Changes to the American Express Platinum Charge Card

A week ago, on March 31st, American Express made some changes to their Platinum Charge card. Some simple and small, others more dramatic.

Here is a list of all the changes, in no particular order:

  • Card is now made of metal
  • Increased annual fee to $550
  • 5x rewards category for hotels booked through amextravel.com
  • Monthly Uber credit, max of $200/year
  • No annual fee for Gold cards for Authorized User cards

The biggest change was increasing the annual fee from $450 to $550. However, the Uber credit was added to make up for this increase while also, potentially, competing with the Chase Sapphire Reserve‘s $300 annual travel credit. The airline fee credit and the new Uber credit brings the Platinum card “travel credits” up to $400.

I feel the card being metal was long overdue considering the Chase Sapphire Preferred has been made of metal since it’s release (in 2011 I believe) and only has a $95 annual fee. Another small change that I think is great, the removal of annual fees on Gold cards for Authorized Users (AU). Previously, AU Gold cards were either $45 or $50, and a separate Gold Card has an annual fee of $160.

The Platinum card still doesn’t have bonus categories for food like the Gold and Premier Rewards Gold cards I discussed in my Introduction to American Express Charge Cards post. Now you can earn – 5x points on flights and hotels with the main Platinum card, and earn 2x points on restaurants with the Gold AU card.

With that said, the 5x points on hotels are not as simple as the 5x points on flights. For flights, you can book on amextravel.com or directly with the airline. Hotels have to be booked through the amextravel website, and they have to be qualifying hotels.

Qualified hotels are prepaid bookings which includes hotels from The Hotel Collection (HC), but not the Fine Hotels & Resorts (FHR). I am disappointed with requiring pre-paid bookings being these tend to go through 3rd party sites.

The Platinum card gives complimentary Gold status with Starwood Preferred Guest. However, booking a stay at an SPG property through the amextravel site prevents you from adding your SPG number to the reservation and earn rewards or get the benefits of having Gold status.

So this new reward category forces people to choose whether they want the benefits of any potential status they might hold (like Gold at SPG or Hilton) by booking directly with the hotel or earn 5x points through amextravel.com.

If you’ve read my post about A (Hypothetical) Weekend in Seattle, you’ll know some hotel reward programs allow you to earn points very easily which can equal a free reward night pretty quickly.

Earning points with a hotel program will be better than earning 5x Membership Rewards with the Platinum card most of the time. If you tend to go to which ever hotel is cheapest, instead of sticking with a single hotel program, then 5x points would make more sense for you.

Overview of the Changes and Final Thoughts

Some of these changes I like, such as no annual fee for Gold AU cards, and some were overdue, like the card being made of metal.

I don’t buy airplane tickets, and AirBnB is usually cheaper than a hotel, so the 5x categories aren’t worth much to me if I had the Platinum card. A generic travel credit or travel bonus category like the Chase Sapphire Reserve would serve me much better since I usually buy train tickets.

Do you like these changes, or would you rather not have the higher annual fee and a generic travel category?

Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco

A week ago, I competed in the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco half marathon. From getting to San Francisco, making my way through the pre-race expo, and trudging up and down the hills of San Francisco, this race had me face new obstacles in real time.

Pre-Race Expo

Walking up to the race Expo, I wouldn’t have know there was a race Expo going on inside if someone had not walked in the doors ahead of me. I knew the Expo was at Pier 35, and I saw Pier 35 on the building, but the signage for the Expo was rather limited and small. There were some people near the entrance because they, like me, needed to confirm their registration to learn their number and then sign the race waiver.

With my number in mind and waiver signed (that rhymed, didn’t it?), I made my way to pick-up my number. I was one of the first groups because the bibs were organized 0000-0999, 1000-1999, etc. and my number was in the 4000’s. At this first stop I only received my bib; I had to continue to the next stop to grab my shirt and bag.

Before I continue, this Expo was split into 4 “Stops”.  Stop 1 was getting your Bib, 2 was getting your Shirt and Gear Bag, 3 was Merchandise and 4 was Main Expo.

