Credit Card Review: Chase Freedom Unlimited

Credit Card Review: Chase Freedom Unlimited

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Hidden behind a shiny plastic design and a bunch of advertising focusing on “cash back,” the Chase Freedom Unlimited packs a mighty punch. At first glance it may seem like a fairly tame credit card — small sign-up bonus, average cash back rate, no bonus categories — but there’s a lot more to it when you dive under the hood. In fact, not only does the Freedom Unlimited consistently stay near the top of my wallet, but it’s also my first recommendation to people just starting to dip their toe into the world of travel rewards. So let’s take a look at what makes this card so deceptively great.

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Who Is This Card For?

If you’re new to points and miles, the Chase Freedom Unlimited can be an amazing card to start with. Not only is it relatively easy to get approved for, but it can help you build a relationship with Chase so you can later get some of the issuer’s more valuable cards, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve. The Freedom Unlimited has no annual fee, so it’s a card you can keep open for many years without paying a penny for it, and the rewards you earn with the card never expire so long as you keep it open. This card is also great for big spenders, thanks to an unlimited 1.5x return on all purchases.

Keep in mind the Freedom Unlimited is subject to Chase’s 5/24 rule, which means the bank will automatically reject applicants who’ve opened five or more cards in the last 24 months.

Sign-Up Bonus

The current sign-up bonus on the Chase Freedom Unlimited is $150 after spending $500 in the first 3 months you have the card. There’s also an additional $25 bonus available if you add an authorized user and have them make a purchase within the first 3 months.

That may not sound like the most impressive sign-up bonus in the world, but the thing to keep in mind is that with the Freedom Unlimited, all your cash back is awarded to you in the form of Chase Ultimate Rewards points. So the card’s $150 sign-up bonus will actually arrive in your account as 15,000 points, which you can then choose to redeem for cash back at a rate of 1 cent per point to get the exact $150 advertised if you wish. But you can get a massively higher value out of those points by combining them with other Ultimate Rewards cards for top-notch travel redemptions. More on that in a moment.

Earning

With the Chase Freedom Unlimited, there’s no keeping track of bonus categories, watching your spend or worrying whether certain merchants code the way you’d expect them to. The card earns a flat 1.5% cash back on all purchases — again, in the form of 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent — with no limits or caps. For a straight-up cash back card, 1.5% isn’t bad, but it also isn’t great. Frankly, if your only interest in a credit card is earning cash back, you’ll do better with a Citi Double Cash Card, which offers a higher 2% cash back on all purchases.

But if you’re looking to turn your credit card rewards into more than just cash in your pocket, the magic in the Freedom Unlimited appears when it comes time to redeem those rewards you’ve earned…

Redeeming

The key to maximizing the Chase Freedom Unlimited comes from the fact that you earn your rewards on this card in the form of points. You can cash out those points for cash back any time you want, but… if you also have one of three other Chase cards — the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Ink Business Preferred — you can combine your points across your cards and turn them into full fledged transferable Ultimate Rewards points.


Eventually you’ll want to combine the Chase Freedom Unlimited with one of these other three Ultimate Rewards cards to unlock top-notch rewards.

This opens up a ton of new redemption options. The first is to use your points to book travel through the Chase travel portal at a rate of 1.5 cents per point if you have the Sapphire Reserve, or 1.25 cents per point with either of the other two cards. In either case, you’re already getting more value per point than the 1 cent each you’d get by redeeming them for cash back. But then there’s another possibility, because by transferring your points to Chase’s amazing airline and hotel partners, you’ll open up ultra-high end redemptions that would be almost impossible to get otherwise, such as Lufthansa first class flights to Europe or even Singapore Suites to Asia.

The ability to get these sort of premium cabin redemptions is why TPG values Ultimate Rewards points at 2.1 cents each and also why the Chase Freedom Unlimited is a key part of both the Chase trifecta and the Chase quartet of credit cards, making them two of the most powerful combinations of cards you can have in your wallet. But even just combining the Freedom Unlimited with the Sapphire Reserve will vastly improve your effective return on this card. In that case, you’ll earn 1.5x points for all spending on the Freedom Unlimited and redeem those points at a minimum rate of 1.5 cents each with the CSR at the Chase travel portal, thereby guaranteeing yourself an effective 2.25% return (1.5 points per dollar multiplied by 1.5 cents per point is 2.25 cents per dollar).

Which Cards Compete With the Freedom Unlimited?

There are two cards that give the Chase Freedom Unlimited a run for its money by also offering a way to earn valuable transferable points without paying an annual fee. The first is the Freedom Unlimited’s little brother, the Chase Freedom, which offers an identical sign-up bonus to the Freedom Unlimited.

(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)

The only difference between the two cards is the earning structure — the Chase Freedom earns 5% cash back on your first $1,500 in purchases in rotating categories that change every quarter (again, the cash back comes as 5x Ultimate Rewards points). While 5x is certainly better than 1.5x, the $1,500 cap and ever changing categories can make it tough to fully maximize the Freedom’s benefits. You’ll have to look at your own spending patterns to see whether the Freedom or the Freedom Unlimited makes more sense for you.

