US Bank Altitude Reserve – The Most Overrated Credit Card in the Hobby

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US Bank Altitude Reserve

US Bank Altitude Reserve – The Most Overrated Credit Card in the Hobby

I generally try not to traffic in superlatives.  Quite often, there is more of a given feeling or opinion out there, I just haven’t had the pleasure or pain of experiencing it yet.  However, I passionately feel that the US Bank Altitude Reserve is the most overrated credit card in the hobby.  When I say “hobby” in this context, I’m not talking about the general users who are only casually involved in travel rewards credit cards.  More accurately, I’m referring to avid points and miles enthusiasts who seemingly bend over backwards to obtain the card.  Enthusiasts freeze credit reports, focus on “Sagestream”, apply for mediocre US Bank products, and take other actions in the hopes of eventually getting approved for the Reserve.  Let’s review the card benefits, then I’ll jump into why I think the US Bank Altitude Reserve is nothing special.

Full Disclosure:  I was shut down by US Bank, but my account closures have nothing to do with my feelings toward the Altitude Reserve.  Indeed, while I was still a US Bank cardholder, I didn’t apply for the card although I was targeted for it.  Why?  I wasn’t enamored with it then, either.

US Bank Altitude Reserve

Reset – US Bank Altitude Reserve Welcome Offer and Features

Here’s a quick review of the Altitude Reserve welcome offer and card features:

  • Earn 50k points worth $750 in travel with $4.5k spend within the first 3 months of cardmembership
  • 5x points on prepaid hotel rates and car rentals booked via the Altitude Rewards Center
  • 3x points on travel and mobile wallet spend
  • 3x on food delivery, takeout, and dining (ends 31 Dec 2020)
  • 1x on all other spend
  • $325 travel credit.  Food delivery, takeout, and dining are also reimbursable through 31 Dec 2020.
  • $400 annual fee
  • Additional Benefits: Priority Pass Select membership, TSA Precheck or Global Entry reimbursement, 12 Wi-Fi passes, no foreign transaction fees, etc.

In and of themselves, the welcome offer and benefits of the card are attractive.  From what I’ve noticed, it seems that individuals are also drawn to it because US Bank cards, particularly this one, are considered relatively difficult to obtain.  An individual is required to have a pre-existing relationship with US Bank in order to be eligible for the Reserve.  Here’s why I think all of the above isn’t worth the fuss.

Numbers Games

US Bank puts out some sizzle with their 5x and 3x marketing, but it’s mostly hollow, in my opinion.

5x for Limited Travel Categories with Some Big Strings Attached

US Bank touts 5x earning for prepaid hotels and car rentals booked with their Altitude Rewards Center.  Usually, rates for these services through banks are, at best, nothing special and, at worst, ridiculously overpriced.  But hey, let’s say you get a good deal.  Would you want to be locked into prepaying for a hotel or car rental?  I think that requirement turns any good deal into a bad one.  So, this 5x “opportunity” is meaningless to me and, I bet, many of you.

3x, But Wait

The card also touts 3x points on travel and mobile wallet spend.  Travel is a nice category, but so many other cards have similar earning/redemption structures and transfer options (which US Bank doesn’t have).  The Chase Sapphire Reserve and Preferred earn 3x and 2x respectively on travel and can essentially be cashed out at 1.5% each currently.  The Citi Prestige earns 5x on airfare and 3x on hotels; the Premier earns 3x on hotels, airfare, and gas.

The 3x mobile wallet category is appealing on paper but tremendously limiting in practice.  For many of us, this mobile wallet category would naturally be more attractive than the travel category.  But I’ve received multiple reports of account shutdowns due to cardholders attempting any mobile wallet spend above a certain level.  And it seems like US Bank has a very low bar.  In my opinion, US Bank likes to tout this attractive earning rate but doesn’t like to actually reward their cardholders for using their product as advertised.  And even if you have success with this card and the growing mobile pay platforms, their reach is still limited.

US Bank Altitude Reserve
US Bank’s Flexperks program was far superior to the confusing Altitude version.

