Easy Orlando Trip w/ Military Credit Cards | Universal Studios + Disney

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Jamie and his son take a trip to Universal Studios Orlando and Harry Potter World using 3 annual fee waived credit cards:

Military Money Manual Podcast Episode 75 Links

Outline of Episode:

  • Jamie shares his travel hacking experience to Orlando
  • 3 cards and benefits he used
  • How to get multiple Amex Platinum cards
  • Paying for hotel with Marriott points
  • Airfare using companion pass 
  • Using Uber credits with Amex Platinum card
  • Information Ticket and Travel for discounted tickets

Military Money Manual Podcast Episode #75 Transcript

[00:00:00] Spencer: If you're stationed overseas especially, and you've got four-day weekends and you're in Germany, you want to hop to Greece or to Spain or to Portugal, or to Morocco or wherever. Take advantage of these annual fee waivers because you're going to be the only one checking into that Hilton and Bucharest with Diamond status.

And guess what? You're going to get the best room in the hotel. 

Hey, podcast listeners, Spencer Reese here from militarymoneymanual.com and co-host of the Military Money Manual podcast. Joined today by my co-host, Jamie. 

Jamie, how you doing? So sometimes Jamie, we make travel hacking sound really complex and time-consuming. But today I want to talk about a story that you shared with me recently, just some low-key successes that you and your son had on a trip to Orlando.

How you saved money and how you just made the experience better and easier by some travel hacking-enabled splurge. And how you saved money, because going to Orlando, going to Disney World or to Universal Studios can get really expensive. So if you can save money in some categories and then splurge in others, then I remember when you and I went to Universal and Disney World Star Wars Galaxy's Edge Hollywood Studios. I was really glad that was picked up by the company. 

Why don't you break it down for us? What did you guys do? Where'd you go? How was it? And let's talk about some of the travel hacking that you used to make it work.

[00:01:56] Jamie: Like you said, I want to share this because travel hacking doesn't have to be a time-consuming, really intense process all the time.

We do love our good spreadsheets and the big puzzles that we like to put together sometimes, but in this case, I'm just going to share three cards that I used and three benefits to save money so that I could put it towards the Express Unlimited Pass, I think is what it's called. Basically, you can skip the line as many times as you want. It's $250 a day per person, so not cheap at all. 

So the three things we used, Amex Platinum‘s Uber Credits, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant. That's another America Express card. We used those points for our hotel. And then the American Express Delta Reserve Companion Pass for our airfare. 

So starting out with a Platinum card, every one of the American Express Platinum Cards, and again, these cards are weighed for both the military member and their spouse, either on active duty or long-term orders for Garden Reserve. They come with $15 a month, most months. December, you get a little extra Uber credit, and because both my wife and I have a handful of Platinums each, I think we maybe have seven or so total between the two of us, we have about $100 in monthly Uber credits that you can use for Uber or Uber Eats. 

So for the month of March, we saved it all and used it for our hotel Uber, back and forth, as well as daily park shuttles between our hotel and the park, because the shuttle bus schedule just wasn't convenient for the timing that we wanted.

Very simple. No work to that one at all. All we did was have our Amex Platinum cards on our Uber account, and we used that credit when we took an Uber, and then it was paid for up until the amount of the bonus that we had.

[00:03:38] Spencer: Jamie, I want to just, for our, the listener listening to this who's like a, what's an Amex Platinum card?

And B, how do you get multiple of them? So for the listeners out there, we're talking about the Platinum card from American Express. This. How American Express got started in the premium market and really they did it without competition for almost 20 or 30 years until the Chase Sapphire Reserve card came around.

And essentially what these cards are is they have a high annual membership fee, so I think it's $695 for the American Express Platinum Card and $550 for the Chase Sapphire Reserve if I'm not mistaken. I think it might be up to $650. Oh my gosh. Okay. That's a lot of money. But like Jamie mentioned, under the Military Lending Act, the MLA, you can Google Military Lending Act and look at some of the information on my website, militarymoneymanual.com.

