AMEX Platinum Card and Fairmont Hotels

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It’s hard to see how an AMEX platinum card or Fairmont Hotels would have anything to do with budget family travel but stay with me here.

My first year with my platinum card is coming to an end and I admit I have gotten a bit addicted to it.  If you remember, I signed up for the $700 (all prices in Cdn funds) card and got 75 000 bonus points worth about $750.  Thus making the card free in the first year if you are a traveller.  This was during an insane promotion last year.  You can convert the points to Aeroplan or Avios or you can simply pay for any type of travel on your card and use your points to pay the balance.

You also get a $200 travel credit per calendar year so in essence, in your first year of card use you get $400 in travel credit.  There are many other benefits including access to airport lounges regardless of airline flown or seat class.

The benefit that I’m focusing on today is with Fairmont.  The first thing to do is get a platinum AMEX.  This is not as difficult as it might seem.  The main barrier is the $699 annual fee.  Other than that, you have to be Canadian, have an income of at least $40K and have excellent credit.

The next thing to do is to sign up for the Fairmont President’s Club (FPC).  Luckily, it’s free.

Now, let’s start combining to get this party started.

If you are a platinum card member and you stay five nights at any Fairmont hotels in a calendar year, you are automatically catapulted to the highest FPC membership status (also called platinum so you will be platinum squared).  This gives you a host of benefits, the most useful for the budget traveller being the credits.  And they are -drum roll please-

  • 2 room upgrades
  • 2 suite upgrades
  • 1 free night
  • 4 x $25 US restaurant/spa credits

When you join FPC, I recommend you take advantage of “Great Rates, Great Dates”.  This is a program for members only, whereby excellent rates at certain hotels, for certain dates are posted on the first Thursday of every month.  This is a great place to start in the first year to get your five nights.  Fahbio and I used GRGD for our 7-night stay in Chicago in August.

We then used our free night for a recent romantic staycation at the Chateau Laurier, in Ottawa.  With our platinum AMEX, we were guaranteed early check-in (as early as 9 am!) and late check-out (till 4 pm!!).  We took advantage of this and essentially had a two-day stay using only one night.  We also cashed in a suite upgrade to pamper ourselves.  Presto – free sanity break.  Even with the worst freezing rain of the winter thus far, we had a lovely time.  I would say that this was would have cost about $450 for the suite or $200 for a room.

We then used GRGD to book the Chateau Montebello resort for one night.  Because GRGD are so heavily discounted, it’s not possible to use FPC room upgrades on them.  Depending on hotel, Fairmont has rooms that sleep up to 6 people and the Montebello is one of them.  We booked one of these larger, premium rooms for $179.  With taxes and fees, it came out to just over $200 – a stunningly low price for a large room at the Montebello.

As of this year the Montebello is tacking on an additional $25 per room per night “resort fee”.  This is over and above the $200 I quoted for the room.  With one or two people in the room, this is a pretty crumby tax but for a family it rocks.  The fee covers all activities (which used to be free anyways) but it also covers all equipment (which you used to have to bring or rent).  So now you can skate, snowshoe, cross-country ski etc without having to bring anything with you to do so. Even for those of us with equipment, it is definitely worth $25 to not have to fill the van with 6x all of this stuff.

We used our early check-in to arrive at 10:30 am.  We spent the day skiing, swimming, and playing games by the enormous six-sided fireplace.  We then had a picnic dinner in our room watching trashy Food Network tv.  We had brought pulled pork and heated it up in a weird Salton kettle-looking thing we found while cleaning out the basement.  Threw in some tortilla chips and 7-layer dip.  Delicious!

Using our late check-out, the next day Fahbio and I attended a curling clinic while the girls played more games by the fire.  We then treated the kids to dog-sledding (extra cost).  At noon we cashed in our dining credits and enjoyed the excellent cold buffet in the dining room.  The buffet included hot soup, composed salads, cheese platters, charcuterie, green salads, smoked fish, and a stunning dessert table along with coffee and tea.  After lunch we played cards and headed out for an afternoon of skiing.  We made it back to the sports centre ten minutes before they closed at five.  After a quick visit to the lobby to check out and hydrate, we hopped in the car and headed home.

The current AMEX platinum bonus offer is 50 000 points which is still a great deal.  If you sign up via this referral link you’ll receive 60 000 points instead.  I’m currently in the difficult position of trying to decide whether or not to renew my card at $699.  If I do, I won’t be getting any bonus sign-up points so the card will be more dear but I’m leaning toward thinking it will still be worth it.  I’ll let you know what I decide :-)

 

Natalie MacMaster

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Note: This interview has been condensed.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of interviewing Celtic fiddling and step-dancing sensation, Natalie MacMaster.  She’ll be performing a sold-out Christmas show in Ottawa this week along with her husband, musician Donnell Leahy.  Not only do they tour roughly 100 days a year but they also maintain a family beef farm and raise six young children.

A common misconception of homeschooling is that it is done by two-parent, single-income families. My experience is that a high percentage of families are dual income and a surprising number are single-parent.  The MacMaster/Leahy team are a visible example of how people work homeschooling into the existing life they have, whatever that is.

SWMBO: What is your homeschooling style? Do you adopt an unschooling approach to maintain your sanity?