The other obvious competitor is the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express. This no annual fee card offers a 10,000-point welcome bonus after spending $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months, and earns 2x on your first $6,000 in grocery purchases each year. One major advantage that the EveryDay card has over the Freedom Unlimited is that you can transfer points from the EveryDay card to American Express’ airline and hotel partners without needing to have any other Amex cards. But TPG values Amex Membership Rewards points at 1.9 cents each, which is solid but slightly lower than the value of Chase points, so you’re getting a little less per point with this card. The other unique benefit of the EveryDay card is that you’ll earn a 20% bonus on your points after making 20 purchases in a billing cycle, but that still falls short of the flat 1.5x rate that the Freedom Unlimited earns.

Bottom Line

Premium cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve offer an incredible amount of value, but it takes pages and pages to describe all the perks and bonuses and benefits and redemptions options. That’s definitely not a complaint, but there’s something to be said for simplicity. The Chase Freedom Unlimited is a great card for everyday, non-bonus spend, and can provide incredible value when paired with a premium Chase card. So if you’re just starting out with credit cards and want to get going quickly by building up valuable travel points, the Freedom Unlimited is a card that should probably be high on your list.

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May 26, 2018 at 10:17PM

Tip: Get Half-Off Your Caffeine Fix at a Capital One Cafe

Tip: Get Half-Off Your Caffeine Fix at a Capital One Cafe

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Did you know there’s a place you can get half-off your caffeine fix just for having a Capital One checking, savings or credit card account? They’re called Capital One Cafes, and there’s not just one but (currently) 29 locations in the United States.

I hadn’t heard of this concept myself until I stumbled across one in Austin, Texas, this week at the iconic corner of 6th Street and Congress — across the street from a Starbucks. Intrigued, I went in.

It turns out the name is pretty self-descriptive: it’s a combination of a Capital One bank and a cafe. Inside are a few ATMs for withdrawing cash and depositing checks as well as a few Capital One representatives on-hand for questions.

If you’re just there for coffee or tea, there’s a fully-functional Peet’s Coffee inside with a range of caffeinated (and decaffeinated) products. If you “use your Capital One credit or debit card,” you’ll get half-off any beverage. (I didn’t test my luck by trying to get a discount on more than one drink.)

These cafes also host happy hours, which vary from location to location. At the time I visited, the Downtown Austin location was offering “eco happy hour” all day Mondays and Fridays: Anyone who brings in their own coffee mug gets it filled with drip coffee or tea for free. Other locations have offered free drinks for Capital One account holders and half-off for everyone else. Taco Tuesdays seem to be a popular offering at many locations.

Locations can be found in California (5 locations); Colorado (2); Florida (4); Chicago, Illinois (2); Massachusetts (9, including 4 in Boston); St. Cloud, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Austin, Texas (2); Richmond, Virginia; and Seattle, Washington (2).

As I dug deeper, I found these cafes go well beyond just a coffee shop with some ATMs. In the back, there’s a glass meeting room. Turns out this 10-seat room can be reserved for free by registered nonprofit organizations — whether they’re a Capital One customer or not.

But that’s not the only community service. Capital One also employs money coaches to serve the community at this location and in 23 other cities. Again, no Capital One account required. And no, the role of these coaches isn’t just to push Capital One products. The coach I spoke with at this Austin location noted that she isn’t allowed to provide specific financial advice, but instead she uses visual tools and exercises to help people figure out their financial goals and priorities. These sessions can be done as part of group sessions or individually as singles or couples.

I’m really impressed by this Capital One Cafe concept. With more and more financial transactions happening digitally, these locations are an innovative way for Capital One to continue to connect with customers in person — not to mention making use of bank locations that are becoming increasingly less relevant.

If half-priced drinks are enough for you to consider a credit card, here are some Capital One cards options worth checking out:

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May 26, 2018 at 09:00PM

More Chaos as Trump Suggests the North Korea Summit May Be Back On

More Chaos as Trump Suggests the North Korea Summit May Be Back On

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One thing you can’t accuse Donald Trump of is being consistent. Less than thirty-six hours after he abruptly cancelled a June 12th summit meeting with Kim Jong Un, the North Korean dictator, saying in a pubic letter that it would be “inappropriate at this time to have this long-planned meeting,” he indicated on Friday that the get-together might well happen after all. In a tweet he posted on Friday night, Trump wrote, “We are having very productive talks with North Korea about reinstating the Summit which, if it does happen, will likely remain in Singapore on the same date, June 12th., and, if necessary, will be extended beyond that date.”

Trump didn’t say anything about the content of the talks with the North Koreans, or who was involved on the American side. And the White House is sending out conflicting signals about the likelihood of the summit being reinstated. According to Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, “A U.S. official said late Friday the administration was still seriously considering imposing dozens of sanctions on North Korea early next week in response to Pyongyang’s recent aggressive rhetoric, a tactic to maintain maximum pressure on the country to abandon its nuclear ambitions.” If the Administration goes ahead and imposes these new sanctions, it seems likely to torpedo efforts to get the summit reinstated.

As they always do when Trump vacillates, or acts impulsively, the President’s most fervent supporters are claiming that his decision to cancel the summit was part of some hidden master plan. On Friday, after a North Korean official said that Kim was ready to meet Trump “at any time,” Donald Trump, Jr., linked to an Axios story about this statement and crowed, “The Art of The Deal baby!!!”—as if Trump’s decision to cancel the summit had elicited important new concessions from the North Koreans. But that wasn’t the case. Of course, Kim is willing to meet anytime. It was he who requested the summit in the first place. To sit down one on one with an American President has for decades been a goal of North Korea’s leaders.

