Will I sign up for the Altitude Reserve? More importantly, should you?

Altitude Reserve

US Bank’s new Altitude Reserve card is set to launch May 1st.  Here are the basic details of the card:

  • Standard Signup Bonus: 50,000 points after $4,500 spend in 90 days
  • $400 Annual Fee
  • $325 in annual travel credits automatically applied to account for travel purchases charged to card. In this context, “annual” means the cardmember’s membership year.
  • Points worth 1.5 cents each when used to purchase travel (flights, hotels, car rentals)
  • Earn 3X points per dollar for travel and mobile wallet spend; 1X elsewhere
  • Airport Lounge Access via Priority Pass Select (4 free visits per year)
  • 12 complimentary Gogo in-flight Wi-Fi passes per year
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Authorized User Fee: $75 per year 
  • Issued as Visa Infinite

For complete details about the card, please see: US Bank Altitude Reserve Complete Guide.

Will I sign up for the card?

Following one of my previous posts about this new card, a reader asked if I was planning to sign up for the card.  Heck yes.

But, think about it… I write this blog for a living (see: My job? I blog. Here’s the answer to your next question).  So, when an innovative new credit card shows up to the miles & points party, you can bet that I’ll ask it to dance.  I’m looking forward to getting firsthand experience with trying to get 3X nearly everywhere (3X for mobile payments is said to work in-person, in-app, and online).  And I’ll probably soon be in the market for a cheap Samsung Pay compatible phone as well since it theoretically works with most merchants regardless of whether they knowingly accept mobile wallet payments (see: Altitude Reserve to offer 3X for Samsung Pay LoopPay purchases).

Should you sign up for the card?

As always, the answer is “it depends”.  Let’s look at a few types of readers that may be interested…

Those looking for the perfect card: probably not

If you simply want a card that offers great rewards for spend, this one may be worth a look, but it’s not at all a slam dunk…

If you’re a frequent traveler, you probably eat out a lot.  But this card does not offer a bonus for dining.  Frequent travelers looking for the one ideal card should probably start by looking at the Chase Sapphire Reserve which offers 3X for both travel and dining.

And, unlike the combos of cards I suggested in my Super Credit Card Duos post, Altitude points cannot be transferred to airline or hotel programs.  So, for those hoping to use points for luxury travel, you can do better elsewhere.

The really unique thing about this card is that it offers 3X for mobile wallet charges.  For those who will use the points to pay for travel, that’s like getting 4.5% back anywhere that Apple Pay, Android Pay, Samsung Pay, or Microsoft Wallet is accepted.  Over time, I expect more and more merchants will accept such payments.  By the time it really works nearly everywhere, who knows if US Bank will still offer this benefit?  For now, paying with mobile wallet is hit or miss.

So, the only people for whom this is the single perfect card, in my opinion, are those who mostly shop at places that already accept mobile wallet payments.  Or, those who are simply enamored with mobile wallet payments and will seek out that option whenever they can.  Anyone?  Anyone?

That said, not everyone is looking for a single perfect card…

Signup bonus hunters

If you sign up for cards just for the signup bonus then later cancel or downgrade to avoid future annual fees, then this card may be worth hunting…

Cash-only hunters: Maybe

If you rarely travel and are only interested in cash back, then on the face of it this card isn’t very interesting.  In exchange for the $400 annual fee, you get a $500 signup bonus (50,000 points are worth $500 in cash).  $100 profit isn’t much when there’s a $4,500 spend requirement involved!  That said, you could also get $325 in airline or hotel gift cards for free (buy $325 in gift cards directly from an airline or hotel in order to get the card’s $325 in travel credits), and then re-sell those gift cards.  Let’s very conservatively say that you resell for only 65% of face value… that would net you another $210.

Your net gain, then would be over $300. There’s no question that there are other cards with equal or better cash back signup offers that require less work, but this one is not a bad offer.

Frequent traveler bonus hunters: Yes

If you travel a lot, the first year benefit of the card is much greater.  First, the 50K signup bonus is worth $750 towards travel.  Plus, your next $325 worth of travel expenses would be free thanks to the card’s $325 travel credit.  So, you’ll get $1075 worth of travel for only $400.  That’s excellent.  Plus, of course, you get to use the card’s other perks during that first year: 12 Gogo Wifi passes, lounge access, etc.

Manufactured Spenders: Probably Not

Manufactured Spending is the art of increasing credit card spend and getting your money back.  This way, you can earn credit card rewards at a very low cost.  The US Bank Altitude Reserve card is potentially very interesting in that it offers an uncapped way to get 3X rewards almost anywhere.  If you can find a place that accepts mobile wallet payments and sells Visa gift cards with low fees, then it may be well worth your time.  But, I am certain that US Bank will be watching for that kind of behavior and will be quick to shut down accounts of those who do this in large volume.  So, it’s probably not worth the effort.

What will you do?

I’m curious.  This card is very different from any we’ve seen before.  Do you plan to sign up for it?  Why? Why not?  Please comment below.

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

More articles by Greg The Frequent Miler »

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Comments

  1. Maybe I missed it…but you should have some warning language that this card may not be as easy to approve for as we are generally used to from other banks. We have the must be a US Bank customer already restriction of course. And this bank can be extremely picky how they approve applicants. I remember what gymnastics I had to do to get approved for the Club Carlson cards, it was ridiculous!

    For one and done, sure why not? If we did not have that pesky 5/24 rule from Chase that is…it would be a no brainer. It probably still is but, personally, I have a hard time keeping track of all these credits 🙂

  2. I plan to use this card for Gift of College gc’s. Toys r us accepts Apple Pay.
    Finally, it mays to be a US bank member.

