A second look at US Bank’s Altitude Reserve

Altitude Reserve

When US Bank first unveiled their Altitude Reserve card, I argued that the main reason to get the US Bank Altitude Reserve card is for the signup bonus.  It’s certainly an interesting card with it’s 3X earning on travel and mobile wallet.  And with 1.5 cents per point value towards travel, those 3X points are worth an excellent 4.5% back.  For an ultra-premium card it’s not even that expensive.  You do have to pay $400 up front but then US Bank reimburses $325 in travel charges per year.

That’s all great, but I was turned off by the card’s limited options for getting 1.5 cents per point value.  To do so you had to book travel through US Bank’s travel portal which would not always show the flights you want, or the best prices.  And for those who care about hotel elite status, booking through US Bank’s portal meant giving up on earning elite credits and often giving up elite recognition at hotels.

Those negatives changed recently when US Bank introduced the ability to redeem points for travel via “Real Time Rewards”.  Now it’s possible to get 1.5 cents per point value when booking travel directly with airlines, hotels, etc.  That’s huge!  See: US Bank makes Real-Time Mobile Rewards awesome. Are you listening Chase? Amex? Citi?

Suddenly I’m asking myself again whether or not the Altitude Reserve is a keeper…

Is Altitude Reserve a great travel card?

The card unquestionably earns respectable rewards for travel spend: 3X points worth 4.5% towards travel.  But a great travel card also gives you great travel perks and great travel insurance.

On the travel perks side, the Altitude Reserve is a bit of a dud.  It does offer 12 free Gogo wifi passes per year — that’s very good.  And it offers Global Entry reimbursement which is necessary to compete a all in this space.  But for lounge access it offers only 4 free Priority Pass visits per year.  That’s pathetic.  And it doesn’t offer any other significant elite-like perks that we’ve come to expect from ultra-premium travel cards.

As far as travel insurance goes… it’s not very impressive either.  I recently updated my “Ultra-Premium Credit Card Travel Insurance” guide to include the Altitude Reserve.  It doesn’t fair well compared to the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Citi Prestige.  The Altitude requires paying in full for coverage (the Reserve and Prestige do not — except for rental car coverage).  And, except for rental car coverage which is quite good, the Altitude’s coverage falls shy of the Reserve and Prestige in almost every category.

So, no.  The Altitude Reserve is not a great travel card.

Is Altitude Reserve a great “almost everywhere else” card?

To the extent that it’s possible to pay almost everywhere with your smart phone (and therefore earn 3X with the Altitude Reserve), it’s hard to beat the Altitude’s rewards.  Now that travel rewards are almost as good as cash, I think that it is reasonable now to say that you really do get 4.5% back towards travel when using the card for mobile wallet charges.

When you compare the Altitude Reserve to a no-fee 2% cash back card, you would have to spend $3,000 per year on mobile wallet and travel purchases to break even and fully cover the after-travel-credit $75 annual fee ($400 annual fee – $325 travel credit).  That’s only $58 per week.  With a modest mobile/travel spend of $100 per week, you’re suddenly way ahead.

If you have a a Samsung smart phone, then you can use mobile payments almost everywhere thanks to Samsung’s LoopPay technology (see: Altitude Reserve to offer 3X for Samsung Pay LoopPay purchases).  The rest of us are limited to those merchants who specifically accept Apple Pay or Android Pay.  That includes many big box stores and most merchants who use Square Readers.

That said, most online merchants do not accept mobile wallet payments.  Until they do, the Altitude Reserve cannot truly be considered a great “everywhere else” card.

Not good for manufactured spend

If US Bank was friendly to those who like to manufacture spend through gift card purchases, this card would absolutely be a no-brainer.  Unfortunately, they’re known to shut down accounts with even modest gift card purchases.

I’m on the fence

I originally signed up for the Altitude Reserve in May 2017 so I have a few more months to decide whether to keep the card for another year.  While I’m super enthused about the new options for redeeming points, my spend habits don’t tend towards places that accept mobile wallet payments.  Plus, even at places that do accept it, I often have other options for earning a high multiple (e.g. Sapphire Reserve 3X at restaurants; CNB Crystal Visa Infinite 3X at grocery stores and gas stations, etc.).  I’d prefer to earn 3X Altitude Reserve over 3X CNB points, but the math is not as compelling as when comparing to a 2% card as I did above.

My plan is to wait and see how much I actually use the card over the next couple of months.  I’ll use it wherever Apple Pay is accepted (unless I can get 3X with my Sapphire Reserve card).  And, in May, I’ll calculate how much more I’ve earned with the Altitude card compared to the card’s I would have used otherwise.  If it looks like the Altitude will more than pay for itself, then I’ll keep the card.