Ironically, Trump’s latest volte-face came as some media commentators and foreign-policy experts were praising the decision to cancel, or put off, the summit. “A Kim-Trump summit could still serve a useful purpose,” an editorial in Friday’s Financial Times said. “But a prolonged pause before their meeting would allow negotiators on both sides—aided by the South Koreans and the Chinese—to begin to narrow the differences between their starting positions. At the very least, some detailed preparatory work would make it easier to manage expectations in both Washington and Pyongyang.” Richard Armitage, who served as the Deputy Secretary of State in the George W. Bush Administration, told the Financial Times, “We dodged a bullet in that we were clearly not ready. I don’t doubt that our bureaucrats had covered every angle . . . but I’m quite sure our president had not done a minute of preparation. Kim was clearly ready from A to Z.”

If Trump had cancelled the summit to give himself and other American officials more time to prepare for discussions on what is, after all, a very complicated subject, or to give lower-level officials the scope to carry out the detailed “sherpa” work that usually precedes international summits, that would have been one thing. But it’s pretty evident these weren’t the things in Trump’s mind when he dictated his public letter to Kim—the one that said forlornly, “I felt a wonderful dialogue was building up between you and me.”

The evidence suggests Trump acted as he did because he didn’t like the tone of North Korea’s statements, particularly those directed at John Bolton, the national-security adviser, and Mike Pence, the Vice-President, after they both suggested that Libya’s disarmament under Muammar Qaddafi would be a good model for the North Koreans to follow. On Friday morning, Kim’s regime changed its tone. A senior official put out a statement that said, in part, “we have inwardly highly appreciated President Trump for having made the bold decision, which any other US presidents dared not, and made efforts for such a crucial event as the summit. His sudden and unilateral announcement to cancel the summit is something unexpected to us and we can not but feel great regret for it.”

This language suggests the North Koreans have learned the lesson that Pence and many other people around Trump learned a long time ago: the most reliable way to get him to do something you want is to praise him expansively and publicly. As I noted in a column on Thursday, the idea that Trump is some sort of master negotiator, or ace business tactician, is a fallacy propagated by himself. Trump’s actual record in doing business deals is one of overpaying, struggling to make them work, and shuffling some of his companies in and out of bankruptcy. The only art he has perfected is promoting himself as a great dealmaker on the basis of such a checkered past. As President, his record of making trade deals and other agreements with foreign countries is pretty much nonexistent. Only this week, his Administration reversed itself on imposing broad economic sanctions on Chinese imports. So far, it has received little in return for this U-turn.

In adopting an off-and-on attitude to the nuclear summit with North Korea, Trump has displayed virtually no regard for the consequences of his actions on American allies, including South Korea and Japan. His willingness to announce that he was pulling out without giving any advance notice to South Korea, which had worked for months to set up the summit, was shocking even by his standards. To Trump, this may have seemed like an exercise in one-upmanship and bluffing. To many people who live in Korea or in nearby countries, it seemed like an American President was behaving erratically on a matter of existential importance. In an article datelined Seoul, on Friday, the Washington Post’s Anna Fifield and Emily Rauhala noted, “From here, Kim looks like the more levelheaded leader who was trying to build confidence—releasing American detainees, blowing up a nuclear testing site—while Trump looks impetuous and unreliable.”

So, what now? It’s hard to say. The substantive issues that divide the two sides seem as large as ever. A White House spokesman reiterated on Friday that the Trump Administration is demanding that Kim’s regime agree to scrap its entire nuclear arsenal—which it spent thirty years developing—rapidly and unilaterally. The North Koreans, in talking about “denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula,” appear to be envisaging a much more gradual process that would involve reciprocal measures on the U.S. side. China, which is also a key player, has proposed an initial “freeze for freeze” deal, in which North Korea freezes its nuclear program and the United States suspends its military exercises with South Korea. On Friday and Saturday, journalists who had cancelled their tickets to Singapore were busy rebooking them. One of them was Fifield, of the Washington Post, who noted on Twitter, “Why do I feel like I’m an extra in the Truman Show?”

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May 26, 2018 at 08:41PM

The World’s Most Unusual Hotels: Glamping at Scarabeo Desert Camp in Morocco

The World’s Most Unusual Hotels: Glamping at Scarabeo Desert Camp in Morocco

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After a few days filming and exploring the the Marrakech souks (a UNESCO World Heritage site) with TPG Video Director Jessica Rovniak, we were ready to escape the frenetic energy of the city with a relaxing two-night “glamping” stay at the Scarabeo Desert Camp in rural Morocco.

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If you’re not already familiar, glamping is a trend that basically means “glamorous camping.” A typical glamping vacation includes sleeping in a (luxurious) tent in the middle of nowhere, but with access to modern amenities that you wouldn’t otherwise have at a normal campsite, such as flushing toilets, electricity and warm, comfy beds.

Booking

Booking the Scarabeo camp is somewhat of a hassle, but it’s worth it. After visiting the website to get an idea of what I wanted to book, I spoke with a concierge at American Express who was able to get me a discount, as they receive special travel agent rates. The rates for a double suite tent were 2,755 MAD ($296) per night, but we booked for 2,380 MAD ($255) per night, including breakfast and dinner daily (normal room rates only include lodging).

