Competition in the premium travel rewards card segment continues to heat up. Chase and Amex have been going at it lately with Chase introducing the Sapphire Reserve card and Amex making enhancements to both the personal and business versions of the Platinum card. Now we have a new entrant into the fray: the Altitude Reserve card from US Bank.
U.S Bank has long been a second-tier issuer in the travel rewards card market. While they don’t have a reward currency that can be transferred to partners like Chase, Amex, and Citi, they do have a solid offering with their Flexperks program, as well as some decent co-branded cards like those with Korean Airlines. Their entry into the premium card market shows they may be looking to compete with the big banks at a higher level.
Summary of Key Features
- Sign up bonus: 50,000 points after $4,500 spend in 90 days
- $400 annual fee
- $325 in travel credits per card member year
- Points are worth 1.5 cents when redeemed for travel
- Four Priority Pass lounge visits per year
- 12 complimentary Gogo in-flight wi-fi passes per year
- An application fee credit for TSA Precheck or Global Entry
- Visa Infinite card
- Engraved stainless steel card
How to Sign Up
This card is currently only available to current US Bank members. If you have only recently become a US Bank member and plan to apply online, it is best to wait at least 35 days to make sure your relationship will be recognized automatically. Also, only personal accounts currently count toward automatic approval. However, many people have had better luck by applying in-branch. Bankers are able to make sure your application gets considered even if you only have a business account relationship. Also, if you recently opened another account in order to establish a relationship, they can expedite the process so you don’t have to wait 35 days.
Earning and Burning Points
The Altitude Reserve card has two bonus categories:
- 3 points per dollar on travel purchases
- 3 points per dollar on mobile wallet purchases
- 1 point per dollar on all other spend
The mobile wallet bonus category is arguably the best feature of this card and one of the most unique in the entire travel rewards credit card industry. This allows cardholders to essentially create their own bonus categories by paying with a mobile wallet app anywhere that accepts this form of payment. Popular mobile wallets include Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay.
Points can be redeemed at a fixed rate of 1.5 cents each when redeemed for travel. This makes for an incredible fixed return of 4.5 cents on bonus category spend. If you have a Flexperks account, you may transfer your points from Flexperks to your Altitude Reserve account, but not the other way around. This is mostly useful for hotel redemptions since they are not worth as much as airfare redemptions when redeeming Flexperks. Points can also be redeemed for cash at a fixed rate of one cent per point.
Maximizing the Mobile Wallet Bonus Category
Samsung Pay uses a different technology than most mobile wallets called Magnetic Secure Transmission (MST), formerly known as LoopPay. US Bank representatives have confirmed that these transactions will earn 3x points. The reason this is such great news is that not all retailers accept mobile payments, but MST technology essentially mimics the swiping of a physical card, allowing you to utilize this feature even at merchants which don’t accept mobile payments. For heavy spenders who don’t have a Samsung phone, it may be worth picking up a cheap Samsung solely for the purpose of conducting mobile payments with your Altitude Reserve card. The 3x earning could add up quickly and easily offset the initial outlay.
Positives and Negatives of the Altitude Reserve’s Cost and Benefits
The annual fee for this card is $400, but you get $325 in travel credits per year. The travel credits are supposed to post automatically and US Bank has a fairly broad definition of travel for this purpose: “airlines, hotels, car rental companies, taxis, limousines, passenger trains and cruise lines.” If you are someone who would normally have at least $325 in out of pocket travel expenses, then the net cost of holding the card is $75 per year. This compares favorably to the Chase Sapphire Reserve card which as a $450 annual fee and $300 annual travel credit, as well as the Amex Platinum card which has a $550 annual fee along with a $200 airline fee credit and $200 worth of annual Uber credits.
The 50,000 point sign up bonus is worth $750 when redeemed for travel expenses. The application fee credit for TSA Precheck or Global Entry is worth $85 or $100 dollars depending on which program you use it for. In addition, the 12 Gogo in-flight wi-fi passes you receive each year may be worth the remaining $75 if you often need to pay for internet on your flights. By comparison, an all-day Gogo pass costs $19 when purchased directly.
The airport lounge access benefit is one of the stingiest in the premium card market. You receive four complimentary visits to Priority Pass lounges per year, which includes access for one guest. After the 4th visit, it will cost $27 per person. This is a far less valuable benefit than the lounge access available on either the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Amex Platinum card, both of which offer an unlimited number of visits to various lounges. Those who travel frequently and don’t have access to lounges via other means may find this benefit insufficient to meet their lounge access needs.
The other glaring negative of this card is that US Bank has no transfer partners. Therefore, it is not going to be useful for aspirational awards which can be achieved with more flexible currencies such as Chase Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership rewards. Redemption values are capped at a fixed 1.5 cents per point, while values of 3 cents per mile or more are possible when making airline award bookings. A fixed value of 1.5 cents is a nice floor value for point redemptions, and as a fixed-value currency you don’t have to worry about finding award availability. However, many travelers may not want to carry more than one $400+ annual fee card and therefore opt for an alternative which offers the possibility of achieving outsized redemption values.