Archives for April 13, 2015

Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card: Two Free Weekend Nights (Which I Redeemed for $1,109 Value)

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Hilton HHonors Reserve Card ArtUpdate – This offer is now EXPIRED

The premium co-branded Citi Hilton Hotels card, from our partner Citi, is the Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card. The sign-up bonus includes certificates good for 2 Free Weekend Nights, with “weekend night” meaning a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday night after spending $2,500 in purchases within 4 months of account opening*. If you like staying at posh hotels, you can get $500+ value out of each certificate and easily $500 of value out of them together. Card feature summary:

  • Earn 2 weekend night certificates good at select hotels and resorts within the Hilton Portfolio after you make $2,500 in purchases within 4 months of account opening*
  • Earn 10 Hilton HHonors Bonus Points per $1 spent on hotel stays within the Hilton Portfolio*
  • Earn 5 Hilton HHonors Bonus Points per $1 spent on airline and car rental purchases*
  • Earn 3 Hilton HHonors Bonus Points per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases*
  • Enjoy the benefits of HHonors Gold status as long as you are a cardmember*
  • No foreign transaction fees on purchases*
  • Travel with ease and enjoy global acceptance with your Citi chip credit card

The two free weekend night certificates have no category restrictions, but do have the following exclusions (often these are condo-hotels). Certificates are valid for 12 months after issuance. Must be used on “standard” rooms (no upgraded suites, etc). Room taxes are included with the certificates. Booking the same rooms using rewards points would cost 50,000-70,000 HHonors points per night. Possible choices include:

grandmaui

Update: I applied myself, satisfied the requirement, received my two rewards certificates, and redeemed for $1,000+ worth of rooms in Hawaii. I applied for this card (Day 0) and made my first purchase Day 7, first statement about a month later, was charged the $95 annual fee, satisfied the spending hurdle, second statement closed, and I was issued the two weekend night certificates via e-mail after that (Day 67). Here is a screenshot:

citihiltoncert

According to commenter TJ below who satisfied the spending requirements in the first billing cycle, s/he got the certificates two weeks after the close of the 1st statement. My guess is that they just want to make sure you pay the annual fee. Also, good tip to check your spam folder for the e-mailed certificates!

I called in to book the nights I wanted at my resort of choice – the Grand Wailea (Waldorf Astoria) in Maui. (I’ve never stayed there before, but it looks pretty awesome.) Keep in mind that although there are no category restrictions (it doesn’t matter how expensive the hotel is on average), you can only book a “standard room” which I believe is their cheapest tier of rooms. So if you want a busy weekend that is coming up soon and those cheaper rooms are sold out, you may not get it. However, I was able to get two consecutive weekend nights. I am also able to cancel without any penalty or fees up until 14 days before the booking.

If I was booking with cash on the exact same dates and exact same room, it would have cost me $1,109.25. Here’s proof via screenshot from the booking website:

citihiltoncert2

If I was to have used points, it would have taken 70,000 per night for a total of 140,000 Hilton Honor points. Note that I took out the resort fees, which are reportedly not waived when booking with certificate or points redemptions (any taxes on the room rate are covered). Resort fees are $25 per night ($28.35 with taxes). You actually get the following stuff too: “Guest internet access; beach umbrellas for use on Wailea Beach; admission to twice daily SCUBA clinics; free bike rental”.

Recap

In the end, this is a great way for casual travelers to stay two nights at a really fancy hotel where you can’t imagine paying over $300 a night. We applied and got ourselves two nights at the Grand Wailea in Maui. However, you should keep in mind that the reward certificates are only for Fri/Sat/Sun nights and are based on room availability so some flexibility in either hotel choice or dates is recommended. On an ongoing basis, the card is ideal for Hilton hotel regulars – You get 10x points on Hilton purchases and free Gold elite status (perks include late checkout, free Wi-Fi, and a free breakfast at many hotels). If you spend $10,000 in a year, you get another free weekend night certificate, which you can weigh against the $95 annual fee.

“Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer. This site may be compensated through the issuer’s Affiliate Program.”

American Express Personal Savings Account Review (Updated)

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

AMEX LOGO

Updated 2015. American Express has a banking division called Personal Savings through their FDIC-Insured bank American Express Bank, FSB. There are currently just two products – a high yield savings account and certificates of deposit. This is a review from my own experiences with the American Express Personal Savings Account. You don’t need to have an American Express credit or charge card to open a bank account with them.

The Basics
The savings account has no minimum balance requirement, no inactivity fees, and no monthly fees. Their current interest rate is 0.90% APY (as of 4/13/15).

As with all savings accounts, the rate is subject to change. Their rate history for the last few years has been that they consistently pay a competitive interest rate but usually not the very highest. They are usually in the mix with their competitors like Capital One Consumer Bank (0.75% APY) and Ally Savings (0.99% APY as of 4/13/15).

Like those other online savings banks, this one is designed to piggyback onto your existing checking account through online transfers. There are no checks, no ATM cards, and no online bill-pay with this account. If you really want, you can withdraw your money by having them send a check payable to you. Interest is compounded daily, and credited monthly. Interest begins to accrue on the business day the deposit is received, as long as it is by 5pm Eastern.

Application Process
The application process can be done completely online. You provide the usual personal information, as well as the routing number and account number of the checking account you wish to link and fund your account with. There is no minimum opening amount. AMEX Bank will then send two small verification deposits of under $1 to your checking account (and then withdraw them as). They’ll also send a verification code to your e-mail address. With this information, you can activate your account and initiate the funding transfer. They’ll send you a welcome packet in the mail, but there is no paper to sign or send in.

Website User Interface
In the beginning, AmEx used a 3rd-party backend service but now the entire bank website is hosted at personalsavings.americanexpress.com. Here are some screenshots of my bank account after logging in with some captions (click to enlarge).

The overall interface is pretty minimalist and straightforward. Here is the main page:

amexps1

Here is the Transfer tab:

amexps2b

Here is the Alerts tab:

amexps3

Funds Transfers, Customer Service, E-mail Alerts, and Statements
You can link up to 3 external bank accounts, and you can remove and add accounts online as needed. Online transfers to/from your external accounts take the usual couple of business days to complete. However, I wasn’t thrilled about this note on the transfer page: “Funds from electronic deposits to your account that you have initiated through us will generally be available for withdrawal on the sixth business day after the deposit is initiated.” This is likely for protection against fraud, but could be inconvenient and discourages me from using this account as a central transfer hub.

Customer service is available by phone only – no secure online message or live chat. Call 1-800-446-6307, available 24/7. Although you have to navigate the usual phone tree, once you do reach a human they are as courteous as the reps from AmEx credit cards, which is to say very courteous.

You can set up free, automated e-mail alerts in case of your balance reaching a certain threshold or the arrival new deposits and/or withdrawals. Text messages are not directly supported but you can usually find an e-mail version of your cell number (ex. [email protected]).

Finally, one unique thing about American Express Personal Savings is that they give you free paper, snail-mail, monthly statements. Many online savings accounts only include you electronic statements and will charge you for paper statements. Of course, you can opt out and just stick to e-statements, but I can see paper statements as being attractive for some folks. A commenter below noted that if you elect paper statements, then AmEx limits the amount of transactions you can view online to the last 30 days.

Other Handy Stuff
American Express Bank, FSB Routing Number: 124085066
Customer Service: 1-800-446-6307, available 24 hours a day. I haven’t had to call in yet, but American Express does have good customer service on their credit cards in my experience.

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