When I grabbed my bag I thought “Okay, this has all of my things including my VIP information” without realizing the bags were not unique to each other and not noticing the VIP table was not “just up ahead”. This meant I did not have my VIP packet, but I’ll move on for now.

The merchandise was nice, but I had everything I needed so I didn’t spend much time in Stop 3. I did take a look at the glasses they were selling with a Rock ‘n’ Roll and 13.1 logo.

The vendor I was most excited for was United because United had their new Polaris business class seats on display. Other vendors I noted were Brooks, Garmin, Run Disney, and SF Chronicle.

The one “vendor” I actually needed was the VIP table. Unfortunately for me, I was pre-occupied mentally. However, the VIP table was at the very end in a back corner of sorts. All of the vendors were set up with one row on the left and 2 rows on the right. VIP was the 2nd on the right so it wasn’t even easy to see when walking towards the exit.

Screen Shot 2017-03-28 at 10.05.45 PM

Race Day Morning

If I had received my VIP packet I would have known where the VIP shuttle pick-up was, but since I didn’t I needed the general shuttle pick-up area which was at the Civic Center Plaza.

Before leaving my hotel room I had to change into my running clothes, which meant I got to put on my Forrest Gump costume! With a natural beard, it’s hard not to want to dress as Forrest Gump.

Forrest Gump costume RnR SF halfI left the hotel and headed to Market St. towards Bay and noticed the streets were pleasantly barren. The sidewalks were being cleaned, but this isn’t a review of the streets of San Francisco.

After a quick shuttle ride to the start, I had to walk past the start line and through the general information and port-a-potty areas to the far back. This is where I was able to get my VIP wristband and VIP breakfast.

Once I felt ready I shed my jacket and shorts and checked my gear in my bag with the VIP bag check, grabbed a croissant breakfast-bag, and headed to the start line. Next, I began my warm-up by doing a quick jog down the nearby trail and to the corrals followed by some dynamic stretching to get my body ready for the next 3 hours of hills.

Everyone started congregating and condensing around the “Corral #” and pace runner signs as 6:15 began approaching. I saw the 2:45 pacer and wanted to get ahead of them so I could take it easy at places while still finishing close to them, so I looked for the 2:30 pacer.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t see the other pace sign well so once I got close enough to notice it said “2:00”. I thought I must have been blind since “2:00” was in Corral 7 and “2:45” was in Corral 8. But I wasn’t blind, the “2:15” and “2:30” pacers either weren’t holding their signs up or didn’t have them yet.

Anyways, Rock ‘n’ Roll races feature rock ‘n’ roll music blasting on speakers at the start, roughly every mile throughout, and at the finish of the race. But this time there was no music at the start. Maybe it had to do with the start line being in Golden Gate Park, but I wasn’t terribly disappointed about not having music at the start.

Good news was we still got a count down, of sorts. The lack of music was most likely because the race couldn’t make a lot of noise which meant they also couldn’t shout the count down through the speakers nor use an air horn.

The Race – 13.1 Miles of Hills

Course profile of the RnR SF half marathon
RnR SF half marathon course profile

The Start

Crossing the start line, we headed to the left and met our first tease of the course, a slight hill to get out of the Golden Gate Park. Once we summited this “bump” we had to go back down it then immediately turn to the right and then another left to introduce us to our first real hill.

If you haven’t realized it now, I’m going to be saying hill and talking about climbing frequently in this race review, so get ready!

On our way to the Golden Gate Bridge

This is a San Francisco half marathon so it has to include running over the Golden Gate Bridge (GGB). Of course that means we had to get to the Bridge from Golden Gate Park.

Getting to the GGB meant we had about 3.5mi of gradually steeper and steeper hills. The bottom of the first set of climbing featured a band dressed as hippies. I almost asked if any of them had seen Jenny but they were busy taking selfies with other runners.

Right around the 2.25mi point the final climb leading to the GGB began. Nearly 1mi later, we had climbed nearly 300ft with almost 200ft in the last half mile.

