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Announcer: You're listening to the Miles To Go Podcast, the go-to source for travel tips, news, and reviews you can't afford to miss. Now here's your host, travel expert, Ed Pizza.
Ed Pizza: Hey guys. Welcome back to the Miles To Go Podcast. There is a lot going on in the travel world right now. We've got all sorts of new travel restrictions, as well as some pretty valuable new credit card benefits just announced. There are also a handful of tropical destinations where you can now experience a resort bubble while you wait to clear quarantine.
Our guest this week is Clint Henderson, Senior News Editor at The Points Guy, who just got back from a resort bubble in Hawaii. Before we dive into that and travel news, I just need 60 seconds of your time. If you haven't left us a rating and a review, there's a link in the show notes that makes it super easy to do. Those ratings and reviews help us out big time when it comes to attracting new listeners. As you're settling in for this week's show, we'd really appreciate it if you told a friend. Word of mouth is a great way for us to grow the audience.
All right, let's dig into travel news and welcome Clint Henderson back to the show. Hey Clint.
Clint Henderson: Hi guys.
Ed Pizza: How you doing, sir?
Clint Henderson: I'm excellent. How are you?
Ed Pizza: I am doing great. We are going to talk about that awesome Hawaii trip in just a few minutes, but we've got news out this week, earlier this week, about American Express pushing out a whole slew of new limited-time perks for tons of their credit cards.
Clint Henderson: Yeah. You know, I think American Express has been really, really aggressive about keeping customers on cards that maybe people aren't getting to use as often because of the travel restrictions.
This news is excellent. It's a dining credit. So even if you have a no-fee version of American Express, like Hilton card, for example, they're giving you cash back for dining that you're probably already doing at restaurants. So it's anywhere from five to $20, and all you have to do is enroll on the Amex offers page. Almost every travel card they have has some kind of dining credit. It's a pretty good deal, especially because those really lucrative streaming and cell phone credits went away at the end of 2020. So this is sort of giving you a little payback in addition to a PayPal benefit. American Express is being really good about helping you earn some money back for these annual fee cards and even no annual fee cards.
Ed Pizza: Yeah, I agree. When you say it covers a lot of cards, I mean, it covers a lot of cards. You've got the Delta suite of cards, you've got the Hilton suite of cards, you've got the Marriott suite of cards. So there's a whole bunch here. Chances are if you have an Amex card from one of those three co-brand partners, you've got new benefits. I think one of the first things I thought of when I saw this roll out was, "Hey, this is a really explicit indication on American Express's part they believe that we're still in the thick of the pandemic and that people aren't going to be using those robust travel benefits that a lot of these cards have any time in the next six months." Because as a standard across pretty much all these offers, these are for the calendar year 2021. They're monthly credits that you earn each month. Again, I think it's a really good indication that they feel like they need to make a big move for the entire year.
Clint Henderson: Yeah. We were joking at The Points Guy this morning that we almost need spreadsheets to keep up with all these offers. It's pretty crazy. They don't make it easy all the time, but it's really nice that if you know how to use these credits, you can get your money's worth from the annual fee, especially on a card like the Platinum, which is $550 a year. That's a lot of money. So they have to offer something in return for you continuing to be a card owner. Now, I would also point out to your audience that if you call them and say, "Hey, I don't want to pay the annual fee," sometimes they're offering people, either a reduction in the annual fee or points to offset the cost of it.
So there's some other ways to do it, but definitely these offers make me think, "I'm going to keep all my American Express cards this year," because even if I end up only paying $200 for that card in an annual fee, I'm getting a ton of value out of it. It's worth it for me to stay loyal to them because they're staying loyal to me by offering ... $20 a month on restaurants is a pretty good deal. And then combine that with $25 on PayPal purchases, and you're talking about, that adds up. That's 450 over 10 months. Do the math and see if it makes sense for you, but I really appreciate American Express. It also highlights how different it is from Chase. I don't think Chase has been nearly as aggressive or as helpful with some of these credits. So something to watch over this year.