    • So you need to buy $2,500 Gift of College gc’s from TRU to break even on the net $75 annual fee (if that’s all you used the Altitude for). Or $1667 at TRU if you use your points toward travel, to break even.

      Is your contribution via Gift of College to your 529 account tax-deductible (certain states do allow a state tax deduction & some don’t) same as if you made a cash contribution? I know I don’t get to deduct my contributions made thru cashback from the Upromise portal, but that’s a little different than these GoC cards.

  3. Agree that this may not be so easy to get approved for. That could be why it is only for existing US Bank customers, they can look at your history and see if you are profitable enough. Just having a Club Carlson card in the sock drawer may not cut it.

  4. I agree the issue is on the approval side. I have been approved a for a few cards so I think I have a decent chance. My wife, however, “applied” for a savings account and was turned down! Insane!

  5. I’m definitely applying! I have a FlexPerks card, the Club Carlson Business card and recently opened a checking account. Fingers crossed!

  6. Greg, would love to hear what Samsung phone you end up going with. My understanding is that an S6 is the “lowest” model that will work with Samsung Pay. I’ve seen used ones for ~$150 on eBay. But not sure I want to invest that much.

      • In your option, do you think using GoC gift cards will be what USbank considers ms?
        I’d like it meet the spend required for bonus. We do roughly $4k-$5k a month w/ TRU.

    • There won’t be a mad rush of ms’rs interested in this card anyhow due to other 3x and 5x cb methods. If they get sticky on ms’ing even for the spend requirement then that will just give even more reason for many to not waste time applying. Hopefully, this bank wants business and will try to cultivate a good relationship from the start, not punish any part of the initial spend (looking at you Amex) and allow people to get used to using it long term.

  7. Wish the travel credit would have been by the set calendar year. That would have been easier to keep track of.

    This is a decent card for people with more time to actually travel, as Greg wisely stated. As a longtime US Bank customer I may apply, but only after applying for other more cash rich bonus opportunities. Although, if one particular retailer starts mobile payments near me then this will be a must because of what they sell. Meanwhile, there are still chains bent on their own mobile payment systems and still won’t work with Apple Pay or Samsung Pay. Anyone know if WM has any plans to get along with Apple?

  8. Your calculations are a bit off. You could trade in 35K pts in exchange for the annual fee, not the 40K pts like you calculated.

  9. I don’t understand why you *wouldn’t* get the card? Are there really people in this crowd that don’t spend at least $1500 a year in some sort of travel ($300 x 5 different cards like Amex, CSR, etc.)?

    The math to me seems simple…

    CSR for restaurants
    Altitude for mobile payments
    Amazon for Amazon
    Amex for travel and lounges*

    They all have nice simple advantages and the decision matrix is easy. If you consider each of these cards at 75-150, and they’re all giving you over $500 in bonuses, why wouldn’t you? What am I missing?

    *travel will probably be a mixture of all depending…

    • I agree that first year it’s a lock. But after that, you have to decide if it’s worth $75 for the benefit of getting 3X for mobile payments. I’m planning a follow-up post with calculations regarding that.

    • Some rare folks are under 5/24 and choosing our cards carefully before we exceed 5/24.

      Also, yes, some very few of us spend less than $1500 per year on travel- we use MS (and/or are poor) and get our travel at free to 20% cost but don’t pay cash out of pocket for it. (ex Chase Freedom 5% categories + CSR) This covers all my travel expenses, except food and gas. If I could just get food and gas covered at better than cash back rates, I’d be quite interested!

      And the mortgage too. If only I could just pay 10% on my mortgage! 😉

  10. I attempted to position my wife and myself for betters odds of approval for the Altitude card by opening Gold checking and Package Money Market Savings accounts at US Bank. We already each have the Amex & Visa versions of their FlexPerks cards. Our ARS and SageStream credit reports are frozen and have been before applying for anything at US Bank. We were denied supplemental savings accounts due to this about 6 months ago, but previosuly had no issues in getting our two credit cards or checking + savings accounts for bonuses over a year ago. They instantly approved our Gold checking accounts, but sent an email asking for verbal contact to approve my savings account. My wife’s savings application was “withdrawn” by them per another email. Today, I see our checking accounts were closed (no emails; found out by logging in). I suspect having those reports frozen may still be problematic. However, we also heavily churned checking and savings account bonuses in the last 2 years along (60+ accounts) plus opened over 80 credit cards within 24 months (combined), so it could just be our Chex scores that caused the bank account issues. I do not think I have time to unfreeze the reports by the 5/2 Altitude launch date, so I may apply with them still frozen. Any suggestions?

  11. If we are interested, what’s the best way to go about starting a relationship with US Bank? I’ve never had anything with them.

    • If you have a US Bank branch nearby, you don’t really have to be a customer first. You can go in and ask to apply for this card and the banker can push the app past the automatic denial. Otherwise, the easiest option is to open another credit card or a checking account.

  12. All lags on this new card are heavy on the information on how to earn points, and very thin on how to redeem points. Do you have to redeem through their portal? If you can redeem with partners who exactly are the partners.

    • Yes, you have to redeem through their portal which is like a bad OTA (e.g. like Expedia or Orbitz). They support many airlines, but definitely not all. For flights, you can call to redeem points if the web interface doesn’t do what you need. For hotels and car rentals you’re stuck with what they offer.

  13. 50K points is not at all promotional and on the lame side with a card fee of $450. Considering that many of us already value a “high end” card and commit to that fee, adding another high fee card with only 50K points in my opinion is not enticing. I will not be applying for this card! Raising it to 100K, however, would spark my consideration and would then have to re-evaluate my decision.

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