Author Archives: Gomanson

What Happened to the Free Gas Tactic?

A reader recently asked me why I don’t report my gas savings on my monthly updates anymore.  I still implement the free gas tactic, so why don’t I write about it anymore?  It’s an astute observation and I am happy to explain my reasons:

What happened, anyway?

The free gas tactic saved me well over $1700 in two years of commuting.  My tactical outline page on free gas is actually still one of my most visited pages (it needs a face lift too!).  If it’s such a popular topic on the website and it has saved me so much money over the years, why don’t I talk about it anymore?

I explained some of the reasons in an update post last April.  In a nutshell;

  • Super America stopped double coupon Tuesdays, effectively cutting the value of the tactic in half.
  • I use way less fuel.  My commute is a fraction of what it was before 2 years ago.  I also drive a more fuel efficient car now.  Gas prices have been lower in the past 2 years than the previous 2 years as well.
  • And, as I’ll explain below, I’ve outgrown the need for tracking my savings.

I’ve proven my point

Aside from satisfying my need to add everything I do into a spreadsheet, there really isn’t a good reason for me to track or report on my gas savings anymore.  For some context on this reasoning, read one of my first posts laying the foundation for this website:

Tracking is the Key (and why you shouldn’t do it)

I know how much the free gas tactic is worth to me.  Before the end of Double Coupon Tuesday, MySA Rewards points were worth about $2.86 per thousand points (or 0.286 cents per point “cpp”).  The $0.50 per gallon fuel discount is still the best option for using these points, but it’s now only worth half.

free gas tactic Super America

That $12.50 discount used to be $25.00 when Double Coupon Tuesday was in effect.

The coupon is good up to 25 gallons, so on Tuesdays it used to be worth $25; now it’s worth $12.50.  My SA Rewards points are now worth $1.43 per thousand, or 0.143 cpp.  In contrast, using the points to buy gift cards only yields 0.1 cpp, which is terrible – the majority of credit card-earned points are worth 1.0 cpp when redeeming them for gift cards.

The $0.50 coupon comprised 80% my total gas savings. Now the coupon is worth exactly half what it was before. Whereas I used to get approximately 20% of my gas for free, I (and you) can now expect to get a 12% total savings.

The $0.50 coupon comprised 80% my total gas savings. Now the coupon is worth exactly half what it was before. Whereas I used to get approximately 20% of my gas for free, I (and you) can now expect to get a 12% total savings.

Broadening the analysis, I know that when all the discounts and coupons are combined, I can consistently save about 12% of total fuel cost at Super America.  This is really the final output of all my analyses.  It shows me (and more importantly: you!) that the slight inconvenience of using the My SA Rewards card, running all your fuel and store purchases through gift cards, and using coupons is worth 12% of your total fuel expenditure.  If that’s worth it to you, then use the free gas tactic!

What now?

As you can see, the usefulness of tracking all my savings with this tactic has run its course.  Its value is now a known value (sweet pun, bro).  You and I can make the decision on whether or not to utilize this tactic based on how much we value that 12% savings and how much we are averse to the inconvenience of the slight work involved.

For me personally, I still see the value in collecting My SA Rewards points but ever since the loss of Double Coupon Tuesday, whether it’s worth it to me is borderline.  I sometimes buy fuel at other gas stations if it’s more convenient.  Sometimes I don’t use coupons, and sometimes I pay directly with my credit card if my gift cards are low.

Other gas station chains might have different and valuable opportunities to save money on fuel.  I want to hear about these!  Please contribute in the comments below if you know of any.

There are so many costs that papercut you every day.  Many small expenses create a continuous trickle of money away from you.  Spending an extra 10 seconds to swipe a membership card every time you put gas in your car to save a few cents doesn’t seem like it’s worth much.  But it’s refreshing to know that in some things, you can reverse the flow and trickle some value back into your bank account!

