own rewards currency, choosing a rate that's paid in-person, and then paying with a credit card that offers the highest earning rate, like the Citi Dividend in the example I mentioned above. In the case of Hotels.com this might add up to a total rebate of something like 20%: 5% through TopCashback, 10% through Hotels.com, and 5% through the Citi Dividend.

If you want to take advantage of your status with a hotel chain, for example receiving room upgrades or breakfast, as well as earning points or elite-qualifying nights, you'll want to book through the cashback portal that offers the highest payouts on elite-qualifying stays. For example, the Upromise portal offers 5% cashback on Hilton stays and doesn't include restrictions on participation in Hilton Honors.

Finally, if you want to earn the highest payouts, don't need elite status benefits, and are willing to take a chance, you could try booking a paid stay through the highest-paying portal (BeFrugal or TopCashback in the case of Hilton) without logging into your hotel rewards account, and after your stay has completed and your cashback has posted request retroactive points from the hotel chain. Of course that means being unable to take advantage of rates exclusively available to Hilton Honors members.

What's the 5th-best American Express card?

Last Friday I posted a quick analysis of the American Express Blue Business Plus card, which earns 2 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent, on up to $50,000 in purchases per calendar year.

It got a lot more comments than posts which I would have considered more controversial! There were a few exchanges in the comments that I want to draw out and consider individually.

Opportunity for a negative interest rate loan

I've written before about negative interest rate loans and their value to a travel hacker, and as reader Amol pointed out in the comments, the Blue Business Plus offers such an opportunity: with a 0% APR on purchases for the first 12 months, you should be able to max out your credit limit (up to $50,000) and make only minimum payments for a year. In the last month, you can pay off the card and, since the $50,000 limit is based on the calendar year you'll still be able to spend another $50,000 for a second 100,000 Membership Rewards points in your second calendar year of cardmembership.

Earning 100,000 Membership Rewards points upfront as negative interest on a 12-month loan is a good deal, especially if you have a particularly lucrative redemption opportunity in mind.

Business credit card

As a business credit card, the Blue Business Plus has a few advantages:

  • participation in American Express's OPEN savings program;
  • high balances not reported on personal credit report (helpful if you max out your card as described above);
  • business cards shouldn't count against Chase's approval limit for certain credit cards.

What's the 5th-best American Express credit card?

Several readers commented that they found the $50,000 limit on calendar year purchases that earn 2 Membership Rewards points per dollar too low to make the card worth considering.

There's one sense in which this is strictly true: if you have a card that has a higher earning rate, on an unlimited amount of spend, then you should use that card instead of a Blue Business Plus card. For example, if you have a BankAmericard Travel Rewards card and $100,000 of eligible deposits, and you value Membership Rewards points at less than 1.31 cents each, then you should not put any spend on a card that earns 2 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent, since you'll get more value earning 2.625% cash back with your Travel Rewards card.

On the other hand, most travel hackers I know accumulate multiple rewards currencies in multiple different ways: paid travel, manufactured spend, reselling, and signup bonuses, to mention a few.

If that's the case, then you don't need to ask if the Blue Business Plus card is the best credit card, or even the best American Express credit card: you only need to ask if it's the 5th-best American Express credit card, since you can have 5 total American Express credit cards.

If you could only have one credit card total across every issuing bank, you'd insist on carrying the single best credit card, which for me would probably be the Chase Ink Plus (no longer available to new applicants, unfortunately). If you could only card one credit card from each bank, you'd need to carefully select the American Express card that best suited your needs: if you wanted to trigger a Delta Medallion Qualification Dollar waiver, it would have to be a Delta American Express card. If you wanted to earn points that could be redeemed for hotel rooms and flights, or transferred to partner airline programs, you'd likely choose a Starwood Preferred Guest card.

But in the real world, you can create a portfolio of credit cards that serves a range of functions: you can carry a Delta SkyMiles card for the Medallion Qualification Dollar waiver, a Starwood Preferred Guest card for hotel stays and transfers to programs like Alaska Mileage Plus and Lufthansa Miles and More, and a Membership Rewards-earning card for transfers to Singapore KrisFlyer, Air France/KLM Flying Blue, or Air Canada Aeroplan.


I don't personally have any intention of signing up for a Blue Business Plus card, since I don't see Membership Rewards as a currency that my readers have reported being able to get a lot of value out of, and I don't see any upcoming opportunities to get outsized value from them in the immediate future. Realistically, I'd probably end up transferring them to Delta and redeeming them for 1 or 2 cents each, which doesn't entice me to go out of my way to earn them.

However, if you consistently get 2 or 3 cents per point in value from Membership Rewards points, then I don't think the $50,000 cap on purchases should pose a serious obstacle, unless it pushes the card below 5th place in your personal ranking of American Express credit cards.