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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41 Comments on "A second look at US Bank’s Altitude Reserve"

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Will
Guest

I’m in the same boat. Will the points expire if I cancel the card? Can they be combined with points from Flexperks card to keep them from expiring?

Dave
Guest

I think the CNB Crystal no longer gives 3x on groceries, no?

Derek
Guest

Wow, I have never looked at this card seriously, but I think I need to become a US Bank customer soon. With a $750 sign up bonus, plus the ability to wipe out the annual fee from $400 to $75 with the travel credit, and the ease of use to redeem points with the increased ability to use mobile wallet payments at more and more stores, I think this would be a no brainer to get, as long as you can use the travel credit every year. The only “premium” card I have right now is the CSR, and this card seems to complement it well. Great post!

Eugene
Guest

Do they allow points+cash resumptions as Chase does?

joe
Guest

I dont have a US bank near me — I need to open a checking account with US bank first right? What’s the best way to get this card?

ranova
Guest

Buy a Samsung Gear S3 and link it to any android phone. If you have an iPhone, you’ll primarily use it for Samsung Pay’s MST feature as it works when the watch isnt connected to wifi or your phone. You just have to connect it with that Android phone every few days.

I utilize the USB Altitude reserve more often than my chase sapphire reserve because of the 3x mobile payments and Samsung Pay.

asdfasdf
Guest

points suck for spending. must have enough for at least one full ticket. can’t book airlines like spirit or southwest. website sucks

ranova
Guest

did you read the linked article in this post?

https://frequentmiler.boardingarea.com/2018/02/24/real-time-mobile-rewards/

you can book with ANY airline, hotel, car rental and use points by just replying to a txt now

asdfasfd
Guest

Yeah Minimum $500 for lodging. Screw US Bank. big deal.

ramon
Guest

That’s one or two nights at a decent hotel

Ramon
Guest

Do you have to use text? Is email or phone or something also acceptable? I don’t carry a cell phone

Nick Reyes
Editor

I believe it’s just text message.

Nick Reyes
Editor

That said, Google Voice may work.

Paul
Guest

As an iphone user and holder of 5x Freedoms that I need to MS on, would I be able to buy a Looppay card and use that at certain grocery stores? Does looppay still work?

Mark
Guest

Hey Greg and All–What’s the story re MS using ApplePay to get 3x. When it first came out I heard a lot of people got shutdown by US Bank for not even doing 1x their CL in a billing period. Any data points?

Nick Reyes
Editor

See the headline in the post that says “Not good for manufactured spend”. Forget about 1x CL – people were getting shut down for buying one or two $500 GCs.

Mark
Guest

Read nearly the whole post but clearly missed that section. My bad! Thank Nick.

Jules
Guest

Greg, is it possible to redeem points towards travel other than by text? If I’m traveling internationally I would like to avoid costly international text messaging fees.

Glen
Guest

I’ve been declined for this card twice in the past. Applied a couple of days ago and was approved for $23K!! Happy Day!

THEsocalledfan
Guest

I’m sitting here wondering why the bleep anyone has an Apple phone! I’ve been crushing this card since release with legit spend. I’m going to get Greg off his apple phone, yet!

Mike
Guest

Here’s an idea. Buy a used Galaxy S6 for $120 on Swappa and use it for Samsung pay. I don’t use Samsung pay so I don’t know if it requires an internet connection, but maybe you could tether it to your regular phone if it does.

Mike
Guest

Found the answer. You don’t need an internet connection when making a payments but you might need to sync on the internet after 10 transactions. https://www.samsung.com/us/support/answer/ANS00045193/

JNHicks
Guest

The big question is – can you reduce the $500 minimum hotel spend/$250 car rental spend for a text redemption. I have many more smaller hotel stays than bigger ones. I did change my default to $100, but the language makes it unclear if I could change it. Do we have data points on this yet?

Jim
Guest

Nick/Greg. I’ve had the AR for a few months now, got the sign up bonus and decided to use points to book a couple of hotels, through the USB portal, for our summer trip. I hadn’t heard about the hard no GC stance they were taking with this card until just recently (I have the flexperk and have been buying $1k in GC each month to pay rent for years with no issue). I did this with the AR last month, since i moved most of my spend that was going on the FP to the AR. My question is, if they do shut down my card, do you think it will screw up my hotel bookings? The points have already been subtracted from my reward balance, but there have been no dollar amount postings on the acct (like there was when I booked a flight through the united site and used the instant rewards). Thanks

Nima
Guest

Hi Greg,

May I ask what your final decision turned out to be? Did you keep or cancel the card?

Thanks!

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