What the Military Lending Act allows you to do $550, is that what you're saying, Jamie? Yeah. Okay, sweet. So $550 for the Chase Sapphire. What the Military Lending Act allows you to do is as an active duty service member or a Guard Reserve member on 30-day plus orders, and the spouse and the dependent spouse of that active duty service member, you're known as “Covered Borrowers” under the Military Lending Act, and there are specific rules and regulations that banks have to abide by, one of which is they can't charge you more than 36% interest a year.

Now what's interesting is Chase and American Express have interpreted that 36% to include annual fees, even though the Military Lending Act specifically excludes annual fees. So if you listen to this podcast in five years, don't be surprised if Military Lending Act benefits have gone away. Yeah. So if you're listening to this and you're in the military or you're a military spouse, I would take advantage of that today because you never know when this benefit is going to go away. 

Now, we talked about the Platinum card, high annual fee, but what you get for the annual fee is you get a bunch of benefits. One of the benefits Jamie mentioned was the Uber credit, $15 a month. It goes up to $35 a month in December, so you get $200 of Uber or Uber Eats, so you can also order food with it as well.

And it's the only way I order Uber Eats because I don't understand how somehow I order $20 worth of Indian food for myself and it ends up being $60. That's just absolutely absurd, and that is bankrupting Americans. I guarantee it. It's cheaper just to drive to McDonald's. 

So, Jamie, you mentioned that you and your wife have multiple Platinum cards, and are you able to add those cards, the same Uber account, and then get the credit on those accounts all of the credits, both from your spouse's card and your cards on your Uber account?

[00:06:31] Jamie: Yes. So any Platinum cards that you have on your Uber account, it'll add that $15 a month credit to your account. So you don't have to have separate logins or any gimmicks like that. It doesn't care because you also get some credit with the Gold card if you have that, so all those cards on one account, and you can combine them or do half for you, half for your spouse, or something like that if you wanted to as well.

It doesn't even have to match by name. So your spouse could have your Platinum card on their Uber account if they travel more or they're going on a trip with their friends this month, you can give them all the credits, even if the cards are under your name.

[00:07:06] Spencer: Yeah, so I just pulled up my Uber account, and if I go to the account wallet Uber Cash balance details. I have a $90 Amex premium benefit, so that's six platinum cards. And then I have $10 from an Amex Gold card, so that's $100 total a month that I'm getting. And then in December though, that's all multiplied by 3.5 except for the Amex Gold, which I think is still just $10 a month.

Yeah, so Jamie. We're talking about multiple Platinum cards, and for most people, civilians who have to pay the annual fee. It doesn't make any sense usually to be getting multiple Platinum cards, but for the military service member or the military spouse, it might make sense if it fits your travel hacking goals. And that's because the benefits of the cards stack. So you're not going to earn a welcome bonus usually from getting multiple platinum cards. 

But Jamie, actually, in your instance, you were able to upgrade an Amex Green card to an Amex Platinum card and actually earn a welcome bonus. Can you explain how you did that?

[00:08:10] Jamie: Yeah, so there's a great article on the website, militarymoneymanual.com, about upgrading American Express cards. But basically, we'll get back to making it sound simple again in a minute. I promise. The short version of it is that you create a separate login, that one card that you want to upgrade, like the Amex Green card, for example.

You put it on there and then you request an upgrade. It's done right online. You don't even have to call anyone if you don't want to. And you won't get any signup bonus or welcome offer. Usually, you just get the new card and it's stacking benefits with your other platinum card

However, sometimes, like just recently, they were offering 25,000 membership reward points for upgrading the Green to a Platinum if you spend $2,000 in the first three months.

So that's a no-brainer if you're planning to upgrade anyway when you have a bonus offer like that. Incredibly helpful, and they know that I have a military waiver and that I already have Platinum cards. The system just doesn't care. They still offer an upgrade and they still offer the bonuses sometimes.

[00:09:09] Spencer: Yeah, so that's an excellent example there of you're able to, get an upgrade bonus offer. You're able to move the lower-tier card, so in this case, you can upgrade your Amex Gold Card and Amex Green Card to the platinum card from American Express, and you can earn the welcome bonuses on those lower tier cards as well.

And then after you upgrade the card, you can go back and then you can open another one of those cards. Now you're not going to earn another welcome bonus on it, but for the Amex Gold card, for instance, I always make sure that even if I've just upgraded Amex Gold to a Platinum card, I'm going to go and apply for another Amex Gold card, because I want those 4X membership reward points on groceries and dining and no foreign transaction fees as well on the Amex Gold card.