Ed Pizza: Yeah. I feel like its come in waves because you had Chase roll out interesting credits, like the Peloton monthly credits and obviously all of the dining stuff. So I feel like Chase had their wave and now Amex is having their wave. It wouldn't surprise me if there's another Chase wave after this one.
To your point about American Express and annual fees, I've certainly heard a mixed bag of folks who have had instant success at getting an annual fee waived or getting some bonus points for paying the annual fee and others that have just been told, "Sorry, there's no way we can do that." So as Clint says, I definitely think it's worth asking.
You mentioned spreadsheets. Before I got married, I obviously had my whole slew of credit cards, and my wife came into the marriage sort of learning the points and miles game. I used to put stickers, little round colored stickers on her cards, and sometimes they'd have letters on them like a G for gas or something like that. I kind of feel like I now, as I've gotten older and more forgetful, I kind of feel like now I need the stickers on the cards so I have shortcuts for what all the bonus categories are on these cards.
Clint Henderson: No, because even in working at a place like The Points Guy where we know the ins and outs of these, to maximize everything it's complicated and it can be a headache. We were actually talking about the fact that we're lucky that we work at a place like The Points Guy, but a lot of consumers don't know about these things. If you're listening to a podcast like this, you know that even us experts have to keep notes or spreadsheets, or I love your idea of a sticky. I used to do that too, like use this for dining, use this for restaurant credit for this month, but there's going to be so many stickies on some of these cards that you won't be able to keep track that way anymore.
Ed Pizza: Yeah, for sure. Well, from good news we turn to bad news. Things have obviously gotten a bit tougher in the US with recent requirements for negative COVID test to come into the country, and then also some vague answers about potential quarantine coming into the country for both returning US citizens and international travelers in general. But things are starting to ramp up in other parts of the world.
There's two stories out there that we'll link to in the show notes. The first is that the UK has instituted or will institute government supervised quarantine for passengers arriving from high-risk countries. They haven't given a full list of the countries yet, but we're fairly certain it's going to come from a list of 30 countries that you'll see referenced in the story. This isn't a US thing as of yet. We're not one of these countries on the list. It's more South Africa, South America, places like that.
Then Canada followed on a very recently as well. The Canadian one is interesting is that there's more detail so we could see the same things come out in the UK story. But Canada essentially says that if you're eligible to travel into the country, that you'll have to take a test and then pay for a three-day quarantine hotel stay. The reporting that we're seeing is that that hotel stay is in a government-sponsored facility to the tune of about $500 a night. It's not like I can use my points to make that charge go away, at least as far as we know right now. It's a major change in how countries are dealing with international travel.
Clint Henderson: Yeah. I mean, it's pretty strict and costly, and we should put the big caveat on this that Americans are not even allowed into Canada at all. The border's closed still, and it doesn't look like there's any kind of easing of that. What's weird is that the US is not on that sort of banned list of countries, even though we have some of the highest cases in the world, but that's a whole side note.
Yeah. I mean, Canada basically doesn't want people traveling period, and this will certainly discourage any future travel until this goes away. The idea of getting quarantined at a government-run facility is not appealing. I think that's come up in other countries too, where it's like, "Yikes." If it's a resort bubble, that's a whole other thing, but this sounds pretty grim, and you might not even be able to choose your hotel. You can't even get points from a Marriott or whatever.
Ed Pizza: I know. You think about where we are in travel and how many great deals there are out there, I can't imagine the list of hotels that are going to be near a Canadian airport that are commanding a $500 a night rate right now given how little travel there is. So this is a steep price to pay to want to come across the border. As you say, it's pretty restrictive for Americans. Unless you have bonafide business concerns, you're probably not getting across the border. There are some family situations where folks are getting across the border-
Clint Henderson: Or if you're a diplomat, right?
Ed Pizza: Yeah. But I think these are bound to put a damper on international travel for a while. I do wonder, I guess I don't wonder too much, I don't think the US has the appetite for something like this. So I do think that we're not going to see anything nearly as stringent as this, when the US firms up their regulations.