I am proud to say I did not walk the entire climb, nor was I alone in walking part of the climb. And as the saying goes, “what goes up must come down” and down we hiked. It was just as steep going downhill as it was uphill, but the downhill was longer.

After the torturous 1mi climb and 1mi descent, we were finally in sight of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Golden Gate Bridge was pretty crowded because there were nearly 6700 runners who needed to pass over the bridge in two traffic lanes with one lane going North and the other South.

Reaching the Vista Point was a relief because there was much more space so the runners didn’t need to be shoulder to shoulder anymore, plus the view was nice. This also featured the second band, this one being a band of military personnel. Heading back to the Bridge and starting the return into San Francisco helped remind me just how long the Golden Gate Bridge is and how long it was going to take to get back across.

Despite all my complaining about the hills and length of the Bridge, the view made the trip worth the suffering, as well as the Forrest Gump references from people crossing paths with me. One woman complimented me on my outfit and said I had the legs to pull it off, so that eased the pain I was feeling.

Bidding the Bridge Fair-well

With the Bridge in my rearview mirror, I was tasked with running down to Marina Blvd which, surprise surprise, featured a steep downhill which I had to walk most of the way down. Once I got to Marina Blvd, it was nice and flat.

Marina Blvd allowed us a mostly flat course for about 2 miles but then we were right back to the typical San Francisco hills making our way towards our final summit.

After beginning to climb the city streets past Marina Blvd, our summit was About 2 miles with about 200ft of climbing. Now, the finish line was all downhill from here.

However, if you remember, downhill does not mean the final stretch was a walk in the park nor was it a piece of cake. I did walk, but only because it was still a steep downhill and running was difficult (but it’s a half marathon, it’s not supposed to be easy). And there wasn’t even cake at the finish line.

I finally made it to the final stretch without much of a slope and I was feeling fine so I picked up the pace. The final performer was dressed as Beyoncé and almost everyone was passing the performer on the right so I decided to go left. Coming in to the final 0.1 mi and I started passing people.

At the finishing chute the announcer was calling off names and told everyone “here comes Forrest” when I came into view. Crossing the finishing line, I was finally done and able to avoid any and all the hills I wanted.

Running down the finishing chute

Post-Race Party

The finish line had the usual volunteers passing out medals, people taking photos with their new medals, and others trying desperately to get refueled via chocolate milk and sports drinks (that was me).

Music was played by another live band, but the music made it difficult to hear people. Fortunately, I had not reconnected with my parents yet so this wasn’t much of a problem for a few minutes.

Since I had my VIP package, I made my way to the VIP area, but I accidentally went to the VIP area for people from The Westin. Strangely, my checked gear bag was at this VIP area instead of at the United VIP area next door. So it worked out despite me being in the wrong place.

Rock 'n' Roll San Francisco post-race VIP area

In the VIP area I found some light food and got a massage after changing my shorts. The masseuse’s name was Sean, I think, and he was magnificent at the massage. My neck had a kink for about a week (hey, I rhymed again) and my upper-back tends to get tight when I run so I asked for my 10 minute massage to be focused on my shoulders instead of my calves.

Check-out at my hotel, the Parc 55 San Francisco, was at 11 and my massage ended at 10:10 so I needed to hurry back to my hotel. I texted the hotel desk to ask for a late check-out and they said yes, I could check out an hour later. That left me enough time to eat breakfast in the hotel restaurant, shower and change back in my room.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I thought this race was lacking when I compare it to what I’ve seen at the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose the previous 2 years. The pre-race Expo was arranged too neatly. I know that seems weird but the orderly layout of the Expo prevented me from getting my VIP package at the Expo.

Beyond the Expo, I was disappointed in the lack of music at the start line, and I was not able to train for the hills well, so it was not entirely Rock ‘n’ Roll’s fault I didn’t have a blast.

If I do this race again I’ll have to be in a more hilly region while I train or I need to make some trips to San Francisco. However, I’ll have a better understanding of the organization of the events for the weekend next time.

