In part 3 of my series, “What’s in my wallet?” I will discuss US Bank, one of the lesser known banks to those outside of the Midwest area. I became familiar with US Bank in 2013 when the Club Carlson Visa became highly popular in points and miles circles. It recently released the Altitude Reserve, a copycat version of the Chase Sapphire Reserve that is meant for its own customers. I currently hold both these cards and will go over some of the features below:
- Club Carlson Premier Rewards
The Club Carlson Premier Rewards card became extremely popular a few years ago because it had the best benefit of all hotel cards: a free last night when a multiple night reservation was booked with points. This was unheard of as no other hotel chain had anything close to offer. Club Carlson also periodically offers 75% bonus offers on purchasing of points, so in conjunction with the 85,000 signup bonus, this gave customers some very lucrative options. This card also gives Club Carlson gold status, which sometimes leads to free upgrades at hotels and a higher accrual rate. I was able to use the free night benefit three times, once in New Delhi, once in Chicago, and once in San Francisco, all at swanky hotels, which garnered me a savings of 138,000 total points. As with everything in life, all good things come to an end, and all reservations made after June 1, 2015 were no longer eligible for this benefit. To appease customers, US Bank gave a free e-cert to anyone who held on to the card; this was usually worth more than the $75 fee so this kept some customers for at least one more year. However, by 2016, there was little reason for most to keep the card, including myself. However, with the release of the US Bank Altitude Reserve card, I decided to reopen the Club Carlson Visa, and as a result have tens of thousands of more points to use. So long as I have the Reserve card open, I will keep this one open as well to show good faith towards US Bank which reopened the card without questions. And to be fair, I’ve never really had any issues with US Bank, the customer service agents are usually friendly and it’s been a pretty fair relationship on my end overall. This card has a 3% foreign transaction fee.
- Altitude Reserve
This card was released soon after the Chase Sapphire Reserve, and has many of the same features. It has a lower fee at $400 instead of $450 and slightly higher travel credit at $325 instead of $300. The travel credit is equally as easy to use as Chase’s credit. However, unlike the Chase Reserve had at first, the credit is calendar year only; this means people cannot open the card and get two credits in the first year and get a profit. Chase obviously thought this was a good idea and recently enacted the same rule, presumably predicting the rash of cancellations when the first annual fees were to hit. Like Chase, the points are worth 1.5 cents each for travel. Unlike Chase, there are no travel partners to transfer points. Like Chase, the signup bonus is 50,000 points for $4000 in spending for the first three months. Also like Chase, users receive 3x points for travel purchases; unlike Chase, dining is just 1x. The one major difference in accrual is that mobile wallet purchases get 3x points with the Altitude Reserve. With the ability to use Samsung Pay in many places and the growth of Apple Pay, this is a very valuable benefit. One wonders how long US Bank can continue to offer this benefit with the ability to send money to others on Apple Pay Cash and Facebook. That being said, US Bank is extremely strict on any purchase that it considers as manufacturing points illegitimately, so I personally would not even try to send money to anyone with a US Bank card. In a recent shot across the bow, Chase is offering 5x for mobile payments in the first quarter of 2018 for its Freedom cardholders. Cardholder benefits are similar to the Chase Reserve with Priority Pass Membership, $100 Global Entry/Precheck credit, and some other ancillary benefits like 12 Gogo wifi passes per year and a complimentary Andrew Harper membership. I honestly did not know who Andrew Harper was before opening this card, it turns out he’s a guy who travels the world anonymously and stays at luxurious places, only to charge his readers $395 to read about his jaunts. His website also offers some discounts on luxurious properties worldwide, but for a frugal person like me they are still expensive even while discounted. Finally, only those with a US Bank relationship can open this card; this is why I reopened the Club Carlson card, for eligibility purposes. Though it’s a generous card with a reasonable effective fee, I have a hard time believing that many people will keep this card after the first year, unless they simply haven’t used their points up to that point or are heavy mobile wallet spenders. The one year anniversary hits in May so US Bank will find out if my prediction is true first hand. This card has no foreign transaction fee.
It seems that US Bank is content with maintaining its customer base while offering a luxury card to those who choose to bank or have another existing card. If you have a relationship with US Bank already, I would advise to sign up for the Altitude Reserve. If not, I would say despite the 85,000 bonus, the Club Carlson card is probably not worth it unless you have redemptions in mind with several hotels that cost 9,000-15,000 points per night, as to maximize the bonus. Be aware that US Bank is extremely strict in approvals and doesn’t like to see heavy credit card application activity in the last 6 months before applying. Also, if you already have a card and have said heavy activity, this can trigger a shutdown of existing cards.
US Bank is fairly quiet in the travel card market, with some obscure cards with small bonuses such as Korean Air, LATAM, and Aeromexico besides the aforementioned cards in this article. It has a reputation of being conservative, so this fits in with its motto. It’s more known as a bank popular in the Midwest that gives mortgages and loans, but is slowly taking chances in the points and miles game with the release of the Altitude Reserve. It also has a couple of cash back cards also, but those aren’t in line with those from other banks either. All in all, it’s a bank worth evaluating if you have an existing relationship, live in the Midwest, or use mobile wallet a lot.