Nonsensical US Bank Point Ecosystem

Amex, Chase, Citi, and many other banks have a common bank point they each use across their bank cards for common earning and redemptions.  US Bank previously had that with Flexperks, but now with their new card “enhancements”, they do not.  The recently-released US Bank Altitude Go and Altitude Connect cards share the Altitude name with the Reserve.  But the points earned from the Go and Connect cards cannot be combined with the Reserve card.  In my opinion, this is a deceptive practice by US Bank to advertise an Altitude family of cards that earn points which are not combinable.

The Real Time Rewards feature, which I previously loved to use, allowed all users to redeem their US Bank points from different cards for 1.5% each under the Flexperks program.  Altitude Reserve points are still worth 1.5 cents each for redemption via Real Time Rewards.  But I previously used the points I earned with my Flexperks Travel Rewards Visa with Real Time Rewards.  With the introduction of the Go and Connect cards, US Bank essentially devalued these points from 1.5% to 1%.

From my perspective, these recent developments are a tremendous disservice to US Bank cardholders.  I believe the new US Bank program and Altitude cards are murkier, more time-consuming, and less rewarding to cardholders than the previous Flexperks version.

No Transfer Partners

Amex, Chase, Citi, and other banks have a suite of airline and hotel partners where cardholders can transfer their points, further enhancing the values of those points and programs.  US Bank has a big bag of nothing.  A donut.  Zippy.  Nil.  No transfer partners.  There’s nothing else to say here.

Redundant Benefits

The Altitude Reserve provides Priority Pass Select membership, TSA Precheck/Global Entry credit, and no transaction fees.  Those are all nice.  But many of us shouldn’t care, because we have another card (or more) which offer those benefits.  For those of us in that situation, we would be paying US Bank for benefits that we aren’t using.  No, thanks.

US Bank‘s Terrible Customer Service

In my experience as a US Bank cardholder, their customer service was terrible.  I experienced extremely long hold times, poorly-informed employees, and impoliteness.  There were multiple instances where I clearly knew more about US Bank products than their own employees.  On one occasion, I called regarding a Real Time Rewards program issue, and the CSR didn’t know the program existed.  Again, all of this has nothing to do with my US Bank shutdown experience.

Another Numbers Game – $325 Travel Credit, but $400 Annual Fee

US Bank provides an apparently-liberal $325 travel credit with the Altitude Reserve card.  That’s great.  But remember, the card has a $400 annual fee.  I consider this card to have a $75 annual fee, assuming a cardholder uses the whole credit.  It would be simpler to just charge a $75 annual fee.  But with the credit, US Bank gets to advertise another card “feature” and also, conveniently, obtain substantial breakage potential.  Uncool.

Who Should Hold the US Bank Altitude Reserve?

From my perspective, if this card is for anybody, it is for the following situations:

  • Individuals who have an existing relationship with US Bank and want their rewards cards.
  • Others who spend a lot in the 5x prepaid hotel/car rental and 3x general travel categories, particularly business travelers who can use their own card for business expenses.
  • Hobbyists who have no more lucrative welcome offer options.  If this is the case, you may not get approved for the Reserve, anyway, based on how active you have been with signing up for other cards previously.

Of course, individuals gain outsized value in the first year of cardmembership with the 50k point bonus for $750 of travel.  As with any card, one should analyze each year if the benefits are worth paying for during the next year via the annual fee.

Another Angle

Cutting out all of US Bank’s nonsense, this is how I sum up the card:

The US Bank Altitude Reserve is a $75 annual fee credit card with 3x travel earning and a 50k point/$750 welcome offer. 

Sound familiar?  Here’s how I sum up another card:

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a $95 annual fee credit card with 2x travel and dining earning and a 60k point welcome offer.

Or how about this:

The Citi Premier is a $95 annual fee credit card with 3x earning on hotels, airfare,  grocery stores, restaurants, and gas stations and a 60k point welcome offer.