So, Jamie, you paid for your hotel with Marriott Points and you used the American Express Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card

How did that work? Where did you guys stay? How was it?

[00:10:09] Jamie: We definitely did not prioritize hotel fanciness on this trip, but my wife recently opened up her own card of the Bonvoy Brilliant and that came with 150,000 Bonvoy points. And so we used those points for our hotel. We stayed there for three nights. It covered more than enough of our hotel. I don't even remember what hotel it was. Like Fairfield Inn and Suites or something. Pretty routine like the side of the highway kind of hotel in Orlando.

Nothing fancy, but we were planning to be at the park from opening to close and go to sleep and then go right back to the park. My wife's new Bonvoy Brilliant card. We used all the points from her signup bonus to cover, and we had some leftover for the hotel or for after the hotel. 

[00:10:54] Spencer: Awesome.

Okay. And then Uber credits to get around to the parks. That's a great use of the Amex Platinum card. Using the points, the welcome bonus points from the Amex Marriott Bonvoy brilliant card. And then how about airfare? So how'd you get down to Orlando?

[00:11:10] Jamie: So we flew Delta from Montgomery, Alabama to Orlando, and we used our American Express Delta Reserve card, which comes with a companion pass.

Each year. After your first card anniversary, you get one each year. It's basically a buy one, get one free on your fair. You just pay the taxes for this second ticket. So it was about, I want to say three or $400 total for both of us to fly roundtrip from Montgomery to Orlando, including a higher class fare on both trips.

So that's really nice to buy one, get one free on the airfare, plus a free hotel, plus the Uber credits. That's covered a lot of our taxing back and forth from the airport into the park. And that's just three cards that we used, and it doesn't take a lot of time. We searched for our hotel on

Marriott.com. We search for airfare on Delta.com and I'm not spending hours making a spreadsheet. I'm not spending hours digesting which credit card benefit has the best ones. 

There are other benefits out there that I could have used. Some ones that come to mind are the Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with a $ 300-a-year travel credit that could have covered hotels, Ubers, trains, and things like that, had I paid for those in cash. 

Also, the Citi Prestige card, which we have but isn't accepting new applications right now, has a $ 250-a-year travel credit. So there are all these other ways I could have layered benefits on top of it, but trying to keep it simple because work was busy, I didn't have a lot of time to invest into maximizing this trip.

I wanted small wins, easy wins so that I could put those savings towards the express pass and cut the line as many times as I wanted because it was starting to get to spring break season and it was a little bit busy.

[00:12:49] Spencer: I think this example of keeping it simple and just going out there and executing a trip like this and not overcomplicating and not trying to squeeze every last penny out of your points, it gets back to the whole die with zero philosophy, right?

Like you should die with zero points. And honestly, you should probably get to the end of every year and have burned all your points. I better start spending, I know I, I got a million Amex points I gotta get rid of. 

The credit card companies and the travel rewards companies, the airlines and the hotels out there, they're always devaluing points.

They're always finding a way, basically to induce inflation on their points because as these points build up, those are liabilities and they need to find a way to push them down. And they don't want to just be giving away hotel rooms for free all the time. So I really like what you did with this trip, Jamie, where you just focus on the big wins.

You saved, probably, what would you reckon? Over a thousand dollars? Just with minimal, like probably minutes of your time, right? You weren't building spreadsheets, you weren't getting super complicated on this. And I think it just demonstrates how if you just add these cards to your wallet when you're in the military, even if you're not traveling even if you're deployed or you're in a super busy assignment.

There's going to be one day where you're going to be like, oh, I have a long weekend. Let's see what's going on. Oh, I can book, a hotel in Maui and I can fly there for free and I can bring my whole family for the weekend. And it's great. We just got a free Hawaiian vacation just because I applied for these cards years ago and we've been putting our, spending our normal everyday spending on these.

So any other tips, Jamie? There are some special deals, right? If you're going to the Orlando Parks through ITT or one of the on-base agencies?