Semi-Monthly Update (January 23, 2018)

You’ll notice the title of this blog post is actually a day behind, and there’s a good reason for that: I fell asleep before I finished writing last night.  :p  I’m falling way behind in my trip reports, hotel reviews, and flight/lounge reviews.  I will try to get some of these completed soon because they are some of my most popular topics.  But I can’t make any promises due to my über-hectic life.

Credit Card News

General News

If you keep track of other points and miles blogs you may have noticed there’s a distinct lack of credit card news lately.  There just aren’t many good offers out there right now.  I think it’s somewhat due to the post-holiday slump.  The most noteworthy card news in recent weeks is the Citi/Amex/Hilton mess.  It’s hard to even summarize this situation, so I won’t try.  If you want to read about it, check out my post on the topic or read MileValue’s recent comments.

Personal News

I recently scored a decent retention bonus on my Citi ThankYou Premier.  Nicoleen and I plan on applying for one or two more cards in the coming week.  I will report as events unfold!

We have a large expense coming up soon so we wanted a new card to put the spend on.  Last week Nicoleen was instantly approved for the Amex Starwood Preferred Guest card.  Generally the advice on American Express cards is to only get them when they are at their highest known sign-up bonus since there’s a once-per-lifetime bonus rule.  We broke that rule in this case.  The current bonus is 25k SPG points after a $3k spend in the first 3 months, with the $95 annual fee waived the first year.  The bonus on this card has been as high as 35k, but there’s some good evidence that the card will become extinct within the next year.  I currently have the card and I have a link good for a 7.5k referral bonus. Including my referral bonus we’ll net 32.5k points, only 2.5k points less than the highest known bonus. In my case, missing out on 2.5k points is worth the added assurance that Nicoleen was able to get the card before it goes bye-bye.

Travel News

Nicoleen and I are really looking forward to our kid-free getaway in early March.  Sitting by the pool in Costa Rica is just what the doctor ordered for our über-hectic life!  I’m sure many of you lie awake at night, wondering what we have planned for our 15th anniversary in 2 1/2 years. . . rest assured, something big is in the works!

Recent ValueTactics Blog Posts

Year in Review – 2017 breaks down the total value (and expenses) Nicoleen and I captured in 2017, primarily by using the credit card and point/miles tactics.  It’s a great report to read if you want a realistic idea of the risk vs. reward in employing Value Tactics!
New Life Breathed into my Citi ThankYou Premier explains how my Citi ThankYou Premier card went from the dumpster to the front of my wallet.  It was a perfect storm of little bonus deals and a retention offer that all added up to a worthwhile reason to keep and use the card.

Free Travel Photo

ValueTactics readers Jared and Derek sent me this photo from their weekend skiing trip to Utah. They're enjoying a free beer and a meal with the airport lounge access that comes as a benefit on Jared's Chase Sapphire Reserve card. Derek had to remind Jared about the free access or they would have walked right on by! Remember your travel perks, people!

ValueTactics readers Jared and Derek sent me this photo from their weekend ski trip to Utah.  They’re enjoying a free beer and a meal with the airport lounge access they had as a benefit on Jared’s Chase Sapphire Reserve card. Derek had to remind Jared about the free access or they would have walked right on by!  Remember your travel perks, people!  CORRECTION:  Derek reminded Jared of this AFTER they had eaten the paid meal pictured here.  Tsk tsk!

Now you’re updated. Go employ some Value Tactics!

New Life Breathed into my Citi ThankYou Premier

Credit cards on the chopping block.

A few weeks ago I was ready to cancel my Citi ThankYou Premier card.  The $95 annual fee was coming due and I didn’t feel like calling to fish for a retention offer.  Fast forward to today and it’s my daily spender!  How did this happen?  Read on to find out. . . (And find some tips that might make you rethink your own keep/cancel decisions.)

