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Comparison of Smart Chip Credit Cards in U.S. – Chip & Signature

Posted on 24 June 2012 by David

Smart Chip Credit Card - Gold

Smart chip credit cards are becoming more important to carry on your trip abroad, as more merchants overseas discontinue their support for the magnetic strip credit cards predominately available in the U.S.

We have researched the list of smart chip credit cards you can apply for in the U.S. previously.  Today, we would like to provide a quick comparison of chip and signature smart cards available in the country.  Tomorrow I’ll compare the available chip and pin cards.

Key Considerations in Deciding the Right Card for You

The table below shows all the chip and signature cards available in the U.S. today.

None of the cards carry any foreign exchange fees (which is great news!) and all cards offer a rewards program.  All cards, with the exception of the J.P. Morgan Select Visa Signature Card, give you a sign-on bonus as well.

If you just want to get a smart chip credit card for travel (or bragging right for being ahead of the curve), get a card with no annual fee.  At this time, only the FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa and J.P. Morgan Select Visa Signature offer no fee for the first year.  All cards have an annual fee after the first year.

However, after the first year, you can always cancel the card (just make sure you use up any rewards points in your account before you cancel), or call the bank and see if it will extend the no-fee promotion for you for another year (many banks will do that especially if you have been a good customer to them).

Which Chip and Signature Card We Would Pick and Why

Looking at the some of the benefits and features of each card, it appears that US Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa may be a decent card.  It has the lowest annual fee of all the cards, and no fee for the 1st year. That’s something to keep in mind especially if you plan to keep the card longer than a year.  As far as rewards are concerned, this card is currently offering bonus points.  The points will get you $50 for every 5,000 points which is equal to 1% cash back.  it also has a sign up promotion.

If it were up to us, our first choice would be the  US Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa by US Bank and our second choice would be the JP Morgan Select Visa Signature.  Both have no fees for the first year.  But by all means, take a look at the table below and pick the one that fits your spending style the most!

Chip-and-signature smart cards

Below are all the chip-and-signature cards compared side by side.

Card Name Issuing Bank Annual Fee Foreign Exchange Fees Rewards Sign Up Promotion
FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa USBank $0 first year, $49 thereafter None FlexPerks rewards

  • 2 points per $1 spent on gas, grocery or airline purchases, whichever you spend most on each monthly billing cycle, and on most cell phone expenses
  • 1 point per $1 everywhere else
15,000 bonus FlexPoints after the first $500 in net purchases in the first 90 days.
J.P. Morgan Select Visa Signature Chase $0 first year, $95 thereafter None Chase Ultimate Rewards

  • 2 points per $1 on air, hotel, and auto rentals
  • 1 point per $1 everywhere else
J.P. Morgan Palladium Chase $595
(this is not a typo)
None Chase Ultimate Rewards

  • 2 points for every $1 spent on travel
  • 1 point per $1 everywhere else
35k points for spending $100,000 a year
British Airways Visa Signature® Card Chase $95 None British Airways Avios points

  • 2.5 Avios per $1 on British Airways
  • 1.25 Avios per $1 everywhere else
50,000 Avios Bonus after first use
The Hyatt Credit Card Chase $75 None Hyatt Gold Passport

  • 3 points per $1 at Hyatt
  • 1 point per $1 everywhere else
2 free nights at any Hyatt, worldwide, the first time you use the card.


Which smart chip credit card did you apply for?  Any questions, drop us a comment below!


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Kenya Travel Advice – US Warns of Imminent Terror Attack in Kenya

Posted on 23 June 2012 by onthegroundtravel

National flag - Kenya Travel Advice

Our Kenya travel advice today is based on a recent US government warning of an imminent terror attack in Kenya.

While our safari trip started in Nairobi, capital of Kenya, we want to highlight that US has issued a warning about an imminent terror attack in Kenya.  All US government personnel are required to leave Mombasa (~ 6 hrs drive away from Nairobi).  If you are planning a trip to Kenya, please take this warning into consideration in your planning.  Mombasa has beautiful beaches, but there have been reports of kidnappings of foreigners in the area by militants from neighboring Somalia.