Sure, Altitude Reserve points have the edge on value for travel (1.5 cpp versus 1.25 cpp for Sapphire Preferred and Citi Premier).  The Sapphire Preferred and Premier have transfer partners while the Altitude Reserve does not.  And I think the Altitude Reserve’s 3x mobile wallet earning is tremendously overblown given it’s highly unlikely to amass anything sizeable in that category without being shut down.  Bottom line, I don’t consider the US Bank Altitude Reserve to be substantially better than the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Citi Premier.  Still, I feel I’m being generous to the Altitude Reserve even saying that.  And the Sapphire Preferred and Citi Premier don’t entail the extra effort and gymnastics the Altitude Reserve requires to obtain.

US Bank Altitude Reserve – Conclusion

The Altitude Reserve is a nice, rewarding card.  After removing all of the fluff, I also think it is extremely overrated for what it would actually provide most individuals.  As with any card, assess the costs and benefits prior to making efforts to obtain it.  And don’t get seduced by the numbers.  Do you hold or are you pursuing the Altitude Reserve card?  Why?

Benjy Harmon
Benjy is a fan of points, miles, and financial independence (FI). An experienced world traveler, husband, and father, he currently focuses on roaming throughout the USA for close to free. He enjoys helping others achieve their FI and travel goals.

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34 COMMENTS

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34 COMMENTS

  1. I have to disagree with this take, on multiple levels. The bonus categories are much broader reaching (can also use mobile wallet on most food delivery these days, so dining is also mostly covered for many.
    .. also Costco), the effective annual fee is much lower, the card benefits are comparable. Real time mobile rewards is generally preferable to travel portals for many (wish Chase and Amex had it). The only real ding in my opinion is the lack of travel partners, which can hurt for international flight redemptions. But for people who use mobile wallet a lot and want a solid card for domestic oriented reward travel, AR hits a niche that is really incomparable.

  2. I know this post is old but I felt it was worth revisiting. This card continues to become stronger and stronger vs. the competition for the typical consumer. The pandemic has accelerated contactless payment. Almost all stores accept mobile wallet transactions now meaning you’re getting 4.5% practically everywhere. Many many online stores accept Apple Pay meaning you’re getting 4.5% online. In combination with the Slide App and a cashback portal you’re getting 12.5% cashback on numerous gift cards. The AR provides a unique benefit compared to other “premium” cards — free inflight WiFi passes which can easily cover the $75 fee. And finally, the killer feature of the card, it makes getting a somewhat reluctant P2 get a guaranteed pretty good return on spend. My P2 won’t shuffle cards, but will use mobile wallet everywhere.

    No, you can’t MS with the card but not every card needs to be MS-able to be a great product.

    Granted, I didn’t jump through hoops to get the card. My mortgage was sold to US Bank making me a customer and I applied and was approved without any fuss.

    If you’re someone who is *always* working on a minimum spend, yea, this card may not get much use.

    • Jags,

      All great points for your situation! It seemed like a “why not?” for you to go after the Altitude Reserve. I’m glad the mobile wallet works for P2, also, especially since you’re getting that 4.5x. I usually do better on obtaining discounted gift cards with other plays. WiFi passes are great for those who need it, I’m just not one of them. There’s no doubt the card is solid for many, but I think it’s overrated for the extreme effort many go to in order to obtain it. But, thankfully, you weren’t in that situation. I’m glad the card is working out great for you long term!

  3. Disagree. Maybe it’s just my experience, but I like my Altitude card because I can get 4.5% back (redeemed toward travel) on any mobile expense, which allows me to get an edge on several expenses that would normally fall into just 2% cashback, like Costco. The ease of redemption is a great, especially with Real Time Rewards. I like that I can use points toward non-chain hotels and other travel expenses outside loyalty groups. The ease of the $325 travel credit is also great, and since CV19, has been applied toward restaurants. Another nice thing is that because it *is* US Bank and not Chase, Amex, or Citi, it’s a slow not taken up when I want one of their other products. And as for the $75 leftover cost after the credit? I have been getting 10,000 points as a retention offer every year I’ve had the card, which means I come out ahead. Downsides do exist. Using points toward the US Bank portal typically shows hotel costs about 10%ish above what you can get through direct booking, and there are sometimes flights you can see on the airline website that won’t show up on the portal. Still, I like my card on the whole.