Card Basics

Citi has 3 primary versions of its ThankYou series cards.  The ThankYou Preferred card is the no-annual-fee version, which I won’t discuss because it is below us.  The ThankYou Premier is the premium version, discussed in this post.  And at the super-premium level is the ThankYou Prestige.  Here are the basic stats of the Premier:

  • Earns 1x ThankYou point on all purchases, 2x on dining and entertainment, and 3x on travel (very generously defined) and gas.
  • No foreign transaction fee.
  • $95 annual fee
  • The sign-up bonus has varied.  It has been:
    • 50,000 in 2 chunks, 30k and 20k (the second one after paying the second year’s AF)
    • 50,000 after $3k spend and 1st year AF waived
    • 50,000 after $4k spend and 1st year AF waived
    • 60,000 after $3.5k and 1st AF waived

The Premier’s “super-premium” big brother, the Citi ThankYou Prestige, was in demand last summer and fall because of an elevated 75k TY point bonus.  The Prestige comes with a suite of benefits that make the $450 annual fee palatable, especially in light of the whopping 75k bonus.  For a full list of benefits of the Prestige, check out MileValue’s report on the card and offer.  The Prestige comes into play with my decisions on the Premier, as you’ll soon see. . .

Brief history of my Citi ThankYou Premier

Reborn: my Citi ThankYou Prestige, with it's cool 3d matted logo.

Reborn: my Citi ThankYou Premier, with it’s cool 3d matted logo.

I got my Citi ThankYou Premier in the fall of 2015 when the bonus was 50k points for a $3k spend.  The annual fee was waived the first year and I successfully called for a redemption offer when the 2nd year’s fee was due.  Although the 3x points on gas was a really nice benefit, I wasn’t really using the card anymore and I had used up all my orphan ThankYou points.  I figured it was time to cancel and start the timer for the next time I could get the bonus on this card.

The plan was fine until Citi implemented their new 24 month rule for sign-up bonuses.  Read all about all of the major banks’ restrictions for getting sign-up bonuses in my post here.  In short, opening OR closing any Citi ThankYou card resets a 24 month timer for getting a sign-up bonus on any ThankYou card.  If I cancelled my Premier, I would be ineligible for the bonus on the Prestige for 24 months.  And the bonus on the Prestige had just bumped up to 75k!

When banks put in new restrictions on bonuses they are retroactive, meaning my original opening of my Premier was the start of my 24 month clock.  I wanted to apply for the Prestige but I had to wait until mid-November 2017.  Once I was approved for the Prestige, I could cancel the Premier before the annual fee posted.  Wouldn’t you know it:  2 weeks before I became eligible, the 75k bonus on the Prestige disappeared.  🙁  In fact, any sign-up bonus on both cards disappeared and as of today, they are both still bonus-less.

The cancellation phone call

In case the Prestige regained its bonus sometime in the next year I wanted to be eligible for it, so I figured I’d give it a shot: If I got a good retention offer I’d keep the Premier open another year.  If not, I’d cancel it and start the 24 month timer over.  (Remember the 24 month timer extends to any card of the same point type.)

As I first announced on the ValueTactics Facebook page (please like it!), they gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse:  A $95 credit that would cover the annual fee, and 1000 bonus TY points if I spent at least $1k on the card in each of the next 3 months. 

In itself this offer isn’t that good.  1000 bonus points is worth maybe $20-25.  I consider the $95 credit to cover the annual fee to be the bare minimum to keep the card open.  However, the 3x $1,000 spends aren’t anything to sneeze at.  In my case though, I had no other bonus spends to work on, so I figured I could make this my daily spender for 3 months without much trouble or opportunity cost.  A hidden value in keeping the card open another 12 months is the outside chance that the Prestige gets another big bonus offer, in which case I’d still be eligible.

Sweetening the deal

As I said, putting $3k on this card over the next three months isn’t a big inconvenience.  I will definitely use it for all gas purchases, earning me 3x points per dollar.  At a minimum, I’ll end up with 4,000 ThankYou points (3k for the $3k spend, 1k bonus) and another year of credit history on this account.  However, it doesn’t end there. . .