Please stay safe!


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Picture of the Week: An Interesting Cultural Exchange with the Maasai

Posted on 22 June 2012 by Danica

maasai women colorful clothes

When you first meet the Maasai people, you can’t help but notice their distinctive clothing.  Men mostly wear red or blue textiles in plaid.  Women wrap themselves in clothes that come in a rainbow of different colors or African design, and are adnored with beautiful beaded homemade jewelry and headdress.

The Meeting

After meeting the Maasai women above, we sat down with a young Maasai man in his home (similar to the mud hut in the background.)  We politely asked about the living condition in his house, which is no larger than a 150 sq ft room that fits a kitchen, a bed for the entire family and a few basic supplies.

You Heard What About America?

We had expected to see this type of living arrangements before we went in, but what caught us by surprise was his curiosity for the American culture.  He has heard a lot of “strange” customs about Americans, he told us.  And he wanted to know whether the rumors were true or not.

  • Is it true that a woman can divorce a man in America?
  • What about the rumor I heard that American women raise children on their own without a husband?
  • Oh, and I heard that some women paid men to have babies by themselves?

It’s rare that we become the subject of interest and under the spotlight when we travel.  Usually, we ask all the questions!

Surely You Don’t Want to Know About That

And as we replied yes, yes, and yes to all his questions, you can see his eyes grew larger and wilder.  He simply could not understand why on earth would Americans do such a thing?  What could be the reasons behind these “crazy” ideas?

And in our heads, all we could think of was, “geez, better not tell him about all the other concepts such as it’s legal for same-sex couples to get married and raise children together in some parts of America, or what about test tube babies?”  The answers to those questions would surely blown his mind away!

The Unforgettable Exchange with the Maasai

It was an unforgettable cultural exchange with the Maasai.  At the end of that encounter, we learned a bit more about the Maasai, and they learned a bit more about us.  While we may not understand the motivations behind the other’s decisions, we tolerate and accept the others’ viewpoint.  And that’s the most satisfying part of traveling – being able to share our differences, and being accepted at the same time.


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Guest Post: Travel the world, just don’t get scammed in Havana!

Posted on 21 June 2012 by Danica

Cuba - Around the World Travel

This week, in our second installment of the “Travel the World, Just Dont’ Get Scammed” series, we feature Kellie Parry, a seasoned traveler and writer in her own right.  This is a cautionary tale about trusting others too quickly in a new place.  Often times, when we travel, we must juggle the balance between being polite to the locals and being cautious of the new surrounding.  This is a story you can not miss.  Read on…

A few years back I worked for a cruise line company in the States. I spent my days sailing down the coast of Mexico and through the Caribbean taking in all the sights. The Caribbean was always my favourite. Such lush tropical settings surrounded by a crystal clear ocean. No wonder everyone who lived there seemed so laid back and unaffected by the stresses of daily life. I made a promise to myself that I would go back one day. Years later that opportunity arrived. I was doing a round the world trip and Cuba was on my itinerary. I was excited to experience the casualness of the Caribbean again.

I arrived in Havana and was dropped by the taxi a fair way from my hotel which was not the drivers fault really. The road was missing. As I struggled with my suitcase past the huge abyss in the road, several people approached me for a chat. Most of them wanted to know if I wanted to stay in their house. Er…no thanks. Others wanted to know if I needed a tour guide while I was here. No thanks again. Fighting off all the overly enthusiastic unofficial Cuban ambassadors nearly sent me and my suitcase hurtling into the gaping hole in the ground.


Eventually I made it to my hotel. Hotel Valencia was beautiful and I was most glad to be staying there rather than in some strangers living room. Once I had settled in I decided to go for a walk and get my bearings. I had not been walking long when I was approached by a tall Caribbean man. He was perfectly polite and introduced himself. He didn’t harass me about being a tour guide or me staying at his house. I kept walking and he kept up with me chatting away. He wanted to know where I was from, if it was my first time in Cuba and all the other standard travel questions. He told me that he was a chef and he worked at Hotel Valencia. He saw me check in and then after he had finished work, he saw me in the street and decided to come and say hi. In hindsight this should have been my first warning. It’s a bit much of a coincidence that not only does he happen to work where Im staying but then he also happens to see me in the street.