[00:14:33] Jamie: Yeah, so we used the ITT at our local Air Force Base Information Ticket and Travel, which is part of the MWR program. I'm not sure if all branches call it the same thing, but they'll have something on base or on post where they have discounted theme park tickets and other things like that. 

We used ITT, it was $200 per person for a calendar year, 2023 pass. And then we bought our Express Unlimited passes through our AAA membership, which we got for free through T-Mobile this year. So $200 per person for an annual pass for Universal is a really good discount.

And that can be found at ITT. Also, if you're going to Disney or Six Flags or places like. Definitely check out your local ITT office. You have to go in person. I don't believe any of them have any kind of online ordering or phone ordering system. So if you're not near a military base, you'll probably miss out on that benefit.

But definitely check there first before you buy any tickets online. Really good discount. $200 per person is a great deal for Universal is what we got. So we also saved a bunch of money there as well, which just made it easier for the next week when we went on a vacation as a family, we were hitting two big bills back to back.

Okay, Spencer, I think that's all I got. Hopefully, we didn't overwhelm you too much and we showed you that it could be simple to get these small wins when travel hacking, but they pay big dividends. If someone is intrigued by these cards or the strategy of travel hacking and using their annual fee-waived credit cards for both them and their spouse.

Where do they go to get more knowledge and learning on this topic?

[00:16:10] Spencer: So the easiest place to go, Jamie is my website, militarymoneymanual.com/umc3. That stands for the Ultimate Military Credit Cards Course. And if you're active duty, Guard, or reserve on 30-day active orders or a military spouse married to active duty.

I'm going to show you how to get your first $695 credit card annual fee waived. It's a hundred percent free. We've had over 10,000 graduates of the course, which I'm super stoked about. Wow. Took almost four years to get to that number and I'm very excited about that. But yeah, I just walk you through exactly how my wife and I get over $12,000 in annual fees waived, and I've been off active duty for over a year, and I'm still getting those fees waived.

So this isn't just something, a benefit that you can take advantage of while you're on active duty. You can also take advantage of it as a veteran as long as you open up the cards when you're a covered borrower, and you might enjoy months or even years of annual fee waivers after you leave active duty. A couple of the things we throw into the course are 10 hours of exclusive podcast episodes where Jamie and I get to listen to us even longer if you want to, but we talk all about Military travel hacking. And then I've got a list of cards that wave fees for military and military spouses. And I've also got a couple of example spreadsheets that Jamie and I use to keep track of our credit cards and our credit card bonus offers.

[00:17:33] Jamie: Spencer, you mentioned the $12,000 amount of what you're getting.

I just updated my totals recently as well, and my wife and I are getting $12,200 per year waived in annual fees. We only have one business card that we pay an annual fee on because business cards aren't waived anymore. And so we did that deliberately by choice, but $12,200 worth of annual fee waivers between my spouse and me.

It's an incredible benefit. I hope everyone takes advantage of it.

[00:18:03] Spencer: Yeah I think this is still, it's not as widely advertised as a lot of military benefits, and we need to get the word out there to anybody who's active duty or a military spouse married to active duty. If you're not taking advantage of this, and like Jamie said, he only used three cards on this trip and he saved over a thousand dollars.

And I think honestly, if you just went with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Amex Platinum card, and the Amex Gold card, you'd probably be getting 60% of the benefits right there. But there are so many more cards that you could tap with hotel credit cards, the airline credit cards, the cashback credit cards, the travel rewards card.

Really the world is your oyster when you're in the military for travel hacking, and if you're stationed overseas especially, and you've got, four day weekends and you're in Germany, you want to hop to Greece or to Spain or to Portugal, or to Morocco or wherever. Take advantage of these annual fee waivers because you're going to be the only one checking into that Hilton and Bucharest with Diamond status. And guess what? You're going to get the best room in the hotel. It's going to be an awesome experience for you, and you're not paying anything in annual fees. So what do you have to lose? Militarymoneymanual.com/umc3. Thanks again, Jamie, for sharing the story, and listener, if you enjoyed the story or you're getting value out of the podcast you can leave us a five-star review on Spotify or Apple. Thanks for all the positive reviews we've had over the years. Reach out at podcast@militarymoneymanual.com or on Instagram @MilitaryMoneyManual. We'll catch you in the next episode of the Military Money Manual podcast.

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