I got a few mailers and e-mails with bonus point promotions that I otherwise would have ignored.  One of them is a 5x category bonus:
Citi TY category offer
I probably won’t end up with many bonus points from this one.  I’m certainly not going to make any purchases I wouldn’t have otherwise made.  But as my Citi ThankYou Premier will be my daily spender through March, if I happen to spend in any of these categories, lucky me!

Here’s the other offer I got as a mailer:
$3k spend in 3 months?  Well, that’s easy!  I’m already doing that!  Not to run afoul the Chase 5/24 rule, the authorized user was my daughter.  We should get the card any day now.

Here is why this card has new life for me:

  • $3,000 retention offer spend + 1000 bonus points = 4k pts
  • 2,500 bonus pts for authorized user after $3k spend = 2.5k pts
  • Bonus 5x on select categories, coupled with the card’s usual 3x on gas = potentially worth 2-5k extra

Lessons learned

  1. Always call for a retention offer on a card you’re about to cancel.  You never know what they might offer you!
  2. Some cards tend to produce many bonus offers that can add up to sizeable points accumulation.  (See this post on the last time this happened to me.)
  3. The best laid plans often go awry.  Nothing you can do about this one other than to keep making those plans!  Most of them will stick.

Click Here for FlyerTalk’s thread on the card to check the current bonus (if any), or you can try to decipher DoC’s spreadsheet here.

Year in Review – 2017

One of the goals of is to prove that these tactics are worthwhile.  To that end, I provide monthly reports of our household points and miles activity.  I also try to provide semi-monthly updates of our other related activity.  This might include travel planning, canceling or applying for credit cards, additional point/mile earning opportunities, and various other value tactics we hear about or use ourselves.  The whole purpose is not to show off, but to inspire you to take advantage of these tactics yourself!

My wife and I don’t do manufactured spending. We don’t do extreme couponing. We don’t apply for new credit cards as often as humanly possible. We simply put all our spending on credit cards, strategically apply for good card offers, and make use of other miscellaneous savings tactics. I think my monthly totals updates are a good representation of what a normal couple could expect, if they take advantage of the tactics on this site.

2017 Totals

Without further ado, here’s how we ended up for 2017.  I track redemptions based on the year in which the booking was made; not the year in which the travel actually takes place.


  • earned 128,259 airline miles
  • earned 45,381 hotel points
  • earned 191,126 Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • earned 5,565 Citi Thank-You points
  • earned 55,707 “other” points
  • Total earned: 494,038


  • transferred 68,000 Ultimate Rewards to airline and hotel programs


  • redeemed 66,467 airline miles (+ 62,000 transferred from Chase UR)
  • redeemed 109,000 hotel points (+ 6,000 transferred from Chase UR)
  • redeemed 17,092 Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • redeemed 15,990 Citi Thank-You points
  • redeemed 51,114 “other” points
  • Total redeemed: 327,663

Total gross value from points/miles redemptions booked in 2017: $6,110.79
Total gross value from other card benefits booked in 2017: $2,834.32
Total combined gross value: $8,945.11
Associated costs and fees for points/miles redemptions: $476.46
Total credit card interest and annual fees paid in 2016: $938.84
Net value for all our efforts: $7,529.81 !!


In last year’s annual report, you will see our total value for the year was almost twice as high.  The main explanation for this is that in late 2016 I planned my 2017 Europe trip (on which I woefully underreported!).  Since I report the redemptions based on when I book the trip – not when the trip actually happens – that whole value was added to the 2016 total.  I am considering another summer trip to Europe again in 2018, but I haven’t booked anything as of yet.

Me hiking in the Alps on my Euro2017 trip.  The net value of points and miles bookings for this trip was almost $6,100!

Hiking in the Alps on my Euro2017 trip. The net value of points and miles bookings for this trip was almost $6,100!

I’m happy to say the credit card interest we paid in 2017 was in the single digits.  The $938.84 in interest in fees is largely comprised of annual fees.  The most noteworthy is the $450 fee on Nicoleen’s Chase Sapphire Reserve.  The benefits of this card have paid for the fee many times over.  One benefit I haven’t quantified were the several airport lounge visits we were able to make because of the Priority Pass Select membership that is a benefit of the Reserve.

You can do it!

I show these results not to brag, but to motivate you to capture some value of your own!  Here are some of my favorite articles to guide you:

The following are good examples of planning a trip and how the points and mileage usage breaks down.  If you’re already in the game and need to hone your skills at points and miles redemption, check these out for some ideas:

If you contact me privately, I can walk you through some ideas for which credit cards to get to meet your goals.

And of course you should like the ValueTactics facebook page and join the discussions there!

Here’s to a valuable 2018!

Semi-Monthly Update (December 31, 2017)

Here we are – the last update of 2017.  I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas!  We’re in the post-holiday lull as far as credit card offers are concerned; not much noteworthy to report on that front.  Personally we have a few important “keep or cancel” decisions to make soon, including Nicoleen’s $450 annual fee Chase Sapphire Reserve.

In this update:  I’ll report our extensive December points and miles activity and give an update on Nicoleen’s and my upcoming travel plans.  We’ll cap it off with a holiday message.

Household Points and Miles Activity for December

It was a busy month for points transfers and redemptions! Here’s the breakdown:

  • earned 53,468 airline miles
  • earned 108 hotel points
  • earned 2,527 Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • earned 125 “other” points
  • transferred 6,000 Ultimate Rewards to World of Hyatt points
  • redeemed 51,000 “other” points for  $510.00
  • redeemed 15,000 World of Hyatt points for a one-night stay at Andaz Papagayo (valued at $1,003.73)
  • booked a two-night stay at the Andaz Papagayo with annual free night certificates from our Chase Hyatt cards – lodging worth $1,857.44 (after accounting for $75 annual fee x2)
  • booked a one-night stay at the Dallas Airport Marriott with annual free night certificate from my [now cancelled] Chase Marriott Rewards card – lodging worth $164.44
  • redeemed 60,000 American Airlines miles for airfare worth $1,582.76
  • received $166.24 in travel expense reimbursement from Nicoleen’s Chase Sapphire Reserve

That hefty airline miles number is thanks my Cathay Pacific Visa card; the 50,000 mile bonus finally hit.  The cash redemption was from my Bank of America Premier card.  All those travel related points redemptions are for our upcoming winter get-away!

Travel News

Nicoleen and I are so excited to go back to Costa Rica!  Yes, yes. . . I know it’s kind of lame to go to such an interesting and varied country and then sit around at the pool and beach the whole time.  But hey – we need that kind of a break!  Even though it’s basically repeat of our get-away last winter, this trip is unique in one major way.   Between airfare, luxury accommodations, and ground transportation, the total out of pocket cost for this trip is $0.00!  That’s a first for this value tactician!

Recent ValueTactics Blog Posts

Winter Vacation Plans Revealed is the answer to the teasers I put on Facebook for a few days about the location of our next trip.

Free Travel Photo

The swimming pool terrace at the Andaz Papagayo.  Having just finished planning our return trip to this awesome resort, this scene has been on my mind lately.  It's especially fun to think about as I look over at the exterior thermometer on this New Year's Eve.  It reads -2.7 degrees.

The swimming pool terrace at the Andaz Papagayo in Costa Rica. Having just finished planning our return trip to this awesome resort, this scene has been on my mind lately. It’s especially fun to think about as I look over at the exterior thermometer on this New Year’s Eve. It reads -3.1 degrees.

Happy New Year!

sea-sunset-beach-coupleHave a fun and safe night and may all your hopes for the new year come to pass!  If any of those hopes involve free or virtually free travel, free money, cost savings, or any other value tactical related goals, I hope I can help you fulfill them!

Now you’re updated. Go employ some Value Tactics!

Winter Vacation Plans Revealed

Winter vacation plans previews

For a while I’ve been hinting at a warm weather winter vacation for my wife and me.  We finally got the plans finalized and over the weekend I posted a few teasers on the ValueTactics Facebook page.

