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Talking Travel Rewards Credit Cards with Astronauts Mark and Scott Kelly

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If you had a chance to meet two of the world’s most famous astronauts, what would you talk about? On the Thursday before the Super Bowl last month, I was invited to attend the NFL Player’s Association VIP party at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. Among the hundreds of attendees were dozens of current and former players, who easily stood out because of their size.

Despite being a football fan, it’s difficult to recognize all but the most prominent players, who I usually only glimpse behind their helmet and face mask. However, two gentlemen that entered the room immediately caught my attention.

They were astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly. Mark was engaged in a conversation with another guest, and I saw Scott looking a little bored, so I tried to get up the courage to introduce myself. If these former Naval aviators and space shuttle astronauts could take the risks they did, I figured that I could walk over and say hello.

Introducing myself as a journalist that covers the credit cards and travel rewards, I was surprised to get their attention. As a commercially-rated pilot, with an intense interest in the space program and its history, I would have loved to spend the evening talking about their careers as well as their time spent on the Russian Mir Space Station and the International Space Station.

But to my surprise, they just wanted to talk to me about credit cards and travel rewards. It turns out that these two famous former astronauts now spend their time traveling around the world as public speakers. Both of them eagerly opened up their wallets to show me which credit cards they carried, in order to receive reassurance from this self-proclaimed credit card expert that they were indeed carrying the best cards for their mission.

It turns out that their credit card of choice is the Chase United MileagePlus® Club Card from Chase. It offers 1.5 miles per dollar spent on all purchases, and double miles for United purchases. And since Houston is the home to the NASA’s Johnson Space Center, the astronaut training center, and mission control, the Kelly brothers and most astronauts live there. Furthermore, United has a major hub in Houston, so it makes sense that they would fly United most often. They also appreciated the perks that the United Club card offers, including a United Club lounge membership, two free checked bags, and priority service at check-in, boarding, and even baggage delivery.

Despite their wealth of frequent flyer miles, they peppered me with questions about how they could earn more. I suggested that they get the new Chase Sapphire Reserve®, which offers 3x points on all dining and travel purchases.

Points are earned in the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, which allows you to transfer your rewards to airline miles with seven different frequent flyer programs, or points with four different hotel programs. I also pointed out that The Platinum Card® from American Express would offer them access to the Centurion Club in Houston, which is much nicer than the United Club.

Centurion Lounge in Houston
The Centurion Lounge in Houston

The Kelly brothers admitted that they hardly needed the miles, as they travel over 400,000 miles each year as part of their careers as public speakers. When you travel that much, you already earn a lot of miles. That, and they’re astronauts who have logged millions of miles in space. They’ve seen every part of the earth, from orbit, thousands of times. Scott Kelly spent a year on the International Space Station including 5,440 orbits around the earth. But who doesn’t like to earn more miles for their spending?

Not wanting to bore them to death with more credit card stories, I gave both of them my business cards and offered to help them at any time if they had any questions about credit cards or award travel. It’s not everyday that you meet a couple of astronauts, and I never expected that they would find my career almost as interesting as I find theirs.

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