Clint Henderson: Yeah. I think when I see stories like this, though, it makes me less and less willing to travel internationally at all. Even though this is the extreme end of the restrictions, it just makes me wary about going anywhere outside the country still. I've been pretty aggressive with travel, but stories like this kind of freak me out. I think in the United States we should get details on this quarantine any day now. I mean, when it was first announced in an executive order, it's been almost two weeks, and they said in two weeks they're going to have some answers. So I think we'll know sometime soon about the quarantine.
I have a feeling in the United States, it's going to be very lax and sort of, "Do your best." Sort of self policed. That's a lot different from the UK or Canada. The UK, now our UK team is telling us that they're not allowed to go for a walk five miles from their house. I mean, they're really locked down. The United States is, we can't even get people to wear a mask so I'm not sure that we'll get there. But if these new variants keep spreading, we're in a world of hurt.
Ed Pizza: Yeah, it's going to be interesting to see how the next handful of weeks go. We've got one more story coming up that we'll talk a little bit more in terms of severity. But shifting gears for just a second, I tagged the story that, again, it's probably a little bit niche, but it was interesting to me in that American Airlines has been cracking down on what's called hidden city ticketing. This is essentially where you book a flight that has an extra leg on it because it's cheaper, and then you get off before your last flight. So the example would be if you need to go to Dallas, if Los Angeles to Dallas to Austin was a cheaper ticket than just LA-Dallas, you could book LA, Dallas, Austin, and then just not get on the second flight.
This isn't illegal, but the airlines have always frowned on the practice, and American's done some pretty creative stuff over the years, including meeting folks that they felt were abusing this policy at the gate and escorting them to their next flight. This one struck me as odd right now, Clint, because ticket prices are at historic lows. I guess I just don't know how many people are actually even using hidden ticketing right now and why this would be a big concern right now.
Clint Henderson: It just is weird. I think it speaks to something bigger at American Airlines, which is what they're prioritizing. It seems like there are bigger fish to fry right now for them then hidden city ticketing. It's a similar thing too. They've been cracking down on churning on people opening multiple American Airlines credit cards, which I understand. If they can save a million dollars a year by cracking down on these things, it's understandable. But there's just so much out there. They're already having trouble keeping customers and keeping people flying. It just seems like odd timing, like you said.
Ed Pizza: It does seem like odd timing. As we bounce back to the world of COVID pandemic and security, there's also stories out there now that the US is considering the possibility of required COVID testing for flights within the domestic US. This one to me feels like it would be a pretty big bridge to cross.
Clint Henderson: Well, it would devastate further the airline industry, for sure. Sometimes I think these things get floated as sort of trial balloons, and they're sort of seeing what the reaction would be, and the reaction was pretty negative, especially from the travel industry obviously. I just don't see logistically how they could get this to happen. I mean, there's a lot of places in the country you can't even get a COVID test within three days for travel. So to require testing for a domestic flight ... Is that state to state, or is that even within states like LA to San Francisco? Who's checking this, who's enforcing it? Are you adding a whole other layer of bureaucracy to airlines?
I flew to Hawaii. The gate agent asked me if I had tested, but didn't ask to see anything. It's like, how is this enforced? Who's paying to enforce this? I'm not sure that the airlines could survive something like this right now.
Ed Pizza: Yeah, I'm not sure either. It would definitely be a pretty big kick. I do think it's unlikely that something like this makes it through, but it is interesting to see the way they're thinking about things. I think ultimately if they're doing the work now to consider things like this, if the pandemic did get worse, if these variants from say places like South Africa cause a huge ramp up in cases, thankfully at least hopefully they'll have done some of this work and they could put plans like this in place more quickly if they needed to.
Clint Henderson: Yeah. I think that's so key. If these variants turn out to be deadlier, and they are obviously spreading more easily, if it gets out of control, then we're in a whole new other world that we'll have to be considering a lot of things. But I'm hoping that the federal government focuses their energy and time on rolling out vaccinations as opposed to imposing new burdens on the airlines.
Ed Pizza: Yeah, I guess we'll see. We're going to end travel news with a little bit of a positive note for family travelers. It looks like Hyatt Residence Clubs, which are essentially Hyatt's timeshare brand, is getting a pretty sizeable increase. For folks who aren't aware, Hyatt Residence Clubs can represent phenomenal value for families. These are multiple room timeshare units in popular vacation destinations that you can use your points for. You've got properties in Key West and you've got properties in Lake Tahoe, ski destinations, sun destinations, and they're acquiring eight new properties.