Havana Cuba Street - Round the World Trips - Scam

He then asked me if I wanted to see the bar where Ernest Hemingway used to frequent. Apparently it wasn’t far from where we were so I agreed to go. I figured once I had seen this then I could go on my way. We walked along, through narrow alley ways, around corners and past side streets. He continued to talk to me the whole time and after a few minutes I realized that I was hopelessly lost. I had no idea where my hotel was from here but didn’t panic yet. I could always get a taxi.

We finally arrived at the bar and he ordered a drink for the both of us. Since it was my first time in Cuba he declared that I MUST try a Havana Club rum. This should have been my second warning. After all my years doing bar work I knew that you should never accept a drink from a stranger. But I did and after I finished it I already felt tipsy. Usually it takes more than one drink to get me drunk. He got us another round and I swore to myself that I would leave after this one.

Cuba Havana Club - Around the World Travel

But I guess he had other plans. He then somehow convinced me to go to a salsa bar. “It’s on the way back to the hotel” he promised after hearing my protests. We arrived at the bar and I must admit it was fabulous with its live band and salsa dancers. I bought us another drink as my way of saying thank you for spending the afternoon showing me around and all that. By now I was drunk which was probably his plan all along. We continued on going from bar to bar and then on to a restaurant for something to eat. In my foggy drunken brain I realized that I had paid for everything. I made him buy the next round and he did with some reluctance. But then it soon returned to me paying for everything.

Montecristo Cuban Cigar - Havana Cuba Round the World Trips - Scam

His next plan was to get me some Cuban cigars. Now I don’t smoke and neither does anyone I know but how can one leave Cuba with no cigars? And I had promised my Dad that I would bring some home anyway. He assured me that he had a friend that could sell them to me much cheaper than I would get them in the shops. We headed into the seedy side of old Havana. As we walked through the dodgy streets people stood back and stared at me. After all I was the only white female tourist in sight. Once again my drunken brain tried to set off a warning but it got lost in the Havana Club that my head was swimming in. Next thing Im standing in someones living room while he did some sort of deal. The woman disappeared out the back and came back with two boxes of cigars. I was told that she worked at the factory and had in fact stolen the cigars and she would do me a deal for both boxes. I didn’t want two boxes but I wanted to get out of this strangers house and get back to the familiar tourist area. I gave her the money and we left. Finally after a few more drinks he lead me back to Hotel Valencia.

Once we got there he told me that he had no where to go and could he please stay with me. Was he kidding? But by now I was so drunk and all I wanted to do was pass out. I threw a pillow on the floor for him and told him if he moved or touched me I would kill him and I slipped into a drunken coma. I woke with a start a couple of hours later. For some reason he was in bed beside me. He was on top of the blankets and still had all his clothes on (including his shoes) so I guess he just wanted somewhere more comfortable to sleep. All the events of the night before came crashing down on me. All of a sudden I felt sick. I woke him up and told him to get the hell out. Once he was gone I sat on the bed and tried to remember everything that had happened. With a sinking feeling I grabbed my purse to see how much money I had left. Nothing. I had spent it all. Luckily in my drunken state I had locked my purse in the safe but he didn’t need to steal from my purse. He had already taken US$500 off me. All the drinks, dinner and then of course the cigars which Im sure he got a cut from. I locked myself in the room for the day nursing a hangover and kicking myself. How could I be so stupid?

Cuba Apartment - Havana Round the World Trips - Scam








The next day, I ventured out to try and get more cash which in Cuba is not easy. ATM’s were a rarity. I finally found an money exchange where I could get a cash advance on my credit card. Once again I kicked myself for being so stupid. On my way back to the hotel I passed a cigar shop. Out of curiosity I went in to see how much cigars actually were. Once again I felt sick. A box of Monte Cristo’s like the ones I had bought was $50. I had paid $300 for two boxes so I had literally paid triple what they were worth.