I was able to pay by credit card, but in a somewhat unconventional manner. The camp emailed me a link which brought me to a specific webpage through which I could pay. Card payments, however, are subject to a small fee of about 2.5% and the camp did not accept American Express, so I used my Chase Sapphire Reserve card — which did, in fact, earn 3x points on the purchase.

In addition to the lodging, I added the following extras:

  • Desert trek with guide and village lunch for two: 1,090 MAD ($117)
  • Two camel rides: 800 MAD ($86)
  • Two extra lunches: 492 MAD ($52)
  • Transportation to the camp in a vintage side car: 1,300 MAD ($140) for two people and luggage
  • Jeep transport to the airport: 550 MAD ($59) for up to four people and luggage

While these extras weren’t cheap, the sidecar in particular was a blast. You can only bring a small amount of luggage on it with you, but it was no problem for us — a separate car came to take our larger suitcases from our hotel in Marrakech to the camp. (Really though, how good does that AWAY bag look in the sidecar?) Plus, it gave us peace of mind, because we wouldn’t get lost trying to find the camp.

There were a variety of other activities to book including horseback riding or quad biking. Note, too, that if you choose to book activities such as these, bring some cash with you to the desert to tip your guides — there (obviously) aren’t any ATMs in the desert! 

While we were checking out, there was a bit of confusion about what exactly I’d pre-paid for, but luckily I had a printed copy of our confirmation (there’s no Wi-Fi at the camp so I suggest you bring a printed copy of yours as well) so we were able to resolve the issue quickly, and I was only charged for a few glasses of wine at dinner, which cost 35 MAD ($3.75) each.

Location

Other glamping spots that feature soft Saharan sand like Erg Chebbi and Merzouga are several hours away by car from Marrakech. Luckily, Scarabeo is just 45 minutes from the city. The rolling brown and green hills and dusty gravel may not be what you had in mind when you first thought of a desert camp, but it’s certainly more convenient if you don’t have a ton of time, and the property really is stunning. The breathtaking views of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains more than compensate for the lack of rolling sands that other camps have.

I was glad that I’d booked all of our meals at the camp, as well as the trek to a nearby village with lunch, because there’s not much else around in terms of food. Or shopping. Or anything!

Check-in

Arriving on the vintage sidecar was brilliant — and we were treated to a full overview of the camp by our driver before we got out to check-in. We were enthusiastically welcomed by the manager, who encouraged us to relax, have some tea, walk around and take pictures while the staff finished preparing our tents.

 

After about an hour of relaxing in the sun, we were shown to our tents. While I don’t think there’s a bad tent in the whole place, I was happy to see our tents were all the way on one of the edge of camp, far away from others. The staff helped us by carrying our rolling suitcases to the tents — deserts aren’t exactly ideal for rolling suitcases.

The Camp

The camp itself features eight double suite tents, two twin suites and five family suites, plus a reception tent and two dining and lounge tents scattered throughout the property. All the tents face out into the vast wilderness and provide incredible views.

At night when it’s chilly, you can eat in the dining tents, but eating outside during daylight hours (breakfast and lunch) is definitely a highlight.

One of my favorite spots was the floor area near the dining tents. Small, low tables with candles were placed around pillows and rugs on the ground where you could enjoy tea or wine and take in the stunning surroundings. There were also a few fire pits — every evening the staff would light the fires as the sun went down. The space was peaceful and beautiful, and I could feel tension and stress melting away as I looked towards the Atlas Mountains.

There was no Wi-Fi at the camp, but I did purchase a Maroc Telecom SIM card at the airport, which gave me a (spotty) 3G connection. I chose to live in the moment and turned my phone off, but it was nice to know that, had I really needed something, I could place a call or (probably) use the internet.

The Tent

The tents were absolutely gorgeous. While everything in the tents looked new, the overall vibe of the decor was antique and earthy.

Everything about tent seemed luxurious, but understated enough to make you feel like you were camping. My tent had a large, king-size bed with comforter, a safe, a battery-operated lamp, European charger and two USB chargers.

There was also a small sofa and table, a heating stove (staff lit the fire while I was at dinner to warm the tent during the colder nights), two robes and a small shelving unit. I was also given one large bottle of water and two glasses.

Old trunks, lanterns with candles and a leather stool gave the room a romantic, vintage feel.

Jessica’s had a slightly different layout, with a large writing desk and chair instead of a couch.

After dinner, when I headed back to my tent at night, it was warm from the fire and all the candles were lit, creating a fairytale ambiance.

One other thing to note was that the tents have no real doors — meaning no locks. I suppose it’s possible that anyone could have walked in and went through my stuff. Except no one did, and frankly I didn’t even think about it — just make sure that you lock up valuables in your safe.

The bathrooms inside the tents are small but have everything you’d need for two nights: a toilet that flushed, a sink with running water and a vanity, shower gel, shampoo and a small shower with both hot and cold water.

The shower head had no wall to be fixed to, so it was a handheld operation — I had to hold it over my head while showering, which made things slightly more difficult — but it wasn’t bad for a full bathroom in a tent. While I only used the shower for quick rinses, the hot water was actually hot, and the pressure was decent — this surpassed my expectations for a tent bathroom.