Well, Marriott Vacation Club in an odd way is acquiring these properties, but that's owned by a third-party company. These new resorts, man, some of these look really good and they add some interesting destinations to the mix. I've never been to Branson, Missouri, which is a place that has been on my radar for a while, and one of the properties is there. There are a couple of ski resorts. There's a property down in the Baja Peninsula that looks dynamite, and I'm pretty geeked up to see this fold into the mix.
Clint Henderson: Yeah, I'm excited. It goes with Hyatt's expansion in general. One of the criticisms of Hyatt has been that there's not enough properties. I think anything that helps on that front is good news. I'm also curious to see ... One of my favorite hacks is to use Delta Vacations or American Airlines vacations. When you combine flights and hotels, you get savings up to 40%. I'm curious to see if these properties will be included in those kind of deals. That could save families or individuals a lot of money too.
Ed Pizza: Yeah, I agree. All right. So before we take a quick break, if you have a question that you think we can help answer here on the Miles To Go podcast, you can always shoot us an email. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org and you can always find me hanging out on social media for those questions, all @pizzainmotion, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
As you guys heard at the top of the show, the folks behind the new Wyndham Rewards Earner credit cards are sponsoring the show this week. I have my eye on the Wyndham Rewards Earner Business card. As a small business owner, I can earn five miles per dollar on all of my utility bills, which is a pretty unique category for credit cards, along with other expenses like marketing. That card also comes with top tier Diamond status in the Wyndham Rewards program. Look for more details in the show notes, including an opportunity to win Wyndham Rewards Diamond status and 15,000 Wyndham Rewards points. Now, back to the show.
Back on the Miles To Go Podcast. If you guys weren't here for the top of the show, we've got Clint Henderson on with us, Senior News Editor from The Points Guy, who took what to me is one of the most interesting trips I've heard of any of my friends traveling right now. There are certain places, Hawaii being one of them, where you can use testing and a quarantine bubble to get somewhere exotic. That's pretty much exactly what you ended up doing, right Clint?
Clint Henderson: Yeah, it was a pretty incredible trip. It came together very last minute. As you might know, Hawaii has had some ups and downs with how they've rolled out testing requirements, and it's been different for each island. One of the most inaccessible islands has been Kauai. Very last minute they rolled out these resort bubbles. They had tried to do it back last year, late last year, and it ended up not getting approved. But it was finally approved so we were some of the first journalists to actually go and try it out. I flew from Miami to Los Angeles. I got a PCR rapid test in LAX. LAX has some amazing resources now for testing. I literally had the results four hours later, and that's a full nasal swab PCR test. I stayed the night at LAX, and the next morning I flew to Kauai. It's quite an elaborate process, which we'll get to I'm imagining.
But essentially you have to go to one of seven resorts, and I think they're expanding this now. I think it's going to be actually more than seven eventually. But you have to go to one of these resorts. You stay there for 72 hours, no more, no less, before you get another test. And then if you test negative again, then you can leave the resort bubble, and you can roam about the island, the entire island of Kauai. So it was amazing. It's also amazing that Kauai is completely empty right now. There's a lot of additional costs involved, but how much would you pay for an entire island in Hawaii to yourself? So you have to weigh that out.
Ed Pizza: Yeah. I think for folks that may not have read your story on this, and we're going to obviously going to link to that in the show notes, help folks understand what the heck is a resort bubble?
Clint Henderson: A resort bubble is basically a shorter quarantine in exchange for staying on one resort's property. So it sounds like you're confined to your room, at least that's how I thought of it before I went. But actually it's amazing because at a place like Timbers Kauai, they have 450 acres. So it's not like you have to stay in your room the whole time. There's plenty of activities you can do on resort property.
