Bonus points on mobile payments: U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card review
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U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite card overview
Who is this card for?
This is the ideal card for those who want a premium travel rewards card without having to sweat about transferring points to airline miles and dealing with complicated frequent flyer programs. Instead, you simply redeem your points for flights, hotels, car rentals and more at a rate of 1.5 cents each.
The U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve is also a great card for people who use Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay mobile-wallet apps, because that’s where this card offers the most competitive rewards, especially on purchases that wouldn’t otherwise qualify for a bonus on any other card.
As with all credit cards that only let you redeem your rewards for a fixed value. However, you’ll likely come out behind when you have your heart set on first or business-class international flights. With other travel rewards cards, you can get a roundtrip, business-class flight to Europe or South America (that’s usually worth between $4,000 and $6,000) for just 100,000 to 150,000 miles.
In contrast, 100,000 U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve points will only give you $1,500 worth of airfare, which won’t get you to another continent or in in business class.
Therefore, this card is ideal for those who want to use their travel rewards for discounted flights, along with good deals on rental cars, hotels and transit. And since it lets you redeem your points for statement credits toward travel purchases, it also makes sense for those who want to stay in independent boutique hotels and fly lesser-known or discount carriers. Because you’re purchasing travel the way you normally would, you’ll also earn points and miles for your flights and hotels and enjoy any elite status perks you may have coming.
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 bonus points
With the Altitude card, you’ll earn 50,000 bonus points (worth $750 in travel statement credits) after you spend $4,500 on purchases within 90 days of account opening. This is a smaller sign-up bonus compared to other travel reward cards, as the Altitude has a $400 annual fee. Take for example the Chase Sapphire Reserve, with a 50,000-point bonus after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening (worth $1,000 according to TPG’s valuations) or the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, with a 60,000-mile bonus after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening (worth $1,110 according to TPG’s valuations).
Main benefits and perks
This card has many valuable benefits, but the most easily used is a statement credit of $325 for travel each year that automatically applies to purchases from airlines, hotels, car rentals, taxicabs, limousines, trains and cruise lines. Like many cards, you also get up to $100 in statement credits every four years to cover the application fee for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.
You’ll receive a limited 12-month membership to Priority Pass Select that offers you four lounge entries or restaurant credits for yourself, plus four for guests. Plus, you’ll receive 12 complimentary Gogo in-flight wi-fi passes that are valid for 12 months from the date you register your card for this benefit.
Other benefits include trip cancellation and interruption coverage, trip delay reimbursement, lost luggage reimbursement and even emergency evacuation and transportation coverage. Finally, you’ll get a 30% discount on Silvercar rentals with no location, date or class restrictions.
How to earn points
The points-earning structure on this card is simple. You’ll earn 5 points per dollar on prepaid hotels and car rentals booked directly in the Altitude Rewards Center and 3 points per dollar on all purchases made with the Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay mobile-wallet systems and on all eligible travel purchases. Qualifying mobile-app purchases can be made in a store, in-app or online. Eligible travel purchases include those made directly with airlines, hotels, car rentals, taxicabs, limousines, trains and cruise lines. You’ll earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
But that’s just part of the story, since the points are worth a strong 1.5 cents each — not the 1 cent per point/mile that most loyalty programs offer.
How to redeem points
Points are worth 1.5 cents each (according to TPG’s valuations) toward travel purchases, including those made directly from airlines, hotels, car rental companies, taxis, limousines, trains and cruise lines. When you redeem your points, you’ll receive a statement credit toward your credit card purchases. You also have the choice to redeem your points in the U.S. Bank app in real time.
Which cards compete with the U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve card?
The immediate card that comes to mind is the Chase Sapphire Reserve. With a slightly higher $550 annual fee, this card comes with a $300 travel credit that is just as flexible and can be applied for flights, hotels and even rideshare services and parking fees. Until the end of 2021, this travel credit is also eligible towards gas and groceries if you’re not comfortable traveling just yet.
There’s also the option to use your points at 1.5 cents each for travel booked through the Ultimate Rewards portal. However, where the Sapphire Reserve wins is the ability to transfer your points to 10 airline and three hotel loyalty programs — including high-value options like United MileagePlus and World of Hyatt. Plus, get Priority Pass Select membership with this card — and not just for 12 months.
However, the Sapphire Reserve pales in comparison when it comes to the earning rate. Cardholders will earn 3x on a broad definition of travel and dining and 1x on everything else. The Altitude Reserve’s opportunity to earn 3x on mobile payment purchases casts a wider net for earning bonus points across all types of purchases.
Related: Chase Sapphire Reserve review
Another card with a lower annual fee ($95) is the Capital One Venture Rewards Card. For simplicity sake, you can redeem your Capital One miles at (a lower) 1 cent each for travel purchases on your statement credit. However, you do have the option to transfer your miles to Capital One’s airline and hotel partners for even more value.
The Venture’s rewards rate is truly for those who don’t want to keep up with multiple earning categories, with a flat-rate 2 miles per dollar on all purchases. With this card, you’ll also get a Global Entry/TSA Precheck application credit.
Related: Capital One Venture Rewards review
Little-known facts about the U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve card
- There’s a minimum redemption amount for car rental and hotel awards. In order to redeem your points for a car rental, the rental charge must be at least $250. To use your points for a hotel charge, it must be at least $500. It’s unclear what the rationale is behind this restriction and it isn’t very friendly for weekend and/or budget travelers. However, if you’re close to the minimum at a hotel, you may be able to circumvent this by purchasing a gift card at the hotel to boost your spending above $500 and then using the card later. There’s no minimum for other kinds of travel purchases such as cruises and transit.
- You must be a U.S. Bank customer to apply for this card. You can only apply if you already have an account with U.S. Bank, but they do have free checking and savings accounts (some with monthly minimums).
- This card is great for Costco. Because this card is a Visa and Costco accepts mobile payments, it’s a good card to use there. As with all other mobile-payment system purchases, you’ll earn 3x points, which are worth 4.5% of what you spend. This is double what I earn now with a Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi combo of 1.5% cash back (or 1.5x points) with the Chase Freedom Unlimited that can then be combined with my Chase Sapphire Reserve account where they’re worth 1.5 cents each and book travel reservations directly through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel center.
- You get elite status with the Relais & Châteaux hotel chain. To receive the benefits, you must book it at least 72 hours in advance through the Visa Infinite Concierge and pay for it with your card. You’ll then enjoy perks like complimentary breakfast on stays of up to seven consecutive nights. This benefit is only available at select Relais & Châteaux properties; you can see the list here. This was formerly a benefit of the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
- Get a credit for a black car ride. Another benefit is a one-time $30 credit and 15% off the base rate for GroundLink® Black Car Service. The $30 credit might not be quite enough for a free ride, but it’s certainly valuable, especially in cities where shared ride services don’t operate.
Compared to some competing cards like the Sapphire Reserve, the U.S. Altitude Reserve card has a low profile. Perhaps that’s because it’s only available to existing U.S. Bank customers, and it doesn’t allow you to transfer rewards to airline miles or hotel points. And most people probably don’t realize that its points are worth 1.5 cents each. It’s also easy to be put off by the card’s $400 annual fee — until you realize it also comes with $325 a year in annual travel statement credits.
When you’re able to earn 3x, effectively a 4.5% rate of return, on travel and all mobile-wallet purchases that might not qualify for any other bonus, then you have a strong rate of return. And for trips that are hard to take by redeeming airline miles or hotel points, the U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve can be invaluable.
Additional reporting by Stella Shon.
Featured image by John Gribben for The Points Guy
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