I showed a few screenshots of our online bookings.  I blurred out the locations but astute observers will notice the flights were on American Airlines and the hotel booking was at a Hyatt property.  So that narrows it down to about 1,850 destinations. . .


Most of those dots each represent dozens of Hyatt properties. (Courtesy of

Winter vacation plans revealed!

Some of you already guessed it on Facebook.  Good job.  🙂

In early March, we’re returning to the site of this February’s “Long Weekend in Paradise,”  the beautiful Andaz Papagayo Peninsula in tropical Costa Rica!

Relaxing in Costa Rica

Why Costa Rica?

The planning for this trip was similar to the last time we stayed at the Andaz Papagayo.  I can’t typically get vacation time in the spring so we’re limited to winter months.  In order to get somewhere unequivocally warm in December through mid-March you have to get waaaay south.

The Caribbean is a tough nut to crack when looking to redeem anniversary nights from the Chase Hyatt card.  The anniversary nights are only good at a category 1-4 hotel, which are hard to come by in the Caribbean and Mexico.  The eligible hotels in those regions aren’t anything special and aren’t worth the trouble of a short vacation, in our estimation.  I wracked my brain looking for other options but all paths led once again to the Andaz Papagayo.

This time around the planning was much harder than last time I predicted a phenomenon that finally appears to have come to pass.  With the Caribbean resort capacity severely diminished due to hurricanes, many vacationers have had to cancel or rethink their winter travel plans.  Those who decided to find alternative destinations probably opted for nearby areas that weren’t hit by the storms.  Those would include Jamaica, certain smaller islands, and Central America.

I literally couldn't have done it without a spreadsheet. It was like a linear programming problem!

I literally couldn’t have done it without a spreadsheet. It was like a linear programming problem!

We planned our last Costa Rica vacation only a week or two earlier than this year’s planning, but this year the award night and flight availability was very slim.  I was forced to make a spreadsheet just to organize it all.  Eventually the puzzle pieces fell into place and we ended up with a FREE 4 night warm weather get-away!

Semi-Monthly Update (November 23, 2017)

I’ve been a busy boy, and unfortunately that means I didn’t get a lot of writing got done in the past few weeks.  One thing keeping me occupied has been a handful of short work trips.  Last week I stayed at a questionable hotel in southern MN.  I should probably write a semi-satirical review like the one I did for BUILDING 7-73.  Here’s a preview:

To give you an idea of how swamped I’ve been with non-VT stuff, this post was originally dated November 11th and the date has changed about 5 times.  When it takes several tries and almost 2 weeks to write an update post, you know I’m hurting for time!  And it’s not like there aren’t things to write about. . .

In this update I’ll report on our October points and miles activity, talk about some general and personal credit card news, share some happy reports from readers, and give a travel update.  We’ll top it all off with the latest free travel photo.

Household Points and Miles Activity for October

  • earned 87 hotel points
  • earned 5,710 Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • earned 35 Citi Thank-You points
  • earned 55,433 “other” points

I managed to complete the $3000 bonus spend on my new Bank of America Premier Rewards card in the first month (in fact I met the spend with a single purchase), yielding the 50k bonus “other” points.

Credit Card News

General News:

Lately I’ve been infatuated with the idea of free annual nights as a credit card benefit.  This is how I booked one of the two $700+ nights at the Z Ocean Hotel (pictured below in the free travel photo) this spring.  For a mere $49 annual fee, the Chase IHG card gives you a free night at any IHG property worldwide.  Our tropical weekend get-away to Costa Rica in February was also partially booked with free anniversary nights from our Chase Hyatt cards ($75 AF).

One of the few cards offering this type of benefit is about to be replaced with a new version with different benefits.  The present (and last ever) sign-up bonus on the current version of the card is at an all time high of 125,000 points!  I’m talking about the Hilton Surpass from American ExpressCheck out my previous post for a full run-down of the situation with this card.