You do have to wear a monitoring bracelet, and that adds to the cost too. So essentially what you have on is a tracker. So it's sort of, they have a geo-fence around where you're allowed to roam. So obviously at Timbers, it's a huge amount of space, 450 acres. At a place like Marriott, it's a little more restrictive. I mean, the Marriott is a huge property. It's literally next door to Timbers. They are in talks, Marriott and Timbers are in talks with the state of Hawaii to make their bubble one, so it would essentially give all the people that go to the Marriott access to the 450 acres of Timbers, including an 18-hole golf course. But that's not in place just yet.
So you're essentially wearing a bracelet, whether that's at the Marriott or at Timbers or at Diamond resorts. So you go there, you check in, you present them with your negative COVID test taken within 72 hours. They want to see that at check-in. Nobody else really asked for it strangely, but they want to see that at check-in. At that point, they give you what's sort of like, it's sort of like an iwatch or a fitness tracker device. It's just a plastic band, and you install this thing called the Aqua app and that serves as sort of a tracking device and they make sure you haven't violated quarantine.
Ed Pizza: How well did the device work? Did you ever get notifications? I know you talked a little bit about this in your story, but did it accurately track you?
Clint Henderson: It did. I think one of the issues that I ran into with Timbers was it's so huge that I think the device sometimes has trouble keeping up. It's an app on your phone so you have to have your phone with you at all times. I kept getting notifications that scared the heck out of me like, "You're outside the zone. We can't communicate with you. Where are you?" I would get a ton of notifications, but I talked to the front desk a couple of times and they were like, "No, no, no, don't worry. It still shows you green." So I think when it gets out of range of cell towers or your phone, it starts to panic and send you notifications.
But apparently it's being tracked by the Loss Prevention Team, which I think is funny. So they are keeping an eye on you, Security is, essentially making sure you don't break quarantine. But like I said, you have plenty of room to roam. I'm a nervous person by nature so I was terrified when I got notifications from the Aqua app, but it ended up being fine. I think I was worried for nothing basically.
Ed Pizza: All right. So, you had testing at the airport and then you had the bracelet and then you had testing at your resort bubble. How much extra did all of that cost you?
Clint Henderson: The test, the rapid test PCR test at LAX was $125. So, that's added to your cost. Then you have the bracelet costs and that ranges ... I did some calling around to the other resort bubble properties ... The bracelet itself, there's an upcharge for. At Timbers, it's included in the room charge for now, but I have a feeling that's going to change. I think eventually there will be a fee for that, but you have to remember Timbers is super expensive. It would be a good amenity if they included it. Other properties, it ranges from $75 to $125. That's a one-time charge so it's not a per day charge.
So 125 for the test in LAX, say, depending on which airport you're leaving from, that could run you as much as 200 for last-minute testing. But if you get it done in advance, it can be cheaper obviously.
Then you're talking the resort bubble quarantine bracelet, which could be anywhere from 75, say to 125. And then you have to get tested on the third day. This is where it can get expensive. I ended up paying $200 for a clinic essentially to come to the hotel and do another test on the third day. Fortunately, that came out negative. I think it's going to be around $200 in most instances. I think the Marriott has certain hours of availability, seven days a week, like from 8:00 AM to 9:00 AM and I think from 5:00 to 6:00 PM where you can go and they have a doctor or a practitioner come to the resort during those hours. I think it's 125. But I heard a horror story of someone paying 800. But I think that's for rich people who have all the money in the world and want to get tested when they want to get tested and have somebody come, like a private doctor, come to the resort and test them in their room.
So you've got to price ... I mean, if you're a family of four, these costs can quickly add up. You're talking say at least 350 per person to participate in this. But as the manager of the Timbers property told me, "You're getting this incredible experience on an island that probably never again in our lifetimes will be this empty. So how much would you pay to have Kauai to yourself?"
Ed Pizza: No, I think that's a really good point that there's not that many people there. I think that the costs do cut both ways. I mean, certainly, it's pricey for an individual and multiply that by four for my family, and now you've got me spending over $1,000 just on testing to get to our vacation. But it sounds like from your story that you had not only an island pretty empty, but it seemed like even in the resort bubble, you had a lot of stuff that you could do in the resort bubble.