  4. I have to admit, one of the main values of the Altitude reserve is getting approved. I was not 6 months ago, last week I was really to apply having not gotten any CCs in the last 8 months. However, I decided to get the Syn-Bank Amazon card(I am Chased-4/24) to replace my AMEX Amazon card. It just made more sense because of my heavy Amazon activity and freeing up a AMEX slop.
    I was also going to get the Altitude with the affective $75 fee to replace my Citi Prestige, but again I keep hmming and aawhing. Why? because of the reality of the lack of transfer partners and and limited ecosystem.
    So, I agree with you, if you have other premium cards you really don’t need the Altitude reserve. When they expand their ecosystem I’ll apply.

  5. Don’t forget the AMEX Green Card.
    Completely agree with your assessment of US Bank, and I have not been shut down.
    In all fairness, never rude but very incompetent.
    Their travel website does not have the flight choices I needed, but I could find the flights on the airline websites.

    • Doctnx,

      Thanks for reminding me about the Amex Green Card! The refresh has definitely made it more of a player alongside the others.

  6. Finally! I’ve always believed US Bank offered mediocre products and wanted to get play with the big boys – Amex/Chase/Citi only to fail miserably. With ZERO transfer partners, only the most desperate or vulnerable would even consider applying for the AR. I have high income, 840+ FICO 8s and 9s, am 1/24 and have absolutely zero desire to ever apply for a shitty, pretentious card. Easy pass.

    • At this point its just better to cultivate our other premium cards with all the covid benefits. I’ll be out of 5/24 in 8 months, but I won’t waste it on the AR.

  7. and the author has this diclosure ” Full Disclosure: I was shut down by US Bank, but my account closures have nothing to do with my feelings toward the Altitude Reserve.”

    Really? Come on don’t be a cry baby! It is OK that US bank shut you down!
    This is definitely a decent card for people who might not qualify for CSR, CSP, and amex platinum!

    Still a decent travel card!

    It will not be my first choice but stop whining because it is still a decent travel card with decent perks!

  8. ” US Bank provides an apparently-liberal $325 travel credit with the Altitude Reserve card. That’s great. But remember, the card has a $400 annual fee. I consider this card to have a $75 annual fee, assuming a cardholder uses the whole credit. It would be simpler to just charge a $75 annual fee. But with the credit, US Bank gets to advertise another card “feature” and also, conveniently, obtain substantial breakage potential. Uncool. ” – It looks like the author is so pissed at US BANK. When CSR charges $550 and issues $300 travel credit , its cool and this is uncool???

  9. I feel like this card offers some pretty unique benefits. You didn’t mention how you can redeem real time rewards on any platform and earn points/elite benefits by booking direct. I think that is pretty huge. You could be Marriott or Hyatt elite but not get the full benefits by not booking direct with others. Also, I have made some pretty large purchases using Samsung pay. Hard to beat 3x worth 4.5% back when spending 10-20k on home renovations. All for a net $75 card which is still cheaper than the 2 you compard it to. I do wish there were transfer partners but still don’t think its completely overrated given these unique opportunities.

    • Kyle,

      I agree about the usefulness of Real Time Rewards, so much so that I wrote this February article on exactly what you are talking about. It’s a shame US Bank devalued their Real Time Rewards program for all but Altitude Reserve cardholders, though. Basically, one has to pay a much higher upfront price to redeem at 1.5 cents per point now, whereas customers with other lower-AF cards could previously get that same value.

  10. You are wrong about the devaluation–Alt Reserve points are still worth 1.5c when redeemed for travel with real-time-rewards. The other credits cards are only worth .01, but Altitude Reserve still gets the same 1.5%, meaning 4.5% on all mobile pay. I have a Galaxy phone which means I get that reward anywhere I can swipe a magnetic strip, even if they don’t have mobile pay. So for my new car last week I put down $2500 and got 4.5% of that back even though they didn’t have a mobile reader. It’s now my only primary rental insurance card too. They also are generous about retention offers so I make money off this every year. I now earn less than I used to since Amex Gold’s 4x has meant I no longer use AR for groceries, but I still do well with this. And that 4.5% is as good as cash, which is especially valuable now that I’m not traveling (many things count as travel w rtr). Right now my Amex, Citi, and Chase points are collecting dust and devaluating while I still easily redeem my AR points. This is one of my three best cards, along with Hilton Aspire and Amex Gold. I value this much more than Amex Platinum because that card is expensive and getting value out of it is complicated and difficult.

