Money August 2017

Chase Sapphire Reserve Take Two–Approved

Back in August, when the Chase Sapphire Reserve card first came out, I was super excited at the opportunity to get the killer 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points that came with the card after meeting a minimum spend. (This has since dropped to 50,000 UR points.) I’ve referred to this as the “Mother of All Credit Cards.” As I’ve noted before, I was rejected when I applied for the Sapphire Reserve.

I decided then to bide my time and wait a few months before applying again. I intended to wait until February or March because I wanted to make sure that I was able to offset the entire $450 annual fee , which is quite hefty, over two calendar years.  Imagine my surprise when I woke up on Wednesday morning and found out via Million Mile Secrets that the Reserve’s sign-up bonus was about to get halved.

Applying for the Chase Sapphire Reserve

I decided to jump immediately and go ahead and try to get the top travel credit card that I wanted to get in 2017, albeit a bit earlier than I wanted to get it. Applying was the first thing that I did after logging onto my laptop that morning. I sat down and filled out the three pages on the application and then waited on the decision.

It seemed that it was taking quite a while, but it was probably less than a minute. Regardless, I was a bit nervous that I would again get the notice of a pending application, which generally means no. I was happy, however, when the next page popped up and noted that Chase approved me for the card.

Visa, MasterCard, and American Express
Credit cards via Wikimedia Commons

After I get the Sapphire Reserve in the mail, I intend to start using it exclusively so that I can meet the $4,000 spending requirement so that the 100,000-point bonus will kick in. UPDATE: I got the bonus in March.

What To Do With the Sapphire Reserve’s Bonus

There are several different options when it comes to spending 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points. You could take two round-trip saver flights within the US on United Airlines.  I’ve seen one-way flights from Denver to Las Vegas or Los Angeles for just north of 2,000 Rapid Rewards points on Southwest Airlines.

This bonus would take care of nearly 50 one-way flights between many US cities, and could also pay for at least four flights to Mexico from the US on Southwest, depending upon the date and whether any sales are ongoing from your departure city at the time you book. I got four tickets to Puerto Vallarta for about 23,000 Ultimate Rewards points when transferring them to Southwest last year.

It’s also possible to get two round-trip tickets from the US to Europe on Air France/KLM’s Flying Blue frequent flyer program with some of the discounted options that these companies offer from time to time. 50,000 would also be more than enough to get a one-way business-class ticket at the saver level or a round-trip economy ticket to just about any region of the world on United Airlines. These are just a few of the options that you could use to spend this massive cache of points, as they transfer at a 1:1 ratio to some of the leading loyalty programs around.

If You’d Rather Have Cash Value

Additionally, if you’re looking to pay directly for flights, you could get 1.5 cents per point in value by going through the Chase travel portal with the Chase Sapphire Reserve. This could allow you to get multiple tickets to Europe with some of the sales that have been going on recently.

Finally, you could just redeem them for 1 cent apiece and get a cool $500 in cash which is a pretty easy way to earn money in pajamas. Keep in mind that the sign-up bonus dropped by half on January 11, so if you’re looking to get the Sapphire Reserve and the bonus, be sure to apply sooner, rather than later.  Also, be sure to check out more of my top credit card recommendations for 2017.

Balcony View

Family Trip to Mexico for Less than a Grand

A couple of months ago, I wrote a report on my Trip to Europe on the Cheap.  I was pretty impressed with my use of frequent flyer miles and hotel points for that trip. I was recently just looking around the Southwest Airlines site to try and figure out how many points would be needed to some of their international destinations. I’ve flown Southwest a few times previously, but I had not yet traveled with them internationally. I’ve been to Cancun and Aruba before, and those were my first choices. I was looking at an Eastern point of departure. I only had enough Chase Ultimate Rewards points to purchase two one-way tickets. I was actually looking at going next year, so that was OK.

The Marina in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico
The Marina in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico (Taken by Your’s Truly with my trusty cell phone)
Entrance to the CasaMagna Marriott Resort, Puerto Vallarta (photo, again by your's truly)
Entrance to the CasaMagna Marriott Resort, Puerto Vallarta (photo, again by your’s truly)

I then lookedd at some tickets from Denver, which is relatively close to home and only a drive of a few hours. We had flown to LAX last year for around 29,000 for four tickets–total. Southwest was having a fare sale at the time, and there was another sale. LAX was now down to just more than 2,000 points for a one-way flight. I then decided to look at international destinations from DEN. Cancun and Aruba were still pretty high. I then came upon a ticket to Puerto Vallarta for 2,880 one-way for a non-stop flight. That seemed like a pretty good deal to me. I figured the return trip would be way higher. To my surprise, however, I could get a flight out on Monday and a return flight on Thursday for 5,760 Rapid rewards points total (with about $76 in taxes in addition). I made the purchase by transferring out 23,000 Ultimate Rewards Points for four tickets.