Clint Henderson: Yes, absolutely. So at Timbers, for example, there was kayaking. You're allowed to use the pool. You're allowed to use the restaurant on property, which is great, Hualani's. There are cooking classes, you can go golfing, you can go swimming, you can take long walks, you can do little tours of the organic garden. Part of this resort used to be a second golf course, and now they've turned it into an organic garden, which is pretty amazing.
They've got all kinds of activities on the property. They did a chocolate tasting class. There was also one day where they brought people in from the local community to support them and help them sell some of their Hawaiian-made goods. They had a whole little market set up in the hotel lobby so people could shop. When I imagined a quarantine at a resort, I imagined being stuck in my room, and it's not how it is at all.
Ed Pizza: Yeah, it doesn't sound like it. It sounds like things were pretty open for that three days while you were getting that second test. After you were done at Timbers, you actually checked into the Marriott. What was that process like at that point? How did they verify that you had cleared quarantine and all that stuff?
Clint Henderson: On the third day after you get your test and just to clear this up because a lot of people apparently ask them if they can do it right before the 72 hours are up or a few hours before ... It has to be 72 hours from the time you check in at the first property. So in my case, it was 73 hours in total before I got my test results, and the test results are instant. Someone came to my room and tested me, and then I got the results immediately. They have a piece of paper, essentially a receipt. You need to have that copy and make sure you have the paperwork. At that point, you show that to the resort you're staying at. In my case, I showed that to the front desk, they checked me out, and then I went over to the Marriott and they wanted to see that paperwork.
At that point, you don't have to wear a bracelet any anymore. The bracelet has been cut off. At Timbers, they gave me a little Bedazzler kit so I was able to Bedazzle my thing, and you get to keep it as a souvenir. Anyway, so you show that paperwork to the new resort, and at that point you're free from the quarantine bubble, so you're not limited to stay on the property.
In fact, the Marriott is another huge property. You can use the pools. The restaurant you cannot eat in person at while you're in the quarantine bubble, but you can get food there to take out. I would also add that you can get food delivered to your hotel if you're in the bubble. People shouldn't worry about finding food. It's not a huge issue.
In any case, at the Marriott, they have whole sections of the resort sort of roped off for people with the bracelet on. They have their own pool, they have their own part of the lounge chairs section to use. I think that's more for people who aren't in a bubble to feel safe, but it's plenty of room to roam.
Ed Pizza: Interesting stuff, man. It's a lot of moving pieces, but if it makes a trip to Hawaii possible, it's certainly an interesting option for folks to consider.
Clint Henderson: Yeah. I would just add one other thing, which is prices for flights and hotels in Hawaii right now are really cheap. Do the math. But I don't remember seeing flights as inexpensive as they are right now to Hawaii in general. I also saw that the Hilton, which is not a full-service property in Kauai is participating in the Hawaii bubble, and room rates were 166 a night, which is really good. I mean, obviously you can do super high end like Timbers, or you can do mid-tier points hotels. The Marriott was, I think, 225 a night. Now there's usually a resort fee charged as well, but you've got to do the math in your head. It's expensive to do these tests and pay for the quarantine bracelet, et cetera. But at the same time you're getting the island to yourself and rates are really good right now. So it makes sense for more people than I think imagine.
Ed Pizza: Awesome. Well, thanks for hanging out and talking through that with us, man. It's definitely one of the more interesting trips I've heard about during pandemic times. When you're not Bedazzling in resort bubbles in Hawaii or hanging out with me on the podcast, tell folks where they can track you down.
Clint Henderson: I'm most active on Twitter and that's @ClintPHenderson.
Ed Pizza: Awesome. Well, Clint, thanks so much for being on the show with us. Hopefully we'll have you back on again soon to go over some more really interesting travels.
Clint Henderson: I love it. Good to talk to you.
Ed Pizza: We will be right back to wrap up the show on the Miles To Go Podcast.
That's a full wrap on this week's episode. You can find links to everything we discussed today in the show notes. A big thanks to all of you for tuning into this week's show. If any of you have questions or suggestions for a future show, you can drop me an email at email@example.com or hit me up on social media, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, all @pizzainmotion. And you can find me blogging daily at pizzainmotion.com. Until we upload again, we've got Miles To Go.
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