    • Jeff,

      Actually, we are in agreement regarding Altitude Reserve point values. Nonetheless, I’ve updated the article to provide even more clarity. I’m glad you get great value out of the card!

  11. The limitation on Priority Pass to only four visits is the deal breaker for me. While this is essentially a $75 a year card, several other cards offer travel credits, as well. Granted their net annual fees are a bit higher, but so too are the benefits and rewards.

    I have the old FlexPerks Card that has worked out well for me when I need flexible travel currency. I’ll stick with that card for grocery spend.

  12. Agree. Really a 3% mobile wallet card for me given that I don’t use OTA’s and the only 1.5x category real time rewards seems to work on for me is Uber. The $75 annual fee is partially offset by the go go passes. I’ll value them at half price, so the annual fee knocks my effective rate down to about 2.4%. Meh. I’ll see if I get a retention offer. If not, bye bye.

  13. with a $75 net cost, the 4 times a year priority pass entry for 2 people is a nice extra.

    I got the card first when I was traveling to Cambodia and wanted the free medical evacuation coverage

    • Martin,

      I’m glad you get sensible value out of the Altitude Reserve. It’s a good card – just overrated, in my opinion.

  14. LOL, “ it’s – great card, that I don’t like”. But yeah 4.5% essentially on all travel and mobile including Costco for a 75% card that you don’t have to game. I do think it’s great and is my favorite card. And yeah, I can’t get a Sapphire because they have a 4 year wait.

    • Nathan,

      Who are you quoting? I didn’t exactly say that. Regardless, this card can be great for you while being overrated to me at the same time.

  15. Did the RTR on this card get downgraded to 1c value ? Also, I have been able to use it at Costco for effective 4.5% discount, which is great. Points were easy to use, they had retention offers that offset the net fee. If the idea is to compare it to other cards, this won’t be tops but that may not make it a bad card in the wallet portfolio. Just my 2c.

    • Neeraj,

      Thanks for chiming in. The Altitude Reserve still gets the 1.5 cents value via RTR, but other US Bank cards no longer do. That’s cool the Costco option has worked out well, and congrats on getting a retention offer!

  16. I understand your points, but I think it’s worth noting that the insurance on the Premier sucks and the multiplier when redeeming for travel is gone. So yes, I think the CSP comparison is apt but the Premier one is not.

    Also, very few cards still provide GoGoInflight passes. Those can easily make up a good part of that 75 dollar fee.

    • Fair point that the Premier doesn’t have insurance but it also doesn’t have a $400 AF. The Premier has much more useful categories even without the 25% bonus from the portal.

      Most in this hobby tend to use transfer partners when possible as there is usually outsized value to be had and the Altitude Reserve has absolutely no transfer partners.

      Citi has more no AF cards that can elevate/pair with the Premier (think Rewards+ for 10% points rebate and Double Cash for 2x TYP earning everywhere).

      In my comparison of similar flights the US Bank portal was more expensive then Citi but slightly better than the Amex Travel portal.

      Given the choice I’d take the Premier over the Altitude Reserve and their crappy customer service any day of the week.

      • I haven’t priced out flights on the USB Altitude Reserve portal, but I think most people use the “Real Time Rewards” feature that allows you to book anywhere.. and keep the points from that booking, to boot.

        Also, what was your CS experience with USB? I’ve heard tons of Citi horror stories.

  17. For a 1 year card you’re just wrong, 4.5% on Mobile spend is great for a normal spender, I’m sure the shut downs are for the typical people always trying to game it, but 75$ for a 1 year card with the global entry benefit, etc, it’s def worth it, now is it a card to hold long term, no, probably not.

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