U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve card review

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There’s a newcomer in the premium-travel-rewards card ring. The American Express Platinum ($550 annual fee) and Chase Sapphire Reserve ($450 annual fee) have been pummeling each other for nearly a year now, but the new U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card ($400 annual fee, out May 1, 2017) gives consumers another heavyweight to consider.

Our review will fill you in on what the Altitude Reserve offers – and how it compares to the competition.

The basics – and who can apply

The Altitude Reserve is a luxury travel card from U.S. Bank. It has a $400 annual fee. It will be issued as a metal card.

It’s offered at the Visa Infinite level, which means strong protections like trip-delay reimbursement, lost-luggage reimbursement and concierge service — as well as access to the Visa Infinite Luxury Hotel Collection.

One popular Visa Infinite-level benefit, however, will not be available on this card – companion air-travel discounts. It’s worth noting that not all Visa Infinite cards offer this benefit, so the Altitude Reserve is not alone.

Who can apply?
The Altitude Reserve is currently available only to current U.S. Bank customers who have an eligible account relationship, as confirmed by Wallaby. That eligible account must be open for a minimum of 35 days before you apply for the card. Eligible accounts include checking accounts, savings accounts, Certificate of Deposit, home equity loans, home equity lines of credit, auto loan, mortgage and credit cards issued by U.S. Bank.

The Travel After Work blog has confirmed that, for the time being, it’s not possible to product-change from another U.S. Bank card to the Altitude Reserve. In other words, even if you have another U.S. Bank card, getting the Altitude Reserve will require a credit pull.

The minimum credit line available for this card is $5,000. So, if your credit and income aren’t enough to justify a $5,000 credit limit, you won’t get approved for the card.

List of benefits

As a premium travel card, the Altitude Reserve card is heavy on the benefits, which include:

  • $325 annual travel credit, which refunds you (via automatic statement credit) for purchases you make from airlines, hotels, car rental companies, cruise lines, taxis, limos and trains. This is the highest travel statement credit in the industry, with the Chase Sapphire Reserve coming in second with its $300 credit. The Altitude Reserve card’s credit matches Chase in ease of use, with its automatic redemptions and broad definition of “travel” purchases. Contrast that with the travel credits offered by American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner), which reimburse you only for incidental purchases (like baggage fees) made with an airline you select in advance every year.
  • 12 complimentary Gogo passes for in-flight Wi-Fi per year.
  • Priority pass Select membership, which allows you to enroll one cardmember per account. The enrolled member will get four free visits (and four free visits for guests) every year. After you use your free visits for the year, you’ll be charged $27 per visit (and per guest).
  • Discounts on Silvercar rentals. Rentals must be for two days or more and you must use your card to pay.
  • TSA PreCheck/Global Entry refund. You’ll get a statement credit against the application fee for either of these programs ($85 for PreCheck, $100 for Global Entry). This credit will be available once every four years per account.
  • $25 food and beverage credit and other perks (such as complimentary breakfast and room upgrades, when available) when you use your card to book a hotel in the Visa Infinite Luxury Hotel Collection.
  • Aircraft upgrades and ability to use points for flight time when you book a private jet with NetJets Private Aviation.
  • Discounts (15 percent off) when you book Black Car service with GroundLink.

How the rewards work

As confirmed by The Points Guy, this card earns a new rewards currency called Altitude Points. You’ll earn:

  • 3X points on travel purchases, but ONLY those made directly with carriers (airlines, hotels, car rental agencies, taxies, cruise lines, etc.) Travel purchased through online travel agencies (like Expedia) won’t earn 3X rewards.
  • 3X points on mobile-payment purchases. This makes category makes the Altitude Reserve the first card to offer an unlimited, consistent way to earn bonus on mobile-wallet purchase (with Samsung Pay, Apple Pay, Android Pay etc.) These purchases can be made at the register or in-app.

Sign-up bonus: 50k points after spending $4,500 on the card in the first 90 days. This bonus is worth $750 if you redeem for travel.

When redeeming your rewards, you can exchange your Altitude Points for travel (purchased via U.S. Bank’s portal), gift cards, cash back and more. Travel gets you the best redemption value – points are worth 1.5 cents each when redeemed for travel.

One notable redemption option missing from the Altitude Reserve card is the ability to transfer points directly to frequent-flier and hotel-loyalty programs, an option that can fetch optimal point value. Chase and American Express both have a roster of transfer partners for their Reserve and Platinum cards.

U.S. Bank told The Points Guy that no transfer partners will be offered in the beginning, but may be added later.

How it compares

The Altitude Reserve combines the rewards-earning prowess of the Chase Sapphire Preferred with some of the exclusive-benefits appeal of the American Express Platinum, while offering some benefits its competitors don’t have. Earning 3X rewards on mobile-wallet purchases is a big one. It will be interesting to see if the Altitude Reserve helps push mobile-wallet adoption, which, so far has been slow.

The Altitude Reserve also has the highest annual travel-credit on the market and very generous Gogo in-flight Wi-Fi benefits. The Silvercar discounts are also a nice touch.
The area where the Altitude Reserve card can’t compete, however, is transfer partners. To redeem for travel, you’ll essentially use your points as cash (for 1.5 cents each) to purchase travel in U.S. Bank’s travel portal. Chase and American Express allow you to do that as well – but they also give you the option of transferring directly to their hotel and airline partners.

Transferring points directly to hotel- and airline-loyalty programs can help you maximize the value of your points. With the Altitude Reserve, 25,000 points will be worth, at most, $375 in U.S. Bank’s travel portal. However, if you had the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you could transfer those 25,000 points to, say United MileagePlus, and then redeem for a flight worth more than $375.

If you’re not interested in point-transfers (which, admittedly, are a more complicated redemption option), you may be fine with cashing in your Altitude points at a capped value in U.S. Bank’s portal. If the Altitude’s benefits (and slightly lower annual fee) are also a better fit for you, that’s another reason to forget about the competition and pick up the Altitude.
Not comfortable with a high annual fee, regardless of the perks? Chase and American Express both offer lower-cost cards that earn strong rewards and some entry-level travel perks.

Why we gave it 4.5 out of 5 stars

We rated the U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve card based on our standards for flexible rewards programs.

Rewards-earning rate: We require annual-fee cards to offer at least 2X rewards in at least two bonus categories. This card fulfills that requirement by offering 3X rewards in two broad bonus categories.
Rewards value: To earn this star, at least one redemption option must yield a value of at least 1 cent per point. This card gives a redemption value of 1.5 cents per point when you redeem for travel.
Unique perks: This car’s rental car discounts, Gogo passes and 3X rewards on mobile-wallet purchases help it earn this star.
Fair annual fee: The value of this card’s perks (travel credit, Global Entry reimbursement, Gogo passes, sign-up bonus, Priority Pass membership) cancel out the annual fee every year (assuming you use these perks).
Bonus-earning opportunities: This card offers an advertised sign-up bonus, but no other notable bonus-earning opportunities (such as redemption bonuses or bonus-shopping) for the rest of the life of the card. We rewarded half a star.

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