Apart from this incident, the rest of my time in Cuba was amazing. It’s a beautiful place and it’s definitely worth seeing. I still to this day cringe at the thought of what could have happened to me that night. When I think of all the seedy places we went to and the fact that I let him crash out in my room, Im glad that all I lost was $500….


About Kellie Parry: Kellie is a travel writer who is currently based in Darwin, Australia. She spent 18 months working as an Assistant Bar Manager for Carnival Cruise Lines. During this time she had the fortune of working on 5 different ships within the company, with each ship taking her to a new exotic location. It was here that she found her passion for travel and has spent the last 6 years criss-crossing the globe on her own.  Kellie documents her travel adventures at and  She can also be reached at


Thank you Kellie for sharing!   We have learned a great deal from your experience as well.

Like this story?  Check out our other story in the “Travel the world, just don’t get scammed” series.

If you want to share your short story about a time you have been scammed, leave us a comment below.  We’d love to hear from you!


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Top Tibet Travel Questions Answered – Part 1

Posted on 20 June 2012 by Danica


We are very happy to have Pazu Kong, one of our favorite local hosts on our round the world tour, to answer your top Tibet travel questions.  Today, we will address some of the most common questions on best places and time to visit Tibet.  Then next Wednesday, Pazu will share his recommendations on the logistics of how to get to Tibet.   He’ll even include a sample travel itinerary that you’ll find very valuable too!

Now, let’s be honest.  Traveling to Tibet is not easy.  If you thought getting to Tibet was hard, just wait until you try and get into Tibet.   There are a number of travel requirements that one must satisfy in order to be allowed in, many of which seem to change way too often.

But, for you few persistent and fortunate souls who manage to get in, what you will see in Tibet is a timeless place where spirituality takes precedence over morality, a place where we come to terms with the harsh reality of life there and hope to achieve the ultimate goal of enlightenment.


We were very fortunate to have picked Pazu to organize our tour in Tibet (note: you must join an organized tour to go to Tibet, no exception.)  So, from the confusing chore of organizing delivery of the travel permit to the mundane task of helping us navigate the impossible alleyways in Lhasa late at night (when it was so dark, that a flashlight only served to show us how lost we really were), Pazu was there for us every step of the way.  His hospitality was truly unmatched, and we hope sincerely that you will be fortunate enough to work with him to schedule your Tibet travel as well

Disclaimer:  With this glowing review, you must be wondering what’s in it for us to recommend Pazu?  Well, nothing.  We are not related, and we received no compensation or special treatment whatsoever.  In fact, this post is written months after we left Tibet, and is purely there to help you travel to Tibet as well.

Tibet Travel General Tips

Tibet Travel - Pazu Kong - Spinn Cafe

OnTheGroundTravel:  Tell us about how you discovered Tibet and ended up settling there.

Pazu: I was born in Hong Kong and came to Lhasa as a traveler in 2001.  At the time, I stayed in Lhasa for 3 months, discovered that I really loved it and decided to travel to other Tibetan areas for another 6 months, learning the Tibetan language and culture.  After I left Tibet, I always thought of coming back to Lhasa so I bought a bicycle and cycled from Bangkok, Thailand to Lhasa, Tibet.  The cycling trip took 6 months.  Once in Lhasa, I opened Spinn Cafe and Tours and settled down in Lhasa most of the time.

OnTheGroundTravel:  Tibet is absolutely stunning.  Where is your favorite place in the region?

Pazu: My favorite place is actually Lhasa.  A lot of travelers pass it as a transit point, going to Everest Base Camp or Samye, but I do like Lhasa a lot.  The Barkhor Circuit is a fascinating place, with lots of old and traditional buildings to hang around for many months.  I remember walking down an alley one day with my Tibetan friend and I was surprised.  I thought I knew all the streets in Barkhor, but somehow my friend showed me yet another new path.  This is what makes Barkhor so interesting, like a maze, with so many small temples (some are less famous and free to enter).

