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How I Efficiently/Unwisely Spent My Sign-up Bonus from US Bank Altitude Reserve Card

A few months ago I wrote about my shock at getting approved for US Bank Altitude Reserve card. It was totally unexpected and I seriously felt like I hit the lottery. Just an expression because I don’t gamble and you shouldn’t either.

Anyway, it’s not a card you hear about often these days (you guessed it, it doesn’t pay commission). But make no mistake about it, the offer is an excellent deal for many people. As long as you can afford to prepay $400 annual fee, you’ll make out like a bandit.

Image courtesy of freedooom at

The card now pays us commission if you apply through the site. (You have to have an existing relationship with US Bank in order to apply. An eligible U.S. Bank account relationship is defined as: Checking or Savings account, Certificate of Deposit, Mortgage, Home Equity Loan, Home Equity Line of Credit, Auto/Boat/RV Loan, Personal Loans and Lines, Private Banking account or Consumer Credit Card issued by U.S. Bank.)

If you redeem points toward travel, you’ll get $1075 in value in exchange for paying $400, or potential $675 in profit. Of course, I’m assuming you would pay cash otherwise. You’ll do even better if you take advantage of $100 credit towards Global Entry, as well as four complimentary Priority Pass airline lounge entries (for you and one guest). In short, for savvy miles and points enthusiasts, the bonus is a no-brainer. For frequent travelers, it may be worth it to keep it long-term for 3X points it gives on travel purchases.

The bonus is not as versatile as the one on Chase Sapphire Preferred and other UR-currency earning cards. Mainly it’s because the points don’t transfer to airline or hotel programs. But if you are the type of person who usually books revenue travel, the offer on US Bank Altitude Reserve card is nothing to sneeze at. To be clear, I still think that newbies should focus on Chase UR-earning cards, if at all possible. But if you are a grizzled hobby “vet” like me, definitely take a look at US Bank Altitude Reserve card.

I actually applied in my husband’s name not too long ago, but unfortunately, he got denied. I do plan to try again in a month or so. The reason? The bonus would mostly cover my inter-island tickets in Tahiti. I checked, and unlike Merrill+ portal, US Bank travel center has Air Tahiti flights loaded in the system. Those cost $500 each, an insane amount of money for a 40-minute flight. That’s what happens when you have a monopoly. Come on, Ryanair, how about adding some French Polynesia flights?

Anyway, I really would like to get those flights covered if at all possible because sadly, I ran out of options with other banks. And I’ve already spent my bonus from US Bank Altitude Reserve card. Here is how:

1) Two airline tickets for my in-laws from Queenstown, New Zealand to Melbourne, Australia (32k points total)

I could probably wait and see if those would come down in price, but I just wanted to get it over with. I’ve decided to hang on to my Avianca miles, just in case. Once I paid all the fees associated with award tickets, I felt it would be better to use points from Altitude Reserve card instead.

2) 3-day minivan rental in Newark airport (16k points)

This one seriously hurts. So, I have been keeping an eye on car rental prices for my dates, and they were hovering around $250 or more. I set up an alert on Autoslash, and nothing. So, I decided to go ahead and redeem points from US Bank Altitude Reserve card. I burned 16k points to lock in a rental that cost $240 all-in. I was able to put my mother-in-law as a primary driver.

The car rental reservation would be non-refundable and non-changeable. This gave me pause, but we are going on a trip as far as I know. Plus, like I said, I was concerned that the prices would go up. Well. I redeemed the points and two things happened. Just few days later I got a notification from Spirit that our flights have changed. We would be arriving to Newark airport two hours later than originally scheduled. Of course, I made the reservation based on original time.

I went ahead and called Budget and the rep said it will be fine. She said their unofficial policy is to hold the reservation for 14 hours after the stated time of pick-up. Whether it’s true or not, I have no idea, but I will soon find out. I actually tried to call the car rental office in Newark, and nobody picks up the phone there. Ever. Not a good sign.

But wait, there is more! Few days later I got a notification from Autoslash that the price of minivan rental for my dates has gone down. By how much? About $100. And the reservation would require no prepayment. So, I ended up spending 16k points on $140 car rental, getting less than one cent per point in the process.

It was a huge blunder on my part, but you win some, you lose some in this hobby. It’s done and I have to learn from this mistake. I almost never prepay car rentals for this very reason.

3) One ticket from Orlando to Los Angeles on American Airlines (11,200 points)

We are flying to Tahiti from LAX, so I had to book a separate flight from Florida. I ended up redeeming Alaska miles for one award ticket on American and needed to buy a second one. I had 9,500 points left on my Altitude Reserve card, but the flight was running at $167 or 11,200 points.

Unlike Chase or Citi, with US Bank you can’t copay with cash when you are short on points for your first airline ticket. It has to be covered completely, though you can use credit card for your subsequent ones. What to do? Well, I could wait and see if the price would come down. But I hate the idea of uncertainty, especially since one ticket is already booked.

I called US Bank and was told that I could buy a minimum of 3,000 points for $90. Nope, that would be completely pointless. So, I did what every self-respecting travel hacker would do. I went begging on Twitter to see if someone would spare 1,700 points. Don’t worry, it would be a “one hand washes the other” type arrangement. I’m not a freeloader unless I’m dealing with banks, aka faceless entity.

You see, US Bank lets you transfer points from Flexperks and Altitude Reserve cards to anyone for free. But you are required to provide a credit card number of that person. So, obviously, you only want to deal with someone you know.  Fortunately, a fellow blogger has responded and was happy to help. I won’t name names because I haven’t asked permission to share those details.

My ticket was booked at last, and now I only have 4 points left.

Bottom line

Was I efficient? Yes. Am I proud of all of my redemptions? Nope. In hindsight, the car rental thing was just an atrocious use of points. But I’m still saving cash, so I have to look at it as “glass half full.” And honestly, I never thought US Bank would approve me in the first place, so it’s a windfall no matter how you look at it. So often we focus on fails, we forget to stop and Just. Be. Grateful. I mean, I saved a lot of money on purchases I was planning to make anyway. How can I be upset, right?

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Author: Leana

Leana is the owner and founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.

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2 thoughts on “How I Efficiently/Unwisely Spent My Sign-up Bonus from US Bank Altitude Reserve Card

  1. Pingback: My Latest Round of Credit Card Applications: Triple Fail and One Win - Miles For Family

  2. Pingback: How a Family of Four Can (Mostly) Replicate Our Trip to Tahiti, New Zealand and Australia - Miles For Family

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