Each tent also came with an outdoor sofa — perfect for relaxing in solitude and enjoying the sweeping vistas. I spent quite a bit of time out on this sofa, especially when it was dark, gazing at the thousands of stars that dotted the night sky.

Food and Beverage

The food was fresh and delicious. Lunch consisted of a variety of small plates, including chicken skewers, veggies (both cooked and raw) grains and more. Eating in the sun on a breezy afternoon with unlimited views is quite the ideal situation. I could have that lunch over and over again.

Breakfast included eggs, Moroccan pancakes, yogurt, coffee and tea. Dinners started with soup, followed by steaming meat and vegetable tagines and cakes for dessert by candlelight. Wine was available by the glass or bottle at an additional cost.

Activities

This camp was made for relaxation, and I wouldn’t have had any issues with spending lazy days lounging on my outdoor sofa with a good book the whole time. However, I ended up really enjoying the desert trek, which took us out toward the mountains.

The hike was average in terms of difficulty — anyone in reasonable shape could have easily completed the trek, which winded through hills, into the dried riverbeds and up hilltops for epic views of the camp and countryside.

After a few hours of walking, we took a break for lunch (tagine, of course) in the village, which was delicious and well-deserved after a long trek. Our guide, Mohammed, was excellent, and answered all my questions about Berber nomads, life in the village and writing in Arabic.

We returned to the camp around sunset, where we enjoyed relaxing by the fire, sipping a glass of wine and watching the pink sky and mountains in the distance.

We also enjoyed camel trekking. Guides led small groups of guests on a 40-minute walk into the hills — on camels, of course.

Keep in mind that reserving activities should be done as soon after booking as possible, as the camp works with third parties for these, and you may not get a chance to do something if you wait until the last minute.

Overall Impression

If you want to experience something different but aren’t in the mood to really rough it, Scarabeo camp is a wholly unique experience that allows you to have a serene stay in, well, the middle of nowhere. It’s also a great value —  Al Maha in Dubai’s Arabian Desert can run you more than $1,200 per night, but Scarabeo will set you back only about $300 per night. Also, it feels like you’re so far removed from civilization, but really you’re only a 45-minute drive from Marrakech — and its airport. I’m not sure I’d want to stay a whole week, but spending a couple nights here was a perfect way to recharge over a weekend, especially after several hectic days touring busy Marrakech.

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May 26, 2018 at 08:04PM

So You Married an Airplane Clapper — Now What?

So You Married an Airplane Clapper — Now What?

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While it’s common in other cultures to celebrate upon landing, Airplane Clappers are generally scoffed at here in the US (Puerto Rico excluded). From a Seinfeld episode to a Saturday Night Live skit, society’s message is clear: there’s no need to clap upon landing, unless there’s a good reason such as an emergency landing or rough descent.

On Thursday, one Twitter user spelled out a truly nightmarish scenario for those that can’t stand Airline Clappers: unknowingly marrying one. The post has struck a cord, quickly going viral on both Twitter and after getting re-posted on Reddit:

Users jumped in to agree with the decision, including this pilot:

While one user thinks a compromise can be found:

This viral post has even prompted a new “Planeclappers” subreddit. Airplane Clappers have joined the community, with one hosting an informal AMA (Ask Me Anything). Other users have posted videos of the phenomenon in the wild. One subreddit user is so embarrassed to have plane clappers in his family that he’s asking for tips on how he can fake his own death:

Me, personally, I don’t mind that people clap when landing to show appreciation for the flight and cabin crew. After all, it can’t hurt for us to take a moment to recognize all of the systems that keep commercial aviation so safe.

But, my problem with every Airplane Clapper I’ve ever experienced: they clap way too prematurely. After all, the flight isn’t over when the back wheels touch the ground. There’s a lot that could still go wrong — although it almost never does — after that point. Yet, that initial touchdown is when the clapping usually begins.

If you can’t stand being married to an Airplane Clapper, there’s one sure way of confirming that your potential significant other isn’t one: flying together. For sure don’t wait until you land at your honeymoon to find out about this dark secret. In the words of one wise lady:

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May 26, 2018 at 07:01PM

The Future of American Road Trips and 10 Other Tourism Trends This Week

The Future of American Road Trips and 10 Other Tourism Trends This Week

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Throughout the week we post dozens of original stories, connecting the dots across the travel industry, and every weekend we sum it all up. This weekend roundup examines tourism trends.

For all of our weekend roundups, go here.

>>Road trips in the United States are statistically on the rise due to both economic and cultural factors. These vacations have incredible potential to reflect what’s simmering beneath the surface of contemporary America: How Driving Defines Us: The Future of American Road Trips

>>While most American road trips are DIY, created piecemeal on a budget, the luxury set has options and smart travel brands know who to target: Tours and Hotels Look for Innovative Ways to Cater to Luxury and Budget Road Trippers

>>The sharing economy hardly puts a dent in the fact that most American road trips occur with owned cars. But look out for brands adapting to electric vehicles before driverless cars change things completely: Self-Driving Cars, Electric Vehicles, and the Future of Hitting the Road

>>Travel is more accessible today than ever before because of mobile devices and the travel industry knows this. We don’t see anything wrong with nudging travelers to look up from their devices every now and then, but promoting a device-free vacation reads a little tone-deaf in 2018: Americans Won’t Ditch Phones on Vacation Despite Travel Industry’s Digital Detox Push