Not far away from Lhasa lies several villages, I hopped on my bicycle and cycled around with no destinations, just roaming around.  We cycled up to a monastery on a mountain, spent some time reading.  This is my most favorite way to spend time with my friends.  There is always something interesting, I found it hard sometimes to concentrate on a book, then voila, I could finish it on top of a monastery in a mountain!  There must be some special spiritual energy in the mountain.

As I was born in a big city, while I love the rural side, city atmosphere is important to me.  I love Lhasa as you can find good restaurants (Tibetan, western, muslim, vegetarian, Chinese, etc.), good infrastructure (fastest internet in Tibet is of course in Lhasa), good bookshops (but I use Kindle most of the time, so this is not as important as in the past).

OnTheGroundTravel: What is it about Tibet that most intrigues you?

Pazu: People, definitely the people.  Even an atheist Tibetan would have Buddhism implanted in their hearts (Well, most Tibetans are actually Buddhists, but theoretically speaking, government workers are supposed to be “atheist,” at least in the name anyway).  It is interesting to see how people implemented the teaching of buddhism in practical life.  The way how Tibetans interact with others, how not to take advantage of them, and how Tibetans believe in the working of karma, etc.


OnTheGroundTravel: When is the best time to go to Tibet and why?

Pazu: Let’s talk about the “worst” time to go to Tibet.  It’s actually not worst, but I found August not very enjoyable indeed – too many tourists (its supposed to be good for business, but I think it’s overwhelmed.)  The best months are May and June, October and November.  These are the months with less tourists, not too cold or hot, most roads are opened, and hence simply the best time to come here.

OnTheGroundTravel: What’s the weather like in Tibet?

Pazu: No matter which month you come to Tibet, remember to bring enough warm clothes.  Tibet can be cold and hot in the same day.  Take Lhasa as an example, summer time (June to September) can be – 2 to 31 degrees Celsius in one single day.  Raining is frequent.  In winter time (November to April), it can drop to -10 to 18 degrees Celsius.

In terms of clothing, it is best to take whatever you think is appropriate for an environment of around -5 degrees Celsius and 20 degrees Celsius.  So yes, you will have to bring two sets of outfits.


OnTheGroundTravel: What are the top mistakes that you think travelers make when planning to go to Tibet?

Pazu: A lot of travelers thought of Lhasa only as a transit point, which is a mistake I think.  There is simply so much to see here.  It would be nice to give yourself at least 3 or 4 days in Lhasa, just to explore the town itself.  It’s also a good idea to spend a few days in Lhasa as acclimatization.

Nothing is actually worst (because you can always find something worse…), but… a serious mistake that some travelers make is to spend too little time for acclimatization, or do not listen to their body.  I remember a young traveler who looked very sick, his friends thought he was sick, the driver knew he was sick, the tour guide was very worried, but the young traveler insisted to go to the Everest Base Camp.  He had to turn back after leaving Lhasa for a few hours.  I think this was a serious mistake.

OnTheGroundTravel:  When we were Lhasa last year, we were in the city for a few days, and were never bored so we definitely agree it’s a wonderful place to visit.   Thanks for sharing!    Next week we’ll pick your brain about how people can navigate the challenges with getting into Tibet so they too can experience Lhasa and nearby places!

Are you planning a visit to Tibet?   Come back next week on Wednesday, when Pazu will share his thoughts on making it into Tibet.

Want to learn more about our adventure there?  We’ll be writing a series on Tibet in July and you won’t want to miss that.  Better yet, subscribe via email or RSS so you don’t miss an update!  Comment and let us know if you have any other questions.


About Pazu Kong: Pazu is the owner of the Spinn Cafe and Tours, located in Lhasa, Tibet.  His company has been organizing tours in Tibet since 2008.    The best way to reach Pazu is via the email address located here:


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