NM: We’ve only ever homeschooled our family.  Mary Francis was 3 1/2-ish and I thought I better try this if we’re going to be touring.  I had hoped I would never have to homeschool.  But I have a teaching degree from teachers’ college and I thought I better be open to it because look at what we’re doing.  How can our kids ever go to school?

I thought I’ll just order a couple of books and see what it’s all about.  I found it very difficult at first.  I think I started her too young.  I think I was overly eager.  Too much for too young an age but I kept it up and here we are with 5 in school.

Now I split the homeschooling with a retired teacher of 30 years.  She does two days and I do two days a week.  And then when I’m on tour I do the schooling solely or if we have a project of some sort like a recording project, she can take on more if I need.

I follow a bit of a curriculum with the Seyton program and then we have Saxon Math.  Now that I’m on tour, I brought with me science, journal-writing, religion and math.  And we try to do that four days a week.

SWMBO: On the road, do you run into other performing artists homeschooling their kids? Is it more prevalent than people might think?

NM: NO!  No. No. No.  Not a lot of people in this industry have children.

SWMBO:  What is the typical reaction you get when people find out that your kids are on the road with you, performing and homeschooling?

NM: Well, I don’t really know.  I don’t think they really tell me.  They must think something.  I don’t make it [homeschooling] public knowledge.  If someone asks me, I tell them.  Some people say, “Oh wow.”  Or “How do you do it?

natalie-mcmaster-chelsea-aric

Y2K: Natalie MacMaster in 2000 at the Kingston Celtic Festival with young fans Chelsea and Aric McPherson. Photo credit: Ingrid McPherson

Hacking Update – November 14, 2016

GOAL: 7 Free one-way tickets from Ontario to Japan by September 2017. It’s an ambitious goal and an experiment in travel hacking for large families. ATTAINED!

METHOD: Mainly reward miles earned through credit card sign-up bonuses. Also credit card purchases and miles earned on flights.

COST PER TICKET: roughly $520 Cdn to purchase OR 37 500 Aeroplan points OR 5 580 blue Airmiles (low season)

BASELINE AT JAN 1, 2016:

SUMMARY – 1 free flight (Ontario – Japan)

FAHBIO – 67 326 Aeroplan points
SWMBO – 0 Aeroplan points, 4719 blue Airmiles points

Keeping organized with my credit card hacking is important. I have to make sure to meet the minimum first 3 month spend and to remember to cancel cards before the first year is up if I decide the annual fee is not worth it.

Beginning May 1, 2016, I will post a monthly update on where we’re at. When you see a big jump from last month, you can bet a credit card sign-up bonus is involved. To get the details, please see my frequently updated credit card tracker.

NOVEMBER 14, 2016

SUMMARY

7 free flights (Ontario – Japan) GOAL ATTAINED IN 11 MONTHS!

FAHBIO

114 556 Aeroplan points

SWMBO

19 979 Aeroplan points
8 380 blue Airmiles points
171 563 AMEX reward points* (75 000 of these points cost $700, the price of a Platinum Amex card. Since I am opposed to paying for points, I’m not counting these towards my free flights. Technically, they just mean that the Platinum card was free since they are worth $750 and the card cost $699.) 171 563 – 75 000 = 100 563

SEPTEMBER 12, 2016

SUMMARY

6 free flights (Ontario – Japan) but so close to having 7 free flights

FAHBIO

106 173 Aeroplan points

SWMBO

19 979 Aeroplan points
8 244 blue Airmiles points
167 587 AMEX reward points* (75 000 of these points cost $700, the price of a Platinum Amex card. Since I am opposed to paying for points, I’m not counting these towards my free flights. Technically, they just mean that the Platinum card was free since they are worth $750 and the card cost $699.) 167 587 – 75 000 = 92 587

AUGUST 1, 2016

SUMMARY

4 free flights (Ontario – Japan) but so close to having 6 free flights

FAHBIO

103 874 Aeroplan points

SWMBO

19 609 Aeroplan points
8 145 blue Airmiles points
122 119 AMEX reward points* (75 000 of these points cost $700, the price of a Platinum Amex card. Since I am opposed to paying for points, I’m not counting these towards my free flights. Technically, they just mean that the Platinum card was free since they are worth $750 and the card cost $699.) 122 119 – 75 000 = 47 119

JULY 1, 2016

SUMMARY

4 free flights (Ontario – Japan)

FAHBIO

100 557 Aeroplan points

SWMBO

19 609 Aeroplan points
8 034 blue Airmiles points
40 443 AMEX reward points*

JUNE 1, 2016

SUMMARY

4 free flights (Ontario – Japan), almost 1 free flight earned per month

FAHBIO

96 433 Aeroplan points

SWMBO

19 609 Aeroplan points
7 889 blue Airmiles points
37 743 AMEX reward points*

MAY 1, 2016

SUMMARY

4 free flights (Ontario – Japan), almost 1 free flight earned per month

FAHBIO

90 133 Aeroplan points

SWMBO

19 609 Aeroplan points
7 679 blue Airmiles points
32 614 AMEX reward points*

*AMEX points can be used as a travel credit (100 points = $1) or transferred to Avios (British Airways) or Aeroplan (Air Canada) 1:1.