>>Mexico’s tourism industry has been lucky in the past year as the violence mostly hasn’t targeted tourist destinations like Mexico City. But if history is any guide, tourism is often the focus for anyone wanting to cause harm and chaos. We hope we’re wrong about this one: Mexico Tourism Marketing Blitz to Address Safety Concerns After Violence

>>As we’ve said repeatedly: Everyone wants a piece of tours and activities, but not everyone can be successful. Royal Caribbean Cruises tried something different for a cruise company with GoBe, but the space was crowded: Royal Caribbean Tour Venture GoBe Calls It Quits

>>Breaking open the yacht rental market with a sharing platform is a difficult endeavor given the challenges of operating a digital business within the luxury sector as well as the nuances and securities needed for an experience as hands-on as yachting: The State of Luxury Yacht Rentals and Sharing Schemes

>>Six Flags has been talking up this scenario for more than a year, so it will be interesting to see how the strategy plays out. Will more people opt for season passes that give them access to multiple parks, even if those parks are a few hours away from each other? Six Flags Is Adding 5 Parks in a Promised U.S. Expansion Push

>>While yachting is undeniably attractive for luxury travelers, is it really ripe for disruption? The practical and logistical concerns make an intermediary or manager seem more attractive than in other sectors: Is There Really a Peer-to-Peer Market for Yachts?

>>Corporate travel continues to grow as the global economy hums along immune to the geopolitical issues cropping up around the world. How long can it last? And will increasing hotel rates eat away at the increased spending made by corporations? Corporate Travel Demand Remains Strong: Industry CEOs

>>Tune in to hear experts on European tourism discuss the recent growth in visitors — and how to best manage it: Skift Podcast: How European Tourism Came Back From the Brink

Photo Credit: RVs are hot right now, both in sales and rentals, affecting how Americans take their summer vacations. Outdoorsy.com

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May 26, 2018 at 06:35PM

Report: Citi Prestige Scaling Back Purchasing and Travel Protection Benefits

Report: Citi Prestige Scaling Back Purchasing and Travel Protection Benefits

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The Citi Prestige has been a long favorite of TPG. In addition to marquis benefits such as $250 in travel credits, 4th night free at hotels (and even hostels) and access to more than 1,000 lounges through Priority Pass, the card has earned top marks for its excellent trip delay protection and “Price Rewind” price protection.

Currently, the trip delay protection covers up to $500 in expenses per person for covered delays over three hours. I’ve filed a few claims under the current program, including when a typhoon trapped me in Japan for four days. Unfortunately, this benefit — and many more — are reportedly being cutback on July 29 according to Doctor of Credit. (TPG has been unable to confirm these changes with Citi at this time.)

Some of this has already been reported. In early April, we learned that the Price Rewind program would be devalued effective July 29. Instead of being able to claim up to a $500 refund per claim and $2,500 per calendar year, many Citi cards will be limited to $200 per claim and $1,000 per calendar year for purchases starting July 29, 2018.

That’s not a notable loss of benefits for most cardholders who will still be able to save up to $1,000 a year. Instead, this will limit Citi’s losses from bot-generated claims. At least Citi is keeping the benefit and not removing it entirely, like we’ve seen with the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

But, it turns out the other shoe has now dropped. Here’s the full list of negative changes reportedly coming to Citi Prestige starting July 29:

  • Trip Delay Policy: Policy now requires a delay of six hours instead of three. No longer covers traveling companions. Compantions must be family in order to qualify.
  • Trip Cancellation & Interruption Protection: No longer covers traveling companions. Companions must be family in order to qualify.
  • Lost Baggage Protection and Travel & Emergency Assistance: No longer covers traveling companions. Copmanions must be family in order to qualify.
  • Worldwide Car Rental Insurance: Maximum coverage decreased to $75,000 from $100,000
  • Damage & Theft Purchase Protection: Coverage is now secondary. Previously, it was primary for everybody apart from those in New York. Excluded items will also include: lost items, firearms, ammunition, jewelry, watches, tires or items that are under the care and control of a third party including, but not limited to, the US Postal Service, airlines or delivery services.
  • 90-Day Return Protection: Maximum reimbursable per year is dropping from $2,500 to $1,500 and now only covers 90 days (previously it was 120). The protection also no longer applies to the following: firearms, ammunition, tires, jewelry, furniture or appliances.

The three-hour delay window for the trip delay benefit has made the Citi Prestige my go-to card for booking award flights since I signed up for the card. Now, the Citi Prestige’s delay protection is the same as the six-hour delay protection of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, and the CSR earns more-valuable points based on TPG valuations.

For those who travel with friends and unmarried partners (boyfriend, girlfriend, fiance), the changes to the trip delay, trip cancellation/interruption and lost baggage protections are going to be a notable reduction in benefits.

The fourth travel-related benefit reduction — the reduction in car rental insurance — hopefully won’t affect many cardholders, but this change comes across as unnecessary penny-pinching.

Depending on your prior usage of these benefits, you might not feel affected by these changes. But while there’s no loss to any marquis benefits of the Citi Prestige, these changes are still disappointing. After all, travel and purchase protections are benefits that can be taken for granted — until you need them the most.

Featured image by Getty Images.

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May 26, 2018 at 06:32PM

Stuck in Traffic on Memorial Day?