Personal News:

October 27th, the day before our Florida trip, I applied for the Synchrony Cathay Pacific card during its highest-ever bonus of 50,000 Asia Miles.  I got the “pending” message many applicants have reported.  I received no e-mail communication since I applied but I finally got a letter on November 9th:

cathay pacific letter

And then on the 10th, the card arrived!

(If the FB post isn’t showing up, click here.)

ValueTactics Reader Success

ValueTactics reader Jamie recently told me about an upcoming vacation where she got a sweet deal on airfare to Ft. Myers.  She booked 4 round trip flights for only $44 and 68,000 miles!  That’s an awesome value; great job using the points and miles tactic, Jamie!

Travel News


We’ve been back from our Florida vacation for 3 weeks now.  The trip was so awesome!  I have to admit it was less relaxing than I anticipated, but at the same time it was more fun than I expected.  Disney really does do things above and beyond all of their competition.  After being there it’s easy to see that all other theme parks are trying to imitate what Disney has created.

the club

Besides two theme parks and the Kennedy Space Center we also experienced a free hotel stay and two free airport lounges.  (Well, “two lounges” is a stretch since one of them was a quick grab and go affair.)  This trip should generate a few different blog posts, one of which is mostly finished: a complete outline of how we planned this trip for so little money.

Of course getting back from a vacation also generates the dreaded vacation hangover, and regular readers will know how I like to cure that. . .   🙂

Free Travel Photo

After our family vacation to Disney, Nicoleen and I are ready for

After our family vacation to Disney, Nicoleen and I are ready for a break. . . like maybe a vacation with just the two of us?  Our last adults-only trip was her birthday surprise trip to Miami Beach in April.  I love this photo because I managed to fit everything into one shot from our private rooftop terrace: the moon shining on the ocean, the night lights of lively Ocean Drive, the unique pool at the Z Ocean Hotel, and our complimentary bottle of champagne.  What an awesome free trip that was!

Now you’re updated. Go employ some Value Tactics!

Highest Ever 125k Point Hilton Surpass Offer

The Hilton Surpass card from American Express has a new sign-up offer that comes with a highest ever 125k Hilton point bonus.  This is already week-old news to some, but I figured I’d weigh in on it.

The Offer

  • 100,000 Hilton points after $3k spend in 3 months
  • Additional 25,000 Hilton points after additional $1k spend in 6 months
  • Hilton Gold status
  • Earns 12x points / dollar on Hilton purchases
  • Earns 6x points / dollar on gas, groceries, and dining
  • Earns 3x points / dollar on all other purchases
  • $75 annual fee, not waived the first year

Spending a combined $4k in 6 months is pretty doable and 125k is the highest bonus ever seen on this card, but keep in mind that not all hotel points are the same.  Hilton is near the bottom of the list, at around 0.33 cents per point.  Still, they are nice to have as Hilton properties are everywhere and in my experience they have the best overall service of the major conglomerates.  The high earn rate on continued spending sort of makes up for the crappy value of the points.  Hilton now lets you easily combine points with other people and they have a flexible cash + points option on award stays.  These two factors make orphan points almost nonexistent.

The Gold status shouldn’t be ignored either.  Hilton Gold status benefits vary by hotel brand and by individual property, but the least it will get you is free internet and a welcome snack and bottled water.  In many cases it will get you room upgrades and/or free breakfast.  During our stay at the Hilton Amsterdam in 2015 my Gold status got us free breakfast ($30 each) and access to the Executive Lounge, which could have easily served as our dinner.  Gold status at this one stay alone was worth more than the annual fee on the Surpass card!

Complimentary food at the Executive Lounge at the Hilton Amsterdam.

Complimentary food at the Executive Lounge at the Hilton Amsterdam.  Lounge access came with my Gold status.

The Catch

The Hilton Surpass is from American Express, which means it’s a once-in-a-lifetime bonus.  With that in mind, the strategy for when to get a given Amex card is simple: wait until it’s at its best known offer.