In the end, I chose this race because it is local and one of the four races which qualify people for the special California medal, which requires 3 of 4 California half/full marathons. With that, I’m glad I did the race, and I’m happy with my performance.

Parc 55 San Francisco – a Hilton Hotel

Getting to the Parc 55

San Francisco is about 2 hours away from San Jose whether I took Caltrain directly from SJ -> SF or if I took a bus to Fremont to catch BART. The Parc 55 is immediately across the street from the Powell BART station so I elected to take BART.

Leaving the Powell BART station, most people turned right to go towards the escalators up to Market St. I turned left and saw the Parc 55 hotel calling for me to check-in to my room.

Getting to the street level was easy since I was able to take the stairs near the Parc 55, but someone who needed the escalator would have had to go to the opposite side nearer Market St than the hotel.

The Hotel

A quick crossing of the street led me to the driveway and drop off for valet parking, as well as the doorman and entrance to the hotel.

Driveway doorway of Parc 55

Walking through the ground floor lobby didn’t take long with the stairs just inside and the escalators on the opposite side of the stairs. I made my way past the stairs and onto the escalators to head up to the check-in desk.

Being a member of Hilton Honors, the Hilton rewards program, allows guests to check in and choose a room the day before their stay. I checked in and picked a room on the 12th floor before arriving, but I still headed to the check-in desk in case there were any upgrades since I have Diamond status.

As luck would have it, there were a couple rooms on floors 24, 25 and 27 and the person at the desk gave me a room on the 27th floor. I didn’t know what type of view this would have, but the view ended up being great.

View from the 27th floor of the Parc 55 San Francisco

After checking in, I headed to the elevators and found there were no up/down buttons. There was, instead, a number pad to punch in the desired floor. So I punched in “2” and “7” and the display told me which elevator and points in the direction of the elevator (A and to the left).

The Room

Reaching my room was easy, but opening the door posed another new obstacle. Every other hotel I’ve stayed in required the keycard to be slid into a slot for the magnetic strip to be read. This keycard, however, only needed to be placed against the reader to unlock the door.

Immediately inside the door to the left was the bathroom and to the right was the closet with mirrors on the sliding doors. Directly ahead were the beds, the desk, dresser, arm chairs, and the windows with the view from above.

2 Bed bedroom in Parc 55 San Francisco

My parents were staying with me so I reserved a room with two beds. They had not yet arrived, so I took some time to tour the room.

The desk was large enough to have my laptop and a textbook, if I had brought a textbook, set up for doing homework. Sitting in the chairs was a little weird because the arms were so tall. But the dresser and the TV on top were probably the most interesting things in the room.

A row of digital inputs and outputs were available on the side of the dresser for connecting a laptop or DVD player, or whatever you had. I forgot my HDMI chord in my room so I let myself down by having only my laptop screen to watch Netflix on. The end of the row near the wall had 4 wall adapters and each one was rotated 90 degrees around each other to prevent anything plugged in from getting in the way of another adapter.

TV inputs/outputs in the Parc 55 San Francisco hotel room

Moving on to the windows and the view, venting the room meant not opening the window. Instead, there were little vents at the bottom that lifted up or down.

Here is a clip of the vent opening.

Texts from the Desk?

A few hours after I checked in, and while I was away at dinner, I received a text from the hotel, probably the concierge desk, asking me how everything was in my room. That night and the next morning I received a few more texts, and I asked them a few questions. My most important question I asked them was if I could get a late check-out.

Being a member of the Hilton Honors program also gives you the option for checking out late. Normal check-out time is 11am and I was going to be cutting things close, and not have time for a shower, so I shot a quick text to the desk. Fortunately they extended my check-out time by another hour which gave me enough time to grab some breakfast, shower, and pack before heading down to the check-out desk.

Checking out was smooth, although there were numerous people so it took a few minutes. I paid for my valet, texted the valet to get the car ready, and then headed down the escalators to find my parents already at the car.

