Paul Meloan – Vested Interest

Since becoming empty-nesters, my wife and I travel more often and with greater flexibility. In taking advantage of this, we run into the many roadblocks and friction points of modern travel.

Who knew that flying on a domestic airline was such a vast bundle of services? I always thought I was just buying a ride, but it turns out what I was really buying was personal transport, cargo, catering and entertainment.  All of these services that were once included in my ticket are now parsed out separately with additional charges to boot.

The money decisions are relatively easy to make compared to the time decisions. We know how much baggage will cost or a seat with more legroom and can decide to buy it or not.  The time decisions have an unknown cost: how long to allow for security at any given airport? How likely is my plane to leave on time? What are the chances of making a 40 minute connection in Denver?

Worst dilemma: what are the chances I will want to kill the guy who just reclined into my knees?

Two major credit card issuers are stepping into this mess to make travel at least a little less unpleasant (I will stop short of calling air transport ‘enjoyable’).  New cards have a mix of benefits designed to attract persons who devote a good amount of time or money to air travel.  There is now a choice of credit cards that offer high-end benefits to go along with a rather high-end fee.  If travel is a big priority in your schedule or budget it’s likely that one of these cards can help.

American Express got there first with their Platinum Card.  The annual fee of $450 gets you a $200 annual credit (on one airline that you designate) against airline fees; a $100 credit to obtain Global Entry/TSA Pre-Check; membership in Priority Pass Select; use of their Centurion Clubs; wi-fi passes, and a host of other bennies designed to lower travel friction. Depending on when you sign up you may get a bonus grant of Membership Miles points.  There are other various benefits that don’t rock my world but you may find enticing.  Check the site for all the details.

Chase is now in the game with their Sapphire Reserve Card. The same steep $450 fee now gets a $300 annual credit toward airline fees, a similar credit for Global Entry/TSA pre-check, and lounge access.  The big deal here is that Chase points are much more valuable (50%) than Amex points and they are offering a whopping 100,000 points as a sign up bonus now.  Essentially that’s a $1,500 travel credit on top of the other travel credits that come standard with the card.

I have the Amex Platinum, and I credit it for getting me to bite the bullet and pay for Global Entry. It has been a major time-saver at Dulles (my primary airport). Getting through TSA now takes 5 minutes or less, instead of 15-30 minutes without Pre-Check. That may not sound like a big deal, but it adds up.  Their Centurion lounges can be really nice (San Francisco) to very ordinary (Miami) but they only have them in a handful of cities so that’s not a major hook for me.

In my wallet, it looks like Amex will be giving way to Chase, unless Amex responds to the pressure and raises their offering as well.

If you’re interested in comparing all the different offerings as well as keeping up with the latest deals, by far the best site I have encountered is Points Guy. It’s definitely worth the visit if you’re in the market.

Paul Meloan is the co-founder and co-managing member of Aegis Wealth Management, LLC, in Bethesda, Maryland USA. Before Aegis Paul was a practicing attorney as well as working in the tax practice of Ernst & Young, LLP.

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