Stuck in Traffic on Memorial Day?

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Traffic in Orlando, Fla., earlier this month.CreditZack Wittman for The New York Times

Traffic in Orlando, Fla., earlier this month.CreditZack Wittman for The New York Times

AAA has released its travel numbers for summer 2018, and they’re ugly. They estimate that nearly 42 million Americans will be on the move this Memorial Day weekend, the most in over a dozen years. Not even gas prices, the highest since 2014, will slow the herd.

If Orlando, Fla., is your destination, you’ll have company. More people have booked vacations there than any other place in the country. Should you find yourself stuck in six lanes of overheating metal and sibling warfare, miles from your chosen theme park, try redirecting your focus. Using the pictures below, imagine yourself alone, on the open road, windows down and cruising at an unfettered 85 miles per hour. Make it a game — cover the captions and guess where you are. Back-seat drivers only.

Happy travels!

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Corona, New MexicoCreditLuke Sharrett for The New York Times
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Glenrock, WyomingCreditDamon Winter/The New York Times
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Death Valley, CaliforniaCreditBeth Coller for The New York Times
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Lake Charles, LouisianaCreditEdmund D. Fountain for The New York Times
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Scenic Byway 12, UtahCreditZackary Canepari for The New York Times
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Pittsford, VermontCreditCaleb Kenna for The New York Times
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Arena, WisconsinCreditAlyssa Schukar for The New York Times
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Bisbee, ArizonaCreditTodd Heisler/The New York Times

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May 26, 2018 at 05:45PM

Vegas Workers Threaten Over Wages, Safety and Robots, But Owners Don’t See Strike

Vegas Workers Threaten Over Wages, Safety and Robots, But Owners Don’t See Strike

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Las Vegas casino owners expressed confidence they can reach a deal with union employees, who are threatening the first strike there since 1984.

Members of Unite Here’s culinary and bartenders unions are seeking new agreements on wages and issues such as workplace safety, subcontracting and new technology, according to a statement. Some workers are concerned they’ll be replaced by automated systems.

The workers are threatening to walk out if a new deal isn’t reached by June 1, when the current accord expires. “A strike is a last resort,” Geoconda Argüello-Kline, secretary-treasurer of the union, said in the statement.

The contracts cover 50,000 workers at 34 casinos on the Las Vegas Strip and and downtown, including properties operated by MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment Corp., the union said. In 1984, thousands of Culinary Union members went on a citywide strike for 67 days. Talks are scheduled for this week and next, according to MGM Resorts, the largest owner of casinos on the Strip.

“A vote such as this is an expected part of the process,” MGM Resorts said in statement Wednesday. “We are confident that we can resolve the outstanding contract issues and will come to an agreement that works for all sides.”

Caesars also remained upbeat about the negotiations. “We expect to reach an agreement,” the company said.

 

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

 

This article was written by Christopher Palmeri and Rob Golum from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

Photo Credit: The owners of Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, seen here, are among those operators working hard to avert a strike on June 1 with culinary workers and bartenders. Bloomberg

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May 26, 2018 at 05:03PM

Donald Trump, the Fighter-in-Chief, Pardons Jack Johnson

Donald Trump, the Fighter-in-Chief, Pardons Jack Johnson

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This week, President Trump found himself in the Oval Office playing host to Lennox Lewis, a former boxing champion, Sylvester Stallone, a fictional boxing champion, and Deontay Wilder, a current boxing champion. Trump had a question for the group. “Lennox,” he asked, “if I really went and started working out, could I take Deontay in a fight?” This was a joke, of course, but not a meaningless one. Sitting beneath the fighters, Trump seemed to want to remind them that he, too, thinks of himself as a fighter, or at least a fight fan. “This is forty-and-oh, thirty-nine knockouts,” he said, citing Wilder’s record. “Could I take him in a fight, if I really went to work?”

Lewis, who is famously gracious, offered his expert opinion. “You’d have to get past those long arms,” he said. This seemed to satisfy Trump, who moved on to his prepared topic: a Presidential pardon for Jack Johnson, the legendary boxer who became, in 1908, the first black heavyweight champion. Johnson was convicted, in 1913, of violating the Mann Act, which made it illegal to “transport” women or girls across state lines “for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose.” Johnson was widely believed to have been convicted because he was black, and because the woman he was accused of transporting was white. Johnson fled America, but he returned in 1920, and surrendered; he served a year in prison. (Nine years later, in this magazine, James Thurber went to see him, and returned a mixed verdict: “He is not broke, but he is not affluent.”)

In his statement, Trump acknowledged some of the leaders who have pushed for Johnson to be pardoned, including Senator John McCain and the Reverend Jesse Jackson, as well as Stallone. He also took a moment to criticize his predecessor, noting that a series of congressional resolutions had failed to secure a pardon for Johnson. “They thought it was going to be signed in the last Administration, and that didn’t happen,” he said. “That was very disappointing for a lot of people.” He also noted that Johnson had been imprisoned “for what many view as a racially motivated injustice.” Trump suggested that he was pleased to be able to “correct a wrong that occurred in our history.”