Overall experience

I enjoyed my stay. The building looked nice, the room was better than I expected, and the texts from the (concierge) desk was the final piece to convince me to pick the Parc 55 San Francisco if I ever need a hotel in San Francisco again.

Rewards Time

In my post about A (Hypothetical) Weekend in Seattle I go over the rewards earning structure of different hotel programs including Hilton. To keep recap, my American Express Hilton Honors card (with no annual fee) earns 7 points/$1 on Hilton transactions, and from being a member of Hilton Honors I get 10 points, Diamond I get an extra 5 points, and for earning Points + Points I get another 5 points on the room rate. This means the room rate of $220 earned me 20x points (4400 points), and my card earned 7x points on the final price of $256 + $71 for valet parking.

My total earnings from this one night stay with my parents earned me 4400 points for the room, 2289 points from my card, which comes to 6685 points total.

Looking at the breakdown on Hilton’s website, I’m seeing something a little different. I earned 2820 base points and 1410 for each of the Diamond and Points+Points bonuses. Plus, I earned 500 points for booking my stay with an American Express card, and I received a gift of 1000 bonus points as my Diamond benefit from the hotel (I chose points over a water bottle). This brings my actual total points earned to 9429 points.

In the A (Hypothetical) Weekend in Seattle, I mentioned the cheapest rooms available for each of the hotel programs is 5000 points, which means this one night stay was enough to earn a full night at a Tier 1 hotel, and almost 2 nights at a Tier 1 or 1 night at a Tier 2 hotel.

 

If you would like to use my referral link for the American Express Hilton Honors credit card, you will earn 80,000 Hilton Honors points after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months. This is more than enough for a typical 1 night stay at the Parc 55 San Francisco.

Using my link is voluntary and will help support me by me earning 20,000 Honors points which I can use towards another hotel review.

Complimentary VIP at Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon San Francisco

United Airlines emailed me yesterday morning to invite me to register for complimentary VIP benefits of I was registered for the Rock ‘n’ Roll (RNR) San Francisco race.

Good news! I am registered to run RNR San Francisco so I signed up for the pre- and post-race VIP benefits.

Now, if you are also registered for this race but did not buy either of the VIP packages, RNR probably sent you a few emails telling you to buy the VIP benefit packages for $59 or $89. Because I know I was.

From United:

  • One invitation to the MileagePlus pre-race hospitality at the Beach Chalet Brewery & Restaurant on Sunday, March 26, 2017 from 4:30 a.m. to 6:15 a.m. Invitation is available to recipient (runner only) and is non-transferable
    • Light breakfast and hot beverages
    • Private baggage drop-off
    • Private restrooms
    • Private shuttle to start corrals
  • Up to two invitations (runner and a guest) to the post-race hospitality at the VIP tent inside the finish line festival on Sunday, March 26, 2017 beginning post-race to 11:00 a.m. The recipient (runner) and a guest must have individual invitations for each entry. Invitations are non-transferable.
    • Accessible location near the finish line
    • Brunch and beverage service
    • Runner amenities including private baggage pickup and more
    • Private shuttle back to parking at Beach Chalet Brewery & Restaurant

Buying the VIP packages from RNR you’ll get:

  • PRE-RACE ONLY VIP PACKAGE
    • Continental Breakfast
      • Pre-race coffee service and breakfast bag to include fruit and breakfast bread.
    • Private Restrooms
      • available only to VIP participants at the start.
    • Private Gear Check
      • Avoid the crowds with private VIP gear check located at the VIP area at the start.
    • Reserved Parking
      • Reserved VIP parking at the finish line with a VIP shuttle to the start line pre-race.
      • *You will receive a parking pass in your VIP packet with detailed directions to the reserved VIP parking area.
    • VIP Shuttle
      • *VIP Shuttles available pre-race from the finish line parking area will have one departure time at 5:00 am to the start line VIP area. You may catch later shuttles located at Civic Center Plaza with non-VIP participants.
      • *After the start of the race, VIP shuttles from the start to the finish line VIP Area will depart at 7:15 am. You will meet in the VIP area and directed to this shuttle.
      • *There will be no post-race shuttles returning to the start line area.
  • Full VIP Package AMENITIES
    • The same as the Pre-Race Only package plus the following
    • Catered Buffet
      • Post-race catered brunch buffet
    • Post-Race Massage
      • Massages will be available post-race and will be provided by Psoas Massage + Bodywork.
      • Massages are limited to 10 minutes max per person and are offered on a first come, first served basis. Due to high demand, there may be a wait list during peak times.
    • Yoga Stretching
      • Post-race stretching area available.
    • Private Restrooms
      • Post race private portable restrooms.
    • Post-Race Changing Tents
      • Changing tents will be available post-race in the VIP area.
    • VIP Bar
      • Post-race hosted VIP Bar offering Michelob Ultra, Gatorade, and mimosas.

To sum this all up, United offered up to 180 people the chance to register for the full VIP benefits that would cost $89 through Rock ‘n’ Roll.

The email, which can be found below, gives locations and times for the benefits with what is offered. Whereas the RNR website lists each VIP benefit individually with an extra sentence or two to make the VIP packages more enticing.

Overall, I thought it was great United offered these VIP packages to their Frequent Flyer members for free instead of restricting this offer to people with status or United MileagePlus credit card holders.

Shop by Voice Command With Google Home

Google released a blog post earlier today on their site explaining they’ve added a new feature to Google Home, shopping.

You can set it up and start shopping by voice with the phrase “Ok Google, how do I shop?” or going through the Google Home app on your smartphone or tablet. The app is also where you would add payment information and a delivery address.

Because this is Google, and not Amazon, the shopping feature is of course through Google Express. This means you can shop from this list of supported Google Express retailers for now. Google says everyone gets a 3 month free trial their first time around, so we “don’t have to worry about additional service or membership fees.”

I’ve never tried or used Google Express before, but I think I would have tried it earlier this year if I could shop from multiple retailers in one order when I needed a printer from Staples and toothpaste from Walgreens and my new boots from Kohls. Again, that’s if I could combine different retailers in one order. Otherwise, it wouldn’t make much sense to get an entire order for one things from 3 stores.

As this feature is developed more, I hope orders can be placed through more than just Google Express, because then it won’t be limited to cities with Google Express. But I see that coming in the next couple years, not the next couple months.

13 inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar

Apple revealed their new MacBook Pro for 2016. They released 2 variations, 1 with a normal keyboard and another with the option of replacing the Function keys at the top of the keyboard with a Touch Bar.

I wanted to try out this new Touch Bar with Touch ID so I went online and ordered one. Here’s my take on the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar.

What’s New?

So what’s new on this 2016 MacBook Pro? Like I said, there are two variants, one with a normal keyboard and the other with a Touch Bar. But that’s not the only thing new.

Apple switched all of the ports on the MacBook Pro to USB Type C ports. The MacBook Pro without a Touch Bar has only 2 ports, one on each side. The Touch Bar laptops have 4 ports, two on each side. Ironically, they kept the headphone jack on this version of the MacBook Pro.

What is USB-C?

USB Type C is exactly what it says, a USB port but a new type (Type C to be exact). But the cool thing about USB-C is the ability to do more than send files between your laptop and a flash drive. USB-C allows for external storage (hard drives, flash drives, etc.) to be connected, and it replaces the HDMI or VGA ports.

The final function USB-C serves on this MacBook Pro is charging (fast I might add, too). No longer do MacBook Pros come with a mag-safe charger. They come with a 1m (~6.5 ft) cord that has a USB-C connector on each end.

Beyond USB-C

Jpeg

The Touch Bar, the biggest purpose of this, is definitely something different that I look forward to watching the progression of. As I said above, the Touch Bar replaces the Function keys on the standard keyboard.

On the far right side of the Touch Bar is a square section separate from the rest which acts as the power button and is a Touch ID sensor. This makes unlocking your laptop as simple as touching your finger to the sensor, and allows you to pay for things with your fingertip.

Next to the Touch ID and power button, certain buttons show all the time (4 customizable keys and the [esc] button) and if you open a Safari window or a support app/website you’ll see different things on the Touch Bar.

Current functionality is pretty minimal for the Touch Bar beyond simple “oh, that’s cool” things. I use Evernote to take notes in classes and the Touch Bar shows various formatting buttons, but they’re not the most convenient to use.

screenshot-2017-01-30-22-02-15

I already know the keyboard shortcuts for bolding, italicizing, and underlining (Alt/Cmnd + b, i, u,) so I don’t need those options on the Touch Bar. However, if those functions weren’t up there I would certainly be disappointed.

Making a bulleted or numbered list requires tapping on the list menu then tapping the list type which takes about as long as it would if I used the touch pad to click on the format option.

screenshot-2017-01-31-00-56-29

Safari actually shows little previews of my open tabs so I can actually see which tab I need instead of switching through all of them if I have too many open. It also shows my favorite websites if I open a new window or tab, and allows playing/pausing and scrubbing through YouTube videos.

screenshot-2017-01-31-01-00-34
Safari tab preview
screenshot-2017-01-31-00-52-19
Safari favorites on touch bar
screenshot-2017-01-31-00-54-07
Safari video scrubbing on touch bar

I’ll type up a separate post to go over the different functionalities of the Touch Bar in-depth.

My Impression

Overall, I like the 2016 MacBook Pro. I like the adoption of USB-C ports, the touch bar is interesting, the large touch pad is a little inconvenient, but the keyboard is mostly not bad.

USB-C is definitely the future of USB and connecting to computers/laptops so it’s good seeing 4 USB-C ports on the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (2 on the plain MacBook Pro), Having one regular USB on the laptop, or one on each side, would have made sense and eased the migration instead of requiring people to buy all the adapters but Apple likes selling things so more adapters means more sales (and money).

I think the Touch Bar is a nice novelty piece for now. Allowing full customization of what shows all the time, beyond only 4 keys, would be nice. Adoption in other apps (like Google Chrome) or more websites (like Google Drive apps) would be nice and make the Touch Bar more practical.

Keyboard, Touch pad, and Typing

The keys on the keyboard are what’s called butterfly keys. This means the keys move downward very little when pressed so typing is very smooth, but also noisy. Which I think is weird.

One thing I dislike about the keyboard is the up/down arrows are smooshed to take up the same height as the full-sized left/right keys making navigating via arrow keys a little tricky. Another downside to the keyboard is the lack of physical keys due to the Touch Bar meaning I press the far right or esc buttons unintentionally.

This could be due to my large hands, which also leads to my palms taking up the entire space to the left and right of the touch pad, and often times spilling over onto the touch pad making it not move my cursor correctly.

Aside from the keyboard area, the screen is still not touch sensitive which I wish it was from time to time, but it’s not expected to come any time soon. However, the resolution is much better than my current lenovo (so watching 4K videos on YouTube is finally possible, and they’re nice) but the screen isn’t necessarily any better than the 2015 MacBook Pro.

Battery Related Info

Battery life is interesting. It charges quickly (via USB-C) and using the MacBook Pro for typing this blog in Google Docs and Photos reduced the battery from roughly 90% to 60% in 2 hours. But when I was watching videos back-to-back drained the battery pretty fast.

Skype and Facetime will certainly drain the battery quickly, but I usually talk for over an hour and it drops ~50% in those 60-90 minutes.

Minimal battery life is likely due to the drastically reduced size of the battery from last year. The 2015 MacBook Pro has a 74.9-watt-hour battery, whereas the new 2016 MacBook Pro with Touch Bar has a 49.2-watt-hour battery. To help you understand just how drastic this is, here’s how a watt-hour is calculated:

If you use 25 watts for 1 hour, you’ve used 25 watt-hours. That means, a 74.9 watt-hour battery can last almost 1.5x as long as a 49.2 watt-hour battery with the same power usage.

Final Thoughts

Do I like this 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar? Sure, it’s a fun little alternative to my 15.6” lenovo laptops and my parent’s 21-inch iMac.

Would I buy this if I wasn’t making a blog to give my impression? Maybe, but probably not. Why? Because even with an education discount (a whopping $100 savings), it still costs $1700 for the bare minimum, bottom end 13-inch with a Touch Bar.

The 2015 13-inch MacBook Pro costs only $1200 and has all the ports that don’t require a dozen adapters.

Would I keep this laptop? Probably not in its current state. More websites and apps need to be able to use the Touch Bar (or use it better) for me to really consider keeping a laptop that cost this much that also requires a dozen adapters. Also, the battery is way too small when you consider the touch bar is constantly on which is going to drain the much smaller battery.

This is a nice start to moving laptops towards USB-C and introducing the Touch Bar.

I think the Touch Bar is going to need some serious innovating to make it worth the cost. But once it has been innovated, it will be to the Function Keys that the cellphone touchscreen did to the T-9 and QWERTY keyboards on phones.

How to Use Citi ThankYou Points (TYP)

Citibank has several cards which earn their flexible reward points called ThankYou Points (TYP). I talked about these cards in my post about TYP earning cards which you can read here.

These points are similar to Ultimate Rewards points from Chase and Membership Rewards points from American Express by having multiple options for redemption.

TYP have a lot of uses: paying student loans or mortgages, redeeming for gift cards or statement credits for select expenses, transferring to airline and hotel partners, or redeeming the points through the TYP portal for flights based on cash prices.

For this post, I’ll focus on the redemptions giving each point a value of at least 1 cent. That is, 100 points = $1.00 or more.

The “better” methods:

  • Loan payments (might have devalued recently)
  • Gift cards
  • ThankYou Point travel portal
  • Transfer to Hotels or Airlines

Other uses for TYP:

  • Statement credit
  • Cash back (bad value)
  • Shop with TYP (bad value)
  • Shop with TYP at Amazon (bad value)

From the list of “Other Uses”, statement credits are the best option at a value of 0.75 cents per points (cpp) while cash back has a value of 0.5 cpp. These two redemptions are essentially the same (redeeming points for straight money) but different methods.

To give you an idea of what these values mean: 100 points can be redeemed for either $0.75 as a statement credit, or the same 100 points can be redeemed for $0.50 cash back (going directly into a bank account).

If you have a couple hundred points that you want to use up, redeeming those points for a statement credit could save you the money from a meal or two.

As for the “better” methods, loan payments and gift cards are exactly 1 cpp. Transferring points gives a value which varies on which airline or hotel you transfer to and what you’re booking with that hotel or airline.

Hilton seems to be the only hotel transfer partner where 1000 TYP convert into 1500 Hilton points.

Airline partners TYP can be transferred to included:

  • JetBlue
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Cathay Pacific (Asia Miles)
  • EVA Air
  • Etihad
  • Air France and KLM (Flying Blue)
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Malaysia
  • Qantas
  • Qatar
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Thai Airways

Booking travel through the TYP portal gives either 1, 1.25, 1.33, or 1.6 cpp depending on which card you have, what you’re booking, and how long you’ve had your card.

TYP have the following values through the travel portal if you have:

  • Citi Prestige
    • 1.6 cents/point (cpp) for American Airline flights
    • 1.33 cpp for other airlines (1.25 cpp starting July 23, 2017)
    • 1 cpp for car rentals, hotels, and cruises
  • Citi Premier
    • 1.33 cpp for American Airlines flights
    • 1.25 cpp for all other airlines, car rentals, hotels, and cruises

The good redemptions tend to be either booking American Airline flights with the Citi Prestige before the end of July this year, flights on any airline with either card, or transferring points to other airlines where the cents/point value is strictly dependent on the flight booked.

However, this means you need large amounts of points except for short flights like from SFO to LAX or LAX to PHX. This is where many people might consider using their low balance of TYP for a statement credit against a meal they enjoyed.