The problem is when a card is known to have a limited lifespan.  Such is the case with the Surpass. The offer above is only good through 01/17/2018.  At that time Surpass accounts will be converted to the new Hilton Honors American Express Ascend card.  (See Doctor of Credit’s outline of all Hilton AMEX card details and changes here)

That’s a shoe in, right?  If this is the last chance to get this specific AMEX product, we can safely apply for it with nothing to lose, and still get the bonus on the new Ascend, right?  That’s usually sound logic, but in this case most of the speculative thinking is that new Ascent applicants will be ineligible for any new bonus if they ever received a bonus on the Surpass.


So in this case it’s a gamble whether to get the Surpass now or wait until it becomes the Ascend.  125K bonus points is nice but 2 free weekend nights would be much nicer.  That was the bonus on the now-retired Citi Hilton Reserve.  We don’t know what the sign-up bonus for new accounts will be on the Ascend, but we do know the benefits will be.  The one that caught my eye is this:

  • One free weekend night each year when you spend at least $15k on the card.

Previous Surpass offers have had this annual free night but without the spend requirement.  $15k a year is definitely doable, but at what opportunity cost?  That’s up to your spending habits and your valuation of Hilton points.

Why I value recurring free night benefits

Lately I’ve been infatuated with the idea of annual free nights as a credit card benefit.  This is how I booked one of our two $700+ nights at the Z Ocean Hotel this spring.  For a mere $49 annual fee, the Chase IHG card gets me a free night at any IHG property worldwide.  Our tropical weekend get-away to Costa Rica in February was also partially booked with free anniversary nights from our Chase Hyatt cards.  The Hyatt anniversary free nights are limited to category 1-4 properties and the annual fee is $75.

Free nights can be extremely valuable when redeemed at aspirational resorts or big city hotels during peak dates.  Hilton free nights often come with a “weekend only” restriction and some anniversary benefit free nights have a property category limitation.  Obviously the best potential for extreme redemption value is on the unrestricted type.

Nicoleen and I have redeemed a total of 11 free night certificates (8 from sign-up bonuses, 3 from anniversary benefits) for a total value of 5327.31! (Annual fees totaled $199 for the 3 anniversary nights)

Last fall we stayed 4 free nights at the Andaz Maui at Wailea. That was two Chase Hyatt cards' worth of bonuses at that time.

Last fall we stayed 4 free nights at the Andaz Maui at Wailea. That was two Chase Hyatt cards’ worth of bonuses at that time.

Grand Wailea - Hibiscus Pool

The extinct Citi Hilton Reserve yielded the sign up bonus we used for two nights at the Grand Wailea on Maui.

hyatt-hilton-smallBesides their obviously high value potential, another reason I’ve recently been fixating on free hotel nights is that they are becoming rarer.  This year Citi discontinued their Hilton Reserve card, which gave 2 free weekend nights as the sign-up bonus.  (Our two Reserve cards yielded us free stays at the Hilton Amsterdam, the Grand Wailea, and the Embassy Suites in St. Paul.)  Also this year, Chase replaced the 2 free night sign up bonus on the Hyatt card with a points bonus.

Will I apply for the Surpass?

I don’t know.  What I am really after is the anniversary free night.  So the gamble for me is basically whether I think the current 125k bonus will be better than the sign-up bonus on the new Ascend.  I would really kick myself if the bonus ends up bringing back the 2 free weekend nights we lost with the death of the Citi Hilton Reserve.  On the other hand, if the new Ascend card never gets above 100k and I didn’t try for the current Surpass offer, I’d also be disappointed.

Then I think about the $15k required annual spend just to get the free night and I question why I’m even spending so much thought on this card!  Oh well, I have until January 17th to decide. . .

For some other opinions on the Surpass/Ascend issue, check out the following:
FrequentMiler – Didn’t see this coming: New 125K Hilton offer
Doctor of Credit – American Express Hilton Surpass 125,000 Point Offer

And last but not least, here’s a link to the offer itself!