 

I also had to figure out where to stay. I started on Expedia by using one of those cheapest to most expensive sorter tools. I found a Comfort Inn and a Holiday Inn Express that  were really cheap (think around $50) and offered free breakfast. There was one downside to these hotels, however. They were were not ocean-front properties. If I’m going to a seaside town, I want to be no more than a block or two from the sand. I then found the CasaMagna Marriot Resort. It is an ocean-front property with a massive pool and beach access. I also found out that it was only $97 a night (+ tax). I was pretty much out of Marriott Rewards points because of the aforementioned trip to France, but I figured that spending 35,000 points per night for a category 7 hotel that cost only $97 a night would have been a bad redemption anyways–less than 0.28 cents a point in value. I figure that I’ll wind up with ~10,000 Marriott Rewards points for the stay altogether, not counting a 2,500 point bonus from one of Marriott’s Mega Bonus deals that are quite frequent. The reservation would also include a $30 discount at the spa, which we did not use, and a 30 percent discount at the La Estancia restaurant, which we did use. The filet at La Estancia was excellente. We also dined at the Champion’s Sports Bar, and had the privilege to watch the filming of a popular Mexican soap opera while eating one evening.

 

The room was quite comfortable, but queen beds might have been more comfortable than the doubles that we wound up using. I was supposed to be in what was considered a garden-view room, but I was a bit surprised when I walked onto the balcony to this view:

View from balcony at CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta--by me
View from balcony at CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta–by me

This was a pretty great view to wake up to, to say the least. The gardens on the property are maintained exquisitely. The food on-site was quite good. I had a massive burger one night at Champion’s one night and some grilled chicken rigatoni another, in addition to the meal at La Estancia noted above. The only thing I really did not enjoy was a chili enchilada? (at least I think that’s what it was), but the filet more than made up for it. Lunch each day was a pizza from Mango’s Deli, also on-site at CasaMagna Marriott. The view in Puerto Vallarta, with the mountains in the background, is more impressive than that in Cancun, in my opinion. The weather was great, as the rainy season is still a few weeks away.

The hotel was a wonderful property to visit, and it was not terribly crowded for the most part. Kids were few and far between (outside of mine), as school is still in session for most people. Altogether, lodging, meals, and airfare ran less than $1,000. It’s actually tough to beat this on a trip for four to many places within the US–and I was able to get some international exposure and some much-needed R&R. My hope is that I can get Southwest tickets on sale like this on a fairly regular (every other year or so) basis so that I can visit again and explore more of the city. We did little else outside of hang out at the beach and the pool other than walking to the Marina one day and riding a cab to the Malecon on another for some shopping (not my cup of tea, but mi familia loves it).

Mexican Pesos
Mexican Pesos

I do have a few bits of advice for people who are visiting PV. Make sure to exchange a few dollars for pesos upon arrival. Cabs do not appear to take credit cards, and there are many shops that do not, and those that do mostly take only Visa or MasterCard (no Amex). Also, ignore the peddlers of time shares in the airport. They act like they are the only ones who can get you a ride to the hotel, but it is way expensive (400 pesos for a trip that should have taken less than 100–other hotels could cost a bit more, but the Marriott to the Malecon was only 105 pesos, which is at 20-minute ride for ~$5), and they will push you to go through their presentation. I didn’t fall for the presentation, but did get ripped off on the ride (was told it was a refundable deposit). Just take a cab.

Currently, Southwest Airlines cards are offering a 50,000 Rapid Rewards point sign-up bonus for a $2,000 minimum spend. For those who can avoid running up interest charges for not paying off their cards on a monthly basis, this could pay off in anywhere between 2 and 8 (at the super-duper discounted rate I paid) round-trip tickets to Puerto Vallarta.

Disclaimer: I may get compensation should you click my affiliate links. Also, do not sign up for credit cards if you cannot pay off the balance on a monthly basis. Interest expenses will more than eat up any benefit you can get from the sign-up bonus you get.