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TPG's Benét J. Wilson: My 10 favorite TPG stories of 2021

Dec. 29, 2021
9 min read
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Well, 2021 is almost behind us, and what a year it’s been.

Here at The Points Guy, we're taking a trip down memory lane and looking back on our favorite stories of the last year. Although I was TPG’s senior credit cards editor until July 2021, I also contributed to the travel, aviation, and family travel coverage because I enjoy sharing my experiences with readers.

Below are my 10 favorite stories I wrote.

I worked for an airline on 9/11

People gathered in lower Manhattan near Ground Zero as the city commemorated the 20th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

TPG thoroughly covered the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks here, here, here and here. But my story brought the unique point of view of someone who actually worked at an airline when the terrorists hit. For as long as I live, I will never forget seeing from my office window the dozens of planes grounded at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX), working to get grounded flight crews back to their home bases and the feeling that the global airline industry had changed forever.

Related: I worked for an airline on 9/11: Here’s what it was like on that terrible day

How US airports continue to recover from the pandemic

Crowds have returned to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. (Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg/Getty Images).

As someone who has covered the global airport industry for nearly 10 years, I know the ins and outs of how it is funded and how airports and airlines handle passenger traffic. When the pandemic hit, however, many airports became ghost towns as passenger traffic plummeted and airlines slashed capacity. Unlike other businesses, airports couldn't just shut down. Instead, they learned to operate lean and mean even as they implemented new sanitizing practices to give comfort to the few travelers taking to the skies.

When more people got COVID vaccines and began returning to the skies, airports had to ramp up to meet the renewed passenger demand. I spoke to airline executives to find out how they coped in their darkest days and how they pivoted to handle travelers coming back to their terminals.

Related: How US airports continue to recover from the pandemic

Real ways to boost your credit score in 30 days

For the longest time, TPG tended to target readers who had the highest credit scores that allowed them to unlock thousands of dollars in value from points and cash-back credit cards. However, Experian notes that 34.8% of American consumers have subprime credit scores (ranging between 580 and 669) and FICO notes that 11.1% of American consumers have FICO scores below 550.

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I felt it was important for TPG to target these people and give them the tools and knowledge they need to improve their scores and allow them to get more lucrative credit cards. To that end, we launched a series of posts in January 2021 — this was the first — to help readers get back on track, with that coverage continuing for the rest of the year.

Related: 3 real ways to boost your credit score in 30 days

TPG staffers confess their credit card mistakes

TPG readers consume many accounts of how TPG staffers get the maximum benefit from their myriad credit cards. But it wasn't always this way. I got my colleagues to confess their biggest credit card mistakes, including missing a major sign-up bonus, closing an old credit card and signing up for a card to get a bonus but missing the spending requirement, to name a few.

Related: Even TPG staffers make mistakes: Here are the credit card blunders they wish they could fix

Why I’m scrambling to make Southwest A-List status for 2022

A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 parked at Las Vegas's McCarran International Airport (LAS). (Photo by Benét J. Wilson/The Points Guy)

Regular TPG readers know that I am a huge Southwest Airlines fan. I love the airline because it gets me from point A to point B safely and at a good price -- plus, its employees make me feel like my business is appreciated. So, of course I want to keep my A-List elite status on my favorite carrier.

This story covers how I made a plan to hit A-List in September 2021 but how several hiccups had me questioning whether I'd even make it for the fifth year in a row (spoiler alert — I did). I explained why A-LIst was so valuable for me and what I did to attain it for 2022.

Related: Why I’m scrambling to make Southwest A-List status for 2022

Why I dropped Marriott after 35 years of loyalty

I had a wonderful time at this Marriott resort that hosted the TPG editorial staff retreat. (Photo courtesy of the JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn)

This turned out to be my first viral TPG story and one of the site's top stories for the year. My love affair with Marriott began in 1986 and did not waver for more than 30 years. Then, a series of incidents soured me on the brand. At the same time, I did my first TPG hotel review (see below), fell in love with Hyatt and managed to snag Globalist status through February 2023 along the way. I received dozens of emails, tweets, and Facebook posts from readers sharing their own discontent with the Marriott brand.

Related: Why I dropped Marriott after 35 years of loyalty

What we loved about the Thompson San Antonio – Riverwalk

(Photo courtesy of Hotel Thompson San Antonio)

This was an exciting story for me to write for two reasons. First, it was my first TPG hotel review. And secondly, it was the first time my baby sister had left our home in the San Antonio Hill Country for an extended period since the pandemic hit in March 2020. We were at this property for a weekend, and, from beginning to end, the staff (from the front desk to the restaurants and bars to housekeeping) made us feel welcome and treated us really well. As a bonus, this review led me to earn Hyatt Globalist status.

Related: Great hospitality deep in the heart of Texas: What we loved about the Thompson San Antonio – Riverwalk

Why I’d happily spend $5,000+ at Disney’s new Star Wars hotel

(Photo by Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images)

When I learned that Walt Disney World was opening the interactive Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser hotel, my teen self went crazy. I was 14 years old when the first movie — now known as “Episode IV: A New Hope” — came out in 1977 and that's when my love affair with the franchise began. When "Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back" came out in 1980, I almost got into a car accident driving to stand in line for tickets. There was no internet back then, so you either stood in line or missed out.

After reading TPG's story on booking being available for the March 2022 opening of the hotel, I was inspired to write why I'd spend the $5,000+ for this great experience — if I won the Powerball.

Related: If I could, here’s why I’d happily spend $5,000+ at Disney’s new Star Wars hotel

See the meals U.S. airlines were serving passengers in the 1960s

A vintage menu from a TWA flight from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco. (Courtesy Northwestern University Transportation Library)

I am of an age when I remember when U.S. airlines used to serve elaborate, multicourse meals on flights. Five years ago, I discovered the Northwestern University Transportation Library's collection of more than 400 menus from 54 national and international airlines, cruise ships and railroad companies. The lion's share of the airline menu collection came from Northwestern alumni George M. Foster, who took his first commercial flight in 1935. I go down the rabbit hole every time on this site — and I thought TPG readers would enjoy the site as much as I do.

Related: See the meals U.S. airlines were serving passengers in the 1960s

incredible deals I found at the Unclaimed Baggage Store

The Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama: the place where items from your lost luggage end up. (Photo by Benét J. Wilson/The Poinys Guy)

Any aviation geek worth their salt knows about this store, which sells goods retrieved from the baggage lost by the airlines. I was doing a road trip from Baltimore to San Antonio, Texas, via Birmingham, Alabama, and saw the sign for Scottsboro, Alabama, so I just had to stop. At 50,000 square feet, you can pick up anything from wedding dresses to iPad tablets and everything in between. I'm still kicking myself for not buying that black The Large Away suitcase for $95 (it normally runs for $325).

Related: The 10 incredible deals I found at the Unclaimed Baggage Store

Featured image by A Paris street sign. (Photo by Benét J. Wilson/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG featured card

Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site

Rewards

3 - 4X points
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.

Intro offer

60,000 bonus points
Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

Annual Fee

$250

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent/Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees