I went to Finland, and I brought my cards

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Caroline and I recently came back from Finland, which was a pretty great place to go, if you like black licorice, which I do. It’s everywhere! We also ate reindeer and slept in a glass igloo. We saw beautiful birch trees and beautiful design. Our hotel in Helsinki, the Klaus K, had such an outstanding breakfast buffet that it brought a tear in my eye to leave it.

But who gives a shit about any of that? What’s important is what cards I used to get the most out of our trip. Amirite?

Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select: First off, we had a pile of American AAdvantage points lying around from earnings on our former shared card, a Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select. That got us nonstop from JFK to HEL on Finnair. (In coach. I tried for business class. There was no availability.) That saved us $2200.

Citi Prestige 4th night free: We booked our hotel using the Citi Prestige concierge line, which allowed us to get 4th night free. I used that to spend what we would have anyway, but upgrade us to a balcony room, which was super nice.

Citi Prestige TSA PreCheck: Seriously, I don’t know what took me so long to get PreCheck. No taking out laptop. No taking off shoes. No assuming the position in the rape machine. No pat-downs. No massive line. And the Citi Prestige paid the PreCheck application fee! (The Chase Sapphire Reserve would have, too.)

Citi Prestige American lounge access: Another perk of the Prestige is that if you’re flying on American, you can use the American Admirals Club lounge. Unfortuantely, this perk is going away next summer, and it’s unavailable to new applicants even now. But I got it just in time. It was sweet, in particular because the amenities in JFK Terminal 8 are surprisingly bad.

Chase Sapphire Reserve megapoints: You get 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points when you spend $4,000 within 3 months of signing up. And you get 3 points per dollar you spend on dining, travel, transportation, and lodging. So we blew a good chunk of that requirement on this trip, with most of it earning triple points. That’s our next trip’s flights, already paid for! And there was no premium for using the card because it has no foreign exchange fee. (And we made sure to always pay in euros when given the option, because you get a shit exchange rate if you choose dollars.)

Chase Sapphire Reserve Priority Pass: It turns out there’s a membership program called Priority Pass that grants you access to a large network of airport lounges, mostly in Europe. Some of these are affiliated with an airline (though rarely a US carrier), and some of them are completely independent. Some of the lounges are nice; some are garbage. The Sapphire Reserve (as well as Citi Prestige, Amex Platinum, and other premium cards) comes with a limited membership called Priority Pass Select, which is hamstrung by limited visiting hours in many locations. But there were no such problems in the Helsinki airport, where there were two Priority Pass lounges. The one on the “Europe” side was pleasant if not luxurious, and it had yum food, plus cool hanging clear ball chairs. The other lounge was on the far side of passport control, and it was set up like someone’s home, with a kitchen and a living room. I stretched out on the couch and went to sleep. Fuckin lovely.

SPG More For You promotion: I got incredibly fortunate — Starwood launched a promotion that offered triple Starpoints, two days before we left, and the hotel we were staying at is one of their brands. WHOOOO. By enrolling in this free promotion, we got triple Starpoints automatically. And those are useful not only for hotel stays, but for flights on tons of airlines.

SPG Airline Direct Deposit: I took advantage of an obscure SPG option called Airline Direct Deposit (the acronym is fitting for me). It immediately transfers the base points you earn to the airline of your choosing. Normally there would be no reason to do this, except that with ADD, one Starpoint is worth one United mile, whereas if you transfer it manually later, that same United mile will cost you two Starpoints.

Various insurance: Between the Sapphire Reserve and the Citi Prestige, we were financially protected against flight and baggage delays (or loss), trip cancellation, medical problems, rental car damage, and roadside assistance.

First Tech Federal Credit Union Choice: This was a backup card — it supports true European-style chip+PIN, rather than US-style chip+signature. I really didn’t need this, it turned out, because the Sapphire Reserve worked everywhere in Finland, just like it does in the US, but I didn’t know that it would before I left. I did need to use the chip+PIN card once at a coffee shop, though.

Mobile Passport: It has nothing to do with credit cards, but the free Mobile Passport app allowed us to skip a nightmarish border control line at JFK (and not have to fill out the blue form, either). I have never seen Caroline so joyous as when we whisked right through. You want this app. Unless you’re flying into LAX, where it’s not supported. Then you’re screwed.

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