What was most startling about this scene was the way that it transported us back to an earlier era, and an earlier Donald Trump. One of the oddest things about Trump’s journey from political gadfly to polarizing President is that, for much of his public life, many Americans did not view him as an especially partisan figure. In the nineteen-eighties, he seemed chiefly interested in celebrity, toughness, and the casino business, all of which more or less obliged him to be interested in boxing. He hosted title fights at the Trump Plaza, in Atlantic City. “You wouldn’t see this kind of excitement at the opera or ballet,” he told the Philadelphia Inquirer, in 1988.

In those days, Trump was closely associated with Mike Tyson. That same year, Tyson and Michael Spinks filmed a promotional video for a fight at Atlantic City’s Convention Hall, adjacent to Trump Plaza, in which they glared at each other while simultaneously acknowledging their host. They took turns snarling, “Thank you, Mr. Trump.” Four years later, after Tyson was convicted of rape, Trump said, “It’s my opinion that, to a large extent, Mike Tyson was railroaded in this case.” Last year, at a public appearance in New Jersey, Tyson told Chris Christie that Trump had promised him a pardon, and wondered when it might be coming. (The remarks were videotaped, but Tyson’s spokesperson nevertheless claimed he had been misquoted.)

Unlike Tyson, Jack Johnson is widely viewed as the victim of an egregious injustice, although at least one influential observer thinks the story is more complicated. In 2016, Mario Diaz, a television news reporter (and, as it happens, a former boxing broadcaster), asked Eric Holder, the former Attorney General, why President Barack Obama hadn’t pardoned Johnson. Holder mentioned one possible reason. “To know the way in which he treated women, physically abused women, gives me pause,” he said.

Johnson was never convicted of violence against women, but in “Unforgivable Blackness,” a biography from 2004, Geoffrey C. Ward chronicled Johnson’s complicated relationship with Belle Schreiber, the white woman who figured in Johnson’s conviction for violating the Mann Act. Ward wrote that Schreiber’s maid “alleged that he hit her with an automobile tool, badly bruising her side.” He also quoted from the court record, in which Johnson strenuously denied that he had beaten Schreiber, or any other woman. (Prosecutors asked about an allegation that Johnson had beaten a different woman so badly that she had to be hospitalized. “No, no, and I will take the oath on it. No,” Johnson replied.) Ward also establishes that it would have been difficult for Johnson to receive a fair trial, not least because his habit of beating up white men—that is, in the ring—had earned him so many enemies.

Boxing has long been fuelled by chauvinism: the violence in the ring has seemed to echo the tension—and, for that matter, the violence—of the rest of the world. Fighters were often seen as the ethnic or racial representatives of their fans, doing battle on their fans’ behalf. That dynamic helps explain why Johnson’s extraordinary achievements were viewed as such a provocation, and why he spent a year in prison for violating such a vague statute. (Charlie Chaplin, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Chuck Berry were all arrested for alleged Mann Act violations.) It also explains why so many people, even now, view Johnson as such an inspiration—and why, decades after his death, in 1946, a group of advocates have been urging Presidents to pardon him.

Trump’s years in the boxing world seem to have left him with an appreciation for the sport, and with some enduring friendships—even now, Don King, the aging impresario, seems to be one of Trump’s confidants. But nowadays, virtually all of the country’s top boxers are Latino, or African-American, or immigrants, which means that the culture of boxing tends to be hostile to Trump. In 2016, Bob Arum organized a “No Trump” undercard full of Latino fighters, with the express purpose of alienating Trump voters. And last year, Oscar De La Hoya tauntingly invited Trump to come and watch his star, Saúl (Canelo) Álvarez, “to show you not all Mexicans are bad people.” One of the most notable pro-Trump displays in boxing happened last month, when a rather ordinary fighter from Pennsylvania named Rod Salka fought in a pair of trunks decorated with bricks, to evoke Trump’s wall, and emblazoned with the phrase “America 1st.” Salka, you may not be surprised to learn, was beaten into capitulation by a guy from Mexico City.

It has been a long time since Trump hosted boxing matches. He is now more closely allied with the sport of mixed martial arts. At a time when the sport was banned in much of the country, Trump hosted U.F.C. events at the Trump Taj Mahal, and Dana White, the U.F.C. president, praised Trump at the 2016 Republican National Convention. Trump was also part of a short-lived effort to start a new M.M.A. company called Affliction, which only managed to promote two events. Affliction was, in part, a Russian venture, built around the star power of Fedor Emelianenko, a well-connected Russian heavyweight. Its chief operating officer was someone that few M.M.A. fans had ever heard of: a lawyer named Michael Cohen.

It is hard not to wonder whether Trump—and perhaps one or two other people, besides—would not have been happier if Affliction had been a success, allowing him to pass a pleasant decade or two talking up his athletes, bad-mouthing his rivals, keeping meddlesome federal investigators at bay, and generally living the noisy, jolly life of a successful fight promoter. Hanging out with Stallone and a couple of heavyweights, paying respectful tribute to Jack Johnson, Trump looked as if he were in his element.

During the ceremony, a boxing executive presented Trump with a championship belt—a ridiculous prop, though not much more ridiculous than the ones some professional boxers wear. Trump seemed put out by the fact that, because he is the President of the United States of America, he is not always allowed to accept shiny trinkets from boxing executives. He sounded as if he wasn’t quite sure he had made the right decision. “That’s a beautiful thing, but I think now the White House staff takes it, and they put it away,” he said. “Can you believe it?”

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May 26, 2018 at 05:01PM